How Do You Fight an Infinite Storm?
Author's Note: While obvious credit is owed to Nintendo and the ever inspiring universe of the Legend of Zelda, this story holds a much greater debt to Ernest Hemmingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" To which this story is an echo. It is in two senses, as a Legend of Zelda Fanfiction based on Wind Waker and as a response to Hemmingway, that the following story can be read. The purpose of this foreword is in service of the latter reading, as I think a brief something should be said of the symmetry between this story and its parent. The story of The Old Man and the Sea is a tale of rebirth and purpose through death and failure. The following is a dark inflection, showing death and futility in the wake of life and triumph.
The forest haven stood quietly on the ocean, a little red sailboat tied to her shore. It was not quite twilight but it would be soon, the sun low and spending that last rich shade of afternoon light that comes just before the decay into orange. The boy in green came walking out of the misted draws of the haven, his mission there complete.
On first glance, the boy seemed to belong there, his clothes the green of the trees and their smells heavy upon him. Closer examination would reveal him a foreigner to this place however. His tunic was stitched from a foreign cloth, and frayed by foreign sun and blade. Underneath the superficial aroma of fertile earth and crushed thistle that made the forest smell was something faint and much more permanent, the smell of sea salt.
"Have you gotten the pearl?" the boat asked him as he approached, its wooden jaws creaking with a human voice. Link drew the shining green orb from his side and held it before the King of Red Lions' eyes before placing it snug with the red one already tucked away in the boat's hull.
"Excellent." the carved lion's head said as Link delicately shifted his weight from land to the impromptu wooden floor set on the sea.
"Where to next?" Link asked, unpacking the ship's sail and feeling at the wind waker in his pocket.
"The final pearl is held by Jabun, a ocean spirit who makes his home on Greatfish Isle, far to the northwest of here. Certainly you don't plan to head out tonight though, do you?" Link said nothing, continuing in his preparations. "You've just spent last night and most of today fighting in the lost woods. You need sleep boy." The King turned his head to look at him with those eyes, eyes far too realistic than they had a right to be.
"I'm fine." The King continued his examination, looking at the dark rings and wrinkles marking the young warrior's eyes. "I said I'm fine." Link said, looking away to make sure the knot he was tying was tight. Was his sister fine, locked in that dark fortress so many miles across the sea? Could she sleep with only hard stone floors and a cage for a bed, with the sound of monster birds and demon pigs to lull her to sleep? Could she sleep with him there?
"How long will it take to reach Greatfish Isle?" Link asked. Everything was set and the boat ready to sail. Link undid the rope that tied them to the shore and let the King of Red Lions drift with the tide a little.
The boat remained silent for a moment. "We could be there before tomorrow morning with a strong tailwind, which of course we'll have." Link had already drawn the wind waker, its delicate bone-white curves catching the sunlight. The secret magic of the object was easily and obviously palpable by some sense, though it be none of the ordinary ones.
Holding the wind waker, Link could feel them there. The choir of the gods, the elemental spirits who's song forms the pattern on which the weave of reality is based. What they were and where they lived was an invisible world beyond human comprehension, but through the medium of the wind waker, Link could take the place of a god and know that secret place. The experience was both humbling and awe-inspiring.
The invisible choir began to sing as Link raised the wind waker. Though soundless in themselves, Link could hear their music through the shifting of the wind, gossamer chords woven in the air.
A great torrent blew at Link's side, almost stealing his pointed hat. Link felt the sleepy tranquility of the forest haven blown off of him, and he felt alive with the energy of the sea. He pulled open the sail and it inflated like a child's chest filling with its first screaming breath. The King of Red Lions shot forward like an arrow towards Greatfish isle.
The twin isles of the forest haven and lost woods swiftly became specks in the distance. "So what is this Greatfish Isle like?" Link shouted over the King of Red Lions as he cut the sea into spray.
"It is a sparsely habited island, mostly fishers. Peaceful, friendly." responded the King. "It is not unlike your own home."
"Home." the word touched Link's mind, but no more than this. Home was a distant memory, and perhaps a future, but it had no place here in the immediacy of the wind and the waves. He sailed on into the endless blues marine and azure. Wild, infinite, and beautiful. As the wind rushed past his ear, he could still hear their song.
