Among the Ashes
can't understand it
The search for an answer is met with a darker day
And we've been handed these moments forever
But I'm reassured there's another way
You don't have to close your
There is room for love again
Ease the pain to realize all that love can be
Forced apart by time and sand
Take a step and take my hand
And don't let it go
Never let go
We were so strong and so blessed in a simple way
So don't let me go it alone
Turn your head up to the sky
Nothing down below but me
Face the truth to realize all that we could be
Torn apart by rage and fear
Hold on to what brought you here
Don't let it go
Never let go
~Josh Groban "Never Let Go"
Dragons and Dreams
The last remaining sentinel lay still upon the ground: his voice silenced before he could alert his master of the oncoming threat.
Marth stood with his back against the cold, black stone wall, clenching his sword in his hands against his chest. He turned away from his fallen foe, closing his eyes in concentration, his breathing deep and steady though his heart was pounding like a drum.
"On my signal," he whispered. Beside him Roy tensed, ready to spring into action in an instant. Link tightened his grip on his sword, clenching his teeth, feeling the thrill of the immanent battle rushing through him.
Marth drew in one last breath, preparing for the battle ahead: for the horror that faced them all. Roy could barely stand the delay. He felt he might burst out of his skin if he didn't move very soon. She had already been in Medeus' clutches for far too long. Every moment they waited put her in greater danger, and the thought of what they might find when they entered the chamber made him sick to his stomach. Part of him didn't want to know: but a greater part of him needed to know, needed to move, needed to take action immediately.
Only Link remained visibly composed. A look of single minded concentration was solidified in his eyes. Fear could not touch him. He was ready.
Without warning Marth's eyes flew open, and in an instant his sword was raised and he flew around the corner, Roy and Link right behind him, with a handful of trusted soldiers in tow. With one swift blow his boot slammed into the barricaded door. The wood splintered and groaned and the door crumbled, leaving a gaping hole which Marth rushed through without hesitation, Link and Roy right at his heels.
Their heavy boots clomped over the floor, echoing up into the cavernous ceiling which extended upwards into blackness, their eyes searching the tower for any sign of the Princess. Instead of her, however, their eyes came to rest on a tall, dark figure. At the sight of him everyone stopped in their tracks. He stood with his back to them, looking out through a spacious window onto the charred and ravaged battlefield below where the bulk of Marth's army was staving off the remnants of the Doluan forces.
"You really thought you could sneak up on me, unawares, in my own fortress while your pitiful army squabbles down there before my very eyes?" The towering being, shrouded in black, growled in a low, malevolent hiss.
"We never were ones for subtlety," Roy commented with a swish of his sword.
"Release her," Marth growled back at Medeus with just as much menace.
"Is that why you have come?" he replied. "You have come to save your sister from a terrible fate," his voice was now wickedly mocking.
"Release her, Medeus!" Marth thundered back, raising his blade and narrowing his eyes.
"You are more foolish than even I had thought," Medeus cackled lowly, turning slightly so that a portion of his gaunt and sallow face was visible.
"Enough of this!" Roy burst. Losing all patience he drew his sword and leapt at the cloaked man with a cry of rage. Before Roy could bring his sword down a powerful wave of darkness emanated from his foe, hitting him hard. He flew back through the air, hitting the ground. Shielding themselves from the blast Link and Marth braced themselves. Roy recovered quickly, getting to his feet and returning to face their opponent once more with fire in his eyes.
"You think you can defeat me so simply?" Medeus asked, sounding both cruelly amused and yet somewhat insulted. Finally he turned to face them, letting the black cloak fall from his back, revealing his full stature.
"Stop stalling, Medeus!" Roy sneered. "You don't scare us!"
For a moment a malevolent smile crossed his sinister face, and then from behind him two great, black shadows began to rise, spreading forth and revealing two expansive wings. Like enormous black, leathery bat wings tipped with horns of silver they spread out, their tips rising into the darkness, nearly spanning the entire room. The shadow they cast fell over Marth, Roy and Link, and they couldn't help but gaze up in awe and trepidation.
"Oh-" Roy squeaked in a small voice.
Medeus looked into their faces, smiling maliciously, revealing a mouth full of sharp, fanged teeth.
"He's a Manakete. It was him all along," Marth gasped, but quickly composed himself. "We'll take him together!" he commanded as Link and Roy took their places beside him, his soldiers surrounding him.
"Now!" Marth roared, leaping forward, his comrades right behind him. All three attempted to strike at Medeus, but without avail. Medeus dodged every blow with arrogant ease, throwing about clouds of black fog which blinded them and obscured him from vision. Marth fell back for a moment, assessing his opponent, searching for a weakness and a moment of opportunity. Link and Roy, however, continued to hack away, leaping and lunging and thrusting and accomplishing nothing. They couldn't get anywhere near Medeus, let alone close enough to land a blow.
"That isn't working!" Marth shouted as Roy once again unsuccessfully threw a strike at Medeus.
"Well, what are we supposed to do?" Roy shot back. "This is really all I have to work with!" he said, swishing his sword about pitifully. Without warning Medeus lunged at him through the gloom, Roy jumped back and attempted to counter the attack, but once more Medeus sent out a wave of black wind. It hit Roy squarely, sending him hurtling backward into the wall with such force that he partially broke through to the opposite side.
He cringed in pain for a moment, writhing on the floor like a wounded animal, cursing Medeus under his breath. When at last his head stopped spinning he got to his feet, and through the gloom he could make out a solitary figure chained to the wall. She was skinny almost beyond recognition: nothing left to her but skin and bones. Though she had always been rather thin, the sight of her now made Roy's stomach plummet.
"Elice," he could barely get out in a whisper. Disregarding his own pain he made his way towards her through the dark and grimy cell. Medeus' cloud had not yet fully seeped into the chamber, but in the twilight it was still difficult to see. Even so, he could see her wrists were swollen and rubbed raw from the tight shackles she had been made to wear. Her hands were tied together above her head, hung with heavy chains. Her face was pale and her eyes half closed, though she didn't give any sign of life. Her emaciated state was so heart wrenching Roy could barely look at her, and yet in horror he could not look away.
