The gravestone was worn slightly, the carving gone smooth and dirt gathered in the grooves. Grass had grown over what I remembered as loose dirt and the tree was green with leaves, not dead and white from snow.
"This is where Dampé is?" the Hero asked (what I hope was) rhetorically.
"This is where his body is, yes," I answered. "He should have moved on to the afterlife by now."
"How come he's buried off to the side like this?"
"Look around," I gestured. "This area is dedicated to the graveyard keepers. Dampé had a place here waiting for him from the day he accepted the job. I imagine they wanted to avoid being bothered by passerby."
Sweet silence, though only for a few moments. Then….
"Nobody misses him, do they?"
I was confused, not at the question but at why he felt the need to ask. Dampé had clearly lived alone.
"He told me what flowers and food were for. I mean, why people always brought them and left them on the graves," the Hero continued. "He said it was partly for the dead people, so they'd have something to take with them when they passed on to the next place, and partly for the people left behind so they could feel like their friend wasn't gone yet. There were a few gifts back in the main graveyard, but there's nothing here. His grave looks pretty dirty compared to the rest, too."
"He had no one, so far as I know."
"That's terrible," he muttered. Sorrow was plain on his face and I wanted to snap at him to wipe that look off his face, but the feeling was fleeting and vanished into the Void. "I was alone for a long time, before Saria and Navi. But even then, there were people who would have noticed if I never left my house. Dampé didn't even have that."
"It was years ago. What could you have done?"
"Told him he was my friend and that I would bring him presents when he died," the Hero said without thought.
Innocence, grief, stupidity – what was going on through his head?
Then the ground gave way beneath us.
I've no idea as to why the grave had not fallen in sooner if it had been dug above the tunnels that riddled this area. Compared to the weight of all the dirt, two young men were not that heavy, surely. Nevertheless, fall we did.
The ground shuddered suddenly, sagging in a long oval with the two of us in the center. I kept my feet and the Hero did as well, though not easily. There was only a single moment between the initial drop and then a bit of stability, a traitorous hope that I could get my feet loose from the dip in the earth and onto solid ground. I tried to jump; there was no grace or planning in it. It was only a matter of two or so feet and I could have done that on my hands. I could have, if the ground I was kicking off from had been stable.
Instead it sank again and then disappeared entirely.
The Hero shouted in alarm and surprise, his arms reaching for a grip. My right hand did the same, my left reaching for the back of his tunic. I grabbed fabric and earth both, but only one remained solid in my hands. As for my precarious grasp on the edge of the newly reopened grave, I had perhaps a quarter of a second to contemplate how I was to pull the both of us out before the edge crumbled to loose earth under my palm and we both fell into the dark.
The trick to landing when you do not know when you are going to land is to relax utterly.
Do not stiffen your muscles. You will want to brace yourself, but do not.
Bend your knees ever so slightly to absorb the impact of your weight.
Land on your feet. This is the smallest point of impact and will prevent something more valuable, like your torso, from taking the brunt of the fall.
Once your feet have touched the ground, try to disperse the rest of the motion by either falling sideways or rolling forward. Do not go backward.
If you follow these instructions and if the Goddesses yet have a use for your life, you will likely live.
I fell for one heartbeat, felt the solid stone of a cave floor beneath my boots and tumbled into a roll before coming to my feet. No harm done.
I turned around.
The Hero had landed on his feet as I had, but rather than rolling forward he had simply allowed the impact to travel up his legs. Did he not know what to do when falling? I would have to address that.
And the fairy was back.
The morning sunlight illuminated much of the tunnel we had landed in, but the fairy's glow was still welcomed. The tunnels of the necromancers were cramped, filthy, crumbling things that seemed to absorb ambient light. Even my eyes had difficulty with them.
"Link, are you okay?!" The fairy seemed to be beside herself with worry.
"Y-yeah, fine," the Hero grunted out. He gingerly took a step forward, then another and seemed to shake off the pain that assailed him. We had not fallen very far all things considered. The opening was only ten or so feet above us.
"Why'd the ground fall through?" the Hero wondered aloud.
