"Link! Look out!" Zelda screamed, cupping her hands around her mouth so that her words would better reach the furiously battling Hero. Her heart was racing in her chest fearfully as she watched the long-legged young man turn a nimble backflip and dart away from the incoming strike.
The sky overhead was dark and thick with masses of thunderclouds, whose black bellies snarled hungrily and flashed bright bolts of lightning over the battlefield. The air was heavy beneath them, as if their imposing weight were crushing the air in Hyrule down around its denizens. A storm was hovering over the warrior and his monstrous opponent, and as Zelda watched, the first few drops of rain began speeding down from on high. They fell slowly and in scattered amounts, only to swiftly pick up a vicious speed and force, until they were coming down in driving curtains. A sharp gust of chilly wind keened over the rubble-strewn ground, sending the raindrops slanting into the eyes of all present. Lightning stabbed the sky in blinding flashes, and the thunder that followed made the ground quake in fear.
Zelda felt her breath catch in her throat; it was hard to see her Hero as it were, and the brief glimpses she caught of him when the lightning flared did not set her heart at ease. He was stumbling slightly as he ran, and limping when he wasn't stumbling. He'd been injured before, while the war had been waged in the tower, and the frantic dash down to this new battleground had not improved his condition. The Princess could see that he was getting tired and weak, that his wounds were starting to drag him down. Her heart clenched painfully.
"Link, don't give up!" she cried, feeling her throat beginning to choke up. "He's weakening—I can sense it! You can do this! I believe in you!"
In a flash of lightning, she saw the Hero of Time spare her the briefest of glances over his shoulder before he returned his focus to the fight at hand. He was no more than ten feet away from her; she had seen the look of desperation in his impossibly dark blue eyes give way to a smoldering light of courage. In the darkness that followed, Zelda heard him sheathe the Master Sword, the Blade of Evil's Bane, and heard him fumble behind him for the bow strapped under his shield. There was nothing; then, a bright, yellow glow began to shine out in front of Link as the young Hero nocked a Light Arrow onto his bowstring. He aimed for the face of the monstrous boar-beast before him, and let fly. Ganon let out an earth-shattering roar of pain as the arrow connected with its mark, and tumbled onto his knees.
Pausing only enough to draw his sword once more, Link charged in and dealt the evil beast a series of rapid swipes to the tail—the weak point that Navi had eagerly pointed out at the battle's start. A shaft of furious lightning split the storm-darkened sky, and in the heartbeat of its flare, Zelda saw something that wrenched a horrified scream from somewhere deep with her. Ganon whirled on his brave assailant with the flat of one of his twin swords and flung him away with a solid blow to the chest. Link landed a good distance away with a choked yell. Zelda ran around the side to see if she could spot him, her heart thumping hard against her breastbone. She'd never imagined violence like this—at least not done towards her Hero. She brought herself up short, her hands clapped around her mouth fearfully, as she saw the dim outline of the young Hylian staggering to his feet once more. She saw the weary slump of his shoulders—how low he held his head, how labored his heaving breaths were, how painfully he seemed to move—and knew that he was quickly losing his strength.
The young woman bit her lower lip nervously. She knew that the Triforce of Courage gave Link some degree of protection against evil powers, as well as the unyielding bravery that he showed now. But she couldn't help but wonder if she had somehow underestimated the brutal strength of the Triforce of Power held by Ganon. Indeed, the Evil King seemed nigh unstoppable, despite the best efforts of the Hero limping around him.
Zelda followed Link behind the barrier, her heart tearing with every slow, painful step the boy took. She sniffled, and was startled to discover that rain was not the only thing streaming down her face. She was crying—crying for fear of her Hero and Hyrule, for the sorrow she felt to see him so battered, and for the awful dread that was building in her belly. Link stopped and turned to face Ganon once more. Lightning blasted the soggy battlefield, and Zelda saw that the Hero of Time was quivering weakly where he stood. She listened to him fumble about trying to sheathe the Master Sword, then slowly draw out his bow and fit an arrow to its string. A dim glow lit the Hylian youth from the front, but his arms dipped lower and lower as it grew brighter. The physical strain of creating a Light Arrow was sapping the needed strength from his body; he could barely hold his bow upright to aim it.
Goddesses of Hyrule, help him! Zelda pleaded in her heart. Her sobbing gasps synced eerily with the labored draws of breath from the Hero in front of her. She leaned closer to him, her eyes huge, begging the Goddesses for mercy. Her heart broke when she saw the failing glow of the Light Arrow die out completely, and she heard Link drop his bow to the muddy ground at his feet. Ganon was creeping steadily closer, and the Hero stumbled away from his approach as fast as he could. Zelda ran alongside him, sniffling and wringing her hands anxiously.