It was about an hour later as dusk bled crimson onto the waves that Link suddenly drew up on the sail. Without objection, the King of Red Lions came sliding smoothly to a halt. A number of seagulls that had been gliding with them broke away, fleeing in different directions. Link drew his sister's telescope from his pack and drew it into focus on the distant horizon. He frowned at what he saw. "I see dark clouds in the distance."
"A storm brewing out of crystal clear skies." The King said judiciously. "And spreading from the area right where we need to go. Bad providence finds us today, it appears."
Link looked a little while longer before putting away the telescope and preparing to set sail again. "You should consider finding an island to rest and wait out this storm on." The King advised.
"We've gone through storms before."
"But not at night, and not…like this. Out of nowhere. I don't like it."
And despite his words, when the sail opened yet again, the King of Lions went faithfully dashing forward once again, the sea spray thrown up in his wake not affecting the stony resolve that made up the boy in green.
The storm seemed to rush to meet them despite the direction of the wind, and as it drew close, the clouds spread to encompass the entire horizon. The seas underneath them visibly churning as if sick with nausea. As the last daylight fled the world and left only the vague light of the stars behind him, Link estimated at least an hour before they were in the storm. The rain started to pour in half.
It came hard and it came fast, icy sheets of rain piercing through his tunic and pricking at his skin invisibly in the newborn night. Storms were never like this at this time of year; the rain should have been a lazy humid sweep, like sweat dripping from an old man's back. This was rain cruel and cold and imposing. Stranger still, it fell erratically with shifting, churning air pressure. The skies had forgotten the wind waker's command of northwestern winds, and but for the small column of air filling his sail that remembered, the gales were in chaotic rebellion against nature. The King was right, this was no ordinary storm.
It was then that Link realized with the easy surety of a child recognizing it's mother's voice, that this storm was his enemy. This storm was the giant bird who had stolen his sister, this storm was a forsaken fortress hiding at the corner of the known sea. This storm was the desert man with his heart as soft as desert sand.
"Link!" The King of Red Lions shouted, shocking him back into awareness. His hands were shaking, and a wordless snarl creeping from his throat. He knew that the King had been calling his name, though he knew not for how long.
"Link! The lightening!" and sure enough, an arch of lightening strikes was traveling up a freakishly linear line towards him. He pulled left at the last second, narrowly avoiding the lightening bolt that would have shattered the little red sailboat and the boy in green. The proximity of the bolt filled his eyes and skewered his brain with blinding white, the thunder shook his skull like a struck gong.
When he regained his senses, the storm was now lighted by the erratic flashes of electric spears as they stabbed the ocean waves. The seas tossed and swerved madly. The very air shook with thunder. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a small mass of land, and even without being able to hear his voice over the sounds of the maddened ocean, Link knew the king was screaming for him to go there and take shelter. Link took hold of the mast, forcing the sail to catch hold of that lone northwesterly column of wind that would take him to Greatfish Isle.
This was a sailing unlike any the boy in green had ever imagined before. Stray gusts of wind lashed and cut at him, and the waves of a sea gone mad crashed into him so that he breathed salt water and exhaled brine. The currents tried to take the rudder from his hand and pull him astray. The wood of the boat groaned under the conflicting stresses of Link and the storm, battling over who would determine their course. This sea was no respectable adversary of nature to be conquered. It was a bitter enemy who hated Link as much as he hated it.
Link continued like this throughout most of the night, fighting the hostile world around. Fighting the sea which made the world's floor, fighting the stormy sky that was its roof. He fought because it was his duty to fight, even if he was just a boy in a little red sailboat. Cyclones had begun forming, creating strange disturbances in the air pressure when he sailed by them, pulling at his boat and at the deepest recesses of his chest and guts. The lightening tried twice more to strike at him, abandoning its erratic nature to make a swipe at him like the arc of his enemy's sword.
The chill of the rain began to touch him on a level deeper than the shiver of his skin. He could feel the cold begin to fill his bones, weakening them, stealing their youth and brittling them like his grandmother's. His hands had begun to shake beyond his control. Infuriating! He had to battle the forces of nature, to wrestle this demon storm for control of his very boat, and his own body could not afford him a suitable grip. So be it. He was already waging war against the forces of hell itself, what little more was it if he had to fight his own body as well. What little resistance could it put up in compare?
