The Happy Mask Salesman. The Twilight Princess. The Wind Mage.
He awoke in a warm bed, dressed in his underclothes and covered by fine silk sheets. There was a fire burning in the hearth and a golden light streaming through the window, and as Link sat up it felt like he had never been so well-rested in his life.
Link's mail and tunic were folded neatly at the foot of the bed, along with his floppy green hat, and the Master sword was leaning against the bedpost, along with a brand new shield. He dressed and armed himself quickly, and then exited the bedchamber to find himself in a lavishly appointed suite filled with the smell of food.
He came to a table laid with a feast big enough for twenty of him. There was meat of every conceivable kind, garnished with herbs and vegetables and artfully arranged. There was freshly-baked bread, plates of baked potatoes, tureens of soup, and flagons of beer, wine, and water. Only two places had been set, and one of them was already occupied.
"Please, sit," the mask salesman said. "You must be famished. Eat whatever you like."
Link was hungry, painfully so, but he did not sit down. "How did I get here?"
"I brought you here, after you fell unconscious in the throne room."
"How long was I asleep?"
The salesman smiled. "That does not matter. The world waits on your convenience, Link. It will not move on without you."
He could resist no longer. Link sat at his place, across from the mask salesman, and began to pile food onto his plate. "I only ever liked the sight of you because you had food. So what is your purpose this time?" He asked, in between mouthfuls. "What pointless riddles do you have for me now? Go on, speak."
"No riddles," the mask salesman said.
"No? Surely you must have had some reason to bring me here."
"Why, yes. Of course. I found you unconscious on a field of battle, covered in blood and wracked with pain. I thought that you could do with a restful sleep in a nice warm bed, and a good meal to restore your strength."
When Link did not answer, but only affixed him with his coldest stare, the mask salesman went on. "I am speaking truthfully. I only wanted to help you."
"Help me?" Link poured himself a cup of beer. "Is that what you've been doing this whole time?"
"Yes. I am your servant, Link. I exist only to serve you. Think back to the night we first met, in the forest. Did I not give you food then, and allow you to share in the warmth of my fire? You were lost that night, alone in a dark place, and I showed you the way to shelter."
Link stared into the mask salesman's eyes. They were unreadable, permanently crinkled by his smile. "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am a god, created to serve those who bear the Triforce. That same night I was also with Ganondorf. I showed him the way to find you."
Quite a few things suddenly seemed clear to Link now. "You were the one that Zelda spoke of," he said. "In Ganondorf's story. She said that she'd been visited by a god. That was you."
"You've been playing the three of us off each other this whole time," he said. "You were the one who started this- all of this."
"Link," the mask salesman interrupted. "You don't understand-"
"I understand quite clearly." Link stood and drew his sword. "You led me into this war. You made all of this happen."
"That was not my intent. I only asked questions- it was you who provided the answers, through your actions-"
He rounded the table, and was on the mask salesman in an instant. With one hand he lifted him- the man was as light as a child- and pinned him against the wall, with the Master Sword at his throat. "Enough cryptic remarks. What do you want from me? Are you speaking to Zelda, at this very moment? Are you speaking to Ganondorf? What are you telling them?"
"Zelda and Ganondorf are dead!" The mask salesman shouted. "You are the last Triforce bearer, Link, I live only to serve you!"
Link let him fall, and the mask salesman collapsed in a heap.
"They're dead?" He didn't believe it. "Both of them?"
"Come with me." There was a note of pity in the words.
Link followed the mask salesman through the suite into a parlor that opened onto a balcony. Outside the world was bathed in twilight, with snowflakes fluttering through the golden sky.
They stepped out onto the balcony and the mask salesman pointed. "There," he said. "At the Tower of the Gods."
There was a corpse hanging from the tower, swaying at the end of a scarlet banner, the light of the setting sun glinting off of its silver armour. Even from so far below the pale skin and golden-brown hair of Princess Zelda were clearly distinguishable.
"So she is dead," Link said. Zelda no longer looked fearsome or powerful, hanging there, but instead seemed small and fragile, and most of all mortal.
"She is dead," the mask salesman echoed. "As is Ganondorf."
Link turned away from the sad end that Zelda had made for herself. "Then the battle is done. Ganondorf may have been an evil man once, but in this life he proved that there was still some good left in side him. It saddens me to hear of his death."
"It will sadden you further to hear of the manner of his passing," the mask salesman said. "I am sorry, Link."
"He died fighting Zelda, did he not?" Please let that be it. Please let that be what happened.
But it was not so.
"Ganondorf was gravely injured after the battle, but it was not his injuries that killed him. The Twilight Princess Midna killed Ganondorf, and took the Triforce of Power."
Link's head suddenly felt heavy, so heavy that he could not bear the weight of it. He stepped back into the parlour and collapsed in the nearest chair, burying his head in his hands.
Link wept. He wept for Zelda, for the things she had done and the person she had become. He wept for Ganondorf, for the man who had redeemed himself only to be betrayed by one of his closest friends.
And he wept for Midna.
"She's still up there, isn't she?" He asked, after a time. "She's waiting for me."
"She is. Please, rest as long as you need. Recover your strength."
"No. I will go now."
"Then Courage guide you on your quest, Hero."
Link did not respond to this. He rose and walked past the unfinished feast, pausing at the door that would take him back into the corridors of Hyrule Castle.
"If you had never met me that night in the forest," he asked, "and I had never come to Hyrule- what would have happened?"
