Dumb bit no one will read: Wow, it's been a while. Sorry about the wait, I started a Master's course and it's rather a lot of work. I've been eager to finish this though.
So here you go, the last chapter. It's pretty long, I hope you like reading badly written fight scenes. It's very hard to describe video game fights without it being monstrously dull and stupid, but I've done my best. It's a bit rushed and not as much focus on our two favourite people as I'd like, but it's closure to the story and I'm happy to finish at last :) Thanks to the nice people who have given me feedback so far, I cherish reviews :P
I was going to write a whole load of dross here, but I can't remember it. I might edit it slightly in future, but for now, enjoy.
Link gaped at the back of his hand. Visible there, glowing with a strong golden light, the three triangles of the goddesses, the bottom left lit up the strongest. He could feel an itching that suggested the image was not merely projected on his glove, but was shining from under his skin. He turned his hand this way and that, fascinated, before looking up at the familiar stranger.
'How is this... I had it, all this time?'
Shiek stared intently at him.
'When the Evil King took the Triforce by force, it sensed his intentions, and broke itself asunder. The pieces hid inside three souls. Ganondorf recieved the Triforce of Power, allowing him to sieze control of the land. You recieved the Triforce of Courage, allowing you to dive continually into temples to fight nightmares, though I truly believe you didn't need the help.'
Link couldn't take his eyes off the shining gold on his hand. Navi seemed equally fascinated. He thought this new information over for a minute, then looked up at the shiekah, his mind racing just ahead of his voice.
'Then the third piece...'
Shiek's eyes betrayed nothing as he raised his hand, letting a wash of gold light gleam through the wrappings. The light intensified, and Link, who had been about to speak, had to screw his eyes up to fight it. Shiek's clothes glowed, then in an instant ripped into shining fragments that swirled around him, twisting and reforming themselves into a simple dress. Link had been transfixed by the whirling cloth, but as the reformed dress settled he looked up and started in alarm. The stranger's eyes opened as she smiled at him, and he knew, immediately, who she was.
'Princess!' He jerked forward to bow, but she saw the movement and checked it with a wave.
'Please, none of that. You can finally call me Zelda.'
He stammered slightly. He had always expected, at the back of his mind, to find the princess again, but had not anticipated the moment. She didn't seem to want him to treat her like royalty, and that made him pause. He glanced at her as he gathered his thoughts. She was beautiful, undeniably so, her hair a dark strawberry blonde, her figure, hugged by the simple dress, was curved and well developed, and he wondered how he had failed so often to work out Shiek's true identity. The eyes were the same as the ones that had pierced him from behind the mask, lively and intelligent, yet now they had softened as she smiled.
'And yes. The Triforce of Wisdom chose me.'
Link ran a hand through his hair.
'I can't believe it was you, all along...'
She seemed pleased with the success of her disguise.
'It had to be a good cover, if I was to avoid detection for years. And when you came back, I felt obliged to help in every way I could.' She didn't mention how far that help had gone. She had kept a closer watch on him than he would have imagined, spreading false rumours about his whereabouts that ensured he would never run into any of Ganondorf's patrols, even ambushing a group as they threatened to intercept him on his way to Lake Hylia. She was even responsible for warding off the Evil King's minions from around the ranch, creating an island of peace he could use to rest and recover. She wondered if he had noticed how the ranch had been mysteriously left alone for the weeks he had been on his quest, and knew that she would never tell him why.
Link was silent as the Princess explained how and why she had disguised herself, recalling the day she had given him the Ocarina and the reason for everything that had followed. As she caught up to the present, she asked for his protection in the tower, and he smiled.
'So does this mean you'll be with me?'
'Of course. We'll end this together.'
He looked relieved, and she felt a sudden instinct to protect him in any way she could. She pushed the maternal urge down.
'If we're to get anywhere, you'll need some of my magic in your arrows. Here...'
Link unslung his bow and held it out, so the princess could hold it, stroke it gently, and a flare of gold ran along the wood. She muttered some words that he couldn't make out, but the echo made his teeth ache, and the bow flashed again, cementing the magic. He stayed quiet as she worked, silently grateful that he would have another person to help him through the dungeon. She handed the bow back with a smile.
'Now it will fire Light Arrows. They'll be useful against-'
She never finished her sentence as the temple was shaken as though the mighty stone walls were sticks caught in a storm. Link stumbled back, his arms flailing, Zelda dropped to one knee as a furious voice roared through the temple.
'You thought you could hide from me forever?'
Link regained his balance as he recognised the voice that had mocked him before, years ago by the drawbridge, and more recently in the Forest Temple, where it had seemed to emenate from the very stones just as it was doing here. He dropped to a fighting stance and swept the temple, sword at the ready, as the voice rumbled on.
The princess shouted for him, he turned to her, and again that unsettling echo of magic power that set teeth on edge. The air shimmered as he ran to her, then his hands met smooth crystal, ran frantically over the surface of a prism that had trapped the Princess in a magical bond. Ganondorf's gloating rang in his ears as he smashed his fist desperately against the implacable crystal.
'I knew you would reveal yourself if I let this kid run around on his futile quest! Now...'
The shocks running through the temple intensified, small stones fell from the ceiling and rattled off the flagstones. The princess was shouting but he couldn't hear, then she stopped, looking alarmed, grasping at her throat, and he roared. He brought the sword hilt down on the prism again and again, the blows ringing through the hall and echoing far longer than was normal, but not a crack appeared. Zelda fell back, on the brink of unconciousness, and the prism began to rise into the air. Link shouted in frustration and scrabbled for a handhold, but it slipped from his grasp and rose through the falling ceiling tiles. The blood pounding in his ears almost drowned out the final ultimatum from the Evil King;
'If you want to rescue Zelda, come to my castle!'
The last word unleased a whistling gale that swirled the broken stone through the air, but Link stayed on his feet. A blinding flash, he shook his head, and the prism was gone, leaving only an echo of laughter. A roar of impotent rage escaped him and, still deafened by his own pulse, Link ran through the dust and into the night.
