The City of Fire: Chapter Thirty-Four

DARK scowled, disgusted at himself for not hearing the approach of the monsters. He flung down his sword, hard; the blade clattered and spun on the stones, coming dangerously close to the unprotected feet of the lead Lizalfos. With a squeal it leaped back, then glared at the shadow with a hateful expression. He looked back contemptuously, staring right into its small yellow eyes. Link sighed as he drew his serpentine dagger and dropped it to the floor where it lay shimmering in the chilly evening light. Sofia hesitated, but followed his example when the monsters' crystal daggers made short stabbing movements towards her. Her new Goron's knife joined the pile of assorted weapons on the ground.

Zelda slowly unslung the rosewood bow, and the quiver with six white-feathered arrows. Dropping her head so as not to meet the Lizalfos' basilik gaze, she dropped Link's beloved bow--the gift of his grandfather--onto the stony ground, and waited. She did not trust herself to look up.

Their hands were held and twisted roughly behind their backs, then bound with strips of rawhide. The Lizalfos' cold claws patted over them, searching hastily for any hidden weapons; they found a little clasp knife in Link's pocket, and seized upon it with hisses of triumph. It clattered down with the other weapons on the pile. The monsters stripped them of their sheepskin cloaks and packs, then they were forced to walk down the path to the floor of the ravine. As they walked, Zelda glanced back and saw two more of the lizardmen gathering their discarded belongings and knotting them into a blanket. The Lizalfos kept a tight hold on them all the while, the points of the crystal daggers ever at their backs. They were rough, one striking Dark across the face when he attempted to struggle; the shadow made no sound but merely lowered his head, his crimson eyes flaring with suppressed anger.

The Goron's dagger felt like a hot coal in Zelda's boot, and she was sure that the lump it made must be obvious, but so far the monsters had overlooked it. The Princess kept her eyes down and her expression submissively neutral, hoping against hope that she would not be searched more thoroughly.

The Lizalfos marched them down to the bottom of the ravine, and out into the noise of the mining. None of the working monsters reacted, apart from an occasional indifferent glance their way; it seemed that they were used to such happenings. Mining carts rattled by as they proceeded towards the entrance of the cave and the two Stalfos guards who stood there. Link lifted his head worriedly as he realised that the monsters intended to take them down into the mine, and reached out telepathically to the Princess. This looks bad.

I know, Zelda told him. She was gazing wide-eyed at the entrance to the mine. It was even larger than had seemed from the clifftop: wide enough to admit a company of horse and twice as tall as the Moblins working it. Inside, guttering torches lit the way, but only barely. The minecart rails disappeared at the tunnel mouth, fading into the darkness inside the mine. Well, Dark would enjoy it, Zelda thought with a sigh. She glanced back quickly and saw him looking at her, his eyes glowing brightly beneath the cowl of his hood; she wondered if he had been able to tap into her conversation with Link.

"Halt!" The two Stalfos stepped smartly into their path, crossing their polearms before the lizardmen and their captives. These monsters were not ordinary Stalfos either; cloaked and armoured, they were much taller and more powerful, and the weapons they held, savage bladed pikes, seemed too heavy for any Hylian to use with ease. "What's this?" one of the skeletal monsters rumbled hollowly, turning his flaming orange eye-lights to the lizards. "More trespassers, Kreet?"

The lead Lizalfos bowed deeply and obsequiously, lowering himself almost down to the ground as he wrinkled his scaly lips into an approximation of a smile. "Yesss, my lordss!" he hissed sibilantly, his forked tongue flickering. "We caught them ssneaking about on the cliffss!" The ingratiating tone of his voice told Zelda that the Lizalfos was merely an underling; the real power here belonged to the Stalfos chieftains. So, she thought, glancing around with sharp eyes, the Moblins did the dirty work under the Lizalfos' command, and the lizardmen answered to the Stalfos. That information might possibly be useful later on...

