The Legend of Zelda: The Circle of Destiny

The Dark Demon

It was hard to tell how fast they were falling or how deep they were going; there was nothing but the sensation of floating in a large, lazy circle. Surprisingly, it wasn't scary at all because there was no sensation or visible indication that they were falling. There was only the peaceful white glow from the Master Sword that illuminated Zelda and eagle-Link, and a cool, soft breeze in Zelda's face.

It reminded Zelda of being in the Great Fairy's pool: she was suspended in the nowhere prior to creation. There was nothing—not even time.

The longer she held the sword, though, the more she grew to understand what Link had been talking about when he said that the sword had a consciousness of its own. She felt as if she was holding the hand of an intelligent but mute child. It couldn't speak, but it understood nonetheless.

She also felt that she knew it—not that it had ever been hers to use, but that she had seen it or owned it… or something. It was… almost like she was holding something she had given away as a gift long ago; it was no longer hers, but it had once been.

It was a strange feeling that she couldn't quite describe, but she took some comfort in knowing that she had once known the Master Sword, too. It made her feel good to know that in a past life she had had some hand in the defense of Hyrule; she hadn't always been a helpless princess.

She almost didn't see the ground rushing up under her feet.

"Watch it!" she shouted, jerking her feet up so she didn't slam into the ground.

Link pulled up, stopping their descent, and Zelda was able to put her feet down safely.

"Whew," she said, breathing a sigh of relief as she stood on her own two feet again. "That was close."

Link let go of the straps on her shoulders and fluttered down beside her, retaking his human form. "I once took a bad jump off the wall of the monastery," he said, "and ended up rolling halfway down the road. It embarrassed me because a bunch of other people saw it and laughed at me, but my teacher just asked if I was hurt, and when I told him I wasn't, he said, 'Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.' I've always thought that was pretty good advice."

"So, we just had a good landing?"

"You can walk, can't you?" he retorted.

Link took back his sword belt and shield, and—with a surprising feeling of reluctance—Zelda gave him back the Master Sword as well.

"Alright, let's see if we can find this demon," he said cheerfully. Zelda didn't feel nearly so eager, but she didn't say anything; she preferred an optimistic Link to a despondent one.

They started walking across the cavern floor, looking for any sort of sign of habitation. Despite their initial hopes, there was no light at the bottom of the shaft… and nothing else, either. They eventually ran into edge of the cavern and started to walk around it, looking for a crack or door of some sort.

At last, they found a tunnel cut into the stone. Link glanced at Zelda and she knew that he was just as wary about going through it as she was. But, as he said, they were there to kill a demon, so there was no use in avoiding it.

She nodded her assent, and together they slowly walked through the tunnel.

The tunnel was short and connected them to a much smaller room; the light from the Master Sword illuminated all of its walls. But it, too, was empty. Zelda wondered if the lair was going to be maze, like the Lost Woods, and the trick was to get through it in the dark.

As soon as they stepped into the smaller room, there came the sound of a deep, dark laugh. They hurriedly looked around, but it sounded as if it was coming from all directions at once.

"Hylians," the voice said slowly, as if savoring the word. "I have not drunk the blood of Hylians in many, many centuries."

Zelda began to tremble as the ominous voice sent cold chills down her spine. She grabbed Link's hand and held it tightly.

"Humans are so frail and breakable," the demon continued. "But Hylians… ah… they last. You can tie them up and bleed them over and over and over…."

The voice slowly faded away.

Zelda's shaking became worse and she felt as if she couldn't breathe. She wanted to run away, screaming. She wanted to claw her way back up to the surface and the safety of the light.

Link put his arm around her shoulders and held her tight against his side. "Hold onto the Master Sword," he said, holding it before her. There was just enough room at the bottom of the long hilt to put her hand under Link's.

When she wrapped her fingers around it, she noticed that it was warm. Slowly, that warmth began to spread up her arm. It went up to her shoulder, then spilled down into her body, warming her to her toes and stilling her quivering as it went. Finally, the heat surrounded, then enveloped, her heart, and the last of her fear faded away and she was able to breathe a sigh of relief. It felt like she had stepped out into the bright sunlight, even though they were still in a dark cave deep in the bowels of the earth.

"Better?" Link asked.

She nodded. "What happened?"

"Master Gardamon said something once about the demons feeding on pain and fear. I daresay they're very good at causing both.

