Epilogue: The Beginning of the End
by Wyna Hiros

Disclaimers and the ilk: I don't own Zelda 64 or the characters, Nintendo does: no money is made off this. This story and all original side-characters/monsters and locations, however, are my property and may not be used without my permission. If you'd like to archive it (or whatever), please see the contact information on my profile. I don't bite.

Edit: Please don't spoil the last two chapters in reviews, etc, thank you!

Epilogue: The Beginning of the End

They'd used the one other person I could have trusted so blindly, to ensure that I'd get him through Zelda's barrier and right to her.

Link hadn't left the forest. Ever. That much I was certain of now.

This wasn't over.

Link had told me once about a copy of him that he'd run into once in the Water Shrine, forced into existance by the Black King. The thing, he told me, had looked like him, except for the red eyes and the white hair. It hadn't behaved like him at all though.

What I'd just run into hadn't been like that at all. There was no Dark One to fashion it, and it had acted more like a direct version of Link, with all of his memories and mimicing his behavior almost flawlessly and extrapolating its own actions based on guesses - all things that the Dark One could never have hoped to get right...even if there was a transparent quality to them. He'd had something the Black King had lacked: Link been through time itself, the Sacred Realm, had handled the Master Sword. He'd have been the most vulnerable to the Three, and the most useful to them. Of all the bearers of the Triforce pieces, he was the least threatening to their power.

This thing, the harbinger, had to be directly connected to Link somehow. I was certain of it.

And it would be back, if that was the case.

I'd left the Queen surrounded by her guards. She had barely just been conscious enough to beg me to stay with her. I could only promise to be back, but there wasn't any avoiding this final order, even if she didn't have the mind anymore to issue it to me directly.

I'd made sure to detain all the people in the hall before I left, leaving them locked in, all the guards armed and blocking the doors out. I didn't want news of this reaching my destination ahead of me. Even then, I couldn't be sure I'd delayed all the petitioners. Some might've escaped before the room had been frozen. I had to move fast, for the sake of her Majesty.

I only took the time to bandage the cracked ribs I'd received earlier before I set off. I took the remainder of the soldiers with me.

We headed south.

We rode all night. It was just before dawn when we stopped. There was a mass of stormclouds rushing in from the west: it was likely that we wouldn't even get to see the sun rising. The entrance to the Kokiri Forest was quiet, darkened, with fog still hanging over it.

There wasn't anyone outside. I'd arrived just in time.

Around me, the soldiers, even if they were clad in the toughest steel and weaponry, looked apprehensive. The forest , at this time of day and after everything that had happened years ago, didn't look like it housed the Kokiri. It was nearly impossible to see past the black shadows between the tree trunks. Overhead, several crows sat on the dead branches of the trees framing the entrance, peering down at us. One kawed.

I led the way in, and slowly, one by one, the soldiers followed after me...

I slid off my horse, making sure to tie the reigns to one of the sign posts nearby.

I hadn't much to do with the Kokiri before Zelda's coronation. It was only after that I started visiting Link that I became a more familiar face to them. More importantly, their chief, Mido.

Sure enough and as if on cue, a familiar, childish figure came strolling out of one of the houses and right up to me.

"We haven't seen you for awhile, outsid--" Mido trailed off, eyes going towards the soldiers coming up behind my shoulder, before they trailed back to me. "--er.

"I'm here to see Link."

The Kokiri was looking at the squad, obviously uneasy. In the past, I'd always come by myself. Something was going on, and he couldn't put a finger on what it was.

"Why are they here?" he demanded. A small hand pointed at the closest guard.

"The outside world has grown more dangerous over the years," I said. My voice was calm, steady: nothing to give anything away to Mido, nothing to suggest that I thought that the guards at my back were anything out of the ordinary.

Still, the Kokiri didn't move, eyebrows furrowed.

"I'm here to see Link," I repeated.

The Kokiri frowned at me. He knew of my role during the Dark King's reign and what sacrifices I'd made. As far as he knew, I'd always served selflessly to fulfill my vows to the land, its people... and to the Princess and LInk. Despite his misgivings, Mido didn't have any concrete reason to stop me from seeing Link.

With a grunt and a headshake, he finally stepped aside, letting us pass.

I could feel his eyes, as well as the curious gaze of the other Kokiri fastened on us as we moved deeper into their realm.

We reached the housing Link was kept in, the dwelling small, ancient, and still unchanged since I'd last seen it. One of the Kokiri had mentioned once that it had belonged to the Forest Temple's keeper, years ago. It only seemed fitting to keep the fallen Hero here.

The squad I had with me were nervous, their faces pale, trembling and trying to do everything in their power to hide it. Even when Mido let us through, they didn't relax. If anything, they tensed even further, hands tightening on the swords strapped to their waists. Two of the guards were sweating profusely.

