Epilogue

Raven woke to a heavy day with an equally heavy heart. The mulberry drapes hanging from the Kokiri wood frame of her canopy bed seemed richer in color than usual, and the faint light peeking through the fabric felt immensely bright. Of course, the latter observation might have just been the dreadful lack of sleep from the swathe of dreams and faraway memories that had kept her tossing most of the night. As she adjusted, Raven found that other details that she would normally overlook, like the sounds of avian chirping or the little inconsistencies in the stonework of her bed chamber's walls, stood out vividly. Every year she had felt this way at least a little, but on this day she was sure that she would be consumed by heavy, wandering thoughts if she stayed in bed.

Stretching her arms and legs until they shook in a groggy shudder, Raven was glad that her handmaids and other servants had obeyed her request to not to be disturbed for any reason this morning, but that wouldn't hold them forever with how busy the day was to be. As she lay there, eyes adjusting to the light, soaking the intensity in, she gripped her silken sheets for a moment, then raised her fingers to her cheek, gently touching the rough skin there.

Sitting up, then slinking forward with a sigh, she reached to where her toes were beneath the sheets, stretching her back and shoulders. After that, she adjusted her black night slip and pushed the sheets and drapes aside, getting out of bed. She looked back thoughtfully. With a crackle of energy in her eyes, she waved her hand, and the sheets folded into place, neatly made. Probably not to the absurd standards of perfection that her wait staff had, but it was good enough for her. She decided that she would be liberal with the use of her sorcery. It was an important day for many reasons, after all.

At her vanity desk, Raven took a deep look at herself. Her pale, almost grayish skin was framed by exceptionally long violet hair that became wavy beneath her neckline. There was plenty enough to hide the horrible scars from her face being lit on fire all those years ago. In a subtle huff of defiance, she decided not to cover the ear or the cheek today. Using her silver tiara as a base along with a bit more telekinesis, she was able to make a weave she was happy with that draped most of her waist length hair behind her, leaving some thin locks to braid and bejewel in the front for the occasion. Binding the braids with white ribbon and accenting the ends with teardrop diamonds set in silver, she felt satisfied, perhaps even a bit pretty.

Raven touched her scarred cheek again. Then, in remembrance of the occasion, she felt beneath her breast.

Nothing but smooth, normal skin. That scar had long since healed. She realized she had been holding her breath. The memory felt fresh for an instant, a flutter of discomfort and anxiousness, and always the pang of emptiness in her chest. She closed her eyes and exhaled in a moment of meditation.

The thought shook away, as it always did, and Raven lightly chided herself when she realized the dilemma she had caused. Having done her hair for herself as she typically did not before dressing, she would not be able to pull any clothing over her head without a tremendous hassle.

"Damn it. Strapless, I suppose. And comfortable?"

After searching through her wardrobe, she found something suitable. With a clasp at the back of the neck, she would not have to worry about modesty during the activities of the day. It was a sleeveless battle dress with the Triforce emblazoned on the chest of finely tanned leather, with white and black rays of fabric fanning out from it, running down just below her knees, slightly longer on the sides. More importantly, it cinched around the middle firmly with buckles of fair silver, so she wouldn't have to bother with a corset. Turning side to side near her mirror, she thought it suited her and the day well, and without the extra armaments that might ordinarily make her look ready for war, Raven nodded in extra approval.

"What would Starfire think?" she thought, and coldly, she froze for a moment. Shutting her eyes solidly, she pushed the emotions aside. There was a pang of disappointment at how skillful she had become at that when it was needed.

None of that, she thought as she headed to the wash room to clean her hands at the sink. She pumped the handle, scrubbed her fingers briefly, dried them, then returned to her vanity to put on her rings of the royal family, one pure gold, one with a heart ruby, one with an emerald orb, the fourth a trio of smaller sapphire stones. Electing to have them all on the same hand, she would be free to use the other for the inevitable conflict that happened every year.

Raven's head darted at a trio of raps on her door. She frowned, but rose to answer it, knowing from the count and the firmness of the knock that it was likely not her usual attendants.

"Come now, princess," came Zelda's teasing voice beyond the door. "The Gorons are here, and we can't very well keep them waiting."

A smirk graced Raven's lips as she opened it to see her counterpart princess, though it was far from the half skirt, jean shorts and pink, sleeveless heart top from the past that briefly crossed Raven's mind. Now, clad in a dress that was fit for a ruler, elegant and ornate, she earned a bit of awe even from Raven, who would normally not be phased. The dress shimmered with gold and lavender, bearing embroidered icons of Hyrule Kingdom, the Triforce, the Chaos Emeralds and the Master Emerald, materia, and more. Zelda may as well have been a walking history, incorporating much of their own chapters of Hyrule's history on the new dress. With shoulder length white gloves and a bejeweled headdress that accentuated the Chaos Shard in her forehead, Hyrule's ruler was going to be quite the center of attention.

"I like it," Raven gave approval.

"I'm glad," Zelda curtsied, then spun to show off the rest of the dress. "Not too busy?"

"Maybe?" Raven shrugged. "But not today. It's perfect for today."