"Shifting the dirt above a tunnel to dig a grave would have weakened the ceiling. Then we came along and stood on top of it as well. The strain must have been too much to hold, especially as it had already collapsed once," I reported idly. That I had to explain the concept of weight and structural damage was more than a bit baffling to me. Was that not something you simply knew by experience?
"How do you know it fell in before?" the fairy asked, darting in front of my face.
Annoying. Her light was ruining my dark sight. "I do not see Dampé's body anywhere, do you?"
There was a brief pause as the sentence filtered through the minds of those two and reached whatever passed for comprehension with them. Confusion and worry filled the Hero's face, and I knew what the next words out of his mouth were going to be even before he opened it.
"Do not bother asking to go looking for it," I cut him off. "It likely happened years ago and we'd have no way of recognizing his bones even if we managed to come across them in whatever animal's lair it was taken to."
If it even was an animal, I thought.
There were far worse things creeping through this place and far worse fates for a corpse than to be some scavenger's meal.
"Um, Sheik?" the Hero said, still wearing that confused look on his face. "That's not what I was gonna ask. Does anyone live down here?"
He was not looking at me, I realized belatedly. He was looking behind me.
I quickly turned and saw something that had no place being down there – light. It was not from our little circle of sunlight – which I was loathe to leave – but the orange-red light of a fire. Only living people would need fire to see by and there was no good reason for any of them to be down there.
Which meant necromancers.
"Go back to the house," I ordered. I had brought enough weapons. I had purification salt and plenty of silver. It was better to do it then, at the time of daylight. The sun setting would only strengthen an undead. "I will be there momentarily."
"What, wait, where are you going?" the Hero hissed.
I turned to look back at him. "There are probably necromancers – very bad magic users – up ahead. I am going to stop them before they can do anything bad to the graveyard."
"Then I should go with you. They might have Dampé's body," he insisted.
"Too dangerous," I snapped. "I've only just gotten you to some semblance of competency. You are nowhere near ready to fight a necromancer in their own lair."
"Neither are you. Did you even bring anything to fight with today?"
(My arsenal at that time: purifying salt, six bags. Silver, two knives and one wire. Poison, powdered moonflower petals. Throwing knives, one dozen. Heavy knives, three. Garroting wire, two. Deku nuts, ten. Brass knuckles, sewn inside of my gloves. Disappointing, but what can you expect? I had expected that all the danger of the graveyard would sleep by day.)
"I am armed enough and I will make do," I answered levelly, doing my best to impart the same tone and face that I had used during training to keep him in line. "Go. Back. To. The. Village."
No, it was futile. The Hero only pulled his lips back, baring his teeth at me in a grimace. Or maybe he meant to snarl? The Kokiri were a mystery and he had been one of them not so long ago. How did they express anger?
"Idiot!" he shouted. "Not unless you do too!"
The usual way, then. Never mind.
"Excuse me," the fairy said, but I ignored her. I had one fool to convince as it was. Listening to the arguments of a second one would likely incite me further.
"What part of this do you not comprehend?" I asked icily. "You are still not ready for something like this. There will be dead bodies hauling themselves up to their feet solely to rend the flesh from your bones with their teeth, spirits conjured to yank your soul from your body; have you ever fought something like that before?"
"I've fought the dead in Hyrule Field and these things called ReDead in dark places," the Hero insisted. "I can fight a necromancer and its friends too."
"Do you even know what the word necromancer means?"
"Um, you two? Excuse me, but there's this – "
"It's something that wants to kill us, what else matters? It'll be smart or stupid, it'll use its claws or weapons or magic, and we should kill it quick so it can't call for help. What else matters?"
"One, it is a magic using person who binds the dead against their will. Two, the last time I fought one it took myself, Impa and two other Sheik'ah to kill them. Three, you are not nearly as skilled as they were. Fourth – "
"Well, let's just go get Impa and Lazde then. We'll have four – "
"No," I snapped. The thought of Lazde anywhere close to a necromancer was enough to make my palms itch for my knives.
"Then what do you - !"
The fairy suddenly zoomed between our faces, her cringe inducing light enough to make the both of us back away from each other.
I glared at the annoying little fae. "What do you think you are doing?" I asked lowly.
"The light's coming this way!" she yelled.
