Epilogue: Our Last Issue!
The school bell cut through a rather pleasant daydream involving a desert island and the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean, leaving Link to grab his books and binder more-or-less on autopilot. Kafei and Ralph found him in the hallway, Ralph sporting khaki shorts and enjoying the stares the massive scar on his calf was drawing.
"So it's Friday, girls," he grinned. "You know what that means?"
"Ummm…weekend?" Kafei guessed.
"New videos on the Adult Swim website?" Link suggested.
"I'm out of time to return that Ikea bookshelf?"
"It's been nearly a week since you slept with Dark and you're not allowed to use gay slang anymore?"
"I will stop when someone punches me for it, and not a moment before." He stuck out his lower lip. "But no."
"Friday is when the new tabloids come out!" He pulled a rolled-up black-and-white magazine from the outside pocket of his backpack and shoved it at them. "Tah-daaaah!"
Link and Kafei stared at the magazine, sheer horror coloring their faces.
"No…" Kafei whispered. "It does not say that."
"What- But- HOW? When? Why- What? How?"
"Shocking, innit?" Ralph turned it so he could read off the cover. "'The Final Issue of the Weekly Hyrule News.' End of an era, girls. And as sad as that may be…that's not even the most shocking thing."
"What could be more shocking then this?" Link snatched it from Ralph's hands and began flipping through the pages. "I didn't even know they were in trouble. I mean, I read this thing all the time. Granted I usually steal it from Kafei, but Kafei buys it. Kafei why didn't you buy it this week?"
"I usually get it on Monday when I pick up my weekly hair products." The other two stared at him. "I switch shampoos every week to keep the gloss up,okay?"
"I'm not using gay slang any more," Ralph said. "It's no fun when it's actually relevant."
There was a pause.
"Link? I just used your thing. Link?" He leaned over Link's shoulder to see what had captivated his attention. "What- Holy fucking crap!"
Ralph laughed and joined them. "Told you!"
Together, the three of them made a fairly decent roadblock. The crowd was already thinning as students suffering from early pangs of "it's nearly summer" got the hell out of there, but it was enough of an impediment that the only ones that Link actually cared about were able to find him easily.
"Whatchoo guys lookin' at?" Zelda threw an arm around Link's shoulder and leaned over him.
"Somebody say something," Malon demanded. "There are too many shoulders to read over."
Wordlessly, Link turned the magazine around and displayed the article. It was a two-pager, right in the middle, divided only by staples and poorly-done photo edits. The title was displayed in white block letters against a black background.
THE KING OF EVIL RETURNS!!!
"Woah," Malon leaned in closer. "What are the odds of that?"
"Pretty good, I'd say," Ralph replied cheerfully. "Did any of you look at the byline?"
As one, his five friends looked at Ralph, then looked at the magazine.
By Dark Woods
"I'm going to kill him," Link said flatly. "I am actually going to kill him. I am going to put my hands around his scrawny neck and choke thelife out of him!"
"Easy there, big boy," Ralph carefully began prying his magazine out of Link's clenched fists. "It's only been six days since Dark's last near-death experience. Don't you think you should give him some time to rest?"
"If he wanted to live he wouldn't have written this article. Or used my last name for that matter."
"But Woods isn't your last name," Ralph pointed out. "Not yet."
"Well, no, I have to be eighteen before I can change it. But that's not the point! Wait," he stopped. "How did Dark even know my last name is Woods? He was all recovering in the shadow plane or whatever when we found that out. And I don't think I told him. Did one of you?"
The others shook their heads.
"You're going to work today, aren't you?" Zelda asked. It was true. Link had missed that last three Saturdays, and Navi had decided to exert her influence as his boss and make him come in after school for the week. "You can yell at him then."
"I plan to."
The article was, word for word, exactly what had happened late last Saturday night (or very very early last Sunday morning, whichever way you wanted to look at it). Some of the details were glossed over, and no names were mentioned, but there was no doubt that it was written by someone who had been there.
Except…Dark hadn't been there. Not for the running around and fighting parts. So how…
That was another question to yell at him.
"I can't believe you cried," Ralph laughed. They'd been having this conversation all week.
"I can't believe you kissed him."
Ralph shrugged. "Someone had to. I got there first."
