Dec 28, 2021
34 mins read
When Tasl opened his eyes again, it was to sunshine.
Tasl blinked. He raised his hand to rub his eyes and barely noticed how sluggishly the limb responded. The strange view didn’t change. Everything remained sunny and green.
This… This didn’t make sense. He knew he had fallen underground. He remembered everything, including rocks scraping him as he fell and dirt showering on his head. He remembered…
Link. Tasl’s eyes refused to come into focus, the world glazed and bright around him, but it was clear that he was alone. Lush greenery and brilliant sunshine and blue skies above him, but there was no sign of anyone with him. Shuddering, Tasl allowed his heavy head to drop, his gaze on the dirt under him.
Alone. In a beautiful forest when he knew he had fallen. Perhaps… Perhaps the fall killed him and the Goddesses granted him entrance to Their heavens. He was old. Tasl wasn’t shy about admitting it. He knew nothing about whatever hole those damned witches dropped him in. It wouldn’t be too surprising if it had killed --
No. No. Not when he finally found his grandson. He couldn’t die yet. He refused.
Whether this was a spell or the heavens, it was time to leave. He had a job to do.
Tasl pushed himself to his feet, legs weak and wobbling under him. As he did, he realized he couldn’t feel that golden sunlight at all. He raised his hand into the light but it felt like nothing: no warmth, no cool forest breeze. Frowning, he looked around. Slowly, things cleared but refused to come fully into focus. Absently, Tasl noted that the only sensation was his aching head.
A forest… a path…
And there was someone standing in front of him when Tasl knew he had been alone moments before.
Tasl squinted but everything remained blurred, as if he was looking at everything through dirty glass. A figure clad in green… Blond hair, perhaps?
The man’s mouth was moving, but Tasl couldn’t make out the words. The man extended his hand.
Then the golden sunlight flickered and faded, transforming into firelight. “--think he’s coming around,” Tasl heard.
That wasn’t Link. That was… “Dalton?”
A familiar sigh. Yes. Definitely Dalton. “Was afraid that fall finished you off for good, old man.”
Tasl scoffed, even as he blinked repeatedly, willing the world into focus. No sign of greenery or sunlight: only three shadowy figures, a small fire, dark walls, and an ache in his bones like he had been caught in a stampede. Still oddly clearer than his dream forest. Dalton knelt on his right, hovering over him, but on his left, Tasl recognized the strange cut of Link’s clothes and his odd hat. He looked like he was corking a bottle.
Dalton followed his gaze and nodded at Link. “You were the only one not waking up. He had a potion on him. Let us know if you need more.”
“We’re in some sort of tunnel system,” Risau called. Even in the shadows, Tasl saw her frown at him before turning back to the walls. “It seems pretty old.”
“Do you need more?” Tasl’s gaze jerked back to Link. Link’s back was to the fire, so Tasl couldn’t make out his face. The young Hylian fidgeted with the bottle, slender fingers picking at the cork. Tasl wasn’t sure but his gaze seemed fixed on his chest instead of Tasl’s face. His shoulders seemed hunched but the light was dim and the shadows long.
Yes. I’m too old for this nonsense. “I’m fine,” he said. “Help me up.” Dirt dug uncomfortably into his back. Something soft cushioned his head, but it didn’t stop the feeling of yet more dirt in his hair and scratching the back of his neck. He thought he could even taste some. This was why he left field work to the younger generations years ago.
Yet when Link carefully extended his free hand to Tasl to help him stand, Tasl found he couldn’t regret it. Something about the motion struck him as familiar but Tasl didn’t spare a moment to place it. Link in front of him was more important.
Dalton helped steady him from his other side. Facing the firelight, his disapproving frown was more than clear, but he wasn’t in charge of the Knights yet. Tasl ignored him without regret. “Is anyone familiar with these tunnels?”
The round of negatives wasn’t that surprising. Tasl hummed and looked around. There were rumors of ancient tunnels hidden under Hyrule, but he didn’t bother sharing that. There were many rumors of Hyrule’s ancient secrets. Old powers, old magicks. Temples and monsters.
