They ran through the candlelit corridors of Fortress Jardel, the boy Rohn in tow, encountering little resistance as their boots thudded on the soft carpet – alternating between a deep crimson and royal blue – curving around elaborately decorated corners, swooping under intricately carved arches, their eyes adjusting to the dimly lit passageways, the candles nothing more than bubbles of sparkling light in the shadowy gloom.
Kerric disappeared into a side-room for an instant, the sound of a thousand books being flung to the ground following him shortly thereafter, and then he popped out, skin flushed, a wide grin etched on his face, a scroll grasped tightly in his hand. "I got it!" he beamed. "The title deed," his eyes fell upon his sister who also grinned in response, her eyes sparkling, "It's ours!"
"That's so scorching!" Raenie squealed as Kerric lifted her up, twirling them both around.
"It's over," he breathed, ruffling her hair, "It's really over."
"Now we go home?" she replied.
"Yes," Kerric whispered, pressing his forehead against hers. The dim, flickering light plunged their faces into partial shadow. "Now we go home."
Link watched, a smile growing on his face. He felt Zelda sidle up to him, and slipped his arm around his wife's waist. Navi buzzed around in the air, her light cutting iridescent paths through the near-darkness. "Speaking of home, love," Link said, his voice low as he leaned in towards the Princess. "I think our work here is done, don't you?"
Zelda glanced up at him, head tilted to one side, a small smile of her own on her face. "Now, Shadow Lord," she teased. "Is that a tear in your eye I see there?" A soft laugh left her lips. "You wouldn't be feeling a little touched by our little success now, would you?"
"Course not, love," Link replied, a little too quickly. "Not our success," he added. "'Theirs. It's not everyday where you can set things straight in such a clear-cut fashion." He breathed in. "Simple. Easy. Quick."
"Only in fairy tales," Zelda replied wistfully. "Things are different here."
"Won't stop me from trying, love," the Shadow Lord said. "Won't stop me from trying."
The Princess looked up at him again. "I know," she said. "Just don't forget about us while you're doing it."
His eyes met hers. "I won't," he replied. "I'm well aware," he continued, smiling once more as he pulled her close, "of all my responsibilities."
"Hey!" They all looked up to see Rohn pointing at a heavily barricaded steel door, a tiny grille cut in the centre. "Do you know what this is?"
"What?" the Princess asked as they huddled around the entrance. She pressed her hand to the cold door, a skin of rust flaking off under her touch.
Rohn's eyes grew wide, his voice hushed. "This is where Spinster Jardel keeps Young Simon. Well, I mean, this is where Simon wished to stay after he was cast out from his people."
Raenie, her hand in her mouth, gasped. "Not Simon the Burdened?"
Nodding, Rohn said, "The very same."
"Hey!" said Navi, "Who is Simon the Burdened?"
"Only the most tragic, beautiful, most heartbroken young man ever," Raenie breathed. "His tale is so scorching."
Rohn glanced up. "He travelled to Nutvako, where the Turtle People of the Isle of Dorienda live."
"He fell in love with the Turtle Princess," Raenie continued, picking up the thread of the tale, "and she fell in love with him."
"But they were cast out," the apprentice went on. "Both of them. The Princess from her people, Simon from his. And still they couldn't let go."
"And it's said that they came here…and Spinster Jardel was sick of them both…"
"So," said Rohn. "She offered to keep them locked up. Safe, from their point of view, to continue their love unhindered. They accepted." He pointed at the door. "And here they are."
The group, stretching on the tips of the toes, peered in through the grille, Navi fluttering above them, her reflected light dancing on the rusted metal. Inside was a veritable shrine – a small, wrinkled turtle, her olive skin shining in the torchlight, sat upon a lush cushion raised upon a throne of gold, flowers of myriad colour strewn around her tiny form. Portraits of the Turtle Princess, always smiling in all manner of poses, covered the wall, perfumed garlands acting as picture frames. Kneeling in front of the Turtle Princess, his chestnut hair flowing, was an incredibly handsome young man, his face serious, his chest heaving in sighs. The turtle slowly reached out a flipper, and Simon the Burdened took it gently, pressing it against his face, his eyes closed in bliss.
