The Soul Scepter
A few moments after entering the tunnel of light, it vanished and Zelda was falling through darkness. She didn't have far to go, though, before she landed on something fairly soft—albeit with some hard angles.
"Oomph!" her landing pad said.
Zelda glanced around and saw that she was in the fairy's cave... and was sitting on top of Hols. A torch—which he had apparently been holding when she fell on him—was lying on the floor next to them.
"Oh, Hols, I'm so sorry! Are you alright?"
"Breathe…" is all he managed to get out.
Zelda crawled off him. It was everything she could do to manage that; what little strength she had left was fading fast.
"I'm sorry," she repeated, sitting beside his sprawled form.
He rubbed his ribs gingerly, then set up. "Are you alright?" he choked out.
A moment later, Link appeared, still in his eagle form, and clutching what looked like a white stick in his claws. He landed on the floor beside Zelda and transformed.
"You know, you were right," he said breathlessly. "Shittiest demon so far."
"What happened to you two?" Hols asked, looking between the two of them.
"Later," Link said. "We need to see the fairy now."
Zelda was suddenly seized by a coughing fit. She covered her mouth with her hand, and almost immediately felt something wet on it. When she pulled her hand away, she saw it was covered with blood.
Hols stared at her, frozen with horror.
"Get her to the fairy!" Link shouted, before starting to cough up blood, too. It splattered bright red all over his white linen underwear.
Hols scooped up Zelda and sprinted over to the fairy's pool. Without a word, he tossed her in.
Zelda slowly became aware of floating in a warm, familiar darkness.
Breathe deeply, a voice instructed her.
Zelda took a deep breath and felt liquid rush into her lungs. But unlike water, whatever she was taking in didn't choke her; instead, it felt soothing on the inside, like a balm rubbed onto a burn.
I must admit, the voice said, the two of you scared me.
"What did we do?" Zelda asked, before taking another deep breath. She liked the feeling of the warm liquid flooding her lungs; she could feel it healing them.
You came very close to death… and I wasn't entirely sure I could save you this time.
Zelda looked around, wanting to see the fairy. As if in response to her desire, the fairy slowly materialized out of the darkness.
"What do you mean you thought you couldn't save us? I thought you could heal anything. You saved Link when he was on death's door, and we weren't quite that bad."
"Oh, no, you were much worse."
"But… we were still conscious—bleeding internally, but still conscious. Link wasn't even that when you healed him."
"Link was dying from very mortal wounds—a combination of blood loss, infection, and hypothermia. The ailments that moral flesh are prone to are easy enough for my kind to repair. But a demon's poison… that is something different altogether. That is an evil magic and it's very hard to get out—especially when it was as widespread as it was in you and Link."
"But… you did get it out, right?" Zelda said, becoming nervous.
"I think so."
"I know nothing about countering demon magic; I can only make guesses."
"So we might still be sick?"
"It's possible that some poison will linger in your bodies for the rest of your lives, or it might have caused permanent damage that I can't correct. Poison—of any kind—will do that; even if you survive the initial dose, its effects will linger and cause future health problems."
Zelda felt deflated. "And there's nothing you can do?"
"I have done all that I can. I think you will be alright, but if you ever suffer from an illness which seems to have no source, you will know why."
Zelda didn't know what to say. She had thought that once the demons were defeated, everything would go back to normal. But apparently they were going to have scars on the inside—as well as the outside—that would never fully heal.
It was only then that she really grasped the price that she and Link had to pay. Yes, they risked their lives constantly, but Zelda always held onto the belief that, in the end, they would win. So while she could be momentarily scared for her safety and Link's, deep down she never believed they would actually die. They had cheated death too many times to think that it would ever win.
The idea that they would be permanently damaged, though, had never entered into her mind. Scarred, yes, but to possibly have their lives shortened, or to endure bouts of pain and suffering long after the war was over and won…. That terrified her more than the threat of immediate death ever did. She had faith they wouldn't die before their mission was over, but what guarantee did they have after that?
"Would you do any different?" the fairy asked, apparently reading her thoughts.
Zelda considered her question for a moment, then shook her head. "No. There is no other way."
The fairy smiled at her. "The two of you truly are heroes."
"Yes, but I would still like to survive long enough to enjoy our success—if we are successful."
"I have every confidence that you will be. And I'm sure you will be rewarded with the peace and happiness that you deserve.
"And if you ever have problems that medicine won't cure, go see my niece, Amyl, in Hyrule. We may not be able to remove the poison from you fully, but we can at least treat your symptoms and bring you some measure of relief."
"Thank you," Zelda said, feeling a little better.
Then the fairy held out her hand and a white rod materialized in it.
"That's what Link was carrying," Zelda said.
"Yes, I got it from him. While he can certainly use it, I think you should be the one to primarily control it."
Zelda reached out and took the rod from the fairy. "It's a scepter," she said, examining the bulbous head on one end. It was not unlike the Scepter of State that her father had carried during very formal processions. The major difference, though, was the strange scepter was white—not gold—and the head was studded with opals that shimmered with flashes of red, blue, and green fire.
How odd that it should be ornamented so heavily with opals. The people of Hyrule were terribly superstitious about opals and refused to touch them; they said that an opal's fire came from souls trapped within it and to touch one would be to lose your own soul to it. In fact, it wasn't only the people of Hyrule who believed that; everyone avoided them.
Master Ryu had told her that it was all nonsense—that an inanimate object couldn't "steal" a person's soul—but he admitted that they had a bad reputation because magicians favored them, and at least one magician had indeed used an opal to trap souls. But, Master Ryu insisted, it was the magician, not the gem, that was at fault. An opal, untouched by magic, was harmless.