"I'm still confused by the whole thing," Kafei admitted. "I mean, I'm not complaining or anything, but why is Dark alive?"
"It was a gamble on his part," Link said. "He'd been lying there bleeding, right? With Navi healing him just a little bit at a time so he didn't die. But when he sensed Ganon pulling back all of his power to fight me and Zelda, he realized that he was probably too distracted to pay attention to Dark. So he turned into a shadow and hid somewhere for a while."
"So why did he let us think he was dead for four hours?"
"I don't think he thought we thought he was dead. Plus he had to, like…get his energy back? Or heal? Something. I don't understand shadow physiology."
"I don't think even Dark does," Zelda rolled her eyes.
"Well, he never had to explain it to anyone before. Except hippies."
"You think the hippies understood it perfectly, or just didn't bother to ask?"
"I suppose it depends on the hippie." He slipped his hand into hers. "What about you, Zel? How you doing?"
"Me? Fine. The fairies healed me up good, remember?"
"I meant about your parents visiting."
"Oh yeah." She wrinkled her nose. "It's…weird. I mean, I love them and all, but I never see them. I suppose it's good to know that they will drop everything and rush to my side when this kind of stuff happens…but it feels weird somehow. Like, my parents should be there for more then just the bad times in my life." She held her hand up. "And don't you dare say, 'At least they're there.'"
"I wasn't going to."
Link squeezed her hand. "Don't worry about it."
"Enough lovey-dovey!" Ralph bopped Link on the head with the magazine and led the way toward the doors. "You're making a scene."
Link rolled his eyes. "You know, Ralph, we're all still looking forward to the day when you make scenes just like it."
"Not gonna happen."
"And why not?"
"Well, for starters, because I'm eighteen. I've got years and years probably before I need to go looking for a soulmate."
"What if you just sort of stumble over yours?"
"How likely is that?"
"Given the way destiny has been meddling in all our lives lately? Very."
"Okay, I'll give you that." Ralph shrugged. "But I still don't think it's gonna happen. Not like it did with you two."
Link winced. "Hopefully it won't be exactly the way it happened with me and Zelda…"
"I don't think that sort of thing happens twice in one lifetime," Zelda agreed.
"That reminds me," Malon said. "Did we ever see to getting you psychological help?"
"I'm no more messed up then any other teenage girl! Or at least I wasn't until the whole almost end of the world thing…"
"We've all got scars from that," Malon muttered. She was rubbing her wrist absent-mindedly, like she'd been doing all week. "Mental and physical. But… I think all we really need is time."
"And money," Kafei said. "My parents finally found out about the van."
"I could probably get you a job at-"
Kafei held up a hand, stopping Link mid-sentence. "Don't," he said. "Just…don't."
"Right." He laughed nervously. "Uh, anything else I need to yell at Dark for?"
"Not yelling," Malon said, "but tell him I refuse to go to the memorial service for his piece of wood. It was a piece of wood! And it's not even broken or anything, he just lost it."
"Oh!" Kafei smacked himself in the forehead. "I forgot. What was… Anju I told you to remind me."
"Argyle Fruit Roll-ups," she answered dutifully.
"Right, right, argyle Fruit Roll-ups."
"The hell?" Link said simply.
"I saw them in the store the other day. Like, you know how they make Fruit Roll-ups with patterns on them and stuff? They have these girly fashion ones and one of the designs is argyle."
"Like the socks?"
Zelda poked Link in the ribs. "Didn't you know? Argyle is big now. All the various subcultures have adopted it. I think Dark has socks that are argyle with skulls."
"Several socks," Malon said. "And a shirt."
"Oh yeah, I remember," Link said. "I thought that was just him being weird though."
"Nope. It's practically mainstream."
"Right," Kafei said. "I saw those and I thought that'd be the sort of thing he'd think was awesome."
"Random stuff at the supermarket is making you think of Dark now?" Link grinned. "I guess that means he's officially part of the group now."
"Link, he nearly died for us. If I didn't accept him as part of the group after that, I would have given you permission to hit me with that stupid board of his."
"What's it like living with him?" Ralph asked, apprehensively, as though he almost didn't want to know.
"It's not bad. Had to lay down some ground rules, but it hasn't been an issue." He frowned. "I think Dark takes bumper stickers a little too seriously though."
