The City of Fire: Chapter Forty-Three
FOUR huddled figures trudged in single file through the tunnels. The silence around them was absolute. They were bent almost double, shrouded by voluminous cloaks of an indeterminate color. Each carried a long staff of gnarled wood with a gleaming red gem at the top.
The Wizzrobes had once been some of Ganon's most powerful servants, and even though the Dark Years were nothing but a memory, these servants of evil at least had dwindled little with the passing of the centuries. In the Underworld, everything got out of their way. Even a lone black wizard would clear an entire cavern free of monsters. They were some of the most feared denizens of the Underworld, often commanding miniature armies of Stalfos and Gibdos as they fought amongst themselves for huge swathes of the subterranean kingdom.
These four, as their plainer garments denoted, were lesser wizards bound to the service of another. Their leader bore openly in a twisted claw a scrap of black fabric--an Underworld sign showing, if any tunnel-dweller should dare to question, that these were here on official business. So far none had dared.
Thus, as they passed through the tunnels in response to Sepultura's invitation, scattering all monsters before them with the chill wind of their presence, the last thing the Underworld emissaries were expecting was an ambush.
But that was what they got. As they passed a dimly lit alleyway, hands reached out and grasped them by the collars of their cloaks, yanking them off their feet. The magical rods clattered to the ground. There was a shout of alarm and a brief struggle as the wizards were manhandled into the alleyway, then a thud or two, then silence.
A cloaked form stepped out into the light and bent to pick up one of the discarded wands. Link tossed the hood back, making a face at the smell of the Wizzrobe's cloak, and then turned back towards the alley and made a motion to the others to follow him. He leaned the staff against the wall and raised the hood again, pulling the cowl forward to shield his Hylian's face and green eyes.
Sofia glanced uneasily at Zelda as she picked up her cloak. The Princess seemed distant after her ordeal with Kurgh; she said little and, although she did what she was told, she looked as if she were drifting in a bad dream. Her mind was there, but her heart was not. Sofia sighed; she had seen it before, this shock-state some people went into after their first real kill. The red-haired woman lifted her hand and lightly touched the Amulet of Fire around her neck. Was it worth it? she wondered.
Out loud, all she said was, "Put the cloak on, Zelda."
Oozou dragged the Wizzrobes' unconscious forms into a storeroom and barred the door from the outside. The dark wizards were helpless without their magical wands, he was almost sure, but he wanted to take no chances. His jaw fell open in a grin; it had been he and Link who knocked out the Wizzrobes, with the Oozou's own crutch, and he felt proud. He felt powerful.
"Which way do we go now?" Link asked. Oozou turned his head at the sound of the young warrior's voice.
"Sstha," he said, lifting his arm and pointing.
"I think he wants us to go that way," Sofia remarked, turning towards the way the Wizzrobes had come from. She smiled at Oozou. "It's almost like he knows what we're saying, isn't it?"
"He's just an animal, Sofia. A friendly one, I'll admit, but an animal nonetheless. Well, that way is as good as any." Link picked up the Wizzrobe's staff again in his good hand; he had pulled the cloak across his chest to hide his broken arm. In these garments, repulsive though they were, they would be not only disguised but protected by the Wizzrobes' own hideous reputation. He glanced at the Oozou again, debating within himself. "Thank you," he said finally, though he doubted that the creature would understand what he had said or have any concept of what he meant by it. It was self-evidently bestial, a hunched, misshapen thing. But it made him feel better to say it.
Sofia draped the cloak around Zelda's shoulders and put the Wizzrobe's wand into her hand. With a gentle touch she led the princess down the corridor after Link.
Oozou stayed in the shadows, thinking hard. He was still coming to terms with what had happened back there in the cavern. He had drawn Sepultura's blood; his life now was forfeit; and Maximus had taken half his tail. Oozou intended to keep the rest of himself intact, but he had no intention of crawling into a dark hole for the rest of his life. The Hylians he had led out of the mines because he was still furious, wanted to strike out at Sepultura the way she had so often struck out at him. Helping the ones she wanted to kill was the best way the Oozou could think of to hurt her from a distance. He grinned now, remembering the hot, sweet taste of the sorceress's blood. He hated the Hylians as much as he did the sorceress. He hated everyone. Oozou thought of ways he could possibly get his revenge on all of them at once. The lizardman's tenuous grip on sanity was wavering, like a candle assailed by a cold wind.