Roy had lived with Marth and Elice for the past six years, since he was ten years old. Life had not always dealt him a kind hand, and in that time filled with struggle and sorrow Marth had become like a brother to him. It was only natural, then, to think of Elice as something of a little sister. He knew what it would mean to Marth that Elice had been tormented and brought to such a lowly state, and he couldn't help but feel the same protectiveness. While it tore at him to see her in such pain, inside his blood began percolate with rage at the thought of the monster who had done this to her.
For an instant his eyes darted about the room, hoping for a key that would unlock the chains, but it became immediately clear that he would not find one. Outside the room terrible shouts and crashes could still be heard, so he knew he had little time. He drew his sword, concentrated for a moment until the blade was glowing as though on fire, and then he slashed. The blazing sword cut through the steely chains effortlessly, a few sparks flying into the air with the force of the contact.
Elice began to slide to the ground but Roy quickly caught her. He was once again shocked by how small and light she felt to carry. Hoping against hope that she would be all right, he turned and made his was back towards the tower, his eyes flaming with a thirst for vengeance.
Link finally accepted the futility of their attempted power strike and was forced to step back. Medeus' black fog had now spread throughout the entire tower, and Link could barely see anything but dark shadows through the gloom.
Marth suddenly found himself alone in the darkness. All had gone silent: eerily and tensely silent. Afraid to speak for fear that he would give away his position he raised his sword in defense, trying desperately to see through the black mist, but with no avail. He did not see Medeus until he shot out of the haze before him. His massive arm, covered in black scaly skin, and ending no longer in a hand but in a three toed, taloned claw, clamped around Marth's neck. The claws squeezed tightly, drawing Marth in. As Medeus' face began to materialize through the fog Marth's eyes widened in shock. The villain seemed to be transforming before Marth's very eyes. The skin on his face was becoming rough and his eyes were glowing with an uncanny golden sheen. His features were elongated and malformed, giving a very demonic appearance as he glared at Marth, pulling him ever closer with his powerful claw gripping tighter still.
"Let her go," Marth wheezed, even as he could feel his breath cutting short. Futilely he pawed at Medeus' claw, trying to loosen the grip, but Marth's strength was failing fast.
"She has served her purpose," Medeus hissed manically. "She has drawn you into my clutches."
"Then you have what you want," Marth choked out. "Let her go."
"I want you both dead. You came to save her," he sneered, "but you have brought death upon you both, and soon enough upon your entire kingdom."
Gasping for breath, still frantically fighting with what little strength he still had, Marth could feel his chest growing hot: swelling with pain till he thought he might burst.
Link could hear the commotion through the darkness, and he knew Marth was in trouble. Without a word he drew his bow and fitted it with an arrow so quickly it was but a blur. Instantly the room was illuminated- light shooting through the fog, breaking up the clouds and glaring upon the body of the vicious Manakete, holding Marth out before him, his feet dangling just above the ground. The shock of the sudden light burst caused Medeus to turn in alarm. When the light hit his eyes he let out a shrieking bellow of pain so loud and anguished that the tower began to shake. Immediately his grip loosened and Marth's body slipped to the floor, gasping for breath and clutching his chest.
Medeus continued to bellow, shielding his eyes, he turned and rushed towards Link, who pulled his bow string tighter and then released. The light arrow rushed through the air, penetrating Medeus' left shoulder, breaking cleanly through. He let out another great bellow, clutching his shoulder in agony. The light arrow seemed to have burned a massive whole in his flesh, out of which black blood was streaming.
Heaving for breath, Medeus' gold eyes locked onto Link once more, but Link was ready. He fitted another light arrow quickly and took aim- but before he could release it Medeus let out a great shriek that rose into the air. Black mist swirled around him, obscuring him from view as his cry continued to ring out, growing more and more vicious and beastly with every moment.
Marth staggered to his feet and Link lowered his bow, his gaze fixed on the billowing mass of darkness before him. All at once the cloud broke and the two great, black wings rose up, followed closely by the body of a massive dragon. Medeus turned his attention on Link, growling viciously. Link fumbled for a moment, but before the great beast could close in on him his bow was raised once more and another light arrow shot through the air. In his haste Link's aim had been compromised and the arrow missed the heart and instead penetrated the dragon's rotund belly.
Once more shrieking in pain, this time with the ear shattering roar of a dragon, Medeus flailed about madly. His wings opened up and he took to the sky, crashing strait up into the roof, breaking it like glass. Debris, rocks, tile and wooden shafts rained down and Marth, Link and their men were forced to duck for cover.
Roy was making his way back to the tower when the blow came. The ground shook and he struggled to keep on his feet, shielding Elice from some of the residual wreckage that came flying through the hole in the wall. Once it was clear he poked his head through the gap, calling for Marth.
"I found her!" Roy exclaimed. "Marth, I got her!"
Marth turned in a flash, tearing across the room towards them. He put a hand on her cheek, but she did not respond.
"We need to get her out of here," Marth whispered desperately, half to himself, obviously devastated by his sister's condition.
Above them Medeus circled, screaming in pain and fury, finally coming around once more. His long, serpentine neck stretched out, his fangs barred and he went into a nose dive, strait back towards the shattered tower.
"Marth!" Link shouted, staring up into the sky at the dragon which was now bearing down on them.
"Where did that come from?" Roy cried.
"It was Medeus all along. He is the dragon!" Marth replied, still watching the sky intently.
"All right then," Roy growled, placing Elice behind a stone pillar to shield her he climbed back through the hole and into the tower, unsheathing his sword and glowering up at the approaching dragon.
"What are you doing?" Marth asked. "We need to get her to safety!"
"We aren't going anywhere with that dragon overhead! We have to take him out- it's the only way we're going to get out of here!" Roy protested.
