The City of Fire: Chapter Thirty-Nine
THE room was dark; or it would have been. It was a large arched chamber around twenty feet across, the stone of its walls finely worked into geometric carvings, swirls and spirals. The floor was adorned with a complex tiled mosaic in the colors of precious stones, which was not at all faded from years within the underground. The pattern depicted a roaring snake-like beast wreathed in flames, its body curled into a circle, with a second ring around it formed of two fiery whips that sprang from its snout. This circular form had been superimposed with a geometric design in inlaid gold that stretched a pentagram across the dragon's body.
Bright white light fountained up from this ring, creating a circular wall of light eight feet across that surrounded the center of the room. The hot luminescence left the distant corners of the chamber in shadow, but the center was brightly lit with a wash of white radiance.
A slender figure stood within the circle; his blood-coloured eyes were closed against the glare, and his head was bent. Dark Link waited silently, his back to the entrance. The circle of light formed a prison for him that was genius in its simplicity. Any living being could walk through the light with impunity; would find it laughable that such an intangible barrier would stop him in his tracks. But he could not cross it. The powerful light sapped his strength even now when he merely stood before it; the act of walking into it would probably kill him outright. There were no guards, and the door stood open--if he could have gone to it. But no bars or chains could imprison him as effectively as simple light.
He sensed Sepultura's doing in the magic that made the light circle. Sooner or later, Dark was certain, the sorceress herself would appear to him. Until that time, all he could do was wait it out; there was to be no escaping from here, that was sure. The sorceress understood his nature as well as he himself, and she had acted accordingly in bringing him here; this prison had been designed for him alone. He had been waiting for an hour or more, at his guess; he was exhausted and in a great deal of pain. It had entered his head that, should the sorceress leave him here long enough, he might die.
There was a soft footfall outside the chamber. Dark's ear twitched, but he made no other movement. He waited until the visitor had entered the room and was standing there before his prison, and then he sighed and said softly, "Sepultura." That step was still recognizable to him after all this time.
"It's been a long time, Dark Link." The sorceress stood in front of the light, tantalizingly close; her hands rested by her sides.
He turned, glancing at her sideways from beneath the overhanging fringe of his hair. There was a long pause.
"I must confess," Sepultura said, "I am a little confused. If I am not very much mistaken, you were here to aid the descendant of the Hero of Time." She stressed that last, and he flinched involuntarily at the mention of his ancient foe. Sepultura smiled coldly and went on, "That seems unlike you, Dark Link, to put it mildly. Might I enquire as to why?"
Dark said nothing; he turned his head away again, and closed his eyes. The light from his prison beat down on him, and he lifted his hand to his ragged collar for a moment; wishing for the cloak that lay yet in the prison cell.
"Oh, come now. We have always had a good working relationship, Dark Link. Why are you opposing me now?" Sepultura waited for a respose; when none was forthcoming, her brows drew together. She lifted the silver staff she carried, and the eyes of the dragon gave a bright white flash. Dark gritted his teeth at the added burden, and forced himself to endure, to stand straight, to look at her. The sorceress extended her glowing staff to just outside the circle's perimeter and moved it slowly to and fro, baiting him with it. It seared his very soul. "I know you, Dark Link--you cannot hold out forever, not against this. Talk to me. Explain why you have taken this senseless course of action."
"I could not expect you to understand," he snarled; the words forced from him.
"Ahh, so it does talk after all." She lowered the staff, and her tone changed to become cold, dangerous. "Do not play games with me. You are no different to myself, Dark Link, and I know myself--so do not pretend that you serve them from some hackneyed notion of right and wrong."
"I do not serve them!" Dark answered hotly. He turned to face her, and despite the light his eyes blazed up with crimson fire in his rage. "You are a child compared to me! Don't presume to know my mind!"
"If I am the child, pray explain why you are the one in this somewhat embarrassing situation." Sepultura smiled cruelly. "You are utterly at my mercy, old friend. And you are an old friend. I would hate to have to kill you, Dark Link... but make no mistake of it, if you oppose me now, you face my vengeance."
"Why do you want the Medallions?" he said.
"You know very well why."
"The Triforce? The Sacred Realm? Even you would not be so foolish. The only Triforce you could claim would be Power, and that already has a master."
