Shadow's Mastery: Chapter 81

THEY hadn't bothered much about him, rightly judging him to be no threat. He had simply been disarmed, dragged to a cell and left. Perhaps they had even intended to do him a kindness in taking the light away with them. He huddled in the farthest corner with his knees drawn up to his chest, shivering in the cold and damp, and drifted. In darkness he forgot who he was.

They were hurting Link. The boy was baffled, could not understand why this was being done. Why did they ask him no questions? What did they want from him? His confusion was tangible even amidst the throes of his agony.

They think you have something, Dark sent. Something they want very much. Oh, I am so sorry.

They already took it. Link was dazed, barely conscious. She's wearing it.

It is not the Amulet they seek...

He didn't think the boy had heard: his thoughts had slipped back into the hazy incoherence of his pain. Or perhaps Dark was the one losing his focus. He felt himself coming apart a little more with every breath he took--he was a piece of driftwood tossed about on a vast surging sea of memory.

The man laughed his laugh like a pealing bell, spread his arms wide in benediction against a sky of blood and smoke. The heat of flames lifted his coils of violet hair; there was fire in his eyes.

"Do you hear them screaming, my friend? Is it not glorious, this hymn they sing to our lord?"

They mewed like gulls, he thought. I remember now why I hated the gulls in Saria. That is what it sounded like, the cries of the trapped ones...

A change. The woman ran shrieking down a firelit street, past merrily burning buildings, through clouds of drifting smoke. Debris in the road hampered her; she had to scramble over tangles of rubble and still-smoldering beams. She was too slow, ungainly. Dark ran after her, graceful as a cat; he leaped thrice and was beside her. His sword sliced the air and she tumbled like a rag doll, jetting blood. As he stood over the contorted body, the wind of the fires lifted her cloak away and he saw that she had been pregnant...

For you, my lord--all for you.

Another place, another time. He crept through the darkened house on silent feet, the knife slick and bloody in his hand. In the room behind him a man and woman lay nestled together, still warm, their blood soaking slowly down through the layers of their bedding to puddle on the floor.

He set his foot down onto the first stair, then paused, his eyes narrowing to slits. Somewhere a baby had begun to squall.

A slow smile spread across his face, baring pale fangs in the darkness. He turned back...

And now there was blood on the snow like a scatter of poppies out of season, and the shadows of the leafless trees cast black cage bars across the ground. He wrested the axe from the hands of the dying soldier and stood over the body, hefting the ugly weapon, waiting for the others as they boiled out of the woods towards him. The man in green wore no armor; his face was grim and pale under a shock of light brown hair. The sword in his hand glowed blue. A thin cut, partly healed, ran down the left side of his face, slanting towards the corner of his mouth. He cried out in the old tongue as he ran.

"Back--Folly, back! Let none engage him save myself!"

Dark, grinning fiercely, shifted his grip on the axe, and awaited his foe...

He was unraveling like a piece of string. So many years..! How could he have lived so long, seen so much horror?

All for you, my lord...

They always looked so surprised, in that last moment when the life left their eyes.

He left a king dead behind him as he slipped soundlessly through palace corridors. His task was complete, and he should have hurried now to escape before the deed was discovered, but he passed a young guard dozing at his post, and just for the fun of it whirled to slash the exposed throat...

You see? This is who you are. You are mine. You were always mine. You always will be mine.

"I... did... not... kill... the guards... in the temple," he gasped out. "I... swore... I... would not..."

Mocking laughter.

A different note entered the discord of his memories: a presence he knew. There was something important about it, some meaning, something he had to remember. It was a thin shrill piping against the storm, barely audible, yet insistent; it sang its message over and over, determined to be heard. He snarled at it, but the little spark would not back away.

It's all right. Don't be afraid. I'm here. I'll look after you.

"...Link..?" He stared into the darkness and shook. "What... how...?"

You remember me. Don't you? The boy was so faint, so tired, but his happiness spilled through and wrapped Dark in warmth.

Link... He snatched greedily at the presence, careless of what it might be costing the boy to reach him this way: it was a rock jutting from the surging seas, something solid to cling to. I am here, and the time is now. "Link..." he whispered, finally understanding, and found the strength from somewhere to reach out, complete the connection. Awareness rushed into him. "I... feel... your pain..."

