The Darkest Sun
The deadened moss crunched under the Princess Zelda's leather heel as she turned for the second counterclockwise circle around her work. The directions were very precise. They had to be. No matter how badly they had been written, carried in the hands of some foul shaman, there was nothing broad or vague about it.
The veil was a terrible, exacting thing, after all. It was a strong magic that kept mortals out of the Dark Realm, out of that hell of tormented souls and black reflections. Errors would be fatal, catastrophic. A ritual of such a dire caliber required precision. The runes cut into the broken dirt were perfect, the circle marked without a wobble or break.
Wisdom might have sufficed, she knew. But she knew only a dull fear when it came to summoning this Shadow. She was bringing forth a destroyer of kingdoms, a demon that had been sealed away by the efforts of her ancestors time and time again. She would rather Darkness call Darkness. Defiling herself was out of the question.
Ash crunched dry and cold as she made her rounds. This place had once been the castle she'd known for the early years of her life. It lay ruined and broken from insurgent attack after attack. Crops thinned. Farmers revolted. Powerful families fell.
People lamented toppling the crown. What had once seemed a righteous obligation, a rallying dissonant cry, had died down into a gurgle of horrified silence.
Hyrule had failed.
This place had once been the castle gardens, a jewel of beauty. Now it was no more than weeds. The life and heart had fled from it, as it had fled from all of her lands. The bloodline of her ancestors on the throne had been one of the blessings of Hyrule for better or worse, and over time it had been forced away. She walked around the magic circle cut into the old castle courtyard dirt as an intruder.
Third round. Zelda froze, feeling the spell begin to work. Muttering the incantation felt wrong, was in a black tongue, but it was all she had to go on. Now she drew the knife, brought her hand up and pointed the finger she would draw blood from.
The Triforce had been too scattered for too long. Courage was broken asunder, hidden in places even she could not see. Wisdom was active. Power was gone, beyond the edge of death-- the holder entombed in the Dark Realm.
All she knew of that holder was that he was once one of the ancient desert folk, long gone from the world. And that he was Ganondorf, King of Evil. Beyond that, the histories did not say. But Zelda was certain that no matter what he was, his piece had to return or the land would face a purging that even a King of Evil's reign would never compare to.
The Sacred Hour approached. Two moments left. One moment.
The time struck. And Zelda lit the spirit candle, offering the words of ritual.
The night as my witness, I call upon the Storm to clear the path!
Winds clawed at the air, and she could feel them begin to cut her way through the veil.
This Hour as my mark, I call upon the Setting Sun to bridge the gap!
And the sun did just that.
And by the powers of the Deep Shadow, I call upon the Realm of Darkness!
Only the sound of a rent world could make such a sickly groan. The chill of death scratched and gnawed at her cheeks, hissed upon her cold iron blade. And she prepared the knife.
By blood banished, by blood be re
Though before she grasped her knife, something else grasped her. Through the open door, before she could call Power back to the land of the living. Zelda was dragged, could feel the slimy grasping hands around her, scraping her against time and space and death. Down, down, down she flew, screaming all the way. And the mortal shear and whine of Wisdom as she passed beyond death itself.
The teeth of the black maw closed down upon Zelda of Hyrule. And she knew for certain that from what she had done, there was no going back.
Zelda knew time had passed, but she was not certain how much. There was no in-between haze that cut across sleep and waking. Her mind was not. And then it was.
Then again, Zelda supposed that was how things worked beyond the veil. Any Sheikah knew about the nature of darkness. There was no sight; there were no illusions that could fool the eyes. Only touch. Nothing existed in the dark until one could lay hands upon it, feel that it was there. And only for as long as the hand remained upon the Dark World could it be known as there. Until she had touched her own mind, it simply hadn't been. It was a truth that held not for sight, but for reality itself in that place.
Thus was the Dark's corruption. Through it, one could feel the world in a new spectrum of glory, whet one's appetite. But only for as long as the hand lingered. And to turn away from that contact would mean being alone in shadow, the primal fear it was. Even the strongest crumbled, once glutted too far beyond letting go of that world of new strength. The Sheikah were those who had let go, those who immersed into the dark, and had eventually faded from the world because of it.
The first sensation Zelda knew was pain, and she was thankful for it. It was a sharp, grounding feeling. Her shoulder creaked sharply as she met a cold, grimy floor. She bathed in a stench, her nose pushed into dirty rushes that only superficially masked a layer of refuse and waste. A rat's bones tickled her left ear.
And bodies, the stamping of feet all around her. Heavy clicking of hooves, the crack-squish of weight crushing litter and smearing dung into the straw. Voices, squealing in dissonant tones, muffled as if rasping through a groggy layer of mucus and grime.
"Prisoner's not to be harmed!"
"Been so long since a virgin sacrifice, I want her now!"
"No! Prisoners belong to the Greatlord!"
"Just one prisoner?"
"Greatlord's been still for years! Never moves a muscle from the throne, turned to stone, eyes to ash!"
"He's watching! Behind the cloth!"
"But he don't care!"
