Part Three: The Challenge
Lin slid off Niklar's back, taking the horse's head as he did so. "You've been a good friend, Niklar." The stallion pushed his muzzle into Lin's chest. "But I can't take you where I'm going." He slipped the bridle off Niklar's head, then removed the saddle. "You're free, Niklar. But promise me this." Niklar turned his mournful face toward his former master. "Let Zoe have your first-born, please." Niklar whistled a shrill challenge and galloped off, blending into the darkening background.
Lin watched him until he could no longer hear the hoof-beats. Then he turned to the stone arch in front of him--the Nethergate. The only entrance to the Dark Realm not watched constantly by Ganon. Gripping the Master Sword, Lin took a deep breath and stepped through the ornate stone archway.
The Nethergate was one of the oldest magical portals inside Hyrule. Of objects, only the Power of Gold was older. And only the Gensiarians, immortal creatures of pure magic that exist outside of time, remembered more of the past. For the Nethergate retained the memories of all the dead that passed under its stone arch. It recorded the memories as the souls traveled through and reviewed their lives.
But the Nethergate had no way of capturing the memories of the living. So it replayed to the living visions of the past, showing what had been forgotten. For the living must be desperate for answers to travel to the Realm of the Dead.
The matronly woman quietly entered the darkened room. The bursting fireworks outside the window brought brief, colorful glow to the room, but the young man never looked up to see them. "Your wife did not survive childbirth, m'lord."
The man with long blond hair did not raise his face out of his hands. "What do those fireworks mean?"
The midwife swallowed. "I may not be right, m'lord, but I believe they are for the celebration of Queen Zelda's wedding."
"You are right, I can feel it in my soul." He raised his head, his despairing brown eyes focused on something eternities away. "I remember when she only thought of me, that maybe I would pull away from the burden and become a mortal man again. How could I fool myself by thinking I could satisfy myself with someone else?"
"M'lord, your wife gave birth to a son. A living son."
"Does he bare the mark?"
"Don't play foolish games with me, midwife! Does my son bare this?" He lifted his hand and pointed to the triangular birthmark. "The symbol of the Power of Gold?" He strode into the bedroom and looked carefully over the crying baby's arms and hands, much to the confused nurse's bewilderment. "Thank the gods!" He turned to the midwife. "Begin packing. We're leaving the kingdom tonight. But before we go, I have one last wish."
Hyrule was at peace, for the first time in the young king's reign. Yet, an uneasiness prevailed over his thoughts and the Power of Gold offered no consolations. "The Triforce of Courage must be hidden away."
"But to do so would weaken your power. And it is only your power that keeps the evil at bay," King Hutton argued with the floating triangles within a triangle.
"The Power of Gold was not created to protect Hyrule. It does, to a certain extent, because of the magic. The Triforce of Courage must be set aside for the champion to carry in his heart."
"Who is this champion? I will seek him out now, and deliver the Triforce of Courage safely to his hands."
"The champion must prove himself worthy. You shall never meet this champion, but he shall fight for the Hyrule you love."
"Power of Gold, your advice has always been true. But tell me, is there no other way?"
"To try another way would destroy any chance for Hyrule to rid itself of the stain of evil. Hyrule claims its own. Generations and centuries later, they must return."
"Is Hyrule's enemy my enemy, the evil sorcerer I banished to Death Mountain?"
"He is Hyrule's only enemy until his immortal soul dies."
"It's a girl, your Highness!" The baby's healthy cries joined the midwife's triumphant tone.
"A girl!" The Queen laid her head on the pillow and moaned. "A girl will not be strong enough for the task the Triforce of Wisdom has forewarned me about."
"Perhaps Ganon will be content with the Triforce of Power," the midwife soothed. The long, hard delivery had spent the Queen.
"Wisdom, Power, and Courage, when these three are brought together, the Triforce will show its maximum power," quoted the Queen. "Only that power will satisfy Ganon." She closed her eyes in despair. "My poor baby. At the mercy of that monster."
"Perhaps the promised champion will aid her."
"They prophesied him so long ago, he's probably come and gone, and we never noticed." The Queen stiffened, opened her eyes and they focused on something remote. "I see the Nethergate! It grows clearer the harder I stare at it. I name my child Zelda."
"Yes Zelda!" the Queen cried impatiently. "Is it not my right to name her? It will bring her luck." She took one last shuddering breath and stillness stole over her.