"Yes," said Sepultura, her eyes gleaming. "It is that master that I seek."
"You intend then to free Ganon," Dark probed.
She laughed. "Of course I do! The Amulets will open the way to the old world, Dark--think of that! The Light and Dark Worlds, reunited! Ganon would be restored to a world where we held ultimate power! We could found a rule that would hold sway over Hyrule for a hundred thousand years!"
"We?" he said mildly.
"Yes," she answered, "we. You know what I am offering you. He is your Master too. He made you, Dark Link, and he can unmake you just as easily. You belong to him body and soul; you know this! Why walk with the Hero? Why go against what you are?"
He was silent for a while, thoughtful. He owed nothing to the others, that was certain. Whatever bond of gratitude he had been under from his release at Link Fifth's hands had been paid back long ago; Dark had saved the others' lives several times over. Why stay with them now? Sepultura was right about that--he himself was a monster, a thing of Ganon's magic; created and maintained, like the Moblins and the Stalfos, through nothing more than the will of the Evil King. His place was undoubtedly with the forces of night. To think in any other fashion would be his own destruction.
And yet something held him back. It was the thought of those with whom he had been working over the past few weeks--Link, Zelda, Sofia. He could deny it no longer--he had grown fond of them. If he were put to it by Ganon, he was no longer sure whether he could kill them. His conscience would not let him.
Dark clenched his fists, careless of Sepultura's presence; the storm rising up within him would not be denied. He could not answer her... because he did not know the answers himself. How could this be happening? Link First was pure goodness; Dark Link was pure evil. He was everything that Link First was not--deceit, cruelty, pride. That was the way it had always been. That was the way it was. But why, then, was he thinking in this confused way? Conscience? He had no conscience! He drew a ragged breath and pressed his shaking hand to his forehead; he was distressed.
"Once we were of one mind, Dark Link," Sepultura said in a soft, puzzled tone. "What did this to you?"
What indeed? He steeled himself, then turned to face the sorceress and, despite the light, shook back his black hair to meet her eyes with his own. Their gazes met, both stares as crimson as blood, and Dark knew how to answer Sepultura's question. "They are my friends," he said, softly and deliberately.
That disturbed the sorceress, more than anything else he could have said. The very idea was alien to both their minds; but Dark knew in his soul that it was the right answer. Sepultura, on the other hand, would never understand. She stared at him with a surprising loss of composure, before her features once again hardened into coldness. "Friends?" she asked, deceptively gentle. "Is that what you think? You, as old as you are, delude yourself that these children care for you? You dare believe that you are worthy or even capable of friendship?" The last word carried a weight of scorn. He said nothing; he supposed his proud glance told the story. Sepultura wrinkled her nose in an expression of distaste. "You disgust me. I had such high regard for you once, Dark Link. You were Ganon's greatest work, the equal of any Hero. How the mighty have fallen!"
"That is your opinion," he answered calmly, "and you have a right to hold it."
She halted again, thrown by his answer--and then she began to smile once more. Her voice was full of lazy cruelty as she went on. "Tell me, Dark Link... what would you say if I told you your little friends will have no more to do with you?"
He started, and looked at her with wide eyes.
Sepultura laughed. "They are dead, Dark Link, all of them. I had them killed after I had captured you."
"You lie," Dark said calmly, supported by an inner conviction: Link Fifth could not be that easy to kill. He was almost sure that, before he had been jumped, he had tripped the lock of their cell door. And they still had the Goron's dagger; they were not defenceless. "So tell me the truth, Sepultura. They escaped. When you returned to kill them, you found them gone."
Her expression darkened. "I see you have not lost all your wit. Yes, they got away... but only for a time. One of my commanders came upon them by luck. I have just had word of the result. Believe me, your 'friends' will not come for you. Do you see what I have here?" She extended her hand, and he saw the Forest Amulet glittering emerald-green in her palm. A stab of pain went through him then that was nothing to do with the light. The sorceress saw it, and laughed softly. "So you see, I did speak the truth," she murmured, turning to leave. She paused in the entrance to the chamber, looking back at him. "They are gone, old shadow, you have my word on that. There is nothing now to hold you to the light... Think about it, my old friend, and give me your answer when I return!"