"That's…" breathed Zelda. "That's so sad…and so beautiful."
Raenie sighed. "It's just so…so scorchingly tragic."
"Hey…" said Navi. "It's simply…simply wonderful."
"Now that, my friends…" said Link, "is one sick little turtle."
The three females turned slowly to face the Shadow Lord. "Well," said Zelda after a moment's consideration, "it is a bit strange, isn't it?"
Link blinked. "But-"
"Sick," said Raenie, nodding.
"But," the Shadow Lord protested, "you just said-" He looked at Navi, hoping to hear the voice of reason.
"Disgusting," said the fairy.
Link flared. "You're just saying that because everyone else is saying it!"
The three females pinned him with an icy stare. "What?" they said in unison.
"Friends!" Kerric said quickly, stepping in between them. "The chamber of the portal. I've found it."
Knowing an opportunity when he saw it, the Shadow Lord gave a mock-salute. "Lead the way, mate."
They followed him to a large pair of double doors, the polished wood gleaming under the dancing candlelight, the spicy scent of sandalwood hanging in the air. "This is it," murmured Kerric, pushing the doors open with a small shove.
A howling wind of crackling magical energy greeted them as the group entered. It spat luminous azure sparks at them, scattered their hair and pulled at their tunics. The Shadow Lord, one hand covering his eyes, threw his other arm out to shield the Princess, his cloak flapping behind him, snapping taut whenever the wind grew too strong. Shards of glass, fragments of wood and torn shreds of parchment crunched under their boots, the air shimmering with magic, solid reality bending into liquid waves. Pentagonal patterns were cut into the floor, the walls bare and unornamented.
"Here!" Kerric called, pointing at a small item in the centre of the room. "This is the portal!"
They huddled around it, the wind mysteriously dying away as they did so, as though they'd just entered the calm eye of the storm. They peered at the portal. They blinked. They peered again.
"That's it?" asked Link.
"Yes," replied Kerric.
"That's the trans-dimensional magical energy vortex that's our portal home?"
"Cunningly disguised as a bowl of fruit?"
Ever-so-slowly, the Shadow Lord looked up, an incredulous look hanging from his face.
Kerric wilted under his stare. "Well," he protested, "would you have known where to look if I hadn't been here to point it out?"
"I suppose not," Link conceded.
"It's a rather nice bowl of fruit." Zelda said, her hands on her hips.
Raenie nodded. "I like the tastefully scorchin' way the fruit is arranged."
"Hey!" said Navi, zipping around their heads, sprinkling droplets of pure light in her wake. "I love how the banana entwines with the apples in an almost exact replica of a-"
"Stop talking about the fruit!" Link snapped. He cast a quizzical eye over at Kerric. "How do we make it work, mate? How do we go home?"
"Well…" Kerric replied, rubbing his chin. "If you want to go directly to the dimension and time that you originally came from, all you have to do is think a happy thought about the place."
The Shadow Lord raised an eyebrow. "You want me to think happy thoughts?"
Kerric nodded. "Yes."
Link's eyes narrowed. "You want me to think happy thoughts?"
Kerric sighed. "Just think of anything or anyone from your dimension that makes you happy."
"Anyone who makes me happy?" Link glanced at Zelda, who smiled in response. "Ready, love?"
"Let's go," she whispered in reply.
The Shadow Lord glanced around. "Where's the boy, the assassin's apprentice?" He spotted the youngster instantly, and raised his eyebrows. "Mate," said Link, "would you mind not eating our only way home, thanks very much?"
"Sorry," said Rohn, putting the half-eaten apple back in the bowl.
"You be alright on your own, lad?"
Rohn shrugged. "I'll make my way, don't worry."
Link gave him a sharp nod. "Can you help these two out of the Fortress?"
"Not a problem."
"So," said Kerric, breathing in deeply. "I'd just like to thank you for everything." He smiled. "It's been…interesting."
The Shadow Lord grinned. "Don't mention it, mate." He turned to Raenie. "Take care of the little missy."
Kerric ran one hand through his hair, then wrapped his other arm around his sister. "I will." They both gazed at their departing friends. "In fact, you know what? I've learned something in my time with you all. Something important. I learned that-"
"Great!" said Link. "Wonderful! Everything you knew was false and now you've had an epiphany!" He gestured at Navi, then took the Princess' hand. "Ta ta, mates!" Fixing his 'happy thought' firmly in his mind – and holding her hand equally firmly – Link pressed down on a particularly ripe looking orange.
