Chapter 19

His boot pushed down on metal, glass and plastic, the material slowly cracking under his weight. Link kicked the sputtering piece of broken tech out of the way. It skittered noisily across the floor. An abnormally loud buzz of energy reverberated through the air of the darkened Gerudo hangar bay, punctuated here and there by the sharp crackle of sparking wires. Parts of the chamber were lit, but only by a sickly neon glow.

Zuko whistled softly in awe. "Iz all a mess. A broken mess."

"Keep it quiet," Senza warned, voice stern. "Let's not draw any attention."

Link nodded and crept slowly on. He had taken point; the others skulking closely behind. Tense and cautious, they each gripped their respective weapons - the tech pirates had their energy-swords, Gortram had a plain old axe and even Saria hadn't come unarmed; Niko had lent her a marble-handled dagger whose blade pulsated with a gentle current of faint energy.

Behind them, snugly anchored, there sat The Righteous Maximus, safe and sound, a ladder dangling over its side. Link found her presence reassuring.

The little group moved in further. The air was awash with that same sharp, unnatural buzzing. The sound reminded Link of the noise a piece of tech made in its death throes. An apt analogy - all around them were the signs of complete decay.

Pictovid screens displaying nothing but static hung from broken hinges. Gears and cogs, stained with grease, lay spilled across the dirty metal floor. Bent metal panels had peeled off the walls and were struggling to stay attached. Broken cords spat sparks as they sat coiled on the ground. Zuko was right - the place was a mess.

"Looking likely there's no one here," said Senza quietly.

"And whoever was here left in a hurry," added Saria.

Link swallowed the sour taste from his mouth. Tension thrummed in his every muscle. He hoped he hadn't come all this way for nothing. There was a flicker in his heart, one that tickled him with every beat, one that he tried to hold safely at bay. It whispered to him an alluring promise: You're going to see Zelda again. Yes, you are. It took him a valiant effort to not listen.

I don't need the distraction.

"Hey, Mako," Gonzo said. "Hop to it. What you got for us?"

The diminutive pirate looked up, rummaged around in his pockets, then pulled free a pair of goggles that he wrapped snugly over his glasses. He pressed at something on the side and glowing streams of data trickled down each lens.

"Disintegration," he said flatly. "Slow. The whole place is collapsing."

Saria muttered under her breath, "Tell us something we don't know."

Link ignored her. "How long?"

Mako shrugged. "Can't tell. Wouldn't bet on more than an hour, though."

Resolve flooded Link's chest. "We better get on with it then."

A pictovid screen suddenly exploded. They all jumped. The ground rumbled slightly. Link glanced around, his wide eyes the only sign that he was otherwise alarmed.

A faint metallic chuckle echoed around the chamber, multiplying over and over as it bounced off the metallic walls.

"Disintegration, yes." Ganondorf's voice seemed to coming from all directions. "Or a self-destruct, if you like. I'll have to build another hangar, of course. Such fun constructing this one under the very noses of the Alliance." He chuckled again, a sound like the echo of a hammer in an immense forge. "Oh and it's about forty minutes you have. I do hope we can all come to a resolution before then."

As if to punctuate the point a piece of the wall facing them burst apart in a spray of flame, spewing sparks and burnt black metal. A second explosion followed - this time a door flying off its hinges, revealing a corridor beyond.

"That's it," said Link as the curtain of smoke drifted apart. "Through there."

Senza arched an eyebrow. "Follow the trail of sparks, eh?"

"He wants us to find him."

"That's what scares me, matey."

Link couldn't help but agree. He wasn't going to say it out loud, though. There was no way Dragmire was going to make it this easy for them. The thought accompanied him as they all stepped through into the corridor. Link held his sword slightly askew ahead of him. His heart thudded slowly. He could hear its rhythm roar in his ears, could feel claws of tension scrape at his guts. His veins tingled.

The whisper in his heart had grown bold now. Each step, it promised, would bring him closer to his long-lost friend. The surge of hope was agonising. This time Link didn't resist.

Whatever happens, let me just see Zelda one more time. Please. Let me see her.

Link's eyes were suddenly drawn to his sword. Its energy field had just flickered, ever so slightly. A frown rippled over his brow. The energy hummed, then buzzed.

Then began to crackle.

Link froze, the moisture drying instantly in his mouth.