The mask salesman's grin faltered at last. "You would have wandered in those woods forever," he said, "lost and alone."
Link smiled weakly. "That wasn't what I meant."
And he opened the door.
The weather atop the Tower of the Gods was bitter, with a cold wind cutting across it and carrying snowflakes that stung his face and his hands.
Midna was waiting for him, hovering in the centre of an enormous shining design that had been etched into the floor. "Hi, Link," she said meekly when she saw him, and she waved.
Then she turned her hand around, so he could see the back of it. Sure enough, there were two golden triangles there.
"Hello, Midna," he said. He took a few slow steps towards her. "Zelda is dead?"
"Yes," she said.
"Yes." Her voice was uncharacteristically timid, and quiet, as though she was afraid of what his response might be.
If it was an accusation she was waiting for, or an admonishment, it never came. Instead he asked, "Where is he?"
Ganondorf was sitting upright, staring out over the balustrade at the sun hanging low over the horizon. His face still held the same impassive expression that it often had in life, and the reflected twilight lent his eyes some small hint of their former fire.
His features were slack now, although somehow this did not rob him of as much dignity as it might have. With his eyes part-focused on the horizon and his mouth half-open, Ganondorf looked almost pensive, as if he were frozen in the middle of a thought and might resume speaking at any moment.
Any resemblance to a living man stopped just below the collar, where Ganondorf's black-and-gold armour had been rent open with terrifying violence. The wound beneath was a horrifying sight, and Link did not look upon it long.
He bent over the balustrade and began gathering up the long banner that Zelda was dangling from.
"What are you doing?" Midna asked.
Link pulled Zelda's body up onto the top of the tower, and then undid the banner from where it was looped around her torso. He lay her body not far from Ganondorf's. It was pale and frozen, and the expression on her face was unmistakeably devoid of life.
"Why did you do that?"
"She'd been hanging there long enough," Link said. He did not elaborate.
"So," Link said. He began walking towards Midna, who had not moved this whole time. She was still floating above the centre of the circle, high enough above Link that he wouldn't be able to strike her with the Master Sword unless he was standing right next to her.
"You killed Ganondorf."
She did not bother trying to deny it. "Yes."
"Midna..." there was anguish in his voice.
"I had to!" She shouted. "Link, I had to. Please, listen to me."
Midna waited, and at his silence she continued.
"I had to do it for the Twili. And for the Gerudo. And the Minish, and everybody else that died because of Zelda. Ganondorf was going to destroy the Triforce, he- he was just going to throw it all away. I can bring them back, Link. I know I can. I had to kill Ganondorf, I couldn't let him-"
"You killed Ganondorf for the Triforce," Link interrupted her.
Midna's face fell. "Link, no... I didn't..."
"You killed him and took it from him." Link felt like he was going to be sick. Like he was going to cry again. Ganondorf told me this would happen. He warned me, underneath the city. "Midna..."
"I did it for my people. I'm their princess, Link, I had to, but listen! Listen, we have all three pieces of the Triforce now. We can do anything. You and me, together, we can make Hyrule the place we always wanted it to be. We can bring back everyone who died- even Ganondorf!" Her pleas were growing more and more desperate. "Link, please, listen to me!"
"Midna," Link said, and she fell silent. "I don't want to kill you."
"But I will," he continued, "if you don't do exactly as I say."
Anger flashed across her features for a brief moment. She regained her composure quickly, but it was too late. He had already seen it.
"So what is it, then?" Her voice had changed. It was harsher, more hostile. "What are your orders?"
"Give me Zelda and Ganondorf's pieces of the Triforce."
She was shocked at first, and then she laughed. "You judge me for taking it, and in the same breath threaten to kill me unless I give it to you?"
"Midna-" he began, but now it was her turn to interrupt him.
"How dare you," she spat, not bothering to hide the anger now. "How dare you. You think you're better than me? That you can wield it and I can't?"
"Midna, nobody can use the Triforce." He held out his hands, peacefully. "It can never be used. Never. Not by you, and not by me."
"So that's your decision to make?" she asked. "What about my people? What have I been fighting for, this whole time?"
He spoke slowly, bluntly. "The Twili are dead," Link said, "They're gone, Midna. I'm sorry."
"They're not!" As he watched the stone of her helmet moved like a living thing, uncovering her hidden eye, so that she was using both of them to meet his gaze- something she had never done before in this form. "What do you think the Nameless was, Link? What do you think it still is? The souls of everyone used in its making."
Too late, he saw her intention.
"Midna, don't do it."
The stone began to creep downward. Her eyes were covered now, soon followed by her entire face. "They live still," she said.
"Midna, stop. Midna!"
It lent her voice an echo when she spoke. "A part of me now."
He got his arms to his face in time, and covered his eyes as tightly as he could, but still the golden light seeped through, brighter than the sun. The castle shook once more, and Link could feel the magic throb as the blood of Hyrule pulsed through veins etched into the floor beneath his boots.
Midna holds two pieces, and I have the third, Link thought, pulling the Master Sword from its sheath. Zelda's spell is dangerous even after her death. Using magic here is dangerous.
The golden light was suddenly gone, and Link uncovered his eyes. Midna was still hovering in the exact same place, but she had been transfigured into some black, many-legged thing. Shadows poured off of her like smoke and billowed across the tower, covering the golden lines on the floor and surging towards him.
