Chapter XI: Abyss
Link and his companions camped under the eves of Farnon the second night, they could still see the plume of smoke from Riverdale, still smell the woodsmoke. They lit no fire. That night there were howls in the distance and none of them slept.
The next day they were under the trees. Link couldn’t help but reflect how it almost seemed as if he was coming home. But at a the familiar fork in the path he turned aside, instead dismounting just outside the gates of Farnon.
The gates where not literally ‘gates’ they where an outcropping of rock, two spires rising beside the path where it began its long ascent into the mountains. Intimidating pinnacles of rock that overlooked the canyon of Ordon. The fact that he was less than a full day’s ride from home was foremost on Link’s mind as he shouldered his pack and checked his weapons for a final time. Ashei and Bulbin did the same. Without a word they were in the trees, and in less than a minute the path behind was swallowed in the gentle green of the forest.
“This brings back memories…” Bulbin muttered after a while.
“Yeah?” Ashei asked. Link, as always, remained silent, but listened.
“I was born here, in this forest.” The big goblin rumbled. “My earliest memories are of its depths.”
Ashei was on him instantly, “Tell us your story Bul’.”
The big moblin looked uncomfortable, glancing at Link then back at Ashei before answering.
“I would rather not…”
Ashei shot him a look. Bulbin sighed mournfully.
“Please understand…We, the Moblins, Bullbins, Goblins, and Hob-goblins are a warlike and backwards people.” He intoned, “I was born in the eves of what you call Farnon, to the Bullbin tribes. I know very little of my parentage, children in the tribe were raised by the old and infirm while the strong engaged in wars with other tribes, and the humans.”
“I grew swiftly, as all our kind do. Raised to know want and hunger so that I would understand strength and be fierce. When I was but twelve summers old I already had my horns and I stood at shoulder-height to a horse, the size of one of our seasoned warriors, and yet I continued to grow. The old blood of the Deepwood tribes is strong in my veins, before I was twenty summers old I stood as tall as I do now and I still had not come into my full strength. It was generally assumed that I would assume leadership of the Moblin tribe.”
Bulbin paused, and seemed to consider his next choice of words very carefully. “I… did not care very much for leadership of any tribe. I was content as a Brave, content to raid and pillage, content in endless battle... That changed when the wine-haired god came to us and offered us his power in exchange for our loyalty and our strength.”
“I was awed by him, by the ease that he killed, by the power at his fingertips, by the very air he commanded. Our elders held council for a day and a night but in the end decided to deny him and sent him away empty-handed. I was outraged. ‘Why?’ I asked, ‘Surely this God will grant us many rich gifts, many victories and much plunder.’ They told me to hold my silence, that they had never been led by any kin but their own and that was our way. That night I could not sleep, and wandered restless in the forest. I was angry and incautious, and a Wolfose caught me unawares.”
“Underneath the full moon I fought it, alone and unarmed, and killed it with my bare hands. It was then that he came to me. As I stood in that place, covered in blood, the God appeared to me in a vision. He applauded my strength and flattered me, giving me visions of what I could gain if I brought all the tribes to his heel, if I became his servant.”
Bulbin glanced at his two companions, then away quickly. “That winter I killed each of the elders and took their place. For five years my warriors and I raided up and down the forests, the plains and mountains, until all the tribes owed their allegiance to me. Many months passed before my God gave me further instruction, more wars and slaughter. When the call came winter was once again turning to summer the eighth year since he had shown me the vision; his vision of the future, not mine, I would later learn. I learned his name then, and it was Ganondorf.”
- Abyss -
Bulbin’s heavy tread disturbed the silence as he followed Zant up the steps, past the prone bodies of the dead and the wounded. His eyes darted back and fourth, taking in the disarray of the last desperate stand, nostrils expanding to breathe in the scent of blood.
Zant was silent as he approached the dais. Beasts stood at the base of the steps leading toward the throne, watching the few remaining troops and the lone woman with sightless heads. two mighty monsters of darkness flanking him. Wide, long sleeves and a loose, rustling robe of black and glowing green lines wreathed his body, obscuring his shape; were it not for the spindly legs and long arms hidden in the sleeves, it wouldn’t have been clear if he was even as vaguely humanoid as his servants. An immense, pointed helmet of metal topped his shoulders and head, with bulging, sculpted eyes halfway up its length. There was no way to tell what he looked like beneath the large, loose clothing and armor.
