The Demon of Illusion
Link and Zelda made a little camp for themselves on the plain and slept through the night and well into the morning, never waking up. Even if the fairy could heal their wounds and make them feel much better, nothing she did could replace their need to rest.
When they woke up the next morning, they both felt great and were ready to get started on the next leg of their quest.
"Should one of us go back to Hols and get some more food?" Link asked, as he parceled out the last of their jerky; the hardtack was already gone. "Or should we just go back to being animals?"
Zelda sighed. "I do miss real food, but it's a lot easier—and faster—if we eat it as we go."
"Eat it 'on the hoof,' would you say?" Link asked with a grin.
She gave him a playful shove. "Don't pun."
"That's not a pun; in your case, it's the literal truth."
She frowned, but couldn't argue with him.
"I'll catch my dinner on the wing," he continued.
She shook just shook her head, as if Link was incorrigible. Which he was.
After they finished their meager breakfast, they transformed and began their journey back to the Lost Woods. It only took them a few days and, thankfully, they didn't run in into any more bounty hunters. Maybe the decapitated corpses they left behind discouraged others.
Where's the entrance? Zelda asked as they approached the boundary of the forest.
Link fluttered down beside her, transformed, and consulted his map. "Hmm… it's not very specific." He showed it to her. There was an X inside the Lost Woods, but nothing beyond that. There were no marks showing a trail or anything else that would lead to the X.
"I guess we'll just have to follow the edge of the woods until we come across a trail or path of some sort," Link said, folding the map up and putting it back in his pouch. "There's always been one before, so there should be one now, too—luring us in."
"Gee, that makes me feel so much better," Zelda said sarcastically.
"Look on the bright side: at least we're not on the side of a mountain, constantly in danger of falling off."
"Well, that's true," she reluctantly admitted.
Link proved prophetic. The next evening, Zelda spotted a gap in the tangle of trees and a path that led into their inky depths.
What do you think? Zelda asked.
Link fluttered down beside her and looked it over.
I think we should wait until morning, he said.
They spent a little time foraging for themselves, then, unusually, they returned to their human forms to sleep away the rest of the night.
The rising sun woke them the next morning.
"After this, let's go back to Hols and get some food," Zelda said, as they packed up their few belongings. "Even if we don't eat it every day, I'd still like to have some as a back-up—for when we have to be human for a while."
It only took them a couple of minutes to get ready, then Link led the way into the woods, his sword drawn. It was cool and shady inside—a real relief from the heat of summer—but there was no time to relax and enjoy it; Link could feel evil nearby.
Within minutes, the entrance to the trail was lost behind them and they were surrounded by stillness.
"I don't like this," Zelda whispered. "Before there were birds; now there's nothing."
"Well, at least we know we're on the right trail," he said, trying to sound positive. Inside, though, he felt the same dread as Zelda.
They soon came to a fork in the path. Both sides looked substantially the same.
"Which way?" Zelda asked.
"I don't know."
She looked at him. "What do you mean you don't know?"
"I mean I don't know." He spread his hands. "I knew the way to the Master Sword probably because I've been to it before. But I've never been here before."
She frowned. "If this part of the woods is anything like the other part, we'll get lost very quickly."
"Well, I suppose we could apply the rule of caves."
"Put your hand against the wall and walk the perimeter. Eventually, you'll come back to the beginning. I did it in that maze under the monastery and it worked. It took forever, but it worked."
"We don't have any walls, though."
"It still works, though, so long as we always take the left-most turn."
She didn't look convinced.
"I also tore links off my mail shirt and dropped them occasionally, just in case I got turned around while fighting and forgot which way I had come from. If I saw a link, then I knew I had been that way before and I would turn around and head the other direction."
"That makes sense," Zelda said.
Link put the Master Sword down and started to twist a link off his maile shirt. But he was quickly distracted by the Master Sword moving.
"Wha—?" he started to say.
He and Zelda watched in amazement as the Master Sword pivoted on its hilt, then came to a stop.
"What on earth…?" Zelda remarked.
Link looked at the sword, then looked at the paths ahead. "It's pointing the way," he said.
He pointed down the left path. "The sword is pointing the direction we should go."
Zelda frowned a little, looking thoughtful. "Do you think it's directing us back to its resting place?"
"No," he replied, picking up the sword again. "It's leading us towards the demon."
"How do you know?"
"I just do."
They took the left path and continued through the eerily-silent woods. They stayed tense, looking for trouble, but nothing happened—which only made Link feel even more nervous. He was sure they were on the right path, but what was the demon playing at by not attacking them?
As he had told Zelda, the anticipation of punishment was worse than the actual punishment, and at the moment he would willingly battle some demons rather than be left to worry when they would attack.
They encountered several more forks in the road, but Link was able to hold the Master Sword lightly in his hand and it always pointed the way.
"Link, is it just me, or is it getting darker?" Zelda asked after they had been in the woods for more than an hour.
Link stopped and looked up. The few glimpses of sky that he could see between the leaves looked gray.
"I think it might rain," he said.
The light continued to dim until it was as dark as twilight. Then they heard the plink plink of fat droplets of rain hitting the leaves. In less than a minute, the sprinkles became an all-out deluge.
Link and Zelda pulled up the hoods of their cloaks and soldiered on. Despite the overhead coverage provided by the trees, the rain still fell heavily on them.