"Good. And you almost look ready for a fight. Did I mention that the Gorons are here?"

"I was just thinking about that," Raven smiled playfully as she spun back to her mirror for one last check of her attire. "Does old man Darunia want to get beaten that badly?"

"Ah, that's just the thing," Zelda teased. "I think he's planning on having Link represent the clan in the arm wrestling contest this year."

Raven spun in surprise, and a little bit of nervousness caught her tongue. "You've got to be kidding... his son? That boy is built like a behemoth!"

"With a heart of gold," Zelda added. "Just don't make him too nervous. He's not as carefree as his father."

Raven chuckled at that. "I'll take it easy on him, I guess?"

Together, the two princesses of Hyrule departed for the Celebration of Heroes - the tenth one since Cataclysm was defeated.

Ten years.

One of the earliest stops of the day, Princess Raven and Princess Zelda were present for the completion of the new archery range just outside of town, having helped in the design process with the original owner. With her telekinetic power, though it was never again as strong as it once had been, Raven lifted the hand painted welcome sign into its place over the archway, resting it into heavy iron hooks. Then, just as it was perfectly perched, a golden arrow lodged into the painted bulls-eye, glimmering continuously after it struck.

Princess Raven was startled by the wooden arrow that had been infused with light, and Zelda Hyrule could not help but smile and laugh.

The audience cheered with approval, and the archery range was open to the public. Though festivities and contests would excite the day, and parties would persist well into the night, the two of them had something else more important to attend to. Following the cobblestone path lined with nature's beauty, they traveled arm in arm back to the town square, which was slightly quieter with so many at the tournament, but the celebratory time still filled every corner of Hyrule Castle Town and the nearby Kakariko Village with shopping, entertainment, and the occasional rendition of great events in Hyrule's history, some very old, some recent, played out with fireworks and music in the streets.

The Celebration of Heroes, or Hero's Day for short, was a national holiday that no one across the land ignored. The mighty Gorons of the mountain always came with their strongest to compete in physical contests, and they were, despite their large size, the most enthusiastic, albeit strange dancers when the evening music began. Zora royalty always made an appearance, and this year they had brought young Prince Renalt, who had just recently turned three. The Deku Scrubs set up row after row of commerce both inside and outside the castle walls, reinventing themselves and finding the strangest things across the land that anyone could want, while others set up games for children and overly competitive adults alike to play. Raven recognized some of these games as modified versions of ones she knew from Earth, having been her suggestions in the first couple of years of the event. She was tempted to participate in a ring toss or two, but she knew it wouldn't be quite fair.

The Gerudo made people much less tense than they used to. Something about Hyrule being led by two strong willed and powerful women with jewels embedded in their foreheads seemed to help bridge the gap with the nearly all-female desert folk. Some of the Gerudo, with their strength and agility, made for incredible performers, putting on acrobatics displays, inspiring children to be like them. All in all, the species of Hyrule had been united for this day, the celebration of those who had valiantly defended Time itself.

In the morning, before arm wrestling with Gorons, long before the dancing and stories that stretched on until the next day's sunrise, the two always made an important journey that was for them alone. On horseback at a reasonable pace, Lake Hylia was about fifteen minutes south of the castle, but Princess Zelda and Princess Raven always chose to walk. Many people of all species bowed out of courtesy when they passed by, to which the two princesses politely nodded and greeted in return.

Raven sifted through the memories of past.

Over ten years ago, she had decided that being a Teen Titan was something she had outgrown, and with the horrors and villains of the city gone or imprisoned more permanently, there was little need for her help there anyway. It had been a strange decision, her choice to take the Dreamweaver and head for Hyrule.

Becoming a ruler alongside Zelda hadn't been Raven's intention, and she never did like the idea of feeling as though she was better than the 'common folk', but she had grown into it over the years, serving in tandem, providing support, settling disputes, even fighting in minor skirmishes and battles a few times.

Hero's Day and other occasions like it were the best. Raven could be a bit more herself, more comfortable with the people around her, casual in ways that she and Zelda could not be as rulers and mediators of the land.

Still, she always had Zelda. Really, Raven thought, they had each other. To confide in, to share pain and happiness as survivors of the Triforce War.

She had turned thirty this year, and Zelda forty. Though despite being a decade her senior, Zelda barely looked any older than Raven did. Zelda's vibrant spirit had rejuvenated so much of what she had lost in the reploid wars, and almost no one could hold a candle to her natural, regal beauty.

"I can't believe it's been ten years," Zelda commented as they reached the hillside overlook of the lake.

The waters of Lake Hylia had always been peaceful, and they had that effect of making you think deeply, or not at all if you wanted. With the three statues of Protoman, Zero, and Mega Man X, all with swords raised to the sky standing tall near the water's edge, it had become a somewhat revered place of prayer for many of the townsfolk. Of course, there were similar statues at the Temple of Time, but the water of the lake and the brilliance of the sun seemed to make them feel more... alive.

Raven tussled with her emotions, keeping them controlled, but they were more unruly than they had been in some time. "I dreamt about him. Them. A lot of things last night."