"I'm taking my shot!" Link shouted from his position in the middle of the tower room. He was gazing up out of the shattered roof, his bow fitted with a luminous arrow and poised to shoot. "Get ready!" he bellowed.
With a twang he let the arrow loose. Medeus tried to avoid it, but the arrow still punctured his wing. It left a hole in the leathery skin which continued to singe and expand as the skin burned away. Medeus bellowed once more, losing his bearings he swerved and crashed into the tower with the power of a small earthquake. He recovered quickly, however, and landed on the edge of the once existing roof, snapping his frothing jaws at Link.
Link dove out of reach and Roy and Marth immediately attacked from his blind spot. Marth's Falchion blade was gleaming with white light and Roy's sword was once more aglow with flames. Both blades cut across the thickly scaled hide, but it seemed that Medeus' darkness was still shielding him partially, so the damage they inflicted was minimal. It did, however, cause Medeus to turn on them in fury. His gargantuan body spun around, his spined tail whipping across the room, taking out pillars and reducing them to piles of dust in an instant.
The snapping jaws were now aimed at Marth. His soldiers rushed before him, eager to protect their Prince. Medeus opened his mouth and let out a great, lingering hiss, blackness spewing from his throat. Not only blinding now, this black fog crept over the skin like a poison, causing a searing pain to come over their entire bodies. Wailing and falling to the ground, Marth's soldiers were rendered useless and Medeus once again set his murderous eyes on Marth.
He raised his head to strike only to have a forth arrow pass through his body, burning another great hole in his flesh. He threw his had back in pain and fury, thrashing about violently.
Taking his chance during Medeus' blind rampage Link drew his sword, swinging it with all his might. It hit Medeus' skull with a resounding crack. Medeus flung himself backwards and then shot into a fresh tirade. The tower continued to shake and rumble as the dragon scratched at his own face, throwing his body about in a fit of madness. Marth, Roy and Link were kept on their toes, dodging his tree trunk of a tail as it hurtled over their heads and his massive feet as they stomped about. Black fog was flying from his open jaw, covering the room once more. Marth, Link and Roy tried to avoid the drifting billows of smoke, but not with total success. A curl would pass by them, touching their skin and they would cry out and grimace, but they would not back down.
Medeus' power seemed to be fading. His energy was now mostly spent on his violent outburst and his all out tantrum. He continued to throw himself around wildly and without restraint, no longer focusing on them as individuals but seemed intent on their immediate annihilation by causing as much devastation and demolition as possible.
While his rampage was dangerous and destructive there was no method to his madness, and Marth, Roy and Link were now finding it easier to strike against him. Their swords were blazing and they were darting around the infuriated dragon like deadly little insects, stinging him over and over.
Medeus continued to thrash about, gnashing his teeth, snapping at them brutally, spitting his burning fog out in short, belabored gasps. His wings were tattered and his hide was covered in gashes and lesions, but still he continued his murderous fight. His tail whipped out of nowhere, catching both Roy and Link and sending them flying, and then he turned on Marth.
Marth raised his sword and lunged at the dragon, but Medeus' neck swung around, catching Marth and throwing him across the room. Marth rolled over the debris strewn ground, clutching his stomach. Medeus turned on him, swaying slightly in his weakened and disoriented state. His eyes locked onto Marth's fallen body, however, and instantly he was of a single mind. He lunged once more, but Marth swiped desperately with his sword, catching Medeus' snout. Medeus jerked back with a shriek, and Marth got to his feet but instantly Medeus' eye caught something else. Elice's prostrate form was slightly protruding from behind the pillar. With a malignant narrowing of his evil eyes Medeus charged for her.
Marth screamed and threw himself in front of her, facing the dragon head on, the blistering fog shooting from the beast's nostrils and creeping over his skin. Marth braced himself and stood strong. Medeus opened his fanged mouth, snarling and threatening, his hot breath streaming out with a poisonous stench. Marth raised his sword and Medeus charged, and Link let loose a final arrow.
The beam of light shot through Medeus' chest, leaving a gaping hole on both sides. The light illuminated the crumbling tower, melting the fog instantly. Medeus threw himself backward, still trying to catch Link in his jaws but Roy leapt at him, his sword flaming as wildly as his eyes, and he opened a deep wound across the dragon's stomach. Once more Medeus cried out, more in fury than in pain. His neck stiffened and his wings spread to the sky, and in one last act of pure malevolence he crashed to the ground, his head inclined towards Elice, his fangs bared and ready to snap. Link cried out, diving for the girl. He scooped her up and pulled her away, just inches from Medeus' now clenched jaw.
Marth's eyes burst into flames and he raised his sword, shining like the noonday sun, and thrust it into Medeus' heart. The dragon writhed for an instant, claws bared and wings trashing, and finally went still as the dust settled around his great, fallen body.
For a moment the three swordsmen lay still as well, panting and catching their breaths. One by one they got to their feet, Link still holding Elice. Marth rushed towards his sister, checking on her with the deepest concern.
Roy got up, cringing slightly, and looking down on their fallen foe. Medeus's wings were stretched over his back, covering most of his body like a death shroud. A small stream of fog was drifting lazily from his nostrils as Roy walked slowly up to his great, ebony encrusted head. His eyes were half opened as he struggled to take his last breaths.
There was no denying the sense of satisfaction Roy felt at the sight of the dying monster. Medeus had terrorized their kingdom for far too long. He had destroyed dozens of cities and killed thousands of innocent people. He cared nothing for the suffering of others. He had murdered without cause and reveled in his cruelty. He was a creature of pure evil: a dragon of darkness.
Roy thought of Elice, and his rage boiled up once more. His death would bring peace to Aritia, and yet somewhere deep inside Roy looked into the beast's topaz eyes and felt somehow sad. It was a deep emptiness: a sorrow he had never felt before. It left him feeling cold and desolate inside, though he didn't know why. He could not deny it, though. The sight of the dieing dragon shook him.
"Traitor," the barely audible word slipped from the mouth of the dragon.