There was still one staff on the ground, one stained gray-brown cloak. Oozou's yellow eyes fixed on the items with a look of greed. He knew of Wizzrobes. Conditioning held him back, and the thought of what the wizards would do to him if they found him with their magic sticks. But the lure of power urged him forward.
He hobbled out of the alleyway, bent down and touched the wand with the tip of his finger-claw. Instantly he jumped back and stared left and right. Nothing moved. Oozou bared his teeth in an evil grin and snatched up the staff, discarding his crutch in the same instant. He lifted the staff up high and a hot red light flared in the gem.
A change came over Oozou. The staff was the true source of the Wizzrobe's power, and evil was very strong within the dark artifact. Oozou's hate-filled mind spoke to the staff as had the mind of its former master. The deformed lizardman leveled the staff along the corridor, playing at being a Wizzrobe, and let his hatred of all living things flow through him into the staff. The gem responded by spitting out a bolt of magical fire which tore stones from the wall.
Oozou leaped back and nearly dropped the staff in surprise. He stared at it with wonder in his eyes, and a dawning sense of his own changed status. Experimentally he shook the staff, but nothing happened. He thought for a moment, then nodded to himself and pointed the staff out horizontally, as he had before. Already the artifact was warming to its new master, accepting his mental patterns. It only took a small effort on Oozou's part to bring forth another gout of flame.
He stood for a few moments, the surprised expression on his face slowly changing to a grin, and then he picked up the robe as well. He flung it around his bony shoulders. It was too large for him, it dragged along the ground behind him, but it did not matter. Oozou's finger-claws tightened around the staff. Now he was strong. He was dangerous.
Cackling, the Lizalfos shuffled along the corridor in the opposite direction to Link and the others. Instead of his old crutch, he leaned on the gleaming staff of the Wizzrobe. The cowl of the cloak was pulled down, hiding his reptilian face, but even so his yellow eyes glowed like coals with an almost religious fervor.
The guttering candle of his grasp on sanity had gone out.
Maximus strode along the tunnel, moving fast enough that his ragged cloak streamed out behind him. One look into that skull's visage, with its flaming eye-sockets, was enough to send tunnel creatures scrambling for cover. The Stalfos had worked himself up into a murderous rage. He had one thought only--he would kill the Hero.
His sword was naked in his hand. It was an ancient greatsword, the one he had carried when he rode into battle against the Hylians all those years ago. He had died with that sword in his hand. The tarnished blade was still as deadly as when it had been new.
Kleox's elite were in the guard-room of the Eastern Reach, boozing it up with kegs of stolen Kakariko ale. Maximus heard them long before he saw them, and his already impressive ire grew stronger as he perceived the drunkenness in the raucous whoops and laughter. He halted outside the wooden door for a moment, tightened his grip on his sword, and then raised his arm.
The scene froze as Maximus smashed the door down. Eight lizardmen, each holding a cup, turned to stare at him in sudden terror. He ignored them all, striding into the room and heading for Kleox who stood at the head of the table. Splinters of wood shattered beneath his booted feet.
"M-Maximus!" the Lizalfos gasped out, his back pressed to the wall. "Th-this is an unexpected honor..." A few of his companions, closer to the door, slipped out quietly.
"Come with me." Maximus's tone was icy. Kleox stared and did not move, and the Stalfos reached out and grasped him by the wrist, jerking him forward so that he stumbled and would have fallen. Ignoring his hiss of pain, Maximus dragged him to his feet.
"Sire," he mumbled, his voice tinted with the correct amount of awe. "How... What is it I can do for you?"
Now Maximus turned his head and bent his flaming gaze towards the Lizalfos, who quailed beneath it. Kleox was not normally a coward, but he knew well enough when he was outmatched; thus, when the sorceress and her minions had taken over beneath the mountain, he had said nothing, had not spoken out or tried to fight, and had thus survived when other less devious characters had not. Maximus frightened him badly, almost as much as did Sepultura herself, and he despised himself for that. Even so, he had never seen Maximus like this--never. That fire in the Stalfos's eyes could have burned with cold. He could feel the chill wind of Maximus's anger rolling off him in waves; the torches were guttering wildly.