I spun around on my heel, but even before I finished I could see that the fairy spoke true. The light was changing.
"Get up the wall," I hissed. My right hand went for a heavy knife, my left for a bag of purifying salt. If I could get them with the salt first, that would slow down any necromancy they could cast. The knife would be enough to finish things after that. Probably.
"I said no," the Hero murmured. I had a fleeting, cathartic moment wherein I imagined punching him in the face and simply throwing him up into the daylight. I was not actually strong enough to do that, sadly. The Hero stepped up to place himself beside me and I saw with a small shock that the Master Sword was in his left hand, his shield on his right. It had only been a few moments and I had heard nothing. Either the coming threat had rattled me more than I believed (unlikely) or my training had actually produced a small result.
I did not believe him to be ready for a battle with black magic in the dark, however. Better for me to strike first and try to end it before he got close. The firelight was near enough to let us hear the crackling of the flames then. The orange glow of the fire cast our shadows back until the sunlight reached down to cancel them out. I saw the shadow of the one who approached as well. Tall and wide, awkwardly hunched over at the shoulders – was it a Redead? Had it been sent ahead as a diversion?
I would find out soon. The torch was nearly around the corner when I took off at a sprint. Behind me the Hero and the fae both began yelling, but I ignored them. I had to get the advantage of surprise. The enemy was likely able to see the daylight from the hole, but it was possible they were still focused on the firelight. If I could just get them with the salt…!
I swung around the corner sharply, letting myself slide low to the earth, and saw a spirit – not a Redead or a necromancer, just a restless soul – floating above me with a handful of crackling flames in its grip. Cursing internally, I realized I was aiming at the wrong angle. I had been intending to scatter the salt on the legs and at the feet of the shambling horror and instead found myself with a floating ghost. I stood as quickly as I could, my left arm rising with equal speed to toss the salt bag straight up. Wailing, the ghost darted forward, instinctively fleeing the purifying mineral. It rushed past me and I turned to chase, another bag of salt falling into my free hand as I sheathed my knife with the other.
I rounded the corner again, chasing after my prey, and found the Hero only halfway to me with the ghost flying right for him. The fairy was dashing ahead to shine her light on the approaching threat.
I thought that he was going to die. That he would raise the Master Sword and fight it off. That he would run. Nothing close to what he actually did.
The Hero of Time lowered his weapon and tilted his head at the unholy spirit that was flying towards him.
I hurled the bag of salt at the ghost, the drawstring untied to let it spill out. The mineral must have reached the spirit because it wailed loudly and flickered in and out of my vision. If I could force it into the sunlight it would be further weakened and I could finish the exorcism with just a few words. Why was the Hero just standing there? Even if he did not know how to dispel a ghost, he could at the very least have gotten out of my way.
Instead, he was yelling at me. He actually reached out to grab me. "Stop, you're – "
My now free hands latched onto his wrist and tunic, yanking him forward. A quick twist and pull found the Hero tumbling to the ground. Now, where was –
He had grabbed me again. I fell alongside him, his shield hand wrapped firmly around my tunic. Damn him!
"Stop, it's Dampé!"
"That doesn't matter!" I yelled back, fury breaking through the Void inside me. This fool was going to get us both killed if he did not –
"Young man. Excuse me?"
I stopped pulling at the Hero's wrist and turned my head to see the spirit hovering above us. It stared down at the two of us with something resembling anticipation, which did nothing to ease my mind.
"Are you fast on your feet?"
"Yeah, I can run fast," the Hero answered blithely from the tunnel floor. "Why?"
Why did he insist on talking to it?
The spirit cackled and said, "I may not look like it, but I'm confident in my speed! Let's have a race!"
"Follow me if you dare!"
The Hero laughed. "Okay!"
"Absolutely not!" I shouted at the same time as the fairy yelled, "Why would you agree?!"
He was on his feet and running after the ghost faster than I would have believed if I had not seen it. Where had this energy been during our training sessions? I lurched forward, trying and failing to grab him. He had sheathed the Master Sword and was halfway to unbuckling his shield before I caught up to him.
"Stop!" I yelled. "We do not know where it is going! This is probably a trap!"
"No, it isn't!" he yelled back. "Dampé invited us into his grave and this must be why! He wants a race!"
