Chapter 61: The Fires of the Dead

Sheik hated expecting the worst, because often the worst would be waiting for him once it crossed his mind. But he couldn't help but expect the worst as he headed over the hill along the path that led to Kakariko Village's enormous graveyard. And sure enough, the moment he could get a good look at the cemetery from atop that hill, he saw exactly what he expected.

The Sheikah first noticed Dampé's shack lying as a pile of rubble near the graveyard's closest border. He immediately thought of the gravedigger and wondered whether he had escaped, but something told Sheik that that wasn't possible. Dampé was a very peculiar character who took immense pride in his upkeep of the cemetery, and Sheik suspected the little man would rather defend the graves than run. Worry crept into Sheik's mind as he hoped nothing had happened to the gravedigger, but he quickly remembered he had other things to worry about.

By the looks of things, the necromancers had already claimed the graveyard as their own. Shrill screams erupted all over the corpse-filled meadow from various points, and the air smelled of a thick, spiritual miasma that tasted like poison. But the biggest indicator that made Sheik wince with concern was the sight of dozens of bonfires that glowed even in the daylight with a creepy radiance.

That could only mean one thing…

"They're almost ready for the ceremony. I have to stop them…"

A sense of urgency rising inside, Sheik started down the hill towards the graveyard. He only hoped his plan to stop these creatures would work…

"Link! What's going on out there? Let me out of here right now! What's going on?"

Shut up Navi, Link wanted to scream to his friend trapped underneath his cap, but he decided against it, his focus fixed on the approaching Tektites. Their lone, almost blind eyes seemed to pulse with anticipation as they clawed their way across the floor at an increasingly frantic pace toward the Hero of Time and the Zora princess. Instinctively Link took a step back, but the force of the water against his body reminded him of the futility of running away or fighting these creatures. Ruto, meanwhile, clung tightly to her beloved's arm, knowing he couldn't flee but not willing to leave him.

Ideas circulated through Link's mind. What could he do to escape this situation? Din's Fire was useless underwater…Farore's Wind gave him speed, not strength…Nayru's Love would protect them for a while, but only protect, not escape. The temple energies? They seemed to empower his sword more than his body. And all his weapons were useless in this environment – the Master Swod, the Megaton Hammer, his boomerang, his bow and arrows, his hookshot, his bombs, his…

Wait a minute…

"Ruto! Hold onto me!"

Ruto didn't need to be told; she was already clutching her fiancé securely with one arm around his left arm and the other his waist. With the Tektites' snapping jaws almost close enough for the Hylian to make out the tiny hooks on each tooth, Link wasted no time in reaching for his hookshot with his right hand and raised the weapon above his head.

He didn't even blink as he pointed the head straight up and pressed the trigger, sending the arrowhead and chain surging through the water with a muffled bang.

"Hang on!"

As Link called this out to the Zora, Link suddenly realized he didn't know whether the hookshot's chain was long enough to reach the ceiling of the chamber – and even if it was, the water pressure might slow it down enough for…


Link really had to stop worrying like this.

Before he could get into an all-encompassing anxiety fit, the hookshot broke through the surface of the water above and sank into the stone roof of the chamber without any trouble. The Tektites were within arm's reach of the Hylian and Zora when the arrow pierced the stone, but they had no chance to make an attack of any kind before the chain grew taut and the hookshot's powerful spring recoiling spring took over.

"Darling, what was…woah!"

Ruto's squeal of astonishment floated through the water just as she and Link were lifted off the ground, pulled towards the ceiling as the hookshot's chain began wrapping itself up with its familiar clack. Ruto obviously was stunned by this mode of transportation, but even Link, who had "flown" like this several times before, watched in amazement as they soared away from the once threatening Tektites. Apparently, watching the scenery fly by underwater was different than watching it fly by in breathable air…

…which abruptly surrounded the Hero of Time and princess as the two burst through the water's surface with a silent splash. An instant later, Link felt the suckling blue cloth that had helped him stay alive underwater fall off his skin without ever indicating it had ever been wet. As his attire felt like regular clothes again, Link also realized holding his breath felt like…well, holding his breath. With a loud gasp he released a long overdue exhalation, and immediately his body took over as his lungs started functioning once more.

He managed to draw breath two, maybe three times by the time the hookshot carried him and the Zora princess to the top of the chamber, ending their swift ride to safety with an unsteady jolt. And then there the two of them hung like a desultory chandelier, with Link holding onto the lone anchor point with a partially damaged hand and Ruto latching onto his waist with the tenacity of a parasite.

The two remained suspended there for what seemed like an hour, but in reality it took about half a minute for Ruto to be the first to snap out of their stupor.

"What…what in the name of the Three Goddesses was that?" she stammered, still unable to comprehend what had just happened.

Link could only grin at his fiancée. "A lucky shot, I guess."

Ruto opened her mouth several times to respond, but couldn't find the words, which gave Link a chance to get a bearing on his surroundings.

Just as he had surmised, a large air pocket topped the enormous chamber, creating an indoor lake of sorts. The pillar-like structure in the room's center broke through the water's surface and reached all the way to the ceiling, and Link could see doors and windows embedded in the building that befitted a land-walking Hylian more than a water-swimming Zora. More importantly, a platform ran around the edge of the structure just above the water, like a sidewalk without rails. The platform looked large enough for the entire Kokiri population to walk around comfortably with enough room for at least a dozen Gorons to curl up and sleep, and as far as Link could tell there weren't any enemies to be seen.

So now he and Ruto just had to get onto the platform, and all his heavy belongings would ensure swimming there would be a nightmare. There was only one thing to do…

"Ruto, we going to get onto that platform…you see it?"

The Zora nodded as she eyed the dais quietly.

"Good. I'm going to let go of you and drop you into the water, since you can swim there, no problem."

"But what about you, darling?" Ruto asked, looking concerned. "You're too heavy to swim there yourself."

"I know, that's why I'm going to try and swing over there. It shouldn't be too difficult, it's not…that far away. I've had worse falls…I think."

Ruto didn't seem too convinced. "I don't know…maybe we should both fall and I'll help you swim the short distance there…"

"I'll sink like a stone once I hit the water," Link pointed out. "This is the only way. Trust me."

The apprehension in Ruto's face didn't fade at Link's halfhearted reassurances, but she knew he was right. "All right…just don't make me jump in after you."

"Sure thing," Link nodded, reminding himself of how Ruto saved him the last time.

Ruto glanced down at the deep blue water, as if rethinking her acceptance of her beloved's idea, before she looked at the Hero of Time and flashed a toothy grin, her indication that she was ready.

"Here we go," Link stated as he squeezed the small on Ruto's back assuredly…only assuredly. "On the count of three. One…two…three!"

The Zora actually left Link's arms a split second before Link reached three, her arms squeezing Link's torso tightly before releasing her grip with an abrupt push. As she fell, she contorted her body with the gracefulness of a diving bird, her magnificent fins flapping in the wind like a pair of delicate wings as she aimed her upper body towards the water headfirst. She broke the water's surface with a silent splash and submerged beneath the gentle ripples she created before her slender body arched towards the platform in the chamber's center. Link watched quietly as his fiancée glided through water with ease until she pulled herself from the pool onto the dais quickly and fluently, the water dripping from her body once again highlighting her gorgeous curves.

