The Bleeding Effect
Link stretches out his hand incredulously, doubtful if something as rusted and decrepit as this doorknob will still turn. Expecting the knob to either crumble to flakes in hand or remain stuck, he is rather surprised when it instead gives easily, the ivory door opening without nary a creak or whine. With his right hand resting lightly on his blade—one can never be too careful, after all—Link pushes the door all the way open. Light pours into the grove. Midna hisses and recoils beside him, more out of habit than actual pain at the brightness. Link steps closer to the entrance, though not yet passing through the threshold. He eagerly makes a first cursory sweep of the room.
He cannot stifle his gasp of amazement. Link thought that he was well prepared for any sort of oddity after all the curious people he has met and unique places he's traveled, but for all the strangeness his quest has entailed thus far, not once has he ever tampered with time itself. He balks at the idea of such insane, powerful magic, but what he sees before him now can't possibly be anything else.
Before him is the Sacred Grove as it had once looked many, many years past. Thick foliage is replaced by sturdy marble, crumbled ruins with a regal temple. Link skimmed enough of the history textbooks Rusl forced upon him to recognize that what he is seeing is none other than the Temple of Time, restored to all of its iridescent glory, albeit in a monochrome finish. The sunlight that shines through the windows is white, not golden; and the sky beyond the window is a far cry from blue. It looks as if someone had taken a pictograph of the temple.
For not the first—and probably not the last—time on his journey, Link finds himself marveling at the powers at work in this world. Who devised this time-transportation device? The Goddesses were his first guess, but what if some other being is also capable of such a monumental feat? And do other doorways such as this exist elsewhere in Hyrule, tucked away in safe little corners like this one? And supposing there are other passages, do they all lead to the same time?
The hero jolts out of his awed stupor by a smarting flick to the ear. He flinches—she should know by now that Hylian ears are extremely sensitive, that rascal—and Midna orders: "Stop standing around and drooling over the thing! We need to obtain the mirror shard quickly—get moving!"
Link warily raises his left arm to the quivering film that cleaves time before plunging it forwards, until his entire forearm is submerged. He shudders; he is met with no pain, no resistance to his action, but his arm feels as if it is submerged into a bucket of ice water. He hasn't felt a chill this severe since he climbed Snowpeak—and even then, he had been protected from the worst of it by his thick wolf pelt. Link grimaces, and figures he might as well just get the entire unpleasant ordeal over with. If he is fortunate, the chill might ebb once he is completely inside the past. Without further ado, he fully steps past the doors and into the temple, Midna hastily slinking back into his shadow. Blinding light, biting cold, and crippling nausea all assault him, but he pushes on and keeps walking. Several steps inside the temple the sensations fade, the light dimming to its normal vibrancy.
He has done it; he has actually managed to travel back in time. A sudden dizzy spell strikes Link, and he wavers a bit before catching himself on the balustrade.
"How far back do you think we've gone?" Link murmurs, his soft voice carrying in the enormous building, reverberating.
Midna rises from his shadow to answer him, and Link looks her over quickly, making sure that she has made it through the transition just as safely. Relieved to find no signs of a problem, he turns his attention to her reply, to find that he's already missed some of it.
"…don't care either. Stop finding ways to distract yourself and get moving. I don't understand why you feel the need to jabber on all the time."
Link releases his hold on the banister and continues down the steps, marveling at how firm and secure they are beneath his feet. "When I first opened the door, I thought this might be some elaborate illusion, perhaps created by that forest boy we kept running into." He turns to look at Midna, a fascinating idea forming in his mind. "What if there's another exit out of this temple? Where would it lead? Would we still be in this past, or would it take us to the present again, or maybe even the future?"
Midna sighs, and tugs his arm forwards. "Link, come on already! This is why I prefer your mutt form; you can't blather on and on like this. What I would give for a day's respite…"
"Alright, alright," he concedes to the imp, a fond smile curling his lips. "I'll be quiet now, I promise. Let's continue."
When he reaches the end of the stairs, his vision suddenly blurs, the dizziness from earlier returning with a vengeance. Believing it to just be a lingering effect of the transition, Link rubs his eyes quickly and continues on. Except the room he stands in is not what it just was. Three strange gems glow above an altar, which is covered in a black-lettered prophecy. A blue fairy bobs about him on his right. But the strangest part of it all is the blonde-haired man that stands at his other flank, who stares back at him with eyes as red as the sun.
