Everyone always scurried out of the way quickly when the Captain approached. She had a domineering presence that frightened them all away. That and a large, coiled whip on her hip that she wasn’t hesitant about using if anyone happened to block her path. Fortunately, she wore boots with iron toes that made a loud crashing noise when she moved through the hallways, giving the peasants ample time to scamper before she could come upon them.
Today’s journey was a bit more reluctant that normal. She had to deliver bad news. The Captain always walked slower when there was bad news to report to the Empress. Generally, their mighty ruler would take her anger out on one of the servants, or even a magistrate who was out of favor. On very rare occasions, however, she would take all of her anger out on her closest advisor. The Captain didn’t like it when the Empress took her anger out on her. The news was most assuredly bad, although not critical. Still, it was impossible to predict how the Empress would react, so her captain walked slower and slower, passing through the winding hallways of the castle as the underlings fled her sight.
It was raining outside. Fat raindrops pelted the dingy glass windows, windows which allowed precious little sunlight to pass through. The black storm clouds managed to snuff out the rest, leaving the entire castle dark. There were very few torches along the black walls of the corridor. Every other one was smoldering with a dim orange glow, barely enough light to fill a stable, let alone a great castle.
As the Captain neared the throne room, she slowed to a crawling pace, the echoes of her footsteps getting softer. She turned her head, passing a blackened mirror, brushing a few stray strands of blond hair away from her thick shoulder pads. Appearance was important to the Empress. She enforced a strict dress code on everyone in the castle, up to and including the musicians. Well, musician. There was only one left still alive. All the others had been executed years ago. Everyone wore what the Empress told them to wear. Of course, everyone was also expected to wear an Inhibitor: Everyone except the Empress.
The Captain straightened her spine, pulling down her tunic to smooth it out. Once she was satisfied that she looked her best, she continued the trek through the hall. A thin woman with a bushy tail happened to be passing from the dining room to the kitchen right as the Captain turned the corner. She didn’t move fast enough and was kicked by the iron toed boot. As she ran away, biting her lip to keep from crying out, the Captain’s face twisted into a cruel, delighted smile. The servants knew better than to make a sound when struck. Any indication of pain whatsoever was not tolerated. The Captain had it in her authority to lock an individual in the stocks for a week for so much as a whimper, a power she enjoyed very much.
The throne room came closer and closer. Someone was screaming from the other side of the wall to the Captain’s left. Grinning, she merely shook her head. Another peasant was being executed. The Empress loved executions. So did the Captain. She was sorry she had to miss this one, but she supposed that it would put the Empress in a better mood when the bad news arrived.
Turning a corner, the double doors leading to the throne room appeared. Two burly guards were standing in front of it. Off to one side was the castle steward. He was a handsome man with long dark hair, pulled tightly back in a ponytail, held by an orange ribbon. Quite often, he was the punch line to the Captain’s jokes, constantly subject to public humiliation. Still, he managed to bear it. He was a smart one, he knew better than to cross her.
“You!” the Captain snapped shrilly, pointing an authoritarian finger in the direction of the steward.
He bowed low to the ground, bracing himself for further amusement at his expense. “Yes, Captain?”
“Announce me to the Empress.”
“Yes, Captain.” Quickly, he scuttled backward, going through the doors and disappearing into the dark depths of the throne room.
“The Empress is in a mood today,” one of the guards said softly.
“Already been two executions,” the other guard informed his captain. “Nothing seems to be settling her mood.”
“Well, one can hardly blame her,” the Captain said crisply. “After all, today is an important day. She wants everything to go off without a hitch.”
“Has she any reason to doubt her Ascension?” the first guard asked.
“You know her enemies would love nothing more than to stop her.” A cruel smile played on her lips. “Fortunately, they’re all locked up in the dungeon and soon will be reduced to the nothingness which spawned them.”
“So why are you coming to see her at this hour?” the second guard inquired.
The cruel smile faded from the Captain’s lips. “There’s been an unexpected turn of events. Hardly enough to stop the Ascension, but you know how she is regarding certain individuals.”
The first guard raised an eyebrow. “The Dink?”
“What’s he done this time?” the second wondered.
From the other side of the door, the screaming had died down. “Your majesty, the Captain of the Guard,” they heard the steward say. Nodding to both of the guards, the Captain stepped through the doors and into the throne room.
Like the rest of the castle, the throne room was dark and dank. The walls were pitch black, spattered here and there with a crimson tapestry or two. A long, plush red carpet led from the doors, all the way across the room to the throne dais, an ebony stone, carved with elaborate scenes of battle, depicting the Empress’s glorious rise to power. Around the dais was a scarlet curtain, open at the moment to reveal the throne. The throne itself was made of obsidian, hosting a lush, velvet cushion on which the Empress sat.
Holding her head up high, the Captain began to walk the length of the carpet. To her right, she passed a ring of guards, standing around a grate in the floor. The trapdoor in the grate was closed, locked with a thick three feet of iron chain. Fresh blood dripped from the bottom of the trap door down into the depths of pit below. From the shadows, a low growling could be heard.
She turned nonchalantly away from the display, bored with the same old scene. Four honor guards flanked either side of the throne dais. Apart from the Empress, the only other individuals on the dais were the steward, on his knees with his head touching the floor, and a handsome servant, massaging the Empress’s feet.
Lethargically, the Captain came before the dais. She knelt, bowing her head and then touching a fist to her forehead. “My Empress,” she whispered in a voice filled with genuflection.
“Captain,” the Empress said with a lofted eyebrow. “I was not expecting you until this evening.”
“I apologize if I am interrupting something.
“Nothing terribly important. Just another execution. A clumsy fool spilled some wine on me as he was serving me.”
“I have news.”
“News.” A sign of inner seething began to appear behind the Empress’s consistently calm eyes.
“What sort of news?”
“It concerns your minstrel,” the Captain said heavily.
“What has he done now?” the Empress asked darkly.
“He has escaped.”
“Run away. Again.”
The Empress leaned back in her throne. She crossed one leg over the other, inadvertently kicking the servant at her feet in the face. “When will that boy learn?” she wondered aloud.
“I can have my best men trail him in no time.”
“You’ll hardly need your best men to find him,” she deadpanned.
“I wasn’t sure if you wanted to be bothered with this until after this evening,” the Captain said meekly.
The Captain rose to her feet. “Your orders?”
“Track him down. Hunt him down. Turn the dogs loose on him if you have to. I want him back.”
“Your wish is my command, Empress,” the Captain said, bowing so low that her hair brushed against the floor. She turned around and immediately started to march to the door.
“Captain,” the Empress called, interrupting her mid-stride.
She turned around. “My Empress?”
“I want him back before the festivities tonight. I would hate for my favorite pet to miss all the fun.”
“Get him back.”
“What did he say again?’
“He said –”
“Carry! You’re on my foot!”
“Link, what did he say?”
“He said, ‘the many monsters of this island fear that the Windfish is about to awaken! The monsters’ power is real! They may conquer the island and destroy their foes! That day may come soon! Now, go to the mountain tower! Fly like a bird!’ Then he flapped away again.”
The darkness of the night enveloped the travelers like a protective blanket. Unfortunately, this same blanket made them practically blind. Link, Zelda, Carry, and Matilda all crashed and bumped into each other. The only real light was the reflection of the moon in Carry’s eyes, unfortunately, as they neared the entrance to the Eagle’s Tower, the moonlight vanished, leaving them a shivering, huddled mass attempting to move in unison.
“Let me get this straight,” Matilda muttered. “You take orders from a bird?”
“Not a bird,” Link said in exasperation for what felt like the infinite time. “A sage. The owl is just a manifestation.”
“We don’t exactly take orders either,” Zelda added defensively.
“Yeah,” Link agreed. “It’s not like Ezri ever has anything useful to say anyway. If he were here right now and we asked him which way to go, he’d probably hoot twice, say something useless like, ‘Your path is not easy, but you are almost there. Go east. The Windfish is getting restless,’ then fly away.”
Carry blinked. “East?”
“Relax Carry, we’re headed in the right direction,” Zelda assured him. “I think,” she muttered in sotto.
“Look!” Matilda cried. No one could really tell where she was pointing, but after a moment of hapless searching, everyone on the group saw the looming shadow in the distance, the black doorway of the Eagle’s Tower.
“This is the place,” Link mumbled, stepping in front of the group a small ways. He shivered a little bit in the darkness. His instinct told him that Zelda was shivering just the same, sensing the great evil they were approaching. Trying to act casually, he turned his head, looking over in Matilda’s direction.
It had been an uneasy transition, bringing Matilda into their confidence. Despite the fact that they had explained everything completely, several times over, she was still having difficulty keeping all the facts straight. Luckily, the one thing she did not have trouble with was keeping her mouth shut. She was virtually catatonic in public these days. Aside from the three people present, and Valerie, Matilda spoke to no one.
There was something going on in her confused mind, Link was sure of it. It had something to do with the Nightmare they were about to face. In recent times, the thought of invading the Eagle’s Tower had utterly consumed Matilda. This was the one thing she spoke about. Now, standing in the freezing cold shroud of night, Link found himself wondering exactly what she was thinking. He didn’t dare use telepathy on her though. Valerie had told him never to do that.
“All right, Carry,” Link said absently, shaking all thoughts of Matilda away from his mind. “Give me the instructions again.”
“Next to the door is a crystal switch,” Carry recited. “Turn it one third of the way to the right, then all the way to the left.”
“How are we supposed to see anything in this darkness?” Link grumbled as he blindly stepped to one side of the door, holding his hands out and groping the stone wall for the crystal switch. Eventually, his hands fell on it. Following Carry’s directions, he proceeded to turn the switch, one third of the way to the right, then all the way back to the left.
The stone shuddered. Quickly, Link pulled back his hand. Slowly, the black doorway to the tower dropped away, revealing a bright green light emanating from the inside. As the light fell upon his companions, Link was able to register their individual looks of surprise and determination. To be certain, they were an odd combination, a princess, a Guardian, a gentle giant, and himself, a Hylian Hero. Still, they were probably the most capable people on the island.
“Welcome to Eagle’s Tower,” Zelda muttered, staring at the light.
“Okay, let’s go,” Matilda blurted, immediately sauntering forward to the doorway.
“Halt!” Link called. Carry reached out and gently grabbed Matilda’s arm, stopping her in her tracks.
“What’s the hold up?” she demanded impatiently.
“You are far too eager to get inside of there,” Link told her, drawing the Master Sword from the sheath on his back.
“So? Aren’t you? I mean, come on, we’re going to bust up some bad guys, aren’t we?”
“No,” Zelda replied. “We’re going to get an instrument. The bad guys are inconsequential.”
“Why are you taking this ordeal so personally?” Link asked. “This wasn’t the Nightmare that held you in a dungeon for weeks.”
“Face,” Carry murmered.
“Face. This is the Nightmare that killed that one.”
“Hawk,” Carry supplied softly.
“Right, this is Hawk,” Link continued. “Not Face. Face is dead.”
Matilda sighed. “All right. I get it. Can we go in now?”
Zelda drew an arrow from her quiver, stringing it into her bow. She walked past the other three, moving to the wall beside the door. For a moment, she pressed her back to the wall, but after a silent count, she whirled around, standing dead in the middle of the doorway, her bowstring taut. An instant of breathless silence followed. Finally, she loosened her grip and nodded to the others. Together, they entered the dungeon.
It very quickly became apparent that the green glow they had seen outside was coming from the floor. Most of the tiles were a bland earthy tone, but a line of tiles running horizontally down the middle of the room was made of a bright green tile that emitted the eerie light, casting bright beams up in large cone shapes toward the ceiling. In addition, there were four torches, one in each corner of the room. The flames in all four lamps were bright green.
“Creepy,” Zelda whispered, looking around. There were four large stone statues in the room two on either side of the entrance. They were all gigantic owl heads with gold beaks.
Carry rummaged through his saffron robes until he produced a roll of parchment. Tenderly, he unrolled it, smoothing it out against a wall. “Does it look the way you remember it, Carry?” Link asked.
“Yes,” Carry replied, nodding his large head.
“There are two open doorways,” Link said absently, looking from side to side.
Zelda wandered to the left door. “Should we split up?”
“No,” Link decided after a few seconds of deliberation. “I think it will be safest for all parties involved if we stick together for now.”
She didn’t seem to have an objection. “All right. So where do we go from here, Carry?”
At once, all four of them snapped their heads in the direction of the alien voice. Leaning against the right hand door was a heavily armored individual, with a long blond ponytail streaming out from underneath an enormous iron mask with bright red horns. “Hawk,” Carry grumbled.
“You four are trespassing,” Hawk said, sauntering toward them. On his back was a large metal shield, held in place by a leather strap that stretched across his armored chest.
Immediately, Matilda reached for her hookshot. Before she could get it out of the holster attached to her leg, Hawk sent a blast of energy at her hand. Link dove across the room, grabbing Matilda around the waist and pulling her to the floor before she could be hurt. “Ow!” she screamed as the two of them hit the floor. The Master Sword went flying across the tiles.
Hawk sighed. “You’re getting to be a real nuisance, Hero,” he droned, his voice nasal as always. An arrow flew through the air, embedding itself into Hawk’s armor. Zelda reached behind her back, grabbing another arrow. Hawk glanced boredly at her. “And you,” he said crisply, “I told you our encounters weren’t over yet.”
