Link slept fairly soundly, which was unusual for him. However, he did not sleep so soundly that he failed to hear the crash of the doorknob to his room as it fell to the floor. He awoke instantly, eyes starting out of his head to see in the dim light that the dingy window allowed in. He heard the scuffle of footsteps and hands fumbling at the door, then a bitter growl of reprisal.
"Dog! Imbecile! Jackass! You make too much noise!" a gruff, strident voice whispered loudly. A second voice responded, "He sleeps like a baby in there. Nothing could wake him." Link smiled grimly. He saw that the intruders had managed to disable the lock of the door, and indeed to remove the knob entirely, leaving a circular hole. Link silently stood up out of bed and began to don his armor, and he retrieved his sword. He still heard the rogues outside his door arguing softly, until one said impatiently, "If our Master could hear us bicker so while our target lay within feet, he'd feed us to his gruesome pets! In, by Falore, and let us be done with it!" At this, Link moved swiftly to the door and pressed himself against the wall next to it, so that as the door swung slowly open, he was behind it. The assassins entered the room and looked about in confusion. "He's not here!"
At that moment, the Master Sword burst through the feeble wood of the door and with such force that it skewered the last miscreant to enter the room, who gurgled and slumped to the floor, his spine cloven and guts punctured. The other three comrades wheeled to seethe sword rip back out through the door, and for the door to be kicked violently back into its former closed position. Behind it stood Link, his blue eyes blazing with hellfire in the soft light, bloodied sword gripped tight. He was, true, without his shield, and his armor was only partly fastened, but he was by no means the slumbering, helpless victim the thugs had been expecting.
With a hoarse rasp, one of the rogues, presumably the leader, stepped in to attack. He was dressed, like his companions, in black leather garb and a flowing cloak, the hood of which concealed his head. In his hands were two foot-long knives that he wielded with graceful precision, moving them continuously as he advanced, creating a misleading, mesmerizing blur. His fellows also drew knives and followed behind their leader, their wolfish eyes watching Link keenly.
Link struck first, however, with a wide sweep at neck-height. The lead man ducked back with surprising dexterity, avoiding the blow, and struck upward with his left hand knife, aiming for a disemboweling thrust. Link, although fully aware of his danger, was still somewhat groggy from sleep, and could not dodge in time. The knife went between his armor and his tunic, cutting through the soft fabric and striking flesh, but was then lodged therein between steel and cotton. Link, sensing this, brought his mighty fist down on the assassin's hand, knocking the hand away from the blade, which clattered to the ground. A trickle of blood followed it, dripping onto the floor. Link's mouth twisted into a deadly grimace of pain and anger, teeth and lips grinding together like an earthquake. The confused leading rogue stepped back, nearly tripping over his dead companion. Link took a step forward.
A second rogue stepped in, but Link's arm was faster. He swung his sword-arm across his body, striking the thief with the flat of his blade, dazing him. Link's foot rose and fell, striking the knave's knee, which bent the wrong direction with a sickening crunch. The man groaned and fell to the ground. His compatriots stared amazedly.
"Come here and die, scum," Link muttered, turning to face them.
The third rogue drew from a belt pocket a throwing-knife, which he hurled at the Hylian knight. Link dodged his head to the side, barely missing the blade, which embedded itself in the wall behind him. The leader picked up the chair that stood by Link's bed, and threw it at him.
Link's blade whistled through the air and hewed the chair in twain, the pieces falling to the floor and splintering. Link grinned savagely and lunged at the attacker who had thrown the knife, stabbing a shallow wound into his belly. It was not instantly fatal, this Link knew, but he hoped it was enough to deter the rogue from further attack. But the desperate wolf seemed not to heed the horrific wound, as if his fear for his life was not so motivating as his fear of failure. With an angry yelp he plunged his knife towards Link. His half-donned armor saved him, the blade slipping harmlessly off the stout breastplate. Link sent his blade coming down from above, which struck home, smiting the hapless knave's skull.