"Link, this is stupid, you have to stop!" the fairy wailed.
But he did not. The Hero, all of his equipment stored on his back once more by then, was running as fast as he could after the spirit of the grave keeper and I could only follow him. Dragging him back to the hole would be far too time consuming in a dangerous environment and that was ignoring the fact that I had no way of forcing him to go up it. It seemed I had to follow this potentially lethal stupidity to its natural end.
The spirit led us deeper into the tunnels. The light from our impromptu entrance was swiftly left behind us and the handful of fire in the spirit's palm, as well as the fairy's light, were all that served to show us the way. I had spent some time in such places before and I was reasonably sure of my ability to see ahead, but the Hero had no such skill. We had only been running for about ten seconds before he first banged into the side of the tunnel as it curved to the left.
"Are you all right?" the spirit called out. Why did it care?
"I'm fine, it's just hard to see!" the Hero replied.
"Oh," the spirit said, sounding fairly surprised. It had been dead for some years by then, so I suppose forgetting what mortal sight was like would not be out of the question. "Here you are then."
Whereupon it threw a handful of eldritch flame to the tunnel floor directly ahead of the Hero.
He was going far too fast to stop in time. The fairy screamed, "Link, jump!" as I only began to shout my instructions. Fortunately, the fairy had had a far longer time to imprint her command over him and he responded to the order with alacrity. The Hero let out one of his wordless war cries and threw himself up and over the flames, rolling to his feet after clearing them.
"Don't set me on fire, Dampé!" the Hero yelled, clearly angry. For one brief moment, I entertained the hope that he would give the race up as a fool's whim, but no. He kept running after the spirit that had just tried to set him aflame.
The ghost only laughed in response and kept flinging fire down, a trail marker that was far more hazardous than helpful. We passed twin square pillars, lit by purple fire from a source I could not readily identify. I would have to come back and investigate it later. If it was just the ghost, fine and well. A simple exorcism would take care of things. If it was something else, well….
We continued the chase, our ethereal guide taking us through an ancient portcullis that slammed down behind us. Well, that answered the question of whether or not we would be backtracking to the hole after this. Would I be able to guide us out on my own? I could only hope so. Most of my exploration had been near the Shadow Temple and the tombs of the royals. I only had a vague idea of the tunnels we were in then.
Another ball of fire succeeded in scorching the right leg of the Hero's trousers and the soles of my boots as I jumped over it. It was quite frustrating. Every time we began gaining on the ghost, it would throw down more fire to impede us.
"Navi, go on ahead and tell us what's coming," the Hero said. His voice was markedly quieter than his last few outbursts and I turned to look more fully at him. His face was turning red, enough so to see even in the poor light we had. I wondered how tired he already felt.
"All right!" the fairy acquiesced with enthusiasm. She relished the chance to be useful, clearly.
The tiny ball of blue light that marked her form buzzed ahead to rush past the ghost. If our third member shouting instructions back to us bothered it, the ghost gave us no sign.
"Stairs and a cavern ahead!"
Indeed. A set of crudely carved stone steps led down to a natural cavern with several large rock formations reaching up from the ground. The ghost floated nimbly between them, whilst the Hero and I were forced to ricochet off the sides when we failed to turn quite sharply enough (although I suffered this less by far). Then it was another tunnel, with the fairy warning us of another portcullis that was already rattling in its frame. We made it through with only a few seconds to spare before it crashed shut behind us.
Ahead then were two massive pillars of rock carved from top to bottom with script. I could make it out as Hylian as we ran passed it, but only a fragmented understanding of what it actually said came to me. There was too little time to study. What little I saw concerned the number of enemies slain and the sons the person had left behind, which convinced me that this was likely an old, forgotten tomb entrance and the pillars were the grave epitaph to the one interred there. More than likely nothing to be worried over.
More tunnels then. Cramped and cold, save for the brief bursts of heat from the spirit's fire. The fairy kept ahead, shouting that there was nothing to be seen as she followed alongside the ghost. The Hero was flagging badly by then, gasping for air and tomato red in the face. I was ahead of him and he showed no signs of catching up to me.