"Link!" she squeaked, her throat almost too tight to speak. "Don't let him win! You can defeat him! I know you can! Don't give in!"
Again, she saw him turn to glance at her, and saw him dip his head in a trembling nod. Zelda felt as if she had been punched in the stomach by the trust and warmth in his tired eyes. He began limping back to the place where he had dropped the bow, snapping his fingers weakly and pointing in its direction. Navi hummed down obediently and illuminated the cast-aside weapon, though her blue glow was all but swallowed by the driving rain.
Link lifted the bow into his hands, and slowly laid an arrow against the string. Zelda saw a yellow bubble of light begin to form in front of him. Her heart leapt with joy as she realized that this arrow was gaining strength much faster than the one before it. Perhaps that brief moment of eye contact with her had given her Hero some extra strength. Whatever it was, though, it led to a fully-formed Light Arrow that connected furiously with Ganon's boar face. The monster toppled down, and Link struggled to unsheathe the Master Sword. Once it was in his shaking hands, the youth lumbered forwards and hurled himself at the Evil King with a weak cry. He struck once—fumbled the sword in his grasp—planted his feet—struck again—wobbled and caught himself—lifted his sword for a third strike—
"Get out of there!" Zelda shrieked, her heart now thundering a panicked beat in her chest. "Run! You don't have much time! Go! Go!" She could barely see her Hero, a smudge of dim light in a world of darkness. But she could clearly hear Ganon grunting and snorting and struggling to his feet. He was moving faster than Link could hope to, and Zelda nearly lost her mind when she heard him knock the brave warrior away as if he were nothing more than a bothersome flea. A thin scream tore free from her throat as she hitched up her skirts and dashed in the direction he had flown.
When she reached the place, Link was still on his hands and knees, gasping for breath. Zelda knelt down and put her hand against the wall that separated them. She saw Navi hover close to the Hero's face, heard him retch and cough, watched drops of blood dot the ground. The Princess moaned softly at her courageous champion's fate and covered her face hopelessly. Just barely, she heard a quiet, weak voice whisper, "Haa…Huh." She looked up to see Link, head still down, pressing his hand against the barrier between them, his palm against hers. The Hero lifted his face to hers with painful slowness. A dark ring of purple surrounded his right eye, and his face was traced all over with more cuts than Zelda could count. Blood from his coughing fit streaked his chin, but he was smiling! Smiling as if to comfort her, to tell her not to be afraid for him.
His dark blue eyes, though glazed and barely focused, were filled with warm encouragement. Zelda felt herself fall forward into those eyes, become lost in them. She wished there had been more time to speak to him before this battle had broken out, more time to tell him the words that lurked timidly in her heart. She wanted to tell him—oh, great Goddesses, she wanted—but she was too afraid of his reaction. What if he did not return the feelings? She wanted to believe that his eyes held a glow of something approaching affection, but she did not want to make assumptions. Her heart twisted and tore painfully at the incredible agony on his face, and at the gentle calm in his eyes despite his pain. Link's smile stretched across his bleeding face, a small light of hope in this dark night. He began pulling himself off the ground, supporting himself on the barrier between him and the Princess. Zelda kept her hand against his; though she could not feel his touch through the wall, it gave her some measure of hope to know that she was supporting him somehow.
Link gave her one long look before returning his focus to Ganon once more. Zelda caught her breath in her throat as she watched his trembling hands aim an arrow at the boar-beast's face. The weak glow of a Light Arrow was swallowed by a harsh blast of lightning that split the sky; in that instant, the two Hylians watched as Ganon's eyes slipped out of focus, and the Evil King dropped to his knees without even being struck. Zelda felt a burst of hope surge through her heart at the sight. "Link, I'll hold him for you!" she shouted. "Get ready to attack. We'll send this foul beast to a place he'll never escape from!"
She watched her Hero grip the Master Sword and stumble towards the stunned monster as fast as his shaky legs could carry him. This would be the end—at last, Link would be able to rest! Once Ganon was sealed away, Zelda would take the youth far away from this dark, dangerous place and treat his wounds. Then, perhaps, when he had recovered some of his strength, she could talk to him and tell him how she felt. Her heart began to lighten in her chest as she summoned her strength to pin Ganon down.