Zelda could feel a meaty fist pull her up by her neckline. She was strangely boneless, too weak to so much as lift her arms to push the hand away. Her vision focused, met with grotesque jowls that spattered slobber over the floor and the long-cold coals that had spilled from ancient watchfires, when the enormous dark hall was still lit.
She would have panicked, had she been any other in her kingdom. But Wisdom ran deep, slowed time for her. And before hazy eyes her thoughts were as crisp and clear as they ever were.
These are monsters. And they wish to do horrible things to you, one half of her mind screamed. Run. Run now. Fight. Escape. These are horrors of killing and burning and torture. Run. Run.
Do not be afraid, replied Wisdom, infusing her blood with a coldness. No harm is destined to befall you tonight.
Wisdom always won, Zelda knew. Always. Her crying fears, the things that made her the most human she could hope to be, always were overpowered. For her, there was only the serenity that made her more a statue than a woman. Always.
Never mind that she had no strength to spend, anyway.
"What the Greatlord doesn't know..."
"Never said not to play before delivery..."
"Said nothing at all, really."
"Nothing at all..."
"Just a taste..."
Don't, Zelda thought. Stop, don't, that knife-- get it away, get it away
Oh goddesses no no stop stop I can't let them hurt me why can't I move I have no strength so tired I can't fight what is this place is this death or hell stop, please no no don't get any closer if I could summon magic you would be dead twice over...
And the roar.
Zelda had never heard such a roar before. It shook the floor, shook the walls, shook the black pillars of stone in between. Whatever gruesome fate awaited her, it halted immediately. It was a moment before Zelda realized that in the slackening grasp of the moblins, the roar had been words.
The voice was one not made for uttering any fair tongue. Its butchery of her mother language made her ears sting. Grating from vocals that were suited more for some ancient creeping beast, the bellow had been nothing less than terrible.
"She is mine!" it had said. And the moblins had dropped her and scattered, as jackdaws away from a predator's kill.
The far end of the wide hall had been curtained off by a hang of tattered red velvet. Wormholes and ancient dust pockmarked it into rags that still cut the sight. But they now parted and shook off their grime, as if undisturbed for years. Decades. Centuries. Zelda, weakly propping herself up on the filthy floor, could only look up at what emerged from beyond the blind.
She saw only a hard, split hoof. And then a leg. A hanging arm, beastly, tipped with what was both a hand and a vice claw. And a furred, hunched back, dressed in cracked armor as if clinging to some semblance of station. Finally, it's terrible jagged face: snouted as a monstrous boar, tusked with sword-lengths and horned to gore a grown bear. Deep set under the bristly brow were two burning-coal eyes that pierced into her. It-- he, she knew-- was enormous, dwarfing her in stature three to one. And the tarnished finery he decked himself with, the mountains of chipped jewels and bent gold, were spattered with blood.
He walked with exact, heavy steps down the dais and to her crumpled form. Her legs would not respond. Before long, she bent before him, craning up to see the repulsive snarl that stretched across his porcine face.
She could not speak. And from his claw, he produced a black-skinned plum. His claws dug into the skin, cutting it, drawing lines of red, pale juices.
"You will eat," he said.
And he lifted her roughly, pinning her against the stone pillar to her left. Magic, she cried out in her head. She tried to summon something burning, or something cutting, but Wisdom was quiet and her energy was gone. Moving was like fighting a sea of tar. She set her jaw, staring coldly at the fiend that pinned her. But he ground her against the stone with a growl and grasped her neck tight, bruised it and cut her breath. Even she could not resist gasping and choking after a few agonizing seconds. He nearly stuffed the plum into her mouth, and her teeth closed upon it before she could spit it out. The flesh was cold, the sugar sour. And still, as he released his choke she was forced to swallow.
He dropped her as so much baggage, and she trembled to rise. She tried to cough up the bitter fruit in her mouth, but it was too far gone, leaving her with only a lingering taste like decay. And slowly, she could feel a muted warmth spreading through her veins, like a breath fed into her. She could feel her strength slowly return.
"You will not die here, not after eating the food of the underworld," he said harshly, gripping her arm and lifting her to eye level. "Not yet."
He studied her for a moment, hellfire eyes burning strangely cold. His bristly snout snuffled as a hog to a scent, and Zelda found the energy to give a small, scared sound as his breath huffed over her collarbone, sharp tusks passing far too close to her face.
"You look like her," he said angrily. "You smell of her."
His ravenous gaze narrowed.
"And you are not her."
Zelda felt the heaviness in her heart, the hotness of her magic pulse weakly. Wisdom resonated, quietly, as if the responding source was waning and stretched thin. But a faint, muffled glow did flicker from his right claw that held her high in the air. And Zelda weakly lifted her fingers over the monster's own, trying to look him in the eye. She could not. Surely he couldn't be that man; the name that had been erased from all records but one. If only for Power, though so faint, weakened...
"Ganondorf?" she asked, dread trembling in her heart.
But his icefire eyes did not brighten with recognition, his face did not slacken with interest. He only scowled, jowls lifting to reveal a razor-lined maw. And she finally managed, after all of the black horrors she had seen in her brief waking, to scream. His eyes were those of a dumb animal, with no light, no understanding, no emotion or soul in them. Only a fog of rage, and the depths with which to know a tongue and speak.