I'm sorry, Link told him, with weary humor. I'm trying to keep it back.

Dark lay still, only breathing now and then, when he remembered to do so. He moved towards the sense of his friend, drawn by the promise of comfort, as a blind pup might have crawled towards its mother. His trust was instinctive, childlike and total. Link was here now--it would be all right.

The boy was very weak. He brushed his senses lightly, gauging the extent of damage. Carock knew what he was doing; there was nothing here that would not heal, given time. But Link did not have the trick of dealing with pain; he could not set it to one side in order to concentrate on other things. He was in desperate need of rest now.

Give it to me.

What? The boy was confused--he did not understand.

In the blackness of his cell, Dark smiled; this was something he could do. I know pain. I can take much more than you. This is nothing. Give it to me for a while. Let it go.

I can't--

You can. Like this.

Link slept soundly, trusting him. After a while Dark rested too after his fashion. The boy's pain was even a comfort to him; as long as he held on tightly, focusing on it with all his strength, the other could not get at him. He knew he could not keep it up forever, but for now it was all right.

I will not do it. You can never make me kill him, my lord.

Then, Ganon said, I will take him instead. The choice is yours.



In the vast black chamber that now glittered with a hundred torches, Sepultura knelt before the empty throne, an empty pendant in her cupped hands.

My lord, we are so close now... in just a short time the fourth Amulet will waken, and another Seal will be loosed...

It is all for you, my lord.



Link had been permitted to lie for a few minutes on the floor of his prison, and he felt absurdly grateful for the privilege. That was the way it got you, he supposed. Enough of this and you would cry with joy to be handed a cupful of water. A part of him remained detached, watching the proceedings with some curiosity and not a little puzzlement: that bleeding, filthy wretch sprawled on the wet stone could not have been him. It was impossible. He didn't look like that.

The strange black creature--Gomez, Carock had called it--dragged him along bodily, up several flights of stairs. Its touch was like a thousand icy pinpricks, and it rustled as it moved, like dry leaves stirred by a breeze, or the wings of many small creatures. He let it handle him as it wished; he doubted he had the strength to walk, anyway, even if it allowed him. He could barely hold his head up. He was cold, too, and could not stop shivering. They'd left him his trousers and thus a few last shreds of modesty, but everything else was gone--boots, shirt, belt. In any case, his remaining garment could give no warmth, for it was in tatters, blood-soaked and still damp with the water they had used to sluice him down.

Stalfos bowed themselves out of the way. Up another winding stair, through another archway--and there it was again before him, the broken double door, the throne. Forgotten until now, his right hand began to thud with a hot deep pain, and he ground his teeth in frustration. What's wrong with it--have I got a disease, or what?

A whispering filled the great hall as he was brought in, a susurration of wondering voices. The Stalfos grinned and nodded to one another, witchfire dancing in their shadowy eyesockets. There were many of them here now crowded along the walls, and other monsters too: hooded Wizzrobes with their ruby-tipped wands, stranger things in the shadows. He even thought he recognised a Goriya, a hulking wolf-headed giant covered with thick dark fur, lurking at the back of the room. His grandfather had talked about the Moblins' northern cousins, but he himself had never seen one before--he had thought them extinct.

There was a large empty space before the throne. Carock and Sepultura stood there, side by side, waiting for him. Between them, disheveled and dirty, stood Dark. Link felt his cracked, swollen lips part painfully in a smile at the sight of his friend, apparently unharmed, but his relief died swiftly in his breast. Dark would not look at him, kept his head lowered. His eyes were narrowed to crimson slits.

On the black stone floor, at the shadow's feet, lay two naked swords: his own, and Dark's.

Link tried again to get his feet under him, and this time partly succeeded, but almost at the same time his escort released him, shoving him cruelly so that he tottered and fell headlong. The impact knocked the wind out of him, and puffs of dust swirled away across the floor. Some of the watchers tittered.

"Ah, the guest of honor arrives..." Carock's warm voice rang out like a bell, stilling the whispers. "Well? Are you ready?"