"Look at the fog," Zelda said after a time.
Link lifted his head and saw a thick fog rising from the floor of the forest. "I guess the rain is a lot colder than the ground," he said absentmindedly.
The fog would have been pretty and ethereal in any other circumstance, but in the dim light and silent world of the woods, it just looked eerie as it carpeted the ground, making their legs disappear below the knees.
"We need to be careful to stay together," Link warned.
"Don't worry; I'm not getting out of sight of you," Zelda swore, sounding fearful.
The fog continued to rise, enveloping them like an incoming tide.
When it got to the point that Link couldn't see more than a few steps in front of him, he stopped. "I think we better tie ourselves together, just to be on the safe side," he said.
He turned around, but there was no one behind him. "Zelda?" he called out. When she didn't appear or respond, his heart leapt into his throat. "Zelda!" he called out louder.
He reached out to her telepathically. Zelda?
He breathed a sigh of relief. Where are you?
What do you mean? I'm right behind you.
No you're not.
Yes I am.
He turned three hundred and sixty degrees, just to be sure, but there was no Zelda. Sweetheart, I'm looking all around, but you're not here.
I can see you right in front of me. Here, I'll touch you.
Link waited, but didn't feel anything. Zelda?
Th-there's nothing there, she responded, sounding scared. I was following a shadow and I was sure it was you, but when I tried to touch it… there was nothing there.
Where are you?
I don't know, she moaned. I thought I was following you!
Maybe you just dropped behind a little. Come forward.
But several minutes passed and no Zelda appeared.
Suddenly, he laughed, his fear melting away. Zelda, I'm being a dummy again. I'll just teleport you back to me. Ready?
Z-Zelda? he asked tentatively.
Zelda! Zelda, say something!
"Oh, gods," he moaned. "Oh, gods; oh, gods; oh, gods," he said, spinning on the spot, looking every direction. But there was still no sign of Zelda.
He ran back to the last place the trail had split and raced up the alternate path, but after several minutes, he had to admit he had no idea where Zelda was.
He sank to his knees and put his hands over his face.
Alright, think! he told himself firmly, trying to quell the rising panic that threatened to explode out of him and sending him flying into a million pieces. Why wouldn't she answer me?
She can't answer if she's unconscious," he replied to himself. He didn't even allow himself to think about the other possible answer.
So something's attacked her, he continued.
Or… maybe this fog does more than obscure vision; maybe something about it blocks our mental connection.
Maybe this is part of the demon's trick. That would explain why Zelda was led away, thinking that she was still following me.
So… now what?
He took a deep breath and tried to shove down his panic, which was only growing worse.
So… Zelda's valuable as a hostage, he told himself, willing it to be true. The other demons have tried that before—holding her to keep me from attacking. So, if I find the demon, I'll find Zelda.
…If she doesn't kill him first. He may not know what he's gotten himself into.
He tried to smile a little at the thought. Everyone underestimated her because she was a woman, and maybe because she was a princess, too, but, in reality, she was as just deadly as Link. The first two demons who tried to hold her hostage had learned that the hard way.
With a new sense of purpose—however tentative—Link rose to his feet again and let the Master Sword guide him through the fog
Even the light of the Master Sword didn't penetrate the pea-soup fog; it was worse than anything he had ever seen at sea. That was why he didn't see the stone step suddenly appear at his feet, causing him to stumble and nearly fall.
He caught himself with his hand and realized that he was at a flight of stairs. Carefully, he began to feel his way up them.
In the gloom above him rose a dark, imposing shadow. He had to walk right up to it to realize that it was the façade of some sort of building—a temple, by the looks of it.
He found a large set of wooden double doors and managed to pull one open. He was tense, afraid that a trap would be sprung at any minute, but, surprisingly, nothing happened.
So far, this demon was shaping up to be a demon of riddles.
Inside the doors, Link found a long stone hallway with a red carpet running down the middle. Along the walls were long curtains of blue, edged in gold. It actually looked more like a castle than a temple.
In the distance, everything faded into dark, but near the doors, there were torches on the walls—widely-spaced, but enough that he could see.
At least he was out of the infernal fog.
Zelda? he tried calling again. But still nothing.
He crept down the hallway, his sword gripped tightly in his hand, ready for something to spring on him.
But nothing happened.
It was beginning to make him paranoid—more so than usual.
Then he heard a whisper behind him—like fabric being brushed against something… such as a carpet runner.
He wheeled around, but saw nothing behind him. But the next second, he saw something move out of the corner of his eye.
He turned his head and saw the hem of one of the curtains on the wall just barely moving, as if something had brushed against it.
He tightened his grip on his sword and silently stalked towards it. But when he grabbed the curtain and jerked it back, he saw nothing but blank stone.
He stared at it for a moment, puzzled, then quickly stepped back and looked up. But there was nothing above him except a clerestory and vaulted stone ceiling.
"What's going on here?" he muttered to himself.
It was like the place was haunted.
He started down the hallway again, but less than a minute later, he heard something behind him again.
He wheeled around, but again found the room empty.
He was certain that he wasn't imaging things. He knew he was being hunted. Maybe the predator was invisible, or maybe it was just extremely clever, but it was definitely hunting him.