She was gone. Dark's knees gave out and he sank awkwardly to the ground, feeling the chill of the tiles penetrate his clothing. The light pressed down on him like a lead weight. He felt so tired... He lifted his head, and his eyes narrowed with conviction. "They are not dead," he murmured softly to the empty air. "I know it... they are alive."
Zelda awakened to the sensation of crushing weight. With a moan the Princess tried to open her eyes, but they were full of dust. She moved her hands and found the left to be trapped and in agony; she could lift the right a little, but came up almost at once against a rocky surface. From the dizzying sensation, she judged that she was lying on her back at an angle, head down.
With a mighty effort the Princess wrenched her trapped arm free, and heard a corresponding clatter of stone. Everything hurt, but she ignored it. She placed both hands onto the rock surface that covered her, and gritting her teeth she pushed, as hard as she could. It felt as if her bones would break, but at last the stone began to move; then with surprising suddenness it slipped off her and she heard it bouncing and rolling away. Light flooded into her starved eyes which were running with tears from the stinging dust.
She tried to sit up, but found her legs were pinned. Her vision began to clear as she worked methodically at the stone entombing her. Slowly life bled back into her world, and her brain began to work again. Zelda lifted her head, blinking rapidly and suppressing a whimper at the scratching sensation in her eyes, and looked about her.
They had fallen, she remembered, into a lower part of the mine. It seemed more or less empty, and she could hear no sounds of life nearby. The Lizalfos had gone then. Around her was all the evidence of the cave-in, and looking up she could see the ragged hole which had been made in the ceiling. The part of the mine they were in now was rudely made and the tunnel surprisingly wide. Great wooden beams supported it, and the floor was uneven. It came to an end a few feet away, turning into a blank rock wall with the marks of picks and chisels still evident there.
"Link," Zelda began to say, but it turned into a cough. Her chest heaved as the dust she had inhaled stuck in her throat; she coughed up entire mouthfuls of the sticky stuff. When it was finished, all she could do was lie back and gasp for air. Her chest was fire, but she could breathe again. "Link," she croaked, then, with more strength, "Link! Sofia! Where are you! O, Farore..." With an effort she sat up and wrenched at the stone trapping her legs and feet. She could not feel her feet, and wondered how long she had been trapped there. Swiftly, and thinking of the others, she slipped her raw fingertips under the largest rock and heaved it out of the way; her abused hands cried out. The stone went rolling and bouncing down onto the floor of the mine. Zelda freed her feet, with much pain, and then had to rest. She was blue all over from the bruises, and her arms and legs were bloody with grazes, but as far as she could ascertain there were no serious injuries. Where were the others? "Link!" she cried again, staggering to her feet on the uncertain stones. They shifted beneath her and tipped her back onto her bottom, and she cried out shrilly in pain.
A rock rolled away, a few feet from her--disturbed by her movements. Zelda glanced towards the sound and her heart stopped as she saw Sofia's unmoving hand revealed beneath. A bloodstain marred the smooth cinnamon skin of her palm; the fingers were loosely curled around nothing. Gritting her teeth the Princess got back up, using her hands to support her; she made her way over to where the other young woman lay and began to heave the stones away from her. "Please be alive... please..." she murmured, working feverishly. Soon, although her arms and back ached abominably, she had laid Sofia's upper body bare, and was immeasurably relieved to find breath coming from the red-haired woman's slack lips.
"Uhh... uhnn..." Sofia groaned, her eyelids fluttering. Zelda knelt beside her, stroking her long hair which had come unbound. There was a smear of blood on Sofia's cheek. Slowly her eyes cracked open a slit, revealing a glint of gold beneath.
"Sofia?" Zelda breathed. "Can you hear me? Are you all right?"
The Gerudo attempted suddenly to sit up, but fell back with a sharp cry of pain. She lay for a moment more, breathing quickly, and then lifted a hand and touched her face. "I... I'm all right... I think. I hurt all over..." Zelda slipped her arm behind her and helped her to sit up. Sofia winced, screwing her face up, but made no sound of complaint. "I think I have cracked some ribs," she said, her voice slightly tremulous, "and my legs hurt. But I am intact... thank the Goddess for small mercies. Where is Link?"