He snarled and took her someplace else in a whirl of unthinking foul magic. And he threw her into a tower room, looking down at her with a brutish frozen hysteria that was almost mechanical by nature.
"There is no Ganondorf here," he said hatefully.
The door slammed, her prison complete.
"I am all there is."
His face appeared in the tiny bar-bridged window through the door from time to time. He was the one who left the food, dreary and unappetizing fare as it was. He was the one who grinned at her with beastly jowls as their eyes met, though his smile had nothing behind it. It was merely a movement of the jaws.
It was Zelda who spoke when her eyes were too tired for crying and her mind too numb from fear.
He answered one question a day, as spare of answers he gave.
"What are you?"
"I am Ganon."
"Where am I?"
"This castle is mine."
"Where is Ganondorf?"
"I ate him."
And life, such as it was, continued on. Her room was thick with dust, a tranquil coating half an inch thick. The shelves housed books with spines so old they cracked when she opened them carelessly; editions far enough out of print they were better suited to a museum than a library hall. A rusted sword nearly too great for her to lift leaned against the far wall. The bed was enormous, but the curtains chewed by moths.
After she had shaken all of the sheets free of dirt, she spent a long time weeping into that bed, wondering what would happen to her now, when she would die. About how foolish her plans were. And awaiting with fear the food that could have been full of poison for all she knew.
There was a scent on those sheets, that pillow. It was ancient, faint, faded. But it still persisted, a hint of musk and man. It tasted distantly of spice, quietly metallic. The bed's previous occupant, still barely clinging to existence somehow even under the crushing weight of time-- ages, centuries perhaps. The smell comforted her and in her futile imaginings she could almost feel a weight upon the mattress, a hand over her shoulder, reassuring her of strength.
Whatever ghosts lingered in that dreadful room, they were on her side. Eventually, Zelda managed the courage to stop Ganon when he left.
"What are you going to do with me?" she asked sharply.
"I will keep you," he said slowly.
"You are mine."
"Because you are."
That, she noted, was a very odd sentiment for an animal to have.
"You won't kill me?"
"I will," he said.
"It will be slow."
"As slow as I want it to be."
A very odd sentiment for an animal. No, a moment, there was... tiny, in there, but it was there...
No, it was my imagination. There was nothing there. He's just the same.
Zelda's magic returned. The food of the underworld had cured her, no matter how bad it tasted. But she still stayed in the room, with the door closed. It was an asylum. As long as Ganon thought he kept her, she was safe to think and was given food on which to survive. She did not want that beast angry with her; even if Power was weak this was her only 'safe' haven in the Dark Realm and once she left it she would have to leave forever. She clasped the pillow tight to her, breathing in the faint, ashy scent that still had not left. Whoever had used the room had used it for a very long time. The signs had sunken into it, just as the smell of body had irreversibly infused the sheets. There were no literal spirits haunting the place, but every so often Zelda could swear she was not the only one living there.
And her dreams, of a man with no appearance, only a presence. He did no rescuing, but simply was. The ghost of the room, crying out in anguish and reaching to her, grasping her in desperation. So lost, so hungry, tired, begging her for sustenance. And it clung to her memory and so lived on, tortured.
Zelda blew the dust off of the room, but moved the furnishing little. Only the books and the great sword she touched. The rest she left.
The great sword was not so much heavy as weighted for someone with many times her strength, if not for some titan. Zelda could lift it and swing it, but could not hope to wield it well. A crust of rust had webbed over the blade, and for hours she took to rubbing it clean. It was slow going, but with an old tin of wax she found in the corner she pressed on.
A wide stripe of dull metal cut through the blackened rust as Zelda set the enormous blade aside to rest on the bed. Her thoughts that she calmed with the idle meditation came rushing back to her.
Her present situation did not matter, she told herself. What mattered was getting Power back to Hyrule, along with the Wisdom she carried herself. Beasts and death. Darkness, it didn't matter.
The Beast King Ganon had Power, however diluted it had become. Why it called itself Ganon, an obvious shard of the previous Power Bearer's name, was a mystery to her. There was some sort of relation. There had to be. Aside from rudimentary intelligence, the beast used the name Ganon little, referring to himself only as 'I' and using 'Ganon' only when 'I' was not a sufficient word. If Ganon had eaten Ganondorf, as he said, then was it possible that Ganon had also taken the man's name? Even if partially? Perhaps that bit was the only bit his mind could retain?
Wisdom would answer none of her questions; it was not a thing to be demanded of. Zelda decided to probe the matter herself. She had no materials with which to scry, but she could think of something better.
She crossed her legs and let the soft bed relax her body. And drawing of Wisdom, she sent her consciousness dancing over the thin, tenuous connection between them. Far sight was normally a frightening, dangerous task to undertake without preparation. But with this method, limited to seeing the remains of Power, she walked as a specter in distant halls. Praying that he was not alert enough to detect her presence.
A fantastic bombast met her phantom ears as soon as she finalized the connection. The suddenness of the cacophony knocked her away, and only after shaken seconds did she realize that the commotion was in fact music.