If they survived this, he hoped to share it with his grandson: one of the last descendants of the original Knights of Hyrule.
“Has anyone explored at all?” Tasl asked. He tucked the rumors of the tunnels close: perhaps he could remember something pertinent in those rumors.
The shadows almost hid Risau’s flush, and Tasl bit back a sigh as he watched distress twist her face before she turned away. If not for her familiarity with Link, she wouldn’t be here at all. Her duties as a Knight would probably forever have kept her guarding Hyrule Marker: no more, no less. It was a question, not a reprimand, and more experienced Knights would know that.
“No, Sir.” Like Dalton, answering without remorse or concern. Tasl brushed aside Risau’s poor response for now and nodded at Dalton. The impertinent Knight’s study of him was clear even in the low light, but the same experience which let him confidently answer kept his mouth shut, at least.
Link never bothered answering. Tasl intended the question for him as well, but he seemed to take the question in a different light. Wandering away from Tasl, he angled his body out of the firelight to study the wall. He frowned and the shadows carved familiar grooves into his face, hid his eyes.
Sighing, Tasl rubbed his forehead. Of all things, that prompted Dalton to step away and let him stand on his own. Tasl ignored them all -- except Link, no matter what he did, every sense remained attuned to his long lost grandson -- and looked around.
Unless yet more strange magic was involved, Tasl knew they had to be beneath the forest entrance. The tunnel itself seemed straight-forward: right or left. He just didn’t know whether the tunnel led deeper into the forest or toward Hyrule Field or anything. Taking a deep breath didn’t help. The sweet scent of the forest was gone. There was no dampness to the air indicating a nearby stream.
Of all things.. When Tasl visited his family’s graves -- oh by the Goddess, Link’s grave, he needed to do something about Link’s grave -- the strange groundkeeper Dampe tended to lurk, digging up fresh graves or doing something to the existing graves. During the times Tasl visited in the evening, the creepy man always ran off, clutching his shovel. He always reeked of the gravedirt, like he rolled in it when Tasl wasn’t there.
These tunnels smelled like gravedirt, no matter which way Tasl turned.
Just his imagination, acting up due to all this nonsense. They were in the ground. Of course everything smelled like dirt. Dirt smelled like dirt whether it was a tunnel or a grave.
Link studied the walls, trailing his fingers against the dirt. When Tasl walked closer, he realized Link was tracing odd letters with his fingers. They were engraved in the tunnel walls, barely visible. Tasl squinted. Were the letters familiar or was it his overactive imagination again? “Can you read it?”
After a brief hesitation, Link shook his head. Tasl bit back a sigh. His hand raised to pat Link’s shoulder, and with a sharp twist in his gut, Tasl jerked it back down. Link wasn’t one of his Knights. He couldn’t touch him with such familiarity. Link didn’t seem to notice his aborted gesture.
Distracted by his grandson standing so close and still so far away, Tasl turned to Dalton and forgot about the letters. “Any suggestions about which way to go?”
Dalton huffed. “Preferably up.”
In unison, they both looked up. Then they sighed. Maybe if they were really creative with the rope…
In the brief span of time Tasl stopped paying attention to Link, the younger Hylian had wandered to the fire, made himself a small torch, and started down the path to Tasl’s right. Link looked back at them, raised an expectant eyebrow, and then began walking.
“I guess we go that way,” Dalton said drolly. Looking exasperated, Risau threw up her hands.
Hylians ears were said to be the sharpest among all of the peoples of Hyrule. It was said that it was so they could better hear the voices of the Goddesses. Stories connected to the Royal Family spoke of the Goddess Hylia, spoke of how those chosen by Her had the sharpest of ears to hear Her voice and to better pray to Her.
Tasl knew those tales, if not all of them, but rarely paid them any attention. Now, in these dark tunnels, Tasl wished he had.
The walls were whispering.
As much as he wished he could blame this on his imagination, he knew the others heard it. Risau walked with her own torch behind Link, and Tasl noted each flick of her ears, each grimace and flinch when the whispering rose. When he looked back at Dalton, he saw the muscles bunch in Dalton’s clenched jaw, saw the slight wildness of his eyes in the light of Dalton’s torch.