"That is no ordinary scepter," the fairy said. "It is the Soul Scepter. It is the most powerful weapon you have received—or will receive."
Zelda started to feel a little suspicious. Maybe the opals on it really were for stealing souls?
"What does it do?" she asked warily.
"You can use it to call up the souls of the dead."
Zelda was a little stunned. "Call them up? What do you mean? How?"
"You simply need to hold the scepter and call to the person or persons that you want. If they choose to respond, they will appear before you as a ghost."
Zelda frowned. "How is that useful? Unless you're supposed to call up people and ask them questions that only they would have the answers to?"
"That's certainly one use for it, but not what you need it for. The dead cannot harm the living, but they can fight beings of their own world—including the Dark World."
"Beings? You mean… like demons?"
Zelda was starting to get an inkling of what the fairy was hinting at, but she couldn't quite see the conclusion.
"So… we can call people up to help us fight the demons?" she asked hesitantly.
And then it suddenly struck Zelda why they needed the Soul Scepter. "Erenrue," she said.
The fairy nodded. "There are far too many demons in Pallis for you and Link to defeat by yourselves. But if you use the Soul Scepter to call for reinforcements, you can take them out with relative ease."
"Who should we call?"
"Who better to take back the city than the men who died defending it?"
Zelda felt a cold chill run down her spine. "The Army of Erenrue."
The fairy nodded again.
Zelda felt hope rising in her like a warm tide. She and Link had often worried about how they were going to take back Erenrue, as they promised. They knew the city was overrun with demons and they had no idea how they could, with just the two of them, take out all of them. But now they could have, for once, some help.
"I must caution you, though," the fairy said; "the Soul Scepter only works while you are in possession of it. If you were to let go of it for any reason—even for a second—everyone you called up would be sent back to the Other Side. You may call them back, but if you are in the middle of a battle, the time you lose doing so could be critical."
Zelda nodded. And she understood now why the fairy chose her to wield it. If Link had to carry it, he would be not be able to fight very well. And in the narrow streets and close quarters of Pallis, Link's swordsmanship would prove more useful than her archery.
"You should make haste for Erenrue," the fairy continued. "The rift in Hyrule is growing wider, and while your efforts have sent many demons back into it, I fear what may come out next."
"I hope it's not another dragon," Zelda said. "I don't think we could handle another one of those."
"There is far worse than dragons inside that rift. A dragon can kill people, but there is a being in there who can destroy the entire world."
"That is why you must hurry," the fairy instructed. "You must close up the rift before it is wide enough to allow his escape."
The next thing Zelda knew, she was lying face-down on a cold stone floor.
"Princess!" Hols said, hurrying over. He carefully picked her up, holding her as if she was as fragile as glass. "Are you alright?" he asked.
She slowly nodded. "Yes, I think so."
"Are you sure?" he asked, his eyes worried.
"Well, no," Zelda admitted, "but I'm fine for the time being."
"I… don't understand."
"I'll tell you later," she said. "Can you help me up?"
He helped her to stand. She found that once she was on her feet again, she felt much better—a little tired, but with her strength returned; nothing a good night's sleep wouldn't finish fixing. She also found that her clothes had been returned to her—or maybe they were new. Regardless, she was dressed once more in pants and a blue tunic embroidered with the royal arms of Hyrule.
She looked around, but didn't see Link. Panic suddenly rose in her.
"He's still in there," Hols replied.
"Why?" she asked. Her mind immediately leaped to the conclusion that he must have been more badly poisoned. For some reason, he had seemed to tolerate it worse than Zelda; he had more trouble shaking off its effects than she did.
Or… what if the fairy couldn't heal him? What if she gave her the Soul Scepter because he couldn't be healed in time to go to Erenrue? Or… what if he was going to die?
"Link!" she shouted, convinced that he was in danger. She lunged for the pool and would have jumped back in, but for Hols' grip on her wrist.
"Princess, what are you doing?" he asked, bewildered.
"Link… he's dying!"
A moment later, the shimmering, colored fog above the pool coalesced into the fairy. "He isn't dying," she said.
"Then why haven't you released him?" Zelda demanded. "Why put me back and leave him in there?"
"I am letting him rest. It is a demon that's causing his nightmares—the demon in control of Pallis, to be exact. While there's nothing I can do to prevent his nightmares while he is in the world, the demon can't reach him inside my pool. So I am letting him rest. Without a respite from the nightmares, he will not even be able to make the journey to Erenue. I am, frankly, surprised he managed to find the strength to fight the dragon."
Zelda was slightly mollified. "I'm glad he's going to get some sleep," she said. "I've worried about that."
"He's not sleeping," the fairy corrected. "He can't sleep inside my pool."
"Then… what's happening to him?" she asked, confused.
"He is resting. His mind is still and he is without thought or emotion. It is as close to sleep as he can get and it should help refresh him. But he needs real sleep and he won't get it until the demon in Erenrue is destroyed. All the more reason why you should hurry."
Hols gently tugged on Zelda's hand. "Speaking of which, why don't we feed you and put you to bed? I'm sure you need sleep, too, and it's getting late."
"I'm staying here," she said automatically. She knew Link would never leave her behind if she had still been in the pool.
"Go," the fairy said softly.
"Go." Then she smiled. "I will send him along when he's had a chance to recover a bit. You need to get your rest, too; with Link crippled by nightmares, much more will depend on you."
Finally, Zelda relented and she let Hols lead her out of the cave.
"Tell me what happened," Hols said, practically begging.
Zelda sighed. "Well, we didn't have any problem crossing the desert. In fact, that was the easiest thing we did the entire time we were gone..."