Link scanned the hills that separated them from the castle. "We've got to find a way in and help him get out. He should have been able to escape by now…something must be wrong."
Zelda frowned. "Do you really think we can help him?"
"It might be something as simple as finding a key…not much he can do on the wrong side of a lock. Not sure what kind of lock could hold him in, though." He motioned for Zelda to follow him. "We'll have to be careful…there's guards everywhere, but…we're little. We can hide in places they can't find us."
The two of them raced down the road that led to the castle, Link pulling Zelda aside as they neared the first gate. He pointed to the tendrils of ivy snaking up one of the walls, then began climbing. She followed, slowly, and he paused now and then to help her find her next foothold. Her purloined boys' clothes made climbing much easier.
Once at the top of the rock wall, they sped across it, only taking a cursory look or two down at the guard which stood on the end facing the town. They maneuvered their way to the far end of the other side (no guards to prevent anyone from leaving the castle, after all), and climbed back down again.
Zelda tumbled into the dirt, breathing hard. Link helped her up. "You all right?"
She nodded, sweat streaking the dust across her face. "What now?"
He pointed to the hills to the side of the road. "There's guards along the road, but nobody in the grass. There's bushes tall enough to hide us."
She frowned. "How are we going to get past the gate?"
"We won't use the gate. See the water outlet, there? We can use that to get in."
"Link…that's where the water from the toilets goes."
He shrugged as she made a face. "I didn't say it would be easy."
They sprinted across the field, ducking behind one of the guards and rolling down the steep embankment to the surface water of the moat. Here Link showed Zelda how to float still in the water, and he pulled her across. They scrambled up the opposite side and disappeared into the drainage hole, which luckily held only a trickle of water. The smell, however, was not much better than usual.
They popped out near the gardens, in a drainage ditch built to carry excess rainwater out of the castle. Link pointed at one of the towers above them. "That one was yours, right?" She nodded. "The dungeons was right below it. Let's go!"
They sped across the gardens, bright flowers and colorful butterflies contrasting starkly with the two desperate, dirt-stained children's faces. Link paused for a moment to decide where to go next - a moment too long.
"You there!" One of guards called out. "Halt!"
The children doubled their efforts, the sounds of boots on the grounds multiplying as they ran. Suddenly the high-pitched whistle of arrows rent the air, and Zelda instinctively fell to her knees, covering her head. Link kept running as the arrows bounced harmlessly off the shield on his back, then halted when he realized Zelda was no longer beside him. He turned back, then stopped as one of the guards seized Zelda by the collar.
"Keep going!" she shouted after him. "Go find Ganondorf!"
He hesitated, then took off like a rabbit with three guards in hot pursuit.
"Look here, boy," said the guard that had caught her, holding tight to her wrist. "This is royal land, you can't just…oh!"
His face paled, and he gripped Zelda's wrist so hard she cried out. Three other guards ran over to them, and they too recoiled in fear.
"The curse mark!" One of them cried. "This boy…I mean girl…it can't be!"
"It must be," said another, his face grim. "You know what we must do."
"We should ask one of the advisors first," said a third. "I find it hard to believe that…"
"Do you doubt the King's word?" the other answered. They all shook their heads. "Very well, then. To the gallows with her, and quickly!"
Ganondorf glanced down at the mark on his hand. It glowed so faintly that normally he would not be able to tell, but the darkness of the cell made it stand out. He listened hard for any kind of movement; was it possible one of the children was here? Perhaps they could escape together, just as they had before. They would have to leave quickly, given what the King planned to do if they arrived…
He heard the scramble of feet, and the door burst open, Link running down the stairs two at a time. His face lit up as he saw the tall man. "I found you!" he said breathlessly, then skidded to a halt. After a brief glance around, he asked, "Where are the keys?"
"I don't…" The door crashed open again and a small knot of guards rushed down the stairs. Link drew his sword but they shoved him against the wall with their spears.
"Careful!" one of the men shouted. "Prisoner's to be kept alive till he joins the girl at the gallows!"
