Heart of Darkness
They went back into the prisoner block where they came in. The others followed behind them and surrounded the opening to the tunnels.
Vera hesitantly peered over the edge. "We're going down there?" she asked.
"Yes. It's deep enough you can jump in, but you should be able to touch bottom and keep your head above water. Once you're in, though, move to the left so we can get the next person in. Once we're all in, we'll lead you to safety."
Vera hesitated. In fact, no one wanted to go first.
"Where are we going?" a gruff voice asked behind them.
Everyone turned around to see Long Fang and Growder stalk into the corridor. People began to shrink out of their way.
"You're leaving?" Link asked with surprise. He thought that Long Fang and Growder would want to be at the front of the diversionary attack. After all, they were the ones who were talking about drinking the blood of their enemies.
"We're going with you," Long Fang corrected. "Everything is for naught if you can't make it to Nagadii. We will help you get there."
Link smiled. "We will be glad for your help."
Fearlessly, the two tigers jumped down into the tunnel below. There was a large splash when each hit, then they swam out of the way.
Emboldened by the tigers' display of courage, the others jumped in, too. Zelda and Link jumped in last.
The water seemed even colder than before—although that was probably only because his clothes had mostly dried and he had warmed back up. But what wasn't an illusion was the depth; whereas it had been up to his chest before, it now came to his shoulders.
"The water's rising," Link said to Zelda.
"Are we going to be trapped?" Vera asked anxiously.
"No, it's not rising that fast," Link said. "And other tunnels aren't this deep. But we can't stay down here."
"Who would want to?" she retorted.
Link used the telekinesis glove to shut the grate over them. If the diversionary group was beaten and the dungeon retaken, he didn't want to leave an indication that a remnant had escaped.
He pulled out the Master Sword, lighting the tunnel up in pale blue. There was a collective gasp from the people in the group.
"What's that?" the abbot asked. "A magic sword?"
"That's one way to describe it. It's actually the Master Sword."
"The Master Sword?" he asked incredulously.
The abbot looked at him with newfound awe.
Zelda consulted the map of the tunnels. "Where do we want to go?" she asked.
"I bet there's a well in the kitchens," he said.
"I know there is."
"That should be a good place to come up; I doubt there is anyone in there at this time of night and it shouldn't have a guard of any kind at all. Once we're out, these folks can hide down in one of the cellars and should be safe until we can liberate the rest of the castle."
Zelda nodded. "Sounds good."
They swam through the tunnels—Philippe and Castor clinging to the backs of the tigers—while Link lighted their way and Zelda gave them directions.
Everyone but the tigers were shivering by the time they finally reached a well that looked like it might open into the kitchen.
"I'll go up first," Link whispered.
He put on the clawshot, aimed at the top edge of the well, and triggered it. It flew upwards, caught, then quickly pulled him up. He caught the edge of the ledge with his other hand and pulled himself up, peeking over the edge.
The lights were burning low, but it wasn't so dark that he couldn't see that he was, indeed, in the kitchen and, as expected, there was no one there.
But rather than getting out, he let out the chain on the clawshot, lowering himself back into the tunnel.
"What's wrong?" Zelda whispered.
"Nothing. We're exactly where we need to be and there's no one nearby." He gestured for the abbot to come to him. "I'll take you up."
One by one, Link carried the people up until only Zelda and the tigers remained below.
Link climbed out of the well and teleported Zelda to his side. The others gasped in surprise, but he and Zelda ignored them.
"How will Long Fang and Growder get out?" Zelda asked, looking down at them.
"If you lower a ladder or something, we can climb it," Long Fang called up.
Link walked around the kitchen, looking for a ladder. He was about to give up when his eyes lit on the herbal drying rack that was mounted to the wall. It was more of a trellis than a ladder, but it looked sturdy enough that it might hold a tiger's weight, and it looked long enough to reach them.
"Majesty, help me," he said, climbing onto the table underneath the trellis so he could reach it.
Zelda climbed onto the table beside him. "Since when do you call me 'Majesty?'" she whispered so that only he could hear.
"Since we got here," he replied. "I want everyone to get the idea in their head that you are their queen."
"But I'm not yet."
"No, and you won't be if they don't think of you that way first," he explained.
