The City of Fire: Chapter Thirty-Eight

THE Lizalfos guard stood at a crossway in the underground tunnel network, blinking lazily as he glanced both ways. There was an expression of sublime boredom on his reptilian face. Throwing his head back and opening wide his rat-trap jaws, he let out a long tongue-flapping yawn, squeezing his yellow eyes tight shut, and then scratched at his ribs with one clawed hand. Patrolling the network sure was boring. Nothing ever happened; there was nothing around, nothing to see, nothing to do. The most exciting thing that had ever happened on his watch was a surprise spot-check from one of the Stalfos commanders.

He snapped to attention suddenly, hearing a faint rustle in the tunnels ahead. Fearing that it might be one of his superiors, the lizardman affected a soldierly poise and efficiency for a few moments, but when he heard nothing more he slowly relaxed, by degrees. It had probably been a rat--there were many of them living in the tunnels, despite the Lizalfos' best efforts to exterminate them. His jaws drooled at the thought of fresh rat...

He yawned again, flicking out his slender forked tongue more out of habit than any real urge to scent the air. Still no sign of the relief guard. With an irritated sigh the Lizalfos turned and padded slowly back down his stretch of tunnel, heading for the other end and the other part of his beat.

The moment the monster's back was turned, three shadowy shapes tip-toed across the end of his passage, one after the other. The second figure's foot came down onto a loose pebble, which made an almost imperceptible rattle. The lead figure paused, turned back and let out a theatrical "Sssh!", which in turn prompted the others to shove him swiftly forward out of sight. Suspiciously, the Lizalfos halted in his tracks, a darkly baffled look in his yellow eye. He turned suddenly, drawing his crystal knife, but the tunnel was empty. Confused, the monster looked both ways, but still saw nothing out of the usual. With a displeased snort, he turned back, flicking his tail irritably from side to side as he continued on his way.

The three figures pressed themselves into the tunnel walls until all sound of the Lizalfos' footsteps had faded away. Only then did Zelda turn with an annoyed expression to Link, who had been in the lead. "Quiet!" she hissed under her breath, fixing him with a glare.

"Hey, I wasn't the one who stepped on-" he began, in too loud a voice, but Sofia quelled him with a sharp explosive "Sssh!".

"Quiet!" the red-haired woman whispered venomously.

"Right," Link mumbled. "Sorry."

Ever so carefully, Zelda slipped past Sofia and peered around the corner into the tunnel. The Lizalfos was standing now at its far end, around a hundred feet or so away. His back was towards them as he looked left and right, scanning the passageway. "It's okay," the Princess whispered, glancing back to the others. "I don't think he heard us."

"Where are we now, anyway?" Link asked, lowering his voice as Sofia shot him another glare. "I am completely lost now..."

"Me too," Sofia muttered. "I don't suppose it matters, anyway... as long as there is nothing actually chasing us, all is well."

They had been walking for what had to have been several hours, trying to keep generally to one direction, but they had soon lost their bearings in the repetitive tunnels. Every passage looked exactly the same as the next, and even Link's own good sense of direction had not helped them for long. Still, they had so far managed to stay out of the way of the monsters in the tunnels, even if that had been more by luck than good judgement. A little while ago there had been a commotion in the tunnels far behind them, and they had assumed that their absence from the cells had been noticed. However, there was little activity here so far.

Link sighed heavily, fingering the hilt of the knife he still carried. He hated not being able to engage the enemy in a good honest fight; this creeping and sneaking was just not his way. Still... He supposed that eventually he would get his chance to battle. It was becoming apparent to him, though he said nothing to the others, that there would be no easy way out of here. They were already lost, and had little hope of finding Dark Link again... surely it was only a matter of time until they were captured again. And they had lost the Amulet, too! A shiver of pure rage went through him at that memory--the sight of the forest-green jewel, that once had lain upon his great ancestor's breast, now gleaming against Sepultura's white skin. That image was going to remain with him for a long time. Some Hero he was--he had failed to protect his most important charge. When he had worn it, its weight was barely noticed; now, its absence was like an unhealed wound.