“Let me at him!” Matilda shouted, squirming to get free of Link’s grasp. “Let me kill him!”
“You made a big mistake coming here,” Hawk continued, ignoring Matilda’s outbursts.
Zelda strung the arrow into her bow. “Are you going to fight or threaten me?”
“It’s a bit too early in the night for fighting, don’t you think?” Hawk replied icily. He reached behind his back, pulling the shield onto his arm.
“Get off of me!” Matilda threw Link away from her, sending him rolling across the floor. She jumped to her feet, yanking the hookshot out of the holster and settling it against her forearm. Without hesitating, she pulled the trigger, sending the chain and hook in flight through the air at Hawk.
The Nightmare turned around, knocking the hook away with his shield. Without waiting to see what Matilda would do next, he thrust the shield forward in Link’s direction. A mirror covered the front part of the shield, but in the bright green light, the mirror seemed to grow darker, turning black. From within the depths of the glass, a swirling red light appeared. It expanded, turning into a ball of fire.
“Get the shield!” Carry shouted.
The ball of red light turned into a column that shot out from the surface of the glass, expanding in a cone shape. The light enveloped Link who twisted in physical pain. Rapidly, the light turned hotter, filling the room. It glowed brighter and brighter swirling faster until it virtually exploded, forcing Matilda, Zelda, and Carry to shield their eyes.
They knew the light had faded only when the orange glow behind their eyelids faded. Slowly, the three of them dared to open their eyes again. There was no trace of Hawk in the room. He had completely vanished. Where Link had been only a few seconds earlier, there was a pile of bright pink, orange, and yellow fabric.
Zelda stepped forward, blinking rapidly. “Link?” The pile of fabric moved abruptly. A face emerged, Link’s face. He took one look at Zelda and let out an ear piercing scream.
First, there was the scalding pain of the column of light from Hawk’s shield. Next, there was the cooling sensation of raindrops hitting his back and the feel of wet grass beneath him. Then, there was a sharp crack on his back, followed rapidly by a blow to the head from something blunt. When Link woke up he felt himself moving.
He opened his eyes. Beneath him, he saw several planks of wood. When he sat up, he realized that he was inside of a rather large cinder wood box. The box was moving, being shaken about as if someone was carrying it and walking. There were no openings, aside from a small knot in the wood that had fallen out, leaving a peephole in the side of the box.
Link pressed his face against the planks, looking out through the peephole. He was outdoors. It was raining. Several faceless, burly individuals were hoisting the box, marching through what appeared to be the tanglewood patch where Link kept fruitlessly trying to build a shelter for himself. And yet it was different. Many of the weeds were dying, brown and limp. Also, there was no sign of the town tool shop.
“Hey!” Link shouted, pounding a fist against the side of the box. “Hey! Let me out of here!” From the other side of the peephole, Link heard voices murmuring to each other over the clanking of metal plates. He couldn’t tell what they were saying, but he was positive he heard Valerie’s voice. “Val!” he continued. “Val, what gives? Why am I in a box?” More murmuring, still no response. “Forget this!”
Link closed his eyes, summoning his mental reserves. A simple telekinetic punch would shatter the box to splinters. He released the blow and…nothing happened. Link opened his eyes. The box was still intact and he was still being carried. A small frown crept over his face. The last time he had been unable to use his powers was…
Quickly, with a sense of great panic, Link ripped his hat off, feeling the top of his head. A flow relief spread through him rapidly. No bunny ears. So why couldn’t he use his powers? He tried again, but got the exact same results. As he shifted to move back to the peephole, he felt something pressing against his arm. Pushing up his sleeve, he noticed a silver band around his left bicep. It certainly wasn’t his Power Bracelet. He tried to pry it off, but there appeared to be no latch, as if it had been welded shut around his arm.
He looked out of the box again. Up ahead, he could just make out what appeared to be a castle. Kanalet? No, it wasn’t nearly as gilded. But where there any other castles on Koholint? The sound of a drawbridge dropping shook the box. The guards continued to walk, completely ignoring Link. Soon, darkness filled the peephole as they entered inside of the castle. The box stopped moving.
“Announce me to the Empress,” Valerie’s voice ordered in a bizarre, gruff bark that Link had never heard her use before. Empress?
“Yes, Captain,” another voice, male this time, replied. Link’s face screwed up in a frown. He recognized that voice too. Richard?
There was a long pause. Link scrambled on his hands and knees, back and forth across the floor of the box; desperately seeking out another knot he could knock out of the wood. “Frightened now, aren’t you?” one of the guards holding the box sneered.
“He should be,” a second one muttered.
“Your majesty, the Captain of the Guard,” Richard’s muffled voice said from somewhere far away.
Link heard two doors sweep open. The box started moving again, accompanied by the clanking of armor. After a brief walk, Link felt the box drop. It hit the floor with a fantastic crash and the wooden planks fell apart, flying in various directions and leaving Link on the floor.
The room was dark, extremely dark. Everything from the walls to the floor was a deep, dark black. Across the floor was a long red carpet, leading up to a black platform. Around the top of the black platform, a red velvet curtain was drawn tightly shut. Guards flanked the sides of the curtain and standing by them was Richard.
Well, it wasn’t exactly Richard. The man certainly looked like Richard, with his long dark hair and icy blue eyes, but there was something different about him. His posture was miserable, his shoulders sunken in. The tight, chiseled chin, normally high and haughty in the air, was lowered, nearly touching his chest. Also, the clothing his wore was completely absurd. White pants, made of tight leather, and a matching vest over his bare chest. That was it. That, and a silver band, just like Link’s, welded around his bicep.
Turning around, Link saw Valerie standing behind him. Only, it wasn’t really Valerie. Sure, she had the long blond hair and bright blue eyes, but there was no kindness in the depths of those eyes. She looked down condemningly at Link, her mouth twisted into a cruel smile. Her clothing was certainly different. No more bright pastels, now she wore an unusual black uniform with huge shoulder pads and a coiled whip strapped to her hip. She too wore a silver band around her arm.
“Where am I?” Link demanded angrily.
“Silence!” the mirror image of Valerie shouted. She walked forward and kicked Link’s back, causing him to double over, his forehead crashing against the floor. He felt her boot on his spine, keeping him from getting up. This new version of Valerie was surprisingly strong. “Bow before your empress.”
The sound of the curtains around the dais opening came. To the best of his ability, Link lifted his head up off the ground. The first thing he saw was a pair of black leather boots, climbing up to the mid-calf of the woman on the dais. Next, there was a pair of fishnet stockings and a dress. This dress was black, hugging her figure in a way that left little to the imagination. The window sleeves were held on by three black pearls on either shoulder. A lot of skin peeked out from in between the pearls. None of this terrified Link so much as her face. He knew her face all too well. Standing before him was an exact replica of Zelda.
“Zelda?” he asked carefully. “Zelda what’s going –”
Before he could finish, he felt a painful mental shock attack his brain. Gritting his teeth in agony, he grabbed his head with his hands. “Did I give you permission to speak?” the Empress asked in a bored tone of voice. She glanced up past him. “Release him, Captain,” she instructed Valerie. “You’ve done well.”
Valerie’s boot lifted away from Link’s back. He sat up, holding his throbbing head. “Ow…” he mumbled. The pain was familiar, it had happened to him once before. When was it? He racked his aching brain. Agahnim.
“That was a cute little stunt you pulled,” the Empress said, slowly stepping down off of the platform. She began to circle Link, moving like a lioness. “Did you really think that changing your clothes would protect you?”
“Listen,” Link said carefully. “There’s been a mistake. I’m not who you think I a–”
Another mental blast hit his brain, knocking him onto his back. “Did I give you permission to speak?” she asked again nonchalantly.
“He somehow got free of his Inhibitor,” Valerie chimed in.
The Empress glanced up at her. “Really?” Her eyes slowly returned to Link. “Is that so?”
Link stared at her in disbelief, the pain slowly fading. “My what?”
“Getting nervous, my pet?” she continued, as if she hadn’t heard his question. She bent down to caress his chin. “Well, I can hardly blame you. Today is, after all, an important moment in the history of Koholint.”
“This is not Koholint,” Link said firmly. He noticed Richard, or at least Richard’s duplicate, watching him with a peculiar expression.
“True enough,” the Empress mused. “After my Ascension, this will no longer be Koholint. Perhaps I’ll call it Empress’s Isle. Then again, after the Ascension, what need will I have for a petty island?”
“There’s been a very big mistake,” Link said again, slowly climbing to his feet. “I’m not supposed to be here.”
This caused the Empress to laugh. “There’s nowhere I’d rather have my favorite pet than right by my side. After all, you’ll be riding my coattails to glory. Don’t make me remind you again.”
“What’s an Ascension?” he asked desperately.
“Stop asking such ridiculous questions!” The Empress sent a third mental shock at Link, throwing him clean off of his feet and to the floor again. “Honestly, what is the matter with you today?”
“I’m very confused,” Link deadpanned with gritted teeth, clutching his head in pain.
“I’ll certainly agree to that.” The Empress clapped her hands twice. “Kludge!” she barked. Timidly, Richard approached her. Link felt himself sicken inside. He knew what the word ‘kludge’ meant. It was a derogatory term reserved for Humans. “Take my little dear away. Get him appropriately dressed. And get his lute.” She turned around at once and walked back up onto the dais.
Link blinked in surprise. “Lute?”
Casually, she dropped down into her throne, crossing one leg over the other. “Well, I’ll want some music to entertain me. We have many hours to while away before the Ascension.”
“But I don’t know how to play the lute,” Link objected, getting to his feet once more.
“I’ll say,” Valerie muttered from behind him. Everyone in the room laughed courteously, including the Empress.
“Take him away,” the Empress finally said with an absent wave of her hand.
“Yes, Empress,” Richard said in a low voice, bowing humbly before her. He backed away, staying in the same ridiculous position until he came to Link’s side. “Come, Dink,” he said.
“Link,” Link corrected him.
The Empress’s eyes flashed. “What’s that?” she asked crisply.
Link squared his shoulders. “My name is Link,” he told her firmly.
“Oh, so we have a name today?” She glanced around at the guards who laughed, sharing in this secret amusement.
“My name is Link.”
“Take him away!”
Firmly, Richard put a hand on Link’s shoulder. He began to lead him out of the room. “Hey! Hey! You can’t do this to me!” Link was shouting as Richard dragged him away. The Empress watched with a bemused expression, but said nothing. “You can’t do this! I’m a free man!” Link was pulled out of the room.
The boy was still screaming. Zelda, Matilda, and Carry stood shoulder to shoulder, watching this quirky individual. Every time he ran out of breath, he would inhale sharply and let loose another shriek. “Should we do something about him?” Matilda asked.
“He has to run out of inclination to scream eventually,” Zelda said with a shrug. The pattern continued for ten minutes, all the while the three of them watching. He looked exactly like Link, down to the freckle under his right ear, but they were quite certain he couldn’t possibly be the Link they knew. For one thing, he was dressed in an outrageous costume of bright colors. Around his arm was a silver band that looked oddly out of place. Also, he was soaking wet, as if he had just been underwater or in some kind of rainstorm.
“I don’t think he’s going to stop,” Carry commented after a little while.
Zelda took a step in his direction. The terrified boy screamed again, crawling backward on his hands until he crashed into the wall behind him. “Hey, take it easy,” Zelda said.
“No! No!” he yelled. “Please don’t, please don’t. I promise I’ll be good from now on. No more tricks, none. Unless you want them.”
“What is he talking about?” Matilda asked. Both Zelda and Carry shrugged.
“I know what to do, I know.” He jumped up to his feet in a rather impressive spring, the loose streamers of fabric from his costume flailing about him. They had little bells sewn on which rang noisily. Immediately, he started to perform a little jig, the noise getting worse.
With a confused expression, Zelda stared. “What are you doing?”
He stopped dancing. “No dancing today. All right.” Dramatically, he slapped his hand to his chest and began to belt out a ballad. “I shall no more, to sea, to sea. Here shall I die ashore!!!”
Matilda glanced at Zelda. “Annoying, isn’t he?”
“Oh yeah.” Zelda walked forward, grabbing the boy’s shoulders.
“No!” he screamed, bracing himself, screwing up his face in a look of dread.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Zelda said. “Just shut up already!”
Carefully, he opened one eye, then the other, and then finally relaxed his face. “You…you’re not her.”
“I’m not who?”
“You’re not you.”
“What do you mean, I’m not me?”
He pulled back from her, his gaze running up and down. “You don’t wear purple. She! I mean, she doesn’t wear purple.”
“She’s you. Only not.”
Matilda threw her hands up in the air. “Who are you?” she demanded of the boy.
“Me? I’m Link. Link the Dink. Everyone calls me Dink anyway.”
“You’re Dink,” Zelda said slowly, her brain racing. “And who are we?”
“I don’t know. But you, you look just like the Empress.” Dink walked over to Matilda, examining her. “And you look like a girl I know named Matilda. And you…” he started to walk in Carry’s direction, stopped, and screamed again, running behind Matilda.
“Easy,” Zelda said, holding her hands out as she moved in front of Carry. “No one’s going to hurt you.”
