LOVE IN A TIME OF CALAMITY
Part 1: The Return of Calamity Ganon
Chapter 1: The Return
Full Summary: Zelda awakens her powers in time to defeat Ganon, but there are still major losses. With Central Hyrule in pieces, two champions dead, a king out of commission, and half a metropolitan city turned refugees, Zelda and Link struggle to come to grips with the aftermath of the Calamity. Recovery, especially with a snooping journalist, an overzealous artist, and a power-hungry nobleman on their heels, is a battle all its own; and that's not even counting battles of the heart.
Rating: M (for violence, blood/gore, language, PTSD/trauma themes, other adult themes, and sexual content)
Genres: Action/adventure, romance, drama
Notes: This story is a BoTW ZeLink AU: They defeat Ganon the first time, and Link doesn't go to the shrine of resurrection. Specific content warnings will be provided at the start of relevant chapters. Updates once a week. Estimated date of completion: November 2018?
They walked in silence. Golden light from the setting sun flooded the valley beneath Mount Lanayru. Birds chirped from budding tree branches, and a cool, gentle breeze tickled Zelda's cheeks. By all accounts it was a beautiful spring evening.
But in her soul, it felt like the top of the mountain—cold and numb. This was the last spring, her spring—the spring of Nayru, her patron goddess; yet it seemed she was forsaken. She had spent every moment of every day dedicated to prayer. She had foregone so many of her own dreams and aspirations in the hope of unlocking this damned sealing power. All that effort and sacrifice! All for naught. Who knew how long they had left?
Link hadn't said a word, and she hadn't bothered to look at him—couldn't bear to. She could hear his sure, steady footsteps following closely behind her. His destiny had always been so sure. She knew in her heart she'd moved past her bitterness towards him—it wasn't his fault, he didn't choose for his destiny to be straightforward. Yet even still, she could feel resentment bubbling up inside her. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and pushed it away. Unfortunately, despair only took its place.
They were nearing the East Gate marking the transition to Lanayru Road. Lifting her head to glance ahead, Zelda's stomach plummeted. There were all the champions, eagerly awaiting news that she'd unlocked her powers and their success was assured. Shame welled up inside of her, and she could feel herself trembling at the prospect of the disappointed looks on their faces when she was forced to tell them it hadn't work. She would disappoint them just as she had her father, as she had the council—as she had herself. Would they perhaps even be angry? Clenching her hands into fists, she willed her arms to stop shaking and focused on maintaining a steady gate.
Her sandaled feet echoed on the cobblestones as she approached the uneasy group, unable to meet their eyes.
Daruk was the first to approach her. His eyes were drawn, anxiety etched all over his features despite his attempts to hide it. His bushy white beard rustled as he spoke.
"Well, don't keep us in suspense. How'd everything go up there on the mountain?"
He always was straight to the point. Zelda could feel the shaking return to her limbs, and stared forward blankly into the distance, unable to turn to look at him. She wanted to say something, wanted to allay their fears and be the leader she was supposed to be; but shame and failure gripped her throat and she couldn't will herself to speak. Instead she sighed in defeat, shaking her head.
Daruk's jaw dropped, shock and desperation coloring his expression. Oh Goddesses, it was worse than she'd feared; he'd actually had faith in her, he'd truly believed… She wanted to cry, to curl up into a little ball and pretend none of this existed. Why?! What had she done so wrong?
Clenching her fists tighter, she schooled her expression and swallowed the emotions threatening to overwhelm her.
Tension charged the atmosphere at her answer, and a heavy silence descended upon them. Revali was first to break it, though his words offered no comfort: "So you didn't feel anything? No power at all?"
The hint of accusation in his tone hit her like a slap to the face; but maybe she deserved it. Their survival depended upon her, and her continued failure was risking everyone's life. He deserved his anger; so did she. Zelda clasped her hands before her, risking the briefest of glances in his direction before bowing her head and answering softly, politely, "I'm sorry, no."