"And I noticed when he spoke that you were growing more fearful, while nothing was happening to me; I didn't even feel a twinge of concern. Something told me that the Master Sword was protecting me—or, maybe not protecting me so much as counteracting the effects of the demon.

"But what will happen when I let go of the sword?" Zelda asked. "I can't walk around holding the end of it forever."

"No, you can't." He turned her towards him and kissed her on the forehead. "You must trust that I will keep you safe," he whispered. "You don't have anything to fear while I'm around."

She felt her heart lift even more.

He let go of her. "Stay behind me," he warned. "And make sure you look behind us and above us frequently. Don't be afraid to shoot or stab something if I can't get to it quickly enough; I'll finish it off with the Master Sword when I can."

She nodded.

Despite his lack of fear, she noticed that he still took a deep breath—as if steeling his resolve—before he slowly proceeded forward through the narrow tunnel that led out of the chamber.

They passed through a series of rooms full of demon-bats and –rats, but Link fought them off rather easily. Zelda stayed back, as he had instructed, and it gave her the opportunity to watch him as he deflected their attacks with his shield and swept the sword in a graceful—albeit lethal—arc.

His movement reminded her of the Shi-Ha dance troupe who had come to the castle once and performed their famous Fan Dance. Once in motion, he never stopped moving, and he stepped and swung and blocked with the same fluid, graceful motions that the dancers used. That, she realized, was what allowed him to be so fast; he didn't stop to think about what he was going to do next; one movement simply flowed into the next without pause.

When they entered the fifth room, there was only a single demon in it. It was about Link and Zelda's size; the lower part of its body was the hind legs of a black goat while the top half was a red-skinned man. He was bald, save horns growing from the top of his head.

Link and Zelda paused near the doorway, looking at him; he was so strange, they couldn't help but stare.

But a moment later, the demon-man flicked out his right hand and a long bull whip flew across the divide and wrapped itself around the Master Sword three or four times. Then, in the blink of an eye, the demon gave a hard jerk on the whip and ripped the Master Sword from Link's hand, plunging the room into darkness.

Link and Zelda both cried out in alarm. A moment later, there was a whistling sound, followed immediately by the menacing crack of the whip close to their heads.

"Ah! Gods!" Link cried out, staggering back into Zelda.

"Link! Are you hurt?"

Instead of responding, he roughly jerked her down to the floor. Less than a second later, the whip cracked in the air over them, where their heads had just been.

"Godsdamn him," Link swore.

"Where did he hit you?" Zelda asked. She knew Link had to be hurt if he was cursing.

The whip cracked nearby again, interrupting them, then the demon-man laughed; it sounded as if he was moving around the room. "Mmm… Hyrulian blood. My whip has never tasted that before, and it wants more. For that matter, so do I."

The whip whistled invisibly through the air and cracked just to the right of Zelda, making her jump. "Come… let us get a taste of you."

Link pushed Zelda down, making her lie on her belly on the cold stone floor.

I don't think he can see us in the dark—otherwise, he would have hit us again, Link said. We need to find the Master Sword, but we're going to have to be quiet. If he hears us, he'll know where to strike.

Zelda nodded in the dark, then realized he couldn't see her. Alright, she agreed.

And stay down! he added. He keeps swinging high. Maybe he won't wise up to the fact that we're crawling around on the floor.

Zelda got to her hands and knees and began to crawl across the floor. The darkness was oppressive—it seemed to push against her eyeballs as if it had a physical presence—and if it wasn't for the more immediate danger, she would have been terrified.

She soon lost track of the sound of Link's movement because the demon-man's hooves clacked on the stone floor, drowning out the slight rustle of Link's clothes against the stone.

Where are you? she asked. I can't keep up with you in the dark.

It doesn't matter. Just look for the sword. If you find it first, slide it or throw it to me and then get out of the way as soon as it goes dark again; he'll strike at you first.

Zelda continued to crawl on the floor, her hands sweeping the floor in front of her and to either side, feeling for the sword. As the demon-man moved around the room, she altered her course to avoid him.

"This game of hide-and-seek must end sometime," the demon-man said. "You are only delaying the inevitable; you will never get out."

"I bet we do," Link said from across the room.

The whip whistled through the air and cracked, but there was no sound of contact.

The demon-man laughed. "That's what you think."

