Midna hit the ground hard in the courtyard; I tumbled into the low stone wall, dizzy from the sudden warping. Without warning, I went blind. Sticky blackness and tiny silver stars swirling at the edges of my vision until pain, white-hot and searing, crippling- I dropped to my knees, clutching my side and trying to stay upright as something ploughed into me, forcing me to the ground-
He came in close, grasping my collar and leaning in to whisper, "Will the Shadow call a truce? Will the Shadow surrender to his god?"
I was drowning in darkness. No air. No light. Rushing filled my ears, my lungs pressed against my ribcage, shuddering-
As abruptly as it onset, it ceased. I rolled over onto my stomach, gasping, still seeing little flecks of light popping in front of my face. For the first time in days, I felt alert and alive, but still with that awful sluggishness, like my body was trying to digest a massive meal. Midna's hands grasped my shoulders roughly, and suddenly started slapping at my face.
"S-stop hitting me!"
Her hands retracted as if burnt and we stared at each other in a kind of stupor for a few seconds until someone unceremoniously yanked me up by the front of my tunic, spouting gibberish and shaking me. Confused and still a little dazed, I tried to wriggle free but the Twili had a firm hold and actually looked angry at me.
Midna's voice, somewhere behind me, explaining.
But it was all rushing back, now that the weird stars had subsided. She did not just sever the connection between Hyrule and the Twilight Realm. She did not just strand me here and Link and Zelda on the other side. Was I just an excuse for escape? Did she use me to lie to Link? My head spiraled out of control, but not from the after-effects of the syncope episode. No, this was something much worse. Struggling to see straight, I pushed away at whoever held me and confronted Midna.
"So that was a ruse, huh?" I shouted at her. "Using me to lie to Link, to make him- Look what you've done! Now I'm trapped here-"
Midna looked shaken and started at my words, but shoved me hard. "This isn't about us, Link!" she shrieked. "It's much bigger than that. My hands were tied-"
"Oh, yeah, I can see that." I gestured to the rest of the buildings and the palace, each of them sporting a tiny crowd of curious onlookers, and some overjoyed supporters calling to one another about Princess Midna's return. "Yeah. What reconstruction? Did you lie about that too?"
"Link, why are you being difficult?" she demanded. "You can't honestly believe I'd do something like that just to hurt him. It hurt me too, but I- I didn't lie about your injuries." Almost sheepishly, she gestured to the sword wound, but I covered my ears.
Terrible thoughts kept running through my head, because I wasn't strictly Twili. I wasn't strictly Hylian either, and I knew I couldn't help that, not now, not after everything that had happened. But this… I hadn't been expecting it. Sure, I might have suspected foul play on more than a few counts, mostly due to Link's observations. But- "I won't play your games anymore! I want to go back!" My sword echoed in the shocked silence, and the original Twili who'd grabbed me took a threatening step forward. Midna's hand jabbed into the air.
"We are not fighting over this! Not now!" Tears poured down her cheeks. "Not after- not after that!"
I struggled fiercely in her grip, almost managing to break it, but the strength left me and I slumped to the ground, utterly defeated. Would this suffering for the greater good never end? Fat lot of good it did them last time, when they shipped the biggest threat of the century off to Lala Land. He just broke free and terrorized a new place before returning to Hyrule. Maybe it would fail again this time. Maybe we'd have to fight this all over again because shattering a mirror wasn't enough. And as awful as it sounded – and even knowing what it would mean for something like that to happen – I wanted it. Hell, we would all want it, because it gave us the one purpose in life that we could realistically and successfully pursue. It defined us. I hadn't even been part of the original team, and yet, I'd found a solid ambition in our adventuring that I couldn't hope to find here.