Together, he and Zelda managed to rip the drying rack from the wall. They shook the herbs off of it, then carried it to the well. It was almost wider then the mouth of the well, but luckily it was long enough to go all the way down.
Long Fang came up first, followed by Growder. They distanced themselves from the others, then shook the water out of their coats.
Link took another look around the kitchen and collected up all the knives he could find. He pressed one into everyone's hand—even the abbot's.
"Take these," he said, "just in case."
Zelda led them to a door. After checking that the coast was clear inside, she gestured for them to enter. "This goes down into the cellars. Go down to the farthest one and stay there; you should be safe. We'll send someone down to get you when it's all clear."
The abbot's helper grabbed one of the torches, then they led the women and children down the stairs into the cellar. Zelda shut the door behind them.
"Now where do we go?" Long Fang asked.
Link turned to Zelda expectantly. He knew the castle quite well, but she knew it at night better than anyone else.
"Follow me," she said.
Together, the four of them ran silently through the castle. Either because most of the guards had been pulled out to man the walls, or because they had been called to answer the prisoner uprising, they didn't encounter anyone. In fact, it was rather eerie to see how empty and silent the castle was.
They made it to the second floor without any trouble and were heading for the royal wing when something suddenly shook the entire castle.
Then there was the sickening sound of cracking. Link looked up just in time to see a crack race across the vaulted ceiling above their heads.
"Watch out!" he said, diving forward onto Zelda. A moment later, the ceiling caved in and masonry fell where they had been standing a moment before. They were immediately enveloped by thick white dust which made them cough heavily.
They were still prone on the floor and gasping for breath when the first wave of demon-birds swooped down the hallway and dived at them, scratching and pecking—drawing blood on every part of their exposed skin.
Link had dropped the Master Sword when he shoved Zelda out of the way and he was left shielding his face with his arm while he groped around for his sword.
Blindly, he grabbed Zelda's hand by accident and the bracelets—which he had completely forgotten about—engaged, encasing them in a golden light.
Link watched as the demon birds screeched and hurled themselves against the dome of light, but they were unable to penetrate it.
It seemed he had guessed the nature of the bracelets correctly.
He tightened his grip on Zelda's hand and helped pull her into a sitting position. The dust was beginning to settle, but they were both still coughing.
"Are… you alright?" Link asked between coughs.
She nodded a little.
He spotted his sword a few feet away and leaned over to get it. The light shifted with him, keeping him inside its protective casing.
"You were right," he told Zelda, once he had a firm grip on his sword again; "being able to engage these bracelets and have a rest during a fight is invaluable."
Zelda looked behind them. The ceiling had completely collapsed behind them, blocking off the way they had come. Growder and Long Fang—who had been following behind them when the cave-in happened—were nowhere to be seen.
Zelda gasped, but this only caused her to suck in some lingering dust and made her start coughing again.
"L-Long Fang…" she choked.
Link looked at the pile of rubble sadly. "Hopefully they're safe on the other side. If not… we have no hope of digging them out—not that they would have survived this anyway."
"Hopefully they're safe," he repeated.
He got to his feet, then pulled her up, too. "All or nothing," he reminded her.
She nodded, wiping a tear from her face.
He began poking his sword outside the shield, hitting the birds that were still flapping uselessly against it. In a couple of minutes, they were all gone.
"I'm loving these bracelets," he said.
"Yeah, but I miss my bow."
He smiled a little at her. "Do you feel left out of the killing? Do you want to borrow my sword?"
He smiled a little more. But he couldn't really laugh at her; he felt just as helpless when they were in a situation where his sword was useless and the only thing they could rely on was her bow.
"Well, I daresay you'll get your chance soon enough," he said. "This cave-in wasn't an architectural failure or random earthquake; Nagadii knows we're here and and we're coming for him."
He felt her hand tighten in his and he gave her a reassuring squeeze in reply.
They jogged down the wide corridor, hand-in-hand, and turned the corner into another wing. They skidded to a halt, though, when they saw a large black tiger pacing back and forth across the hallway ahead of them.
"That's like the one that attacked me in that lair of illusions," Link said in a tight voice. He didn't have fond memories of that demon-tiger.
"If you let go of my hand, I can shoot it."