“Then it must have worked,” Dink proclaimed excitedly.
“I’m free! Free of that monster!”
“What monster? Who were you running from?”
“Well,” Dink looked her over again. “You.”
Zelda clapped her hand to her forehead. “I need a map for this conversation.”
Dink hid behind Matilda, whimpering pathetically. “Oh please, oh please, oh please don’t hurt me-e-e!”
Matilda glanced at him in annoyance. “Keep whining and I might hurt you,” she muttered.
Gripping her arm, Dink’s face suddenly screwed up in confusion again. He began to run his hands up and down Matilda’s arm, squeezing it. “Hey. Where’s your Inhibitor?”
“What’s an Inhibitor?” Zelda asked.
“It’s what you…she…the Empress demands that everyone wear. Everyone except herself of course.” Dink snorted a bit, letting go of Matilda’s arm.
Matilda turned around, grabbing Dink’s arm and pulling him forward. “Is this an Inhibitor?” she questioned him, tapping the silver band on his arm.
“Yes,” he said, nodding emphatically.
“What’s it do?”
Matilda started to twist his arm, attempting to examine the Inhibitor from all angles. “How do you get it on or off?”
“Off? No one takes them off.” He laughed nervously, twitching a bit as he did so.
“There has to be a way to remove one though,” Zelda said.
“Well, you should know. You invented them.”
Zelda sighed in exasperation. “Listen,” she said crisply. “You’re obviously not where you’re supposed to be. And we are not who you seem to think we are.”
“Yeah,” Matilda agreed. “And my guess is that our Link is where ever you came from.”
Dink’s eyes widened. “Your Link? You mean, there are two of me too?”
“He must come from some sort of parallel universe or something,” Matilda concluded.
Carry blinked. “A what?”
“A parallel universe,” she explained. “A world just like ours with the same people and the same places. Only different.”
“The shield must have switched Link for Dink,” Zelda supposed.
“We have to get that shield,” Carry cried.
Matilda scowled. “Hawk has it. I’ll bet that was the Mirror Shield.”
“The Mirror Shield?” Zelda asked.
“Yeah,” Matilda said with a nod. “The treasure of the dungeon. I’ve read about it.”
“Well,” Zelda replied with a shrug. “We have to get it back.”
Carry had crossed the room. He came upon the Master Sword, lying abandoned on the floor. Carefully, he picked it up, bringing it back to Zelda and offering it to her. As he neared her, Dink suddenly let out a yelp, clasping his hand over the Inhibitor. “What is it now?” Matilda groaned.
“I don’t know,” Dink answered. “Something’s happening.”
Zelda took the sword. Slowly, she approached Matilda and Dink. The boy shrieked yet again, ducking behind Matilda. For her own part, Matilda merely rolled her eyes, stepping away from the huddled musician. “Hold out your arm,” Zelda told him firmly.
Dink shook his head stubbornly. Matilda glanced up at Carry. “A little help here, please.”
Carry crossed the room in two strides. With every effort to be gentle, he wrapped his fingers around Dink’s wrist and pulled his arm out, straightening it. Dink whimpered like a puppy. “Hold still,” Carry told him.
Kneeling down beside him, Zelda tapped the tip of the Master Sword to Dink’s Inhibitor. Instantly, a line of light appeared, cutting through the band vertically. The line of light turned into a hinge and the Inhibitor fell off, clattering to the floor. “There,” Zelda said, standing up and putting the sword into her quiver.
Dink opened one eye, then the other. He touched his arm for a disbelieving moment. Letting out a huge, celebratory whoop, he jumped to his feet, dancing in small circles around himself. “Free! Free! Free!”
“We have to get that shield,” Matilda muttered.
“I shall no more, to sea, to sea. Here shall I die ashore!!!” Dink continued to dance, now singing quite manically to himself.
“We need our Link back,” Zelda sighed.
“He’s a lot quieter,” Matilda agreed.
Link stalked down the hallway, his hands clenched into fists at his side. After being dragged out of the throne room, Link had been deposited in a strange dressing room where several burly guards, clearly Moblins from the way they smelled, stripped him down and dressed him in a ridiculous get up. Now, he wore a red velvet tunic, long sleeved, with silver vines sewn in and a silver rope around his waist. For pants, all he was given was a pair of gray leggings. On his feet, he wore a pair of brown slippers with bells on the toes.
No one seemed to notice him as he walked by. Of course, he had immediately ripped the bells off of the shoes. All of the inhabitants of the castle, most of whom resembled people from the Mabe Village, went about their business with mournful eyes, disappearing into the shadows whenever a guard happened to pass by. Once or twice, Link tried to engage one of them in conversation, first the one who looked like Tracy, then an arbitrary individual who clearly would have lived in the Animal Village. Neither of them paused to acknowledge him.
It was clear that he wasn’t in his world. Memories of his battle with Agahnim crept to the forefront of his mind, but this wasn’t the same sort of Dark World he had encountered during that incident. This was a new kind of world, a Mirror Realm. All the people looked exactly the same, at the most basic level, but their personalities seemed reversed, like a reflection in the mirror.
He supposed Hawk must have magically transported him here. It seemed likely that therefore, his own mirror counterpart was in his world, probably with his Zelda right now. For some reason, this made him even angrier than before. He squeezed his hands tighter, feeling his own fingernails drive into his palms.
“Hey,” someone called from one of the shadowy doorways. Link stopped and turned his head. He saw Mirror Richard standing on one side of the hall, holding an elaborate lute.
Link walked over to him, looking down at the lute. “This is mine?” he asked dryly.
Richard pursed his lips. “Pretty much,” he replied.
Sighing heavily, Link took the lute, holding it in his hands as though it were the most alien object imaginable. “I don’t know how to play this.”
“So you said.”
“What is this place?”
“The castle of Empress Marin.”
“I don’t belong here,” Link insisted.
Strangely, Richard merely nodded his head. “I know.”
This caught Link off guard. He blinked rapidly for a moment, staring at Richard. “You do?”
“It’s pretty obvious,” Richard told him with a shrug. “You don’t act at all like Dink.”
“Dink. The Empress’s royal musician.”
“I don’t act like him?”
“How does he act?”
Richard gestured about the hallway. “Like everyone else here, I suppose. Afraid.”
“Of the Empress?”
“Of the Empress.”
For a long time, Link said nothing, merely regarding Richard curiously. He definitely possessed an air that was different from all the other inhabitants of the castle. Like the Richard from back home, he was noble, though not quite so arrogant. Apart from Richard, everyone else in the hall cowered. “I have to get home,” Link finally said evenly.
He nodded. “And we must have our Dink back. This is the way of things,” he answered.
“Has this place always been so…”
Richard shook his head. “No. All the trouble really just started a few months ago.”
“Only a few months?”
“The devastation was quick and brutal.”
“The Empress was the wife of one of the gods of the island. His name was Kurt. One day, he mysteriously dropped dead.”
Link could feel fire building up behind his eyes. Nevertheless, he swallowed hard and nodded. “Then what?”
“One by one, our gods began to drop dead for no explainable reason. As each one died, the Empress gained more and more power until she finally had enough to surpass nine of them.”
“Nine gods.” Link’s mind raced. “There are nine Nightmares.”
“There were nine minor gods of the island, but six of them are dead now.”
“Illustrious Gene, god of the forge. Beauteous Iris, goddess of defense. Magnificent Tail, god of demons. Wondrous Angelika, goddess of sea life. Mighty Face, god of disguises. Magnificent Kurt, god of seduction.”
“What order did they die in?” Link asked quickly. “And skip the lengthy adjective titles.”
“First Kurt, then Tail, Gene, Iris, Angelika, and most recently Face.”
“The exact order that we killed them in,” Link exclaimed.
Richard looked at him, his face lacking any sort of understanding. “What do you mean?”
“Zelda and I, my Zelda not yours, went after all of the Nightmares. And so far, they’ve died in that exact same order.”
“Does that mean something?” Richard asked.
“It means that when someone dies in my world, they must also die in this world as well.”
“It’s logical,” Richard supposed, “in a poetic sort of way. We are all connected to one another.”
Link shook his head with a sigh. “I have to get home. If only I could teleport out of here.”
“Teleport?” Richard questioned. “No one teleports in this world except for the Empress. She’s made sure of that with the Inhibitors.”
“What’s an Inhibitor?”
“That thing on your arm is an Inhibitor. Everyone has to wear one so that no one will have magical powers aside from the Empress herself.”
“That explains the mental shock,” Link muttered, touching his temple, still aching with the mere memory. “So she wants to horde all the magic on the island for herself.”
“She wants to do more than that,” Richard told him.
“What do you mean?”
“The Empress means to become a god.”
Link did a rapid double take. “What?”
Richard nodded. “She’s going to Ascend tonight.”
“So that’s what Ascension means. She’s going to become a god. But how?”
“By killing the ruling god of the island.”
Link felt the floor drop out from under him. In the pit of his stomach, an uneasiness rose. Already certain of what he would hear he dared to ask the question. “Who is the ruling god of the island?”
“No…” Link whispered, terror filling his saucer wide eyes. “She can’t do it. She can’t.”
“There’s no one to stop her,” Richard said. “She’s locked away the last three remaining minor gods and everyone else is inhibited. She’s already won. There was even a rebellion to stop her, but she crushed it.”
“She can’t kill the Windfish,” Link mumbled. “If she does, the Windfish in my world will die also and we’ll all be ruined.” Link began pulling on the Inhibitor around his arm, under the sleeve of his hideous costume, yanking fiercely with a mad gleam in his eye.
“Stop that, stop that!” Richard told him, grabbing his wrist and pulling his hand away. “That’ll do no good.”
“I have to stop her!” Link cried.
Richard grabbed Link’s shoulders, shaking him. “Get a hold of yourself.”
“Richard, I have to stop the Ascension.”
“But there’s no way.”
“I have to try. Both of our worlds are at stake.”
“There is no hope for this world,” Richard replied mournfully.
By this time, Link had calmed down considerably. “There must be a way,” he insisted.
“Perhaps, but you must hold yourself together if you want to survive the rest of today.” Richard took the lute from Link’s hands. Carefully, he wound the strap over Link’s chest, attaching the lute to his back. “Like everyone else, you have to keep your head down in order to get by.”
“I have to stop her.”
“The best way is by being near her. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Fortunately, for some reason the Empress is quite fond of Dink. Oh, she tortures and terrifies him just the same as everybody else, but she keeps him close.”
“What would Dink be doing right now?”
“Heading to the throne room.”
“Then that’s where I’ll go. Thank you, Richard.”
Mirror Richard nodded once. He turned and headed down the hallway, disappearing around a turn. Link whirled around and started in the opposite direction. The hallways were identical to those of Kanalet Castle back home, so he felt somewhat secure, knowing where to go. All around him, people scurried back and forth, keeping their heads down. For his own part, Link just couldn’t do it.
An orange beam of light shined out in all directions from the glass lantern. It was old, nearly twenty years so. The gold paint that had once adorned the iron frame had long ago chipped away. All four panes of glass were dingy, mussed up with white fingerprints smeared in all directions. Four iron rings, linked together, held the lantern aloft and it squeaked as it swung slightly with each of Valerie’s steps.
She walked through the tanglewood field, her white dress catching on the thorns every now and again. The stillness about her was haunting. It was terribly early in the morning and everyone was still asleep. She knew that Link, Zelda, Matilda, and Carry had decided to head off to Eagle’s Tower and the thought of their battle kept her awake while the rest of the village dreamed. After tossing and turning for hours, she had finally surrendered to her restlessness and ventured out, heading to the field with the old lantern for a companion.
At this hour of the night, the dasha flowers would bloom. They only opened when there was no sunlight. Each flower, a pale blue bud during the day, at night, unfurled into a chaotic firework of royal blue and violet petals. The pistol of the flower contained a thick amber liquid that was quite useful for healing burns. Valerie supposed that in her restlessness, she could be productive and harvest the sap for some future time when it might become useful.
Passing through the field of tanglewood, she noticed that a few of the plants seemed rather sickly. This was mildly unusual, as virtually nothing could kill tanglewood, not even Crazy Tracy’s so called miraculous weed killer. The deeper she got into the field, the more dead plants she encountered.
Valerie knelt down in the middle of the foliage, resting her lantern on the ground. She picked up a dead stem, crinkling the dry leaves which fell off at the slightest touch. Carefully, she ground her fingernails into the dirt, searching for the root of the plant. She found it without much trouble and pulled it up. The root was thick and stiff. Briskly, she snapped it, touching the innards of the plant. They were wet and warm. A frown marred her face. What had killed the plant? The roots were perfectly intact. Why had the tanglewood died?
Carefully, Valerie stood up, picking up the lantern. As she turned her gaze away from the mysteriously dead plant, her eyes fell upon the Dream Shrine. Suddenly, and for no logical reason, Valerie felt compelled to go there. Lantern swinging at her side, she strode to the Dream Shrine, almost unaware of what she was doing until she had ducked in through the doorway.
Her sandals slapped loudly against the blue tiles, the echoes bounding off the walls. There was nothing soft about the Dream Shrine, nothing fabric. Everything was rock. Generally, coarseness tended to upset and offend Valerie, but she paid no attention to the solidness of the room. She began to stare fixedly at the etchings engraved on the walls.
