saudade is a dirty liar @merakkli
Out of Water

Link wakes to the sound of a heartbeat.

The air and the water pooling around him are the same temperature and the corners of the room are buried beneath shadows, but the sounds ring clear in this dim blue circle. The pulse he hears is faint but getting stronger, reverberating around the cavern and setting the thin sheet of water alight with vibrations. Link trails his fingers through it; It’s viscous and seems to glow on its own, and little droplets scatter as he grabs at the wall to his side. His skin is lit silver in what little light the water creates, waxy and unreal against the pale stone.

This ledge should be rough, but Link feels the pressure on his wrist and nothing else. The rest is loose and disconnected, a thick sheet separating himself from the room around him. Link staggers only once as he swings his legs over the edge and tries to stand. He takes a step and is forced to stop as the room seems to move, the thin carvings etched into the floor swirling on their own. Link takes a steadying breath once they still and keeps moving.

This ledge should be rough, but Link feels the pressure on his wrist and nothing else. The rest is loose and disconnected, a thick sheet separating himself from the room around him. Link staggers only once as he swings his legs over the edge and tries to stand. He takes a step and is forced to stop as the room seems to move, the thin carvings etched into the floor swirling on their own. Link takes a steadying breath once they still and keeps moving.

Only the sound remains a constant as Link limps out of whatever dim light the water generates. It fades into complete darkness by the time he can press his hands against the wall, searching for something that will get him out of the room. His hand brushes against something smooth and cold and stops short.

That is a Sheikah Slate. Take it. It will help guide you after your slumber.

Link pulls his hand back, looking around, but the dip in the ground he’d woken up in and its extensions are the only thing in the room. A great conical shape rests above it, small plates built into the heavy exterior glowing blue. He’s alone, save for that and the heartbeat around him. When Link looks down again, the area under his palm has lit up with the soft orange glow of a stylized eye, a single teardrop streaking down from the center. He looks at it and freezes, caught under its stare.

Those words—feminine, heavy with remorse, familiar —echo in Link’s head, and he finds his hand moving on its own. His fingers close around a square, one, he could get his hand around with a slight strain. The clasps keeping it to the wall release it when he pulls, albeit with the reluctant hiss of many moving parts. Link turns it over in his hands, looking over the glowing insignia. It’s bled from the eye into the pedestal that had held it, a short dark cylinder that reaches his hip. The same orange light connects from several faint lines to a much brighter circle, spiraling around invisible veins in the metal in a slow, mechanical process. Link watches, slate hanging in his hands. Only when it slows and stops, fading into the ground, does he step back and raise the slate up against the darkness.

Lights snap on in a great, resounding shudder of the room, momentarily drowning out everything else. Link staggers, his hand closing around empty air at his back. Everything else instantly feels wrong without something to hold, something to swing, but then the sense of danger fades and he’s alone. The sharp blue lights flicker and dim, infusing into the thick fog around him. 

The few crates in the next room are more dust and mold than boxes, but Link finds some tattered clothing in the midst of them. He puts them on, shakes off the splinters, and keeps moving. The woman’s voice is a distant drone, left behind in the former room.

Hold the slate to the pedestal. It will show you the way.  

He does. There is nothing left to do. Link hears the chalky scrape of stone against stone, and is then blinded by searing new light. 

The final room comes back to him later, as something of a memory. All he feels then is his fingers digging into shallow, flaky earth, and choking for breath that doesn’t seem to come back to him. 

There are birds singing outside. Link can hear them echoing through the cave. He’s only distantly aware of the transition from stone to brittle, dying grass, until the land tapers off to a cliff that he doesn’t quite feel. 

The land beneath him is alive . The forest gleaming orange and gold and all the distant patches of land beyond it, it pulses and breathes and seems to reach out to him as if to greet an old friend. As if to say, welcome home. We missed you .

 Link stares at it for a while. Sometime later, he brings his hand up and touches his face. It comes away dry.

The trees have faded to green by the time he moves and realizes that he isn’t alone. He feels eyes on him and turns to see a figure huddled in the crevice of a rock. There isn’t much to see of them from this distance, but he gets the impression that they’ve been waiting a long time. Link glances back at the forest below him. Then he turns away and walks down the trail towards them. 

The person is an old man, he finds, wearing tattered gear and staring up at him through the embers of a campfire. His face is obscured behind a thick beard, the skin he can see dark and leathery with age. For a few seconds they watch each other. Then the man leans back, sweeping an arm towards the ground at Link’s feet. 

“Fellow traveler,” he says, voice rough. “It’s been a long while since someone came down here.” Link sits slowly. His body still feels disjointed and wrong, and sitting is more difficult than the man makes it look. A blackened apple is in front of him, and when the man notices him staring he snorts. “Take it. Better manners than I expected—there are people out here who wouldn’t wait.

Link picks up the apple, then sets it down again. After a few more seconds, the man just sighs. 

“The slate you carry with you. Tap its screen and it will show you the way.” With that, he seems to lose interest in Link, and starts cooking another apple. Link stands uncertainly, lifting the slate to face level and touching the smooth black part of it. The eye sigil lights up, flashing briefly before expanding into a web of blue lines. A golden dot is in the middle of them, pulsing with light. The only other part of it is a little arrow that turns whenever he does. He directs himself towards the dot and is about to start walking when the man calls back to him. 

“And Link, the slate goes on your hip. Keep your hands free.”