"I don't know," Zelda began to say, but she choked on the words. Sofia reached out and laid her hand for a moment on the other woman's shoulder, comforting her, and then she heaved upwards and struggled free from the rubble.
"We'll look for him, Zelda--come on. If we survived, surely he did too."
Be strong, Zelda seemed to hear in her mind, and the voice was Link's. She gasped tremulously and scrubbed at her eyes which were running now with emotional tears. This was no time to go to pieces--Link needed her. Her hair, dusty, tangled and bloodstained, hung in her eyes like a limp gold rag, and she tossed it back impatiently before getting unsteadily to her feet on the treacherous surface. Sofia needed her hand to get up; Zelda helped the other woman to stand.
They searched for several minutes before finding a sign of Link. Sofia was the first to see anything; her eyes lighted on something metallic buried under the rubble, and brushing away pebbles she revealed a small cheap compass, its glass face shattered, the fragile needle crushed beyond repair. Wordlessly she held it up to show Zelda, and the Princess hurried to scramble over the stones to where her friend stood. "Dig here," Sofia said breathlessly, beginning to clear the rocks away. It took both of them to move the bigger slabs, and Zelda blinked back more tears in the fear that Link could well be dead.
Indeed, she feared the worst when she saw a torn and bloodstained piece of white material sticking out of the rubble, caught between two great rocks. It was his shirt, she recognized it at once. A tug brought the rag free with ease; it tore away in her hand. A great slab of stone fully three feet long lay in their way. Sofia slipped her fingers underneath it and heaved, but she could not lift it an inch. "Zelda," she gasped out, glancing towards the other woman. Her red hair, stringy with sweat, hung in her eyes. "Help me..."
Zelda's eyes narrowed and she nodded curtly, then crawled forward on the rubble to set her back against the other end. Together they counted to three, and then strained with all their might; the stone, which alone would have weighed more than both of them, grated against the other rocks that held it. "Again!" Zelda panted, shaking her head violently as her matted blond locks once more obscured her vision. They heaved, and the stone rocked an inch. One more time... With unspoken accord they squared their feet and gave it all they had, and with a huge effort they lifted the great rock up on its side. From there it was easy to swing it away and send it crashing down the slope onto the floor of the mine.
Link's head and part of his back were exposed. He lay on his front, his head turned to the side; he appeared to be asleep, and there was a soft smile on his face. He looked peaceful in repose--but the lie was in the dark blood that stained his reddish hair, and in the right arm that was bent strangely, thrown up it seemed to protect his face as he fell. He was breathing, though, and that meant that he was still alive... they had all survived the cave-in. It was a miracle that even one of them had done so.
"His arm is broken," Zelda said unnecessarily, and shook her head. "We have nothing to set it with, Sofia--what are we going to do?"
"I don't know," the other woman said after a long pause. "We should get him free of the rubble, that is the first thing. Pray that he sleeps a while longer, because if we have to move him with that arm, it is going to hurt him."
Thankfully Link remained unconscious while they cleared the rubble from around him. Between them they got him free of it and even managed to drag him to more solid ground. A rock had hit him on the head and split the skin, but Zelda found on examination that there was no fracture there--it had just bled a lot and looked worse than it really was. The broken arm was far more worrisome; cuts they could bind, after a fashion, with strips torn from their already ragged clothes, but a broken bone demanded more extensive medicine. They were thirsty, and their cuts and grazes stung and were full of dust, and they had no water. The situation seemed desperate.
And, not far off, they could hear the deep, rumbling sounds of Moblin voices. The ogres, they had already seen, were the ones who dug the mineshafts; right now they were not too far away from them. There was only one way out of the tunnel--towards the tunnel-makers. Remaining, they could not hope to escape detection; nor could they expect to survive long. But if they left, they would have no option but to throw themselves on the mercy of their enemies.
"We'll have to go," Sofia said eventually. "Zelda, we have no choice. Perhaps they'll kill us--perhaps not. If we stay here, we die. What else can we do?"
"But Link--" Zelda began, and was interrupted when he let out a soft groan at the sound of his name. Both their attention fixed on him instantly. He turned his head slowly from side to side, seeking something in his sleep. Zelda knelt over him, placing her hand on his uninjured arm. "Link?" she called softly. "Can you hear me?"