Malon sat looking vaguely at the dark shapes of grass between her feet. Her eyes stared unseeing through the hard soil and into the uncertain future.
A far off clatter broke the still air, and her head snapped up. The sun had long since set, and the wind brought a chill that whispered of summer's end. Her fingers unconciously hugged the blanket tighter around herself as she stared into the dusk, heart pounding. Eventually she could take the slowly approaching hooves no longer, and stood to shout a challenge into the night.
'It's just us lass! What's wrong?'
Her father's voice filled her with relief, and she leant back against the gateway to the ranch. The empty milk wagon rumbled into sight, with Talon peering past the horse and looking concerned. When he saw his daughter's slumped form, he threw the reins to Ingo and jumped down.
'Are you all right?'
She was grateful for the hug after waiting alone in the dark for so long, but was less grateful for the tight grip on her arm as she was questioned.
'Yes, fine. I'm fine. Just.. got a bit lonely, that's all.'
Talon frowned and followed her unblinking gaze over his shoulder to where the Dark Tower squatted in the distance, lit menacingly by the reflection of lava on the bottom of the gathering stormclouds. The rising wind flicked a piece of dirt into his face and he blinked.
'Come on, let's get inside.' He made as if to drag her after the wagon, but she made no resistance and he only had to wave Kafei's inquiring look away.
As the farmhands took the wagon back to storage, Talon took the oppurtunity to sit his daughter down in the house and gently place a warm glass of milk in her hands.
'Now tell me what's bothering you. Did something go wrong here while we were away?'
'No, the ranch is fine. It's just...'
She was interrupted by the door banging open as Kafei and Ingo finished racing each other back to the house. They piled into the room grinning, paused as they caught sight of Malon's ashen face, and in response to a glare from Talon, quietly backed outside and eased the door shut again.
Malon took a sip of milk, then raised her eyes from the floor for the first time as the words spilled out in a rush.
'It's Link, he's... he's gone to the tower to fight the king, and he's been gone for hours and I don't know if he'll ever return and...'
Her voice trailed away, as if the past had been a dream and speaking it out loud had solidified it. He might already be dead, and she would never find out...
Talon was looking at her with a strange mix of concern and fear on his face.
'You mean, he was here, and now he's gone to...'
'Yes. He's gone to finish his quest. One way or the other, the future is decided tonight.'
He was taken aback slightly by the lack of emotion in her voice, and was moved to grip her shoulder. She was silent, and he sought for something to say among the turmoil in his own head.
'And you thought freezing yourself out there would help him... how?'
Malon smiled but said nothing. Talon ran a hand through his thinning hair.
'And there's no way we can help, is there?'
'That's the worst part... all I can do is sit and wait. Just like always.'
Father and daughter sat in silence for a few minutes. The wind rattled the shutters slightly and Talon glanced up.
'Maybe there is something we can do...'
Malon jerked into attentiveness.
'Nothing to help directly, but every little helps right?'
Malon's eyes were ablaze again, and he grinned at her.
'That's more like it! Now, while we were leaving Kakariko earlier after ah, business discussions, one of those gloomy patrols came in and started throwing their weight around. Caused quite a bit of arguing, let me tell you. Last I saw, Mutoh was having quite a shouting match with the leader. I would have stayed but I didn't want to put Kafei in danger.'
'So, if we were to go to the village, do you think we could help stir people up against his soldiers?'
'Why not? If history is being made, I'd rather be a part of it than sit around worrying! And it'll give Link less to worry about on his way back.'
Malon was quite animated now, pacing the room and grinning.
'If we set off now, we can-'
She was cut off abruptly by a huge crash that shook the house and made her stumble. Grabbing the table for support, she could hear only the aftershock as it rumbled past, followed by a sudden brief clatter of rain against the window, and then the screams of the horses and Ingo's panicked shouts as sound returned.
'What in tarnation-!' Talon waved a hand to be helped up from the floor, and she pulled him to his feet before dashing outside. Shouting to Ingo, he replied that the horses were alright but terrified, and she stared round wildly for the source of the noise. The far off tower was embroiled in a storm, clouds racing and fusing with each other, bolts of lightning chased each other through the turmoil as the rain began to fall.
'Was that thunder? By the goddesses, that was some noise!' Talon came puffing up behind her, but she didn't hear.
Link ducked, hurting his stomach muscles as he jerked himself sideways in a desperate attempt to-
The air thrummed as the giant axe blade passed inches from his head, the wind of its passage ruffling his hair as he stumbled awkwardly to recover himself from his wild dive. He managed to push himself back with his swordblade barely in time to avoid the second axe as it swung down to obliterate the tiles he had been standing on. He darted backwards, snatching a breath, eyes flickering between the two Iron Knuckles as the heavier tried to retrieve its weapon from the floor. He had dented the armour of one, but it had only fallen off and allowed the suit to move more quickly.
He felt the sweat prickle his back. One of these creatures was a considerable challenge, but two at the same time had robbed him of time to think and had kept him dancing from the moment he had entered the room. There was no way he could survive even one direct hit from those axes, even a glancing blow could cripple him for life, and he was so close to his goal...
No! Despair was useless, he had not fought through all the puzzles and monsters in this tower to fail now! The monsters were tough though, smarter and faster than the relics he had faced in the desert. They covered each other's attacks, sticking close together in an almost impenetrable defence. In a war of attrition, there wasn't even a contest. He would have to try something stupid. Or brave, which was essentially the same thing.
The black suit had waited for his heavily armoured comrade to tear its weapon out of the ground before attacking, now it rolled its shoulders and started a slow run forwards. Link tightened his grip on his sword, sweat from his palms making his gloves damp. Again he wondered how the mind could notice pointless details in a fight, but the thought was left behind as he darted to avoid the sudden cut of the axe. He ran to the side. The black suit was chasing him back towards the white, knowing that if he turned to engage the new threat it could attack from the rear. Link licked his lips. Navi could do nothing to monsters with no eyes or weaknesses, he would have to make a move soon.