Distracted! I shouldn't have let myself be -

An inhuman screech marked the boom of a collapsing wall. A Moblin flew out of the fresh opening, steel daggers in each hand. Link, stunned for just a heartbeat, moved swiftly into action. His sword thrummed through the air, a blur of glowing energy and steel, as he drove it through the creature's chest, catching it in mid-air.

Two more blows followed - Nudge and Senza swords pinning the thing's head to the remains of the wall. Its cry died in its throat as the last of its air hissed slowly from its dying lungs. Broken masonry crumbled from the wall and rained down on its head.

"Sorry," Mako squeaked, his face blanched. He fiddled with his goggles. "I should've seen that coming."

"No harm done," said Senza as he tried to calm his breathing. He glanced at the dead Moblin, then tugged his sword free. "At least not to us."

Saria grimaced as they passed the creature by. "Ugh," she said. Her sweat-glistened palm gripped tightly to the carved hilt of her dagger. "Ugly or what."

Gortram nudged Link softly, then gestured with his axe. "Steps, lad. Up ahead."

Link just nodded. When they reached the stairs, he tested the first step with his boot.

It creaked but held.

He gave another nod, a signal to the others, then began to climb. It was darker here. A sputtering bulb hung from a frayed wire above. The light faded in and out, in and out...

A cool breeze ghosted against his skin. Link felt his every muscle, sinew and nerve coiled tight as a newly-forged spring. There was silence now, except for their collective breathing and the creak of boots on stairs.

Link's nose twitched. The acrid stench of burning plastic and metal was starting to make his head throb. His vision shimmered. The barest whisper of relief touched his heart as he spotted the opening up ahead. Link gestured again. Ducking under some overhanging cables, they at last reached the landing above - and found another corridor stretched out ahead of them.

They breathed in smoke-tinted air as they crept onward, glass and debris crunching under their boots. Link took the lead once again, sword brought to bear. The others followed, the pirates with weapons at the ready, too, glancing this way and that as they searched for any hint of danger. Data represented by glowing letters of green spilled down the lenses of Mako's goggles.

Warning lights, scarlet and silent, flashed on and off, on and off, plunging the whole passageway in a deep red hue every other second. More sparks spat from the ceiling. Link winced.

Something moved. A flicker at the corner of the eye. Link whirled - just in time to see a rat waddle its way into the shadows.

"Don't get spooked now," Gonzo murmured.

Link threw him a scornful glance. Easy for the pirate to say. Were Gonzo's arms prickling with the same sense of anticipation Link's were?

The lights went out.

They stopped, the sound of their collective breathing - now shallow and rapid - hanging in the air. Darkness surrounded them on all sides. Their only illumination was the glow of their weapons coupled with the glowing cascade of data flashing on Mako's goggles.

An eerie moan cut through the air. The little group tensed as one then all faced forward. The moan came again, this time joined with a gasping breath and the sound of shuffling feet.

"Mako...?" Link whispered.

"I'm not getting anything," the pirate replied in an equally hushed voice. "No life signs."

The warning lights flashed on and off again. They saw it then, a silhouette of a hunched form dragging itself through the shadows toward them. Another moan pierced the air, louder this time, weighed down by menace and grief. The lights buzzed back on.

It was a woman, dressed in a tattered cobweb of a dress, her arms out in front of her, her skin as grey as ash and her eyes the colour of molten copper. Her hair was nothing more than a hive of slowly coiling wires, twisting and winding like snakes. Hissed and rattled like them, too.

"ReDead virus," Mako announced.

"Can we save her?" asked Link.

"Negative."

"Then let's try and get pa-"

One of the coiling wires suddenly snapped straight like a whip, its sparking tip missing Nudge by a hair. Gonzo reacted the quickest, sprinting forward, then driving in with his blade - the ReDead deflected it easily with another snap of its wires.

"Aim for the head!" cried Mako. "Aim for the head!"

Nudge heard this, nodded, and lunged in with his crackling sword, the steel flashing red under the corridor's warning lights. One of the ReDead's wires swept out to deflect the attack with such force that the pirate was thrown grunting into the wall.

But in that moment she was exposed - Link's arm flew up, one eye narrowed, and squeezed hard on the hookshot trigger. The spike flew. It buzzed as it spun through the air, then drove straight through the zombie woman's forehead. She took a few staggering steps back. Then she hung there for a heartbeat, her copper eyes slowly turning inward, before crumbling totally into a cloud of grey ash. The hookshot spike clattered noisily to the ground.