Link tried his best not to think about such things – for one thing, Navi was right under his hat – and waited until Ruto was safely on the platform before making his attempt to reach the stage. He tried pulling down on the hookshot chain to give himself a longer pivot, but the weapon's spring refused to budge. Realizing he would have to make due with what he had, the Hero of Time started kicking his legs back and forth, generating some momentum.

As Ruto watched in worried silence, her fiancé suddenly released the hookshot and sent himself into a freefall towards the platform. Link half-expected to miss the stage, but such a reaction was not necessary in this case. He landed on the platform's sturdy stone frame with a muffled thud, bending his knees to take in most of the shock. He then remained motionless in a kneeled position for a moment before finally standing up, checking himself over until he was satisfied.

He didn't have time to turn around before he felt two blue, wet arms wrap around his shoulders and cling to his neck like a noose. "Are you all right, darling?" Ruto queried almost forcefully as she did her best to throw the Hero of Time off balance. "You almost scared me with that jump. Don't ever do that again, you hear? I don't want you to break a leg, or worse…"

"I'm fine, for crying out loud!" he screamed in his mind as he tried to wrestle the Zora from his neck. "Geez, you're almost worse than a bloody Dodongo…"


As if Ruto wasn't bothering him enough, Navi finally realized she could escape from underneath Link's cap and darted into view at a fierce velocity. She took in her new surroundings for only a brief moment before she turned her attention to the Hero of Time, who was still trying to claw Ruto's arms away from his windpipe.

"You! Do you know how uncomfortable it was underneath there?" she barked, pointing an accusing finger dangerously close to his eye. " That air tasted like a rotten Deku nut, and whatever stunt you just pulled sent me crashing against your thick skull. If you'll just stop making out with every girl you see and for once think about how I feel…"

Now that was cold….

Luckily for Link, before Ruto could inquire about Navi's statement concerning "every girl" with which he's made out, he and his two accompanying ladies interrupted by pressing danger.

A loud splash indicative of something breaking the water's surface from underneath drew the three's attention to the water, and they were in time to watch two rather angry-looking Tektites spring from the pool with the agility of a locust and land on the dais a short distance away from where Link and Ruto were standing. Despite their blindness, both of their single bloodshot eyes stared directly at the Hylian and Zora – a faint trickling sensation down Link's chest reminded the Hero of Time why.

A sharp insect-like screech scratched Link's ears as the Tektites' incisors clamped violently against their saliva-soaked jaws, a cue that Navi understood as her signal to hide once again underneath Link's cap. As the fey disappeared from view, Ruto released her grip around the Hero of Time's neck and huddled behind her fiancé, crouching nervously. Apparently she knew enough not to hang onto her beloved like a chain when he had more pressing matters to attend to, such as exterminating these bugs.

Sighing, Link extracted the Master Sword from its sheath and directed its tip towards the Tektites. The Tektites responded by taking a cautious step backwards, but their jaws didn't yield in their incessant snapping.

He turned his head slightly to the anxious Zora behind him. "You know the drill, stay behind me."

He spotted a nod of acknowledgement and once again turned to face the Tektites…just as one of the giant insects scurried across the dais with the speed of a twister snake and made a diving leap for Link's head.

"Damn, they're fast," Link thought calmly as he swung his blade…

The ground seemed to almost rupture as the Iron Knuckle stormed impatiently past one of the many bonfires now lit throughout the cemetery. The slight tremors caused by his thunderous footsteps were enough to rattle the enormous logs used to construct the bonfires, prompting one of the necromancers to scream restlessly as it tried to steady the logs and prevent the structure from collapsing. The supernatural-like fire that devoured the wood burned the necromancer's hands in the process, but the blind creature didn't notice or care.

Noticeably irritated, the Iron Knuckle swung its hand and deliberately missed the necromancer after it finished steadying the bonfire. "Make these things stronger, you idiot! If this thing collapses during the ceremony, I'm going to rip out your throat. Understand?"

The necromancer crouched in fear at the Knuckle's threat and screamed a reply in its blood-curling voice.

"Good!" the Knuckle snapped as it lowered its hand. "Now get back to work! I want five more bonfires made before we begin!"

After screaming another response, the necromancer picked up its peculiar orb and then scuttled off as fast as it could to help the other necromancers finish construction of the woodpiles.

The Iron Knuckle made a spitting motion in the necromancer's direction as it continued walking down a pathway to the edge of the graveyard. "Pah! Filthy creatures…I almost wish Lord Ganondorf hadn't created them. What good are they for besides this stupid ceremony? They can't even lift a bloody dagger. All they care about are those stupid spheres…"

The Knuckle got cut off as its foot struck a tombstone it failed to notice. Agitated, the armor swung at the stone slab with its enormous axe and tore the stone apart with a loud crunch. Satisfied, the Knuckle continued on its way.

"Still, this is Lord Ganondorf's plan, and what he says must come to pass," the Iron Knuckle mused to itself. The creature then chuckled. "Heh…I wish I could see the look on that Hero of Time's face when he sees what we're about to release. I'm sure he'll cry like a sandworm before he dies facing it. And then with him out of the way, Lord Ganondorf can focus on finding that accursed Zelda and her pathetic resistance."

The Iron Knuckle's thoughts ended just as it reached the end of the graveyard, a large fenced-off section with one border being the edge of a crag from a nearby hill. Curiosity set inside the Knuckle's mind as it wondered what this section was for. This segment was nowhere near the entrance of the "prison," but it seemed to hold some kind of importance. Deciding to see what was inside, the Knuckle took one glance back to make sure the necromancers were still working before it entered the fenced-off plot of land.

Right away the Knuckle noticed the gravestones were in a higher concentration than outside in the main cemetery, suggesting this place really was important. The creature knelt down and tried reading the tombstone inscriptions to see what they said, but neither the names nor the epitaphs said anything of significance. Curiously, though, a lot of the names had military nomenclatures, many of them of high rankings.

"Maybe this is a military graveyard," the Knuckle pondered as it approached the far edge of the graveyard section. "How pathetic."

That same line of thought ran through the amour's mind as it studied more of the gravestones. Most of buried were indeed military men, though several stones did display the gravesites of high ranking court officials. Still, the Knuckle found nothing particularly fascinating about this place, and after a few minutes of grave-reading it started to consider heading back to the necromancers to see if they had finished their task.

But just before it could change that consideration into action, something caught the Iron Knuckle's eye: a gravestone larger than all the others, a stone large enough to contain a body and covered in intricate carvings on all sides.

"Hmm, what's this?" the armor muttered as it thudded its way to the stone and knelt down. "Pretty fancy tombstone here. Must've got a load to make. Shame that stupid gravedigger didn't leave to enjoy the fruits of his labor, ha! Now, let's see…Here lies William Mathias Gammon, the…what the? This can't be right…this is the grave site of…?"


A voice behind the Iron Knuckle cut off his train of thought. A little surprised, the Knuckle stood up and turned around to find one of the Iron Knuckles it had left behind in Kakariko Village, standing within arm's reach of him.