He glared at the black suit for a moment, then turned to run directly at the white. Both suits seemed to pause for a second in the face of such a stupid tactic, then continued forwards. He sidestepped an axe swing that ruined yet more of the floor tiles, swung his sword in a wild backhanded blow at the head of the armour, and rejoiced inwardly when it landed perfectly across the gleaming faceplate. The golden plates on his arms had magnified his strength further, and the armour dented like card. The creature staggered back, losing grip on the axe for a moment, giving Link time to spin and face the black suit. His stomach clenched at how close it was, it was faster than he had thought! The monster swung wild blows from side to side, quick, powerful blows that would disintegrate an ox. Link waited a moment then, when the flashing blade was no more than six feet away, threw himself in a desperate dive between the creature's legs. It still had the weight to crush him, but he passed safely through the charge. The weight of the armour and axe carried the monster forward, and Link felt like shouting in triumph as the massive blade sheared straight through the white suit in a blaze of sparks and fire.
A roar, the screech of falling metal, and the black suit fell on top of the scattered remains of its comrade. Link ran forwards as the creature tried to twist round, then tried to raise its axe to block the howling downward stroke. The extra strength in his arms sent the steel straight through the axe handle, then another flurry of wild attacks drove in the cuirass, gauntlets, and visor. He continued flailing at the pile long after the gout of flames that consumed the ghost bound to the armour.
He checked his sword, panting.
'Link! Listen to me!'
He closed his eyes briefly.
'I hope I never see another one of those things in my life.'
Navi laughed at him. He seemed to have calmed down.
'In fact, if I ever see someone in armour again, you might have to restrain me. I'll have a fit or something.'
He stretched his aching sword arm.
'We must be close now...'
Navi looked thoughtful. 'If each floor is the same size, we should have a couple more before the top of the tower. Unless the rest of it is just a big staircase.'
Link snorted. 'Well, I live in hope.' He uncorked a bottle that was miraculously still intact, and swilled the small amount of milk in the bottom around. Navi noticed the faraway look in his eye and darted up to his face.
'Hey! Pay attention! Time for dreaming later, ok?'
Link said nothing and swigged the dregs of the milk.
'Why are you keeping the bottle? It's just taking up space.'
He paused for a moment, then closed the pouch. 'Luck, I suppose.'
'Do you feel like you need it?'
'I don't know... We've done so much it's like we can't fail. I can't even accept that we might. But we've still got the fight of our lives ahead of us...'
'And we're that much closer to the end. Come on, I don't want to stay here any more than you do.'
The next room was different, the flickering torches showed not a low ceiling but a shaft going up, with a central tower that vanished into the gloom.
'How do you suppose we climb that?'
'I think we- look, there's a door over there...'
They were speaking in whispers, as if to hide themselves from the malignant presence above for as long as possible, though he surely knew they were there. The next room curved up to the left, and his footsteps were muffled by a deep carpet. The sudden silence, even when walking, was unnerving.
'Well, a giant staircase going up. Maybe a fool's hope is the best kind.'
Navi smirked. 'Let's hope we have more than a fool's hope.'
'Stop talking like that.'
The stair climbed inevitably toward the future, the top always hidden around the next curve. Link began breathing deeply, looking around for details that would distract him from the climb, then shook his head. With each step, faint organ music filtered down towards them.
After an age, the stair ended at an ornate slab that could only hide one thing. Navi's voice was small.
'Well, this is it...'
Link rolled his shoulders again, letting out a deep breath. His stomach had knotted itself into a miniscule ball, and he felt sick.
'It doesn't feel right. Like there should be a gap, more time, like there's something else for us to do first...'
'There's nothing Left Link. Nothing but the here and now.'
He set his palms slowly on the door, one after the other. For a moment he gazed into the stone, seeing old friends, the forest, the Princess, all the previous gaurdians he had destroyed, and then a flash of red hair that seemed to reflect light, just for a second, onto his face.
Rising wind whipped the hair of the girl who lay sprawled in the dirt, throwing grit into the eyes of the spectators. The hulking figure raised his spear as his horse shifted.
'I say again, we are here to keep the peace!'
Uncomfortable shifting, murmurs from the crowd. Horses stamped in the cool night air. The patrol leader slid down from horseback to address the people of Kakariko who had ventured outside to investigate the commotion.
'We have been charged with keeping you peaceful, so I need you to be quiet! That is all! That, and any information you have regarding-'
He was cut off as a rock glanced across his temple, whipping his head round to a small yet defiant cheer from the crowd. A cheer that halted abruptly as the other three horsemen readied their weapons. Their leader wiped blood from his hair.
People hurried aside under the soldier's baleful gaze, revealing the figure of Mutoh, the head carpenter, standing with his arms crossed and legs apart, a scornful expression on his face.
'Worm!' Striding forward, the leader shifted his grip on his spear. 'Is this your idea of peaceful behaviour?'
'Is it yours?' Mutoh answered cooly, glaring at the man who stood mere feet away. The girl he had previously thrown to the ground used the moment to scurry, unnoticed, back into the throng.
The three soldiers of the patrol tightened their grips and looked nervously around at the crush of people. The dim lamplight that lit the village cast most of the crowd into shadow, so they appeared as one living mass. One mass that was shifting restlessly as Mutoh and the patrolman shouted into each others faces from inches away.
'If you defy the Great King's rule you will all be punished! All of you, for one man's foolishness!'
'It took one fool to cause all this in the first place! Get your men out of here, run back to your false king!'
Mutoh's head snapped round as the butt of the spear caught him on the jaw.
'You see what happens! I don't want to have to-'
What he didn't want to do was never discovered, at that exact moment thunder rent the sky, a huge rolling boom that shook the earth itself and caused most of the assembled people to stumble. The patrolman stumbled himself, and Mutoh siezed the oppurtunity to plant a fist cleanly in the centre of his nose. The man reeled back, stumbling through a sudden curtain of raindrops that drove through the square, then began a shambling run as the carpenter's hand closed on the abandoned spear.