"Nice work," grunted Nudge.

High praise, Link thought, especially as he'd hardly ever heard the big pirate speak. He let free a lengthy breath. Link hadn't even realised he'd been holding it.

"I've got something," said Mako as Link retracted the spike. The pirate adjusted one lens. "Life signs. Three. Up ahead."

Link nodded to the others. "Keep moving."

The wall to their right fell away revealing a darkened room that seemed to stretch out endlessly in a black abyss. Link barely gave it a glance.

"Link!"

He snapped his head to the side at the sound. "Navi...?"

There she was in that darkened room, far at the back, a tiny fluttering glow. Zelda, unmasked, stood beside her. Link felt his heart clench.

The two women weren't alone, either. A smirking Ganondorf Dragmire stood directly behind them, arm cannon trained on their necks, the unmistakeable purple glow of his Darkhide armour giving the chamber its only source of faint light. The Triforce of Wisdom lay at the toe of his booted feet. He had a leather bag slung over his shoulder - the same one that Link had placed the Master Sword in when he'd taken it from the museum

Link stepped into the room. Leather creaked as his gloved hand motioned for the crew to follow. They began to fan out as they approached closer and closer. The room was large, and Ganondorf stood in patient silence with his two prisoners. As Zelda's face finally came clearer into view, Link searched it for a sign. Any sign.

She favoured him with nothing more than a cool gaze in return. His heart twisted.

"My, my, what's this?" said Dragmire. "I wasn't expecting so many of you."

Link didn't reply. His eyes maintained their search of Zelda's face while his mind worked to find a solution. Assess the situation...

"Well, matey," said Senza, uncowed. "You invited us to this party. The moment you killed Captain Tetra."

Ganondorf cocked an eyebrow. "Who?"

Link heard Gonzo growl under his breath, saw his arms tense under his shirt. Senza had to quickly place a calming hand on his friend's shoulder.

"You," said the Gerudo as he turned slightly to fully face Link. "Give me the Triforce pieces. Set them on the floor and slide them over. I will hand over your two friends. The Master Sword, too."

Link stopped. "Why would you do that? You know what'd happen if Zelda touches the sword."

"She will not use it against me," Dragmire replied smugly.

Link slowly looked from the Gerudo to his old friend then back again. "How do you know that?"

"Let me elaborate, as you've clearly not grasped the gravity of your situation. I am giving you but one choice: take your friends and escape. It but pleases me to watch you attempt this. I, of course, will warp clear. You, on the other hand, will all die when the place detonates - Master Sword and all."

"So why would we even want to do this deal?"

"I know your sort," Dragmire snorted. "You have hope. You people always have hope. It's right there in your eyes. I can see it. Pathetic. You're feeling it now, aren't you, boy?"

Link couldn't help but glance at Zelda as that whispering flicker sped in his quickly beating heart.

"Ha!" Link felt sickened at the sight of Ganondorf's grin. He'd proven the Gerudo right. "You still believe you can somehow beat the odds. I call it arrogance myself."

"Why," said Senza, cutting in, "does it 'please' you to watch us try 'n' escape? That how you get your kicks, matey?"

"You cut me to the core - but you are right." Dragmire smiled. "I am the saviour of my people. I vilified them for their indolent ways. But the truth is I'm just as weak as them. Even I need amusement, need entertainment, need bread and games just as much as they did. Why else would I keep this wench Zelda alive? Why else are you all still standing?"

Ganondorf slid the leather bag down his free arm, hung it out by his side, then let it slump to the ground. "Enough talk. Time is short. The Triforce pieces. Hand them over. Now."

Link licked his lips. He unbuttoned the pouch on his belt. Reaching in, he scooped up the two triangular items, then held them out on his palm. His eyes spied their ornate carving, the intricate runes threaded deep into the surface. Link upturned his hand and the pieces clattered to the ground.

"Kick them over."

Link held himself steady. He flicked a glance at Senza who responded with a faint nod. His grip tightened around his sword. Now. It had to be now.

"Let them go first."

Dragmire's eyes glittered in the near-darkness. "Very well."

He snapped his fingers. Link braced himself, ready. The moment Zelda and Navi were clear...

Saria and Niko screamed. Link and his friends whirled. The two smallest crewmembers both stood bolt upright as crackling lassos of lightning sparked all around them. Their stretched faces flashed chalk-white every other second.