What had been a faint, undetectable vibration in the tallest tower was a loud, bellowing melody played over organ pipes. It was deep, dark, bleak. Half the notes were off-key, slowed, lingering. As if the player was not quite sure what notes he had to hit.
The player hunched over the manual, too enormous to sit. Ganon the Beast bent back and ran over bare-worn ivory keys with an exact methodical touch. Zelda neared, perplexed over the bizarre sight. But any doubts about deception cleared instantly when the tune mechanically repeated, each off-mark mistake exactly the same as the previous iteration. He only repeated, uncomprehending of what music was, that something was wrong and that there were errors. This was no form of self-expression, but simply an engrained task that for some reason the Dark King Ganon undertook while she would have been sleeping in her tower.
And then came the doubts again, but from a different angle. Why was this thing compelled to do such a useless action? Who did it play for, and why? How did it know how to play at all, when it felt so dead to her? When it did not understand the world around it? Was it the same grotesque quality that gave it a tongue, a base mind, but no soul to harness them?
This was a something, Zelda thought. A something that had a meaning. And that something was important, when there was only nothing behind Ganon's hollow eyes.
When she returned to her body in the tower, a feeling of haunted chills raged down her spine. She took the great-sword and wrapped the blade in the thick, dark velvet cloth that had fallen from the wall hangings. And she placed its weight beside her on the bed, and gripped it as she slept. As she drifted off to sleep, she could imagine the phantasmal comfort of a sleeping body by her side.
Not much later, Zelda experienced a vision.
It was unlike any other vision she had ever experienced. No flashes, no whispers. Just a tangibility to her dreaming that far outstripped that of the real world. Light was too sharp through the reddened glass, color too bright...
And yet the sound. She had heard it before, yet not so whole. The dirge carried though her perception, angry, mourning, hopeless. Lonely. Miserable. All the notes struck were on key, each with a screaming dark drive behind them. Emphatic, enraged.
The broken-melodied facsimile she knew outside of the dream had been as thin and superficial as a piece of tattered paper. And the player at the keys, she couldn't see. She stood in this dream world of visions between the enormous organ pipes and a young man in green that she knew was the Hero, yet did not know. Suspended over the scene was a shimmering glass prison, through which she almost saw herself...
The organ ground to a stop, and the player turned around just as the sound faded from the air. Zelda saw, to her horror, a blurred face that quickly decayed, rotted, festered into Ganon's, with a horrified expression plastered all over it. And still the scene didn't stop; it continued on even with the nasty blight spreading to every part of the huge man's body-- and he didn't seem to notice, despite the terrible sadness in his gaze. The voices were muted, but Zelda knew exactly what had been said anyway.
It was then that Zelda realized what had been in front of her the entire time. Staring her in the eyes. Her first conclusion, gone so gruesomely right.
Zelda bolted out of the dream in a cold sweat, sour words on her breath. "Ganon is Ganondorf," she said.
But how could that be, when Ganondorf had been a man, and Ganon seemed devoid of anything human? Ganon was too hollow, too lifeless. Power was only a fragment, and the holder of Power was a man, that she knew. So if that was the case, where was the rest of it?
"Where is Ganondorf?"
"I ate him."
And she grasped the wrapped sword, inexplicable mourning washing over her soul. She knew only that Ganondorf had been a horrid man, that he had been evil to the core. Or so she had heard. Her power to know secrets would not elaborate upon the true nature of his soul. But while all men died, no man deserved this. Ganondorf was dead. And yet, some disgusting shadow clung to this world. A rude, unsatisfactory stand-in. Merely a placeholder. A reminder of days long, long, gone by.
Zelda wept one last time. She convinced herself it was for a man she never knew, who probably didn't deserve it. But in truth, she knew she was on spare time already. Only so long would this routine last. Eventually Ganon would forget her, lost in his own delusions and animal savagery. And one day, some day soon, he would come to eat her up, too.
And true to her suspicions, he did not come to feed her the next day.
Or the day after that.
So Zelda left the room.
Ganon did not notice her absence until the next day when he did appear at her door and she had not been there to ask a question. Zelda watched from afar, doing her best to cloak herself in Sheikah magic that she had learned in her years on the run. It proved to be good enough-- the Dark Beast did not so much as feel a tinge of her. Zelda suspected that while it wielded some of the physical destructive parts of Power, the most of it that had died with Ganondorf contained the ability to sense. The blind beast had learned of her absence by smell. He had not smelled her within the door, and he had smote it apart until he could search the room.
But Zelda had made sure she was long gone. She still watched, of course. She had to watch, or else Ganon could sneak up on her and she would never know.
He had flown into a rage, one that she had no wish to ever experience. Nothing was invincible in his path. But after two days of failure, he began to lose the fury at a trickle. As it became less and less likely she would appear, his tail began to droop and he began to patrol the halls periodically, as if desperately waiting for her to return. When he encountered one of his 'subjects' he would dispatch them with a blind rancor.
All of this did not change one thing: that she had to escape. If Hyrule was troubled without Power, with Wisdom gone there must have been chaos. Whether she brought Power back or not, she had to return.