"What do you want?" the head Iron Knuckle demanded. "I thought I told you to stay in the village and prevent anyone from leaving…"

"That's why I'm here, sir! The villagers are leading some kind of revolt. The Moblins and the other Knuckle are keeping them at bay, but we need your help."

The head Knuckle blinked silently at its underling's plea. Something didn't feel right…

"What happened to your voice? I thought you were Gerudian, but now you sound like a Hylian."

The underling Knuckle remained still for a moment before it spoke again, only this time to itself and in a flash of disbelief and anger. "Bah, stupid accent. Should've just got him in the back when he wasn't looking."

The head Iron Knuckle's fist tightened around its axe. "Who are you?" it demanded.

The minion responded by raising its own axe and bringing its sharp edge down toward the head Knuckle's helmet.

Link groaned heavily as he dunked the Master Sword in the water surrounding the platform again, hoping it would work this time. But the waters alone were unable to remove the sticky juices hardening on the blade's surface, which was exactly what Link didn't want. Growling, Link reached into one of his bags around his waist and pulled out a cloth. He wetted the cloth in the waters before he started to wipe the yellow sap from his sword's surface.

"Why can't your blood be more like a Hylian's?" the Hero of Time complained as he stared momentarily at the hacked carcasses of the Tektites, lying a short distance away on the dais. Their armored bodies shattered and their legs snapped, the Tektites were barely recognizable as their carcasses reclined in a pool of their own golden juices. One of the insects had its eye punctured and red pus flowing from its socket, while the other's eye was spared but now stared listlessly at the one who had so easily killed them.

"But noooooo, you had to have blood that sticks to my weapon like bloody tree sap, and of course I'll have to get my clothes cleaned once this is all done," the Hylian continued carping as he wiped his blade as thoroughly as he could. "And you didn't even put up much of a fight for all this trouble. How pathetic can you get? Buggers…"

As the ooze finally started to slide off Link's sword, two damp arms glided past his neck and slid down his chest, their fingertips feeling the ridges of his ribcage through his shirt. "Forget about them, darling," cooed Ruto as her lips brushed against his ear. "They're not worth your time."

"As if I didn't already know that," Link's thoughts sighed as he finished cleaning his blade as best he could. He squeezed his cloth dry and returned it to his pouch before sending the Master Sword back into its sheath. He then made an attempt to stand, but Ruto's clinging made it difficult. At least she wasn't choking him this time, thankfully.

"So, where to now, Link?" Ruto asked almost too gleefully, pressing her bosom firmly against Link's back.

"Wherever this thing Ganondorf called Morpha is, I guess," Link answered as he tried to unhook Ruto's arm from his neck, this time more successfully than last time. "If the Forest and Fire Temples weren't flukes, Ganondorf uses really powerful creatures kept in each temple to maintain a lock on each temple's awakening. This Morpha definitely fits the profile."

The Hylian scratched his head with a sigh. "Unfortunately, I have no clue where he is." He turned around to look the Zora princess in the eye. "I don't suppose you know your way around this place, do you?"

Ruto, who's face had appeared slightly playful, gave a more serious expression as she answered. "Unfortunately, I don't. My father never took me here before or even talked about this place to me. I'm just as lost as you are."

Link frowned as he kicked an imaginary stone. "Perfect. Then we're no better than blind ducks walking through a battlefield. Morpha could find us before we find it…" Recalling what happened the last time, Link felt the urge to scan the room for small holes in the walls where the creature's jelly-like substance had appeared. A growing tenseness did manifest in his body when he noticed several identical cavities littered around the room, but thankfully there was no indication of Morpha.

Either the monster was waiting for the right time to attack…or its unfortunate encounter with his shadow counterpart had made it a little cautious…

A soft grunt escaped his lips as he rubbed his forehead with his fingertips. "Bah, whatever. We'll just have to make due with what we have." He glanced around the chamber for a moment, looking for anything he may have missed during his initial scan. But aside from the tiny holes that threatened an attack from Morpha, the chamber walls held nothing except the intricate carvings and fiery torches that typified the other temples. Aside from the corridor underneath the indoor pool, there didn't appear to be any other entrance or exit. No doorway, or window…

Just then, Link remembered there were other entrances, but not in the chamber walls…

"Come on, Ruto," Link said as he sheathed his still somewhat dirty blade and started walking along the dais.

"Where are we going?" the princess inquired as shuffled alongside her beloved.

"To look for a way into this place," the Hylian replied, pointing to the pillar-like building that held the balcony on which they walked. "There's a reason why the front door to this temple leads to this room, and I'm sure we'll find it if we look around a little."

Sure enough, as the two of them rounded the corner on the dais, Link immediately spotted something engraved in the architecture that differed from the usual intricate carvings and the holes that threatened an appearance from Morpha: a door surrounded by plagues and a heavy frame, inserted in the very center of the wall. Just as Link had figured, this door had to be an entrance for Hylians, akin to the scattered Zora entrances in the pillar beneath the water's surface.

He quickly glanced around the room – partially as a safety precaution, partially to make sure the door was the only thing of note in the area – before he led the princess to the portal: a thick-looking stone slab adorned with nothing but typical wear and tear from frequent past use. At first Link didn't know how to open the latch-less door, but a gentle nudge against the slab with his palm revealed that it swung inward on hidden suicide hinges. Taking this as a sign that things were looking up, the Hero of Time entered the portal, leading the Zora princess with him.

The inside of the pillar proved to be very different from what Link had imagined; rather than a room, it felt more like a segment of a hollow tube. Curiously, the interior took the shape of a circular pipe rather than the tetragon exterior walls, and instead of a ceiling the inside was roofed by darkness leading who knew where. Even the floor had its own quirk: it was a grating, porous enough for water to flow through but closely knit enough for a person to walk on comfortably. A quick inspection revealed that portions of the floor were attached to hinges that lifted the pieces upward, though the purpose of this wasn't clear since it would take a lot of effort to lift the grating sections from either above or beneath.

As for the furnishings, there weren't any – the room was seemingly devoid of anything that resembled furniture and decorations. But as he stepped further into the circular chamber with the Zora princess, Link's brief scan of the area brought to his attention a lone exception to that thought: a metallic plaque attached to the far end of the well. Curious, he led Ruto to the tablet so he could get a better look at it.

He grimaced when he tried reading it. "I can't read this…this lettering's too eroded to make out," he sighed. "It's nothing but jibberish…"

"Wait, let me see," Ruto politely interjected as she leaned forward to get a better look at the plaque. After a moment's hesitation she grinned slightly before looking at her betrothed. "No wonder you couldn't read it, silly. This isn't eroded Hylian text. It's perfectly understandable Zoran text. Though it is a little eroded, I'll admit, but nothing I can't read."

"Is that right?" Link said, feeling a little relieved and a little silly for his incorrect evaluation of the plaque. "Well, could you please read it for me, if you don't mind?"

"Not at all," Ruto grinned before returning her attention to the tablet, taking a few moments to study the lettering. As she did, Link took the brief opportunity to take one final look around the room. Everything was as bland and ordinary as before, though now he did finally notice that beneath the hinged grating of a floor was more water. Obviously the grated floor had something to do with this water, but he couldn't decipher the purpose at the present time…

"Finished," Ruto uttered before turning to the Hero of Time with a proud grin on her face. "The writing appears to be directions for getting around and about the temple."