The remaining miscreant, the leader, backed to the window and shattered the panes with a stroke of his hand, heedless of the sharp glass that lacerated it. Link saw with dismay that it was large enough for the assassin to make good on his escape. The rogue hopped out of the window, hit the ground, rolled, and instantly let out a strange shrill whistle. At this signal, several more dusky-robed curs stepped out into the street from the alleys, and drew back deadly longbows. The arrows they fired were burning. One struck the side of the inn, and one flew into Link's room, and a third struck Link squarely in the chest. Once again, his strong, thick armor saved his life, although the arrow pierced partway through it. The tip of the missile was coated in pitch, which burned brightly. Link frantically stepped away from the window and tugged at the arrow. He succeeded in pulling the shaft from his armor, but some of the sticky tar had dripped down his hauberk, and he could feel the heat radiating from the burning pitch. With his sleeve he wiped the stuff off, burning his nightclothes but ridding himself of the pesky substance. Then another volley of flaming arrows flew through the door, one burying itself in his bed, which quickly started to burn. Link realized that this was his assassin's last bid for his death; to burn the room and perhaps the whole inn to the ground. It was one of the rare moments when he felt helpless, unable to extinguish the rapidly spreading fire on his bed. He darted out of the room, hearing a third fusillade of arrows rattling about him. These blood-mad murders truly were stopping at nothing.
Link calmly and quietly made his way downstairs, looking for the innkeeper. He saw a door that looked to lead to the Goron's bedchamber. He tried the knob, found it locked, and with a vicious kick smashed the door in. The Goron, in the fashion of his race, had no bed, but had merely curled up on the floor in slumber. Link stopped for a second, surprised that the thing had yet to awake, and tapped it on the back. The Goron unrolled and blinked the sleep from its eyes.
"You ass, what's the meaning of this?" he mumbled to Link, rising slowly to his feet. "What's the meaning of this?" He repeated.
"I don't mean to alarm you, but assassins are burning your inn to the ground."
"I was attacked while I slept. I fought off the attackers, but there were more in the street. They shot flaming arrows through my window and set the bed alight. I fear they are trying to burn me to death in this place."
The innkeeper replied with a searing Goron curse and pushed Link aside as he left. "What in Din's name do you expect me to do? The well is in the town square, and by the time we get back the water will be too insufficient! You bastard, I knew you were trouble from the moment you arrived!"
"Don't you have any way to deal with a fire? Aren't you prepared?"
"I'm not prepared for thieves to try and kill one of my guests by burning my inn to the ground, no!" The Goron rushed up the stairs to Link's room. "The best hope is to toss the bed out the window."
"Can you..." Link began, but the Goron was already suiting the action to the word. He picked up the burning bed, oblivious to the flames, and hurled it out of the window. Link marveled at his prodigious strength as he watched the burning sack strike the pavement. He also saw that the attackers had retreated, for no black-robed assassins remained in the street. Perhaps they had exhausted their supply of burning arrows, or perhaps they wished to remain out of sight while the building burned.
"Well, that's done with. Where are these rogues?"
"They were shooting from the street, down there."
"I see you've succeeded in ruining this room," the Goron said, observing the hole in the door, the broken splintered chair, the blood and bodies.
"The Crown will compensate you adequately, sir..."
"Bah, this'll take months to clear up, and I'll lose business. And you...I don't want you staying here any more."
"To stay here would be unthinkable. I do not believe I'll sleep another night in this town."
"Suits me. Get your stuff and get out."
Link gathered his scant belongings and left without further ceremony. He immediately checked to see if Epona was all right, but he found the stable and his steed unharmed. Link did not know what to do next, but to wait and watch.
Link calmed the filly with a soothing rub along the neck, and looked around for any sign of his assailants. His mind raced. He figured that they would likely come this way to get horses on which to flee the town, for he doubted that they would have the gall to stay in this place. Minutes began to crawl by as Link stood in the darkness with the horses. Outside he could hear scattered murmurs and movements, as people woke up to investigate the disturbance. Link wondered when the local guards would arrive to investigate.
Eventually, a torch bobbed into view as a man in armor and carrying a halberd entered the stables.
"You there! What are you doing? There've been attacks, and I find it mighty suspicious..." he intoned, fingering the long shaft of his pole-axe.
"I was the one being attacked. I was just coming here to check on my horse."
"You have a few seconds to prove you're telling the truth before we surround you and toss you in jail," growled the guard, advancing on Link with an air of menace.
"Would a knight lie?" Link said, displaying the Triforce crest on his sleeve. The guard looked startled, then backed away.
