Chapter Thirty Eight
They had arrived.
Through the thick foliage, Zelda could see the looming shape of a castle shrouded in shadow. Lit torches were clustered around the wall, providing small pools of yellow light against the dingy gray stone.
In sharp contrast to the confusion of traveling through the warp portal, everything seemed hushed. The cold of winter had silenced the bugs that called the night home. An eerie quiet blanketed the world.
Link glanced at her, examining her from head to toe. Zelda gave a nod, letting him know that she was fine. He considered her for a moment longer before turning and stepping from the warp pad.
She watched as he carefully picked his way toward the edge of the small clearing. When she started to follow, he held up a hand, stopping her. He turned and put a finger to his lips, signaling for silence. He then took a step back and vanished into the shadows.
Alone, Zelda sat on the edge of the portal. The stone was surprisingly warm underneath her. She ran her hand along the granite and glanced at the castle again. She wondered why she never knew of this portal. The night made it hard to judge how far away the castle was, but it was close enough to be of concern were an enemy to come through the portal.
'How did Link know of this?' she asked herself. She thought of the magic she had felt while going through the warp. It had left an odd feeling over her skin; it made her skin feel rough, as if she had been scrubbed with lye soap.
She touched her arm. It was gone now, but it had definitely been there when she traveled through the portal. It had been familiar somehow.
Pulling her cloak tighter around her body, Zelda glanced up. The tiny clearing didn't offer much in stargazing, but she could make out one bright star and the rising moon.
Recalling the myths Impa had told her about wishing on stars, she smiled at the lone pinpoint of light.
The smile quickly fell when she realized that the star belonged to the Knight's Price, the constellation that Link had told her was of a Knight of the Triforce who gave his life to win a battle he had asked for.
She pulled the cloak just a little tighter; that story was not what she needed to calm her already tense nerves.
There was a rustle of branches behind her. Zelda jumped to her feet and reached for the dagger Impa had given her.
It was Link. He walked from the brush, his face set with grim determination. "I looped around," he said. His voice was hushed, but not urgent. "I found two sets of sentry tracks. They're about an hour old." He came to a stop in front of her. "If Glenn keeps them on their normal routine, we should be able to sneak through the outer and inner rings without any problem."
"And if he doesn't?"
Link gave a slight smile. "Then we'll have a problem. Let's go." He led her to the edge of the clearing and then into the thicket.
After a few moments of stomping through the brush, Link showed her how to pick her steps carefully over mats of pine nettles and rocks. After the mountainous terrain of Calatia, Zelda found the flatlands of the palace grounds a welcoming change.
"That wasn't just a teleport spell we passed through, was it?" she asked as they walked.
"The portal," she said. "I didn't even know it was out here."
"Neither did I until I was sent to the Dark World," he said.
"After this is over," Zelda said, "we should seal it off. This is a little too close to the palace for comfort."
In the darkness, she saw Link grimly smile. "The incantation to travel from one portal to another," he said, "is only found in the Golden Land."
Zelda stopped in her tracks. She felt ice work its way up her neck. "You don't mean..."
Link stopped and slowly turned to face her. "The magic that I just invoked to bring us here is the same magic Agahnim used to send you through the Sacred Seal. For a brief moment, we were in what was the Golden Land."
"B-but," Zelda stammered, "there isn't a—"
"Exactly. Look, I don't know how the magic works, but it doesn't harm me when I use it. I wasn't lying when I said it was safe. The only trouble I've ever had was when the Dark World was still in place." He reached out and took a hold of her arm. "We really have to keep moving. There isn't much time left."
Zelda nodded numbly and began walking again. Her thoughts were swimming with the concept of what they had just passed through.
Chapter Thirty Nine
Jarod heard the sound of footfalls behind him. Without turning, he continued to stare over the ramparts into the Hylian countryside.
He was confident his magic would be enough protection should those footfalls mean him harm. It was the first time in centuries he'd held such confidence. The rising moon and all that it meant for him had made him giddy.
A brush of awareness at the edge of his bond with Vox assured him of the safety of the footfalls. His servant was returning.
"What news do you bring me?" the Si'Ra asked.
The footfalls didn't miss a beat at the suddenness of the question. "Two more wish an audience with you, master," Vox said, stopping a respectable distance behind his master.
Jarod shook his head and sighed. "What a pitiful state the rule of this land is in. At one time, a man would fall to his knees and thank his maker at the pleasure of touching my hem. These people...these people wish for audiences without any thought of the hour or of my needs. They are so consumed by their own petty desires they have forgotten the needs of others."
"But there will be changes when my brothers return," Jarod continued. "I once planned on picking up where we left off, but that will not be the case. We will begin anew. A new world order will sweep this pathetic land and all will be under one perfect rule. People do not know happiness until it is given to them in small doses. They reject it when presented to them on a dish, but eagerly drink it down when given by the mouthful." Jarod smiled. " And there will be no Knights of the Triforce, with their twisted ideals of nobility, to hamper us this time." Jarod turned to face Vox. He studied the small, lethal man. "What of the Si'Frant?" he asked, his voice heavy. "Will they form to the numbers they once stood at?"
"The Si'Frant have never left you, master," Vox said fiercely. "They only await the call to serve again."
Jarod smiled broadly. "Our days of glory approach, Vox." He looked back to the moon. "Tonight I shall reach into the underworld and bring my brothers home. I shall rescue them from the torment the Knights of the Triforce saw fit to condemn them to."
Jarod took a deep breath of winter air. He could feel his destiny approaching. It would soon be time. "'When night is indistinguishable from day,'" he said, quoting the prophecy he discovered so long ago, "then the one who sits on the throne of Hyrule can call the Black Souls home." His gaze roamed over the land surrounding the palace. "I wonder," he whispered. "Vox, where do you think the Knight and his princess are this night?"
"I do not know," the servant replied. "I would assume that they would be as far away from Hyrule as possible."
Jarod nodded. "Perhaps." He thought back to the war between the Si'Ra and the Knights of the Triforce. He remembered the way the Knights had fought—the way they would give all they had to their causes.
"I do not wish you to be in the tower chamber with me tonight," Jarod said. Vox visibly stiffened at that. "Instead, I wish you to go hunting."
Vox kept his face blank, but Jarod could feel his disappointment and slight fear. "As you command, my lord," the servant said.
"Not as I command, Vox," Jarod said, slowly turning. "But as prophecies dictate. You will hunt a Knight for me. Keep to the palace tonight and watch the shadows." He smiled and felt a rare ripple of warmth pass between their bond. "You shall be rewarded in the morning."
"Stay down," Link whispered in her ear.
Zelda swallowed hard and nodded. They crouched at the top of a small incline at the edge of the woods. Hyrule Castle lay just ahead of them. The two sentries riding along the perimeter of the castle signaled to one another and to the guard on the walkway of the castle wall.
She felt Link put a hand on her back. "Get ready," he said. He had drawn his belt knife and held it twisted in one hand so the flat of the blade was held firmly against his wrist and arm. At first, Zelda hadn't understood why he held it like that, but then she remembered Impa doing the same thing once. He had the knife at the ready should he need it, but it was also hidden from catching the moonlight.
The guard on the top of the wall gave the grounds one last sweeping glance, then turned away and walked from sight.
"Go." Link gave her a slight push and then she was running. Following his instructions, she kept her eyes locked on the palace wall. She didn't look around herself, or worry about what was behind her. She just concentrated on running forward.
She couldn't hear Link behind her, but hoped he was there. It was hard to fight the urge to glance back, but he had emphasized the importance of not doing that.
Nearing the wall, Zelda slowed. She caught herself with a hand against the cold stone and leaned against it, catching her breath. Her heart hammered in her chest, but it was more from the fear of being captured than the exertion of running. Link came to a stop beside her. He took three deep breaths and then looked her over. "Are you ready?" he asked.
Zelda managed a nod.
"Good." Link took a step back, sheathed his knife, and drew his hookshot. "Come here. We only have a few minutes before the outer ring loops around again."
Zelda walked to him, and Link quickly wrapped an arm around her waist, holding her close.
"Put your arms around my neck," he said, raising the hookshot, "and hold on tight. As we go up, keep your legs out in front of you and your ankles straight."
Zelda held onto him tightly. "I'm ready," she said.
Link aimed carefully and fired. The hookshot launched with a resounding snap-click. His arm went back slightly with the kickback.
As the chain cleared the top of the wall, Link turned his wrist to the side, changing the direction of the hookshot. Zelda couldn't see it, but she could tell by the way that the chain suddenly snapped taut that it had imbedded itself in the wall.
Link tugged twice, making sure of its strength. "Now remember, princess, hang on tight and keep your ankles straight out." He held his thumb over the retract stud. "I should tell you," he said, "that I've never tried this with two people before, but I'm sure it'll work."
Zelda's eyes went wide. "What?"
Link smiled slightly and pressed the retract button.
Zelda fought the urge to scream as the ground suddenly left her feet. They were pulled up and toward the wall. She caught the impact with her legs as Link had told her to do. The jarring shock passed through her body and settled painfully in her teeth. She heard Link grunt beside her.
They held against the wall for only a moment, and then they were moving again. Link kept his boots firmly pressed to the wall, controlling their speed as best he could. Copying him, Zelda stretched and slid her boots against the wall as well.
"Keep your teeth together and exhale," he said as they neared the top.
She barely had time to exhale before they cleared the lip of the wall. The chain snapped to the side and came free from where it had been attached. Again they were flying through the air.
She felt Link turn slightly, and then the ground returned. It slammed into her side, forcing what little air was left in her lungs out. She clutched onto Link for fear of becoming airborne again.
They rolled across the top of the stone wall. They came to a stop with Link lying over her, supporting his weight on his arms and knees.
"See," he said breathlessly, "I told you it would work."
"Barely," she said, looking up at him. "Please get off me."
"Sorry." He rolled to the side and then up into a crouch.
Zelda pulled herself up, copying his posture. "Do you think anyone heard us?" she asked.
"Normally, I'd say it would have been hard for them not to," he said, "but this time, I don't think they did."
"What makes you so sure?"
In the dim light, she saw him smile. "Because I'm an optimist," he said.
"Somehow," Zelda said, "that doesn't make me feel any better."
"One of these days, it will. Come on." He grabbed her arm just above the elbow and led her across the top of the wall.
Keeping their heads low, Link and Zelda stopped at a corner of the wall.
"How—?" Zelda began but was cut off by a squeeze from Link's hand on her arm.
Below, a guard walked past. He paused, thought for a moment, and then continued on. The rattling of his sword and armor faded into the night.
Zelda released the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
"Go ahead," Link whispered, "but quietly."
"How are we going to making to the inner courtyard?" she asked. "There are too many guards for us to make it on foot unless your plan is to confront Jarod in the dungeon."
"Don't think it wasn't considered, princess," Link said dryly. He raised the hookshot. "I think we should be able to get across without the guards seeing."
"Are you mad?!" Zelda cringed and lowered her voice. "Are you mad? We barely made it up here without being seen! How do you intend to make it over their heads?"
Link reached into his tunic and removed the small bag of bombs he had taken through the warp portal. "I promise to help repair any damage I might do. That is, once the price is lifted from my head," he added as an afterthought.
Zelda opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't find the words. After a month of hoping she never saw the palace again, she couldn't bear the thought of seeing it damaged. There were more memories in the stone walls than she had realized.
"Don't hurt anyone," was all she could say.
"I'll do what I can, Zelda," Link said. He opened the pouch and removed a small bomb. Slightly bigger than a large pebble, it fit easily in the palm of his hand. A firestarter with a small striker sat at the top of the bomb for easy lighting.
Link stood and readied to throw the bomb.
Zelda swept the grounds with her gaze, looking for any guards who might be too close to the blast. "Link," she said, stopping him just as he was about to strike the fuse. "Look over by the gates."
Link sank back down and followed her gaze. Vox stood in the inner courtyard, calling the guards on duty to listen to him. He started waving his arms in indication of the grounds around them as he spoke to the guards.
"Now there's a conversation I would like to be in on," Link said, watching Vox through narrowed eyes.
Zelda took a deep breath and looked again to the courtyard beneath them. "Let's go," she said, "while no one is looking."
Link continued watching Vox for a moment and then stood, pulling Zelda to her feet as he did so. He quickly stuffed the bomb into its bag and then put the bag back in his tunic. He grabbed the hookshot and then wrapped an arm around Zelda's waist. "Here we go again, princess," he said.
"Here we go again," she repeated dryly.
The hookshot caught the tower wall rising above the Great Hall and stuck. Holding onto Link again, Zelda was pulled across the inner courtyard. She bit back the urge to scream but couldn't stop the grunt when her feet hit the stone roof of the Great Hall.
She rolled and laid for a moment on her back listening to her heart pounding. Beside her, Link sprang to his feet and ran to the edge of the roof. Keeping his shoulder to the main wall of the castle, he peered down at Vox.
"Did they see us?" Zelda whispered.
Link shook his head and continued to watch.
Zelda sat up and folded her legs underneath her. She watched Link for a moment before glancing up at the sky. The moon was nearly at zenith and only a few stars could be seen against its brightness.
Link's boots clicked against the roof as he walked back to her. "He's put the palace guards on alert," Link said softly.
Link nodded. "He has ordered a full search of the grounds and courtyard."
"Then Jarod knows we're here," Zelda said, rubbing her arms. "He knows we're back."