Two people sat face each other across a table set in a pool of light inside a tent--an old woman and a teenage boy. "A very strange marking." The bony finger traced over the outlines of the three triangles held in pattern with in a larger triangle. "How long have you had it?" The old woman fortuneteller peered up from the boy's hand with her piercing eyes.
A sixteen-year-old Link looked up and met her eyes. "Since birth. No one can tell me what it means, though."
"You've had many adventures."
Link scratched the back of his neck with his free hand. "I saved a Princess."
"And you'll have many adventures yet."
"I work for her now."
"This is the mark of a hero. She must pay well."
The old woman smiled craftily. "Most lads your age search for their fortunes."
"Well, I've got plenty of time to do that." Link swallowed uncomfortably. "What can you tell me about my birthmark?"
She looked down again at the hand. "This marking has been in your family for generations. It is the mark of the Triforce, showing the ones that will and must protect it. You are the second to be set aside by it." She traced over the triangles. "And you shall not be the last."
Lin shook his head. The trip seemed like a dream. He remembered fragments of some visions and already forgot parts of others. He shook his head again and started resolutely down the path.
Lin pushed back his brown hair that the foul smelling air blew into his eyes. He gazed down the path at the old woman gathering sticks. She tripped and fell, scattering the sticks. "Let me help you."
The woman looked up at him in fear and gripped his arm. "You cannot stay! There are souls that would betray you!"
"I'm not afraid." Lin placed the woman on her feet and began to pick up her sticks.
"You should! You're alive! And His enemy!" She shook her head. "You will not listen, you heroes never listen. Come on." She dragged Lin with his arms loaded with kindling into a run-down cottage. "There are those will betray you to rid our land of Ganon."
Lin set down the sticks near the fireplace and sat on the hearth. "But Ganon has no jurisdiction over the Realm of the Dead."
She snorted. "That is the way it should be, but it is not. Do you know where his principal enemies are--the ones that are dead? He has trapped them, locking them away in the Death Castle. Powerless now, but they could lead the souls and force Ganon from this Realm."
Lin held up his hand. "Hold up, ma'am. The cause of your problem is Ganon, I'll take care of him."
"No," the woman shook her wrinkled face. "Don't you see? I suppose you cannot," she sighed. "Make your choice."
Lin sighed and stood, walking down the length of the cottage and back. "My grandfather?"
"He is there, with other members of your family."
Lin bowed his head. "Elaine, I'll hurry."
"What was that?"
Lin raised his head and looked in the old woman's tired but hopeful eyes. "I'll help you."
The Realm of the Dead, Lin frowned as he glanced around at the landscape. The sky was heavy and black. The brown grass crunched underfoot. A wispy fog curled around their legs. The trees were blackened skeletons trying to cut a path for light in the oppressive sky. The old woman led him to a row of man-sized boulders. She pointed ahead and around them. "There is Death Castle." The lofty spires reached up to touch the black skies. Lights shown friendly from every window.
Lin shrugged, "Doesn't look very dead to me."
The old woman sighed and shook her head. "It's the castle of the dead."
"I know that. Can't a fellow lighten up a situation?"
"Do you want to save your lady? That's what I thought. Ganon only keeps two moblins as guards outside."
"How many inside?"
"There are only two real guards, but thousands of illusions of them. The occupants tried escaping once and couldn't get past the illusions. They have never tried again. That's why someone must rescue them." Lin started to rise. "Wait." She pulled him back down. "You must destroy those two before they kill you."
"Okay, okay. Do you want to fight them?" Lin crept away, slow and steadily. He stood, taking deep breaths to calm himself, pulled out the Master Sword and lazily sauntered to the Death Castle.
The hundreds of moblins instantly lowered their spears. He quickly reminded himself there was only two. "Hello, gents. I seem to have lost my way."
"A living human!" a hundred moblins exclaimed.
"Not for long," another hundred moblins grinned nastily. They all ran for him.
Lin swung the sword clearing away a few spears and keeping himself from being struck. "If you didn't want to give me directions, you could have just said so!" He swooped through the force, moving closer to the door. The moblins pressed closer to him.
He threw himself against the door. "Open the door!"
"Heh, what was that?" The old man slowly opened the door, letting bright light spill into the eternal night. Two moblins winced. Lin swung the Master Sword in an arc and cut off their heads.