A difficult task, in a world completely made to kill those like her. In the end, she did not leave the castle at all, but took refuge in a place Ganon would not think to enter: the library.
Or what was left of it. Like the books in her room, the collection was worn and weathered almost beyond readability. Torn pages littered the floor, and she did not dare light a fire to warm the room. It was a slow, arduous task but Zelda began to comb through what she could of the material, looking for anything that could help her. She didn't care if it was summoning a death god to bring her back, she would escape.
Even if technically, she was free... she had never felt more trapped in her life.
Calling her new shadowy realm the Dark World felt like a misnomer-- there, the moon was twice as big as it was seen in Hyrule, and it lit the library table she had pushed up against the window quite starkly. Zelda carefully placed the ancient leaf down, afraid that the notes would crumble to dust if she mishandled them. Quietly, she sat down to read.
They were collections of stolen material. Tomes ransacked from the Sacred Realm-- they did not say much beyond metaphysical revelations. Stolen manuscripts on magical theory. Old, forgotten, almost outdated treatises. They did not help her in the least.
Zelda had been pouring over it all when she encountered a thick stack of loose paper shut within a decrepit copy of some old summoning manual. They were almost stuck to the pages, but she managed to separate them: it had been kept from the book's print by thick sheets of parchment.
The ink was unfaded, safe from the outside air. Written in a heavy, bold, but angular neat hand, the text slanted across the page. Upon a moment of skimming, Zelda found it was not notes on magic or calling demons but some personal account. The first entries, the oldest, were dated. But as they went on, the dates became more and more vague until they stopped entirely. Years passed between the entries sometimes.
She began to read. The entries began angry, adamant, claiming that he must keep a record or he would lose his mind. Then as time went on, it seemed, he began to discuss himself, his likes, things he missed. Books he read. Opinions he had. How desperately he wished to hear a voice of something that was not a monster. And still angry, but as his handwriting grew less sloppy and more concise the anger turned inward.
Zelda spent hours reading, the words running through her mind. And she could almost hear, so, so far away, somebody speaking in her ear. The way he wrote, the way he spoke, pulled her in. She was lonely, was scared and ravenous for some kind of contact. He was, too, in a way.
But the entries, after a very long time, began to shorten. The handwriting began to deform. The writer became ever more bleak and barren until the unconditional fury began to resurface. Thoughts written became simpler, more enraged, until only one last single line on the final page even sounded like the brilliant, razor witted, forlorn man from the middle of the collection.
If anyone ever finds this manuscript, I am sorry. I barely can fathom it, but I am truly sorry for what I have done. I'm slipping away quickly now, but I can't die. I'll never die. But to those who read this, I am gone. And I am sorry. For everything.
And after that, there were no more entries. Zelda stared at the delicate paper in her hands, feeling as if she held something holy. Alive. She knew who had written the account: Ganondorf himself. And the picture painted was a very different man than what the single forbidden tome left in Hyrule that mentioned him had reported him to be. It was like the vision, where everything had been so real to her. His words dripped emotion, and on that page perhaps the man was still alive.
She inhaled the faint dust left on the loose pages. The paper smelled of him faintly, too. Her hands crept down to the enormous broadsword she carried around, nearly feeling breath in her ear.
But all of that was a lie. The man was dead. And not only dead, but his memory was so perverted that he had been turned into exactly what those had condemned him had claimed him to be.
It sickened her. This legend was a horrible one, and she spent day after day combing the library for perhaps more of his notes and his thoughts, his phantoms. Waiting for the sun to rise on the Dark Realm, and carry her home.
But it never did. Each tiny remnant she found, she read and kept and poured over again and again. And with every scrap of him she encountered, the more she realized that she had fallen deeply for the dead man on the other side of the paper.
Even as she hid from his shadow.
Five days passed, and Zelda was no closer to leaving than she had been before. Even the Dark Lord had been unable to figure a way out. At the point she had reached, Zelda had simply given up and turned herself over to Wisdom. Asking for its favor, praying that the time was right for her to learn of the exit.
The library was her fortress. She sat cross-legged on the floor, forgoing the broken chairs, texts and notes spread around her like a shieldwall. In her lap, she clutched the cloth-wrapped broadsword. And in her desperate mind she felt that the owner's hand still lingered upon the weapon, within the paper.
Absurd, of course, she told herself. But whatever gave her soul comfort, she would take readily.
She dug deep, forcing her way into the vast current of thought that was a collective of perhaps every Zelda that had ever been. Also likely some that never were to be, and some that might have been but had lost some sort of chance to be realized. And she searched, clawing at the resource, exhausted of her possibilities. All to glean some sort of answer. Even a hint. A clue. She was ready to accept anything at all that could help.
Images did not flicker past her eyes, but something that was not quite memory did become plainer to her. Like remembering a scent, and by that path, a place or a time or a feeling. Deep inside that endless, cold, unfeeling sea, she extracted what she could describe as an experience.
