When he started to dream, it was of so many strange places. The hollowed-out insides of a massive tree. The shifting, creaking hull of a pirate ship. The iced remains of a long-forgotten mansion. He saw mushrooms that loomed as large as oak trees and a speckled egg that nearly dwarfed the mountain it sat atop. Locations so entirely fantastical that surely, they could only exist in his imagination.
He was always in motion in these dreams. Riding a horse, trimming a sail, stoking a train engine. He felt suffocating heat and paralyzing frost. He heard symphonies of dancing leaves and the thunder of a mountain raging to life. He smelled effervescent rains and humid murky swamps. And oh, how he loved the crisp, enveloping smell of fresh cut grass
He began dreaming of items next. Normal things, like bows and armor, nuts and bottles. Some invaluable things, like the projectile chain weapon he knew was called a clawshot and a rod that volleyed fire. Several things were just outright bizarre, like the magic cane that turned things upside down and the giant, spinning top that doubled as a gear.
He was still on the move, but now he was waylaid by monsters. A few had weapons, others attacked with teeth and claws. Ambushes and rushes. Endless hoards that came at him from all sides. Keese, wolfos, bokoblins, chchus, redeads. All of them ravenous for his blood. Each encounter required precise timing and careful planning. Adrenalin saturated his veins, granting him power and stamina but driving him insane. Howls and shrieks invaded his consciousness, spiraling him further into the nightmare that just. Wouldn't. END.
Massive red eyes glared through him on all sides. There were scores of them. Dozens. Hundreds. How could he ever know how many there were when they were all shifting, melting and combining into further atrocities. All of them menacingly parading around him. No, they were circling. Stalking. Eyes hungry and maws gaping as they drew ever closer to their prey.
And he knew that there'd be nothing left.
A single glowing eye lumbered out of the orbiting mass on stiff, stilted legs. The gleam shining off two venom covered fangs that framed its face of one unblinking feature. Its chitinous body tapered down to a looming scorpion stinger.
As the creature encroached closer to his frozen position, his only thought was 'how could I possibly kill this thing?'
"Ghoma," a tiny feminine voice twinkled in his ear. He turned about to face a delicate, blue fairy hovering by his side. "It's one of the parasitic monsters inside the Deku Tree! Its eye is vulnerable when it's red!" she twittered.
A slingshot was in his hand.
"Look!" The fairy shouted. Fearlessly, she zipped over to the monster and started circling the eye. Showing him exactly where he needed to watch, and precisely where he needed to aim.
It didn't take long. The monster stooped in a crouch preparing to make a lunge, the murder in its eye staining the whole thing red. Fast as the crack of a whip, he loosed a projectile from the slingshot and it soared dead center.
The fiend screeched as it was rendered immobile, an easy target for the slashes of his sword. He came at it mercilessly, driving his sword at the weak point again and again with clumsy form and frantic movements. Soon enough the monster recovered and skittered a safe distance from his blade. Now it was enraged and refused to retreat. It tried attacking is several different ways, but he was light on his feet and ready to dodge or counteract every attack thrown at him. Eventually the yellow eye once again shifted to red, giving him the opening he’d been waiting for.
It became a dance. Immobilize the creature with a strike to the weak point, then try to finish it off with the sword. Until, finally, it crumpled and turned to dust at his feet. He was breathing heavily, sword held still ready, when he lifted his gaze back to the swirling mass of eyes that had watched the whole thing.
Another stepped forward and began the dance anew.
Battle after battle he fought, for what felt like an eternity. Time and time again he downed an enemy, only for it to be replaced by another, superior foe. Each creature presented a new challenge, usually in the form of a new tricky way to open it up for defeat. Unlike the first time, he never froze. He faced each new challenger with iron in his grip and smoke behind his eyes. If he ever got stuck, Navi- he knew her name was Navi like he knew the chain weapon was called a clawshot- would offer him a hint.
It wasn't always Navi though. Other voices joined him. There were more fairies, a shadowy imp, a... boat? His.... sword??