Roy narrowed his eyes in confusion, certain he had not heard what he thought he heard.
"What?" Roy whispered in disbelief.
"Blood traitor," Medeus wheezed, and then he closed his eyes and his head rolled back and his body went stiff. A deep chill that seemed to reach his very soul rippled down Roy's spine and his sword slipped from his fingers, landing on the stone floor with a clatter.
As though triggered by it the tower began to quiver beneath their feet. The tower gave a violent lurch and all around them the walls began to shake. Bricks were swaying and toppling from their positions. All the while a great rumbling was rising from beneath them, threatening their destruction.
"Move!" Marth commanded. "Get out of here!" Without a second thought Link turned and fled with Elice in his arms, Marth right behind him and a slew of soldiers in their wake.
"Roy!" Marth, called back. "Roy, come on!" Roy jerked back into reality, picked up his sword and flew after his companions, turning back for one last glimpse at the cold, dead dragon which lay in the rubble.
They tore down the hall, through the doorway and down the stairs as the castle swayed and heaved and groaned. Link tried to be careful and not jar the poor girl too much as he ran, every now and then dodging falling wreckage.
Even as they reached the front gate they could hear the deafening sounds of Medeus' tower finally giving way. The earth continued to quake as the tower crashed in pieces to the ground, hitting other portions of the castle as it finally went down. All around them Doluan soldiers were fleeing the scene. Marth's forces had driven them back, and with their stronghold crumbling and their master destroyed the Doluans were in full retreat.
Once safely out of range of the castle, the swordsmen and their soldiers turned back in awe as they watched the final pillars collapse, sending billowing clouds of dust and dirt into the air and sporadically setting off great booms and causing the ground to quiver.
Panting and shaking with the thrill of the fight they were momentarily speechless they watched as the last bit fell, one final cloud of dust swelling up into the air and then dispersing into a tranquil silence.
"Well, another successful endeavor on our part!" Roy smiled, putting an arm around Link and Marth's shoulders. Link smiled weakly and Marth shook his head. They looked as though they had somehow crawled out of an explosion. Each one was covered in various cuts, scraps and bruises, not to mention the burning welts that were rising on portions of their exposed skin from Medeus' venom. Their armor was tarnished, their tunics torn and in every way they looked disheveled and ravaged: but they were alive, and so was Elice.
"Why is it that every time I turn around there's a castle falling down around me," Link said with a nervous laugh.
"Knowing you, it probably won't be the last time," Marth laughed slightly as well, still trying to catch his breath.
"You're probably right," Link agreed.
In Link's arms, Elice suddenly began to stir. Her eyes fluttered open weakly. They darted about for a moment, finally focusing in on Link's face above her. For a moment she simply stared at him, as though entranced.
"Who are you?" she asked weakly.
"My name is Link," Link replied gently. "I'm a friend of your brother's."
"You- you rescued me," she whispered, still gazing up at him.
"Elice, are you all right?" Marth asked urgently, taking her hand, his eyes falling on her injured wrists with concern. "What did he do to you?" he asked in a horrified voice. "Did he-"
"He didn't touch me," she replied quickly.
"Oh, Elice," Marth couldn't think of anything to say to her.
Elice looked at her brother, her eyes conveying all the emotion she couldn't get out in words. Suddenly her eyes began filling with tears. In an instant she was sobbing uncontrollably on his shoulder, all of her fears and her torments and her pain from the last three months came spilling out of her when she looked into her brother's face. All the strength she had fought to have, all her bravery, all the hope she had tried keep all melted away. She didn't need them anymore because he had come for her: to protect her, just as he always did.
"I need to get you home," Marth said worriedly.
Marth tried to comfort her as they helped her onto his horse. He jumped up behind her, keeping her steady as Roy and Link mounted their steeds as well. Marth called out a few orders to his army and after a few minutes they were off.
Elice slowly calmed down as the realization that her ordeal was over and that she was now safe and returning home sunk in.
"Link," Marth said after they had been riding for a while, pulling up beside Link and Epona. "Thank you for what you did. If you hadn't been here-"
"Don't mention it," Link said humbly.
"Don't mention it?" Marth said with a laugh. "You saved my sister. Because of you we were able to destroy Medeus. You can't begin to imagine the destruction he has rained on my people. We're safe now, and you deserve thanks."
Link smiled bashfully, never able to handle praise well.
"You are truly a skillful warrior," Marth went on. "And those arrows- where did you get those? Without them I don't think we would have stood a chance."
"From the Princess Zelda," Link replied.
Marth whistled, "She sounds like quite a girl. If I ever meet her, remind me to thank her."
"Yeah," Link laughed, "Like you'll ever meet her!"
"You never know," Marth chuckled. The weight of the world seemed to have lifted from his shoulders. Once again he could smile.
"Not unless you're planning a trip to Hyrule," Link replied and Marth shrugged genially.
"I guess I should thank you too, Roy," Marth called back. No answer came. Marth and Link turned back to see Roy staring blankly with a concerned look on his face as though troubled.
"What's the matter with you?" Link asked curiously. "You just got to watch a castle fall down, I would have thought that would make you pretty happy."
"Huh?" Roy seemed to come to his senses. "Nothing, I'm fine." Marth and Link shrugged and turned back to the road ahead, but Roy could not help but steal a final glance at the ruins of the castle behind them before following his comrades back home.
The journey back to Aritia was no small feat. It had been a long, weary campaign against Dolua. Now that it was over the soldiers were anxious to return home, but after days of traveling they were in great need of rest as well.
After a quick meal eaten huddled around various campfires most of the men went quickly to sleep. Link, however, stayed awake for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet. It seemed such moments of tranquility were hard to come by, and when he was presented with one he seldom let it pass by. He rested his back against a log, stretching out his legs and taking in the night: the sound of the wind, the smell of the fire.
