Never Again
By Queenie Z

A mighty blade pierces his abdomen, and the Hero of Time's life flashes before his eyes.

For a moment he forgets his surroundings, where he is or who he's fighting. He thinks of his home in the forest, his first steps beyond, the vast green fields of Hyrule, the cool, clean water of its rivers and lakes, the rumbling roar of Death Mountain, the scorching beauty of the desert - but when he faintly hears a piercing scream in the distance and is thrown to the ground like a torn rag doll with its insides pulled out, he's thrown back into a cold, harsh reality.

A reality where he was dying.

A reality where he had failed this world he loved so much.

He groans in pain, reaching out to the hysterical shadow beyond the wall of flames. He chokes on his own blood trying to call out her name. He wants to apologize to her; to tell her how sorry he is for breaking his promise to save this land and his promise to protect her. He wants to tell her, before his last breath leaves his lungs, how happy he had been to meet her that fateful day in the castle gardens. He wants to tell her just how strongly he felt for her.

He wonders where these feelings had come from in the first place. He had only spoken to her a few times before this final battle, but there had been something about her that kept her on his mind during the whole of his quest. Her dignity, her perseverance, her wisdom - she called herself a fool back then, but to him, she was the strongest, wisest person in all the world, even as a child.

There was something else, too; a yearning for something experienced in ages past that he felt every time he thought of her. It was a memory, stirring in the back of his mind, of a love for someone so great that it changed the world. He never did know where that memory came from or why she had made it surface, and now, as his strength fails him, leaving him wallowing miserably in a pool of blood, he realizes that he would never get the chance to find out.

He begs for her forgiveness in his mind. He longs for a second chance. Finally, with his last conscious thought, he swears in the name of the Goddesses that he'll never fail his Princess Zelda ever again.

He looks down at the body of the fallen guard in horror, the pouring rain cleansing his uncle's sword of blood. He can't believe what he's just done, but even moreso, he can't believe what the guard had done just moments before. A knight of Hyrule had attacked him, the nephew of a fellow knight and the son of a fallen one, in cold blood. By the looks of things, he'd gone completely mad, along with the other guards who were now scouting the grounds looking for the intruder, and they were the ones who were likely responsible for leaving his uncle for dead in the sewers.

He grits his teeth in rage and sheathes the blade. Had the whole world gone to hell in a single night! Only hours before he had been laughing and carrying on with his beloved uncle, and now he was gone. He has more than enough reason to storm the castle and take revenge on every last one of these disgraced knights - but he stops himself. No, he remembers, he isn't here for revenge. He's here to finish what his uncle couldn't do; he's here to rescue Princess Zelda before that evil sorcerer gets his hands on her.

Looking up at the enormous castle walls, he realizes that he wasn't simply finishing his guardian's work. He has his own reasons for coming here - he had answered the princess' cry for help by his own volition. Why had he done that? He had always been a touch impulsive, but why would he venture into a storm armed with only a lantern to save someone he had never personally met? True, she was Hyrule's princess, who was loved and revered by all, but he had a feeling that there was something more to it.

Suddenly, in a fleeting moment of déjà vu, he recalls that something - a promise made long ago by a him that wasn't him. It's ridiculous; how could he remember a promise he never made? Yet the feeling that he had to fulfill it coursed through his veins. He had to storm that castle. He had to save the princess. If he didn't, he would be breaking his promises all over again.

So he gathers his courage and pushes on the heavy doors to the main hall. He would finish what he came here to do - for his uncle, for Zelda, for the him that wasn't him who made that promise - no matter what.

He rushes blindly into the Room of Rites, paying no mind to the overwhelming stench of death that fills the place. He nearly trips over his own feet trying to run through the dark, maze-like corridors. He knows that time is of the essence, and he had wasted enough of it fighting Veran. The two Oracles had done all they could just to bring him here; the rest depended on his own swiftness.

Goddesses, give him that swiftness; for if he's too late, the plans of those mad witches would come to fruition. Labrynna, Holodrum, and even Hyrule would fall into an age of darkness and chaos... and Princess Zelda, the light of her people, would be snuffed out in the process.

For some strange reason, the thought of the princess being sacrificed makes his heart race more than anything. He thinks only of saving her as he rushes past the same labyrinthine walls over and over again. He thinks of when he first laid eyes upon her, how she emanated an aura of purity and kindness as she greeted him, how she giggled when he stumbled over himself trying to be respectful. It was a magical and familiar moment; he would have called it love at first sight had he not sworn up and down that they had met before, perhaps in another life.

Come to think of it, it seemed that he had been protecting her like this for a long, long time. Maybe they really had met in another era; maybe history really did repeat itself. But he doesn't mind it in the slightest. To protect someone like her, to protect the world that was so important to her... he would be more than happy to do it over and over again if he needed to.

A smile graces his lips when he finds the corridor leading to the altar. Everything now rested on his shoulders; he couldn't fail his princess no matter what. Yet despite this pressure, he has no doubt in his mind that he would succeed this time.

She stares at the unfamiliar boy in disbelief. She had known that a hero would come to stop Ganon and reunite the Triforce - yet she had no idea he'd be a boy no older than herself! She hesitantly approaches him, her legs weakened from the weeks she had spent in captivity, and looks into his face.

Immediately, a feeling of familiarity overwhelms her, as if she was meeting an old friend for the first time in ages. And it seems that the boy himself feels the same way - he stares back, his mouth agape and his round cheeks and button nose turning ever so slightly red. But he soon regains his composure, taking her by the hand and giving her a reassuring smile.

"Don't worry, Princess," he says sweetly, "I'm here now."

The young princess finally sheds the tears she had held back during her imprisonment and falls into the arms of her old friend. He startles, then places a comforting hand on her hair. As she sobs her "thank you"s to him, he has the strangest thought that, perhaps, this wasn't the first time he had rescued her, and that it certainly wouldn't be the last.

But he doesn't mind. He's loved her since the beginning of time, and he would continue to love her, through death and rebirth, until the very end.