The sorceress, which she still was despite her diminished power, played with little black sparks that trickled from her fingertips as her thoughts spilled out.

"I did as well," Zelda confided. "I still think about being trapped in the Dark World, climbing up to Turtle Rock and meeting him for the first time. I miss him. I miss all of them."

The silence hung for a while, but that was alright. It was why they had come to the lake. Why they came every year - to allow the pain they buried beneath and pushed aside to come alive. There were always tears. They came quickly this year.

"Thank you," Zelda squeezed Raven's hand tightly, wiping her eyes with the other. "Thank you so much for staying with me all this time. I don't say it enough."

Raven smiled gently and shook her head. "You welcomed me to your world, into your home, gave me a place where I ended up feeling like I belong. And I'm seldom at a loss for what to do with how busy you keep me," she joked lightly before becoming more serious. "That's more than I could have ever hoped."

Zelda began to respond, but she bowed her head and squeezed Raven's hand gently again, then let it go. They let the bright sun shine on them, Lake Hylia, and the stone likenesses of the three reploids who had left them years ago. Raven remembered with some amusement how she had telepathically implanted the images of Protoman, Zero and X into the minds of the sculptors. There had been a lot of fuss about getting them right, and it was one of the few moments she recalled in her years as ruler where she had become slightly unhinged.

Coming out of the deep past, Raven wondered what her future held before her fellow princess interrupted the lost thoughts.

"You've hardly told me about your visit with Saria and Nanaki," Zelda prodded.

"That's because we've been up to our eyeballs planning for this event," replied the sorceress. "It's the biggest it's ever been by far. Everyone really went all out."

"Don't change the subject," Zelda elbowed her playfully. "I want to hear how the little love birds are doing... love wolves? You know what I mean."

The grin on Raven's face grew several sizes.

Zelda's expression became intensely interested at what Raven was purposely withholding. "What are you smiling at? You tease!"

After letting the anticipation stew a little longer: "Saria is a mom."

A gasp and a grin broader than her royal position would normally allow. The two shared laughter and excitement, and Raven happily shared a brief account of her time visiting the former Sages of Fire and Forest. Saria was the mother of two healthy cubs, Red XIII was hopeful about having a functional cybernetic eye within the next year, and much of Gaia was thriving despite the brutal challenge of adapting to a world where materia held little power anymore.

That got them talking about the others. Sonic and Shadow, the former of whom Raven had seen years back. Then, of course, the Titans. Raven felt pathetic at how tense and quiet she became when Zelda brought up the idea of seeing her old friends and comrades again.

"You haven't visited them at all. Once the festival is over, things will calm down into winter. It would be a perfect time to go."

"But I just got back. I can't be leaving all the time for personal reasons. The people-"

"The people... will all understand," Zelda assured her. "The Titans were your family. I know you think of them whenever you reflect on your choice to stay here."

Raven was silent at that. She stared out to the lake, at the tiny island with the huge, lone tree atop it, at the quiet, wooden docks and the tiny boats there. It was hardly the same, but if she thought hard enough, she could faintly smell a bit of salt and feel an ocean breeze.

"Maybe I should," Raven sighed, resting her head against her fingertips. Her eyes stung, and she hated the tears that she shed. She hated the pain, and she hated...

Her forehead began to itch, and unease and nausea shot through her whole body. Then her forehead got hot. It felt like her skin was burning! She clutched at her brow as her vision blurred, vaguely aware that Zelda was doubled over in pain. Emotions surged through her, confusion and fear like she hadn't felt since she was a child. The burning heat in her forehead evaporated and turned to bitter cold. What the ever loving hell?

Raven's vision cleared long enough to see Zelda wincing, but that was not all. The Hylian princess was astonished and terrified, staring back at the sorceress. A bright blue light reflected against the jewels of her crown.

"Your chakra!" Zelda caught her breath as the intensity subsided. "It was alive!"

With hands shaking and weak, Raven's fingertips hovered over her own forehead. She felt dizzy, terrified, confused. Then, to Zelda, who was equally out of breath, "Yours was too. It was bright, and... and... which one of mine was glowing?"

Zelda was wide eyed with astonished, and she smiled at her fellow princess. "Both."

Darting to her feet, Raven gathered the courage to touch the two old Chaos Emerald shards, the one she had been born with, and the one she had been given ten years ago. She did not so much feel the power they had granted her in the past, or the corruption that they also contained. In the two shining jewels, a gently cloak of emotion, of love and hope, of longing and happiness – the kind of strength that came from tightly knit lives.

"Do you want to go on an adventure?" Raven asked with life springing from her voice.

The cerulean jewel in Zelda's forehead pulsed with emotion. "Nothing would please me more!" she beamed.

They paused only so much as to let the amazement sink in to their every muscle and bone, invigorated beyond anything since the goodbyes of years ago, and they both sprinted back toward the castle, eager to leap headlong into the next great journey. Where it would take them, and when they would find who brought life back to their Chaos Shards, they did not know. But for Zelda Hyrule and the Hero Raven, it was an adventure worth chasing.


THE END