The Conviction to Save
Chapter One: Blue, Red and Green
Blue like the sky. Blue like the sea.
Blue like hope. Blue like despair.
Blue like the eyes of beasts and heroes and princesses.
Blue like wisdom.
Dark birds circled overhead as Princess Zelda tore her ivory hilted rapier from a monster carcass and swung it harshly through the air to dislodge the blood. She could hear heavy hoof falls gaining and she swiveled around before taking off through the field of corpses. Her skirts trailed behind her, their regal cream color long since dyed claret by monster entrails. The sky above swirled with angry black clouds and the little light that bled through cast a grim twilight upon the formerly lush and summery plains of Hyrule.
In the distance, she could hear the cries of soldiers and the sharp clang of swords on axes; swords on spears; swords on swords. The metallic cacophony gave her hope. Her army was still fighting; her soldiers were still giving their hearts and their lives for Hyrule. For her.
How many times would she watch this? How many times had she watched it already? In how many lifetimes?
She pulled her sword from the neck of a bokoblin and swung it in a deft arc to rip a long gash in the bulbous belly of a moblin. The hoofbeats grew louder and this time she didn’t pause to clean her blade before taking off once more, trying to put as much distance as she could between herself and her army before she was caught.
Above her, keese flittered about waiting for an opening to strike. Their clumsy wings beat the air, making the same raucous flapping noises as disgruntled cuckoos but horrible. So horrible. She didn’t waste time trying to swat them out of the air. She just continued to run.
The very earth shook from the hooves that continued to advance on the princess at great speed. Zelda sheathed her sword and unhooked the bow strapped to her back. She deftly nocked an arrow and aimed it at the sky, syphoning power into the tip until it glowed golden white. She released the string and the strained wood snapped back to its original shape, launching the arrow up, up, up, high into the atmosphere where it exploded with brilliant light; a shining beacon in the cloud-choked twilight meant for a pair of eyes that she already knew wouldn't see it.
The shrill cry of a horse alerted her from behind and Zelda whipped around to find her pursuer not seven paces from where she'd stopped, his large, bulky form looming atop his enormous black war steed. Zelda pursed her lips and nocked another arrow, readying her bow at her side.
Red like earth. Red like the sun.
Red like passion. Red like obsession.
Red like power.
The King of Evil looked just as she expected him to: his form that of a Gerudo man; hair red as fire and skin dark like ash. His piercing eyes burned gold, full of power and wickedness and something nearly pitiable. Nearly. He was a man lost to hunger; his story the only one she'd never learned.
“Princess,” he acknowledged her with a respectful nod that was only half mocking. Zelda wondered if given infinite lifetimes of meeting like this, they’d wind up as friends. Perish the thought.
“The day of judgment is upon us once again,” was her response. She would waste no breath on righteous speeches today. She’d long ago learned that pretty words would not sway this man. And after all this time, what was there left to say, really.
“You’re alone,” the great, foolish man remarked, turning his head in a show of taking in their surroundings. As if anything escaped his predatory gaze.
“Armies are useless against you. I’ve brought our battle to a place where my soldiers won’t get swept up in it,” she said plainly.
The Gerudo king's mouth curved up into a little smirk that told her he thought her effort to be useless but he commended her for it all the same. “And what of your hero?”
Zelda sucked in a breath but kept her features carefully blank. Her hero. Link. A thousand memories and emotions were tied to that name.
Green like trees. Green like sprawling plains.
Green like deep, dense forests. Green like life. Green like promises.
Green like courage.
“I’ve stopped waiting for a hero,” she declared augustly. “I am not a princess who hides behind castle walls and waits for deliverance. I will fight for my kingdom.”
The truth of the matter was that she had yet to meet Link in this life. Every day she prayed that he had been spared this time around, but she knew in her heart it wasn’t so. Whenever there was a darkness, there was a princess, and whenever there was a princess, a hero arose to save her and defeat the darkness. This was the exceptionless rule. Just as there were three pieces of the Triforce, so were there the three Chosen of the goddesses.