Most of the crowd regained their feet and, following Mutoh's lead, a hail of rocks, mud, and even roof tiles rained on the patrol. Unarmoured, the horses reared and screamed in the dying rumbles of thunder, their riders desperately trying to protect themselves from the bombardment. Their leader hauled himself up onto his skittish horse, glanced round at the villagers creeping behind his squad, at the mass of bodies in the torchlight, and finally at the huge, vengeful man bearing down on him, and reached a hasty decision.
His men needed no encouragment, they were barely holding their horses as it was, and they wheeled round to gallop under the gate, bowling aside the few brave souls in their way. The leader's mind raced, his nose streaming blood, even as they ran. They would go to the gaurdhouse inside the drawbridge of the castle, gather what men of the other patrols were there, and return in force. A good plan, and he glanced round disdainfully at the villagers falling behind. That glance turned to fear as he wrenched himself sideways to avoid his own spear, whistling out of the darkness.
Mutoh heard the horse stumble and the curse from the rider, knew he had missed, and muttered to himself. Next time, he thought, and turned to the crowd. The rebellious flames were cooling, replaced by fear.
'They'll be back, won't they?'
'What will we do?'
'Don't be afraid!' The shout cut through the clamour. Mutoh clambered onto one of the boxes that edged the square, just as the clouds caught up with the rain that had been driven outwards. Light drops fell, sizzling on torches, and unnoticed on people.
'They might come back, to try and take what is ours! But I say we keep going with what we have! We follow them, and beat them! We have the numbers and the drive, something they lack! We might not be able to touch the King, but we can give him a bloody nose!'
The harder hearts amongst them roared their approval, hands reached for tools and weapons, and the shouts carried into the night.
'These toys...they are too much for you...'
Link gripped his sword and glanced round the room for what felt like the hundredth time. Zelda, floating in her crystal, eyes wide, Navi, glaring forwards to the giant pipe organ that dominated the far wall, and the bulky shape of a man, covered by a cape, that stood imposingly in front of it.
'I command you to return them to me!'
A whirl of the cape, the man turned, and Link was face to face with the monster from his nightmares! No magic seperated them, no voice projection or memory, a real man, in the same room, now! It felt so unreal, yet his stomach clenched in a fear that was all too believable. The outline of the Triforce gleamed on the dark hand for a moment, identical to the marks on his own and the princess's, and suddenly his vision dimmed, his teeth were on edge, and waves of energy flowed out, not so much seen as felt, the brain filling in its best guess over his vision, and Navi was snatched backwards with a cry.
Link had to set his body against the flow. Leaning forwards, he risked a glance over his shoulder. The fairy was pinned, immobile, against the door they had used what felt like hours ago.
'Link! I can't help you, I can't even move!'
'Are you ok?'
'Yes, but I can't get close! You're on your own, I'm so sorry!'
The flow changed, altered, and it felt as though a vast power gathered in the centre of the room. It twisted and coiled, then abruptly exploded. A crack, a rumble like stone being torn apart, and the clouds outside rushed into each other in a massive roll of thunder that reverberated from the tower, pushing a sheet of rain ahead of it. Link stumbled forwards, free of the pressure, with his hands clamped to his ears.
'Weak!' and with that, Ganondorf laughed and rushed forwards, fist clenched. The hero barely had time to realise what was happening before the Dark King was upon him, one massive fist swinging, and the mirror shield desperately caught the blow. All the breath knocked out of him, Link staggered backwards, deafened, gut wrenched in sudden, chilling fear, all plans and fighting styles swamped by panic as he swung the shield round to meet the next blow. The impact shook his teeth, and he flailed wildly with the sword at the huge figure in front of him. Mocking laughter penetrated the ringing in his ears, the thunder was dying away, his head was clearing...
'Is this it? Is this the hero who has rampaged through my temples, destroying everything in his path?' Ganondorf threw his head back to laugh, giving Link the time to dash quickly to the side, opening the gap and letting himself think. He shook his head. He was recovering from the shock of the first attack, and though the fear still chilled his sweat, he could think more clearly. Sense drifted back into his brain as he dropped to a fighting crouch.
The Evil King spared him a glance, cracking huge knuckles one at a time.
'Well you look like you know what you're doing. I suppose that's something-'
A sudden dash, again the fists reaching for him from feet away, but he was ready this time, feet dancing sideways as the shield and sword blocked the blows. Zelda hardly dared to breathe, gazing at the lightning fast exchange of swings and parrys that weaved across the floor. Ganondorf's blows were hugely powerful, short, precise strikes that would have knocked a cow unconcious, but somehow Link was never quite where they landed, always weaving to the side, the blade turning the blows just enough to miss. Now there were openings, and the huge blade flickered out again and again, drawing blood from a multitude of small cuts. Ganondorf grunted as the edge laid open the back of his hand, feinted, and landed a powerful kick on the shield that send the boy reeling backwards.
'Not bad. I'll give you that.' He rubbed the back of his hand. 'Let's make this more challenging...'
The fist clenched again, he turned, and with a roar and a burst of dark flames landed a hugely powerful punch in the centre of the organ. The entire room shook, dust started from the walls and ceiling, and the organ crumpled. Restraints snapped and buckled, and the huge metal pipes came thundering down, some bringing chunks of the wall with them. Ceiling tiles and pipes rained, smashing great holes in the floor and littering what was left with rubble and metal. Link choked on the dust, felt the fear again. His constant weaving and dodging would be seriously hampered by the ruined floor and obstacles, maybe it was time to try something new...
He glanced up to check on Zelda, and was relieved to see the prism had endured the rain of stone from above. The princess was waving to get his attention, and began miming a bow and arrow motion. Of course, the light arrows! But where was he going to get an opening to use a bow?
The dust whirled, his head jerked round, and he met the roaring charge of his opponent head on. Fists and sword clashed, rang, swung again, the two combatants locked in place by the devastation around them. Link fought desperately, but his anger was not enough, he was much smaller than Ganondorf, and he had to take a step back. Then another, and another...
