Link stirred the embers of the fire. Almost three months of wandering hadn't decreased his longing for Zelda. If he stared hard enough into the fire he could see her golden hair cascading down her back, her bewitching emerald eyes, her fair, smooth face. Closing his eyes, Link shook his head. It did no good to think of those things.
"I think I found the catch." Lissa moved out of the shadows and squatted beside the fire.
Link swallowed to keep the hope from choking him. "You found a way to release Zelda?"
"Maybe," Lissa held her hands out to the fire. "You would have to change the crystal's nature, all the crystals'. But the only one with that authority is a Gensiarian or the Master of the Dark Realm."
"Then you can do it."
"I could but form has it that I have to ask Ganon's permission. We could try to trick him, but I have a feeling that it wouldn't work."
Link sprang up, "Why did you bother telling me if it's hopeless?"
Lissa gazed levelly at him, her silver eye reflecting the orange flames of the fire. "Because Ganon can be replaced."
Link sat on a rock near the fire, "I'm listening."
"Someone could challenge Ganon for Lordship of the Dark Realm. If they win, they take Ganon's place. If they lose, they die."
Link didn't hear the last statement. "I'll do it."
Lissa pursed her lips. "Link, listen to me. You could die. But if you do defeat Ganon, there is the chance that the evil will totally engulf you--as it did with Ganon. But if it doesn't and you do free Zelda, you will have to live apart for the rest of Zelda's existence." Lissa looked into the fire and added softly so Link couldn't hear, "You may even have to fight your son."
Link clenched his jaw, "At least Zelda would be living again."
"Technically, she's still alive."
"But not living," Link retorted. "I have to do it."
"If you do, you could alter the future." Lissa picked up a palm-sized rock. "Most people believe that the future is like this rock. Every little decision chips away a small piece, shaping it. But really the future is this," Lissa waved her hand over the rock and it changed to a sparkling gem. "Each decision changes a facet, but not the gem's nature. However, some decisions can be made that can change its very existence." The gem dissolved. "That's why you must make this decision carefully, Link. You could change the direction of the future."
Link set his jaw, "I've made up my mind, Lissa."
"Then it's on your head."
Link stormed through Ganon's Castle. A moblin jumped in his path. "Halt!"
Link grabbed the moblin and slung him into the wall. The moblin held his head together as Link pulled him up. "Take me to Ganon," he ordered darkly.
The moblin tried to pull his face away from Link's smoldering one. "I can't do that."
Link drew him closer with murder in his eyes, "Wanna bet?"
Ganon felt the surge of power. He stretched and gazed down. "What is HE doing here?"
Link pocketed the vial that still held a large amount of his blood. "I have business with you, Ganon."
Ganon sneered, "If you come to bargain for your Princess, you're wasting your time, Hero." Something about this didn't feel right; the look in Link's eyes and the way he acted--not his usual insolent self.
Link gripped the hilt of his sword. Lissa's magic gem sent a soothing presence to his brewing emotions. The brat had been keeping an eye on you for a long time, Link thought ruefully, but not unkindly. It was now or never and he wished no ill-will with his half-sister. He snapped his head up and stared at Ganon with older, more pain-felt eyes. Why was it, every time he faced this monster he lost some of his innocence? "I challenge you, Ganon, for Lordship of the Dark Realm."
"He has spoken the challenge, do you meet it?" The surrounding area, black and grim, waited for something. Lissa stepped forward from a group of shadowy robed figures, turning her silver eye to Link and Ganon.
Ganon paled, "You can't be serious."
"Do you meet the challenge?" Lissa repeated.
Ganon turned to Link, pondering. He finally shrugged, "Why not? It will give me the chance to make his defeat as humiliating as possible."
A young man's voice interrupted, "Does the mortal know the consequences?"
Lissa turned to Link, who nodded. "He does. Your weapon?"
Link pulled out his sword and brandished it, "Swords."
"The battle ground?"
Ganon gleefully rubbed his hand together. "A maze." Link swallowed hard, Ganon knew that mental reasoning was his greatest shortcoming.
Lissa nodded, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "Let the challenge begin."
Link examined his surroundings. Other than Ganon and the Gensiarians disappearing, the scene remained unchanged. He felt remarkably calm, fighting for something--no matter how unreachable--gave you a worthwhile feeling.
Marked on the ground at his feet was a compass. Tentatively, Link walked north. Walls appeared; the veil that hid them torn away. "So far, so good."
A monster stood at the first intersection. Eight feet tall; with massive arms and legs; four yellow, facet eyes; and mandibles hanging out of its mouth, Link couldn't help wondering where Ganon had dug up this thing.
With an unintelligible yell, the monster shot his arm out at Link. The arm wasn't long enough to reach, then Link saw the real reason behind the lunge. His sword swiped the tentacle fingers that threatened to wrap around his legs. A 360-degree turn and he chopped the ones attempting to envelop his torso. The bloody tentacles quickly succeed in finding his feet and yanking him upside down.
"Aim and zap!" Nothing happened to the monster. "Like you really expected that to work," Link swung his sword in a sweeping arc. The metallic skin covering the monster torso rent under the blow. Screaming, the monster dropped Link.
Link hit the floor and rolled to his feet. The sword flashed up and over, burying itself hilt-deep in the monster's chest. The monster reeled back by the force of the blow, but Link held onto the sword. As a final attempt, the monster threw its body at Link, knocking him off balance.
The mandibles dipped closer and Link felt the sultry breath on his face. Taking hold of the hilt with both hands, he gave the sword a gut-wrenching twist. The monster shuddered violently and none too soon laid perfectly still. Link strained to push off the dead mass, then stood. Reaching down, he pulled his sword out of the body.
The monster flashed and disappeared. Link swept his brown hair--now much darker with clotting blood--out of his eyes, and scrutinized the surrounding passage ways. One branched off to the east and one to the west, and one continued north. Link wished he had paid more attention to the thinking problems Lissa liked. He was sure one of them dealt with a maze. What did he know? He remembered the compass at the beginning. That had to be a clue. It was common wood-lore that lost people should head north. "Why not?" Link muttered and continued straight ahead.
A wall blocked any further progress. A steel sword, a gold sword, and a wooden sword were mounted on it. "What's this?"
"This is a riddle."
Link turned all-round. "Who said that?"
"One is strong and one is weak. One survives and one perishes. One is reborn as the others exist. Which one is which?"
Link winced, "Do I have to answer that?"
"No, you can choose another route."
Link started to turn, but stopped. "Run that riddle by me again."
"One is strong and one is weak. One survives and one perishes. One is reborn as the others exist."
Link grinned, "That's what I thought." He looked at each sword in turn. "The steel sword is stronger than the others, the golden one survives fire, and the wooden one can be reborn."
The wall vanished, but the swords seemed to linger a second longer. Link's grin grew wider as he sauntered further into the maze.
The grin didn't last long. This wasn't easy--regardless how much he acted like it was. "I love you, Zelda," he whispered.
A wall of total darkness stopped Link at the next intersection. "You've had it pretty easy," a sneering voice--vaguely familiar--called out. "Why don't you come in and face me?"
Link appraised the wall. "I suppose this is just like that monster and the riddle?"
"Why don't you find out, Hero?" Ganon and all his servants said that as if it was a curse, perhaps they were right. Link stepped through the illusory wall.
The ordinary chamber beyond the wall nor the shadowy casket floating in air was the cause of Link's undecipherable repulsed outburst or drawn sword. But the occupant could repulse even the most stout of heart.
He dressed in shades of black from his boots to his cap. A ponytail held his brown hair back. His brown eyes glittered coldly with hate. But it was the features of the face that held those eyes that chilled Link's blood.
"This is disgusting!" Link spat out vehemently.
"And you think I like it any more?" Link's double retorted.
"Why should you care?" Link scrutinized his double while keeping a safe distance.
"Because I am you. I know everything you know. Only I'm not a goody-goody sap like you." The double twirled his sword. "I guess you could say we're almost twins."
Link pointed his sword at his double. "I'm not about to claim any creation of Ganon's as family!" Link rushed the double, sword raised to strike the death blow. The double slipped away and tripped him. Link rolled away from the double, but the sword came close to its mark. The stiff red/green material of Link's shirt tore away, leaving a gash along his back--too close to his skin for comfort, he noticed as he leaped to his feet.
"Face it," the double crowed as Link felt his skin trying to crawl off the evil of its presence, "you're not going to win. My master will reward me well for the task of destroying you." They continued to stalk each other, neither one taking a step closer. "There is no way you can beat me!"
Link lunged, sword raised. His double ducked behind the crystal casket. Gasping, Link turned and hit the crystal housing full-sided. There was a crinkling of glass and a red smear appeared on the crystal.
"Nanny nanny boo boo," the double taunted. He licked his lips as he gazed at Zelda's still form. "You're married to her?" he asked incredulously. "Boy, she must have been desperate. Tell me, was there a lot of action in the bedroom? Naughty, naughty, Link." Link threw himself at his double trying to stop the slanderous tongue by keeping the hands busy. "Getting your little sex kitten back is a much better reason to rescue her, than you have to. I could have fun with a girl like that," the double's sneer deepened. "Perhaps my Master will let me soil her for him."