"Directions, eh?" Link nodded. "Interesting claim for this thing to make, especially considering there doesn't appear to be any other place to get directions to around here. What kind of directions does it give?"

"I'm not quite sure," Ruto squeaked, putting a finger to her lips in thought. "It lists several places to go – chapel, storage, and so on – and then adds something weird next to each destination."

"Weird? Weird as in how?"

"I don't know," the princess admitted. "Look, I'll show you." She motioned for Link to take another look at the tablet; he did so without a word and waited for her to explain. Ruto leaned forward and then brushed her fingers over some of the writing. "See these symbols? These are basic Zoran ideograms, stuff most Hylians won't understand but any Zora can recognize. I can read everything on this tablet…everything except for these 'weird' things I mentioned."

The princess allowed her fingers to drift to a set of carvings in the plaque that even Link realized bared little resemblance to Zoran text. "I've never seen these kinds of letters before," Ruto stated. "In fact, I don't think they are letters. I'm sure if my father were here he'd tell us in an instant…"

Now it was Link's turn to say, "Wait a minute." He gently moved Ruto's fingers away from the plaque and brushed his own digits over the weird symbols, getting a good feel for them. They looked…familiar. Very familiar. And all of the peculiar symbols shared something in common. Somethings. Sets of parallel lines. Bars…

Link's jaw snapped shut to provide audio for the sudden thought in his head.

"Could they be…?" he muttered to himself as he reached into his pouch and pulled out something in his fist that Ruto couldn't see.

"Darling, what are you…?" she started to ask when Link raised a hand.

"Shhh, just a moment, I want to check something."

He raised his clenched fist to his mouth, and he started moving his fingers up and down in a bizarre rhythmic motion that Ruto couldn't explain. It was only when the Hero of Time lowered his hand after a few moments with a satisfied look in his eyes did she finally notice the amethyst instrument in his palm. Before she could comment on it, Link disclosed his revelation.

"They're musical notes."

"Musical notes?" Ruto repeated with a blink. "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," Link nodded as he studied the short bars of notes in the tablet again. "I mean, it fits perfectly with the previous two temples. I had to use a song to open doors in both the Forest Temple and Fire Temple, and it looks like the Water Temple makes use of a multitude of songs. Each song on this thing is unique – obviously that means a different path opens for each song."

He grinned as he added, "Now we just need to figure out where to go, and I think I have a good idea where."

"Where, darling? Where?" Ruto asked almost enthusiastically, tearing her attention away from him and towards the tablet.

"Here," Link answered, pointing a finger at a set of Zoran letters. "Read what that says, please."

"It says, 'Sacred Pool,' " Ruto obliged before she noticed something. "But wait, Link…there's no music piece next to this name. There's just a strange symbol there…"

"Exactly," the Hylian acknowledged with a nod. "And I know what that symbol is. It's the symbol of the Door of Time."

Ruto glanced at her fiancé. "The Door of Time? Isn't that the place where you found your sword or something?"

"Yes, but more importantly, it's a door that needed a song to open. The doors that I opened in the other two temples all required this song, and behind each door I found something important. The Forest Temple door held some mystic torches that opened the way to a ritual hall, and the Fire Temple door contained the Megaton Hammer. I have a strong feeling that something important can be found at this 'Sacred Pool.' If not Morpha, then something that could greatly benefit us."

Ruto clapped her hands together eagerly. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's go there and see what we can find!"

Link spared a moment to turn his head towards Ruto and give her a quiet look. "Not yet," he said finally.

The Hero of Time's reply surprised the princess, who asked her beloved why not.

"Because I'm not going to be careless this time," the Hylian answered as he reached for something on his belt Ruto allowed Link the opportunity to continue, which he took. "In the last two temples, two friends of mine came close to being killed by the things that were in those temples. Saria, Darunia…you don't know these two very well, but they were very good friends of mine that nearly died because I couldn't protect them. Not this time…"

Without another word, Link pulled an item from his belt and placed it firmly in Ruto's hand. It was a dagger…or rather, it was the "sword" he had used when he still believed himself to be a Kokiri. Link didn't want for Ruto to say something before he removed his shield from his back and handed it to the Zora. The princess accepted it, though rather reluctantly.

"This blade and my shield should protect you from whatever we might face. I'll do my best to protect you, but there might be a time when I won't be there, so you might have to depend on yourself for a bit. Are you up to that?"

Realizing the gravity of her fiancé's words, Ruto glanced down at the items Link had given her before looking back up at him. "I…I think so, but…but what about you? How will you protect yourself without a shield…?"

"Remember that magical shield I used when I fought that Barinade? Nayru's Love should be more than enough to protect me. It'll be a bit draining if I use it too long, but this temple's been so pedestrian thus far I doubt I'll break a sweat."

Link expected Ruto to giggle or cheer ecstatically at his admittedly inflated boast, but amazingly Ruto looked down at the knife and shield as a worried expression crept into her face. "I…I don't know…I'm not sure if I'm strong enough for this…I haven't been much use to you on this journey so far. I've been nothing but a burden. How can I protect myself if I can't even help the man I love?"

By the Three Goddesses, do we have to do the self-deprecation bit now Link groaned in his mind, allowing a sigh to escape his lips. So badly did he want to grab Ruto by the shoulders, shake some sense into her enormous skull, and demand at the top of his voice, "I don't have time for this tripe, okay? Just answer the bloody question!"

But he didn't. Instead he took a couple deep breaths, maintained his composure, looked straight at the Zora princess, and said, "Ruto…so what?"

The tone in his voice sounded callous enough for Ruto to lift her head in gentle shock. "So what…?"

"Yes, so what if you've been a burden? So what if you haven't been much use to me so far? So what if the only practical thing you've done so far is sucked water from my lungs and used it as an excuse to get all lovey-dovey with me? Really, so what? I don't care. All that matters is that I've brought you along this far, and I'm planning on bringing you along the rest of the way. I could ask you to stay here, or maybe cower in a corner somewhere, but I'm not. Instead I'm giving you a means to defend yourself and asking you if you're able to use these means against whatever we face, whether it's Morpha or a giant mutated foot lice. So please, just give me a simple yes or no. Are you up to it?"

Ruto didn't answer Link immediately, and when she did she still sounded hesitant. "I…I don't know…"

Link quickly attempted to kill that hesitation. "Ruto…yes or no?"

Ruto looked down again at the dagger and shield, then up at Link, who was staring at her with a firm insistence. Then back at the armaments. Then Link's face again. She exchanged glances between the two several times before she released a deep sigh and nodded.

"Yes…I'm up to it."

Link felt his own shoulders relax. "Good." He once again turned his attention to the plaque. "Okay, get ready, I'm going to play this song. I'm not sure what's going to happen, so be prepared…"

"Link, what's this?"

Ruto's question made Link roll his eyes as he faced the princess. "What's what?" he asked tiredly.

"This," she replied, pointing out a small circular indentation in the dagger's hilt.

