Disclaimer: Nintendo. Legend of Zelda. Theirs. Not mine. Etc. Etc...

The Wondrous Adventures of The Righteous Maximus.

Chapter 1

Hyrule.

The far future.

There it was: the ever-present hum of dark energy. You couldn't escape it here. The stench of it tainted the air, its copper taste coated your tongue. Everywhere Link looked, there was a new reminder. There: the hanging lanterns above, creaking on their rusted hinges, glowing with an almost ethereal light. The ancients, so Link had been told, had needed oil to burn if they'd wanted light in their lanterns. Beggared belief, sometimes.

And again: crackling sparks spat from the dull metal blades sitting atop his captors' crooked spears. The Moblin guards, with their guttural snorts and low-pitched whines, probably couldn't have cared less. So long as they could inflict pain. They enjoyed doing it. And they'd made sure Link knew it, too. Now, though, all they did was prod him toward his darkened cell.

Dark energy.

Dark, light - don't we all use it just the same? What did the princess call it again?

The thought evaded him.

Still. Here it was called dark energy.

He wondered idly if it fed off the very atmosphere of the gulag. Yeah, sure, he knew it wasn't true but he wanted to humour the thought anyway. Screams, groans and - oddly - hysterical laughter echoed through the grimy corridors. Imagine if dark energy did rely on all that for sustenance. Be a bit bloated now, hey?

They walked on. Unrecognisable debris crunched under Link's boots, and he noted that the stone walls were wet with damp.

At least I hope it's just damp.

This was how Link kept his thoughts distracted. If his mind focussed on what had happened, what had gone wrong, what he'd lost, then...well, he just needed to stay in the present moment. That was all.

He had a variety of tactics for doing so. Checking his surroundings was one. He also glanced down at himself, seeing the black and red of his clothes, spying the emblem - entwined fingers hovering like a pyramid over an etching of the Emerald Palace - that marked him as a member of the Hyrulean Alliance

Water dripped from the ceiling, the sound amplified with a hollow metallic echo. Rain. That was right. It had been raining when they'd brought them here, so Link supposed that the storm hadn't yet abated. He'd been blindfolded on the transport ship, but on their final approach with the guards all jostling with restless impatience, Link had managed to catch a glimpse of this their final destination.

He'd seen the tiny island encompassed by the green swirl of the ocean, a piece of land that was little more than a curled finger of rock, really. He'd seen the squat metal shape of the gulag resting on the island's perch, lashed with rain, its steel hide reflecting a dazzling blue whenever lightning flashed.

Dark and uninviting, the fortress played its part well in trying to unsettle anyone who approached. Link now wondered if the slip of his blindfold had been accidental after all. Now that would say a lot about why they'd kept him alive. He unhooked his thoughts as his entourage began to slow.

The shuffling group of Moblins came to a halt in front of a cell. Darkness pooled within. None of those energised lanterns in here, no sir. Keys jangled in the lock, and the door rumbled open with a deep metallic groan. A single, sharp prod to the back pushed Link into the small room. Pricking up his pointed ears, he listened to the squeak of un-oiled gears as the door slowly rolled back into position.

Then, he waited. As per his training he had to make a quick self-assessment: injuries, prospects of escape, that sort of thing. That, and it gave his eyes the time to accustom themselves to the dark. Even now he was slowly beginning to ascertain the shapes of the walls, the hard stone slab of the bed and -

It took Link a fraction of a second to realise that he wasn't alone. His eyes swung to the far corner of the cell. Something - or, more likely, someone - huddled there. He could barely make out the outline of a small, humanoid shape.

He waited. The situation had to be assessed, and the appropriate conclusion had to be found. That's what he'd been trained for.

The huddled shape stirred. Link opened his mouth to speak, but the stranger beat him to it.

"Who is there?"

It was a feminine voice. A young girl's, and carrying a thick accent.

Link held up his palms. "I'm a prisoner like you," he said.

"Please," she replied, her voice strained. "No more hurt."

"I won't hurt you," he said softly. He craned his neck, peering. "Let me see you."

He took a step forward. The outline of the girl visibly tensed. "Please," she said again.

Link paused, allowing a sigh to flit through his pursed lips. He shouldn't be wasting time like this. The girl was no threat. She should be dismissed from his thoughts. No distractions.

And yet...

He didn't know why, but he just ached for some friendly company.

Well, he thought, as the bruises of his beaten body began to throb once more. I do know why. Anything's better than spending another night with the Moblins.