The old man hauled Lin into the Castle and barred the heavy wooden gates after him. "Now, why did you do that for, lad? They never bother us none, so long as we kept inside."
Lin raised his panting head. "I'm here to rescue you!"
"Rescue? I know that from somewhere. Hold on a bit." The old man scratched his head and screwed up his face in thought. "Well, it's not my place to know. I'll take you to all their Majesties."
Lin straightened and sheathed the Master Sword. "There's more than one?"
The old man gazed at him like Lin was crazy. "Of course. Do ya have any special preference?"
"All right then, I'll take ya to the Queen." The tone by which he spoke invoked the feeling that she was Queen of queens, at least in his eyes.
He led Lin up numerous flights of stairs. The Death Castle wasn't one castle, but an infinity of Castle as needed by its occupants. The old man knocked on a thick wooden door. "Who is it?"
"It's I, Rumple, your Highness. There's a lad here who says he's here to rescue us."
The lady was silent for a few minutes. "Show him in, Rumple." Rumple quickly opened the door, ushered Lin in, and left. Lin stared speechless at the Queen knowing that Rumple's attitude was correct. She was much younger than the other two souls he had met, yet much older. Her clear blue eyes radiated a sadness that she had lived with for centuries. Her light blonde hair, almost white, cascaded down the back of the chair. "I am Queen Zelda."
Lin finally found his tongue. "Queen Zelda the first? Of ancient Hyrule?"
She smiled. "Some still remember me?"
"A few do. You were the first to control the Power of Gold."
"Nay, I never had control of it."
"You were the first woman ruler, and every first-born princess's name begins with a Z to honor you. You ruled during Hyrule's Golden Age...."
"Enough," she gazed at him painfully.
Lin looked down, abashed. "I'm sorry, your Majesty."
Her expression softened. "Who are you, lad?"
"I'm Prince Lin."
"Ah. The son of my namesake and her hero." Her eyes fell on the sword. She swallowed hard and asked haltingly. "Is that the Master Sword?"
"Yes, it is, but...." Her eyes filled with tears. "What's wrong?"
"It reminds me of something that I've never been able to forget; my true love that was never meant to be." Her gaze drifted past Lin to the window. "Even in the Realm of the Dead."
"I'm sorry, Queen Zelda."
"Don't be. Just remember, two people's sadness can bring so many more people happiness. Now," she stood, "you must meet some of the souls you have rescued."
They left her chambers and Queen Zelda mounted the stairs. "Zelina, come down and meet the new hero. A living one this time."
A graceful figure descended. "I would hope so. It's so dull to receive the other kind."
Her green eyes hadn't lost their youthful sparkle. Lin couldn't shake the feeling that he had seen her before now. Maybe in the brief dream of the dying Queen. "I think I've seen your picture. In the North Palace."
"Have you?" she laughed.
"Yes, I have. You're my grandmother."
"You're my Zelda's child?" Her gayety dropped as she studied his countenance. "Yes, you have our eyes. Now, what's this about being a hero?"
"I wish I knew," Lin complained. "Right now, all I want is Ganon's head."
"He must have potential," Queen Zelda murmured, "for he carries the Master Sword."
"The old woman wouldn't let me be until I tried to rescue you."
"So an old woman is responsible for this aid." Queen Zelina recovered her good humor. "Rumple?"
"Yes, your Majesty?"
"Go outside and bring in an old woman who should be waiting. I believe she would want to see the results of her handiwork." She confided to the others as Rumple left them and they sat in a parlor. Queen Zelina turned to her grandson. "What do you remember about us?"
"I remember nothing. Mom and Dad talk about Grandfather. Mom misses him, I think. Where is he?"
"In the dungeon." Lin's eyes opened wide with shock. "No, no, we changed it into a water park. He has a fascination with them."
Rumple ushered the old woman into the parlor. "I found her, your Majesty. Impertinently knockin' on the door."
The old lady knelt at Queen Zelina's feet with tears running down her kindly face. "M'lady, I never thought I'd see you again."
"Impa?" She drew the woman up to her feet. "Impa," she hugged her close. "My most loyal lady-in-waiting. I made her my Zelda's nurse. Do you know who this is?" Queen Zelina turned Impa toward Lin. "Zelda's son."