He slipped his shield onto his right arm and pulled it close to his body, ready for the attack he knew was imminent.
He walked backwards a few paces, his eyes sweeping right to left, but nothing came at him.
Finally, he turned to walk up the hall again and was immediately startled to see a small black animal on the red runner directly in front of him. He wasn't sure what it was—it looked like a cross between a puppy and a small bear cub—but it was staring at him with glowing red eyes, so whatever it was, it wasn't cute and it wasn't friendly.
He lunged forward, stabbing at it, but it disappeared.
It didn't vanish like the other demons with a puff of smoke and black sparks. It just blinked out of existence, as if it had never been there.
The next second, there was a growl behind him and something hit him from behind like a tidal wave, riding him to floor.
Link wasn't aware of hitting the floor, but he was acutely aware of the burning pain in his back as claws laid his flesh open.
He screamed and struggled to get out from under the crushing weight, but it was pinning him down; he couldn't move.
His sword was trapped under him, but he managed to wrench it out and he blindly stabbed backwards at whatever was on top of him.
There was a pained roar and the weight was suddenly gone. Link felt his lungs re-inflate almost instantly.
He hurried to his feet and turned to face a demon-tiger. It was every bit as big as the Shi-Ha tigers, but it was black instead of white and it had tell-tale glowing red eyes.
Link thought he saw a wet patch of fur on its shoulder; apparently he had wounded it, but not enough to kill it.
The tiger paced back and forth across the hallway, its eyes never leaving Link's. It was clear it was trying to figure out the best way to attack him.
Link stayed where he was—namely because he had no idea how to attack a tiger. He thought his best bet was to wait for it to make a move; hopefully it would expose some vulnerable spot in the process.
The tiger continued to pace, but after a couple of minutes, it seemed to grow frustrated; it began to roar as it paced.
Link stayed where he was.
At last, the tiger stopped and stared at him, the tip of its tail twitching like a rattlesnake.
Link tightened his grip on his sword and shield. He remembered Long Fang and Tarsus's fight; they had looked the same just before they attacked.
He wasn't wrong; a moment later, the tiger sprang at him.
He ducked and threw up his shield, blocking the claws that were trying to scalp him, and then he thrust upwards with his sword, striking the leaping tiger in the belly.
It was over in a flash. Before the tiger could fall to the floor, it exploded into smoke and sparks—proving that it really was dead.
Link sank to his knees, panting. "I don't know where you were hiding, but you nearly got me," he muttered to the non-existent demon.
When he pushed himself to his feet again, he sucked air in through his gritted teeth as his back burned in protest.
"Damn…" he growled, wincing. He could feel something hot and sticky and wet running down his back and into the waistband of his pants. He reached back and felt shreds of fabric and rough metal edges where the links in his maile shirt had been ripped open.
He shuddered to think about what would have happened to him if he hadn't been wearing the shirt. A creature powerful enough to rip through steel maile as if it was as fragile as cloth would have surely laid him open to the bone.
Link continued his solitary journey down the never-ending hallway. It remained quiet and empty for a time, then he began to get a prickling of unease on the back of his neck, as if he was being followed again. He turned around suddenly several times, trying to catch whatever was behind him unawares, but he never saw more than a tiny movement out of the corner of his eye or the slight rustling of a curtain.
He gritted his teeth angrily. "I'm getting really tired of this," he muttered. He had never faced such a faceless enemy before. He didn't know what to do when his opponent wouldn't come out and fight him in the open.
The soft sound of flapping drew his eyes upwards and he saw a flock of half a dozen demon-bats coming down from the ceiling. He almost felt relief at seeing them.
"Come here, you little bastards," he said with grim relish.
When they drew close enough, he swung at them, but like the bear-thing, they blinked out of existence when his sword touched them—like he was cutting through ghosts.
A second later, though, they rematerialized to his right and took aim for his head. He threw up his shield, but instead of hearing the bats—or even just one bat—run into it, he heard nothing.
Cautiously, he lowered his shield and found there was nothing there.
"What the hell?"
A moment later he screamed as something stabbed him in the back of his right leg, right in the meatiest part of his calf.
He whirled around, but saw nothing. It took him a second to realize whatever bit him was still clinging to him somewhere.
Then there was pressure against the small of his back, but whatever was on him wasn't powerful enough to bite through the maile shirt.
Link stabbed behind him with his sword. It took a couple of tries, but at last the weight fell off of him. He turned around and saw a large spider lying on the floor, curling its legs up, a moment before it disappeared in a puff of black smoke.
He was starting to figure out the demon's modus operandi: an illusion would engage him and keep him occupied while the real enemy snuck up and attacked him from behind. So that meant whenever he encountered something that wouldn't die, he needed to immediately look behind him for trouble.
Gods! He had never needed Zelda more. He had forgotten how hard it was to fight alone.
"Where are you?" he whispered, but heard nothing in reply.
He limped down the hall slowly, pain shooting up his right leg with every step. But he didn't have to travel far before something invisible began stalking him again. In fact, he was so anxious about something attacking him from behind, he almost didn't notice a line of spiders crawling down from the ceiling and slipping behind the curtains to his left.
He grabbed the curtains and jerked violently on them, ripping them off the wall and causing the metal curtain rod to clatter deafeningly on the stone floor. But the dozen spiders were exposed and had nowhere left to hide.