The stone was icy under his bare skin. He raised his head slowly, and stared at his arms stretched out in front of him. He was filthy; he could smell the stink of himself. His wrists had wide bracelets of dirt and clotted blood from where the shackles had rubbed. A few inches beyond his grimy fingertips, the serpentine dagger glittered red with reflected torchlight.

With an immense effort, he pulled his hand back, away from the sword, and dragged his damaged body into a sitting position. It didn't appreciate it. His shoulders burned with agony at the movement, and he felt sticky warmth start to trickle down his back as a few of the cuts cracked open.

"I won't fight him," he said.

"No?" Carock's tone was deceptively gentle. "Then he will kill you. As he should have done long ago."

There was a scrape of steel on stone. Dark bent, and picked up the plain Kakariko sword. As he straightened up again his gaze met Link's for the first time. He moved his booted foot, shoved at the serpentine dagger; it spun over the flagstones towards him, stirring up the dust in spiral patterns. Link reached out and stopped it by the hilt before it could touch him.

"This isn't you," he said, staring up into his friend's face. The enormity of the betrayal stunned him. "Dark... you don't have to do this. Fight him! Don't let him do this to you!"

The shadow shook his head very slowly, and his blind eyes glistened suddenly with unshed tears. In a soft, broken voice, he said, "I will do everything I can to prevent you taking my place."

"And so here we all are, to witness the historic event," Carock said with a bright, mocking smile. "Stand up, Hero, and show us all how brave you are."

Stand up? Link wasn't sure he was even capable of doing so any more. He held the serpentine dagger loosely for a moment in his right hand, trying the weight of it, but it hurt so much that he could barely close his swollen fingers around the hilt. He transferred it to his left instead, knowing that despite his practice he was less skilled at fighting with that arm. Very likely it would make no difference anyway. Dark was naturally left handed.

"You expect me to fight him like this?" he asked desperately, stalling for time. "Look what you've done to me--I can't even use my sword arm in this state. It's hardly a fair fight."

"Many might argue that it is more than fair," Carock said, "given what you are, and what you bear. Still--" He turned his head suddenly as if he had heard something, glanced toward the throne, and a slow, cruel smile spread across his face. "Ah, yes. An elegant solution. Brittle, if you and the other gentleman there would be so kind..."

Dark did not struggle as the two Stalfos took hold of him; he kept gazing at Link, his expression still and set. Skeletal fingers tore his shirtsleeve back and bared the thin, sinewy contours of his left arm up past the elbow. Link's eyes widened in horror as he understood--

The snap was muffled, yet surprisingly loud in the high-ceilinged chamber. Dark staggered for a moment, squeezed his eyes shut, then found his balance again. One of the Stalfos offered him the sword hilt; he reached for it slowly, took it into his right hand.

Carock folded his arms. "He can heal that off, but not without someone to set it for him. Are you satisfied?"

Link gulped air. "You... you..." His appalled gaze focused on the shadow's arm, now dangling awkwardly in the tattered sleeve, and he fought back an urge to vomit.

"I am sorry," Dark whispered, raising the sword.



He had fenced with Dark a few times for practice, and was familiar with the shadow's fighting style. Some might have thought that to be an advantage. Link knew better. Watching Dark had only taught him how slow, how helplessly clumsy he was in comparison.

Somehow in the first flush of terror, as Dark came at him, he lurched to his feet, and even more miraculously, stayed up. He backed away, staggering like a drunken sailor, but the monstrous audience had formed a wide ring around them and there was no escape from the enemy approaching on silent feet. He made the first feint, trying an awkward slash with his left, and Dark's sword flicked out as fast as thought to bat his blade to one side. Pain shot up through his strained shoulders from the clash of metal, and he groaned thickly through his teeth.

"Come on, boy--you're not even trying!" Carock's voice rose above the din and lashed him, sharp and taunting. The watchers were cheering them both on now. Distantly he heard excited voices placing bets.

"Is this... the only way..?" he gasped out.

Dark was trying for his expressionless mask, but he could not hold it; the tears were running freely down his cheeks now. His sword darted out twice, so quickly that it blurred, and Link somehow managed to dodge both thrusts. Dark kept his body low, always turning to face him with his right side--if the broken arm was slowing him at all, Link could see no sign of it.