Link drummed his fingers on his right hip, where the Master Sword normally rested, as he thought. "Or," he said, "Vox is just being careful. This is what Jarod has been waiting lifetimes for. If I were Vox, I would have this palace locked down as tightly as possible."
"So, how do we avoid the patrols?" Zelda asked. "We don't even know where Jarod is."
"The staff will know," Link stated confidently. "He would have had help setting everything up in order for tonight."
"Well, that's fine," Zelda said, "but it will be hard to ask questions while the guards are out for our heads."
"Maybe not, princess," Link said, helping her to her feet. "The day isn't coming any slower, so we have to keep going."
Zelda looked up at the tower rising above the Hall. The guest chambers were in that tower. "Are we going to have to climb that and try to make it into a window?"
Link laughed. "I would think you knew me better than that, Zelda." He led her to the wall of the castle. "Look closely," he instructed.
She peered forward, but saw nothing odd. "What am I looking for?"
"This castle," he said, taking a step forward, "was built with so many secret passageways and trick doors that I've always thought the builders had a fondness for the grape." His fingers ran the length of one of the stones. He smiled. "There it is."
With a loud click, a secret door released and Link pulled it open. An empty servants' passageway stood beyond the doorway.
Zelda's open-mouthed astonishment slowly turned into a smile. "How did you know of this?" she asked.
Link peered over the threshold and then let her walk inside. "I leaned against the wall once when I was a kid and fell through. I thought I had broken the castle!" He followed her inside, pulling the secret door shut behind him.
Zelda looked down and then up the darkened hall. At this empty corner of the castle, the torches and lamps had yet to be lit. "Should I be the least bit concerned you can sneak into my palace so easily?"
Link smiled. "Everyone needs a hobby, princess."
Signaling her to stay a few steps behind, he started down the hall. They quietly passed two intersections. Zelda felt as though she were sneaking through the shadows like a thief in the night.
Or like an assassin.
A third set of boots against stone suddenly resounded in the dark and otherwise silent castle. Someone was walking toward them.
Link gestured for her to stay where she was and then drew the Master Sword. He darted forward, his boots somehow not making any noise as they touched the floor. He leaned against the corner wall of another intersection and held his blade straight in front of him. Zelda could tell by the way his muscles tensed that he was pulling magic from the sword.
She swallowed, her throat dry. She didn't want him to harm anyone, but she also knew that if Jarod wasn't stopped, many more people were going to be hurt.
A young man dressed as a member of the palace staff appeared in the intersection. He walked pass Link without seeing him.
In one smooth motion the Knight pushed off of the wall and grabbed the servant. Using the young man's center of gravity against him, Link spun around and slammed the servant up against the same wall that had sheltered the Knight moments before. In a blink, the tip of the Master Sword was to the servant's throat. It happened so fast the young man never had time to shout or raise alarm.
"Do you know who I am?" Link asked in a threatening whisper.
The young man, wide-eyed with fear, gave a short nod.
"You know that I am wanted for the murder of two Palace Guards and for helping Princess Zelda escape from the dungeon?"
"Good." Link shifted his grip on the Master Sword, its tip dragging against the servant's flesh as he did so. " Now, tell me where I can find Ambassador Jarod and his slave Vox."
"I-I don't k-know, sir."
Link's cold gaze didn't waver. "Yes, you do."
"T-the Ambassador ordered the tower room cleaned," the young man said quickly. " He has been spending a lot of time up there, but I don't know if he's there now."
"What about Vox?"
"I don't know!"
Link removed one hand from the sword's grip and reached into his tunic. He withdrew a handful of sand. "You know better than to lie to me, don't you?"
Link hefted the handful of sand. "This is magic powder," he said. "It was made special for me by a Witch Woman. Just a small amount can reduce a man to a puddle of goo. About this much, in fact."
Amazingly, the young man's eyes grew even wider. "P-p-please, sir. I don't know anything else."
Before Zelda could move to stop him, Link tossed the sand into the servant's face.
The young man's eyes rolled back and he collapsed. Link quickly removed the sword's point, lest the servant be impaled on it as he slid down the wall.
Zelda, flabbergasted, stared at Link. She hadn't thought him capable of such cruelty. "How could you..." was all she could manage.
Link frowned. " Zelda, do you really believe that that was magic dust?"
She pointed to servant on the floor. His chest rose and fell with his easy breathing.
"The man fainted," Link said simply. "I just threw dirt from the palace grounds at him."
"You mean...he just..."
"Yes," Link said. "He believed I was a criminal who would do any sort of evil deed, and had no reason to doubt my claim of having magic dust. I couldn't kill him and didn't have any means to tie him up, so I had to use his belief against him. It was a bit one-sided, perhaps, but to quote an old friend, "that is often all that is required'." He tipped his head to the side. "I really thought you knew me better than that, Zelda."
They made quick time through the rest of the castle. Using the empty halls reserved for messengers and servants, they moved inward, toward the tower room.
The clop of boots against the hard floor was the only warning Link and Zelda had that guards were coming their way. They quickly ducked behind a full-size statue of her father, King Harkinian.
Zelda held her breath as the sounds of footfalls grew louder She was sure that those walking their way would be able to hear her heart beating. She saw Link's hand tighten on the hilt of his sword.
"Aye," she heard Glenn Tarmag say. "We've got the walls stationed and double patrols in the main entranceways, just like Ambassador Jarod wanted. The clop of boots stopped. "I still don't understand what we are looking for, though."
"My master always has his reasons," Vox's rasping voice said. "I shall walk the upper levels myself. If you find anything at unusual, anything at all, send a messenger to me immediately."
"Aye," Tarmag said, and then walked away. The sound of his boots faded away.
Vox hesitated for a moment before turning down another junction.
Zelda listened to him leave, then climbed out from behind the statue's wide pedestal. "That was a bit close," she said softly.
Link continued to stare down the hall Vox had taken. "That seems to be the rule of the day," he said in the same tone.
Zelda looked over her shoulder and then down the hall Tarmag had taken. Following that corridor, they would be able to reach the passage to the tower room…and Jarod. "Go after him," she said suddenly.
"Excuse me?" Link asked, nonplussed.
"Vox," Zelda said. "Go after him while you still can. While he's still alone."
"Jarod should be our first priority, princess," he said. "We can worry about Vox after Jarod is stopped from completing the prophecy."
Zelda grabbed his arm. Part of her brain wanted to agree with him, but another part suddenly couldn't stop thinking about having to face Jarod and Vox at the same time. "What if this is what the prophecy meant by needing both of us?" she said. "There are two of us and two of them. What if Vox is your fight?"
" Zelda," Link whispered fiercely, "this is hardly the place or time to be arguing about 'what ifs.' You and I will restrain Jarod and then I will go after Vox."
"But can we do that, Link? You said that Duncan told you that they are linked. How deep does that link go? Can Jarod call Vox when he needs him? What if we can't keep them separated?"
Link let out a long breath. "Zelda, we cannot face them alone. Power may stand alone, but Wisdom and Courage must not."
"We won't be alone," Zelda said, wishing she could accept what he was saying without question. "Restrain Vox and then join me in the tower room."
Link's blue-eyed gaze studied her. "Do you really want to face him by yourself?" he asked.
"No," Zelda said honestly. "But I don't think we have a choice."
"There are always choices, Zelda."
She shook her head. "Not this time." He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off. "Can you deflect Jarod's magic while also fighting Vox?"
His mouth shut with a click of teeth. " Light, Zelda," he finally said, "we don't know if that would happen."
" And we don't know if it wouldn't, either," she retorted. "Go after him, Link, before I lose my nerve."
He smiled slightly. "I doubt that would ever happen, princess. Are you sure about this?"
"No," she said. "Nor am I sure of the alternative."
Link looked back down the passage Vox had taken, and then back at Zelda. In a rush of speed, he came forward and gripped her shoulders. "Please be careful," he said.
Zelda smiled sadly. "I always am, Link."
"I mean it, Zelda," he said. "There are many dangers here. Jarod, the guards, this prophecy—they're all very dangerous. One misstep, and—"
"I will be safe," she said, halting him. "I promise you that."
Link's throat bobbed up and down as he swallowed. "I won't be long," he said. "I won't leave you to face him alone." 'Again' hung unspoken between them.
Zelda met his strong gaze. "I know," she said. "I always knew. Go now."
Link turned away and moved to head down the passageway Vox had taken. Zelda caught his hand with hers. Their arms stretched across distance greater than the space between them. She gave his small finger a gentle squeeze and then let go of his hand. Link held her gaze a moment longer before hurrying away.
For the second time in one month, Zelda stood alone in the darkened halls of Hyrule Castle. The first time she had sent Impa away because of the need of the situation, but this time she had sent Link away out of speculation. She longed for the days when the situation was as clear as it had been a month ago.
Moving as nimbly and as quietly as he could, Link rushed down the corridors of Hyrule Castle. He took stairs two at a time and pressed against the cold stone wall whenever he heard servants or guards nearby. Remembering his childhood games of outwitting the palace guards, Link easily kept out of sight.
As he crouched in a narrow servants' hall, waiting for a trio of guards to march past, his thoughts turned to Zelda. He wondered if he had been too quick to leave her. He had wanted to walk her to the tower room, but knew that he wouldn't have left her had he done that.
Employing great will, he forced his mind back to the matters at hand. Taking one last glance around the corner, Link darted from his hiding spot. At the end of the corridor was a staircase. Moving up the steps, Link entered the uppermost level of the palace.
Shafts of blue moonlight stabbed down from high windows. Rectangles of light sat in a row along the polished marble passageway. Link reached over his shoulder, wrapped a hand around his sword's hilt, and began walking forward.
The sounds of his footsteps echoed up and down the large hall. Link had the sudden feeling that he was the only living thing on the entire floor, but he knew there had to be at least one other: Vox.
There was a slight sound of scraping from the shadows. Link spun, his eyes quickly scrutinizing the room.
"Welcome, Knight," a voice whispered into the echo.
Link slowly turned about. His grip on the sheathed sword tightened. "Is this how the Si'Frant fight, Vox?" he called out. "By hiding in shadows and taunting those they fear?"
Link smiled. "It is no wonder my ancestors crushed the Si'Ra so easily if all they had to defend them were craven fools like you."
The sound of boots hitting stone rung out behind him. "I fear nothing," Vox said. "And neither do the Si'Frant."
Link turned. Vox stood at the edge of a rectangle of moonlight. His halberd was gripped with both hands. Its wicked blade caught the light.
"That remains to be seen, Vox," Link said.
"Already proven, Knight," said Vox, his voice flat and emotionless.
Link shook his head. "You were afraid to kill me in our last encounter," he said. " A duty you trained lifetimes for, and you failed in executing it. Tell me, Vox, what sort of punisher is Jarod? Is he quick or slow?"
Vox held his head a little higher. "You shall soon find out."
"I'm sure." Link looked to the side and then back to Vox. "So what now?" he asked. "Do we just stand here until sunrise or try to cut each other to shreds?"
"We will do as prophecy demands," Vox said without hesitation.
"No, Vox," Link said with a shake of his head. " We have our own choices. You don't have to do this any more than I do. You can walk away."
"You have no understanding of the Si'Frant," Vox said venomously.
"No, I don't," Link said. "But I do have an understanding of slavery. I know that the reason many slaves refuse to leave their masters is fear—fear of the outside world. Of a world they have had no part of their entire lives. If the Si'Frant do not know fear, then you should be able to walk away from this with just a choice."
Vox blinked as he thought. "The Si'Frant serve the Si'Ra because it is what's right. The choice is offered, but not taken."
"Really?" Link raised an eyebrow. "Would Jarod let you leave? Or would he strike you down for the crime of independent thought? Think back, Vox. How many Si'Frant left the Si'Ra and lived?"
" Any who left were not true members of the Si'Frant!" Vox said. His eyes flashed with anger.
"But what was their crime?" Link pushed. "Did they dare to think differently than the Si'Ra?"
Vox's knuckles were white as he gripped the halberd. He took a rattling breath.
"The Si'Ra are the blessed gods of change," he said. "They only sought to bring order to chaos. Your kind saw fit to place a sentence worse than death on their heads. My only regret is that you will not share the underworld with my masters for long. You shall see the hand of a god reach down and pull the Si'Ra from the underworld while you writhe on its floor."
Raising his halberd, Vox took a step back, vanishing again into the shadows.
Link quickly brought his hands up and opened the buckle on his baldric. He pulled the leather sash off, drew the Master Sword, and let the baldric fall to the floor.
He untied the laces of his tunic and threw the shirt aside. If this confrontation was to be anything like his last with Vox, Link knew he needed as much freedom of movement as possible. He stood in the chilly air, clad in his sleeveless undershirt. Squaring his stance, he readied himself for Vox.
It had begun.
'Just like the forest,' Zelda thought ruefully She leaned against the cold stone wall and slowly sank to the floor. She wrapped her arms around her knees and closed her eyes. She could afford a small rest.
For what felt like hours, she had been ducking behind corners and pillars avoiding guards. Link had once joked about the nuisance the guards presented because she had insisted they be well trained. She was beginning to understand the joke more than she had the first time.
She currently sat swallowed by shadows near the entranceway to the highest tower room of Hyrule Castle. It would soon be time for her to face Jarod.
As she had done since being thrown in the dungeon a month ago, Zelda searched inward for the warm glow of the Triforce of Wisdom. And again, since being thrown in the dungeon a month ago, her search came up empty.
