Link opened his eyes on a grassy hill, the wind causing his tunic and pants to billow around him. As he stood, he started to lose his balance due to the heavy winds. Looking frantically around him, Link tried not to panic as he realized that this island in the sky was tiny, and huge clouds drifted all around. Reluctantly heading a few tentative steps closer to the edge, Link looked down.
As he stared into the bottomless pit that was the sky below, the Surface miles below him, he heard a voice in the back of his head. A memory. “A simulation. Not real. Control it. Confront your fears.”
Fake. This was fake. Link shut his eyes and breathed in deeply. He could take this.
A gust of wind howled and shoved Link off of the hillside. Looking down at the certain doom he was about to experience, Link screamed, but the wind snatched his voice away. Falling, falling. Frantically he called out for his lofting, Red, but he didn’t come.
The wind stung his eyes and they were forced shut, making it so that Link couldn’t even see around him or how close he was to the ground. Falling, falling.
Control your fear, Link ordered himself. Control it. Control it! Link attempted to breath in, but his air was snatched away. Falling, falling.His lungs burned and his eyes stung, and there was no way he could possibly survive this.
What are you afraid of, Link asked himself. Confront your fear, then take control. He was afraid of falling. He was afraid of hitting the ground. Falling, falling. What does that really mean, Link interrogated. Why are you so scared of falling. Why aren’t you scared of bokoblins? Why is falling so scary?
He didn’t have control of falling, Link realized. No one could save him from falling. No one saved Dad, and no one would save him. With the recognition of his fear, Link felt a vague sense of peace. Not enough to move on. But something.
You have control of the landscape, Link reminded himself. Stop yourself from falling. Link twisted his arm so that his hand could reach his pouch and drew out Zelda’s sailcloth. Using that as a parachute, Link smiled as he started to slow down. Opening his eyes he could see the Surface just below him. He was safe. He survived.
The simulation recognized his regular heartbeat and breathing, and suddenly he was somewhere different. Somewhere without wind, or sky, or falling.
Link lightly rested one hand against the amber that separated him from her. Zelda. Trapped in an endless sleep, fighting on evil for thousands of years until he could wake her up.
“But this time, when all this is over, will you come to wake me up?” she had said as she faded away from him.
“I promise,” he’d replied. His voice hadn’t cracked then. He wondered how in Hyrule he’d managed that. It cracked now, as he whispered the words back to himself.
Black tendrils of evil magic clawed at his arms and legs and forced him away from her and out of reach of her stone. Its black, wavering form threw him upon the ground and held him there, not doing anything but holding him back from her.
Time seemed to speed up. Link watched as vines grew around the amber and shivered as the walls around the Temple of Time desintegrated. He watched as all turned to dust, and fire erupted in the temple, but strangely, he wasn’t touched.
But she was. Link tried once again to fight whatever black, shapeless magic kept him on the ground and useless, but whatever it was was too strong. There was nothing he could do from watching Zelda’s amber doing what amber should not—melting. Thousands and thousands of years after she’d trapped herself, and now she was going to die in flame.
No! No, no, no she couldn’t! He’d promised. He’d promised her! Link struggled against the evil magic in vain once again as the fire ripped away the last of Zelda’s protection. He saw the fire rise. He heard a bloodcurdling scream. And then nothing.
The fire disappeared, as did the magic. There was white all around except for one spot. Where the amber—where she—used to be. Link ran to it. His heart dropped at the sight of the nothing. Not even any remains. Just, nothing. He’d failed her. She’d trusted him and he’d failed her.
Fake, whispered a voice in the back of his head. This isn’t real. Link looked up and understanding dawned on him again. This wasn’t real. Zelda was still alive! Trapped, but alive. He hadn’t failed her, not yet, and if he stayed here and mourned over a simulation he would fail her. Link got up and nodded. It was time to continue.
The temple disappeared and the simulation morphed into something else. A dark, swampy place. But that wasn’t the point. The point was the figure in front of him. Link drew his sword.
“Oh, must you bring out your weapon yet? I was just getting started,” chided Ghirahim softly. Link didn’t reply.
“Ah, I see,” whispered Ghirahim with a glint in his eye and a smirk on his lips. A snap, a handful of diamonds, then nothing. Where had he-
“Playing knight again, are we?” he continued from right behind him. Ghirahim was so close that he could feel Ghirahim’s cold skin on his shoulders. Link refused to look back, knowing what he’d see. The tongue. Oh yes. That. Link wanted nothing to do with that ever again. Or with Ghirahim at all, for that matter.
“Not playing,” Link stated, jerking away from Ghirahim and raising his sword in front. Not real, Link reminded himself. It isn’t real. Ghirahim isn’t really here. He’s wherever demon lords go in their spare time, doing whatever demon lords do.
But he sure looked real.
“Oh, so sorry for not having understood,” mocked Ghirahim with a sweeping bow. “Not playing anymore. So you think you can beat me now, do you. But do you really think that? Are you sure you’re enough?”
Ignore it. Ignore it. It’s not real. Link slowly, carefully, and deliberately sheathed his sword and stood silent and calm before Ghirahim. Inhale, exhale…
This apparently disturbed Ghirahim quite a bit. “Oh, ok, not going to play at all now. But you know I can take advantage of that. Yes, I see you’ve realized, haven’t you? I’m stronger than you. And I will, inevitably, kill you.” Ghirahim raised his sword over Link’s unprotected head, but Link ignored it. His heart stopped racing, his breathing became normal, and the whole landscape changed again.
