Thank you to everyone who has reviewed. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support, especially those of you who have been patient and stayed with me through my long hiatus. I hope you enjoy the rest!

Chapter 12

Ruins

Night had fallen, but Zelda stood frozen in her chamber. Her expression was impassive and unchanging. Her eyes wept, yet the tears had run dry hours before. Her heart sank heavily into the pit of her stomach, weighed down by guilt and sorrow. Moon shadows traveled across the floor, as the night grew old. They seemed to linger before her, encircling the holy ground where her Hero had knelt. She had not moved from the spot where he professed his love to her. It was the same spot where she had refused him.

"I had to," Zelda announced defiantly to the oppressive darkness surrounding her. "There was no other way." A bitter breeze swept through the open window behind her and blew through her layered gown. The princess twirled around to face the scorning wind. The stained glass image of the Three Goddesses carrying the Hyland Crest loomed over her. They cast a dreary blue light that seemed almost menacing in the nocturnal hour. Their faces were warped; hair twisted and tangled like a medusan demon.

"You are the real evil," Zelda pronounced with composed ferocity.

The Goddesses said nothing.

The wind lay still.

The city did not stir.

Even the stars did not dare twinkle.

The world was aghast at the Princess of Destiny's heresy.

"You created all of this," the princess continued darkly. Life. Death. Suffering. The Evil King is nothing but your puppet. He is not the murderer. You are. We're all puppets to you. Why are we here? Are we nothing but entertainment to you? I've done your bidding for decades, centuries, eons. And why? I have to. You threaten the lives of countless people whom you place me in charge of. You know I cannot abandon them. You know it is not in me to let them die. I've lived one endless, miserable life, and you will not allow me the one happiness I have ever desired. I know this cursed cycle will never end. I have accepted this reality. I will not give up because other souls' lives are riding on my choice," she paused and closed her eyes. "And that is why you chose me. You chose me because you know that in my mind there is no choice."

Zelda choked. Her venomous words spread like poison throughout her body. Even she could not discern where this rage stemmed from. Was it the suppressed anger of Princess Zelda, the selfless guardian of humanity? Or was it nothing but a resentful tirade from Zelda Ordello, the slovenly orphan with a foul mouth? Her mind was nothing but a swirl of muddied memories. A puddle filled with uncountable personalities and disjointed pasts that all seemed to blend together, forming one vestige of a woman. The famed Zelda of legend was nothing but a vacant shell. Her body had never been a home for her own spirit. She was a vessel that contained far greater things than the hopes and desires of an ineffectual girl. Zelda understood this. As long as the Triforce resided in her, Zelda Harkinian, Zelda Hyrule, Zelda Ordello, and the likes of them would always come last.

Zelda Ordello held her right hand before her eyes and peered indifferently at the pulsing Triforce of Wisdom. Whatever was left of her former self was worthless to her now…

"I will be your puppet," Zelda sniffed weakly, "Forever if I have to, but for heaven's sake, let the boy go. The Sage of Wisdom must be an impenetrable fortress. A rock. I can live without the love of another human. I have endured this long. The Hero has gone above and beyond his duties. A hero deserves better." The Triforce was pounding within her body now; a searing pain ran across the surface of her hand. The smallest sliver of her being that remained human, unclaimed by heaven, erupted inside her. Her heart ached with all the anguish of an open wound. Zelda's heart was broken and she was slowly bleeding to death. The thought of her knight, her hero, her Link suffering the same dismal fate as her made her sick. "Link deserves better." In an instant, Zelda's voice was lost amidst her sobs. Her body shriveled to the floor.

"I…love him," Zelda cried into the palms of her hands. It sounded so plain, so commonplace. To any other person, the word "love" could be tossed about with flippant disregard. It could be extended to anyone or anything that one felt even the slightest fondness for. Blessed are those who love uninhibited.

Zelda was cursed.

She loved a man, but he was the wrong man. Never in all her lives had she allowed herself to betray that one simple truth to the universe. She knew the terrible ramifications her earthly temptations could have on the world. Her soul was marked. She had been warned before.

It was during Zelda's first human incarnation that the Goddesses bestowed upon her the origins of life. In the beginning, before the first grain of sand fell through the hourglass of time, before the earth, before the Goddesses, there was nothing but light and dark. Never did the two come together. By a force greater than that of any divine entity, the two sides willed themselves together, creating a bridge between light and dark. From the synergy of these three elements sprang the fundamental pillars of existence. The dual elements: good and evil, and the bridge that brought them together: love. These three forces began to fight for dominance, which created a cyclical pattern of existence. The forces of good gave birth to the heavens and the divine, the forces of evil took dominion over the demon realm. Love remained the passageway between the diametrically opposed powers. The Three Goddesses became the divine equivalent of these forces.

At the dawn of life, the Goddesses instilled every creature with the ability to be both good and evil. However, they marked three souls in particular to carry out their will on earth. These three beings would forever be entangled in a battle for power and dominance. Their actions directly reflected the dynamics of the universe. Earth was merely another battleground in the greater struggle for power.