Fear and panic rose up anew. She had no idea how to fight a wizard without the aid of the Triforce. Any magical gifts she held were vastly underdeveloped, especially compared to a man who had lived in a time when magic was still a newly discovered thing.
Taking a deep breath, Zelda let her hand reach down to the knife in her belt. A Sheikah knife, it would be her only defense. Swallowing hard, she pushed herself to her feet and prepared to begin again. She peered carefully around the corner of the entranceway and saw an empty room waiting for her. The absence of guards this close to Jarod worried her. She wondered if he had set a trap, knowing that she would come looking for him, or if his magical strength was really so great he had no need for guards. Neither thought offered much comfort.
With one last glance over her shoulder, Zelda walked into the room she had ordered sealed so long ago. Vivid memories of being dragged up into the silo like room by the wizard Agahnim were waiting with open arms. She stopped in the center of the archway, not caring if she was seen. The weight of the memories landed painfully on her shoulders. She hadn't been to this room since being dragged into it several years earlier.
She blinked back tears as her eyes followed the rows of uneven stones that made up the walls.
She had asked Link to oversee the sealing of this room. The night after he had sealed the door, he had come to her in the throne room and told her that the room would not be opened again. She had tried to visit the hall leading to it, but failed. She had stood in the mouth of the hall clad in her royal finest, determined to stare the demons down, but she hadn't been able to look at the door. Even bricked up, it could haunt her. The ruler of the mightiest land in the world had been brought to her knees by simple memories.
The irony had nearly been laughable.
"The present, not the past or the future," Zelda reminded herself, and took a step forward. The echo of her travel-worn boots rebounded in the narrow room. She gripped the rail of the winding staircase, took a deep breath, and moved forward…
Only to be stopped on the climb to the second step.
Zelda reeled back and reached out. Her hand touched a solid wall above the step—an invisible wall! She now knew why Jarod hadn't needed a unit of guards around him. She pounded uselessly against the wall she could feel but not see.
She drew the knife Impa had entrusted her with and swung at the wall. The blade made contact with the wall, but did not cut into it. Zelda traced the wall down to the top of the second step and up as high as her arm would reach. She held little doubt it stretched to the ceiling.
She sheathed the knife and considered her options – all two of them. She could scream for Jarod and challenge him, and then watch as he laughed at the silly princess who thought she could fight the mighty Si'Ra, or she could try and find Link.
'And then what?' her mind asked. Ask him nicely if he could come and use his Triforce piece to knock down a wall of magic? No, he had his own battle to fight, and she had hers. Jarod was hers to fight. He had been since the day he had marched into her throne room and presented himself before the Seat of Hyrule. She had been the one to unleash him on the country. She had accepted his gift of enchantment and allowed him room of movement. This was her wrong to correct.
Whether working off of magical insight, instinct, a random guess, or something else entirely that was unknown to her, Zelda reached out and touched the wall. She felt warmth grow in her chest; it spread to her arm and down to her hand. She smiled. For the first time in over a month, she could feel the Triforce of Wisdom again.
She closed her eyes and sought the strings of magic Jarod had used to craft the wall made of air. She thought back to the heavy blanket she had been covered with in the Witch Woman's house. She imagined a small flea passing through the tightly pulled threads of fabric used to weave that blanket.
Zelda felt herself moving forward. She did not remember creating the thought to move her legs, but she was not alarmed to have given up control of her body. In the golden warmth of the Triforce, that was simply how things worked.
The glow slowly faded and Zelda inhaled, filling her lungs with cold air that made the back of her throat tingle. She opened her eyes and found herself standing on the third step of the staircase. The magical wall of air was at her back. She had passed through without disrupting the spell.
Though the Triforce's magic had faded around her, she could still feel it residing around her heart. She was whole again. Since being locked in the dungeon by her own guards, she was whole.
Without another glance back, Zelda climbed the stairs two at a time. She reached the upper landing and reached for the handle of the door that would lead to Jarod. She paused, her hands perched over the knob. "Good luck, Link," she said quietly.
Then, with a rush of resolve, she threw open the door.
The short entrance hall and circular chamber opened before her The stone tiles had been scrubbed clean, as had the altar on the end of the chamber. Two jars with flames dancing inside sat on either side of the altar. Perched on the top of the altar was a gold urn with small figures engraved around the sealed mouth. Zelda squinted; it had to be a trick of the flickering flame light, but it seemed as though the figures were moving. As she stepped over the threshold, she saw that deep gashes had been sliced in the stone floor and walls. Geometric designs and shapes ran across the room like a map of ancient water canals. She recognized many of the patterns as being from the book of prophecies her father had made her read when she was a child. They were signs of the underworld…a call for the dead to return to life.
Jarod, the last Si'Ra in the land of the living, stood behind the altar with his head thrown back and his arms outstretched.
The palms of his gloved hands were upturned. The sleeves of his dark robe fell in a cascade of black to his waist. His eyes were closed and he didn't seem to hear her approaching.
He stood in a half-crescent of blue moonlight that shone down from the open apex.
When the moon was at zenith the crescent would be whole, Zelda knew. With that lighting, the gold urn on the altar would then be in the heart of the circle.
She took another step forward.
"Welcome, Princess Zelda." Jarod's voice echoed throughout the small chamber.
Chapter Forty One
Link caught the strike aimed at his midsection and stumbled back, but Vox was not to be so easily deterred. He danced to the left and brought his halberd around in a sweeping arc – as always, making sure that he stayed out of the Master Sword's range.
Link ducked under the wide swing and blocked the return stroke with the edge of his blade—the fact his sword didn't even chip the wooden haft no longer registered in his mind as an oddity.
"And what of you?" the Knight asked, gasping for breath. "What of the Si'Frant? When the Si'Ra return to a world changed by who knows how many millennia, will they still have need of their devoted whipping boys? You may find yourself out of a job, Vox."
Vox turned slowly, gripping the halberd with a firm two-handed grip. As though locked in a perverse dance, Link had no choice but to keep the Master Sword against the haft and turn with the smaller man.
"The Si'Frant shall be rewarded for their vigilance," Vox said. "The worthy shall be made overseers of the conquered lands."
"Is that so?" Link said. "Do you then serve out of religious devotion or for empty promises of power?"
"Did the Knights of the Triforce fight for Hyrule because of their love for the hills or valleys, or did they wish to preserve the posts of powers they held in the Triforce's ranks?" Vox countered.
Link let his gaze drift to Vox's grip on the haft and then to the spot his blade touched the wood. He gently felt for the amount of strength Vox was using to push the weapon forward and began formulating a plan.
"You know, Vox," he said, "that is a very good point. One I would gladly debate with you—but not right now!" Calling upon the reflexes of a swordsman, Link released the halberd, dropped to the ground, and rolled. He felt the spear point pass just inches above his head. The Knight came up on one knee, the Master Sword at the ready. Holding the bastard sword with one hand, Link lashed out in a wild slash. The hungry blade sliced through the air, moving toward Vox's midsection.
With the grace of bird changing direction in mid-flight, and with speed that would have made a fully trained Knight of the Triforce envious, Vox spun away. The Master Sword completed its arc and cut only air.
Link scrambled to climb to his feet, but Vox was already pivoting. The blunt end of the halberd came about. Before Link could react, the metal tipped end made contact with his gut. The Knight doubled over; every ounce of air leaving his lungs in a large huff.
Link's head snapped back as Vox's follow-through caught his chin. The blow lifted him off his feet and threw him onto his back. Link skidded across the marble floor before coming to a rest against an archway leading to a much smaller chamber. With his hand still on the hilt of the Master Sword, the magic came to his aid and blocked most of the pain.
Vox marched across the hall twirling his halberd. The curved blade flashed briefly as it passed through a beam of moonlight. There was no mistaking the starved look in Vox's dark eyes—a hunter wanted his kill. A race wanted its vengeance.
The last of the Knights of the Triforce spat out a mouthful of blood and blinked away spots. He pushed himself to his feet and looked back into the small chamber. Two torch brackets sat empty on the barren walls and a single stab of moonlight illuminated the room. A wooden staircase fastened to the wall sat in the welcoming blue light.
At first glance Link thought the light came from a high window, but quickly realized it was coming from an open trapdoor. The roof. He looked back to Vox, now much closer, and then back to the chamber.
Deciding he needed time to think and recover, Link ducked into the room and took the stairs two at a time. He clambered through the small door and emerged on the broad stone roof of Hyrule Castle.
Blue shading from the bright moon softened the appearance of the carefully cut granite master builders had lowered into place so many lifetimes ago. A fence of ramparts circled the roof. At every corner sat gargoyles, guardians against evil. Carved to the most minute detail, the hideous servants of good stood taller than most men. Long, pointed wings were held partially unfurled behind their backs.
Link heard the distinctive sound of a boot against wooden stairs. Vox was coming.
"Welcome, Princess Zelda." Jarod's voice echoed throughout the small chamber. "I see you have made it through my small blockade."
He lowered his arms and his eyes opened. Those familiar dark orbs floating in milky white met her wide-eyed stare. "I assume you have passed your own blockade to make it through mine?"
Zelda swallowed hard. "The Triforce is again with me," she said. "It is no longer blocked by your spell."
Jarod smiled slightly. "I have cast no spell over you, Princess Zelda. Your inability to touch the Triforce was yours alone."
Zelda felt a surge of anger. "And the necklace? That wasn't a spell over me?"
"A minor charm." Jarod slowly walked around the altar and came to a stop in front of it. "Easily overthrown by someone of your potential."
"Is that so?"
"Yes." Jarod tipped his head to the side, considering her. "You do possess a great deal of potential. And it has grown within you since our last meeting."
"Is that why you tried to kill me?" Zelda asked.
Jarod looked hurt. "I did not try to take your life," he said defensively. "In fact, I tried to spare it. When I offered you sanctuary, I meant it. You would have been safe from the fears of your people."
"But Link would have been dead," she said. "Dead by your orders."
"The Knight of the Triforce is mine to contend with," Jarod said darkly. With visible effort, his expression softened. "The offer is still open to you, Princess. There is no need for us to deride each other uselessly. I only require the throne of Hyrule for another several hours. At dawn I shall gladly turn all of its troubles over to you."
"No longer interested in world domination, Jarod?" Zelda said. "What about your so-called brothers? Wouldn't they like to have control over the largest land in the known world?"
Jarod drew himself to his full and impressive height. He took a deep breath and released it slowly. "You know nothing of history, you insolent child. I lived when your books say civilization was beginning." He took a step forward. "Those books lie! What I saw was not civilization—it was anarchy. Men whose only crowns were thick animal hides declared themselves kings and warlords. Petty people fought and died over land and livestock. Children who fancied themselves wizards played with magic they could never hope to understand."
He took another step forward. "We offered order. The Si'Ra were not petty. We sought not land, riches, livestock, or power. Ours was a rule of order. Underneath us, children did not starve, men did not die for worthless causes, and people did not have to worry about another country attacking for the simple wish of having extra furs in the winter. When history books speak of civilization beginning, they should note the coming of the Si'Ra to the world."
"So noble," Zelda said. " But you choose not to mention the rulers you had to kill to give that to the people. How many kingdoms did you overthrow? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? How many died because you took away freedom?"
" You dare judge us?" Jarod's eyes flashed with indignation. He threw his arms wide. "Who among us is the angel? Are you so free of sin as to judge me, Princess Zelda?"
"No one is free of guilt," Zelda said softly, "but my crimes could never reach the scales of mass murder you have committed."
"Really, Princess Zelda? Leader of Hyrule, defender of the innocent, bender of time?" Zelda's head came up sharply. Jarod smiled. "My magic transcends how most view the passing of time. I know a great many things about you, Princess."
"No. I don't believe you."
"Do you have any idea of the effects of what you have done throughout your life? Children suddenly wiped from existence because their birth had no longer happened. Lives changed drastically without any foreknowledge. Those who were once dead were suddenly living again and those who had lived were reduced to little more than a thought. Oh, the destruction, Princess Zelda. Speaking as a mass murderer, I could only hope to achieve the level of evil you advanced past while just a child. I kill clean, Princess. You, you strike from the safety of your throne and then say it was for the betterment of the world." He waved a hand in her direction. " Were that such an arrogance was visible."
The air around her hands rippled and blood appeared on her skin. Zelda gave a startled shout and shook her hands, trying to clean them. Blood flew in stringy gobs but more appeared to take the place of what she shook off. Her sleeves dripped with the sticky liquid. Her skin was unmarred. It had to be an illusion, she told herself. But the thought of Jarod making blood seep from her pores gripped the back of her throat.
"I was doing what I thought was right!" she screamed. "I saved thousands. People were dying needlessly! I just did what I thought was right!"
Jarod tipped his head and smiled, revealing two rows of white teeth. "As did we."
Chapter Forty Two
With the magic of the Master Sword pounding through his veins, Link lunged forward. Blade met blade and Vox stumbled away from the trapdoor.
Abandoning training and skill, Link attacked with simple brute force. He pushed the element of surprise. The Master Sword came about in a fury of hacks and slashes.
Vox backpedaled, his halberd raised in defense. He switched grips on the wooden haft and danced smoothly through the forms as though there were no real threat and blocked each swing of the sword.
Link screamed over the roar of magic in his ears and the sound of clashing of metal. The sword's magic throbbed sickeningly in his head. The magic was beyond rage, beyond wrath. It teemed with a type of lofty arrogance that demanded it not be defeated by the likes of this murderer. Sparks flew when the blade of the halberd blocked the edge of the sword. Link quickly stepped to the side, holding the blade on his sword. He swung wildly from side to side, trying to throw the spear from the Si'Frant's hands. The weapons hit the stone floor and a cloud of stone chips sprang up around the blades.