"You can't kill me." He voice was unchanged. "I am stronger than you now, Link."
The shadows had already engulfed his legs and were creeping up his abdomen, and as it swelled up around him it coalesced into tiny hands clutching and grabbing at his tunic.
The Master Sword swooped downwards, slicing through the shadows as though they were nothing, and as he pulled both his arms free Link turned his momentum into a spin, carving into the darkness. The shadows bled golden light wherever he struck them.
"Midna, stop this!" He pleaded once again, cutting his way towards her. "You'll only kill yourself!"
And she was. Drawing upon two-thirds of the Triforce, here, at the nexus of Zelda's massive spell, was shaking Hyrule to its very foundations, and tearing Midna apart.
"Something's... off..." she said.
Shapes came out of the blackness now, at him, the shapes of screaming people. Light poured from their eyes and their mouths, and they were already burning up from the inside before Link's sword ever touched them.
He began to back away. It's killing all of them. The Triforce is boiling the Nameless out of her.
Then the flow of darkness stopped, and the light ceased. Midna dropped out of the air and crashed to the stone.
A second passed, and then two, and he allowed himself to think she might be dead. But then her head lifted, and she leaped into the air again.
She stopped the spell herself, before it killed her.
"Why?" she cried. "Why isn't it working?"
"The Triforce does not belong to you," he shouted, "and it never will. Midna, you have to give it to me- it'll kill you otherwise."
"You want it for yourself!" Rage flashed across her features, and her arm traced a vicious arc through the air.
Fire came rushing at him, but Link's sword came up to meet it and absorb the magic. For an instant the flames winked out, and the blade of the Master Sword flickered, showing the reflection of an inferno that wasn't there.
Then the blade flashed downward and the magic was released, knocking her backwards- but she stayed in the air this time.
She gave a wordless shout as she counterattacked, her hands throwing wicked arcs of lightning that Link had no time to deflect and barely blocked with his shield.
"Give me the third piece," she said, in between volleys of magic. "Give it to me or I will kill you and take it!"
That was the sentence that made up his mind.
Midna wanted to keep him at a distance and her attacks were betraying this intention. Link kept his shield up as he charged at her, and jumped, and at the exact right moment lowered his shield and thrust his blade forward.
The lightning crackled against the Master Sword and rebounded, and there was a bright flash of light and a popping sound as the spell in Midna's hand exploded. She shouted in pain and recoiled backwards, momentarily distracted enough that she did not pay attention to how close she was getting to the ground.
Link landed and immediately flung himself back into the air again. The Master Sword bit into Midna's side and he saw golden light spill out instead of blood.
Hyrule trembled beneath them again.
This time before the surging power of the Triforce could once more overwhelm her Midna channelled its power outwards, a torrent of pure magic pouring from her hands as they slashed the air. Link dodged this, staying one step ahead of her spells until he could set his feet and whirl about, meeting the barrage with the blade of his sword.
Keep attacking her. Keep her on her heels.
The Master Sword drank in her magic and Link flung it back at her, but Midna saw it coming and vanished before it reached her this time.
She reappeared right in front of him, her hands aflame. Link batted aside one swing of her arm and his blade flickered upwards, but she was gone again before the blow landed.
"Give it up, Link." He pivoted at the sound of her voice, and quickly spotted her amidst the falling snow. "Don't you know how powerful I am here?"
He was already running towards her. Irritated, she vanished again.
Link skidded to a halt and Midna reappeared. "I have two pieces of the Triforce. I'm stronger than Zelda ever was," she finished. "I'll kill you if this continues."
"Then kill me."
"Link!" This time the shadows hardened into something like a shield, and rose up to catch his blade. The Master Sword sank into the surface of the blackness, and Link leaned forward to put more weight behind the sword. "Stop this. You can't win. You-"
The shield broke, and the Master Sword sliced through the place where Midna's head had been only a second before.
She retaliated in earnest now, with an assault that was too furious to block. Link darted across the tower, weaving as the magic struck the floor around his feet. The spell circle was sparking erratically as Midna drew energy from the enchantment, and he could feel the stone growing hot beneath his feet.
Keep attacking. Keep attacking.
Midna was too slow in vanishing this time, and the Master Sword cut into her again, spilling dark blood and golden light. She shrieked in pain and swatted at him reflexively.
Her tiny arm became a huge shadowy appendage, and it struck him clean, flinging him across the tower. Link was on his feet again quickly, but Midna hit him again, and again, each time with an impossible strength.
"Just stop!" She screamed. "Stop fighting!"
Only his magic tunic kept his bones from breaking; Zelda's gift had saved his life again. As he levered himself up one more time the floor suddenly fell away from him, and Link was lifted into the air by a tide of darkness that wrapped itself around his waist.
"Stop it!" Midna pleaded. He felt the shadows constricting, tightening around his torso and crushing the air from his lungs. "Link, please."
He couldn't bring the Master Sword up to cut himself free, and he didn't have to. Link dropped the sword and plunged his hands into the shadows that held him aloft, and he felt his own piece of the Triforce syphoning power away from Midna.
Her shout this time went beyond mere pain and into the notes of agony. She dropped him and Link rolled as he hit the ground, snatching up his fallen sword. He regained his feet and transferred in momentum into a swing of his blade with one fluid motion.
The other cuts had been small things. Link knew she was seriously wounded before the stroke even landed.
Midna blinked out of existence.