Maximus hauled him out of the room, over the splinters of the door, then stabbed his index finger towards the ground. Kleox looked down then up again, nonplussed--wondering from the gesture if the Stalfos was telling him to lick his boots. At that moment, merely to save his own life, he would have.
"You will track for me," Maximus said coldly. "Find the Hero. Now."
This part of the tunnel network was strangely different to the rest. It was more carefully worked; it seemed as if the stones here had been actively shaped and built up. It felt almost as if they were walking through some castle catacombs, although that had to be impossible--they were far underground, perhaps a mile or more beneath the surface of Hyrule.
The three of them were muffled in the Wizzrobes' garments and, although they could only poorly imitate the hunched posture and shuffling gait of the dark wizards, they had remained undiscovered. They had already been surprised by the efficiency of their disguise--Link had genuinely thought the game was up when they rounded a corner and came face to face with two armored Stalfos guards. Yet the monsters had dropped to their knees and bowed their heads the moment they saw the magic rods. The three of them had been able simply to walk straight past any guards they saw. It was as if they were expected...
He held the staff out at arm's length and examined it. Something about the faint red light in the gem gave him an uneasy feeling; he could sense that the staff was an evil item. Link cast his thought back to the stories his grandfather had told him, and remembered what little he knew about these monsters he himself had never before encountered. Wizzrobes... it was said that they had been mortal creatures once: Sheikah priests or Hylian sorcerors who had offered their lives to the Evil King, and in turn received immortality. Of a kind.
Some Heroes of Hyrule had been able to pick up the discarded wands and use them. Link Third had been able to do it, and Link Fourth--his grandfather. Earlier Heroes had not used the power of the Wizzrobes' wands. Link First he knew had had his own strange powers--the Fire Arrow, for one--and he also remembered something else his grandfather had said. The earliest Heroes had, according to legend, been too pure of heart and too close to Farore to use weapons of evil. It was just a legend--but then he thought of Dark Link and the legendary Master Sword. Dark could not touch it, and Link First could not use the Sword of Tears...
Link flinched at that thought. He had used the Sword of Tears himself, and it was not an experience of which he had been proud. He had nearly killed both Dark and Zelda over the accursed weapon.
Does that mean that the bloodline is weakening? he thought to himself. I know that Dark believes Hylians have dwindled over the years... but I did not believe it until now. We have lost our ancient magic, and we have lost our inner purity.
Would I be able to use the Master Sword?
If the Hero's bloodline was truly growing weaker over the years, it added weight to their quest. Ganon had to be stopped once and for all before the Hylian race lost the power to resist the Evil King. His comment to King Harkinian in Gaelaidh--that sooner or later a Hero would fail to be born at the right time--echoed in his ears with a sense of prescient foreboding. He sighed heavily; he was unaccustomed to such dark and heavy thoughts.
Thoughts of Dark returned his mind to the task at hand. They were walking through a very dim hallway, where pillars of finely carved stone stretched up to heights of feathery blackness. Free-standing torches at odd intervals gave off barely enough light by which to see. Link's eyes ached for a sight of a real blue sky; he did not even know how long they had been down in the mountain. It seemed an age. He glanced back at Sofia and Zelda and was relieved to see them bearing up well. Zelda seemed to have recovered a little of her poise, though her face was still drawn and unhappy. He ached to give her a word or two of comfort, but there might still be monsters nearby and they had to maintain their disguise.
Suddenly he heard voices up ahead. He stopped dead and held up his good hand to the others, warning them to be silent. The three of them waited. Far ahead of them, in the gloom, a pair of bright gold sparks appeared: torches. The croaking, sibilant hiss of Lizalfos voices broke the dusty silence.
"...told them no good leaving him there, but would they lisssten?"
"What if he diesss?"
"What of it?"
"He wasss one of Ganon's right-hand men. Losing the ssshadow will not pleassse the Evil King."
"He can alwaysss make another one."
"You fool! There can never be an equal--not with the First gone to dussst!"
The torches crossed the hallway and disappeared into the darkness of the other side. "...must warn the Lady..." floated back to them, and then the last echoes of the conversation faded.