But as hard as she tried, she could not get a good enough grip on the Evil King to hold him down. She could feel a subtle push against her, as if he were resisting capture. She would pull back, call up more of her power, and try again, but each time Ganon would brush her aside. Again and again she tried, with no success. But how could that be? He was stunned, unconscious—he couldn't possibly be resisting her! Realization struck the Princess in a cold, harsh blow, and she clapped her hands to her mouth. It's just an act! He's luring Link in!
"Link!" she screeched, her voice rising to a frantic pitch. "Get back! Get away! Hurry! Link!"
She saw the youth hesitate, swaying on his feet at Ganon's head. He crouched low, bracing himself and raising his shield defensively. The silent minutes stretched thin, becoming hours, days; Ganon did not move to attack the Hero before him, remaining slumped on the ground. Zelda's heart was whirring in her chest, frantically begging Link to retreat to a safer place, but it seemed that her Hero was either too weak or to stubborn to flee. She bit her lip frantically, drawing blood, but she did not notice the pain.
The only sound was that of the falling raindrops, which pelted the combatants mercilessly and mingled with Zelda's free-flowing tears. The young woman placed a hand on the barrier, leaning in towards her Hero. "Link," she whispered, the loudest she could speak, "come back. Please, please…Come back where it's safer." She watched the young Hylian ease up out of his tense crouch, though she knew he had not heard her. Link stood at Ganon's cheek, eyeing his seemingly helpless opponent in a calculating way. She could see him wobbling as he stood; his strength was nearly gone, and soon it would be too much for him to even stay standing. He seemed to take each falling raindrop as a shove or a blow, and swayed on his feet with the force of them. He was weak and tired, and his body was nearly spent, but his indomitable courage and spirit kept him from submitting. Zelda sucked in her breath as she saw him draw both arms—for he was holding his sword in two hands—back to strike, and prayed fervently that her previous judgment of Ganon's state of consciousness was right.
Link's arms swept down slowly, the Master Sword cutting a glittering, glowing arc through the rain and the darkness. The blade inched towards Ganon's neck, its path wavering with its wielder's trembling hands. For a second, it appeared as though victory belonged to the Hero of Time, and that soon the Evil King's head would be rolling across the ground. But in the instant before the Master Sword struck flesh, the Triforce of Power on the back of the Evil King's hand began to glow white-hot in the darkness. Link balked, studying the weapon in his shaking hands, as if suspicious of it. Even from where she stood, Zelda could tell that something was wrong; the Master Sword seemed heavier in her Hero's hands, and its softly-glowing blade seemed to have lost some of its luster.
In those precious few seconds when the two youth were distracted, Ganon's eyes snapped open, and one of his powerful hands lashed out, catching Link across the chest. The Hylian was hurled through the air towards Zelda, and in midflight, the Master Sword slipped out of his grip. Hero and blade struck the same fragment of castle wall at much the same time, with very similar results.
Zelda wasn't sure which was louder: The high-pitched singing note of the Sword of Time breaking mid-blade, or the awful, crumbling crack as Link's neck was snapped.
The Princess gave voice to a thunderous, disbelieving wail as Ganon's dark laughter boomed out over the rumble of the retreating thunder. Link slid down the wall slowly to land in a limp huddle at the foot of it. The barrier fell, and Zelda dashed to her Hero's side. She took his head in her lap, desperately stroking his bloodied face with one hand while feeling his neck, wrist, and chest with the other. She found no pulse, and he made no movements as if he were breathing. "Link, no!" she whispered fearfully. "No! No! Don't—don't go! Link!" Fresh tears streamed down her face, dripping down into the sightless, open eyes of the Hero in her arms. Link stared blindly out into the pouring rain, his mouth dropped open the barest of inches; his expression was frozen in one of mild surprise, as if the suddenness with which he had hit the stone wall had startled him slightly. He was dead.
Zelda cursed herself for all that had happened. It was her fault she had been captured—she shouldn't have revealed herself in such an open place as a closed-door Temple. If she hadn't been taken away, Link wouldn't have come to save her, and he would never have been pulled into this battle, and he would still be alive. The Hylian brushed his cheek lightly with her hand, wincing at the sight of his blood staining her silken glove. The ground shook, and Zelda jerked her head up to see that Ganon was prowling towards her, his eyes bright with wild joy.
"Ohoho! So the great Hero of Time is only mortal after all!" he thundered. Zelda would have sobbed in fear, but she found that she had no tears left in her body. She stared up at him as mute as the Hero in her lap had been in life. "Now that he's gone, nothing stands between me and the power I seek!"
