The world around seemed to have stopped as if the focus of the entire world had been brought to bear on this one confrontation. Not a single movement was made after the fall of Ganondorf, as the storm above abated, the rain tapering off as if some great tap had been turned off.
Zelda wordlessly came to his side now the barrier had dropped, touching her hands to his side where Ganondorf's powerful blow had struck him. The tunic was torn and even the chainmail underneath showed clear signs of the blow. He winced once when she pressed on it, then with a flash of light it seemed almost as if it had never happened. It ached, but any injury that had been there was gone.
Once she was done, he moved to the unmoving form of Ganondorf, roughly shoving him onto his back to tug the Master Sword out again, cleaning it on the cloak he'd worn, then sheathed it.
"Would you let me escort you back to your Castle?" he offered to Zelda.
"Thank you... but there is one last thing you and I should do before you leave us. Midna paid a heavy price for helping us... it is only right that we go to the Palace of Twilight to let them know what happened."
Tails nodded, then turned to his friends, looking them over thoughtfully. Their expressions showed they had no intentions of being left behind again.
"Sonic knows the way to the Arbiter's Grounds," Tails started. "If you'd go into Kakariko and let everyone know what happened – I don't doubt the kids will have seen all this – then catch up with us..."
"I'll go," Sonic replied. "But how are you all going to get there? Without Midna, you can't use those portals."
"Leave that to me," Zelda assured them. "The Royal Family might not have the same kind of power as Midna and her portals, but we have long held the power to transport people to the Arbiter's Grounds. That was how the condemned originally made their way there. We will wait here for you to return, Sonic."
"What of him?" Jet asked, pointing to Ganondorf.
"Leave him," she replied. "I'll send some men from the palace to deal with him later. For now just let him lie here."
"At least he fits in," Tails noted, then at their puzzled expressions, "Well, after how high he thought he was, it seems only right he falls to this low level."
Once Sonic had returned from his brief visit to Kakariko, Zelda made another appeal to the four Spirits of Light to convey them safely to the peak of the Arbiter's Grounds and the Mirror of Twilight. They responded, transporting them there in a flash of light.
When the afterglows of that light faded, they realised they were not alone – besides themselves, there stood before the Mirror a tall woman with orange hair and a long robe, covered in the same kind of green symbols and lines that had been on Midna's arm.
She had apparently turned to look at them when they arrived, but her eyes sought only Tails. After a silence where even he found himself at a loss for words, she snippily said, "What? Is there something on my face?"
Tails almost ran to meet her.
"Midna! Is that..."
"Of course it's me, wolf boy. You broke the curse on me, remember? Oh, come on – don't tell me you weren't expecting this."
"It's just, after what you did back at the Castle..."
"You weren't expecting to see me again, huh? It takes more than that to kill me, Tails. I watched you defeat Ganondorf, then I came here to wait for you – I knew you'd come here, you see."
"We heros have always been predictable," he laughed.
Midna smiled, laying a hand on his shoulder as she looked over him to Zelda.
"You know I can't stay, Princess," Midna said.
"As long as the Mirror of Twilight remains, you are always welcome to visit," Zelda replied. "I believe I understand now why the Goddesses left it here... it was their design that we meet."
"That may be true... but I have to leave, to lead my people... and Tails and his friends will also have to leave soon."
Tails realised from the tone of her voice what she was planning to do.
"Midna, no, you can't..."
"I can, Tails," she told him gently, kneeling to come down to his level. "I have to. Light and shadow need each other to exist, but as long as the Mirror links our worlds anyone who comes along – anyone like Ganondorf – could use one to cause chaos in the other. It's for the good of all."
"Look on the bright side, wolf boy," she said with a sly look. "Maybe you'll find a similar Mirror on your world, then you can come and visit me. Until then though..." she reached into her robe and pulled out what looked like his Shadow Gem, but with green lines in place of the original orange. "The one created by the curse shattered when you killed Ganondorf," she explained. "So I created a new one for you. This one you'll be able to use on your own, no matter where you are. It doesn't depend on me, so even if something happens to me..."