When Link realized what it was, he quickly turned around again so Ruto didn't notice the "oh, bugger" look in his eyes. "It's a groove…for a jewel…that's all."

"A jewel, huh?" the Zora repeated curiously, studying the indentation more closely. "What kind of jewel?"

"I don't know…a ruby, I think."

"A ruby? Well, what happened to it? Did you take it out or something?"

"I…must've lost it."

"Lost it? How?"

"It must've fallen out when I was fighting or something."

"Fallen out? Are you sure…?"

"Look, I'm playing the song now, okay? Be quiet."

Giving Ruto no time to continue the inquiry, Link put the Ocarina of Time to his lips and played the Song of Time. The notes resonated in the tiny chamber brilliantly, the echoes crashing against the walls several times before they faded either in the dark endless ceiling or the waters below the caged floor.

Link played the song once before he pocketed the instrument in his pouch once again. He instantly scanned the room, expecting something to happen that would lead them to this "Sacred Pool." A door opening, an elevator descending from the ceiling…anything. But his expectations weren't matched by anything at first. The walls didn't budge, no platform appeared from anywhere…not even a low rumbling sound far away to indicate that something was happening somewhere as a result of the Song of Time.

Scratching his head, Link turned to Ruto, who appeared just as puzzled as he was. "Nothing's happening," he pointed out.

"I can see that," Ruto concurred, looking around the chamber once before adding, "I'm going to take a quick look outside and see if something's happened outside."

As the princess slinked over to the door, Link chose to study the plaque again. Maybe he had misread the symbol – it might not be the sign of the Door of Time as he had believed. Or perhaps the Zoras used some other tune for the Door of Time. Maybe if he played another one of the songs on the tablet…

"Darling, something's wrong here."

"What?" Link asked glibly, still studying the tablet without looking up at Ruto.

"The door won't open."

That got Link to turn around. "What do you mean the door won't open?"

Before the princess could restate her strange discovery, Link heard a sound beneath his feet. He glanced down, peered through the grating of a floor…and immediately noticed something going on with the water. It was bubbling, sluggishly at first but rapidly growing in intensity until bubbles and foam formed on the water's surface almost furiously. It reminded Link of the molten lava in Death Mountain…which wasn't a good thing…

"Link, have you figured out anything yet?"

Interrupting Link's concern, Navi burst from underneath his hat and hovered before his face with the air of authority of knowing everything that was going on, as well as the smugness of what should be done next.

"I'm getting a little bored sitting under your hat waiting for you to do something. Are you getting anything done, or do I have to…?"

That was when Navi noticed both Link and Ruto ignoring her and staring uneasily down at the floor. Confused, Navi glanced down…and was just in time to see the boiling water beneath the grating abruptly surge up from the pool, like a corked geyser that had just been released.

Seconds before the surge of water could gush through the porous floor and sweep the three from the chamber, Navi looked up, gave Link an irritated stare, and managed one angry question.

"What did you do?"

Logs piled several stories high, some burning with firelight as eerie and sinister as the final moments of death, crashed to the ground with uncoordinated thuds as one of the bonfires collapsed in on itself. Several necromancers temporarily abandoned their precious orbs and attempted to save the structure, but one ended up being crushed beneath the weight of one of the logs and the others could do nothing to slow the bonfire's breakdown.

This infuriated the head Iron Knuckle, who stormed as quickly as it could to eliminate the cause of the bonfire's destruction: the Iron Knuckle that had tried to kill him, the Knuckle that now spoke with a noticeably different accent and voice. Whoever this Knuckle was, it certainly wasn't one of Ganondorf's soldiers, the head Iron Knuckle knew. And if this renegade wasn't stopped, who knows how many heads would fly at Ganondorf's command?

Making amazingly agile jumps over the fallen logs of the second bonfire destroyed by the renegade, the head Knuckle reached the rebel, who was busy pulling its enormous hatchet from the remains of the log pile, and performed a downward attack for its head. The insurgent Knuckle noticed the attack just in time and used its ax's hilt to block the strike. Sparks flew as the head armor's blade clashed with the renegade's, similar to how the lead Knuckle had blocked the attack when its former underling revealed its traitorous ways.

"Who are you?" the head Knuckle demanded for the countless time, trying to throw the rebel off balance.

"Someone here to stop you," the subordinate Knuckle replied firmly, holding its ground. "You will not get away with this; I'm putting an end to this atrocity."

The head Knuckle laughed. "Feh, what a pathetic threat. You couldn't kill me when you had the chance, and to make up for it you're trying to destroy each bonfire in this cemetery." It squeezed its grip on its weapon. "Do you really think you can stop this ceremony when it's already close to being finished? You'll have to kill me first, as well as every Moblin and necromancer in the area. You can't do that all alone, can you?"

The head Knuckle suddenly used its upper body strength to heave its massive frame forward, catching the other Knuckle off guard and sending it sprawling to its knees. The lead armor tried to take advantage of the moment by attempting another downward strike, but the rebel again stopped the leader's ax with the hilt of its own weapon. This time, however, the traitor armor slipped its weapon's hilt into the curved lower edge of the lead Knuckle's blade, locking the two weapons together. The insurgent then tightened its grip on its weapon and became rigid, refusing to budge from its spot or allow the lead Knuckle a chance to pull its weapon free.

"Curse you!" the head Knuckle roared as it struggled to pull its axe free from its underling's hilt. The rebel didn't move an inch during the struggle, remaining content to stare up at its former leader and sneer with its hollow gaze.

But the lead Iron Knuckle had had enough. Unable to free its weapon, it rushed forward and delivered an unexpected and powerful kick to the subordinate Knuckle's chest. The rebel, not moving to evade the attack, landed on its back with a rattled clang. It even made no attempt to escape as the lead Knuckle planted a heavy foot on its underling's abdomen, pinning it to the ground.

Sneering back down at the traitor, the leader Knuckle lifted its axe once again – the subordinate's weapon still locked into its blade – and brought the full weight of both weapons down upon the underling's chest, burying the metallic head of the axe deep inside the rebel's armor.

And everything went still: the head Knuckle, the cleaved underling, even the nearby necromancers who had witnessed the battle.

Satisfied with its victory, the head Knuckle pulled its weapon from the now immobile rebel's chest and placed its axe aside, planning on unlocking the two axes from each other in a moment. It knelt beside the remains of the underling Knuckle and snickered loudly.

"All that threatening and you die this easily?" the head Knuckle laughed. "You Hylians are a joke. I don't know how you managed to get this armor, but it obviously didn't do much for you." Another chuckle escaped from the Knuckle before it flexed its fingers. "Okay, enough chitchat. Let's see who you really are."

After taking one final moment to bask in its triumph, the Iron Knuckle reached out with its hands and grabbed a thick armored plate on the motionless Knuckle's chest, an area where the lead Knuckle had left a thick fissure with its axe. With a couple quick tugs, the lead Knuckle tore this plate off of its subordinate armor and threw it to the side, exposing a large cavity in the chest and a vacant interior.

A sight that released a loud, shocked roar from the lead Knuckle.

"This armor…is hollow?" it bellowed as it forced itself to stand. "But that's impossible! What's going on…?"


