Disclaimer: I do not own the Legend of Zelda. This is not for profit, just for fun.
Notes: It’s been a while since I’ve played either TP or OoT in full, but I’ve had the basic idea for this story for a while. This tale plays with things that are in the realm of theory. I am not married to any theories on LoZ – I just like to play with them to tell stories. The title “A Handful of Dust” is lifted from a roleplay I took part in on a Trigun message board. This story has nothing to do with that roleplay – I just liked the title.
Prisons are creepy places. Anyone who’s visited one can tell you that, even if that anyone had just gone there to see a friend or relative and was themselves, quite free. This is with prisons for the living, mind you. Crumbling ancient prisons for damned souls are at least twice as creepy. Link felt this as he wandered through the halls of the Arbiter’s Grounds. He was both free and not-free. He was there of his own will, but was there under a pressing obligation to save his friends, the world, and, so it would seem, the world of the companion who’d hitched herself to him. What else was the fulfillment of a prophecy to do?
The young Hero shook the sand from his boots and hefted open the door of a little side-chamber he wanted to explore. He’d found a map to this place – although it was out of date – old plans for the guards that once roamed here. This room was not on the map. His sense of curiosity led him to enter it, anyway.
Link squinted in the dim light. This chamber was mostly empty. There was one stone sarcophagus by the far wall. The Hylian royal crest was etched into the stone behind it. Standing before it was something that made the boy blink and catch his breath.
“Sir?” He asked.
“Old Man?” he questioned again when he did not get a response.
The faded old hero he’d been meeting in his dreams – waking visions he’d been having from time to time since his journey began – had never given him a name. Link had taken to calling him “Sir,” or, affectionately, “Old Man.” He was looking at an armored stalfos that looked just like the Old Man.
The stalfos did not answer. Instead, it rushed at him with its sword drawn.
“Hey? What?” Link yelped as he jumped out of the way. The Old Man came up behind him in a spin. A scream ripped itself from Link’s lungs as he heard the scrape of a sword’s tip on his chain mail and felt the bite of steel into his back. He brought the Master Sword out and was ready to fight. In a split second, his mind registered that he’d just been made the victim of a vicious Back Slice.
The stalfos came in for a forward attack and Link blocked the blow with his shield. He proceeded into a Shield Attack, but his opponent did the same. It took almost a full minute before the Hero registered that they were both just butting each other’s shields together without result. Their swords clashed and the stalfos got a few swift, shallow cuts in. It almost cut off the tip of Link’s right ear. There was no greater dishonor for a Hylian than having his or her ears docked.
This was not a vision and it was not a lesson. He knew that, for whatever reason, the Old Man fully intended to kill him. He was swift, too – swifter than a dead creature should be, swifter than any stalfos he had ever before faced. Link managed to land a blow to the ribs and almost got his blade stuck in them. He ripped it out of the clattering armor just in time to get kicked in the middle by the Old Man’s boot. Link was kicked away to the floor, winded.
He looked up and to his horror, the Old Man was in the air, his sword straight down, aimed for his heart. The Ending Blow – and he was about to be ended.
Suddenly, he felt something warm over him and was covered in brilliant orange like flames. He felt himself being pulled back and heard the stone door slide shut behind him. He was propped up in a sitting position against a wall. The orange blanket retreated – Midna’s hair. He felt one of his pockets being rummaged through. The imp proffered him a bottle filled with red medicine.
“You’re losing blood,” she said matter-of-factly. “Drink. Rest. You just got your tail handed to you in there. I have no use for a dead wolf.”
“I….I don’t know what happened…” Link said slowly, sipping the potion. He felt a warm tingling fill his body. He felt his cuts mending. “That was my mentor… I don’t know why he wanted to kill me!”
“Maybe he went evil, I don’t know,” Midna said, her hands on her hips. “I’d suggest not going back into that room until you brush up on your skills.”
“You don’t understand,” Link said in almost a whisper, wincing as the potion did its job. “You’ve never seen him before… You’ve seen the Gold Wolf…”
“And that weird trance you go into. I swear I thought you’d died the first time.”
“That stalfos… He’s what I see when I go into that trance. And then you see me practicing some new skill. The one… in that room….he knew them all – all the skills I’ve learned so far plus some moves I’ve never seen before. I can’t beat him, Midna. He’s too good.”
“We’ll explore the rest of this place, then,” Midna said. “Whatever treasure is in that room can be left. Our goal is the Twilight Mirror.”
With half his potion left, Link thrust his bottle toward Midna. He had just noticed something about her, something that was difficult to notice in her shadow-form. “You’re hurt,” he said.
Shadowy blood dripped softly onto the floor, issuing from a small cut on Midna’s left arm.