The tower pitched forward and Link's feet left the ground. He crashed against the tower hard and felt the runes of Zelda's spell burning his hands with their heat.
Midna appeared out of his reach. Her helmet had been scored deeply- both her eyes were uncovered and the front of her face was awash with the blackness of her blood. She was panting, exhausted, and when she wiped the blood from her face more trickled down to replace it.
Link calmly took up his position opposite her and waited, Master Sword in hand.
"How..." she said. "Why...?"
"You are powerful, yes. More powerful than me," he told her, "but that means nothing."
She looked back at him, uncomprehending. Her eyes were wide, and panicked.
"You can't beat me," he said. "No matter how strong your magic is."
But still he could see that she did not understand. In Midna's head this is just math. Two is greater than one.
She was wielding the Triforce clumsily, drawing on as much power as she could withstand and channelling it into violent, short-sighted attacks. Midna was attacking him as if she expected to win the fight through overwhelming strength- and Link had lifetimes of experience against an opponent who had once fought the exact same way.
"The Triforce is not yours to use," he said. "Give it up, Midna."
"I... I can't." Tears were beading in her eyes now, and she reached up and wiped them away, smearing them together with the blood running down her cheek. "I can't abandon all these people. Not after all this time."
The people inside of her. The Nameless.
"Let them rest, Midna," Link said. "Let them go."
More tears now were running down her face. "No," she said. "You don't understand. It's all my fault. I killed them."
"Then let them stay dead."
She shook her head. "This is my chance to make it right. My only chance."
"Midna-" he began, but it was too late.
Darkness and light exploded out of her, obscuring Midna's impish form entirely. They swirled and coalesced one final time into a gigantic, many-limbed thing made of light and darkness, and beneath his feet the circle was burning with magic.
Link felt the tower shake, and heard a dull roar as parts of Hyrule Castle began collapsing. Still Midna drew on the Triforce, and Link felt his own hand searing as the power within him sensed its siblings crying out for the third and final piece.
With more willpower than he had ever exerted in his life, Link reached inside himself and grasped the Triforce of Courage. He sealed away its power, cutting himself off completely from its magic, turning himself into nothing more than an ordinary man.
That man charged across the Tower of the Gods, sprinting through the whirling snow and leaping into the torrent of darkness and light that writhed at the opposite end. There, in the centre of the maelstrom, was a tiny naked figure, head thrown back and eyes wide as the full might of Wisdom and Power surged through her.
Link sailed through the air and into the roiling darkness, raising the Master Sword high and driving it forward. The blade pierced Midna's chest and suddenly the deluge of light and sound stopped- and for a moment everything was silent and it seemed like the two of them would be frozen there forever, suspended in midair with the snow swirling around them in the twilight.
Then the moment was gone, and the momentum of Link's jump drove them both forward, towards the edge of the tower.
His knees hit the balustrade and they twisted sideways. Midna made a small uh sound and then they were spinning, falling soundlessly end over end through the orange sky as snowflakes whipped by and the castle grounds rushed up to meet them.
They found the two of them only ten metres away from each other.
In death Midna had been freed from the magic of her reliquary and had reverted back to her natural appearance. She was still beautiful even with her eyes slack and her hair splayed wildly about her head. Save for the wound that had killed her just underneath her ribcage, her skin was unblemished, and her bones were unbroken.
Link was still alive.
Several of the men jumped backwards when he stirred, or cursed aloud. Even Viscen was startled just a little, but Vaati was not surprised by this in the slightest.
"His glove," Vaati said. "Take his glove off. The left one."
Viscen tried to interrupt. "Vaati, I don't think-"
But Vaati was already doing it himself. Link protested weakly, but Vaati knocked his other hand away and undid the bindings on his gauntlet, yanking the glove off in one quick motion.
"Ah!" He recoiled backwards, throwing his arms up over his face to shield his eyes. It was as though the sun itself was shining from the back of Link's hand, so great was the power of the Triforce.
The light suddenly went out. Link pulled his gauntlet back on and slowly lifted himself to his feet.
"You should not stand," Viscen hurried forward to catch Link should he fall. "You need medical attention. I'll call a doctor-"
"Leave me," Link said.
"I said leave me."
Viscen shrank back. Link took a few tottering steps towards Hyrule Castle, stopped, and then collapsed face down in the mud.
Vaati sighed and waved his hand, and Link was lifted up on an invisible cushion of air. "We'd better get him somewhere where he can rest," he said.
Viscen nodded. "Take him to one of the rooms in the barracks. He can sleep there. And somebody move that body."
They moved Link into one of the deserted barracks, where he slept alone in one of the long, low rooms lined with bunk beds. Viscen and Vaati sat together at a dining table outside the door, keeping guard.
"So what do you suppose happens now?" Vaati asked. "With Zelda and Ganondorf both dead?"
"You seem awfully sure that Ganondorf is gone," Viscen said.
"Did you see that sigil on Link's hand? He holds all three pieces of the Triforce. You and I both know Ganondorf would have died before he saw the relic completed."
Viscen stared at the rough wood of the table. "You're right. He is dead, then."
"So Hyrule has no ruler."
Viscen jerked his head in the direction of the room where Link was sleeping. "Not him?"
"No," Vaati said. "He'd never do it."
"Well, he's the only one who could."
"He's the only people would listen to," Vaati corrected. "But you or I could run the city just fine. If we can get him to agree to-"
"-to act as a figurehead?"