"Oh?" came Link's voice from a different direction. The whip tried to catch him again, but again it failed.

"The way forward is locked and I have shut the door that you came in, too. Only I have the key to get out."

"So we have to go through you."

Whistle. Crack.

The demon-man laughed, even though Link was still eluding him. "Yes, but you will never get through me."

"We'll see."

Whistle. Crack.

A moment later, Zelda's hand touched something and there was a soft sound of metal grating on stone.

"I think we can take you," Link said quickly, as if trying to cover up the sound.

Zelda grabbed for the sword, knowing the demon-man would be busy striking at Link the next instant.

As soon as her fingers encircled the hilt, the blade lit up… revealing the demon-man standing just a couple of feet in front of her, grinning. Before she could react, his whip lashed out and wrapped around her body several times, pinning her arms to her side. She cried out in surprise, but somehow managed to keep the Master Sword tightly in her grip.

"Princess!" Link cried out, rushing towards them.

The demon-man threw a hand out. "Stop right there, or I'll filet the flesh off of her."

Link skidded to a stop in the middle of the room and watched the demon-man with narrowed eyes.

The demon-man laughed. "How quickly your bravado turns to helplessness! You can't defeat me with empty words. I am—"

What, exactly, he was they didn't find out, because at that moment, Zelda lunged at him, throwing her body—and the Master Sword in her hand—against him with all her might. The sword pierced his belly and went all the way out the other side.

His eyes went open in shock and he tried to speak, but no words came from his lips.

"I am not helpless," Zelda said grimly. "And we weren't speaking empty words."

A moment later, he disintegrated into black dust. A silver key and the handle of the whip clattered to the ground—the only reminders that he had ever been there.

Zelda sank down to her knees, panting heavily from exertion.

Link hurried to her side and unwrapped the rest of the whip from her body. "Your Highness, are you alright?" he asked anxiously.

She nodded.

"That was amazing," he said, a smile spreading across his face.

She glanced up and saw that he had a bleeding gash across his left cheek where the demon-man had struck him. She reached up to touch it.

"You're bleeding."

Startled, he reached up and touched the wound, then looked at the blood on his hand. "Hmm," he said slowly, "maybe I should give you the Master Sword and stand behind you, instead. You did better than I did."

She offered him the sword. "Thanks, but I think I prefer my bow. I don't like being that up close and personal.

"Besides," she added, "you can think faster than I can; you know what to do and when to do it."

"And you're saying—after what you just did—that you don't?" he asked incredulously.

"I think that was the sword more than me," she admitted. "I wasn't afraid of him when I had it; I was just… angry. Stabbing him just seemed like the natural thing to do.

"But you know what to do even when you're not holding the sword," she pointed out. "You don't need the help."

He gently touched her face. "Not true," he said quietly. "I need you. I am so glad I'm not down here, in the dark, alone."

She slowly smiled at him and he mirrored it.

He let her clean the worst of the blood from his face with a corner of her tunic, then he bent down and picked up the key and—surprisingly—the whip.

"What are you doing with that thing?" Zelda said with disgust, as he coiled the whip up.

"We might need it."

"But… the demon said his whip wanted to drink our blood. What if it's evil, or something? What if it turns you evil if you hold it?"

Link touched the Master Sword to the whip, but nothing happened. "It's just a whip," he declared.

She still looked at it with distrust.

"I'm not going to leave a potential weapon behind," he argued. "One, we don't know who might pick it up. And two, if you haven't noticed, we keep getting separated from our stuff—our armor, my shield, supplies…. I'll take what I can get, when I can get it."

She grudgingly admitted that he had a good point. …But she still didn't trust the whip.

Link used the key to unlock the door and they passed through a short tunnel. At the other end was a small ledge and then another yawning chasm.

"How many bottomless pits can one mountain have?" Link complained, looking over the edge.

"I don't know, but I'm sick of them."

Link looked all around, then he looked up. "Look up there," he said, staring up at something above the door.

Zelda turned around and looked up, too. About six feet above the door was a small ledge.

"So?" Zelda said, seeing nothing exceptional about it.

"Let's see what's up there."

"Why?"

"Because maybe we're supposed to go up, not down. I'd hate to fly down, only to find out there really is no bottom."

Zelda had to agree with him there.

Link walked around, checking out the ledge above them from every angle. Finally he saw something that he liked.