"Sprog!" Gortram cried, reaching out.

Link spun back to Dragmire. "Let them go!"

The Gerudo hissed with quiet menace. "You're being too slow. Kick. The. Triforce. OVER."

Link grit his teeth. He threw one last glance in Saria's direction then, with a snarl of exasperation, he kicked.

Released by the energy coils, Saria fell feet-first to the ground. She toppled over instantly. Gortram leapt and caught her just in time. Niko slumped to the ground, surrounded quickly by his pirate crewmates.

Link breathed out in relief. His heart, though, smouldered with indignation.

Our two weakest. Adding it to the list, Dragmire. Adding it to the list.

A burnt orange glow dragged Link's gaze downward. The space around both Triforce pieces - no, all three pieces - had begun to melt open. Link stood stunned for a moment, then quickly leapt to grasp at -

The Triforce fell through the newly made holes.

Link snapped his gaze back up.

"Now," said Ganondorf, grinning. "Goodbye. The clock is ticking."

He snapped his fingers again. This time there was no warning, no glow to signify what was happening.

The metal beneath their feet tore open.

Instinct made Link leap. When he hit the floor he leapt again in an awkward somersault, then fell to the ground - just in time to see it open up once more. His foot caught the edge, ankle protesting sharply in pain. He threw himself forward once more, this time flailing all the way.

He hit the ground in the corridor beyond and slid across the floor, his sword gouging a blackened scar into the metal ground. He looked up. All his friends were gone. Yawning gaps in the ground revealed where they'd last stood. As Dragmire's laugh began to echo, Link saw Navi suddenly dive forward and fly into one of the fresh holes.

Zelda then leapt, slashing at Dragmire's arm, metal glinting purple in her fist. Confused, Link gaped as he saw Ganondorf backhand his childhood friend. Anger twisting his features, a snarling Dragmire stalked in toward Zelda. She didn't flinch - just threw herself forward again, her eyes narrow and hard.

Link had seen enough. He sprung forward, ready to dive back in and -

A glass wall fell from above, landing with a hollow thump and barring his path. His heart spiked in painful thrusts in his chest.

What was happening? Link slapped his sword-free hand against the glass. What was going on?

Another metal panel blew open above his head. Sparks spat from the torn wires. Smoke drifted in the air. Link swallowed, his throat tight and dry, as he tried to peer in through the new wall.

Movement caught his eye. Link's heart froze in a painful vice. He saw a blurred figure, slim and so achingly familiar, approach the other side of the translucent wall.

Link placed his free palm against the frosted glass. Moisture evaporated from the roof of his mouth. Blue eyes watched him with a steady gaze.

"Zelda..."

"Link."

Her voice was muffled by the barrier.

"What happened?"

She turned slightly, as if checking on something behind her, then turned back. "I am being distracting him. For a moment, at least."

"What did you do?"

There was a hint of a smile in her reply. "I am being the Aveil. I am not one to be coming unarmed."

Link felt something dissolve deep in his soul. Words erupted like lava from his heart. "Zelda," he said, breathing hard as though he wouldn't have the strength to say what he wanted. "All those years back. When I left you to Dragmire. I just wanted to say. I just have to say -"

She placed the tip of her finger against the glass directly opposite his lips. "Shh." Her voice was gentle. "I know."

Link's heart skipped a beat. "You remember?"

"I am remembering what was important." She lifted her finger then leaned in to place the spot with a soft kiss. "I love you."

Link felt his eyes burn. A dizzying joy swam in his heart. "Zelda..."

She stood, her eyes still fixed on his. Then, without a word, she turned and began to walk.

"Zelda...?"

The sickening realisation hit him instantly. She was going to go after Ganondorf again. Alone.

"No..."

She'd have to get close to take the Master Sword from him. And in that time she'd be open to attack. Vulnerable. She'd get Dragmire, sure - and probably die in the process.

Link slapped his palm against the glass once again. "Zelda," he croaked. "Zelda, no."

She didn't look back. "Yes."

"I don't want you to go."

She paused, then turned her head. Her sad smile mirrored the sorrow shimmering in her ever-wide eyes. "I must."

"NO!"

He began pounding at the glass. Zelda had already been swallowed by the darkness beyond. With a snarl, Link whirled his sword then ploughed it into the wall. Crystal chips flew back into his face, but the barrier still held. He pulled his sword free, took a few steps back, readied himself, then ran up and drove the blade in. Energy crackled. Glass cracked. He freed his sword again, then went at it with his boots, kicking the now fragile wall. It shattered after only a few more moments. Link dived in.

