The snowy cliffs of Snowpeak were hazardous even in peaceful times; the mountain itself was a danger, with rockfalls, avalanches, snowed-over ravines, and storms that could kick up a solid wall of white out of a clear blue sky.
In the teeth of a screaming blizzard, a small gray form hunkered down against the wind, moving at the speed of an elderly snail. The little bump on its back moved, shook aside the snow that had accumulated on top of it in just a matter of minutes, and shouted down into the furry ear of a wolf.
"Where in Hyrule are you taking us?!" Midna demanded, holding tight to clumps of fur so that the shrieking wind didn't carry her off. "Aren't you following the scent of that fish?"
If Link could have answered her in his wolf form, he could have told her that he could smell nothing but reekfish regardless of which direction he turned. The fish, whose smell obviously sent even humans retching, had completely destroyed his senses.
As it was, all he could do was glare at her and turn back into the biting wind, doing his best to find some kind of shelter and hoping that he wasn't leading them in circles.
Suddenly, he felt the snow-covered ice beneath his feet shift, and a resounding crack rent the air. He leaned forward to jump back, but the ice shattered beneath him and he fell into the depths of a great ravine, howling until his head hit a rock and knocked him senseless.
The first thing he could sense when he wandered back into consciousness was the warm, flickering fire, the wood popping and tossing small embers near his nose. He slowly opened his eyes, expecting to see a Hylian woven carpet beneath him and perhaps an armchair or two in a stout wooden home.
There was no carpet or armchairs; he was in what looked like a round hut made of skins, with stout branches to hold them up. The fire sat in the middle, and around the floor were mats that appeared to be woven out of rushes, several of them showing very intricate geometric designs. He raised his head and sniffed the air; jumping to his feet and growling, he faced the source of a foreign smell to his right.
On the other side of the fire crouched another wolf, with a blue-black coat and a strange sort of mask over the top of its head. Its hair bristling, it turned to Midna, who sat next to it.
"Well, then," it said to her, "If you be not a demon, show me that this wolf is indeed human as you say."
Midna flipped under him and hid in his shadow; Link's form changed and he stood to face this new threat, one hand on the hilt of his sword. The wolf's lip curled back in what seemed to be a smile rather than a snarl – and then it too transformed.
A tall warrior in blue furs and tunics stood before Link, holding a sword that had been lying in front of him. The mask on top of his head now obscured his face. With his sword hand he gestured toward Link's shadow. "So your little friend was telling the truth…you were under some kind of curse. But what is she, if not a demon, if she can place it and take it away at will?"
"More or less." Link didn't move. "We're not demons or monsters, we're just lost travelers."
"Carrying a sword and shield like that? I think not. I can tell even from here they were made for a warrior; but I don't recognize the coat of arms."
Puzzled, Link brought his shield around to give the stranger a better look. "You don't recognize the seal of the Hylian royal family?"
"I'm not familiar with them. Are they related to the Emperor of Nippon?"
All Link could do was repeat part of the question. "Nippon?"
The stranger's mood softened, and he sheathed his sword. "You really are lost, aren't you?" He offered his hand. "My name is Oki. You are in Kamui, the northern lands that border Nippon."
"My name is Link." Returning the gesture, he asked, "Do you have any idea how to get to Hyrule from here?"
Link could sense Oki frowning behind his mask. "I've never heard of the place before. I found you at the foot of a ravine, near the northwestern border, as I was on patrol. If these had been different times, you might have found me more hospitable, but the infernal cold and the increase of monsters have all of our people on guard. But I could sense from the beginning that you were something more than wolf or demon, so I brought you back to my home."
"Thank you." Link's sincerity was obvious. "We probably would have frozen out there if you hadn't."
"No thanks are necessary. We deal fiercely with our enemies, but there is no need for us to be cruel to lost travelers. Now…." He paused, thinking. "Our elder is ill, and I doubt anyone in our village has heard of Hyrule either, so I can't tell you how to get back there. However, if you journey south to the capital city of Nippon, you could ask the Emperor. From what I hear, he fancies strange artifacts from the corners of the world, and if this Hyrule place exists, he probably knows someone who can bring you there."