Link rushed at him with a growl, all thoughts of safety gone. The double parried the blows, but couldn't swing his sword and Link swept away any attempts he made. Baring down on his sword, Link pushed him against a wall. Gazing at the raged-contorted face inches away from his, the double began to taste the first signs of fear. "Goad me all you want," Link hissed, "but don't you dare say anything about my wife!"
Link, where are you? whispered softly through Link's mind. Help me, Link. A cracking sound filled the chamber.
The double sensed the faltering of Link's anger and shoved with all his might. Link flayed his arms, trying to regain his balance, but his back landed heavily against the cold, smooth crystal. The cracking that had begun accelerated further. Link and his double both gaped at the crystal. It shattered and Zelda fell into Link's lap, cold and limp.
Memories of romantic walks, bouquets of flowers, and Link's loving eyes swam in her mind. Zelda groaned as she shook her head. "What happened?"
Link's eyes were full of astonishment that hadn't left. "Is that really you, Zelda?"
Zelda opened her green eyes and uncomprehending stared into Link's brown ones. "Link? What happened to you? Where have you been?" she struggled, in pseudo-anger, to sit up.
The double roared and ran for the reunited couple. Link pushed Zelda away and she screamed at the sword hit his arm. Link's head struck the floor, pulling his arm away from being chopped off. The double crowed over him, "You simple-minded moron, you rescued her for my master!" He raised his sword above his head.
Zelda grabbed a shield off the wall and whacked the double across his back. He whirled around, slashing out with the sword. It struck Zelda's shield with a clang and he realized who his assailant was. The laugh he chuckled as he tore the shield from her hands lacked even Link's driest humor. "Trying to delay the inevitable, Princess?"
Zelda stepped back, bewildered and repulsed. Ganon's minion had taken Link's face and twisted it with cold hate and lust. "I'll do what I can," she stepped back.
The double followed, "Why? Because you fell that you owe that sorry excuse for a hero something?" He gestured vaguely behind him without looking back. "If that's the case," he leered as Zelda backed against the wall, "I would say the debt's been repaid in full." Two powerful arms hit the wall on either side of Zelda blocking escape. "Take your place in the Dark Realm by my Master's side."
"I see Ganon's copied his foul mind in you. Only he could delude himself into believing that I would even consider that option!"
"Since you don't seem convinced of my Master attentions," Link's double grabbed her arm roughly below the shoulder and sheathed his sword one handedly. He then wrapped his arms around her pinning her arms to her sides. Zelda kicked up with her knee. Link's double recoiled, looking green and gasping. "You little bitch! You're mine!"
Zelda tripped as she turned to flee and sprawled face down on the floor. Link's double grabbed her feet and pulled her underneath him. He seized a fistful of her hair close to the scalp as he laid his full weight on top of her. "I'm going to torture you the worst ways, Slut! I'm going to make you scream in pain; I'm going to kill your hero right in front of you; your life isn't going to be worth living!" She forced down the bile taste that rose from her stomach and shut her eyes. "Plea for your life, Harlot! Beg for mercy! Or is that beneath your dignity, Slattern? I'll show you what's beneath your dignity!" Shock ran across his face as the hand closed around his neck and threw him across the room.
Link barely waited for his double to draw his sword and he accented every word with a sword stroke that the double could barely stop. "I thought I told you not to say anything about my wife!" Link paused and renewed the attack. "Maybe I didn't make it clear. You are a foul-mouthed, corrupt-hearted minion of Ganon and I don't want you to touch, look at, think about, or even breath the same air that she does! Got it?" Link raised his sword and slashed away at his double. One blow, and the double's head flew away.
Link dropped next to Zelda and she took him into her arms. "Are you all right?" She nodded as he sat up. "It didn't do anything to you?"
"You didn't give it the chance," Zelda replied dryly as her color began returning to normal. "Where are we?"
"I'll explain latter as soon as we're out of here." Link led her to the onyx wall now as solid as the others. "No! I'm not fighting anymore!" He grabbed Zelda around her waist. "I have what I want and I'm not fighting for something I don't!"
Ganon suddenly appeared and in a terrible mood. "You can't interfere. He hasn't finished the challenge."
Lissa stepped beside Link and Zelda. "He has given up the challenge. That is his right."
"Yes, yes, I have," Link replied, quickly. "I'll agree to anything Lissa says."
Lissa smiled slightly as the maze, then the black plain disappeared and the original scenery appeared. "No one's at fault here but you, Ganon."
Ganon fumed, then grinned sadistically. "Do you really think I am going to let them escape that easily." Link helped Zelda to her feet and gripped his sword. "Moblins! Attack!"