Again dancing out of the way, but this time backwards, and his back crashed against a fallen chunk of the ceiling, trapping him. As he sought desperately for a way out, Ganondorf laughed and charged, the dark flames crackling in his fist again. Link set himself to meet the attack, then his whole body thrilled with excitement as the charging figure stumbled, a rock had flown out from underfoot to throw him completely off balance, and the hero seized his chance. With a roar he thrust the sword forwards. Ganondorf twisted to the side, but not fast enough. The blade caught him on the side, and Link felt it grate across rib and muscle as the king let out a pained grunt. He jerked aside, Link backswung violently but he was clear, the dark figure leaping backwards several feet, then again into the air.
Thick blood oozed from the gash as Ganondorf levitated to the centre of the room. He let out a roar that cleared most of the debris to the edges of the room, then raised his arm. Lightning crackled and raced along the armour, echoed by stabs of light illuminating the clouds outside. Link's mind raced, it was time to gamble this small opening, and he cast his shield aside. Reaching back for his bow, he quickly nocked an arrow, but another furious shout made him jump madly aside as a bolt of lightning smashed the floor where he had stood.
Sword in his left hand, bow in his right, Link ran madly, trying to find somewhere to draw breath, but the bolts rained down with unmatched ferocity and most of the debris had been swept aside or fallen through the floor. He jumped one of the holes now, lightning flashing behind him, but there was no time. Unless-
'Link! Remember the forest temple!' Navi's shout dimly penetrated his mind, and he knew he could only have one shot. Skidding to a halt, he locked his eyes on the floating figure, nerves on fire for the telltale flash of light. It came, the sword swung with the speed of terror, and the latest bolt of light spiralled to the side to destroy part of the already ruined wall. Another flash, he swung again, and he gritted his teeth. He couldn't keep this up, surely if he angled the sword just right-
This last bolt rebounded directly at its source, and he shouted, it seemed he was moving faster than normal as the lightning enveloped the shocked Ganondorf. Link flung his sword aside, drew the arrow, and glared down it to where the Evil King was shaking off the crawling lightning. Only one shot, he thought, and loosed. A burst of purest light raced from the bow straight to the target, and as the arrow embedded itself next to Ganondorf's heart, the light filled him, raced across and through him, and Link had scooped up the sword and was already running as the figure sank to the floor. The dark head was raised, a look of purest hatred on his features as he raised his hand, but the light blocked the dark magic for those few crucial seconds it took for Link to leap a gap, run forward, and Zelda let out an unheard scream of delight as the legendary sword burst straight through Ganondorf's torso.
Anger mixed with confusion as Ganondorf's breath was torn from him in an explosive gasp, but even as he coughed thick blood onto his armour, the huge hands were reaching for the boy who had challenged him, reaching to choke the life from his impudent body, but the hands were slow, they weren't obeying him and there was another grunt as the sword was retrieved. Link stepped backwards, disbelieving, his mind only now catching up with events. He allowed himself to relax for a second, his shoulders slumped as the huge body swayed in front of him, hands flexing. The power that kept Zelda trapped was fading, she was free, it was finished. Just as the princess's feet touched the floor, Ganondorf's body fell backwards with an evil smile still twisting his features. Link relaxed further, lowered his sword...
Then just as the falling body hit the floor, the world exploded.
Malon squinted into the darkness, her cloak flapping wildly in the sudden wind.
'Come on, Dad!'
Talon grumbled but ran faster to join his daughter at the ranch gate. Despite the lateness of the hour, Malon was quite animated, no signs of tiredness on her face as she contemplated the chance of action.
'I've told Ingo to stay here and keep Kafei out of trouble. I don't want him mixed up in anything that goes badly.'
He squinted into the rain for a moment.
'Mind, I don't particularly want anything to happen to you either. So keep your head on straight, alright?'
Malon nodded distractedly, eyes fixed on the far off tower as lightning danced around the peak. The flashes came every few seconds now, and she wondered what that meant. Impatient, she took Talon's wrist and they started jogging down the path, her frustration building as the darkness and rain limited their pace. A minute had passed, then two, when she was suddenly jerked to a stop.
She screwed her eyes up through the darkness, and now the lightning was not the only illumination. Torchlight blazed from the entrance to the village, and she could make out a mob of people streaming out into the field.
'Something's happening, Dad!'
'Looks like they didn't need us! Come on!'
Heavy farm boots splashed in the field. Malon ran towards the crowd, the freezing rain like tiny daggers cutting and stinging at her face, but she ignored it, running as fast as she dared in the poor light.
The mob rushed noisily towards the castle drawbridge where now more lamps were being hastily lit as Ganondorf's most loyal supporters hurried to arrange themselves into some kind of defensive force. The initial patrol, having done its job, had been wheeled back towards the village, its leader fuming over his earlier humiliation and the brashness of the villagers. Boldened by additional horsemen, he took men out to meet the mob in the field, and to buy the larger force time to prepare.
Talon slowed his run slightly to take in what was happening. The horsemen formed a wall and shouted insults, waved their weapons defiantly, then were swept up in the vast crowd of angry villagers. Malon winced as a horse screamed and fell, hooves flailing, onto its back, the other horses, badly trained and nervous, starting running wild, and men were thrown down. The patrol leader bellowed furiously, thrust his spear into the mass, but Mutoh was there to catch the tip, the carpenter yanked the man out of the saddle and the bellows died with him as the crowd swarmed over him and trampled his skull into the mud. Horses swarmed and broke from the fight, Malon swerved to avoid one as she finally reached the melee. She stopped to catch her breath, glancing wildly around, then the fire in her veins turned to fear as she realised she was unarmed and not much good at fighting even if she had been. She ducked her head and ran, the fight had seemed so clear and laid out when she had been running and could see everything, now it had swallowed her and everything was noise and confusion. A few horsemen were still fighting bitterly, stabbing and slashing at the swarming villagers, and each fight would clamour and shout for a few seconds before turning silent as each side caught their breath.