A fear gripped Zelda, and she realized that Ganon was right. As she was shaking her head and opening her mouth to beg for mercy, she spotted a glint out of the corner of her eyes. The Master Sword lay fewer than twenty feet away, well within her grasp. If repaired and placed in the hands of a capable wielder, the sword could be Ganon's undoing. At the same time, however, if she took Link away and brought him to the right person, his body could be restored, and his spirit brought back into it. The Princess's eyes flashed from the broken blade to her broken Hero. There was no way she would be able to carry both the sword and Link away from Ganon.
She was going to have to choose.
But how could she possibly choose between a sword so important and a young man so dear? Zelda squeezed her eyes shut, her heart clenching painfully. Goddess of Wisdom, guide me. Show me the path that is right. She knelt there, eyes closed, listening to Ganon's steady approach and praying for her path to appear. It took a moment, as if the Spirit of Wisdom was just as conflicted as she was; then, Zelda felt a gentle pressure on her cheek, turning her head to the side. She opened her eyes, and saw that she was looking directly at the Master Sword, whose blade was now cleaned by the rain. It looked somewhat dull and lusterless, as if its energy had died with Link. Zelda felt a lump form in her throat, and she bit her tender lower lip, which had already endured much chewing this night. Her breath coming in shaky puffs, she bent her head and gave her Hero a gentle kiss on the cheek. "I'm sorry, Link," she murmured, her heart broken. Then, after placing his head on the ground with as much tenderness as should would if he were still alive, she unclipped the sheath from Link's back and strapped it to her own belt. She got up and began striding purposefully towards the broken sword, her face set like stone.
She heard Ganon's roar of protest and gathered up her skirts in one hand, running flat-out towards the Blade of Evil's Bane. The ground shook as the boar-beast pounded after her, and his bellows rent the sky. Zelda swooped down and grabbed both pieces of the Master Sword in her free hand without breaking her stride. She hurried towards the edge of the ground and flung herself into the empty air just as one of Ganon's massive hands swept the spot where her legs had been. The Evil King roared his frustration as the young woman escaped.
Zelda dropped the hand that was holding the bundle of her skirt. She made the signs one-handed as she fell through the air, praying that the magic would still work. Her luck held out; her palm was tingling with energy, and it cast a subtle blue light in the darkness. Zelda thrust her hand downwards, open-fisted, shouting, "Nayru's Love—protect me!" A prism of light formed around her body as she dropped, forming a secure cage of protection. The Princess took what felt like her first deep breath of relief in seven years, releasing it in a sad sigh. The ground zoomed closer and closer, but she no longer feared the drop—not with the power of the Goddess of Wisdom guarding her.
The crystal cage around Zelda took the worst of the impact, shattering like a dropped wine glass when it struck the ground beneath Ganon's tower. She stood, dusting herself off briskly with her free hand before gathering up her skirts and taking to her heels again. The pieces of the broken sword in her arm rattled and crashed together in counterpoint to the rhythm of her pounding feet. She did not know if Ganon would follow her, or if he viewed her and the Master Sword as harmless in their current states; she simply ran because her heart told her to flee. An image of Link's face hovered in front of her as she sprinted through the night—she saw the smile he had flashed at her, the grin of encouragement that had come from someone who should be receiving reassurance rather than giving it. It haunted her, crushed her already broken heart into tiny pieces.
Through the marketplace, which was crawling with ReDeads, ran the Princess. They shrieked, but Zelda was already too terrified of something else to even notice; their petrifying screams had no effect on her. Across the broken drawbridge, and out onto the open field, she bolted as if the hounds of Hell were at her heels. Hyrule was dark, and the ground squished as her feet struck it. Zelda could sense that the storm was passing in the opposite direction of her. The rain in her face was thinner, gentler, and the air before her seemed easier to breathe. She ran breathlessly, her heart an aching hole in her chest. Her legs were burning with cramps and fatigue, and her shoulder was sore from her deathgrip on the Master Sword. Still, she ran, pressing forward through the dark land; she was alone and vulnerable, but it scarcely seemed to bother her. Her blue eyes were wide and wild, dark with horror at all she had seen that night.
Zelda was less than half a mile away from the castle gates when she stumbled and fell. The Master Sword tumbled ahead of her; hilted half impaled the grass and stood up straight, while the smaller piece skidded until it struck the other part and was stopped. The sight of the legendary sword without anyone to wield it against the Evil King brought back Zelda's shoved-aside grief. The Princess of Hyrule threw back her head and gave voice to a keening wail that seemed to send the night ringing. Fresh tears coursed down her cheeks as she slumped down against the ground and cried. She howled her sorrow to the night like a Wolfos, mourning not only the loss of her Hero, but also the loss of hope for the kingdom that had once been hers.