The world shattered into tiny, shimmering splinters and the Shadow Lord and his friends felt their whole beings crumble into dust. The wind seemingly took the tiny shards of their disembodied forms, pushed them through dead branches iced with frost, flicked them casually over boiling, steaming magma, then flung them, screaming, back into the world in a brilliant flash of light.
Link gasped, his heart surging as his vision returned to him. "Home!" Tears almost sprung to his eyes as he saw the sunlight stream in through one large window, sparkling and warm. "Sun!" Realising that he was in his Dragon Chamber in the Upper Levels of his castle, he grinned as his gaze came to rest on Volvagia's skeletal form, silent and still. "Dragon!" He dropped to the floor, touched the ground, then rubbed his fingers together. "Dust!" He glanced to the side. "Fatally wounded man!" The Shadow Lord blinked, then looked again, squinting. "Excuse me," he said. "I couldn't help but notice that you're bleeding to death on my floor."
The young man looked up, straining, then clasped Link's hand. "Worry not about me, Shadow Lord," he croaked, his eyes feverish and bloodshot. "'Tis but my destiny." Lightning flashed, illuminating the Chamber.
Link cocked his head to one side. "I know you, mate," he said softly. "You're the farmboy who became a 'Hero.'"
Dayid Holsman, true heir of the Versimi Republic, winced, sweat glistening on his skin. "I tried my best, Shadow Lord," he gasped. "I tried to fight. But they are skilled swordsmen, especially the Stalfos."
Zelda knelt beside him, looking him over. "Your wounds aren't fatal," she said, her voice gentle. "You'll live."
Closing his eyes, Dayid nodded, straining all the while. "But you must retake your throne, Shadow Lord. For justice. I see you have a sword," he glanced at Zelda, "Princess, take my blade."
The Shadow Lord leaned closer. "Where are they, mate?"
Dayid stretched his neck, turning his head with great effort. "There," he said, indicating a tent looking distinctly out-of-place in the centre of the room, surrounded by a dozen or so chairs and perched next to a table set with sweetmeats and steaming liquids. "In there…just like my family were denied in the Versimi Republic, you have been denied here. Set things right, Shadow Lord, set things right. It is your…destiny."
Link blinked as lightning flickered through the window. "You know, mate, I still haven't worked out how you can belong to royalty if you're from a republic…"
Dayid's expression soured. "I explained this already."
Dayid's mouth stretched into a thin line. "Just go."
Scooping up Dayid's sword, Link and Zelda crept up on the tent, Navi flying inconspicuously above them. The Shadow Lord tossed the sword to the Princess, then edged closer to the tent on the tips of his toes. Voices drifted out from within.
"Stop calling me 'buttercup', Franco, I'm warning you," said one voice.
"As you wish, Rojan, my friend," said the other.
"So," the first voice went on, "did you visit the soothsayer? About your future?"
"Indeed I did. She said I had a glorious outlook ahead of me…and that all my deepest scars would heal once and for all. And you, my bounty hunting friend, did you visit her, too?"
"She said I was the festering wart on the smooth face of life and that I would awake each morning to look forward to nothing better than misery compounded upon misery, sprinkled with a side-serving of loathing, self-doubt and sheer, existential loneliness."
A pause, then, "And what, pray may I ask, did you think about that?"
With a sharp yank, Link snapped open the flap. Rojan, the skeletal Stalfos bounty hunter and Franco, the infamous fop, tumbled out screaming, scrabbling for their swords.
"It's them!" the Stalfos shrieked. "I knew this day would come. Looked forward to it like I like forward to the utter annihilation that comes at death."
Franco wasted no words, letting fly with a bloodcurdling war-cry and running straight for the Princess. Zelda met him head on, their swords clanging, then, with Navi in tow, the two combatants whirled off, blades slashing.
Link snapped his head back toward the bounty hunter. "You've usurped my city…you've turned my people against me and, worst of all, you've turn my beautiful little Dragon Chamber into a bleedin tea party." The Shadow Lord's eyes thinned as he raised his weapon. "Oh, it's on now, mate."