"A gifft!" the lead Lizalfos purred, grasping Link's arm tight in his clawed fingers. The needle-tipped talons cut into the young warrior's skin, but he did not flinch. "For the boss! These four!"

One of the Stalfos, who was marked out from his companion by a golden circlet, shrugged his bony shoulders. "These?" he asked disinterestedly, barely glancing at them. "They are just more idiot travellers, Kreet. You waste our time."

"But-" Kreet began, anxiety evident now in his posture.

The Stalfos's pike blade was suddenly beneath the lizard's chin, forcing his head up at a sharp angle to avoid being cut. Kreet's yellow eye rolled in its socket, and spittle drooled from his snap-toothed jaws as he watched the Stalfos's hand, too terrified even to move. "We do not have time for this," the skeletal monster warned menacingly, leaning close to the cowering lizardman. "These pathetic morsels are not worth the effort! Remember your place, scaled one!" Suddenly losing interest, or so it seemed, he lowered the pike and glanced idly away. "Take them out to the foot of the pass and slit their throats."

"But Lord Maximus!" Kreet hissed, risking displeasure. "Thiss one iss known to uss, my lord!" In one swift movement he grabbed Dark's hood and yanked it back; the shadow flinched as the sunlight hit him, but he lifted his head and defiantly met the Stalfos's gaze.

Maximus paused for a long time, looking at Dark then at the others with a renewed interest. "So he is," the Stalfos mused finally. "And now I look... the other boy is familiar also. Well, this changes matters somewhat."

"I found them!" Kreet exclaimed, bowing again--but keeping his head up and his bright yellow eye fixed artfully on Maximus. "I was the one who captured them, ssire! I-"

"Yes, yes, you will be rewarded." The Stalfos sounded bored. He waved a hand languidly, dismissing Kreet's allies. "Were they carrying anything of interest?"

Seeming disappointed that his revelation had borne no greater fruit, Kreet gestured towards two of his companions who hung about nearby. Bowing and scraping, the Lizalfos trotted up and laid their booty--packs, cloaks and the weapons, lying upon the rough blanket--on the ground before the Stalfos commander. Maximus knelt and swept his hands through the pile, rifling through their belongings; after a moment he picked up Link's own serpentine dagger, and held it up to the failing light. The bright blade hummed as he slashed it swiftly back and forth through the air, testing its balance. Swiftly he set aside their other weapons, making a new pile to one side, and then stood up, holding the gleaming dagger. "A better bounty than usual. Well... you may proceed."

Kreet's greedy eyes fixed themselves on the dagger in the Stalfos' hand, but he said nothing. At a click and hiss from him, the two other Lizalfos rushed in and scooped up the diminished bundle. Link growled angrily as he saw their belongings taken away, but the Lizalfos' crystal dagger pricked him in the back and reminded him of the danger of his position. These creatures would kill them as soon as look at them, that was for certain; the reason they had been spared at all was a mystery to him, but... it seemed to have something to do with Dark. He glanced at the shadow, but Dark had his head down now and his black hair fell across his face in defeat.

One of the mine carts rattled up to them, pushed by two powerful Moblins. Kreet nodded to his cronies, and the Lizalfos wrestled Link into the cart. With his hands bound as they were, he could not save himself from falling and landed flat on his face on the bottom of the cart; dust and broken stone lined it. He wriggled painfully, trying to sit up, but then Zelda landed on top of him. Sofia fought the monsters but they easily overpowered her and she joined the others in the cart. The two Stalfos commanders stood back as Kreet shoved Dark in, and then clambered in himself. Two more lizardmen climbed onto the sides of the cart, hanging on with their grimy talons fastened to the rusted metal sides. Link managed to get his head up, allowing himself to see out, and then the two Moblins gave their cart a mighty shove... and they were moving, flying forward into the mine.