He steps towards Link, and his voice is muffled as he asks, "Link, are you—
—alright?" Midna finishes, her arms crossed over her small chest, her concern obvious through her scowl.
Link blinks once. And then twice, just to be absolutely sure. The man, fairy, altar, and stones have all vanished, leaving all as it was before. What in Nayru's name just happened?
The hero quickly and methodically runs his hands over his body, searching for any injury that might have brought about such a hallucination. He removes his pointed hat, combs his hair through his hands. No bumps or bruises. Uneasily, he shrugs it off as a resultant of fatigue.
"I'm sorry," Link apologizes, bewildered. "What did—
—you say?" There is no sudden blurring this time, no graying out before he is swept back into the illusion. What looks like a glimmer of concern flickers through the stranger's eyes, but it fades before Link can be certain.
"I asked if you were ailing, hero. You suddenly stopped short, and your face drained of blood."
Heaviness descends upon Link with sudden ferocity, and he buckles slightly under its force. His head pounds, as if his brain is trying to bash its way out of his skull. He stumbles again as a second wave of heaviness coupled with pain lances through him, but this time, his left leg, unusually weak, give out beneath him. The stranger hastens to him, clutching at his tunic and pulling him close before he can fall to the floor. He then carefully lowers Link to the cool stone, his small hands cradling the hero's aching head. The worry the stranger feels cannot now be denied: the vermillion eyes are all but screaming it. The fairy flutters about Link's face, distraught and useless. Its constant, flurried zigzagging makes Link dizzy until the man waves the creature to the side, peering more closely at him. But Link's vision feathers around the edges even as the man begins to speak.
"Link, you must tell me, what is—"
—wrong?" Now Midna is the one hovering over him, a sharp tooth poking out to worry her lower lip. She jostles his shoulder, tiny fingers digging into the fabric. "Talk to me, right now. Any other time I can never get you to be silent. What happened? Why did you collapse?"
Link props his upper body up, arms trembling with the effort. He then laboriously reaches up to the back of his head, the source of his pain. His hand comes away shaking and bloody.
Midna watches his movements, and when she speaks, he can easily hear her frustration. "I'm sorry, Link. I couldn't react fast enough to catch you with my magic."
"It wasn't your fault, Midna," He soothes. But it explains the sudden spasm of pain he felt in the hallucination. He had collapsed here whilst he had been there, only there was no one here in reality to stop his fall.
Link rises, Midna's eyes never straying from him. He offers a tremulous grin.
"I'm fine now. Let's go." She does not appear convinced in the slightest, but after a curt nod she does return to his shadow.
He reaches the Master Sword's pedestal before dropping to the floor with a cry, hands fisting in his hair. Link's vision smears, thick black spots dancing to a minuet before his eyes. He staggers away from the dais with a groan, one arm flailing backwards in search of support, the other holding his head that felt swollen with pressure. His ears start to pop. His arm hits cool stone and he pulls himself towards it, chest heaving, turning to butt his forehead against the chilled wall in an animalistic attempt to relieve the pressure, the pain.
"Link? What's going on, Link? Link!"
Midna is by his side, attempting to shake him into awareness, screaming. He can hardly even feel her. His eyelids start to droop.
"Link, don't fall asleep! Listen to me, you musn't…"
His eyelids shutter closed as darkness blankets his mind, Midna's cries fading into silence.
"Hero? Link, can you hear me? Wake up."
Link stirred, the voice rousing him into awareness. His eyelids flickered half open, and his eyes sluggishly dragged themselves back and forth between the man and the blue fairy.
"Link! What happened to you?" The fairy squeaked, flying closer to buzz in his face. He groaned at the brightness, struggled to turn his face away from the harsh glow.
The fairy must have realized her close proximity was causing him distress, because she darted away again back to above the man's shoulder.
"Should I try to heal him? I think he used all the potions he had left during the fight with Morpha."
"No, Navi. If anything, we should try to locate a Great Fairy if he remains unresponsive. I do not want to risk you burning yourself out completely if what's wrong with him turns out to be too much for you to handle."