Rojan spun his sword into position, his glowing yellow eyes smouldering. "Blades will bleeds," he promised, "Shields will shatter."
The Shadow Lord blinked, hesitated, then blinked again. Finally he said, "Two quick points, mate. One – as reckless as it may seem, I don't actually have a shield." Rojan's skeletal brow frowned. "And, two – how exactly do blades bleed?" Rojan's jaw worked, but no words – enlightening or otherwise – came free. "Tell me, you haven't actually thought this through, have you, mate? Oh, look at me 'Blades will bleed, shields will shatter,' don't I sound oh-so-dangerous-and dramatic, don't I sound so oh-so-deliciously-cryptic?" Link snorted. "Don't you sound oh-so-ridiculous, I should say."
The bounty hunter's fingers formed a bracelet of bone around the hilt of his weapon. "Just fight, will you?"
Link ran, tensed his muscles, then leapt, sword swinging to meet Rojan's attack. A liquid blur of polished metal exploded in the air as the two fighters engaged, swords flashing with ferocious speed, steel crashing against steel in a hypnotic drumbeat. They dodged, weaved, ducked, swung, and spun, faster than the eye could follow, thrusting, parrying, deflecting.
Link went high; the Stalfos ducked, twirled, and went low. Leaping, the Shadow Lord dodged the attack, the Stalfos' blade whistling under his feet. In mid-air, Link twisted, stunning Rojan with a kick, then crashed into the floor. The Bounty Hunter, quickly shaking off the blow, saw the advantage and swung his sword in an overhead arc for the kill. The Shadow Lord flipped to his feet, catching the strike with his sword. He sliced in with another attack – parried – spun, sword whirling and hit back with a riposte – deflected. Swords crossed, once, twice, over and over and over…
They spun away from each other, their blades sliding apart with a metallic shimmer. Slowly, cautiously, they circled round and around.
"I hope you realise," the Stalfos said, "that I'm going to die horribly at the end of this battle."
Link wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. "That's the spirit, mate, keep it up."
The Bounty Hunter tested the Hero with a few short, sharp jabs, but Link brushed them aside easily. "Of course," the Stalfos went on, "not before you suffer a ghastly wound that will give you a long, lingering death."
"I do believe," said the Shadow Lord, " that I'll reserve that fate for you. I'm sure you'll enjoy it much more than I will."
Rojan grinned. "Blue eyes, blue eyes," he said, lunging in with an attack, "how can you tell so many lies?"
Link dodged, frowning. "Are you, perchance, trying to seduce me?"
Taking advantage of the distraction, Link thrust, a blow aimed for the Bounty Hunter's chest. The Stalfos twirled away to safety, spinning around to slice upwards in an arc that the Shadow Lord deftly parried, then flowed into a riposte that the Stalfos barely blocked – all within a twinkle of an eye. Their swords crossed, Link sought to drive home an advantage, and disengaged his blade, ploughing his shoulder into the Bounty Hunter's flank, then whirling around to catch Rojan with a glancing blow to the arm, bone chips flying into the air.
The Stalfos snarled, skidding back as his yellow eyes turned to his injured limb. "Now that," he said, "isn't very nice."
"Neither, I hasten to add, are you," said Link, flexing his fingers, his eyes fixed on his opponent.
Rojan threw himself at the Shadow Lord once more, their blades slicing the air, cracking against the other, sparks erupting from blow after blow after blow. They moved across the room, their boots squeaking against the polished floor, their blades whirling, twirling and finally locking, held fast in place. Link pushed, trying to disengage, but the Stalfos held firm, their two swords entangled. Glancing around quickly, the Shadow Lord calculated all his options. His eyes fixed on one such possibility like a skewer. Stepping away, he let the Bounty Hunter push him back. One step closer. Another. And-
The Shadow Lord jumped onto a chair, coiled the muscles in his legs, then leapt up, spinning, tearing his weapon free from the Bounty Hunter's blade. Landing on the table, Link grinned in triumph – and was thrown back as the Stalfos caught him with a swift kick to the chest. He crashed to the floor amidst another pile of chairs, pain ringing through his entire body. The quickest of glances told him that Rojan was bearing down on him and Link swiftly kicked a chair up into the air to block the Bounty Hunter's path.