The tunnel seemed to go on without end, winding and snaking through the bedrock of Death Mountain. It was lit only at intervals; between every torch there was a band of deep shadow, and the constant changes from light to dark was giving Link a headache. There was no way of telling how deep they were now, but it seemed a very long way. Certainly the soft grass and warm blue skies of Hyrule had never seemed further away, even in the deep desert of the Haunted Wasteland. Link bit his lip, glancing back at the two girls. They both looked tired, and he knew for himself that he was about ready to drop after all this walking... but still there was no end in sight.

"What's that?" Zelda asked suddenly, lifting her head. There was worry in her bright blue eyes as she stared forward, to where their tunnel faded away into the distance.

"What's what?" Link asked, turning towards her with some surprise. She motioned him to silence, and stood listening intently.

"I heard something up ahead. A clinking sound."

They stood all three of them, and listened. The tension in the corridor rose to almost unbearable levels; Link felt sweat beading on his brow; but nothing happened. He fingered his knife's hilt nervously.

"Are you sure you heard something?" Sofia asked after what seemed like an interminable interval. "I know my ears are not as sharp as yours, but I never heard anything at all..."

"I know I heard it," Zelda said fiercely, in a low voice. "There is something up ahead!"

Link took a deep breath, calming himself. "Perhaps we should turn back," he began, when suddenly it happened. From out of the dark shadows materialized four reptilian shapes, each holding a crystal dagger. The Lizalfos said nothing, merely looking at their prey with cold grins on their scaly faces. Their intent was clear as they sprang forward with their blade-arms raised.

"Run!" Link shouted out, grabbing the girls' arms and dragging them with him back down the corridor. It only took that one second of action for Zelda and Sofia to begin running with him, heads down and arms pumping. They sprinted together back the way they had come, hearing the Lizalfos in hot pursuit.

"We can't go that way!" Zelda cried out. "The other guard--they'll catch us!" They had passed several other Lizalfos on their way, taking care not to be noticed. It seemed that their pursuers would run them straight into an ambush.

Link shook his head, remembering a side passage they had passed only a short time before. "Keep going!" he hissed to them, and sped up a little himself. The next moment he felt a sharp pain in his thigh, and grunted through his teeth with the shock of it. One of the twisted daggers clattered spinning to the floor in front of them; in one moment's flash of perception he saw the blood gleaming on the crystal blade and knew that the throw had nicked his leg. "Faster!" he ordered the girls, dropping back a little himself. If any more thrown daggers were to be forthcoming, Link intended to be their first target rather than Zelda or Sofia. He grit his teeth and kept on going, tense all the while for the final sharp stab in the back. This was not the way he had imagined his death...

There was the passage. They dived for it as one, racing into the deeper darkness with little care for any ambush waiting there. Zelda was in front now, running like the wind; Sofia just behind her, and Link bringing up the rear. The Lizalfos dropped back a little, falling into an easier and more efficient running pattern which would allow them to go on for miles, tirelessly running down their frail prey.

"We have to go faster!" Sofia hissed, glancing back frantically. "They'll kill us if they catch us!"

"They'll catch us anyway, if we tire ourselves out," Link panted. "We stand and fight!"

Zelda shook her head, knowing mutely that both courses of action were wrong. They rounded a sharp corner just then, entering a twisting section of tunnel which momentarily shielded their backs from the sight of the monsters behind, and the Princess saw something that might just prove their salvation. She dived sharp left, pulling the others after her.

The Lizalfos pounded round the corner, and skidded to a halt. The corridor ahead was empty. It turned again sharply a little way in front, cutting off their view down the tunnel. After a second's confusion, the monsters set off running again, understanding that their prey could only have gone on ahead; in a short time their footsteps were fading away into the distance.