It wasn't a comforting thought that the Goddesses had allowed her to take away that of all things. It was the echo of many Zeldas, the recurring phenomenon of capture. The hopelessness in the moments they were not the stony beauties of yore. And each time, for some twisted purpose. Some times, the Hero won-- especially when it truly counted. In other times, the Demon won and Darkness reigned for a time. But out of each conflict, in the ashes, Hyrule was reborn. It did not stagnate as other nations did; fall as other nations fell. Because of the periodic upheaval within, Hyrule refined itself, without any tampering from petty foreign squabbles.
That was the grand purpose, Zelda knew. But in her long, long period of peace that stagnation had happened; the cheated gods were not able to assemble their players. The lives of three were a small price to pay for the overall prosperity of the whole. Though, she supposed, this Legend was not hers, and it was the duty of the other players to draw the conclusions about what was important.
But what was she supposed to conclude from that oh-so-enlightening foray into the spiritual, Zelda wondered? The horrible feeling of being caged, and the question of why? What sort of escape was that?
Zelda never was able to finish her thought, for she was plucked out of her trance by a heavy hand. Coarse nails scratched the back of her neck, and she screamed out loud. Surprise proved to be a powerful weapon against her, and for a moment her mind could contemplate nothing but a shocked blankness as her heart seized up.
It lasted only a moment, though. Zelda released a burst of magic that should have incinerated more than an arm and fell to the floor. Quickly, she flipped over and began to evaluate the attacker. She almost did not have to. It was Ganon, as she had initially feared. And he slapped the sword out of her fumbling, surprised hands.
All of his mass leaned over her in the high-ceilinged library hall. And every single bit of it exuded a black madness: a frenzy. To attain, to get, to use, to have, to keep, to take. To kill. To eat. To defile.
To what end, Zelda did not care to find out. He struck at her with his horn-hard claws, smiting the stone and carpet where she had been a moment earlier and rending them as if they were clay and paper. Zelda had rolled to the side, and while he fumbled for his balance she grabbed a tall silver candlestick from where it lay fallen by the window. She cracked off the dried, half-melted wax to find the devilishly sharp point that had impaled it for more years than Zelda could imagine at the time.
She stuck it into his back, through the tattered cloak. He screeched in a horrid pitch, and Zelda twisted for good measure. There was no more running. Even if she fled, he would find her eventually. It had to end, no matter the cost. If she died or even remained forever as a captive, then Hyrule would have nobody to watch over it, for the first time in centuries.
Ganon backhanded her and she went flying across the ground. Her nest of salvaged material was ruined, a large gash on her forearm bled gently when she straightened, and the floor was streaked from it. The beast himself was beyond words; he merely charged her again, murder in his eyes. Or something akin; Zelda was not sure if the beast even knew why he did what he did anymore.
Of course. It was so obvious.
Zelda ducked behind one of the stone bookshelves and began to push the weak angle at the bottom as Ganon snuffled angrily around, searching for her by scent. That was it. That was what the Goddesses wanted to say. Why she had been taken and held so many times before. To gather the Triforce. One shard on its own did not pull the others to it. But two united did exert a strong call, a reverberation that strengthened with a full gathering. She was held, but never killed, because without her the Evil could never draw Courage in. It would be lost to time until another reprise if she expired and the pull would be broken.
The heavy bookshelf eventually toppled over, spilling heavy volumes everywhere. Ganon roared as the weight slowed him, and he flailed under the debris. Zelda ran for the broadsword on the other side of the room, drawing it from its wrappings just as Ganon freed himself. The weapon was much, much too heavy for her. But she had little choice.
It was a shame she had to kill Ganon, she realized, but unavoidable. He only had a shred of Power, and she needed all of Power if she wanted to be yanked back through the veil. The Triforce could not cross the veil of death without a host to ride upon. It was merely passed to the next holder, if whole. If Wisdom and Power couldn't pull Courage to her while she was in the Dark Realm, she would simply be pulled to Courage. Even if Power was not whole in this lifetime, it would be in the next. And eventually, her soul would be drawn out of the darkness.
Once again, too bad that the resources weren't at her disposal. But it was all she could do to free Power itself from being stuck in the netherworld. It was better than nothing. At least one more of three would be intact, instead of shivered into a million pieces. Zelda struck. She was turned away by a flurry of blows, but she stood her ground as best she could. Slowly, she was being forced back to the door. The sword felt too weighty in her hands, too hard to aim and swing.
"He learned, you know," she said, grasping at the vaguest possibility she could conjure. That a tiny speck of the original man still dwelt inside the monster. Just enough to confuse him, to slow him. "Ganondorf was a very different man when he died than when he lived. He changed."
Ganon did not reply, or even notice that she had spoken. He only clawed at her, snarling through slavering jaws. Zelda managed to dodge to the left; Ganon's only success was in rending apart a curtain, and he spent precious heartbeats relocating the princess. She still spoke, seeing the effect of her words play out.
"He was kept waiting, and even if he was sour, time refined him. Like wine, he sat and eventually grew deeper than he had been before. He became more like me, remembered things from his pasts that sweetened his mind." She paused, waving the blade just enough to keep him at a distance. "But in the end he just turned to vinegar."