The Stalfos was too quick, though, smashing the chair to tiny wooden shards with a quick swing of his sword, then landing on the table above Link's prone form. The Shadow Lord was faster – with one graceful, lightening smooth movement, he flipped his sword up and around, catching it by the flat of its blade, then thrust the hilt straight into the Stalfos' jaw. Rojan fell back, howling in pain, and skidded across the floor, debris scattering in his path.
The Stalfos snapped his head up. "A very smooth manoeuvre, I must say. The beginning of the end for me, no doubt."
Link, breathing heavily, his tunic torn and his muscles aching, shook his head in bewilderment. "Exactly how is it that you've come to have such a bleak outlook on the world, mate?"
Kipping-up to his feet, Rojan's yellow eyes burned. "I'll tell you."
The Shadow Lord brought his sword to bear. "Go ahead."
"When I was a but a little Stalfos, my father died-"
"I'm not finished yet."
The Stalfos swung with a sharp arc aimed for Link's head. The Shadow Lord ducked, spun away, then sliced in with a counter-attack. Rojan twirled to safety, then hit back with a thrusting riposte that Link flipped away from, landing gracefully on his feet with the barest of stumbles.
"So," said Link, "you were saying, mate?"
"Oh, yes," Rojan replied. "My mother married another after my father's death-"
"Wait, wait, wait," the Shadow Lord interrupted. "This isn't another step-father-beats-young-child-and-shockingly-turns-out-to-be-father's-real-murderer story, is it?"
The Stalfos shrugged, his skeletal joints clinking. "Yes," he replied. "That…and the decapitation. I was building up to the decapitation."
"So," said Link. "Your step-father beat you, is it?"
"And this turned you-"
"Made me see," said Rojan, cutting in, "that life is nothing more than a box of pain and the only way to hone that pain was to join the PessiMystiko cult. They, at least, know the true reality of things."
"And that entitles you to be live in and spread misery, does it, mate?"
Rojan thought about this for a moment, his yellow eyes turning inward. "Why, yes, I believe it does."
"Does the universally deep phrase 'You overgrown baby' hold any meaning for you?"
Rojan snarled. "How dare you mock my pain! It wasn't my fault."
"I'll grant you that, mate-" He was cut off as the Stalfos spun on his heel, aiming another strike for Link's head. The Shadow Lord's eyes widened, seeing the attack at the last minute, and dodged just in time, the blade slicing the air where his ear had just been. He hit back with a diagonal thrust that was parried easily, then spun away with graceful ease.
"So, as I was saying…" Link frowned. "Wait. I've lost my train of thought."
Rojan waited patiently. "You were asking if I was justified in spreading misery."
"No, no, I passed that bit."
The Bounty Hunter sucked on his teeth. "Erm," he said as he pondered. "You were implying I was being immature in my outlook?"
"No, no, mate, after that."
"It wasn't my fault?"
"That's it!" Link cried, grinning. He cleared his throat, then composed himself quickly. "I'll grant you that, mate, it wasn't your fault" Link replied. "But the precise machinations of how you reacted to said event was entirely under your control."
"What do you mean?" the Bounty Hunter growled.
"Well, it seems to me – pardon me for my intrusive observation while in the midst of battle – that you feel good…about feeling bad."
"I do not!"
"Always nice to play the victim, innit mate? Then you can forever be the centre of your own little imaginary world."
"You know nothing."
They threw themselves at each other again, a ferocious blur of movement, their attacks now simply fuelled by instinct, slice, spin, parry, riposte, whirl, thrust, deflect in a concert of blisteringly quick motions. "You enjoy it, mate, admit it," said Link, ducking, weaving, then spinning around to swing in with a counter-attack, his sword flashing. "Can't find meaning in anything else, so you just find meaning by wallowing in your misery."
"I do not!" spat Rojan, parrying the strike, twirling on one heel and lunging for Link's head.
The Shadow Lord dropped to the floor in a flash. "Then why," he said as he dug his elbows into the ground, " don't you just simply…stop? Let it go and, pardon my cliché, smell the roses. Or the fertilizer. Whatever floats your boat." Pushing with his elbows, Link slid across the floor, through the gap between the Bounty Hunter's legs, sprang to his feet, then whirled around with a slice aimed for the head.