"Come on," Link said grimly, breaking into a trot. He had not liked the sound of that exchange. If it was about who he thought it was, they had precious little time to lose. At least they knew that they were close now. The three of them hurried across the rest of the hall and turned into the passage from whence the Lizalfos had come. Zelda pushed ahead, sensing... something. They clattered down a flight of steps and into another passage. A bright light flared at the end of it.
Two Lizalfos guards turned to meet them. "Hey," one began as Link's hood fell back, "you're not--" That was as far as he got; Sofia slammed the end of her Wizzrobe's staff into his skull. The crimson gem shattered and the Lizalfos dropped like a stone. Link got the other with a kick to the stomach, doubling it up on the ground. He kicked it in the head to make sure and the monster went limp.
They were in a large, circular room, the brightest lit they had seen during their entire sojourn in the underground. After so long plodding through the dimness of the tunnels, that warm white radiance hurt their eyes--although it was cheering. Link tossed the Wizzrobe's staff away and rubbed at his eyes, blinking swiftly to try and clear his vision. It took him several seconds to spot the slim body stretched out on the ground in the center of the circle of light.
"Zelda!" he called in alarm. "Here!"
The princess ran to him, and they knelt together beside the body of the ancient shadow, unsure what to do. Dark lay sprawled on his front with his head turned and his ebon hair drifting across his cheek; one slender black hand was outstretched, the other pillowed his head. His eyes were closed. He looked as young as any of them, lying there, innocently sleeping--or so it seemed at first. Link breathed in sharply. "Look," he said, grabbing Zelda's arm.
The pattern of the floor could be seen, faintly, through Dark's hand.
"He is dying," he said quietly. He had not truly understood before--that Dark Link was a creature of magic, an enchantment, nothing more. The chains that held the shadow in physical form could be dissolved. Should he even think of Dark as a living being?
Zelda looked at him with wide blue eyes. "We have to get him out of here, Link--as quickly as we can. It is his only chance."
He nodded, then slipped his good arm under Dark and lifted him up into a sitting position, supporting him as best he could.
Dark opened his eyes, looked at him, then Zelda. A faint, tremulous smile touched the corners of his mouth. "Zelda," he whispered. "I... I would not join her. I waited for you..." His eyes slipped closed again.
They looked at each other. Suddenly Sofia took off her Wizzrobe's cloak and held it out to Zelda. "Wrap him in it," she said harshly. "It might shield him enough to get him out of here. We have done it once before."
Zelda smiled at that, knowing that the red-haired woman was covering up a growing affection for the shadow. And Dark... Her expression softened as she looked down at him lying there, so fragile in his weakness. Nayru knew what Sepultura had offered him to go over to her side--and if he had done so, they could never have lasted in the underground with him tracking them down--but he had not, he had remained faithful to the quest. He had even surrendered some of his own failing strength to help her against Kurgh. Against all the odds, their mismatched little group was forging itself into a team.
Somewhat reluctantly, Sofia took Dark Link into her arms; she was surprised at how little he weighed--or perhaps that was merely his clothing. He seemed unconscious; even so she felt his body tremble as they passed through the circle of light. Link stooped to pick up the Wizzrobe's staff he had thrown to one side. For a moment the red-haired woman regretted breaking hers over the Lizalfos's head, but she could not have used the strange weapon in any case. Magic, she thought bitterly, looking down at the still form in her arms. Who needs it?
Urgency struck all of them as they left the chamber, and they moved faster up the steps and into the hallway. Link paused to retrieve the weapons from the Lizalfos guards; each had a crystalline dagger on a leather thong. With a pair of daggers in his belt and the staff in his good hand, he felt much more like a man.
"Which way now?" Sofia whispered urgently.
He stared about him, thinking hard. "I am not sure," he had to own at last. "Those lizardmen will be back sooner or later, and most likely with the sorceress in tow. We have to get out of this place before any guards return. Whatever we do, we'll have to be quick about it!"
"This way, then," Zelda said, gesturing towards the far end of the hall. "It looks as good as any."
Following the trail up from the mines had been relatively easy; the scents stayed put in the warm, undisturbed air of the tunnel network. But now, Kleox Dinolfos was presented with a fascinating puzzle. He sniffed hard, a baffled expression flickering across his face. After a moment he knelt to take a closer look at the ground, cocking his head to give his one eye the best view of the rocky soil.