"Ah, ha," he said. He unhooked the whip from his belt and uncoiled it.

"Stand back," he warned her. "I'm out of practice, and I could never do anything very fancy, even when I did practice."

Zelda retreated partway down the tunnel to give him plenty of room. Link's bleeding gash gave her a healthy respect for the kind of damage the whip could inflict.

Link looked up, sighting his target, then he reached back and threw the whip up. Zelda wasn't sure if he did what he wanted to do or not, but the end of the whip didn't come back down—even when Link tugged on it.

"Here, take this," he said, offering her the Master Sword.

She stepped back out onto the ledge and took the sword from him. Then he began to climb up the whip. She looked up, watching him climb, and noticed that he had somehow managed to wrap the whip around a stone that jutted from the wall next to the ledge.

He climbed the whip quickly and hopped off onto the higher platform.

"What do you see?" she asked.

He took a moment to look around. "I see another platform above me." He looked down at her. "You need to climb up, too."

"But… what if there's nothing up there?" she said. She really didn't want to climb up—she wasn't fond of heights—and, besides, she didn't think she could climb up the whip anyways; she didn't think she had the strength.

"If we can't get anywhere going up, then we'll go down," he said. "We can go down just as easily from up here as down there."

She sighed inwardly. "How are we going to do this?" she asked, waving the Master Sword to show she was short a hand.

Link slipped the end of the whip off the rock and pulled up the handle. Then he turned it around and lowered the end back down to her.

"If you can hang onto that, I'll pull you up."

Reluctantly, she switched the Master Sword to her left hand, then she wrapped a loop of whip around her right wrist a couple of times. She grabbed the whip tightly with her right hand.

"Alright, try it," she said, doubting it would work and just hoping she didn't get dropped to the floor from seven or eight feet up.

Link wrapped his end of the whip around his back, just under his armpits. With one hand on the handle and the other hand tightly gripping the portion that went down to Zelda, he began to slowly walk backwards, pulling her up as he went.

With no small amount of surprise, Zelda managed to reach the top of the ledge without incident. From there, she was able to push herself the rest of the way up and crawl onto the ledge.

"Easy as pie," Link declared.

Zelda unwound the whip from her wrist. There was a deep indentation in her skin where it had tightened up as her hand strength had weakened and more of her weight had been carried by the whip, not by her.

"Easy for you, maybe," she retorted.

"If you want, you can climb up first while I hold the sword. Then I can climb up it in the dark."

Zelda frowned. She didn't like to admit she couldn't do something. "I… don't think I can climb up it."

"Then we'll stick with the way we've been doing it," he said, as if he hadn't expected her to take his offer anyways.

After resting a few minutes, they went up to the second ledge the same way they had done the first—only to find yet a third one above them.

"There must be a reason for these," Link said, looking up. "Otherwise, why would they be here?"

"Maybe they're natural and don't mean anything," Zelda offered.

"I've been in caves before, Your Highness; this is not a natural rock formation."

They went up to the third ledge, but there was nothing there—not even another ledge above them.

"Maybe it's just a dead end and we have to go down anyways," Zelda said, feeling a bit annoyed that all of their effort had been for nothing.

"Or not," Link retorted, looking out across the chasm.

Zelda turned around and saw, in the dim distance, another ledge. It was on the same level that they were, but it was twenty or thirty yards away.

"You have got to be kidding me," Zelda said with disbelief.

"I'm going to go check it out," Link said, sounding completely unperturbed.

He changed into his eagle form. Let me have the Master Sword so I can see what's out there, he told Zelda.

Reluctantly, she let him take the sword from her, then she watched as he flew across the distance, taking the light with him.

But he didn't stop at the ledge; instead, he moved farther away. Eventually, Zelda could no longer see the light at all and she was left to sit in the absolute darkness.

Link, are you alright? she asked nervously. She didn't like being alone in the dark at all.

Yes, I'm fine.

I can't see you anymore.

There are a series of these ledges, he explained. They go all over the place. But I think I've found the end. I'll be back to you in just a minute.

As promised, he flew back to her side a couple of minutes later. He dropped the Master Sword into her hands, then returned to his human form. "I know where we need to go," he said confidently. "Getting there will be… interesting, though."

"Interesting? I don't like the sound of that."