“Now the time has come for you to choose,” a booming, deep voice spoke, resonating from within the helmet. “Surrender, or die.”
She remained silent for a long moment, and watched the struggles of those men still alive, held aloft in the mighty beasts’ hands. She turned her eyes back toward the figure at the center of the room, imposing and dark despite his small stature compared with his minions. It seemed that he sensed her hesitation, and continued.
“Oh, yes. It is a question not only reserved for you, Princess, but for all the people and lands of Hyrule.” He paused, and though she couldn’t see his face, she knew that he was smiling.
“Life?” he asked. “Or death?”
Her guards looked to her, uncertain of her next choice. Her eyes turned to the fallen, and then to the back of her right hand, before turning her gaze toward the dark man glaring at her from behind his great helmet.
“What choice is this?” she whispered. Either way, she realized as she looked at him, they were doomed. Already she could see the sky changing outside, the blue sky turning red and the white clouds shifting to an ominous black.
Permanent death, or watch her Kingdom slip into eternal undeath at his hands?
The long seconds stretched past, and finally, Princess Zelda, ruler of Hyrule, lowered her hand, and her sword fell to the marble at her feet.
Before the last echoes of the clattering blade disappeared, the spreading twilight engulfed the castle, the soldiers, the invaders . . .
- Abyss -
Bulbin looked up at the sky above, eyes narrowed in thought, “It is… difficult for a human to understand… we knew no other life, to us this was harmony, this was our way of life.” He sighed deeply. “Since then I have learned much from your people, and I see our mistake.”
“How did that happen?” Ashei asked.
Bulbin gave a slow smile, “The hero happened.”
“You fought for the weak, with strength that seemed limitless, for a long time I couldn’t understand it… Where you obtained such power, where you found the will to keep going, and why… that was the question that haunted me most of all. Why would one so strong stoop to defend those so much weaker.” Bulbin explained. “This was difficult to understand. But in time I came to see and my eyes were opened.”
Bulbin faltered, looking off in the distance.
“Strength… True strength is found, not in what you take, but in what you give.”
Link stared at Bulbin for a long time, then slowly smiled in return. Whatever doubts he had harbored towards the huge goblin diminished. Didn’t disappear entirely, he was doubtful that would ever happen, but it was a start.
- Abyss -
Deep within the forest the trees grew to incredible sizes, reaching always upwards, towards the sunlight. Fallen trunks formed bridges above the gaping chasms that the ancient trees were rooted in. Legend had it the spirits of the trees lived in these dark hollows, appearing as frightening monsters and gigantic insects or as little gree-eyed children.
The people of Ordon never traveled in this part of the forest at night, and Bulbin said even the moblins didn’t generally inhabit the deepest reaches of the forest. Ashei just said they were both being ridiculous and waved her arm, declaring she would beat them black and blue with her rapier if they brought it up again.
“Talk like that,” she said, “makes you two grown men sound like children.”
And so they proceeded in silence along the paths of broken tree trunks and deep moss. The plants absorbed all sound, muffling their own sounds of passing so completely it made Link’s ears ring.
There was a sudden rending sound, old wood splintering and tearing. Bulbin, at the very center of the log, was in the worst place of all. Reflexes honed and tested by many battles launched him forward the instant his brain registered the sound and his momentum carried him all the way to stable ground. Link and Ashei, just behind him, turned to run back.
…falling, the sound of two screams…
Link knew both of them together wouldn’t make it.
Without thinking he seized Ashei and threw the girl towards solid ground as the wood under his feet shuddered one last time. It was a good throw, Ashei hung in the air almost three seconds, giving her time to see Link falter as the wood under his feet began to fall, dumping him into the rift below.
Ashei swore she would never forget the look in his eyes…
She hit and rolled, catlike; on her feet almost before the impact registered.
The gulf below gaped, wide and silent but for the echo of her own voice.
- Abyss -
He hit something, the breath left him in a rush. He rolled, space opened below, his fingers snagged on an edge.