Slowly his eyes opened and focused on her; the green orbs were liquid with pain. "Zel..?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"I am all right," she reassured him. "Don't try to move! You broke your arm in the cave-in."
"The Goddesses seem to have it in for my right arm," he said wryly with a faint echo of his old spark. Ignoring her advice, he struggled to sit up, choking back a cry at the pain this caused him. "Help me," he got out through clenched teeth. Sofia supported him with her arm at his back, using her free hand to brush his dusty hair back from his face.
"Link--" she said hesitantly. "I hate to have to ask this of you, but--can you walk? If not, we will carry you. But we can't stay here. The Lizalfos could come back at any time, and we desperately need help now."
"Who's going to help us?" Link asked, and then smiled slightly. "Farore! At least things can't get worse... we're at rock bottom!" He laughed a little at his own pun, braving the pain.
Zelda giggled, despite her own pain, and the tears that were still falling from her eyes. "You are dreadful, Link."
"Thanks, Princess." He winked at her. "Well... I think I can walk, if you will help me. Where shall we walk to?"
It was Sofia who answered, glancing towards the tunnel exit. "We must head for the miners. There is no way we will ever get out of here alive if we go on like this--they might at least treat our injuries and then we can think about escaping later on." She did not add that it was a slim chance; they all knew it.
Link held out his uninjured arm. "Well, then," he said with a sigh, "help me up. I think I will have to lean on somebody. I have never felt as bad as this in my life, even after that first quest. Let's hope we don't have to do any more fighting for the moment!"
"If we're challenged," Zelda said grimly, kneeling to take his arm over her shoulders, "I will surrender. There's no more fight left in me."
It took both of the girls to get Link on his feet; it was not that he was resisting them in any way, but the pain his arm caused him, plus the state of utter exhaustion afflicting all three, meant that any kind of movement was an effort. At last they were on their feet, Link half-supported by Zelda who was in the best shape of the three. It was another struggle just to get moving, limping slowly towards the tunnel exit, but they did it. Progress was achingly slow and they had to stop frequently; at the end of ten minutes they had gone only a few hundred yards. Zelda found herself wishing that a band of Lizalfos would appear and put an end to it all.
The end of the tunnel approached. It was lighter here; a warm orange glow came from the open space beyond, and it had been this which, reflected endlessly within, had lit the mine itself. They had to clamber over broken rocks in order to get through, a task which seemed almost impossible to them in their weakened state. Link's right arm hung limply at his side; he knocked it and nearly fainted there and then from the pain. Zelda held him up until he had regained his senses. He clenched his jaw, tears starting unwillingly from his eyes.
"Just a little further," Sofia begged.
And then they were at the top, and stumbling down the other side like three drunken sots. The cool, fresher air of the open space beyond was a gift they drank in thankfully, and for a moment none of them could pay any attention to danger. But swiftly enough came a loud grunt of surprise, and running footsteps. Link's legs were giving way beneath him; Zelda tried to hold him up a little longer, but her own strength was leaving her and she had to let him gently down onto the hard rocky floor. Sofia knelt beside him, struggling for breath herself and groaning from the pain in her cracked ribs. Gasping raggedly, Zelda lifted her aching head, and was the only one to see their captors approach.
They had wandered into a large cavern strewn with heavy boulders from the mining operation. Many other exits were visible in the walls, dark holes that led back into the tunnel network. The floor of the cavern was covered with buildings, of sorts--they were nothing more than hovels, clumsily erected shelters made from the waste stone. Each one was huge in comparison to them--the doorways stood eight or nine feet high.
Around them now were gathered six of the house-dwellers--the huge brutish ogres with the piggish snouted faces that Link knew so well--and more were headed their way. They were in what appeared to be a traditional Moblin village, even though it was far below the surface of Hyrule. The biggest of the Moblins looked down at them with an evil expression in his small pig-like eyes, then reached down and grabbed hold of Link's ragged shirt in his huge fist. The muscles in his brawny arms rippled as he lifted the young warrior right into the air. Link made no sound, save a soft hiss of pain from between his teeth.
"Please..." Zelda said softly. "Don't hurt him..."