Link keeps moving without acknowledging him, but he stops when he comes across an axe lodged in the trunk of a tree. Aware of the man’s eyes on his back, he finds a way to hook the slate onto his belt and carefully wraps both hands around the handle of the axe. It comes loose much easier than he’d anticipated, sending both him and the axe to the ground with a clatter. 

Something snorts and rustles in the grass a few yards ahead of him, and Link goes still. It doesn’t seem to help. Seconds later, it squeals and charges at him, swinging some sort of club wildly. Link staggers away, dragging the axe away. It pauses, and he gets a glimpse of manic blue eyes before his axe comes down and takes its head with it. It crumples, both head and body twitching furiously as they start rolling down the incline. The body purples and swells until it bursts into a cloud of thick smoke. Its eyes meet his again, filming over with death but so angry , and then it follows. 

Link lowers his axe, staring at where it had been for a second. Then he keeps moving.

The dot on the Sheikah slate seems to lead to a mound of rocks, just at the edge of a steep wall. He hasn’t walked much farther towards it before the tree above him shakes violently and a giant glob of clear jelly drips from the branches. When Link swings his axe through it, it just parts around the metal. Two eyes fall into it with sickening plops and fix on him. Link takes a step away, then runs past it. 

Several more of the dark, angry monsters notice him and give chase. He whirls around once they’re too close to avoid and sinks his axe into one of them, throwing it to the ground before a different one knocks him down as well. The last two squeal with rage. One falls into the swing of his axe in its fury, but the other hangs back. They circle each other until Link darts forwards, but his legs are still unsteady and he falls before he can score a good hit. The monster takes advantage of it and grabs his axe, trying to pull it from his grasp. He pulls back and his arm lets out a splintering crack. Both it and the axe fall to the ground. Link picks his axe back up and swings it at the creature. He hardly notices that it dies, more focused on his detached arm. He has to pry the fingers off his axe to separate them. It doesn’t reattach when he presses it to the socket of his shoulder. Link maneuvers his axe and torn arm until they both fit under his remaining arm and aims for the pile of rocks again. 

More creatures intercept his path, these patrolling the hillsides with crude wooden bows. When Link sees them, he circles around, freezing every time they look his way. He makes it to the rocks without any fights, setting his arm and axe down on the floor once he’s as safe as he’ll get. 

The cavern is man-made; the ground is of the same material as the cave he’d woken up in, and the rocks are being held up by thick, tan pillars that form an artificial canopy above him. Despite what must be immense pressure, they’re almost completely undamaged. One of the pedestals for the Sheikah slate is in the center, with a stalactite-shaped protrusion above it. When Link puts the slate against it, something clicks and holds it in place. It spins, sinking into the pedestal with a quiet hiss. Link is about to try and pull it out when a mechanical voice makes him stop. 

 Please watch for falling rocks .” 

Link looks up, but the rocks are held fast by the pillars above him. Then the ground shudders and the floor jolts up. Link staggers and collapses as it rises, hitting the ground hard before he can support himself. He can move, but the violent shaking makes him slide down whenever he tries to get back up. There’s a loud screeching sound as the rocks on top of him slide down and smash onto the ground below, but the noise is distant and comes from somewhere far beneath him.

The floor goes still with a final shuddering jerk, and Link pulls himself up using the pedestal as a crutch for his remaining arm. The room lights up with a faint blue glow despite the sunlight. The room has been raised high into the air, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to get down. The Sheikah slate buzzes and Link’s attention comes back to it as light begins pooling in the stalactite above him. He stumbles back to avoid a single drop of blue liquid that falls onto the slate’s screen, activating it and pulling up the screen where the dot and arrow, now conjoined, lie. A more detailed image fades in, mapping out the area he’s woken up in. The slate pops out of the pedestal with a pleasant noise, and Link lifts it to his face to see.

Remember 

He looks up and freezes, caught by a burst of light from the horizon, below where the sun is starting to fall. He’s heard the voice before. It had told him his name in a way he can’t quite grasp.

Try, Link, try to remember…

Link is only aware that he’s moved towards it once the ground shakes and he’s almost thrown over the side of the room to a drop he wouldn’t survive. The light is coming from the keep of a castle, dark against the sky beyond it. 

You have been asleep for the last 100 years.  

Darkness bursts from the castle grounds, twisting until it forms a hazy shield around it. A head bursts from the shadows, animal-shaped with four great, curling tusks jutting from its snout. It bucks into the air, unhinges its jaw and howls, and Link swears he can almost hear it. 

When the beast reaches its full power, this world will face its end.

The light in the castle swells, and the dark monster disintegrates. He can definitely hear it screaming this time. The tendrils remain, writhing around the light. 

Hurry, Link, before it’s too late…

The light fades, leaving him staring at the barren landscape and feeling abruptly, inexplicably, alone. 

 

The tower he’s on has ledges, he finds, that are just far down enough that he only has to stop for a few seconds at a time whenever he jumps from one to another. The old man is waiting for him on the ground, staring at the castle with an unreadable look. He’s holding something made of wood and cloth, half-folded in his hands. 

“Extraordinary,” he murmurs, more to himself than to Link. “All of these events at once...it is as though a long-dormant power has awoken.” He turns to Link, staring him down with one sharp gray eye. “Tell me what happened on that tower, Link.”

Link doesn’t respond. The man sighs bitterly and turns away again. 

