The pillars of Hyrule's council chamber were vast, etched with the solemn vows of Hyrule's monarchs. They rose to rib-vaulted crescendos high above a marble floor that shone with a soft light. Zelda strode into the middle of the hall as if she owned the place, and, in truth, she did.
The wolves scattered across the floor turned their lupine heads at the princess's entrance, ears pricking towards the sound of her voice. A few eyed Demon as he cautiously entered behind her, yet the peace remained unbroken. At the far end of the hall two glimmering white creatures rested against the sides of Hyrule's throne and studied the newcomers with piercing blue eyes.
"My loyal subjects," Zelda explained with obvious irony. "Better than the ghosts Ganon left me in Hyrule, but not quite the Hero of Time."
Demon trailed her down the center of the hall, trying hard not to summon weapons to his hands. His motions were as smooth as he could make them.
"I had forgotten you were fond of such creatures," Demon managed. "How many are within the castle walls?"
Zelda turned and smiled at his discomfort. "I haven't counted," she admitted. "A score or two, perhaps more?" She smirked at the assassin's expression. "Don't worry, they're much friendlier than their wolfos cousins."
To prove her point she knelt to the marble and beckoned to the nearest, a great grey creature with tufts of white along its chest and spine. The beast padded over, and Zelda's hands disappeared into the fur along its jaw as she scratched energetically.
"This one's Ruto," she explained, "because she's spoiled and likes to steal anything I don't nail down."
Ruto's nose suddenly jerked towards Zelda's face, and the princess almost fell backwards in her attempt to avoid it. "And she loves water," Zelda added as she quickly stood up, Ruto bumping against her legs. "Can't barely swim, but doesn't care."
"Ruto," Demon repeated, trying to hide his smile. "I'm not sure her namesake would be impressed."
"Her namesake is long dead," Zelda snorted. "But if you miss her, then perhaps you wish to carry Ruto around the hall a few times."
"I doubt I could," Demon said as he eyed the big wolf. Reaching out a hand he moved tentatively towards the creature, only to have it shy away.
Zelda gasped as the wolf bumped into her legs, unbalancing her. Demon also hissed, scaring Ruto into a hasty retreat that cost Zelda her final bit of stability.
"Goddesses," the princess cried as she sat down hard on Ruto's shoulders, her hands digging once again into fur. The wolf yipped, Zelda cursed, and suddenly all the wolves erupted in chorus. For a moment the hall was full of noise, and Demon wondered if this was what a laughing wolf sounded like.
"Smirk and I'm banishing you from my castle," Zelda retorted as she pushed off from Ruto's broad back. "That mongrel is almost more trouble than she's worth."
"She used to say that about me as well," Demon confided in the wolf as he approached it again, this time successfully. "Don't worry, she doesn't really mean it."
Zelda tried to scowl, but her smile struggled through. She brushed a lock of hair back from her face and reached to scratch behind Ruto's ear.
"Where did they come from?" Demon asked as he stared at the other dozen wolves in the hall. The shards of twilight sweeping through the high windows leeched most of the colour from their pelts, but he could discern shades of rust and chestnut, as well as silver and grey,
"I don't know," Zelda admitted softly. "The castle is my memory, as well as the volcano, the rivers, even the wall. As you know, it's easy to create things, even mountains, in this realm, but life is another matter. I've tried and –"
She cut off and revulsion flashed across her features. Demon did not ask. Something told him he did not want to know.
"The wolves were a miracle," she finished.
Her face brightened and she gave a short whistle. "You must meet the rest of the pack!" she cried as the other wolves bounded towards them.
Fighting against years of training, Demon managed to avoid drawing his weapons, or rather, manifesting them from thin air. Instead he stood very still and tried to match Zelda's enthusiasm.
"Aren't they beautiful?" she asked as she scratched behind ears and patted muzzles. The wolves seemed to treat her as their own, crowding around as if she were a sister in their ranks.
"They aren't biting," Demon observed cautiously.
"Darunia, Nabooru, Raaru," Zelda said, ignoring him and pointing out three wolves among the pack. "And there are Saria, Impa, and Malon." The last was a tawny red wolf that was far smaller than Darunia, though not as small as Saria.
Suddenly Zelda couldn't meet Demon's eyes. "I gave them all names," she said, embarrassment flooding her cheeks, "the names of people that were important to us. It seems silly now."
The assassin stepped carefully amidst the wolves to take Zelda's hands in his. "They would be honoured," he said, "to have kept you company against the darkness."