The silence hung between them. Somewhere outside an unhinged laugh floated through the air.

"Wait," the girl said suddenly. She craned her head forward, and Link managed to make her out in the dimness - she wore a dirt-streaked dress and sat hugging her knees tightly. He face came into view. Wide, electric-blue eyes shone despite the gloom.

Recognition sparked within them both at the very same instant.

"I am knowing you!" she gasped.

Link stepped forward. "Zelda..?" he said, his heart thudding. "Is it you?"

"Link?"

A wave of pure shock struck him. He dashed over to her in an instant, crouching down as his heart filled with a sweetness he'd not felt in years.

Joy!

He'd wanted a friend. He'd found her. And not just any friend. His best.

Zelda's incredulous eyes searched his face. "It is you!" she breathed. "We played together. As children. In the forest. Are you remembering?"

"Of course I remember!" he cried. "How could I ever forget ? You - you used to call me Link of Kokiri. And I said you were-"

"Zelda of Nowhere." She shook her head in amazement. "Yes."

"How can you even be here? How can you be here?"

"I was - " Her eyes fluttered, the words dying in her throat. "The forest. It is gone now."

"I know," Link replied, his voice gentle.

"I am having no-one left."

"Neither do I." Link quickly cleared his throat. "Are you hurt? Zelda, tell me, are you injured? I know some rudimentary healing, but I just don't have my gear-"

She laid a hand on his sleeve. "I am fine, Link." A smile touched her lips briefly, vanishing before it could truly settle. "I am very glad to be seeing you again."

"I'm glad, too."

"You were always being very kind to me," she said. "When the other children were teasing me. About the funny way of my speaking."

"What funny way of speaking?"

And now she did smile properly, a broad grin so infectious that Link smiled right along with her. Memories flickered in his mind's eye. Yes, he had stuck up for her when the other children had mocked her. But she had done the same for him. Thin, sickly and weak, young Link had had nothing to fear the moment Zelda, his most fiercest of protectors, had found and formed with him a friendship so strong a Goron Galvanised Hammer wouldn't have dented it.

Zelda and her family had moved in to the Kokiri Forest Settlement from some far off land that no-one could ever pronounce properly much less offer any firm knowledge about. Two children. Both outcasts. Natural kindred spirits, then. Natural friends, too.

Link pulled himself away from his reverie to find Zelda, her brow furrowed, studying his clothes intently. She slowly reached her fingers up to gently touch the emblem of the Hyrulean Alliance. She looked up.

"You are a soldier now?"

"Yes."

"For the Twilight Princess?"

Link felt his cheek twitch. "For Princess Midna, yes." Clearly Zelda wasn't a fan, so he felt compelled to add: "Against Ganondorf."

Zelda blinked. "I see."

Link waited. Emotions churned within. What's this? Disappointment? Disapproval? The tempest in his heart roiled. And when have I ever cared what anyone else thought?

The reply was instant: When it's Zelda.

Zelda looked at him again. "I always wondered what was becoming of you after you were leaving us at the forest."

"I had a duty," he replied, feeling strangely defensive. "To do the right thing."

"You just left," she said. "You were not telling us where and what for."

Link had no reply to that. He hadn't even understood it himself at the time. He just had to go.

Seeing that he wasn't going to elaborate, Zelda asked instead, "How long has it been?"

"Since I left? Four years. A year after Dragmire declared war." He ran a grimy hand through his equally dirty hair. "I was eighteen."

"A soldier," said Zelda. "And how is it that you are here?"

He felt his heart clench. Allowing himself a few deep breaths to regain his composure, he began to explain. "My squadron," he said. "We were in battle." He glanced down at his dark clothes and was grateful for the fact that she couldn't see the blood that had dried into the seams. A ghostly scream wandered somewhere outside. It seemed oddly fitting.

"Yes..?" Zelda prodded after a moment.

"They were all killed." He paused again. The weight of words he hadn't previously dared to entertain sank in. "I think the Moblins left me alive for their own amusement."

Zelda listened in silence. Voices mixed with the buzz of energy, muffled though they were by the door, still hung in the air outside. Finally, she said, "And you?" Her eyes watched his carefully. "You have killed many people...?"

"I -" And for a wonder, he couldn't find the words.

Zelda changed tack. "Hey...are you remembering? How I used to be climbing the trees in the forest?"

"Yeah." Link smiled. "You used to dare me to follow."