"Elice, please, you need to eat something," Link raised his head and looked around. Marth and Elice were sitting up close to the fire, Marth looking harried. Elice was sitting beside him, staring blankly ahead. Marth tried relentlessly to talk to her, but she would not respond or make any indication she could hear him.
For a wile Roy sat nearby, every now and then casting helpless glances in their direction, never looking for long. He couldn't look at it: couldn't stand to see her this way. Finally, in frustration and defeat he stood up and left them, unable to take it anymore.
Before he knew what he was doing Link found himself getting to his feet and making his way towards Marth and Elice. As he neared Marth looked up, appearing relieved to see him.
"What's wrong?" Link asked.
Marth stood up and spoke softly, "She's just shut down. For a while I thought she was going to be all right, but she hasn't said a word in two days. Sometimes she cries, then she goes quiet like this. She's almost completely comatose. She's sick, she's exhausted, and she's starving, and now I can't get her to eat anything. What am I supposed to do?" Marth looked to Link desperately.
Before Link could reply a voice came from an adjacent campfire, calling for Marth's assistance. Reluctantly Marth and he was forced to leave his sister's side.
"Can you just stay with her for a minute?" Marth asked. "I'll be right back."
"Sure," Link replied as Marth turned to leave. "May I sit down?" Link asked her gently.
After a moment he sat down beside her anyway, looking into her face. In all his life he had never seen anyone who looked so utterly destroyed. Her eyes were dull and vacant, staring forwards, unmoving, hardly blinking. Though dry at the moment, it was clear that she had been crying, and was currently teetering on the brink of tears once more. She was frighteningly skinny, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms hugging around them as though for protection.
"I'm Link, remember," Link said nervously, not sure what to say to her now that he was here. "I'm really glad you're all right. Your brother was so worried about you. He cares about you a lot."
Elice blinked slowly.
"In fact, your whole kingdom was worried about you. You're really lucky to have so many people who care about you so much," Link went on, not at all sure where he was headed, "people who would do anything for you.
"I can't imagine what you've been through," Link said sincerely, "I know you must be scared, but you're safe now. I hope you know that. Marth won't let anything happen to you ever again, and neither will I. We'll protect you." Link put his hand on her shoulder and for an instant her lifeless eyes seemed to spark, flitting in his direction furtively.
"What you need now, though, is to let your brother help you," Link went on kindly. "You need to eat something."
Elice blinked once more, drawing her knees in closer, but Link could see something stirring within her.
Link slowly picked up the bread Marth had left behind for her, holding it out to her but not forcing it upon her. "Everything's going to be all right now," Link mused, still just following his train of thought aloud, "I want to help you, Elice, if you'll let me. We'll go back to Aritia and you'll be safe. I promise."
Once more her eyes snuck towards him, this time pausing for a moment longer. Link didn't say any more, but sat beside her quietly. After a moment her hand reached out and took the bread, and she began chewing on it hungrily.
Link let her eat, not speaking to her but waiting patiently beside her, staying that way until Marth returned. When Marth looked down and saw his sister his expression lifted and he clapped Link on the back.
"What did you do?" he asked Link quietly.
"I don't know, I just talked to her," Link shrugged with a smile.
"Well, thank you," Marth replied, taking a seat beside his sister.
Link turned to leave but as he did a small voice called him back.
Link looked back to see Elice's head turned and looking up at him. "Thank you," she said softly.
Link smiled at her then turned to leave, but Elice's eyes stayed locked on him, following him until we was out of site.
"Marth?" Elice knocked gently on the door before she opened it, entering slowly, her expression unusually bashful.
"What is it, Elice?" Marth asked, looking up from the letter he was reading. At the table in the chair beside him Roy was tipping back lazily, tossing toasted walnuts into the air and catching them in his mouth.
"I need to speak with you," Elice said matter-of-factly. She was acting strangely reserved and proper to be speaking to her beloved brother and Marth noticed it right away. Then again, she had changed somewhat since her rescue from Medeus' clutches. It was no wonder. Her captivity had been long and cruel, and she couldn't help but be changed by what she had experienced. Marth had hoped to shield her from it, but there seemed to be no way to protect her from the reality she had been forced to live.
Physically she had recovered over the past three months back home, safe and in the castle she loved. Her wrists had healed and she had put back on her weight, though she was still slender. She was smiling again, and laughing at times. The life had returned to her eyes.
Still, emotionally it would take a longer time to recover. He had to commend her, though. She blamed no one. She did not pity herself or fall into despair. She was stronger now than ever before: fiercer and more determined in her pursuit of protection for her kingdom. Though the ordeal had left its mark upon her, in a way she had emerged triumphant.
Roy, however, seemed to notice nothing. He barely looked up when she entered the room and continued to toss the walnuts in the air, catching them in his mouth one by one and looking highly impressed with himself.
"Go on," Marth said.
"No, I need to speak with you alone," she said, looking nervously at Roy.
"Aww, come on, Little Princess," Roy said casually, "anything you can say to him you can say in front of me."
"This is important," Elice set her jaw, narrowing her eyes at Roy.
"What? Did you misplace your crown?" Roy jabbed.
"No," Elice said through clenched teeth.
"Roy," Marth said warningly, then turned to his sister. "What is it, Elice. Just ignore him."
"Fine," Elice said stubbornly. "I have come here to ask you to give my hand to Link."
For a moment Marth stared at her with his mouth hanging open in confusion. Roy's walnut fell down and hit him in the face, but he barely seemed to notice it.
"What do you mean?" Marth looked sincerely puzzled.
"I want to marry him," Elice replied simply, her resolve set.
Roy's chair tipped back completely and Roy sprawled on the floor with a crash, laying there in a heap as though paralyzed.
Marth's confusion slowly seemed to melt and his eyes narrowed. "He has asked you to marry him and yet he is not man enough to come to me first?" he asked in a low, furious voice.
"Well, he hasn't actually asked me yet," Elice explained, "but I love him and I want to marry him. I know he loves me too! Please, Marth, give us your blessing."
"No," Marth said instantly and emphatically. "I will not."