“You don’t appear to be in your usual form today,” the evil king commented, sounding the slightest bit curious. “Have you become jaded, Princess?”
Zelda’s grip on her bow loosened as the demon king's question struck close to her core. Yes, her heart sang in answer. All she'd ever wanted was to live out her days peacefully; to bring joy and prosperity to her people; to bear a child with the man she loved—a daughter whose line wouldn't be doomed to a fate of endless repetition—to grow old with a heart full of happiness and contentment. All the things she'd been denied time and again, in every Nayru-cursed lifetime. She must surely be the most sinful woman in Hyrule as she'd not failed to curse the goddesses every day since she gained awareness of her ensnarement.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This was not the fate that Hylia had wished for. But Hylia had been nothing more than a tutelary goddess. And now she was merely another mortal caught in the Three’s game. No, even before she’d shed her divinity, she’d never been more than a pawn, had she?
“I’m tired, Ganondorf,” she confessed. “I feel weary in my soul. I have no wish in my heart anymore but to rest, but by the goddesses’ own will, I may not.” She looked the demon king directly in the eye and beseeched him. “You who are trapped in this circuit the same as I—do you not feel a similar exhaustion? Or are you too many parts monster now to feel anything at all?”
Ganondorf studied her in silence for a long moment and Zelda unconsciously held her breath in anticipation of his answer. Her grip on her bow tightened again as she readied her muscles to spring into action at any moment. The evil king had never been one for drawn out conversation, so she was nine parts out of ten sure that he would answer with battle.
She was surprised, then, when he lowered his head slowly and said, “Aye, Princess.”
His answer caught Zelda so off guard that she failed to react in time when he raised a hand and sent a crackling orb of dark magic shooting toward her too fast to dodge. She hurriedly summoned a magical barrier to protect herself, but it was too weak to shield her fully and she was thrown by the force of the blast. Her back scraped painfully against the jagged bits of rock littering the field but she ignored the hot feeling of broken skin and rolled to her feet. She hurriedly brought her bow up and shot a sloppy light arrow at the Mad King which he dodged easily with an amused smirk.
Zelda's heart was pounding, both from the sudden rush of epinephrine that came with battle as well as Ganondorf's response. Was his answer an acknowledgment of his monstrousness, or did he in fact tire of their destiny just as she did? She was inclined to believe the former, as without the demon king's evil ambition, there would be no loop. It was he who kept them in this cycle, and should he wish to break it, he need only abandon his quest for power.
Zelda's eyes flashed in anger at the beast of a man before her. It was because of this terrible, insatiable man that she and Link couldn't rest. It was his fault that they must fight again and again and again without ever truly knowing peace. Why could he not let go of his addiction to power? What could possibly cause a heart to fill with so much darkness and desperation?
Ganondorf dismounted his horse and drew his sword. He stalked toward her with the relaxed confidence of a predator who knew his prey had no hope of escaping. Zelda responded by pointing a glowing arrow at his face and charging magic into it threateningly. The wind picked up and blew her skirts, still wet with monster guts, against her bare ankles. The sensation was nauseating.
The King of Evil's smirk widened as he observed what to him must look like a pitiful play at bravado from the lonely, weak monarch of Hyrule. The mark of the Triforce of Power glowed on the back of his right hand, serving as a bitter reminder that he too was a soul blessed by the goddesses—though he'd stolen that power for himself rather than having it bestowed on him like the Hero and herself. But the fact that a man like him could receive such a blessing was proof that for all their meddling and seemingly righteous designs, the goddesses, and by extension, the Triforce, did not discriminate when gifting their power.