As all others who entered the sacred space of the Dream Shrine, Valerie was immediately drawn to one particular scene. The scene which depicted nine beautiful people, eight of them standing in a large cluster, their heads all turned in profile off to the left, except for one who was turned to the right. The ninth figure was a few inches away, looking directly out from the wall at Valerie. She was the most beautiful of the people, with long, unruly curls, blowing slightly off to the right in a stylistic marble wind.
“Catsy,” Valerie muttered with a small frown.
She looked at the background of the scene, at the depiction of Tal Tal Heights and the egg of the Windfish, at the great sea creature hovering above the scene and the scratched out image above that. Catsy had told her that the scratched out portion was originally an image of Farore.
Ezri had told her that the test of the Hylians was also a test for her as well. Farore wanted to be certain her angel at not lost her humanity. And after centuries of servitude, Valerie secretly had to admit she wasn’t sure. Ezri told her to learn compromise, tolerance, and acceptance. Catsy had been asking Valerie repeatedly over the last several weeks to make peace. Up until this point, Valerie had been beyond reluctant to have anything to do with the rouge Nightmare. As she watched the engraved image of Catsy, flickering in the dancing firelight, however, Valerie, the Angel of Farore, began to have her first doubts.
“The world is falling apart around us,” Valerie whispered, her mind falling back on the dead tanglewood with perfect roots.
Holding her arms out to either side, Valerie closed her eyes. The familiar tingle crept over her skin as a blinding white light began to fill the dark space. Starting at her fingertips and working all the way up her arms, Valerie began to feel her temporarily corporeal form dissolve into the ether of the air. Broken into a thousand million motes of dust, Valerie swept over the landscape of Koholint, racing beyond the speed of mortal thought. She rode upon the whirlwind, tossing and turning on the air like a boat trapped in a tempest.
The exhilarating ride only lasted a fraction of a second, but in that instant, Valerie experienced a joy that defied rational, logical sense or even feelings. Her soul was lost in ecstasy as it brushed up against oblivion, only to descend in a thrilling free fall back to the surface of the corporeal realm once more.
She materialized; her sandals no longer upon the lapis and jade tiles of the Dream Shrine, but on much humbler earthy tiles of green, brown, and gray. Artificial sunlight streamed into the room from an unidentifiable source, casting a thousand shadows in a thousand different directions.
Valerie looked around. The room appeared completely deserted. Carefully, still clutching her lantern in one hand, she made her way from one end to the other, toward a doorway. As she did so, she reached out with her senses, feeling the air for a sign of life aside from her own. The last time she had been in this room had been under dire circumstances and Valerie felt grateful to have come of her own free will this time.
Just as Valerie was about to pass through the doorway, Catsy appeared, blocking her way. She was dressed, as always, most outrageously, wearing a pale blue hoopskirt with a cream peasant blouse, laced up the front with a black thread that showed sparkles of glistening silver in the unusual light. “Angel of Farore,” she said, nodding her head and causing the dangling silver earrings she wore to jingle, “this is an unexpected surprise.”
“Unexpected for the both of us, I assure you,” Valerie answered.
“Forgive my hospitality,” Catsy remarked. “I was not expecting any visitors.” She ran a hand over her hair and Valerie noticed that her fingers were tense. The blue veins of her hand could be seen through her pale skin.
“Is this a bad time?”
“No, no. There really is no bad time.”
“The Hylians have taken Carry and your Guardian to the Eagle’s Tower,” Valerie informed her.
“Yes, I know. There is nothing that occurs in Matilda’s mind that I am not aware of.”
“So what is she thinking right now?”
“She’s quite angry with my brother Hawk. She intends to kill him at the first opportunity she gets.” Catsy pulled her hand away from her hair. “After the way he’s been manipulating her,” she added darkly, “I can’t say I blame her.”
“I’ve had a premonition,” Valerie said.
“A premonition of what?”
Valerie shrugged. “Disaster.”
“I should hardly be surprised,” Catsy breathed, waving her hand absently. “On Koholint, there’s a disaster around every turn. Still, all the same, I’m sure they’ll defeat Hawk.”
“How can you be certain?”
A glimmer lit up Catsy’s eye. “Farore is on their side,” she replied.
Valerie wasn’t sure if Catsy was being sincere or trying to goad her into an argument, but she swallowed her pride. “On that matter, I wish to speak with you.”
“I’m all ears,” Catsy replied. “Which is a figure of speech. As you can see, I’m a great deal more than ears.”
“I’ve been told that I need to learn more tolerance.”
“Yes, I believe I told you something to that extent.”
“Numerous times,” Valerie continued, racing over Catsy’s statement. “Perhaps I was a bit hasty in dismissing what you said to me before, about finding a resolution to Farore’s test of the Hylians which would satisfy everyone.”
Catsy lofted an eyebrow. “Are you saying you want to work together?” she asked.
“I think it would be to everyone’s benefit if we pooled our information.”
“So you do want to work together.”
“I’m sure between the two of us we’ll be able to both save Koholint and realize the ultimate destiny of our Hylians.”
Catsy laughed. “Oh just say it already. Just say, ‘Catsy, I want to work together with you.’”
Valerie’s jaw clenched. “I will not.”
“Come on, just say it. It’ll make you feel better when you do.”
“I will do no such thing.”
Pouting playfully, Catsy batted her eyelashes. “Pretty please?”
Valerie sighed in exasperation. “All right! All right! Catsy, I want to work together with you.”
A broad smile spread across Catsy’s lips. “There. Was that so hard now?”
Valerie would never be able to admit just how hard it was. Nor would she ever convey how good it felt afterwards.
There was a great hustle and bustle in the throne room when Link arrived for the second time, this time thankfully not in a box. The Empress was lounging in her throne, having her nails tended to by a man who looked surprisingly like Papahl without a shirt. All around her, however, great activity was abounding. A flock of guards, probably all Moblin, stood around the grate in the floor, holding long spears, some ten feet high. Many, many more guards were flanking all the doors and were crowded around the throne dais.
“Dink, you look much, much better now,” the Empress told him nonchalantly, throwing him a momentary gaze.
Link didn’t reply. Instead, he walked along the red carpet, over to the platform, eyeing the designs carved into the side as he did so. Mirror Valerie was standing to one side of the dais. She removed the whip from her hip and snapped it forward. The tip coiled around Link’s leg and she yanked backward, causing Link to fall over. He swerved, managing to land on his hip instead of his back, protecting the lute from harm. Everyone on the room laughed at his expense.
“Watch your step, Dink,” Valerie teased cruelly.
“Yes,” Link said, gritting his teeth. “I’ll have to do that.”
The Empress sighed irritably. “What is taking that kludge so long?” she asked loudly.
After grimacing, Link tried to regard her with a casual air. “Where did you send him?”
“To the dungeon to summon a few of the less important prisoners,” she replied breezily.
“You’ll see,” she laughed softly.
Link decided not to press the matter. He did take note, however, of the fact that Richard apparently had dungeon keys. Then again, he supposed he wouldn’t be much of a steward if he didn’t have keys. Trying to act cool, he sat down on the edge of the dais. No one seemed to take umbrage with this, a small favor to be certain. Just as he sat, the great doors to the throne room burst open, admitting a line of four or five prisoners all handcuffed in manacles and chained together.
To be honest, they looked wretched, even for ‘less important prisoners.’ All of them had raggedy hair and the men had shaggy beards. Faces with forlorn, despairing eyes, they looked down as they shuffled into the room, followed by two Moblins and of course, Richard. Link scanned their faces, trying to see if he recognized any of them. When he found that he didn’t, he supposed they must have all served as mirror counterparts for the inhabitants of Kanalet Castle, back on the Koholint that he knew best.
The Empress sat up in her throne, looking gleefully at the grungy and forlorn individuals. With a brisk flick of her hand, she dismissed Papahl’s counterpart. “Bring them in, bring them in,” she beckoned. In response, the Moblin guards pushed hard on the back of the person at the end of the line, sending him flying into the person in front of him. This created a domino effect, ending with all of the prisoners on the floor, face down before the Empress.
“The prisoners, my empress,” Richard said with a slightly sad voice. Link supposed that he knew many, if not all, of the individuals in chains.
She stood up, moving to the edge of the dais, right by where Link was sitting. “Greetings peasants,” she said cheerfully. “On your feet, on your feet.” Grumbling, the prisoners slowly shuffled their way to their feet. Richard, meanwhile, walked over to the dais, taking his place on the floor very close to where Link and the Empress were. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I have summoned you here today. Well, in honor of my Ascension, I’ve decided to provide some entertainment.”
Link looked up at her in surprise. “Well, good for you,” he said. A new thought began to occur to him. What if this Empress wasn’t as bad as she seemed? If she was Zelda’s counterpart, then certainly she must have some good in her somewhere. After all, Zelda was such a good person.
“Guards, open the pit.” Two of the Moblin guards standing around the grate in the floor stepped onto it, unlocking the trapdoor and pulling it open with a loud groan from the hinges. As they dropped the door open, there was a loud growl from beneath the pit.
Link looked sharply at Richard. “What is that?” he hissed.
Richard stared straight ahead. “The execution pit,” he answered very quietly.
By this point, the guards had uncoupled the first of the prisoners from the chain that connected them all. They grabbed the man’s arms and began to drag him toward the opening to the pit. All the while, he was screaming in protest. The other prisoners looked on, terrified, to the point where they couldn’t say anything.
“What’s in there?”
“The Empress’s monster. It’ll rip them all limb from limb.”
Link sprang to his feet. “Wait!” he shouted, running over to the grate. Ducking under the line of Moblins, he jumped in front of the prisoner who was about to be tossed into the pit.
“Dink,” the Empress snapped at him sharply. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“You can’t do this!” he cried. A guard ran at him. He hunched over, putting his hands on his knees. The clumsy Moblin tripped, flying over him and landing face first on the other side of the grate.
“I can do as I please,” she told him firmly.
“The Empress promised us an execution!” Valerie scolded Link. She glanced at her fallen officer. “Get up, you fool.” The Moblin rose, his face marked with the crisscrosses of the iron.
“No!” Link shouted. “You can’t!”
“No one tells me what I may or may not do,” the Empress said crisply.
“That may be, but this is wrong.”
She folded her arms. “It amuses me. Normally, it would be your job to amuse me, but since you’ve been doing such a terrible job at it, I’ve had to seek other sources of amusement.”
Link’s mind raced. “Well, what if I can amuse you? I’m an entertaining guy, give me a chance.”
The Empress sighed, rolling her eyes. “Oh, very well, Dink. Go ahead. Entertain me.”
“And if I do you’ll spare these people?”
“I doubt you’ll manage,” she muttered, dropping back down into her throne and crossing one leg over the other.
“Great.” Link licked his lips, stepping away from the guards and the prisoners so that he could clearly be seen. Uneasily, he pushed his hair back behind his ears, horror filling up his chest as he realized he had no idea what he was going to do. “Okay, okay.” He held his palms out. “A man walks into a bar. Ouch.”
Dead silence filled the space. The Empress stared at him with unamused eyes. Valerie folded her arms across her chest. Suddenly, the prisoners all began laughing. “That’s very funny!” one of them shouted. “A guy walks into a bar.” She slapped her hand to her forehead. “Ouch!”
The Empress yawned. “Okay, okay,” Link muttered. “No jokes. How about some music?” Link began singing, slightly off key. “Courage, Wisdom, be my guide. Of Power never let me be denied. Bring forth honor to my family tree, for I am the Hero of Destiny. Three virtues are…” His mind was going blank. It was practically the only song he knew and he was forgetting the words. “Three virtues are mine to claim, before I…bring my lineage to shame?”
At once, all of the prisoners burst out laughing again. Unfortunately, all the Empress did was exchange a bored look with her captain. “He’s very good,” Richard said uncertainly, glancing at the Empress.
Link was getting desperate. He dug his hands into the pockets of his ugly tunic and discovered three small rubber balls. An idea struck him. At once, he pulled the balls out of the pockets and began to juggle them. The prisoners all cheered and clapped their hands. Link lifted one leg off of the floor and began to hop up and down, still juggling. Richard chuckled nervously.
“Enough!” the Empress roared. Link stopped abruptly and all three of the balls fell to the floor, bouncing away in various directions. “You have failed,” she said. “Throw him in!”
The guards started to drag the poor prisoner to the trapdoor again. “Wait!” Link shouted pleadingly. He ran up to the dais, dropping to his knees in front of the Empress. “Please, please…the Zelda I know, she’s a good person. A hero really. And she could never be intentionally cruel. And I know that if you look into your heart, you’ll find that you really don’t want to do this either.”
For a deafeningly silent moment, the Empress looked down at Link. Then, a most unexpected thing happened. She began laughing. It was quiet at first, but soon she was cackling quite loudly. “Look, into my heart!” She was laughing so hard now that she had to struggle for breath. Beside her, Valerie also began to snicker. “Throw him in!”
“No!” Link shouted. But he was too late. The hapless prisoner was pushed over the edge and into the trapdoor. From below, the room was filled with the roaring of the mysterious monster and the prisoner’s screams. Link turned to the Empress, his eyes blazing with uncontrollable anger. “You monster!” he shouted.
