Characters: Ghirahim, Zelda, others
Summary: Although she's escaped his castle, she hasn't escaped him.
A/N: AU exploring the idea of Zelda being captured, too late for Link to save her - of Zelda, facing Ghirahim herself.
“Be careful that victories do not carry the seed of future defeat.” – Ralph W. Sockman.
It was inevitable, for her to slip from his grasp.
Ghirahim hovers weightlessly in the black void, where he watches her through a tear in its fabric. Around him glimmer the last remnants of his castle, broken into glimmering fragments of useless magic.
With glinting eyes, Ghirahim watches her dart through the brush and briar of Faron Woods, ducking under branches and flitting through streams. She is a storm of motion, black and gold. With each step she takes away from him, something within him tugs, like a string hooked deep within his chest.
He knows to where and whom she runs; the answer glows upon her face like fairy dust, glittering in her eyes and laughter.
Ghirahim clenches his hands into fists. He wants to slice the smile off her face; watch her bleed into the green forest, how dare she, watch her lips grow pale, how dare she, open her tender belly with his fingers, how dare she.
He knew she’d find her way through his tricks, to deny him with every step she takes away from him and to that brat. His eyes catch the glint of her necklace, its golden chain secured tightly around her throat, the red diamond swaying as she runs. The necklace he gave her, to keep her his.
“And mine she will remain.”
He rips the tear even wider, willing it into a gaping, ragged window, bigger than himself. The void around him rumbles like thunderclouds, splashed brutal red. She runs ever faster, glancing behind her every now and again, as if expecting him to be there.
Ghirahim crosses his arms, glowering darkly. She crests a hill, tumbling down its grassy side. Beyond it lays the Sealed Temple, its crumbling walls embraced by rising vines. The unseen string within his chest tugs ever harder, opening his veins with fire.
Although she’s escaped his castle, she hasn’t escaped him.
She feels the earth shivering beneath her feet, a cord striking green notes all the way up her body. The grass is slippery beneath her toes, everything smelling of sticky sap and sunlight. Zelda inhales of it until her head spins.
Though her heart feels as if it could take flight at any moment, she keeps running, until her feet hit the hard stone of the Sealed Grounds, its ancient walls rising up above her head. Even the stones feel alive, rumbling beneath the soles of her feet.
The doors groan as she heaves them open, musty air rushing against her face as she steps inside.
Zelda pants, sweat shining on her cheeks. The doors rumble closed behind her, shutting out the forest-sounds outside. The temple is much as she remembered; dusty, sprinkled with moss, ancient walls and more ancient smells. Sunlight still shines crookedly through fissures in the ceiling. Everything is the same – except a giant cogwheel in the center, etched in glowing epitaphs. The air around her vibrates with each turn it makes.
Zelda steps farther inside the empty temple. Sunlight fizzles out into blue-green sparkles as she nears the cogwheel.
“This must be the Gate of Time…” She stops before it, lips parted.
Behind her, the doors groan open, raking across the stone floor. Zelda feels the bottom of her insides drop. She turns.
The sunlight crashes into her eyes, blurring her vision into veering lines without shape. She blinks, once, twice, three times –
Link emerges from the sunlight, remnants of it shining amber into his hair, bringing color to his face. She doesn’t recognize his clothes or the sword strung to his back, and his face is darker than she remembers – but it’s him.
For long moments she stands completely still.
Then, so quietly not even the wind carries it: “Link?”
They do not run to one another. Link walks, quite calmly and a little resigned, closer to her, close enough that she can smell the grass on his tunic. Something like grief fills the empty air between them.
He looks her up and down, mouth open in a small, awestruck frown. He reaches out to pinch a fold of her dress between his fingertips, before letting it fall back, silent.
His eyes linger too long on the necklace collared to her throat, and Link visibly shudders.
She takes his hand, fingers sliding easily between his, brushing the calluses and scars. They look at one another through the sunlight.
“Link, I don’t have time to explain everything,” she glances behind her too worriedly for his liking, “take out your sword.”
Link’s face loses its color. His lips stumble across his breath. “Take out my sword? Zelda – what happened? How did you get here? I was told you were gone. I was told I couldn’t rescue you. What’s happened to him?”
Zelda grips his forearms, resting her forehead against his collarbones. She takes in a long, shuddering breath. He smells like all the things she’s missed, real beneath her fingertips. Not an illusion. Not magicked together by demonic spells. His breath stirs the hairs atop her head. Zelda trembles against him.
“Take out your sword. Please.”
When she steps back to look at his face, she can see all the weeks settling with too much ease there. He’s been worn down to the very last vestiges of hope.
Zelda’s lips tremble. Her throat burns. For my sake.
He steps back, and the grief rushes in anew. When he withdraws the blade it gleams stunning silver, ringing with familiar cords of magic. It tickles beneath the fabric of her dress, smells of water just touched by spring.
Zelda holds out her hand, palm-up. Link takes it, fingertips brushing the underside of her wrist. He kneels before her.
When she speaks, the words tumble across themselves, echoing across a dream she’s never had.
“Valiant hero, you have endured many hardships and journeyed far in your quest to reach this place. Along your travels you have gained wisdom, power, and courage, and for this I shall bless your sword with the goddess’s power. May it give you and your sword the strength to drive back the abomination that threatens this land!”
The triangles on the back of his hand glow golden. Link rises, blade held close to his face; upon its gleaming surface Zelda can see her own pale reflection. Her eyes follow it as Link raises the Master Sword above his head, high enough that when the light strikes it, the blade lengthens, its guard flaring out like the wings of a great bird. It glows with a thin, golden light.
He lowers the newly blessed sword, its light illuminating the blueness of his eyes. She doesn’t like how familiar the frown on his lips look. He sheathes the blade with ease.
They gaze at one another in the sunlight, silent.
Zelda places her hand on his wrist. She squeezes gently, tipping her head up to smile at him. He grins back, only enough to lift the corners of his mouth.
“Link,” she says, brushing a lock of hair from his forehead, “I’m glad you’re safe.”
He chokes on a laugh. Link crushes her against him, arms wrapping so tightly around her she thinks she may never escape – but his embrace keeps the night out, not trapping her in it.
Zelda presses her mouth to the inside of his throat, his warmth trickling into the cracks of her bones. She stifles a sob against the collar of his tunic. His hand rubs gently across her back.
“I’m glad you’re safe. I knew you’d find a way to escape.”
He draws back to gaze at her with an expression so intense with longing she aches from it. With his free hand, he grips her wrist within his own, fingers curling easily over the entirety of it, pressed tightly against her pulse.
“Come back with me to Skyloft. You’ll be safe there. I can defeat Ghirahim and Demise on my own.”
His name makes her flesh creep across her bones. Zelda swallows, looks away from his hopeful face.
“No. I can’t. I’m so sorry – but I can’t risk it. I won’t put you or anyone else in more danger for my sake.” Her hand strays to press against the jewel at her throat. “I can’t.”
Link grips her face with both hands, bringing their foreheads together, breathing fiercely against her face. “What will you do, then? Go back to him? He’ll kill you! Please. Please come back with me. Please.”
Tears spill slowly across her lashes. Her bottom lip trembles, slicked with her own tears. Zelda shakes her head.
Link’s face falls apart piece by piece; he presses both her hands to his face, cheeks hot with emotion. His voice is thick and tight when he speaks.
“You can’t stay here! Please, Zelda, please. Come back with me. He can’t get to you in Skyloft. No one can. You’ll be safe. You’ll be safe. I promise.”
Zelda pulls away, black dress swirling around her bare feet. His eyes fix to the glimmering necklace, face paling. Link reaches out to touch it, lifting the red jewel beneath his fingers.
“You can’t go back…because he’ll find you again.” The words settle heavily against his own ears.
Zelda crosses her arms, shoulders tense. She squeezes her eyes closed. “Yes. He’ll find me no matter where I go…he’ll cut you and anyone else down to do so. I can’t risk that. I escaped because I knew I had to bless your sword. I had to tilt the scale in our favor, even if that meant seeing you…only to leave again.”
She turns away to face the Gate of Time. She gazes at it with a hard, contemplative expression.
“There is one thing I could do.”
Link steps to her side, biting his lower lip. “But the Gate of Time takes you to the past. If you go there, and Ghirahim finds you…”
Zelda nods grimly. “Yes, I know. He’s looking for it – this Gate. He said the other one was destroyed by you and Impa.”
She looks to him with a searching gaze. “Link…I could go into the past, and you could destroy this Gate. Ghirahim will never find me there.”
“No!” Link takes her hands in his, squeezing urgently. “You can’t. Once this Gate is destroyed, you’ll have no way back to the present. What will happen then? What if your father…what if I need…?” He stops, looks away.
“Groose is dead,” his voice cracks. “Groose is dead, and I don’t know if I can lose you, too. Not again. Please. Please stay.”