Which begged the question: why trap the three of them in a loop? Ostensibly, she and Link were reborn in each era to liberate the land from evil's grasp—that was the knowledge bestowed on her by her guiding goddess, Nayru, as well as the lingering divine will of her own past life, the goddess Hylia—but if defeating the evil king was the sole purpose of her and Link's existence, then the cycle should have been broken many times over. However, no matter how many times they defeated him; thwarted his plans; locked him away; the curse continued. Whatever wish was in Ganondorf's heart was too strong to be defeated. Was a simple thirst for power really enough to keep a person fighting through lifetimes? To pick a beaten man up again and again and again?
Could a man really run on such empty ambition, or was there something else?
Unbidden, a memory from a lifetime long passed emerged from the depths of Zelda's mind. It was a memory that by all expectations should have been lost to the ages, but it chose that moment to resurface. Just once, in a Hyrule sunk to the bottom of a vast blue ocean, she recalled an instance in which Ganondorf had spoken of a wish in his heart that had nothing to do with power. His words from that time echoed in her ears with startling clarity. My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing...death. But the winds that blew across the green fields of Hyrule brought something other than suffering and ruin. I coveted that wind, I suppose.
That Ganondorf had perhaps been the evil king's most compassionate incarnation. He stuck out in her memory as being more human than the others; more tragic. Could it be that beneath all the layers of greed and lust and darkness and monster, there was the pure wish of a man? Was it that same wish, but warped and tainted by madness until it became something grotesque that still drove him to this day?
Dare she believe that there was some small good in this man's heart?
Ganondorf charged up another electric ball of energy in his left hand, heedless of the arrow pointed at his crown. His terrible gold eyes looked down at her as though she were a bug he intended to squash. Zelda knew that in a one-on-one battle against the King of Evil she stood no chance, but she glared stubbornly back all the same.
“Facing me without your hero was a markedly unwise decision, Chosen of Nayru,” Ganondorf stated as he bore down on her. “Your defeat today will make my victory all the easier. After I steal the Triforce of Wisdom you carry, I need only find the boy and tell him of your demise. We'll see what becomes of his courage then.”
Zelda's blue eyes flashed but she didn't react. Ganondorf talked a big game, but she knew he was just trying to rile her up. The Link of this lifetime, wherever he was, did not know her. News of her death would mean little to him. They both knew this, and though the thought stung her, it was fact. The hero was the only one still spared the curse of knowledge. Likely it was the will of the goddesses to preserve his pure heart, as courage was the most fragile of the three virtues.
Behind Ganondorf, the last of the sun's meek light was fading behind the mountains. Soon, Zelda's visibility would be compromised. If she was going to shoot and still have any chance of hitting her target, she had to do it now. Channeling all her will into her bow, Zelda focused on Ganondorf's wicked face and let the arrow fly.
Faster than a lightning strike, the King of Evil jerked his head to the side and the arrow zipped harmlessly past, streaking off into the gloom. Zelda watched it disappear and her heart sank. She'd missed. It was over.
Ganondorf's terrible eyes gloated at her failure and he raised his ball of energy above his head. Zelda clenched her teeth and turned her chin away, mentally preparing herself for the end. What a disappointing lifetime. She would die in this bloodstained field all alone without even knowing her hero's face. But there was one small spark of hope for her, at least. Perhaps with this, the chain would finally be broken. It was unprecedented for the princess to die before her hero. Without her to divide up and scatter the Triforce of Courage, all three pieces would fall into Ganondorf's hands and he'd finally get what he'd always wanted. There'd be no need for anyone to stop him after that, right? She would be released. This thought caused tears of shame to well up beneath her eyes. What a terrific coward I am, she reprimanded herself, closing her eyes against the hot sting. When she opened them again, she saw Ganondorf's triumphant expression and knew it was time.
“Goodnight, Princess,” the King of Evil said and brought his hand down.
Zelda saw the crackling energy orb come hurtling toward her and turned her head away, not bothering to draw out her suffering by raising a shield. In her last moments she sent out a prayer to her hero. Be safe, Link. You're the only hope Hyrule has now. You mustn't let Ganondorf take the Triforce of Courage.