Link dangled precariously over the edge of a chasm, griping rotting wood desperately with both hands. With a tearing sound the wood tore free and he slid farther down, skidding and sliding, then he was out into open space, falling-
He struck something with his shoulder, rolled, before he could grab hold or slow his movement he was out in space once more.
He felt his pulse beat twice before he hit once more, something in his shoulder slipped, there was no pain, but an even more frightening numbness in his left arm.
The smell was musty, that of rotting wood and fungus and mold. The air was so thick with it Link could see it swirl and dance with every movement. He looked up.
Somewhere very, very far above he could just make out a dim green glow, that of the sun through the canopy so far above him. He must have fallen… how far? He had no way of knowing. It was amazing that he had survived at all.
He tried to flex his left hand, and was rewarded with a slight twitching in his fingers. His arm hung at an odd angle but seemed largely undamaged, except that his shoulder didn’t respond. He braced his arm in a curl of root and clenched his teeth, wrenching the limb with his whole weight, the joint righted itself with a lovely click.
He waited until the pain subsided somewhat before clenching his hand into a fist and relaxing his grip. The pain was less now, more distant. He looked upwards once again.
Climbing back under normal circumstances might have been possible, maybe, barring any more rotten wood. But not with his arm in the condition it was. As it was he sat on a ledge formed from rotting, mildew-blackened wood. Luminous fungi with caps as wide as he was tall grew in bunches, giving off a sickly glow and a smell like rotten meat. Their spores, also luminous, billowed from them at the slightest touch and made Link hack and cough.
His pack had gotten lost sometime in his decent, and was most likely gone, leaving him with the sword and shield on his back. He flexed his arm, feeling the soreness in his shoulder. He decided it wouldn’t impede him overmuch while swinging a sword and looked down. About thirty feet below him a ledge of bark could be distinguished in the gloom. And ten feet lower an outcropping of roots provided a landing.
“Up? Impossible. Looks like the only way is down…”
- Abyss -
He worked his way across the system of roots, the dim light from above gradually fading until all that could be seen was the inky black and the sickly, pale glow of the mushrooms, which grew to ponderous sizes as he traveled deeper. Occasionally he would catch glimpses of other things, luminous like the fungus, or glowing blue, green, and red; things that moved in the murk. Sometimes he would catch skitters, sounds of movement in the rotting mold.
Time seemed to loose all meaning in the night under the trees, he measured it in the times he stopped to rest. He didn’t dare sleep, once he tried he awoke suddenly to the sound of something skittering away and clicking.
Then one jump he landed in something wet that came halfway up his boots, rushing in the dark and cold as death. He could hear running water nearby in the dark. The gorge river then? He followed the flow, sometimes getting water to his armpits until finally the bottom fell out and he was forced to swim.
Link was an excellent swimmer but he was heavily loaded and hadn’t eaten in who-knows how. Just keeping his head above the surface was a struggle. He tried to keep close to the banks, but the river was mired in a sludge composed of rotting leaves and mud, like quicksand. His feet, when they met the bottom, where sucked down.
He pulled himself up onto a root, coughing and sputtering.
“Goddesses…” He retched, spitting up filth from the river bottom. He clung there, breathing heavily, feeling the tremors of a body that hasn’t eaten in days. But when he lifted his eyes once more he was rewarded with a pinprick of real, yellow sunlight.
- Abyss -
He guessed it to be about mid-morning. The trees obscured most of the sky but here and there pillars of golden sunlight pierced the leafy canopy and warmed his tired body, giving him the energy for a final surge of effort.
How he dragged himself up the bank, steep and slick as it was, sopping wet and chilled to the bone, he’d never know. But he did, and flopped unceremoniously on a patch of grass in the sun, feeling the welcome warmth on his face.
A twig snapped, a slight sound barely perceivable in the stifled silence of the forest. He moved, leaping and rolling for the nearest patch of shadow under a tree almost before he realized he had heard anything. Link was instantly taunt as a drawn bowstring, wide awake, listening to the silence, cold and wet as he crouched in the shadows.
The man’s back was turned, his face obscured in shadow, but he looked about Link’s height. He wore a tattered cloak and carried a pack.
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