It wasn’t just the whispering: the walls were too smooth and Tasl saw more writing, even if he couldn’t make out the words. Every now and then, the tunnel narrowed due to cave-ins but otherwise remained smooth and easy for walking.
Unnatural and old. Had Lady Impa suspected any of this?
If any of it affected Link, it didn’t show. The young Hylian walked confidently forward, back straight and torch steady in his hand. With both of his Knights keeping watch, Tasl indulged in watching Link.
Where had he been all this time? What did he know about all of this?
Staring at Link, Tasl noticed the second Link’s ears twitched. Of all of them, he was the only one unbothered by the whispers, so it had to be something new. Even as he started paying attention to his surroundings once more, he heard Dalton hum behind him. “Do you… hear that?”
Link’s fingers convulsed around his torch. “We need to move faster. Now.”
At last, Tasl heard it. How odd. It sounded like…
It sounded like moaning.
“Now,” Link repeated insistently and broke into a slow jog. Risau glanced back at Tasl, and at his nod, picked up her pace. Cursing his old bones, Tasl hurried, too. Each slam of his feet against the ground revived the throbbing in his head and back, reminding him of his earlier fall.
The moaning quieted behind them, and as they followed Link’s lead, Tasl swore the air was getting fresher. Less stagnant. Strange. Was there an opening up ahead? It didn’t feel like the path was sloping upward, so he doubted they were close to the surface. Perhaps --
Risau gasped. Tasl squinted and yes. The tunnel was lighter up ahead. Link’s pace never faltered and it was discipline alone which kept Tasl’s pace steady, kept him from speeding up toward the light.
Inhaling deeply, Tasl tasted (gravedirt) stale earth and the dirt he hadn’t cleared out of his mouth after he fell, but there was a new taste in the air: something cold, damp.
Not fresh, he realized. Just moving.
Then the tunnel opened, and Tasl realized why.
The light wasn’t sunlight like he hoped. Instead, the tunnel opened into a strange room, as artificial as the tunnel itself with smooth walls and a high ceiling. Flickering blue torches lit the room, an artificial pre-dawn, and on the far side of the room, Tasl saw multiple openings: more tunnels.
Cutting through the middle of the room was an underground river. Tasl clenched his jaw and squeezed his hands into fists, fighting a shiver. Chill air radiated from the river like a winter stream. Two tall torches rested by the water, and bobbing in the water, lit by the torches, was a simple brown boat.
“I have a --”
“Shut up, Dalton,” Tasl said automatically.
“-- bad feeling about this.”
Although Tasl hated to admit it, he felt the same. The boat bobbed in the water, the movement almost organic in the dead stillness of the room. The water lapping against its hull sounded ominous rather than soothing, never changing its liquid rhythm.
“I have to agree with him, Sir,” Risau said quietly.
Only Link seemed to not notice the ominous weight hovering over them. He trotted over to the boat to examine it. With Link standing beside it for comparison, Tasl realized how long the boat actually was: able to handle twelve passengers, at least.
“Not a word, Dalton,” Tasl breathed, following his grandson.
He knew what his focus needed to be. On the missing demon sisters. Possible dangers in these tunnels. Their next steps. Instead, Tasl found himself hungrily watching his grandson, his strange movements, his lack of nervousness or fear. Link tapped the edge of the boat with his boot and frowned at it.
What have you been doing all this time? Where have you been?
Link had barely looked at him since Tasl’s revelation. Did you ever wonder about us? Your family?
Did you ever find one of your own?
His last living relative and Tasl didn’t know a damned thing about him.
Link looked up and met his eyes. When he jerked his gaze away back to the boat, it felt like a knife in Tasl’s gut.
He would give up all his knowledge of Hyrule’s secrets to know just a few things about his grandson.
“He’s not what I expected,” Dalton said softly beside him. Tasl clenched his fists. He hadn’t even heard Dalton follow him.