"Well?" Maximus snapped. The Stalfos was losing patience.
"It takes time, my lord," Kleox said carefully. "It is very difficult to follow a trail over rocks and stones. But yes, they were here--not too long ago." He rose to his feet. "They went that way," he said, gesturing up the tunnel.
Maximus felt puzzled. Kleox was leading him further down, deeper into the tunnel network. He could not see why the boy would want to go down--surely he would merely wish to escape with the Fire Amulet before he ran into any more trouble. And even a stupid boy would know that to go up was to go out. The Stalfos racked his mind for answers. What could the boy possibly want down here, now that he had an Amulet safe in his possession? He certainly wasn't going after Forest in the lower catacombs...
The Stalfos spat a curse and moved forward. "What are you waiting for?" he snapped over his shoulder. "Come!"
"Y-yes, sire!" Kleox said nervously, hurrying to keep pace. He had to take two strides to each of the Stalfos's one; Maximus was at least a foot taller than him. He looked up at the Stalfos's face, seeing how Maximus's eyes burned with suppressed rage. Kleox was not stupid, and he was putting things together very fast now. It was all over the tunnels that the Thing had been found and then lost again--by Maximus. And the Lady had been wounded by one of Kleox's own. And somehow or other, that little blonde girl had taken down Kurgh, armed with nothing more than a short spear.
Kleox said nothing, worried that anything he could have said at this point would inflame Maximus more. He was in very real danger and he knew it. The Lizalfos debated with himself over whether to mention the other things he had scented, but decided that he would not. It would not please Maximus to learn that there had been a Lizalfos with the three escapees, or that Wizzrobes had been nearby. All the same, Kleox cast many a curious glance back over his shoulder, wondering exactly what had happened in that corridor.
"Is there something wrong with your neck?" Maximus snapped.
None of them knew where they were going, save that the general direction was upwards. Link cursed the loss of the compasses they had found in the store-room: his had been been broken, of course, and the girls had left theirs back in Occa's hut when the Moblin had gifted them with new clothes. He glanced behind him often, nervous in case their rescue had been discovered. Could the monsters track them through the tunnels? Probably, he thought, and felt worried. Were they to be captured again, with the second Amulet in their possession, they would all die--Sepultura would not make the same mistake again.
Sofia carried Dark Link slung over her shoulder; and she did not relish the burden. Though warm and breathing and most definitely there, he weighed less than a small child. It was another aspect of his strangeness that the red-haired woman disliked intensely.
Dark became conscious only slowly; it took him a while to realise that he was being carried. By whom? he thought dizzily, as more of what had happened came back to him. Sofia? Why was she here? How--
They came back, he thought. For me.
They did come back...
He lifted his head slightly, testing his strength. So tired... "Put me down," he managed to gasp out. He felt Sofia flinch, and then she called out to the others who had gotten ahead slightly. As they gathered around, Sofia helped Dark to sit; his legs would barely hold him. He felt weak and exhausted, but he was already growing stronger now that he was away from the enchanted circle. He pulled the thick cloak tight around himself, wondering where they had got it, then looked up at the others standing around him.
"Are you all right?" Zelda asked, her eyes showing deep concern. She knelt beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"I will be. I am very tired." He paused. "And you?"
She smiled at him. "I would not have gotten out of that fight if it were not for you, Dark. Thank you."
Link and Sofia exchanged puzzled glances.
"I am glad you are well," Dark said stiffly.
"Sorry," Link broke in, "but we don't have time for this." He leaned the staff against the tunnel wall and held out his hand. "Things have been getting rather exciting of late, and we'll have to catch up on events later. Do you have any idea where we are or where we should be going?"
The shadow hauled himself to his feet, refusing the offer of help. For a moment he leaned against the wall with head down and eyes closed, exhaustion evident in his posture--then he made a faint, wry smile. "Sorry. I lost my bearings when they took me."