Unfortunately, they were also out of his reach. Instead of stepping back and letting Zelda take care of them with her arrows, he had to wait, impatiently, until they scurried farther down the wall.
He struck at the first one, but it disappeared. Instead of bothering with the rest of them, he spun around, prepared for something to hit him from behind. But he saw nothing.
A bead of sweat rolled down his face as he listened to the spiders scurrying down the stone wall behind him. It made his skin crawl to think about them crawling up him again. But he was certain that, if he turned to face them, he would be attacked from behind again.
Then he got an idea. He dashed across the hallway and put his back against the opposite wall. Now he could face the spiders while protecting his back.
He watched as the cat-sized spiders—a dozen or more of them—flowed down the wall and headed for him.
Just when he was preparing to take them on, something heavy—like a thick cable—landed on top of his head. Then several more landed on his shoulders.
And then one dropped to the floor in front of him—just as he realized that the "ropes" laying on him were moving like the thing on the floor.
He shouted and ran up the hall, trying to knock snakes off his body. Some of them disappeared when he tried to touch them, but one sank very real fangs into his left hand, between the thumb and wrist. His leather glove kept the fangs from going to the bone, but they still broke skin, causing his hand to burn like it had been stung.
He slashed with his sword and struck with his shield in an increasingly wild panic until he was left standing in an empty hallway, bleeding and panting, with his heart feeling like it was going to beat out of his chest.
His knees were shaking and he knew he was seconds away from collapsing in the floor. But as much as he wanted to give up, lay down, and cry, he managed to stagger over to the wall and lean against it. It wasn't ideal, but it was still better than completely collapsing and waiting for something to attack him again.
From somewhere overhead came a faint, but sinister, laugh—not unlike the one Link and Zelda had heard in the lair of the first demon.
The laughter made Link's fear and exhaustion instantly harden into anger.
"You think that's funny, do you?" he shouted at the ceiling. "Well, enjoy it, because that's the last laugh you're going to have at my expense."
Link had said that Zelda was a force of nature when she was angry, but he had never admitted, even to himself, that he was the exact same way. Of course, it was exceedingly rare for him to become angry, but when he did, he was like a hurricane, exacting a violent and unforgiving brand of justice.
He strode up the hallway as fast as his aching leg and back would allow, and anything that came within striking distance of him was viciously cut down. Sometimes the threat was real and sometimes it wasn't, but Link treated everything the same. He quit thinking and analyzing and trying to see a pattern—since there didn't seem to be one—and he just fought on pure instinct.
And then, suddenly, the hallway came to an end. One moment, it stretched on forever, then, when he looked up again, there was a wall in front of him with a set of wooden doors just like the ones the ones he had first entered.
It was as if the demon realized that Link had gotten the upper-hand and had decided to change tactics.
Link hesitated for half a second—wondering if the doors were really there or not—then he decided just as quickly that it didn't matter; he was going to find this demon of illusions, kill it, and get Zelda back.
He jerked open one of the doors and walked into a dark room. He had no more stepped in than the door shut and locked behind him.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," Link taunted, walking farther into the room. The light of the Master Sword revealed nothing but a stone floor beneath his feet.
And then a light shone down from nowhere, illuminating a familiar figure hanging limp and unconscious some eight feet above the floor.
"Zelda!" Link shouted, rushing towards her.
Zelda slowly lifted her head and opened her eyes in response to his voice. Then she snapped awake with a start. "Link, where am I?" she asked, looking around frantically.
Before he could answer, there were five more bursts of light and five more Zeldas appeared, forming a circle with the first.
They were indistinguishable from each other. Every movement the real Zelda made, the copies made as well.
Link began to look around for the source of the illusions. "You're in the demon's lair," he told Zelda, even as he walked around the circle of Zeldas, looking for what was controlling them.
All of the Zeldas lifted their hands and tried to push against the force that was holding them up, but nothing happened.
"I can't get down," all of them said in unison.
"I'm working on that," he promised.
"Where's the demon?"
"I don't know."
There was a dark laugh from nowhere and then the Zeldas began to spin in a circle. They all screamed as they spun faster, becoming an indistinguishable blur of blue and blonde.
After a minute, though, they slowed down and came to a stop. All of them were swaying woozily. "I think I'm going to be sick," they said, clamping a hand over their mouths.
Link took a couple of big steps backwards. But apparently Zelda's stomach was pretty tough, because none of them got sick.
"Which one are you?" Link asked, once the green tinge had left the Zeldas' faces.
They all lifted their right hand.
Link immediately saw the problem. Like everything else in the demon's lair, some things were real and some were fake and there was no way to tell the difference.
Until he tried killing them.
The thought made him shudder. It was too risky. What if he guessed wrong?
Surely there was another way.
He began searching for the source of the magic again, but after several minutes, he had found the dark corners of the room but nothing else.
"What are we going to do?" all the Zeldas asked as Link came back to the center of the room where they were.
"I don't know."
There was another dark laugh. "Where are your threats now, little boy?" a deep, menacing voice said.
"Why don't you come out and fight me?" Link shouted back.
"As you wish."
A moment later, Link was struck from above by an electric jolt like a bolt of lightning. His entire body seized up, every muscle locked. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't blink. He couldn't do anything but be held up by his pain.
