"What?" Zelda demanded of the ghost, too shocked to ask anything else.
"Where is it?" Ganondorf demanded.
"I hid it in the Forest Temple," Link answered. "It is guarded by the spirits who live there. But they can only waylay the occasional explorer…they cannot hold back an entire army. I hid it well in the Temple, but it will only buy you so much time."
Ganondorf said nothing for a moment, surprised that the boy had put so much thought into it. Zelda wiped her still-wet eyes. "Link…I'm so sorry…"
He regarded her with kind eyes, his voice soft and growing softer, his spirit already being pulled from the waking world. "Please don't blame yourself, Zelda. He fooled us all…all but one…"
He raised his head and his expression turned serious. "King of the Desert…take care of her for me."
Ganondorf nodded solemnly. "I will."
The image, which by now was barely perceptible, disappeared. Zelda bowed her head as her friend departed for a second time.
She felt Ganondorf's huge hand squeeze her shoulder. "We must move quickly," he said softly but with a hint of urgency. "If we wish to keep Hyrule out of Ocine's grip, we must act on the information Link gave us now."
Zelda took a deep breath, wiping away the remainder of the tears. "I know. Let's go."
They encountered no more storms on the way back through the desert, and Zelda prayed to the Goddesses asking for their help to continue on their quest. Back at the fortress, Nabooru handed Zelda a large, black bow, carved out of a kind of wood that Zelda had never seen before. With it came a quiver and a set of equally black arrows, fletched with ravens' feathers. "You will need a weapon," Nabooru said. "You know a little archery, surely?"
"Yes," she said quickly, though doubted that the Gerudo would think she would have much skill. She stared in amazement at the fine workmanship of the weapon, the polished wood, the perfectly weighted arrows. "But why are you giving me this?"
Nabooru scowled. "Our King will not let us fight. It is best…we know nothing about fighting in thick forest, and you do not want to draw attention to yourselves." She held her head proudly. "It does not matter who sits on the throne in Hyrule, we will bow to no one but our own King. Do not fail him, Princess."
"I will not," Zelda replied, holding Nabooru's gaze.
The warrior woman nodded. "We will accompany you to a point. Ganondorf has requested some of my scouts, ones that are familiar with the cliffs bordering the Lost Woods. We have many routes into the other provinces that you do not know about." She grinned upon seeing Zelda's startled look. "How could we have successful raids without them? You cannot block all of them."
"I would not. This is vital to the whole of Hyrule. Thank you, Nabooru." Zelda held out her hand.
Nabooru grasped it. "You have much spirit in you. I wish you good luck and victory."
For once, Zelda was better equipped than Ganondorf on this part of the trip. The Gerudo scouts sought out razor-thin passages and footholds with ease, while Zelda stumbled behind. But she at least had small feet, whereas the Gerudo King stomped through the passages with the rock itself threatening to crumble under him. He moved even slower than Zelda, taking care not to fall into the canyons below. She tried to hide her amusement as he inched along with his back to the stone, arms splayed out, trying not to look down.
"We are nearly at the summit," one of the guides announced, and Zelda allowed herself a breath of relief even though going down would be at least as hard as going up. But a swift intake of air hissed through her teeth as she reached the top and looked down into the forest below.
"What is it?" Ganondorf asked as he gingerly hefted his weight over a particularly large stone.
"They are burning the forest." Her limbs trembled more with anger than exhaustion, as she watched an enormous dark plume of smoke rise from below. The crimson flames could be seen quite clearly even at this height, and a large chunk of the Lost Woods looked as if a big bite had been taken out of it. Birds of all sizes hovered just in front of the smoke, either disoriented or hoping to capitalize on the deaths of the creatures below.
Ganondorf scowled. "All this, and he still does not have the Triforce yet." He heaved himself over the top of the cliff and carefully lowered himself down, with the help of one of the scouts. "Come, Zelda. Save your rage for when he is close enough for us to use it against him." He pointed to a little storm cloud hovering close to the scorched area. "If the Goddesses listen to you, pray for rain."
Zelda shook herself slightly, then followed him down the cliffside.
The scouts departed once they reached the forest floor. Once again Zelda found herself better off than her protector, who kept tripping over roots and stumbling into bushes. "Stop crashing around like that," she admonished him. "Pick your way carefully. You'll be heard a mile off, even in such a dense forest as this."
He pulled off a cluster of burrs that had attached themselves to the fabric on his leg. "At least we can use the cliff wall as a guide. Good thing the Forest Temple has its back to the cliff. It will make it that much easier for us to get to it, and that much harder for Ocine to reach it."
"I just hope he doesn't burn down the whole forest in the meantime," Zelda muttered. "Crude but effective. I wonder if we should find some way to demonstrate that the Ocarina is no longer there once we find it, so that he'll stop this destruction."