He hadn’t heard anything besides the water, really. Frowning, Tasl looked around, watching Link gently kick the boat again, watching Risau pace restlessly, slowly moving closer to his grandson. All of it remained silent, at most muffled.
As much as he wanted to talk about his grandson, he knew his duty. “Stay focused,” Tasl ordered, raising his voice so he was sure it, at least, carried. Risau looked up at him. Link shifted enough to eye Tasl through a tumble of blond hair. “I doubt we are alone in here, and we may not hear them coming.”
One of Link’s delicate ears flicked and the young Hylian nodded in acknowledgement.
Then Link swung his leg and stepped into the boat.
“Hey! Wait!” Risau hurried forward while Tasl stared, noting the confidence in Link’s movements.
What were you doing before I found you?
Shaking it off, Tasl strode toward the boat, Dalton sighing softly on his heels. What things he was gathering regarding his grandson did not fill him with assurance. “Link, wait.”
It was too late. Link already sat in the boat, one hand resting in his lap, the other holding the side of the boat. He looked expectant, almost indignantly so, as if he thought everyone should be in the dangerous, mysterious boat already and prepared to go.
In that moment, he truly reminded Tasl of his parents in all the worst ways.
Tasl shook his head. It brought no clarity and only reminded him of his headache. “Link, we have no idea where that goes. We need to assess the situation before moving onward.”
Link raised his eyebrow. Tasl saw so much of his son in that move it hurt. Tasl didn’t know Link, but he knew that face: I’ve assessed and I’m going. Hurry up, old man.
He practically heard it in his son’s voice.
Risau knelt beside the boat, being careful to not touch it. “Link, honey,” a reminder that Tasl didn’t know Link, but she did, “let’s look around before we get in the rickety boat, okay? This isn’t like sneaking through the castle.”
Both Tasl and Risau started when the boat trembled, each reaching for their weapons. From his new seat on the far side of the boat, Dalton sighed. “I believe if we don’t get in, he’ll simply go without us. At least this way involves less swimming.”
Tasl grimaced. It was true: Link looked impatient enough to leave without them.
Possibly more importantly… it matched the horrifying picture of Link building in Tasl’s mind. Risau referenced him being alone as a child, to the point she was considering adoption. The few stories Tasl heard about him painted him as a lone traveler. He barely spoke and seemed content to make his own way despite three people traveling with him.
Who raised you? Who took care of you? Who made you feel this was all right?
Although Dalton smiled at Tasl, there was a grimness to his eyes which made Tasl wonder if he was thinking the same thing. He never had children, although there were rumors of him “dancing with a Gerudo” some years back. He never married and seemed devoted to the Knighthood.
Yet even as Tasl focused on matters with the Royal Family, it had been Dalton working closely with the Knights and soldiers, guiding them. In the last two decades, he dealt with warriors recovering from the war and warriors who had never seen a true battle.
Tasl resolved to talk with Dalton later, as well as Risau. Perhaps they would have more insight.
Aware of Link still impatiently staring at them, Tasl bit the inside of his cheek and lowered himself into the boat. Risau frowned at all of them but joined Dalton on the other side.
As soon as Risau sat down, before anyone could make a move, the rope holding the boat to the shore twitched and fell, trailing in the water. With a small bump, the boat began gliding downstream. Dalton hissed and Risau jerked and grabbed the side of the boat. Tasl tensed but couldn’t help but notice that Link barely reacted at all. His sharp blue eyes focused on the river downstream.
“That doesn’t seem normal,” Dalton announced.
Risau side-eyed at him, not releasing her grip on the boat. “Does any of this?”
The pair weren’t far from them, but despite the tone of Dalton’s voice and the shape of his mouth which indicated him raising his voice, they both sounded distant and muffled. His frown deepening, Tasl looked around. The only clear noise was the gentle splashing of the water.
The boat lolled downstream, and Tasl’s jaw clenched as they drifted out of the large room and into a dark tunnel. Only their torches provided light, casting shadows over their small party.
Low visibility and low sound. Not good.