Without even thinking, he surged forward, his hands extended to throttle her. Before he could take more than a step, Valerie’s whip lashed out, catching him around the waist. She pulled back, throwing him to the floor on his back. The lute smashed into splinters, several of the larger stakes of wood embedding themselves into Link’s back. He cringed in agony.
“I think someone needs a little lesson in manners,” the Empress said angrily, rising to her feet. “Some time in the dungeon would do him a world of good.”
“Guards,” the Captain called. Immediately, two huge Moblins were on Link, pulling him up off the floor. “Take him to the dungeon.”
“Let him go when he’s ready to apologize,” the Empress added.
As the Moblins dragged Link from the room by his arms, he turned over his shoulder, shouting angrily back at the Empress. “You’re a monster!” he roared, “You’re a monster!!!”
The dungeon crawlers entered yet another one of the endless chambers of the Eagle’s Tower. It had the same regular earthy tiles as all the others, but on the northern wall, there was a raised platform with the glowing green tiles, filling the room with the same green light as every other room before. Secretly, Zelda was beginning to become more than dubious about Carry’s directions. For all she knew, they were merely going around in circles.
It didn’t help, having to drag Dink along. He hid behind Matilda, screaming horribly whenever Zelda or Carry approached him. Even though she knew that this wasn’t Link, her Link, it put Zelda in agony whenever she saw that look of terror on a face that was identical to her beloved.
“Where do we go now, Carry?” Matilda asked.
“There’s a hidden door to the left of the platform,” Carry said, looking intently at his map. “If you go into the room behind it, there’s a key to the Nightmare’s den.”
“Then that’s where we should go,” Zelda stated simply.
Dink tapped Matilda’s shoulder. She turned around to look at him irritably and he backed up a step or two. “What is it now?” she barked crossly.
“What’s a Nightmare?”
“Nightmares are monsters,” Zelda explained.
“We’re going to kill the Nightmare who lives in this dungeon,” Matilda added sternly.
“Hey runt!” a voice shouted. “You think you can take me?”
Everyone turned to look at the glowing platform above them. Standing on the edge was a short, squat little creature. Her face was big and round, like a moon. The green light struck it, giving her an iridescent look. Her hair was cut into a sharp mohawk which ran all the way down her back. She had four arms. Two of them, the lower of the two, were planted firmly on her plump little hips. The other two were clutching what appeared to be a wooden flute.
“Is that the Nightmare?” Dink squeaked, his voice going an octave higher than seemed natural.
“No,” Matilda mumbled. “That would be the Nightmare’s Guardian.”
“Piper,” Carry supplied.
Zelda grabbed an arrow, stringing it into her bow. She bounded across the room in three strides, aiming the arrow at Piper’s big face. “You don’t want to mess with us,” she said icily.
Piper rolled her tiny orange eyes. “All right boys, get this punk out of my face!” she shouted.
Matilda looked confused. “Boys?”
Dink was glancing around the room. “Um…I think she’s talking about them!” he cried, pointing his hand in a wide arc.
Zelda, Matilda, and Carry all looked up. The ceiling looked alive. It was black and pulsating rhythmically. Roosting on the ceiling were thousands upon thousands of Keese. “Oh crap,” Matilda muttered.
Piper had lifted her flute to her lips. She began to play a light, airy piece. The music caused the Keese to awake. Chirping with increased agitation, their movement got faster and faster. Several dozen pairs of glowing eyes began to appear in the mass until finally, the first Keese descended from the ceiling, screaming to show its little white teeth. It flew in a swooping arc, outstretching its tiny, but sharp, claws in Dink’s direction.
A twang filled the room as Zelda released her bowstring. The arrow flew out, impacting the batlike creature in its midsection. Abruptly, the animal dropped harmlessly to the floor at Dink’s feet. It exploded a moment after impact, turning into a small pile of dust.
“Bah!” Piper spat. She began playing an even faster tune.
Three more Keese swooped down from the ceiling, two of them flying at Carry and the third at Zelda. Carry swung his staff wide, knocking one of the Keese into the other. All Zelda could do was jump out of the way from her attacker. The creature missed its mark, turned around to fly up again, and started an attack on Matilda. Calmly, Matilda pointed her hookshot at it, knocking it clean out of the air.
The chirping was swelling in volume. Half a dozen Keese dropped down to attack the dungeon crawlers. While Dink began to scream and babble incoherently to himself, Zelda managed to load her bow and fire another arrow. It impacted one of the monsters and threw it back, pinning it to the wall where it flailed for a moment more before turning into a shower of dust.
Carry ran across the room, batting the Keese away, knocking them into the walls and floor. Matilda had to quickly reel her hookshot chain back into the trigger mechanism. As she was doing so, one of the Keese fell from the roof onto her back. She screamed as the tiny animal dug its claws into her back.
“Drop, Matilda!” Zelda shouted.
Obediently, Matilda flopped over onto her back. The Keese was crushed under her weight and dissolved into ash. Matilda then rolled onto her stomach just in time to avoid a second creature. It missed and not having enough time to pull up again, crashed into the floor. Matilda stomped the heel of her hand down on its head.
Piper was laughing. “Ha! That’s all you’ve got?! Get ready for THIS!” She started playing even more rapidly, the tune becoming maniacal.
It began to rain Keese. They dropped everywhere, from all parts of the ceiling. As Carry frantically tried to bat them away, knocking them together like billiard balls, Zelda ducked low, running across the room to the corner where Dink was cowering. She stood in front of him, firing arrows in a rapid succession at the Keese heading toward him.
Across the room, Matilda grabbed a stray arrow and hurled it, nailing one of the animals in the eye. She turned around and lifted her foot, stomping it down on one that had tried to swoop low at her. “Keese. It had to be Keese.”
“I’m not going to hold back! I’m going to make you wish you were never born!” Piper screamed over the roaring din of chirping and cawing.
“We’re going to die, we’re going to die, we’re going to die,” Dink chanted, holding his hands over his ears.
“We are not going to die!” Zelda snapped at him. With no arrows left in her quiver, she drew the Master Sword, swinging it wildly just as Carry was, trying to knock the Keese into the walls or each other.
The dense cloud of batlike monsters was thinning. Matilda fired her hookshot up into the ceiling. Those Keese who remained asleep throughout the ordeal were thrown. They plummeted down, hitting the floor and becoming a part of the rapidly growing layer of dust.
Several Keese landed on Carry’s head, becoming tangled in his thick mass of red hair. Carry jerked his head to the right abruptly, sending them sailing out across the room. Zelda swung the sword at them, slicing them in half was they passed her way in their out of control flight. A shower of dust fell down on Dink, causing him to cough violently. Carry, meanwhile, brought the end of his staff down hard on one of the fallen Keese which hadn’t yet dissolved.
Piper’s face went pale, if it was possible for it to grow any paler. “You dirty rat! You k-k-k…beat my brothers! You’ll pay!! I’ll never forget you!”
Dropping the Master Sword into the dust, Zelda leaned down and grabbed an arrow from the dust. “Yeah, yeah,” she muttered, stringing it through her bow. Without hesitating, she released the bowstring, sending the arrow flying at Piper. It impacted directly in between the Guardian’s eyes and she instantly dissolved into dust, just like her so called brothers.
“Is everyone all right?” Carry asked, brushing a thick layer of dust off of his saffron robes.
“That’s the most fun you can have without actually having any,” Zelda deadpanned, returning the Master Sword to her quiver. She began to walk around the room collecting her arrows.
Slowly, Dink rose to his feet, his eyes wide and his face ghostly pale. “Are you all right, Dink?” Carry questioned him kindly.
Without acknowledging Carry’s question, Dink marched across the room, over to where Zelda was collecting her arrows. He dropped down to his knees in front of her and grabbed a corner of her cream chemise. Reverently, he kissed the fabric, holding it in both hands. “You saved my life,” he whispered.
Zelda whirled around, yanking her dress back. “Don’t do that.”
“I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that before,” Dink continued, completely awestruck.
“What? They were just a bunch of Keese. No problem.”
“No,” he shook his head. “I wasn’t talking about the Keese.”
“Then what were you talking about?”
“You put your own life at risk to save me.”
“You’ve never seen anyone do that before?”
Dink shook his head. “Never.” He groped forward, trying to grab Zelda’s skirt again. “My life belongs to you.”
“Stop that,” she said, pulling away from him.
Carry was looking around at the mess in the room. “Where’s Matilda?” he asked softly.
As Zelda turned to look, she realized that there was no trace of their companion. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. In the thick dust coating the floor there was a set of boot prints. They led from where Matilda had last been to the hidden door, now open, beside Piper’s platform. Matilda had left.
Link was dragged down the stairs. At each step, his bottom was smashed against the ground to the point where his tailbone was aching and his flesh was raw. He had long ago given up trying to struggle against the guards. Out of breath from his screaming and feeling completely hopeless after the display he had just witnessed, he had lost the will to fight.
Of course, he recognized the passages of the dungeon. They were identical to those of Key Cavern, complete with the walls dripping with green slime. Some changes had been made though. All of the side chambers jutting out from the main hallway had bars over the doors, effectively creating a dungeon cellblock.
“Let’s put him in with the rebels,” one of the guards snickered.
The second guard walked over to one of the makeshift cells. Inside, Link could see the silhouettes of at least a dozen individuals. They all looked much leaner and meaner than the raggedy group that was probably being executed at this very moment. The guard slammed his fists against the door, causing all of the prisoners to step back away from it. They didn’t seem to move away out of fear, but rather out of routine. Unlocking the door, the guard growled at them.
“We’ve brought you all a little present,” the first guard said. Once the door was opened, Link was flung into the room. He landed face first on the floor, but very quickly felt a pair of hands on his back. The door slammed. He was hoisted into the air by one of the prisoners. Link struggled to turn over his shoulder and see, but the back of his neck was held firmly in place by the collar of his ridiculous get up.
“Well, well, well,” a voice said from behind him. Link jerked his head to one side, ripping the collar. He fell to the ground and flipped over onto his back. Looking over him was a tall, muscular woman with dark hair falling over her face, all but hiding a pair of sharp hazel eyes. It was Matilda!
“Play nice now,” the guard said.
“Call us when you’re ready to apologize,” the other one added. Both of the Moblins laughed and stalked off, tromping up the stairs to the gateway of the dungeon.
“It’s the Empress’s little stooge.” Matilda leaned over, hoisting Link up in the air by the front of his shirt with one hand.
“Matilda,” Link choked, flailing his legs.
“What do you think we should do to him?” Matilda asked the other prisoners. They all let out menacing laughs.
The door slammed shut. Abruptly, Matilda dropped Link. He landed on his rump, coughing furiously. “You pack a punch in this realm,” he wheezed.
Matilda lowered her hand, extending it out to him. “Sorry Dink,” she said, her entire demeanor changing, “I had to make it look real.” Completely shocked, Link accepted her hand. She pulled him up to his feet.
“What?” he asked completely confused.
“If they knew you were with us, there would be hell to pay.”
“I’m on your side?”
“You know, when we heard you ran away this morning, we thought you had abandoned us. Glad to see that’s not true.” She slapped Link on the back, much harder than he would have liked. “Come though, we have to talk.”
Matilda turned around and plopped down on a stone ledge against one wall of the cell. Shaking his head slightly, Link walked over to her and sat down as well. “Listen,” he said carefully, “there’s been a big misunderstanding. This is all a mistake.”
“The Empress’s Ascension is a big mistake,” she replied, nodding her head knowingly. “The question is how are we going to stop it? We’re running out of time.”
“Listen!” Link shouted, grabbing her shoulders. “Don’t talk, just listen.”
“All right, already.”
“I am not who you think I am. I’m not Link the Dink.”
“Then who are you?”
“I’m from another world,” Link explained. “Somehow, I got switched with the Link you know. I’m not who you think I am.”
She eyed him. “No, you’re not. You’re far too brave to be the little Link the Dink we know.”
Link sighed, releasing her shoulders. “Thank you!” he exclaimed in complete relief.
“Which means we can go ahead with our plan now, with even more security than before!” she cried excitedly.
“Plan? What plan?”
“Our plan to stop the Ascension.”
“You have a plan?”
“Yes, but up until now, we were sure it wouldn’t work. Dink is a coward, but you, you’re different.”
“I don’t understand. If you’re the rebels against the Empress, why are you still alive? She’s awfully fond of executions.”
“She wants us to live to see her become a goddess.”
Link leaned forward on his hands. “What’s the plan?” he asked.
Instead of answering, Matilda rolled up her left pant leg. Strapped to her leg was something silver. Untying the strap, she pulled out a kitchen knife. After rolling her pants down again, she offered Link the knife.
He stared at it for a moment. “You can’t be serious.”
“It’s the only way.”
“You want me to kill the Empress?”
“You’re the only one who can do it. You’re the only one who can get close enough to her. She trusts you.”
Link recoiled slightly. “I can’t do that,” he told her firmly.
“You have to, it’s the only way.”
“But if I kill her,” he whimpered, “then the Zelda from my world will die as well.”
“And if you don’t kill her, the Empress will destroy the Windfish and enslave our world.”
“And the Windfish in my world will die too, I know, I know. But Matilda, there has to be another way.”
Matilda turned the point of the knife down, stabbing it into the rubbery substance in between the rocks. “You have to make a choice,” she told him.