Both of them turned. There was Link, leaning against the doorframe.
"Pretty much," Vaati said.
Viscen stood. "Link, you should be resting."
"I am fine. I slept earlier."
But the glare in Link's eyes silenced him. "Vaati," Link said, "You were saying something?"
Vaati sighed. "You heard what I said. I want you to wear a crown and sit in a chair and leave the city to us."
"The city is the last thing I would leave to you, Vaati. No, I will be king of Hyrule, and I will watch over this city."
Vaati watched Link carefully as he hobbled over to the table and slumped into an empty chair. "And will you retain me as vizier, or am I to be executed for treason?"
"Neither," Link said. "I am king of Hyrule, but I will not be king of its people."
There was a silence.
"Maybe you should clarify," Vaati said.
Link did not, at least not immediately. Vaati saw that he was steeling himself for what he was going to say.
"I need your help," Link said. He gave both of them a deeply apologetic look.
"And I'm sorry."
The cottage had been built by hand at some point in the not-too-distant past; it looked to be maybe a decade or two old at most and was ringed with vegetable and flower gardens. It lay at the edge of the forest, with Hyrule field to its eastern side and the great city itself plainly visible in the distance.
Vaati dismounted and tied his horse to the post out front, and then climbed the steps up onto the porch.
He reached out to open the door, but it swung open before he could lay his hand on the knob. Standing in the doorway was a girl the same height as him, with hair and clothing that looked like they were made of living plants.
Looking a bit closer, Vaati noticed that some of the leaves and moss that comprised the girl's dress seemed to be withering, and that the ends of her hair had dried up and started to go brown.
"Who are you?" She asked.
He looked her over. "A Kokiri."
"You are not."
"No, I mean- are you a Kokiri?" When she didn't answer, he rolled his eyes. "Of course you are. I've never actually seen one before."
The look in her eyes was hostile. "What are you doing here?"
Vaati let his backpack thump onto the porch and dug around in it. He withdrew a letter, unfolded it, and showed her the signature at the bottom.
"I was invited," Vaati said. "May I come in?"
"I can't read," the girl responded.
"Well, go learn."
The girl drew the door back to slam it.
A voice from inside the cottage called out, "Let him in, Saria. He is my guest."
Looking like she would enjoy nothing more than slamming the door in his face Saria stepped aside and, after giving Vaati one last distrustful glare, darted off into the forest. Vaati watched her go, and then continued inside.
The farmhouse was filled with books, literally stuffed so full of them that the stacks went all the way up to the ceiling. Any space not filled with books was filled with sheaves of paper instead- maps, diagrams, spell circles, drawings, and many pages filled with handwritten notes.
"And she doesn't know how to read," Vaati said aloud.
A floating ball of light weaved its way through the piles of literature towards him. "Vaati!" Navi shouted.
"Hello, fairy," he said. "It's been a long time."
"It sure has!" She landed on his hand, and he was able to get a good look at her. The fairy seemed thinner and more drawn than the last time he had seen her, and there was a tired note behind the cheer in her voice.
"He's through here," she floated through the cottage, leading him through the mountains of literature to a place where a man sat hunched over a writing desk.
"I got your invitation," Vaati said.
The man swivelled in his chair. He was old, with deep lines in his face and long white hair. Much of his features were obscured by his considerable beard but his eyes, bright and aware, were the same keen blue they had always been and they fixated on Vaati immediately. He was wearing a thick leather gauntlet over his left hand.
"Vaati." His voice was dusty, unused. "So you've come."
"How could I not?" Trying to look unconcerned, Vaai surveyed the cluttered study. "Nice cabin."
"Isn't it? My last one had two floors, but I decided to keep this one simple."
"Some king you turned out to be. What sort of monarch doesn't even reside in his own kingdom?"
Link lifted himself to his feet. "The kind of monarch who never wanted to be a monarch at all. Come on, let's have a drink."
Vaati was led into the kitchen, which was just as cramped and full of books as the study. Link set about preparing a pot of tea, asking questions the whole time, and although he was beginning now to grow very old indeed Vaati noticed that his movements did not seem to be affected at all.
"So, Vaati. Tell me of the new Hyrule."
Vaati selected a book from one of the piles and examined it. It was titled A History of Hyrule's Forgotten Races. Opening it he saw that it contained a chapter on his own people, the Minish. "We founded it to the west, across the sea. It fares well enough, I suppose, although there were some wars about a century ago."
"With a neighbouring nation. Holodrum. We won, though."
"You had nothing to do with starting it, I hope."
Vaati flipped to the end of the Minish chapter. The last surviving member of the Minish race is the wind mage named Vaati, who now serves the kingdom of Hyrule as a vizier to Princess Zelda. It is still unknown how the death of the Minish people came about, or why this one Minish wizard remains alive centuries after the fact. Although there are many theories on this topic, some of which implicate Vaati in the death of his people, nothing has ever been conclusively proven, and it is likely that history will never know the truth.
"What if I did?" He asked.
Link paused in the middle of pouring the tea. "Then it was a decision you made as king. I gave you and Viscen that responsibility. I will not judge your actions."
Vaati placed the book back on top of the pile. "I had nothing to do with the war. I stepped down as king more than three hundred years ago."
Link set two steaming mugs of tea down on the kitchen table. "Did you?" Something in his voice suggested that he wasn't surprised in the slightest.
"What happened to Viscen?" Navi said.
Vaati turned to see her sitting on top of the book he had just set down.