This was the true meaning of the Triforce.

Zelda was marked. Link was marked. The Evil King himself was marked. They were all tools belonging to powers that were far beyond their comprehension. Her soul was not her own. She was the physical embodiment of light and purity. A deity. Link was the bridge, a literal "link" between the two powers. It was no coincidence that his name characterized his entire life's purpose. He was the pawn that determined whether good or evil would reign. The three entities were separate, working independently to fuel the machine. Fighting to maintain order and balance. Any tampering, any deviation from the normal functions of the three forces could throw the entire world, the entire universe, off course. Zelda had been assured many times before that chaos and suffering would ensue.

In the distance a clock tower struck midnight, but it did not matter to Zelda. To her, time was still. One minute. One hour. One year. One lifetime. It was all the same. All she could see were his tormented eyes. The thought that she had caused him more pain than any villain ever could, killed her.

That night, the Princess of Hyrule slept crumpled and defeated on the floor. She dreamt of another time, another place, and another life. She dreamt of a world where her smile was genuine. And he smiled back.

O O O O O

If not for the mountain range's jagged interference, the starry sky and Lake Hylia's glistening waters would have merged into one massive cosmic pool, eating up everything around it. Even the hotels and businesses littered across the horizon were lit up from the inside out. Incandescent stars gleamed through glass windows, and the shadowy structures that held them disappeared and became the night. Crickets and larks were a melancholy orchestra, their melody the sole reminder of earthly attachments. This galaxy hosted a heavenly body, as well. A shock of golden hair accompanying a stellar bronze complexion provided a focal point for this unnamed universe, an axis around which the world seemed to rotate. He stood aboard a small sailboat at the center of the lake, contemplating the water's glassy surface. He gazed past his own reflection, through the endless water's depths, and down at the unknowable lakebed floor. Link needed to know what could not be seen. He needed to know if the memories in his head were real. He needed confirmation that no amount of words or reassurance could ever give him. What he could not trust to his own unhinged mind, he could trust to the existence of solid, physical proof. He held a file in his hand with the header "Top Secret." The document read:

Lake Hylia Underwater Temple Excavation

Project Leader: Penda Arian

Week Four Final Notes: Remnants of external chamber found on Lake Floor. Artifacts and rock samples have been collected and catalogued in Research Center lab. Designs and hieroglyphics found on surrounding rock formations difficult to decipher Linguistics department believe they hold religious significance to the architects of the temple. May be early roots to the Church of the Goddesses. Excavation team cannot find entrance to interior of temple. Project leaders remain confident that the main body of the temple lies underneath the lakebed.

The bottom of the page left a space for comments from the Research Center's administration. In bold red letters it stated:

Project Suspended

Insufficient evidence suggesting existence of temple

Link had found the file lying open on the kitchen counter in the observatory. He did not know if Penda had left it there intentionally for him to see or if the news had made her so distraught she simply forgot to put it away. She had waited her whole career to lead a project. The lakebed excavation was her life. She spent years gathering research and resources for it before she was even appointed its head scientist.

If these invading memories were truly his own, and not some figment of his imagination, the temple would be real. And he would remember a way in. So, in an act of bravery, displayed both for his aunt and his own sanity, Link tucked the file into the waterproof lining of his wetsuit, secured his mask, turned on his oxygen tank, buckled his weighted belt, and with a splash, disappeared into the abyss. Link Arian, an experienced seaman and diver, knew that Lake Hylia's deepest point, without special equipment, was inhospitable for elfin. Technically, he would be dead before he could even make it half way. He was on a suicide mission, but he was too crazed, too driven by unbridled passion to care about his fate. If the blood of a hero ran through his veins, the goddesses would protect him. If it did not, his lungs would be crushed under the immense pressure of the lake. He did not care either way. Link never had much faith in Heaven, anyway.

His weighted belt propelled him through the water. As he sank deeper it became darker and colder. All light had vanished from the surface. He was floating in space. There was no up and no down. There was nothing. It was as if his physical body melted away and the reaches of his mind became limitless in the black void. It was peaceful, but at the same time sent shivers up his spine. He had fished Hylia's waters for years and knew every species of animal that dwelt beneath her. Even so, without his vision, his mind played tricks on him. He sensed a presence. He felt like he was being watched.

Thirty seconds passed and Link knew he was approaching the halfway mark. The weight of the water began to push down on him. He could almost picture his organs imploding inside him as the pain became too much to bear. It was just a matter of time before the oxygen in his tank would turn poisonous from the pressure. Link knew he could still turn back. He could let go of his weights and slowly ascend to the surface, but he was determined. Somewhere in the last month, fear became a foreign emotion to him. His mind no longer dictated his actions. He was now a creature of pure instinct. Link did not turn back.