The Stalfos ducked, then thrust. "It's not that easy."
Somersaulting over the attack, Link spun in the air, landing deftly behind his opponent, and swinging around once more. "Have you even tried?"
Rojan met the strike instantly, their swords cracking together and locking once more. "Enough!"
Link gasped for breath, sweat slipping down his and brow and stinging his eyes. "One question…" he breathed, "that's been burning me… throughout your little story, one that… demands an answer before either one… or both of us meet the fate inscribed in the Tablet of Destiny," – lightning flashed – "a question… that's just nagging at my twisted corners of my curiosity."
"And, what," said Rojan, tiring of the whole conversation, "would that question be?"
Link licked his lips. "How exactly," he said, "do a pair of Stalfos have children? I ask merely out of idle inquisitiveness, you understand, considering that your species are a) somewhat dead and b) anatomically challenged."
The Bounty Hunter spun away with a disgusted snort. "It would appear that I will have to show you what other skills I have thanks to the PessiMystiko Order." His fingers danced, his lips muttering whispered incantations. "Skills in…magic." With a theatrical flourish, he unfurled his arm, pointing straight at Volvagia. "Awake!"
The Shadow Lord gaped in shock as he watched the skeletal remains of the dragon Volvagia twitch once, twice, a dull scarlet glow flickering to life in the dark pools of her eye sockets. Joints snapping, dust flying from her yellowed bones, Volvagia slowly uncoiled herself, stretching herself upright. Watching the Dragon tower over him, throwing back her head and – somehow- emitting a deathly shriek, Link could only utter one word to accurately capture the sheer, bloodcurdling horror of the sight before him at that very moment: "Bugger."
Black stars popped in Zelda's vision. She tried to gasp, but all she felt was a tight vice around her throat, as though she'd swallowed broken glass. It had started out well. She'd fought Franco back to the passageway outside the Chamber, then pushed him up the stairs, up to the balcony overlooking the cavernous room. And that's when the dragon had woken.
The Princess had watched, icy terror stabbing her heart, as Volvagia had stood on her hind legs, the ground shaking with each of her movements, watching with regal detachment, as though in profound meditation. A deep, ominous rumble had bubbled up from within the dragon's organless body, and everyone had frozen, watching in awe and fear. Then, as though imitating a snake set to strike, the dragon's neck snapped forward like the cracking of a liquid whip, almost taking Link's head off.
Zelda mouth had dropped open, ready to let fly with a scream, when Franco had pounced on her, his hands curling around her neck. Her body sagged beneath her, the world spinning in her eyes.
"Well, well, well, Princess," Franco taunted, his high-pitched voice grating on Zelda's ears. "So nice to see you again. Shame about the scar, though I must say, that's a rather fetching eye patch you have there."
Desperately trying to scratch at his hands, the Princess struggled to find a way to break free. Her head pounded, her hands tingling, almost going limp as consciousness threatened to leave her. She croaked as she tried to spit out a sharp retort.
"Now now, Princess," Franco cooed, grinning as drops of sweat flew from his face. "I think it'll be much better for you if you die quietly. Slowly, though, so that I can enjoy it you understand." He bared his teeth. "It's a shame…we could have been something special, you and I. But, no…you had to stand against me. Well, no matter. I'm sure there are plenty of beauties who would cut their hands just to be my queen."
Zelda felt darkness seep into the corners of her vision. Closing her eyes, she let her hands curl into fist. She was not going to lose to this filth. She was not.
Clenching down on her teeth, with a final burst of concentrated energy, she shot her arms up in between his, then snapped them out to the sides, breaking apart Franco's grip. Pausing to take a gasp of air, Zelda dodged just in time as the fop threw an inelegant punch. The Princess rolled on the ground, scooping up her sword, then sprang to her feet.
Franco, his own blade ready, lunged at her, growling. Their swords clanged against the other over and over again, each trying to find an opening as they spun smoothly through a series of intricate manoeuvres, almost as fast as Link's battle with the Bounty Hunter below.