Slowly, Zelda peered out from behind her meager shelter. The passage had been imperfectly excavated here, and a jutting-out spar of rock provided an area of deep shadow, screened from view of the main tunnel. Into this small space had crammed all three of the runaways, and the Lizalfos in their hurry had run right past them. If even one of the monsters had looked back, it would have seen them for sure. Carefully, listening hard for any sound of approaching feet, the Princess got to her feet and brushed herself down, then extended a hand to help Sofia up.

"Nice idea," the Gerudo woman complimented her, stroking back her red hair which was disarrayed by the speed of their run.

Link got to his feet slowly, placing a hand on the stone for balance. His leg hurt abominably, now that the thrill of their flight had faded, and he was out-of-breath from the running. "Nayru's Love," he wheezed, letting his head hang for a moment, "I am getting tired of this."

Zelda glanced towards him, her eyes widening as she took in the splotch of blood on his clothing. "You're hurt!" she exclaimed, and knelt to examine the injury, shrugging off all his weak complaints. "Hold still," she cautioned, carefully lifting the cloth away from the wound; she feared the worst, seeing Link's white face and exhausted stance. She was relieved when she saw the injury itself, and a smile spread across her face. "It's only a small cut," she said, using the hem of her cloak to staunch the flow of blood. "A good thing--we have no bandages."

"Can you walk?" Sofia asked practically. Link nodded. "Good," she went on, glancing in the direction whence the monsters had gone, "because they'll come back this way anytime now and we have to get out of here before they come upon us again. Any ideas which way we should go?"

Link suddenly remembered seeing a door on the way; he had barely had time to take it in, their flight had been so desperate, but his mind had registered it anyway, thanks to the long and arduous training of his earlier adventures. "Actually, I have," he said, testing his injured leg and finding it more or less sound. "Follow me!"



It was a little surprising to find a stout wooden door in the underground tunnels, and even more so when they found it unlocked, but none of the three adventurers were inclined to question their good luck. They found themselves in what seemed to be some sort of storeroom, packed thick with boxes and rolls of dusty cloth. Before anything else was done, Link exerted himself to move some heavy casks in front of the door and block it off as best he could; the last thing they wanted was to be surprised by monsters in the small room with no other exit, and obstructing the door would at least give them a little time to hide or prepare an ambush.

This done, they could finally sit down to rest, safe in the knowledge that at least they were to have a short respite from the constant strain of staying alive. The storeroom was lit, as all of the network seemed to be, by a basket of gold wire suspended from the ceiling, in which hung three white-hot crystals. Link wanted to take one to provide light, but it seemed that you could not have light without heat; the small room was sultry with it, and the idea of touching one of the searingly hot stones did not fill the young warrior with much enthusiasm.

Link sat down on an upturned crate, thankful for the chance to rest his tired limbs. Now the cut on his leg hurt, though it was already half closed over, and his light brown pants were stained a darker shade as far as his knee. He let out a soft sigh and dropped his head, running his hands through his hair. Zelda sat down too, on a barrel opposite him, and leaned her head back against the wall with a sigh of her own, closing her blue eyes. She was tired too, more so than the toughened warrior or the wiry Gerudo; but Link sneaked a look at the Princess and thought that precious few of the Hylian women he had met would have been able to keep up. Zelda's cloak was cast aside; underneath she wore a slightly-too-large woollen tunic, a gift from the Kakariko villagers, and a shirt of soft white linen. Her delicate elfin shape was delicate still, but now free from any excess weight and possessed of a wiry kind of strength. Link smiled to himself. Zelda was tougher than he had given her credit for; a few more adventures like this and the golden-haired Hylian would be a worthy warrior indeed.

A clatter brought his attention back to the present. Sofia had found an iron crowbar and was using it to prize open one of the sealed boxes. He turned and stared at her; she felt his eyes upon her and glanced in his direction. "We might as well see if there is anything here we can use," she explained, working the crowbar up and down under the lid of the crate. "Want to give me a hand?"