"My humble apologies, your lordship, I had no idea..."
"No apologies are needed. We must act fast if we are to get to the bottom of this."
"What would you have me do?"
"Place a cordon of reliable troops around the city. See that none leave. I am here on a mission from the Crown to disband a group of thieves that have been plaguing the city. I have no reason to believe those who attacked me were not of this thieves' guild. When we are sure that the rogues can't leave the city, we'll simply make a search, and find where they are operating from."
"Absolutely, sir. I will inform the captain of the watch of this plan."
Now this is more like it. Commanding my inferiors. This is what I should be doing. A general...commander of armies...changer of history's course...not some mercenary...
The guard ran off, and Link mounted Epona and trotted the mount into the street. He looked about, and saw a small crowd gathering around the Dodongono Pub, whose erstwhile owner was desperately trying to disperse the unwanted guests. He walked down the darkened avenues until the lights from the pub faded, then withdrew a torch from his satchel and some flint and steel, and lit the brand. Carrying the torch in one hand and the Master Sword in the other, guiding his mount with his knees, Link looked high and low for a black-cloaked rogue. He heard the clink of armor in the distance, and hoped that the guards were carrying out his instructions.
For a few minutes he wandered the town, not knowing where he was going. He met no one, for the commotion raised at the pub had not reached this far. His sharp elven eyes, accustomed to low light conditions, strained to spot any sign of movement. Suddenly, they did---a brief flicker of black fabric in a tight alleyway. Link was off his horse in a flash and dashing down the hallway, making virtually no noise. He wasn't even sure that what he saw wasn't just a trick of light and shadow, but he could not ignore his instincts and intuition. Even the fact that he was likely charging into an ambush did not dissuade him; he placed confidence in his stout armor and strong sword-arm. Link's torch seemed smothered by the darkness, and he could see nothing. Even the light of the moon was blocked by the buildings overhead.
But slowly and surely, he was gaining. He could now hear the near-soundless footfalls of his quarry, almost hear his quick breathing, although the torch did not illuminate his target. Link ran, as fast as his straining legs could carry him. Now he could barely see his prey. The black cloak flapped as the man ran on. Link could feel himself drawing closer...
Suddenly, the rogue darted with amazing quickness into some alcove or side-alley, and Link skidded to a halt, confused. The man had seemed to vanish into thin air. He turned and looked carefully around where he had last seen him. Link found only blank walls.
However, he was an experienced dungeoneer and didn't believe that the rogue could have disappeared by magic. His masterly fingers roved over the bricks, looking for something out of the ordinary. Soon he had found it: a brick that seemed somewhat out of place, slightly bulging out and a slightly different color. Link pushed the brick, and sure enough, the wall slid back on oiled rollers, creating a small aperture that Link squeezed through. The door silently slid back. A clever device, a secret door---but one that Link had encountered before.
Inside the building, no light but Link's torch was visible. He took a few tentative steps, expecting anything, but nothing came. He feared he had lost his quarry. The tight passageway turned, and Link followed. He presently came to a door, from under which light glowed. Link paused, and, flicking the torch back and forth, put it out. He pressed his ear to the door stealthily.
"He's alive. I know it."
"He's a knight of Hyrule. Did you expect him to die so easily?"
"We sent our finest, and he butchered..."
"Our finest? Pfah! That pack of thuggish apes the pinnacle of my might? Those hoodlums could cut the throat of a sleeping tiger without it awaking, and yet even they are but beetles underfoot of my 'finest.'"
"Because of their ineptitude, they have done just as I desire: they will bring the knight to me. I doubted they could eliminate my foe, but they could not escape his wrath once he was riled by their fruitless efforts, and as such, they led him straight to me."
"But my lord, does it not concern you that he knows your whereabouts?"
"Does the lion fear the worm that crawls in the dirt beside it? Enough. He won't leave the city. His mission is to wipe us out. He'll come right to us, and I will not fail."
"Yes, my master."
Link had heard enough. There seemed to be only two people in the room, and one of them seemed to be in a position of authority. That he was walking into a trap fazed him little; simply knowing that the end of his mission was within arm's reach drove him to act. Link tried the knob, and found it turning. He inched the door open. His head peeked through, to see two cloaked figures looking full at him, calmly and knowingly. Realizing surprise was not an option, Link pushed the door fully open and strode in.