"Yes, what happened to Viscen?" Link had vanished again, and Vaati could hear glassware clinking.
"There isn't much to tell. He served as commandant for a time, but in practice he ruled Hyrule beside me, as an equal. He took his duty to you very seriously, as seriously as I ever saw him take anything. Then he retired, and some time after that he died. This was... a long time ago, now. Centuries."
"Was he happy?"
"You know what he was like. Happy to serve. He never took to authority well, though. Even when he was Zelda's Commandant, now that I think about it."
Link returned bearing a bottle. "Whiskey?"
"Whiskey. In your tea. Do you want some?"
"Would anybody? No. Ugh, of course no."
Link poured a healthy measure into his own mug. "Suit yourself. I brew it myself, you know." Clasping the mug in his spotted hands, Link raised it to his mouth and took a long sip. "Ah. Nice and strong."
"So I suppose it's safe to assume you didn't invite me all this way just for a friendly chat. You never were one for conversation."
"No. I suppose not." He clinked his fingers against the side of his mug. "Navi, would you please leave us? I have to speak with Vaati in private for a moment."
"Sure thing," the fairy said, ever obliging. She fluttered her wings and zoomed off.
Vaati watched her go. "Keeping a secret from your fairy friend? Must be something important."
"It is." Link took a deep breath. "I've found a way to destroy the Triforce."
His eyes couldn't help but drift to the gauntlet on Link's hand. "Have you, now?"
He took a sip of his tea. "And the reason you haven't done so already- the reason you summoned me for the first time in almost a thousand years is-"
"The spell will kill me."
Vaati remained silent. He knew there must be more to it.
"And it will kill you, too. The Triforce is the source of all magic in the world. Once it has been destroyed, every single magical being on this plane of existence will die with it."
"What about your friend Navi? What about the Kokiri?"
"They will die too."
"I see." Vaati reached across the table for the whiskey and took a belt straight from the bottle. "I still have to ask why you haven't done it already. Why did you summon me, Link?"
Link stood up, and beckoned for Vaati to follow him. "It seemed like the right thing to do was to at least let you know about it."
They walked back into Link's study. "You aren't worried that I might stop you?"
I'm not worried about that," Link said.
"I probably couldn't even if I tried."
Link turned and smiled. "But would you? If you could?"
Vaati realized his answer at the same time he said it. "No."
"I thought so."
He stayed in the cottage for a few more days, while Link made his final preparations. Vaati spent much of that time going through the many books and scrolls that cluttered up every room in the house. Many of them were handwritten, all by the same person- he could tell because of the writing itself, which was neat and economically cramped.
These books covered a vast range of subjects, but the most common ones were history or magical theory. One day he came across one that happened to be a journal, with various dates and events all neatly recorded in the same tiny scrawl.
He'd read several pages of it when he realized with a chill just who had written the book he was holding:
More dreams last night. They grow increasingly vivid and often unpleasant. In this one I dreamed that I was in battle, a fight to the death against a dark king who wielded magic with terrifying power. At my side was a man garbed in green, who seemed familiar though I had never seen his face. The dream ended with my death, impaled on the dark king's sword. When I awoke the memories of the dream faded quickly but somehow I still felt the pain of the wounds... I could not get back to sleep. A phantom pain in my chest kept me awake, right in the spot where I had been stabbed in my dream.
The dark man reminded me very much of Ganondorf. Could the gods be trying to warn me about something? But I cannot imagine that he would ever hurt me. I shall not tell him about this, but if the dreams continue I may have to consult with my sages.
The diary had belonged to Princess Zelda, as had the multitude of other books he'd been idly browsing. In retrospect he should have realized this, but he simply hadn't thought any of her writings would have survived this long. They must be magically preserved, he thought.
He flipped to a passage near the end of the diary.
It is easy enough now to experience the visions willingly, but less easy to choose what I will see. I have spent many days enduring tedious reminiscences of budget meetings, or royal banquets, or even one particularly unpleasant time when I was ill with food poisoning. As frustrating as these occasions were in past lives they are doubly so when relived from this one.
But sometimes the visions show me something useful.
Three days past I witnessed Ganondorf's troops sacking Hyrule Castle and the surrounding town. He used a most ingenious magic where every citizen his troops killed immediately rose again in his service, adding to his armies in perpetuity. This vision alone would have been most valuable but fortunately I did not draw myself out of it and continued watching.
When he took the castle he himself came into the throne room, where I was hiding with my mother and father and what was left of our household guard. Ganondorf was accompanied by a curious black apparition, which as it approached revealed itself to have the exact same shape and countenance as the Bearer of Courage! Not only that, but its powers were equal to his- or near enough to make little difference. This spectre slaughtered the castle guards effortlessly, and I watched as my mother and father were killed before my eyes.
It was at this time that my attendant, a woman named Impa, spirited me away. At the time it was a miraculous and daring escape, and the me in the vision was saved from a horrible fate. The me who was watching, however, cursed the Impa woman- would that I had been able to see more of this most exceptional magic, perhaps to duplicate it for myself!
The only recourse is to immerse myself further in the visions. I am sure there are more valuable secrets to be revealed, and I have all the time in the world in which to do so...
"A little light reading?" Link asked, peering over his shoulder.
Vaati closed the book. He felt appalled. "You read this. You read all of these."