Yet Link remained relaxed, so Tasl took some comfort in that. They drifted downstream to destination unknown, and Link simply made sure that he had easy access to his weapons. Tasl exhaled and forced himself to do the same.
He thought he heard Dalton and Risau talking but couldn’t make out the words. Of all things, that sparked a light in Tasl’s chest.
Perhaps. Perhaps now. He could talk with Link?
Swallowing, he eyed his grandson. While it was good and responsible for soldiers to assess the lay of the land and adjust for possible dangers, it was the duty of the Knights in charge to study the situation, judge the best course forward, and take action. Any Knight worth their sword understood the value of proper information and preparation.
Perhaps it was odd to view a conversation with his grandson like a battlefield, but he had viewed all important conversations and events as battlefields with moderate success, including his proposal to his wife and telling his son where babies came from.
It also eased the pain of how his grandson didn’t look at him at all.
Granted, Link had good reasons for it. Even as Link remained loose and relaxed, the firelight shone in his eyes as he continuously studied their surroundings. Particularly the dark water beneath them. Tasl eyed it cautiously. The firelight reflected off the gentle ripples from their boat but offered no other insight into the strange river.
Your parents loved you.
I was so excited about meeting you.
You and your mother have empty graves in Kakariko.
Just another battlefield. Analyze and then attack. Gather information.
“Link,” Tasl began. A list of innocuous but informative questions filled his mind. “How long have you known Princess Zelda?”
The answering headtilt, frown, and vague shrug proved unsurprising. Not all of the information gathering was in the verbal answers, after all.
There was also the odd reassurance in how Link’s gaze lingered on him, on how Link assessed him in turn. If Link completely dismissed him and showed no interest, then getting to know him would be… challenging. As long as there was interest, there was hope.
And less of a possibility that Link would simply vanish without a trace when this journey was over.
“Would you like to hear how your parents first met?” Tasl asked, changing tactics. When Link’s eyes widened and the young Hylian leaned forward, Tasl felt a smile tug at his mouth. Success. “They met over a broken pot, of all things…”
Of course, there was a flaw with this battleplan. Immersed in memories and how his grandson leaned toward him, sharp ears twitching, Tasl didn’t catch it at first. Years ago, he dreamed of holding his grandchild in his lap, whispering stories to him, stories of not only his parents but of his grandmother and great-grandparents. This was a battle tactic, true, designed to open the door between the two, but it was also a self-indulgent wish thought long lost.
It was a distraction, their already muffled world falling away around them, armor and sword gone and replaced by a grandfather’s stories and a grandson’s bright, familiar eyes.
A distraction and a haven, shattered by Dalton’s arrow striking the water beside Tasl. Tasl and Link jerked upright, Link’s gaze sharp where the arrow vanished in the darkness, Tasl’s attention darting to Dalton.
The idiot stood on the other end of the boat, bow and a nocked arrow in his hands. His mouth moved and a shiver raced up Tasl’s spine when he realized he couldn’t hear a word. The tunnel devoured Dalton’s voice.
Risau knelt, balance clearly shaky, beside Dalton. She held her sword in one hand and pointed at the water beside the boat with the other. Tasl couldn’t make out her expression in the shadows.
There was no time to look and see what Risau was pointing out. The darkness rippled beyond the flicker of the torches. Tasl couldn’t hear the thump but felt the boat shake under him.
Everything remained soft and quiet when Dalton lost his balance and toppled into the water.
Risau scrabbled on the other side of the boat, still holding her sword. The shadows moved around her face and Tasl knew she was screaming but couldn’t hear it, the world too damned quiet so all he could hear was the terrified thrum of his own heartbeat.
That idiot. That idiot.
“Dalton!” Tasl roared, and the tunnel ate the sound, not even leaving an echo, and Tasl looked over the side but there was nothing but black ripples in the water.
Not Dalton. Not Dalton.
Something brushed against Tasl, and in hindsight, he should have seen it coming. He didn’t know much of this particular battleground yet, but he knew enough.
Yet Tasl still jerked in surprise and yelled when Link leaped off the boat and dived in the water after Dalton.