"What?" Ganondorf demanded. He instinctively grabbed the bars, then released them with a yell, his hands hissing from the burn of angry magic.
"Let go!" Link shouted as they pinned his arms behind him, securing a length of chain. "Ganondorf, help me!"
"I…" The huge man paused, the guard's pronouncement of Zelda at the gallows ringing in his ears, competing with the King's warning upon his visit. His hands hovered near the bars. "I can't…"
Link bit one of his captors, and he struck him, hard across the side of his face. Link fixed his gaze on Ganondorf, blood trickling down his nose. "Don't just stand there, do something!"
"That's enough, boy!" One of the guards snarled, pulling his knife. "A little bloodletting ought to calm you down long enough to get that noose around your neck."
Without thinking, Ganondorf grabbed the bars, the anti-magic wards sizzling through his skin. The guards jumped back in fear as he roared with pain, the crackle of magic and smell of lightning filling the air. For a moment he looked as if he was about to pull away; then his resolved hardened as he made his decision. The mark on his hand grew brighter as he pushed further and further, barreling over his past limit and careening into the unknown.
The guards dropped Link as a feral snarl cut through the dungeons, and the form of the man behind the bars shivered and warped in front of them. His back hunched, his teeth grew, hair sprouted from the gray-white knuckles gripping the iron door. Through the hiss of magic and guttural snarls of the creature before them, they could hear the whine of metal as it slowly bent at the will of clawed hands.
Shrieking, the guards scrambled back up the stairs, their yells punctuated by the groan of the door's hinges as they separated from their frame. A monster emerged from the cell, face disfigured with a boar's tusks and jowls, feet replaced with a demon's hooves, eyes bright with magic-fueled rage. Its roar of fury shook the dungeons as it pursued the guards with surprising speed up the stairs.
Link scrambled to his feet, sword drawn and in hot pursuit.
As they reached the town square, Zelda wondered how they could have missed the gallows. The platform stood high in the middle, the noose hanging ready and waiting. She shivered at the thought of how many of her people had met this fate at the whim of her uncle, while she had been locked away in her tower. She noted grimly that the Master Sword stood near in an open lead casket. Doubtless her uncle had planned a show of destroying anything that still carried the Triforce mark in full view of the people.
And there he stood at the top of the gallows, the man himself. Zelda's stomach churned with hatred as he fixed his mad yet strangely calm gaze upon her. Her mother was nowhere to be seen. She prayed that she had merely been locked up, not forced to face the same fate that her uncle had chosen for Zelda.
The false king raised his hands, addressing an ever-growing crowd around them. "People of Hyrule!" he called out, his voice blanketing the entire square. "For years we have lived in fear that the Cursed Ones would bring plague and misery to our fair land once again. But now the cleansing of Hyrule will reach its final stages. Behold! The cursed weapon, and one of the Three Bearers of Ill Fate!"
The guard holding Zelda raised her hand for all to see; another held up the casket containing the sword. The audience cried out in anger and fear; after recoiling briefly, they pressed in closer and chanted an ever-rising cry for blood.
"Step forward, ye fair people of Hyrule," said the king. "Once we choke the breath from this damned maiden, we will destroy the evil spirit's host, so it will never again plague this land! Bring ye your swords, your knives, your hoes! Hack apart the vessel and cleanse the land in its blood!"
Zelda struggled in the guard's arms as the crowd shoved even closer to the platform, sharp metal gleaming in the sunlight.
Link panted, out of breath, as he reached the top of the stairway and ran through the shattered door. He followed the blasted walls, ruined suits of armor, and slashed tapestries until he found himself in the courtyard again, where virtually every knight in the castle gathered in a circle around the growing monster.
Ganondorf had lost nearly all vestiges of his human self, save for some scraps of armor. One blow from his fist blasted a hole in the castle walls. A few arrows and spears quivered as they stuck in his thick hide, though they seemed not to bother him at all. He swiped at the knights, who fled before him.
Ducking under the legs of the knights, Link ran toward him. "Ganondorf, stop! We need to save Zelda!"