And then, just as quickly as it came, it disappeared.
He fell to the floor, unable to move. He ached in places he never knew could ache before. Even his internal organs seemed to be hurting.
"Link!" cried all of the Zeldas.
The dark laugh interrupted them. "Is that better?"
Link didn't reply as he struggled to push himself up from the floor.
"I am energy," the demon said smugly. "I am whatever I want to be. I can even be multiple things at once.
"You told me to come out and fight, but I'm already in front of you—here, in these copies of your princess."
Link got to his feet, panting, and looked up at the circle of Zeldas, who all looked down at him sorrowfully.
How was he going to tell the real Zelda from the fakes?
Then it occurred to him: the real Zelda knew who she was. She could take out the fakes herself.
Can you hear me? he asked, not wanting the demon to overhear him.
Yes, came a reply. It was clear that it was only one person who was replying. Apparently the fake Zeldas couldn't copy that—probably because none of them had bonded with him.
I can't tell you from the fakes, but you know who they are. Shoot them.
Zelda took off her bow—as did all of her doppelgängers. But when she turned to aim to her left, the problem with that strategy became immediately apparent.
"Wait," Link called out as Zelda started to draw an arrow. "That won't work; you'll end up shooting yourself."
The Zeldas glanced around; they were positioned so that each one in the circle would shoot the person in front of her in the back. "You mean a copy of me will shoot me in the back," they said in unison.
"Now what indeed," came the disembodied voice. "What are you going to do little boy? I get bored easily. If you don't do something soon, I may have to shock you just to amuse myself. Or maybe your princess...."
A sudden jolt shot down from the ceiling and struck one Zelda, causing her to scream and convulse. Then, just as soon as it ended, all of the Zeldas whirled around, mixing them up again.
When the spinning stopped, Zelda—all of them, actually—looked worse than before. It was clear if the demon hadn't been holding her up, she would have collapsed.
How are you? Link asked anxiously.
How do you think I am? she demanded, sounding a little angry. I hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.
I know the feeling, Link replied.
I don't think either of us can put up with that for very long. We need to come up with something fast.
I have an idea, Link said. Teleport to me. If the other Zeldas can't speak to me telepathically, it stands to reason they can't teleport, either.
He'll probably try to shock us again, she warned.
Link tightened his grip on his shield. I'll be ready for it this time, he promised.
A moment passed, but nothing happened. Are you ready? Link asked.
Another moment passed.
Are you doing it? Link asked.
Yes! …Are you?
He could hear her inward sigh. I guess there's no way for me to break free. You'll just have to take out the fakes.
Link tried to think of another way he could tell the real Zelda from the fakes.
When you went for your bow… he said slowly, thinking about what he had seen, an idea forming in his head, I think you moved a little sooner than the rest of them. I mean, if they're copying you, it stands to reason you will always be a split-second faster than them. But I only noticed because I knew what you were about to do and was watching for it.
…Which means what? Zelda asked hesitantly.
It means that I'm going to tell you what to do, then watch and see who does it first. The fakes will be slower than you, so that's how I will know you from them.
Alright, what should I do? she said eagerly.
Wave your right hand.
He carefully watched—his eyes trying to scan all of the Zeldas at once. He saw one Zelda lift her hand and start to move it a split second before all the others.
He stabbed his sword through the belly of the nearest fake Zelda.
Link watched in frozen horror as Zelda fell to the floor and writhed in pain, her blood spreading across the stones. Then her screams turned into whimpers and her breath came in labored gasps. After a minute, her body went limp and she sighed and didn't breathe in again.
She didn't vanish like the other illusions. She didn't go up in black smoke like the demons.
She had bled to death.
His body was immobilized by fear long before the demon laughed and struck him from above with another electric charge.
He fell to the floor and writhed in agony. But the pain racking his body felt dull compared to the pain threatening to tear his heart apart.
Whether because his heartache was so strong, or because every muscle and nerve in his body was still tingling, it took him a second to realize that the shock had actually stopped.
"Link!" cried all of the Zeldas. Then, Link! Link, are you alright?
He didn't stir or respond. His brain felt numb; his body was twitching from spams he couldn't control; and overriding everything was a feeling that he was sinking into a black, bottomless pit. He had known the pit existed; he knew it threatened him should he ever lose Zelda. And now, it was yawning before him, hungry and eager to swallow him up. And he had no energy to fight it. More than that: he had no desire to fight against it.
Link, that wasn't me; you didn't kill me. Get up.
He tried to hear her words and believe them; he tried to step away from the pit. It… it looked so real, he said. He turned his head and saw Zelda still lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood.
If she was a fake, why hadn't she disappeared?
Link, I promise I'm alright. It's just an illusion. The demon wants you to think you've killed me; he wants you helpless.
There was another dark chuckle from somewhere.
Link, get up! Zelda shouted at him.
But it was too late. The bolt of electricity hit him in the stomach, seizing his already-exhausted body with fresh pain.
Every nerve in him was on fire, every joint locked, every muscle clenched. He had fought through pain—severe pain—before, but this was nothing like any pain he had ever experienced. This was beyond just pain; he had no control over his body at all.
And then it went away again and he exhaled the breath that had been trapped inside his paralyzed lungs.