"You don't want to know…"
"Is it the conserving water one?" Ralph grinned. "It's the conserving water one, isn't it?"
"None of your business."
Ralph laughed, and Link heard Anju ask what the conserving water one was. He didn't bother to listen to the reply.
Impa was waiting for Zelda in the parking lot, standing next to an inconspicuous dark sedan and glaring at the group of them as though to say, "Don't you dare try to run off."
"If it helps, we can all go over there and tease her about Auru," Link grinned.
"Maybe later. I teased her about it for nearly two solid hours last night and I think she might be in wall-punching territory."
"Well, I'll see you tomorrow, okay? If you come by Cold Stone some time after one I can take my lunch and we'll go hang out or something."
Zelda smiled. "Sounds nice." She let go of Link's hand in that sappy romantic-movie fashion and started toward the car, before Malon grabbed her by the collar and yanked her back.
"You can't go yet! I have to introduce you to that chick. The one who loaned me those comics?" She waved an arm over her head. "Yo! Nayru! Over here!"
The rest of the group followed Malon's gaze to a statuesque teenager about their own age, with blue hair so long she probably had to buy economy-sized bottles of shampoo just for herself. Her beauty, and she was beautiful, was an almost old-fashioned sort. Classical, like old statues and paintings in museums.
"Her parents named her after the goddess?" Zelda asked. "Wow, and I thought I had it bad."
"It fits," Ralph blurted out. His mouth closed with an audible snap.
Link cocked his head at his friend. There was a look on Ralph's face that a poet would have described as transcendent, and that Link was incredibly happy to see. He nudged Zelda with his shoulder and pointed at Ralph. She grinned.
Then Link felt a nudge from his other side, turned to see Malon. She glanced at him significantly, then spoke as though nothing was going on. "You'll like Nayru, guys. She's really nice. Smart too, although in a weird way. I only talked to her for like five minutes before she knew my parents were divorced and something bad had happened to me last weekend."
Ralph's head jerked around like it was on a dowel. "She did?" His voice was about an octave higher then it had been a moment ago.
"Oh yes." Malon put her finger on her cheek thoughtfully. "You know…I think she might be as good at reading people as…you are."
Ralph swallowed hard.
All of his friends were grinning so wide their cheeks were hurting.
Nayru approached the group nervously, which was probably natural with the way they all were looking at her. "Um, hey Malon."
"Hey girl," Malon greeted her simply. She swung around and grabbed her arm, for a moment highlighting the difference in their builds. Nayru was a willow, Malon was a mighty oak, and she knew it. "These are my friends. Princess Zelda though you already knew that, and that's Link he's got some issues but we like him. He and Zelda are dating and are probably going to have angelic blond babies although hopefully not any time soon. That Kafei he used to have a van but it died, and that's his girlfriend Anju, we're trying to help her grow a spine, and this…" She paused dramatically, a lifetime of meddling leading up to this moment. "Is Ralph."
"Um," Ralph said, panic clear in his voice.
Nayru's eyes, already naturally wide in the doe-eyed tradition of Renaissance painters everywhere, had expanded to nearly twice their size. "Um," she said.
"Hi," Link said helpfully.
"Hi," Ralph agreed gratefully.
"You know what Nayru would probably like to see?" Malon said.
Ralph shook his head, unable to take his eyes off the vision in front of him.
"The band room. She's a musician, see, and she just started here the other day. She'd probably like to look at what instruments are available."
"I would," Nayru agreed.
"And after that?" Link suggested. "Why not show her which restaurants are within walking distance of the school. That's always nice to know."
"Y- yeah," Ralph said. "It is… Um." He drew himself up to his full height. "Um? Would you?"
Nayru nodded, and without another word the two walked back into the school.
As soon as the glass door swung shut, Link and the others burst out laughing.
Cold Stone Creamery, site of a surprising number of world-shattering revelations in the last few weeks, was only half-lit as Link walked up to it. The after-school hours were a big time for business, which meant either something was wrong or Dark was slacking off. The previous weekend was still too close in Link's memory for him to keep the crack out of his voice as he unlocked the door and shouted into the gloom.
"In the back!"
Link breathed again.
