As they stepped into the Twilight Kingdom, Midna cast a quick look around the home she had been absent from for so long. "We're not too late," she announced excitedly. "Not all of my people are completely under Zant's spell…"
She turned around to see Link with an expression of ultimate rapture on his face, gazing at the castle with unblinking eyes. Pleased and surprised by his reaction, she said, "Yes…is it not beautiful?"
"Huh?" Link shook himself out of his trance. "Oh…I suppose it is…"
As she stared at him, puzzled, he marveled at how clear his mind was, so free of demons, how strangely agile and able he felt. I know for a fact…that I have never been here before…and I can see it through eyes that I know are my own…
Emboldened by this new feeling, he said to Midna, "Well, shall we?"
As he stepped into the anteroom of Hyrule Castle, Link stopped short and checked an exclamation.
"What is it now?" Midna demanded from his shadow.
"I've been in here before," he said, gazing around the marble room, taking in the intimate details of the golden chandeliers.
"Here we go with this again. How could you have possibly been in here?"
He looked up at the bare walls. "The tapestries aren't here."
"The ones…in that vision…"
He stood silent for a few moments more, then shook slightly as if waking from a dream. "You're right, Midna. The only way to figure out what's going on is to find Zelda."
"Welcome to my castle."
From the moment Ganondorf began to speak, Link stared openly at the manifestation of his nightmares standing before him. In the middle of the speech Link realized that Ganondorf was talking more to Midna than to him.
I recognize him…doesn't he recognize me? Is he ignoring me on purpose?
Quickly Link notched an arrow to his bow and released it. It nicked Ganondorf's right cheek and buried itself in the throne behind him. Ganondorf turned to stare at him with scarcely concealed irritation.
"Oops, sorry…" Link grinned maliciously. "I know you were in the middle of a pompous boast, but your guard was down, and I couldn't resist."
"Foolish boy," Ganondorf snorted. "I don't know what your connection is to Midna, but what makes you think you can take on one blessed with the power of the gods?" He showed the back of his hand, where the three-triangle seal glowed.
"'Boy'?" In disbelief, Link ripped off his wrist guard and displayed his own mark. "You're telling me you don't know who I am?"
"I fought someone wearing that silly outfit, once," Ganondorf's words had a detached mockery that angered Link even more. "He was the one that turned me over to the sages, who thrust me into the twilight world. But just because you dress like that person doesn't mean you can fight like him." He stepped forward. "Well, whether you are the same person or not is irrelevant. Watch as I show you my true power."
"Link…chosen hero…please lend us the last of your power!"
Link snapped out of automatic combat mode. "'Chosen hero'? Don't tell me you don't recognize me either!"
Zelda stared at him. "I…"
"No time!" Link mounted his horse and held out his hand to Zelda. "He's coming!"
He spurred Epona toward his adversary and heard Zelda speak behind him. "I'll slow him down with my light arrows. Then you must try to hit him yourself."
Link did as he was asked, but found it difficult to concentrate. The pounding of Epona's hooves echoed in his own head. Suddenly he had a revelation. "I can't kill him."
Startled, Zelda said, "You have to defeat him…if you don't, all of Hyrule…"
Link cut her off. "I know you know what's going on here. You can pretend you don't, but I know better. We've met before. We've fought him before. Tell me you don't remember!"
"If I kill him, or he kills me, then the cycle will begin again! What's the point? There has to be another way!"
He could feel her trembling behind him. "I'm on the right track, aren't I? Every time, he tries to get the whole Triforce, but he can't because he doesn't have whatever it is it takes to keep the thing together. So you got one piece, and for whatever reason, I got the other."
"How…how did you figure it out?"
"How!?" He saw Ganondorf come into his field of vision and slashed at him, then nudged Epona in the opposite direction. "A thousand years of memories, that's how! How in the name of Hyrule do we make this cursed cycle end?!"
"We can't!" Zelda cried. "It is the natural cycle…" Still trembling, she said softly, "As Summer always follows Winter, so must Good cleanse Evil from the land."