Zelda took deep breaths, trying to calm herself. Somehow, the monsters had overlooked the knife in her boot. She had a weapon, if she could only reach it... although now was probably not the time, as the Lizalfos Kreet sat proudly at the end of the cart, playing idly with his crystal dagger and keeping a sharp and watchful eye on each of them. His two cronies were also wakeful and alert, clinging on for dear life as the cart rocketed forward. A hot wind blew over them from below as they rattled on into the darkness, far out of reach of the sun's light. They were going down, and down fast; the cart rattled and bounced nerve-jarringly from side to side. Soon it was so dark that it was almost impossible to see anything save the glitter of the crystal dagger, and that faint crimson glow from Dark's eyes. Something large flew past them with a rush of air, only a foot or so away, and Zelda let out a squeal of fright before realizing that it had to be another mine cart. Where were they heading?

The last few reflected gleams on the walls faded away as they turned a corner, and for several long, frightening minutes they were flying through perfect blackness, descending with such speed that it seemed they were in free-fall. Then, however, the cart's path flattened out again, and after a few more moments they came upon another torch-lit stretch of tunnel. Now the walls were much closer, and there was only room for one cart to pass--and only one set of rails. The stone was rough-hewn and crude, although softened somewhat by the passage of years; it seemed obvious that it was a very old tunnel. How long had this been going on?

"Zel?" Link murmured, so softly that the Princess's sharp ears only just caught it. "Are you all right?"

She smiled, shakily. "Yes... I am unhurt. You?"

"I've been better," he sighed, then, angrily, "That cursed Stalfos took my sword!"

"Ssilence!" Kreet hissed savagely, leaning forward.

"What harm are we doing talking?" Zelda asked sharply. She might have said more, but Kreet's scaly hand whistled through the air and caught her on the cheek with a resounding whack, rocking her head to one side. Half-stunned by the blow, she fell back against the side of the cart.

"You do what I tell you, sstupid beastss!" the Lizalfos snarled viciously, brandishing his dagger.

Link almost leaped at the foul reptile, but a sharp look from Dark stopped him in his tracks. "No," the shadow mouthed, gazing at him with an intense light in his eyes. It was too dangerous.

A circle of red light approached; it was getting very warm. The end of the tunnel appeared to be near. Kreet hunched up and drew his tail into the cart as they headed for the opening; the other two Lizalfos climbed onto the top of the cart, getting their extremities out of the way. Then, suddenly, they were out into an immensely vast and shadowy cavern, filled by firelight... and an indescribable wash of heat. Rails stretched across the empty space in all directions, creating a sort of gigantic intersection; below was the source of the light, a gigantic sea of bubbling molten rock. The heat was tremendous, furnace-like, and the air so dry it was hard to breathe. They coughed and choked, tasting sulfur. The Lizalfos drew their heads in, letting the shimmering heat wash over their armored scales with a minimum of discomfort. The cart rocketed across the empty expanse, running only on thin, unsupported rails over the white-hot cauldron beneath. Then, with a whoosh, they hit the other side, flying into another tunnel with still increased speed.

Zelda coughed and gasped until several minutes had passed and she could breathe clear again. Her exposed face and hands stung as if they had been burned just by that one swift encounter. They were in another narrow tunnel now, this one small and low enough that it forced Kreet's companions to crouch and watch their long tails. The Lizalfos rode the cart with a sense of experience and the comfortable familiarity that came from long repetition; they seemed not at all worried by the danger of their ride.

The tunnel widened out again then, allowing two sets of rails to run side by side. It was darker here, but not overly so; they could still see, now that their eyes had adapted to the darkness. The cart began to slow, bumping along the rails at a less breakneck pace. The slope too had leveled out and they were now more or less on the horizontal plane. Two or three other carts passed them on the way, heading upwards; these were full of lizardmen, who hooted and jeered at the prisoners as they passed. Slowly, the cart's speed fell, until they were merely trundling along at a good walking pace. Now at last came the end of the tunnel; the rails simply ran out and a few feet further on lay a blank rock wall. Two powerful Moblins stood at the end of the line, their huge paddle-like hands outstretched to catch the cart and buffer it to a halt. With a final clunk and rattle, the cart thudded into the hands of the great ogres, who snuffled like pigs and stumbled back as they took the impact.