He was tiring far too fast. His back felt slick and wet, and he was unsure whether it was sweat or blood. Noise hammered in his head.

He tried a swing. Dark's blade flashed in at once to intercept it. Link stumbled back another step, his ears ringing, and was shoved harshly from behind. Dark struck at him again as he reeled forward; he threw himself to one side in desperation, and the tip of the Kakariko sword left a cat-scratch over the muscle of his upper arm. He kept going, hit the ground with his shoulder, and used the momentum to go into a clumsy roll, then came up in a crouch with his sword ready. Dark was already there before him, a blur of whirling steel, and he had to turn his attempt at attack into a hurried defense. The blade came at him from every conceivable angle--it was like trying to fend off a combine harvester. All he had time to do was stay alive.

The sword cut him suddenly, a little spike of ice over one of his ribs. It was just enough to distract him. He twisted his whole body with desperate grace and narrowly avoided being disemboweled by the return stroke, but that left him open for another cut. It nipped him again, on the collarbone, then put a notch in his right ear. His answering jab was parried with effortless grace; Dark didn't even break stride.

Is he playing with me? No--he doesn't want to--

"Do it!" raged Sepultura, in the background. "Stop wasting time!"

He couldn't win; he knew it now. His battered body had nothing left to give. I'm sorry, Dark... I did my best to keep the promise...

A feint and a parry. Another parry. And then Dark caught his blade on the guard of the Kakariko sword, and made one deft twitch, and the serpentine dagger leaped from Link's suddenly stinging fingers and whirred, spinning like a boomerang, over the heads of the watchers. It clattered down out of sight, somewhere in the shadows behind the throne. A vicious roar went up from the crowd.

Link stumbled awkwardly as he backed away; his ankle rolled under him and he went down. In the next instant, the tip of the Kakariko sword was at his throat.



A wintry day, with the sun pale and watery in a hazy, frost-faded sky. Dead leaves, torn from bare branches by the gusting wind, swirl and scatter about the grass before collecting in corners to decay. In the cemetery the weathered gravestones slumber in the thin bright light...

The sword spins out of his hand, and he dives for it, but he is too slow. A light cold-metal touch on the back of his neck.

"You're dead..."



"I'm sorry," he said. "I know you can't help it. It's not your fault."

Dark stood over him, his breast heaving. His fine flyaway hair was all over the place; sweat streaked his forehead. The sword's point dug in a little, poking into the soft hollow at the base of his throat; it felt like a cold needle pressing against his skin.

Link smiled. "Go on. I'm not afraid. Finish it now. Do what you have to."

Steel clattered as the plain sword hit the ground.

The shadow whirled, and screamed at the black throne:


There was silence.

Sepultura was the one who broke the impasse; she took a step forward into the ring and stared from one of them to the other, a thunderstruck look upon her face. "Failed?" she asked the air, and turned to Carock. "How could they both have failed?"

The sorcerer's expression was cool and calculating as he watched, arms folded, his long-nailed fingers tapping lightly. "I suspected as much," was all he said.

Dark glanced towards him, then, slowly, turned his head to look down at his own left arm. He brought his other hand across as if in a dream, and gripped carefully. Many of the watchers flinched at the dull click. He stood for a moment with his head down, breathing deeply, then lifted his hand and flexed the fingers.

"They were helping each other," Carock said. "I should have guessed when the boy slept so soundly in the Room of Pain."

Sepultura's eyes bulged; she grabbed at the collar of her gown, where the Forest Amulet hung on its delicate chain. "But--"

"Cheat!" snarled something from the back of the room. "They cheated! Shadow's cheated us!" Other voices took up the cry; the savage circle began to close in.

"Together then," Link said faintly, smiling, as Dark knelt beside him.

Something flashed a brilliant burning red, changing the quality of the light. Heads turned in shock and sudden fear to where Carock stood before the throne, the staff in his hands burning like a scarlet star. A wind from nowhere stirred his coils of violet hair. "Gentlemen, please," he said, and though his voice was not loud, there was a power in it that froze the blood. "Have a little patience--we will still have our show. There is still, after all, the matter of the fourth medallion, the fourth Seal." One by one, reluctantly, the monsters drew back, and the floor was clear.