“The atrocity you saw there is Calamity Ganon. One hundred years ago, it brought the kingdom of Hyrule to the ruin you see today.” There’s a brief period of silence while the man stares out at the castle, as though searching for something within it. When he speaks again, his voice is quiet. “It appeared without warning and destroyed all that stood in its path. Thousands of innocents were lost in its wake.” 

Link hardly notices when he turns back to him. “Tell me. Will you go to the castle?” 

There’s silence between them for a long stretch of time. Link can hear the sounds of more monsters snuffling in the grass around them. His useless arm is heavy in his hand. He shrugs, and the old man’s expression hardens to iron. 

“I had a feeling.” He turns back to the castle as though Link had never done anything. “This plateau is as isolated as Hyrule will get; the only way down has been destroyed for over a lifetime. To jump down without aid...no death could be more certain. Or more foolish.” When he looks back to Link, his face is calculated, almost cruel. “Of course, that could be avoided with this paraglider.” He lifts the thing in his hands in Link’s direction. “I have no use for it, but I’m sure a spry young...man, like yourself, would appreciate it for what lies ahead, no?” 

The old man scoffs when Link angles his head to look at it better. It doesn’t seem like it would take his weight, not when his own legs can’t, but he can see the edge of the plateau from here. The ground is obscured by a thick gray fog, but it’s clear that a drop from this height would spell his death. 

“Perhaps it will end up in your hands. If it were to be traded for a treasure, one that has recently made itself available…” He raises his hand towards a large slab of black metal jutting from the ground, glowing orange. "That shrine has awoken with the towers. Find what is within it, and the paraglider is yours." 

The old man watches him as he slides down the hillside and back into the grassy fields. More of those beasts are waiting off to the side, the only barrier between him and them a flimsy wooden wall smeared with dried silt. One of the creatures is sitting atop a watchtower, rotting bow in hand, but the barricade they've set up is too tall for it to see over and Link passes them by completely unnoticed. There's nothing else standing in the way of the shrine, though it seems that a great deal of the area around it has been flooded. What’s left of a pathway sinks into the mud as he steps on the bricks, the entire thing one long rainfall away from being completely submerged. 

The shrine has a pedestal out front. It lights up blue when Link presses the slate to it. An engraved circle with the same blue light shoots up from the ground in front of it, and blue floods into the body of the shrine. Only the top stays orange, eye glaring down at him. The walls blocking him from entering separate and swing open just as the monsters catch his scent and start squealing in anticipation of a hunt. Link steps into the shrine, but there isn’t any treasure, just the same dark walls. He jumps back as a wall of blue light flares up around him, locking him inside and starting to sink. 

It enters a new room, impossibly spacious compared to the cramped room of the shrine. It’s made of the same materials, though this has patterns of orange bulbs that flicker in the dim light. Another pedestal waits for him, alongside two sheets of metal, but there is yet again no treasure to be found, nor is there any way to move forwards. 

Link steps out from the circle once the light fades, pushes the slate onto the pedestal, and starts looking. The metal won’t move, and with only one arm he has no leverage. The slate buzzes and he picks it back up. The screen lights up without being touched, showing a small image drawn in pink. Link presses it with his thumb and nearly drops the slate when a bolt of energy shoots out of it and hooks onto one of the metal rectangles. The movement sends the metal flying away, and the magic fizzles into sparks. The disappearance of the metal leaves a cavern that Link drops into.

The rest of the shrine is simple, just moving pieces of metal until he can progress, until he comes to the final room. He breaks down a wall of rock and finds a metal disk that comes up to his hip, held up by three silver legs. It jolts when it sees Link, expanding with an ominous creaking sound and glowing bright orange. It skitters forwards too quickly for him to react, single eye flaring with blue light. A sharp trill is the only warning Link gets before a beam of light catches him in the remaining arm and throws him against the wall. He drops both his axe and his loose arm, and the one that was hit creaks dangerously when he pushes himself up. He grabs his axe, then has to drop to the ground again as another bolt of light ricochets off where his head had just been. Link gets his feet under him and runs at the robot. It scrabbles away too slowly and takes the full force of his axe where its head meets its body. 

The axe shatters. It sends both Link and the robot sliding away from each other. A shard of metal has lodged in the thing’s eye, but there’s hardly a dent in it otherwise. It staggers for a second, head swiveling before it finally lands back on Link. The blue glow starts up again, only slightly hindered by the metal, and Link reaches for a weapon that is no longer there. 

The back leg of the robot slips off the edge of the platform they're on. The beam of light hits somewhere several yards above Link, and it tumbles into the water with nothing more than the shriek of its claws on the ground. Smoke rises from where it disappeared into the water, but Link doesn't risk moving until he hears a muffled explosion. He gets to the edge just in time to watch smoke-filled bubbles and charred parts of machinery rise to the surface. 

Link moves on to the final room with only his other arm as a weapon, this one only containing a sheer blue box with a shadowy figure inside. It glows with a kind of permeable light, cool and smooth when Link presses his palm against the Sheikah insignia. The wall shatters silently into shards of light, leaving a decayed husk watching him from a few feet above him. Its skeletal grin shifts as it stares at him, disintegrating into a cascade of indigo light that floats towards Link, forming into a sphere before sinking into his chest. At first nothing feels different, but then he gets the distinct sensation of his skin suctioning to whatever lies beneath it, to a warm presence where his arm once was. He looks down at his hand and watches himself disappear into green magic.