Impa's eyes clouded over in remembrance. "That young laddie; I didn't think Zelda would give him a chance, she was always so haughty with him. I guess he was her knight in shinning armor after all."
"Ganon hid the entrance to the Dark Realm." Zelina warned Lin as they stood in Death Castle's massive doorway. "Mainly to keep us out of his way. It is in that direction." She pointed to the horizon east from the castle. "Good luck, Lin."
"Thank you, Grandmother." He started walking in the direction she had pointed to.
The desolate land stretched to a distant point on the horizon. But in front of the path he had taken was a crumbling stone wall and a large, sagging iron gate.
Lin stepped up to the gate and peered inside. It was an old cemetery. Tombstones leaned at awkward slants. The far wall was hidden by a thick fog. He paused. "What would the Realm of the Dead need a cemetery for?" He grabbed hold of one half of the iron gate and pulled it open. It scraped along the ground for a foot before it lodged itself in the ground. The gap was large enough to squeeze through, and Lin entered .
One large crypt was located in the center of the cemetery. He stepped up on the granite steps and grabbed the iron ring bolted to the door. It pulled free easily.
A torch burned inside and a set of stairs extended down into the ground. Lin set his shield on his arm, drew the Master Sword, and cautiously walked inside.
The stairs led to a rocky tunnel holding a sequence of torches. Ahead was a group of stalfos. Five skeleton-men guarded the other end of the tunnel. Lin sighed. There was no way around them.
He ran forward with a yell. The stalfos' skulls turned and looked down the tunnel. Three ran forward with swords drawn.
The first stalfos's skull was sent flying into the tunnel wall with one stroke from the Master Sword. The second's sword clanged against the shield. Lin crouched and swept the Master Sword across its knees. The stalfos fell backwards, even though its feet and lower legs remained rooted to the floor.
The third stalfos parried Lin's stroke with his sword and thrust him back. "Magic kill human," it said through its skeleton grin as it aimed its sword at Lin.
The shield repelled the magical blow. Lin aimed the Master Sword at the stalfos in front of him. He tried to zap the creature, but no magical bolt sprang from the blade. The two stalfos still guarding the other end of the tunnel started zapping at Lin. Nothing was wrong with their swords.
He ducked behind his shield. What had Kevin said about the Master Sword. It reflects magic instead of generating its own. He shifted his stance and caught a magical bolt on the broadside of the sword instead of his shield. He aimed and zapped.
The stalfos in front of him vanished in a blue flash of light. The other two stalfos kept firing magical bolts until Lin dispatched them in blue flashes of light. He walked forward out of the tunnel.
The tunnel ended outside a stony hillside. Ganon's Castle, a dark and massive spire, loomed ahead. Lin shifted his grip on the Master Sword and marched.
Ganon half-heartedly peered into his crystal ball and scowled. The boy had made it to his castle! His claw-like fingers tightened on the arm of his throne, then relaxed. No one could beat this mighty trap.
Nothing had challenged his entry into Ganon's Castle. Nothing had presented itself as he navigated the maze-like corridors. It was time for something to happen. Lin cautiously entered the cavernous inner room.
"Welcome, Boy." Ganon's sneering tone echoed against the walls.
He whirled around. Ganon was no where to be seen, but the shadows were massive in this room. He gripped the Master Sword tighter and his knuckles turned white. "So, it's come down to us."
A large sword of lightening sliced through the shadows. Lin jumped aside as the sword struck the floor. It quickly rebound. Guided by an unseen hand, the sword sought out Lin.
He parried the sword's thrust and spun quickly around, dragging the sword with him. Lin threw the sword of lightening against a wall where it shattered with a burst of light. "Is that the best you can do, Ganon? I was under the impression that you were a whole lot meaner."
Another sword appeared, fencing more warily than the first one. Lin tossed aside his shield as he jumped above the sword's thrust at his feet. He didn't need it in this battle. The end had come--for one of them--and a shield was not going to make the difference.
Another sword appeared, firing a bolt of energy. The Master Sword caught it easily and Lin threw it back, destroying that sword. With that distraction, Ganon slipped out of the shadows and grabbed the other sword. Lin whirled around and attacked him viciously. Ganon skillfully parried all Lin's moves. "Boy, you don't want to fight me."
