Well, this is it. We come to the end of a long journey, and while I feel like I failed in many ways, the important things are: the story has been told, and it doesn't suck. (I hope. :-)
Oh, and we have a winner for my fanart contest – sort of! *g* I found this great TP Zelink kiss on deviant art – "Commission-Zelink TP-sketch" by eERIechan – that captures the rescue-kiss perfectly. She requested Nabooru or Impa, and after THREE YEARS (sorry, eERIechan!) I've finally worked Impa in. Sort of. :-)
Anyway, I hope I've done my fans justice with this climax. Two final notes: 1) I am NEVER posting chapters of an unfinished fanfic again! Never again! And 2) if you can't get enough of the Parallel Legends universe, there might be a third story coming. I'm taking November "off" to write my own stuff, but there's one more Zelda fic in me, and if it wants out badly enough and you folks actually want to see it, well, who knows?
For now, though, enjoy the show.
Chapter Four: Heart of Darkness
Link traded sword-strokes with his Shadow, the fell creature moving as swiftly and fluidly as ever. Around them, Sheik and Zelda danced amongst Stalfos, pounding them into piles of bone or blasting them to shards respectively. On an altar in the heart of the twisted temple, Young Link thrashed in chains, desperately trying to free himself. "Hang on, Link," Sheik called out, using a Stalfos' head as a vaulting point to leap past several others. One Shadow-shift later, she was on the altar beside him, using a Sheikah needle to pick the lock on his left wrist. "Zelda, keep them off us," she said calmly.
Zelda teleported to Sheik's side, knocking the undead soldiers away with her magically-enhanced fists and feet. "Link?" she asked.
"Still working on it," Link grunted between sword blows.
Shadow Link smiled cruelly at him. "You're losing, Hero," he whispered, his voice the rustle of cold wind through dry, dead leaves. "Once I'm done with you, I'll kill your Zelda and claim Sheik for myself. The brat will be my flesh, the princess, the fist I will grip Hyrule in."
"You talk too much," Link shot back, unleashing his Spin Attack. It shattered two approaching Stalfos and drove Shadow Link back a pace.
The dark figure regarded the Hero more carefully, smile already vanished. "That sword. You and that searing sword. It's time to–"
Link leaped at his Shadow – or perhaps his young counterpart's, he never knew – and locked swords with him. "DIN'S FIRE!" he roared. Shadow Link screamed while the fierce flames tore into wounds the Master Sword had already opened.
The Hero fell to one knee, but the foul creature was gone. "Told you...you talk too much," he said, breathing heavily. His own wounds, long ignored, insisted on recognition then.
"Wrong," Shadow Link howled, rising from Link's literal shadow, sword raised to plunge into the Hero's back. A familiar battle-cry, higher pitched but very much Link's, interrupted the Shadow's attack. Link turned to see the monster staring at a golden blade sticking out the front of his chest.
"Back!" Young Link shouted at his Shadow. "Go back where you came from, monster!" Again, the villain screamed; again, he vanished. This time, he did not return. Young Link landed lightly on his feet, brandishing his golden blade and Terminan shield menacingly, but there was no need. The Stalfos all collapsed, the magic animating them simply fading away. Sheik leaped to his side and hugged the lad, who squirmed in embarrassment.
"Thanks," Link said simply, standing slowly. Young Link nodded in mid-squirm, not saying anything in response, but the older Hero knew that the boy was thanking him in kind all the same. He's just too busy trying to escape, the Hero of Time mused. He drank a blue potion thirstily, feeling better almost immediately.
Zelda appeared by Link's side and smiled fondly. "All's well that ends well?"
Link nodded, Navi flying back under his hat in relief. "Indeed." #I'm especially glad that you and...Sheik...worked out your differences.#
Zelda nodded back. #I think it helps her accept what happened, that she and I are so different,# the princess explained. #Our worlds are so different.#
The Hero returned his attention to their counterparts. Sheik was no longer hugging Young Link, much to the latter's relief. She was examining him instead, down on one knee, looking him over physically and magically. #I just hope that their world can heal its wounds.# He smiled at Zelda. #It was my world once, after all.#
His princess hugged him. Link decidedly did not squirm. #It still is, for a part of you. I can accept that now,# she replied. #Indeed, I hope that in a sense, it always will be.# For a long moment, the Hero regarded Sheik and Young Link, a feeling of family long-lost rediscovered filling him. At last, he nodded. #Good. Let's go home,# Zelda sent. #Leave adventuring for another time.#
They both grinned at that.
"Rock, get those engines working!" Samus shouted down. The rapidly fading sound of metal feet on metal trailed off towards the stern.
Zelda stared, transfixed, at the horror before them. This makes Zant's invasion look like a skirmish by comparison, she thought, pulled between terror and numbness.
"Why?" she heard Link ask. That brought the princess out of her reverie, and she turned. Her Hero was facing Ganondorf, for some reason, eyes boring into the former King of Evil as if he could learn some truth from inside him.
Strangely, the Gerudo smiled. "That," he drawled, "is a rather broad question, Hero. Perhaps you could narrow the subject somewhat."
Link pointed at Death Mountain. "Her. You wanted what you believed was your birthright, if the stories portray you truly. Ganon is driven by love twisted by hate – tragic, but understandable. Ridley is greed. Sigma is fear and bigotry. The Koopa King is obsession masquerading as love. Medusa...I don't understand her. How could you follow her? Why does she hate us? What does she want?"
"Her ambition is not limited to one dimension, Hero," Ganondorf said quietly, glancing away. "Medusa wants...everything."
Zelda strode forward, not entirely sure what drove her. "No," she replied gently. "Medusa is...empty. She has lost that spark of empathy, of understanding others. Now, all Medusa can share is that emptiness, and she means to inflict it on the reality that she blames for her loss."
The Hero of Light frowned, then turned, his expression more grim than ever. "Samus," he said simply.
"Rock's working on it!" the Hunter shouted back from below. Zelda was mildly surprised – and a touch hopeful. That sounded a bit defensive, she thought even as Link nodded. Perhaps she and the 'Mega Man' have shared more than just adventure.
"Midna? Ganondorf?" he continued evenly.
The imp snorted. "The Halberd's a little big for me," she retorted. "Maybe the big shot King of Evil here can do something."
Ganondorf paused for a moment, then nodded. "I cannot move this vessel alone, not now," he said, and Zelda activated her mystical senses immediately in response, "but perhaps I can aid you, that we might provide the power together." He pointed his arm at Midna, fingers outstretched. Mana rippled. Zelda gasped.
He's dying, she realized. Ganondorf had woven a knot of mana, not unlike one of Luigi's Smash Balls, to sustain himself. It was slowly unraveling, though, and it seemed clear that he wasn't going to last more than a few hours. His condition was also affecting his sorcery; after several seconds' effort, he exhaled explosively and dropped his arm in frustration.
Strangely, Midna grinned. "Can't hack it, huh? Serves you right." Dalkin, standing by her side, chuckled in spite of himself.
"You will regret my ebbing strength," Ganondorf said with a scowl, folding his arms imperiously, "when the battle begins. Remember, we are allies now, against a common foe."
Dalkin's humor vanished in a whirlwind of protective fury. "Sure, until we defeat Medusa," he shot back harshly, hand flying to his sword hilt. "I'm watching you, King of Evil. Remember that."
Even more strange than Midna's grin was Ganondorf's quiet laugh, as dry and harsh as the desert that spawned him. "Worry about the future when it comes, Dark Hero. If we live to see the sunrise, then we can turn on one another." Zelda's eyes flickered to the west in spite of herself. It was, inevitably, twilight. He'll be lucky to survive past midnight. For some reason, in spite of all the pain and misery Ganondorf had caused, the thought saddened her.
With a lurch, the mighty ship came to life, rockets flaring and sending them flying towards their fate. Link and Zelda stumbled into each other, holding on to one another for support.
Samus leaped up with the help of her Screw Attack, landing atop the roof handily. She smiled calmly at them, hand resting lightly on her cannon. "He did it. You should get below." The Hunter spared a brief glance for Ganondorf, then returned her attention to the Hylians. "You okay?"
The princess nodded. "I thought he said it would take them hours."
"He knew where to go." Samus gestured at the hatch. "We have to make preparations. This ride's going to get a lot rougher before it smooths out."