"Yes," Link said. He took a seat in the armchair across from where Vaati had been reading. "Every step of Zelda's descent into madness was painstakingly chronicled. Every word of every spell, every line of every enchantment- she wrote it all down. And I have traced those steps, and followed in her footsteps."
Vaati regarded Link with a new wariness. "It's a wonder you're not mad yourself."
"Who says I'm not mad?" But the shine in Link's eye said that he was joking. "It has been painful, I won't deny it. But where Zelda was greedy, I am reluctant. I study her magic not because I want to, but because I need to."
"This is where you found the spell to destroy the Triforce."
"Yes. It is a modification of the spell that Zelda tried to cast on the day Hyrule fell, except instead of absorbing the Triforce into myself I am dissociating it, into nothing. The alterations are simple- they can be done in a few minutes with a piece of chalk. The spell itself takes some time, but once it has been triggered it cannot be taken back."
"So when are you doing it?"
Link took a deep breath, and sighed, leaning back in the chair and savouring the comfort of it. "Tomorrow. I will do it tomorrow."
"I will go with you, if only to see this spell when it is finally activated. I can't think of a better way to die, really."
Now Link leaned forward, and his face took on the expression that it did when he was about to ask someone for an unpleasant favour. "Actually," he said, "I was hoping you would be willing to do something else."
He was going to, of course. "And what is that?"
"Take Navi and go somewhere. Just start walking- through the forest, or towards the mountains. Just please-" Vaati was startled to see there were tears suddenly running down Link's weathered face. "I can't look at her when it happens. I can't. It's selfish, I know, but-"
"Selfish," Vaati said. He couldn't help but laugh, a little. "Link, you are the most unselfish person I have ever met. I can do this for you, at the very least."
Link smiled widely, his eyes still glistening. "Thank you, Vaati. Thank you. Take her somewhere beautiful. Please."
"Somewhere beautiful. The forest, then."
"Yes, the forest. Thank you."
There are worse places to die, I suppose, and worse things I might do for my final act.
That night Vaati found himself unable to sleep. He was laying on a couch surrounded by stacks of books, staring up at the low ceiling, waiting for the inevitable sunrise when a flicker of light caught his eye.
It was Navi. He sat up, and she fluttered over to his couch and settled on the end of it. He was secretly relieved that she was there, and for a while neither of them said anything.
"Can't sleep?" She finally asked.
"No," he said.
She curled up, wrapping her arms around her knees. "Are you scared?"
"Yes," he said.
Link woke at dawn the next day. He ate nothing, but immediately started preparing for his final journey into Hyrule.
Vaati set about saddling his horse and readying his things for his return journey, back to the land of New Hyrule. He didn't know how far he would get, but a part of him at least wanted to see the ocean one more time.
They said their farewells outside the cabin, standing on grass still wet with dew. Link was wearing his old tunic, the green still as vibrant as ever and the white of his beard standing out starkly against it.
"Well," Vaati said. "Good luck. I guess." He extended his hand.
Link shook it. "Thank you, Vaati. There is a lot more good in you that you're willing to admit, you know."
"Don't remind me." Vaati sighed and turned eastward, to face both the rising sun and the ruins of Hyrule city. "Nice sunrise, isn't it?"
"Beautiful," Link said. The sky was tinged pink and blue over their heads, with the yellow glow of the dawn growing steadily in the east. Only the black shadow of the city marred the glow sweeping across the horizon.
Link stared at the sunset for a short while before circling around the cabin and heading towards the forest. There, in the shadow of the trees, were three worn stone monuments.
Vaati watched at a respectful distance as Link knelt in front of each of them in turn, and murmured a few short words under his breath. This was where Midna, Zelda, and Ganondorf lay, and Link spoke to each of these gravestones as though he were having an intimate conversation with a very close friend.
When that was done Link at last lifted Navi off of his shoulder. He held her in his hands and spoke to her, too, although once again Vaati was too distant to hear what was being said.
Link finished speaking, and Navi reached up to give his face as much of a hug as she could manage. Then she lifted herself up off of Link's hands and fluttered over to rest on Vaati's shoulder.
"This is it, then?" He asked Link.
"This is it."
"What do you want me to do with all of those books? And your cabin?" He'd only just now remembered all of Link's possessions.
"I'd appreciate it if you burned them," Link said, "Those books won't be good for anything but I'd still prefer not to have them lying around."
"I'll take care of it," Vaati assured.
"Yes, well... thanks." Link seemed to be out of things to say. "Goodbye. Vaati, Navi. You are good friends. Both of you."
Vaati was oddly touched. "Yes, I suppose I am," he said.
Link's laughter was a ringing, genuine sound. "Goodbye," he said, again, and then he turned his back to them and started walking. Vaati and Navi stood there, watching him, until he was far enough away that Vaati could hold his thumb up out at arm's length and blot out Link entirely.
At last he turned away. "Let's go."
He stopped at the edge of the forest and turned back towards Hyrule field, and found that now he was unable to spot Link at all. Vaati waved his arm and flames jumped from his fingers, racing through the air towards Link's cabin.
The wood burned quickly. Within minutes the books caught and then the entire cabin was ablaze, sending a black banner of smoke high into the morning sky. Link would be able to look back and see that his last request had been followed.
The wind mage and the fairy both watched the house burn for a short while, and then turned to journey westward through the forest. The same Kokiri girl that Vaati had seen when he'd arrived was standing in the middle of the pathway, blocking them.
"You let him go," she said, accusation in her voice.