"You're right, I don't want to fight you. I want to destroy you!" Lin accompanied each exclamation with a savage slash with the sword. "You've taken my girl, tried to kill my parents, threatened the Light Realm, twisted and perverted the Gold Land into your private kingdom oppressing and destroying the people here! Give me one good reason why I should spare your life!"
"Because good cannot survive without evil." Ganon spread his arms dramatically, "In me, evil is at its highest power. I am Evil!"
"Sorry, I don't buy it." Lin lunged forward and knocked the sword out of Ganon's claw. "I think Hyrule can survive without you!"
"Careful, Boy," Ganon warned. "I have been lenient so far. Renounce the challenge before you destroy yourself. Or someone you love."
Lin lowered himself back in a fighting stance. "What's that supposed to mean?"
For an answer, Ganon pulled a struggling girl out of the shadows and shielded his body with her using one arm. "Lin!"
"Elaine?" His tormented, savage green eyes turned to Ganon. "Let her go. This isn't her fight."
"But I can use anything in the Dark Realm to aid my battle," Ganon sneered. "And the Realm of the Dead is within the Dark Realm."
"That is a rule," Aunt Lissa's voice whispered in Lin's ear.
"Your choice, Boy," Ganon jeered with contempt. "Destroy me and your precious Lady. Or let me destroy you. Or renounce the challenge."
"Kill him, Lin! He's a monster! Don't subject your kingdom to more of his evil because of me!" Elaine's lips quivered with anger underneath her tear-stained cheeks.
Lin swallowed hard and gazed into her blue-grey eyes. "I can't renounce the challenge. But I can't willingly destroy you. Not when I love you so much."
Elaine knew it was true, knew it from her heart. "I understand," she whispered as she turned her head away.
"Just like his father," Ganon jeered with a vicious grin. "Thinks with his heart instead of his head." His free arm drew back and shot forward with amazing velocity, hurling the death spell toward Lin.
Lin caught it on the Master Sword. "But my father always won." He swung the sword around, releasing the spell at Ganon.
The inhuman scream of denial echoed through the Dark Realm. Elaine collapsed into Lin's arms, still crying, relived and bewildered. "It's all right. I called his bluff."
"Oh, Elaine." Lin sheathed the Master Sword and cradled her face in his hands. "No one can kill you. If you were mortal, then there could have been that danger, but...."
"Don't." She laid a finger on his lips.
"What do you choose?" Lin and Elaine whirled around meeting the Gensiarians. Their spokesperson stepped forward. "You are the Master of the Dark Realm; what do you choose?"
Lin glanced around, remembering the pain and misery he had seen passing through. "This place doesn't deserve to be the Dark Realm. Can I change it back to what it was before, the Gold Land?"
"That is not your choice, Lin," Lissa said softly. "Not yet. This choice is personal. Only you may benefit."
"To be immortal or not? Very well, I choose to be immortal." Power and knowledge surged through him. Elaine gasped and clutched his arm harder, feeling a fraction of it. "Now, what about this Realm?"
"The Power of Gold must be returned in order for this Realm to return to its former glory. Your parents are here."
Link and Zelda stepped forward; Zelda almost in tears. "By protecting you, I would have robbed you of your destiny. Forgive me, Lin."
"Mom," he hugged her. "You were only doing what you thought was right."
"I should have known the power of the birthmark would be stronger than my attempts to keep you as Crown Prince."
"Zelda, don't beat yourself up." Link threw his arm around her shoulders. "He understands." Turning to Lin, "Good job, Junior."
Zelda ushered the three Triforces from behind her and watched in awe as they soared up into the center of the room. "I am the Essence of the Power of Gold. What do you wish, Master of the Dark Realm?"
"I want the Dark Realm to go back to the Gold Land, and to protect you like my family has done for generations."
"The Gold Land does not need a master."
"But it does need a protector from evil." His arm snaked around Elaine's waist. "Besides, what better way to spend my immortality?"
"Well met, Protector. You have started the time of healing." Link, Zelda, and the Immortal Council disappeared, leaving only Lissa. "I'm proud of you."
"Thanks Aunt Lissa." She smiled and vanished. He turned to Elaine worriedly, "I'm no longer human."
"And I'm dead," she placed her arms around his neck. "But we are together. What better way is there to spend eternity?"
"Without you, there isn't any." Lin pulled her even closer.
Outside the castle, dawn rose on the horizon, freed for the first time in centuries.