With a cry Link shot up from the ground, gasping, as everything that had happened flooded to the forefront of his mind. The man and the fairy recoiled, startled at his sudden movement.
"Midna!" He shouted, looking around the temple wildly for his companion, with no results. Was he still trapped in the hallucination?
(Did he dare to consider that this might not be a hallucination?)
Before Link could calm himself, two hands gently coaxed him to lie down on his back again.
"Easy, hero. You are clearly not well. Your injuries must be worse than we had thought. Do you remember what happened? Think hard, but stop at once if it hurts."
He did remember, yes, but it didn't explain why Midna was replaced by these two strangers. Until he could ascertain what caused this, who these people were, and where he was, he had best just play dumb.
Until then, Midna would have to fend for herself. Concern began to pool in his gut. She might transport Link's body to a location where his other friends could find him, but what would she do? Would she take refuge in his shadow until he snapped out of his trance? No, not Midna. She would probably try to go out on her own to collect the remaining mirror shards, because Zant must be stopped. But how would she defend herself? Her magic might be able to get her past small skirmishes, but Zant could hunt her down, could finish what he started. And neither he nor Princess Zelda would be able to help her this time…
"Hey." Link was jostled by the shoulder until his gaze met the man's. "Don't go away. Focus on me. Now, do you remember what happened?"
There was nothing for it. Link had to plead ignorance, as much as lying galled him. He swallowed hard, grimacing at the coppery taste of his saliva.
"I cannot…my mind seems to be quite…disjointed. Who are you? Where are we?"
The man frowned. "Memory loss? Hopefully it is short lasting. My name is Sheik, and that is your guardian fairy, Navi," Sheik explained, jerking his thumb over his shoulder to gesture to her. He paused, then, as if waiting for Link to comment or make some sort of noise of realization as all his memories immediately surged back. Link didn't. "And we are in the Temple of Time."
Well, at least his location definitely had not changed. The names Sheik and Navi struck a chord. He knew them from somewhere, and he struggled vainly to find the information in his fogged mind.
The blue fairy fluttered down beside his face again. "So you really don't remember any of our adventures together?"
Navi's light seemed to flicker and dim at that. Link's heart ached at the sight, but it was not as if he could do something to fix it. After a few somber beats, however, her countenance brightened again.
"We will just have to work on getting your memory back. And even if you never remember, it doesn't matter. I will always stick by your side as your friend!"
Link was a bit touched. Though he had eventually grown to care for and cherish Midna, they did not get off on an immediate good start. Midna treated him as a subordinate, ordering him here and there with but the barest of explanations. As they spent more and more time together, Link learned to see past her callous outer shell, which softened noticeably after she confessed her past. But this fairy, like many others of her kind that he had encountered, was affectionate from the very first meeting, and quite upbeat, the polar opposite of Midna. Fairies were truly lovely creatures.
Before Sheik or Navi could say anything, Link attempted to stand. He had hardly lifted his body two feet off the ground before a forgotten pain flared alive from his left leg, and he immediately crumbled back down to the cool stone. Winded, he laid motionless on the floor as his lungs clutched for air, the scabbard of his sword digging a bit painfully into his back.
"…You shouldn't move just yet." Sheik said, rather belatedly. Link snorted.
"Yeah," Navi piped up. "Your leg was injured pretty badly in the Water Temple, and there's a limit to what red potions can heal. You need some proper bed rest supplemented with better medicine."
"Why don't we go to a Great Fairy, or even one of her children?" Link asked.
"Most of them have either been killed, or driven into hiding since Ganondorf took over." Sheik explained.
"What?" The evil King of the Gerudo Tribe? But if Ganondorf was alive, then that must mean…Link was in the past?
"Enough." Said Sheik curtly, before hoisting Link up. He slung Link's arm over the back of his neck, snagging his wrist to secure the limb. He curled his other arm around Link's back, and grabbed a fistful of Link's tunic.
"We'll walk like this." Said Sheik, reaffirming his grip on the other. "Keep your bad leg off the ground. Nayru willing, we'll be able to escape the town without running into any of them. Once we manage to reach Hyrule Field we can call your horse."