They'd all heard the legends about the place, about the Lost Woods. It was always a popular story to tell: how all those who entered the forests - and weren't of the Kokiri - would be cursed. Those who entered were doomed to become monsters.

I'd always dismissed them as myth. But maybe there was some truth to it after all, even if it wasn't quite in the way the story told it as.

I stopped at the door way and turned, motioning the captain to my side.

"Stay here. Don't let any of the forest children in until my business is completed," I murmured softly into his ear. "If they try to interfere, you may stop them. Don't kill them."

I'd finally come to understand. I knew, finally, that I had what it took to do everything that was necessary, no matter how despicable it was. The new Deku Tree was young, and hadn't grown into the full strength that its predecessor had possessed yet.

But I wasn't willing to test the limit of its powers by harming its children.

Even if the doorway was blocked by a heavy curtain - not the best barrier - the guards would have to serve as the best deterrent. The Kokiri were keeping their distance, confused at the sight of so many arms, but not entirely threatened just yet. The last thing I saw before the curtain blocked my view was them gathering, watching the soldiers curiously.

I turned away, to look back at th e room before me. It was easier to stand in here, compared to the other dwellings.

Link was lying there, on the cot, just like I'd last seen him. His condition seemed worse though. I approached the bedding and half-knelt to look at the area directly below the cot he lay on. My suspicions were confirmed.

The shadow didn't match: instead it was small and weak, but moving as if it had a life of its own. As I watched, it pulsed, grew slightly larger, a little stronger looking. The thing was reassembling itself, no doubt for another attempt at the Three's bidding. I couldn't allow that to happen.

I stood up. Link had shifted restlessly, unaware of anything, much less that he'd lost control of his own shadow. I smoothed back his hair from where it lay plastered on his forehead.

He was sweating, nearly feverish and mumbling. It was almost incoherent. I caught him muttering something about "Japas", "Kamaro", "Snowhead", "Majora". There was something about a mask as he grimaced, and that one seemed to pain him the most.

Link was caught between a dream and a nightmare, fueled on by the link between his shadow and himself. The Three wouldn't be releasing him either. That much was very clear. They'd never meant for me to go back to his own time. They needed him here like this, both to ensure that the timeline didn't alter any further, and to act as an anchor for the shadow that was now their agent.

Maybe that had been the one honest wish that had gotten through to me through the harbinger; the desire to go home, to where it was safe and familiar.

I looked down at his face, committing every little detail of it to memory. This wasn't Link's fault. He didn't have any control over this. He couldn't help it. He wouldn't have wanted any of this to happen either, in fact, it would have made him sick... but what he wanted hadn't ever had much impact on what the Goddesses demanded of him.

It was tempting to go down that line of thought, but I knew that it wouldn't make a difference. Even if he wasn't directly responsible, the fact that he was still alive was. I knew what had to be done.

I leaned over, and allowed myself to press my lips to his. The kiss was quick and chaste, but the shivering lessened at the touch. Link's temperature didn't go down though nor did he wake. He mumbled something unintelligible. I leaned back, lowered my mouth near his ear.

"We'll see each other again, one day," I whispered. Everything had its final limit, and at least this promise was something that could be kept without fail. Link didn't answer me, only turned his head a little with a sigh.

I unsheathed one of the short blades at my side.

It was raining, with far more ferocity than I'd ever seen before.

I let the curtain fall back after me as I left the dwelling, feeling more cold than I'd expected, and it wasn't just because of the rain. Everything felt numb. I was already thinking of what I had to do next - even as I absently wiped the bloody blade off on my thigh - but perhaps it was the only way I could deal with what I'd just done.

Even if I'd removed the way for the Three to act directly against Her Highness, I knew it couldn't be over that easily. They would find other ways.

It was no longer safe for the Queen to remain at the castle. Not with her barrier dissolved, and her sanity nearly broken. There would be other dangers besides the Triad. It would be only a matter of time before one of the dissenting subjects got the courage up to try again at her life. This time there would be no barrier nor her powers to protect her this time. The Triforce could only protect her against the Goddess' direct wrath.

Her Majesty's people would need to manage on their own, without her guidance and without her powers. I had to take her somewhere safe.

The mountains would be the best.

I signaled to the soldiers that we were moving out. It was with no small amount of relief that they did so. I didn't say anything as we all mounted our horses, just focused on leading them out of the forest. One of the Kokiri actually gave me a small wave; I didn't return it. The rain was coming down in torrents, as if the sky sought to drown the land below it..

We'd just cleared the trees, already on the road back to the castle when we heard the first terrible wail of many voices coming from the woods behind us.

: The End:

--Completed: 2/02/08

Notes: Thank you for bearing with me for so long, it's been fun. I hope you've enjoyed it. Please don't spoil the last two chapters in reviews, etc, thank you!