"But you wouldn't!" She was grinning now. "You were saying you had to be cautious!"

Link laughed. "I did have to!"

"You were being scared!"

She joined in with his laughter, and Link found his tension and wounds subsiding. It hurt to feel so good, in spite of everything else.

"Hmm," said Zelda as her composure returned. "You are not being so scared anymore, I am thinking."

Link's voice was soft. "You'd be right there."

Zelda suddenly snapped forward so fast that Link jumped in spite of all his training. She clutched at his sleeve, her wide eyes pleading.

"Promise me."

"I...what?" Confusion made him frown. "Promise you what?"

"Promise me you will not be leaving me. Ever."

"I...I promise."

Satisfied, she released his arm, sinking to the ground as her eyelids began to close. "You..." she said sleepily. "You were always being so kind."

They talked in the long days that followed. There was little else to do, after all. Talked about old times, about their hopes for a future they weren't even sure of tasting, about anything but the war. Link kept his distance, of course. She needed her privacy, and they were stuck in this same cell after all. He had to admit, he had had faint hopes of a rescue, but now...

Well, despite everything, despite being imprisoned, despite the disturbing noises and the discomfort, Link had found himself, on rare occasion, actually smiling and even laughing more than he had ever had with his former squad mates. His body still ached, but the familiar home of an old and cherished friendship was a like a cooling balm to soothe the wounds within.

He'd missed this.

And he hadn't even realised.

Laying his head back against the hard wall one day he wondered to himself: Would it really be so bad to spend the rest of his life like this?

"What is it you are saying?"

Link looked up, saw Zelda gazing at him in puzzlement.

"Uh..." Did I just say that out loud? "Um...I was just thinking. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad...to, um, stay here...?"

Zelda grinned. "You really are being very funny, Link."

Link's ears pricked up, his eyes and demeanour suddenly becoming alert.

"What is it?" Zelda said, her smile fading.

Link shushed her. "Can you hear that?"

They both listened. The silence in the cell stretched. Outside, though...outside, Link was certain he heard faint noises - footsteps, voices and -

A sudden echoing boom rocked through the entirety of the gulag. Link and Zelda leapt to their feet as chips of masonry rained down from the ceiling, covering them in a coat of grey dust.

"What is happening?" Zelda cried, panic clearly etched on her young face. "What is going on?"

"Wait," said Link, holding up a hand. His heart thrummed with tension.

Link cocked his head to one side. Now he definitely heard shouts, cries and the distinctive ring of clashing steel. Energy - dark and light - crackled in conflict. The noises grew. They were getting closer. Tendrils of wispy smoke began to drift in under the door.

Link allowed himself a grim smile. "I do believe the cavalry's here."

The shouts grew louder. Link exchanged a hurried glance with Zelda, then ran to the steel door and began pounding. "Hey!" he cried. "In here! I'm from Squadron Alpha-Blue!"

So much for staying forever...

He banged and banged, ears straining to hear a response. "Come on!" he cried. "I'm from Alpha-Blue. My commander's name is Beck. My serial number is Zero-One-One-One-Ex-"

At last a gruff voice responded from outside. "Stand back."

Link quickly pushed Zelda away from the door, then positioned himself as a shield in front of her. There was a metallic clunk as something stuck itself to the door, then a low whine that grew louder and louder until -

The door popped off its hinges in a coil of hissing smoke, then fell ponderously to the ground with a deep clang. Taking a clearly confused Zelda by the hand, Link dashed into the passageway beyond. They looked to the left. Smoke winded around their ankles. Small fires littered a corridor now strewn with the dead and dying - both Moblins and Hylians.

A soldier from the Royal Guard nodded at him as he made to leave. Link noticed the belt of small Mark I Detonation Devices he wore, and nodded back. "Thanks."

Link turned to the right - then stopped short, stunned.

Unbelievable!

It was her.

Princess Midna.

Link threw his free hand up in salute.

"Ma'am!"

Princess Midna cut down two last Moblin guards before looking up. "Soldier." She raised her immense blade in greeting. Its shimmering metal glowed with sparkling blue light energy.

"Is that...?" Zelda gasped.

"Yes," Link replied from the corner of his mouth. "The Master Sword."

Zelda whispered to herself, "The one who wields it is being the ruler of all Hyrule..."

The princess kicked aside burning corpses as she slowly walked toward them, ignoring the soldiers rushing past. Link blinked. So many soldiers.