"There's a cavern! It has a path leading uphill and another portcullis at the end!" the fairy shouted and only a few moments later, we burst into the large open space after her. I could hear water rushing at the bottom of the steep drop in front of me, one of the Lethe offshoots no doubt. That river ran deep. To my left, the path did indeed curve up and around the cavern wall to stop at a large entryway framed by more torches. The ghost, being unencumbered by gravity, merely drifted up to the door. The Hero and I had to make do with more mundane means.
"Do you want to stop?" I called back, a perverse part of me feeling no small amount of satisfaction at how uncomfortable he was looking.
"Noooooo~," the Hero moaned through his teeth. I started running up the incline, the Hero lagging behind me. The spirit having taken another route to the door meant that our path was blissfully free of fire and I reached the door in what I felt was fairly good time. I stood just outside its opening, waiting for the Hero to catch up. As much time and effort as this fool venture had cost, I was not going to risk being separated from him by a gate weighing several tons.
"Tick tock," the spirit said from his spot above an old wooden chest. It sat in the center of a raised dais in the room beyond. That the spirit had stopped moving was odd. Was this the end of the race then? And there was a time limit on how long the door would remain open or something along those lines, if its 'tick tock' comment was to be believed.
"Hurry up, Hero," I called. He was only just then reaching the crest of the rise, where the floor leveled out into a straight platform. I could see the spirit tapping its fingers against its wrist in the corner of my eye and guessed we did not have much time remaining. As much as the last few minutes had irritated me, the thought of going through all of it for nothing was slightly worse. The chest indicated that the spirit actually did have some form of material possession it wanted to pass on and I had learned long ago to grasp any gain with both hands. As the Hero stumbled towards the door, I reached out and grabbed him.
I managed to yank him though the doorway just as the locks in the portcullis above us released. We were sent tumbling to the floor when the impact jarred us off balance, though I maintain it was my grip on the Hero that did more to bring me down.
"The time of this race was one minute, nine seconds!" the spirit announced proudly. I honestly did not have one ounce of care as to how fast we had completed its ridiculous race, only that we find a way out of the tunnels now that it was done. The Hero felt differently.
"I… told… you… I… can… run… fast…."
He was close to collapsing again even as he struggled up to his feet. He was staring up at the spirit expectantly, no doubt wondering what his prize would be. Well and good for him, but where were we going from there? I could faintly see an alcove in the back of the room, but it only ended in two large stone blocks adorned with the symbol of time.
"Hehehe, young man…. You were very quick to be able to keep up with me! Hehehe!" It gestured grandly to the chest beneath its hovering feet.
"As a reward, I'm going to give you my treasure! It's called the Hookshot! Its spring-loaded chain will pull you to any spot where its hook sticks! Doesn't that sound cool? I'm sure it will help you!"
That got my attention. Hookshots were rare and valuable equipment. How in the world had Dampé managed to get one by digging a hole in the ground? Even if it were buried with its owner, it would have been buried with its owner. The only way he could have obtained it was by robbing a grave. Abruptly, I realized one possible reason why the spirit had not yet moved on – it knew what punishment awaited those who tampered with the sacred dead.
Breathing heavily, the Hero staggered up the few steps to the chest and leaned against it. I was close behind him. I did not want something to lean on, but I still had good reason to distrust the ghost and I wanted to keep near the Hero until it was either vanquished or left on its own. I was keenly aware of my four remaining bags of salt and limited silver supply.
"Hey… Dampé?" the Hero said haltingly as he gasped for air. "Do you… remember me?"
That seemed to confuse the spirit. It cocked its head at the Hero and peered at him closely. "Should I?"
The Hero took one more deep breath and then straightened up. He pushed his golden hair behind his ears and stared the spirit in its eyes. "I'm Link and she's Navi." He indicated the fairy, who obligingly hovered closer to him. "We played your digging game seven years ago, remember?"
The ghost froze for a moment and then laughed. "Yes, yes, the forest boy and the fairy! I remember you now! It has been a long time. Where were you?"
"Sleeping mostly," the fairy answered. "We only woke up a few weeks ago."
"Well good morning to you then! I live here now so come back again sometime. I'll give you something cool! One more thing! Be careful on your way back! Hehehe…."