"It will be on us before you could do it."
As if it heard him, the tiger began to stalk towards them. It moved every bit as rapidly and fluidly as a real tiger.
Link tightened his grip on his sword. "Come here, you bastard," he muttered under his breath.
The tiger came up to the edge of their shield and took a swipe at it, but its claws scraped uselessly across the outer edge.
Link lunged, stabbing at it, but it jumped back nimbly, making him miss.
They were soon locked in a never-ending dance. The tiger growled and tried to rush the shield or swipe at it, but it wasn't able to get at Link or Zelda. Link repeatedly stabbed at it, but it always managed to dodge his strike. It couldn't overcome their defense, but the same defense restricted Link's movements, rendering him unable to fight a fast, clever opponent.
"This is getting us nowhere," Zelda said after a couple of minutes. "We've got to hurry. The others can't hold off Nagadii's guard forever."
"You're right," Link said. "But we also have to be careful; this thing has claws that can cut through chain maile. That's none too good for me, but it would be deadly for you, since you're not wearing any."
"How did you kill the last one you fought?"
"I stabbed it while it was jumping me. I also walked away bleeding. I would prefer if neither of us have to do that."
"You and me both." She frowned as she watched the angry tiger pacing just out of their reach. "Can you hold it off by yourself? If I had a little room to retreat, I could pull my bow and shoot it without a problem."
"I guess I'll have to; I can't see any other way to fight it."
She looked around, as if getting her bearings, then suddenly her face lit up. "I have a better idea!" she said, sounding excited.
She pointed up at the chandelier that was hanging just in front of their position. "Can you use your glove to drop that on the tiger and pin it down?"
Link was stunned by the idea for a moment, then he grinned. "I don't see why not."
He put away his sword and pulled out his glove, but immediately saw a problem with it. "I can't put it on," he told Zelda. The glove was made to be worn on his right hand—which was holding firmly to Zelda's. If he pulled away to put the glove on, they would break the bracelets' connection and lose their shield.
But Zelda was nothing if not practical. "Then give it to me," she said, holding out her hand.
It was a bit awkward, but between the two of them, they managed to get the glove on Zelda's hand.
"How do I use it?" she asked, looking at it.
"Aim it at what you want to move and just will it to come to you."
She frowned a little, looking unconvinced that it could be that simple, but she held her hand up towards the chandelier and a look of concentration settled on her face.
A moment later, the chandelier began to shake, causing the crystal drops to tinkle. Then the metal began to groan, and a second later, it detached from the ceiling and came hurtling towards them.
Link hastily grabbed Zelda's arm and jerked it down. The chandelier changed direction and instead of crashing down on them, it hit the tiger instead.
The floor shook a little and the sound of breaking glass and twisting metal was momentarily deafening, but their goal was accomplished: the tiger was pinned underneath the heavy chandelier. And, from the looks of things, it was knocked unconscious.
"Good job," Link said, letting go of her hand. He gingerly crossed the spray of broken glass and debris on the floor, coming within reach of the tiger. Then, before it could come to and find a way out of the wreckage, Link drew his sword and stabbed deep into it. A second later, it disappeared into a puff of black smoke.
Link breathed a sigh of relief. "That wasn't too bad," he said, feeling pleased they had managed to escape the confrontation with the tiger unscathed.
"Says you," Zelda retorted. "Do you know what it will cost to replace that chandelier?"
Link laughed. "A small price to keep your hide intact, I assure you."
They skirted the collapsed chandelier and continued their jog up the corridor, heading for Nagadii's room. Link was still thinking about how the telekinesis glove worked surprisingly well as a weapon when an idea struck him so suddenly, he seemed to see a white flash of light before his eyes.
He skidded to a stop.
Zelda ran past him, then stopped and turned to look at him.
"What is it?" she asked, looking concerned.
"I had a thought," he said with awe in his voice. It was such a wonderful idea, he wondered why he hadn't thought of it before.
"What?" she asked.
"We called up the Erenrue army to help us retake their city…" he said slowly.
"What if we did the same here?"
Zelda pursed her lips, looking thoughtful. "Would the Erenrue army be willing to fight for us here in Hyrule?"
"I wasn't talking about them."