Link, you have to get up, Zelda pleaded. You have to finish this before he can hit you again.
Link knew she was right, but it felt so hard to move. Everything hurt so badly and nothing wanted to work right anymore.
But if the demon got tired of hitting him, he would turn to striking Zelda, and Link couldn't allow that. So he gritted his teeth and somehow managed to push himself to his hands and knees—a whimper escaping from in the process.
Every part of him ached as if he had been beaten all over. The soles of his feet hurt. His scalp hurt. Even his eyeballs ached.
But even so, he pushed himself to his feet, using the Master Sword as a cane.
He was no more on his feet than he heard the laugh again.
But he was ready this time. He flung his shield up, over his head. The electric bolt hit the reflective surface and shattered into dozens of smaller pieces. They flew out in all directions, struck the stone walls, and fizzled out.
Good job! Zelda praised.
Which one are you? Link asked, turning his attention back to the five remaining Zeldas.
The Zeldas lifted their hands and waved, but Link couldn't see which one moved first. Either he wasn't paying close enough attention or the doppelgangers had caught on.
Do something else, Link said. Scratch your nose.
One Zelda raised her hand to her nose a fraction of a second before the others did. Link quickly lunged at one of the false Zeldas, stabbing her in the stomach, as he had before.
The same scene repeated itself. The dying Zelda screamed and fell to the floor, where she writhed most piteously.
Link closed his eyes, unable to watch even a fake Zelda die. He just wished he could shut his ears as well so he didn't have to hear her suffering.
He prayed to the gods that he wasn't killing real people—that they were all just illusions.
As soon as the fake Zelda breathed her last, there was another menacing laugh. Link held up his shield and easily deflected the blow.
They repeated the exercise two more times: Zelda did some pre-arranged signal, Link stabbed one of the Zeldas who was not her, the fake Zelda died horribly, then the demon shot an electric bolt at him, which he deflected with his shield.
As long as he didn't pay any attention to the bodies littering the floor, it wasn't too bad, on the whole.
But when he killed the fourth Zelda—leaving only two to go—the demon changed its pattern. It began by striking him with an electric bolt from behind. He was unprepared for it, so it knocked him flat on his face, where he lay in agony—unable to cry out—as the electricity coursed through him.
When it finally stopped and he looked up, he found the two Zeldas on opposite sides of the large room.
"Zelda?" he asked aloud, looking between the two of them.
"I'm here, Link," both Zeldas said in echoing unison.
Link pushed himself to his feet, but hesitated, unsure of what to do.
Do something, he told Zelda.
Both Zeldas lifted their hands to their heads, but Link couldn't tell which one moved first.
Try again, he said.
Both Zeldas picked up their right foot, but again Link couldn't tell which one moved first.
They tried twice more, but he was still just as confused. When they were side by side, it was easy to spot the difference, but now that he could only look at one at a time, he lost the benefit of the time-delay between the real Zelda and the fake.
The demon laughed. Link jerked up his shield, looking around wildly, but he had no idea where the bolt would come from this time.
He saw a yellow light flash out of the corner of his left eye, but before he could turn to block it, it slammed into his left side, throwing him to the floor in convulsions.
"Link!" both Zeldas cried out in alarm.
When, at last, the shock was over, it took him close to a minute to get to his feet again. He felt something warm sliding over his lips, and when he wiped his face with the back of his hand, he found a smear of blood on his leather glove. Apparently he was starting to bleed from his nose.
You should go to the fairy, Zelda said. I can bring you back, so you won't have to be gone long.
No, he said firmly. I'm not going to leave you in the possession of a demon. There's no telling what he might do to you while I'm gone.
Probably the same thing he's doing to me right now, she pointed out. At least you could be safe for a little while and come back fresh. Maybe one of the others will even have an idea.
No, I won't leave you, he said stubbornly. Now, make a move. If I just look at the right time, I can catch the fake.
Zelda tried again—three more times—but before Link could figure out which one was the false one, the demon laughed again—sounding very pleased with itself—and hit Link in the back with another bolt.
He must have passed out, because the pain didn't seem to last very long and he was vaguely aware of Zelda screaming his name long before he could open his eyes.
"Please, Link, leave," the Zeldas begged, both of them crying. "Leave before he kills you."
He didn't respond; he just pushed himself to his feet. He had to lean on his sword, though, because his legs were shaking so badly, and his knees were so weak, he couldn't stand without aid.
"I… I have an idea," he said weakly.
Throw me your bow and arrows.
What if he shocks us for it?
He's shocking me now, Link retorted. How much worse could it get?
Zelda and the fake both threw their bows towards the center of the room.
Now the arrows, Link said cautiously.
Both Zeldas unbuckled their quivers and threw them in with the bows.
There was still no retaliation from the demon. Perhaps he didn't see Zelda disarming herself as being helpful to Link.
But Link had an idea—and he needed to look in Zelda's quiver to confirm it.
He limped over to the quivers. He put his hand into one and pulled out a light arrow. But when he stuck his hand into the other quiver, nothing happened.
The demon can't replicate the gods' weapons, he said triumphantly, nocking the light arrow to Zelda's bow.
He turned to the Zelda who had thrown in the empty quiver, ready to shoot her. But she immediately put up her hands.
"Link! Don't shoot me!"