Deep gashes were cut into the stone. Link took dim note of them and danced around them. Again and again he drove the Master Sword against the halberd. All he needed was one opening. The magic swirled in such a storm that one strike, no matter how minor, would be fatal. The power would see to that.
But Vox did not allow an opening in his defense. The halberd tracked the Master Sword, catching each blow and causing Link to waste energy.
The tip of the Blade of Evil's Bane suddenly fell in-between the haft and the curved blade. Part of Link's brain that was trained as a swordsman saw the danger and quickly tried to pull the sword back, but Vox was faster. The Si'Frant turned his wrists inward, trapping the sword at an awkward angle. He brought the halberd down as his foot came up. His kick caught Link square in the chest.
Link stumbled back and Vox spun away, taking the sword with him. The storm of magic was ripped from Link as the hilt left his hands. He gasped like a fish pulled from the sea as his senses struggled to pull information from a world that suddenly seemed to be moving much too fast.
The blunt edge of the halberd hit his shoulder. There was no magic to soften the pain this time. Link was thrown to the hard floor, his shoulder feeling like a flame had been lit in the bone itself.
The air was cut by the sound of a sharp blade whistling in a wide arc. The swish filled the quiet night.
Link reacted blindly; he rolled in the direction of the noise and lashed out in the sweeping kick. His boot made contact with something solid and Vox went down.
The smaller man twisted as he fell and swung the halberd as a farmer would a sickle.
Link saw the moonlight catch something silver at the top of his vision. With the arm that was unhurt from the last blow, he reached out. The halberd's haft slammed into his palm with enough force to drive his arm back.
Link ducked and, with his hand half-guiding it, let the halberd pass over his head. Cut hair trickled over his face like rain. He rotated, using the still moving halberd as a center of gravity, and jumped toward Vox.
He brought his sore arm up and gripped the haft with two hands, then drove it down and pinned Vox underneath it.
The Knight straddled the smaller man and leaned into the halberd, forcing it against the Si'Frant's throat.
The two men gasped for breath as they locked might.
"To the end, Knight," Vox whispered.
"Even now," Jarod said, "our champions fight for us. Can you feel them? Feel their sick enjoyment of mortal combat? It's there, if you know how to search for it. Do you?"
Zelda fruitlessly wiped her bloodstained hands on the front of her dress.
Jarod walked toward her slowly. "That is not us," he said. "We are not gladiators of the blade. No, ours is more of the mind. More of the magic. That is something our champions cannot understand about us. Our warrior's way is unintelligible to them, and to people like them. But we understand. You understand." He waved a hand at her again and the blood on her hands ran off like water, leaving clean skin behind. "Let's end this game—our destinies are much too important to waste."
Zelda flexed her hands, testing them for injury. "I am nothing like you," she said, forcing strength back to her tone.
"No?" He stopped two paces from where she stood. "Am I still the evil monster to you? Tell me, Princess Zelda, is this what you expected to face tonight? Have I shown any of the signs of being the mad wizard you have shaped me into being?"
He bowed slightly at the waist. "I have been nothing but pleasant to you. Thirty days ago, I offered you safety from those who would harm you, and then made the same offer tonight, meaning every word of the offer each time I spoke. No, Princess Zelda, I have not done anything to earn such scorn. It was you who came here tonight with a knife at your side and murder in your heart." He shook his head. "I have done nothing."
"Nothing?!" Zelda laughed at the lunacy of the statement. "You led a rebellion against my throne, killed six people to secure the fear needed for the rebellion, magically induced a drought, and done and done Goddesses only know what to Hyrule's trade alliances and political standing while in charge of the country!"
Jarod smiled slightly. "Your trade alliances are quite stable, I can assure you of that. And while I do admit to implementing the rebellion, I did not lead it. Prophecy aside, my taking control actually helped stabilize the royal houses of this country. By my best guess, you would have had a full-scale war for the throne within ten years. And unless all births from now until then are female, the houses that supported you and your family in the past would not have stood. You should thank me."
Zelda shook her head. "I don't believe any of this. Lies. You speak nothing but lies."
"From a certain point of view," he answered, "we all do. Truth is fluid."
"Only when you are involved." She felt for the knife at her belt.
"As you wish." Jarod glanced pointedly at her hand, which was still reaching for the knife. "You are wise to doubt whether you can kill me or not, Princess Zelda. Were I you, I would not chance it. You may unleash the evil you seek to stop."
"I know exactly what I'm doing," she said.
He chuckled. "Your feelings and thoughts betray your lies, Princess Zelda. You have given much thought to our little battle. I quite liked the idea you conjured up a few moments ago. The one you dismissed so quickly."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Zelda heart hammered in her chest at the prospect of Jarod reading her thoughts. How was she to defeat him?
He moved a step closer and slipped smoothly to the side, causing her to turn in order to keep him in sight.
"You know what I refer to. The thoughts of my winning our little conflict. Of the Si'Ra...of my magic...of yours. You were correct in assuming we were once teachers of our calling. I had many young students."
The mental image of Jarod with children made Zelda's skin crawl.
Either reacting to her shudder or her thoughts, Jarod frowned. "Nothing so diabolical, Princess. Simply the passing of knowledge from elder to youth.
"At one time, mountains crumbled beneath my boots and lakes appeared with the touch of my fingers. I controlled magic your scholars have not even begun to imagine." He moved again and, as he passed by her ear, he whispered seductively, "I was a god."
Zelda turned to follow him as seemed to glide around her but could not keep up. He remained a shadow out of the corner of her eye.
"We had many students, but never one that possessed the amount of potential you have," he said, his voice little more than a breathy whisper. Zelda had to strain her ears to hear him. "It could be yours. That was the thought you dismissed so quickly, Princess. Did it frighten you? The thought started as simple wonderment about us, but then you added the ironic twist of learning and destroying us with the very knowledge we possess. Why did you shove it away so quickly? Were you afraid the power might appeal to you?"
There was a brush of movement across Zelda's shoulders. It was so brief she couldn't tell if it was wind or Jarod's fingers. "I am not a scholar of magic," she said. "The power of the Si'Ra does not appeal to me. It could never appeal to me."
"Now who lies, Princess?"
Zelda turned quickly but Jarod remained just out of her vision.
"Would you like a sampling of what we offer?"
"Does it frighten you?"
Zelda swallowed past a dry throat. "No."
"Then why refuse?"
Before she could answer, Jarod's hand brushed the side of her face as though he were pushing away a strand of hair...and the world imploded around her. Flashes of light and visions moving at such speed that they were little more than blurs passed before her eyes Sounds of many voices and the clamor of combat filled her ears. She could not look away; the visions followed her even behind her eyelids. Zelda nearly collapsed to the floor, but felt Jarod's arm wrap around her waist and hold her upright.
She saw years passing before her. Centuries passed between each beat of her heart. Knowledge filled her head: numbers, letters, mathematical shapes, recipes for potions of every sort, and spells ranging from the simple to the complex. She saw the spell she and Link had used to travel from Calatia to Hyrule— she saw how laughably simple it now seemed. There were other ways to travel, too. Shadows, mirrors, the underworld itself… the possibilities were literally endless.
Other knowledge came with the magical information – historical knowledge. She saw legions of men and women dressed in gray tunics and holding spears similar to Vox's fall to their knees before her. She saw the Si'Ra as they had looked at the height of their power—she saw the faces of each member. Strangely, each dark-eyed person was foreign, but also familiar. She did not know them, but could recall spending a childhood with each. Those memories floated just out of reach.
She saw a young Hyrule. An army stood before her—thousands of men, their ranks falling back as far as the eye could see. Among the footmen on the front line were mounted figures. The riders were awesome sights, clad in black leather armor and equally dark cloaks. They should have seemed out of place among the rows of chain and plate armor, but something about their bearing commanded that they belong. Something about that air was oddly familiar.
The lead rider raised a sword and called for a charge. As one, the sea of soldiers moved forward. As they grew closer to where Jarod had stood so many years before, Zelda saw the lead rider's sword as it caught the sunlight. A joined Triforce emblem shone proudly above a hilt that was made for both single and double handed gripping. The riders were Knights of the Triforce!
As the images quickly passed by, Zelda tried to remember as many Knights as she could. Tears filled her eyes; she had to tell Link about this. She wished she had the power to show him the things she was seeing. Magic from Jarod swept through the ranks of the allied army. She saw two Knights catch the balls of energy with their swords...and then the memories changed.
She was now in a circular chamber. Tall pillars of fire providing heat and light were set several spaces apart around the room, and a group of Si'Ra stood around her. It was her turn to perform the sacrifice. Her breathing was quick, her heart pounded...she had never done it before. She raised the knife and stepped forward.
The sacrifice was laid out, eagle style, on the altar. Magic rippled over the unknown woman's bare skin. Zelda frowned and paused...of course the sacrifice would need magical aid, she remembered. No mortal lived within the walls of the Chamber of Tears without protection.
Smiling at her foolishness, Zelda gripped the knife with both hands and raised it above her head The woman on the altar twitched expectantly; it was, after all, a great honor to be chosen by the Si'Ra to take part in the remembrance ceremony.
Zelda's eyes locked on the woman's chest. The thought of the knife passing through the sacrifice's heart made her mouth water. With a scream of released emotion, she plunged the knife down and...the memories again shifted.
Loneliness slammed into her like a physical force. She was again in the Chamber of Tears, but the Si'Ra were absent. She was alone.
She clawed at the stone floor, desperate to get away… to be anywhere else but in the chamber where she and her brothers had spent so much time together.
Hopelessness. Terror. Confusion. She couldn't escape the emotions that pressed against her from every side. The war was over. Without her magic...without her brothers...she couldn't hope to lead her people to victory In one single instant, the driving force behind the war had been wiped from existence.
The Knights of the Triforce.
The words filled her entire being.
Confusion was replaced with hate so powerful it took her breath away. She wanted to cry at the injustice.
She killed clean...they had not...
Zelda gasped for breath as Jarod's hand left her face. She stumbled away from him, desperate for her bearings. She blinked and clung to the fact she was in the tower chamber of Hyrule Castle.
The magical knowledge had fled with Jarod's touch, but his memories had left behind a dim imprint. She tried to clarify memories that were both hers and his, but could not. She was both grateful and saddened by that.
Zelda looked over her shoulder. Jarod stood calmly in the center of the room with his robe pulled around him like a dark cloud.
"Well?" he asked softly. "Will you accept my offer of tutelage? The knowledge and more will be yours to keep. What you choose to do with it after your training is complete is entirely up to you. I will exert no control over you."
Zelda shook her head. "Never. Not even to destroy you."
Jarod was silent for a long moment before bowing deeply at the waist. "As you wish." Moving before she could react, he lashed out and sent a ripple of magic toward her.
The blast caught her in the chest and threw her across the room. She hit the back wall and sank to the ground with a moan of pain. Jarod took a threatening step forward and raised his hands. Black lightning crackled between his spread fingers.
Instinctively, Zelda brought her hands up in front of her face, her wrists crossed and her fingers cupped.
Jarod paused when he saw her pose. "A pity," he said, lowering his hands. "I do not think either of us shall ever know what you could have become." He gave a casual wave in her direction and invisible hands lifted her up.
Magic flowed around her and pinned her arms and legs. She was lifted off her feet and thrown against the wall. The magic tightened painfully around her. Zelda was bound firmly in place several feet off the ground.
Jarod turned his wrist slightly and pointed at her. Air pulled at her mouth and forced her lips apart. An invisible gag thrust past her teeth and down her throat. Her stomach balked, but the fear of choking on her own vomit held her last meal down.
" A memory I did not share with you," Jarod said, turning back to the altar, "was my acquisition of this." He gestured to the urn resting on the altar.
Zelda's eyes went wide when she saw that she had been mistaken earlier in thinking the movement on the urn was a trick of light. Tiny figures carved along the mouth of the jar twisted and turned in silent torment. They reached out with small hands as Jarod drew close.
"The Urn of Agony," he said, gazing down at the tiny figures. "An artifact nearly as old as I. Built by a necromancer too powerful for his own good." He brushed a finger over the small people; they threw their heads back in a silent howl when he touched them.
Zelda mumbled through her gag.
"It is a gateway, Princess." His fingers circled the lid. "A gateway to places the imagination of most cannot even begin to conceive of."
The moon had reached its maximum height A cone of moonlight shone down from the open apex, bathing the altar and urn in a halo of blue. Jarod spread his arms and threw his head back. He began chanting in a language that was foreign to her ears.
Zelda struggled against her bonds. His magic was too strong; she couldn't break free. She desperately searched her mind for an idea. She couldn't believe it was going to end like this—the Si'Ra were going to return. Calatia was going to attack Hyrule. There would be another war.
A hard rock settled in her stomach. Flashes of what Jarod had shown her of the last Si'Ra War bubbled up in her mind. It was going to happen again. No, she realized, one thing would be different: there would be no Knights of the Triforce to help the allies. There was no way Link was going to escape thirty fully restored Si'Ra. He was going to die this night, too.
The rock grew heavier.
"Nova'se Sha. Nova'se Sha. Nova'se Sha," Jarod intoned. Shadows began stirring in the chamber. Zelda watched, wide-eyed, as shadows cast by the flickering flames and moonlight began to swirl around the room like ingredients in soup being stirred.