Midna took the bottle and gulped the remaining potion down. “You’re right,” she said. “He’s quick.”
“You got hurt trying to save me…” Link said almost in awe.
“Don’t make anything of it,” she snapped back. “I need to save my people and you’re the only dog I’ve got in this hunt. I can’t lose you right now.”
“I don’t like backing away from a fight with my tail between my legs.”
“Courage should be tempered with wisdom. Hey, what’s that?”
A softly glowing light loped toward them. Link reached for the Master Sword, which was resting unsheathed beside him. His pulse quickened, but thanks to the medicine, his blood was no longer running down him. Midna let her hair expand into its magical hand-shape, ready to defend her still slightly weakened partner.
A golden wolf padded across the sand, deftly avoiding the sucking pits. It panted, regarded Link with its one glowing red eye and approached him. It whined and sat on its haunches before him, calmly. It did not attack him as it usually did when he was in his native Hylian form.
“Would you like me to transform you into a wolf?” Midna asked Link cautiously.
“No,” Link said, standing up. He regarded the golden creature and threw his arms out. “What gives?” he demanded. “You almost killed me in there, and now you come up to make nice?”
To his utter surprise, the wolf spoke. “Your opponent was only me in part,” it said. The animal nodded its head. In an instant, it had become the armored stalfos.
“He’s transparent,” Midna noted.
Link remained on the defensive.
“I must show you something,” the Old Man said. He took a small, round blue flute from beneath one of the plates of his armor and put it to his lipless teeth. A few notes echoed, sharp notes to a happy song that spoke of children and forests. Soft, light skin began to appear upon the skeleton’s face and fingers. The armor dissipated into smoke, replaced by a green tunic and hat. He regarded Link with gentle, deep blue eyes.
Link had seen this man in an old pictograph that Shad had showed him once. He was pretty. Very pretty. He had a “ladykiller” kind of face – and one that would have men of a certain persuasion falling at his feet and not leaving him alone as well. The poor bastard.
The “Old Man” (now the specter of a young man) shook his head. “I didn’t know my parents in life,” he said, “but research told me they were married.”
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“I could see it written all over your face.”
Link looked down at his clothes, then to the similarly-dressed ghost.
“It’s like looking into a mirror, isn’t it?” Midna quipped. “And I thought only one of you was a headache.”
Link’s jaw hung, just a little. He pointed. “So that means, you’re that…”
“Ancient Hero?” the ghost answered for him. “Yep. The Hero of Time, at your service.”
Link just gawked for several seconds, looking the spirit up and down. “So you’re my great-”
“Yes, I’m your ancestor. That’s not important now. What is important is you beating that stalfos in there.”
“It looked just like you…I mean, that other form you’ve been showing up in.”
“There’s a reason for that,” the Hero of Time answered. “But you’re not going to like it.”
Link looked back at the sealed door. “He almost killed me.”
“It is not surprising that my body would retain its old skills.”
Link looked back to the ghost, his eyes filled with incredible sadness. “So…”
“Yeah. That’s me in there. It’s not me, really… I’m right here, but it is what remains of the body I once inhabited. It has been reanimated by dark magic. If it gets out… untold suffering among the living will be the result. You saw its fighting prowess.”
“I can’t beat you!” Link exclaimed. “The skeleton knew all of the special skills you’ve taught me and then-some! And you… I can’t compare to you! You’re legend!”
“It is time for your legend, kid,” the Hero of Time said with a wry smile. “It is just my body. Surely you can put it to rest. You’ve been taking your lessons well and you’ve made it this far. I’ve been watching over you and you are a fine Hero. Believe in yourself and believe in me. If you listen to me, you can surely do it.”
“May I ask… how it happened? How you got here, I mean?” Link asked shyly.
“You look strangely familiar,” Midna noticed aloud. “You two look a lot like each other, but I think I’ve seen you before – in a painting or something.”
“That’s not surprising,” the Hero of Time answered. “though quite a lot has been lost to history.”
“In all the stories I’ve heard, you just kind of… faded away,” Link said.
“No one really wanted to believe I died,” the shade sighed. “I was killed in a battle. I died too young, but I suppose everyone must think that when they meet with death.”
“But you were the best,” Link said slowly, “The best swordsman Hyrule has ever known.”
“Even those with the power of the gods are mortal, in the end,” the Hero of Time answered sagely. “You do well to be mindful of that and keep up your sword-practice and to keep your wits about you, always. Listen to those who watch out for you, too.”
He spared a glance at Midna. She floated and pouted, trying to place where she’d seen him before.