Link sighed, burying his head in his hands. “I know this won’t mean much to you, but the Zelda I know, the Zelda from my world, she’s a good person. A hero in fact.” Matilda opened her mouth to say something, but Link cut her off with a sharp wave of his hand. “And don’t tell me the stakes; I know how high they are. Your entire world is on the line, both our worlds.”
Matilda leaned back thoughtfully, interlacing her fingers around a knee. “Well,” she said slowly, “the way I see it is like this. Whoever we are, whatever kind of monsters we’ve become, the Empress made us like this. But we have to fight back. If you had lived my life, there would be no hesitation.”
“And if you had lived my life, you’d be as desperate as I am,” Link countered.
“You have to make a decision,” she said.
Link groaned, running his hand through his hair. “What would Zelda do?” he wondered. A small, dry laugh crept up into his throat. “That’s a silly question. I know exactly what she would tell me to do. She’d tell me to do what was best for the greater good.”
“Sounds like she really is a hero,” Matilda commented.
“The best one I know.”
Slowly, filled with both hesitation and doubt, Link reached forward, wrapping his fingers around the knife. He pulled it out of the rubbery cement, watching the way in which the light glinted off of the sharp edge of the blade. Perhaps his own counterpart had secured this from the kitchen for the rebels, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. Heavily, he brought the blade closer to his face, seeing the way his eyes reflected back at him in the mirror.
Matilda watched him expectantly. “Well?”
Closing his eyes, Link tucked the knife into his pocket, pulling his hand out and resting it over the opening. “I’ll do it,” he said at last, squeezing his eyes shut as tightly as he could.
“The Empress will be at her most vulnerable right before the Ascension,” Matilda told him. “That’s when her magic will be weakest.”
“Her magic.” Link frowned.
“It’s all very hush, hush. Only the Captain knows about it.”
“What do you suppose would happen if it became public knowledge that the Empress had lost her ability to perform that mental shock?”
Matilda shrugged. “Mass chaos, probably. But that doesn’t matter. She won’t lose her abilities, they’ll just be weakened. This will distract her enough so that you can get in and stab her. Aim for the heart.”
“I don’t think there’s any way to avoid stabbing in the heart.” Link opened his eyes, looking at Matilda. “I know you’re looking out for the greater good, Matilda. You’re a good person.” He held out his hand. Matilda clasped him around the wrist. Wrapping his own hand around her wrist, they exchanged a warrior’s handshake. Link rose to his feet, slowly trudging to the bars in front of the door. He gripped them, pulling his face close to the gap between two of them. “Guards!” he shouted. After a moment, he heard the door to the dungeon open and the heavy footsteps of the guards approaching the cell. “I’m ready to apologize.”
It was almost sunrise. Catsy could smell it coming; she could feel it in every fiber of her body. The feeling was hard to describe. Pins and needles, perhaps. Or the feeling that one got when running through a field where the grass was remarkably high. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. It spoke of no impending doom, but all the same, it was a warning.
Catsy stood in the mouth of the Catfish’s Maw, watching as the deep black velvet of the sky began to show traces of royal blue. She had forgotten long ago what sunlight felt like. All she could do now was imagine. She imagined it was warm and calm, like waking up in a big pile of blankets on a winter morning. Somehow, despite her best defenses, a small sigh managed to spill out from her throat. How she longed to spend a day in the sun, just one more day.
Of course, tonight’s conversation would only ensure the curse would remain upon her. For hours on end, she and Valerie had discussed the nature of Koholint. To be honest, Valerie had told her little, if anything at all, that she didn’t already know. Koholint was created as a test for the Hero of Time and the Princess of Destiny. By defeating the obstacles of the island, they were to prove their worthiness of holding respective pieces of the Triforce. Catsy knew all of this. But she also knew things that Valerie didn’t know.
She knew that the Windfish was real. It wasn’t just a ruse employed by Farore, an excuse for the Hylians to fight. It was a real, living being, the being that had spawned her and all of her wayward siblings. Up in the protective egg, it lay asleep, dreaming the dream which generated the whole island. The Nightmares were both a part of the dream and separate from it. As a part of it, Catsy had created Humans to walk the land of Koholint.
She knew that if the Windfish woke the way Farore had originally planned, it would destroy all of the beings who peopled the island. This was the thought that frightened her, more even than her own demise. She feared so horribly for the fate of her own creations, who she loved more than anything.
Finally, Catsy knew that there was an alternative. There was a way to wake the Windfish without destroying Koholint and her people. It required the Ocarina of Time, the one instrument that could alter reality enough to bring Koholint into the real world. It had taken Catsy centuries to learn how to obtain the magical instrument. An opportunity had finally presented itself in the form of the Dream Shrine, for Catsy knew that real people, in a dream world, could touch the real world in their own dreams.
Valerie had listened to all of this quite attentively, adding in her own insight where she could. When Catsy had finally asked as to the cause of her abrupt change of heart regarding working together with a Nightmare, Valerie had told Catsy the one thing she didn’t know about the test. It was a trial for the Angel of Farore as well, a trial to prove that after years of servitude to the goddess, she had not surrendered her own humanity.
At last things were finally starting to make sense. Valerie had gone eventually, back to the Mabe Village which would be waking soon. Catsy stood alone in the shaded doorway to her dungeon, watching the genesis of sunrise. She had taken a few moments to change her clothing, of course. From a hoopskirt and poet’s shirt, she now wore a sky blue leotard. Around her waist was a skirt made of long fringe, dyed the colors of the sunset. A pair of glittery hose completed the look. She had worn a pair of ballet slippers, but some water was seeping in through the doorway, so she kicked them off, letting her hose soak in the tide.
“‘And one Nightmare shall betray the others; this traitor shall not see the light of day.’ Just in case you’ve forgotten, dear sister.”
Catsy turned her head slightly. Flame was approaching the entrance to the Catfish’s Maw. He floated, his feet just an inch or so above the water which steamed beneath him. “No, I haven’t forgotten,” she said.
“You’re not really the forgetting sort.”
“Never have been.”
“So shouldn’t you be cowering away in the depths of your own little prison you’ve created for yourself?”
“The sun is not up yet,” Catsy replied. “And I have shade.”
“I could throw you out into the sunlight. Watch you blister and burn away to nothingness.”
“You haven’t the stomach for it.”
“That I have not.”
“Hawk is the only one of us brave enough to challenge the prophecy.” She closed her eyes, quoting it in a hypnotic tone of voice. “‘Ten summers near, the test will begin, evil will lose, good will win. Mortals unite, true love calls, one Nightmare betrays, the others will fall.’”
“So I’ve heard,” Flame deadpanned.
“You must know the prophecy will come to fulfillment.”
“Because Hawk killed Face? No, I refuse to believe that his actions were a source of betrayal. Face was ready to simply hand over his instrument.”
“You’re most inconsistent in your stock of prophecy. Anyway, Hawk’s actions against Face were merely the culmination of his betrayal. It started back when the Hylians first defeated Tail. When he began whispering into the ear of my Guardian.”
“I refuse to believe the tales you tell regarding the manipulation of your Guardian. You’re merely bitter that she will not follow you while all her ancestors blindly obeyed your every whim.”
Catsy shrugged. “Believe what you like.”
The sun was truly beginning to rise now. The sky had gone from black to blue to gray with streaks of pink flaring out from the horizon. All around, the air was filled with silence, as the crickets ended their midnight serenade. Soon, the birds would start to sing, accompanied by the crow of dozens of roosters, scampering about the Mabe Village and the Animal Village.
“I choose to believe that you are the traitor,” Flame said firmly.
“It is true,” she replied without hesitation. “I betrayed the Nightmares first, but I was not the last. That title is reserved for Hawk.”
“If there was any other traitor in our number, it was Kurt, not Hawk.”
“Kurt,” Catsy mumbled.
“For falling in love with the Princess of Destiny, no doubt.”
“Love is a disgusting mortal habit, like eating. It is best left to disgusting mortals.”
“Or perhaps it is a gift, given to them by Farore. Though we were born first, they were always the most revered.”
He turned his orange, faceless face to her. “Farore?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Catsy told him.
“Who is Farore?”
“A power greater than both of us. A power greater than all nine of the Nightmares and the Windfish combined.”
“And you hold allegiance to this power?”
“You disgust me.”
“Then why are you here with me now while the Hylians, and company, are busy vanquishing Hawk?”
“Hawk will get what he deserves.”
“And I suppose I’ll get what I deserve?”
“Careful, Flame,” Catsy reprimanded him. “We are both rapidly running out of time.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Hawk killed Face. You know that if one of us destroys another we will all fall. Hawk has sealed our fate.”
“Prophecies can be avoided.”
“That’s what he said.”
Flame sighed in irritation. The pink streaks in the sky had grown lighter, becoming a soft orange glow. Just beyond the trees, the first rays of sunlight were starting to hit the bay. “If this prophecy is true, then we are doomed. You and me both.”
Catsy nodded. “Yes.”
“Well, I don’t intend to go without a fight,” he said firmly. For emphasis, the flame that composed his entire body flared up, shifting from orange to yellow for a moment.
“Oh, I’m sure the Hylians and their friends will be more than ready to give you that fight.”
“I’m not going to wait and let them have it on their own terms.”
“So said Angelika and Iris before you.”
Flame whirled around at her, pointing a fiery finger a few inches from her face. “You go too far.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” she hissed.
“You should be. Perhaps once the Hylians are gone, I’ll deal with you in an equally satisfying way.”
“You come right back to the beginning of this conversation.”
“We must do it again sometime. Now get out of here. You’re blocking my view of the sunrise.”
Flame regarded her for a moment of dreadful silence. Finally, he turned around, floating back over the surface of the bay. He stopped once he found himself in a warm patch of sunlight. With an invisible, malevolent smile, he turned over his shoulder, waving from the sunlight at Catsy, cowering back in the cold shadows of the prison she had created for herself.
“Ocarina…” she whispered quietly, so that Flame couldn’t hear her. “The music of the Ocarina leads the way…”
Link was moving at a brisk pace through the hallways of the dark, mirror castle. It was nearing sunset, meaning that the sun was rising in his world. As hard as he tried to fight it, his mind drifted back to Zelda. He wondered what she was doing, where she was. Perhaps she was trying to find him. His heart ached for her so badly. Any second now, he was sure his chest would burst.
The thought of what he was about to do was haunting him. There was no way out. The Empress had to be stopped, her power was too great. Link knew that he was no match for her, not with the Inhibitor around his arm. That left him with only one option. Stealth. He was about to do what he hated most in villains. He was going to attack someone from behind.
In anger, he ripped on the sleeve of his tunic, pulling it clean off of his arm. “I hate this thing,” he grumbled, tugging fruitlessly on the Inhibitor. In frustration, he stopped on the side of the hallway and banged it against the stones, as if he actually thought that would remove it.
It wasn’t as if Link hadn’t taken a life before. But back then, it had always been in self defense, never in cold blood. What made matters worse was the fact that by taking this one act to save both his world and the mirror realm, he would be sacrificing that which was most precious to him. Although his courage wouldn’t betray him, his heart was another matter. At least he was brave enough to do his own dirty work, he supposed. He wasn’t like the Empress, who had others to do her killing for her: The monster in the pit and all the Moblin guards.
He started down the hallway again, fuming inside. The guards had let him out of the dungeon when he promised to apologize. Halfway down the hall, he had incapacitated them both by grabbing a torch from the wall and lighting their armor on fire. Like all Moblins, they had been reduced to ash in a matter of seconds. Now he marched on alone, feeling the knife press against his skin through the fabric of his pocket.
Footsteps came from the other end of the hall, around the curve so Link couldn’t see who was approaching. He was about to leap into the shadows when he saw Richard turn the corner. Quickly, he ran over to Richard, slapping a hand over his mouth and pulling him into an alcove. “You escaped,” Richard sputtered softly when Link removed his hand.
“They let me out,” Link explained. “I’m supposed to be apologizing to the Empress.”
“You’d better get to it.”
“She doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
“Listen to me very carefully, Richard. I need you to do me a favor; you’re the only one who can do it.”
“What?” Richard asked.
“The execution pit, is there another entrance to it?”
“Yes, underground there’s another door where the guards slip food in for the monster.”
“I need you to take me there.”
“I want to get into the pit.”
“You must be mad!”
“Please, Richard,” Link pled. “I need you to do this for me.”
Richard regarded him very seriously for a moment. “Very well,” he finally said. “Come on.”
The two of them began walking down the hall, ducking into the shadows when someone happened to pass by. Through dizzying twists and turns, Richard led the way, Link very rapidly becoming lost. They ran down a series of iron spiral staircases, going deeper and deeper into the bowels of the castle, parts of Kanalet that Link hadn’t seen in his brief visit. No conversation passed between them. Richard didn’t even bother to ask why Link wanted to go to the pit and for his own part; Link wasn’t entirely sure what was compelling him. Somehow, he just knew the answer was there.
Ten minutes passed and the boys arrived outside of a steel door, welded into the very bedrock foundation of the castle. “Is this it?” Link asked, peering into the small, barred window of the door.
“This is where the monster dwells,” Richard replied with a nod.
“Okay, let me in.”