Ike stared at Death Mountain, feeling the calm that came from having passed through fear to the certainty of doom. Behind him, Hyrule Castle seemed to glow golden in the sunset's light. "Soren?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"We're ready," Soren replied, his voice as cool and reserved as he'd ever heard it. "For the transportation spell, of course," he added, threading a droll gallow's humor into his tone. "This army isn't ready for a pack of Bulblins, let alone...that." He gestured at the rain of horror falling unnaturally slowly around the great volcano.
"It will be," Ike replied firmly. "It must be." He gripped his sword and strode towards the gathered soldiers. Gorons, Zoras, Hylians and his own beorcs had mustered, all of them trying to look casual when they were clearly terrified. Even the Gorons looked frightened, and Ike would have bet they'd watch the Evil Realm open up atop them and laugh. Then again, the Evil Realm has opened up on top of us.
Soren snorted. "Well, if anyone can turn this mob into an army..." he shrugged and opened his spellbook. "We'll have to land in Kakariko. To make this spell work I have to piggy-back off those portals the Twili left behind."
"That's good," Ike replied. "The spring will make a good aid station." He gripped his hilt tightly. A gentle breeze rippled through the grass. The Emblem Lord tried not to think about how many good men and women were about to die. He approached them, looking confident, calm and self-assured, and feeling none of those things. "Warriors of Hyrule! Invasion is upon us, yet we are ready! Stand firm, and we shall all see the dawn together!" Their cheer was ragged, but sincere.
"Close enough," Ike whispered to Soren. The diminutive sorcerer nodded. The Emblem Lord dearly wished to hold Soren before they left, but dared not show weakness to an already skittish army. "Go."
Soren winked at him instead, and Ike's heart lightened even as his brilliant strategist began the ritual. He expected something to happen, the invasion to reach the castle before it was complete, some sabotage or horror to strike, but the spell went off without a hitch, and they were all pulled into the sky and dropped unceremoniously in and around the spring. The Zoras appeared behind them and the Gorons ahead. Kakarikans were already fighting and fleeing, some screaming in terror as the nightmare they thought had ended was reborn above them. The shaman used strange magics to repel the beasts and Primid golems, while one of the merchants threw bombs by the armful into the legions.
Ike drew his sword. "Charge!" he roared, and they did. The Gorons with him rolled through the invaders, joining with their local brethren to crush the monsters with ease. The Zoras lent bursts of magical force to the effort, while Hylians and his own folk laid into the enemy with sword and bow. They soon fought their way to the path up Death Mountain.
"Soren, form a line here. I want to ensure no more of those creatures endanger the civilians." The mage scowled but obeyed. Ike prayed that he was making a tactically sound decision and not an emotional one. "Pardon me, sir," he said to the approaching shaman, "are you in charge here?"
"I am Renado, general," the older man replied, bowing. "I think 'in charge' would be a bit of a stretch, but until a new mayor is chosen, Kakariko seeks my guidance."
"Close enough," Ike said, already feeling weary. "I need you to separate the civilians into two groups: those able to bring supplies to the rearguard, and everyone else. The second group is to retreat to the most defensible location in the village. The first is to be divided evenly between the bomb shop and the general store, to deliver supplies to my men."
Renado bowed again. "It will be done."
"Thank you," Ike said, bowing back a bit clumsily.
The bomb-thrower waddled forward, looking irritated. "Now just a minute! How am I –"
"Barnes," Renado said harshly. "Do...not." The smaller man's eyes widened and his jaw fell. Barnes' welding mask dropped over his face with a thump.
A toddler in Ordon garb waddled up to them. "You needn't worry, general," he said curtly, though with a strength that belied his size and apparent age. Ike blinked. "I'll make sure your men get the supplies they need."
"Thank you, Malo," Renado said, sounding surprised.
Ike nodded and strode towards the path up Death Mountain. He gestured, and two squads, one of Gorons and one of beorcs led by Titania, fell in beside and behind him. Farther back, he heard Barnes whisper to Malo, "What's gotten into you? I've never seen you give anyone anything without counting to the last rupee first!"
"Link's a good man, but he used to be a bad credit risk," Malo replied evenly. "I am not particularly worried about Princess Zelda avoiding proper compensation. Are you?"
Ignoring the two after conceding the absurdity a sigh, he marched forward. The rest of the military set up in the bottleneck behind him. The invaders won't get far, Ike thought, but we won't win this just playing defense. Primids poured down the path towards them, moving like a river of molasses. He drew his sword with a flourish and held it up. When the Primids were close enough, he plunged it into the ground, consuming them all in fire. He pulled it out and pointed at the next wave. "Attack!"
The war had begun.
Light-Link spared a glance for his younger counterpart. Wind-Link looked calm. Somehow, the Hero of Light was sure that Wind-Link's serenity was only somewhat more real than his own, but it was admirable all the same. Then he returned his attention to the bridge windows, the rapidly approaching volcano dominating the view. Light-Link gripped the hilt of the Master Sword, hoping the Power to Repel Evil would be some good against the nightmare before them. Midna forced the broken wheel to turn with her telekinesis, guided in her effort by the Hunter. They've become an impressive team, the Hero of Light decided.
The shadow loomed large over the mountain, but the "rain" of monsters had finally thinned out. Hordes of foes still teemed around the ancestral Goron home, but their numbers appeared to be stabilizing. Ganon had already taken charge of the vanguard, while Ridley and Sigma appeared to be reinforcing their control over the conquered terrain. Towering above them all was the dark goddess Medusa, both beautiful and hideous, her arms longer than the Halberd itself. The serpents that replaced her hair writhed hungrily, crimson eyes glowing above fangs which dripped with luminous green venom. A golden pendant of some sort hung around her neck, a strange, eldritch glow surrounding it.
With a suddenness that shattered the air, the Halberd's cannons opened fire. Death Mountain turned into a conflagration that had nothing to do with the volatile lava within. The door opened behind them a few seconds later; Link turned to see Rock run back in, grinning, a spherical knight of sorts beside him. His helmet was identical to the one adorning the Halberd. "I found some help," Mega Man said simply.
"Thieves," the diminutive warrior rumbled. He and Ganondorf exchanged a cold glare, then ignored one another, the Gerudo watching the approaching mountain impassively, the knight joining Midna and Samus.
The gunfire quickly drew Medusa's attention. She glared hatefully, then pointed at the ship. Half a dozen serpents flew from her scalp, snaking through the air at the mighty ship. Before any of the heroes could do more than take two steps, the snakes struck the Halberd, encircling the ship. They squeezed and bit, the venom sizzling loudly enough to be heard over the roar of the engines. The hull groaned and buckled, and the deck lurched, forcing everyone to struggle to stay upright.
"Abandon ship!" Zelda commanded. She, Midna and Ganondorf all gestured, and their combined psychic might surrounded the heroes in a field of raw force. Samus and Rock shot the hatch away, and the trio pulled the entire team out of the bridge and dropped onto the edge of the mountain spring that was the heart of Goron society. Above them, the Halberd crashed into the mountainside, destroying dozens more of their foes. The Hero of Light spared it a brief moment of consideration. It looks salvageable, he decided. The damage looked severe, but not unsurmountable – at least, if there was anyone left alive to repair the ship.
Then the horde attacked them from all sides, and there was nothing to do but stand and fight. The enemy was everywhere, their numbers uncountable, but they were as weak and mindless as ever. Together, the heroes formed a circle and easily pushed them back.
"Look," Marth shouted over the din, pointing down the mountain with his sword. A Primid apparently believed that was an opening an attacked. The legendary monarch cut it in half with a casual swipe. "Our foes are divided. Reinforcements must be working their way up the mountain."
"That's'a not all!" Luigi cried out, pointing up at the caldera. There, A titanic, monstrously mutated Bowser and his huge army fought a short, bouncing red-and-blue figure who led several others. "The other Smashers! They're here!"
Wind-Link became a whirling golden buzzsaw, tearing through entire squads of minions. When he came to a stop, eyes whirling dizzily, he stumbled back. Tetra leaped in front of him, protecting the Hero of Winds from the rush of foes charging at him. "It still looks like...whoa...we've got to deal with Ganon...and Medusa." He clutched his head briefly, then waded into the fray again, fighting back to back with the pirate captain. "Hey, is that Dragmire the pirate, or Ganon the demon? He doesn't feel that different."