 

It's dark outside the shrine, where the magic of the ancient monk has deposited him. Link drops into the grass, completely soaking through the left half of his shirt. He thinks of the robot enemy, sliding into the water, and forces himself up at the heavy thud of feet right next to him. It occurs to him only distantly that he uses both arms to stand, one healed and the other completely reattached. The old man raises the eyebrow Link can see, unimpressed. 

"It seems you've gotten your hands on a spirit orb." 

 Link doesn't respond, waiting for the paraglider. The man ignores his attempt at a pointed look completely. "As I get older, I find it harder to see what exactly is before me." That one gray eye focuses fully on Link. "However, that which was once hidden from view can now be crystal clear. But...perhaps that is not true for everyone." 

Link is the one to look away first. The old man points to the slate at his hip. "These shrines and towers are connected to Hyrule Castle, as well as the Sheikah Slate there. To think that after all this time, it was hidden in a shrine with you. That must mean something ." At around the same time, both he and the old man look out, to where the magenta tints of the fog seem to glow despite how little light the crescent moon gives off. "I haven't seen that slate in a very long time, little hero. Perhaps it was chosen for you." His voice is thin, swallowed up by the night. "The journey to that castle will be much more difficult than the few monsters you see here. That fate is certain, chosen for you as much as the slate was. Will you accept it?" 

When he turns his head, Link looks down at his hands. The monsters out on the plateau had tried to tear him apart. They’d nearly succeeded. He looks out at the castle, where the ghostly tusked animal waits, a thousand times larger than any monster here. He shrugs. The silence between them turns thick with tension. 

"There are three more shrines on this plateau. Find them, and the spirit orbs within them, and I will give you the paraglider." 

Link spins around to face him, though once he does he's unsure of what to do, how to express what he's feeling.

The old man doesn't wait for him to try. He stares at the castle for a few seconds longer, then turns and walks into the woods. "Try tapping on the tower, Link. Then hold the Sheikah Slate up. You'll find the shrines that way." 

Link watches where he'd disappeared into the forest for a long time, but he doesn't reemerge. He gives up on waiting after a few minutes, pulling the Sheikah slate up to face level and tapping on the tower symbol that the map has added. 

He comes close to dropping the slate again, watching his body disintegrate into strands of light. The only thing that stops it is that the slate itself is also travelling with him. It even vanishes before he does, and he watches his body float into the night sky.

 

The Sheikah Slate drops him much less ceremoniously than the monk had, and Link is almost sent sprawling off the tower. He sits up and looks at his newly healed arms, the joint that should be torn or at least scarred. There’s nothing there to ever suggest he was hurt in the first place. The smoothness is disquieting, and he raises the slate again. Link can see a campfire in the direction the old man had left, and as he swipes the screen of the slate with a finger it blinks and folds into a much more detailed image of the fire. 

He stands and circles around the tower with the slate acting as his eyes. Anything past the great plateau is obscured by fog. Easier to pick out is a second shrine, nestled in the crumbling walls of what looks to be an old complex of buildings with the tops taken off of each one. The land around it is thick with the rubble left behind. The next shrine is hidden on an outcropping behind a dangerously steep precipice. The last is directly above it, on a mountain coated with snow. Link lowers the slate and the scope closes back into the map.

 All the monsters around are asleep, and he steals a bow from one and a club from another a few yards back. Once he’s out of their range, however, skeleton creatures take the place of the living. One's neck is broken and seems to be hanging on through magic and luck. The other one is missing the middle ribs of its rib cage. Their bones are fragile and smash to dust on impact with his club, but they have no pain to hinder them. Only once Link manages to knock off one's head and crush it with his foot does it blacken and explode. The second, the one with missing ribs, proves sturdier. Link winces each time a bone shatters, wondering how something with no lungs can still scream so loudly. It's a relief for them both, he's sure, when it's finally dead.

Past the skeleton monsters, there’s nothing in his path as he walks to the second shrine. Rain starts to fall out of the blue, going from a light mist to a downpour in minutes. It washes off the bone residue that coats his weapons and clothes, but it’s replaced by splatters of mud. He loses any hope of staying clean as he trips over a rock and only avoids landing face-first in the mud by twisting so his shoulder takes the brunt of the impact. Link shoves himself up and walks faster. The first shrine had been just as humid as the cave he'd woken up in, but at least it had been dry .

Link's thoughts grind to a halt as he comes within view of the shrine, though. There doesn't seem to be a pathway to the shrine, at least not from this angle, and a dark, hulking shape blocks his path. He can't explain to himself why, but just the shape of it fills him with dread. Dread and fear, and something in him screaming at the top of its lungs to run 

Slowly and with the rough sound of metal on metal, Link watches the head of the thing turn and face him. Just like the little one before, there's nothing in the empty socket, until color sweeps into the cracks of the thing's body and concentrates in the eye. There's no orange in it, just a sickly violet that makes it look hollow. Link is blinded by the wavering light of its eye as a red circle finds him and focuses on his chest.

Link only realizes that he's thrown himself to the side, out of view of the robot, once he looks up and sees the clouds stretched out before him, not the cavernous skull shape of its face, gleaming in the rain. He knows that piercing stare, and he can feel it on his chest like a spiderweb crack going through his skin. 

He can feel his hands pressed against where the laser had been aimed—as if it would even help—but he's numb up to his shoulders and can't get enough breath in to feel his chest rise. Link remembers this, the mud coating his skin, the blade in his hand.

The heat in his chest.

His bones splitting apart.