And before Link stood Groose, in the Skyloft. You’d think after all this time Link would have gotten over Groose always taunting him. But no. He looked around. Zelda was nowhere to be seen. And no encounter with Groose without Zelda being there to save him had ever ended without a good deal of pain.
“Heyya, squirt,” called Groose.
Despite the voice in his head telling him this was all fake, Link grabbed the hilt of his sword, just in case. Or, at least, he tried to. The sword wasn’t there. He looked down to see that his entire green uniform was gone, replaced by his old school clothes. Which also meant that all his equipement was gone too.
Groose made some inhuman noises with his nose that Link could only assume was meant to be laughter. “What now? What’re you gonna do now that you don’t have your little sword or your babysitter with you? Call for mommy?”
Link braced himself. Groose only used that card on the bad days. He knew it shouldn’t rile him up so much after all this time, but every time his parents were mentioned Link could never help but take the bait.
“Oh, but you can’t call for mommy, can you? Where’s your mommy, Link? Where’s your daddy?”
“That’s enough,” Link said, his voice calmer than anyone had expected. He repeated himself, louder this time. “That is enough!” The simulation wasn’t real. He could control it. Link drew his sword.
At the sight of the weapon Groose cringed. “Ok, ok, I’m sorry alright? I didn’t mean it. You don’t have to get so angry about it, just a little fun…”
“That’s enough,” Link repeated, inching the sword closer and closer to Groose’s throat. He stopped when the metal touched skin.
He shouldn’t do this. He’d made his point; he’d stood up to Groose. He didn’t have to murder. But it was just a simulation, right? He wasn’t actually killing anybody. Link looked into Groose’s eyes and saw nothing but fear. It was pathetic, really.
The burning in Link’s eyes dimmed and he lowered the sword and let it drop, fading away completely before even touching the pavement. He’d won.
Groose faded before his eyes, but the scenery didn’t change. Only the person standing in front of him. This time it was Zelda, the way she looked on the day of the wing ceremony. And she was angry.
“I can’t believe I wasted so much of my time with you!” she spat. “Everyone else knew, everyone else saw you for what you are. Worthless! Why couldn’t I see it?”
Link inwardly groaned. This was a different kind of fear. This wasn’t panic, no, he’d always known about this one. Zelda was his only real friend. If she left, he would have no one. He’d be completely alone. This wasn’t panic. This was dread.
“Zel, please, I-”
“No, I will not give you another chance! And don’t call me ‘Zel’! I hate it when you call me that!” Zelda stood close to him and pointed her finger like she always did to Groose if she caught him picking on Link again. “I spent so long trying to be nice to you, the loser, the orphan, when all along I should have just left you to rot and actually been able to have some of my own friends. I was a fool. Do you hear me? A fool!”
He needed to stay calm. An illusion, not real. Let her go. “If you really feel that way, then go ahead. Go. I wish the best for you, Zelda. Nothing but the best.” And he meant it, too. No matter what Zelda ever did in the future, he did never wish anything but the best for her. And that realization is what set him free.
The landscape changed again to… nothing. Link was floating on nothing, still in his old clothes. As his view tipped downward, he saw a mammoth hill with scales chewing up whole trees in one bite and opening its giant maw to roar at him. Demise. The Demise from his nightmares.
It’ll destroy everything, Link thought. It that thing gets loose, it’ll destroy everything. And I’m the only thing standing in its way. Link floated closer to the behemoth’s outstretched maw and didn’t do anything. Just stood straight and still. Except this time, that wasn’t an act of bravery. Link couldn’t have moved if he’d wanted to.
After a couple seconds of uselessly trying to move his muscles Link understood. The nightmare was on rails. He could only observe. So Link stopped. He stayed put while Demise destroyed every living thing. And patiently waited till he could get around to eating him.
It’d happened before. That’s how his nightmares always ended, with Demise eating him whole. He’d always woken up sweaty and shivering. But this time, after having gone through so much else, this one seemed nothing.
Demise approached him. Link observed the rows upon rows of yellow, jagged teeth. And Link was no more.
He woke up in a chair. Was he out of the simulation? Not yet, he knew somehow. There was one fear to go yet. How did he know that? How did he know there was another one coming?
Ah, right. Because he knew this one was coming all along.
His own self. And his own self doubt. Was he really worthy of the title Hero? Was he really worthy of holding the Master sword? Was he really worthy of it all?
It’s easy to overcome external fears. It’s the internal that are hardest to get past.
Link had always worried he wasn’t good enough. Not good enough for Zelda, not good enough for knighthood, and now not good enough to be the Hero he was apparently meant to be. And now, after having seen all his fears lined up in a row, he was sure of it. How could someone who feared so much be worthy of anything? He was a coward, Link told himself. He always was and he always would be.
Did admitting that the fear was valid count as overcoming it? Apparently not, because Link didn’t wake up. He could stay there, he decided. Just stay there, in a simulation, forever. Let someone else worry about the fate of everything.
Even as he ran the idea over in his mind Link knew he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t leave his job to someone else when Zelda—when the whole world—was in mortal danger. Worthy or not, Link was given a task to complete, and there was a lot riding on his success. Coward or not he had to finish what he’d started. And maybe that’s what made him brave in the first place.
Link blinked. And he was awake. “Well done, Master,” said Fi. “You have passed the simulation.”
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