He heard Zelda scream. Link ran, his chest still painfully tight, his heart hammering. He didn't have time to wonder about the fate of his friends. There was a clash of metal. Another scream followed. Link felt his stomach liquefy.

He could see them in the distance. Ganondorf was standing over her, a sword in his hand. Whatever Zelda had done, it had been enough to damage his arm cannon. It lay on his forearm, limp and mangled.

Zelda's Aveil armour had already been pierced at the arm. Link saw the crimson glisten of blood. She had a cut to the head, too - rivulets of red were falling down her face.

"So, Princess Zelda," Dragmire crowed. "You have dared to rise against me?"

Zelda glanced up, bewildered.

"Ha! You don't even know who you are!"

"Stop!"

Link dived in with a thrust, but realised too late his mistake.

Stupid! Why did I just announce my presence to him?

Ganondorf spun around with an almost lazy swing of his sword. It crackled into Link's and sliced it straight in two.

"Fine," spat the Gerudo as he shifted his weight and tossed his weapon from one hand to the other. "I have a few minutes. Let's have some sport."

Link was gazing open-mouth down at his broken sword. The click of Dragmire's fingers made him look up - just in time to catch Zelda's panicked glance as she, too, fell through a hole in the floor.

Ganondorf, grinning, slowly approached, his sword buzzing as he jabbed the air. Link, backing slowly away, glanced over at the leather bag laying unnoticed on the floor, then flicked his gaze over at the opening Zelda had just fallen through.

He knew three things instantly: He had to get the Master Sword. He had to get down to the next level to Zelda.

And he probably only had a handful of minutes to do it in, too.

...

The wind whistled past Senza's ears as he tumbled down the shaft. Damp walls flew past him, grimy and flecked copper with rust. It amazed him that he even noticed this. Especially since he had more pressing issues: the ground rushing up toward his eyes for one. The pirate braced himself.

"Oof!" Whatever he'd hit was soft and moist. A chorus of grunts told him that his mates had made it, too. Senza was the first to raise his head, shaking it as he did so.

"Still alive," he said, slowly rising. They were in a dingy chamber with beads of moisture coating each wall. Brown water spewed from a grille in the wall. It spattered into the ground. "You guys good?"

As the others nodded in assent, Senza gazed down at the floor. He pressed it with the toe of his boot. The floor sprung under his touch. "What is this place?"

Before anyone could reply, a sprinkle of light blossomed from above. They all looked up. Senza went instinctively for his sword.

"Navi!" cried Saria as the light burst into view.

"Hey," the fairy replied, her voice echoing in the chamber.

Senza frowned, grip relaxing slightly on his hilt. "You with us?"

"Absolutely." It was a growling Captain Gortram who had replied.

Senza threw him a glance, then just shrugged. "As long as she puts in a shift."

"Hey!" the little woman cried. "I am Navi the Fairy!"

Senza frowned again. "Yeah...?"

"Glad you've heard of me," she beamed. "Since you have, you must know that you don't doubt the Nav-ster."

"The what now?"

"Are you..." said Niko, gazing up in awe. He blinked. "Are you someone famous, lady?"

Pleasure shone from the fairy's already bright face. "Well, I don't want to brag but -"

"Hmm..." said Mako, turning all attention to him. He was crouching, prodding the ground with one hand as his other adjusted his goggles. "This isn't good..."

Senza felt his heart skip. "Not good? I'm not a fan of not good. Fill us in, Mako mate."

He didn't get the chance. Metal tore open in the ceiling above with an echoing screech. A figure fell through, arms wind-milling, then hit the soft ground with a faint grunt. The pirates rounded on the newcomer instantly, swords at the ready.

"No, no, no! Stop!" cried Navi, wings fluttering as she flew protectively in front. "It's Zelda! She's with us! Really!" Desperation flooded her voice. "She does shifts, too!"

Zelda groaned and shook her head. Opening her eyes, she slowly began to take in her surroundings. The circle of pirates watched her warily.

"You..." she breathed, her eyes flicking from face to face."You are all being Link's friends?"

"Aye," said Gortram.

Her gaze stopped at the Goron. She sprung forward, suddenly clutching at his sleeve. "Then you must be helping me!"