The flow of people was still towards the castle though, horses being pressed back by the crush, men being pulled from their backs and knocked unconcious or worse. One unseated man roared and swung his axe like a madman, cutting and swinging constantly to create a space around himself and, as Malon found herself pushed up behind him, she decided she might as well do something and, heart in her mouth, kicked the axeman in the back to send him sprawling forwards into a hammer blow that knocked him cleanly out.
'Malon! What on earth are you doing here?' Mutoh stepped over the fallen enemy and glared around, but the few remaining soldiers were hurriedly rushing back to the makeshift bastion at the drawbridge as the villagers caught their breath.
'We thought we'd, um, come and stir you up a bit.' The carpenter grinned and straightened up as he realised the enemy had fled for now.
'Well, I appreciate the thought! Talon, you dog, I told you to go home before there was trouble!'
Talon pushed himself through the crowd, massaging his knuckles absent mindedly.
'Miss Patience here fancied a fight. Nothing like knocking a few heads before bed, just like her mother.'
Malon looked pleased with herself as Mutoh roared with laughter.
'Well you picked a good night for it, we happened to have the same idea! Bit of luck that, eh? Any particular reason you chose tonight for a relaxing brawl?'
Malon's face fell slightly as the full importance of the night's events came back to her.
'Do you remember Link? Well... tonight...'
The men followed her gaze to the looming tower, lightning coming thick and fast now, and even appearing to flicker inside. Mutoh frowned as she explained, then huffed the rain from his moustache. Malon dropped out of the conversation for a while, a frown creasing her forehead. What was happening up there? Had Link reached his goal? Her stomach twisted as she thought of the future, so uncertain, that was being decided with every minute that passed.
The crowd moved and she blinked. The surge of people carried her further towards the castle, and she ran to join her father near the front. The villagers were keeping up the momentum of their attack, driving onwards towards the huddle of men barricaded across the drawbridge. She strode out in front, fire back in her veins, people shouting all around her, and she grinned. Better than sitting doing nothing...
As the distance closed the crowd sped up, imperceptibly at first, then faster, running and shouting through the rain, feeling more alive than they had in years-
A flash brighter than any lightning, a roar of distressed stone and splintering glass, and a shock that threw running figures to the ground. Malon stumbled into Talon, and clung to the stocky frame of her father as he skidded to a halt.
He gaped ahead, eyes wide, and she followed his gaze as her heart stood still. The tower was leaning, the top section all but gone as stones the size of cows rained on the ruins of castle town. The soldiers at the barricade looked nervously over their shoulders as another huge crack split the air, and a section of wall and staircase ponderously came free of the structure and crashed down through the lower levels.
Malon felt as though her heart had stopped, emotions raging for control. What had happened? It seemed so unreal, the forbidding show of power that had loomed over the kingdom was crashing to the ground as she stood, unaware of her surroundings. Who had won? Was Link still inside? Had he rescued the princess after all? So many questions, then her body caught up with her and she took a deep breath, her heart beat again as she became dimly aware of Talon shouting at her.
'Malon! Are you hurt?'
'Um, no, I'm fine-'
Confusion reigned, people shouted in wonder at the spectacle, in anger at the years they had endured, and in pain as a few fragments of stained glass mingled with the rain. The ragtag men at the entrance to the town were glancing around in fear, a few had taken their chances and slipped away into the ruins, and Mutoh took the chance to roar people forwards again for one last effort. Malon stood as the crowd swirled around her, staring unblinking at the tower that now listed alarmingly to one side. Had he got out?
'Go! Go! Run!'
Link pumped his aching legs furiously, pounding them into the stone floor as he supported his shield overhead with both hands. The princess half ran, half clung to him under the shelter as falling stones rained down through the choking dust.
They had reached the bottom floor, Link realised, finally! His memories were a blur of dust, flames, falling stone, monsters rushing at them in an attempt to delay their flight, but he had battered them aside and they had ran, ran through barely recognisable rooms and over staircases that crumbled away beneath their feet. His arms shook as chunks of flaming rock smashed themselves on his shield, but they kept going and through this final door and there was the staircase out, the rich carpet bright with flames and strewn with rubble, but the ceiling seemed intact and he pushed the princess ahead of him, forgoing protection for speed.
She ran ahead of him, legs flashing under her skirt that she had torn herself in order to run, and he squinted ahead. He could make out the exit, just a little bit further-
Zelda shrieked and darted to the side as an entire section of roof came away at once, dragged down by a falling chunk of masonry from above, and Link panicked as the dust obscured her. He thrust his arms frantically ahead of him, found her arm and pulled her up to find she was unhurt, and they kept running, blinded, as dust and fire boiled up behind them-
Malon swung the cloak from her shoulders. The fight at the drawbridge had been short, most of Ganondorf's remaining human soldiers had fled at the sight of the tower crumbling. The few that remained had fought viciously but hopelessly, inflicting a few casaulties before being overwhelmed. Dust from the collapsing building stung her eyes as she hurriedly wrapped her cloak around her father's arm.
'Ow! Watch what you're doing, lass!'
'Sorry, sorry. It's not that deep, you'll be fine.'
Talon grimaced as he flexed his arm. 'It could have been worse, I suppose-hey! Where do you think you're going?'
'I need to go and find Link!' She shook his hand off and started into the town, but a big arm caught her and held her back.
'Don't even think about it miss.' Mutoh looked amused by her expression for a moment, then it had passed and his face was serious.
'We've dealt with that lot, but the town is still swarming with those creatures. There's no way you would come out of there alive, so listen to me.' She glared up at him from under the strands of wet hair that plastered her face. 'We've done all we can here.'
'So we're meant to just wait around?' Frustration and tears choked her voice. 'Just sit here and tidy up this bit of road while he could be lying injured under all that?'
Talon stumped through the now quiet crowd towards the argument, and laid his hand on his daughter's arm. She whipped round, tears starting in her eyes, and he recalled his suspicions about her feelings towards the hero. Gently, he drew her into his arms and winced as she buried her face in his injured shoulder.
'Listen to me. He can handle himself, we know that for certain. But I'm not risking losing you in there. We help the wounded here and wait for him to come back, ok?'