“How did you get here?” Link asked again, “If that is your body… I’d think you would have been buried in your hometown, or on the castle grounds, or in Kakariko.”
“It’s a bit of a long story,” the Hero of Time sighed, rubbing the back of his incorporeal neck, “but it will probably help you to know it. As I said, I was killed in a battle defending Hyrule. There had been many years of peace after the King of the Desert was thwarted, but a new war began when a group of powerful magicians tried to take the Triforce. History knows them as-”
“The Dark Interlopers!” screeched Midna. She floated up to the ghost’s face. “You! You were one of they that banished my people! I remember now! I’ve seen drawings of you in our history books! You were the Champion of Light, the one the lightworlders depended upon most… You are one of the chief reasons for our banishment!”
“It had to be done,” the Hero of Time said. “Do you not like your realm?”
“I love the Twilight Realm, but..!”
“The descendants of criminals are not necessarily criminals themselves. Anyway, if it makes you feel any better, it was one of your people that killed me… very skilled, too, and devious. Caught me by surprise.”
“Anyway,” he turned back to Link, “after I died, I kind of… stuck around and watched what happened. That’s the problem when you die with regrets. I watched my comrades find my corpse and wail in disbelief… then watched it buried in
. It stayed there for about two years – in that same stone box you saw in the little room. The Goron elder made that for me. Tensions began to bubble between the races. As you know, the Hyrule royal family has never had complete sovereignty over the Zoras or the Gorons.” Royal Cemetery
“It’s sort of an amiable understanding,” Link said with a nod. “The tribes reserve their tribal powers. Ordon’s kind of like that. We’re an annex, but our mayor has discussed the possibility of agreeing to full incorporation.”
“Politics were never my strong suit,” the Hero of Time replied. “A soldier’s duties I understand, and I was more of a freelance knight at that. The higher stuff I left to higher people, who understood it all better than I did.”
“But what does any of this have to do with your dead body?”
“It was used as a peace offering,” The Hero of Time said with a disgusted frown. “The queen at that time was aware that, despite the tensions between the Crown and the various tribes, everyone loved me. As your own wide-eyed farm boy gawking at me attests, I had become a quasi-sacred figure among the people in my own lifetime. You probably will suffer the same fate if all goes well for Hyrule, so be warned of that. It can be frustrating being famous, even more a saint. My queen offered me up to the tribes on a sort of macabre ‘goodwill tour.’ Each of the principal tribes received my coffin and the leaders were allowed to take care of my remains for a period of five years apiece. This was a great show of trust between the Hylians and the other races.”
“Is that why… you are here?”
“Yes. My decomposing corpse was first looked after by the Gorons. My bow was given to them, too. Of course, you have it now. I’m surprised that it survived intact all these years, handled by those large, rock-hard hands of theirs. The Zora took care of me next. After that, my bones were brought here. This place was not always a prison. In fact, its principal purpose used to be as a temple – it only came to double as a prison to serve in the control of a particular individual. Despite being thieves, the Gerudo loved justice when it came to serious matters.”
“I heard they died out, and that some of them joined Hyrule proper but their blood ran thin. Telma told me she had a Gerudo grandmother.”
“Ah, yes,” the Hero of Time said with a quirky smile. “Your bartender – at that place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. She is very wise not to give you the strong stuff, you know.”
“A warrior’s gotta keep a clear head, so she only gives me milk and tea,” Link sighed.
“Save the drunken revelry for when the war is over, kid. You’re still too young, though I do know of a particular kind of milk that will get you happy, but it’s hard to find in Hyrule. But, yes, to answer your question, the Gerudo did die out, and quite dramatically at that. My body was three years into its stay here when the Dryland Fever hit. The tribe was already weakened due to the loss of their sole man. Those tribeswomen who immigrated to Hyrule-proper escaped the plague and their intermarriages with thinned-blood resulted in folks like your Telma. The rest grew ill from the fever carried by the blowing sands and died swiftly. Some of their tortured bodies and souls reside here to this day. You’ve been fighting a few of them, the poor girls. Can’t move on, just like me. Because of the Dryland Fever, my remains were never taken back to Hyrule for final burial back in the
as planned.” Royal Cemetery
“I’m sorry,” Link said dumbly, holding up his sword and watching the dim light from magical torches and pinpoint holes in the ceiling glance off the blade. He was contemplating the flesh of ReDeads he’d cut and other stalfos he’d faced. Then there were those tiny ones, perhaps the skeletons of restless mice or tiny demons.
“I am proud of you, you know.”
Link looked up with a grunt.