The room was bare but for a desk blanketed in loose papers, a shoddy stool, and an oil lamp hanging from a hook at the ceiling. On the wall opposite Link was a door. The two dark-robed thieves stood in the center of the room. He felt that the subservient rogue was not the one that he had pursued. Which one was "the master" Link saw immediately; aside from the cloth-of-gold trim on his black outfit, Link could recognize the menacing demeanor and charismatic, frightful poise that marks all such leaders.
"Ask, and he shall appear," said the Master dryly. He was a human with keen green eyes and a trim brown goatee framing his thin lips. His dark, gilt-framed hood fell across his forehead.
"I shall, so long as you and your foul ruffians terrorize the populace," Link returned, hand on the hilt of his blade, his shield raised defiantly.
"Now, Vasquez, you shall have a chance to please your Master." The junior rogue flashed a devilish grin and drew a blade from some hidden recess on his person. The two-foot-long stiletto dripped with a yellowish liquid that Link knew spelled only death. Advancing on the balls of his feet like a cat, Vasquez eyed Link hungrily, eager to gain favor in his lord's eyes.
Link's blade was like silver lightning as it sprang from its sheath. The rogue with the poison blade lashed out as Link drew his weapon, and Link nimbly dodged to the side to avoid the hissing blade. Drops of the venom that slathered the weapon sheared off the blade, spattering on the floor and on Link's bare skin, but he ignored the searing pain the droplets brought as they sizzled on his flesh. His sword whined through the air, but Vasquez ducked and sidestepped Link's thrusts and chops with practiced ease. All the while the master stood sardonically silent, a grim smirk on his lips.
The combatants circled one another, Link being careful not to put his back to the master lest he be attacked from two directions. The thief did not bother to parry Link's sword-strokes, but simply was not where the sword moved as Link fruitlessly hacked dents into the floor and walls. Anger boiled in Link's breast; it seemed his adversary moved with inhuman alacrity, and all the while his foe's poisoned blade danced before Link's sight, waiting for a mistake or opening to deal its horrific brand of death.
In Link's mind was brewing a dangerous stratagem. This warrior seemed able to dodge blows with nigh-supernatural grace, and Link quickly perceived that his opponent's tactic was to let him tire himself out with futile attacks, until Link made the inevitable mistake and left himself open. There was no mistaking the watchful, cunning glare in his foe's eyes. His eyes warily monitoring the poisoned knife, Link advanced, and the rogue fell back. Then suddenly Link lunged---not for a disemboweling thrust, but with arms wide, ready to bear-hug his slight, slender enemy in a crushing vice. The hilt of the Master Sword smashed into the man's forearm, eliciting a shriek of woe, and Link's arms encircled Vasquez in a deadly grapple. Link's judgment had proved effective. His foe had not expected such a maneuver and as such did not react in time to stab Link. And the rogue's unnatural agility was counterbalanced by a frame that could not muster the raw strength to break Link's iron grasp. Link's knee thudded into the rogue's sternum, causing him to emit a rasping cough as the air fled his lungs. Link spun around with the man in his arms, sweeping his legs across the rogue's to trip him and then grabbing him by the shirt-cuff and the groin, and flung him into the desk across the room, the body sailing a full five feet through the air to land, upside-down, square onto the writing table. It gave way with an explosive snapping and the rogue lay still.
"I am surprised that knight such as you would resort to such...bestial tactics." Each word the master sneeringly spoke was a poison fouler than the stuff on his henchman's blade.
"It matters not, so long as justice is served," barked Link in return, turning to face his adversary.
"Come, let us dance the dance of blades. And none of you bearish tackles." The master laughed crisply and drew forth a thin rapier from his hip, which sparkled a dazzling silvery blue in the soft light. He twirled it with his wrist, and with a flourish went into a fencing stance. Link swung his blade threateningly, and then settled into his stance. The master's stinging words boiled his blood.