Smoke and red heat clouded around the Iron Knuckle, blinding its sight and knocking it off its feet. It landed on the ground a short distance from the subordinate Knuckle's remains, bouncing once before coming to a stop. The impact against the ground jolted the head Knuckle rather violently, but the blow wasn't enough to stun the now enraged armor.

It pushed itself back onto its feet and turned its attention to where the bomb had exploded. A small cloud still remained where the explosive had detonated, and the Knuckle didn't need to look carefully to see that the blast had accomplished its intended task: shattering the two axes beyond usefulness. All around, frightened necromancers squealed loudly as they ran feverishly in all directions, their arms flailing about wildly if they weren't protecting their mystical artifacts.

Anger surged through every joint of the Knuckle's armor as its eyes darted in every direction imaginable, searching for the culprit. It ignored the frightened cries of the necromancers and put no effort into coaxing them to fixing the destroyed bonfires. The head Knuckle wanted blood, and even without its axe it could tear a Hylian apart. But it saw nobody, and no sound or movement indicated otherwise.

Frustrated, the Iron Knuckle roared again. "Where are you, you bastard? Come out and case me…! What in Hael…!"

The Knuckle's exclamation of surprise came when it felt two feet land on its shoulders, allowing the body of some unseen assailant to perch on its armor plates. The sudden and unexpected arrival of the mystery attacker stunned the Knuckle for a moment, but it quickly made up for its surprise by attempting to reach for the perched assailant. But the attacker gave the armor no opportunity to even reach him.

With one sharp kick, the attacker landed a blow with his foot against the Iron Knuckle's helmet, sending the piece of headgear to the ground with an ugly clank. The assailant then jumped down and clung to the Knuckle's back like a leech, avoiding the armor's hands ready to rip him to shreds. Out of harm's reach, the mysterious foe reached for something small and curved on its belt.

"Want to know how I got inside that armor?" he uttered to the Knuckle as a loud scratching sound was heard. "Let me show you."

Then, using a well practiced aim, the attacker tossed the circular item into a gap in the armor where the Knuckle's helmet once stood. Without wasting a second, the assailant subsequently launched himself from the Knuckle's back, landed on the ground, and sprinted a short distance away from the armor.

Meanwhile, from within the hollow interior of the head Knuckle came a high pitched shriek, accompanied by the echoes of a soft yet noticeably hissing…


A second explosion rocked the graveyard, louder but more isolated than the first. The headless Iron Knuckle fell silent, its once menacing arms abruptly drooping to the sides as smoke started to pour from every cavity in its armor. Whoever was inside that armor couldn't have survived; nothing really did when a lit Bomb Flower seed was thrown into a confined space. Now all that remained of the Knuckle was a squatting statue – true, the armor hadn't been destroyed, but the explosion had killed its operator, rendering it useless

Taking a defiant step towards the defeated Knuckle, Sheik grinned underneath his collar. "You know, it's always a good idea to look behind you once in a while.

Still smiling, Sheik found it a bit tricky to return to a more serious line of thought as he started pondering how to destroy the remaining bonfires

…before his instincts suddenly kicked in and told him to roll forward. He listened to his instincts just in time to avoid a sharp, crescent moon-shaped blade slice through the air where the Sheikah's neck had been an instant earlier. Sheik rolled across the ground several times, and fortunately for him he did, as the ground behind him was cleaved twice by the owner of the blade

Finally, certain he was out of reach, Sheik returned to his feet and spun around to face his attacker, his arms unsheathing his daggers from their sleeves. He almost expected to see a Moblin or even another Iron Knuckle, but instead he saw a person just like him…no, not exactly. This person wasn't a Sheikah or even a Hylian. He…no, she was Gerudian, not much older than Sheik, dressed in traditional attire that defined the Geurdo trademark blend of eroticism and bloodlust

The Gerudo snarled at her inability to kill the Sheikah, but she didn't falter in her attentiveness as she shifted into a defensive stance at the sight of Sheik's daggers. Both opponents then remained deadly still, eyeing each other quietly and thoroughly, scanning for possible weaknesses and seeking the right time to attack. After a while, the Gerudo finally spoke.

"You must be Sheik.

The Sheikah youth twitched for a moment at the mention of his name by someone who was undoubtedly one of Ganondorf's henchmen, but only for a moment. "I see you know my name," he confirmed, finding no good reason to lie. "Maybe you can tell me yours?

The Gerudo's lips cracked a smile for the first time. "My name? Feh, it won't do you any good, boy. After all, your name is more precious to me than mine is to you."

"Because your twisted and evil king wants me dead," Sheik uttered

The Gerudo sneered and spat to the ground near Sheikah's feet. "Say what you want about the great king Ganondorf. Once I bring your head to him, he will devour that filthy tongue of yours, along with all the contents of your skull. And it'll only be a matter of time before we find that wench Zelda you're hiding and skin her alive.

Sheik stiffened at hearing Zelda's name. "You'll never get your hands on her," he declared, lowering his posture slightly. "And I'll make sure of that by making sure you never leave this graveyard.

The Gerudo's eyes sparkled at Sheik's words. "Heh…so you still think you can stop the ritual? Take another guess, boy. You couldn't kill me inside the Iron Knuckle armor, and if you hadn't ducked I'd have your scalp as a souvenir by now. If you want to stop the ritual, you'll have to kill me first.

Then, without warning, the woman lowered her blade and raised her head to the sky. "Necromancers!

As if snared by some kind of spell, every necromancer fell silent and ceased their wild, fearful flailing at the commanding tone of the Gerudo's voice

"Listen to me and listen well! You will repair those bonfires and complete the ritual in under one hour…or I will cut out your annoying tongues and shove those stupid orbs of your down your miserable throats! Do I make myself clear, you miserable curs?

It wasn't necessarily the threat itself that sent shivers down the necromancers' spines; rather it was the vitriol and viciousness in the Gerudo's words, as if hidden in her warning was the possibility of something even worse. Wasting no time, several of the necromancers immediately responded and started rebuilding the collapsed bonfires, while others started encircling the already lit blazes and started chanting with their mystical spheres in hand

Satisfied, the Gerudo turned her attention back to Sheik, who had made no attempt to attack her during her heated warning. This Gerudo was obviously peeved at being caught off guard with that bomb earlier; the Sheikah knew she wouldn't allow her guard to be dropped again so easily. A confident gleam in her eye, the Gerudo once again raised her blade to an intimidating position.

A grin spread across her lips. "Come and get me, boy.

The innuendo was unmistakable, but Sheik wasn't in the mood for playful banter between a Sheikah and a Gerudo. He responded to the girl's taunts by tightening his grip on his daggers and eyeing the Gerudo like a hawk before declaring, "As cocky as you were inside that suit. You won't escape me this time.

