"For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
Broken and burnt, but finally cleansed, Hyrule Castle rose above the surrounding town like a shepherd among sheep. A raven called from the third-highest tower, which, incidentally, was not far above Leon's head.
"A curse upon you and all your diseased kin," the soldier muttered from his place on the causeway that connected the mid-levels of the tower to the rest of the castle. He glanced dubiously around at two season's worth of bird droppings and calculated his own odds.
"May weasels suck your eggs dry," he added, "May copious amounts of vermin infest your tender regions! May you forget how to fly!"
He brushed imaginary dust off his unfamiliar uniform, and wondered why Hylians favoured blue so highly. Without Garret or Russ the old silver-and-black would never have been the same, but he still ached for it at times…
"It's a bird, idiot," said Malon.
Leon raised an eyebrow at his companion, who had foregone the Hylian colours for a white cotton dress and a green shawl. Usually Malon didn't stray very far from the stables on the lowest level of the castle, but for some reason she'd seen fit to join him on the causeway. Occasionally she did, although Leon had given up trying to anticipate her visits.
"I haven't seen her," he replied to the unspoken question. "Or heard, or smelled her, although the Goddesses only know the last time she bathed."
"Did she eat?" Malon asked, and Leon tried hard not to be distracted by the concern in her brilliant green eyes.
"As far as I can tell," he muttered. "The trays were as empty as always."
"Do you think I should go in?" Malon repeated the old question. She'd asked it before, many times, and Leon gave the same answer he always gave: a shrug.
The woman didn't pursue the question, and the soldier gave no further response. Both looked out over the gleaming bones of Castle Town to the small patches of rebuilt dwellings. A few workers scuttled like ants across rooftops, and if one concentrated, it was almost possible to imagine the sound of hammering.
"That's a new one," Malon said, pointing.
"Goddesses, I must have missed it," said Leon irritably. "I only spend every day up here watching them work. Almost makes me want to help, instead of sitting on my arse-"
He pressed his lips together and glanced to the tower. Above them, the raven gave another croak.
At the other end of the causeway a door opened and closed as two more shapes slid through into the sunlight. One was dressed in the harsh reds of the Aratian empire, while the other bore a coat and cloak that might once have been fine. Only the Aratian bore arms.
Leon and Malon watched silently as the two men strode across the causeway. Although there were no shackles on the larger of the two, it was obvious he was under guard. The Aratian, Jest, walked a half-step behind his charge, squinting against the sudden brightness.
"We don't want him up here!" Malon called out across the bridge. "Send him back down, the quick way." She jerked her head toward the battlement, just in case Jest was confused at her meaning.
The Aratian smiled back at her, his uniform only a little more vibrant than the colour of her hair. He waited until he and his charge had closed most of the distance before replying.
"Even cockroaches need the light occasionally," he defended himself. "He just wanted to have a look. Same as last time."
Malon scowled. "It isn't right to have him near her." Slouching against a crenellation, the woman kicked out at Leon. "Order him away. You're the only one with an official title here."
The prisoner looked up into Malon's eyes. Maybe it was the memory of guilt, or maybe it was the emptiness, but Malon looked away first.
"He fought with us, at the end," said Leon. "Traitor or not, he played a part."
"His name is a curse," spat Malon. "Gabriel! All Hyrule will remember your treachery!"
For a moment all was silent except the brush of wind and the movement of the royal flag in its tower bracket. The Hylian colours hadn't been moved in so long that many had forgotten the decoration was supposed to be temporary, a symbol merely of royal presence.
"I'd rather this land began to forget," Gabriel's words were thick. "The memory of pain is already heavy enough."
"How can one forget that the world almost ended?" asked Malon incredulously. "That Hyrule was almost destroyed? How can this ever be forgotten?"
Gabriel winced, or perhaps smiled. With one hand he scratched at his neck and his eyes drifted off down to the town below. "Give it a thousand years," he said. "We are masters of forgetting, we Hylians."
Jest laughed. "So you mean you believe this nonsense about a cycle."
"Zelda did," Leon remarked.
"Now that is funny!" Jest snorted. "You Hylians and your folk-stories. Why would you worship gods who would inflict such a disaster? A sensible nation would rebel!"
"The Goddesses are good," said Malon firmly. She crossed her arms across her chest as if to dare anyone to disagree.
"Obviously," the Aratian continued, "because if they weren't good," he swept his arm out over the ravaged remains of Castletown, "just think what horrors would be unleashed! If they weren't good, what would they do? Allow evil to escape every five hundred years? Every hundred? Perhaps every day?"
Malon's lips were a firm line, but she offered no further defense. Instead it was Leon who spoke.
"They are gods," he said, "and we are only men. I am not the arbiter of the divine."
"Perhaps they are blind to our condition," ventured Gabriel. "Or perhaps they died long ago and we are stuck in their unfinished creation."
Jest grunted, unimpressed. "The Hylians prayed while we Aratians built, fought, and died. Which is why we Aratians have an empire, and Hyrule is a little, backwards kingdom."
"Had an empire," Leon corrected. "Maybe if you'd prayed a little more…"
The air cooled. "How is the Terminian succession?" asked Jest. "I hear it is somewhat short on candidates-"
"Curse you, Aratian," Leon grumbled, but the phrase held little venom. Both were soldiers, and both understood the other's pain.