The door was too near; she couldn't leave. Her bloody arm throbbed; in a narrow corridor, she would have an advantage but the risk was too great. If she was approached from behind by Ganon's servants she would be completely doomed. Instead, she rolled to the side of a swipe to the doorframe and circled around. The candlestick was still stuck into his back, and she complimented it with a second wound. He cried in pain and nearly knocked her senseless as his tail snapped to bear. Zelda realized she was trapped. There was no more possibility of escape, to fight on her own terms.
"Ganondorf!" she yelled. "You have to listen to me! Wake up!"
"There is no Ganondorf here!"
Zelda could barely discern the words, but he spoke: rabid and terrible. She ducked under him, and it was then she experienced the moment of virtue. Soldiers described it: that glorious instant where everything slows down and the world grows faraway. A wide crack in his armor opened for her blade, and smoothly she plunged it in. The roar was distant, his legs slumped and arms flailed wildly. And his boar face twisted down to meet her eyes.
There was nobody behind them. So Zelda, with an eerie mourning in her heart, released her magic. Holy arts, forced through the metal of the old sword. The Light cracked around her hands, and Ganon screamed. She stopped only when she was sure he was dead. And with that, she withdrew the sword and felt the last shred of Power escape back into the cycle.
Someday, the Dark Lord would be reborn again into the world of light. And when that day came, his Power would set things anew. It was the way of the world. That was his role, the dark force that the goddesses had saved for a time such as this. And she had played her part this iteration. She had fetched him forth.
Now it was over, and her plan to recapture Power and escape was shattered. Yes, she had succeeded. With a little luck, someday the Triforce would regather in Hyrule once more. But it was not her day. She would never live to see it. Or the dawn, for that matter, ever again.
Her arm stung, and she just noticed the slow congealing seep of blood from the scrape. She had been lucky. If more than a sliver of the Holy Power had been within that beast... she didn't want to think of the outcome. Power was by nature far mightier in direct confrontation than Wisdom. She tore a strip from her already tattered dress and began to make a makeshift binding.
She found she couldn't manage it. Her hands shook too much, even after dropping the bloody sword. The smell of iron in the air, the dead beast (man?) lying heavily on the floor, it moved her. The ghosts were back.
Why don't you talk to him now, she asked herself? It would do you just as much good as talking to him while he was still breathing and moving and trying to consume you. Or corrupt you, befoul you. I guess you'll never know now. In the end, for all of your hoping that somewhere in there maybe even a bit of the man was still alive... there wasn't. Or if there was, it was not enough to be a man at all.
She tried to convince herself that he was free now. It did not work; that was not the way he wanted it to be. Not from every single entry in his writings. He had known and feared this beast he had eventually become. He had even begged forgiveness. And as far as Zelda was concerned, he had it.
Because she knew what had turned him into a monster in the first place. And even if the start of evil had come from himself, it had been fed by her people. Her kingdom. Her throne. He was dead: bygones were bygones, and all that remained was the shadow of him, left in ruined passages deep in the Dark Realm.
He would not have wanted to be defeated in this way. He would have wanted to have gone out with a last blaze of might. Not this pathetic, stifled rotting: whimpering and alone in the dark.
She looked into the slack-jawed shock on Ganon's face. It just wasn't fair.
But why not? A voice prodded her from some cynical corner. Isn't that what you wished to do in the first place, weeks ago? Bring him forth? Raise the Dark Lord from the dead? Before he seized you mid-ritual.
It was never clear if that ritual would work in the first place. And I have none of the materials; it would be dangerous to try. And bringing forth the dead, it was a horrible idea to begin with.
You know how to make it work. You have something better than dark magic. And you cannot deny you want him. To talk, at least. To know him. Curiosity. With Power and Wisdom on your side, you truly could escape here. You might not have to die here alone and wait a lifetime to join the world of light again.
Zelda knew it was more than curiosity, but she dared not think on that. But it tortured her, so she decided to at least try. Zelda attempted to remember the words that had gone with the magic. With luck, it still hung unfinished.
"The night as my witness, I call upon the Storm to clear the path..."
Yes, the ritual was still there, still in effect. But she had none of the components here; she only could hope raw strength could compensate.
"The Hour as my mark, I call upon the Setting Sun to bridge the gap..."
She needed not a marked holy hour, for the hour she asked of was her own darkest one. And she needed no grave dirt , for Ganon himself was a tomb. The idea of lighting a ritual candle, or marking rune circles, was ludicrous: with Wisdom, the magical strength she had not dared to fully harness, she did not need either of those things. Instead, she did her best to send a little of her white magic into the cold body on the floor, trying to put warmth back into it. It lay still.
"And by the power of Deep Shadow, I call upon the Realm of Darkness..."
She needn't have, for she was there to begin with.
"By blood banished, by blood be reborn..."
Her wounded hand sufficed, and she let fall her own blood onto the floor, over the corpse. Hers would do just as well as the Hero's. The success was visible: wounds had been closed, its heart was beating, and its empty mind was flaring into order: ready for a master. And she drew a deep breath for the final line, mastering her own last doubts about what she was doing.
"I call upon the name of the Dark One," Zelda said, voice cracking. "Ganon..."
Her throat felt dry.
The ritual hung in place, ghosts thickening the air with anticipation.