"What!" Link turned to her, livid, completely unprepared as Ganondorf rode down on them. At the last moment he dropped his sword and seized the giant man's face, and the two of them both fell from their horses.
"What kind of fool are you?" Link shouted as he wiped blood from his eyes, the top of his head cut from a rock. "Are you just going to hope things suddenly change?"
Ganondorf, thinking the words were intended for him, shouted back, his own sword drawn. "I intend to rule over both light and darkness, once I've taken the pieces of the Triforce out of your hide and hers!"
Link found his sword and stood to face his enemy. "You idiot," he snapped. "You're just a puppet yourself! Can't you see the goddesses control you and Zelda? The Triforce is a living entity! It continually seeks to become whole again! What makes you think you can have it after it split apart the last ten thousand times?"
To his surprise, Ganondorf laughed. "What, may I ask, is wrong with being immortal? Even if I never get the full power of the Triforce, I can still have fun trying!"
The two crossed swords. From the first clash Link could tell he was hopelessly outmatched. He feared Ganondorf had even stolen Midna's power along with the Triforce. He fought using every skill he could master, but it had begun to rain and his small frame kept slipping in the mud. Ganondorf, on the other hand, stood firm and dealt him blow after blow. Soon crimson drops began to mingle with the rain.
"What's the matter, boy?" Ganondorf taunted as he raised his sword over his head again and again. "Where are your brave words now? Come finish me, if you can!"
Link rolled away from him and stood on one knee. A spasm of coughing overcame him and when he brought his hand away from his face he could see it spattered with blood. I don't have much time…need to try something else…
"Zelda!" he called as he dodged another sweeping slice. "Please…you're the only one who really knows how the Triforce works! You've got to tell me what to do to break the cycle!"
"Hah!" Ganondorf struck him across the head with the flat of his sword, now just playing with his prey. "If you really are the reincarnation of the ancient hero, and there was a way to end it, don't you think she would have told you by now?"
Dazed, Link dodged Ganondorf's blows, trying to put as much distance between the two of them as possible. "Zelda, please! Don't you remember? I know, it's hard, it hurts, but please try to remember me!"
Atop Epona, Zelda trembled, not yet ready to open the doors to the dark places of her mind. She had been taught at a very young age that she had to respect the cycle the goddesses had created. She did not want to relive those painful memories of past lives. She could only advise, not take part in the struggle.
And yet, despite all her royal training, something within her strained to rebel…
"It can only be united if each individual willingly gives up his piece."
Link gritted his teeth. "Then that's just what he'll have to do."
Ganondorf's laughter drowned out even the thunderclaps. "Give it up, boy, give it up?!" He flicked his sword down, casually to his side, and stepped toward Link. "Willingly hand over ultimate power and immortality?"
Struggling to his feet, Link said softly but clearly, "If you don't give it up willingly, then I'll have to make you."
"Is this a joke?" Ganondorf's eyes shone with mirth and disbelief. "You're half-dead already. Just what, exactly, do you plan to do?"
In a few quick steps he walked up to the struggling hero and with a flash of his hand clutched his throat. "You'd better do something, then, before I snap your neck."
His eyes widened as Link flashed a grim smile, then grabbed Ganondorf's wrist with his own hand, both marked with the three-triangle seal.
"What…?" Ganondorf muttered, then emitted a piercing scream.
"Do you remember me now?" Link hissed as he concentrated every last bit of his energy on forcing the memories in the dark places of his mind and focused them, through his hand, onto Ganondorf's wrist. "Ganon, Ganonodorf, whatever incarnation, do you remember me cutting down each one?"
Howling, Ganondorf struggled to free himself from the haunting images of his own past defeats, but found himself rooted to the ground.
Suddenly, he checked himself, and focused again on reality. He saw his adversary's eyes widen as he forced back the torrent of nightmares, this time focusing on a different set.
"That's a nice trick!" he exclaimed as Link cried out in pain. "Apparently, though, you didn't win every fight. And you get much too attached to other people. I've never made that mistake. But when you're confronted with the ghosts of your past…"
Zelda watched, frozen and numb, as Link struggled in vain. "Are you just going to hope things suddenly change? What kind of fool are you?"