With a stroke that anyone but Link would have been unable to follow, the master struck. Link's heavier blade was barely able to deflect the strike in time. Link took a step back, swinging as he did. The master caught Link's sword on his and slid them both to the ground. But his sword was quicker, and whirled in an arch across Link's body, scratching his armor before Link could raise his shield or sword. The whistling blade then drew back and forward, striking squarely in Link's chest. The thin, deadly blade pierced his shining plate, and then through the chain-mail beneath, and through cloth, and even into flesh. Such was the virtue of the light, thin, needle-like epee; had Link's armor been any less thin, the tip would have transfixed his heart. Indeed, perhaps an inch of steel sheathed itself in his breast, but his stoicism kept him silent. A trickle of blood oozed forth from beneath his cuirass, befouling the gleaming metal with crimson. Link's teeth ground into one another so hard it hurt, but the master only smirked.
Link responded with a savage overhead chop that the master's light blade could not possibly deflect. Somewhat dazed by his opponent's quick recovery, the master was unable to get completely out of the way of the Master Sword, which fell like the headsman's axe into the man's shoulder. His light leather armor afforded him little protection. A gout of blood stained the Master Sword, scattering red droplets on the floor. In Link's heart there resonated a swelling of power. The Master Sword seemed alive with eagerness and tingling energy. Link had felt the power of his holy sword before, when battling the foulest evils he had encountered. The blade filled his mind with righteous wrath, and his limbs with the strength to smite the wicked.
The master's expression did not change, but he took a few tentative steps backwards. His wound was not severe, and bothered him little, but he eyed the door behind him. Giving a thrust to cover his tracks, he twirled and darted through the door. Link, his pulse pounding in his temples and the Master Sword urging him on, tore open the door and followed the retreating figure. He saw the corridor he was in open into another room, one in which the master stood waiting. The room was much as the last one, but bare. Link scarcely paused to wonder why before charging.
Link ran headlong towards his foe, sword raised. The master merely stepped aside, swept a foot around Link's and sent him tumbling to the ground. Then, the ground ceased---for Link had not seen that the room had a floor only half of the way. He fell about ten feet onto a sandy floor and lay, dazed. Above him he could see the shadowy silhouette of his hated foe.
"As you said, the means matter not," he mockingly intoned. "Our duel is over, I having drawn first blood in any case. Ha! Your death will come from my pets. The fool who led you here has already been acquainted with them as a punishment for his failure. Look!"
Link looked into the darkness where the floor above him shaded the light. He now saw it. A huge pile of white shapes, skittering and clacking their mandibles. As this swarm spread out, it revealed beneath it a horrific sight: a chewed corpse, bits of flesh dangling from bones, empty eye sockets staring sightless in its lolling head. The swarm was of Skulltulla---monstrous, foot-long spiders, eaters of carrion and flesh. Link now saw the walls were covered in sticky web. Nausea and fear competed for dominance in Link. The monstrous horde of vermin skittered about, some moving towards the webs across which they moved as a man moves across the ground, all of them gradually, cautiously moving towards their new prey. The master stood in arrogant silence above Link, watching him back up towards the sticky walls.
Link had faced Skulltulla before, but never in such staggering profusion. The webs around him, he knew, were inescapable nets. His knuckles went white around his pommel. Link made a mental inventory of his possessions, strapped or residing in pockets on his person, all of them tools that he had acquired long ago on his sacred quest: his bow and arrows, the Megaton Hammer, his hookshot, his bombs. Nothing seemed useful here. He though of tossing a bomb into the center of the pack, but he feared that the blast would ignite the webs and burn him alive along with the monsters. He saw no choice, at the time, but to strike with his sword.
And so a terrible battle erupted beneath the master's cryptic gaze. Link advanced on the swarm of giant spiders and with a murderous stroke chopped one in half. His second swing crushed the carapace of another of the insects, but then his time had run out. The swarm was upon him, first one bold creature on his leg that he desperately swatted at, then more and more, skittering in revolting, unnatural ambulation onto his person. Their biting fangs, while not venomous, quickly began to gouge his exposed flesh, to tear through clothing, to rend the plate of his armor and the links of his chain mail. Link cried out in pain and staggered backward, lost his balance, and fell to the floor.
Now the whole, feasting swarm of monstrosities was upon him, the latecomers scrambling to find room to gnaw. Link flailed and rolled about desperately, through the red clouds of pain in his mind he sought desperately for a solution. His sword was useless, pinioned by the writing bodies and not useable for risk of hitting himself. A bomb would kill him a surely as the fangs of the monsters. What, then...