"Good idea," Link agreed, a little sore that he had not thought of it himself. He got up, wincing a little as the wound in his thigh smarted and bled afresh, and limped across to where she stood. Sofia slipped her fingers under the lid of the crate as Link leaned his weight onto the crowbar, levering the lid up by brute force. With a creak and snap of weakening nails, the lid heaved up an inch. Sofia's muscles tensed and with an almighty heave she had the top of the crate right off. Link coughed and waved a hand in front of his face as a cloud of dust rose up.

They were disappointed; the crate contained only useless practical implements. Stoneworking tools and chisels comprised the majority of the contents, and though Link searched deeper in the hope of finding something helpful, he uncovered only iron pins for scaffolding. Sofia shrugged a little and moved onto the next crate. Zelda watched dully as, by virtue of teamwork, the two opened up several of the stored crates and searched through their contents. There was a lot of cloth stored away, folded in the boxes and loose in great rolls, and a lot of heavy goods for use in the mines. Items that might have been of use, such as long metal pipes that could have doubled as polearms, were generally too bulky, heavy or otherwise unwieldy for them to use; they had been designed for use by monsters, and large ones at that. Perhaps the Moblins, Link thought, heaving aside a huge iron hammer.

Then Sofia struck gold. A smaller crate proved to be full of round objects, packed beneath sawdust for safekeeping; she swept aside this protective layer and let out a cry of delight. The box was full of compasses, cheap and rudely made but generally in good working order. She searched through them quickly and found three that seemed to work well; she passed two to the others and slipped one into her own pocket. "Now we have something that will help us navigate," she said with a smile.

"At least we will know which direction we are going in," Link agreed, tilting the compass from side to side in his hands. "Even if we don't know whether it's the right one."



Although there was no physical change in the room--no alteration in the light, no change in the temperature--some sixth sense told them that it was night outside.

"What are we to do, then?" Zelda asked softly. They had been waiting for a long time in the dubious safety of the little store-room. Several times there had been noises outside, as monsters passed by--presumably searching for them. However, each time the steps had gone straight on upon some other business; none had given the door a moment's thought. Such luck could not last forever.

Link played with the compass, tipping it in his hands so that the arrow spun swiftly. He was nervous and fidgety. "We will have to go back the way we came," he said."I suppose they are not going to give up now until they find us. Without food or water we will not survive long." He did not add that, if they were caught, they would be unlikely to survive captivity for much longer. It seemed that all Sepultura had desired was the Amulet--what further use did she have for the three of them now? "We have to find Dark Link," he said. "We are lost without him."

Sofia sighed heavily and glanced at Zelda before replying. "I agree," she said reluctantly. "He is used to this underground environment... and I suppose that he did come back those two times," the red-haired woman added almost grudgingly.

"His loyalty is not the issue here," Zelda reminded them both. "We need him, that is the absolute truth. We have to work together, as a team."

Link stood up, and slipped the compass into his pocket. "Well then!" he said, with a confidence that belied his tense stance. "Let's go, before we change our minds!" Without further words he strode to the door, and laid his hand on the latch--then froze. Once more there were footsteps coming down the tunnel. It only took a moment's unspoken communication between the three fugitives; as one they dashed for the back of the store-room, concealing themselves inadequately behind boxes or anything else that might offer shelter.

There were two sets of footsteps, coming on unhurriedly. Link and the others held their breath as the footsteps drew level with their door.

The footsteps stopped.

There was silence for what seemed an eternity of tension, and then a grating Lizalfos hiss rang out.

"Anybody ssearched this room?"

"Not yet," came the sibilant reply. Another pause, then, "Perhaps we sshould invesstigate?"

The three fugitives exchanged silent, horrified glances, then Link slipped from his hiding place. He climbed carefully into the open space they had vacated, and then knelt behind the crate he had pushed in front of the door. He laid his hands on it and tensed his muscles, holding it in place with his own bodily strength.