It took a moment, but eventually Jest smiled. "We will rise again," he said.
No one was foolish enough to contradict the Aratian again, so the conversation ebbed as each member turned to private thoughts. Still, within moments all of them had turned to gaze at some part of the tower, as if hoping to pierce stone and masonry and catch a glimpse of the princess within.
"Has anyone spoken to her?" Gabriel murmured. He did not seem to realize he had broken the lull, and Leon felt a twinge of sympathy for the noble.
"We've not even seen her," he admitted. "The fairy Navi bids us to bring meals, and conveys the princess's desires."
"I think she means to stay in there forever," Malon scoffed. "We won, and all she can do is mourn that murderer!"
Jest winced, and Malon remembered too late that Zelda was not the only one to have lost a lover to the war. "I do not begrudge her that," the Aratian muttered.
Leon checked to make sure none of the bird droppings were fresh before leaning back against a crenellation. He studied Malon across the bridge, admiring the fire which smoldered so close to the surface.
She didn't seem as impressed by his appearance. "We defeated evil, saved the world, routed the moblins, and saved the Hylian throne from this piece of cow turd!" Malon ranted, gesturing to Gabriel. "When do the festivals begin? When are we hailed as heroes? When do things return to the way they were?"
Jest snorted. "They never will, girl," he said. "What do you think this is, a damn fairy tale?"
One Thousand Years Later.
They strode into the Temple of Time, shadowy figures against a red haze. Behind them Castle Town burned with a thousand shards of fire reaching into the smoke-darkened sky. The thunder of the conflagration battered both fugitives even as the heat tore at their faces and lungs. Yet in moments they were inside the Temple, the final refuge of Hyrule through all the ages of its history.
Link paused, wiping the sweat from his forehead with an already filthy sleeve. Adjusting the leather strap that held on his pack, he tried to move the edge away from the line it was cutting into his neck. Locks of dirty blond hair stuck to his face above blue eyes that seared with their own inner conviction.
"Are you ready, princess?" he asked his companion, the woman beside him. She was just as dirty, soiled by days of travel and battle, yet beautiful still.
Zelda smiled, yet the motion was tired and tight. "Lead me to the inner chamber," she said, and once again grasped Link's arm in her own.
The hero, glanced to where her eyes would once have looked back at him, to the rag tied across her fact that hid the bloody furrows from his gaze. He had not realized how much emotion was conveyed through the eyes, and how little he understood his blind princess without being able to see hers.
"Are you sure this is the only way?" she muttered, more breath than words.
Link clutched her to him with his one good arm. His other sleeve would have hung empty if it had not been tied messily into his pack. His arm, like Zelda's eyes, had been a casualty of their long journey.
"Our fighting days are over," he said, "I cannot hold a sword, you cannot see. We are crippled and useless, princess."
Zelda snorted, and her eyebrows rose above the rag. "You were always useless, lover boy." She paused. "How do you know they are still trapped in here?"
"The story is passed down in your family, not mine" Link replied as he led Zelda across the marble floor. "Just play the song."
He waited as the princess fumbled through the pockets of her vest until her finger closed on a familiar object. Reverently she pulled forth the Ocarina of Time and dusted it off, even as Link guided her gently through the shattered shell of what must once have been a great door. The hero's eyes studied the fractures where masonry and marble had been ripped from the walls of the temple, and wondered what great act of violence had cause such destruction.
"What if they aren't the only ones trapped there?" Zelda asked as they approached the Master Sword on its pedestal. "What if they refuse to help us?"
Link laughed, and reached awkwardly across his body to unhook his pack. "You worry too much, princess. Worrying is a privilege for people who have many options."
Zelda grimaced. "You worry too little, hero. It's part of the reason I love you…and sometimes think you're crazy."
She put the ocarina to her lips and coaxed from it a melody that fit the temple like an audible skin. It was something else her family had passed down, and as it resonated as an ancient magic resurrected itself.
"It's working!" Link called to her through the last shimmering notes. "The portal is opening! It's a clear oval, like a glass mirror behind the altar!"
Zelda grasped her skirt in her hands, and cursed, once again, the day she had lost her eyes. "Are they coming? Do you see the angel or the demon?"
Link frowned, although the princess could not see it. "There are three shapes," he admitted, "I see them getting closer! The portal-"
But his words were cut off as the three figures sprang from the shimmering air and landed together upon the marble. The chamber was silent for a moment, shocked, and then Zelda's small voice broke the paralysis.
"What do you see?" she begged. "Are we saved…
Author's Note: Thus ends Forgotten Demons, the one and only fanfic that I will ever write. Perhaps it did not end the way you expected, perhaps it did not end the way you wanted, but this is the end, for you and for me. They say the best stories are the ones that give the impression they are small parts of larger stories, as I hope this one did.
Some of you are undoubtedly going to give me flack about Zelda not ending up with Demon, or something of the sort, but I think that if you've truly been studying Demon's character, you'll understand the choices made. If you want to message me and talk about it, feel free. This story is very much influenced by my ideas about relationship and "covenant," which is an Old Testament concept that applies to relationships between God and men as well as lovers and friends.
I leave you with a quote. Writing Forgotten Demons has changed me, just as I, through the years, have changed aspects of the story. We are, to some extent, what we write, just as we write what we are.
"It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story."
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind