A/N: Thank you for your patience. Without further ado I bring you Chapter Two!
The mist seemed a living thing as it swirled around Zelda's ankles, ominous in its curiosity. The princess was all too aware that while the translucent tendrils hid her from view, they also hid anything that might be lurking beyond the milky haze. How could she have been so stupid, dashing back into The Lost Woods as she had? Scholarly speculation had shrouded her good judgement as effectively as the mist shrouded these woods. The Triforce of Wisdom upon her hand seemed a cruel irony in light of these recent events. The Triforce of Foolishness would have been more fitting, the perfect complement for a boneheaded princess.
Zelda clenched her fists, taking a deep breath to try and calm her erratic heartbeat. Dwelling on her mistake would only fuel the embers of self-doubt that had sparked to life inside her, its resulting smoke encumbering rational thought. She had to calm down. Had to focus on a solution. Wandering aimlessly about the wood would do nothing but get her more lost than she already was and Zelda didn't like to think what sort of creatures might be lurking beyond the shadows' edge.
She had heard stories of course, every Hylian had. Rumors of people getting lost amongst the roiling mists, losing their souls to the darkness haunting this place and leaving behind skeletal bodies that stalked the wood, looking to add to their ranks… A slow wind rattled the branches above the princess's head, the dry boughs clattering together like the chattering of teeth. It was an oddly warm breeze, as if the forest itself was breathing down her spine.
Zelda felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as the weight of invisible eyes fell almost tangibly across her shoulders. She tensed, her eyes flicking back and forth, watching the mists with a distrustful gaze.
A sudden peal of laughter burst through the dark, child-like in its tonality and emanating from somewhere right above her head. A small shriek of surprise slipped from Zelda's mouth as her façade of calm fractured, the princess whirling around and scrambling away from that eerie cackle. Her eyes flew to the skeletal branches extending into the unknown above her, but whatever lurked there remained hidden within the mist.
The princess turned in a slow circle, trying to see something through the fog that cloaked her assailants. She recognized the laughter as the same eerie sound she had heard upon her initial trek through the wood. Of course, Link had been with her then and the cackling had been further away, easily mistaken for the clatter of disturbed branches. Now the sound was right on top of her and seemed to come from every direction at once. Zelda's heart pounded in her ears, each beat adding staccato percussion to the symphony of fear playing in her chest.
The wind returned with a mournful sigh, disturbing the veil of fog that had settled over the treetops. Something glimmering in her peripherals caught her eye and the princess warily turned her head, breath catching in her throat. A pair of bright yellow eyes stared at her from the copse of branches twisting overhead, their intense coloring a stark contrast to an adjoining face hidden in deepest shadow. The creature stared at Zelda with an almost childlike intensity, those yellow eyes unblinking as they observed her.
Despite her circumstances, the scholarly part of the princess's brain was nearly bursting with inquiry. The appearance of this creature had set a snowball of unknowns rolling about Zelda's mind, leaving naught but surmises and theories in its wake.
There were legends that whispered of children who had wandered into the wood, children who had transformed into something…other. Skull Kids, some called them, creatures of an older time. An older Hyrule. Staring into those bright eyes, observing the distinctly childlike tilt of the creature's head and its slight build, Zelda found herself thinking there might be more truth to those stories than she had ever imagined.
A bright flash of color caught her eye, one that was out of place amongst the muted grays and browns of the wood. A frog was sitting on the skull kid's shoulder, the very same frog Zelda had chased in the first place, if the markings on its back were any indication. An odd frog for odd company. It was almost poetic. Intrigued, Zelda took a step forward.
This was a mistake as the spell of stillness that had settled over the two shattered. The skull kid leapt backward, balancing impossibly amongst the branches and whipping a long, silvery flute from a hidden pocket. For a moment, Zelda thought it might start to play. A second later this theory was shattered as, with a blur of motion, the skull kid brought the flute to invisible lips and fired something out of the hollow instrument. Immediately a burst of hot pain lanced through her shoulder, a thin, needle-like projectile having suddenly embedded itself there. Zelda gasped, the wound burning like a wasp sting as several beads of blood welled around the needle and dribbled down her arm. The princess stumbled back a few paces, all the intrigue that had developed at the skull kid's appearance swallowed by a newfound fear of the weapon in its hand.
Mist once again fell upon the wood, the slight glimmer in the treetops the only evidence that the skull kid was still there. A familiar peal of laughter cut through the whispering wind, followed immediately by the whistle of something sharp slicing through the air. Zelda started and leapt clumsily sideways as three more of the small darts pierced the ground where she had been standing. A chorus of laughter joined the echo of the first and more projectiles began to drop around her like malicious rainfall. It seemed the skull kid was not alone after all.
Caution thrown to the wind, Zelda ran.
Gnarled branches of grinning trees blurred past her as the princess plunged through the wood, her clothes catching on the wayward sticks and thorny bushes that dotted her path. Still the laughter did not relent, its sharp timbre an unceasing prelude to the barrage of darts that spattered forth from the mists, lodging in the forest floor like misplaced quills. Zelda sprinted on, knowing if she stayed in one place for too long it would only be a matter of time before one of the darts found something vital. In front of her, the lilting fog swirled and shifted, hiding oblivion in its depths.
Zelda hazarded a glance behind her, cerulean gaze skimming the mists for any sign of piercing yellow amongst the gray. The skull kids remained in pursuit, all the while concealed in cloaks of vapor and shadow. The princess returned her gaze to the fore and shrieked as she almost ran headlong into a tree that loomed suddenly out of the fog. She swerved at the last moment, the sudden movement throwing her off balance and sending her toppling to the ground. Zelda's momentum carried her forward, her hair catching painfully on a thorn bush as she tumbled down a small slope before at last rolling to a stop. She lay stunned for a moment, breath coming in deep heaving gasps, her body feeling like one giant bruise.
Zelda groaned and pushed herself to her knees, her wounded arm protesting at the gesture, blonde hair hanging around her face in a curtain of brambles and leaves. Sometime during her tumble, the dart protruding from her shoulder had snapped in two, blood still oozing from the wound and dripping to the ground in slow, lethargic drops.
The air around her was thick with an unexpected silence, the skull kids' laughter having dissipated like smoke in the air, their rain of projectiles at last having ceased. It was the absolution of this silence that had Zelda warily casting her eyes around her, the absence of wind and rustling leaves leaving a foreboding quiet that settled weightily about the wood.
Zelda jumped and glanced to the right, her heart nearly stopping in her chest at the source of the sound. There, not three feet from where she knelt, burbled a pond of thick brown liquid. Its contents oozed in a garish mockery of waves, bubbles pocketing the surface like pockmarks across wrinkled skin.
She had read about pools like these, had seen more than one of them on her travels with Link. It was not the sort of substance suitable for swimming, but instead a hungry death trap waiting to swallow lost travelers whole. Had Zelda's momentum carried her but a few feet further, she would have been lost to a fate of sludge and suffocation. The words she so desperately needed to say would have drowned right along with her and Link…Link never would have known what became of the Princess of Hyrule. Exhaling slowly, Zelda sent a brief prayer of thanks to the Goddess Hylia.
A sudden pulse of pain drew Zelda's eyes to the broken dart still protruding from her shoulder, the skin around it a torn, angry red. She winced, pressing her lips together at the exacerbated wound. It needed a proper looking after and lying here with her face in the mud was not conducive to those ends. Warily the princess got to her feet, giving the muck plenty of space, hating how exposed she felt to the whims of the wood. The forced solitude was touching on the edges of unwanted memory, resurrecting the corpses of images she would have preferred to let rot in the past.
The trees around her took on the shape of confining walls, impenetrable and inescapable, saturated in a loneliness that seeped like blight over her other emotions. Back then her days had been filled with darkness, her company monsters and ghosts. Yet she had persevered through it all, fueled by the knowledge that Link was alive, that single truth the light that kept all the horror at bay. She had watched over him when he awoke, communicated with him from her castle prison, her words carried on the power that whispered through her veins.
Now those abilities were an echo of their former strength, the dying gasps of a once fearsome leviathan. She didn't know if she would be able to reach Link at all or if she'd merely be sending her words into the void. Stoking this fear was a small voice in her head that whispered how selfish it was to even try. She was only in this mess because she had willingly left the safety of Korok Village behind, her current situation the consequence of that narrow-sightedness. Why should Link have to save her from pitfalls she had all but thrown herself into? Zelda bit her lip, her hands clenching into small fists.
Foolish princess. Failure princess.
It was disconcerting how much the words mimicked the rasp of Calamity Ganon.
Tears of frustration welled behind her eyes but Zelda stubbornly blinked them back, refusing to let them fall. Losing herself to hopelessness was not going to get her out of these woods. Dwelling on past mistakes, no matter how egregious, was not going to get her out of these woods. For now, she had to set aside her pride and at least try to reach out to Link. Her years of solitude in that castle were over, its demons lost to the passing of time. She would not resurrect them with despair.
Closing her eyes, Zelda focused on calming her breaths, picturing the young man in her mind. The more detailed Link's image was, the easier it became to convince herself that she was speaking to him; that he was standing there before her. Slowly Zelda exhaled, pushing aside her fears, her anxieties, her pain, and instead focusing on azure eyes and messy hair. She felt something stir within her, a tiny bead of golden warmth that opened a drowsy eye. Encouraged, Zelda reached for it, hoping against hope that this would work.
Link… The princess whispered his name in her mind, praying that he could hear it; that he would somehow reach her. Li—
Zelda's eyes flew open as the sound of cracking twigs shattered her focus, fracturing the silence that had settled around her. All the fear and anxiety her concentration had held at bay came flooding back, her body tense as she scanned the mists for danger.
The fog seemed to whisper as it slithered over the ground and coiled around tree trunks, hiding secrets in its translucent depths. The gray tendrils undulated, brushing her skin like the breaths of some great, invisible beast. Zelda kept her eyes locked on the shroud, not trusting the wispy vapor for a moment.
One beat passed.
Perhaps the noise had merely marked the passing of some wild animal…
The mist whirled.
Zelda took a step closer.
Her eyes narrowed.
A giant, spiked club suddenly descended from out of the fog, the princess barely able to throw herself backward in time as the weapon sliced in front of her, smashing into the ground with a tumultuous crack. The sound was deafening in its close proximity and Zelda's ears rang as she scrambled away, her heart throwing itself painfully against her ribcage.
As the princess watched, the mists parted to reveal the hulking frame of a stalmoblin trundling forth from white oblivion, its haunted eyes fixed on her. She took a step back as warning bells exploded in her mind. That club would do far worse than puncture her skin.
The sinkhole was to her back allotting no escape in that direction, and the stalmoblin stood between her and the fog's fickle cover. Truth be told, she wasn't entirely convinced mist even inconvenienced creatures like this. The monster had found her easily enough, hadn't it?
She had no more time to ponder this as the stalmoblin huffed agitatedly, swinging its club down in another vertical slice. Zelda flung herself sideways, her tangled mass of hair swirling around her face and blinding her almost as effectively as the fog had. Ignoring this, the princess darted forward, hoping to make it past the monster before it could hoist up its formidable weapon. She dashed around the creature, her breaths sharp in her throat, a painful stitch beginning to form in her side.
Zelda hazarded a glance upward as the monster roared in frustration. It brought its weapon hurtling about in a side swing that smashed through a nearby tree, the hapless trunk shattering in a deluge of bark and debris. The princess threw herself to the ground, her hands flying up to protect her skull as the club whistled overhead, the shower of wood and leaves pelting her like vengeful hail. She rolled to the side, scrambling backward in a crab-like motion that carried her just beyond the reach of the monster's follow up swing. Somehow, she was able to get her feet underneath her and she took the opportunity to stumble back to momentary safety.
The stalmoblin was once again between the princess and escape, a massive pile of debris now adding to the obstacles blocking her way forward. Adrenaline coursed through Zelda's veins, beads of sweat sliding down her temples, her arm throbbing from the skull kids' projectile barrage. She ignored the pain, her mind racing her heart as she desperately tried to piece together a strategy that didn't involve getting smashed to pieces. Zelda's options were quickly running out, desperation encroaching like thunderheads across her fields of logical thought.
Clenching her fists, the princess reached for her power, hoping against hope that she would be able to scrounge up enough to deal with the threat. Yet her once vast ocean of strength had dwindled to a slow, sad trickle. Useless.
Again, she was reminded of her dream, of that golden glow abandoning her and leaving her helpless as Hyrule burned.
Except this was no dream.
The enemy she faced was no Calamity Ganon, but that wouldn't make her any less dead if that club connected.
The stalmoblin roared its ire, swinging its weapon in an unbalanced horizontal slice, the blow frenzied and erratic. Zelda ducked, a second resounding crash reverberating around the wood as another tree was caught in the onslaught and splintered into dust. The princess gasped for breath, unsure how much longer she would be able to keep this up.
Again, she reached for her power and again was met with nothing but a drowsy sigh. How morbidly ironic it was that she had spent her life dedicated to that sacred power, her endeavors culminating in the defeat of Calamity Ganon, only to be felled by a creature like this. The same might that had once brought an army of Guardians to their knees now yawned cold and empty within her, unable to snuff out this single beast. Perhaps the Goddess had left her behind, believing the princess's usefulness spent upon the plains of Hyrule.
The stalmoblin, clearly growing impatient with her continued survival, began to whip its club around in reckless, sporadic circles. Zelda dove for cover behind a particularly sturdy looking tree, crouching low to the ground with her hands over her head as the weapon sailed through the air, cleaving the branches from their foundation. The princess could feel her body trembling as splinters rained down around her, the ground shaking underfoot as the destroyed trunk heaved a great groan and toppled sideways. Pushing aside her doubts, Zelda whispered a prayer to the Goddess for protection.
There was a sudden massive thud, followed by a frustrated roar and several scuffling noises, the toppled tree at her back vibrating as something collided with it. Curiosity overcoming caution, Zelda peeked around the remains of the stump, keeping her body tense and ready to dodge at the slightest hint of movement.
The stalmoblin was struggling to get back to its feet, apparently having tripped over itself sometime during its recent onslaught. The culprit seemed to be the newly fallen tree-trunk that had landed just inches from the gurgling sink-hole. In all likelihood the monster had tripped over the trunk while trying to get to her, it's club currently embedded in the fractured wood.
The princess stared at the lethal pond, struck momentarily still as an idea walloped her in the side of the head. True her power was a mere wisp of its former glory, but that power had never made up the whole of her identity. She was a scholar, a person who delighted in what made the world behave the way it did. Innovative solutions had been her bread and butter long before her powers had awoken, and that part of her was chomping at the bit to prove itself to the world. To come out of the dusty corner her well-intentioned father had swept it into over and over again. That was what made Zelda who she was; what made her more than the power that had sealed Calamity Ganon.
She took a deep breath, her eyes narrowing in concentration as she observed her giant, skeletal, club-wielding, quandary. While this was a situation that proved much more life-threatening than most, it was still just a problem, and every problem had a solution.
The stalmoblin tottered back to its feet and swung around to stare at her, its haunted yellow eyes a frenzy of hate and rage as it yanked its club from the trunk. Zelda stared back, defiant. She inhaled deeply, the resolve that flowed through her veins filling her with a last reserve of energy she hadn't known she possessed. The young woman rose to her feet and a heartbeat of charged silence followed as monster and princess glared at each other.
Then Zelda darted forward and all hell broke loose.
She heard the stalmoblin's cacophonous bellow as her legs carried her across the forest floor, skirting wayward rocks and splintered branches as she sprinted pell-mell toward the sludge. Zelda could feel the reverberations in the ground as the monster pursued, hear the thunderous pound of its feet, see the ripples across the surface of the pool. The creature was closing in.
Steady, Zelda told herself. Breathe. Courage.
The muck rose up to meet her and she skidded to a halt inches from its hungry depths before whirling to face the monster. Club hefted high in the air, the stalmoblin was bearing down on her, yellow eyes incensed and ready for the kill.
"Goddess protect me," Zelda whispered.
Her body tensed.
The stalmoblin roared.
Time seemed to slow as the creature brought the massive club down in an erratic horizontal swing, a heavy whistling sound following in the wake of the blow. At the last moment Zelda threw herself to the side, ignoring the pain that lanced up her arm as she hit the ground, immediately rolling away and glancing over her shoulder.
The club sailed overhead, the weapon's weight adding to the stalmoblin's momentum, carrying the creature forward and into the brown liquid. The monster grunted in surprise as its bony feet lost purchase, sinking into the sludge with a wet schlurping sound. Zelda watched in morbid fascination as the stalmoblin flailed, losing its grip on the club as it fought fruitlessly to get back to shore. Furious yellow eyes met triumphant cerulean, the monster now waist deep in the sludge and sinking quickly.
It bellowed in anger and before Zelda realized what was happening, the creature lashed out, its skeletal arm bridging the distance between them as bony fingers closed around her ankle. A spike of alarm froze the blood to ice in her veins as the monster pulled her forward, submerging Zelda's leg beneath the surface of the pool in a matter of moments.
"No!" the princess shrieked, trying to claw her way out of the creature's grip even as it dragged her further in. The stalmoblin was sinking fast and clearly had every intention of taking her down with it. Gravel and bits of splintered wood bit into Zelda's palms as she struggled for anything that would stop her descent into the pool. Her fingers grazed something smooth, her hand closing around a stone of considerable heft. Without a second thought she twisted in the creature's grip and brought the rock down on the monster's skeletal arm with all the strength she could muster.