The darkness seemed to swallow everything. Tasl jerked after his grandson and friend and Risau grabbed him, pulling him back like he didn’t pull back Link, and he knew Risau was shouting at him but he couldn’t hear her. He couldn’t hear any splashes in the water, not of the men and not of the boat. He couldn’t see anything, only black water. His mouth moved -- “No, no, no” -- but he couldn’t hear that, either.
Around them, the world was silent, everything numb. Even Tasl’s own heartbeat seemed forever away.
He slammed his fist onto the side of the boat and felt pain flash up his hand and up his arm, felt the boat rock, but he couldn’t hear any of it. He screamed their names but knew without a doubt that the darkness swallowed up his cries, too.
Oh Goddess, please. Don’t let him lose them like this. Not in the dark and silence, with a grave and beyond even his prayers.
“Link! Dalton!” His throat hurt.
Risau gripped his shoulders and pulled, and Tasl angrily shrugged her off. He wasn’t going to jump in, no matter how tempting it was. There was no point now, and he wasn’t going to feed this monstrosity any more Hylian flesh. He couldn’t help anyone dead.
Because they weren’t gone. Not yet. Those two had proven too tough and wily to be killed by something as simple as an accursed river, no matter what was in it…
Where had that thing gone, anyway?
Risau shook him hard. Rage flared inside him, hot and vicious and poisonous, and Tasl turned with a snarl. How dare she --
Only to be met with a sharp headshake and a finger pointing downstream. Scowl faltering, Tasl turned his head to look.
Bright light, blazing torches lining the walls and successfully beating back the darkness. Land at last, or at least, a small stretch of ground with a small nook which looked perfect for their book.
Most importantly, two figures swimming together for that land, mere silhouettes in the water. Tasl’s eyes burned. Link and Dalton lived.
He was going to kill those idiots.
“-- thing in the water?”
Tasl started and turned back to Risau. Risau didn’t look at him, gaze fixed on the men swimming in the water. He heard her, Tasl realized, as clear as…
Wait. He turned back to the men. They were climbing onto the shore, a bit shakily to Tasl’s eye but succeeding. He heard her as clearly as he heard Link when they were conversing earlier, but her position hadn’t changed. What made the difference?
“I think it’s gone for now,” he said, mind racing. “I’m not sure what it was.”
“Sir, you can hear me?”
If anything, Tasl thought he heard her clearer now. Was it because they were close to shore? Possibly part of it, but it didn’t explain the rest of it.
“Yes. Do you see Dalton’s bow?” The small stretch of land was as lit up as the river was dark. Link, somehow, seemed as armed as ever, and he thought he saw Dalton’s quiver on him, albeit minus the arrows. He couldn’t see any other weapons on him, though.
Dalton waved at them and lifted one hand high in the air: a thumb’s up. Undoubtedly wet and cold but all right. Link didn’t look at them, head turned elsewhere. Tasl followed his gaze to a darkened doorway. If that boy even considered heading there without them, friend of the princess’s or no, Tasl would rip into him like a green recruit --
No. While Dalton was still waving with one hand, the other hand calmly reached over and grabbed Link’s belt. Tasl always did have high hopes for Dalton.
“Ahoy!” Dalton called, and Tasl felt like he could breathe again.
He had forgotten what it was like, being so afraid for someone he loved. He cared deeply for his Knights and soldiers and grieved when they fell, but it was nothing like that dark night so long ago when he awaited word regarding his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. No pain or fear since then ever compared.
It was a brutal shock to his old heart now, and at the same time, it was as familiar as picking up a blade after weeks of rest.
“We can hear you,” Tasl called back. “Stay put!” More for Link than Dalton, but the younger man still had a foolish streak in him.
At that, Link turned back to them and cocked his head. Tasl wondered if he was musing over the mystery, too.
When it reached the shore, the boat settled into the nook without any help on Tasl’s or Risau’s part. Tasl hated it. The smoothness of it reeked of the odd magic which stole their voices in the tunnel. Who created this terrible place and why? How old was this?