The hideous pig's face contorted in fury, and it slammed its hand down where Link had stood just a few moments earlier. Undaunted, Link darted forward and pulled at the giant's piglike ear. "Stop this! They're going to kill her! They're going to kill her NOW! Snap out of it!"
The great beast roared at him, foul breath spilling across the courtyard. Seeing him occupied, some of the knights fled, with the stouter-hearted attacking the monster's flank. As Ganon turned to snap at them, Link jumped upon the armor plates and gripped the coarse hairs between them. He scrambled onto Ganon's back, then jumped off again as the great creature rolled upon the ground, trying to crush him.
Losing patience, Link hit him on the snout with his little sword. Pulling at the tiny hairs over his eyes, Link shouted into the monster's face, to the consternation of the remaining guards. "Listen to me! They're going to kill Zelda! We don't have time for this! Are you going to do the same thing your ancestor did? Wasn't that the whole point of this quest, to undo the damage that made the Triforce a curse mark?"
For several long moments nothing changed, the demonic eyes staring into Link's own. Then, with a flick of its head, the monster tossed Link back onto its neck. It made a loud noise, a guttural sound that Link almost did not recognize as a word. "Where?"
"The castle town. Hurry!" he shouted, and hung on for dear life as the monster ran through the courtyard on all fours, scrambling over the walls and bolting toward the town.
Zelda trembled uncontrollably, her hands tightly bound behind her back, as the executioner pulled the hood over her head. The small, Wisdom-controlled, rational part of her mind sneered at the irony of this gesture, as if shielding her from the bloodthirsty scene she had already witnessed would calm her at all. She felt herself being shoved roughly forward, the scratchy rope of the noose sliding against her neck. Where were Link and Ganondorf? Had they already been killed? What was going to happen now that her uncle had finally wiped away all remnants of the Goddesses' presence?
They had failed. That fact hit her harder than her own impending death. They had come so far, only to fail…
Suddenly a cry of fear rent through the air, quickly taken up by others in the crowd. She heard her uncle shout to the executioner, "Pull it! Now!" and his yell of rage as an arrow whistled just over her head. In the confusion she tripped and fell back, anticipating the choking grip of the noose around her neck; but it hung limp even as she fell to the floor.
A mighty roar filled the air, and the mob shrieked and screamed as it fled from the platform. Zelda could feel the vibration of some impossibly huge force striking the ground as it moved toward her, then stopped just short of the platform. Then the patter of small booted feet, and suddenly the hood ripped away from her eyes. Link stood before her with a grin of triumph.
But her own smile froze as she saw the gigantic monster in front of her, staring at her with maddened eyes and long, sharp teeth. "Hang on a minute," Link said as he cut her hands free. "Help me bring up the sword."
The two of them huffed and pushed as they moved the lead casket closer to the monster, which sniffed uncertainly at it. Link pulled it from its case, and with a huge effort, thrust it point down into the platform. "Here, take it!"
Zelda realized that it was Ganondorf who stood before her, in the Triforce's altered form. She motioned for him to pull the sword from the wood. "Please, take it. It will bring you back to normal!"
The creature held out one clawed hand, then recoiled. The bright blade contrasted sharply with the darkness that shrouded the man beneath the monster. "You have to do it!" Link yelled. "It's the only way for you to change back!"
It reached out again, touching one claw against the hilt. Bright energy around the sword swirled and sparked, and the creature let out a bellow of pain. Yet it drew in tighter, held the weapon closer.
The two children shielded their eyes as an impossibly bright light filled their vision. Through slits in their fingers they watched as a figure crouched by the sword, waves of darkness spilling from his shoulders as the blinding light drove it away.
Then, finally, the light ceased. They lowered their hands to see Ganondorf back in human form, holding the sword high. He turned to them with a triumphant grin, then sliced the sword clean through the pole holding up the remains of the noose.
"Enough!" a voice commanded. The three of them turned in the deserted square to see one other person among them, the false king. They recoiled as some dark miasma bubbled from his shoulders, a fell force that came from no Sacred Realm. "I've had enough of this!" he called in an unearthly voice. "Your destruction is nigh. Face your fate!"