"You wanted to give me something to remember you by," Tails said softly. "I wish I had something to give you in return."
"You already did, wolf boy. We've been through a lot together – dungeons, monsters, and all kinds of troubles. It's been a fun adventure, even just helping you on it, but I'll always have those memories. Every time I look around my Palace I'll remember you, and the light you restored to it."
Tails embraced her warmly, then stepped back behind the mirror.
"Best of luck to you... Imp Girl," he told her.
"That's Princess Imp Girl to you," she laughed, then headed to the spot that had originally taken them to the realm of Twilight. Despite her laugh, he'd seen the unshed tears – not even apart yet, but they still keenly felt the separation. Midna drew one up to her hand as the Mirror glowed into life, the tear becoming a tiny speck of light headed for the Mirror, then even as she was taken back to her realm the Mirror cracked and shattered, not into pieces as when Zant had done so, but into tiny fragments that were blown away by the slight desert wind.
"Watch over her, Goddesses," Tails murmured as the light on the rock faded out, never to be lit up again.
After seeing Midna off, Zelda had brought them all back to the entrance of Hyrule Castle, startling the castle guards nearby. She bade them farewell, turning to one of the guards already to begin the long task of restoring her Castle and all the damage done by Zant and Ganondorf.
Sonic had then gone ahead to Telma's bar to borrow her wagon, while Knuckles headed back out onto the field to find Epona for Tails, then once Telma had shown up to personally lead the wagon to Kakariko they headed back out onto the now monster-free field.
Two days later, after Tails had recounted many parts of his adventures for the benefit of Goron and Hylian alike while getting some long overdue rest, the postman stopped by to deliver a letter, not to any of the Ordon children or Tails but to Sonic.
"Anything interesting?" Tails asked, stifling a yawn.
"Yeah, it's a message from Mayor Bo. I let him know we'd be bringing everyone back. Malo isn't happy about leaving his shop behind, but Luda said she'd take care of it for him. Gotta be careful about making suggestions to that little guy though – he wants to ask Sera to let him turn her shop into a branch of his Malo Marts."
"He's turning into a right little businessman," Tails laughed. "At least he'll be well set up. Well, guess there's no point in putting it off. Lets get everyone read to go, then see if Telma wants to come with us to Ordon."
"Already asked her," Sonic replied. "She said, 'I'm coming because the old Shaman won't, so at least their parents will be able to meet the people who took care of them."
"Yep, that sounds like Telma alright."
They woke Knuckles from his late sleeping in, causing him to fall out of bed grumbling again, then called Jet down from his post with Talo. Malo was already in the back of the wagon with a burly Goron helping him load a fair sized chest. Ilia and Colin were talking with Renado and Jet, but when they saw everyone else preparing to go Renado led them all over.
"The village won't seem the same without them around," Renado said to Tails as he watched everyone board the wagon. "They've become almost a part of daily life here."
"Look on the bright side," Tails replied. "Now that the monsters have cleared up to make travel safer, they'll be able to visit any time."
"That is true... but it is good to see them returning home at last as well. What of you and your friends, Tails? Will you also be returning to your homelands?"
"We might stay in Ordon for a while first. I've got to figure out how I ended up here so I can arrange to get back again safely, and that might take time... but eventually, we'll have to. I'll miss Hyrule, but at least I've got good memories of it."
"If you ever return... remember you are always welcome here, Tails," Renado assured him, joining him as he headed round to Epona.
"Or at my bar," Telma added. "Don't you be a stranger either, hear?" she said to Renado. His expression grew slightly forced.
Knuckles joined them at last with a huge yawn. "I could sleep for a week," he muttered.
"You could sleep for a week? What about me?" Tails asked. "I was the one doing all the adventuring!"