Richard didn’t bother to argue. Wordlessly, he removed a ring of keys from his vest. After going through the various assortments, he picked out an iron key with four prongs and put it into the lock, turning it to the left until there was a loud click. From inside the pit, a low growl emerged. “It’s awake,” Richard said.
“As soon as I’m inside, close the door.” Link took a deep breath. Quickly, he threw the door open and raced into the darkness of the pit. From behind him, he heard Richard slam the door shut.
The inside to the pit was nothing more than a rock cavern. Up some fifty feet over his head, Link could see the grate with the trapdoor from the throne room. He took a few steps into the cave when the stench hit him. The smell of death and decay was overwhelming to the point where Link was certain he would vomit. As he moved deeper into the pit, gagging silently, perspiration bespangling his brow, he felt an intense heat hit his face.
Two glowing eyes looked out at him from the darkness. Link stopped. Slowly, he inched his way over to one side, the eyes watching him the entire time. Crunch! Link looked down. He had stepped on a skeletal arm. Much to his horror, he realized that the entire cave was littered with severed limbs. Most of them still had decaying flesh clinging to them. This was definitely an arm though. Still encircling the bone was an Inhibitor. Watching the eyes carefully, Link leaned down and picked up the bone. He started to slide the Inhibitor off when the creature let out a growl.
All at once, the glowing eyes were no longer Link’s biggest problem. There was a flash of white fangs and the monster leapt out of the shadows, pouncing on top of Link. He dropped the arm and fell onto his back, under the incredible strength of his attacker. As soon as he was pinned down, the monster didn’t waste any time. It began clawing at him with a set of black claws, trying to rip his face off.
Link rolled his head to one side, just barely opening one eye to get a better look at the creature. It seemed to him a combination of a lion, a bear, and a man. By far, the most prominent feature this creature possessed was an enormous red mane. “Oh Din…” Link whispered. The monster was driving his claws into Link’s shoulders. With all the strength he could muster, Link curled his hands into fists and brought them up rapidly, boxing the ears of his attacker. This was enough to send the creature back, howling in pain.
Sliding out from under him, Link backed away, holding his hands up, palms out. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said desperately. A mighty roar filled the space as the monster renewed his attack. “Unless I have to,” Link yelped, jumping up onto a rock and out of the way. “Oh, this is bad,” he mumbled, watching the creature crash head first into the rocks below.
Jumping off of the ledge, Link landed on the cavern floor, near the arm he had previously been holding. He picked it up again and slid the Inhibitor off. Just as he was about to put it in his pocket, he was set upon. Link fell over, the Inhibitor rolling out of his hand and across the cavern. He could feel the hot breath of his opponent on his cheek and smell the stench of death all around him.
Fruitlessly, Link beat on the chest of the monster. It was like hitting a side of beef. Clearly, as far as brute strength was concerned, Link was greatly in the disadvantage. His eyes frantically searching the thick neck of the beast, Link brought his fingers up, jamming them into a small hollow in between the bones.
Many years ago, Tress had taught Link the great power of pressure points. They helped to even the score, she explained, when one opponent had more strength than the other. Secret knowledge of pressure points was the great equalizer. In their shared battles in Hyrule, Link had many times seen Tress subdue a clearly larger opponent by jamming her finger into the proper place. Unfortunately, this was a skill that eluded Link.
Jamming his finger into the beast’s neck merely seemed to make him angrier than before. He roared loudly, another flash of teeth shining in Link’s face. “Wrong point,” he muttered to himself. Again, he reached forward, driving his index finger into a different part of the neck. Instantly, the animal dropped down, falling unconscious on the spot from the blow to his pressure point.
Link gritted his teeth, slowly slithering his way out from under. The creature seemed to weigh twice as much unconscious. It was a difficult task, but finally Link managed to free himself. He quickly checked the pulse of the beast. Still alive. Once he was certain of it, he crossed the cavern, picking up the Inhibitor.
For awhile, Link examined it, turning the ring in all directions. There was a hinge to it that was absent on his. Gingerly, he pulled it open with a soft click then closed it again. The hinge remained. He supposed that once the life force of the wearer faded, the magical properties of the metal caused it to break open so it could be used on someone else. After placing the Inhibitor in his pocket, Link walked back over the door and knocked on it softly. Richard pulled it open, letting him out.
“You’re alive,” Richard marveled.
“All evidence to the contrary,” Link deadpanned, putting a hand on his throbbing head. “Richard, I need you to do me one more favor. It’s the last thing I will ever ask of you.”
“Go to the dungeon. There aren’t any guards, I promise. I need you to unlock the rebels.”
Richard, who was just locking the door again, turned to stare at him in horror. “You must be joking, I can’t do that.”
“You have to. The fate of both of our worlds is hanging in the balance.” Link put a hand on Richard’s shoulder. “I know that you’re a good man. And I know you want what’s best for the greater good. And so I’m asking you, friend, please go to the dungeon and release the rebels.”
“You have a plan for stopping the Ascension,” Richard said slowly after a moment of hesitation.
“And this is a part of it?”
“Yes. Richard, I need you to do this.”
“All right,” Richard finally conceded.
“Thank you, Richard.” Link offered him a warrior’s handshake then turned around, bounding up the stairs.
“Hey!” Richard stopped him halfway.
He jerked his head in the direction of the pit. “Did you kill it?”
“No,” Link replied.
“He’s a friend of mine in the other world.”
The twisting turrets of Eagle’s Tower ought to have been confusing for any mortal. Somehow though, the path was perfectly clear to Matilda. She knew exactly where she wanted to go. She knew where she needed to be. Was it a sixth sense? Well, such things were possible. Regardless of the explanation, Matilda followed a clear path, ascending higher and higher through the dungeon.
She supposed the others would be looking for her. Let them rely on Carry’s map. She needed no map. Her very veins told her exactly where the destination was. The hookshot slapped against her thigh as she walked, providing her with a steady rhythm. Stealth was not a requirement, nor was tactic. All of those were silly, trivial things. Nothing mattered so long as she completed her goal. Perhaps the Hylian business in the dungeon was nobler by far, but for Matilda, it was strictly personal.
Walking up the winding staircase to the top floor of the dungeon, Matilda’s nerves began to quiver. This had to be it. This was the moment she had been dreaming about since the Voice first began to whisper to her. The madness was departed, but the resentment remained deep within her stomach. She was consumed with the need for vengeance. There was nothing Matilda hated more than being used. Not only had she been used, she had been abused.
Matilda found herself in an empty chamber. There were no glowing green tiles, only a single lamp in one corner of the room with a dancing green flame. As she looked around, she saw that there were no entrances or exits other than the staircase she had taken up. “All right,” she hissed softly. “Why don’t you show yourself?”
“I’m disinclined to do so,” the Voice whispered from the nothingness surrounding them.
“I know you’re here,” she said icily.
“I’ve come looking for you.”
Hawk materialized in the far corner of the room, near the dancing green light. The visor of his helmet was pushed back, revealing his very handsome, human-like face. “You’ve found me,” he said, flashing her a charming smile.
At once, Matilda removed her hookshot from the holster, propping it up on one arm and taking aim at his heart. “Goodbye.”
“Do you really think that’s going to work?” he asked casually.
“It’s a small target, but I think I’ll manage.”
“I’ll be gone before you can pull the trigger.”
“I’ll find you.”
“Perhaps I’ll go back inside your head. It was so nice there. I really had so much fun.”
“That won’t work anymore,” she told him.
“How can you be so certain?” He folded his hands behind his back and began to pace about the chamber. “After all, you’ve got no one to come running to your rescue. You betrayed Catsy. She has no reason to save you. And the rest of your friends are too busy trying to cope with the special gift I left them. How is this new version of Link? Is he as pleasant as the old one?”
Matilda kept her hookshot trained on Hawk as he moved. “Don’t try to distract me,” she warned him. “The sound of your voice merely makes me want to fire the hook more.”
“By all means, go ahead,” Hawk said, spreading his hands out. Matilda remained motionless. “You need further inspiration?” Hawk snapped his fingers and the iron breastplate of his armor disappeared, leaving his chest garbed in nothing more than a simple cotton tunic. “Call it a gift.”
She didn’t fire. Instead, her eyes quickly shot about the room, always returning to Hawk. In her mind, she played out a series of scenarios about what could happen and how. “How very sporting of you,” she muttered softly.
There was a small platform near the torch. Hawk jumped up onto it. Once again, he faced Matilda, spread his arms out wide. “Take your shot. I won’t stop you. But you only get one.”
Taking a step back, Matilda pulled the trigger of her hookshot. The chain was released and immediately went flying. Echoes of the noisy mechanism rang back and forth, hitting the walls of the chamber. The chain went high above Hawk’s head, firmly planting the hook into the ceiling over him, sending a light shower of cement dust down over his helmet.
Hawk glanced up at the hook in the wall. “You missed,” he laughed. “After all that banter and all that determination, you missed.”
“Actually,” Matilda said slowly, a sly smile creeping over her face, “I didn’t.” At once, she yanked back on the chain, reeling it in. Loudly, it came free of the ceiling, taking a good chunk of stone with it. Sunlight began streaming down in through the hole, showering over Hawk.
There was a moment of terrifying realization. Hawk’s exposed flesh began to sizzle and hiss, turning bright red. He screamed in horror and leapt out of the shaft of light. “You little fool!” he hissed at her. At once, he held out his palm, conjuring a blast of energy. Matilda fired her hookshot into the ceiling again. Once the hook was planted, she climbed up the chain. Hawk fired his blast and Matilda pumped her legs, swinging out of harm’s way.
She jumped off of the chain and yanked hard, pulling it out of the ceiling with another crash of cement. More sunlight began to stream in through the roof. Hawk was ready with another blast. Matilda rolled out of the way, letting it smash into the wall. Several stones fell away, creating a makeshift window.
Hawk moved about the room, trying his best to avoid the three new shafts of sunlight. Skillfully, Matilda dodged his attacks, safely passing through the light. She shot the hook up into the roof again, pulling more rocks down. Three holes in close proximity proved to be a bit too much for the structure of the roof. All of the cement and stone in between the three holes collapsed, falling to the ground and thoroughly opening up the room to the morning.
Screaming in horror, Hawk retreated to the wall, pressing himself against the side of the room to remain in the shadows. “You played me!” he shouted.
“What goes around comes around,” Matilda replied, reeling the chain into the hookshot again.
“Don’t get too proud. I can destroy you without touching you,” Hawk gloated.
“So can I.” Matilda fired the hookshot, aiming right at Hawk’s chest. This time, she hit him, the hook burying itself deep into his skin. As the Nightmare wailed in agony, Matilda began reeling, pulling Hawk toward her like a fish. He struggled against her, but the pain in his chest was too great. Matilda dragged him directly into the sunlight.
Hawk’s body began to sizzle, crackling loudly like a campfire. Smoke rose from his body. He opened his mouth to scream, but a thick gray fog emerged from in between his lips. “My energy…gone…I…lost! But you will be lost too, if the Windfish wakes! Same as me…you…are…in…his…dream…” His body contorted into a bizarre series of poses, each one more gruesome than the last. Finally, at all at once, he burst into a pyre of flames, exploding silently.
Matilda ran to a corner of the room, crouching down with her arms over her head for protection. The room filled with the rich scent of smoke. There was a small hole in the wall. Matilda pressed her face against it, taking labored breaths of fresh air. The chamber itself smelled of burning hair and skin.
Finally, she dared to look up. Waving her hand to part the smoke, Matilda rose, walking to the middle of the room. Aside from a small fairy sleeping in a pile of gray ash, there was nothing left of Hawk. Nothing at all.
A sharp click drew her attention. Matilda whirled around. By the dancing light of the green fire, a doorway had appeared in the wall. As she watched, it slid open, revealing a bright golden light from the hidden chamber on the other side. Matilda walked to the door, ducking low under it. On a platform before her, surrounded by four stone owl heads, the Organ of Evening Calm lay, outshining the sun. For the first time in months, Matilda felt calm descend upon her tortured mind.
“The hour draws near,” the Empress said to the assembled crowd of soldiers and servants.
Link had managed to slip into the throne room unnoticed, taking a small servants’ entrance. He stood in a crowd of frightened and silent Humans, reaching into his pocket to feel the cold blade of the dagger Mirror Matilda had given him. As he looked about, he saw that very few people seemed pleased by the events about to come to fruition in the throne room. Indeed, some of the Human guards looked decidedly less than pleased, their thick arms folded across their chests.
The more he looked around, the more Link realized that there were two distinct factions intermingling in the room: Those who were pleased with the idea of Ascension and those who seemed to loathe it. A small frown crept across his face. The people in the latter faction were all afraid, that had to be the reason why no one had acted. The Empress was powerful as it was without being a goddess. Things would only get worse after the Ascension, for all of them.
Gently pushing people out of his way, Link made his way through the crowd, bound for the front of the line, the closest he could get to the Empress before he had to act. He tried hard not to look at her as she delivered a rather long winded sermon regarding her newfound power and what she would do with it once she had obtained the immortality she so richly deserved.
“Once the moonlight shines through the window,” she was declaring loudly, “the time will come, the Windfish’s final hour.”