Confused, he looked at the Zelda who was behind him; she was not responding the same.
"Please… Link… don't shoot! It's me. The other one's the fake."
Link, don't believe her. I'm the real Zelda and she's the fake. Shoot her.
Link hesitated, a tide of panic welling up inside him. He didn't know what to believe. What if the voice he was hearing was an illusion?
Link, do you think the demon would let me beg for my life? Zelda said. All the fakes have been replicating me so you wouldn't know which one was me. Now, the fake is doing something different. The demon would never let me—the real me—get away with that. You know she's the fake because she's begging.
That made sense… in a twisted sort of way. But as he turned back to the fake Zelda, he found her crying.
"Please… you have to believe me. I'm the real Zelda. The Zelda that loves you."
Oh, gods. He couldn't do this.
He was so torn, he hardly heard the dark laugh that proceeded the electric jolt. But he had traded his shield for the bow, so he had no way to protect himself anyway.
The bolt hit him directly in the face. He never even felt himself hit the floor.
"You are in very bad shape, Hero."
Link opened his eyes, blinking against the bright sunlight that was filtering through the trees. It took him a moment to realize that a familiar face was looking down at him.
"How did I get here?" he croaked. Somehow he was back in the forest north of Hyrule. He was lying beside the forest fairy's pool. She was sitting on the ground and had his head in her lap.
"You're not really here," she replied, gently stroking his hair. "This is just a dream."
"If I'm dreaming, then why don't I wake up? I mean, I normally don't know I'm dreaming when I'm dreaming."
"Well… maybe I used a bit of magic on you."
"How? It's been weeks since we were here."
"Well… if you ever take a fairy's water, it… creates a bit of a magical bond—for lack of a better term."
"I'm glad someone warned us about that before we started jumping into fairy pools."
"It's not like I have control over you," she said, sounding a bit defensive.
He sat up and turned to look at her. "Only over my dreams."
"Do you know how much trouble I could get into for this?" she said, frowning. "We're allowed to help you if you come to us, but you haven't come to me; I've called you here. That's probably too much interference. The gods will be angry with me."
Link felt guilty. "I'm sorry."
She crossed her arms and turned her head away. "If you don't like me being in your dreams, I can leave. Maybe you'll wake up before that demon kills you. …Maybe."
Link suddenly remembered what had happened to him.
"Can you help with that?"
"Please?" he begged. "Do you know how I can tell the real Zelda from the fake? I mean, I think I know which is which, but… I can't stand the idea of making the wrong choice."
"You had it figured out," she said, still not looking at him. "As you discovered, the demon can't fake the powers given by the gods: your telepathic link with Zelda, her arrows, and so forth. If you had a doppelganger, it would have a sword that looked like the Master Sword, but wouldn't have its divine powers."
"So… I can trust the Zelda I can hear?"
He breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
"Now… may I have something for me?"
Link was a little surprised by her request; none of the other fairies had asked for anything—except to be freed from the demons.
"Um… what would you like?" Link said, careful not to make any promises. He didn't know what a fairy might want, but this one made him feel just a tad bit suspicious. It was like she was younger than the other two and a bit more unpredictable.
The fairy looked at him. "I would like a kiss."
Yep, he was right to be suspicious.
"Um… I'm sorry, but I can't do that."
She got to her hands and knees and began crawling towards him. He began scooting back at the same rate of speed.
"Why not?" she asked, taking no notice of his attempts to get away.
"Because I'm with Zelda."
"She's a princess; one day she will be queen. She will never marry you. She will marry some other man and you will be alone."
"So what would it hurt if you kissed me? She will be kissing some other man soon enough."
"I'm not going to punish her for some sin she's not even committed by committing my own first."
He suddenly found his back against a tree. Before he could escape, the fairy had his shoulders pinned to it. He was conscious of her half-naked body pressed against his.
"If you give me a kiss, I will help you," she whispered.
"Even if it means saving your princess? I can help you save her, if you just give me a kiss. No one needs to know…."
He turned his face away from her, closing his eyes. "No."
"Even to save her life, you will not do this?"
"Please don't ask me to choose between betraying her and saving her."
"You're having to choose between killing her and not killing her over and over again; what's a kiss in comparison?"
Before he could say anything, she grabbed him by the chin and forced him to look at her.
Her face was so close, he could see that her eyelashes were the same shade of green as her hair.
"Please don't," he whispered, even as she leaned in—her plump lips pouting, ready to be kissed.
"I won't tell," she whispered in reply.
Suddenly he began to struggle against her hold. He hadn't wanted to resort to violence, but she just wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. And fairy or no, woman or no, he would not be forced to compromise himself.
"I said NO!" he shouted, shoving her away.
He woke with a start and was momentarily disoriented by the dark room; he wasn't sure where he was.
"Link!" two voices cried in unison.
Then he realized he was back in demon's lair—or, more precisely, he was awake in the lair, since he had never really left it.
Both Zeldas were sobbing. Oh, gods, Link, please, please go to the fairy. You're bleeding. You're bleeding from your eyes and ears. Something's very wrong with you. Please… go.
But, oddly, Link felt better than he had. He still struggled against pain and stiff muscles as he pushed himself to his feet, but he was clear-headed.
He picked up Zelda's bow again and pulled out another arrow. But he was careful not to lift his head and look at either Zelda.