"Tails, there's not going to be enough room for all of us on the wagon," Sonic said, poking his head out the front. "I can get out and run – I need to stretch my legs anyway – but we'll still need to make a bit more room."
Tails stared thoughtfully into Eldin's spring for a time, then had an idea.
"You don't mind letting Knuckles ride you again, do you?" he asked Epona. She nuzzled at his neck, he assumed to show her assent.
"What about you?" Knuckles asked.
"Since it's no longer a big secret about Midna and what I was doing, I thought I'd use this," he replied, taking out Midna's Shadow Gem. "I thought since everyone already knows what I look like, they might want to see the wolf as well."
There was a pause, then a sudden scramble inside the wagon as everyone tried to get a view of him.
"Away from the horses, honey," Telma told him. "Epona might not be afraid of you, but my horse might spook."
Tails went ahead a ways as Knuckles mounted up, then just as Midna had done he touched the gem to his forehead. It sank in, forcing him down to all fours as his form was shifted to the familiar form of the wolf.
From behind him he heard the shared sounds of amazement, not just from the children but from many of the Gorons and other townsfolk who had shown up to see them off. Telma's horse shied back, but she kept him from spooking.
"Fancy a race?" Sonic asked slyly as they started out. "I'll slow down for you if you need it."
Tails responded by bounding off, easily settling into the tireless, distance eating lope of the wolf.
As the two of them had ended up far ahead of the wagon, they headed straight into Ordon to let them know about the impending arrival. There were some mixed looks at first when Sonic entered the quiet little village with a wolf at his side, and some very doubtful looks as he explained that it was really Tails. Then Tails restored his form, finding it as simple as reaching one paw up to his forehead to retrieve the gem.
The cries of surprise lasted only a few moments before Bo caught him in another crushing bear-hug.
"Bo! You'll crack my ribs at this rate!" he protested weakly.
Bo set him down, grinning broadly.
"I'd say this calls for a celebration – we'll give them a proper welcome back, then we'll hold a toast to you, Tails – the new Hero of Hyrule!"
The reunions had been loud and teary, but filled with the kind of joy that only a parent could give to their children. During the festivities, Tails asked his friends to make apologies for him while he attended to something, then quietly slipped out into Faron Woods.
It felt strange travelling without Midna around and their sometimes strange discussions. He'd grown used to her presence and comments, but now she'd gone he keenly felt her absence.
When he reached the plain just before the winding route to the Forest Temple he went wolf and took the route over the gaps and ledges to reach the woodlands on the far side, then retracing his steps one more time to reach the ruins that gave him access to the Temple of Time.
The entrance to the past Temple of Time had been closed off, no longer needed, but the pedestal in the ruins, the place he'd broken the original curse on him, still remained within the ruins.
Hanging above it waiting for him was the form of Ordona.
"It's been a long time since we last met, huh?" Tails asked the spirit.
"And you have come a long way, Hero. There can be no doubt you are as worthy of the name as all others who have bourne the title."
"Good thing I am, or we wouldn't be here to talk about it. There's something I want to ask you before I leave, by the way. I was going to wait to ask you at your spring, but since you're here..."
"Ask then, Hero."
"What will happen to the Triforce of Courage? Will it go with me, or find a new host, or what?"
"It will lie in wait within the Master Sword until another crisis faces Hyrule," Ordona answered. "It will then find its way to the chosen Hero, even as it found its way to you."
"And the courage I found..."
"Was yours alone, and will be yours now and always, even after the Triforce sleeps until the next Hero wakes. Now restore the Master Sword to its slumber Tails, Hero of Hyrule," it commanded in a booming voice.
Tails did so, setting it back into the pedestal as he had when opening the Temple of Time. The three triangles on his hand glowed into life, pulsed, then faded entirely, but he felt no different.
"When you seek to return to your world, do not let your reliance on the hard facts your machines give you blind you to the faith that will lead you back," Ordona told him, then faded away.