Zelda swallows heavily. She looks toward the grave nearby a mound of fresh soil, empty, quiet.
His grip on her hands tightens. “Stay with me. Go to Skyloft. You’ll be safe.”
She smiles sadly. “Link,” Zelda places a hand against his cheek, “You know I don’t want to. If I had any other choice, I wouldn’t. But I have to think about you – you, our people, and this land. It’s not about me anymore. I have to. I’m so sorry. I have to.”
He dips his head, bangs shadowing his face. “But I just found you again.”
Zelda chokes on a sob, brushing a few fingers against his face. “I know, Link.”
He looks to her –
-and the world explodes into brilliant shards of white and gold.
When she opens her eyes the white and gold glare is gone, replaced by the flashing of blades; black and silver.
Zelda sits up and hisses in pain. She grabs her aching side, shifting to her knees. Beyond her, just before the Gate of Time, Ghirahim and Link duel, crashing blades in the sunlight.
“Link!” She rises, watching helplessly.
Ghirahim cackles, lunging, swiping one blade over Link’s head, jabbing the other at his side. Link barely dodges, the ebony blade slicing through the side of his tunic and leaving a thin, bloody trail. He blocks Ghirahim’s next attack, the Master Sword vibrating with the force of the blow. Ghirahim begins to laugh, striking madly left and right.
“Didn’t expect me, did you, Skychild!? For all your magic, all your futile effort – you can’t keep her from me!”
Link snarls, doesn’t answer, stabbing forward with both hands, and Ghirahim vanishes.
Link pauses -
Ghirahim reappears behind Link, raising both swords to the sky, swinging them down with a lethal hiss.
Only to be blocked again, Link’s hands braced on the flat of his blade, throwing Ghirahim off and away, lunging forward.
He lands a single blow to Ghirahim’s thigh, cutting through the cloth and flesh below, black blood bubbling up from the wound. Ghirahim promptly backhands Link across the face.
Zelda cries out. Ghirahim pauses, looks at her with a leer, face stark and terrible. A thousand needles flood her insides; she’s held still by his gaze, dark, insane –
He raises one hand, thumb and forefinger pressed together.
Link screams, lunges for him –
Zelda vanishes into shards of black and yellow diamonds.
Link and Ghirahim crash blades once more. Their bodies tremble with the force. Face to face, Ghirahim smiles, coos softly against Link’s pressed lips.
“Don’t worry, boy. She’s safe where I sent her. Safer than she could ever be in your incapable hands.”
Link growls and shoves Ghirahim away; the ebony blade lashes down, ripping through the shoulder of his tunic, but Link sidesteps away before the blade can cut deeper.
They circle one another, swords held out, Link’s face falling into a blank glare. Ghirahim’s face splits into a smirk, pale lips pulling back from his teeth.
“Come now. You’ll get over her soon enough. It’s best to forget she ever existed, Skychild. Forget. It might make your death a little less painful.”
The Master Sword shakes in Link’s two-handed grip. The sunlight makes his eyes glow in their ferocity. He speaks with clenched teeth.
“I won’t let you have her, and I won’t die. Not to you, not to your Master. I’ll get her back.”
Ghirahim tosses his silvery hair. He actually shrugs, laughing. “Strong words from such a soft boy. Let’s see if you can match those words with your mettle.”
They lunge at one another once again.
She wakes to the sound of laughter.
Her head throbs, a hot, heady pain, like she’s awoken from too heavy a sleep. Sunlight screams through her eyelids, blinding her as she opens her eyes to the sky.
Zelda throws herself upright. She sits in a patch of grass, soft beneath her fingertips. She looks down; the black dress is gone, replaced with the ceremonial outfit, its vivid colors so foreign now against her skin.
She looks around, and all the breath leaves her body.
She sits at the bank of the river flowing through Skyloft, its waters kissing her face with moisture. The homes of her friends are as she had left them, colored the spectrum of rainbows and more. Above her soar birds singing into the sun.
Zelda rises, knees quivering. She raises one hand against her mouth. “This can’t be..”
She steps away from the bank and toward the houses; they and the streets are completely empty.
Zelda wanders past the homes, making her way up the paths and planks snaking through the town, toward the Knight Academy. She heaves open the ornate wood doors, stepping inside. It smells like dust and old books.
“Link? Pippit? Karane?”
She opens the doors to each of their rooms; each one is marked with the personality of its occupant, but entirely, overwhelmingly empty.
A great silence fills her heart. It reaches deep down into her marrow.