In typical teenage fashion, he chose to continue the conversation as he made his way across the restaurant. "Why is it all dark in here? And closed?"
"Tatl took off early, and I can't handle the after school rush by myself." Link rounded the doorway and Dark waved at him, upside down, draped across two folding chairs.
"What are you doing?"
"Dunno. Felt like it."
"You are so…" Link waved his hands helplessly. "Arrgh!"
"Uh-oh," Dark rolled over onto his stomach. "What did I do now?"
"See, I can explain."
"Can you? Can you really?"
Dark tugged at his ear thoughtfully. "Well, no… That's just what you say in this sort of situation."
"All right, all right." Long legs swung over the backs of the chairs, and Dark sprang to his feet, wobbled for a moment as he was assaulted by headrush, and then gave his double a lopsided grin. "I suppose you want me to talk about it."
"First of all, totally didn't mean to steal your last name. I didn't even know it was your last name. I've been using it for months, you can check Navi's records if you want."
Link shook his head. "I guess not. But it's kind of a weird coincidence isn't it?"
"You've got that right. But that's all it is, as near as I can figure. I was only using it because I thought it was a funny name, and 'cause it was the name of some of my old friends."
"Forest and Ocean. I have no idea what their real first names were, I just remember someone joking about Forest once and his legal last name and how he didn't have any imagination."
"Wait, so, the hippies you used to be friends with, the ones who were married, were named Woods?" Cold horror began to creep across Link's body. "You don't think… I mean, the ages are about right, and you said they had a son…"
Dark blinked, then his eyes widened. "I- I didn't even think of that…"
They stared at each other. After a long moment, Dark began to grin.
"Don't say it."
"I think I slept with your grandparents."
"Arrgh!" Link buried his face in his hands. "No! No way! I refuse to believe it! Woods is- It's a pretty common name! No way in hell!"
"It seems pretty unlikely," Dark agreed. "But keep in mind how destiny keeps interfering. I mean, Ganon didn't have to choose me." His expression flickered for a moment, from the usual grin to something like pain. Link had seen it quite a few times over the last week, and was trying very hard not to ask any difficult questions. He knew Ganon had hurt Dark, hurt him badly, and it was Dark's business if he wanted Link to know the details or not. "But he did. Of all the hundreds of shadows in all the worlds, he chose me…" He shook his head. "I'm sorry, I was going somewhere with that but I lost it."
"It's okay." He debated himself for a moment. "Um, your hand."
"Huh?" Dark glanced down, cocked his head, and shook his right hand. It remained steadfastly clenched in a fist. "That's a new one. Yesterday I just kept making these little choking motions in the air."
"Dark, are you-" Another internal debate. "Are you okay?"
"Me? Yeah, sure." He poked at his hand.
"Are you okay?"
The fist sprung open, and Dark wiggled his fingers.
"No," he sighed. "Not even close. And I don't think I will be for a while…" He gave Link another lopsided smile. "But what do I know? Never been tortured before. Maybe it just takes time…" He went back to staring at his hand. "I went to the library, looked up some books. Says I can't let my fear rule me. Stick close to my friends. Keep in mind that it wasn't my fault. And, I mean, Iknow it wasn't my fault. But…that doesn't stop it from hurting. I can't- I don't- I feel like I'm going crazy sometimes, I- Dammit why can't I control this?"
Instinct had Link moving across the small room before Dark was halfway through his speech, and his arms were around Dark's shoulders by the final sentence. Dark stiffened at first, startled, but let himself sink into it. Resting his forehead on Link's shoulder and holding his hands to his chest.
"I don't know what to do, Link. All the books said that it just takes time. That eventually I'll be able to sleep again and I won't jump at the sight of any guy over six feet. But I don't wanna feel like this any more. I just want it not to have happened."
"I don't know what I can do either…" Link admitted. "But I'm here for you, and everyone else is too. No matter what. And we always will be."
"But," a painful chuckle escaped Dark's throat. "You guys must be pretty messed up too. Bad stuff happened to all a' you too. Beaten up by monsters and thinking I was dead for a while. You didn't get tortured and- and stuff, but you guys must be having the crazy thoughts too."