The rain has stopped by the time Link gets his wits about him again. The memory is still seared into his eyelids, of that single eye staring him down. He probes at his chest now, but can't find any indication that any robot had ever hit him there. If the memory is real, and it feels real, how could he have survived, much less come out of it intact? 

Every inch of Link tells him that this is a bad idea, but he's trapped against a flimsy wall that will probably be coming down soon, even if the robot doesn't shoot it down. He takes a steadying breath that, if anything, only makes it worse, and darts into the open. 

There's only a split second where the robot can see him, and Link gets back behind a wall on the opposite side just as the blast of the laser blows apart where he'd been standing before. The thing seems to have recovered from its years of disuse. The squeals of its head moving have quieted to a rough, metallic hiss. Link covers his mouth and nose against the cloud of dust the laser creates, though most of the debris settles with the heavy rain. Link waits until it stops spinning around to look for him, and runs as fast as his weak legs can take him up to where the cave is. He climbs up to the top of the cave to watch the moon set. He knows somewhere inside himself that looking in the direction of the castle will only hurt more.

The shrine with a robot to guard it is right out. The next easiest to reach is likely the one at the very top of the mountain.  Link stands on the top of the cave, turning to watch the horizon lighten, then goes back to where the mountain is and starts searching for a clear path up.

A little creature hiding under a rock is not what Link had in mind for the way to find 'a clear path', but it seems more familiar with the surroundings than he is. On all levels it looks like a living plant, if round and with pointy stub arms and legs, and seems just as startled by Link as he is by it. It's also completely happy to ignore the fact that Link doesn't say a word to it from the time he tips over the rock to when it decides that it will lead him to the shrine. It presses a gold droplet into his hand and pats his thumb consolingly, then waddles off to find him an easy way up the icy ridges. 

Link learns that koroks are immune to cold very quickly. It’s unaffected by the foot-deep snow, bouncing along on top of it in clouds of leaves. He also learns that they disappear into golden sparks and leaves when confronted with any danger. The wake of it vanishing distracts him to the monster barreling towards him until it sends him deep into the snow. This one is darker than the monsters scattered across the plains, colored a pallid blue rather than maroon.  Link can hear its triumphant howl as he staggers to his feet, joints creaking in the frigid air. 

The creature doesn't seem content to wait for him to get back up, and Link almost goes down a second time as it rushes for him. He twists just in time and its swing goes wide, squealing as it sinks into the same snowbank Link had fallen into. He only gets in one good hit before it's up again, baring yellowed teeth at him and brandishing the old blade that must have narrowly avoided running him through. Link staggers back as it swings again, but he's forced up the mountain as it keeps attacking and cuts off to scream at him. His club making contact with its jaw shuts it up quickly enough, and it ends up scrabbling for purchase on the snow. He readies the club to knock it to the side, but the monster hardly flinches at the blow that lands hard on its ribs. Link is tossed into the snow again as the thing leaps at him, trying to shove the blade into his heart.

Link grabs the rusted steel, forcing the sword away from him. The tip snaps off in his hands, throwing the monster off balance, and Link takes the opportunity to stab it with the makeshift dagger. Dark blood coats the snow as it shrieks, though it still takes several more jabs with the metal for it to go limp and let him get back on his feet.

The korok reappears in a burst of sparks as soon as it's gone, ignorant of how Link is doubled over and speckled with blood. It just pats his leg sympathetically and sits down in the snow.

"You should be careful, Mr. Hero. The blue bokoblins are no joke!"

Link doesn’t respond. It doesn’t seem to care.

"Your friend down there might have helped, but she's so scary, I didn't want her to come along! I'm really sorry, Mr. Hero." He pauses, then nods slowly. There are no more of the blue bokoblins as the korok waddles along, Link forging through the snow behind it.  It's almost welcome when a horde of the weaker red ones swoops down on him, and it's easy to tear them apart compared to their blue counterpart. He finds their abandoned camp, forgotten as soon as they'd noticed him walking up the mountain. A giant steak is being reduced to cinders over a blazing fire, and while the meat goes ignored by both Link and the korok, he warms up until it keeps moving. 

The path the korok takes is almost completely free of obstacles until it leads him to a cliff that is crawling with bokoblins, one of which is blue. Link charges ahead of the korok and through the horde, hitting it hard enough to send it flying off the edge and into the lake below. The korok had stopped him before he’d tried to cross it, and he understands why now.  Link watches the bokoblin flail for a second or two, its movements grinding to a halt in shuddering bursts as it freezes alive. He turns away in time to hear the explosion marking its death and picks up the sword it had dropped, spinning around and stabbing it through the head of the closest monster. Some are armed, though others hang back and try to catch him off balance with the occasional rock or snowball. Link tears a sword out of the hands of the first monster and runs to the shrine. The elevator cuts him off from them just as one swings a club at the blue light and is thrown back, already dead.

Cold water floods the shrine as the barrier slides away, soaking Link’s shoes. The pedestal waits for him, identical to the first shrine, but this time any exits to the room are cut off by a smooth wall, too tall and sleek for him to climb. He fits the Sheikah Slate into the stand and waits, then angles it at the water once it pops back out. This time a hologram unfolds, crisp blue against the dark water, of a cubic shape. When he presses the screen again, a block of ice forms so close to him it knocks the slate out of his hands and knocks one of them loose at the wrist. Link staggers back, clutching it—it works, and it doesn’t hurt, but it feels like it’s only being held together by his skin. He picks his slate back up and creates another block of ice, this time against the wall. It’s cut unevenly and adheres to the floor underneath the water, providing a suitable enough climbing surface. 