The latch lifted, slowly, seeming to take an age. The door moved in its frame, coming up against the box with an audible thump. There was silence from outside. The latch fell. Then it lifted again, more impatiently this time. The door rattled in its frame as the Lizalfos attempted to force it open, but Link held it shut with single-minded determination.

The outsider thumped the door again, with rising irritation. The door shook. There was silence then, for a longer time.

"Door's locked. Ssince when did they lock these doors?" came the irritated voice of the first reptilian speaker.

"You know Maximus. Probably ssomething good in here he wants to keep for himself." Greed mingled with frustration in the second speaker's tone.

"Then we'll go and get the key," the first voice answered swiftly.

"They won't be hiding in a locked room," the second objected in a tone of disbelief. "You think they can walk through wallss?"

"The dark one can, if the rumors are correct. And they got out of a locked cell. No reason why they can't lock doors as well as open them," came the first voice, gleeful at its own cunning. "Anyway, don't you want to ssee the riches Lord Maximus has sstashed away?"

It was quiet for a long time, presumably as the second Lizalfos mulled over his companion's words. Finally he spoke again, greed and nervousness vying for dominance in his voice. "If we get caught..."

"We'll say the warmbloods took it," the first voice answered smugly. "Come on! Let's go, quickly, before the filthy bonemen catch onto our plan. Hurry!"

The two sets of footsteps made themselves heard again, moving swiftly away now. Link and the others waited until the sound had faded utterly before springing out of their hiding places and gathering around the door.

"We cannot stay here now," Link said grimly. "If they come back and find the door will not open even with a key..."

"We'll be caught like rats in a trap," Sofia agreed. She bent and with a slight effort moved the crate away from the door. "Let's go then--quickly!"

Link drew his borrowed Goron's dagger and took a deep breath as he laid his free hand on the latch. Then, with a swift graceful movement he flung the door open, assuming a fighting stance as he stepped into the gap. No shout of surprise or armed attack greeted him; the corridor was empty. With a meaningful look at the others, Link stepped out into the tunnel, and the girls came after him.

They walked for awhile, their pace purposely slowed so that they would hear any approaching enemies and have time to react. Once again the corridors were suspiciously quiet and safe. Rather than follow the Lizalfos, they started back the way they had come, hoping against hope that they would be able to retrace their steps without error. Soon, though, they found themselves wandering into another unfamiliar part of the network, and knew that they were lost once again.

"I am about ready to give up," Link muttered, leaning against the tunnel wall in order to rest his injured leg. They stood now at an intersection, where two passages crossed at right-angles to each other. Iron rails, polished into a high sheen with use, crossed their path, showing that they had come upon one of the mine-cart tracks.

Sofia was silent for a while, looking down at the rails, then she suddenly snapped her fingers. "I have an idea!" she announced. The others turned to look at her, startled by that. "Why don't we follow these?" the red-haired woman asked, motioning to the rails. "They have to go somewhere!"

"We won't have anywhere to hide if someone comes along the tracks," Link pointed out dubiously, but then he sighed. "I suppose we have no choice... we are just getting more lost with this wandering."

"Then let's go," Zelda answered, shaking her hair out of her eyes. Link glanced at his compass, checking their position, and then nodded slightly; the tracks went in a direction he guessed to be correct, though he could no longer be sure. Without further discussion the three companions started off along the tunnel, listening for any signs of approaching enemies. Alcoves at regular intervals along the tunnel offered a meager cover if anybody came along the track.

They walked for around half an hour, following the rails which twisted and turned through the rough-hewn passage. Then, coming round a corner they had to halt suddenly; the tunnel ended in a blaze of firelight. The rails went on through empty space, spanning a wide cavern in the rock face. Link stepped up to the edge with some nervousness, and looked down. Only twelve feet below was a rocky platform, upon which were a number of Lizalfos drawn up into regimented lines; they seemed to have walked in on a roll-call or other briefing. The green-eyed warrior motioned to the others to be silent, and then he lay down and looked over the edge. Zelda and Sofia followed suit.