"But," Elice's eyes widened, "why not? He is a great man. He is brave and he is strong and courageous. He saved me, Marth." As she spoke her eyes lit up with adoration. "Aren't you grateful to him? You've told me yourself that he is honorable and noble!"
"I don't care what I said, you are not marrying him!" Marth replied.
"Why not?" Elice demanded once more.
"Where should I start?" Marth replied sardonically. "He is not the right man for you."
"Yes he is! You don't understand."
"You are fifteen years old!" Marth exclaimed.
"I'll be sixteen in ten months!" she pointed out hopefully. "Mother was only sixteen when she married father."
"That was completely different."
"How?" Elice stamped her foot and folded her arms.
"You see- you're acting like a child. You are my little sister and I am telling you no!"
"You aren't my father," Elice scathed. "You can't tell me what to do."
Marth was taken aback for a moment but he quickly recovered. "I am your brother and I only want what's best for you. Father entrusted me with your care. I won't shatter the trust he put in me by letting you run off and marry Link."
"You don't care about me," Elice cried. "If you did you'd see how much I love him. He saved me. He wants to protect me because he cares about me!"
"He saved you because I asked him for his help and he was willing to give it!" Marth shot back.
Elice looked struck, but she quickly retaliated. "He still wants to help us. He's going to stay, to help us rebuild."
Marth shut his eyes in frustration. "He isn't one of us, Elice. He's been here for six months, and he is a wanderer, which means that at some point he'll be moving on. He'll only hurt you and I won't allow it!"
"He'd never hurt me!" Elice insisted.
"Would you listen to yourself? This is insanity! You don't even know him! He doesn't belong here," Marth was unrelenting. "It would be foolish to think you could make him stay here when it isn't what he wants."
"You don't know what he wants," Elice scathed.
"You don't know what you want," Marth shot back. "You are a child. You are too young to be even thinking of this! That is the end of this discussion. We're through here. You aren't marrying him, and you are not to speak of this ever again."
"You don't understand," Elice fired back, "because you've never been in love!"
Marth was silent for a moment before he spoke again in a hushed but powerful voice. "No, I haven't, because I know where my responsibilities lie and they do not include such frivolousness. You would do well to remember your responsibilities. Your duties lie with your kingdom, nothing else! We have cities to rebuild and people to support. Medeus is gone but already there is unrest in Akanea. We have reason to believe that Hardin in massing troops and already has threatened half a dozen neighboring kingdoms. We do not have time for you to sit and live in a dream world! If Hardin does attack I want Link on my side, so I don't need you pestering him."
"So that's all you think I am," Elice replied, her voice now hushed and laced with hurt, "a bother."
"No. I think you are scared and upset about what happened to you and you're confused-"
"You have no idea what happened to me!" Elice shrieked, suddenly shaking. Without thought she took her left wrist in her right hand, rubbing the fading scars from the chains which had cut into her skin. "You can't possibly understand!"
"How can I understand if you won't tell me?" Marth replied desperately.
"You want to know what happened to me?" Elice was quivering, overcome with emotion. She had wanted to tell him. It was too horrible to talk about and too frightening to keep inside, and so she was trapped. Now, however, she could hold it in no longer. "He chained me up for three months in that bitter cold tower," she sobbed, her eyes growing wide with terror. "One by one he killed the other prisoners. My only companion, an old priest, died after a month. After that I was left alone, in the dark, in the cold- all alone. He fed me just enough to keep me alive. Every day he would threaten that each day was my last- that I was only alive to lure you to him. He promised that once you came he would kill us both. You can't imagine my fear! Every moment not knowing whether I would live or die, and sometimes wishing it would all just come to an end so that the pain would go away! I couldn't bear to think that you were coming for me and that because of me we would both die. Every moment was agony. Every moment was filled with terror. Even now, I cannot escape it. I see his shadows in the darkness. He haunts me when I am awake and when I dream he is still there. I cannot sleep. I cannot rid myself of him," she whispered, desperately pleading for help.
Marth looked back at his sister in helplessness. How could he protect her from this?
"I'm scared, Marth," she trembled.
"This isn't the answer," Marth replied genuinely.
"But he makes me feel safe," she said, her voice still frightened.
"You think that will make this all just go away? I know you're afraid," Marth was being utterly sincere, "but I promise you this is not the answer."
"Don't say you know what I feel," she cried, still more terrified than angry. "You cannot ever understand!"
With that she turned on her heel. Marth followed after her but she slammed the door in his face. He thought of going after her but eventually thought better of it.
Instead he opened the door and called to a nearby guard while Roy slowly picked himself up off the floor, detangling himself from the chair. His eyes were wide and his face was white as though he'd seen a ghost.
"Find Link," Marth told the guard. "Tell him to come here immediately."
"Yes, Sire," the guard bowed and rushed off, leaving Marth in the doorway alone, rubbing his hands on his face, at a complete loss.
Elice stepped out into the hallway and the heavy door pounded shut behind her, leaving her in the darkness. For a moment she thought she could handle it, but the darkness immediately began to close in around her: suffocating her. In the distance she could hear footsteps on the stone floor, coming her way. Her breathing became short and terrified, her heart pounding mercilessly in her chest. She wanted to run back to Marth but her pride wouldn't let her.
She closed her eyes and fought to convince herself that it couldn't be him- that she was just imagining it, but the footsteps only grew louder. She shut her eyes and turned her back, holding her ears and fighting her paralyzing fear, and then she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Elice?" Link asked, coming upon her in the hall, touching her gently on the shoulder. Her eyes flew open immediately and fell on his face. Instantly she knew everything would be all right, as long as he was near. She threw her arms around him and started to cry.
Link was completely stunned. He couldn't move and he didn't know what to do, so he just stood there feeling foolish and let her cry.