"We had no right to stop him," Vaati replied.
"You let him murder all of us," she said.
"It was past time somebody did." He wanted nothing more than to ride past this waifish forest girl and leave her to her fate, but something about the grief in her eyes made him unable to look away. "We've lived long enough. All of us."
Saria began to cry, tears dripping from her chin as her body heaved with quiet sobs. "He didn't have to," she said. "He could have lived in the forest. With us. He didn't have to do it."
Vaati thought of the terrible power of the Triforce, lying dormant inside of Link these long centuries. It was a power that he had always dreamed of stealing, until he'd witnessed the true extent of it. "No," he said. "He had to do it."
The girl gave him a furious look, and then vanished.
All around them, the forest was flourishing. In the past Vaati would never have dared set foot in this place, but the heavy veil of magic that had lain over the woods was thinner than it had been in centuries past. They travelled west, away from the city, and did not lose their way even once. He got the sense that the forest was speeding their passage, perhaps as some final act of empathy.
One day passed, and then two. Vaati wondered briefly what Link was doing in the ruins of Hyrule. How long would it take him to alter Zelda's original enchantment? What if he had made an error, or miscalculated?
But for the most part he kept those thoughts out of his mind, and concentrated on covering as much distance as possible.
On the night of the third day, as he sat staring forward into the campfire, Navi asked him a question.
"Vaati," she said, "What would it have been like if Link had never come to Hyrule?"
He knew the answer, but he didn't know if she would like it.
She could see his hesitation. "Tell me. Please."
"Nothing would have happened," he said. "Ganondorf would still be alive, and so would Zelda. The people of Hyrule would have lived their lives, grown old, and died just the same, and our own lives would have been sustained by magic for as long as the city stood."
"Oh," she said. "Do you wish that had happened?"
He gave the honest answer. "Sometimes."
"Oh," she said, again. And then, very quietly, "me, too."
The fairy was resting on his knee, looking up at him while they talked. She shifted and turned, so that she was staring into the fire too. "It was beautiful, wasn't it?" Navi asked, "Hyrule. It was a terrible place sometimes but I still always thought it was beautiful."
Vaati closed his eyes and imagined the Market District, on a busy day. He imagined the snowflakes falling on Hyrule castle, the worship ceremonies at the great monuments and temples, and the neat gardens and white houses of the High Street.
He imagined the spell that had held it all together, the wonderful complexity of it and the unbelievable amount of skill that had gone into its construction. Vaati still remembered the first time he had realized the true extent of the enchantment, and the feeling of awe that had so overwhelmed him when he began to understand that it had all been the work of a single person.
"Yes," he said. "It was beautiful."
When he woke up the next morning she was gone.
There was no body. No trace of her. No evidence that Navi the fairy had ever existed. She was simply gone. Vaati searched the campsite for nearly an hour, calling her name in progressively louder tones until he was practically shouting it, but there was nothing to find.
It occurred to him then to try magic.
He chose a leaf, resting on the ground, and tried to will the wind to pick it up and carry it towards him. It was the simplest kind of magic, and should have taken almost no effort on his part.
The leaf did not move.
Vaati stepped closer and picked it up. He tried to will fire to jump from his hands and into the leaf, but even with it sitting in his palm he could not muster a single spark.
My magic is gone.
I am still alive.
He slowly became aware of the noises of the forest surrounding him. The leaves rustled in the wind and the sound of birdsong drifted through the branches. The ominous hush of magic that had lain over the woods previously was gone.
I am still alive.
As the notion began to sink in, Vaati became aware of how for the first time in centuries he could not sense any magic at all. The constant presence of it was something he had never lived without. Now that it was gone, it was like some layer of detail had been erased from the world and was now lost forever.
It was like being blind. It was like being deaf. Vaati felt weak, weaker than he could ever remember feeling, but it registered faintly compared to the one thought that was repeating itself over and over in his mind.
I am still alive.
He wasn't sure how it had happened, or why. But he continued to draw breath, conscious of the fact that he was now the last living person to remember the city of Hyrule, and all the things that had happened there.
Vaati felt compelled to leave something at that place, to act as a memorial for Navi. He wasn't sure what he could do without magic, but he had to leave something, just to prove that she had been real and she had existed and that she had died in that place.
He found the biggest rock he could- but was unable to lift it. So he found a smaller one, and set it down on the exact spot where he thought she had been when he drifted off to sleep the night before.
With his knife he clumsily etched the letters N-A-V-I into the rock, struggling just to make a few shallow scratches. When that was done, he wrote L-I-N-K beneath it, in the same childlike scrawl. It was all he could do, without magic.
He'd ruined his knife and wasted most of the day. There were still a few hours of sunlight left, though, so he climbed back onto his horse and continued down the forest path in silence.
Near sunset he came to a spot where the trees began to thin, and the path sloped upwards. Climbing, he found that he had come to the edge of the woods, and was now atop a hill with the great forest stretching out behind him for as far as he could see. Somewhere beyond that green horizon was the ruin of Hyrule.
Vaati was the only one who remembered it. And soon he would be dead too- perhaps in sixty years, perhaps in seventy. Perhaps sooner. Then there would be nobody.
He put the forest to his back and continued down the hill. Ahead of him, in the distance, Vaati could catch just the slightest glimpse of the distant sea, with the light of the setting sun reflecting off the water and setting the ocean aflame with twilight.
It was a beautiful sight.