Zelda begins to run. She runs past her father’s office, past her own room, out of the Academy and into the sunlight, down the paths she knows better than her own heart. Every home she looks into is as empty as the last, with no mark of warmth or life within them.
Her chest feels tight. She sprints with all her strength toward the Goddess Statue – Oh, Goddess, please, please let them be there – up the stairs which creak beneath her feet, past the archways weighed down with vines, into the center of the statue’s great shadow.
“Link? Father? Instructor Owlan? Anyone!”
The courtyard is empty. The trees trill in the wind, blowing through the grass. Above her, the statue of Hylia smiles serenely at nothing, the wind buffeting against its stone face.
Someone steps out from behind the statue’s base. Zelda’s mouth falls open.
Link steps out into the sunlight, smiling.
He’s dressed in casual Skyloftian attire, familiar earthen tones; he smells like freshly tilled soil. His skin is free of the scars of battle, back unadorned from any sacred blade or enchanted shield.
Zelda eyes him grimly. “Where is everyone?”
Link doesn’t answer. He nears her, smiling, unblinking. She steps back.
“Link, answer me. Where is everyone? How did you get away from Ghira—?”
Zelda chokes on the rest. Link lifts his hand, fingers uncurling from his fleshy palm; like an unraveling thread the skin from his fingertips peels back, from his cuticles to his wrists, up his forearms, across his collarbones.
All at once he falls into the ground like a sack that’s lost its filling, an empty pile of flesh-colored thread. Zelda stares, heartbeat crackling against her ribs. She clasps her hands tightly against her chest. She approaches the pile, comes close enough to touch the tip of her boot to it –
A golden snake slithers across her foot. She shrieks, backing into a tree. More snakes crawl out from beneath the pile of fleshy string, hissing and snapping their fanged jaws. Zelda gags.
Behind her, the tree shivers. She leaps away from it, watching with awestruck horror as it shrivels into itself, becoming gnarled and rotten. The grass beneath it wilts, soil cracking into pieces. Everything around her begins to quake.
Zelda runs, past the crumbling archways, down the wooden stairwell which rots even as she steps upon it, crumbles into sawdust just as she reaches the other side. The wind picks up her hair and skirt, throwing dust and dead leaves into the air. The sky turns darkest black, boiling with storm clouds. They swirl around as if a great hand has stirred up sand from the bottom of a dark river.
The statue of Hylia cracks, the sound splitting her ears like lightning. Zelda screams wordlessly as the statue falls into itself, chunk by chunk, before finally being reduced to debris.
All around her the homes of her loved ones crumble as the statue had, one by one, becoming nothing more than ash-colored dust on the barren ground. She runs through the streets, faster than she has ever ran before, past dying bushes and weathered paths. The birds no longer sing. The wind smells like smoke, though there’s no flame to light it.
Up ahead, the riverbank dries up, the water being sucked down beneath the grainy bottom. She stops at its edge, teeth bared in a silent sob, golden hair swirling about her face. She raises her head to the sky.
“You can’t scare me anymore!”
The sky rumbles in answer.
A roaring crack behind her makes her turn. The town courtyard has been rendered into jagged fragments, its tower tumbling down over the edge, into the swirling clouds below. Something dark begins to crawl up from the courtyard’s demolished center.
Zelda falls to her knees. A single black root creeps up from the crack, then another, and another, until an entire tree twists up from the ground, groaning and snapping, until its entirety is revealed; a great, ancient tree full of hideous twists and knotholes, its long, tangled branches reaching far into the sky.
Dangling from its dark branches are shining red apples, glinting in the sinister light.
Zelda bites her lips until they bleed. She approaches the tree with legs that shake beneath her, fingers outstretched. She touches its roughened bark. Something pricks her arm – she looks down and screams.
Her colorful skirt melts away into the earth, until she’s naked and shivering in the wind, but not for long; the shadows cling to her flesh, twisting together until they form the horrible black dress.
“No!” She turns around and around, clawing at herself. She tears at it with her fingernails, kicking, screaming, before finally tripping on its long train and falling harshly to the ground.
She lies in the barren dirt, the roots of the black tree all around her. The wind seems to laugh.
“You can’t scare me. These illusions – your tricks, your magicks, your power. This isn’t real. I know it isn’t. This isn’t real.”
Zelda sits up, curling into a ball.
“You can’t scare me. This isn’t real. I’ll escape again.”
She begins to sob, horrible, wracking sounds which rattle in her chest. Tears and snot slick her face.
“This isn’t real.”