"A little," Link admitted. "I've been having nightmares, and I'm sort of afraid of the dark, and jumpy and twitchy, and I've noticed the others are too…" He eased Dark back, tilted his head up with one hand to look him in the eyes. "But that's normal. We've been through some really messed-up shit. We wouldn't be human if we didn't feel like this. And it's the same for you. No oneexpects you to be okay."
"I want to be okay."
"And you will be, eventually. You're hurt Dark, in your head, and all injuries take time to heal."
Dark couldn't help but smile. "You been to the library too?"
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I did a report on it in Health class." He smiled too. "Never thought it would come in handy."
Dark stepped back and surveyed Link up and down. "You know what Link? I think you've gotten stronger since I met you."
"So do I."
"Can I have some?"
"All you need." Link threw his arm around his brother's shoulders. "But we're never discussing my grandparents again."
They set about getting the shop ready to re-open. Arranging chairs and refilling napkin dispensers. Dark hit the CD player, muttered something about Tatl being a sheep, and darted into the back to retrieve his own collection.
"I'm not singing with you!" Link shouted back.
"We'll see! I have a pity card now!"
"That's playing dirty! You do that, and I'll keep the news from you."
Dark popped out, a battered black CD case in his hands. "News? What news?"
"Aside from the fact that everyone in our little group is pissed at you for that article-"
"Hey! The public deserves to know the truth! Even if only the crazies believe it is the truth."
"How did you know all of that anyway? You weren't there."
"Half guessing, half asked Ralph."
"Ah. But of course."
"Got five hundred bucks for it!"
"Okay, all forgiven."
Link laughed, shaking his head. "You are so… What did I do before you?"
"Probably punched fewer pillows." He bounced on the balls of his feet eagerly. "What else is the news?"
"Oh, right. Ralph met a girl."
Dark blinked. "So?"
"I mean he met a girl." Link raised an eyebrow suggestively. "Birds singing, golden sunlight, rain of flower petals."
"Oh." Dark fiddled with the knobs on the CD player. "I see…"
"Does that, uh, bother you?"
"No! No… Well…" He tilted his head back and forth. "I mean, 's'not like I'minterested in Ralph, not like that. I'm a shadow, my brain isn't wired for long-term relationships. But… Six days?"
"There it is."
"Six days! Come on! We didn't even- I mean, I thought it at least meant something, even if it wasn't that it was something."
"Geez… Sorry, Dark. I didn't think… Didn't meant to upset you."
"You didn't. It's okay." He considered that. "Well, no it's not. But it's not your fault. And in the scheme of things, this is no big deal." He glanced over his shoulder and grinned. "Did Ralph forget his own name?"
"I think so, but Malon introduced him."
"And did he do the mouth-dropped-open-holy-experience expression?"
Dark laughed. "Classic. And we gonna tease him for weeks?"
Link retrieved the much-abused Cold Stone aprons from behind the counter and tossed Dark's at him. "I'm going to open. We're missing out on middle-schoolers with money. You think you can keep it together?"
"Keep it together? 'Course. But I reserve the right to mock anyone wearing a crooked baseball cap or flip-flop jewelry."
"Fair enough. But I meant, are you tired or anything? You said you haven't been sleeping."
Dark snorted derisively. "Sure, sleep is nice and everything, but staying awake for two weeks at a time is kind of cool too! The hallucinations can be a real laugh."
"It's only been six days."
"Has it? Oh. Maybe I do need to rest then…"
"Maybe." Link hopped over the counter and headed for the door, flipping the rest of the lights on as he passed the switch.
"Oh Link, one last thing?"
"I got my nipples pierced, wanna see?"
Nearly a hundred miles away, in the second-highest court in the country, two girls were on trial for treason.
It had been a rushed process, getting them to this point. No one wanted to drag out the proceedings, and the press was not even being allowed the details of what the girls were charged with. The using of banned magic. Destruction of public property. Murder, in several different ways, including conspiracy to commit. But no one was entirely sure how this all added up to treason.
No one but the girls, and their associates who had agreed to a one to testify against them. And even they weren't entire clear on the details.
Just outside the courtroom in question, Kotake stared at the scuffed marble floor and wondered if she knew exactly what had happened. She wasn't passing the buck, she took full responsibility for her actions, but there were fuzzy bits, and ideas she shouldn't have had, things she couldn't have known. And things she would never have done…
In the end, five people had died. Elana, Sam, Lynna, Marie, and Bennie. They hadn't done anything but what they were told, and now they were dead. Kotake had known people were going to die, had looked forward to wiping out a few choice individuals, but not them. Not people who were on theirside.