Where had she gone so wrong? She'd tried so hard, every day of her life; she'd given everything she had… but clearly, it wasn't enough; she wasn't enough. Everyone here had put in their time, put in the effort. Everyone here was a champion, ready to fight the Calamity. Everyone except her—she, the heir to a throne of nothing.
Urbosa's firm, authoritative voice cut through the fog of despair clouding her mind as she raised a hand to her hip for emphasis, "Then let's move on. You've done all you could. Feeling sorry for yourself won't be of any help." Turning towards the mountain, jewelry jingling, she gestured with her head in the direction of the peak, "After all, it's not like your last shot was up there on Mount Lanayru." Though still shell-shocked, Daruk nodded in agreement. "Anything could finally spark the power to seal Gannon away. We just have to keep looking for that… thing."
Head still bowed, Zelda could feel Urbosa's words restore some small sliver of hope. Her argument was that of simple logic, yes, but she suspected Urbosa knew that was what she needed most in that moment—to be reminded not to give in to despair, that she still had a job to do—that there was still time. Eyes fixed on the ground, Zelda replied softly but more firmly than before, "That's kind of you. Thank you."
Mipha briefly glanced at Link standing just behind the Princess, whose gaze was serious and inscrutable, before speaking slowly in her soft, gentle tones, "If I may…"
Her voice were kind and lacked the judgment of Revali's. For the first time since coming down the mountain, Zelda lifted her head to look one of the Champions squarely in the eye.
"I thought you…" Mipha took two timid steps forwards, "Well, I'm not sure how to put this into words… I'm actually quite embarrassed to say it." A faint blush colored her cheeks, and she bowed her head slightly and continued, "But I was thinking about what I do when I'm healing. You know, what usually goes through my mind… " Lifting her head to meet Zelda's gaze, she offered a kind smile, "It helps when I think—when I think about L…" She stopped herself suddenly, shaking her head and blushing harder, "When I think about the people I love."
Suddenly, a fierce tremor shook the ground, sending rocks and boulders tumbling down the hillside. Zelda's eyes widened as she struggled to maintain her footing. Link's firm, gentle hand on her arm kept her from toppling to the ground, though she still struggled to remain standing. After several seconds, the rumbling ceased.
With a gust of Wind, Revali flew into the air, raking the landscape to find the source of the disturbance. Beside her, Daruk's booming voice echoed up to him, "What do you see?"
As quick as he had flown up, Revali flew back down, landing lightly on his feet. He spoke with urgency, "Strange red lightning appeared in the sky over Hyrule field, and there are landslides all over. The wind, it... doesn't feel right." Revali looked nervously to the princess, her stomach dropping like a lead weight. Revali was many things—talented, boastful, self-assured, but never nervous. "I have a feeling we are running out of time."
Any Despair Zelda had previously been feeling was quickly replaced by a frenzied anxiety. It was coming!
"Hey… Mipha gave me an idea!" boomed Daruk, turning to face her and drawing her attention away from her rising panic, "Why don't you and the little guy visit your mother in Castle Town! I know you mentioned once how much she meant to you, and it's from her you inherited this sealing power, right? And I'll bet in all this you haven't had much of a chance to think about your loved ones. Maybe that will spark something!"
Tongue tied with too many emotions, Revali beat Zelda to a response.
"Well… I guess it is a plan, something the princess hasn't tried before—and all conventional options have been exhausted."
Zelda's gaze swept across the transformed faces of her friends before her. Daruk's idea had given them hope—a direction; determination. That was all she needed to see.
"I'll do it."
She had to do something, and it might as well be this.
"It's settled," Urbosa announced, her bracelets jangling as she gestured to the Princess and her knight. "You two head out. Travel quickly. The rest of us will head back to our divine beasts. I suspect it won't be long now."
Zelda urged her horse onward, despite the aching of her muscles and the tears streaming from her eyes as the chill morning air whipped against her face. She and Link were nearly to Castle Town, having ridden straight through the night. She hadn't bothered to change out of her prayer dress, instead opting to grit her teeth through the discomfort of riding side-saddle. Link had been willing to wait for her to change into her riding clothes, but Zelda refused, accepting only the offer of his Hylian cloak from his saddlebags for the journey to the Castle Town graveyard. She had failed to unlock her sealing power and time was rapidly dwindling. The fate of her people were worth the bruises later if it bought her the time she needed.