"I can't fly you to the end because it's at about the same height as we are now and I can't maintain altitude while carrying you. So, we're going to have to get there without the use of wings."

"And how, exactly, do you propose that?"

He took the whip into his hand, aimed upwards, then threw it out across the divide. It wrapped around a rock that jutted out from the wall about halfway between them and the ledge.

"You're going to have to swing across," he said, offering her the whip handle.

She stared at him in disbelief. "You're not serious."

"Can you think of another way across?"

"How about you fly back to where you were, then teleport me there?"

Link stared at her for a long moment, then he tugged on the whip until it fell loose and he coiled it up and put it back on his belt.

"Alright, new plan: I'm going to fly across and then I'll teleport you when I'm on the other side."

"Thank you."

He transformed, took the Master Sword from Zelda, then flew out of sight. A couple of minutes later, he contacted her. Ready?

Yes.

She concentrated on going to him with all her might. A moment later, she was traveling through a golden tunnel, but it only lasted a second; the next instant she was standing next to Link in a dark tunnel.

"Now, that was easy," Zelda said.

"You're better at being a Hylian than I am," Link admitted. "I forget what I can do sometimes."

"You were trained to do things a certain way," Zelda corrected. "That's why you fight faster than me and think faster in combat. But it also means you don't think about doing things new ways."

"True," he agreed.

The tunnel opened onto a room that was overrun with rats. There were so many, Zelda shot a dozen of them while Link tackled the swarm that came after him. It took them several minutes of tense work to get the better of the rats.

The next three rooms were the same: more rats, bats, and—to Zelda's horror—snakes. She actually shot more snakes than Link killed—just because she didn't want them to get anywhere near her. All he had to do was finish them off with his sword.

"I'm tired," Zelda said, once Link dispatched the last arrow-riddled snake.

He bent down and picked up the arrow and returned it to Zelda. "So am I," he said. "Let's take a break."

He shut the door they had come through and locked it with the silver key they had taken from the demon-man. With the way forward still locked, as well, they were as close to safe as they could get in the underground lair.

Link sat down with his back against one wall and Zelda stretched out beside him, putting her head in his lap.

He smiled down at her then, almost absentmindedly, stroked her hair.

"You know," she said, "I used to like the darkness. I liked it when the sun set and it started to turn to night because that's when it was my time to be free. But I never realized how much light there was in the world; the dark of night is nothing like the darkness here."

"Very true."

"Are all caves like this, or is it only because of the demon here?"

"No, they're all like this. It's a darkness so complete it… it's almost solid."

"That's what I feel, too," she said, surprised that he described it so accurately. "It feels like it's touching me—pressing in on me."

He nodded.

She was quiet for a minute, and her eyelids began to droop. "Can I take a nap?" she asked quietly.

"Yes," he replied, still stroking her hair.

"Don't let go of the sword."

"Don't worry; I won't."

Zelda quickly drifted off to sleep. She didn't know how long she was asleep before a dark chuckle startled her awake.

A moment later, Link leapt to his feet, causing her head to knock against the stone floor rather painfully. "Up! Get up!" he commanded.

Zelda didn't have to be told twice. From holes in the ceiling, hundreds upon hundreds of huge, black spiders—as large as cats—poured out, scurrying across the ceiling and down the walls. All of them were converging on a single point: where Link and Zelda were standing.

"Back to mine!" Link cried out.

Zelda grabbed her bow and stood with her back to Link's. It wasn't a moment too soon; a second later, they both had more spiders than they could handle.

"Get the ones on the ceiling!" Link instructed.

Zelda looked up and saw dozens of spiders above their heads. They were attaching their silk to the ceiling and lowering themselves down to attack from above.

Zelda began to rapidly shoot them down. Link cried out and ducked as one hit him on top of the head with a crunching sound.

Zelda was glad it hadn't landed on her; she might have had a complete meltdown. She couldn't stand the thought of one of them touching her.

While she tried to clear the ceiling, Link was trying to keep the ones on the floor from attacking their feet and legs. They turned together in a circle, trying to attack from all directions, but there were so many, it was hard for Zelda to cover her feet and Link to watch out above his head.

Zelda had her eye on three spiders that were trying to come down near her face, when another one scuttled too close to her left foot. She kicked it away while shooting down one of the trio, but two more came rushing across the floor to replace it. Link reached around and stabbed both of them, but he left his own legs undefended, and before either of them knew it, one of the spiders crawled up his right leg and bit him in the meaty, tender part of his calf.