"Seal?" Link hauled himself up again into a sitting position. The effort left him breathless and dizzy. "What... what seal?"

"Oh--all this time, all this work, and you don't even know what it's for?" The man made his charming smile as he lowered his staff. "Sepultura, my dear, haven't you told them?"

"Told us what?" Link snarled; he was sick of these games.

Carock's eyes had a strange gleam now. "I'm glad you asked, my boy, glad you asked. This is my favourite part... Listen--I'll tell you all about those pretty medallions, what they are and what they do. Are you sitting comfortably?"

"I don't think--" began Sepultura.

"SILENCE!" he thundered at her. For a moment the chamber was full of sparks and the scent of lightning; cowed, she drew back, clutching the green pendant in both hands. The air returned to normal, slowly, but now it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. "Now," Carock smiled at them all, warm and affable, "as I was saying..." He began to pace back and forth, and his voice took on the teaching tone again. "The Medallions and their settings, which together you call Amulets of Fate, form a part of the seal on the Dark World. A seal which you and your little friends, I hear, have been patiently undoing."

Link soothed his right hand; the pain was building again, thumping steadily down his arm. "To get to the Sacred Realm--"

Carock stopped pacing and spun suddenly to face him. His eyes seemed almost to glow like Dark's now, with a weird inner light. "There's something you Hylians have consistently failed to understand. This is the Sacred Realm. This is the World of Light. They are one and the same. The Triforce resides here. By waking the Amulets, you are opening a path not to the Sacred Realm, but to the Dark World."

He blinked stupidly, trying to work it out. "But that doesn't change anything... we knew we'd have to face Ganon..."

"But you didn't know all of it, did you? Let's recap. A thousand years ago a man named Ganondorf sought and captured the Triforce of Power. A thousand years ago a woman named Zelda and a man named Link, with the Triforces of Wisdom and Courage, split reality as they perceived it into two. There came into existence two timelines, two worlds--one in which Ganondorf was victorious, and one in which life went on much as it had done before. It was a last ditch attempt on their part, an act of desperation." His voice had grown loud as he spoke. "You see," he said, standing back, "Ganon had already won."

"Huh?" was all Link could say.

Carock rolled his eyes. "Must I spell it out for you? Your Hero of Time failed. Failed as every one of his descendants since have done. As you failed two years ago."

This was too much. "I... failed...?"

"Yes, failed! Each one of you in turn could have stopped it, could have destroyed him and healed the rift, and all any of you managed to do was reinforce your cowardly little spell and buy yourselves a little more time. Time which is running out swiftly now, thanks to your heroic little quest. Noticed anything funny about this year? Odd storms, droughts, strange weather?" The man began to pace again, speaking excitedly and fast. "Time turns back upon itself; the old order is returning. With each Amulet woken, each Seal broken, the realities merge a little more. You're not traveling to the Dark World--you're bringing it back here."

For a moment he could not speak; he was struggling to make sense of what the man was saying. It could not be true. It went against all the history he had ever been taught. He fumbled, and then caught at something. "Then... why have you--has she--been trying to stop us? Aren't we doing what you want? Shouldn't you be helping us?"

Sepultura was the one who answered, in a quiet, practical voice that did not seem like her. "But it must be done at the right time, and in the right way," she said. "As for helping... have I not aided you, boy? Have I not thrown clue after clue your way? And would you and your friends have worked as hard as you did, had I not harried you? As long as you knew I sought the Amulets, you would do everything in your power to recover them first."

"The Sword of Tears..." he mumbled. "You drew us to Death Mountain... You knew when we left for Lake Hylia, you had spies in the town... and you left Kafei's coffin by the stair, that was to get us interested too, wasn't it?" Horror struck him suddenly. "Oh, Farore... the map... Galdenor gave us the map..."

She was smiling.

"You couldn't," he said, uncertainly. "It's not possible. No-one could be that cunning... there is no way you could have planned this from the start... for Nayru's sake, half the time we didn't even know what we were going to do until we did it!"

"I admit that I did not plan this meeting," Sepultura said. "All the same, it has turned out rather well, has it not?"