Tatl, Ciela, Midna, The King of Red Lions, Fi!
His heart sang their names like a greeting to old friends. He wondered why he felt he'd be utterly lost without them.
Soon enough his companions outnumbered the haunting eyes. Or maybe they just didn't matter as much anymore. Perhaps they simply faded away in the background. Now he was surrounded by friendly faces. Many more than had helped him in battle.
There was a plucky, young witch called Maple. A rupee-pinching sea captain named Linebeck. Kina, the waitress at the Lumpy Pumpkin who captivated everyone with her songs. Gonzo, who looked big and tough, but fell to pieces when left to stew about his missing captain. Agitha, who fancied herself a princess and would pay exuberant amounts for rare, sparkly bugs.
Looking into those blue eyes and seeing that red hair he finally realized, he wasn't dreaming at all. These were memories.
Malon, with the fresh-baked smile and the mid-afternoon singing voice. Malon, who's wit was like a family heirloom, only brought out on special occasions, but undeniably there the whole time. Malon, who was fiercely kind and unwaveringly genuine.
Even as a half-remembered inkling she still took his breath away.
He’d fallen for her fast and hard. When he’d finally wandered his way back to Hyrule proper, after searching aimlessly for what had to be years. After being displaced in time itself and then tumbling headfirst into yet another disaster that needed reversing. After everything that had happened to him, she’d welcomed him with open arms, and he’d created a life around her.
Home. She was home.
He could have lived that simple life forever. He wished it would have lasted. That he could have gone on raising horses and mending fences. He would have given anything to hold Malon each night and tell her how every waking moment, she was always on his mind. If only his sword could have remained rusted and forgotten in that dusty, old attic trunk.
But life is never kind, especially not for him.
The destiny he had once thought evaded came thundering across the lands of Hyrule once again. War had broken out, decimating his idyllic ranch home first. His family had barely managed to escape with their lives and nothing else. He instructed Malon to flee with their son and then took up arms against the encroaching threat.
The conflict lasted years and by the end of it he was leading the kingdom’s troops into battle. His experience and the princess’s favor had sent him soaring through the army’s ranks. The enemy was identical as from a time completely separate, but the circumstances were different. All the same he prevailed, but the victory had come at a high cost, to the kingdom and himself.
He never saw his family again. Never got the chance to hold his wife once more or teach his son all the things a father should. He had ensured a future for them, and that was enough, but his spirit never let go of those regrets.
He remembered those regrets manifesting themselves. He’d been a different person in an almost identical setting, playing out an extremely similar script. It was odd seeing the whole picture now and remembering the encounters with full context.
When he’d met the hero’s shade, he’d thought of him as a ghost. He would approach with a certain level of awe mixed with reverence. He might even go so far as to say he considered the otherworldly entity a mentor. The Idea that he was learning from an echo of his former self had never even occurred to him.
It wasn’t even the only time something like that had happened. Time and again he’d lived through a sprawling adventure and then end up hearing about his own deeds in a later life. More often than not the details were embellished and romanticized by the generations in between. Learning about his great uncle, the Hero of Winds, was a prime example.
Whenever he thought about “The Hero” he never envisioned himself in that role. He would marvel at the awe-inspiring tales and find the courage to go on. Each hero was an imposing figure of legend, able to command respect and authority. He was only ever himself. He never remembered his past accomplishments, and when his journey was done, he never referred to himself as a hero.
He wondered why these memories were coming to him now. Perhaps this is what happened when he left the mortal plane. He simply remembered until he was needed again. Set adrift in reminiscence until destiny once again called upon him. He didn’t recall it happening before, but what bearing did that have on anything? What’s to stop him from forgetting his afterlives just like he forgot his living ones?
He fell into a long spell of reliving every moment of his countless incarnations. Before, his dreaming had felt like it lasted an eternity, but that was only a drop in the bucket of how long he spent remembering.