A slip of pure light shot out from the shadows, careening straight into Franco's eyes. The fop screamed as Navi, her tiny face scrunched in anger, battered his features.
Zelda gripped her sword, eyes thinning as she saw her chance, then slashed – a horizontal strike across Franco's face – then slashed again – diagonal from top to bottom – and slashed one last time – another horizontal strike.
Franco staggered back, his blade dropping from his hand as his eyes widened. With his other hand he gingerly touched his face. The Princess watched as a liquid, crimson 'Z' slowly formed on the fop's face. She brought her weapon to bear, and stepped into an attack stance, ready to fight to the death, ready to take this fight straight to the –
Link screamed, rolling across the floor as Volvagia snatched at him with her talons, a cloak of black, acrid smoke trailing from her nostrils. The air burned, clouds of soot and ash billowing. Her wings flapped in leathery beats, and then she took to the air, gliding through the smoke.
The Shadow Lord glared at Rojan, the Bounty Hunter busily cackling to himself in one corner of the massive Chamber. "You madman!" Link spat. "You'll kill us all!"
"Probably," the Stalfos replied, "I'm sure I'll die horribly, my bones crushed to dust in the dragon's jaws, but only after you have suffered a similar fate first."
Fear clutching his heart, the Shadow Lord's eyes traced the dragon's path in the air. "Insane!" he cried. "Just insane! Dragons in enclosed spaces! Skeletal Dragons who can breathe fire! And why, if you had this power at your disposal all along," he paused to give the Stalfos a meaningful glance, "did you not just wake the dragon in the first bleedin place!"
Grinning, Rojan's jaw opened then, after a moment's consideration and a frown, snapped shut again. "Oh."
Volvagia glided in at an angle, almost beautiful in her smooth descent, and swooped over their heads, her wings slicing through the table, shattering it to dust, her claws snatching at the chairs. Landing, her talons gouging deep scars into the marble floor, a fountain of sparks spilling in her wake, she then crossed her wings over her tiny, twig-like arms.
In that briefest of pauses, the Shadow Lord moved. Sweat exploding on his skin, the air shimmering from the heat, Link lunged at the dragon with his sword. Volvagia dodged, slipping aside with almost sheer contempt for his actions, then tried to swat him with one skeletal wing. The Shadow Lord threw himself into the air, spinning wildly over the attack. He landed with the slightest of slips, twirled, his sword a blur of whirling motion, then drove his weapon straight into the dragon's ribs.
Bone shattered, dust flew, and Volvagia roared, filling the chamber with an otherworldly howl. Link pounced, landing on her spine, then leapt again. He ran up the thin bony bridge of her neck with graceful ease, arms outstretched to keep balance, Volvagia desperately trying to shake him off and, when he reached her head, he leapt once more. For a fraction of a second he hung suspended in the air, the sudden wash of cold air making him gasp. Then Link began to plummet, his blade slowly swinging into position so that its sharpened tip faced straight down and –
With a disdainful flick of her neck, Volvagia batted the Shadow Lord out of the air. He landed on her spine – and began to slide down. Clutching at the bone, his teeth chattering as he slid, Link knew he'd stop as soon as he reached the dip in the dragon's back. He braced himself, ready to slow down, then-
He continued to slide, picking up speed as he dipped down Volvagia's spine, then curved straight up her tail. The Shadow Lord screamed as he saw thin air hurtle towards him. Desperately, he tried to dig his fingers in, trying to slow down his passage and –
Link flew straight off the tail, screaming all the way, his arms flapping as he soared through the air. The tapestry that decorated the chamber rushed up in his eyes, looming larger and larger. He threw his arms up, closed his eyes – and crashed straight into wall, face first. Head spinning, a salty tang flooding his mouth, the Shadow Lord slid to the ground, then fell flat on his back.
The Shadow Lord's eyes fluttered open. Volvagia peered down at him, her skeletal head expanding and contracting in his vision.
"Love," he slurred. "You have a really ugly tail."
Hissing, the dragon reared back her head, paused, then snapped down towards Link. The Shadow Lord sprung out of the way at the last moment and Volvagia's head smashed into the floor in a cloud of plaster and shattered marble. Her neck stretched and tugged as she tried to free her head – but it stayed firmly in place, buried and stuck fast.