"Well, there's one more problem, before you get the Shadow Amulet." He was blustering now in desperation, frantic to find a loophole. "Kafei. It's all in that book, the one Dark found. Zelda read it out to us. Kafei was the Shadow Knight and nobody knows what happened to him. Only Kafei knew where he hid it. Or are you going to tell me you've found him too?"

"Kafei Dotour," Carock said gravely, "has been found."

He stared at the slim, effete man, at the bizarre purple hair, the scarlet Sheikah eyes.

"You're him," he said, through numb lips. "You're Kafei."

"At your service."

"No," Link said. "No way."

"Shall I tell you what Kafei Dotour did that was too terrible to be written? Shall I tell you what he traded to Ganon for the gift of eternal life? Even she--" he whirled, jabbed his finger at Sepultura, who looked startled "--doesn't know all of it. But I do..." He turned again, began to pace. "You need to understand something about Kafei, about what the so-called Hero took from him. His home. His love."

That wasn't right. "Link First saved Termina. Broke the curse on Kafei."

"Yes. He broke the curse." A tone of fury entered the man's voice suddenly. "And came between Kafei and his love Anju." His red eyes blazed as he turned; with a visible effort, he forced the words out, "She... loved... him."

"Was that Link First's fault?"

"No," Kafei said quietly. "I admit that it was not. But that only made it worse, don't you see? Nothing was ever his fault. How I grew to hate him... that sanctimonious, stuck-up, holier-than-thou..." He breathed in. "He was like an angel, did you know that? He wasn't human. Do you know what it's like to live with someone who really and truly sees the world in black and white? He couldn't understand imperfection. I remember once he gave a starving woman over to the guards because she'd tried to take a few rupees from his pack. He said, if she had asked, I would have given freely, but she has proven herself a thief, and must be punished." He laughed, and spread his arms in a helpless, charismatic appeal. "I mean... what can you do with a man like that?"

"Betray him, evidently," Link said with dry humor.

"I'm telling the story, thank you. Anyway--there was a disagreement. One of many. He... well, it's not important what it was about. What is important is that it gave me a wonderful idea..." He chuckled. "I had one chance at it, a few seconds alone--and I took the chance. I called him, from his prison that should have lasted ten thousand years. And I knelt before him, and in exchange for his teaching I offered him the one thing that would ensure his victory. I had discovered, you see, how to cripple the Hero of Time. I called back the darkness that he'd banished to the void--his fear, his hate, everything he couldn't stand about himself--and I bound it to the Amulet to be forever renewed, leeching the power of the Shadow Seal. I resurrected Dark Link--and in doing so ensured that Ganon would one day return to this world."

He paused theatrically. He had the room's undivided attention now, and was evidently enjoying it a great deal.

"And now at last it comes full circle. Here, before you all, I undo my work, and take back what was once mine."

He threw back his cloak with a flourish, and held up a ring of gold upon a fine chain: the setting for a Medallion! Link could not help a small gasp at the sight, and the man beamed down at him, gratified by his reaction. "Ah, but I'll give credit where it's due--we have the young lady to thank for this. I never did find out where the old wood-rat had hidden it--I certainly never thought to try my own grave! But she did, and more to the point, she brought it straight to me, all in innocence. Are you surprised? Not half as much as I was, I can tell you! Oh, but wait 'til you see my next trick..."

The incomplete Shadow Amulet shimmered in the torchlight and threw off splinters of golden light. Carock swept the room with his scarlet gaze, smiling brightly, then made impatient gestures with both hands. "Well, come on, someone ask me. Where's the rest of it?"

"Where is it, then?" Sepultura said sourly, annoyed at having been upstaged. "Get it over with."

He grinned, relishing the moment. "Why... it's where it's been for the last thousand years. Nice and safe in the last place anyone would look. Gomez, your aid, if you please--"

A dry papery rustling filled the air; down from the darkness of the arched roof poured a whirling cloud of--of leaves or something of the like--no, it was a flock of chittering bats that streamed suddenly about the throne. They clouded together in the center of the ring and coalesced into a shape--a black featureless figure, hunched and hooded.