Forty seconds passed. At this point, Link turned off his oxygen tank. Fifty seconds passed and he was already choking for air. He was only vaguely aware of the blood that was spilling from his nose and mouth and flooding the goggles of his mask. Sixty seconds dragged by and death seemed imminent. He could not panic because all his senses and rationale had left him by now. White light dazzled his eyes and then he was gone. Link's lifeless body continued to plunge deeper to its watery grave.

Seventy seconds passed and Link's head made brutal contact with an unforgiving rocky ground. By the laws of physics and all earthly sciences, he should have been dead. But even in death, Link could not bring himself to follow the rules. His eyes flickered open. His brain, starved of oxygen, allowed his body to take control. He clumsily felt around for his underwater flashlight and turned it on. What made the mortal Link unconscious aroused the sleeping Hero. The dim glow of the flashlight illuminated the ruins of what once was a small pantheon. The pillars were crumbled and decaying, the archways covered in layers of silt. Link had mapped the coordinates of the excavation site correctly. He was standing directly over the presumed water temple. There was a massive boulder to the side of the ruins that appeared to be part of the underwater rock formations. The Hero knew better. The pantheon was built as a distraction. It was not the entrance. He had to move the boulder, but he could not do it with his bare hands. He cheated death once, but he knew sheer will could not keep him alive forever. He had to act fast.

It was like walking through a dream. Nothing seemed real. He was no longer in his body; he was a spectator watching the tragedy of his death unfold. His own blood began to seep through his mask, creating a crimson veil around his head. The flashlight cast a gray light on the surroundings. He was a ghost.

Link swam to the boulder. Bombs. He needed bombs. In a flurry of blood and bubbles, Link struggled to remove his oxygen tank. He held it between his legs with the barrel pointing toward the base of the giant rock. His fumbling hands grasped the valve and pushed it as far away from his body as possible. He pulled out his fisherman's knife, a multi purpose tool he was given by his boss, Flanders. If Link had been in his right mind, he would have thanked the man ardently in his prayers. Without a moment for contemplation, Link used all his strength and jammed the knife into the valve. The tank exploded with such force it sent Link flying backward and left a gaping wound on his right thigh. Blood from his mouth, nose, hands, and legs seeped through his wetsuit and painted the surrounding water a ghastly red. He blindly swam through the residual clouds of dirt that sprang up from the explosion. The majority of the boulder appeared untouched. Only a small chunk was missing at its base, revealing a narrow chasm that pierced deep into the earth. That was all Link needed. In an instant, he ripped off his flippers and pulled himself head first through the tight passageway.

The tunnel was longer and darker than his memories foretold. Thick layers of mud clogged the passageway that had not been used for thousands of years. As he crawled farther, the tunnel began to dip downward. A sliver of light peeped behind a thick wall of mud and dried clay that lay in Link's path. It was just behind that wall. He knew it. His hands clawed through the earth like a shovel. His fingers bled as his nails dislodged from his fingertips. His lungs cried out inside him, begging for sustenance. He was so close. With one final push from his shoulder, Link broke through the blockade, fell through the air, and landed head first on a slick tiled floor. His entire body pulsed with agony as he lay drenched in a small pool of water and blood, but Link could hardly feel the pain between his deep, glorious breaths of air. With every labored inhalation, life slowly began to filter back through his veins.

He cracked open his eyes but remained unmoving on the floor. The room was dimly lit, revealing nothing of its nature. Nearby, Link spied a candelabra mounted on a tall, cylindrical rock. Lacking the strength to stand up, he dragged his torn up body across the rough ground. Using the rock as support, Link cautiously climbed to his feet and unzipped his wetsuit. He fumbled inside his pockets and pulled out a smashed box of underwater matches. He struck it against the stone's surface and threw it into the sconce. Link gasped. Like magic, torches began to ignite one after another, rapidly encircling the cavern in an eerie domino effect. The room seemed to go on forever as flames continued to spark in the distance. Their red glow lifted the shadowy veil that cloaked the chamber for an eternity. Stonewalls grew upward like sheer granite cliffs and disappeared into the dark. Sounds of running water could be heard echoing up from the bottom of an endless drop-off. Link stood on a relatively small platform, suspended above a waterfall that plunged deep into oblivion.

An icy chill shot up his spine. The answer to his questions lay before him. Solid, undeniable, evidence. He thought he would find comfort in the truth, but for the first time since his ordeal began, Link was afraid. His life, his mere existence was an omen, a sign of horrifying things to come. He had lost everything before. He could see into the past, but the future was as unforeseeable as ever. He was caught in a dream, and now he would never wake up. There was no escaping it. The Temple was real.

Link collapsed on the floor, physically and mentally exhausted. His frail body was barely a speck on the grand canvas of the Water Temple. Fire danced on the walls like the spirits of the ancients, mocking the Hero, reminding him of his plight. Link held his head in the palms of his hands. Blood dripped from his mouth, and he pondered how many times he had spilled it for her.