After a long night of celebration, pumpkin pies and recounting his adventures once again, Tails had not felt particularly enthusiastic about getting up, or fixing anything in the workshop to get home. Though he was still technically at home, his home was not where it was meant to be and he still experienced some homesickness, but after travelling all of Hyrule he found he felt the same way about leaving it behind as well.
The words of Zelda, Midna and Ordona echoed back to him though, reminding him that this was not where he – or his friends – belonged. Sooner or later, he was going to have to take them back, and since he avoided putting things off he'd eventually conceded he might as well get started.
Not that there had been any rush – he found he was more than willing to set it aside to enjoy some time out with all his friends, even those from Hyrule.
The once Prince and now King Ralis of the Zora people had paid him a visit with the hulking Patriarch Darbus following him – Darbus by himself was more than an adequate escort, as no one in his right mind would get into a fight with him. Except himself, Tails had reminded himself when he recalled the battle in the Goron Mines.
Darbus loudly proclaimed them to be Sworn Brothers, something he later confided – loudly, this being Darbus – that had only ever been done once before with someone who was not a Goron. When his memory was nudged slightly, he recalled that the previous Sworn Brother was also a Hero, and furthermore was also not Hylian – but he could not recall the name of that Hero. Tails suspected Silver's time as a Hero had happened quite some time before this.
More interestingly, when Ralis got a moment with him when Darbus was not loudly bragging about his new Sworn Brother, he mentioned that it was the second time a Hero had saved the Zora people, and unlike Darbus he did recall the name, confirming what his dark counterpart had shown him – Silver was a previous, if not the immediate previous Hero of Hyrule.
The oddly mismatched pair elected to stay in Ordon for a time, later joined by Renado, Shad, Ashei, and Auru, closely followed by a detachment of the Hyrule Castle guards and the Princess Zelda herself. Bo almost fell over his words in surprise when he found out who the arrivals were.
"My poor village is practically overrun with royalty," he'd complained at one point. "I'm surrounded by people who are far more important than me."
"Just think of what good it would do when everyone finds out you had a genuine Hero here then," Ilia had told him, and he brightened almost immediately.
Tails suspected their gathering was not a coincidence however, as there always seemed to be just one more thing that cropped up to delay their own departure until the same day Zelda had arrived – upon which everything suddenly seemed to be in suspiciously perfect working order. He privately wondered if it had been the four Spirits of Light, if not the Hylian Goddesses themselves, that had caused the original test to bring him here.
Zelda further reinforced his suspicions, somehow knowing that everything was in readiness even though Tails himself had not told anyone. She gathered everyone in the clearing below the old tree stump his workshop sat upon, ready to see them off.
After all the farewell speeches and thanks had passed, it was Colin who held him back, pulling lightly on one arm.
"You'll visit sometime, won't you?" he asked. The crowd behind fell expectantly quiet.
Tails turned back to Colin, seeing the wooden sword and shield Rusl had given him strapped in place, giving him an idea.
"I don't know if I'll be able to," Tails replied. "But as long as you remember me – and I don't think anyone has to worry about forgetting me – I'll always be with you. I'm counting on you Colin."
"Me? What for?"
"To protect the village with Rusl while I'm gone. Keep everyone safe for me."
"You really think I could..."
"I believe in you," Tails nodded, recalling Ordona's words again. "And if you believe in yourself too, you'll have no problems at all."
"I wish you could stay."
"We all do," Renado spoke up. "But we all know he has a life and a world of his own waiting for him. We will carry the proud memory of you in our hearts Tails, and no doubt your name will be passed down in legend with all the other Heros Hyrule has seen. We cannot thank you enough for what you have done."
"If I find a way to come back and visit, I promise to come by," Tails told them.
"I'm counting on you to find a way," Colin told him with a faint smile, then let go of Tails' arm.
With a last look at the assembled faces who had come to see them off, Tails took out the sword Rusl had forged so long before and held it up in a kind of salute before he turned and flew up to the top of the tree stump. He noticed as he did so that Colin and Rusl had both returned it, along with the massed ranks of the Hylian Guards.