"And come after us?" Ganondorf snapped. "Let's see if we can even find the thing first. I doubt Link left it sitting on an altar in plain sight. I wish he had given us more information."
Zelda said nothing. She had a feeling Link wanted to tell them more too, but had been limited by lack of time. Thinking of him saddened her so she pushed him from her mind.
"Here!" Ganondorf abruptly broke into her thoughts after an hour or so of silence. "That building there, with the high wall…could that be it?"
She squinted. "I believe so…that would be the side of the Temple. There is a high wall surrounding it."
As they approached the wall, Zelda jumped up to catch a low branch, then pulled herself up to the next one. Ganondorf watched with interest. "I didn't know a proper Princess like yourself could climb trees."
She smiled slightly. "I never was the most proper of Princesses…you know that."
Ganondorf's mind wandered unbidden to that night she had sneaked into his room as a Shekiah. He shook his head, trying to get back to the task at hand. "Well, I can't climb trees. How far around is the temple wall?"
Zelda looked unsure. "Quite a bit, I'm afraid. I suppose we should just go around to the front…"
"No time." He pulled two daggers from his belt and, to Zelda's surprise, thrust them into the crumbling wall. Using the irregular stone-and-mortar structure to find footholds, he hauled himself up the wall.
Zelda whistled, sitting atop the wall. "Nice trick."
He gave her a mischievous look. "If you want to be a raider, you need to scale walls." He frowned down at the ground. "What bothers me more is the possibility of breaking my neck getting back down."
"Why not just climb down?"
"I plan to. But for some reason, it's harder…
Once both of them were on the ground (Ganondorf nearly twisting his ankle, as he misjudged the distance before he jumped down), they heard a strange howling and two dog statues at the doorway shifted and turned into living, breathing wolves. Zelda strung her bow and shot through both of them - cleanly, as if they were not real at all. The wolves vanished like a vapor of smoke.
She frowned. "The magic of this place has weakened. I'm sure those guardians should have been harder to defeat than that."
Ganondorf picked up her arrows and handed them to her. "Then it is a good thing that we got here first. Wouldn't want to hand Ocine that advantage."
He lit a little ball of fire in his palm as the two of them walked through the entryway, the rotting remains of a wooden door at their feet. Zelda scowled at the cobwebs everywhere. "Ugh…where there are webs, there are bound to be spiders."
"Yes, big ones," Ganondorf commented calmly when she shrieked and jumped back, an enormous spider watching her from glowing red eyes. The Desert King dispatched it easily with his sword. "Be careful. Aside from them being ugly, you don't want to be bitten by one of those."
They reached the center of the main room, in the crumbling ruins of what had once been an altar. To their surprise, four flames of different colors jumped to life in the four corners of the room. Lanterns shifted into view around the flames, and four ghosts appeared before their eyes.
"Poes," said Zelda, her lip curled in disgust."
"Hold on." Ganondorf stepped forward. "I may not have the same penchant for evil that my predecessors had, but that doesn't mean I never dabbled in the Dark Arts." He grinned at Zelda's startled look. "What? It comes in handy from time to time, even if you're not doing anything nasty. Just watch."
"We're not looking for any trouble," he addressed the ghosts. "We're just looking for something…an Ocarina, a small blue instrument. Do you know it?"
The Poes exchanged glances. "We know not this thing of which you speak," said the holder of a purple flame.
"Or at least," said one with an orange fire, "We don't remember."
They hung in the air with expectant expressions. Zelda looked to Ganondorf for help, but he seemed to be way ahead of her. "Hmm, that's too bad. Want to play, I suppose?"
"It gets lonely here," said the owner of a green flame.
"You'll play with us, eh?" asked a red one. It had a vicious air to its voice that made Zelda shiver. She had a feeling that any 'game' they came up with would not be much fun.
"Actually," Ganondorf said slowly as a plan formed in his mind, "We're already playing a game. Our friends want to find the Ocarina too. So we're having a race."
"If you want to play in our Temple, then you have to let us play, too," the purple one said sulkily.
"Actually, I think that would be a great idea. See, our friends have a much larger team." He made an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders. "We lost some of ours, so we're outmatched. We were hoping to even the odds, somehow…"
The room echoed with cackling, and Zelda instinctively stepped closer to Ganondorf. "You want us to waylay your friends?" the green one asked.
"Well, a little bit, yes. It would only be fair…"
"And to be fair, we have to haunt the two of you as well," said the green one. "But not as much."
"You can have a clue," said the purple one. It pointed to a small chest at the side of the room. Zelda opened it; inside was a map of the Temple. "You get a map, they don't. Sound fair?"
More cackling laughter. The Poes streaked off, disappearing into the stone walls. "Well, hurry up!" they called. "This is a race, isn't it? See if you can find the Ocarina first…if at all!"
Ganondorf and Zelda ran to the nearest doorway, not needing the Poes' words to press them on.