"The past cannot be changed," she said to no one but herself, slowly walking toward the pair locked in mental combat. "Old actions cannot be undone…old mistakes cannot be corrected…old friends cannot be resurrected…" Tears rolled down her cheeks, mixing with the rain. "But…we are…masters of our own destiny…"
She reached forward and brought her own hand down on the wrists of the two fighters, throwing open the doors of her mind, crying havoc to let slip the dogs of war.
Link's mind was suddenly flooded with images of himself through another's eyes, mixed with a deep aching loneliness and a bizarre form of déjà vu that comes from seeing an old friend's face in his child's. He turned his head to see Zelda beside him, watching. "I'm sorry," he heard her voice in his mind. "I did not want to recognize you…to know you…because each time I knew it would end again…"
Both heard Ganondorf's muddy chuckle above them. "What a foolish thing unrequited love is. Did you really plan to defeat me by baring your weakness, Princess?"
When Zelda spoke, her voice was removed of its dreamy quality and was hard as stone. "You forget that I, too, have witnessed all of your defeats."
Ganondorf shrieked as the two seared their memories in his brain, hot as fire and sharp as swords. He struggled, fought back using both his mind and his might, but the onslaught engulfed and paralyzed him. "Make it stop!" he cried out. "Make it stop!"
The world evaporated in a brilliant flash of white. Ganondorf opened his eyes slowly, then stared around him.
"Eh?" He appeared to be in the atrium of Hyrule Castle. "Didn't I just blast this place out of existence?"
Taking a second look, he realized it couldn't be the same place. It had the same marble columns and golden chandeliers; but an array of tapestries were hung about the wall, and the three-goddess statue, complete with all three pieces of the Triforce, stood in the middle.
"Well!" he exclaimed with pleasant surprise, "I don't know what happened, but it couldn't be a better outcome!" He stepped toward the statue.
Link appeared before him, sword drawn.
"I'm growing tired of this, boy," Ganandorf growled. "I don't know what you two did, but it's time to end this little game." He crossed swords a few times, then made a false pass, and buried his sword into Link's chest.
"Now," he said with a wide grin, "Are you finally going to die properly?"
The words died in his throat as Link not only didn't fall, but stood straight and wrenched the sword from Ganondorf's hand, then pulled out of his own chest.
"How…?" Ganondorf gasped, completely floored.
"What's the matter?" Link tossed his own sword to Zelda beside him and steadied Ganondorf's in his hand. "Are you so delusional that you can't tell the difference between dreaming and reality?"
Using his grappling hook, Link launched himself and Zelda up upon either side of the statue.
"This world is not real," Zelda explained calmly as Ganondorf stood with his mouth open. "Or rather…it is whatever one wants it to be. We three gave up our claim to the pieces of the Triforce, and it finally has been united, along with our consciousnesses." She gestured to the tapestries hung all around them.
"I think," Link said slowly to Zelda as he hefted the large sword in his hand, "That the goddesses made a mistake in making this thing so easily acquirable. Hyrule would fare better, don't you think, if it were split into thousands of pieces?"
"You idiot," Ganondorf spluttered. "What'll that do to us?"
"That has not been revealed to me," Zelda said simply. "We could be freed of its blessing and curse…or our souls could be eradicated for all eternity."
His bloodshot eyes widening, Ganondorf exclaimed, "Are you insane?!" He turned to Link, in the unaccustomed position of trying to talk someone away from certain doom. "Don't you like being the perpetual hero, the adventurer? Thousands of people would want to be you, whether they have the courage or not! You're just going to give it all up?!"
Link's bleak smile froze him to the floor. "You mean, sacrificing oneself for the common good? Isn't that what the hero does?"
"You fool… you idiot…there has to be another way…"
"We've already tried," Link said simply. "This is the only way to break the cycle."
"This is the natural order!" Ganondorf howled. "Good versus evil! Light versus dark! How do you know that you won't blast the whole world out of existence?"
Link's resolve shone in his eyes. "I am no longer a puppet for the entertainment of the goddesses. I am a sentient being." He hefted the sword. "With this, I shall cut the strings and stand on my own feet." He turned to Zelda. "Are you ready?"