"Hey...hey!" the startled Goron replied. "Calm down, girl. Tell us what's up."

"Up! Yes!" Her eyes had a feverish tint to them. "I must be getting back up there! I must get the Master Sword! Link is not standing a chance against that monster."

Gonzo growled. "I think we've got bigger problems, Miss." He pointed. "Look!"

A faint chittering sound, like the flicker of a thousand insect wings, rose to their ears. Techno-organic tentacles veined with glowing dark energy began to slowly coil up out of the ground all around them. Buzzing steel claws sat atop each one. They snapped and hissed as they drew closer.

"Yep," said Mako calmly as he stood. "Just what I was going to tell you guys about."

The pirates began to huddle closer, back to back, weapons abuzz. "Steady..." said Senza. "Ste-"

With a yell, Nudge slashed at an oncoming feeler. A spray of green liquid flew from its severed limb. The pirate flung his face aside to avoid the spill, then turned slowly back. The maimed tentacle jabbed blindly at the air.

Nudge grinned. "Heh."

The tentacle suddenly stopped. Flesh and metal rippled. Another limb sprouted from the first, steel claws blossoming outward.

Nudge's face fell.

Senza glanced around with tense eyes. "We have to get out of here."

"I can show you the way," said Navi. "Back to the hangar bay."

"No!" cried Zelda. "I must be getting back to Link!" Her eyes turned inward as her voice suddenly fell. "The Master Sword...I am hearing it calling to me..."

She turned on her heel, then began to stalk off. Gonzo caught her by the arm. She snarled as she tried desperately to wriggle free. "Be letting me go!"

Gonzo jabbed at an attacking tentacle. "You won't make it, Miss."

"Then be helping me, not fighting me!"

"We'll try our best," Senza replied, hacking away with his sword.

Saria gave a gurgled yell as she drove her dagger deep into the side of some techno-organic flesh. Pulling her blade free, she quickly hopped over to Zelda's side. Gortram joined her a moment later.

"We ain't leavin' without Link," the Goron growled.

Senza hissed a breath through clenched teeth as he split another tentacle in two. He glanced up. "Lead the way, fairy!"

...

The hookshot spike snapped into life at Link's touch. It whirred through the air, then caught easily on the fallen leather bag, drawing it back to him before Ganondorf even realised what was happening. Link grinned, cradling his prize. Victory!

It was short-lived. A fist to the jaw sent Link sprawling face-first. His spine prickled - the Gerudo could gut him right there and then - and he instantly flipped over onto his back. Link's face ached. Dragmire loomed large in his line of sight. The Gerudo bore down on him hard, sword drawn back and ready.

"Boy," the Gerudo growled. "I will beat you to within an inch of your life. Then I will watch your friends die as this base falls. The last sound they'll hear is my laughter as I warp free."

Ganondorf reached him in a mere moment. A booted foot rammed into Link's stomach, winding him. Dragmire followed through with a sword thrust - Link had just the presence of mind to roll out of the way. He reached out, found a wall, then clawed himself upright.

The wind shifted.

Link ducked just in time as Ganondorf's sword cut a crackling tear in the wall. Sparks spat as the Gerudo dragged his weapon free.

"Stay still, little man."

Link lashed out with an instinctive kick. Dragmire gasped as the blow hit his knee.

Sweat springing from his every pore, Link tried to break into a run, dragging the heavy weight of the Master Sword after him. Link hissed. It hadn't been this dense when he'd sprung it from the museum. He couldn't believe it. The thing was actually refusing to co-operate.

It's not me it wants, is it? It wouldn't play fair for Princess Midna, and it won't do the same for me. It's just Zelda it wants. I have to get it to her.

Despite being bagged, the cold metal edge of the blade scraped against the floor. Link gasped as he pulled. Old bruises throbbed in time with his newer wounds. He could see Ganondorf walking slowly up to him, could see his smirking face as he raised his sword and -

Link ducked, heard the whisper of sliced air above. An elbow crashed into the side of his throat. For a moment the world went entirely black, then red, then resurfaced in its entirety. Link gasped again, pain riding down his neck into his spine. He heard the chop of a sword being spun, sensed the tensing of his foe as the Gerudo readied the killing blow.

Images flashed in Link's mind, images of Zelda soaked in the warmth of happier memories, happier times. How had it come to this? Dying here in this grimy, forsaken hole as the person he'd loved most in the whole world had slipped yet again from his fingers...?