He pressed Zelda's thin fingers between his own, content to touch any small piece of her. He was about to say something else, when a sudden force against his legs pushed them apart. The assassin looked down, only to see one of the white wolves that had been sitting beside the Hylian throne. The beast snarled at him, revealing gleaming white canines.
Zelda jumped forward and wrapped her arms around the white wolf's neck before it could attack, whispering things into its ear. Slowly she eased it down until it was lying at her feet, and then looked up apologetically at Demon
"He's jealous," she explained, "He's my favourite and he knows it."
"Well, he's not my favourite," Demon retorted. "Is this the one named after your father?"
Smiling, Zelda rested her chin on the top of the wolf's head. "You, actually," she said. "Link, meet Link. And get along or I shall be very unhappy."
Demon grimaced, and could have sworn his lupine counterpart made a similar expression. "She's mine," he said, "there's lots of pretty wolfesses around for you."
Link growled. Demon growled back. Suddenly Zelda was between them with a severe expression and arms crossed.
"Friends," she reiterated, yet gasped as Demon pulled her into his arms. He grinned at the white wolf through Zelda's hair.
"In time," he said. "Once some things are decided."
"Those who can see let them see. Harken to the last turning of the Cycle."
The sky was grey, the sea was grey; it was impossible to tell where the two met. Only the white froth-flecked tops of rolling swells broke the monotonous palate, like ice emerging from rotten snow in the thaw. Indeed the water was a deep bone-chilling cold that numbed the soul of the figure who rode its caress.
She was pale, almost blue from the loss of warmth, even her eyes drained of their normal colour. The sea salt had irritated the corners of her mouth and eyes until they were dully inflamed and crusted with brine. Wrapped in sopping rags, the woman should have been dragged down into the abyss, yet sill she floated between sea and sky and rode the merciless water.
Eyes open, still unaware, she drifted. Perhaps she was a survivor from some unhappy wreck, doomed to slowly freeze. Perhaps she had let the water claim her, unable to face the world. Perhaps she had risen from the deep, the spirit of some unhappy siren alone and song-less.
"This was not your path. This was never meant to be."
The words rolled across the wind and water, rolled over the form of the floating woman. A gull cried amidst the grey sky, and yet land was nowhere within sight. Still, here and there among the waves, strands of dark kelp tumbled and tangled.
"Would you like to see the path the goddesses ordained? Would you like to see your destiny?"
Zelda twitched, suddenly thrashing in the icy water. "Yes!" she shouted, swallowing drops of ocean. "Yes!"
"It will hurt." The voice became guarded, urgent. "Don't fight, you will drown!"
Sinking beneath the waves, the princess frothed the water with the violence of her motion. Her arms shot up, plunged downward, shot up again, and still she sank.
"Don't fight!" Changing again, the voice pleaded with her. "Obey me, princess!"
Abruptly Zelda stopped thrashing, and bobbed like a cork to the surface. "Impa?" she sputtered.
A laugh flowed over the water, the Sheikan accent unmistakable. "Are you truly that surprised? Did we not meet before…like this?"
"Not like this," Zelda gasped as she shivered against the numbing cold. A memory of flowers, of Hylian gardens flashed before her, only to retreat back to wind and water, cloud and wave.
Impa laughed again, her voice echoing from everywhere, and yet with no discernable source. "You've been slandering the goddesses, what did you expect?"
"Death," the princess said. She tried to wipe the salt from her face, gasping as her eyes stung with renewed fury. "The end of our suffering, of our pain, of our failure."
"You were supposed to win," Impa said. "How is it that you failed the goddesses?"
This time Zelda was the one to laugh, even amidst her choking and sputtering. "I failed the goddesses? They are a lie, Impa! As this is a lie! My friend, what have you become?"
A gust of wind sucked the remaining warmth from Zelda's skin, even as the sky darkened. "A lie?" Impa said, her voice rough and low. "A lie? Let me show you, princess, what would have been. What could have been, if only you had obeyed the gods."
There was a flash of radiant light, and the sea was gone. Instead of the embrace of the ocean, Zelda found herself wrapped in flesh and blood. She could smell Demon, recognize the muscles in his arms as they crossed in front of her. She squeezed her knees still tighter to herself and closed her eyes to sink into warmth.
"I will never leave you," the Hero whispered, his apple-sweet breath tickling her ear. "I will never abandon nor forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed."