They stood for some time as the crowd moved slowly around them, always wary of the end of the road where the ruins sprawled, the vague cries of the monsters occasionally audible. Malon raised her head at a distant crashing sound, and stared unseeing towards the ruin of the tower.
'I just wish I knew what was happening...'
Link grunted as he wrenched the Master Sword from the ground and wheeled around to run, legs aching, at the monstrosity in front of him. The barrage of light arrows had disorientated it long enough for him to retrieve the blade, and it felt reassuring in his hand. The beast shuffled upright and roared, smashing chunks of debris aside in rage. He could take this chance while it was angry, strike at the chest of the monster that stood twice his own height-
The roar alerted him, he saw the blade screaming down in the corner of his eye, but he was already moving too fast and there was only just enough time to wrench the shield up to block the blow. The impact struck sparks from the mirrored surface, drove the hero to his knees, and he yelled aloud as his arm splintered from the force with an echoing crack. The shield was intact, he registered through the haze, the pain roaring at his mind louder than the thunder in the sky, and some instinct drove his body as he thrust his sword wildly in front, sending it crunching through the muscular knee. Another roar of pain split the air and Link wrenched the blade free, staggering backwards with his arm tucked to his body, blearily searching for something to hide behind, anything...
He stumbled behind a vast chunk of rock that had once formed an ornate part of the tower, the roars of the monster in his ears, and almost collapsed against it, hissing through his teeth with the pain.
'Link! Are you alright?'
At least Navi was back with him. He tried to bite back the anger in his voice, anger at himself for this crippling injury that could make him an easy target...
'Stupid bloody question. Broken. Quite badly, I think.' He fumbled the shield to the ground to remove the weight, and then groaned through gritted teeth as he realised the straps had been holding his arm together.
Navi looked at his twisted face with real fear. He was exhausted, almost at his limit, and she couldn't bring herself to make him keep fighting. Not as if there was a choice, though. She peeped over the rock to see that the creature that had been Ganondorf had begun looking around for its opponent, demolishing rubble in its search. She ducked back down.
'Can you still fight? I wouldn't normally ask, but, you know...'
Link grimaced in an attempt at a smile, breathing hard from the pain. He tried to lift the shield from the ground but it slipped and fell.
'I can still use the sword, but I think the bow and shield are no longer an option...'
'I think you did enough with the bow, you stripped some of his magic away to drop the barrier. All you need to do now is beat him into submission so Zelda can-'
'All? Hah! Yeah, I'll just get round to that...' He groaned again, and closed his eyes to gather his strength. They snapped open a second later as Ganon's roar sounded louder than ever, terrifyingly close, and his veins turned to ice yet again. Navi darted sideways for a look and almost immediately shrieked at him to run. He snatched the sword up and ran, abandoning everything else, as a blade thicker than his body pulverised the chunk of rock behind him. Rubble rained on his back as the monster vented its rage on the stone, but he was clear.
He swung round to face the behemoth. It was glaring and snorting, little eyes gleaming red with pain and anger, and he saw that the fight had taken its toll on both sides. The monster was hunched, moving slowly, obviously hurt and wary. Link supposed he looked no better himself. The sword hung loosely from his left hand, his right was tucked in to his body to dull the pain, and he could barely stand. His main advantage, agility, was being consumed by exhaustion, and he knew he would have to end it before he simply collapsed.
He licked his lips and hefted the sword. It seemed to have tripled in weight since he had left the ranch those scant few hours ago. The creature's head tossed wildly, he knew it was getting ready to charge, so he went with the element of surprise and ran himself, going from stopped to a full sprint within three steps, calling on reserves of energy he had never expected, and the deep set eyes of his enemy were suddenly feaful. The pain dimmed, even the feeling in his legs went, he seemed to be watching himself from several feet behind, watching agahst as he ran towards the wicked blades in front. The swords flew down again, but he had regained his agility for a precious few seconds and twisted to avoid them, the edges singing as they passed his head, and he was through. He jumped, jumped again off the wounded knee as the monster reared back, his broken arm flailed wildly, pain forgotten, to grab one of the twisted horns in front. His boots scrabbled for purchase on the great chest, and he heaved himself forward, the pain from his arm setting his mind on fire and he did not realise that he screamed as he swung his fist as hard as possible into the wrinkled face. The sword handle crushed bone, the fist drew blood, and the monster roared again, flailing and rearing back even further in terror.
Link smashed his fist down again and again, screaming in pain and anger, then the weight of the sword registered in his mind and he swung it round in his hand. The tiny red eyes glared up at him in fear, reflecting the lightning that raced down across the town. A flicker of pity, then the pain of holding his whole weight on a shattered arm clouded his brain again, and he swung the sword down into the tough flesh. Again and again, his vision clouded by fear and pain, his ears numb from the roars of the creature. The heavy blade smahsed down yet again, and suddenly he was falling, and his body acted like lightning, pushing him away to avoid being crushed by the falling weight of the creature. He landed heavily on his back, all the wind knocked from his body in an instant. A second of blinking at the sky, then he rolled himself upright. Ganon was lying in front of him, his ruined face locked on the hero as his body struggled to rise. He vaguely registered Zelda shouting from behind him, a blinding light crawled all over the Evil King, and he understood. He scooped the sword from the dirt, stepped forward and thrust-
Link stood for a moment, his mind catching up with the confusion of the recent events. He didn't appear to be standing on anything, he was just standing. The princess stood in front of him, her dress torn and stained, but her expression one of purest joy. He looked round wearily as she explained, the seven sages, Ganondorf being sealed, the land purifying itself already. He pulled his gaze away from the clouds in the distance to look Zelda in the eye.
'So it's over?'
She smiled. 'Yes Link. It's finally over. I, and the people of this kingdom, cannot thank you enough.'
His body sagged in relief and tiredness, and he laughed. It was over! He had done the impossible, and now there was nothing left to do. He felt lightheaded, his tiredness washing away, even the pain in his arm barely noticeable. Zelda spoke of a few more things, then fell silent.
'So...what happens now? I'm a hero without a quest.' He smiled at the thought of being free of his crushing responsibilities. The princess answered his smile.