Link stood, wiping his hands, watching the dragon strain against her self-made prison. "What a frightfully dim-witted creature."
With a yell, Rojan burst out of the shadows, sword swinging. The Shadow Lord was upon him in an instant, his veins filling with determination. He parried the first attack, spun, and snapped the Bounty Hunter's sword in two in a spray of sparks. In a flash, Link drove his elbow into Rojan's jaw, making him reel in shock. The Shadow Lord whirled – once, twice, thrice – then sliced his blade straight through the Stalfos' neck.
The headless Bounty Hunter dropped to its knees, then collapsed to the ground. Link, closing his eyes in relief, let out a deep breath. "Well," he said, "that's that."
"No, it's not."
The Shadow Lord's eyes snapped open. "What?"
"I said," the voice informed him, "that it's not over."
Link blinked. "And who," he said, "might you be?"
Link yelled as something bit into his feet. He glanced down, saw Rojan's disembodied head clinging to his toes, grinning all the while. "Get off me!" he cried, kicking the thing off. It bounced after him. "I do not believe this."
"It would appear," said the Stalfos head, "that, though my imminent demise is assured, I am yet to gain one last, meaningful victory by taking your toes with me."
The Shadow Lord tried to stamp on the skull. It bounced out of the way. He stamped again. It rolled away. Link's shoulders slumped. "This," he said, "is my most embarrassing victory ever."
The doors to the chamber flung open and, with Navi flying behind her, Zelda burst into the room. She strode straight up to the Stalfos and, with one well-placed kick, sent the skull crashing straight through the window.
Link looked at Zelda. Zelda looked at Link. "Welcome home, Shadow Lord," she said.
"I think I need a stiff glass of Red Potion," he replied.
The Princess laughed. "Later. After we release Ruto and Saria."
"And for now?"
Zelda smiled. "This."
She fell into his arms, Navi squealing happily above their heads. Link gently took the Princess' face in his hands, looked into her eyes and, at long last with the sun warming their faces, husband and wife kissed.
And so, the Shadow Lord and Shadow Lady ruled over Castleton, living happily ever after.
Until, that is, Zelda found out that Link had pinched the Triforce of Wisdom when he'd been younger and hidden it in a somewhat unmentionable place. But, like all happy couples, they overcome that little obstacle, Zelda eventually forgiving Link for that little misdemeanour. There was also the incident involving a cucco, a tub of Red Potion and a herring, but the less said about that, the better.
Zelda and Link had another official wedding where the Princess bought the Hero a new Green Hat as a gift, something he was eternally grateful for. He, in turn, bought her a new ring, complete with an exquisitely beautiful diamond.
Ruto and Saria stayed on as advisors, along with Tingle and Navi. Unknown to any of them, the Shadow Lord's policies on slaves eventually led to the total abolishment of slavery, simply because the slaves had now taken their lives into their own hands, realised the great gift that that truly was, and were determined to make the most of it. Eventually the freedman became more affluent and influential than the nobles of the city, and a good deal more compassionate and productive, too. The Gorons, on the other hand, became nomads, travelling from place to place, building breathtakingly beautiful structures in every place they left their mark on, structures that would be admired long after their passing from Hyrule. Franco DeZorres was locked away in the Castleton dungeons. It was rumoured that he would, every night when midnight was at its blackest, hold conversations with a glowing skull, asking it 'To be free, or not to be free?'
Link, the Shadow Lord of Castleton, spent out the rest of his life with the same attitude that he greeted each and every new day: with a wink and a smile.FIN
A/N: Well, I said it would be a little different, didn't I?
So, was that a lighthearted (and ever-so-slightly insane) adventure romp or was it really an angry, bitter semi-satire?
Consider this my gift to those of you who found 'Rebel Assassin' a little too dark and depressing (still my favourite out of my three stories, though).
Quick shout-outs to my regular reviewers: Crazygurl Madness, Bariyou, Crimson Ashes, Lucibell (please read and review her stories – she doesn't get enough reviews for the amount of effort she puts in), Akinababy, Forlorn Rain, NekoYasha and Vladimir (who, apparently, is a hamster) – a big thank you to you all and to everyone else who reviewed!