"This isn't a simple rescue, is it?" he asked.

The princess shook her head as she drew level to them. "No, I'm afraid not," she replied. "It's here, soldier. The Artifact."

Link gasped. Today was the day for surprises, that was for certain. "Here? Are you sure?"

Midna nodded. "That's the intel we have, yes. I've never had any reason to doubt them before."

Link's mind whirled in such a frenzy of excitement that he hadn't even noticed the mild reprimand. "Then if we find it...we could end the war! Today!" Doubt made him pause. "Right, ma'am?"

The princess nodded again, then peered over his shoulder. Her eyebrow arched. "Who is this...?"

"Uh..." Link replied. He realised Zelda's hand was still in his so he squeezed his reassurance. "She's with me."

Before the princess had a chance to respond, a flutter of light buzzed into the space between them. Midna's eyes shifted to the hovering fairy. "Report."

"Fortress is secured, Ma'am," the fairy replied, saluting. "All the Moblins have been accounted for."

"Excellent," said the princess. "Prepare the sweep teams. We need to search for -"

The gulag shook again. Link dropped into a fighting stance just as the princess raised the Master Sword. Their eyes searched, waiting.

This is not good. I don't even have a weapon. That, and the passageway was now empty apart from the three of them and the fairy. Link swallowed. If he had to defend the princess and his oldest friends with his bare hands, then -

Another tremor rocked the fortress. And another.

Then...peace.

Zelda broke the silence. "Oh no. Oh no! Do not let him be capturing me! Please! Do not let him!"

Link blinked, distracted. "What...?"

The air shimmered. A spiral of glowing blue light appeared before them, growing larger and larger with every second.

Princess Midna narrowed her eyes. "Warp gate."

A sudden howling wind gusted down the corridor, rattling the steel doors in their hinges. Midna's fairy was caught in the current and was thrown screaming into the distance, her wings and limbs bent askew at awkward angles. The stone-faced princess held her ground.

"Nooooooooo..." Link glanced back at the sound of Zelda's ghostly moan. Ashen-faced, all she could do was grip his hand harder in a painful vice.

The warp gate exploded outward and two figures stepped through. Link's mouth went instantly dry. Terror radiated in his every nerve. He'd heard the stories. He'd even seen the pictographs. But nothing could ever have prepared him for his very first sight of Ganondorf Dragmire.

Heavy armour dripping with dark energy that glowed violet, the man that they'd been waging war against for the past five years dwarfed every single one of them. Link was sure he wouldn't even be able to reach the monster's knee.

Sword! I need a sword!

Standing beside Dragmire was his traditional bodyguard. Tall, slender and wearing a featureless steel mask of glittering purple, this was the woman known only as the Aveil.

Ganondorf took a step forward and the whole floor rippled in response. "Princess Midna." His metallic voice tore at Link's mind like steel-tipped claws. "A pleasure to meet you at long last."

The princess pointed the Master Sword at her nemesis. "You will not take this from me," she spat, her voice quivering ever-so-slightly. "I don't know why you and your foul Gerudo brought this war to us from your desert world, but you will not take Hyrule."

"Ah, you do me a disservice, Princess," Dragmire replied. "I am not here for your Master Sword. At least, not today, no."

Princess Midna swallowed. "Then what do you want?"

"The question, my dear, is what do you want?" He chuckled.

"I have no time for your riddles." The muscles in her jaw twitched. "I could finish you right here."

A thin smile stretch across Dragmire's lips. "I doubt that, my dear." Another chuckle. "But you are quite right. I wouldn't want to test the strength of that blade of yours. And let us not waste any more of our precious time. You want something."

"I do?"

The monster chuckled again. " I refer, of course...to this."

Ganondorf held up a fist. Slowly, with all the care of a master dramatist, he slowly opened it. Floating above his palm was a small, triangular-shaped object.

Princess Midna struggled to keep her composure. "The Artifact!"

"Is it? I had heard you were keen on it. For the life of me, I wouldn't know why. It's just junk to me."

Link watched the whole exchange transfixed in utter fascination. Irritation, too. Helplessness washed over him - he was just a passive observer in the unfolding of might turn out be some pretty tremendous events. And Zelda...

He glanced behind him once more. Zelda cowered away, desperately trying to avoid being seen by Ganondorf. What was going on with her...?