Lightning, hot and white, lashed out from the urn and struck Jarod.
Lightning, cold and black, lashed out from Jarod and struck the urn.
Thunder without sound shook Hyrule Castle.
Shadows, alive with purpose, detached from the wall and wrapped around Jarod's arms. The one covering his left arm deepened in darkness, becoming a rival to the dark wizard's robe in its power to pull light from the room. The shadow over his right arm lightened in color. It became akin to the moonlight around it and appeared as a thin wisp of light.
Jarod smiled blissfully. "At last," he whispered, abandoning the Language of the Dead. He slowly brought his hands together over the urn—they were charged with power. Darkness touched Light. Death mixed with Life The figures on the urn clawed at each other, trying to get away from the creature of magic posed over their home.
Jarod ignored them and reached for the lid.
Zelda again fought the magic holding her before finally collapsing against the wall. She wanted to scream. Shout out against the injustice of it all. Hyrule's best hope of survival tied against the wall of her castle. Helpless while evil prepared to overtake the world.
A small part of her mind marveled at how simple Jarod had made it seem. He had dethroned her, was about to end an ages old curse, and he had done it all with the simple power of trickery. After seeing bits of his memory, she had a greater understanding of the level of magic he had once commanded, and he hadn't needed any of that magic. He had simply made everyone look at his left hand while he wove with the right. She was both appalled and amazed at that.
The holder of the Triforce of Wisdom beaten by a man's slight of hand.
Zelda's heart missed a beat. The Triforce! Maybe it wasn't too late. She closed her eyes and forced her thoughts to clear. Employing a great amount of will, she shoved away her fears and embraced the warm glow of the Triforce of Wisdom.
Within the warmth, her body relaxed. Magic that had once seemed tight left a small tingle over her skin as she slid through it.
Her boots touched something hard and her eyes opened. She was again in the doorway of the chamber—she had broken free of Jarod's magic.
The last Si'Ra in the land of the living stood with his hands on the lid of the Urn of Agony. Magic from the Triforce crackled around Zelda.
Time seemed to slow. Information flowed into her mind from Wisdom—Jarod could not be allowed to remove the cover of the urn. A bridge could then be created to the underworld. The Triforce knew the urn, she realized suddenly. The forces of Wisdom and Power had touched the man who had crafted it—the Triforce knew all that it could be used to do.
Zelda was only half-aware she had started to move. The Triforce whited out all but Jarod and the urn. Her hand pulled the Sheikah knife on her belt free. She was four paces from the Si'Ra...three...two...
She pivoted and buried the knife hilt-deep in Jarod's back. With a strangled cry, he collapsed. The lid of the Urn of Agony was still in place.
Time turned to normal speed, and the world slammed into Zelda She stared at Jarod on the floor, her mind only half comprehending what she had just done. Black blood glistened on her hand. Disgusted, she shoved the power of the Triforce way from her. Out of her.
Jarod laughed through his pain. "Perhaps I was wrong about your potential," he said.
Zelda stumbled back a step Wind began blowing through the chamber, Zelda's dress whipping around her legs with the force of the gale. Wisps of golden energy swirled around her feet. She could dimly feel the power of the Triforce she had discarded flow about the room.
"Foolish child," Jarod said, his voice going faint, "the patterns on the walls were drawn with Farore's Wand."
"What does that mean?" she asked.
Jarod just laughed in reply.
A sudden impact in the air around her took Zelda to her knees. Golden light appeared in the geometric designs that had been drawn on the floor and walls. Zelda blinked as the light grew in brightness.
Untamed magic howled about the chamber. Zelda reached out with the Triforce, trying to understand the magic, only to learn that the wild magic was from the Triforce. The magic that had driven her to strike Jarod bounced around the room. It hit the drawn patterns and doubled in strength. She tried to pull the magic back in, but each time it reflected off the walls it slipped further from her control.
"Vox," Jarod rasped, "I recall the bond. Know your mission and serve me well. Kill the Knight." His eyes fluttered closed.
With a hiss of escaping air, the lid covering the Urn of Agony flew off and clattered to the floor behind the altar.
Over the roar of wind, Zelda heard screams. Distant, bloodchilling screams. The urn shook violently. Fingers of pure black began oozing over the lip of the urn like a waking snake leaving its den.
Zelda felt gooseflesh run down her body. She had completed the prophecy. The ruler of Hyrule had called the Black Souls back to the world of the living. She had touched the underworld with her intent to kill.
Magic, no longer recognizable as being from the Triforce, wailed above her head. The backdraft of its passing pushed her to the ground. Zelda covered her head with her hands as she lay against the stone floor that now throbbed with warmth from the magic flowing through it. Her only thought was that she had surely brought about the end of the world.
Chapter Forty Three
"To the end, Knight." Vox brought his leg up and kicked Link away.
Link landed hard, taking the impact on his right hip. He rolled awkwardly, trying to put as much distance between him and Vox as possible.
The Si'Frant came to his feet with the reflexes of a cat. He took a half-step back, and then lunged forward, his halberd catching the moonlight as it came about.
Link held his arms in close as he rolled. He turned his head to the side just as hot metal hissed by his ear. Air swept over his shoulder and then pain hit. Blood, warm against his chilled bare skin, ran down his arm. He felt a flap of skin that had been shaved free of his shoulder blow away.
Gritting his teeth, Link reversed direction and kicked his legs wildly. Vox easily sidestepped the attack and hit Link's ankle with the blunt end of his halberd.
Link's leg snapped to the side and he was suddenly rolling toward his own leg. He caught himself with his hands, keeping his weight from falling against his leg and breaking it.
He settled on his back with a groan. His shoulder hurt, his hand hurt, and his ankle hurt. He wanted the fight to end.
Vox stood victoriously over the Knight, his halberd held ready to strike the killing blow.
"So, " Link said weakly, "do you yield?"
Vox smiled. He raised the halberd and...screamed in pain. He dropped to his knees and rolled onto his side. A dark bloodstain was quickly spreading across his back.
Link crawled away, thankful to be alive, but too stunned to question why.
Dark shapes began flowing from the Urn of Agony. They spiraled into the air and took the form of men. Consisting of little more than dark clouds, the shades began flying about the room. They were seemingly unbothered by the magic of the Triforce raging around them.
Zelda watched in amazement as more than thirty shadow men emerged from the urn and took to the air. They circled the chamber before coming to a rest around Jarod. They lovingly touched him with transparent hands. They stroked his face and back. Several touched the knife still sticking out of his body and turned to glare at Zelda.
Jarod stirred slightly underneath the touch of his brothers.
Zelda swallowed hard. He was still alive. Her thoughts raced with possibilities. Perhaps she could still stop the prophecy from reaching its conclusion. She didn't even know if her magic could even be used in such a manner, but had nothing else to cling to.
Rising to her hands and knees, and being careful to avoid swirls of wild magic, she crawled toward Jarod.
The shades of his brothers howled. They screeched with a noise that passed through her eardrums like a hot knife. The Si'Ra took to the air again—this time in protection of their fallen brother.
They shot forward and passed through Zelda. Their touch was like ice. Pain erupted where they touched her. Zelda yelled and tried to get away, but they were everywhere They grabbed at her, their hands passing through bone and skin, leaving icy pain behind.
Somehow finding a small hole in the cloud of shadows that encircled her, Zelda reached through and grabbed hold of Jarod's robe. Half pulling herself to him and half dragging him to her, Zelda made it through his covering of Si'Ra.
Ignoring the pain that seemed to run through her system like a second blood, Zelda called upon the Triforce of Wisdom. Its warmth spread through her body, accompanied by a welcomed, pain-numbing joy. She pulled as much of the power as she could hold and reached for Jarod's wound.
The knife came out with a sickening sucking sound. Blood ran freely. Cupping her hands around the wound, Zelda gathered the magic and forced it into Jarod.
His back arched and his mouth opened in silent scream. His eyes snapped open--the black pupils held a wild glare.
Zelda watch as the skin around Jarod's wound stretched itself and joined over the hole the knife had left. She felt his magic rise up in response to the touch of the Triforce.
Jarod's hand came up with frightening speed and gripped her throat. He rose to his knees, pulling her up with him. Pain and his will to overcome it filled his eyes. With surprising strength, he threw her away.
The shades of the Si'Ra surrounded Zelda as she flew back, locking her in an anguish-filled cocoon of darkness. She hit the ground hard, but didn't notice the impact around the icy pain of the Si'Ra. Zelda prayed for death to take her and end the suffering, but the only gods who seemed to hear her were dark shades from the underworld. And they were more than happy to comply.
Link rolled onto his side and put his boot against the stone floor. Chips of granite crunched underneath his heel. Fighting a wave of nausea, the Knight pushed upward and climbed to his feet.
He put his hand to his head and drew a deep breath. Behind him, Vox was beginning to stir.
"The Master Sword," Link muttered. He called the power. It hovered just out of reach, but it told him where it had landed landed after it had been ripped from his grasp. Swallowing a mouthful of bile, he stumbled across the roof to the sword.
The night was filled with the sound of stone chips being crunched underneath another pair of boots and the distinct noise of a curved blade scraping over granite. Vox's breathing grew heavy; he sounded like a bull readying to charge.
The Master Sword lay next to the ramparts at the far end of the roof. Link's gaze locked on his sword and he pushed himself to walk faster. The blade of legend looked unassuming and meek under the moonlight, its hilt resting an arm's length from the tall rampart. The sword was at an odd angle and the light caught only one of the joined Triforce on the pommel: the one representing Courage.
Link stumbled to his knees before the Blade of Evil's bane. He glanced over his shoulder at his foe. Vox raised his halberd to waist level and rushed forward, murder alive in his eyes.
The Knight's hand found his sword.
Power exploded in Link like a physical force. Pain vanished—the magic saw it as a burden and dismissed it. His senses came alive. The world rushed forward around him. The sound of Vox running was clamorous in his ears.
Responding to his need, the magic of the Master Sword bolted through the Knight's body. It came to a rest in his legs, strengthening them. Rising to a crouch, Link gathered the magic and jumped. Wind pulled at his clothes. He drew his legs up to his chin and leaned back into the leap.
He felt more than heard Vox pass by underneath him. He straightened his legs as he began to descend and dropped down several paces away from where the sword had lain.
Vox whipped around, his halberd gripped tightly.
Link forced the power down, wrestling control away from it. He would be its governor—not it his. If he were to die, he would do it whole. The gazes of the last Knight of the Triforce and Si'Frant met.
"How does it feel to be alone, Vox?" Link asked softly.
Vox drew a shaky breath and did not answer.
"You have been released," Link said, trying not to think about the bloodstain on his foe's back...or what that meant for Zelda. "You do not have to follow his orders anymore."
"One last command," Vox said, his voice little more than a rasp. The halberd began spinning, its tip slicing through the air.
Link backpedaled. His mind raced. What was he missing? Surely other Knights had fought the Si'Frant during the war—what was different? What had they known that he did not?
Deciding that question had too many answers to list in the short time he had left, Link glanced upward. And then understood. Under the brightest moon of the month, on the longest night of the year, only one star was visible: the alpha star in the Knight's Price.
Goddesses take him, he understood. Wisdom to try and end the fight with reason, Power to try and best it, and Courage to end it with the gift of the Knights.
Turning his back on Vox, the last Knight strolled confidently across the rooftop He jumped again and landed on a rampart. The defensive construction offered little room for movement, being only large enough for one full step to either side and three brisk strides forward or back. The roof waited to one side and a plunge several stories straight down waited on the other.
Link assumed a defensive posture and regarded the Si'Frant. "If you want me, Vox, you will have to come and get me."
Vox cautiously walked to the edge of the roof, giving Link a wide berth. He climbed up on the rampart next to Link's. He took a long step toward his platform's end and thrust the point of his halberd toward the Knight.
Link reacted quickly. He jumped and back flipped to the rampart behind him, avoiding the weapon's point easily.
"No, Vox," he said. "To take me, you will have to come and get me."
The Si'Frant narrowed his eyes and jumped to the rampart in front of him. He rebounded and leaped to the Knight's rampart.
"Please forgive me, Zelda," Link breathed, and then, with finality, called forth the sword's power.
"Kill her," Jarod said from across the chamber. "I'll finish the spell while there is still moonlight left. Don't let her interfere."
Zelda writhed on the floor, alone with the pain. Shades of the underworld cut angrily through the air around her, their touch leaving a cold ache in her bones. She felt a brush of air over her arm and flinched in anticipation of pain.
She clawed at the grooves carved into the floor, trying to get away. Desperate, she reached for the Triforce of Wisdom, but she couldn't focus the magic. She shouted out spells she didn't understand—the knowledge came straight from the Triforce. Barriers snapped into place around her, but the Si'Ra passed through them as though they were not even there. The shields shattered and their magic fled from Zelda's grasp to join the storm flowing around the room. The magic from the Triforce touched the patterns on the walls and rebounded back into the chamber, doubled in strength. The magic grew to a fevered pitch.
Zelda felt something other than the touch of the Si'Ra pass over her neck. "Link?" she asked worriedly.
And then the world went white.
Chapter Forty Four
Flowing smoothly from one form to the next, Link attacked. Vox brought his halberd around and blocked each swing.
The Knight calmly held the power of his blade. It thundered in his veins, but not in his mind—his thoughts were clear.
Link tracked the curved blade of the halberd with his sword. A glint of humor flashed in Vox's eyes. The blunt end of halberd came up, aiming at Link's midsection.