Angry and broken, I let Midna guide me inside the palace to a small room and a waiting Twili. I let them talk over me and at me. What else could I do? I could make a new life here, if I tried hard enough; instead, that nagging request I'd made to Link kept ringing in my ears. He'd also promised to take me fishing. It sounded stupid, but I really wanted to go fishing with him in Zora's Domain, and not get attacked by Zoras. I wanted to do stuff, after losing so much time to running around and fighting monsters and bad guys; I wanted to do stuff, but not in the Twilight Realm with complete strangers. I wanted to have that goddesses-damned party Midna'd promised me.
"Fine," I muttered. "Fine." They were leading me upstairs now, near the open balcony with the twilit waterfall, and with every step I took, the sicker I felt and the heavier my limbs became. Blindly I followed Midna and deafly I listened to whatever she jabbered on about. I knew what would happen now. I'd get well, end up finding ways to make mischief and be happy here, and try and forget about the problem. I wouldn't be able to forget, though. Maybe Link was thinking the same thing, wherever he was, and working on a way to keep everyone safe and still visit the Twilight Realm. But if it was the last thing I did, regardless of whatever world I happened to be in, I'd find a way back. I had to; it was my new-
"Oh my goddesses- Link!"
"Where are you going? Link?" He ignored her, mounting Arden and gripping the reins tightly enough for his gauntlets to squeak. Zelda's eyes widened in sudden understanding. "They are gone," she murmured quietly, almost fearfully. "The Mirror shattered- Link. Link, listen to me-"
"No." Eyes flashing dangerously, his stare alone forced her back several steps, her hand clutched to her chest. "Th-this isn't over-ver." And without another word, he dug in his heels and rocketed down the trail, away from a village drowning in confusion, and a princess seemingly returned from the dead.
Zelda collapsed to her knees in his absence; her dress stained easily in the thick mud. No one stood by to see her falter, aside from a small boy hiding in the bushes of a treehouse, with his small bright gaze fixed on the struggling woman.
"Are you okay?" he asked timidly. Startled, she swept regally to her feet and shifted a hand to the tiny dagger tied to her sash, the one that Dark Link had given to her during their long ride to the desert. But the boy continued to watch her, unperturbed. A crudely carved wooden sword dangled at his thin waist, and a scrap piece of metal had been tied to his back as a makeshift shield. "Can I help?"
Her expression softened and Zelda beckoned the boy closer with an open palm. "Yes," came the sad reply. "Yes, you can. Do you know who I am?"
The boy thought quietly for a minute, then nodded. "You're Princess Zelda. You lied."
The calm expression cinched into one of surprise and hurt; then it subsided and she smiled openly. "Yes. I did. Do you know the origin of your name?"
"No. But my… my brother calls me Ren."
"Yes, he does," she said simply. "Your brother and I… have been on a grand adventure. Would you like to hear the story?" Nodding again, the boy scrambled up the ladder to Link's treehouse. The Hero and the Princess had arrived just long enough ago for their presence to be noticed now, and when Link had opened the door, he had found an eerily familiar little boy who'd attempted to knock him from the balcony once again. Now, that same boy stood in the doorway, awaiting his audience with Zelda. She sighed heavily and gathered her ruined skirts, carefully mounting the wooden slats.
Wherever you are, Link, she thought gravely. May no trouble befall you. Yet.
Original note: Well, we've reached the end of the line... and what a crazy ride it's been to get here. I agree with some of you, that seeing this end is sad, but at the same time, I see it as kind of bittersweet. After all, there's still another adventure left to go for these guys, involving a certain mirror... But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I want to thank you, all of you - readers and reviewers - who contributed to this. Your support has been amazing and a real motivator :) I'd especially like to thank those who've stuck around since the early chapters; a few names stood out both in my mind and on the review collection page: retsof, marium, chindu, shay, nira, morna, aaron, spiritual stone, wolfen dreams, crimson, niry, and legend. (If I forgot your name in my quick glance of the pages, I'd be more than happy to add it.) All the same, you're fantastic.
Thank you :) And now, good night, and good luck.
If you would like to continue this story, please see the sequel Ad Hoc.