Ganondorf swung his blades, and waves of power burst from him. More than thirty Primids, space pirates and koopas went flying. (Moblins refused to go near the Gerudo King.) "He is – or was – Dragmire. While he has drawn on the power and likeness of the foul one, he is the same foe you have fought before." Together, the group started moving slowly up the mountain. "My counterpart has given in to his madness."
"That's a problem," Light-Link replied, his voice revealing his grim feeling. "If the real Ganon remains for Medusa to summon, we could be walking into a trap."
"You have already walked into the trap, fool," the figure of swirling Light said derisively, casting a mocking gaze on them all as he floated down towards them. Violet wings that looked like they had been drawn into existence through a sorcerous calligraphy extended from his back, though they did not flap to keep him aloft. Behind the terrible angel, the Dark Clone army had gathered. Shadow Link, Dark Samus, Blood Falcon...they all looked down from their perch near the caldera and leered at the heroes. "I am Taboo. I am Pit's...counterpart."
Pit glared back at Taboo defiantly. "You will not stop me from ending Medusa's invasion." His Light arrows pierced Primid after Primid, shattering them into motes of shadow. "I bear the blessing of mighty Parthena, and all the power your dark matron can muster is no match for that."
Taboo laughed. "I am not some mere replica, weakling – no Pit through the glass darkly, I. Holy Medusa created me to be superior to you in every way. Behold!" The fallen angel grew until he filled the sky, and his head crushed most of remaining Primid army. Beams of light shot from his eyes, searing Ganondorf and scattering the others. The Gerudo hissed in pain but reached Light-Link's side, clutching a long burn scarring his chest. Taboo shrank back to his still-impressive height. "As for your precious Goddess of Light..." he smirked and gestured upward at the pendant Medusa wore. Pit looked up and gasped in horror.
Light-Link, feeling his stomach fill with lead, donned the Hawkeye mask and followed the angel's gaze. Chained to the golden ring was Parthena Herself, spreadeagled within it as an adornment. Even to his novice mage's senses, it was clear that Medusa was drawing power from her ancient foe. "My power," Taboo continued relentlessly, "is so far beyond yours as to be incomparable. You, angel, will die." The angel of befouled Light turned his gaze to the others, taking them in with a confidence the Hero hoped was undeserved. "The rest of you may yield, however. Medusa might yet spare your miserable lives."
Both Links brandished their Master Swords defiantly. The others reacted in similar fashion, though Light-Link suspected that Snake's odd gesture was vulgar. Taboo laughed even more mockingly than before. "So be it. Her Holiness salutes your courage, though not your wisdom. KILL THEM!" Taboo roared, and the Dark Clones ran down at them, howling and roaring with a ferocity matched only by their hatred. Dark Samus led them, but Shadow Link was not far behind.
Link's lips tightened when he saw a replica he hadn't expected – a Shadow Ganondorf on a demonic horse, wielding a spear-like trident. #Phantom Ganon,# Navi corrected mentally. #Watch him, he's a dangerous one.#
The Hero of Light nodded, sliding smoothly into a ready stance. Each of them was choosing a foe, though few of them were as obvious as attacking the heroes that had inspired their creations. Dark Samus was bearing down on Rock, the Mega Man, while a black-armored figure much like Rock was charging at the Hunter. A red and black duplicate of Sonic was zooming towards Luigi. A copy of Snake ran towards Captain Falcon above them.
Of more immediate concern were Shadow Link and Phantom Ganon, who were charging down at them. Ganon himself strode behind them, the ground shaking with each step he took. #Hm. Navi, Zel, is Phantom Ganon heading towards me?#
#That is how it appears,# Zelda agreed, #though we should be ready for some deception.# Navi signaled her concurrence by racing over to the horseman, glowing bright yellow above his head. Link nodded and braced himself. If I leap and spin just as the spear hits my shield, he thought, eyes fixed on the murderous figure bearing down on him, that should give me the advantage. I may even be able to knock him off his steed.
Just before impact, Phantom Ganon shed several far more ghostly figures, all resembling the duplicates Ganondorf had summoned when they'd fought on Eldin Field. They flew at several others, including Zelda, while the primary Phantom remained focused on the Hero. Link forced himself not to be distracted, leaping and spinning on cue. His undead foe howled in pain at the Master Sword's touch and flew off his horse on impact. #Zel?#
#I'm fine,# she replied, tossing balls of Din's Fire at her foe. #Stop him.# Link nodded and strode towards the false Ganon, spinning the sword once as he approached.
Phantom Ganon glared at the Hero of Light. "It has been a long time, Chosen One," he intoned dramatically. He floated into the air and spun his trident, a sphere of burning power forming around its tip. "I have been looking forward to this for a long time. A very long time."
Link approached his enemy warily, saying nothing, loping forward while circling the creature. #Navi?# he sent.
A strange but familiar feeling wove through his thoughts. The fairy's mind felt crystalline and incisive where it had been fluid and intuitive. #Phantom Ganon: this spirit from beyond is more than he seems. Turn his own evil against him!# Link nodded. I've played this game before. He closed the distance with more confidence.
The sight of his inhuman counterpart closing with Ganondorf gave Link pause. The erstwhile King of Evil hefted his twin blades, smiled his cool, imperious smile, and beckoned Shadow Link to come at him with a single wave of a blade. The doppelganger obliged with a madman's smile and a rage-filled battlecry. For a moment, the Hero hesitated. Nothing left to do, he decided, but see this through to the end. Refusing to consider just how final the end might be, he darted at Phantom Ganon and slashed. The villain literally flew back, then fired the blast of power at the Hero. Link parried it with the Master Sword, and their eternal duel began anew.
Ganondorf watched impassively while Shadow Link loped towards him. It was remarkable to watch all that was similar – and different – between the Hero and his Shadow, revealed in body language. The economy of motion that hid so much skill and power, the seemingly fearless demeanor that could not be faked by those who let fear grip their hearts, the unshakeable focus in what passed for the creature's eyes, the ancient warrior remembered them all from his mighty foe. It was the bloodlust in its eyes that accompanied the focus, the gleaming smile with a knife's edge, and the anticipation that made the inky sword quaver in the construct's hand, that reflected its opposition to all the Hero held dear.
"You never beat the Hero, Ganon-dork," Shadow Link said, chuckling through a sneer. "He kicked your sorry can, and he played nice. What makes you think you can beat me?"
The Gerudo King laughed. "You? The Hero barely defeated me in the fullness of his power, wielding the Blade of Evil's Bane, touched by the Triforce itself. You are nothing but a pale imitation, darkling, and I will enjoy crushing you under heel." The Shadow-man's smile vanished, replaced in a heartbeat with snarling rage. Too easy, that, Ganondorf mused. Despite my words, this battle will not be.
Shadow Link leaped at him with a deadly lunge, intending to end their duel at its outset. A single thrust through the heart, undoing the bound spell holding him upright. Ganondorf parried with one blade and slashed with the other; it would not, of course, be that easy. The anti-Hero blocked with his shield, and their dance began.
In a way, Ganondorf felt light, elated. This duel felt pure as so few before had. Having no future gives an eerie life to the present, he thought, scimitar turning aside dark blade. He smiled a wolf's smile, a lion's smile, predatory and hungry. A second slash bounced off the creature's shield, but nicked his leg. No blood spilled out, but a charcoal mist wafted briefly from the cut. Shadow Link danced back, favoring the leg. "Sear me. No one that big should be that fast."
"You, of all beings, should know better," Ganondorf mocked, striding forward. This time, when Shadow Link struck, he parried, pushed the shield aside with his off-hand blade, and kicked. His half-real foe went flying, then vanished in a rock's shadow. Frowning, the Gerudo King turned an eye to his own shadow, but the anti-Hero leaped from another nearby cliffside and slashed him across the back. "And so you do..." Always thinking. Sear him.
Once more, they circled one another. Ganondorf hefted the scimitars, spinning them in his hands. Strangely, the painful gash gave him focus, and he smiled again. For the first time in far too long, he felt like a Gerudo, like he was what he was meant to be, what he had been born to be. This time, he took the initiative, darting at Shadow Link. The doppelganger stumbled back in alarm, not so much frightened as caught off guard, but it was enough to get the monarch past the impressive defense. One scimitar beat both sword and shield down, and the other carved a long, deep gash across Shadow Link's chest. Shadow Link spun and left a thin cut along Ganondorf's abdomen, but the timeless warrior would have taken that trade gladly even had he not been dying.