His chest pressed against the curve of her back as his arms locked her to him. Finally, was all Zelda could think. Finally! She was content, absolutely content. In the moment what she could touch was all that mattered.
"You are mine," the Hero whispered. "I will follow wherever you go. We will be one forever."
Zelda smiled, leaning into him. "You are too bold," she managed, even as he kissed her ear.
Laughing, Demon pulled her closer. "We are married," he said, and suddenly Zelda could feel the ring upon her finger. "Are we not?"
The world exploded into light once again, and Zelda opened her eyes to a small garden in Hyrule Castle. The Hero was before her, a comical wooden sword brandished in his left hand. A similar sword, wielded by a creature only as high as his knee, threatened his left calf. The straw-haired creature shouted and laughed with the same exuberant energy as his larger opponent, and Zelda found herself laughing as well.
"I surrender!" the Hero said, hopping on one foot and holding his shin. His awkward one-legged retreat kept him barely ahead of the boy's questing sword, and it seemed that he might get another sharp rap for his trouble. "Quick!" he shouted, "go vanquish your mother!"
And suddenly he was looking at Zelda, and the boy was running towards her, and the princess tried to dash behind a hedge. Yet somehow her belly was awkwardly swollen, impeding her movement, and she realized…
That this was the future she'd been fighting for.
She engaged in that age-old dance for a few moments, dodging left when her son went left, right when he went right. She caught glimpse of his shining face over the top of the hedge; a chin cut like her father's, eyes the colour of a Hero's. She could feel tears running down her cheeks even as she laughed, for she could already sense the radiance that would destroy her paradise.
Afterwards Zelda turned from the plant to find herself on one of the higher balconies of Hyrule Castle. She looked down, hair hanging over her face, towards the bustling markets, prosperous merchants, and overflowing wagons of the summer market. Like a sun-burst it spread out through streets and squares, larger than she had ever seen it, and overhung with Hylian flags that seemed to checker the streets with golden paving.
She looked farther, and saw unfinished buildings rising from new districts. Another church, another school, more trees, a shrinking slum. This was Hyrule as only she had dreamed it.
"If only you'd believed," Impa said sadly. Zelda spun, yet saw no one, only sun-baked stone. "This could have been your destiny."
"Make it so!" Zelda begged, slipping to her knees. "Please Impa! I have given everything!"
"Not yet, you haven't" Impa said, and her voice faded as the light faded until Zelda was once again alone in the dark.
"Not quite yet."
Zelda gasped and her hands went to her throat. She traced the ugly, rope-like scar with two fingers, and screwed her eyes shut against the tears. "Impa," she breathed, and was astounded at the sound of her own voice. It was harsh, raspy. Had it been damaged by her injury?
She remembered that, of course. The King of Aratia before her, holding Demon's knife at her throat in the Temple of Time. She remembered the fear … and something else. What had Demon said right before the end? She could not yet make it out.
The moment Zelda opened her eyes she recognized the ceiling above her. She looked to her left and saw the tapestry that had once greeted her every morning, to her right she was welcomed by the great oak wardrobe that had been essential to her daily ritual. She was lying in her own bed, in her own chamber, in Hyrule Castle, one place she had never thought to see again.
Twilight streamed through the window, and nightengales sang from their nests in the eaves and arches. The sheets bunched across Zelda's legs and she found that she could not cast them off…
Indeed could not move at all.
The door opened, and Zelda's head jerked up so she could watch the woman who approached her bed. Her eyes widened, and suddenly she was incapable of making any sound, damaged voice or not. The intruder sat on the foot of her bed, and gave a grimace that Zelda had never before experienced.
"You should not have awakened," said the princess to herself. "You will ruin everything!" The two mirror images, Zelda and Zelda, studied each other across the expanse of a chamber that both called home, awash in the impossibility of the moment.
Author's Note: Some of you may think this is a cheap trick, like a crappy comic-book which has to keep inventing ways for its superheroes to come back from death. I prefer to argue that if Ganondorf himself is apparently immortal in spirit, why should the Hero and Princess be any different? The next chapter will of course explain the various W's which allowed this resurrection, and the fundamental laws of the universe which powered it, but I do not think anyone should judge it hastily. After all, this has been a story of three characters from the very beginning, and fate may yet unite them into one room.
As dumb as the title of this story is, sometimes it is apt. Really, who are the demons and who are the gods in this tale? Who, in the end, causes the most pain?