"Ah, Gods!" he shouted, whipping around. He knocked the spider away with the hilt of his sword, then viciously plunged the blade through it.

"Get back!" he said, pushing Zelda away from him and through a narrow clearing in the mass of spiders. "Put your back to the wall and use your sword."

Zelda hurried to comply before the spiders closed up the path.

She slammed her back against the wall and hastily drew her sword. At that moment, Link crouched down and spun in a three hundred and sixty degree circle. Spiders were tossed into the air in bunches and black bursts of smoke and sparks went off all over the room.

That turned the battle in their favor. Zelda was able to keep the spiders around her beat back while most of them tried to swarm Link. But with room to swing, he was able to take them out by the dozens. Zelda kept an eye on the ceiling, though, and occasionally called out a warning to Link. He would quickly take out the ones trying to sneak up on him from above, then he would go back to hacking at the ones on the ground.

After ten exhausting minutes, most of the spiders were gone; there were just a few dozen left in pieces around Zelda's feet and those with arrows sticking out of them.

Link was breathing heavily, but he managed to stagger around the room and kill the ones that Zelda had only temporarily disabled.

When the last spider was dispatched, and Zelda's spent arrows returned to her quiver, she knelt down on the floor and looked at the two puncture holes in his pants.

"Pull your pants leg up," she instructed.

He winced, careful not to put too much weight on that leg, and tugged his pants out of the top of his boot.

Zelda helped him push the material up, out of the way, then she examined the puncture wounds. The bleeding had more or less stopped, but the holes were swollen—in fact, his entire leg looked a little swollen—and they were an angry red. But, more alarmingly, the skin around the holes was a sickly yellowish-green. Zelda hoped that wasn't a sign of venom.

"How is it?" she asked, looking up.

"How do you think it is?" he said, sounding a little annoyed. "It hurts like a son-of-a-bitch."

"I meant… do you feel poisoned?"

He frowned. "I don't know."

"You should go to Kara."

"I won't leave you here alone unless I absolutely have to. Obviously there's no such thing as a secure room."

"You don't want to wait too long to get help if you've been poisoned."

"I know. It's not my first time to be bitten… unfortunately. But the snakes weren't venomous; maybe I'll luck out and the spiders won't be, either.

Zelda was anxious, but she could see that he would not be dissuaded. In fact, there was an angry light in his eyes that made her feel a little fearful. Although he controlled his emotions better than anyone she had ever known, she was still afraid he might let his anger get the best of him and do something foolish. As much as he kept his emotions inside, he didn't deal with them very well if they ever got out.

"Let's go," he said, bending down and tucking his pants leg back into his boot. "We'll deal with this later, if we have to."

With an inward sigh—really, was she as stubborn as him?—she got to her feet. Link unlocked the door, and they proceeded into the next room.

There were nasty, creepy-crawlies in every room they entered after that, but it was never as bad as the spider swarm. As Zelda suspected, Link was angry and he seemed especially vicious in his attacks—even while limping. But he was in control of his anger—in fact, it seemed to give him an edge—so Zelda just stayed behind him and tried to stay out of his way as much as possible. She only shot down anything that was on the ceiling or which threatened to sneak up on them from behind.

And then they went into a large, empty room and the door closed behind them of its own volition. Link immediately tensed.

"Watch out," he said in a low voice. "Something's about to happen."

Zelda didn't need to be told; doors that magically locked people into rooms were never a good sign.

The dark laughter that they had heard before suddenly echoed around the room. A spot in the middle of the floor began to glow gray and pulsate.

Link shoved Zelda behind him and took up a defensive stance.

Ghostly black flames began to rise from the glowing spot and, slowly, a dark creature rose in the midst of them. He was so dark, and the room was so dark, too, it was hard to tell what shape he had. All that could be seen were his red, glowing eyes, and those were so high, he appeared to be half again as tall as Link and Zelda.

"I have been watching your progress," he said in a deep, menacing voice. "I am surprised you made it this far. But you are not unscathed."

He lifted what appeared to be a claw, and suddenly Link screamed, falling to his knees and clutching at his leg where he had been bitten.

"Link!" Zelda cried out, kneeling beside him. "What's wrong?"

