"One sole desire, one passion now remains
To keep life's fever still within his veins
Vengeance! dire vengeance on the wretch who cast
O'er him and all he lov'd that ruinous blast."
Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh-The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan
"Blood will have blood."
"And where the offense is, let the great axe fall."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
The only sound in the room was her ragged breathing, coming out in sharp gasps. He looked down at her, no trace of mercy present in his one eye.
"I don't take any pleasure in this." He struck a match and lit a cigarette, letting the noxious fumes fill the blood-soaked air. "It's just business. Sad business, but business all the same."
She looked up at him. A single tear fell from her battered face. She said nothing, nothing but gasps.
"We always said you were untouchable," he continued, "but we were wrong. No one's untouchable. Everyone bleeds just the same. And everyone dies."
He cocked his pistol. She stared at him. He ran a finger through her blonde hair, dyed red with blood. Her eyes were filled with raw, burning… hunger. Not sadness, not shock… hunger. His touch felt foreign to her, like it was happening from a galaxy away.
"Snake…" she whispered.
He pointed the gun in between her eyes, sighing deeply.
"It's your baby –"
1. The Great War
The rooftop of Hyrule Castle overlooked the city it was named for, a bustling metropolis that precious few years ago had been on the verge of extinction. The setting sun revealed a landscape dotted with merchants, citizens and travelers, all blissfully unaware that, in a matter of moments, its greatest champion would be fighting a battle that would surely be to the death.
Link stared at the woman, her armored back pressed against the brickwork chimney. She was every bit as beautiful as he remembered, the only one who could have ever competed in his eye with the princess of the land he'd worked so hard to save. Her presence here was among the most shocking discoveries of his life, for four years ago he had been part of a group of eight individuals that had seen fit to kill this woman, slowly, painfully, and brutally.
"Link," Samus Aran said, her voice a composition of false sweetness. "It's been a long time. Four years, if I'm not mistaken."
The hero of Hyrule stared at her. "I thought you were dead."
"I think we all did," Samus said, crossing her arms. "But more to the point… you and I have unfinished business."
Link nodded dully. "You came here… to kill me?"
Samus barked a laugh, a hoarse chuckle that didn't match her pretty face. "I always knew you were stupid, Link… but to think that I'd have come here for any purposes other than killing you… I didn't think anyone could be that stupid. Then again, what you did four years ago was impossibly stupid as well, so I guess I've come to expect that much from you."
"I'm not fighting you," Link said, his hand moving slowly to the hilt of his blade. "At least, not yet… not here."
"Going to hide behind your guards? Your princess? That's not going to happen, as you should well know… but we've never been on the best of terms, have we, Link?"
Link grimaced. "No. I don't suppose we have." His grip tightened as he watched Samus. Her eyes held a look of ferocity that he had never seen in any other human being… perhaps Ganondorf's eyes had looked like that, before he slew the former ruler of the land? "But you can't blame me for what happened – "
"I can and I will, you son of a bitch. Enough talking. Let's end this."
"You know what killing me will do to Hyrule, don't you? I'm their hero… their greatest champion."
"Nothing stands in the way of warriors about to do combat. Not love, not honor, not the lives of people you surely don't even care about –"
He swung the Master Sword with all his might, shooting forth a cascade of bright energy at his foe; Samus leapt into the air, dodging the blast and fastening her helmet on in one smooth movement. She pointed her arm cannon at Link and instantly let loose with a barrage of missiles and plasma.
Link blocked all the plasma volleys with his sword and deftly chopped the missiles in half before dashing forward, slashing at Samus's arms. The woman jumped backwards, and Link hesitated with surprise – and in that second, a small bomb exploded at his feet, sending him reeling backwards.
"You miserable coward," she spat through her helmet. "You've always hidden behind your allies. Now I see why."
"You don't know a damn thing about me!" he yelled, grabbing his bow and loading an elemental arrow into the sheath. In the time it took for him to make this move, his legs still smarting from the bomb, Samus had closed the gap, her gun arm extended as a silvery hook emerged from it. Ice and grappling beam met in mid-air, and Samus forcefully latched onto the arrow – and sent it hurtling back at its master within seconds. Link howled in pain as the ice arrow pierced his arm, freezing it solid.
"On the contrary," she said, pointing her arm cannon at his face. "I know too much about you. Knowledge is power, and against you, I'm the strongest woman in the world."
The dark-skinned man before him smiled. He didn't like it very much. Not many people did, when the smile always preceded a particularly violent death.
"You have ten seconds," he called, his mocking voice filling the cold dungeon. "Surrender the Triforce, or she dies."