Switching his stance at the last second, Link sidestepped the metal point and lashed out with a kick. His blow caught the Si'Frant in the stomach and Vox stumbled back. Link pressed the attack.
Humor now gone from his eyes, Vox leaped backward to another rampart. Link pursued him.
Sparks flew from their weapons as they crossed. "You were wrong before, Vox," Link said. "The Si'Frant do fear something: death."
"I do not fear death," Vox quickly snapped back. He brought the halberd around and slashed wildly at Link. The Master Sword came up in a blink and caught the swing.
"No, you don't, but you do fear the penalty of death," Link said, jumping away from the blunt ended counterattack. "And in that lies your weakness."
Recovering from his missed attack, Vox spun, his halberd coming around in another arc.
Link caught the haft with the Master Sword and knocked away the planned strike. The magic pounded relentlessly in his veins. With the grace of a dancer, the Knight whirled on one leg, oblivious to the sheer drop next to him, and kicked at Vox.
The Si'Frant dodged the blow and quickly raised the halberd to block Link's follow-through with the sword. The Master Sword struck the haft squarely between Vox's hands. Link pushed against the weapon, knocking the smaller man onto his back. Vox rolled away, leaving the rampart and landing on the roof.
Link swung wildly, but his sword only bit into the stone Vox had just left. Link took a large step forward and stabbed the sword down. In a flash of gray, the Si'Frant jumped out of the way and landed on the rampart behind him.
With a rush of magic, Link lunged forward. The Master Sword came around in an arc. Vox awkwardly caught the strike aimed at his legs and retreated. Link pursued as closely as the twirling halberd would allow him.
"How did the brave Knight miss it?" Vox asked, appearing for the first time since the conflict began to be truly winded. "How did six people die under your watch?"
Blade met halberd and Vox was pushed further back. Link pulled more power from the sword, but did not focus it at Vox. It swirled in his chest, demanding to be set free.
"Do you have any idea how long my Master and I lay in wait while you were completely unaware of us?" Vox taunted. "Six people depended on you for their safety and you let them down. They died easily because there was no one to protect them from the likes of me."
Link refused to give into the taunting. He spun and struck again. He did not alter the strength of his blows; he used only enough energy to push Vox where he needed him.
The Si'Frant's voice grew louder and more frantic as the sword cut through his outer ring of defense. He began shouting out details of the murders. He told Link how he had avoided him that night on the rooftop of the inn. How Alanna's flesh had quivered when he touched her with the point of his knife.
The magic raged within the Knight, but he held it back. It thundered in his ears, blocking out Vox's voice. Link dodged a counterstroke and jumped after Vox. They were nearly to the end of the front wall—the battle would soon be over.
The watchmen hadn't believed what they had seen. It had seemed impossible, but there they were: two people locked in combat high above the grounds of Hyrule Castle.
Groups of men were organized to go to the roof, but those orders were quickly canceled when the soldiers saw that one of the combatants was Link, last Knight of the Triforce. All the men of the Palace Guard had seen what he could do in the grips of the power of his birthright, and no one wanted to be on the wrong end of the Master Sword.
As the soldiers watched the spectacle before them, they began to note something- something very surprising to them. Link wasn't winning. The servant of Ambassador Jarod was giving the Knight a challenge. He was somehow keeping the blade from passing through his weapon.
When the Master Sword was knocked from its master's hands, bets were laid down on which direction Link's head would fall. Those odds were replaced by 'roof' or 'ground' bets when the fight moved to the ramparts.
Servants filed out of the kitchen when the news reached them. Coin purses were opened and more rupees were added to the growing pool. People gasped when Vox disappeared from view, but a cheer went up when he flipped back onto the ramparts.
Fieldglasses were passed down the ranks of palace guards and commoners. People marveled at the moves of the two fighters. The evening had suddenly grown very interesting for nearly everyone in Hyrule Castle.
And then another sound could be heard over the clashing of metal: one of the combatants was speaking. A hush fell over the crowd. Analysis of the defensive and attacking forms used were abruptly stopped.
It was a quiet, cold night. Sound traveled far over the brisk air. A man's shouting echoed across the grounds of the palace. A confession of fearful crimes brushed the ears of the people and continued on.
Mouths fell open and brows turned downward in scowls. Had the crowd not been muted by their wish to hear better, they would have been silenced by the wave of shock that hit everyone at once.
And then, slowly, one by one, people began to cry. As though a spell had been cast over the whole lot of them, men and women wept together. As a group, the people of Hyrule were confused, and yet they understood completely. Their minds refused to believe what they were hearing, but their hearts knew.
Some ran back into the palace, but no one could escape it. The tears had started to flow and could not be stopped. Truth would have its due. A dam had been breached and the water ran freely.
A spell had not been cast, but one had been broken.
Unabashedly, men and women wept. They wept for those who would die if the last Knight of the Triforce lost his battle.
They wept for those who would die under tyranny.
Another rampart closer to the side wall.
The magic of the sword pounded within Link. He held more than he ever remembered holding before and continued to pull more.
Vox's halberd spun faster than an unaided eye could perceive. Up, block. Down, counterstroke. Side, block. Twist, thrust forward, and jump back.
Link turned with his dance partner. The Master Sword was a blur at the base of his vision—it knew where he needed it to be. It knew what its master required of it. He moved in close and forced Vox back once more. The curved blade of the halberd whistled past the Knight's ear, but he didn't pay it any mind.
He was beyond acceptance. In between the clashing of weapons, he had floated into a realm of peaceful calm. A small corner of his mind hoped Zelda would be all right without him. He wondered what would become of the magic that was his inheritance, for there were no other Knights left.
It seemed as though that should have saddened him. A wise woman had once told him that Hyrule could not survive without the Knights, but he no longer believed that. He now knew that the only true magic the Knights possessed was an understanding of doing what was required when it was needed.
And that could never die.
Ignorance and selfishness from time to time might overshadow that understanding, but it could never be lost. There would always be a man or a woman who would rise to face whatever challenges the world was suffering from, and he or she would understand. The title of the Knights might die with him, but the magic would seek out another when it was required.
With that thought, Link found peace.
Lost within the struggle, Vox jumped back to the final rampart on the front wall. He gave a warrior's glance to the side and seemingly made a mental note to jump next to the side rather than the back. The long fall to the ground below waited behind him.
Link ducked underneath the partially unfurled wing of the gargoyle guarding its end of the castle and stuck at Vox's left side. The halberd swung and blocked the attack. Vox shifted slightly to his right, putting a little distance between himself and the Master Sword.
Link let the spear slide off of his blade and feinted a swing at Vox's leg. He reversed his swing and feinted left, then right.
The halberd sliced through the air as it moved into position to block each blow The muscles underneath Vox's tunic flexed; he was preparing to jump again.
Link drew a deep breath and released it slowly. It was time. The magic ached to be set free. The Knight swung another feint and then lowered his guard. Not by much, just a slight twist in one direction when he should have gone in the other. Not by much, but enough for someone trained as Vox to see.
The Si'Frant's eyes locked hungrily on the slip. He abandoned his plan to jump and inched back. The halberd swung about with a sharp whistle, aiming at Link's neck.
With the ease of exhaling, and with the force of an avalanche, the Knight of the Triforce released the power. Free and alive with its master's need, the magic seared through Link's being. Everything save for Vox, his halberd, and the Master Sword faded into shadow. The world slowed and time was his.
Link dropped to one knee. Wind rushed past him as though he were moving supernaturally fast. With agonizing slowness, the halberd came around, its curved blade flashing in the bright moonlight. He gripped the Master Sword in a tight, two-handed grip. The bottom of the hilt scraped across the stone rampart.
The halberd's blade passed the grinning face of the gargoyle. A hunter's joy lit Vox's face.
Link's reflection in the polished Master Sword looked back at him. The magic funneled downward, providing extra strength as he began pushing up. Leading with the point of the sword, the Knight launched forward.
Link slammed into Vox, his weight lifting the smaller man into the air. The Master Sword slid into the Si'Frant's gut as if he were a phantasm. Vox's eyes bulged.
The Knight's boots left the rampart as he rode out the force of the jump. He and Vox tumbled toward the edge of the roof and to the waiting ground below.
Link thought of Zelda again, of her living without him, and then prepared himself for the long fall down. But he was not prepared for the wall of pain that smashed into his shoulder.
The magic fled and the world returned to normal speed with a cruel quickness. Link gasped helplessly, his graceful leap suddenly thrown askew. Something hard hit his chest and he sank to his knees, still on the rampart.
His mind struggled to make sense of what was happening. The gargoyle. Had pain not been radiating from his shoulder, he would have laughed. The graceful Knight of the Triforce had jumped into the wing of the gargoyle.
He wrapped his sore arm around the base of the gargoyle as a weight pulled at the sword still gripped tightly in his hand. Link glanced up.
Vox hung over the side of the castle, his legs dangling lifelessly over the drop Only the Master Sword, impaled through his chest and emerging out of his back, kept him from falling. The halberd fell from his fingers.
Vox began to slide backward on the blood-slick blade. Employing great will, he reached out and gripped the tip of the gargoyle's wing. His knuckles were white as he clung to the stone protector. "To the end, Knight," he rasped, blood trickling around his jagged teeth and down his chin.
His shaking fingers found the hilt of his spade shaped knife.
Link struggled to push the sword down enough for Vox's grip to break, but didn't have the strength. His muscles cried out in protest of having just moved much faster than their creator had intended. He tried to call the magic to deaden the ache, but could not focus the power.
The knife came free of its sheath. With a victorious grin, Vox prepared to bring his arm up in an arc.
A loud snap filled the cold night. As one, Link and Vox looked to the source of the noise. The tip of the gargoyle's wing had broken off in Vox's hand. The Si'Frant stared with an expression of pure amazement at the small chunk of stone still gripped tightly in his hand
He was still staring at the wingtip when Link's wrist slammed into the rampart.
Vox looked back at Link and then disappeared over the side of the castle. He fell silently to the ground; only a dull thud marked the end of his journey.
Link collapsed against the gargoyle, exhausted and spent. The Master Sword fell from his hand and hit the roof with a clatter.
"Not everyone, Vox," he said, his eyelids closing. "Not everyone."
Chapter Forty Five
The world went white with an explosion of magic.
The shades of the Si'Ra threw their heads back and screamed. Whether it was out of pain or protest, Zelda did not know.
Hand over hand, she pulled herself away from the collection of Si'Ra and to the entranceway. The floor trembled underneath her hands. She blinked away spots after more magic erupted in front of her.
The shapes carved into the floor and walls glowed with pent-up power. It was as though the entire chamber had become a lightning rod in the middle of a storm. Magic from the Triforce swirled above her head.
Another flash of white lit the room, this one brighter and longer than the first. Zelda squinted and continued crawling.
The chamber was suddenly filled with a groan that came from the foundation itself. A cracking sound reverberated through the room and through Zelda's very being.
"Oh no," she breathed.
Thunder without sound rocked the room. Wind pushed upward from the floor, threatening to lift Zelda into the air. The Si'Ra shrieked. Jarod, standing behind the altar, covered his head with his arms and collapsed to the ground. Stones ripped themselves from the walls and began circling around the room. As they moved, the stones began to bend and warp as though being shaped by a great heat.
Long cracks running from the floor to the ceiling appeared on the walls of the entranceway. Golden light pushed outward from those cracks. Zelda turned away and began crawling away from the entrance and back toward Jarod.
Link opened his eyes in time to see the tower chamber fold inward like ill-made bread dough. Granite fixtures and support beams appeared briefly around whips of magic that quickly moved to take the place of stone walls. He heard people on the ground below scream and clamor at the suddenness of it.
Billows of golden power swirled around the husk of the tower room like some sort of distorted version of fire smoke. Clouds formed from nothingness above what was left of the tall chamber and pushed upward, becoming a rotating funnel of darkness. Moonlight shone down the center of the spinning funnel. Lightning struck into the chamber from the walls of the stationary tornado.
"Zelda." He crawled around the gargoyle and dropped to the roof. "I'm coming, Zelda. Just hang on a little longer."
Link reached from the Master Sword. Stabbing its point into the stone floor, he used it to climb unsteadily to his feet. Leaning heavily on the sword, he used it like a walking stick to make it back to the trapdoor.
His stomach balked at the thought of drawing more magic from the sword, but he knew that he could never make it through the castle without it. The battle with Vox had taken too much out of him. Every cell in his body screamed for rest.
Stumbling down the wooden steps, Link pulled just enough magic to keep his legs from buckling underneath his weight.
He made it to the doorway leading to the long hall where he had started his confrontation with Vox and stopped cold. Glenn Tarmag and two palace guards stood in the center of the room. Their swords were drawn.
The Knight's weariness vanished in a rush of hot rage. Magic rose to do its master's bidding. The distance between him and Tarmag passed by out of the corner of his eye.
The two soldiers standing in front of him raised their swords instinctively. Link wasn't interested in them—they were just in the way of his target. The tip of the Master Sword came up and sliced through the metal of the palace swords without slowing. The sword fragments tumbled away, catching the moonlight shining in from the high windows as they fell.
Link pushed past the two guards, knocking one down and shoving the other aside before they could react. The Knight's gaze never left the bearded captain of guards.
The Master Sword caught the hilt of Glenn's sword and, with a flick of the Knight's wrist, knocked it away. Link hit Tarmag at full speed, forcing him back against the wall. Link twisted the sword and gripped the flat end of the blade with one hand, holding the hilt with the other. He touched the edge to Glenn's neck.