Are you still to my left? he asked.
He had never heard her beg so hard before. But he was ready to end this; he just had to be careful not to give his knowledge away. If the demon knew that he knew which one was the fake, he would just electrocute him again. And even if he was feeling somewhat better, he knew that was probably just an illusion of its own—something the fairy had done to him. In reality, he knew he was very badly hurt. He had to end this, now, for both Zelda's sake and his own.
Don't argue with me, he said firmly. Are you still to my left?
No. While you were unconscious, we flipped positions.
I am about to make a very fast shot, so there can't be a mistake. He tapped his right foot. You're on this side, right? The same side as my foot?
He took a deep breath and held it, steeling his nerves. Then, with one fluid movement, he rose, turned the bow to his left, and shot the fake Zelda.
He watched as her eyes widened—glowing in the light of the oncoming arrow. Then it struck her in the chest and pinned her to the wall.
She screamed and writhed and convulsed. Blood squirted from her chest and ran down the front of her blue tunic, completely soaking it. After a minute, she quit moving. Her head hung down to her chest and she breathed no more.
The remaining Zelda fell to the floor with a shout of alarm.
Link hurried over to her with a growing sense of anxiousness. None of the dead Zeldas had disappeared. Did that mean that the demon still lived? …Or had he just made a terrible mistake?
"Are you alright?" he asked, kneeling down beside her.
She nodded, looking a bit stunned. Then, when she got a look at his face, she hurried to sit up. "Oh, Link, you look awful," she moaned, touching his face. "You're covered in blood."
He put his hands over hers and lowered them. "Are you really my Zelda?" he asked seriously.
"How can I be sure?"
Because I can talk to you like this, she said, switching to telepathy.
"What if that's an illusion, though? What if the demon is making me hear stuff? I mean… he has to still be around; none of the illusions have disappeared."
Zelda looked at the fallen bodies of her dopplegangers. "They haven't, have they," she said quietly.
He sat back on his heels. "So, can you see why I'm suspicious?"
She looked back at him. "But, Link… how am I supposed to prove myself to you?"
"I don't know. Do something only the real Zelda would do."
She thought about it for a minute—a look of deep concentration on her face—then she slapped him across the face. She didn't put a lot of heat into it, but it still stung a bit nonetheless.
"There. You know why I did that. Only the real me would know about what happened before."
He considered her words for a moment, then he shook his head. "No, the real Zelda would have hurt me more."
"What!?" she said with a gasp. "I'll show you hurt…." She drew her arm back to slap him much harder, but he lunged forward and grabbed her, stopping her.
"Truce! I'm kidding! I know you're real!" He put his arms around her, hugging her tightly. "You're real. You're real."
A moment later, there was a distant scream, then all the fake Zeldas burst into black smoke.
Link and Zelda turned to watch. "I guess he wasn't really defeated until you figured out, once and for all, what was reality and what was illusion," Zelda said.
"I think you're right."
The dark room dissolved around them, revealing the dense forest dappled with little spots of bright sunlight which managed to filter through the trees. The birds were singing and the air was warm and still and peaceful.
Link breathed a heavy sigh of relief and sat back, feeling exhausted.
"We need to get you to a fairy," Zelda said, looking at him with concern.
That reminded Link of his dream about the forest fairy; he wondered if she had really been trying to kiss him, or if she had just done that to force him to wake up?
After being haunted by illusions all day, he wanted to know the truth… but he didn't think he wanted to know it so badly he would go back to her to find out for himself. After all, there was always the possibility that she had meant exactly what she said.
"Do you think there's a fairy here?" Zelda asked, bringing him back to the present.
"I don't know. I haven't heard or seen one, though."
"I guess we can wait," she said hesitantly. "But we can't wait too long."
He winced as he lay down on the ground. His cut-up back protested, but the rest of him was protesting more at sitting up, so the back lost.
Zelda sat beside him and tried to wipe some of the blood off his face. "You look terrible."
"Oddly enough, that's exactly how I feel."
She frowned. "What happened? One minute I was in the fog, trying to find you, and the next thing I know, I'm hovering in the air in a dark room."
"I had to fight my way through the demon's lair by myself. There weren't that many demons—although there was a huge tiger that was pretty bad—but half of what I was seeing wasn't really there—like those fake versions of you. The illusions would come at me, then the real demons would attack me from the opposite direction. I could never be sure what was real and what wasn't."
"So… did you really not know it was me at the end, or were you just kidding, like you said?"
"I wasn't entirely sure at first, but when you slapped me, I knew I had the right Zelda," he said with a faint smile.
"Then why did you say that I wasn't real?"
He actually chuckled a little. "I just wanted to be really sure. And… maybe because I like pressing my luck. Sometimes I can't leave well-enough alone."
"I think it's because you like it—getting slapped I mean."
He rubbed his cheek absentmindedly. "I wouldn't say that…."
"What would you say?"
"I'd say what I said before: I like women with some zing."
"In other words, you like seeing me angry, but not necessarily to the point of hitting you?"
"That sounds about right," he said, nodding.
She shook her head. "You're weird, you know that?"
He grinned. "Well, it's true I've never been like anyone else," he admitted. "But if you didn't like me this way, you wouldn't be here with me."
She didn't respond, which probably meant he was right.