A great cloud of smoke erupted from the living shadow's wound, though it thinned out quickly. Pain, rage, and – at long last – a hint of fear all showed on the Shadow-man's face. "I'll kill you," he snarled, circling more clumsily than before. "I can be recreated. The same can't be said for you."
Ganondorf chuckled again, the pain receding through an act of will. "I have been struck down by Heroes before. The thought holds no fear for me." They charged at each other simultaneously, sparks flying as sword met sword and blade notched shield. Their noses almost touching, Shadow Link bared his teeth at Ganondorf, who merely grinned back. Feeling the silhouette shift against his scimitars, Ganondorf guessed that Shadow Link was about to attempt a desperate lunge to end the duel instantly. Not a bad idea, he thought mildly. Together, they disengaged and lunged.
Each had plunged his sword through the other's chest. "You..." Shadow Link hissed. "...you'll see me...again," he gasped, started to fall over, then vanished into square motes of darkness that fell into the sky.
"No doubt," Ganondorf said with a small sigh. He forced the wound closed, watching impassively while duplicate Shadow Links vanished from where they were fighting Dalkin and Midna. Hm. Only three. Logical, given the numerological importance...but I was expecting four. Still, no fourth Shadow Link was manifest anywhere, either in presence or by disappearance. His eyes flickered expertly across the Hylians' portion of the battlefield. Zelda, Dalkin and Midna now each fought a replica of Phantom Ganon, much like the ghostly figures he'd conjured on Eldin Field what seemed like a lifetime ago. The Hero of Light fought the original, who was mounted once more. The Hero of Winds and his pirate companion did battle with a fearsome, titanic Ganon. Even to Ganondorf's fading wizard-sight, it was clear that the boar-like figure was his counterpart transformed rather than the ancient, imprisoned demigod, but that hardly improved matters for the young heroes. Briefly, the thought pulled his gaze back to Phantom Ganon. A misty cord seemed to stretch from his back into some distant infinity... No. Even Medusa is not that powerful, not yet. Regardless, something needed to be done.
Ganondorf dismissed the twin blades, conjured from raw power as they were. He brought his hands up, then together, and concentrated on the needs of the moment. With that, he vanished.
Zelda cupped her hands together loosely, then thrust them forward. The translucent figure of Phantom Ganon flew back, tumbling away from her. The princess took the opportunity to teleport towards her Hero again. Slow going, but I'm almost there. Together, they would defeat that decrepit phantom, and then they could help Pit.
Briefly, she let her attention flicker to where the heroic little angel fought his vast, powerful counterpart. Zelda immediately wished she hadn't when Taboo cast forth waves of power, throwing several other heroes aside like toys and slamming Pit into the mountainside. Din, Nayru, Farore, be with him, she prayed. Her own phantom's phantom rose from the ground, wheeling about on its spectral horse to charge at her again. Please, be with us all.
Using Nayru's Love to drive the fiendish thing back again, she turned her gaze to Link, who forced his mounted foe back with a bomb arrow. It was heartening to see her Hero doing so well under the circumstances, but it was still a desperate battle. What was truly strange to the Princess of Wisdom was that such a creature should not have presented so great a challenge to the Hero, not at the pinnacle of his skill and power as he was now. What has Medusa done to...no. Oh, gods, no.
Malevolence from the Evil Realm itself poured from across the Realms into the Phantom Ganon Link faced. It was no more than a puppet, and the massive string led to the true Ganon, safe in its prison. I have to do something, and quickly. Noting that her sparring partner was already reconstituting itself, Zelda leaped into the air and transformed into Sheik.
Though the cord of foul energy was not of actual Shadow, it bore enough of a resemblance to stand out to the woman, now Sheikah, who darted almost invisibly towards it. Pulsing like a hose filled with living venom, it shifted and writhed in the air behind Phantom Ganon. Mercifully, the duplicate phantom had lost sight of her, and was circling futilely looking for a target. For a moment, Sheik was worried that it would target Ganondorf, until she realized that the villain was gone. Great. Either he died or turned coward at last. She shook off the momentary rise of despair within her. No. We can still do this. A volley of Light Arrows flared in her peripheral vision, and her heart soared to see Pit driving Taboo back, the godlike villain's power failing before the angel's determination and speed. A spinning blade to the creature's face drove Medusa's champion back. An excellent example. Now to play my part. She darted out of the shadows behind Phantom Ganon, who was riding Link down. Her chain lashed out, caught the conduit, and squeezed.
Even Sheikah magic could not hold the strange flow for long, but even that temporary assault had distracted the monstrous thing. He flailed in his saddle, slowing nearly to a halt as he lost control of the demonic steed. It was as if he'd been choked. Her chain having already slipped free, Sheik leaped back and away, landing lightly on a stone outcropping. Throwing needles appeared between her fingers. Link gasped and ran towards Phantom Ganon with alacrity. "You will regret that, Shadow Tribe," the phantom menace intoned.
Aryll chose that moment to dart into the battle, her movements austere and fierce even for one of the Sheikah. "No," she replied curtly, "she will not." The young woman's hand flashed out, and an explosion of Shadow struck the phantom in the face. Sheik's jaw dropped. That was the Shadow Heart! How... For a moment, Zelda bubbled to the surface, and Aryll smiled at her - only it wasn't exactly Aryll. "There is much to be done, Little Princess," Impa said through Aryll's lips, her shadow of a smile echoing through Link's sister. "Best to be about it." With that, she vanished once more. The tableau remained frozen for a moment, Sheik, Link, and the phantom alike all stunned by the legendary Sheikah's 'arrival.'
An explosion of air halted them before they could begin again. Ganondorf was there, holding Epona's reins. "It appears," he said dryly, "that you could use this, Hero." Link nodded his thanks, ran up to the great mare, and leaped into her saddle. He patted the side of her neck, and Epona snorted. She was eyeing Ganondorf dubiously, but it seemed that warrior and steed had come to a temporary understanding, as he had with so many others.
Phantom Ganon chuckled. It sounded very much like Ganondorf's had. "Amusing. You wish to match your riding skills against mine? I welcome it! Hyah!" The Hero met that cry with one of his own, and they charged at one another with abandon. Sword and spear flashed in the air, neither striking to notable effect. They wheeled around for a second pass. All other foes avoided them.
Ganondorf strode calmly to Sheik's side. They watched while the pair readied themselves to ride at each other again. "What would you have us do," he asked evenly, "once your Hero wins?"
"You sound as confident as I," Sheik noted.
The two master horsemen spurred their steeds, tearing toward one another at full gallop. "Should he lose," the villain noted dryly, "there is little else to discuss. Even should he win, however, I am at something of a loss. What can even such as we do against the power of Medusa?"
Sheik chuckled while the Master Sword bit into Phantom Ganon's side, the spear slashing but lightly at Link's shoulder. "With our bonds to the Triforce and the Hero wielding the Power to Repel Evil? I know not how much we can offer to Parthena's champion, but surely it will count for something." She threw her needles to one side, puncturing an approaching Primid. It dispersed into motes of velvet darkness.
Again, Hero and Phantom came about to ride each other down. "Perhaps," Ganondorf conceded. His eyes flickered to Dalkin and Midna, dueling twin phantoms with precise teamwork. "Should we aid them?" He threw a scimitar into a space pirate who'd been eyeing them. It screeched with an inhuman wail and collapsed. A gesture brought the sword back to his hand.
Sheik chuckled and shook her head. "I'd not deprive them of their battle just now." Midna swept her foe aside with a swipe of her hand-like hair, while Dalkin used a Spin Attack to disintegrate his.
"Mmm. They are enjoying themselves," Ganondorf agreed, "are they not? And they do fight well, almost like one warrior in two bodies." Link and Phantom Ganon crashed against each other again, this time coming to a halt so sudden bones quivered at the shock. Ganon's spear was stuck in the Hero's side, but the Blade of Evil's Bane had cleaved the phantom's head down to his shoulders. The foul creature tried to say something through ruined lips, but only a gurgling snarl came out before it vanished into darkness. Link pulled out the trident with a grunt, and then it, too, disappeared.