"Pain…" was all he could say through gritted teeth.

"A few more bites—or better placed ones—and I would have owned you," the demon said.

"You need more than that to take me down," Link called back, hoarse, but defiant.

"Oh, I have more than that—trust me," he replied, chuckling.

Zelda's eyes widened as a whip made of black flames materialized in the demon's hand. Before she could react, he cracked it.

Link was quicker than she was, though; he managed to grab her and dive out of the way.

Or, mostly out of the way. The tip of the whip caught him on the right heel, causing him to cry out again.

The demon laughed as he pulled the whip back. "Are you sure you want to play this game, little Hylian? Taking you a piece at a time is painful. It will all be painful, of course," he corrected, "but I can make this hurt a lot more."

Link and Zelda briefly examined his right foot while the demon was talking. The flames on the whip had scorched his leather boot—completely burning it away in one spot—and left a bleeding burn on the heel of his foot. With the spider injury in his right calf, too, Zelda thought it would be surprising if he was able to walk at all.

As soon as the demon retracted his whip, he lashed it out again. But this time, Link and Zelda were both prepared for it, and they dove in opposite directions, leaving the whip cracking in empty air.

Zelda got to her feet quickly, a plan already in her mind. Before the demon could pull back the whip, she loosed an arrow directly at his face.

It passed through him as if he was made of nothing but smoke, and struck the wall on the other side of his head.

A moment later, there was a blur of black across the room and he was towering over Zelda. Even if she hadn't been frozen in shock, she would not have had time to react. In a flash, he raked his claws down her face, causing her to scream and stagger back.

A moment later, though, it was the demon's turn to howl as Link drove the Master Sword deep into his side.

Link pulled it out with a vicious slice and smiled with a grim triumph, but instead of vanishing into smoke, the demon-lord merely retreated back to his side of the room.

"What happened?" Zelda asked, trying to wipe blood out of her eyes so she could see. Her face was simultaneously stinging and burning.

"I think he's going to take more than one hit to kill," Link said sourly. He frowned even more as he hastily helped wipe the blood from Zelda's face. "How bad is it?" he asked, squinting and trying to see the depth of the scratches in the dim light.

"It hurts like a son-of-a-bitch," she replied with a wry smile; she got a small smile from him in return.

The demon growled, interrupting their moment's rest.

"You'll find I'm not so easy to kill," he said. "It will take more than two children to conquer me, even if you do have the Master Sword!"

He raised his claw again and the pain in Zelda's face intensified by a magnitude of ten. She crumpled to the floor, blinded by the searing pain. Her face was going to burn off; she had no skin anymore.

She could barely hear Link's cries over her own.

The demon-lord took advantage of their incapacity and he lashed out with his whip again. This time, they didn't dodge it and it caught Link across the forehead, laying open a deep gash and knocking him to the floor.

This is how… he's going to finish us. Link said, his pain evident even in his telepathic words. He's… going to hurt us… until we can't fight anymore.

Zelda understood what he was saying. Every time the demon wounded them, he could magnify that pain, making it easier to wound them again. Eventually, they would be unable to resist at all.

That's why he said a few more spider bites and he would have owned Link: a few more wounds of any kind and they would both be completely helpless. And if he kept them in pain, they might even have difficulty mustering the concentration they needed to teleport out.

The demon lashed out with his whip again, but either the pain was subsiding, or Link was dealing with it better, because he managed to throw up the Master Sword and block the attack. The flaming whip wrapped around the blade several times, then shattered into sparks and smoke.

The demon howled in fury, but a moment later he was screaming with pain as Link threw the sword across the room like a spear, impaling the demon-lord in the chest.

Despite the fact that neither of them was holding it, the sword continued to glow. And the excruciating pain in Zelda's face immediately subsided to normal levels.

"Go get it!" Link told Zelda, still on the floor, clutching his twice-wounded leg.

She didn't hesitate. She ran across the room, grabbed the sword by the hilt, and jerked it out.

The demon cried out again, but before she could strike him again, he retreated to the far corner of the room.

A moment later, the room shook, like an earthquake, then spiders began pouring out of holes in the four corners of the room.

"Sword!" Link said, using the wall to push himself back to his feet.

Zelda tossed it to him, hilt first, then put her back against a wall and pulled out her own sword.