"Give me one reason I shouldn't kill you," Link whispered, his hot breath disturbing the hairs of Glenn's beard.
Tarmag could not answer if he wanted to; the edge of the Master Sword was so close to his neck that if he dared to even swallow he ran the risk of cutting his own throat. He held himself perfectly still and leaned back against the wall. His arms were free to move, but he knew they would do no good against someone in the grip of the Master Sword's power. His life was now the Knight's. No one had the power to stop Link if he chose to press the edge just a little closer.
"Sir!" one of the two guards shouted. "No, Sir Link! We have come to help you. Please don't kill him!"
Link's cold gaze didn't waver from Glenn. "Why?" he demanded. "You overthrew Zelda and placed a sentence of death on her head. Why would you suddenly wish to help me?"
"We realized how wrong we were," the same guard said. "We heard what the servant of Ambassador was saying to you and realized that we should have never sided with him."
Glenn blinked as a drop of sweat ran into his eye.
"Please, sir, we are telling the truth," the second guard said. "It was General Tarmag's idea to come up here."
"Why were your swords drawn?" The magic was starting to weaken in Link; he didn't know how much longer he could stand unaided.
"Some who did not hear the words of truth are fighting us," the first guard said. "But we outnumber them and are fighting for Princess Zelda now."
A moment of silence stretched between the three men. Link nodded slightly and removed the sword. "There's been enough killing tonight," he said. "It's good to have you back on my side, Glenn."
Tarmag took a shaking breath and rubbed his throat. "It's good to be back there," he said with a smile.
Link's legs gave out and he stumbled. The two guards appeared quickly behind him and gave him support, keeping him upright.
"Are ya all right?" Glenn asked.
Link managed a nod. "I'm fine. I just need to get to the tower room."
"We'll get ya there, Link. Our side controls most of the castle, but I want to be ready in case o' trouble." Tarmag reached for his sword on the floor.
Link shook his head. "No, Glenn. I said there's been enough killing and I meant it. If there are still people against Zelda, then so be it. I'm not going to let them be killed just because they sided against her. If I do that, then I am all they believe me to be.
"Give them a message, Glenn. Give it to your men to spread. Tell those who do not stand with us that they will be allowed the hour to pack their things and leave the castle. No pursuit shall be given and they will not be charged with treason if they leave within the hour."
Tarmag raised a brow. "And if they refuse?"
"If they refuse"—Link hardened his tone—"tell them that they will be trotting down a path that leads to Princess Zelda's chief lackey. And he does not give mercy twice. You tell them that and they will take the offer."
With the strong arms of two palace guards lending support and keeping him upright, Link limped into the silo-like room leading to the tower chamber. The Master Sword's baldric was fitted over his sleeveless undertunic. The sheathed blade bounced with each step.
"Goddesses save us," one of the guards breathed.
His head tilted back, glancing up the long stairwell, Link had to agree with that prayer. A maelstrom of pure, unfocused magic swirled angrily above them. Clouds swirled around the top of the chamber and swept into the center of the room in violent currents.
"Help me to the upper landing and then get out of here as fast as you can," Link said to his escorts.
Awed by the sights above them, the guards could only nod in reply. They started for the stairs.
As he climbed to the third step, Link heard the guards give a grunt behind him. He turned and saw them standing on the first step; their hands were splayed out before them as though they were being pressed against a hard surface.
"There's something here, sir," one of them replied. "We can't get through."
Link climbed back down to the first step without encountering anything. Incredulous, the guards pounded their fists against the wall only they could feel. Link could hear a dull echo each time their hands made contact.
"It's all right," he said, stopping them. "I believe you. Go find Glenn and tell him I had to continue alone. Have him clear this end of the castle and stand ready for the worst. If all goes well, Zelda and I should come down with a prisoner, but nothing has been going well lately.
"If I'm not down by sunrise, Glenn is to contact the ambassador from Calatia. Messengers are to be sent out immediately. Queen Seline has orders from me and will know all that needs to be done."
The two guards looked at each other, then nodded. "Yes, sir," they said in unison
"Good. Go." Link turned back to the stairs and began climbing. He gripped the wall for support. As he grew closer to the magic that was raging out of control, he had the uneasy sensation that he was walking into a thunderstorm.
Magic struck the areas around him like lashes from a whip. Shielding his eyes with one hand, Link pulled the Master Sword. Bolts of lightning-like magic shrieked toward him. Stepping smoothly to the side, he brought the blade up and caught the fulgurations. Fingers of magic crackled around the sword.
A ball of energy erupted from the rolling sheets of magic. Link swung his sword in a wide arc above his head, deflecting the ball of energy away. It hit one of the few patches of bare stone left and was quickly absorbed.
The stone rippled like liquid and began bubbling outward. Link watched, wide-eyed, as the hard stone pushed out like a grotesque boil on the wall. When it was slightly bigger than his head was around, it stopped expanding.
More lightning rained down. Link spun and deflected each bolt. The magic of the sword gave him the strength to move, and the thought of Zelda in the heart of the storm gave him the drive to pull magic from the blade.
The Master Sword was somehow attracting the sheets of lightning, he realized. But he did not dare release the sword—it was his only defense against the wild magic.
The storm of magic began swirling faster and the bolts came down with a more precise accuracy. With no other choice, Link retreated. He descended the stairs backward, keeping the Master Sword between him and the bolts of lightning.
Link reached the lower landing and the storm let up. He stood, staring up at the swirling blockade, the Blade of Evil's Bane gripped tightly in his hands.
"Zelda!" he screamed. His voice echoed up and down the tall room. The magic answered with a howl.
Link ran his fingers back through his hair as he thought. The only magic that he had access to was from the Master Sword and that wasn't going to help. He wished he could touch the Triforce like Zelda did. By the golden color of the storm, he guessed the magic to be from the Triforce of Wisdom. If he could touch Courage, he knew, could make it through the storm, but his piece of the Triforce didn't work that way. At least, he didn't think it did.
Zelda was much more attuned to magic than he was and would know how to reach it if it was possible.
Link took a deep breath and organized his thoughts. How did she touch her Triforce piece? He had seen her do it hundreds of times, but couldn't think of the whole process. He closed his eyes and worked to calm his rapidly beating heart.
His eyes snapped open. That was how she did it! She went calm and let the power flow.
Link's elation quickly ended with the realization that it wouldn't be that simple for him. Courage was different from Wisdom. They were two sides of the same power, but miles apart in philosophies.
If Wisdom was expressed through calm and rational thinking, how would Courage present itself?
With a smile, Link understood. He hefted the Master Sword and turned it so that the blade pointed straight down. He went to one knee before the sword and rested his head on the hilt—a soldier's salute.
He called the power of the blade. It rushed into him, filling him, seeking a goal. Link embraced the familiar magic. Instead of it drawing purpose from his need, he reversed it and drew from its need. He reached into the very heart of the Master Sword and found what he sought.
He was dimly aware of a blue glow surrounding him. Though his head was bowed, and he was lost within the magic of the sword, he could feel it around him. It swirled in a mist around his body.
As he continued to draw from the center of the blade's power, Link filled his mind with one image: Zelda. And the Triforce of Courage understood.
Zelda prayed it would be over quickly.
Around her the tower chamber was destroying itself; stones, warped into unrecognizable shapes from the sheer power of the Triforce's power, flew about the room in a whirlwind. A chip of mortar hit her shoulder and her arm buckled under her weight. She rolled onto her side and covered her head with her hands.
She had lost sight of Jarod. She could only assume he was still alive and somewhere near the altar.
Zelda hoped the destruction of the chamber would be enough to stop Jarod.
'Was this what the prophecy meant about my being needed?' she wondered. Had she been meant to return only to sacrifice her own life?
If that what was needed to stop the Si'Ra, she realized, it was a worthy sacrifice. The Si'Ra would kill a great many if they were allowed to return, and it was better for one to take the place of all those lives. She hoped her life would be enough to stop the Si'Ra.
As Zelda began contemplating whether there would be a refuge from the dead Si'Ra in the underworld, she felt a touch. At first she thought the shades had returned to induce more pain, but soon realized this touch was something different.
Zelda raised her head slightly and looked down. A blue mist was wrapping around her. It started at her legs and quickly spiraled up her body.
She looked about the room, trying to figure out where the mist was coming from, but could not find the source. It did not touch or come from the stewing storm of magic. It touched only her.
It was warm and felt like silk over her skin. The dull ache that had been left behind by the touch of the Si'Ra shades vanished underneath its caress.
The mist enveloped her face and Zelda instinctively drew a deep breath. It tasted sweet; it was as if honey had been dropped on her tongue.
"Link," she said with a smile. She could feel him in the mist. It was from him. It was the Triforce of Courage.
She reached out with her mind and brushed his thoughts. Words could not possibly travel the distance between them, but intent rang loud and clear. Through the connection, he told her of Vox's death. There was only one challenge left. Through the connection, she asked how she was to confront Jarod's power.
And the answer found both Knight and Princess at the same time: Power may stand alone, but Wisdom and Courage must not.
Simple words, but possessing a depth that ran to the very heart of the prophecy.
Zelda touched Link one last time, felt him touch back, and then climbed to her feet. She was expecting pain, but there was none. The mist rippled over her body, providing support. The Si'Ra twisted angrily around her, but could not reach her.
Wisdom and Courage stood together in the face of Power. The two were equals in more ways than one.
Moving solely from instinct, yet feeling like she had trained her entire life for what she was about to do, Zelda arched her back and threw her arms wide. She closed her eyes and recalled the magic she had released.
It slammed into her, forcing her back a step. Heedless of the ultimate price, Zelda continued to pull at the Triforce's magic around her. Bolts of pure magic struck her. She dismissed the pain and drew strength from them.
The shades of the Si'Ra took to the air with a cry. They charged at her, devilish gleams in their milky eyes.
Barriers of life magic—devoid of dark magic—snapped into place around her. Zelda was not consciously aware of casting the complex spells needed for those barriers, but knew they had come from the Triforce.
The shades hit the shields and rebounded with shouts of pain. The reached through the barriers, trying to grab her, the power of life crackling around their hands, but could not. They howled in fury.
The power of the two sides of the Triforce pounded underneath Zelda's skin. As the storm began to clear, she could see the altar again. Jarod was nowhere to be found. Perched on the center of the chantry was the Urn of Agony, its lid discarded and its mouth opened to infinite darkness.
Knowledge from the Triforce flowed into Zelda. Through the rising crests of information, she caught glimpses of what the urn could do. It was more than just a gateway into the underworld...much more. With it the shape of death itself could be transformed. Jarod had not been idly boasting when he said that most minds could not handle the concept of all that the urn could do. Just the thought that he could understand most of what she was now seeing sent Zelda's stomach into knots.
Charged with magic, she tightened her hands into fists and slowly brought them together in front of her. Her gaze locked on the Urn of Agony.
Golden magic from the Triforce of Wisdom erupted from her right fist.
Blue magic from the Triforce of Courage erupted from her left fist.
The two powers coiled around each other as they shot across the chamber. The blast of magic hit the urn just below its open mouth. The urn shook violently and slowly began to melt. Long droplets of gold ran down the face of the artifact. The tiny figures threw their heads back in silent agony. They clawed at each drop of gold that dripped from their parapet.
Like ill-made pottery in a kiln, the urn began waxing from side to side. Its foundation no longer stable, it collapsed in on itself.
Zelda saw her hands turn so the palms faced upward. Still surrounded by the glowing power of Triforce, she raised her hands slightly.
The remains of the Urn of Agony rose into the air and hovered above the altar. The melted gold shifted again and began rotating.
Faster and faster the artifact spun until it was a blur in the bright moonlight.
Zelda heard her voice speaking in a language she did not recognize. It was the same language Jarod had used earlier.
The spinning gold speared backward and through reality itself. A rip appeared in the air where the urn had struck. It quickly expanded into a perfect circle, overtaking and swallowing the remains of the urn. Beyond the portal was a long, dark hall. Lit torches were set in brackets along irregular stones, but they were fighting a losing battle against the darkness that surrounded them. Zelda knew without doubt that she was looking at the realm of the dead: the underworld.
The shades of Jarod's brothers wailed in outrage. They scrambled to escape the tower room but quickly found their unbroken connection to the underworld was holding them in place. Somewhere within the shadows of the chamber behind her, Jarod began chanting.
Gathering all the magic that was left from the storm, and exhausting all that Link had offered, Zelda pointed to the portal and said, "Chymer 'u bacia!" Take them back!
A wall of wind slammed into her from behind, knocking her to the floor. She felt the magic from the Triforce rush away from her to strengthen the portal. Zelda slid uncontrollably across the floor of the chamber.
She reached out as she slid and grabbed one of the grooves Jarod had cut into the stone. The incision was just deep enough for her fingers to sink into and wide enough for both her hands to grip the edge. Her knuckles white with effort, Zelda turned her head away from the rush of wind and prepared to ride out the storm.
Screaming, the shades of the Si'Ra took to the air—but this time the flight was not of their power. The wind lifted them and herded them toward the portal.
Their arms and legs swinging fruitlessly, the Si'Ra were pulled into the underworld in a surge of dark robes.
Zelda shifted her grip on the groove—it would be over soon, she told herself.
A dark figure flashed by out of her peripheral vision and she felt something grab onto her leg. The sudden added weight nearly ripped her hands from the incision, but her left boot against the stone floor gave her the needed traction to fight the gales.