The Hero spurred Epona and turned her about to face the calmly speaking pair. Wordlessly, he held the Master Sword up, then pointed it at Taboo. Sheik exhaled through her nose. Bloody Hero. Wish he'd drink a potion... She knew, of course, he was using them sparingly, but that gave her little comfort. Ganondorf merely nodded and hefted his swords. "Let us dance, then, one more time. 'Death is inevitable. Only life is a choice.'"
"A Gerudo saying? From you?" Sheik asked in surprise.
The Gerudo's smile was strange, even for him. "Perhaps I am feeling nostalgic," he said, his tone only hinting at irony. "Come. If we delay, the Hero will take all the glory." With that, Ganondorf jogged, then ran, at their foe. And indeed, Link had already spurred Epona full tilt at the shining, terrible angel who fought the champion of the Goddess of Light. Sheik swallowed a curse, transformed back into Zelda, and teleported into battle.
The main thing that struck Link while he charged at Taboo was how big the man was. Even in his 'normal' form, he had to be some ten feet tall. Bald and made of solid Light, he was an impressive figure even in his human-like form. The false angel regarded the gathered heroes thoughtfully and calmly, hand on his chin. Link fired a bomb arrow at their enemy; the explosion quite definitively got Taboo's attention.
Flying higher into the air, Taboo aimed his arm at the Hero and opened his hand wide. A massive volley of Light-shards shot at Link, who wheeled Epona around to dodge them. Standing in the stirrups, the Hylian carefully placed one foot, then the other on the saddle. With a cry and a leap, he hit the villain with a Spin Attack that tore halfway up Taboo's body. Link dropped and rolled, well out of the way when Pit fired his Light Arrows and Ganondorf threw his lightning orb. They struck Taboo simultaneously, blasting him back through the air.
The monster righted himself in mid-air, a look of rage on his face for an instant. Then he swirled in the air and transformed into a smiling, living blade three times his previous size and flew at Pit. The angel dodged, if just barely. Link, who had been in Taboo's path, managed to raise his shield in time, but was still knocked back several feet. Ow. He shook his head to clear it. That helped, but not as much as he would have liked. #Navi?#
#I can't get a lock,# she replied dizzily, clinging to his hair in the safety of his hat, #but I have a sense of him. No particular weaknesses, but he doesn't like the Power to Repel...Evil...whoa, do you feel that?#
He did. Link turned to see Zelda, overflowing with power, summoning her Light Bow. The arrow she had nocked on it was filled with the magical might the princess channeled. One of Luigi's Smash Balls! Link realized immediately. Except Zelda's using it all at once! With grim focus, Zelda unleashed her Light Arrow, and even Taboo reeled from the titanic blow.
The Hero's eyes bulged at their enemy's massive counterstroke: a dragon's head that pulsed with massive Light force. Link ran between Taboo and Zelda, held sword and shield defensively before him, summoned the Iron Boots, and braced himself. The princess gasped behind him, then Link's world filled with searing, murderous Light. It only lasted a second, but the Hero's entire body felt the blow. Dismissing the boots, he rolled to one side and quickly swallowed a potion. Relief thundered through Link, worry echoing with it. I can't keep this up for much longer. None of us can.
Driving the thought home, Medusa glared at the ongoing battle and pointed at them. Another serpent flew from her head, towards the heroes. They all evaded its earth-shaking landing, but it slid around the Hero and towered over him, hissing malevolently. Supernatural toxin glistened on its fangs, glittering with tainted mana. Taboo circled around for another pass at Pit, slapping the ground around the winged warrior. The angel didn't quite evade this barrage, caught at the edge of the shockwaves before stumbling back. Link wanted to help him, but the venomous snake darted between the Hero and the warring angels. It was massive, thirty yards long at the very least, with fangs the size of broadswords. #Zelda, can you help Pit?# he sent.
#You're not serious!# the princess replied desperately, racing to his side. #We'll help him together, after we deal with that monstrosity!#
In spite of himself, Link smiled. #I'm touched. Still, Ganon's not the heart of this invasion, not this time. We have to defeat Medusa's champion. This thing is merely one of her tools.# Carefully, the Hero of Light strode forward. The snake chose that moment to strike, which was exactly what Link had been hoping for. He rolled to one side, then leaped and spun. The Master Sword lopped the serpent's head off with a single blow. #Whoa. That was a lot easier than I thought.#
#Yeah, and that's why! Look out!# Navi warned, pointing psychically at Medusa. Link looked up just in time to see the dark goddess' face contort with fury, and another serpent flew at them. Link raised the Blade of Evil's Bane, prepared to cut the thing down as it attacked, but an explosion rocked the thing's head as it approached. The Hero forced himself not to laugh as Solid Snake tossed them a jaunty salute as he evaded his longer-haired nemesis. Then he leaped forward and cut the dazed creature down.
Zelda chose that moment to appear at his side. "Well done, Hero, but we still have these twin dangers to face. There's also Ganon..." she trailed off, as Hero and Princess turned to watch their counterparts battle the towering King of Evil. The Hero of Winds appeared to be doing well, though he'd clearly taken a few wounds. Tetra was wielding Light Arrows against their massive enemy, but they were more on the order of Pit's sacred weapon rather than the power Zelda had wielded briefly.
"They can handle him. Come on," Link replied, and they raced towards the angels just ahead of yet another serpent. They slowed, staring in amazement at the calm Ganondorf striding in the other direction. "Ganondorf?"
"I will deal with the serpent," the Gerudo explained, raising one power-filled hand. "Call your steed to you and destroy Medusa's angel." He continued to walk towards the dire snake, a scimitar appearing in his free hand.
Zelda watched Ganondorf warily, as if he were venomous himself, but Link merely nodded and whistled. Epona raced from the shelter of an alcove to their side. "Ready, Zel?" he asked simply, holding out his hand. She took it, they mounted the powerful mare together, and rode towards the dueling angels.
#Now what?# the princess asked, Din's Fire forming in her hands.
Link grimaced and stared piercingly at Taboo. #Now we bring that false angel to earth.# Their enemy stopped blinking around with his rapid teleports and blurred, his back seeming to divide. Multiple copies of the villain flew out from the opening, and it took all the Hero's riding skill to dodge through them. Nevertheless, they reached Taboo, and as one, they unleashed their firepower on him, Link firing bomb arrows with abandon and Zelda dealing out Din's Fire relentlessly.
Taboo's counterattack was a long whip, reminiscent of the weapon Samus wielded outside her armor. Link raised his shield again, to defend – but the whip coiled around him like a thing alive! It tore him from the saddle, and the last thing he heard before being flung through the air was Zelda's gasp of horror. The world spun as the evil angel swung the Hero around once, twice, then slammed him into the ground like a lassoed goat. I never treated a goat like that, Link objected to himself at the thought, struggling to regain his footing.
Fortunately, it appeared that the Hero of Light had been enough of a distraction that Pit had gained an opening. He flew in, blade-bow spinning and tearing through Taboo. When that brought the rival angel near to ground, Pit hammered him with a fierce blow, then stabbed forward with both blades.
Taboo's reaction was lost in the explosion. Wave after wave of dark energy burst out from his skin of Light. He fell, receding into a distance that was 'away' from all three dimensions they existed in. Back into the gap between dimensions? This so-called 'subspace' the others spoke of? Link wondered, managing to rise to his feet. Zelda rode to him, spurring Epona desperately. He found a smile for her somehow.
#Stubborn Hero,# Navi muttered mutinously, feeling dizzy herself. #Will you worry at your searing puzzles later?#
The Hero nodded wearily. #Agreed. There's still Medusa, after all.# His gaze slid to Ganondorf, who was kinetically tossing aside serpent after serpent cast from Medusa's brow. The contempt and anger on her face had melted away to a large degree, and fear was slowly replacing them. #We need to finish this, quickly.#
Again, the goddess' hand stretched out, but this time, no giant snakes flew out. "Ganon," she rasped. The porcine warrior ignored her, continuing to battle Wind-Link and Tetra. Light-Link, Zelda and Ganondorf strode towards the entrance to the mines, Parthena's champion flying above and ahead of them. "Ganon!" Medusa wailed. Motes of Twilight began to form around where Phantom Ganon fell. "I grant you existence beyond death," she said, power streaming desperately from her. "I grant you strength, speed, power near unto invincibility! In return, I ask only – destroy your enemies!"
Phantom Ganon began to coalesce and take form, his body being restored to its original might. Then it grew to twice his previous size. Four times. Ten times. Though an emptiness echoed in his eyes, the phantom's hateful rictus spoke volumes. The spear whirled in his hands, and the air itself howled in a semblance of pain. "Mmm. This could be a problem," Ganondorf noted.
"You THINK?" Navi shot back.
Link regarded the titan coolly. "No," he replied, hefting the Master Sword calmly. "No, I don't believe so. Pit, can you get past that creature?" The angel looked from the Hero to the giant and back, then nodded slowly. "Then we can keep it busy. Go."
Pit frowned, but he went. Link strode towards the walking tower of a man, the Power to Repel Evil a comfort in his hand. "I sincerely hope you have a plan, Hero," Zelda said quietly. To that, Link merely smiled, the shield vanishing from his right arm to be replaced with a Clawshot. This is it, the Hero thought grimly. I hope I'm right about this, or I'm about to begin the shortest duel in history.
Midna tossed the few remaining Stalfos aside with a sweep of her hair. "Anybody left, Dalkin?"
Her Dark Hero laughed and spun, slashing through a pack of space pirates and Primids. "Not worth mentioning." He pointed with his blade at the approaching reinforcements. "Ever since the Emblem Lord showed up, we've been running out of goons." Dalkin glanced down the path, where another azure-haired swordsman was running towards Ike and his band. "That should be interesting..."
"On to Medusa, then?" Midna asked, floating over to his shoulder. I'd still rather be myself again, the Twili thought, but I'd forgotten the advantages of this form.
Dalkin nodded and strode towards the goddess, slowing when he scanned the battlefield. Wind-Link and Tetra were still fighting their Ganon. Samus, Rock, Captain Falcon and Snake were leading a small force against their dark replicas, a cyborg Ridley, and Sigma. Behind the force they fought was what looked like a giant brain in a jar. Checking on his Light counterpart, Dalkin nodded again when Taboo exploded and fell away from the Realm. "Maybe we should help some of the others. Medusa's offensive abilities do seem limited."
"She invested too much of her power in creating this army," the Twilight Princess agreed. "We'll help kid Link and his pirate girlfriend take out Ganon the sequel, then pass on the benefits of more heroes with free time on their...hands...Din, Nayru and Farore," she swore quietly.
Together, they watched Phantom Ganon's resurrection in horror. "Change in plans?" Dalkin asked dryly, though his voice shook a hair.
"No, we're going to ignore the sixty-foot-tall force of evil incarnate," Midna drawled. She hugged Dalkin's arm for a moment, then floated ahead of him. Her eyes remained locked on the figure towering over the battlefield. "Okay, you go help the kids. I'm going with Link and company to tackle the walking siege tower."
"They're not children," Dalkin sighed, then straightened in alarm. "Wait, we're splitting up?"
Midna laughed musically. "Don't worry. I'm sure you can take care of yourself for five minutes." Before he could decide whether to object to separating or the idea that he was the one who needed backup, the imp darted through the air towards Zelda. She was gliding around Titan Ganon, firing blasts at his legs. Ganondorf had his swords drawn and was waiting for his oversized counterpart to approach. She didn't dare watch Link Clawshot his way up their massive foe.
Finally she reached Zelda's side, and lent a hand – literally – by throwing a few punches at Titan Ganon's shin. "What's that crazy Hero doing?" she sighed.
"Trying to get up to where the Master Sword can do the most good," Zelda explained, her voice almost even. Midna could hear the worry in the princess' voice, though. Maybe because I know how she feels. Reckless Hero!
So maybe someone who can fly should go help him. Quick on the uptake as always, Princess of Twilight, Midna berated herself. She raced towards the giant phantom, then up its leg to catch up with the Hero in moments. He was just ascending to the solid ghost's belt when she reached Link, who yelped in so familiar a way she couldn't help a laugh. "What would you do without me, Mr. Important Hero?" Midna asked fondly.
"I'm glad I don't have to find out," Link replied with a grin, stabbing the giant in the side. He winced and jerked away, but the reaction was as if to a sting or pinprick. The Hero nodded. "Wolf form?"
"What else?" Midna asked, calling forth Zant's old magic. Link transformed, barely hanging on to Phantom Ganon's belt for a moment. Then Midna darted into the crook of his elbow, Link leaping with magical speed to her side. Two more jumps like that, and he was on the villain's shoulder. For a moment, it gave them a broad view of the battle. Mario was, to the surprise of approximately no one, finishing his defeat of his old nemesis. Samus was unloading on Sigma, there being no sign of Rock's dark counterpart. Rock himself hit Meta-Ridley with a blast that sent him reeling towards Phantom Ganon. Sonic's dark clone was fighting with Luigi against a robot duplicate of the speedster. Ike and Marth were fighting back to back against a sorcerer's summoned monsters, Ike briefly glancing behind him and nearly tripping in his shock at seeing the legendary first Emblem Lord fighting beside him.
All in all, the battle seemed to be going well, except for poor, exhausted Pit, who was challenging Medusa's might single-handed. Midna and Wolf Link shared a look and a thought. None of these other battles will matter if Medusa wins. With a flicker of magical might, the Twili restored Link to his Hylian form. "Any ideas?" she asked.
"First, get that Smash Ball," Link said, pointing at the now-familiar mana loop swirling nearby. He didn't say what 'second' might be, but Midna was able to guess when he leaped into the opening between the floating half-skull and the base of where a neck would be if the ghostly nemesis had one.
"Link – !" Snarling and gritting her teeth, she flew from Phantom Ganon's shoulder and crushed the whorl of power in her crimson grip. Its power flowed through her, filling her, surging through her and her Fused Shadows. The seven limbs of raw Twilight sprang from her newly empowered form, and she grappled the surprised titan with six of them. The last stabbed him with her Twilight Spear. "Not so cocky now, are you, Ganny?" she said, her voice booming from the sheer force raging through her.
"Indeed!" Ganondorf shouted from below, a burst of red and gold power screaming from his outstretched hands. The magic struck his eldritch duplicate in the chest, sending it reeling. Then multiple slashes appeared through the skull from within, and it exploded to reveal a leaping, almost flying Link emerging from it.
Medusa screamed while Phantom Ganon fell over, collapsing and disintegrating. "DIE!" she cried, terrible beams firing from her eyes. Pit deflected those aimed at him with a Mirror Shield too big for him to wield one-handed. Midna covered for Link with most of her Twilight arms, catching him with one and reeling him in. Feeling the mana fading and her body shrinking, she pulled him in and reached out. The Hero clasped her hands with his, and for a moment she tried to reach out with her hair. Then she realized that his hands and hers were the same size.
Link smiled fondly at her stunned expression. "Are you so beautiful," he whispered, "that you have no words left?" He nodded towards Pit and Parthena, the goddess still chained to the amulet on Medusa's necklace. "Can you give me a lift?"
"You are joking, Hero of Light," Midna replied, unable to force the smile from her face. Then she spun them both around and shot Link towards Pit and his goddess. Be careful, Link.
Think fast, Hero, Link thought grimly. The Goddess of Darkness was growing larger and closer with disturbing speed. Pit was bravely fighting off her petrifying gaze and the flying serpents, all the while struggling to free the Goddess of Light.
A furious buzzing erupted in his cap. #Wait, you told Midna to throw you at Medusa and you didn't have a plan?# Navi blurted frantically.
#Well, I originally intended to free Parthena,# Link explained, #but it doesn't look like the Master Sword will break those chains. Hm.# He looked at the bonds holding Parthena, then the links of the necklace. #It's okay, Navi, I've got this under control.# Link shifted into a lunging pose, Master Sword pointed directly at Medusa. I hope.
The mistress of the underworld looked down a moment before he struck and her eyes bulged. Ghosts and illusions taking the form of every horror imaginable appeared around him – skulltulas with clawed hands, screaming images of Rusl and Uli being tortured by Bulblins, Redead with Zant's face leering at him – but worst of all were the images of Zelda. Puppet Zeldas, dead Zeldas slain by every means imaginable, broken Zeldas bowing at the feet of Ganons, shattered Zeldas of stone and crystal all flew past him, or he through them.