  Another block of ice lifts a heavy gate like it’s nothing, and Link turns the corner straight into the path of another robot. He ducks back and draws his sword, but it’s facing away from him and doesn’t notice. He runs at it before it can properly turn, and his first stab of the sword aims too low. The blade lodges between its head and body, stunning it. He tugs out the sword and stabs it directly into its eye this time. He has to pull it out and stab it again before the light inside it flickers and dims. 

The next monk is hidden behind several more smooth walls. Link taps it and shudders as the body disintegrates, giving him the same sensation of his skin squeezing him. He lets the magic of the shrine draw him back into the biting cold. He can already hear the angry shrieks of the remaining bokoblins from a few yards below the shrine. Link tests his wrist—fully healed—and grabs at the Sheikah Slate. He taps furiously at the tower, to regroup and to get a good bearing on where the next shrine is.

As it turns out, the next shrine has vanished.

Not only the shrine, the cliff it was balanced so precariously on has completely collapsed. It’s still there, but the orange glow is hidden amongst the rubble. The korok doesn’t reappear once he drops down, but Link knows where he’s going once he circles around the shrine where the larger robots lie dormant. The few bokoblins he has to fight are red and refuse to leave their cavernous skull, giving him the upper ground for the entire fight.

A half-collapsed cabin is on the opposite corner of the clearing, covered in wildflowers and birch trees but is otherwise empty. Link heads for the shrine, which is somehow still standing upright despite the fall it's taken. He stops at its entrance, studying the doors. The ridges where they would slide open are deep and ragged, ripped more than cut. Something similar has happened to the engraved circle on the floor, what appears to be an unsuccessful attempt at digging into the part that glows blue. Once it reaches the pedestal, the markings lose any semblance of a clinical edge, slashing through the Sheikah eye and adding an oval shape above it, similar to the one that drips down beneath it. 

The pedestal still reacts to the Sheikah slate, and the doors still open, but Link can’t suppress a feeling of dread. The strikes covering the doors don't look like they've been caused by claws, but they're too neat to be caused by the fall. Something on this plateau knows how to get into these shrines but can't, but it can damage them more than an avalanche of sharp rocks can. 

The interior of the shrine is different, shaken up. The pedestal works, gives him a little drawing of a lock next to the snowflake and magnet. There are several large gears to the left that control the only way across, a thin slab of rock. Save for the occasional click of the gears, though, the entire thing has ceased to move. When Link aims at the gears and presses the rune, chains shoot out from thin air and snap around them. There's no way to tell what it does here, but Link still feels a little safer as he walks across the makeshift metal bridge. 

A thin tube has been completely stopped up with stone balls bigger and wider than Link is tall, but the chute has lost the angle that would have sent the orbs hurtling towards him. Occasionally a new one will drop into the channel, roll off the side, and plummet into the darkness below. The stasis rune locks one of the falling balls in place, and Link watches with obvious awe until the chains flicker and disappear, and the ball continues its descent. There's a slight divot on the path leading to the monk where he might imagine a ball had once stood to block his path, but it's long gone by now, fallen into the void when the shrine had lost stable ground. If something terrible has happened, the monk at the end doesn’t seem to care.

Link leaves the shrine feeling more disoriented than the others, for some reason. He presses a hand to his chest, but the spirit orbs they give him don't make him look any different. His hands are strange against his skin, and they look too pale, almost segmented in the blinding afternoon light when he tries to see what's wrong with them. What is happening , he thinks, swaying on his feet and sitting next to the scarred pedestal. His chest burns with phantom pain, but the image of that guardian staring him down feels more like a dream than a memory. Link looks up, back to the sagging cabin. Two koroks are standing at the roof, and one is waving at him.

Link turns away from them and stands, heading for the last shrine. He doesn't want to think about the robot right now, or the fact that he has no way to get past it. He doesn't want to think about anything .

He takes the route down the center, with a guardian in the middle of the room and the shrine waiting through a doorway behind it. Link readies his sword, prepared to swing for the eye, stun it, and run. He gets the impression that his hands should be shaking. A few steps in, he falters. By the time he's close enough to the robot to strike, Link has stopped completely, his blade lowering. The machine doesn't respond, despite the fact that it's staring straight at him. There's no rush of color, no sharp warning as it centers on his chest. Just nothing. 

Link hesitates to come any closer. He's already almost within arm's reach, which is much closer to one of the robots than he's comfortable with. The metal of its body is cool when he touches it, then jerks back with his sword at the ready. It still doesn't respond, the space where all the flashing violet  lights should be empty and dead. 

Against his better judgement, Link looks up into its face. The robot still seems to stare at him, despite the flash of black metal embedded in its eye. Link reaches up, brushing his fingers against the shard, then grips it and pulls it out. 

The empty eye sparks, and Link darts back to where it can't see him. When he peers out to see if it's truly still alive, the same empty caverns stare back. He holds up his hand, still clutched around whatever was in its eye—the weapon that killed it.

It's a dagger, sleek and black with a silver edge. Tattered red fabric is wrapped around the handle, some of which flutters in the wind at the end of it. Between the hilt and the blade, the Sheikah insignia watches him, carved in with ragged, choppy strokes. Link tilts the knife upside down so that the sigil is right side up. It’s small and slightly damaged from the guardian’s eye, but it’s leagues above the few weapons he’s found so far. Link tucks it into his belt and walks into the shrine.