She nodded. "You know there's no going back."
He chuckled in grim humor. "Technically, we weren't supposed to come back the other thousand times this happened."
Ganondorf looked wildly around. His gaze fell upon a suit of armor in a far corner and he ran toward it, ripping its spear from its hands and running back to the statue.
"Ready?" Zelda asked.
They both leaped into the air and stabbed downward. The room exploded in a brilliant light a thousand times brighter than that of the sun.
Ganondorf awoke with a snort, blowing mud out of his nose and coughing up dirt. As he struggled to breathe he hefted himself up on his hands and knees, his palms sinking into the rain-soaked ground beneath him.
After a brief coughing fit, he glanced around him to see that he was back in Hyrule Field, the prone forms of his two adversaries nearby, the rain reduced to a drizzle and the ragged clouds hanging overhead. He stood unsteadily on his feet, and examined the back of his hand.
The three-triangle seal was gone.
He stared in disbelief for several moments, then was jerked out of his trance by muffled sounds coming from his side. He turned to see Link struggling to his knees in the mud.
With a roar of rage, Ganondorf trampled through the mud and seized his opponent by the neck, hefting him up at eye level. "Everything! You took everything from me!" he howled at his weakly flailing opponent. "Now I'm going to take what little you have left!"
But even as he tightened his grip, he emitted a small yelp of pain and surprise, and Link fell back in the mud, coughing and sputtering. Half-blinded by the mud, Link floundered in the mud for a weapon, any weapon, his sword lost in the Triforce's shattering.
"You talk too much." The voice was impossibly familiar. Link rose and wiped the mud from his eyes. He stood frozen, seeing Ganondorf floating in the air, struggling to free some invisible force from around his own neck. Standing in front of him was a young woman in of a race Link had never seen before, dressed in brilliant blue-black robes, her bright red hair arranged like a pendant over her shoulders and on her chest.
"Now listen carefully," the woman said, as Link stared and Zelda pulled herself from the ground. "It's time for me to tell a story. One I know none of you have heard before. Well…I think my fellow Princess has."
"This land of Hyrule is only a small speck of the world the gods made, and the goddesses of the Triforce are themselves only minor deities, made from another. When the first woman, Izanami, gave birth to the Fire God and subsequently died, the first man, Izanagi, was so angry he attempted to kill the Fire God. But he only succeeded in creating a thousand more smaller gods, three of which were your goddesses.
"So distraught was Izanagi by his wife's death that he journeyed to the underworld, Yomi, the land of shadows and spirits. It is a restful place of twilight, filled with melancholy but also reflection.
He found her and begged her to return. She replied that she had already eaten the food of the underworld and therefore could never return to the world of the living. He begged her to reconsider. She replied that she must think of a way to do so.
"He waited for months in that twilight world, then finally gave up and lit his comb to go looking for her in the darkness. He found her, but was instantly repulsed, for in the light she was nothing more than a maggot-eaten corpse.
"Screaming, he ran back to the world of the living. Izanami pursued him, furious that her mere appearance would drive him away. He burst back into the world of light and sealed the entrance to Yomi with a giant boulder. Izanami shouted that if he left her, she would bring about the deaths of a thousand people every day. Izanagi shouted back that if she killed a thousand, he would create even more."
The woman paused, as Ganondorf kicked the air. As she spoke again, her voice lost a little of its power and melancholy began to seep in.
"As the world and the number of people in it grew larger, Izanami, Queen of Yomi, began selecting regents to oversee certain areas. Each regent escorted the newly dead into Yomi and looked after them. In time our world mirrored that of the light, and the two became essential counterweights. The leaders of the light look after the living; the leaders of the twilight look after the dead, and the two never mix.
"Families and lineages we have too in Yomi, and I was the descendant of the three Hylians who were sent to Yomi after they tried to steal the lesser deities' precious bauble. Izanami herself appointed me as the Twilight Princess of Hyrule."
Suddenly Midna – for it had to be Midna – pulled her lips back in a snarl. "And then you came, with your stolen power, causing chaos in my kingdom through Zant. I was caught off guard and he managed to steal my kingdom from me.