They could hear everything that was being said, but it was impossible to make out its meaning; the words were in the hissing language of the Lizalfos. Apparently a captain was giving orders to his troops, or perhaps the commanders were listening to their general; every beast seemed huge in comparison to the Lizalfos guards, strong and fit. The one at the front was obviously important; he stood a head taller than any of the others and was wearing spiked plates of armor. From where they were, Link and the others could even see that the massive lizardman's left eye was blinded, an empty orb of orange with a scar slashed across it.

"We don't want to get involved with this," Zelda muttered. Every single Lizalfos there looked like a tough customer, and they unlike the guards they had previously met were in peak physical condition. Any one of them would have given the three companions a tough battle. "We must try and sneak past without their noticing us."

"No problem," Link whispered back with more confidence than was in his eyes. "We can walk over the rails--they are strong enough to hold us."

"Careful!" Sofia warned.

Crossing the minecart rails was like walking a stiff steel triprope, or a slender bridge with no handrails. They went in single file, treading carefully on the creaking struts that held the two steel rails together, and trying to make as little noise as possible. And luck went with them, for the Lizalfos chieftain was seemingly in the throes of an impassioned speech, and had the full attention of his henchmen.

Then, of course, disaster struck. Link was having trouble crossing in such a fashion; although he was strong, his injured leg made him clumsy, and the others could not help him on the narrow expanse. He was around halfway across when the bridge shook, responding to the passage of a minecart on a parallel course, and the resulting vibrations made him lose his footing in midstep. His left foot came down hard on the rail, and the wounded limb gave way beneath him; he slipped off the edge and only just managed to grab onto the rail itself. Zelda scurried back and grasped his wrists to help him climb back up.

Link gazed down in fear, seeing the Goron's dagger slipping through his belt. There was nothing he could do to save it; both his hands were occupied with saving his own life. The dagger fell to the ground below, landing right before the Lizalfos general with a loud metallic clatter. Every one of the Lizalfos looked up.

"The escapees!" bellowed the commander. "Get them!"

Zelda hauled him up with the strength born of sheer panic, and he scrambled back onto the rail. The Lizalfos rushed to the wall and began swiftly to climb it, using their long tails for balance. In moments the first of them were on the tracks and running towards them, crystal daggers already ready in their hands. The three companions took off again, exiting the cavern and racing along the tunnel as fast as they could go. The Lizalfos elite gained quickly, being as fit as they were, and fresh moreover.

"We're not going to make it!" Sofia shouted.

They had run into a part of the network that was obviously much newer; here and there great wooden pillars supported the roof of the tunnel, and there were tools still embedded in the stone. Zelda glanced up swiftly as a tiny shower of dust fell on her hair, and realized with a frightened feeling that the stone here was not a hundred percent stable. Link was slowing down, and she grasped his hand to exert him to still greater efforts.

Behind them the Lizalfos came charging, bright weapons gleaming in their hands like extensions of their knife-blade teeth. The great commander with the blinded eye was right at the front, only a few feet behind them; he carried a huge broadsword with a dreadful serrated edge. His snarling echoed in their ears. "It's... over!" he roared between breaths, accelerating. "...Give in!"

The passage ahead turned into a mineshaft, low and half-blocked with rubble and overturned carts. It would be impossible to run any further. They were caught. Together they fetched up against the back wall, utterly without weapons now that the Goron's dagger was gone. Grimly Link took a step forward, unsteady on his injured leg, and raised his bare fists in a futile last gesture of resistance. Zelda snatched at a pickaxe standing in a pile of stones, but could not lift it. The Lizalfos laughed uproariously, gathering before them to block the only exit of the tunnel.

Swinging his tail with lazy ease, the armored Lizalfos stepped forward. He held his sword lightly in his clawed hand, one scaly thumb testing the edge of the blade. It gleamed bright in the gloom, well polished and new. "Well, well," he growled softly, a draconine smile on his features, "what have we here? Rats in a trap? You know what we do to rats, eh, boys?" A snicker rose up from his comrades.