"Don't ask questions now. Once we're in a safe location I shall explain all. Right now, just keep your mouth shut and your eyes open."
Link bristled at Sheik's tone—this was just like Midna was in the beginning, but who knows if Sheik's attitude was just a façade or not?—but forced himself to let go of his anger. It wouldn't do him any good to alienate the man here.
So the duo shuffled out of the temple and through its courtyard, Navi bobbing along right behind them. Link stared glumly at the ground around them. The grass was brown and dead. The trees had been set ablaze some time ago, and their charred remains were slowly being eroded away by time. The flowers were trampled, uprooted, spoiled. Had Ganondorf reduced this sacred place to such a state? Assuming that he was actually sometime in the past (he was still attempting to come to grips with such a notion) it did line up with the present. If Ganondorf seized the Temple of Time and its surroundings, then the Hylians must have fled to another location, where Hyrule Castle Town stood in Link's true time.
He shook his head. This was nonsense, all nonsense. If this was the past, then why did Sheik and Navi call him by his name? Why was he still wearing the same clothes? Unless he was actually supposed to be…no, no, he couldn't possibly be him.
Link tried to distract himself by looking at his surroundings again, stuffing down his thoughts about the situation lest he dissolve into hysterics. They had left the courtyard behind them, and were entering what once must have been the town square. The fountain was dry and crumbling, the cobblestone riddled with cracks and shoots of wrinkly grass. Windows were smashed and shattered, and the houses were, like the trees from before, ravished by fire. His mouth suddenly felt too full of saliva, his stomach, too hollow.
Above the devastation towered a mighty castle, black and fearsome.
"Watch out!" Shouted Navi. "Redeads!"
Link paled as rotten corpses began to throw themselves out of the abandoned buildings, heaving their limp bodies over the ground. In Arbiter's Grounds, Link had encountered various reanimated creatures, from wraiths to incomprehensible midget skeletons. But these…these things that were inching towards them, their aura, felt all wrong. They weren't monsters, wicked servants of Ganondorf or Zant or anyone else. No, these things were something else. Link's eyes caught on their pointed ears, and it all clicked. These redeads were Hylians.
Muttering a curse, Sheik glanced over at Link. "I don't suppose you recall the Sun's Song, or that you even own an ocarina?"
"Sheik, these things, they're people, they're actual—"
"Of course you don't," Sheik talked over him with some annoyance. "Brace yourself; I need to set you down to deal with them."
After depositing Link on the cobblestone, he rummaged around in a pouch attached to his hip. The corpses encroached closer and closer, their shrieks chilling Link to his very core. Navi squealed in terror before burrowing her way under Link's cap.
"I can fight." Link offered.
Link unsheathed the blade on his back, gazing upon it for the first time—with some dread, he saw that it was the Master Sword. He offered it to Sheik.
"Here. You're unarmed, right? Use my sword, but don't…don't kill them. There may be a way to fix them."
Sheik didn't even look at him. "They cannot be saved by any means you or I posses. And only you can wield that sword. Nevertheless, fear not: I shan't kill them." Link sheathed his sword begrudgingly. It was here that Sheik finally procured that which he had been searching for: a harp. Sheik's pouch must have had the same storing spell upon it that Link's had—the object was shrunk down while inside the pouch, but expanded to its true size out in the open.
"What exactly are you planning to do with that? Serenade them?" Link was skeptical. He stiffened unwillingly as the redeads screamed again, now just a few feet away from them.
Then Sheik began to strum the harp. He played in a comfortable allegro, unhurried by the enemies that had steadily surrounded them. Sudden rays of sunlight burst through the thick cloud cover, shining down upon the entire square. The redeads cried as if they had been pierced, and writhed a bit before stilling completely. Their magical presence was immediately erased, their auras nonexistent. If Link hadn't seen them crawling towards them earlier, he would have assumed they were naught but the dead bodies of the townsfolk.
Sheik returned the harp, and helped Link back up. They continued forwards, past the frozen corpses. Link shuddered as they passed them, and was uncertain if his reaction was caused by the stench of the things or the thought of them.
"The sun can only part such evil clouds for so long. And Ganondorf will undoubtedly send in troops to investigate the cause of light in his realm. We must reach Hyrule Field quickly."