The two of them, both in wolf form again, stood before a cave not far from Oki's hut. "If you go through here, you should be able to get to Nippon on the other side. I've never been there, but I'm told there is a village not far from the opening. You should be able to ask for directions there."
Once again Link expressed his thanks, and he and Midna departed.
After what seemed like hours, the two of them finally emerged in a much warmer climate, at the top of a high hill overlooking a large lake. To the back of them, they could see a wide field with winding footpaths snaking back and forth. Midna pointed to one leading through a gateway of flowering trees. "I'll bet that one leads to the village."
Link leaped off a small plateau and began running down the hill. Suddenly he drew up short, staring at the strange creature in front of him. It looked something like a big green ape, wearing some kind of cloth over its face, and carrying of all things a stringed musical instrument.
"What on earth?" Midna asked aloud. "Does it want to play us a tune?"
With of a sweep of its arm the creature flung the instrument at Link's head, and he jumped clear just in time. Crouching and growling, he could see out of the corners of his eyes an entire gang of the things approaching them.
"Well, I suppose these monsters are the same as any other," Midna shouted to Link over the increasing din. "Show them what you can do!"
Link leaped forward, snarling, teeth bared. The creature in his line of fire jumped nimbly to the side, then gave him a resounding smack on the backside that sent him rolling.
"Do I have to do everything!?" Midna summoned her power and managed to strike a few, but the monsters seemed too intelligent to willingly walk into her line of fire. "Just run!" she commanded.
Link sprinted off, but the monsters were in hot pursuit, and they called to others hidden in the hills to join in the chase. Link gave a short bark, indicating that he wanted to change to human form.
"No time! Just go, faster!" Midna demanded, but Link knew he couldn't move any faster.
Something brilliantly white flashed above them, and they heard one of the creatures scream. Whirling round, they were stunned to see a white wolf battling their pursuers. The strange appearance of the beast made Link stop in his tracks. The white wolf had odd red markings on its fur, but that wasn't nearly as noticeable as the flaming mirror on its back, a mirror that the wolf flung at the monsters and made them shatter like glass.
But there were too many monsters even for the lupine warrior, and it began to falter as the creatures tried to pile upon it. Link nodded to Midna and she changed him into human form. Link charged into the fray, sword swinging.
With the last monster slain, the white wolf sat down and regarded Link with interest as he wiped sweat from his forehead. "Wow, that was one heck of a curse. Did we get it off for you?" A small, cheeky voice came from the wolf's head, but seemed grossly mismatched to the wolf.
Squinting, Link leaned down toward the wolf's head and spied something bouncing on its nose. "What's this? A talking flea?"
"Flea!!" The tiny talker bounced furiously. "I'm no flea! I'm Issun the Wandering Artist, and a warrior to boot!" The little green person, his face somewhat obscured by a large hat, drew a tiny sword the size of a needle and flourished it in Link's face. "And the wolf that just saved your bacon is Amaterasu, the sun god!"
"Sun god?" Link regarded with some doubt the seated lupine warrior, who wagged her tail and gave him a friendly "wuff" in greeting. "Well, I have to admit I've never seen one of those before…" He gestured toward the flaming mirror.
"Oh?" Issun stopped bouncing. "You can see Ammy's true form? Well, then, maybe you're not as dumb as you look. Who are you, anyway, and what happened to the little demon riding on your back?"
"I'm not a demon!" Midna's exasperated voice came from Link's shadow. "And I'm not coming out in this harsh light!"
"Oh? Well, we can fix that, can't we?" Issun turned around to face Amaterasu, who merely looked upward. Suddenly, the sky darkened, the moon replacing the sun.
"What sort of magic is that?" Midna demanded, popping out of Link's shadow as he stood unsteadily, doubting his eyes.
"Oh, you like that, huh?" came Issun's smug reply. "Didn't I tell you Ammy's a god? But enough about us. Who are you, and what are you doing here? You don't look like you're from around here."
Link introduced himself and Midna. "We're trying to find a way back to the land of Hyrule," he explained. "A person named Oki in Kamui said your Emperor might know how to get there."
"Oh, I know Kamui," Issun said immediately. "Never heard of Hyrule, though. But you're right, the best place to go is the capital city. We're headed there ourselves…if you don't want to get eaten by more monsters, you can travel with us."