He didn't have the Triforce. He didn't even know what a Triforce was. All he knew was that his best friend was being held at swordpoint by the foulest man he'd ever met in his life, a man who'd taken Saria and him from their homes. This man – though Link didn't realize it at the time – was Ganondorf, the ruler of Hyrule's criminal empire. He was searching for a powerful magical artifact, and he'd gotten a hint that the forest children knew where it was – and when Ganondorf wanted something, woe to any who denied it to him.
"Eight seconds, boy."
"I don't – I don't know what you're talking about! Just let her go! Please!"
The girl, Saria, was trembling. Perhaps she understood the severity of the situation better than Link truly did. Perhaps she was as clueless as he was and was just shivering from the underground dungeons. Snake never specified this to me; I can only guess.
It would be seven years before these two would meet again, and those seven years would find that Link had changed – and Ganondorf had not. This time, things were different. This time, there was a Snake in the forest.
"Please!" Tears began to well up in Link's young face. "J-Just let her go… take me instead…"
He was never the most exceptional of the Noble Nine, never the smartest or the cleverest. All the same, he came to represent change. Snake had always hypothesized that he just wanted to live a normal life, that he just wanted simple revenge and had the world thrust upon him as a result.
As if revenge is ever simple.
Why did Snake put up with him? I always assumed it was because of the sword. That damn sword… once Ganondorf's, now Link's by default. The Master Sword. Forged by goddesses to defend against evil and protect Hyrule, or so the myths go. I never put much stock in Hyrulian gibberish. But I know a good sword when I see one, and the Master Sword is among the best. And it only responded to Link's touch. Maybe it just needed a new master. After all, I understand how weapons can become a part of you.
"Two seconds, boy."
He never interacted with the Nine much outside of missions, and even then, he kept to himself. Sometimes I wondered what was going through that head of his, and if it could be of any use to us. Hyrule loved him, never suspecting his double life as a killer, never realizing they had traded in one devil for the next. The princess became part of the entourage. Did she love him, or was she just indebted to him for freeing the land? And did she truly ever realize what kind of man he was? Did she care?
Then, four years ago happened. I don't know what happened in between then and now. But I know what has to be done. There is an old Chozo saying about revenge… that those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt. But the Chozo are a dead race, a testament to the futility of non-violence. Their spirit lives on in me, and I desecrate it simply by existing. The time for peace is over.
Now, a great war will be waged for my vengeance, and woe to any who deny it to me.
Samus didn't need to turn around to recognize what had happened – as Link had undoubtedly been hoping, their fight had attracted the Hyrulian guards.
"Let me through, please…"
She recognized that voice…
Zelda stopped dead in her tracks. Samus turned around to meet her, watching with grim satisfaction as the princess let out an audible gasp.
"Stand down, princess! Our champion is in danger!" Fifteen guards had drawn their bows and were pointing arrows directly at her.
Zelda's eyes were wide. Was she afraid? Was she, too, fully aware that Samus represented the end of her life, the reaper come to collect on old debts? Or was it something else… was it that harbinger of last chances, that emotion of the damned and dying? Was it regret?
"Guards," she said, her voice soft but commanding. "Stand down ."
"But my princess –"
"You may leave us, Captain. I will handle this intruder personally."
Slowly the captain of the guards lowered his bow, and the rest of the men followed his lead. They backed slowly into the turret they'd entered from, leaving the three of them alone atop the castle roof.
"I beseech you –" Zelda began, but Samus raised an arm instantly.
"No. You beseech me nothing. You don't get to beseech a damn thing. All you get to do is watch and wait."
"I know there's no stopping you. All I ask is that you wait until tonight. In the coliseum. Without the suit."
Samus raised an eyebrow, hidden behind her helmet. "Why should I?"
"Because you'll win too easily this way. There's no reward –"
"Oh, there's plenty of reward," Samus said coldly.
"And should you win, you can kill me as well."
"And what's stopping me from doing that anyway?"
Zelda smiled darkly. "I'd like to think that, deep down, that code of honor we used to share… I'd like to think it still remains."
"Said code of honor expired when eight men tag-teamed one woman and an unborn child."
"You're better than that. The Samus I knew was better than that. It's your choice. If you're going to do it now, at least be quick about it."
The only sound atop the sunset-dotted roof was Link's shallow breathing. Samus hesitated. She could kill them both now, oh yes, and be off to her next destination by dawn… so why wasn't she doing it?
"Fine. Midnight in the coliseum. Your champion and I will finish what we started. But know this: I do this not for you, not for the friendship we used to share. I do this for me, and me only."
With that, Samus leapt from the top of the roof and spiraled down in the shadows of Hyrule's night sky.