The Moblin glanced at Link, then down at her. He let out a rumbling roar that had the others backing off quickly, and then he dropped Link roughly to the ground. Stepping forward, he raised his huge fist like a club, clearly intending to end their lives by a crushing blow to the head.
A meaty paw hit him in the side of the head with a resounding slap. The Moblin fell to the ground with the force of the blow, and lay there for a moment stunned. He got up quickly, though, clasping that side of his head and sniveling. The others backed away with nervous grunts as the newcomer stomped forward, every step making the ground shiver.
She was huge; she stood at least eight feet tall, and it was probably more like nine. She was also spectacularly ugly even for a Moblin; the warts and knobbles on her misshapen face made it seem like some strange map of an unknown country. She was definitely a "she"; while the others wore only leather loincloths, she also had a thick strip of material tied round her bulging chest. Zelda forgot herself and stared with astonishment; for some reason she had never dreamed that Moblins too had their womenfolk. It made the giant ogres seem somehow more... Hylian. The Moblin female reached down with a huge paddle-like hand that could have enveloped her head, and Zelda flinched away; the fingers lightly touched her soiled hair, pressing and stroking it. Zelda clenched her teeth and forced herself to remain still; although she could tell that the Moblin was taking great care to be gentle, still the strength was astounding.
The others had closed in again, and a volley of dissatisfied grunts and snorts went round. One of the Moblins--the big youngster whom the matriarch had clouted--made threatening gestures which, although directed at them, seemed more for the benefit of the matriarch, as his head was turned in that direction. The gravelly sounds he made could have been some sort of language, but if that were the case then his meaning was lost on Sofia. Zelda, though, listening hard, found that it sounded familiar; it was Hylian, or a version of Hylian so bastardized that it was almost incomprehensible to their city-educated ears.
"Wha's tha doin'? 'Em's traipsers! Kurgh'll 'whip tha forrit!" The young male's jaws slobbered as he spoke, pointing an accusatory finger at the matriarch. She remained aloof, unbothered by his intimidating tone.
"Stow it, Duk. 'Em's nobbut chillun." Her huge hand rested protectively atop Zelda's head.
"Kurgh'll whip tha," the male warned ominously. He seemed to be afraid of her, and disliked losing face in this way before his companions, who were snickering at each other.
The big female wheezed ponderously, breath rumbling in her barrel chest and rattling through the upturned nostrils of her pig-like snout. "Stow it, Duk, tha fuzzock!" Her small, rheumy eyes flicked from the young male to Link, lying on the rocky ground. "'Ee be 'urt, do 'ee... poer mite." She stooped and slipped her big hands under him, and lifted him up like a child. Cradling the young warrior in her massive arms, she looked down at Zelda and Sofia. "Coom tha, nay mind 'ee." The meaning might have escaped them, but the come-hither jerk of her head told them what she meant.
Zelda glanced at Sofia. "Should we..?" she began, doubtful.
The other woman forced herself wearily to her feet once more. "Oh, come on, we might as well." She swayed and nearly fell; Zelda swiftly reached out to steady her, but Sofia smiled weakly and shook her head at the proffered hand. "I'm all right, really... just tired. Goddess! let's hope they let us sleep before they hand us over to the cursed Lizalfos."
The Moblin matriarch turned and stomped off, pausing and turning back every few steps to make sure the girls were still with her. Her heavy footsteps shook the ground slightly each time her feet fell. They were headed towards one of the rude dwellings that clustered close together in the cavern.
Glancing back, Zelda saw the other Moblins--the young males--gathered in a group to watch them go. None of the gang moved as she had expected they would--she had thought that they would immediately go to fetch the Lizalfos. She had already seen that the Moblins were under the Lizalfos command... so why weren't they running to fetch their commanders? The Princess thought hard.
"Sofia?" she asked softly, keeping her voice low. The red-haired woman glanced at her in surprise, and Zelda motioned her to be quiet. "Sofia, I don't think anyone's bothered to tell the Moblins we're at large. They don't know we're wanted!"
"You think so?" Sofia's eyes widened. Then there could still be a possibility of escape!
"I do," Zelda agreed, "and something else too. The... female... I think she's going to help us out. If they don't find out who we are, we might just have struck gold. Nobody is going to think of looking for us in the midst of one of the Moblin camps!"
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