'Well, you have a choice...' He frowned.
'You still have the Master Sword and the Ocarina. I can use them to send you back in time, back to before this all began. I can give you a message for my younger self and we can stop this all from happening, somewhere. You will be free to live your life, to grow up normally, be just a boy.'
His mind reeled. He knew it was possible, and it seemed a tempting prospect, but it wasn't as though he could erase these events from happening. They had already happened, and would stay happened here while he went back to somewhere else... The travelling in time had always confused him after a while, and he frowned. Zelda saw his expression.
'I see that isn't totally appealling. In this timeline, you would be a hero, you can help us rebuild, I could use you around the place, the world would be clean and pure...' here she gave him a sly smile that betrayed how much she knew about his life; 'And I'm sure you have reasons of your own for staying.'
He gazed unseeing into the void, mind in turmoil. All those plans for the future, now possible, and his ears echoed with a memory of song on a summer day. If he went back he could spare the country all those years of suffering, but he would lose so much in the process... He looked at the princess, utterly lost, and she stepped closer and took his arm.
'I don't know, I want to stay, I really do, but-'
She pressed a finger to his lips and laughed. 'Stop worrying. The nature of time, well, I can send you back whenever you choose. And no matter how long you left it, you would go back to a new life, ten years old again.'
'I'll stay, thanks. After all, what would you do without me?'
Malon absent mindedly tightened her father's bandage after checking it for the fourth or fifth time. There wasn't much to do, really. The few wounded were being looked after, the rough barricade had been dismantled, people had drifted back to Kakariko for food or for shelter. The revolutionary flames had died with the storm, and people were wandering aimlessly in the small hours of the morning. She was glad the rain had nearly stopped, at least, though her stomach was still knotted with anxiety about LInk, and frustration at how little she could do.
It was just before dawn that a cool wind blew, somehow refreshing after a night spent mostly in the open. It blew away the remnants of the rain and with it came a strange noise. The farmgirl looked around to see if anyone else had noticed, but most people were still engrossed in their thoughts, lost for something to do. She took afew tentative steps down the wide road into town, and again found her father's wrist on her arm.
'Haven't you been listening, lass?'
'Haven't you?' she was impatient, anxious, and Talon frowned at her before the sound reached his ears.
'What on earth..?' Before he could stop her, Malon had shaken his hand away and was running towards the ruins. He grumbled and started after her.
Malon slowed as she reached the town square, and gazed round in wonder. The pale light of dawn was creeping into the world, the sky above the far hills tinging pink, and she could make out what was happening well enough. As the wan light rose, the shambling corpses that roamed the streets were halting, swaying, none of them paying her any attention, then before her horrified eyes each of them burst into wild flame. She put her hands to her mouth at the sound, but they were not screams of terror. They sounded... thankful, as if they were finally being granted the death that had been denied to them long ago.
Talon jogged up behind her and his admonishment died on his lips as he took in the scene. The noise was louder now, rising with the dawn mist, and more people came from the drawbridge to see what was going on. Everywhere the monsters burned, some lying down and simply waiting, none fighting, until all that was left were piles of ash.
The villagers gazed around in wonder, some shouting, others quiet, until Malon's clear voice called for silence. She had ventured further than anyone, almost to the well in the centre of the square, and now she squinted along the path to the castle. The sky was pink now, the sun just peering over the horizon, and she twisted her eyes up to see along the path. It looked like... a hunched figure approaching. She called for quiet and it came instantly.
The shape approached unevenly, shuffling through the dust, until it drew nearer and resolved into two figures, one leaning heavily on the other. Slow, heavy steps brought them into the square, where they at last seemed to notice the silence, the crowd of people, and the tension in the air, and stopped.
The man gazed blearily around at the silent crowd, his face screwed up in pain and tiredness, his arm hanging loosy in a rough sling fashioned from strips torn from a dress, his tunic ripped, burnt, and caked with dust and mud. However, his eyes shone with life even as his body leant, battered on the woman next to him. Though she was crouched slightly, her simple dress dirty and torn to the knee, her figure was imposing, regal, framed by waist length blonde hair, and her eyes too sparkled as she took in the scene. The silence stretched, people shuffled, then the pair's faces broke almost simultaneously into wide smiles that told the story instantly. Talon broke the silence with a great roar of joy, and before it died more people took it up, the ruins echoing with cheers and shouts of laughter in the dawn light.
Link smiled wearily, the pain in his arm had returned with them, and he was exhausted. He eased himself upright. The cheers of the crowd rang in his ears, the princess beside him was laughing at the unexpected reception, but he wasn't paying attention and the sounds seemed to come from a great distance away. He scanned the mass of bodies unhurriedly, and the flash of flaming red told him he was right. Malon stood, quiet and still in the front rank of shouting people, the crowd swirling around her, with tears in her eyes and a smile of purest happiness lighting up her features. Her gleaming eyes were locked on his, burning away his tiredness, and he couldn't help smiling bashfully back at her. She seemed even more beautiful than he remembered, and the sound of the crowd faded from his mind as he gazed at her face in the dawn light.
All the old feelings he had fought with were returning, all his hopes and dreams for the future flashed through his mind and he took a step forward almost unconciously. The crowd took this as a signal and raced towards them, Malon sprinting ahead of everyone and he grinned at her, feeling the cares of the past slipping away, and he winced as she slammed into him and buried her face in his chest. He tucked his broken arm closer to himself, wrapped his body around her as the rest of the villagers arrived and swarmed around, cheering, patting him on the back, but he didn't notice. All he cared about was the slim figure in his arms that made his heart thunder harder than it had all night, and he screwed his face into her hair.
'You had me worried sick.' Her voice was thick with emotion, but when she broke away slightly and smiled at him her face was calm.
'You shouldn't have worried. I promised I'd come back, and-'
'I know.' She couldn't help grinning at him, and had to raise her voice to be heard over the people that swarmed around them. The sun was rising, colour and noise raged around them, and it was, finally, over.
'You always keep your promises.'