Dark leaped to his feet, breathing in quickly.

"I know you!"

"Yezz. And I you." The dark shape turned fluidly with a flutter of wings. "It izz good to ssee you again, General. Despite the circumstances."

"Hold him," Carock said. "Tightly, please. And watch the teeth; he will bite."

Link didn't understand what was happening, but he did not like the look of it. He tried to get a knee under him, to get up, but his body had had enough of this and refused to obey. Even so he managed to flop over clumsily onto his side before his strength gave out entirely. He raised his head a little, gasping with the effort, and watched as the black creature wrestled Dark's arms behind him, then forced him to his knees before the dais. The shadow's struggles were only half-hearted; he looked more confused than anything.

Carock approached with slow steps. He flicked a thin knife out from somewhere and caught it neatly in his outstretched hand, with a magician's grace; Dark stiffened at the sight of it, and his ears went back.

"No," Link snarled. He fought his own body, trying to force it into action with an effort of sheer will. His limbs shook uncontrollably when he tried to raise himself from the ground. The discarded Kakariko sword lay only a short distance away, almost within the reach of his hand... It might as well have been on the moon.

The knife flashed. With one swift cut Carock slashed the strings that held Dark's tunic closed, then took a handful of cloth and tore it open, tunic and shirt together, baring the shadow's thinly muscled chest. He stood back and made the knife disappear again, smiling down all the while with fierce, savage eyes.

"Abracadabra," he said softly, and plunged his bare hand into Dark's breast.

Link would hear the echoes for the rest of his life: the scream of pure raw agony. He had not imagined that Dark could be capable of making such a sound.

The sorcerer turned, holding up the golden disc and chain so that all could see. His red eyes flared in triumph now with an eldritch light. In his other hand he raised the carved medallion; it burned with a furious amethyst radiance, casting shards of indigo over his face and garments, throwing highlights into his hair. He brought the two pieces together above his head, and there was a soft click.

Dark fell where Gomez dropped him. He lay still. Coils of some hazy, shadowy substance began to drift away slowly from him, as if he would dissolve into smoke.

"Give it to him--quickly!" Sepultura cried, struggling to push her way through. "He is still needed, my lord--give it back to him, or he will die!"

Carock looked at her for a long moment, grave and cold. "No," he said. "I think not."

"You must!"

"I think not," he said again. "I have no interest in a world where Ganon is all-powerful. What would there be left for me to do, hmm? No. Now that you have recovered the Shadow Medallion and restored it to me, the Seals will remain, and I will rule."

He whirled away from her then, raised his voice and spoke directly to the assembled throng. "My lords of the Underworld--you all know me! Hear me now! How many long years have we waited, down in the dark--how many times have we watched him fail us? How much longer must we be bound to a dead King? Follow me now, and we'll win ourselves a new Imprisoning War!"

The roar that went up shook the foundations of the building.

They had forgotten Link; they surged past and around him, treading on him even in their hurry to congratulate their new saviour. He tried to crawl away then, to reach Dark where he lay crumpled before the throne. He got only a few feet before a boot came down on his back with vicious force, slamming him down against the stone.

"My dear boy, do you think I'd let you watch all this so that you could make your escape before the curtain call? Give me a little credit!"

Carock's fingers, dry and cold and repugnant, slid through his hair; a long nail grazed his scalp. His head was jerked roughly back, and he groaned with pain.

"You should have given your courage up when you could," the man murmured, close by his ear in a pall of exotic scent. "I'd have taken you for my own, placed you with honor at my side. I gave you every chance. You refused; you would not break. You chose this. Shall I let you live, knowing how dangerous you are? I think not. You're the last of your line, she says. Take it into the dark with you, then, and have done."

The knife seared a line of fire across his throat.

When Carock let him go again, he collapsed limply onto the stone, into a swiftly spreading pool of his own hot blood; his limbs had somehow turned to lead, and the color was seeping out of the world.

"A Hero's blood!" someone cried. "For luck!"

There was a commotion all around him now: feet shuffling, and hands shoving, tussling, snatching. Coppery foulness filled his mouth and nose. Somewhere nearby he could hear a hideous bubbling, and his last dazed thought was that it was him.



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