It was just like before: the spiders swarmed across the floor like a black tide, coming from all directions. Some tried to take a shortcut and cross the ceiling.

Zelda managed to clear a little room around her, and she dropped her sword and pulled out her bow. She hurriedly took down half a dozen spiders that were converging over Link's head—they were going after him more than her—then she used her bow like a stave to beat back a few encroaching spiders until she had time to pick up her sword and go back to hacking at them.

It took a few minutes, but they managed to kill all of the spiders without incurring so much as a scratch. But the delay gave the demon-lord time to recover from the sword blow and, as soon as Link dispatched the last spider, he went on the offensive.

In a blur, he darted to Zelda and grabbed her by throat and lifted her off her feet.

She could barely breathe. She gasped and choked, trying to suck in air.

"Highness!"

The demon turned so that Zelda was between him and Link—like a human shield—which kept Link from throwing his sword again.

"Something just occurred to me," the demon said thoughtfully. "The two of you fighting together make you, possibly, greater than me. But, at the same time, your partnership makes you weak."

He squeezed Zelda's throat tighter, causing her to gasp and struggle more, but there was no breaking free from his iron grip. She tried stabbing him with her sword, but, like her arrows, the blade passed through him as if he was made of smoke.

The demon completely ignored her futile attempts. "Look how incapacitated you are now," he mocked Link, who was frozen in place, obviously unsure of what to do. "Watching me hurt her—threaten her life—is more painful to you than physical pain, isn't it?"

Link swallowed. "Yes," he whispered.

"You could attack me now—I have only one hand free—but you won't do so because you're afraid that I will kill her before you have the chance to kill me. …And I will do so, make no mistake."

Zelda was getting lightheaded; she could barely draw half a breath. If they didn't do something soon, he'd choke her to death whether Link tried to take him on or not. And once she was no longer an impediment, he could take Link easily.

She let her sword slip from her hand and clatter noisily to the floor, then she rolled her head to one side, as if she was unconscious.

"Zelda!"

The demon laughed. "Your partnership is only as strong as your weakest link. …Although whether that weakness is your love for her or her physical weakness is debatable."

Throw me the sword, Zelda commanded Link. She put her right hand behind her back and wiggled it to get his attention. Then she prayed she would be able to catch it.

Miraculously, the hilt of the sword slapped into the palm of her hand and her fingers instinctively closed around it. Then, before the demon could realize what was happening, she plunged it into his side, all the way up to the hilt.

He immediately dropped her to her feet and staggered back. He began to tremble and the red light in his eyes sputtered, threatening to go out. Zelda knew they had him then.

Link hobbled to Zelda's side and took her hand in his. "You don't get it," he told the demon. "We function as a team because of our love for one another—because we both are willing to do whatever it takes to save the other person—even things that endanger our own lives. We take risks that a person alone wouldn't take because we trust one another wholeheartedly.

"And if Princess Zelda is physically weak, what does that say about you, given that she defeated you?" he taunted.

The demon growled, even as his form began to fade. "You may be triumphant now, but I am not the only lord in your world. In fact, I am the weakest of all of them. You will not be so lucky next time."

If Link felt any fear hearing there were even worse demons to come, he didn't show it. "We'll see about that," he said, before leaning down and ripping the Master Sword out of the demon's side.

He howled then, a moment later, shattered into smoke and sparks.

Zelda let out a ragged sigh. Link turned to her and touched her gently on the cheek. "Are you alright?"

"I'll live," she said hoarsely.

Before they could say anything else, though, a section of wall on the far side of the room crumbled and a dim light could be seen on the other side of the hole.

Zelda and Link looked at one another in surprise, then, with swords in hand, they slowly crossed the room.

When they peeked through the hole, they saw a tiny room with a stone table in the middle of it. On the table was a quiver that seemed to be emitting the light.

"What on earth is that?" Link asked.

"I don't know," Zelda replied, but she was curious, so she stepped inside.

"Be careful," Link warned. But Zelda had no fear whatsoever. She quickly sheathed her sword, then reached out for the quiver, her hands seeming to move of their own volition.

As soon as she touched it, she felt a warmth flood through her body; it was like touching the Master Sword. She knew, without being told, that she was holding something holy. And she also knew it belonged to her. She wanted to hug it to her like a long-lost friend.

Come back, a voice said.

A moment later, the room wavered and seemed to dissolve into darkness around them.

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