They stepped onto the shore, and all Tasl desired was to yank his lost and found and lost grandson into his arms. At the very least, settle down with a campfire a safe distance from the water and dry off the pair. Instead, even as Dalton straightened into a ridiculous salute, water still streaming from his hair and uniform, Link jerked away from Dalton’s grip and nodded toward the doorway. Unlike Dalton, his quiver was still full of arrows. How?
“You two almost drowned,” Tasl snapped, voice archer than he planned. Beside him, he heard Risau quietly ask Dalton if he was all right, with an equally quiet affirmative. “We need to take a moment to regroup.”
The exasperated look Link shot him was like an arrow through the heart. “Come on, Father, how hard could it possibly be? I can do this.”
His son earned many new scars both before and after giving Tasl that look.
“It’s just a flesh wound, Father.”
“These places have patterns,” Link said at last. His voice was soft but clearly annoyed. His blue eyes flashed a challenge. “We need to move on.”
Tasl scowled, lingering fear pulsing through his veins like fire. “We need --”
But Link was done. With one final sharp look, Link turned on his heel and walked away, vanishing through the doorway.
...yes. Another feeling Tasl had forgotten these long years but still felt so familiar. Scowling, Tasl gestured for the other two to follow and stomped off after his grandson.
He hadn’t missed this feeling, either.
“I have a --”
“Shut up, Dalton.”
“...bad feeling about this.”
By the time they reached the tunnel, there was no sign of Link. Or anything else. Pale blue, flickering torches lined the walls, providing only enough light that Tasl was confident that they were walking into a tunnel and not a random hole in the wall. He walked slowly, glancing behind once to see Risau take the rear. Unlike Dalton, she still had her bow.
The eerie silence from the river was gone. The walls whispered to them as they walked, dark, hushed noises from dead throats. Beyond the whispers, Tasl swore he heard the rush of water but couldn’t place where. Was it in the walls? Above them? Below? Their path seemed straight and level but Tasl trusted nothing in this odd place.
Everything smelled like gravedirt. He hated it.
No, it smelled worse than a graveyard. It smelled like an old battleground, bodies abandoned and rotting.
There was still no sign of Link. Clenching his jaw, Tasl pulled out his sword. “Stay close,” he said, voice curt, blade heavy in his hand.
He swore he heard laughter. Never in Tasl’s entire career had he ever experienced anything like this. Demonic sisters and whispering walls and monsters in a deadly silent river. What was this madness? How much of it had his princess and Lady Impa known? Why was his grandson so comfortable in this insanity?
A pattern, he said. There were more places like this, possibly throughout Hyrule. Tasl had never gone beyond the boundaries of his homeland. Had Link?
Link, formerly engaged to a Zora Princess and who traveled fearlessly into those strange woods…
Link, who stood now at the end of this damned tunnel, hand on his hip and light blazing behind him. A fierce scowl tightened his face; instead of adding years it made him look like a petulant toddler. It hurt something in Tasl’s chest that he never actually experienced his grandson as a petulant toddler.
The sound of rushing water grew. Dammit, Dalton wasn’t the only one with a bad feeling about all this.
Link’s scowl remained strong as they approached. If he had been one of Tasl’s Knights, he would have scolded the young man for leaving them behind with the possibility of further disciplining when they returned to the castle. If the Goddesses had permitted Tasl to be an active part of Link’s life growing up, grandfather and grandson, he would have lectured him about his recklessness. As it was, when they reached Link, anger and helplessness filled Tasl’s mouth but not a single helpful word.
Fortunately, Risau had no such problem. Mimicking Link’s pose with one hand on her hip, she quietly scolded Link, voice so soft Tasl only picked up every other word. Watching Link’s scowl soften into something confused and indignant, like a cat surprised by a sudden rain shower, Tasl remembered several things: Risau was the only one of them with children, with Tasl’s son long dead and Dalton a Knight married to his duty (although Tasl had heard some rumors about Dalton’s relationship with the Gerudo) and Risau was the one with the best knowledge of Tasl’s grandson.