The sun's early morning rays cast a dazzling blue-hued light over a dewy Hyrule Field. The roads were relatively empty, with only the occasional traveler gawking as the Princess and her appointed knight flew past, the heavy breathing of their horses mingling with the thundering of their hooves.
As Link and Zelda approached Lon Lon Ranch another tremor, this one stronger than the last, rumbled through Hyrule Field. Both horses whinnied in protest, stumbling and slowing in their strides but managing to stay upright. Already precariously seated, Zelda clung desperately to the neck of her stallion, glancing over to ensure Link and Epona were managing. Link had a firm grip on Epona's reins in one hand, the other grasping the saddle for support. He turned his head to meet her gaze, expression filled with concern as he observed her death grip around Flint's neck. His eyes held a question, 'Are you okay?' She nodded as best she could. After an uncomfortable number of seconds the rumbling finally stopped and the horses slowed to a standstill, panting heavily.
Zelda struggled to regain her bearings, gazing towards Castle Town as she tried to bring the trembling of her limbs under control. The walls were visible in the distance; so too were the panicked movements of the Castle Town guard, forming a perimeter around the city. After several moments, guardians began to join them, crawling their way across the field from the west, their glowing blue eyes swiveling.
Zelda pulled her gaze away from the sight and turned towards Link. "Do you think it's safe to continue on horseback?"
Link stared at her thoughtfully for a moment. "I don't know if another earthquake is likely before we reach the graveyard or not, but even if we have to slow to a trot, the horses will move faster than we will." Zelda nodded her agreement, then turned her vision to the road and flicked the reins. She risked a canter.
They rode in silence; Zelda's mind was whirling with too many thoughts to carry on a conversation anyway. What were they to do if she couldn't unlock her sealing power in time? If the texts were to be believed, her power was the final piece—arguably the most important piece—necessary to defeat Gannon.
The wisdom and understanding needed to awaken and control the legendary sealing power of the Princess of Destiny was passed through the female line of the royal family of Hyrule; but her mother's death had been sudden and unexpected, when Zelda was much to young to receive this wisdom—though plenty old enough for her death to leave a deep and painful wound upon her heart. And so her training was guided instead by the ancient texts, translated from ancient Hylian by the castle scholars; but the information had been vague and incomplete. "Prayer will unlock the power to seal Calamity Gannon," she had been told. Yet prayer had done nothing.
The graveyard loomed before them, its expansive rows of headstones and statues rolling on into the distance, dotted by trees and woven with unkempt dirt paths. All too quickly Zelda was pulling her horse to a stop before the stone archway leading to her mother's walled-off section of the graveyard. Link had already dismounted and was standing beside her with his hand extended. Wordlessly Zelda grabbed it, sliding off her saddle and onto the ground. A knot of nerves made her stomach churn. She had to have faith; It was just like Urbosa said, anything could spark her power to seal Gannon away. Closing her eyes and taking a steadying breath, she walked forward. She needed to focus.
Her mother's mausoleum was near the rear of the plot surrounded by blue nightshade—her mother's favorite flower—and shaded by a large oak tree. Sunlight illuminated a relief of the Hyrulean royal crest which graced the archway above the mausoleum's entrance, though the high walls surrounding the plot kept much of the structure in shadow. Wrought-iron gates enclosed her mother within, a small latch keeping it sealed. Zelda's chest tightened. She hadn't been here since Link had drawn the Master Sword and sealed their fates. How fitting that now, at the edge of annihilation, she should return to pay would could possibly be her final respects.
Hands on the gate, she hesitated, her doubts returning. What if this didn't work? What if she failed yet again? What if this only wasted precious time? Removing one hand, she turned slightly to see Link standing close behind her. Uncertainty etched her features, but Link's eyes held no judgment, only silent encouragement.
"There is always the chance that the next moment could change everything," he echoed quietly, repeating her word from weeks prior. For the first time since coming down the mountain, a small, genuine smile bloomed upon her face.