A resounding crack echoed around the wood as the stalmoblin's arm snapped in two. Suddenly relieved of its anchor, the stalmoblin wheeled back, the small part of its body that wasn't submerged beneath the sludge crashing against the surface. It managed a final, infuriated roar before its skull was swallowed by the pool, the few pockets of air that burbled to the surface marking the monster's demise.
Zelda had no time to celebrate.
While her descent had slowed since the stalmoblin released her, she was still sinking beneath the surface at an alarming rate. Already the muck had climbed halfway up her thighs, her legs straining uselessly as she attempted to pull herself out. The princess stretched her hand forward, reaching toward the tree lying tantalizingly just out of reach. If she could just get a little…further…
Zelda's fingertips were millimeters from grazing the branches' ends when she heard it: The slow creak of a bowstring being pulled taut against its confines.
The princess froze, her pounding heart seeming to miss a beat as she cautiously turned her head in the direction of the noise. It was difficult to make out anything in the fog, still undulating and twisting the way it was. Even so it was impossible to miss the two pinpricks of reddish-yellow that glinted at her from the mists. Her breath caught in her throat.
A stalkoblin stood a top a small cluster of nearby boulders, the large stones little more than smudges in a pool of deeper shadow. It clasped a bow in its skeletal hands, an arrow already knocked into position, string rigid and ready to fire.
Zelda stared at it, the creature's appearance blowing a hole in the ship of hope that had sailed into her chest at the stalmoblin's demise. There was nothing she could do. Her powers were spent and no idea she could muster would get her out of this pool on time.
A loneliness she had not felt since her days suppressing Calamity Ganon blossomed thick as blight in her heart, tears lining her eyes as she stared down the stalkoblin's arrow. It wasn't that she was afraid to die. She had lived a good life, blessed with friends who loved her and a kingdom that adored her. Hyrule's scourge had been brought low thanks to her powers, her role as the sacred maiden successfully completed. Yet it was the thought of dying alone, surrounded by naught but whispers and darkness that stabbed like a blade through her heart.
She would never get to see him again. She would never get to tell him her words. Too long had they sat unspoken on her lips and now… now it was too late.
Tears slid down Zelda's cheeks as the stalkoblin's bowstring hissed with release, the princess closing her eyes as the arrow sang the end of her story. The princess awaited it, summoning an image of Link into her mind; one of gentle eyes and a rare, soft smile. Zelda's lips parted and she whispered her words to oblivion as death took the form of bone and fletching.
He could feel her calling him.
Could sense the resignation in her words. The knowledge. The acceptance. It pulled to him, drew him to her, his princess the brilliant flame, himself the enamored moth. That fire, he could not let it go out. Would not let it go out! He would get there. Had to get there. She could not, would not, be allowed to leave him. He had waited too damn long to find her again.
Her trail was easy to follow now, a whirlwind of snapped branches and golden hair caught on thorny vines. The fog was nothing to that golden light. This distance was nothing. He would get there. Had to get there!
I should have told you earlier… so many times… I was foolish.
"Don't you give up on me," he murmured, crashing through the underbrush. "Don't you dare!"
He didn't think he had ever run so fast in his life, the whispers in his mind drawing him to her location with more certainty than any map.
I hope you can forgive me for waiting… I hope you find happiness…
He could see her now, see the sludge she was sinking into.
See the stalkoblin pointing an arrow at her heart.
Red hot rage flashed through his being, searing him to his core. In moments his own bow was drawn, an arrow knocked in the quiver, steel tip pointed at the bone of his enemy.
Link I lo—
He released the arrow, the projectile piercing the air with a defiant shriek.
Hey all! Sorry this chapter came out much later than I was intending. Unfortunately side projects like this sometimes have to take back seats to life, but thank you for your patience. I know I took a couple liberties with this chapter, not the least of which being the appearance of the Skull Kids. As they were never officially pictured in BOTW I just based them loosely off of OoT's design. Whenever you get lost in the Lost Woods there's always that cackling laugh and I took a lot of inspiration from that. Whether or not it's the skull kids is debatable but hey, that's what fanfiction is for right?
Also didn't see a whole lot of stalmoblins in the woods but figured if there were stalkoblins and keese and the like, I could throw a few stalmoblins in there too. Makes for a more dramatic fight scene :P In any case I know I said this would be the last chapter…alas I was incorrect once again. BUT FOR REAL CHAPTER THREE WILL BE THE LAST ONE! I mean three is a good number anyway right? Three like the Triforce? Okay I'm done. Thanks for reading and reviewing! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions See you in the last chapter!