Every journey he’d ever taken part in was vividly recreated in his mind’s eye. Time and time again he traversed the familiar landscape of Hyrule, scavenging items and unearthing treasures. He’d made friends with any number of different races. He’d battled giants. Consulted dragons. Spent way more time than he’d like to admit destroying public property.
He watched Hyrule, from the very start of its humble beginnings, expand and evolve into the sprawling empire it became. Through the brief snapshots of his recurring lifespans and half remembered school lessons, he was able to piece together a working through-line of the kingdom’s entire history. He witnessed it crumble then reignite. He saw as it was divided, drowned, and conquered but still it persisted.
The land itself changed and warped. That alone was probably the surest indicator of time passing. Not too much, but enough to notice. That is, when it didn’t end up completely unrecognizable. Like when it was torn to pieces and set adrift in the sky, submerged under a lifeless ocean, or blanketed in inky, tangible twilight.
No, it was the smaller changes that seemed ever more important. Like the encroaching southern forest that creped its way northward and the flowing rivers that gouged out deep ravines. The earth itself was a living thing, subject to time in a way that he was not.
He and time had a complicated relationship. They shared equal footing, him holding as much sway over it as it did over him.
Once, he was even christened the Hero of Time due to his ability to alter its flow with nothing but a mystical ocarina.
His dominion over time didn’t stop there, with each new life he discovered new ways to manipulate it. A rod that could turn the seasons. A harp that could flip through the ages. A portal that transported him to ancient times spoken of in legend.
But that was all trappings. Trinkets and baubles that gave him superficial, time related gimmicks. Undeniably useful, but only skin deep.
Much like how time could only be observed effecting the land in its small measures spanning centuries, its ineffect on him could only be seen when compiling his very long existence. Sure, he grew old and died just like anyone else. But death was never permanent for him.
His chronic reincarnation being the most obvious example. Though it was true that there were other recurring faces that proved he wasn’t the only one caught in this revival loop, he was the only one that seemed so persistent. So stagnant.
He was always there, fulfilling that same role as the hero. When Hyrule was in peril, he was ever-present, even when history forgot about him. No matter how his life started, as a farmer or a smith or an engineer, he inevitably ended up with a sword in his hand, singlehandedly battling the encroaching threat.
Yes, it was the most obvious example, but in his opinion, not the most important. His most impressive time related ability was something that followed him into every incarnation. Though he treasured the ones that he’d never discovered it. Because, frankly, he really hated dying. And boy oh boy did he do a lot of that.
One might expect an equal amount of deaths to the number of lives. You were born, lived a little and then died. That’s just how things were. Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t the case.
How many times had he drowned in the water temple? How many cliffs had he taken a nosedive off? How many times had he been impaled, incinerated, or frostbitten? More than he could possibly count.
Because, death was never permanent for him.
He was able to ‘reset the clock’ so to speak and try all over again. He could die however many times needed to make it to journeys end.
And that’s what he hated remembering most. Because even knowing he’d wake up afterwards, dying was still an extremely painful way to problem solve.
He recalled a time he’d casually strolled into a room only to have his head cleanly removed by a giant spinning statue depicting a reaper wielding a scythe. He’d wandered into lake of poisoned fog and passed out in a pool of his own blood and vomit before he could drag himself back out again. He’d had his very life essence ripped out of him in the bowels of a cursed ocean god’s temple.
He wished the memories would stop coming. He didn’t enjoy thinking about the times he was constricted to death by animate plant life or when he’d misjudged a jump and plunged straight into quicksand. He definitely didn’t need reminders of the stupidest ways he’d been ushered into the afterlife only to pick himself back up and do the exact same idiotic thing all over again.
He tried to focus on the good memories. The triumph of winning a shooting gallery game with a perfect score. The absolute thrill of being able to breath underwater. His grandmother’s soup. The simple joy of afternoon fishing. The absolute happiness of saving a friend from danger.
He went on like that. Shuffling through memories on repeat, categorizing events and sorting through his past lives until he thought he had them all straightened. Until finally, finally, he felt something shift, and ever so slowly, he began to gradually drift into consciousness.