He slowly smiled. "The men who swore—on their blood—to defend this kingdom and the royal family against all enemies."
She looked confused for a second, then realization dawned on her. She hurriedly pulled the Soul Scepter from her belt and held it aloft. "I, Princess Zelda, heir to the throne of Hyrule, do summon forth the Knights of Hyrule."
The air around them shimmered and then white, ghostly shapes began to coalesce. Link watched in eager fascination as a small legion of knights appeared before them. They were all wearing very old styles of armor—some quite primitive—but they stood with a proud, regal bearing that commanded instant respect.
They were all Hylians as well. Link had never seen so many of his own kind before in his life.
One knight, who stood at the head of the crowd, bowed very low to Zelda and asked, "How may we be of service, Your Majesty?"
"Are you aware of what has taken place here?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"So you know what we're up against and why we're doing it?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"Then… would you please help us defeat Nagadii?"
"Of course, Your Majesty," he said simply.
Zelda seemed a little startled, as if she had expected them to think about or debate what they would do first.
"Your oaths only hold you until death," she pointed out. "You don't owe me—or Hyrule—anything after you die."
The knight smiled softly. "Your Majesty, we have been hoping that you would ask for our help ever since you won the Soul Scepter. We would have fought beside you in Erenrue if you had called upon us." He spread his hands, indicating the men on either side of him. "Being a Knight of Hyrule is not, for us, a contract job that has a finite length of service. It is who we fundamentally are—down to our very souls. That we have sworn no oath to you personally makes no difference; we are Knights of Hyrule and this is what we do."
He knelt on the floor and all the rest of the men followed his lead. "We are your men. Command us."
Link had to quickly dash away the tears in his eyes. He had never heard anything more stirring in his life—and he had never wanted to be a knight more than he did at that moment. They represented everything he had ever wanted to be.
"What is your name?" Zelda asked.
"Laertes, Your Majesty."
His name brought Link up short. It sounded familiar, but he couldn't remember from where. Had he studied it in history? What had he done to win a name for himself?
Then Link noticed Laertes looking at him rather pointedly. When Laertes saw that he had Link's attention, he nodded once, as if in secret understanding.
And then it hit Link like a thunderbolt: the name had been in his family history book. Laertes was his ancestor—and the last knight in their family line. Link's sword—the one passed down through his family for generations—was said to have been Laertes'.
Link reeled, overwhelmed by the thought that he was looking in the face of the man he had revered more than any other.
Zelda put a hand on his arm, steadying him. "Link, are you alright?" she asked, looking at him in concern.
He nodded numbly. "Yeah, I'm fine."
She frowned, as if she didn't quite believe him, but she turned back to Laertes anyway. "We don't really have a plan for getting to Nagadii or fighting him—we've just been making things up as we go along—but if you have a plan or any ideas, we'd be interested to hear them."
Laertes smiled, then rose to his feet. The other men followed suit. "I think we can come up with a plan for you."
"Then we'll follow you."
"Thank you. It will be an honor to lead this assault."
He turned to the other men and they began speaking rapidly between them, pointing out weaknesses in Nagadii's defenses and precautions they needed to take. Once everything was on the table, they began to volunteer for different assignments.
After a couple of minutes, Laertes turned back to Link and Zelda. "Declan and Oster are going to go below and help your friends," he said, gesturing to two grim-face men. One was middle-aged and the other younger; both bowed their heads slightly to Link and Zelda. "If Nagadii sends demons to attack your friends," Laertes explained, "they will be wiped out in a matter of minutes, leaving his guards free to come at us from behind. And since we can't fight against the living, we would be of no help to you."
"I appreciate your help," Link said, addressing Declan and Oster. "My family is fighting down there."
"We know." The older man smiled a little. "The blood of the Knights of Hyrule runs deep in your family."
"Come, we don't have much time," Laertes said, gesturing to them. "Nagadii is performing very dark magic, even as we speak. The light is being drawn away."
Now that he mentioned it, it was getting darker in the hallway. Link looked around at the candle holders on the walls and saw that the candle flames were burning very low for no visible reason.
Declan and Oster sank down through the floor and out of sight. The rest of the knights formed a wedge ahead of Link and Zelda.
"Activate your shield again," Laretes told them. "We don't want anything that may slip past us to harm you."
Link took Zelda's hand in his and they began to follow behind the ghosts at a run.
Laertes' concern for them seemed misplaced. Although wave after wave of demon birds, bats, spiders, snakes and even tigers crashed into the formation of knights, not a single thing got past them. They moved quickly and fought with such grace, it looked more like they were dancing than fighting. Every movement was precise and simple; not one movement was wasted or superfluous.
It was the most beautiful performance Link thought he had ever seen. He wasn't sure if he could ever replicate their swordsmanship—not if he lived a hundred years. It wasn't something that could be learned from a book; it had to be handed down personally from master to student, but that line had been broken long ago.
Before long, they were standing in front of the doors to Nagadii's room.
"That's different," Zelda said sarcastically as they gazed up at the huge, black doors. Around the door facing were carved runes and mystic symbols that were pulsating with a red light.
"We cannot pass through the doors," Laertes said. "And I daresay you will find them locked to you as well."
"Then how do we get in?" Zelda asked.
Laertes shook his head. "I know not, Your Majesty. This is magic beyond anything any of us here know."
"There is no one in this world or in ours who knows how to break it," another knight said. "This is evil of a level only found in the Dark World."
The unexpected voice in his head caused him to jump.
"What's wrong?" Zelda asked, looking at him in concern.
"Master Gardamon," he replied. Then he spoke to the old man. Yes, sir?
I know a spell that will break what holds that door.
Can you tell me?
Yes, but I must warn you, Link: this will be very dangerous for you. If there is even one drop of darkness in your heart, the power of this spell will seize upon it and make it grow until it consumes you—as it has consumed Nagadii. Your Hylian blood will not save you, nor will your status as Hero.
So… it's impossible for me to say it without destroying myself in the process?
No, it is possible for you to say it and survive intact—you just have to have a pure heart.
What does that mean?
You must be free of any darkness.
But… what does that mean? What kind of darkness?
Unbridled ambition, jealousy, anger, lust, hatred, excessive pride, even hopelessness and despair—anything that causes you to harbor dark thoughts or feelings toward yourself or others.
Link exhaled sharply. He thought of himself as a good person, but there was no way he could be one-hundred-percent pure of heart.
His mind raced back to all the times he had fallen short. Was his desire to be a Knight of Hyrule too ambitious? He was certainly proud of the fact that he was descended from them. And hadn't Zelda said not a few hours earlier that he was an insufferable know-it-all? If that wasn't excessive pride on his part, he didn't know what was.
Was his desire for Zelda too ambitious—too above his station? Gods certainly knew he had lusted after her more than once! And he had felt jealous in Erenrue when she had to flirt with all the available noblemen. Yes, he had kept it contained, but that didn't mean he hadn't felt it. And he had exploded with rage when he found the Master Sword broken, only to wallow in self-pity and despair for weeks afterward. He had even made Zelda miserable with his hopelessness and lack of faith.
And how could he not feel anger and hatred for Nagadii, who brought this down upon everyone? How could he not feel anger for the man who killed Master Ryu and kind, gentle people like Prince Zeyde and Zelda's cousin, Nicoli?
There was no way his heart was pure enough to survive the spell.
"Link, what is it?" Zelda asked, still looking at him with concern. "What is Master Gardamon saying?"
He licked his lips nervously. "I must chant a spell to counteract the one Nagadii has on this door."
"Do… do you know the spell?"
"He will tell me."
She still looked unsure, as if she could sense that there was something he wasn't telling her. But he knew better than to tell her. It would only worry her needlessly. Besides, they had already sworn that, no matter what, Nagadii had to be defeated. Hopefully, even if he lost his soul to the spell, he would stay himself long enough to help Zelda fight Nagadii. And, if not, he hoped that she would do what was necessary to take the Master Sword from him and kill Nagadii herself.
Tell Princess Zelda and the others to cover their ears, Gardamon instructed. If they hear what you are about to say, it may take control of them as well. This magic is so dark, not even the souls of the dead are immune to its evil influence.
How are you able to say it? Link asked.
I died with a pure heart; it cannot harm me.
Link felt a twinge of longing; he wished Gardamon could help him be that kind of man.
"Cover your ears," Link told the others.
"Why?" Zelda asked, looking more alarmed.
"Because it will be bad for you if you hear this spell."
"What about you?" she demanded. "You're no magician. You have no way to protect yourself, do you?"
"I'll be alright," he said, not able to look her in the eye. "It won't affect me the way it will you."
That was, in the broadest possible sense, true; if she covered her ears and didn't listen, the spell wouldn't affect her the way that it would affect him. But that was stretching the truth to almost to the point it was a lie.
Lying to the person he loved most probably wasn't helping his cause any. Would the spell take over him faster the further he was from a state of purity?
Despite her obvious misgivings, Zelda covered her ears with her hands—or, at least the best she could do while still holding the Soul Scepter.
"Whatever you do, don't listen," he warned her. "Hum or sing or something—anything to block out the sound of my voice."
She nodded a little.
The knights drew back, huddling protectively around Zelda, and left Link standing in front of the black doors.
Repeat it after me, Gardamon said. You must say every word exactly as I say it—no mistakes. If you didn't hear me or think you don't have a grasp of the word, then say nothing. I will repeat it until you get it.
He took a deep breath. Goddesses of Hyrule, help me in this. Help me do my best, he prayed.
Then he raised his arms and looked up at the door.
"Aravum," Link repeated.
Link let him repeat that one, just to be sure he heard him right.
And it went on—a long list of words that just sounded like gobbledygook to Link.
"Appenar. Trilagdor. Ricalnay. Fotanar."
He didn't notice that it was becoming easier to say the words. They started to flow out of him automatically; he didn't have to stop and think about what Gardamon said. Eventually, he wasn't even hearing Gardamon's voice anymore; they came pouring out on their own.
"Vistik. Ralnar. Ystar."
Everything seemed to be receding away from him—fading into darkness. There was only him and the runes burning bright red around the door before him.
Nagadii was nothing—a mere human putting on airs. A Hylian, though…. Hylians had magic in their blood.
There was enough magic in him to control any spell he wanted to try. Nagadii thought he could rule the world? Ha! One word from him—one magic word backed up by his Hylian blood—would obliterate anything Nagadii dared to attempt.
And then he could take over Nagadii's tottering empire and build it up bigger and better than Nagadii could have ever imagined. He could control the entire world and there would be no one who could stand against him. No one could disdain his common birth when the blood of the gods flowed through his veins. No one would dare tell him that he couldn't have Zelda.
And why stop with just Zelda? There would be no woman in the world who could resist him. He could have any woman he wanted—or all of them. He could create his own harem and have children innumerable—all with his bloodline—all with his ability to rule and command magic.
He could have everything he had ever wanted—and more—if he only reached out and seized it!
But as soon as he thought that, he felt something inside him—something quite different—become uneasy.
He had been around royals long enough to know that they didn't have an easy job. Being monarch required a lot of work and self-sacrifice; your time and your person were not your own. Why on earth would he want to rule three kingdoms and have three times as many headaches?
And why would he want anyone but Zelda? He couldn't love anyone but her, so why even bother with someone else?
With the last word, something dark and foreign within him broke and all the disturbing thoughts—thoughts that weren't really his own—went away. At the same time, there was a loud crack, as if a great seal on the doors had been broken.
Link slowly lowered his hands and looked at the doors.
Did it work? he asked Master Gardamon.
Yes. Very good.
Does… does the spell have control of me?
Not anymore. You proved yourself to be pure of heart.
Link breathed a sigh of relief. Thank the gods, he said with feeling. I didn't think I would be good enough.
That you recognized that you weren't—but wished you were—was what it took. No one is truly pure, but as long as you can remember that—and as long as you can hope for better from yourself—then your heart, at least, will be pure.
"Is… is it over?" Zelda asked from behind him.
Link turned around. "Yes, it's over."
The knights moved forward again, taking their place at the front. Link held out his hand to Zelda. "I think it's past time you fired Nagadii and kicked him out of the castle," he said.
She smiled a little, slipping her warm hand into his. "Yes. I've found someone I much prefer to be my right-hand man."
"Left-hand," he said with a grin, as they approached the doors.
The knights streamed through the doors without trouble. And when Link reached out and turned the handle, they opened easily.
The first of Nagadii's spells was broken.