Link gritted his teeth and plunged forward. The Blade of Evil's Bane struck home, breaking the chain and biting into Medusa's collarbone. The dark goddess screamed in agony while Link grabbed the broken chain before it could slip away. The other end began to snake up around Medusa's neck. "Pit!" he shouted, but he needn't have worried; the young angel flew over and grabbed the amulet before it could slide more than a few feet. The Hero released his end, and Pit flew downward with his beloved goddess.
And thus he was alone, facing the wrath of Medusa, his only potential defense all that kept him from plunging into the volcano below. Link gripped the Master Sword's hilt tightly, lest the goddess' rippling outrage throw him off. She glared at him with endless hatred, eyes blazing with power and death. "You dare," she snarled, "defy the Goddess of Darkness, ruler of the underworld!"
Link shrugged. There was little else he could do.
"I will end your legend, Hero!" she roared. The lava below roiled and shot up in deadly jets. "Your bond to your precious princess will be forever broken, and you will wander the realms in fruitless reincarnations for all eternity!"
"Zelda is the legend," Link whispered. "I am merely her sword." He shifted, planting his feet for a desperate jump. "Unless you are presenting some alternative to me, there is little else to discuss"
Medusa's gaze turned cunning. "You would bargain, then?" she asked, her voice echoing like thunder. "You would seek that I spare your miserable life?"
For a moment, Link hung there, bracing himself. He looked down. "Well..." A streak of white, gold and blue shot up towards them. The Hero looked back up and smiled. "...no, to be honest. I just needed a little time for reinforcements to arrive."
Pit flew into sight, his own body transformed as Midna's had been. He was fully grown, muscles rippling, the knives that had been the halves of his bow grown to full-sized swords. Hair cascaded below a shining sapphire halo down to his shoulders, and wings that had allowed him to glide and struggle into the air now spread wide to let him soar. Pit slammed the hilts of his blades together, drew back the energy string of the newly-formed bow, and let fly.
Medusa screamed twice. She wailed in terror when she saw her nemesis restored and risen to face her, and she cried out in agony when the bolt struck her between the eyes. Shrinking with lightning speed, she as much fell as shriveled.
That, however, left Link hanging in mid-air without support. He, too, plunged through the air, eyes darting in the hopes of finding some solution to his deadly dilemma. Fortunately, he had many friends present, and it was a race to catch him. Pit had nearly reached him when Midna soared to his side and held out her hand. He floated gently to a stop by her side. "What would you do without me, Hero?" she asked, sighing in relief.
"I'm still glad I don't have to find out," Link replied with a laugh. The other villains started winking out of existence below them, many of them clearly glad to flee, but others struggling to resist the collapse of Medusa's magic. Meta-Ridley clawed at the air to reach Rock before he vanished, while Bowser – who'd shrank back to normal size a moment before – disappeared in the middle of turning tail to flee. Wind-Link's Ganon collapsed before he faded away as well. A ragged cheer rose from the assembled heroes below.
Medusa struck the edge of the caldera hard, shuddering and collapsing twice before she finally managed to sit upright. Pit landed in front of her, an expression on his face that Link took a moment to recognize. It was clearly alien to his face: rage. Just before Midna deposited the Hero on the volcano's edge, the angel summoned a second mighty arrow and aimed it as he had the first.
Strangely, Ganondorf chose that moment to stride up next to Link. "Nothing to say, Hero?"
"I'm impressed that you could climb Death Mountain," Link noted dryly.
"Teleportation," the Gerudo King explained. "Aren't you going to stop him?"
Link looked from Ganondorf to Pit, who was still aiming his arrow at the Goddess of Darkness. "No...please..." Medusa pleaded, waving one hand in the air in surrender. The Hero merely shook his head.
Ganondorf blinked and turned to look at the Hero. "Why not?"
For several seconds, they watched a nearly frozen tableau, its pictograph-like quality marred only by the burbling of lava and the tremble in the two figures. Medusa shuddered, and the tip of Pit's arrow quivered ever so slightly. Finally, with almost painful slowness, the angel lowered his weapon. Medusa collapsed in relief.
As if waiting for that moment, Zelda and Parthena teleported to the rim of Death Mountain. The princess strode to her Hero's side, while Parthena caressed Pit's hand. Link smiled. "I didn't have to." He looked back at Ganondorf. "If I had said something, though, Pit might never have been sure what he would have done."
The former King of Evil nodded. "Trust. Hrm." Then he collapsed. Link gasped and dropped to his knees by the Gerudo's side. Zelda was beside them both instatnly. "No," Ganondorf said before either could react. "No potions, no fairies, no healing spells. It is my time, and I am glad of it."
"Stubborn, all of you," Zelda said. Her reaction made no sense to Link. "You can still make something of your life, Ganondorf."
"You assume I seek redemption, Princess of Wisdom," Ganondorf said with a chuckle. Midna glared at him for a moment, shaking her head, but then she looked away. "I am what I have been. Let the next life offer its possibilities. I have little use for this one." He locked eyes with Link then. "I have but one request, Hero of Light. I would be burned, as my body was before. I will end as befits a King of the Gerudos."
Link nodded. "The volcano, then?" he asked, his voice barely more than a whisper. He wiped some sweat from his former enemy's brow.
"Heh. One with Death Mountain. You are...kind..." Ganondorf's eyes fluttered. "...Hero...of...Time..." He exhaled. He did not breathe in.
Zelda hugged Link tightly. "Told you," she whispered to him. They stood as one. Together, Zelda and Midna held out their hands, and Ganondorf's body floated up.
"No," Link said, holding up his hand. Zelda blinked in surprise, but Midna merely sighed again and floated the body into Link's chest with a thump. The Hero shook his head, claimed Ganondorf's limp form, then walked to the very edge of the lava. With an ululating cry that he half-remembered from a life long past, he threw the corpse into the fiery lake. It bobbed once, then burst into flames. Link stepped back three paces and watched, letting his arm slip around Zelda's waist when she walked up to him and held him. The body never sank.
Link and Zelda strode through Peach's Castle arm in arm. "Well. That was exciting," Zelda said. Her Hero looked at her as if she'd grown a second head. The Princess of Destiny giggled. "It was, you know."
"Sure it was. Having a dodongo's jaws clamped to your leg is exciting, too," the Hero replied with a dry drawl. "I'll take a few rounds in the Smash ring with Captain Falcon any day." He smiled then, drawing his beloved wife closer. "For that matter, there's plenty of excitement to be had back home."
"You're getting bold," Zelda replied, her smile making it clear that she was not at all upset at the notion. "And just what sort of excitement might a Sheikah Lord and King of the Gerudos seek in boring old Hyrule Castle?" Link's smile turned cunning.
A flash of light burst from one of the Realm portals, and Marth stumbled through looking singed and dazed. "Gods be good. I made it," he breathed, leaning on his knees.
Link and Zelda dropped their banter immediately, racing to his side. "Marth! Farore, are you all right?" the Hero blurted.
The Altean king looked up, and for a moment, he stared at Link as if seeing a stranger. "Link?" The Hylian nodded. "Hero of...Time?"
"Din, Nayru and Farore," Link swore, "don't tell me I've been stuck with another title!"
"AH-ha-ha-ha-ha!" Marth blurted, throwing his arms around the utterly confused Hero.
Zelda chuckled and shook her head, then put a hand on each of the men's shoulders and started steering them towards the kitchen. "I think there's a long story here. It'll sound better on a full stomach, I think."
Marth nodded. "Undoubtedly." He straightened, then regarded Zelda knowingly. "Do you have any particular cravings, Your Highness?"
The Princess of Destiny scowled. "Love of Nayru, Marth, just because a woman's hungry doesn't mean she's pregnant!"
"True enough," Marth admitted, shrugging, "but I'm rather confident that your line will continue for many years to come." Link and Zelda looked at each other in surprise. The Altean grinned. "Come. Let's get that food. It's an even longer story than you imagine..."
The wedding was a small, intimate affair.
Most of the kingdom was still recovering from a second invasion in less than a year. Crops had been disrupted and lives thrown into chaos. It seemed a poor time indeed for a great royal spectacle.
Celebrations were encouraged, of course. Every town and village was throwing a festival in the happy couple's honor. The Chosen Hero from a tiny village marrying the legendary Princess Zelda was truly a fairy tale come true, and everyone wanted to join in the revelry.