Then, without another word, Sheik pulled both his hands behind his head and sprang them forward, sending both of his knives sailing through the air in coiling arcs towards the Gerudo. The girl snickered and readied her blade, her eyes following the thrown daggers' trajectories like a hawk trailing prey. As the two blades were about to sink into her flesh, the Gerudo swung her blade with precision and swatted both knives away from her

Pathetic, she wanted to say, but Sheik had already made his next move. Without waiting for his knives to hit their target, the youth had rushed forward towards the Gerudo as she was distracted by his daggers. By the time the girl noticed the Sheikah's close proximity, Sheikh had already pulled out a second pair of daggers from his sleeves, and the Gerudo's massive blade was too far away to deflect both weapons at once

Taking the opportunity, Sheik leapt into the air towards the Gerudo, aiming his knives where they would be sure to land at least a single blow


…but both of Sheik's daggers were blocked, one by the Gerudo's colossal sword…and the other by a second, smaller but just as deadly-looking crescent moon blade. Amazingly, the Gerudo had pulled the second blade literally out of nowhere, a testament to the Gerudian ability to deceive opponents. The girl had done nothing to indicate she had a second weapon, and Sheik suspected if he had attacked using one dagger, that second blade of hers would've sliced him open by now

Unable to push past the Gerudo's defenses, Sheik retreated a step or two back, keeping an eye on the girl. The Gerudo sneered once again and flaunted her deadly weapons. "I don't play games, boy.

To affirm her declaration, the Gerudo launched herself forward, releasing a high-pitched battle cry from her lips as she prepared her blades for a direct assault. Sheik reacted by using his agility to nimbly sidestep out of the blades' path; he realized one well-placed swipe of that Gerudian steel could shatter his daggers, making them useless for defense. Undeterred, the Gerudo made every attempt to get in close range of the Sheikah, swinging her blades fervently at any vulnerable spot she saw. Every effort of hers failed to find its target, often missing Sheik's skin by a hair's breadth

With each eluding step he made, Sheik examined his opponent for any opening in her attacks. But with every slash she made with one sword, the other blade was ready to defend her from anything Sheik might try. The Gerudo was indeed not playing games; if she had the chance, she'd slice him into pieces without a word or thought

And while Sheik couldn't afford to divert any of his attention elsewhere, he knew that the Gerudo's orders were at this moment being carried out by the necromancers. Recalling the Gerudo's threats, he remembered he had under an hour to somehow get rid of this girl and interrupt the necromancers' ceremony. If only she had some kind of weakness, some opening in her attacks


A muffled yet lurid grunt replaced the Gerudo's screeches as Sheik planted his knee directly in her chest just above her stomach, sending a violent shock throughout her upper body. The girl had tried to prevent the Sheikah's counterattack, but he had managed to obstruct her blades with his daggers, pinning them out of the way before she could swing them rather than blocking them in mid-attack. The Gerudo had become overaggressive in her assault, and now she paid for that belligerence with a solid kick below her bosom

If the necromancers were paying attention to the fight between the two youths, they made no indication of it with their chilling screeches. The girl collapsed to the ground on her back, her mouth gaping and her eyes wide in genuine surprise. Still, as a hardened Gerudo, she wasted no time in trying to return to her feet and face the boy that had sent her sprawling once again

But Sheik wasted no time either. As the Gerudo attempted to stand up, he sent another powerful kick into her stomach, sending her arms flailing into the air with her weapons. Using this momentary distraction to his advantage, the Sheikah slapped both blades out of the girl's hands and far out of her reach. He kept his knee firmly implanted on the Gerudo's stomach as he quickly contorted his body in the most useful position he could. Within a matter of seconds, his other foot pinned one of the girl's wrists to the ground, while his left hand firmly gripped the Gerudo's remaining wrist

And with her legs unable to do anything to help her, Sheik was free to use his right hand to press the fine edge of one of his knives against the Gerudo's throat

"I don't play games, either," Sheik grinned from behind his collar, unable to help firing off one final quip

The Gerudo didn't react to the retort; she remained motionless, glaring at her captor with eyes that rivaled those of her Iron Knuckle armor's. She showed no fear or remorse, just spite for someone she considered one of her king's most dangerous enemies. Sheik knew he couldn't allow her to live – if the positions were reversed, he'd be dead by now. He had to kill her, just as he had killed many other Gerudo during this heinous war, and he flexed his fingers against the hilt of his dagger as he prepared to carry out the deed

But he couldn't. Sheik couldn't kill her

As the two of them lay there in the cemetery, eyeing each other with varying sentiments in their eyes, Sheik's mind tried to sort out the reason why he couldn't kill this particular Gerudo. Yes, her beauty made her appear harmless compared to other Gerudo he had slain, but their recent skirmish more than disproved her innocence in that regard. So why couldn't he gather up his courage and slit her throat, a cruel act to be sure but one that had to be done to ensure his survival and the survival of the resistance against Ganondorf? Why

Maybe it was her eyes

He couldn't put his finger on it, but something about the Gerudo's eyes didn't look right to him. Yes, the vitriol and hatred she had against him were clear as day, but the emotion looked…artificial. Behind the abhorrence was a look as empty and hollow as the Iron Knuckles' gaze, if not more so. Something about these eyes did not feel genuine, a feeling that extended to Sheik's hesitation

Could it be killing this girl might be…a mistake…

Just then, a smile curled onto the Gerudo's lips. "You hesitated," she sneered hoarsely with the blade pressed tightly against her windpipe. "That'll be your final mistake, boy.

Sheik was about to ask something when he heard what she undoubtedly heard first: the sounds of approaching footsteps. He didn't even need to ponder whether they were the footsteps of necromancers before figuring out they were Moblins coming from Kakariko Village. Perhaps a necromancer had abandoned its post to warn them of the skirmish between the Gerudo and the Sheikah. Perhaps they had heard the ruckus and came to investigate

Whatever the reason, Sheik had to get out of here quickly – even he was no match for a regiment of Moblins. He glanced up to see how far away they were

…and was surprised by the Gerudo pinned beneath him. Twisting her body more than Sheik had considered, the girl managed to slip her legs underneath his chest and send a powerful kick against his ribs, removing him from above her person and sending him too far away to regain his position

Realizing he had made a mistake in leaving her alive, Sheik scrambled to his feet and started running. The Gerudo scuttled to retrieve her weapons and tried to prevent the youth from escaping, but the Sheikah had already gained a lot of ground by the time she had even one blade in her hands. Irritation covered her face as she watched one of her king's most wanted enemies heading toward the mountainous horizon, and she would've considered chasing after him had the sound of approaching footsteps not become unavoidable by now

Moments later, at least ten Moblin soldiers shuffled their way beside the Gerudo, saluting as one of them, a captain, stepped forward

"What's goin' on 'ere, eh? One of 'em necros came by the village just now, 'ollerin' and screamin' about someone givin' this place trouble…is everythin' all right?

The Gerudo turned to face the Moblin captain, giving it a look that would scare even the most battle-tested warrior. "Is everything okay? I was nearly killed by one of our great Lord Ganondorf's most hated enemies while you were too dimwitted to notice that the two Knuckles I left in the village were missing. Do you really think everything's okay, you thickheaded twit?

The Moblin captain tried to maintain his composure against the Gerudo's anger, knowing better than to further upset a subordinate of Ganondorf. "I…I apologize, m'lady. Where is the bloke now…?

"Running with his tail between his legs for the hills," the Gerudo snapped. "If you had gotten here sooner, you actually might've caught him.