"Now will you stay still...?"

With a gargled yell, Link dragged the bag up and swung it around straight into the side Ganondorf's head. Dragmire toppled away into the darkness.

Link fell to his knees and panted. A chance. Slim, yeah, but now he had a chance.

He had to have a weapon. The hookshot alone wouldn't cut it. Link glanced at the heavy bag. It wasn't just the sword in there, he realised. He'd placed tools in there, too, in his greenish-yellow 'fire crew' clothes, just to maintain the illusion. Surely there was something there he could use...? A hammer, maybe...?

Link knelt, trembling fingers working the bag's zipper. His gloves were too thick and heavy to get a firm hold. His spine prickled. He expected an explosion of pain there any second now. Any second. As soon as Ganondorf reached him -

Link pulled one glove off with his teeth. His sweat-glistened fingers slipped on the zipper's catch. Exasperation gargled in his throat. Fear washed through him like a wave. Finally he tore the bag open. His eyes fell upon a small flat-head axe protruding from one the pockets of his fire crew disguise. Yes!

"Now I have you!"

Instinct made Link reach down for the axe, his fingers brushing past the cool hilt of the Master Sword and -

A steadily rising whine of energy suddenly ignited from the ancient weapon. Link glanced down, confused. Circular patterns of glowing green lights came to life on the sword's pommel. Metal plates placed in concentric shapes slid apart.

The Eye of Equilibrium opened.

Time stood still. Link felt cool, soothing energy run up his arm. Doubts, thoughts and his whole sense of self melted away. Wounds healed. He saw himself as a tool in the hands of a power he couldn't even fathom. It blotted out his very soul.

Energy ran all the way into his neck, up into his eyes and down each and every one of his vertebrae. As though awakening from a deep sleep, Link swept to his feet, then turned.

Ganondorf gasped. He'd already backed away in shock at the first stirring of the sword. "No."

Data spilled down each of Link's eyes. Numbers. Statistics. He saw winking red spots marking the weak points on the Darkhide armour. Link pointed the Master Sword directly at his foe.

"Your villainy ends here, Ganondorf Dragmire."

"NO!"

Ganondorf leapt in with a pinpoint sword thrust. Link deflected the strike easily, then followed through with a graceful spinning kick that sent Dragmire to the ground. The Gerudo grunted, then leapt up instantly, thrusting again. Link blocked, skewing the attack aside. In that brief moment of vulnerability, Link pounced, driving his nemesis back with strike after strike after strike, all faster than the eye could follow.

Dragmire desperately blocked each blow, but every time he did so a fresh dent would ripple the steel skin of his sword. Link thrust again - this time the Gerudo side-stepped the attack.

Yelling, Ganondorf swung his mangled blade in for a swift arc to the neck. Link ducked, both arms flung out at his sides, his eyes rapidly swallowing in the data the Master Sword was feeding them, then threw himself into an elegant back-flip, his rising boot connecting squarely with Ganondorf's jaw.

Stunned, the Gerudo stumbled back - long enough for Link to run, then slide straight back over. The Master Sword hummed serenely as it sliced through the Darkhide armour and severed both of Ganondorf's arms in two neat swipes. Dragmire dropped to his knees.

Link stood over his fallen nemesis, his face bathed in the emerald glow of the Master Sword. A gasping Ganondorf gazed up at him, coughing up blood.

Link tightened his grip. "Stay still, little man."

The hum of energy grew from a purr to a rising drone then to a roar. An incandescent green blur momentarily stained the dark as Link plunged the Master Sword home.

...

"If it ain't tentacles," gasped Senza, "Then it's bloody Moblins."

The exhausted backed away from the seething mob of pig-like beasts, his shirt cut to ribbons, sweat mingling with scarlet on his skin. They'd tried. Damn hard they'd tried, but they hadn't been even able to reach the stairs that would've led them back to Link.

Shame. He'd liked the guy.

Now Senza and his mates were being pressed back toward the hangar bay, the corridor in front teeming with snorting, snuffling Moblins, the bay itself behind them and shaking violently, random explosions rocking their every step. Masonry fell from a ceiling now split by jagged, wide cracks.

Senza glanced over his shoulder. The Maximus waited, swaying serenely from her anchor in spite of the surrounding chaos. His eyes narrowed, calculating. They could make a run for it. If it weren't for all the shaking...

"Where's that fairy?" he barked. "We need her to get the ship going. Where is she?!"