"Izanami was furious with me. 'What good are you,' she said, 'if you let such a fool disrupt the balance between the two worlds? You must go to the land of the living and set things right. Find the two that have within them my childrens' power and fix what has been broken.'"
Midna turned to the pair standing in the mud and smiled. "I must apologize…my view of the people of the light was so dim I never thought you would be able to assist me, let alone restore the works of the minor gods."
Turning back to Ganondorf, she said, "Now my powers have been restored with the help of these two, and I must return to my duties."
"No," Ganondorf spluttered, flailing wildly. "Don't kill me! I'll do anything… anything you want."
Impassive, Midna said, "You have no choice. You must follow the same path as all of those who enter the twilight."
She made a tiny flip of her hand, a small, insignificant gesture, and suddenly Ganondorf's great body went limp. She set it down gently back into the mud and turned to Link.
"Say something," she told him, smiling. "Am I so beautiful that you've lost your ability to speak?"
"So this is the great boulder Izanami used to seal the entrance to Yomi?" Link asked in disbelief, as they stood next to the Twilight Mirror facing the black stone.
"It is merely a sliver," Zelda said. "How the sages got hold of such a thing, I never knew."
"But it still has magic properties," Midna explained. "That is why when the Twilight Mirror's light is reflected upon it, it opens the door to Yomi."
She turned to Link. "Now do you understand why this thing must be destroyed? The lesser deities love to cause trouble…they create things just for their own amusement. The mirror was created to facilitate that. You and Ganondorf were able to travel between the two worlds while you had the goddesses' power within you. The rift between the two worlds has caused so many problems for both your people and mine."
Link shifted uneasily. "I suppose there's no point in trying to pay a visit."
Midna smiled sadly. "Well, you could, but then I would have to offer you something to eat, and then you would be stuck there before your time. We will meet again…eventually…all too soon." She activated the mirror, and stepped up onto the stairway. "As it is…I wish…I could remember you as you are now…"
She brushed a single tear from her face, and with it destroyed the mirror.
Link and Zelda stood silently for several minutes, as if in mourning. Finally, Link turned to Zelda as something occurred to him. "I don't remember much of my past lives now…"
She nodded. "You are no longer connected to the Triforce, but the memories of the memories have been etched into your mind."
"Right…but I don't ever remember being in Yomi, even though I must have died a thousand times. In fact, when I was there, I distinctly felt awake because I knew with certainty that I hadn't been there before."
"You never did go to Yomi." She turned to him. "None of us three did…until Midna sent Ganondorf's spirit to the twilight world. When our past lived ended, we were simply reincarnated as someone else. The goddesses' power could not be destroyed with your death…since it and our souls were entwined within that power, they continued to endure."
"So…once our lives end here…we really will die."
She nodded. "Are you afraid?"
He shook his head. "No…not after the madness I endured through all those past lives. And I'll get to see Midna again…"
He looked up at the starry sky. "Well…what to do now? I guess now that my life does have an end, I have to make the most of it…but how do you follow up something like this?"
Zelda smiled. "You mean, saving all of Hyrule and resetting the balance of the universe?"
"Yeah…kind of hard to top that, isn't it?"
"There is much to the world outside of Hyrule. Midna would be disappointed in you if you didn't explore all of it."
He smiled in spite of himself. "I supposed you're right…" Turning to her, he asked. "What are you going to do? Just go back to the castle and…um…do princess stuff?"
"My duty is to the people of Hyrule, yes," she said calmly. He looked up, startled, as she took his hand. "But you are always welcome in the royal court, chosen hero."
"We've known each other for a thousand years," he said, grinning. "Don't you think we can finally be on a first-name basis?"
She laughed, for the first time in many years. "Yes, I suppose so…but it still seems strange."
"You know, I don't think we were ever properly introduced." He freed his hand and then offered it again. "Hi. I'm Link. Pleased to meet you."
She took it. "I am Princess Zelda of Hyrule…but you may call me Zelda."
He laughed, shaking her hand hard. "Now that's more like it!"