"Cook 'em and eat 'em, boss, every little bit!" called out one of the other Lizalfos.

The chieftain dipped his head, grinning. His sightless eye gleamed unblinkingly; the other was fixed on them in yellow malevolence. "That's right, boys. Every little bit. We don't like rats down here, the little meddlers get into everything. I think we'll have to kill 'em, boys, or the dirty little bastards'll breed."

"Come on and try, then!" Link shouted defiantly. He had no hope left of escaping alive, but at least he might be able to bloody a few reptilian noses before he fell. He thought he was owed that much for all his services as Hyrule's Hero. If Link Fifth was to die here, he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. He regarded the Lizalfos chieftain through narrowed eyes, his fists clenched so tight that the knuckles whitened.

The armored lizardman laughed at him. He was fully a foot taller than Link, and he used every inch of his height in intimidating the three fugitives. "I do declare, this little rat's got teeth! So you want to take me on, eh? You know who I am?"

"No," Zelda spoke up, her voice shaky but firm, "and we don't care either."

"Lizard breath!" added Sofia.

"You foolish brats!" the chieftain roared, and lifted his broadsword high, filling the entire tunnel. "I am Kleox Dinolfos, overlord of the Cauldron! And for that slight, you shall die now!" His voice carried none of the hissing undertones of lesser Lizalfos, and the perfect pronunciation made him seem far more intelligent... and deadly. He swung the great sword forward until its point picked out Link standing before the others. "Prepare to feel the wrath of Kleox," he said in a softer, menacing voice. He stepped forward, and as he lifted the sword they saw his chest muscles rippling beneath the smooth scaly skin.

Link, accompanied by the girls, backed up against the far wall, but there was nowhere left to run. They felt the stone creak under their feet but paid it little heed. Kleox's single eye blazed with evil fire and his needle-sharp teeth glittered as he advanced.

Kleox halted suddenly, and glanced down at the stone floor beneath his feet. Uncertainty showed in his features as he slowly lifted his head to look at the towering ceiling of rock; he lowered his sword. The walls were creaking around them. This tunnel had only recently been excavated; was still in progress, as a matter of fact; and the weight of the Lizalfos squadron, plus Kleox, plus Link and company, was putting a severe stress on the honeycombed stone.

"Oh, no!" Zelda cried, suddenly understanding why Kleox seemed reluctant to attack.

With a rending tear of stone, the floor beneath them gave way and dropped them down into the lower workings of the mine. Deprived of its support in such a fashion, the ceiling of the mineshaft went too, and several tons of stone collapsed into the hole. Kleox and his group staggered back and flung their arms up to protect themselves from dust and falling rock. The sound was like a hundred earthquakes in the narrow mine.

Slowly the shifting rock settled once more. Dust was everywhere. Kleox lowered his arms, which were dusted with the white substance, and glanced quickly around, blinking his workable eye. The end of the passage had completely collapsed, and any sign of their enemy had vanished into a gaping chasm in the floor. Carefully the Lizalfos chieftain stepped forward, placing each taloned foot with care on the cracked surface, and looked over the edge. Many feet below he could see the rockfall; the surface was rubble, still shifting here and there. No sign of the children. Their bodies would be entombed within the stone--it would take the Moblin workers weeks to shift it, he could see. An anticlimactic end, but an absolute one.

Kleox whirled, fixing his troops with his cold yellow stare. "All right! Let's move out! You--run a message to Lord Marcus: the intruders have been dealt with."

"Yes, ssir!" The Lizalfos saluted, before turning tail and dashing off.

The surface of the rubble shifted suddenly, and Kleox turned again to look down with his eye narrowed in suspicion... but it was only a rock that had fallen into a precarious position and now rolled slowly down the side of the mound. Everything became still again. With a shrug, Kleox swung his broadsword into the sheath at his back.



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