Link's head hurt. He was just a simple soldier. He just wanted to do what was right. Events threatened to overwhelm him now, and he felt like a leaf torn away from its branch and sucked up into the heart of a typhoon.

"If you don't want it, Dragmire," the princess continued. "Then just hand it over."

Link blinked. Surely the monster wouldn't fall for that...?

"Oh," said Ganondorf. "You misunderstand. There is something I want in return."

"Name your terms."

The corner of Dragmire's mouth curled up in a smirk. "So eager you are." Her barked a short laugh. "Very well. You may have this little bauble. In exchange...for that girl."

All eyes turned toward Zelda. "Please..." she whimpered, her nails digging into Link's skin. "Don't."

"What?" Link replied, his confused gaze sweeping from his friend to his arch-foe. "Why..?"

"And more," Dragmire continued, addressing the princess. "As a gesture of goodwill, I will allow you and your army to warp out of here unharmed. You must know by now that I have this fortress surrounded. Did you really think you could just warp in without me knowing...? And that you'd be able to warp out again without me blocking your warp-tech...? Even now my flagships are encircling this very position."

"But-" said Link.

"Soldier."

Link snapped to attention. "Ma'am!" He turned to the princess, saw the granite look of determination locked on her face. Sudden comprehension hit him like a blow to the stomach.

"No..." he gasped. His saluting hand began to droop. "You can't be considering..."

Assess the situation. Find the appropriate conclusion.

"Link!" Zelda cried. "Please!"

"Soldier!" snapped Midna. "You know what is at stake here!"

Assess the situation. Find the appropriate conclusion.

Link shook his head. "You can't!"

"I am waiting, Princess."

Link whirled around to face the monster. "Why?" he cried. Pleaded. "What do you want with her?"

For the first time, Ganondorf turned his flinty gaze upon Link. Ice ran through the young man's heart.

"What do you want with this, hmm?" Dragmire asked, gesturing with his head toward the Artifact.

"I..." But Link couldn't tell him. Couldn't tell him how important it was. Especially not if the monster didn't already know. But he had to do something. "Then fight me for her. Go on. Fight! Don't play games. You could just take what you want, you know you could."

"I'd prefer her in one piece, thank you. I cannot risk any harm coming to her."

"But wh-"

Princess Midna's cold voice cut through his. "Do the exchange."

"Excellent."

Link grasped helplessly for a sword that wasn't even there. "NO!"

"Stop them, Link," Zelda gasped. "You promised!"

"Do not...

...interfere, soldier!"

Ganondorf and Midna had spoken in unison so well that Link, for a heartbeat, couldn't even tell them apart. A knot of disquieting doubt tightened deep in his soul.

"You will not risk the lives of millions to save your friend." said Midna. Her words echoed within Link's head.

How do you know? he wanted to scream. How do you know the Artifact will do what you want it to do? But he couldn't. Not without giving away the princess's plan to the monster. And he was just too well trained to do that.

The world flowed around Link like a numb dream.

He saw Dragmire place the Artifact on the floor, place his boot atop it, then kick it over to the princess. He saw the Aveil shove him aside, saw her tear Zelda's grip from his, saw Zelda being dragged away kicking and screaming.

Begging.

His vision blurred, until he realised those were tears in his eyes. Tears. He hadn't those for years. Not since weak, sickly little Link had been unable to stand up for himself against the casual cruelty of other children so long, long ago. He wasn't that Link anymore. No way. Isn't that what he'd prided himself upon in all his years serving Princess Midna and her righteous cause...?

Link heard the princess call up a fairy to give the order to retreat, heard personal warp gates opening around the fortress. He even thought he heard Ganondorf bellow with laughter. He certainly caught the monster's parting remark: that one piece of the Artifact wasn't enough - that they would need all three; heard, too, Princess Midna's shrill screech of rage.

But most of all he would remember Zelda's wide, blue eyes locking with his. Would remember seeing those very same eyes fill with the horror of his betrayal.

And would remember forever the shattering of his very soul.

A/N: I have to apologise to anyone who's sent me a PM and didn't get a reply. I wasn't being rude, I just haven't been getting any alerts since the end of last summer. That includes story alerts, so I have a bit of catching up to do - one person's story is at Chapter 27 when I'd left it at single figures.

Also, yes, I've taken Eclipsed down. Long story.

Hope you enjoy this story better. Hope I finish it, too. What's that you say...? The Zelda fandom aren't fond of Zelda taking place in a semi-futuristic setting...? Uh oh...