"All right Dampé," the Hero said easily. "I'll bring you something nice for your grave next time, too."
"Cool! And who's your friend here?"
It was the fairy and Hero's mutual dislike of me that had prevented me from being introduced with them. In hindsight, a good thing. My name was not exactly Hylian, after all, and I did not want the spirit knowing what I was.
"My name is Rau," I said politely. "Pleased to meet you. May I enquire as to how we get out of here?" I kept my tone light and easy, but in truth I was struggling. I had to maintain eye contact with it and it took every ounce of my concentration to simply uphold the vague 'do not notice me' compulsion. Mind magic was tricky at the best of times for me with the living; the dead were an entirely different kind of headache. However, I could not have that thing realizing what I was. I still wore my beggar garb and the salt was something any superstitious person could carry with them in a graveyard. I still had a chance to avoid recognition.
(The Hero opened his mouth and the fairy swiftly bonked him on the cheek. He immediately closed it.)
"Oh, two ways," the spirit grinned. "You can take the long way back," it gestured at the portcullis, which opened with a shriek of rusted metal, "or you could try moving those blocks. I think it leads up to the surface."
"Thank you," I said. My eyes were beginning to burn from my lack of blinking, but I ignored it. It was not the first time I had had to do this. "Goodbye now." I prayed the spirit would take the hint and leave.
Fortunately the Three seemed to be favoring me that day. With one last cackle, the ghost vanished and we were left in the dim cavern with only the fairy's light.
I sighed in quiet relief as my eyes were finally able to close. "Hero, open the chest to claim your prize and let us be off."
Looking at me oddly, no doubt wondering why I had given a false name, but did as he was told (for once). The fairy drifted closer and seemed to consider sitting on my shoulder as she sometimes did with the Hero, but decided against it at last. A wise decision.
"You know, you're a jerk of the biggest magnitude, but you generally have a decent reason for why you put Link through all the horrible stuff you think up. So, why did you lie to Dampé?"
"Kind've curious myself," the Hero called to us as he reached into the chest.
I quickly debated telling them all I knew and believed. I just as quickly decided against it. The Hero and fairy clearly considered the spirit to be a friend. Even if they agreed with my logic and duties, I could not count on them to follow through on what they could perceive as violence against it.
A half lie then.
"The spirit seemed friendly enough, but I doubt it knew I was a Sheik'ah," I said. "Part of our duties include quelling restless souls such as it, something I doubt it would have taken kindly to. Even if I have no intention of doing so now, the possibility that I could would likely have agitated it."
"But he was looking right – " the fairy began, only to be cut off by the Hero's triumphant, "Hah! Navi, look at this!"
The Hero held in his hands a triangular bar of metal, the handle no doubt, attached to a round launching mechanism. A coil of gleaming chain, remarkably well maintained considering, lay beneath a wedge of sharpened metal.
"Lovely. We're leaving now," I said and turned away to the portcullis gate.
"Uh, Sheik, there is a quicker way," the Hero said behind me. I turned to face him and he jerked his outstretched thumb over his shoulder to the blue blocks in the alcove.
"I can make the blocks disappear. All I need to do is play the Song of Time."
"You've… done this before?" I asked, but even as I spoke I knew that was impossible. He had gained the song from a memory Princess Zelda had left behind in the ocarina and then immediately proceeded to the Temple of Time. Ever since that day, he had either been in slumber or with me.
"Well, no. But the symbols are the same!" he said, as though that were the be-all, end-all for rituals.
I sighed at his ignorance. "Hero, it does not work that way."
Undeterred, he walked up to the blocks, pulled out the Ocarina of Time and began playing.
The fairy hummed thoughtfully next to me. "I don't know. The magic on the Door of Time and the magic on the blocks feel awfully similar."
"That would imply that the same magic that went into making the door to the Sacred Realm went into making a set of blue blocks in some unknown tunnels. Why in the world would - "
The last notes of the song faded away, as did the blocks. A vast cylinder of golden light descended from above to swallow them and they were gone in a mere moment.
The Hero looked very smug when he turned back to face me.
…My day was done. I was going back to the village, finding Impa and reporting all of this. Then the exorcism. Then bed.