Kreet hopped out, hissing soft words to himself. He barked twice to the other lizardmen, who immediately laid hands on Link and the others and manhandled them out of the cart again. Their legs felt strange after the long ride, and Sofia stumbled as her feet hit the ground. Impatiently the Lizalfos cuffed her around the head; before Link could shout a warning to her, she spun and kicked him, hard, in the stomach; he fell with a wheeze. Three more Lizalfos jumped her then, and she disappeared beneath a tangle of kicking, punching, reptilian bodies. Link struggled to rush to help her, fearing that she would be beaten to death, but Kreet held him tight--in desperation he sank his teeth into the scaly arm, loathing the coldness of the scales against his lips.

With a hiss of fury, pain and hatred, the Lizalfos struck Link a blow powerful enough to knock him to the ground. He groaned, dizzily attempting to rise, but without the use of his arms it was hopeless. Kreet grabbed him by the back of his collar and yanked him bodily to his feet again; before he could regain his senses, the sharp crystal dagger pressed white-hot across his cheek. He gasped in pain.

"There's more where that comess from!" Kreet snarled into his ear, then pulled the twisted blade away. The other lizardmen had subdued Sofia; bruised and semi-conscious, she was being carried over the shoulder of one of them. Their daggers ever at the ready, the Lizalfos wrestled their prisoners out of the minecart shaft and into one of the many smaller tunnels running off from the main road. There was not much light to go by, and the Lizalfos seemed to find their way without the use of their eyes; their tongues flicked constantly in and out, tasting the air.

They turned off again, down a smaller passage, and then stumbled or were dragged through a confuzing maze of subterranean corridors. Finally, however, they arrived in a dark foulsome hallway with many metal-barred cells running along the sides. Guttering torches flickered in wall brackets: some untended and burning low, others fully extinguished. The echoing bang of the iron bars as they swung was a death sentence. Kreet's dagger came out again, and with a quick slash he cut their bonds one after the other; the Lizalfos pushed them through the cell door and then swung it to, locking it quickly with a heavy padlock and chain looped through the bars. Then, with whoops and shrieks of mocking laughter they departed, leaving behind one of their number to watch the door.

"Link?" It was difficult to see in the darkness, but he saw Zelda's blue eyes gleaming, and the fall of her golden hair as a lighter patch on shadow. The next moment her warm hands were on him. "Link, are you all right? They cut you..."

"It's all right," he said, gently pushing her hands down, "it's all right." His cheek was numb, had been since that first sharp flare of pain, and he had wondered if the blade had even broken the skin. Now he lifted his hand and felt warm stickiness on the cheek, and a cooler tacky substance on the collar of his tunic. "Nayru's Love," he said disgustedly.

Sofia groaned, lifting her head. "When I lay my hands on that creep Kreet..." she began weakly, touching her bloodied nose.

"I must admit, that was unpleasant," Dark remarked softly.

"Which brings me to my point," Link said quickly, remembering. "The monsters know you, Dark? That Stalfos... it was when they saw you that they spared us. How did they recognize you? Have you met them before?"

"You are getting carried away." Dark shot him a quick look, his eyes flashing with reflected light in the gloom. "Of course they know me," he said, as if it were a given. "I was one of Ganon's greatest generals, after all." A slight cold smile crossed his face as he went on, "It seems that I still have a reputation among the creatures of darkness in this land."

"Reunited with old friends, eh, Dark?" Sofia said sarcastically. The shadow's eyes flared in sudden anger as he lifted his head.

"Don't you two start," Zelda snapped. "Stop it! We have enough to worry about as it is!"

Quiet descended on their prison cell. Link sighed, glanced at the heavy bars, and did his best to settle down on the thin covering of rancid straw. After a moment he raised his head again, his eyes brighter, and attempted a smile with the uninjured side of his face. "Well," he whispered very softly, "thank Farore they didn't bother to search us too thoroughly." He moved the close-laced collar of his shirt aside a little to reveal a golden gleam against his skin: the chain of the Forest Amulet.

Sofia let out a low whistle. "Goddess! That was close!"

"I know!" The young warrior shook his head wryly. "It was stupid of me to bring it, I suppose, but I just didn't think. But then, we couldn't have known what would happen."

"Speaking of which," Zelda murmured, her attention fixed on the guard who loitered at the opposite side of the hallway, "I still have a weapon--the Goron dagger. The lizardmen did not bother to search my boots."

Dark was alert instantly. "What sort of dagger? How wide is the blade, and how long?"

"What does it matter?" Zelda asked in surprise. Casting a nervous look at the inattentive Lizalfos guard, she drew the dagger out of her boot; its slender blade flashed in the poor light. Swiftly Dark took it from her, running his dexterous fingers over the smooth metal edge. He was silent for a long time, so much so that Zelda reached out to touch his shoulder.

"If we can get rid of that guard I may be able to get us out of here," he murmured, his eyes sliding sideways to fix themselves on the padlock.

"How?" Sofia hissed, a little too loud, so that Link had to mutter to her, "Keep it down!"

Dark gestured toward the padlock on the door. "I can pick that lock," he said softly, holding the dagger carefully in his fingers.

"Can't we wait a while?" Zelda pleaded. "I need a rest... I don't want to stay here any more than you do, but they cannot intend to hurt us for the moment, or they would not have gone to the trouble of taking us all the way down here."

"She's right," Sofia said suddenly. "We could all do with a rest. Goddess knows if these monsters will bother to feed us, but I am tired and bruised and right now all I really want is some sleep."

Zelda waited, expecting Dark to disagree, but he simply nodded and offered her the knife again, hilt-first; she took it and slipped it back into her boot. "I suppose you will stay awake?" she asked, unable to avoid sounding a little curious.

He smiled slightly, and shook his head. "Even I need rest from time to time, Zelda. With your leave I will snatch a few minutes' quiet. We have been busy non-stop for days."

"Sounds good to me," Link said with a sigh, leaning back in the damp and fetid straw. His cheek stung now, painfully; when he glanced down he could see the splashes of blood on his tunic, now that his eyes had adapted to the lack of light. The wound throbbed steadily, infuriating him. He closed his eyes, attempting to relax and ignore the pain for a little while. As injuries went it was a mild one; it would not prevent him wielding a sword.

If he had a sword to wield.

Although she had been the one to suggest that they rest, Zelda was the last to fall asleep. She leaned against the rough, damp back wall, looking about her; outside the barred door the Lizalfos guard was half-dozing, picking at his teeth with one dirty claw. Sofia lay curled up on her side, her head pillowed on her arm as she slept. Link stirred, wincing a little; she could see the gash in his cheek now, and it was a nasty wound. Zelda reached over and stroked a stray wisp of hair away from the cut; he quieted again, his sleep becoming less unsettled. Kneeling by the Hero, Zelda glanced over toward Dark, who sat with his back against the far wall. His eyes, at long last, were closed, though whether he slept or no she could not tell.



They were rudely awakened by the clanging of metal pails and the hissing voices of the lizardmen. Dark stood up and went to the bars, clutching them as he looked out; the others woke slowly, groaning at the pain in their abused limbs. Two of the Lizalfos approached their cell, conversing with each other in a series of snarls and hisses that could only barely be called language. They were poor specimens when compared with Kreet--they were smaller and thinner, with scars and caked dirt disfiguring their scaled skins, and while Kreet and his sleek companions had borne feathered armbands, painted markings and other ornaments, the two attendants were unadorned. One limped with a twisted limb.

The monsters paused outside their cell, sniggering between themselves and idly swinging the pails they carried. A disoriented Zelda sat up, seeing them for the first time; she was afraid only for a moment, as she soon saw that the scruffy Lizalfos were nothing to be afraid of. If anything, they were objects of pity.

"What do you want?" Dark asked softly. Nervously, the lizards moved away from him, keeping a fair distance between themselves and the shadow. There was a brief pause, and then the taller one strode forward, swiftly, fumbling in a ratty leather pouch to withdraw a big iron long-hafted key. They watched as the scrawny Lizalfos struggled with the chain; his companion stood by, fingering one of the crystal daggers. The door jerked open very slightly, and the Lizalfos shoved the two pails inside with his foot, quickly slamming and locking it again before anybody could make a move.

"Enjoy!" the creature hissed sarcastically. He jabbed his dagger threateningly in their direction and then joined his friend. Visibly relieved at having escaped their task, the two Lizalfos sauntered off through the tunnel. The sound of their mocking laughter drifted back on the underground air.

"What is it?" Link asked, sitting up. The sudden movement cracked the scab on his cheek, re-opening the wound, and he winced as it began to throb again.

Dark knelt by the pails and then chuckled softly as he saw what was in them. "Our rations, I presume," he remarked. "A little water, and some stale bread. It is clean water; it must be from an underground spring." He stretched out his hand and tilted the nearest pail, allowing them to hear the slosh of liquid. "Some seems to have been spilled, but there is enough left for a quick drink if anybody needs it."

Zelda nodded, thinking it over. "I vote we all take enough for our current needs," she said, "and leave some over so that we can clean up Link's wound a little. I don't like the look of those crystal daggers."

"I'll go with that," Sofia sighed, sitting up and stretching. "I would appreciate some of the bread, too, if it is still vaguely edible." She got to her feet and walked over to examine the pails' contents, limping slightly from her previous injuries at the hands of Kreet's minions. "Goddess," she sighed, taking out a hard roll. "This is a lovely mess... miles underground and at the mercy of an army of monsters. Tell me again, whose bright idea was this little pleasure-trip?"

"That would be me," Zelda sighed, hanging her head. "I always seem to get us into situations like this."

"Well, never mind." Sofia bit into her roll with an effort, then lifted out a second. "Link! Food!" She tossed the roll to the Hero, who caught it with some distaste.

"This is food?" he asked dubiously. To prove his point, he tapped it on the stone floor of the cell; the sound was hard and solid, clunk clunk. "Looks more like a rock to me. No--even Gorons would not be tempted to eat this."

"I would be thankful for it if I were you," Dark said with a shrug. "At least it is wholesome. If they had given us some of their own food... well, let us just say that Lizalfos have a particular fondness for carrion."

"Eurgh," Zelda grimaced, and bent over the pail to take some of the water in her cupped hands. She was horribly thirsty, but she controlled herself and drank only enough to refresh herself and ease the dry feeling in her mouth. The water tasted faintly of rust; the pail was old and had not been scrubbed; but after their ride through the searing heat of the lava cave, any water was welcome. Motioning to Sofia she held out the pail for the other woman to take some, and then offered it to Link. Dark smiled slightly and shook his head when the water was offered to him, turning away to gaze out between the bars.

There was still an inch or so of water left in the pail, and Zelda set it down beside Link, drawing her handkerchief from her tunic pocket as she knelt. "Hold still," she told him, dipping the fine cloth in the water, "this might sting."

"I expect it to," Link said sourly, drawing back his hair so that she could get to the gash. He did not flinch as she carefully wiped away the clotted blood on his face, although his jaw tensed when she touched the cut itself. Cleaned up, it did not look as bad as first it had; it was not too deep, and the edges of the wound were clean. Zelda worked carefully, surprised at her own tolerance for blood; she had once been squeamish about blood, especially her own. Recently, she supposed, she had seen enough of the stuff that she was getting used to it.

She laid down the cloth. The wound had bled a little more thanks to her ministrations, but that would soon cease. There was only a dribble of red-tinged water left now in the pail. "Better?" she asked softly, folding her hands in her lap.

Link nodded and smiled slightly, trying not to move the muscles on that side of his face. The result was a rather endearing lopsided grin. "Thanks, Zelda," he said, pushing back a few loose twists of his hair. "It does feel better, now."