"Thank you, Link," she whispered. With trembling hands, she unlatched the gates and walked inside.
There were high windows on all three walls of the mausoleum decoratively filled by wrought-iron filigree, allowing in light and air but barring intruders. Despite this, the air was still and somewhat stale. Though the room was dim, Zelda could make out her mother's stone coffin, engraved with her name and the royal crest, resting in the center of the room. Nervous but determined, Zelda approached and knelt, elbows coming up to rest atop the stone surface, hands clasped. Closing her eyes, she spoke barely above a whisper.
"Mother…" she exhaled slowly, gathering her courage, "Mother, I am lost. When I was young, you told me of how grandmother could hear the voices of the spirit realm. You told me that someday your power would develop within me, as well. But…" Her voice cracked. She swallowed the lump in her throat. "Mother, I have failed. I have spent every day of my life dedicated to prayer, and have achieved nothing." She subconsciously squeezed her hands tighter, feeling her fingers press tightly against her knuckles.
"It comes, Mother." A shudder passed through her. "The signs are unmistakable. Link and I, the champions… How can we possibly defeat Gannon if I am unable to seal him away?" Her eyes misted and her next words came out choked, but she forced herself to say them anyway. "I am so afraid..." And I miss you so much… She could feel a single tear trail down her cheek, but ignored it. Breathing deeply, she willed the pain in her chest away.
Gripped by a sudden urge, Zelda slowly opened her eyes and glanced briefly over her shoulder to see Link standing guard before the gates of the mausoleum, back to her with the sheathed Master Sword resting vertically atop the stone floor of the mausoleum entrance—just as he'd been as she prayed at the springs of wisdom, courage, and power. She felt a brief flutter before pushing it away and refocusing her attention on her prayer.
In a clearer voice, she continued, "Mother, I pray for your guidance. I have given every ounce of prayer and dedication to the Goddess, yet my pleas remain unanswered. I know not what I have done wrong, but you are all I have left. I beg you—please, help me."
As sudden as the others, a violent tremor shook the ground, and from the distance came an ear-splitting crack echoing across the land, as though the very heavens had been rent in two. The booming sound of thunder followed soon after. Though she had been kneeling, the force of the shaking threw her to the ground, a loud gasp escaping from her lips as her hip slammed hard into the stone floor. Zelda's heart was in her throat. Looking towards the entrance to the mausoleum Link was on all fours, Master Sword secured to his back as he made his way towards her, body lurching with each spike in vibration.
Upon reaching her, the quake stopped; but it wasn't the same as the others. A charge filled the air, electric and foreboding. Dread welled up within her as she looked to Link—he could feel it too. Link pulled himself up on one knee, extending a hand to help her stand. Though his expression was serious, his eyes gazed upon her with concern.
"Are you alright?"
Heart hammering in her chest, she wasn't sure she could trust her voice and simply nodded, accepting his proffered hand as she lifted herself onto shaky legs.
Another boom echoed across the sky, followed by another sound, fainter, slowly rising and difficult to discern through the walls of the mausoleum. Glancing towards the gates with trepidation, Zelda walked through the archway and out into the open air, Link following close behind. The sight that greeted her caused her breath to catch in her throat. In the distance above the castle bloomed thick, dark clouds pulsating with a sickly red glow, slowly expanding outward as lightning of the same eerie red discharged from the unearthly mass. One of the bolts struck the tallest tower of the castle, sending rubble tumbling to the ground. Thunder boomed again, and the very air seemed to shake with the force of it. But what caused Zelda's limbs to tremble and her heart to thud painfully against her ribcage was the massive black entity, like sulfurous smoke trailing behind an enormous, monstrous face, framed by long, thick horns with a cackling, sinister grin set beneath glowing, unforgiving eyes. It circled the castle like a cat stalking a mouse hole, awaiting the return of its prey. Opening it's giant maw, it released a blood-curdling roar. Zelda shuddered.