Those in the decidedly pro-Ascension faction let out a cheer. The others, in the rival group, clapped politely, throwing sidelong glances at the window and wondering how much longer they had before she destroyed the Windfish. No one knew exactly how she was going to accomplish this, but Link was fairly certain she would do it with her advanced mental powers. How the moonlight played into the scenario was anybody’s guess.
“Forgive me, Zelda,” Link whispered, moving faster and faster through the crowd, pushing people roughly out of his way now. There just wasn’t enough Time.
The doors to the great hall suddenly burst open. Link skittered to a stop. From the hallway, a mirror duplicate of Lexx came running in. “Empress! Empress!” he shouted, pausing to catch his breath.
“What?” she snapped angrily, turning to look at him.
“He’s dead, he’s dead.”
“Hawk, god of flight, he’s dead, my Empress.”
The Empress narrowed her eyes, slowly walking down the dais. “The god of flight is dead?”
“One less person to stand in the Empress’s way now,” Mirror Tracy muttered under her breath to Mirror Elinor.
The Empress’s back was to Link now. As he reached into his pocket, a slow smile spread across his face. “That’s my girl,” he said softly.
At once he ran forward from the crowd, surging to grab the Empress from behind. Suddenly, and most unexpectedly, she turned around, wrapping her fingers around Link’s throat. “Didn’t think you had it in you,” she hissed, hoisting him off the ground.
“Didn’t want to disappoint you,” Link croaked, dropping the knife in his hand.
“I’m going to have so much fun torturing you,” she told him, dangling him about three inches up.
Suddenly, Link reached into his other pocket, drawing out the open Inhibitor. Before anyone could see what he was doing, Link clamped it around the Empress’s bicep. She let out a scream, immediately dropping him to the ground. Frantically, she clawed at the Inhibitor, trying to pull it off of her arm. It was too late though, the hinge had already vanished.
“The Empress is powerless!” Link shouted to the crowd. “Assert yourselves already!”
Instantly, the two factions turned on each other, Moblin guards fighting against the Human guards. The servants stared in horror. Mirror Valerie approached them, cracking her whip, trying to herd them out of the room. Angrily, they exchanged glances. With a fighting spirit born of the chaos, the servants began to surge forward against Valerie. Caught completely off guard by this display, she screamed, turning to run. The spry servants easily overtook her, pulling her down to the ground.
Moonlight spilled into the throne room from the window. It shone was a spotlight on the madness. “No!” the Empress screamed, holding her hand out uselessly at the window.
The doors to the throne room burst open for a second time. In ran the rebels, whooping and shouting as they brandished makeshift weapons, pipes and wrenches, broken shards of pottery and kitchen forks. Richard ran in behind them, stopping in the doorway. He folded his arms across his chest with a very satisfied smirk.
Quickly, Link darted through the crowd, finding his way to Matilda’s side. She was taking on a Moblin, twice her size. Ducking under a blow, she grinned at Link. “You did it!”
“I did it,” he crowed triumphantly. Grunting, his grabbed the Moblin around the waist, causing them both to fall to the floor. “And without killing Zelda,” he added cheerfully.
“You really are a hero!” Matilda cried, hoisting him back up to his feet.
“You can take it from here,” he said, patting her on the shoulder. The two of them exchanged another handshake and then Matilda turned around, disappearing into the melee.
Link worked his way to the door, ducking under blows from all directions. As he glanced over his shoulder, he saw that the servants had managed to hogtie Valerie on the floor with her own whip. Now, they were slowly joining in the battle, helping out any way they could, fighting with their fists, their teeth, and most importantly, their newfound freedom.
A hand suddenly clamped down on Link’s shoulder. He turned around, just in time to receive a sharp blow to his face. The Empress was holding him with an iron grip, sneering wickedly. “I may not have my powers,” she whispered, “but I can kill you just the same.”
She pulled her fist back to land another punch, but suddenly, she was struck from behind. The Empress crumpled over, revealing Richard standing behind her, rubbing his knuckles with a face contorted in pain. “Hard head,” he said, smiling meekly.
Link laughed, clapping Richard on the back. “That happens.”
“Look at this mess you’ve caused,” Richard teased, watching the insane fight unfolding before them.
“It was a long time coming,” Link replied with a shrug.
“You have no idea.”
“In the end, everything will sort itself out.”
“We’ll need to fashion a new way of life for ourselves,” Richard said. He looked at Link. “Stay. You’ve worked wonders for my people; you can give them the guidance they need.”
“I have to go home,” Link said.
Richard nodded. “I understand. Still, you’re leaving us without a leader.”
“Your people have a great leader, Richard.” With great reverence, Link bent at the waist, bowing to Richard.
Returning the gesture with a humble bow, Richard asked, “How can we ever thank you?”
“I have one request,” Link said.
“No more executions,” Link replied. “No matter what happens today, don’t kill anyone.”
“I will honor your request and protect the people of your world,” Richard promised.
“Show the Empress and her flunkies the same kindness she’s shown you,” Link added with a gleam in his eye.
“I’ll see to it that she gets precisely what she deserves.”
“I have to go now,” Link said. “Someone I love is waiting for me on the other side.”
“How will you get back?”
“I don’t know yet. But I’m pretty sure the best way to start is returning to exactly where I was when this whole thing began.”
“And you too.”
With that, Link turned around, departing from the throne room. As he walked out of the double doors, the sound of battle ringing in his ears, he felt a wave of relief wash over him. He had nearly done something terrible, something that would have left a gaping hole in the rest of his life. A part of him wondered if the Nightmare had known how this was supposed to play out. If so, he supposed, this was by far worse than any physical torture a monster could possibly provide.
Carry was the first to catch a whiff of smoke. Soon after, Zelda and Dink both smelled something in the air. With wordless consensus, they all began to follow the scent, as if they knew that somehow it would lead them to their wayward companion. All along the way, Dink kept trying to grab Zelda’s skirt, trying to grovel at her feet. Zelda had swatted him away a dozen times. Each time, he returned for more.
“Dink, you have to stop that,” she hissed.
“My life belongs to you, glorious princess.”
“Don’t say that.”
“But you saved me.”
“I couldn’t very well let you die.”
“You risked your own life for my worthless skin.”
“That’s what Zelda does,” Carry said simply, ducking low as they wound their way up a spiral staircase.
“No one does that in my world,” Dink said.
“There has to be a first for everything,” Zelda told him wisely.
“I’m a coward. I ran away from the only brave thing that anyone’s ever asked me to do.”
“What’s that?” Zelda asked.
“Well, they asked me to help them assassinate –” Dink trailed off abruptly, his eyes widening.
“Only not you.”
“Don’t tell me you’re having this conversation again.” The trio had reached the top of the stairs. Sitting on a platform in the crumbling chamber was Matilda. She smiled pleasantly at them, waving her hookshot slightly.
“Matilda!” Carry cried, running across the room. He skidded to a sudden stop, noticing the fairy asleep in the middle of the floor, directly under the glowing sunlight of the morning.
“Matilda,” Zelda said slowly, coming up to the top step with Dink trailing after her. “You didn’t.”
“I did!” Matilda cried proudly, hoping off of the platform. She was positively beaming.
“What did she do?” Dink asked.
“She killed the Nightmare,” Carry answered.
“Don’t look so disappointed,” Matilda said, a smile curling her lips. “I have souvenirs for everyone.” She reached into her pocket and removed a sparkling gold speck, the instrument. “Catch,” she told Zelda. She lofted the instrument. Frantically, Zelda held out her hands, catching it.
“We’ve got seven,” Zelda muttered, tucking it into the pocket of her quiver with great care.
“One left,” Carry supplied.
Dink seemed transfixed by the exquisite beauty of the instrument. Zelda watched him for a moment then looked at Matilda. “Did you find the shield?” she asked, holding her breath for the reply.
Matilda didn’t answer. Instead, she walked over to the small, secret door by the torch. She reached in and pulled out the bright Mirror Shield, holding it aloft with a proud and pleased expression on her face. “I found the shield,” she finally said.
Carry looked at Zelda. “Do you think you can make it work?” he wondered softly.
“I can try,” Zelda said. She walked over to Matilda and carefully took the shield. It was enormous, weighing surprisingly little for its size.
“What is that?” Dink asked.
“It’s the Mirror Shield,” Carry explained.
“It’s what the Nightmare used to switch you with our Link,” Matilda added.
Dink scowled, looking nervously at his reflection in the shield. Finally, he swallowed, addressing Zelda. “Are you going to use that to send me back?”
A surge of reluctance hit Zelda. “Yes,” she said carefully.
Everyone braced themselves, expecting Dink to go into overdrive with another one of his panic attacks, but much to their surprise, he merely nodded his head. “I understand.”
Matilda couldn’t restrain her shock. “You do?”
“You need your Link back. He belongs in this place, not me.”
Zelda suddenly handed off the shield to Carry. She walked over to Dink and put her hands on his shoulders. “I know there are a lot of scary things where you come from, a lot of demons you have to face. Try to be brave.”
He looked up at her with wide, innocent eyes. “I’ll try to be just like you,” he told her.
She kissed his cheek then backed away, taking the shield from Carry. “Good luck, Dink!” Matilda called, offering him a wry smile and a wink.
“Be safe,” Carry added.
Dink nodded to each of them. For the briefest of moments, he looked just like Link, his face filled with pure determination. “And you.”
Raising the shield off the floor a bit, Zelda pointed it at Dink. She wasn’t exactly sure how to activate it, but she supposed it was something similar to Hylian telepathy. Closing her eyes, she reached out with her mind. Warmth filled her bones and the world dissolved into a single medium. She focused all her thoughts, all her energy on one thing and one think along. Link.
Suddenly, there was a sharp noise, followed by a whirring pain and Zelda was thrown back, hitting the back of her head against the wall. When she opened her eyes, she saw that the shield was on the ground, the mirror shattered into a thousand shards of glass. Frantically, her eyes looked up. Standing there, with a very confused expression on his face, was a Hylian boy in a red tunic with silver designs.
“Link?” Carry asked uncertainly.
He looked over. “Carry!” Link cried. He literally hurled himself at Carry, giving him a gigantic hug.
“It’s Link!” Matilda said with a smile.
“Matilda!” Link grabbed Matilda, giving her an equally enormous bear hug.
Matilda laughed. “Good to see you too, buddy.”
As Zelda stumbled to her feet, touching the back of her head gingerly, Link spotted her. He let go of Matilda and slowly crossed the room, coming two feet away from her. “Zelda,” he whispered. Instantly, the two of them embraced, Link giving Zelda the most passionate of all kisses right in front of the others.
Snickering, Matilda batted her eyelashes. “Link and Mar…Zelda,” she sang gleefully.
Link pulled back out of the kiss, caressing Zelda’s face. “You found me,” he gushed.
“Hey,” Carry exclaimed suddenly, pointing at Link. “He’s got one of those thingies.”
Matilda blinked. “What?”
“You know, the thing, the thing on his arm.”
Link took a step back away from Zelda, touching the exposed Inhibitor on his arm. “I had a little run in with…some bad people.”
Wordlessly, Zelda withdrew the Master Sword from her quiver. “I’ll take care of that for you,” she said. “Hold still.”
“You’re not going to cut off my arm, are you? Because I would strongly object to that.”
“Hold still, Hero,” Zelda replied. She touched the tip of the Master Sword to the Inhibitor. Instantly, the hinge appeared and the ring fell harmlessly to the floor with a clatter. “There.”
Link flexed his arm for a moment. He turned around and looked at one of the shards of glass. Instantly, it leapt up into the air, performing a little dance before dropping once more. “My powers are back,” he said with a childish grin.
“You’re back,” Zelda said, hugging him around the waist. “That’s all that matters to me.”
“Easy for you to say,” Matilda joked. “I’m the one who did all the hard work here today.”
“What do you mean?” Link asked.
“The Nightmare is dead,” Carry said.
“We have another instrument and one less monster to contend with,” Matilda told him happily.
“All in all,” Zelda said, “I’d have to call this a very good morning.”
The day wore on as always. By afternoon, the exhausted dungeon crawlers had managed to finish their respective chores and were afforded some well deserved down time. Hand in hand, Link and Zelda strolled down the beach, right on the line where the waves met the shore. Link found that he couldn’t stop staring at Zelda. She was positively radiant to him at this very instant.
“What?” she asked after he had been staring for a long time.
“The gods must envy us,” he said.
“What does that mean?”
“They can’t possibly know a pleasure like this.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I’m not being silly,” Link replied firmly. “I’m being very serious. How could an immortal possibly know the wonders of a single mortal moment, knowing that it will never come again?”
“You’re talking in riddles.”
Zelda swung her hand, bringing Link’s along with hers. “Immortality probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” She glanced over her shoulder at the horizon. “I know I could never tolerate it. Seeing everyone I love whither away and die while I continue on. It sounds positively awful to me.”
Link grinned. Slowly though, his smile faded, turning into a deep frown. “Zelda,” he said softly.
“I almost did something horrible, in that other world.”
“I practically did. It was only at the last second that I managed to avoid it.”
“Well of course you managed to avoid it,” she said. “You’re a Hero. You always avoid doing horrible things.”
“How can you have so much faith in me?”
“You’ve got some credibility in my book,” she answered.
Gently, he lifted her hand up to his lips, kissing her knuckles. “Thank you.”
“For being you.”