Lissa waved her hand, and Link and Zelda disappeared. She turned to Ganon with raised eyebrows and a smirk. "Do you really think you could beat a Gensiarian?"
Zelda collapsed into Link's arms. "What's going on? Where are we?" she wailed.
Link drew her closer, "It's okay, Zelda. Lissa sent us back to the North Palace." He dropped his face into her golden hair. "I guess there's a lot to catch you up on."
Zelda jerked her head up, "How much can happen in a couple of days?"
Link gently led Zelda down the hall. "Zelda, do you remember the crystal?"
"Link, just tell me."
"You were in there for three months." Link tried, but his best effort didn't stop her inevitable faint.
Zelda woke up the next morning in their bed. To her, it seemed like no time had passed, but three months--she couldn't believe it. Link and Lissa both tried to explain things to her last night, and for the most part she understood--except Link's challenge to Ganon.
Speaking of Link, Zelda tried to touch him telepathically. To the surprise of the servant straightening the room, the Princess jumped out of the bed. "Where is the Prince?" she exclaimed.
The servant shrank back, "I don't know, your Highness. He left early this morning."
Zelda didn't really hear her, she was so alarmed. She finished yanking on her clothes and rushed out the door.
A sacred clearing was Link's retreat. He felt a kinship to the strange sword placed in an altar in its center. The most powerful weapon in Hyrule but he would never dare to use it. It was rumored to be the sword of the Unnamed Hero. Link--as he sat by the altar--heard the mad gallop, guessed at the rider, and was right.
Zelda rolled off her horse before it completely stopped. Link stood and walked to his horse. "Why? Why are you leaving me?"
Link tightened the girth on the saddle. "It's safer this way."
Link turned to face Zelda's stricken face. "Ganon only wants two things: the Triforce and revenge. Vengeance on me because of the times I have stood in his way. One thing this has taught me, is that Ganon will hurt you to hurt me."
Zelda took a step closer. "Link, think about what he could do to me if you're not around. What if I need you?"
Link shrugged, "Lissa will be there."
"That's not what I meant."
"Oh," Link placed his hand on the altar. "Zelda, I know this hurts, but if we can convince Ganon that we're no longer in love, maybe he won't try to hurt you."
Zelda tried to hold back the sob. "What kind of faulty thinking is that? Or is it you really don't love me anymore?" She faced the altar, so Link couldn't see the tears running from her green eyes. "Go! Leave! I don't want your love if it isn't true!"
Link wanted to comfort her, but didn't trust himself. "I do love you, Zelda. I'll always love you. That's why I have to go. Ganon can use that love against us."
The tears ran harder. "Then go," she whispered. Link gazed at Zelda. His heart pounded threatening to burst. He turned and mounted his horse. Zelda collapsed onto the altar, sobbing as Link rode away without looking back.
Lissa finally came for Zelda. She placed a cape around her shoulders. "Come on, Zelda. Let's go back to the Palace."
Zelda, numb, didn't move, "Leave me alone."
Lissa stepped back, "I can leave you alone all you want, but I can't leave the child you're carrying alone."
Zelda jumped up and whirled around. Lissa interrupted her spluttering. "Don't act so surprised. I'm not as naive as I appear to be. I know you're pregnant."
Zelda turned away, "I don't care."
"Why?" Zelda demanded. "Why should I care about Link's child after he's....?"
"Because Ganon wants that child dead." Zelda gasped. Lissa continued on a less harsh note. "There is a legend concerning the Triforce. When the Power of Gold was created it was placed in the Gold Land. Ganondorfdragmire used it's power to further his greed, turning himself into Ganon and the Gold Land into the Dark Realm. But when he tried to conquer the Light Realm, the Unnamed Hero stopped him and brought the Triforce to Hyrule."
Zelda nodded, "I know that story. The Triforce was handed down in the royal family until a past king hid the Triforce of Courage. Then Ganon stole the Triforce of Power, and then Link." Zelda stopped as she felt the tears rising. So much not done, so much unsaid, if only she had known their time together was going to be so short.
Lissa waited until Zelda regained control over her emotions. "There is more. One day, the purest knight in Hyrule shall use the Master Sword," she rested a hand on its powerful hilt, "and destroy Ganon for eternity. That will usher back the Gold Land, and everything will be safe until evil rises again." Lissa's blue and silver eyes bore into Zelda tormented green ones. "That child, Link's son as well as yours, will play a major role in that quest. That's all I dare tell you now."
Zelda turned and her eyes drifted into the forest surrounding the clearing. "I understand, Lissa, more or less. But will he ever come back?"
Lissa placed a sisterly arm around the older girl. "I don't know, Zelda, but I hope he will."