It was like an arrow to the heart.
Link eyed the trio like they had grown an extra head or two and frowned. “We’re safe here,” Link said quietly. He nodded toward the light. “The trap is there.”
The bad feeling from before burned, like the crackle in the air before a lightning strike. Tasl looked beyond Link toward the lit room and blanched. As if from a great distance, he heard Dalton curse and Risau whisper a prayer.
The room was large, with a tall dome ceiling and a stream to the far left and right of it, familiar black water rushing to nowhere. Golden and crimson torchlight, odd looking after all the eerie blue, shone off golden treasure chests and metal armor. Bile rose in Tasl’s throat. Every piece of armor adorned a long-dead Hylian Knight, their corpses scattered alongside fallen Gerudo.
“What madness is this?” Tasl whispered, unable to look away from his lost people. So many Knights whose bodies vanished in the war and after… Was this what had happened to them? Had those demonic sisters done this?
No matter how hard Tasl tried, he couldn’t identify any of the bodies. Time had taken a toll on the dead and Tasl’s memory.
His people… His poor people…
“Did those witches do this?” Dalton hissed. Rage darkened Dalton’s voice like Tasl had never heard before, but Tasl couldn’t bring himself to look away from the bodies to check on him.
Before Tasl took part in the war, he grew up and trained with these people. During the war, they lived and fought and thrived together. For so long, they were lost, seemingly forgotten by their own king. All the while, Tasl had been walking on their grave.
“Impa believed they were hunting me.” Link’s voice was so quiet it took Tasl a moment to discern his words.
“Why?” Tasl whispered. Link didn’t answer.
“We can’t leave them here,” Risau whispered, the anguish in her voice only feeding the black hole in Tasl’s chest.
Yet Link shook his head. He pointed at some of the weapons strewn carelessly on the ground. “Grab what you need and run.” He raised his finger to point at a darkened doorway on the far side of the room. “Don’t stop moving. Don’t touch anything.”
“But they’re --” Risau started.
“They’re the trap.” Link’s voice was like steel. He pointed again at the entrance. “Don’t. Stop.”
Feeling eyes on him, Tasl at last wrenched his gaze from his fallen comrades to look at his present companions. Both Risau and Dalton stared at him, Risau’s eyes wide and worried -- possibly over Link’s sanity -- and Dalton’s grim. Link watched them all, head tilted like a sparrow’s, mouth tight. What are you waiting for? he seemed to ask.
In normal proceedings, Risau would be correct. Their mission would be to organize the bodies of their fallen brethren and prepare them for an appropriate burial with the risk of their kin and people.
Nothing about this was normal. They were trapped in a tunnel beneath Hyrule by two elderly women capable of flying, and there was some strange tentacle monster lurking in the waters behind them. Of their current group, Link seemed like the only one unshaken by this madness.
Tasl exhaled. He wanted a drink. “Dalton, do you see any bows you can use to replace yours?” He waited for Dalton’s slow nod. “Good. Grab it and go. Do not stop. Our mission is to cross this room as quickly as possible and make it to the next area.” Tasl looked at Link, who appeared to be appraising the room again. “Is there anything else we need to know before we begin?”
His strange, impossible grandson nodded. “Run faster than them.”
That was one of the most terrifying sentences Tasl had ever heard. His two Knights blanched as white as their skeletal kin.
Link studied their faces, nodded to himself, and then turned back to the room. Tasl surveyed the horrific scene and saw nothing but still, long-dead bodies. Still, he couldn’t fight the shiver racing up his spine.
“I see the one I want,” Dalton said softly.
Tasl exhaled. “All right then. Go.”
Risau bolted, Dalton on her heels. Link hesitated, and Tasl realized with resignation that his insane little grandson planned to take up the rear. There was no time to argue. He took off after Dalton, cursing silently to himself, and felt more than heard Link behind him.
For the first dozen steps, nothing happened. Tasl hoped that perhaps in this instance Link was wrong and overestimated the witches’ madness. Then Dalton leaned down and scooped up a golden bow.
And around them, the dead stirred.