She hadn't really wanted to hurt Link's friends either, they were just kids. What could they do? Nothing, as it turned out. Once she'd regained consciousness, she'd seen them sitting in the hallway waiting for it to be over. The same thing she wound up doing next to her slightly-more-knocked-out sister. If Koume had been awake she would have blustered and insisted they helped the king, but Kotake was more practical. She knew when to give up.
They'd lost. They'd risked it all and lost. That was all there was to it, in Kotake's eyes. Koume was a bit more upset about it, but earlier she'd mentioned something about book deals and the Lifetime network, so Kotake wasn't worried.
As far as Koume and Kotake were concerned, the story was over.
The clanking of chains and the measured step of police officers walking in unison drew her head up. A kid, a guy probably around Link's age, with long pale purple hair that clashed with his orange jumpsuit, and eyes that were just a little too focused, was being led down the hall toward her. The three of them stopped beside her bench and one of the cops told the boy to sit down and not talk. The boy complied, but Kotake could see a hint of a smirk around his mouth.
She had to say, he knew his business. He waited, for example, until the half-dozen cops standing around were all caught up in conversation about the game they were missing and last night's episode of one of the interchangeable medical dramas before he spoke.
Barely moving his lips, keeping his eyes carefully forward, the boy whispered, "So you're the other one."
"Yes," Kotake murmured, using the skills she's learned in any number of boring lectures. "You must be the informant."
"That would be me. You failed pretty hardcore."
"We did," Kotake agreed. "We knew the risks. We're just lucky to be alive."
"If you call that luck." The tone in his voice made Kotake fight the urge to look at him. She almost didn't want to see what was in his eyes.
"Vaati," One of the cops snapped.
"Yes," the boy said brightly.
"Come on, they're ready for you."
Now Kotake did turn her head. "You're testifying against us?"
"Oh of course," the boy smiled at her. "Did you think I wouldn't? As you'll recall, I didn't give your sister any information you could use anyway, and I did inform the princess you were asking about her."
Kotake just shook her head. "I suppose they gave you a deal?"
"I'll be out in a month."
"I'm happy for you," she said wryly. "But, a piece of advice?"
"Don't try again. Don't go for revenge."
"Revenge?" he sounded genuinely shocked. "I would never! What would be the point? The path of political alliance is closed to me forever now. I'll have to get what I want through other means."
"And what do you want?"
He smiled, his eyes far too serious for Kotake's liking. "Power. What else is there?"
The cop who had spoken before stared at Vaati for a moment, then shook his head. "Come on kid. Quit trying to out-evil the girl."
"Sorry officer," the smile Vaati turned on the cop was much more normal. "I just couldn't resist."
He was led through the bid wooden doors to the courtroom without another word, and it wasn't until they banged closed behind him that Kotake allowed herself a shiver. "And the princess dated that guy…"
And that's the real end. Few loose ends, few people going to need therapy. But come on, wouldn't you?
There's Nayru for ya too. I know at least one person has been waiting with baited breath for her appearance. That's for you! We'll get to know her better in the sequel.
Speaking of which, it's going to be called "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" and it should be appearing some time in the next month or so. Whee!
Before that, I'm going to do some cleaning. There's like three stories here on FFdotnet that I have abandoned and will probably never finish. I know some of you out there were fans of those stories...but I'm not. I don't know if I should just delete them or what. What do you think?
On the bright side, I have another AU story I'm working on. Basically a traditional fantasy epic, only with a decidedly Mature rating. Sex and cussing yay!
Oh, and remember last chapter when I mentioned how I liked Target? Don't anymore. Because they fired me. I've got about two weeks to find a new job before I'm back on the street (yes, BACK) but I have high hopes for the shoe store and Hot Dog On a Stick. Wish me luck. And don't expect regular updates. But I'll try. I really enjoy writing and getting feedback and all that. As long as I have electricity, I will continue to write.
So keep your eyes open for "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," and "The Legend of Zelda: The Breaker of Night."
Love you all!