Most of Hyrule saw the marriage itself, however, as a solemn, sacred affair, and while the guest list had been impressive – everyone from the rulers of the Gorons and Zoras to great champions from other worlds – it had been kept manageable.
Aryll, herself once more, had fussed over her brother relentlessly. No one dared challenge the Hero on having a woman for his Best Man, though – not when her deadly Sheikah training had become common knowledge. The cute blonde girl that accompanied her everywhere that day, like some kid sister, remained a mystery to the end of their days, though.
The Twilight Princess made a truly odd Maid of Honor by Hylian standards. She was a walking defiance of tradition, "barely garbed" in her royal vestments, so the old guard of Hylian nobility saw it, but given how much she'd done for Hyrule, fewer dared whisper about her than Aryll. Midna enjoyed every moment of the stuff-shirts' discomfort.
Her companion, meanwhile, was a source of great mystery to most of Hyrule. A handsome, rakish figure, clearly Twili but looking like some long-lost brother of the Hero's, he smiled and slid through ceremony and banquet without so much causing a ripple in protocol, but there was something dangerous about him. Midna seemed glued to his side every time the ladies of Hyrule began staring, which was often.
Only four of the out-Realm warriors stayed for the wedding. One pair consisted of melancholy warriors, who wore ceremonial armor for the proceedings. They held hands every moment they could, and seemed unwilling for the day to end. Both seemed to be quite ordinary beorcs, save that the young man had the same striking blue hair that the great general Ike did.
The other pair were easily the most impetuous guests – or at least, the lady was. The young man was so well behaved that he reminded many of the Hero himself, but his companion simply would not be contained. From resting her boots on the tables to swallowing entire glasses of fine wine in a single gulp, the freebooting Tetra was the terror of the genteel, at least until she met a kindred spirit in Telma. The two became fast friends, and were last seen by the people of Hyrule wandering towards Telma's bar, the young lady's gentle companion following in a bit of a panic.
The Hero and Princess more than made up for the strange proceedings. The church priest couldn't help a smile at the endless love reflecting from one set of eyes to the other, and while they were gracious and welcoming to every guest down to the most distant nobility, each was the other's whole world. They glided through the ceremony with perfect grace, danced with joyous abandon at the reception, and generally kept the music, feasting and conversation going well into the night.
Zelda yawned when she saw that Link wasn't looking. It was traditional for the happy couple to...leave the proceedings early...but this was no ordinary wedding, and their guests were no ordinary people.
The princess' eyes flickered sadly to Samus and Rock, nursing small glasses of effervescent cider. She needed no special insight to know that they had each found someone special in the other, someone who finally understood the long, lonely hunt. Yet they could not remain together; their duties kept them in literally different worlds.
A moment's insight, an echo of the Triforce of Wisdom, thundered through her. She waved to Link and walked over to the pair. "Enjoying the evening?" she asked.
Both looked up, startled. "Ah, yes, Zelda," Samus said quietly. "I hope you are, as well."
Zelda nodded. "It has been a wonderful night. Love is the most powerful magic there is, after all." She leaned a touch closer. "It transcends time and space...even the myriad Realms. Though the wait may be long, somehow, against all odds, it finds a way." The pair blinked at her, then looked at each other in surprise. "Take care, hunters." The princess bowed and left. I have no idea what a 'cyber-elf' is, she thought, still trying to parse the image she'd had of a ghostly form of energy flying to an artificial body in Samus' world, but if anyone deserves a miracle, it's those two.
Even seeing Wind-Link alone at a table, looking weary, could not pry the smile off her face. "Oh dear," she said, and he stood the moment he heard her, "Tetra hasn't abandoned you, has she?"
The Hero of Winds chuckled, shaking his head fondly. "Oh, never, Your Highness. She's, ah, Telma says the right phrase is 'sleeping it off.'" Zelda laughed in kind. The young Hero's smile slipped, though. "It's just...well, she's trying not to think about it, but after all our searching and questing, we're no closer to finding a 'Hyrule of our own' than when we started out." He shrugged. "I keep thinking that the old king was wrong, that the original Hyrule is our Hyrule...but he was so much older and wiser than me, and I know Tetra doesn't want to be a princess, let alone a queen."
Zelda nodded. It does seem to be my night for giving advice. She placed a hand on the brave young man's shoulder, smiling fondly. "Trust your instincts, Hero. One thing I have seen across Realm and time is that they always serve you well."
Wind-Link shook his head. "Even if I'm right, though, how will we undo the flood of the gods?"
"You'll find a way," Zelda said confidently. "You're Link. The Hero." She patted his shoulder once more. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Hero of my own to find." The Hero of Winds laughed more knowingly than she'd suspected and nodded.
At last, she found her own Hero talking to an astonished Ike, Soren looking happy and relieved on the Emblem Lord's arm. "...just don't know how it could have happened," she heard Ike say as she approached. "I mean...Marth! He's a legend!"
The Hero of Light grinned and clapped Ike on the arm. "Take it from me, friend. Time is a slippery thing. It's a riddle I mean to understand..." his eyes flickered over to Zelda. "...someday."
Soren smiled the first real smile Zelda had ever seen from him, and he bowed to her. "Your Highness." He pulled emphatically on the arm he held. "Come on, Ike. Let's give the two some privacy."
"Bully," Ike quipped, allowing the lithe man to drag him off.
"So," Link said, gazing into her eyes with a love that made Zelda feel like she was floating.
"So," she whispered back. "Just one more pair to see off." The princess slid closer to her Hero. "Then we can get on with that 'happily ever after' thing I've heard so much about." Link nodded. "You know, according to the legends, the Hero of Time and Princess of Destiny saw the world on their honeymoon–"
"I'll follow you to the ends of the earth if you wish," Link blurted, "but I've had enough adventure for a dozen lifetimes. Everything I want," he said with more confidence, squeezing her hands gently, "is right here."
Zelda caught her breath. One more pair. That's it. She tugged him gently along, and Link followed serenely. "Come on, you silver-tongued Hero. We've still got two friends waiting for us."
They strode up the tower stairs, soon reaching the highest room in the castle. It had been cleared of everything but the mirror Ganondorf had used to create Shadow Link. There, Midna and Dalkin were locked in an embrace that could have melted gold. Link and Zelda waited a moment, but the two hadn't noticed them. Finally, the Hero cleared his throat.
The reaction bordered on the comical. The Dark Hero stumbled back in such shock that he nearly fell over. The Twilight Princess ducked her head sheepishly, pulling her robe around in an uncharacteristically demure manner. "Well. Your gift for timing hasn't changed, Hero," Midna said with a wry laugh.
"You're welcome to stay the night, you know," Zelda replied with a smile of her own. Link took her hand, and she squeezed it back.
Dalkin frowned as he regained his balance and shook his head. "Bad idea. This mirror needs to be destroyed." He shrugged. "At least it won't be impossible for us to visit each other any more. Not exactly simple, mind you..."
"Travel through the Sacred Realm is not something to be done casually," Link said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
"Friendship is not a casual thing," Midna replied, caressing the Hero's cheek with the backs of her fingers. She sighed sadly. "Still, you're right, and so is Dalkin. We should..."
Though Midna trailed off there, Zelda knew what she meant. Together, the princesses of Light and Twilight concentrated, and a mirror intended for other purposes shuddered and obeyed their will, opening a portal to the Twilight Realm. "I pray," Zelda said, "that one day, there will be no need for our peoples to be separated by barriers and Realms."
Midna considered that for a second, then nodded. "Perhaps one day. Not today, though," she added with a grin. "I like my clouds of Twilight! Your sun is too harsh and your moon is eerie."
"Oh, brother," Dalkin said with an exaggerated sigh and a roll of his eyes. "I'd better get her home before she starts waxing poetic about our Realm again." He thumped Link on the shoulder. "Take care, Hero. Try not to be wound so tight, okay?" With a rogue's laugh, he leaped through the portal.
Just like that, they were the only three left again. Zelda wasn't sure where Navi had gotten to, but it didn't matter just then. None of them wanted to say goodbye, but what was left to say?
Fortunately, Midna knew. With a quick hug and a loving smile, she whispered three words just before she vanished, mirror and all.
"See you later..."
The Legend of Zelda