The same sharp eyes that had made out the coming storm detected something else. Link stopped the King and again drew the telescope. "Is that it?" Link shouted over the scream of the storm? "That island in the distance. Is that Greatfish Isle?" Even without the King's response, Link thought it so. The heart of the storm was perched over the island, laying claim to it as if it were its own. It only made sense with inauspicious nature of this storm that this be his destination.
The King turned so that he could be made out. The carved lion's head looked fearsome in the electric half-light. "Yes it is." Link bothered to muster up the energy of a smile for this.
Just then, something hard crashed into the boat with such force to almost cast him out. Link grabbed the King of Red Lion's side to steady himself. It was then that he saw the purple fin and the great stone nose gliding by. Staring directly at him were those sickly yellow half-submerged eyes. Sharks.
They weren't here as a part of the evil that spawned the storm. They were mere scavengers who saw an easy meal. Link stared death right back at those yellow eyes. If he had to fight them as well, then so he would.
As Link began the last few leagues until Greatfish isle, purple fins swam alongside him. Link did not know what to do now. He had counted four fins swimming alongside him, and those were just the ones he had seen. He could not outrace these creatures, they kept easy pace with him, and his abilities for fighting them were limited. He had acquired a boomerang in the lost woods, but throwing it in this weather was almost an assurance that he would lose it.
Link's time to come up with a plan was cut short as one of the sharks raced ahead and turned around to charge him. Link pulled back abruptly on the mast, causing the wind to pull the King of Red Lions into a jump. Link saw the shark fin go under them, and felt the sickly satisfying crunch as the King's sharp belly came down on the beast's back. Turning to look, Link saw the spread of blood in the stormy waters behind him, and two fins following the new corpse down into the depths. Disgusting beasts, always going for the easiest flesh. But that only accounted for three, so where was the fourth?
As Link returned his gaze forward, he was confronted with a sight truly terrible. Rising out of the ocean before him was a cyclone of a size to swallow barges, and of a ferocity to utterly rip them apart. He was already stuck in the draw of its whirlpool. He would not be able to escape it. Link did all he could do before he would get sucked up into the cyclone. He took down the sail to keep it from being ripped away and buried himself as deep as he could into the shallow hull of the little red sailboat.
It was no more than one minute that that cyclone had held the King of Red Lions in its grasp before tossing it a short distance away. But in that minute, as Link was whirled in the grasp of a thing that could destroy him utterly, each second was a new eternity of terror. And though he shook, adrenaline forcing his heart to pump so fast that it almost tore itself, he would not allow himself to cry.
Finally the cyclone threw him onto a relatively calm patch of the sea. When Link was sure that he was out of the cyclone, he tipped his head over the side and emptied his stomach into the ocean. When he was done, he slumped down, trying to retrieve himself from the daze that follows true horror. Half interestedly, he watched the King's head turning to him, shouting at him, though all he heard was the high whine of temporary hearing loss.
Link could feel himself on the edge of the abyss, where the mind has simply seen too much and refuses to care any longer no matter what confronts it. If he wanted to, he could have gone over, but by sheer force of will, he tethered himself firmly to awareness. To help keep hold of his mind, he took inventory. Link kept the contents of his boat neatly stashed away, so the cyclone did not appear to have robbed him of anything. A few things had been shaken loose however, among them the pearls of his quest, now rolling calmly across the boat's floor. Link reached for the red orb of a goddess he did not know if he believed in when a heavy blow struck his ship. The fourth shark!
Link had managed to ground Din's pearl with his hand before it could go flying, but her green sister had been out of his reach. Link leapt for the pearl over the king's side and dived into the ocean after it. Link did not know where he found the strength to race the swift sinking green stone on its fall into the depths, but he soon saw it grasped between his hands, distorted by the stinging waters of a cruel salted sea. He swam up and his head broke the water for a brief second before jagged teeth with flesh rotting in their forgotten crevices dug deep into his right leg, dragging him back down.
What little air Link had managed to grab from the surface was lost as he screamed in muffled agony. Link saw the stone snout of the shark clamped on his leg as it chomped down. The teeth had shredded what they touched, and he could feel the bone cracking under the enormous pressure. With whatever faculty of mind was not forfeit due to the horrific pain he endured, Link kept grip on the pearl while he reached for the sword at his back.
The beast let go of his leg for a moment to get a better grip at it, releasing in streams of crimson Link's horrible mess of a leg. As its jaws were open, the gaping jaws of the grave itself Link thought, he jabbed the sword through the roof of the beast's mouth, piercing through the skull and into its brain. The beast was dead with this first thrust, its own blood mixing with Link's, but he stabbed it two more times anyway before finally pulling himself to the surface with his sword arm and one good leg.
A heavy haze had set his mind when Link broke the surface again, one that did not abate with the influx of air into his lungs. Waiting there for him was the King of Red Lions, his side made available for him. Link managed to toss his sword and the pearl into the haven of the boat, but could not pull himself. Twice he had tried, and twice he had failed. He simply did not have any strength anymore.
"Come on boy." said the King. "Pull yourself in."
Link tried once more and failed once more. The salt water gushed into his wounds and bit with a ferocity to rival the shark's. It displaced blood and what warmth was left in his body. It was now that Link laughed. He laughed again at the King's terrified look.
"Tell me something." Link said when he was able. "How do you fight an infinite storm? You can't raise a shield against it, for it comes at you on all sides, you can't put a sword in it. You can't retreat from it, for it spreads to touch all corners of the sea, and you can't wait it out, for it is infinite, and will last until the end of time. How do you fight that?"
The King was quiet for awhile in that dark world as he thought about that dark question. He was quiet because he knew it was a question that the boy needed an answer to, and a good answer. He needed it even more than he needed help with his leg, for he could still possibly fight without his leg.
"How do you fight an infinite storm? You test its name. You fight it for the sake of fighting it, you resist even when there seems no chance of resistance. For to be truly infinite, the storm must encompass all, and the second it conquers you, it truly earns its name. You do what you've been doing all night you stubborn mule, now get in the boat!"
A peal of thunder accentuated the king's sentiments. Taking a deep breath, Link lowered the side of the boat and managed to get his good leg inside, using the foothold to pull in the rest of himself.
Sprawled inside the boat, he took a few deep breaths before examining his leg. It was bad. Then Link remembered the Chu Jelly guy back on Windfall island, the nut. He had given Link a bottle full of a strange red fluid, saying it was a free sample, that he could drink it when injured and it would save his life. Link didn't believe him, but it was rare that he came across quality bottles. He had simply not gotten around to pouring out the funny red stuff.
He dug through his pack and found it, a bottle full of goopy red. Link popped open the cap and became immediately aware of a strange licorice aroma. Before he could think, he drank the contents of the bottle, fighting the urge to gag. It tasted like old melted candies, the kind you don't like to eat even when they aren't melted.
"Bleh!" Link said. He would have complained more, but his words went mute as he felt an incredible warmth suffuse his limbs. More amazingly, Link watched as his leg began to knit back together. Moments ago, Link had doubts he would ever walk unaided again. Now there was not even a scar to suggest he had just suffered a shark attack.
He had no time to waste. Link tucked the pearl away safely and returned his sword to its proper place at his back. He felt he would need it again when he reached Greatfish Isle, and he was ready. The lone column of wind was still blowing northwest.
Link sailed the remaining distance to Greatfish isle, and the storm was no match for him now. He managed the waves masterfully, and avoided any danger the storm could think to throw at him. Link dared the sharks to come at him again. With his second wind, he felt ready to bite off their own limbs if challenged.
Link slowed down none as they drew up on Greatfish Isle, sailing the King right up out of the water into the wet sands of the beach, leaping out as soon as they touched land. "Alright, so where is Jabun?"
Link became quiet as he surveyed the island. It had remained cloaked in dark shapes even as they approached it and only now, aided by the occasional lightening strike, could it be made out in any detail. The island had been…destroyed.
The island was covered in debris. Giant slabs of stone that had once made the island's bedrock now jutted out and bizarre angles, completely altering the islands geography. Tall and ancient trees that had probably seen grandfathers of grandfathers back when they were still playing pranks on their elders were torn and thrown like blades of grass under a scythe.
And for the settlement the King had mentioned, the one he said was like Link's own home? Well, Link could tell from the occasional foundation that there had once been houses here, but their remains, and the remains those who inhabited them, were indistinguishable amongst all the other rubble littering the island.
Link dropped to his knees in the soft sand. He said nothing. He was silent as he raised his hands and drove them down and down again into soft rain-wet sand which offered no resistance. The northwestern wind was still blowing, and it changed nothing, it didn't change a damn thing.
The King said something. He must have thought that Link would not be able to hear him, and by all means with the howl of the storm he shouldn't have, but somehow, the boy in green heard.
"We're too late."