It was this scene that met Roy's eyes when he came out into the hall a moment later. He had wanted to make sure she was all right and so he had followed her. He wasn't prepared for what he saw, though. Seeing Elice with her arms around Link and Link patting her awkwardly on the shoulder made him stop dead in his tracks. The real shock, however, was what seeing it did to him. His stomach seemed to drop and his blood began to boil. He couldn't look away and yet every moment he spent looking at them filled him with rage he couldn't explain.
Elice was the pesky little sister of his best friend: still a child. Nothing more. All she did was bicker with him and all he did was pick on her. So he couldn't understand why seeing her with Link made him want to rip Link apart. It did, though. It really did.
He didn't, however. As infuriated as he was he was equally if not more confused. So he turned and he left, fighting to come to grips with what was happening inside of him.
"I want to thank you for coming to my rescue," Elice said suddenly, wiping her eyes and stepping away from Link, looking up at him slowly in adulation.
"Oh, you're welcome," Link replied bashfully. "I'm just glad you're all right."
"I wouldn't have been without you," Elice continued to bore her gaze through him, and he shifted uncomfortably, taking a step back from her, but she stepped forward. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
Link didn't know how to respond, and her gaze was now making him blush furiously as he backed up slowly, Elice following his every step.
"You know, if it hadn't been for those light arrows, I don't think we'd have stood a chance. They've come in handy more than a few times," Link was prattling on desperately trying to extricate himself from the situation. "I should really thank Zelda for those when I go back to Hyrule. She'll really love to hear about all the exciting things that have happened here. You'd really like Zelda. She's a great friend. Why, just a while back-"
"You're going back to Hyrule?" Elice burst in, her eyes wide and full of emotion.
"Well, of course," Link replied nervously.
"But, you can't leave," Elice begged, growing more desperate with every second, inching closer and closer to him. "Please, Link, you can't go."
Link took a final step backwards, tripped over his own feet and slammed against the stone wall behind him, his face flaming. "Why?" he asked in a small voice, pressed up against the wall as far as he could go, feeling utterly trapped.
"I love you," Elice replied eagerly.
"Oh-" he stammered. "I- uh," he couldn't manage to get out a coherent phrase, and all the while Elice was leaning closer to him, her eyelashes batting, her gaze hopeful. "That's very nice of you, but-" he managed to say finally, putting his hands on her shoulders and holding her back.
"What?" Elice asked, her hope now dangling on a thread.
"I don't- I can't," he stammered. For a moment he looked at her in silence. In her eyes he could see her heart breaking and it made him want to sink into the floor.
"Why?" she finally asked helplessly, her eyes welling with tears.
Link looked more uncomfortable than ever now. "It's just that- well-"
"Because of her?" Elice asked.
"Link!" the call came from down the hall. A guard was approaching and Link nearly jumped away from Elice.
"I have to go!" Link almost shouted, turning and jogging down the hall, leaving Elice standing alone.
"Prince Marth wants to see you," the guard said casually. Link's momentary relief was now crashing down upon him.
"Oh," he said weakly. Still, it was either facing Marth or facing Elice, and at this point he'd gladly take his chances with Marth.
"You wanted to see me?" Link asked as he entered the room. Marth was sitting at the table alone now, his head in his hands. Roy was gone without a trace.
"What are your intentions with my sister?" Marth asked without delay and without even raising his head.
"Intentions?" Link squeaked. Could Marth know about what had just happened? Once again Link felt a desperate urge to simply vanish from existence rather than have this conversation. "I have no intentions!"
"She seems to think you do," Marth now raised his head and his demeanor was not friendly.
"No," Link sighed. "I've told you, this always happens to me. I try to help people and then girls get the idea that they're in love with me and then it all just goes wrong!"
"So, you've done this before? You think you can deceive my sister, make her think you care and then break her heart?"
"I haven't done anything like that," Link replied, growing angry in his own turn. "I have never led her to believe I… feel that way for her. I've tried to tell her, but she won't listen."
"What are you implying?" Marth jumped up.
"Nothing!" Link shot back.
For a moment they stared at one another. "I will not have you hurt her," Marth warned.
"I don't want to hurt her," Link swore. "I haven't done anything to anyone. I'm just here to help!" His frustration was boiling over.
"I know," Marth sighed finally calming down. "Elice… she just has such a big heart sometimes that she forgets she also has a head and she needs to use it. She's just afraid. I can't blame her," he shrugged hopelessly. "She's right; I can't ever understand what she went through. There's nothing I can do to take it away. I just want to protect her," he explained.
"I know," Link replied back.
"I'm sorry," Marth said with another sigh. "I simply can't stand to see more pain brought into her life."
"I know," Link repeated.
"Just, please, let her know the truth. I don't want her to have false hopes," Marth said.
"I'll do my best," Link replied.
"So, you're still willing to help us?" Marth asked a little sheepishly.
Link looked rather ambiguous but he replied, "For as long as I can."
It didn't prove to be very long at all. Elice was unrelenting in her pursuit of Link's affections. His refusal of her only seemed to increase her attraction to him. He had thought that she would have given up, but everywhere he went she was right there waiting with a smile and hopeful, adoring eyes. Though Link tried time and time again to get her to see reason she couldn't see past the stars in her eyes.
To make matters worse he seemed to get no understanding from either Roy or Marth. Roy, with whom he had always had an amiable friendship, began to treat him with bitterness and distain. Marth would watch Elice following Link around the castle like a lost puppy and shoot Link dark and menacing glances. He had thought of Marth and Roy as two of the closest friends he had ever made. There was no more laughter or camaraderie between them anymore: only curt words followed by tense silences. Link was left in complete bewilderment at the situation. He didn't think he'd done anything wrong and yet it all seemed to be crumbling beneath his feet.
Before too long it became apparent that the longer he stayed in Aritia the more hopelessly devoted Elice was growing and the more hostile Marth and Roy were growing. The more he pushed Elice away the harder she fought and the more devoted she became. The longer he stayed the worse he would hurt her when he left. Aritia was not nearly as welcoming as it had once been.
Besides, he had made a promise to Zelda, and the New Year was only weeks away. As they always did when he was gone from Hyrule for too long his thoughts had turned to the Princess. The longer he stayed away the more she consumed his mind. He needed to see her again. So he packed his things and he left. He didn't say goodbye. He knew Elice would protest and beg and cry and he couldn't handle it any longer. He knew it would hurt her, but at this point that was inevitable. He knew Marth would be upset, but it was too late to avoid that too. He was out of options, and in the long run he knew they would all be better off without him. So he rode off into the darkness, leaving Aritia behind and returning with all haste to Hyrule.
It was barely past dawn when Elice knocked on the door of Marth's chamber. It was still dark outside: only the faintest gleam of light rising over the mountains in the east. Without waiting for a reply she walked in. Marth sat up blearily, rubbing his eyes and looking up at her in confusion.
"What is it?" Marth asked in a groggy voice, then seeing it was her he looked concerned, "What are you doing up this early?"
"I told you," she said in a slow, emotionless voice. "I can't sleep." She was standing perfectly still, her eyes gazing forward, almost unfocused. There was an odd, unnatural calm about her: as though she were trapped in a daze.
"What's wrong?" Marth asked her, sensing it immediately.
"Link's gone," she replied simply, evenly, matter-of-factly. And then she cracked. She threw herself down on the foot of Marth's bed and sobbed. "He left without even saying goodbye."
"What?" Marth exclaimed. "He wouldn't just leave. There must be a mistake."
"No, I checked his room, the stable, everywhere. Epona is gone too. The guards said he left in the night. You were right about him. You were right about everything. He doesn't love me. He doesn't even care. He's gone and I'll never see him again," she cried.
Marth hugged her, not knowing what to say. He knew this would happen- give Link long enough and he would break her heart. Truthfully, he knew that Elice had partially brought this on herself. Desperate and afraid she had thrown her heart at the first boy who came along. Her affections had been rash and foolish, this Marth could not deny, but what could be expected from a fifteen year old girl who had sustained as much loss and endured as much trauma as Elice had in the last few years. The entire situation had played out with painful foreknowledge of this heartbreaking moment, and yet there had been nothing he could have done to stop it. Nevertheless, he could not help but be angry with the outcome. He had done what he could to prevent it, but here they were: Elice's heart broken once more.
"I'll never see him again," she whispered through her tears. "I didn't even get to say goodbye."
Roy found sleep to be evasive as well of late. Over and over again he replayed it in his mind: the vision of Elice and Link. He could not shake the effect it had on him but he could not understand why it had upset him so. He couldn't accept that it meant what he knew it meant. He didn't need that complication in his life. He didn't want that complication in his life, and yet now every time he saw her a strange feeling came over him. It was uninvited but not completely unwanted. He'd never felt this before and quite frankly it was frightening to him.
Not that it mattered much. She spent every waking moment trailing Link around, fawning over him with such adoration it gave Roy an inescapable urge to destroy something. Instead he seemed to take out his frustrations on her: teasing her, mocking her, purposefully provoking her. It seemed the only way that she would pay any attention to him. It was the only way he'd ever been able to get a reaction from her, although the attention it did elicit from her was nothing at all the kind she showered upon Link. Link could do no wrong and it seemed Roy could do nothing right.
He couldn't let her know, though. He could never let her know. Such thoughts would appear and suddenly he would realize that acknowledging them meant admitting that he cared about her: and quickly he would force such thoughts from his mind. The internal battle left him feeling confused and restless all the time.
It was how he had found himself walking the parapets after midnight, wandering aimlessly, trying to put her from his mind. All was silent but for the faint breeze and an occasional murmur from passing guards. The sound of the main gate opening, then, echoed out with magnified intensity through the tranquil night. Hearing it, Roy's curiosity was piqued. It was unusually late for anyone to be arriving or leaving the castle. He made his way towards the gate, peering over the parapets. It was Link, riding his mare at top speed through the towers, past the gate and out over the road, kicking up a trail of dust in his wake.
For a moment Roy stood back, contemplating what this meant. Link was gone. A small smile crept over his face, unwittingly.
His joy was brief, though, for at that moment his eye caught something strange in the distance. Something large was moving across the sky towards him. It was gliding through the air smoothly, like a serpent, its great wings beating up and down in a steady rhythm. It was pure ebony in color: the moonlight reflecting off of its innumerable scales.
Roy stared at it drawing ever closer, unable to look away. The dragon stared back: its gleaming eyes boring into him. He could hear the beating of the powerful wings as they sent a current of wind into his face. His hand crept to the hilt of his sword, tensing as the Dragon overcame him, hovering before him, the ceaseless wings pounding against its sides.
Roy held onto his sword, but he could do nothing more. The paralyzing glare of the dragon's eyes had him rooted to the ground and utterly helpless. The dragon's great neck began to extend, its head lowering until its nose was mere inches from Roy's face. Their gazes met, locking onto one another. Roy could see his own terrified expression reflecting in the dragon's eyes. A stream of black mist issued from its nostrils, hitting Roy's skin and causing a searing pain.
Still Roy stared back as the dragon opened its mouth, forked tongue flicking slightly.
"Murderer," it hissed, pouring out a great cloud of suffocating black vapor. Horrified, confused and speechless Roy's heart began pounding against his chest.
The words his ears and his eyes flew open and he shot up with a jolt. Breathing heavily, chest heaving and covered in a cold sweat Roy clutched his beating heart, trying to calm his nerves.
"Roy?" Roy's head flew around, his eyes falling on a slightly bewildered looking soldier who was peering into his tent cautiously.
"What, Maddox?" Roy half snapped, still jumpy from his nightmare.
"Get your butt out of bed, Roy." Maddox tossed a pillow at Roy's face. "Let's go!"
"Oh," Roy sighed. "Yeah, tell the men to pack up camp. Let's get out of here."
" 'Bout time," Maddox muttered.
The tent flap slipped shut, leaving Roy alone once more in the darkness of his tent, still shaken by what he had seen.