Sonic, Jet and Knuckles waited for him at the door.
"Anyone want to stay behind?" he asked with a sly look. Their expressions answered for them though. "Then let's go home."
Despite the best efforts of his friends, no one had been able to find Silver. Tails was disappointed by that, having hoped he could talk to the strange hedgehog about his own status as a Hero, but figured he probably had things to do.
In the time since their return from Hyrule he'd settled almost back into a normal routine, still missing the time in Hyrule but getting back into the old swing of things. He had not, however, gotten over the habit of wearing something, a habit Hyrule had instilled into him. The Hero's clothes had come back with him, perhaps allowed to keep them as a kind of momento alongside Midna's Shadow Gem, the Ordon sword and the Hylian shield. All the other equipment he'd gathered appeared to have remained behind. He reasoned it had been put in place for the next Hero to retrieve as necessary.
Another habit he hadn't managed to break yet was to strap on the sheath for the sword whenever he went out. He'd never needed it since returning, but after carrying it around for so long he felt almost naked without it. At least, on the other hand, it meant whenever he missed those times he could just pick up the Hero's clothes and reclaim a part of it – more if he went wolf once more.
Then once, about a month after the return, while he happened to be out in some ruins not far from the workshop, he got careless and found while he'd been distracted a number of Robotnik's robots had cornered him.
"Got you now, little fox!" Eggman's voice announced.
"Oh yeah?" he grinned. "We'll see about that!"
The Ordon sword came whistling out of its sheath and was brought down in one fluid movement to cut off the arm of the nearest robot. It was followed by a series of swift strokes that did not so much destroy the robots as it did carve them up into neat piles of parts.
"What – that all you've got?" Tails asked afterwards. "Barely worth drawing a sword for."
"When did you – fine then! Take this!" Eggman, still not showing himself, retorted. This time there were even more robots than before.
"Now really," a new voice announced. "That's hardly fair. I mean, you can't expect him to take them all on by himself, can you?"
"Who's there?" Eggman demanded. He finally showed himself, seated as usual in one of his flying pods.
"You're out of your league now, Eggman," Tails laughed, having recognised the voice. "You're up against two Heros – and not just any Heros."
"Right," Silver's voice agreed. "We're the Heroes of Hyrule."
The silver hedgehog dropped down beside Tails with a sword in his own hand and bearing his own green clothes, not quite the same as Tails' ones but undoubtedly the same sign that he'd been a Hero too.
Robotnik blustered a bit, then commanded his robots to attack. With the two of them working together, putting to good use each of their experiences in Hyrule, the robots began to fall like newly mown hay.
It wasn't long before he was cursing them, until Silver hit his pod with a blast of energy. Then he prudently fled.
"I was wondering when I'd get to see you again," Tails said. "I got the others to look for you while I rested up."
"I know," Silver grinned. "I saw them looking. You oughta tell them to look up once in a while though. Did the skills I taught you come in useful?"
"More than you know," Tails replied. "Tell you what – I'll tell you what happened to me in Hyrule, then you can return the favour."
"Just Hyrule?" Silver asked with a sly look. "You don't want to hear about what happened between then and getting back? A little side-trip I took to Termina?"
"That too," Tails added, leading the way over the robot remains.
A/N: And now, at long, long last, we've finally reached the end. Damned if it wasn't a fun story to write, and judging by you guys just as fun to read too!
Stay tuned though, because now the Legend of Tails is over with I'll soon be starting a new story for the Legend of Silver - maybe two, one for Ocarina of Time and a separate one after that for Majora's Mask.
For those of you wondering why Shadow didn't make an appearance - not that it wasn't tempting several times - you'll find he's busy in the Great Seas of Wind Waker, in a story titled 'Wind of Shadows', written by none other than my own brother. You'll find him on here as MechBoyOfDoom.
Until next time!