The captain's attempt to sound more formal than a Moblin usually sounds did little to quell the girl's anger. Trying to show some semblance of confidence, he nodded as firmly as he could. "Yes, I understand. We'll organize a search party and sniff the bugger out…

The Moblin's words were cut off abruptly as a deadly crescent moon-shaped blade was thrust near his face, the weapon's tip placed dangerously close between his eyes. Sweat started beading down the captain's face as the Gerudo's fierce gaze dared him to move and incite her anger further

"You? Sniff him out? Don't mock my intelligence," she growled. "Now listen, you brainless oaf. You and your little 'party' here are going to guard this cemetery. You will not move from this place until the necromancers have completed the ceremony. If you so much as let anyone else leave a footprint in this graveyard's soil, I will disembowel you and strangle your filthy neck with your own entrails. Do you understand, or do I need to remove something?

The Moblin resisted the urge to back away from the weapon pressed close to his face and muttered a frightened acknowledgement. "U-u-understood, m'lady.

The Gerudo eyed the captain for a moment before nodding herself and lowering her blade to her side. "Then get to it!

Snapping to attention, the Moblin captain spun around and faced his men, who appeared just as apprehensive as he did. "Right! You 'eard the Lady Nabooru! Surroun' an' protec' 'his place o' else! Get to it!

The Moblins reacted by saluting their captain before spreading out across the graveyard, weapons in hand. The necromancers paid no attention to them as they continued their preparations for the ritual, the ruthless threat given to them earlier still enough to silence their wild shrieks

As she watched the Moblins fan out, Nabooru still couldn't help spit to the ground in disgust

"Gods damn it to Hael…I almost had him. If I had gotten to my weapon sooner, that damned Sheikah would be dead by now. Still…" She glanced in the direction where Sheik had headed, the hilly terrain of the distant Death Mountain having already swallowed any visible trace of the outlaw. "…it's interesting that he was here at all. How did that boy learn about the ceremony so quickly? Was he in Kakariko Village when we arrived?"

Bits of teeth flashed inside her mouth as she grinned. "If that's the case, then Lord Ganondorf's plan will be that much more satisfying. Should he come back here, reinforcements or no, he'll have more to contend with than me.

Maintaining her grin, Nabooru started heading back to her empty Iron Knuckle armor, hoping the smell of burnt bomb power had dispersed by now. Even if it hadn't, the odor had to be better than the stench left inside the armor Sheik had been using, the armor now crudely decorated by what was left of a former Gerudo soldier……

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Sheik muttered that phrase over and over as he raced across the increasingly rocky terrain, keeping his gaze straight. Not once did he look back, mostly because he couldn't cope with his failure. If only he hadn't tried to distract the Iron Knuckle to get a clean shot, if only he had used a bomb with a shorter fuse, if only he had slit that Gerudo's throat when he had the chance…there were far too many ifs for him to accept this disappointment

And no doubt the graveyard will be better guarded, making it more difficult for him to get inside there and stop the ceremony. Which was the last thing he needed

Stopping to take a break next to a small hill of boulders, Sheik used the moment to consider his next plan of action. It didn't take him long to figure out he didn't have one. Another setback he didn't need

"At least Malon's safe," he sighed, grasping for a silver lining. "She's far enough away from the village that she won't get caught in the ceremony's fringe. I only hope the magic isn't powerful enough to affect the people of Kakariko Village…I can't do anything for them now, not with those Moblins crawling everywhere."

He brushed some moisture from his brow for a minute before he did something he rarely did out in the open: he removed his collar from his face so he could breathe a bit more easily. He looked up at the sky, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, drawing in as much as he could inside his lungs. He then exhaled with a sharp hiss

…and collapsed to the ground, his back propped up against the nearest boulder. Though the temperature outside was rather warm, Sheik started to shiver quite violently. He hugged himself with his arms and curled up into a ball in an attempt to get warm. As he did so, he started whispering a silent prayer upon his lips

"Link…where are you? You've got to get back here…now…"

…wait a minute…is this real? Is this really an update on this left-for-dead fic?

Yes, readers, it is. Welcome to the updated-after-ten-months Legend of Zelda fic that many of you have been waiting for.

So, I bet you're all wondering the same thing: what took so damn long? Before I start listing my excuses, I will say right now that I accept any and all responsibility for the lack of updates in this fic. There are reasons for why recent chapters have not appeared, but ultimately it is up to me to update this fic, and I have ignored that action for the last ten months. So, if you wish to berate me for not giving this chapter sooner, I completely understand and will accept any reasonable criticism.

With that said, let's get going on why I haven't been updating recently.

The biggest I have to offer is simple: classes. Now, some of you are wondering, "But didn't I stop updating during the spring semester of this year? Yes, but here's the expanded answer. That spring was my last semester as an undergraduate, and thus I had to start looking for graduate schools. Naturally, that took up a lot of my time as I had to get letters of recommendation filled out, formed sent in, and money spent so I could have a career as a graduate student. This process also took up my time during the summer – my priorities shifted during that time, because I wouldn't have been able to sleep at night if I had missed an application deadline because I was focused more on writing this fic.

And now, I am actually a graduate. Specifically, I am a graduate student working at a university on a project involving rocket ship control optimization. I am also a teacher's assistant for two professors. So as you can imagine, a lot of my time recently is devoted to classes.

Of course, it's impossible for me to solely devote my time to classes. So why haven't I been writing in my spare time? Simply put, my work ethic is terrible. Every time I get an opportunity to work on this fic, I almost always find an excuse to put it off. This is my fault, and something I've been trying to fix but have been unsuccessful so far. It absolutely disgusting of me to do that, and I accept full responsibility for it.

There was also another reason for the delay: this chapter you just read (or skipped so as to read this Author's Note)? I don't like it that much as a standalone chapter. In fact, if people complain that this chapter is terrible, I will not be surprised. I honestly wanted to write two chapters before posting this one so that your patience would be rewarded, but the long absence of an update behooved me to post this already. I am prepared for people not to like this chapter, not only because I like to criticize myself, but also because it is very possible it's not good.

If that's the case, then why didn't I keep you all up to speed on my progress (or lack thereof)? Because I'm not the kind of person who likes to write more author's notes than chapters. I'd much rather update with a chapter than nothing at all, because I want this fic to be about the story, not about how me. Also, I believe has a policy that chapters cannot be only author's notes, which somewhat makes updating like that impossible.

And that ends the number of excuses I can come up with. I'm not asking you to pity me or thank me for this current chapter, because I've done a miserable job with this fic over the past couple years. The fact that people still ask me about it shows how much people like it, and I've let a lot of people down with not being responsible.

I really want to change my work ethic, and that must start with being responsible. To do so, I'm considering making myself accountable to you, the readers. If you want, I can create a blog (such easy things to make these days) where I update my progress with the fic's chapter. This will force me to keep you all up to speed and chew me out whenever I get complacent. If this is an idea you'd like me to try, please let me know through the following email:

arxane (at) gmail (dot) com

Of course, I will only do this if there are enough people asking me to do it. But if this is want I need to do in order to get off my ass and get things moving again, I will do it. You all deserve better than what you've gotten from me, and I will do what I can. A very special thanks to everyone who has stayed committed to this fic, and my sincerest apologies once again for my lack of updates.

Until next time, have a good one.