"Ganondorf! Accept this plea, and be shaped anew!"
Lightning crashed outside the high window, and Ganon's body jolted. The chest lifted up, strung by an invisible grasp. It shook limply from impacts, as if run through by a hundred spears. The air was so heavy with spirits and energy that Zelda could nearly feel each shred pierce the vessel and coalesce within. Zelda held contact, but it was difficult: like standing fast under the threat of arrow rain. She could feel the potency of the soul that thickened the air, the vastness of the ghost she had summoned forth. And it all somehow compressed, crystallized, to fit inside the already-huge form of Ganon.
By the end of it, though, he lay as still as before. No change. He breathed heavily, but that was all. Zelda, concerned that something had gone horribly wrong, neared him. Which of the beings had she summoned? She did not know. And so she asked,
She did not expect those eyes to snap open and focus on her so quickly. Not only that, but to be so bright, so full of recognition, comprehension... raw intellect. Where she knew them as deathly cold and witless and laced with ash, they burned such a black fiery amber: overpoweringly alive and human...so human...
"You," came from his throat, strangely dissonant with the monstrous voice. "I know you."
So he did remember, Zelda wavered in horror. He did not get to say much more: he had seized up and retched, barely working to his knees. The man was fading fast, Zelda knew. He didn't have the strength to bind to his form. Power wouldn't respond to something straddling the cusp of the underworld.
And so Zelda fed him. He recoiled in pain, violently rejecting her magic. But Zelda pushed it at him anyway, praying to the gods he was strong enough of will that it would not kill him again in his fragile state. He doubled over, almost shrinking. Tusks pulled back into his mouth. Horns retracted. And the bristly gray fur prickled away in the face of the dawning glow that raged through him, eclipsing all detail and form of the vessel.
As if he understood, he accepted the power of her Light reluctantly, with more than a little agony and injury. He forced it into himself anyway, choking it down. But he reached a point where he stood on the precipice of a second death, and it was there a reversal started to happen. He began to taste it. Then, as if her magic suddenly had gained an appeal, he gleaned strength from it. He likened himself to it. He basked in it, took it in, glutted himself, saturated his body and soul completely. Soon he was suckling greedily of it: the fatal discharge of Light grown to him more nourishing than mother's milk. He demanded more, at increasingly higher potencies almost faster than Zelda could muster the energy to give it to him.
Just when Zelda was sure she had run dry, the contact broke and she felt herself dizzy. She noted the dull, unkempt hedges of a courtyard-when did that happen? When did I get back?-- and no Ganon in sight. Her vision struggled to remain clear, a sensation branded into her mind still playing havoc with her perception. A transmitted emotion through contact of souls: a deep satisfaction. A delight. A euphoria.
Could that have been him?
The hands that pulled her to bear reminded her of Ganon in their untiring strength. She struggled to set her eyes right to see more than the blurry castle around her, and before long she set sight on somebody who truly had not been there only minutes ago.
She could not stop staring at him. And she was terrified of those cruelly sharp eyes that seemed to suck in everything around him. Everything about his face framed them, the bronzed skin, his shock of duskred hair. To her, although physically not as grossly enlarged he seemed every bit as enormous as Ganon had been. Even more so, in some ways. He took his sword from her, burned clean from the torture of holy fire, and sheathed it in an empty scabbard.
But the eyes. If empty had been chilling, to see them full froze her with dread in the moment before Wisdom could remind her of her cold, stony role. A harnessed chaos danced within them, a mighty hurricane that had somehow been trained to blow in one direction. Unrelenting and eternal and dark. A mating of blazing passions and a piercing intelligence that scared her. He captured her stare, and without so much as a word he simply understood. And it sent the impossibly intricate machines inside his thought spinning in an exact dance.
Information, through Wisdom and Power's fading resonation, still passed from soul to soul. And as he sampled her most recent surface memories a smile twisted over his lips. Zelda had a hard time trying to comprehend exactly what was behind that smile, and through the exact words failed her she knew plainly the meaning. It might have been because she could feel emotion in the other direction as well: the overpowering delight, the feeling of being alive. The triumph of clawing his way back to the land of the living, enduring a crucible that should have crushed him. Learning to drink his own bane, to thrive and even lust for it. Finding the white venom far more pleasing and delicious than he had ever imagined it could be. Coming out immeasurably stronger. And feeling so good...
He would never be satisfied without it anymore. It was a part of him, and Zelda could see it. This was the man that had lurked in the pages, infinitely more dangerous and fearsome than she could have imagined. But also infinitely more real: reborn and renewed from a fresh source of strength that he had assimilated as his own. Her power of the divine fire had become his ambrosia, and Zelda feared that perhaps if he had to be slain the Master Sword would no longer suffice.
But why would she kill him, she asked herself? When he bloomed before her, so glorious? The flood of his presence wiped her mind. Wisdom could not turn her back into the stone idol of legend. And she was forced to watch as the darkest sun rose upon her kingdom, so triumphant in his return.
And in a terrible, wonderful voice that belonged only to the King of Light and Shadow, Ganondorf spoke.
"Well done, Zelda."