Rather than a solid wall or a metal gate, two cracked stone squares block his path. The two new abilities summon different types of bombs, both round and cubic. Link learns the hard that tapping the rune again makes the bomb explode, mostly from his head colliding with the elevator platform as the blast tosses him backwards. The room sways a little when he gets back up and summons a second bomb, this time kicking it towards the cracked stone. The wind from the explosion still ruffles his hair, and the fractured walls crumple around the bomb. When Link brushes his hair out of his face, a large clump of it comes loose in his hands. The sloping path leads to a hallway blocked on both sides by the same kind of dilapidated barriers. One is a dead end with a chest, and Link drops his other club to accommodate the blade he finds within it. The other lets him continue into a tall, wide room, with a huge blockade of the same damaged blocks. The moving platform is new, though, sliding through the air like it's balanced on a rope. Link tosses the square shaped bomb onto the side, as far as it will go without falling off, and the old stone falls apart.

The next room continues to be simple, albeit with more moving parts. The round bomb fits through a narrow chute and is shot into the air by a giant springboard. It lands neatly on the pile of rocks and blows up almost all of them. He climbs up the ladder that bridges the gap and walks on, to the final monk. 

When Link exits the shrine, he isn’t alone. The old man stands just before the circle of blue light, paraglider in his hands. Link takes a step back, but the old man doesn’t seem to notice or care. 

“You’ve gotten them all? Good. It’s time, then.” He turns away, pointing towards the desecrated temple behind them, dark and forbidding against the horizon. “Go there. If you succeed...I will be waiting for you.” The old man takes a step away from him, but rather than walk back out, past the dead robot, he goes transparent and vanishes in a twirl of cyan flame. Link stares at where he’d been for a while, then starts walking.

 

The only bokoblins Link sees along the way pause before they reach the interior of the temple. The interior has been completely destroyed, save for a few statues at the back of the main room. If there ever was a floor, it has been covered in a layer of broken glass and a few scattered robot parts. Their empty shells are left dangling from the windowsills, and Link can see the indentations from where their claws had scraped gashes into the cobble of the room. The plateau around him is silent, as though despite most of the roof and half of the walls being torn out, no sounds filter through them. 

Link ignores the crunching of glass under his boots, sword drawn in case one of the many guardians hanging off the walls ends up still alive. He freezes when his foot sinks into something with a chalky crack. The ribcage of the skeleton he’d stepped into—a Hylian skeleton—disintegrates as he tugs his foot back out, shivering at the flash of panic looking at this corpse brings. Their skeleton is already halfway through turning to dust, and it looks to have been sped up by their head being caved in by a guardian's beam. No skin or clothing remains, but the shade of a dress has imprinted itself in the debris around them. Link takes a wary step back, but he can’t see any other skeletons.

The statue at the back of the temple is much taller than it had seemed from the front. It towers over him, an ovoid carving of a woman with wings, her hands clutched together in prayer behind the faint outlines of a billowing dress. The stone is worn away and covered in lichen, the miniature copies around her little more than lumps of stone. Regardless, the space around the carvings is free of the destruction the rest of the temple has faced. The grass beneath his feet is soft and healthy, unaffected by the ruin around it. 

 Link comes within touching distance of the largest statue and freezes as it lights up. The source of the light seems to be coming from somewhere above her—whether it goes past the collapsing roof of the temple or ends above her head, Link can't tell. It sparkles in the air around them, cascading off the rock like something tangible, but when it brushes against Link's skin he doesn't feel anything. 

You who have conquered four shrines and claimed their spirit orbs. I am the goddess Hylia.

The voice that emanates from the statue is powerful enough that it seems to rustle the grass around him. It's low and feminine, and it circles around him as though it comes from all of the stones at once. The statue looks alive suddenly, smiling down at him.

You come to me for the offer of great power. I will grant you what you seek.  

Nothing immediately changes, but now when any of this new, showering light comes close to it, it sinks into his chest like iron to a magnet. It burns now, and for a second rather than the statue there's the cold, dark carapace of a guardian in front of him, but it fades as the light does and leaves Link feeling hollow where it had touched him. He looks up at the goddess’s face and sees nothing, just lifeless stone.

"So, the goddess has blessed you." 

Link spins on his heel, looking for someone who isn't there. Then, from above him—"Get up here. Quickly." His head snaps up just in time to see the last flutter of the old man's cape as he walks away from an opening in the roof. The side he'd been on is carved out in its entirety and the roof above it seems unstable at best, but Link follows where he'd seen the old man last and finds a long, rickety ladder leading to the top. It's sun-bleached and looks about as stable as the rest of the temple, there’s no other way to get up. Link climbs as quickly as he dares. 

 Getting up to the roof proves it to be even more precarious than it had seemed from below. The scaffolding is peeling up, if it isn't missing entirely, and what little wood or metal is left creaks and bends under his weight. The ridge at the very top seems secure enough, though Link still gets the distinct impression that it could cave in on itself at any given moment. 

The old man is waiting for him in the steeple, surrounded by hazy blue light that makes it look like the cave he'd woken up in. He’s several feet off the level of the roof and there are a few awkward seconds where Link has to shove himself up using some collapsed stone just underneath it. One of the windows behind him is gone, the only things left of it being a few metal wires that have snapped like twigs. The rest of the glass is still intact but has clouded to the point that it is nearly impossible to see anything outside, save for the shadow of the castle against the darkening sky. 