Zelda glanced down and saw Jarod gripping her right leg with both hands. Icy fury burned in his eyes. His lips held a slight smile as he embraced the only option left to him: revenge against the one who destroyed his family.
She shook her leg, trying to knock him off, but his grip was like a vise. Wind battered her from all sides. Her hair whipped around, covering her face and sticking to the corners of her mouth.
"For every power there is a price, Princess Zelda," Jarod shouted over the roar of the wind. "That is my first lesson as your teacher." The hood of his robe blew back, framing his face like a black halo. "It seems the price for all this is eternity at the hands of the Si'Ra."
Zelda's arms were beginning to ache. She wondered if she could somehow close the portal before she was pulled in. She could still feel the warm glow of the Triforce of Wisdom within her. She reached for Link, but could no longer find the connection to the Triforce of Courage. She was on her own.
She glanced down at Jarod again. If she closed the portal, he would still be free. She looked into those dark eyes and saw commitment. She would be safe, but the world would not – he would do all of this again if given the chance. He would wait for old age to claim her, her children, and even her grandchildren if he had to.
This wizard had lived thousands of years and would likely live thousands more. He had been allowed to stay in the land of the living with the hope he would repent for his crimes, but he had not. He never would. His crimes had been committed in the name of family and he would never give up on his family.
Under another set of circumstances, Zelda might have admired him for that.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You're right, Jarod," she said, loud enough for him to hear. "For every power there is a price." She released her hold on the cut in the floor.
The wind took her and she raced forward at blinding speed. She only had time to open her arms in acceptance of her decision. The underworld beckoned. She welcomed her new life.
She saw Jarod pass the boundary of the portal--she was only a second behind him. And then darkness swallowed everything.
Chapter Forty Six
"…Zelda? Zelda, can you hear me?"
She slowly felt awareness return to her body. She left the comforting netherworld of dreamless sleep and returned to the place she'd been before.
A drowsy confusion lay over her mind like fog She wondered why she should leave this wonderful world of unknowingness, but the voice in her ear was persistent. It pulled her in like a fisherman would his catch of the day.
She tried to fight it, but the voice filled her mind. It was her lifeline back.
Life. Jarod. The underworld.
Everything came rushing back in a tidal wave of memories.
Zelda's eyes snapped open. She half expected to see the raging inferno of brimstone and fire all the storybooks said the underworld looked like, but she didn't see that. She saw a face: Link's face.
Link was in the underworld?
No, and neither was she; she was still in Hyrule Castle. Zelda felt like laughing with glee. She had never been so happy to be alive. Then she noticed that Link's eyes were wet.
"Oh, Zelda." He pulled her into a tight embrace that nearly forced the air from her lungs. Grateful for living contact, she hugged him back just as tightly.
"I thought you were dead," he muttered into her hair. " Gods take me, I thought you were dead."
"I thought I was, too," she whispered.
Around them was the shell of what had once been the tower room. The walls were gone, save for a single pillar that sat where the left wall had once been. The entranceway had collapsed, but its stones had been thrown aside, forming a hole big enough for a person to crawl through – Link's handiwork, no doubt. The ceiling had been reduced to a lone beam of darkened wood that traveled from the surviving pillar to where another support pillar had once stood. Only prayer and luck kept the beam from tumbling to the ground below. The sky was dark above them; high clouds had blocked the moon out. When the strings of magic had been cut, the whirling tower of clouds had broken apart and spread across the sky.
Something wet hit Zelda's shoulder. At first she thought it was a tear from Link, but then she felt another on her other shoulder. And then another hit and another still.
Around them, the sounds of wet droplets hitting stone rang out. Rain. Glorious rain was falling on the parched land of Hyrule.
Link pulled back and cupped her chin with his hands.
Zelda smiled. "It's raining, Link," she said.
His gaze never left hers. "I know," he said, and then he kissed her. A long, deep kiss.
The Princess of Hyrule and the last Knight of the Triforce sat on the floor of the wrecked tower room, lost in each other while rain fell around them.
"Rain!" Pulling Impa out from underneath the sheltering branches of a willow tree, Duncan spun her around in a merry jig. "It's raining, old woman!" he shouted.
"I can feel that," Impa said, her hair already slick against her scalp.
"You don't understand," he said. "It's gone. The heaviness over everything is gone. Whatever that blasted Si'Ra had done to Hyrule is gone."
Impa stopped following him as he spun, but kept her hands on his arms so she could pull him to a halt as well. "What about Zelda and Link? Are they—"
"The Princess is beyond my reach," he cut her off, "but Link is still alive and very happy. I hold no doubt Zelda still lives. They have chosen wisely."
Impa slumped against him as though a great weight had been removed from her shoulders. "Thank the Light. Thank the Merciful Light..." she trailed off as a new worry entered her mind. "But what path did they choose? They didn't know...Light, Duncan, what if they chose the wrong one?"
Duncan shook his head and adopted a soft tone in place of his normally gruff voice. "They have chosen wisely, Impa. I have complete faith in their abilities and so should you. The prophecies speak of them—probably to an even greater length than any of us first realized now that this thread has reached its end.
They are two who fought a Si'Ra and won! I do not believe they would have chosen a path that leads to the particular future you worry about—even unintentionally. They are rare and you and I should feel ourselves lucky to be with them at this point in history."
Impa smiled and glanced down before looking back to his hidden gaze. "Thank you, Duncan. You are right about all of it."
She glanced over her shoulder at the two horses still sheltered underneath the thick branches of the ancient willow tree. The horse they had purchased from Payton stood there with Epona, who had found them on their fifth day out and continued to follow them like a lost dog looking for its master.
"We should start back," she said. " The sooner we return to Hyrule, the sooner I can start going over those scrolls of yours. We have so much prophecy to study, I doubt either of us will be getting much sleep this next year."
Duncan was silent for a long moment.
Impa turned away from the horses and said his name; worry and question shading her voice.
"We cannot return yet," he said at last. "We are closer to the Chamber of Tears than you might think, and I doubt we could make it back before the first snow fall."
"I'm not afraid to travel in winter," Impa said defiantly. "And now, more than ever, Zelda and Link need our counsel and educated guidance. I will not abandon them to whatever fate has in store."
Impa expected him to sigh, curse, or yell, but not to grip her shoulders and say, "We must continue. The home of the Si'Ra may still possess items that are necessary to the world. We must visit the Chamber of Tears."
Now it was Impa's turn to fall silent. At last, she swallowed and said, "You have the winter, old man. We will go to this chamber of yours, but come spring I will start for Hyrule – with or without you."
Duncan gave her a rare smile. "I would expect nothing less, Sheikah."
'Sunsets are always more beautiful over one's homeland,' Zelda thought, watching as the thick canopy of clouds cleared on the horizon just enough to let the dying light of the day peek through. Spots of fluffy clouds, colored red and purple by the setting sun, hung low underneath a blanket of rain clouds. With their stark colors backed against dark storm clouds, the fluffy spots seemed to whisper a promise that the sun wouldn't be gone long and would soon return to brighten the world again.
She was clad in her royal finest. A long silk skirt billowed around her legs and narrowed at her waist. The neckline of the bodice reached her throat and was tightened to such a point that she could not turn her head from side to side without being acutely aware of the fabric brushing her neck.
Her brown, dusty, travel-worn cloak covered the dress, and kept the light mist that was falling from reaching the expensive silk.
Jewelry glittered on her body in the soothing orange-yellow light. Heavy rings encircled the forefinger of each hand, earrings pulled at her ears, and a tiara—newly placed on her head—pressed against her scalp. On her wrist, however, was one piece of jewelry that did not look crafted for the pleasure of royalty— a simple bracelet made of gold and silver wires twisted together.
Her servants had tried removing the bracelet when they were dressing her for the crowning ceremony, but she had stopped them, and they were still too fearful of punishment to argue their case of it not matching her other articles of jewelry.
Zelda fingered the bracelet as she stood on the roof of Hyrule Castle, watching the day end. The stones, wet from the recent rainfall, hid most of the scuffle marks from the fight between Link and Vox, but the gashes in the granite from their weapons remained. Small puddles of water filled each slash mark.
Near her stood a proud gargoyle with the tip of one wing missing. Had she ordered it, Zelda held little question that a stone master would have cast a new wing immediately, but she didn't want that…The stone figure had given a part of itself to save Link, and in doing so, had earned the right to wear a scar to mark the event.
There was a shuffle of movement behind her and then the click of boots touching wet granite. Before her days spent in the forest, she would not have noticed that sound, but many things had changed. And yet, as she had learned soon after leaving the tower room two days ago, many things had also returned to their old place. The heavy crown shifted as she tipped her head to the side.
"How's your arm?" she asked, knowing immediately who was behind her.
"Nebra was surprised I didn't break the shoulder bone," Link said. "She said the bruising should go down in a few days, and the cut should heal in week or two. There's going to be a scar, but it will just join all the others."
Zelda noted the gargoyle's missing wingtip out of the corner of her eye and a slash as long as her forearm on the rampart in front of her. "All the others," she said quietly.
Link moved several steps closer but remained out of reach. "She also said my shoulder might predict the weather by aching when rain is coming."
In spite of herself, Zelda felt the corners of her lips pull upward in a small smile. "What is your shoulder telling you about tonight?"
Link pretended to consider the question for a moment then said, "I think there's a chance it might rain."
"Good to know."
Link let out a long breath. "What are you doing up here, Zelda? Your absence down below is conspicuous."
The sun was nearly gone. Blanketed by long, reaching clouds, the second full night of winter was setting in. Music floated up from the castle grounds as palace guards, servants, and townsfolk celebrated the return of order to Hyrule. Much to her surprise, Jarod had not canceled the annual Harvest Festival. But, for lack of a good harvest, the people had turned it into a celebration of rain, the return of Link and their princess, and the meting out of justice for the six murders.
"I didn't notice you at the crowning ceremony," she said, not answering his question.
"I was there," he said quietly. "I was watching from the back of the hall."
"Why the back?"
"Because it wasn't my ceremony," he said. "It was yours. You've earned it. All of this – the castle, the people, and the ceremony. You deserve all of it. It wasn't my place to try and share it with you."
She nodded once. Some things always found their old places. "Glenn tells me you've been frightening the staff."
Link laughed. "I've just kept to myself these past two days."
"That's what scared them," Zelda said, fighting the urge to face him. "Mistress Senovich was elated and terrified when you appeared in the kitchen to help prepare the food for the festival." She paused for a moment, then continued. "They think, you are still angry with them for placing me on trial."
"They are angry enough with themselves," he said. "They don't need me to add to it…although it would be a lie to say that I don't enjoy the worried glances."
Zelda took a deep breath. Her throat had constricted into a hard knot at the thought of what she was about to say. "This will probably be the last rain we see for several months. All this will soon turn to ice and the rain will become snow. You should return to your home before the trails are impassable."
"Actually," he said, stepping in close, "I was thinking of staying at the palace for a little while. There are still many things to sort out."
After a moment's hesitation, he reached out and embraced her from behind. She closed her eyes and leaned back into his welcomed touch. The knot in her throat unraveled with a rush of relief. She rubbed his arms in silent thanks.
The last rays of sunlight had disappeared into the curve of the horizon. Clouds were already moving to cover up the opening that had allowed the sun to shine through. The rain had been slowly falling but was steady in its duration. It was the perfect recipe needed to refill the dried creek beds without flooding the parched ground.
"This isn't over yet, is it, Link?" she asked, her voice breaking slightly.
"It's going to be a difficult winter," he admitted. "But we'll get through it. Beating challenges is what we do best."
After a moment, she asked, "Did you take care of Vox?"
"Yes." His voice was quiet to her ears, even though he was standing close to her. "I scattered his ashes into the wind and locked the halberd in the Temple of Time."
"Good place for it," she said. "It can rot there."
Far below them, two circles of dancers around one another, each being propelled by the movement of the other circle. Zelda recognized the dance as the one Link had shown her while they were at the Red Candle Stick Inn. Glenn Tarmag, his clothes caked with mud like most of his fellow dancers, grabbed Mistress Senovich's hand and pulled her into the fray, both laughing wildly.
Zelda smiled sadly at the memories of her time at the Red Candle. "I have called a meeting of the Royal Houses tomorrow," she said. "There are whispers of the names being put into play again."
"We'll get through it," Link said simply. Just remember that there is a difference between wishing for the the crown and wearing the crown. You lead the houses; make them know that, and they will be content to hold whatever standing they currently have."
She nodded and then rested her head against him. Below, the music came to a stop with a round of loud applause.
"Now they're going to wonder where I am, too," Link said. "We should go back down."
"In a minute," she said. "I want to enjoy the quiet for as long as I can. After tonight the work begins again."
She stared out across Hyrule's countryside. The cliff she and Link had climbed to reach the warp stood along the Calatia border, just within sight. It was so far away she could cover it with two fingers.
"I hope Impa is safe," she said absently.
"Duncan's probably giving her a headache as we speak," Link said with a short laugh. "They'll be fine."
Icy wind rushed in from the north and swept over the castle's roof. The water that had settled in the slashes on the stone rippled. Zelda's cloak billowed around her body. She heard Link's flapping as well.
They stood high above the troubles of Hyrule while the people on the grounds celebrated the return to normal rule. As the gargoyles kept silent watch beside them, Link and Zelda stood, their cloaks blowing in the wind, like stalwart defenders against the impending night.