Now outside the protective walls of the mausoleum, Zelda registered the faint noise she'd heard from within. They were screams—the screams of her people. She felt her arms raise to her chest protectively, terror slowly filling her. A raindrop landed cold against her cheek; looking up, she could see the clouds had reached the graveyard, blocking out the growing morning light.
Turning her gaze back towards the horrifying image in the distance, she felt words leave her lips before she registered saying them.
"It's awake. Gannon, he's here. I'm not—I didn't…" Her voice was breathy and laced with panic, but her meaning clear. Her transfixed gaze was suddenly broken by her knight, who had moved in front of her, his hands gripping her shoulders.
"Princess, we need to go."
Zelda didn't respond, gazing at him with confusion as her brain struggled to process the chaos breaking out around her. More raindrops landed on her face and arms, and distantly she registered Link gently shaking her.
It was here! Goddesses, it was here and she had no way of defeating it!
That got her attention. He had never called her by her name, despite spending the past several months insisting he do so. She felt that same flutter in her chest she'd had earlier, and her attention came to rest squarely on him.
"You need to leave. Head to Kakariko—The Sheikah will keep you safe." His gaze was firm and focused. If he felt any fear it was well hidden; determination and commitment to duty were all that colored his features. Suddenly things clicked into place, and she knew what she must do. Determination flooded her, strengthening her resolve and giving her courage. Squaring her shoulders, she looked at him firmly.
"No. I will not leave you to face the Calamity alone. I may not be of much use on the battlefield, but there must be something I can do."
"Princess, you can't—"
"No, Link! I will not run and hide like some damsel in distress," she stated with finality. Though she was adamant in her decision, so too seemed he.
"Zelda," he spoke but firmly, but patiently, "You are the only heir to the throne. If something should happen to the King, you are all that's left to take his place. I cannot risk your life."
Frustration gripped her as she pulled her shoulder from his grasp and gestured with her free arm towards Castle Town. "Do you hear that? Those are the screams of my people; my people, whom I have failed," she desperately hoped he didn't notice how her voice cracked on her last word, but pushed on anyway, her volume rising with the tide of her emotions. "I refuse be so selfish as to hide from my destiny—hide from my responsibility for the safety of this Kingdom, so I can cower in the safety of Kakariko while my people die alone!"
Shock covered Link's expression, but he schooled his expression quickly, dropping his hand from her other shoulder to observe her critically.
An idea suddenly occurred to her. Turning and striding purposefully toward the saddle bag of her horse, she pulled out the Sheikah slate, opening to the page displaying the runes. Returning to where Link remained standing, she held it aloft for him to see. "I may not be able to wield a blade, but I can still be useful." Turning the screen back towards herself, she activated the Magnesis rune and levitated a shallow metal offering dish sitting before a nearby tombstone, deftly manipulating the Sheikah slate to send the bowl flying at the oak tree, embedding it in its trunk like a shuriken. She turned back to gaze at Link triumphantly, knowing she had won. In a tone that brokered no argument, she said all she was going to say on the subject: "I'm coming with you."
The rain was coming down harder now, and she struggled not to shiver as she held herself with all the authority she could muster; but there was defeat in Link's eyes. He looked at her steadily for several moments before sighing and nodding, and she felt victory bolster her resolve. But as she made to move towards her horse, he stepped in front of her barring her path, his expression steely as he held her gaze.
"If things take a turn for the worse, you must promise me you will leave and seek shelter." Zelda made to argue, but Link held firm, interrupting her before she got words out.
"No arguments. That is my condition."
Holding his gaze, she relented. It was… reasonable. "Alright, yes, agreed."
He stepped out of her way, allowing her to reach Flint and hop atop his saddle. Turning, she reached into her saddle bags and pulled forth a short length of rope, tying it around the handle of the Sheikah slate and slipping it around her neck like an over-sized pendant.
Next to her, Link had mounted Epona, his gaze on the unsettling vision of Gannon circling the castle. Another roar echoed across the plains, drowning out the sound of pattering raindrops and sending shivers up Zelda's spine. Link turned towards her, their gaze meeting. He was determined and focused, but in his eyes she could see the same thought passing trough his mind that passed through hers.
It was time to meet their destiny.