"So, boy, you've finally made it." He seems older, more tired, than the short time since Link had last seen him. Rather than just dark his skin is ashen, so flat and unlit his face looks like wood. "Now, then...the time has come to show you who I truly am. I was...King Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule, the last leader of Hyrule." The old man—the king, spreads his hand towards the castle behind him. "It is a kingdom that no longer exists."

The small area around them bursts into a blaze of light that instantly blinds Link. He throws a hand over his eyes, waiting for it to die down enough to see. 

The rags he had worn beforehand have melted away in the light. Now the thick, white beard and the wizened skin remain, but any trace of his old mantle has disappeared entirely. It's replaced by what Link can only assume is royal livery, a coat that might once have been brilliant blue emblazoned with gold threads, and an elaborate white suit that has been stained with hundred-year-old blood. The thin, golden crown on his head is bent out of shape and tarnished. 

"The Great Calamity was merciless," he says, hardly looking for any indication that Link is processing this. "It came suddenly, without warning, a century ago. It destroyed everything in its path, and I was not left alive even to see my kingdom burn around me."

The king turns towards the castle, though his eyes remain on Link. "There are people in this world capable of far worse than anything you could ever dream of. Remember that." He sighs, but his shoulders don't heave. Nothing moves, save for the silent rustling of his coat and beard. "The goddess Hylia has blessed you, Link. Whether you know it or not, you are ready to hear of what happened a hundred years ago." 

And Link hears it, hears him speak, but the sounds are foreign to his ears. The memories that surface, though, those make sense, if for the brief moments he can really see them. Images pass by fleetingly, too fast to properly see them, but Link knows like he does in a dream what they are.

The Champions of Hyrule, pilots of the Divine Beasts; his friends, allies, something more that Link doesn't quite grasp but which hurts the second it occurs to him.

They aren't by his side when he sees that guardian again, and the dead king tells him that it's real, that it happened, that yes, he had felt his own body torn to shreds before he was granted the mercy to properly die.

Princess Zelda; the one speaking to him, trapped in the castle with this Great Calamity. The king stops speaking here, and Link presses a hand to his chest, wondering if he should be gasping for breath. He finally realizes that it's not moving under his palm.

"You remember her, even now," the king mutters. His voice comes out like a growl—it's grown cold as he speaks, his face frozen over. "And here you are, as she works to restrain Calamity Ganon, calling out for your help. Doing nothing. Choosing to do nothing." 

Link doesn’t know what to say to that. That he would, that he will. That he’s scared. His arms ache.

"My daughter's power will be exhausted soon. If that happens, there will be nothing to keep that beast from consuming all of Hyrule. Because she will be dead, and you will still be here, cowering with the koroks under their leaf piles. If only—If only the Champions had been slower to their beasts. You—You, who can't even decide if he wants to deign to help the woman begging for someone to help, you are useless ."

Of course. Princess Zelda, one of his closest friends, the last survivor of the people he would have known a hundred years before. How could he have forgotten her? The king's voice is steely, not angry, more monotone than emotional. Link isn't sure, but he thinks that makes it worse.

“You know her, even now. Even if you deny it. You see her better than you see yourself. The Sheikah risked everything to bring you back, Link. They didn’t bring you here to be saved. There was nothing left of you to save. They remade you here, and damned every other innocent that might have lived in peace.  I have been trapped here for a hundred years. I watched those who made it past the first wave die.” Those cold gray eyes meet his. “You even look like what killed them. They died deaths that I would only wish on one person—and here he is,  refusing to go and right the wrongs he caused." 

The king holds out the paraglider, as though he's holding up a bokoblin's severed head. "You seem capable of following orders, at the very least. The Sheikah Elder, Impa, will tell you everything else you need to know. Her village, Kakariko Village, was spared the destruction of the Calamity. Go there first, and do what she says. She won't lead you astray." Link doesn't know how to respond, how to move. His body feels made of stone as the king drops the paraglider at his feet. "The Sheikah severed the drawbridge leading to Hyrule proper. Use this to get down." Link doesn't try to pick it up, and the king shakes his head like he's beyond all hope. "Take it, Link. You've earned it. And I hope my spirit will have vanished from this plane by the time yours comes to join me. Go enjoy what little time you have left."

He's gone with a whispering breeze, blue smoke scattering past the broken window and out towards Hyrule Castle, though it dissipates in the wind. Link stretches a hand towards the paraglider, examining the lines separating his knuckles from each other. He drops to his knees, fingers tangling in the cloth and wood underneath them, and only stops when he finds a large enough shard of glass to look into.

The king is right. 

Link can’t remember what he looks like. When he tries, he sees red scales and dark feathers, feels strong hands against his back, hears a strong laugh echoing deep in his memory. Regardless, this isn’t him. His dark skin is perfect where it should be split apart. He shouldn’t have hair at all. Where his eyes might be, all Link sees is the flickering, pulsing light of a guardian's eye, only this time there's two of them and this time , he’s staring into his reflection. Link still hasn’t tried to open his mouth and he's glad for it, because he doesn't think he could handle that right now. Maybe the Sheikah ran out of time on that. Maybe they just wanted to spare him from seeing a cavern in place of it, nothing inside except maybe the residual glow of those monstrosities that are his eyes.

 Link wishes they had just left him to die.

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