"Here," a little voice called.

Senza looked up - then blinked in surprise. "There's two of you now?"

"This is Honeybell."

"Honeysuckle."

"Whatever," said Navi. "She's with me. Had to go back for her. Pretty easy, too - the Moblins were busy having a pixie dessert."

Before Senza could even query all this, a sudden scream of rage made him turn back. It was the girl Zelda, fists clenched as she loudly voiced her displeasure at their situation.

I know how you feel, Miss.

The ground shook again, a tremor that ran through the whole building and almost threw them off their feet. Senza was having none of this. His mates took priority now. They had to get out of here.

"Look!" gasped Saria.

They did. Zelda stopped screaming. Senza had to blink. And blink again.

Over the heads of the oncoming Moblins, Senza and his friends saw a figure running straight toward them. Metal wall panels blew out behind him, step-by-step, in a cascade of purple energy.

"It's Link!" cried Navi.

Indeed it was. And he had the Master Sword in hand. He seemed older somehow. Serene. Calm.

And totally in control.

He reached the Moblin horde and didn't even miss a beat. Link leapt and kicked off of the side wall, igniting his hookshot as he did so. The spike jammed into nook where the wall met the ceiling above and Link swooped overhead in a graceful arc, slashing away at the Moblins.

The hookshot disengaged, and Link flipped slowly over before landing in a crouch, surrounded by enemies. The remaining Moblins surged forward. Link slowly stood, eyes blazing blue with determination, then spun into a whirling attack, the humming Master Sword flashing with every strike. Moblins flew away in all directions. It didn't take him long. Soon he stood alone in a sea of Moblin corpses.

Link turned to face his friends. Despite being encompassed by explosions and bone-jarring tremors, they all stared at him, open-mouthed. Zelda gaped the most.

"You..." she gasped, awed. "It is being choosing you. You are the one being the most worthy."

The whole place was tearing itself apart now. More chunks of debris fell from the ceiling. Flames burst out of the walls.

"All hands!" cried Link, his voice now flooded with steely authority. He pointed. "To the Maximus!"

"Oh boy..." said Saria.

"Ha!" cried Gortram in delight.

Senza grinned. "Aye aye, Captain!"

Navi clenched her fist. "Yes!"

Link snatched Zelda by the hand and led the way. They ran into the hangar bay, struggling to keep their footing against the shuddering ground. Winding and twisting, they dodged falling debris, then leapt onto the Maximus's ladder. The anchor shot upward as the last of them clambered over the side onto the deck.

Explosions detonated all around. "Navi!" cried Link. "Full ahead!"

"Got it," she replied. "Engaging."

The Righteous Maximus slowly swung around, the growl of her engines slowly rising. The snow-speckled sky beyond beckoned to them. Senza watched wide-eyed. He saw his own fear reflected in Zelda's face, her knuckles drained of blood as she gripped the ship's railing. The Maximus shook as another explosion rocked them.

This is gonna be close.

The Maximus burst out into the air just as a cloud of flame billowed out from the exploding hanger behind them. Senza blew out a long breath in relief.

That's for you, Miss Tetra.

Out loud, he said, "That's Dragmire done." Satisfaction rang clear in his voice. Burning flecks of debris rained down on the deck and sizzled against the falling snow. "Unless he warped..."

"He didn't," said Link.

The corner of Senza's mouth curled up in a smile. "Good." A thought came to him. "Triforce is gone, too."

No one replied to this.

Senza looked over toward the ship's bow.

Snowy wind whipping at his hair, Link slowly sat in the captain's chair. Zelda crouched beside him. She took his hand. Their eyes met, and they smiled.

"Navi," he said, glancing up.

"What?" she replied as she floated in close. "You want me to take a pictograph? Draw a little heart on it?"

"No," he replied patiently. "I need you to listen."

"That's my line," she muttered. "Actually, you do have to listen. About something I've found in my head."

"You'll have plenty of time to inform me, my dear friend. On this, our next jaunt."

"Why are you talking like that? Have you caught hero-itis?" The little fairy shook her head, baffled. "Forsooth, verily thine hast now truly an expanded diction."

"It's 'thou', not 'thine,'" Link countered quietly. "Plot a course for Castle City, Navi." He placed an arm on the seat rest, eyes narrowed against the oncoming snow, then stroked his chin. "Once again, I would have a word with Princess Midna."