"About the lock..." Sofia began, glancing towards the Lizalfos guard. He seemed to be sleeping, slumped against the wall with a thin string of saliva hanging from his jaws, but the faint sounds coming from elsewhere told them that other monsters were about and alert. "If you force it, how will we get out of here? We only have Zelda's knife between us, and it looks as if there's several thousand monsters between us and the exit--and only a Moblin could shift those minecarts." She stood up then, and walked to the bars, a determined expression on her face. "We'll have to fight our way out--maybe we could snatch some of those crystal daggers off the Lizalfos."

"No." Dark shook his head. "Too dangerous. We need our own weapons back; we have trained with them and know how to use them. Assuming that I can open that lock, I propose that we send one person to look around; when we have a better idea of what we shall face, that is the time to escape."

"Oh?" Sofia challenged. "And who do we send? You, I suppose?"

"I was going to suggest Link," he answered mildly, as if he had not heard the suspicious note in her voice. He took the dagger Zelda handed him and, with a glance at the still-sleeping Lizalfos he walked silently to the door and took the lock in hand. Inserting the thin blade of the dagger into the keyhole, Dark bent his head to his task, ignoring the others as he concentrated on opening the lock.

"I don't mind going," Link said after a moment, keeping his voice low, "but I am not sure if I am the best choice for the task. To be honest, Sofia, I'm not known for my stealth." He sighed heavily. "I'd feel a lot more comfortable about going out there if I had my sword right now. Lizalfos are difficult opponents, especially in this semidarkness."

"Then who?" Zelda asked quietly. "I'm afraid I am just not up to it. Sofia, what about you?"

Surprisingly, Sofia hesitated, thoughtful, and then shook her head. "No--not me." She sighed. "I suppose it will have to be Dark. His skills work best in this environment anyway--especially since he can disappear when he wants to. I'd imagine that if anybody can pass unseen through a nest of Lizalfos, it'll be him." She paused, and then added more practically, "If he leaves his cloak behind, we can make up a dummy with some of the straw and our excess clothing; it should fool any lizards who walk past to check on us."

"I thought you didn't trust him," Zelda hissed, glancing towards the shadow with some nervousness. He paid her no heed; he was working the dagger's tip steadily to and fro inside the lock.

"I don't. Not a bit. But he is going to be our best chance of getting out of here... we will have to trust him sooner or later, or get rid of him." She scowled at her feet for a moment, then glanced up, her golden eyes narrowed slightly. "We don't have much of a choice right now, do we?"

Zelda nodded slowly. In that moment there was a soft little click, and the lock's hasp sprang open in Dark's hands. He held the opened padlock up, rattling its chain a little, then slipped the link over the chain and loosed the door. It swung open with little more than a faint creak--thank the Three that the hinges had been well oiled. The Lizalfos guard snorted in his sleep, and they all froze, but in a few more seconds the lizardman grunted sleepily and settled once more.

"Here," Dark said softly, holding the dagger out to Zelda once more. "Well... who is going on this little suicide mission?"

She glanced back at the others, who stood side by side, waiting silently. Zelda took a breath, and pressed the dagger hilt back into Dark's hands. "You," she whispered, "if you are willing."

A flash of surprise--and wonder--showed itself for just a moment in his eyes. "I did not think you would choose me... I did not think you would trust me with your freedom. What if I simply decide to leave you?"

"Are you going to do that?" Zelda asked softly.

Dark paused for a long moment, looking into her eyes, and then he slipped the dagger through his belt. Reaching up, he loosed the clasp of his cloak, and tossed it to the floor. The guard dozed on as he slipped through the door, closing it silently behind him. Link came forward and helped him fix the chain through the lock once more. Their hands touched briefly, and the touch turned into a handclasp. Dark reached through the bars to clap the young warrior on the shoulder. His eyes met Link's, then Zelda's, then finally Sofia's where she stood behind, watching him with an unreadable expression.

"In Din's name, I swear I shall return," Dark whispered fiercely, turned, and was gone.



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