“I have been waiting for someone able to learn my skills. I have been waiting for a sense of that from the Goddesses. The truth of why I cannot move on is that I spent the majority of my life protecting Hyrule. Death cheated me out of that and I couldn’t accept it. I want to be in your position right now, kid. It galls me that I am not defending Hyrule in her time of need - I have to let somebody else do it. The best I can hope for is to pass on my skills to one who is able and worthy to use them. I knew it was going to be you from when you were a swell in your mother’s stomach.”
Link looked to the floor. “I was named after you,” he said quickly.
“I have been watching our family line closely,” the Hero of Time said. “I’ve loved you all, but only you can carry on my legacy.”
Link bravely ventured an odd question, pointing at one of his own eyes. “How’d you lose it?” he asked the Hero of Time. “Your eye, I mean. As the wolf and as the stalfos, you have this one red glowing eye, but the other one is missing.”
“Raven,” the Hero of Time answered.
“Raven?” both Link and Midna asked at once.
“I was slain in a pretty fierce battle. I wasn’t found for almost two days among the other deceased. Scavengers love battlefields. By the time I was found, a raven had had made a snack of my eye. At least I was already dead, I guess.”
“Okay, so how do I put you to rest, Old Man?” Link asked. “Your pride in me aside, your…. lingering here is kind of sad.”
“To go to the embrace of the Goddesses… to rest… I need to teach you all of my Hidden Skills. Frankly, kid, you aren’t ready for them all yet, so I will be sticking around until you can master them all, and possibly even until you defeat all of the darkness that threatens our land – those behind it. First, however, you need to kill me again.”
“The mess of bones in armor in that room that almost reduced me to bones.”
“Yes. You’ll find a treasure in my casket, too, although it is broken and you will not be able to use it. Give it to Princess Zelda when everything has been set to rights. She’ll know what to do with it. It was given to me by the one I loved and was my most prized possession.”
“Alright, how do I do it?”
Link entered the room again, his Shadow beneath him and a ghost by his side. The Hero of Time told him right when to duck and dodge.
“Side step. Whip around. Now jump up and use that Helm Splitter move I taught you. Quickly!”
The helmet on the stalfos did not break, but the skeleton did step back. It sheathed its sword and held its head, backing up slowly.
Link readied himself for a strike.
“Don’t!” the Hero of Time yelped.
Link held back. “It’s weakened now,” he said.
“That’s what the corpse wants you to think,” the Hero of Time explained. “Its readying itself for a move I call the Mortal Draw. If you rush it now, you will be killed.”
“What do I do?”
“Remember how you deal with stalfos. Bone shatters under percussive force. It’s giving you a clean shot to take it at a distance. It’s weak enough now. Do it before it realizes you aren’t falling for the feint and rushes you again.”
Link whipped his bow from his magical belt pocket, along with an arrow from his quiver in the same pocket and a bomb. He quickly stabbed the arrowhead into the bomb, secured it, struck a flint and lit the fuse.
“I wish I’d thought of those,” the Hero of Time said. “Bomb-arrows are very clever.”
The arrow slammed home into the stalfos’ chest. The explosion sent its armor clattering and its bones broken to the floor. The air was filled with the distinct musty sour smell of bone dust mingled with gunpowder.
Link felt wind rush by him. He turned around and saw the spirit of the Hero of Time transform back into the form of a golden wolf. The wolf approached the shattered stalfos cautiously and sniffed it, sneezing as he did so.
The wolf turned to Link and nodded. “It is done,” he said. “Thank you. I will be seeing you again, in my normal guise. You have done well here.”
The golden wolf stepped past him and began to vanish.
“But… wait!” Link called. It was too late. His mentor was gone.
He went to the casket and reached inside past the partially-opened lid.
Midna floated up beside him to watch what he was doing. “What kind of treasure was he talking about, I wonder?”
“He said it was nothing I could use,” Link sighed. He shuddered, feeling supremely strange over grave robbing the Hero of Time. “But he wanted me to have it.”
He pulled out a small, blue ceramic ocarina. It had a sizeable crack in it. Link looked at it carefully.
“Is that it?” Midna asked. “It doesn’t look like anything special to me.”
Link ran his fingers along the holes and along the damaged area. “According to the legends, this thing could move time. To be trusted with it, even broken, is a great honor.”
Link sighed heavily. He put the flute in his pocket and crouched down beside the fallen stalfos. It was a mess of longbones, ribs and powder in shattered armor. The helmeted skull looked up at him, its sockets empty, the red glow that had been in one of them absent. Its busted jaw hung open, as if smiling or in anguish.
Link ran his hands along the floor and gathered little chips and bone dust into his palm. Midna remained silent as he quietly let the dust slip between his fingers like sand dripping from an hourglass.
“You’ll be at peace soon, Old Man,” he said.
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