Suddenly, Link felt, even amidst the pain and grotesque squirming of the insects, something fall out of his pocket. His hand groped, and found it: an eight-sided gem, clear as crystal, but within a pulsing sphere of shifting orange and red, like a tiny sun. He held the fist-sized gem tightly, grinning in dark exultation, and concentrated on the power flowing through it into himself, as he had done in the days of his quest. A burning hate swelled in him, so hot that it erupted out---the gift of Din, fire unquenchable. The burning globe of flame rocketed from his body, extending fully ten feet from him, flinging the whole swarm of Skulltulla off of his prone body and incinerating each and every one. The dying monsters lay on their backs and writhed their blackened limbs.
Above, the master felt the blast of heated air and looked fearfully down. Link lay on his back just below him, chewed and mangled as a hound's bone, but with hateful life smoldering in his eyes. Link saw the walls around him limned with soft red, and knew that the webs within ten feet of him were burning, and that the fire would spread rapidly. Link knew just what to do.
Scarcely had the master recovered from the shock did something bury itself in his breast. From a bloodied hole in his chest extended a steel chain, all the way back to a strange device in Link's hand. The master uttered a startled cry, and Link yanked the chain back, causing it to retract into the hookshot. The pain was exquisite as the master was propelled across space, flailing. Link reared his feet back, curled up, then caught the master in the belly with his two feet. The scene held for an instant, then Link kicked like a kangaroo, wrenching the point of the hookshot from the master's flesh and hurling him across the underground chamber into the opposite wall.
The master did not crumple to the ground, but, head lolling, was suspended there. The web continued to burn, the flames inching ever closer to him. He was dazed, but intellect was crawling back to him. He saw the terrible form of Link, hookshot in one hand and gem in the other, advance on him.
"A fitting end for one who would trick me in honorable combat, to be tricked yourself," he mocked. "I doubt it will apply, but if you somehow live through the flames, I command you to disband what is left of your organization and to never again seek to create such a gang. I hereby pronounce your sentence, and that is to be burned alive for your crimes of murder and theft most foul, so that you will die or, should you live, envy the dead." With these words, Link turned, fired his hookshot into the ceiling above him, held on as it dragged him up, and landed on the floor.
As he prepared to leave, he saw the door burst open, and a gang of thieves, lower-ranking thugs probably, poured into the chamber, aroused by the noise of the fight. They beheld a ghastly sight, as though one of the victims of the pit of Skulltullas had come back from the dead. Link was dripping blood at every step; all across his body were the fang-marks of the monsters, his clothes hung in shreds, his armor splintered and crushed like the carapace of a trodden crab. He seemed ready to collapse and die at any moment, but some amazing vitality, some force of will and conviction, kept him on his feet, bright vengeful fire in his gaze. The intruders blanched, and were about to charge desperately at him when Link writhed his bloody lips in gruesome jest and held forth the gem of Din. Again the blast of fire erupted from it, and this time, it left grotesque forms that once were men, the skin crisped from their flesh and the flesh from their bones and their bones charred through and through, nearly crumbling to ashes. He stared at the pile of blasted corpses for a minute in morbid satisfaction, when he heard a scream from below that was growing in a frenzied crescendo. Link stepped over the bodies and closed the door as the screaming grew louder, louder, and then, with a gurgling moan, fell silent.
Link stumbled into the first room, scarcely paying heed to the cooling corpse of the apprentice thief. He staggered out into the alley, leaving a trail of dripping blood. Down the dark alley that seemed interminable he dragged himself, trailing his hand along the wall for support. It was as though he walked down a black tunnel under the earth leading to the underground realm of the dead. Link's strength was ebbing fast. The amazing vitality that had kept him from collapsing sooner seemed to leave him. The fire of conviction that he felt emanating from the Master Sword was quenched; the evil had been inarguably vanquished, and now that his job was over, the temporary strength the sword had lent him was withdrawn. Finally, agonizingly, he emerged into the street. Epona still stood obediently where he had left her. His gory arm reached out and clutched at her, but he stumbled and fell to the ground, and the mare shied away at the smell of the blood. A puddle of crimson began to pool around Link's prone body, and he fell into black unconsciousness.