"Well, that's that," Sofia said in disgust, her voice savage with disappointment. "And what use are you, if you can't even--"
"Did I say I would not try?" His eyes flared blood-light as he straightened up, faced her across the tunnel's width. "Din's Fire, girl, you ask a lot of me--"
"Enough." Zelda, surprised at the strength of her own voice, grabbed them each by a shoulder. "Link is right. We don't have time for this. Neither do I have the patience to listen to you two bickering! We've come a long way, we've survived despite appalling odds and ordeals, and we are now getting out of this vile place, I don't know how but we are. So can we all please get along for just a little while longer? All right?" She glared into each startled pair of eyes in turn, gold and crimson. "All right. Let's just go, shall we? Unless anyone has any better ideas I suggest we keep following this passage. Sooner or later we'll come to something."
"That is what I would have suggested," Dark admitted.
"Good!" Link said, turning to pick up the Wizzrobe's staff again. "Then let's do it." He moved away into the shadows; Zelda followed him at a trot.
"That's us told," Sofia muttered wryly.
Kleox gaped at the scene before him. One of the guards was sprawled unmoving on the ground, a stain of blood beneath his head. The other lay half-sitting against the wall, groaning softly and barely conscious. The center of the room, the field of light, was empty. He dared say nothing to Maximus, who prowled about the room with his sword in his hand as if he expected their enemies to still be there.
The Lizalfos sniffed and found the three distinctive scents in the air currents of the room. The trail was only a few minutes old now; he had the pleasure of knowing that he had led Maximus straight and true, even if the Stalfos did not appreciate his skill.
"Lord Maximus?" he said tentatively, and flinched back as he was fixed with a baleful stare. "I can... I can find them, my lord. The trail's fresh here--they won't have gone far."
"Find them." Maximus's voice was hollow, deadly. "Find them now."
The tunnel was widening again; the level of light began to grow as they toiled up a long sloping passage that ran nearly straight. A fine layer of sand lay scattered over the floor, and their boots left clear fresh prints over much older marks of clawed feet.
At the top, they stepped through an archway and found themselves at another large intersection, this one brightly lit. Two mine-cart tracks ran side by side across the space before curving away into different tunnels; on the other side was a much larger passageway leading onwards. Distantly the sounds of the mine could again be heard, although the deceptive nature of sounds underground meant they could not tell how far they might be from any active workings. For the time being, this place was quiet.
"Well," Link said after a moment, moving aside. "Dark? Does this look familiar to you at all?"
The shadow lifted the hood of his cloak up as he came out into the brighter light; beneath the shadowed folds his eyes were bright and alert. "I am not entirely sure where we are, but I know more or less the direction we must take." He paused, thinking. "Take the largest left-hand path and follow the tracks."
"Are you sure?" Zelda asked doubtfully.
"Sure? No." He smiled, a joyless expression. "Call it an educated guess."
"Better than an uneducated one," Link remarked. "Come on then!"
Onward they went, limping on sore feet--the Princess and the Hero leading now, but waiting at every intersection where a quick whispered conversation would be held, a decision made. Dark forced himself to stay alert, to look carefully at every opening they passed in case it might be one he knew. He was stronger already; the deep gloom of the little-used tunnels through which they had passed had helped somewhat. Now that the fog in his head had cleared, his mind was clearer. And his confusion over recent events correspondingly greater.
They came back...
Somehow he had known they would. He had held to that little shred of faith in the room of light, clung to it despite his own agony and Sepultura's lying words. But why? Why had they done so? The three of them could have escaped on their own more easily--certainly without the full-scale hunt that was likely to be called out now. They stood to lose everything from this. If he had been in their place...
But I went back before, he thought suddenly. I already have...
It was a jolt.
"What's up with you?" Sofia whispered, close by.
He flinched, startled, and sent her an irritated look--which changed in a moment when he saw what glittered around her neck. "Where did you get that?" he asked softly, reaching out towards the gleaming medallion.
She backed away a little instictively, her own hand going quickly to cover the gem.
"I will not hurt you, Sofia," he said, inexplicably annoyed.
"No... I know..." She heaved a sigh. "It was luck. Or fate, whichever you want to call it."
"So we have lost Forest, but gained Fire."
"You knew we'd lost the Forest Amulet?" She stared at him.
"I knew. She showed me." He turned away from her, determined to end the conversation there. "We are falling behind."
This page is hosted by North Castle and created by Dark Link © 1999-2006. All rights reserved.