After sucking in a hurried breath, Link asked, "What you did back there…with the harp…"
"The Sun's Song, yes."
"How can a song hold power? I don't understand."
As if understanding the Link needed something to draw his mind away from the terrible sights around him, Sheik launched into a detailed explanation.
"My harp was crafted with a very old and very powerful magic, along with several other instruments. Most of them are secured in undisclosed locations; I saw a set of pan pipes being cleaned by Lady Impa once, but no others, sans of course the most famous and powerful of all the instruments: the Ocarina of Time. Unlike the others, the ocarina remained in the possession of one of the Royal Family members at all times, until Princess Zelda saw it fit to pass it onto you for the duration of your quest."
Link had tried to avoid and dismiss it, but he could not shy away from the obvious truth any longer: somehow, when he entered the Temple of Time, he switched bodies with his ancestor. Link was now the Hero of Time from legend. An unexpected guilt flushed his cheeks. The version of the Hero of Time that he knew was but a wraith, a ghost who regretted leaving Hyrule behind for other strange lands, abandoning his son, Link's father, without imparting any of his techniques or advice about life and the world. And though he was but a lingering spirit, Link had still been struck by his enigmatic presence, his awesome mastery of both the sword and wordplay. It seemed almost sacrilegious for Link to be in his body. He wanted to return to his own time as soon as possible. Naturally, that begged the question of how in Nayru's name he was going to manage that feat.
At long last they left the town behind them, coming to a moat. The drawbridge was in shambles, impassable. They would have to swim. Link's body tightened in anticipation. Swimming with his bad leg would be agony, but he would do what he must.
But instead Sheik lowered his cowl, placed two fingers in his mouth, and emitted a loud whistle. To Link's surprise, the whistle was to the same tune as the grass Link used to call his horse. He couldn't be…
Hope prickled in his chest, and only grew stronger as he heard whinnying in the distance. In a matter of minutes a steed stopped short across the moat from them, its reddish brown coat glistening with sweat. It tossed its white mane, pawed a little at the ground.
"Epona!" Link blurted, ignoring the sharp gaze he drew from Sheik. He was so relieved to see at least one familiar face in the past that he couldn't be bothered to care about his cover for the moment. He knew this Epona wasn't really his horse—this girl was considerably thinner than his, though no less hale or spunky for it. But the resemblance otherwise was uncanny; this had to be Epona's ancestor.
The mare's ears swiveled up at her master's call, and she slowly waded through the water towards them, the depth maxing out at the middle of her chest. Once she reached them, Sheik heaved Link atop her, the former surprising the latter with his strength (though the fact that his ancestor's body was quite lean as well probably made it easier for Sheik. Link supposed everyone in this time was lacking a little in nutrition). When he was situated, Sheik led the horse back to the other side of the moat, the water not seeming to bother him in the slightest. Link considered protesting—there was more than enough room for both of them on the horse—but only for a moment, Sheik's heated glare sticking the words to his throat.
They emerged out of the water, and continued on in this way, Link sitting side-saddle atop Epona, Sheik leading the horse towards Kakariko Village. Sheik did not tell him that was where they were going—unless he was asked direct questions by Link, he remained dead silent. They passed a sign on the way engraved with directions to several surrounding locations, and Link found—thank Nayru—that he could read the script just fine. There were some minor differences in the way some of the letters ended or curled, but he could comprehend the gist. The village was but a few miles from what was once Hyrule Castle Town. Right now it was sometime in the mid afternoon; they should make it there before nightfall, near dusk.
"Is it safe?" Navi asked from the inside of his hood.
"Ah, yes," Link had forgotten she was still in there. He lifted the hat gently off his head. "It's perfectly safe."
"I was real scared there for a moment!" Navi chirped, her tone of voice completely contrasting her words. "I thought we might be in trouble, but I forgot how strong Sheik was! He's very dependable."
"Dependable, eh?" Sheik muttered wryly, looking up at them.
Epona snorted, and started to neigh uneasily, shifting her weight back and forth. Link ran a hand up her withers.
"What's wrong, girl?"
Link could see Sheik stiffen out of the corner of his eye, hear Navi gasp. He followed their gazes, and understood.
Kakariko Village was burning.