Til the Sun Grows Cold and the Stars Grow Old by LadyNorbert
Chapter Nine: Unto the Prince's Heart
I stared at the sage who had addressed Midna, then at Midna herself. Twilight Princess... Of course. It actually made a great deal of sense, and explained much of what she had said and done up until that point -- her resentment of Zelda's position, her comments about destroying the Mirror, her story about being banished. Midna was the true ruler of the Twili, the one whose throne had been usurped by Zant. My Midna, he had called her. I wondered what they had been to each other, once upon a time, and whether that had anything to do with the curse he placed on her.
"So you knew?" Midna looked mostly surprised, and shifted uneasily. "As a ruler who fled her people...I'm hardly qualified to forgive you. But Link..." She looked at me guiltily. "I hope you can forgive me."
"Well, you see...in our world, we've long believed that the Hero would appear as a divine beast. Your wolf. That's why when I found you, I thought I could use you, Link. And I only cared about returning our world to normal... I didn't care what happened to the world of light, not at all." She bowed her head, shamefaced. "But after witnessing the selfless lengths that Princess Zelda and you have gone to, the sacrifices you've made -- not least each other -- no, I know now in the bottom of my heart that I must save this world too. I'm...I'm sorry for deceiving you."
"I think I understand why you did, Midna." I reached out to lift her chin. "And I forgive you."
"If we defeat Zant," she said, a fierceness returning to her voice, "the curse on me will dissolve. And we may be able to revive Zelda. Come with me, Link, into the Twilight -- for Zelda! And for all of this world!"
"Try and stop me!"
My mind is flurried by the recent discoveries. Zant is the puppet of Ganon -- as Agahnim was, as I sometimes thought Vaati could have been.
I remember him...the first time...
"Curse you, Zelda! Curse you, sages! Someday, when this seal is broken -- that is when I will exterminate your descendants! As long as the Triforce of Power is in my hand..."
He knew. He knew that as long as he had the Triforce, he could not truly die. He has waited for this day. As has my lady. As have I.
Once we had passed through the Mirror's portal, Midna asked if she could continue to hide in my shadow. "If my people saw me and knew that the only one who was here to help them was this hideous little imp...well...don't you think they'd feel let down?" As she spoke, I looked around at the shadowy figures who moved past us as though we were invisible to them. "They're not enemies...they're my people." She sounded heartsick, like Zelda describing how the people of Hyrule became creatures of shadow without realizing it.
Between her help and the favor of the goddesses, I was able to retain my human form for quite some time. Soon, however, I was surrounded by a Twilight curtain which left me again in my wolf body. Midna assured me that she could change me back at any time, but cautioned me that I was safer in the wolf's guise for the time being. "This fog is created by Zant," she explained. "It's what has turned the peaceful people of this realm into shadow beasts."
There was, she told me as we walked, one thing which could fight the darkness -- a souce of light. "It's an orb, called a Sol," she said. "It's a bit like the sun in your world. It's pure power and the source of life. There are two of them, and they belong at the Palace of Twilight. I think...I think if we can find them...it will lead us to Zant."
Following her directions, I made my way to an obscure tower, where she restored me to my human form in order to fight my way through the rooms. I checked on the threshold of the final room, seeing Zant inside.
"No, Link, it's a copy! Easier to destroy than the real thing!"
She was right, although if that fight could be reckoned as easy then I wasn't sure who would come out best in the fight with the actual usurper king. Once the shade of Zant had dissolved, we turned our attention to the Sol, which sat on a raised platform. "It looks like a giant hand," I commented.
"It is. And it's guarding the Sol." She squinted. "If you hit it with your sword, grab the Sol and run...I think we can escape. The light from the Sol will make your way tolerably clear."
Outside, I had to stop running in order to avoid colliding with one of the transformed Twili. It made an odd sound, staring at the Sol in my hands, and slowly the shadow beast form melted into what could almost pass for a human being. Midna gave a little gasp from the depths of my shadow, and I, excited at what this could mean, ran around to every other beast I could see in the vicinity, restoring them to their true selves.
"It won't work for you?" I asked, placing the Sol into its rightful position on the ground by the Palace of Twilight.
"No. This is different, the form I wear; Zant cursed me. I refused to have him as my consort and he cursed me. Your enemy Ganondorf must have helped him, somehow...normally, Zant's power could never have triumphed over mine." Her voice was dark and quietly angry. "Let's go find the other Sol."
Something happened, then, which neither Midna or I expected. As I emerged from the second tower with the second Sol firmly in my hands, and eased it into place beside its fellow, a humming sound seemed to erupt from the scabbard on my back. Bewildered, I drew the Master Sword and stared at it as the blade began to glow. It grew brighter and brighter, infusing itself with light power from the Sols. I lifted it high above my head, and the brilliance emanating from the sword drove off the remnants of shadow fog which hovered in the air around the Palace of Twilight.
Midna, having emerged from my shadow in a state of shock, hovered before me with a dazed look on her face. "The power of the Sols has been transferred to your sword," she breathed. "The guardian deities of my world are on our side as well as the goddesses of Hyrule! You really are the chosen hero, Link!" She darted toward the Palace, then paused and looked back. "Come on -- there's no way you can fail to stop Zant!"
I chased after her, and she led me through the Palace of Twilight -- her own rightful home -- to where the usurper sat perched on her throne. He was evidently waiting for us, to judge by his lack of surprise at our entry. "Zant. Isn't this ironic?" Midna asked him cheerfully. "Here we are, alive and well, and it's all thanks to the dark magic curse you placed on Link."
He sneered. "You speak of magic?" he asked in his unsettling voice. "You speak of magic? Still your tongue for a moment, whelp. The people of our tribe, who mastered the arts of magic, were locked away in this world like insects in a cage. In the shadows we regressed, so much so that we soon knew neither anger, nor hatred, nor even the faintest bloom of desire. And all of it was the fault of a useless, do-nothing royal family that had resigned itself to this miserable half-existence! I had served and endured in that depraved household for far too long, my impudent princess. And why, you ask? Because I believed I would be the next to rule our people!" He stood, staring coldly down at us -- or rather, at Midna, for once again I was all but an afterthought.
"But would they acknowledge me as their king?" he continued. "No! I was denied the magic powers befitting our ruler -- powers that instead descended to you. Oh, my Midna...that too, I could have borne. I could have endured you being chosen over me, if only you had shared it with me. I offered myself to you, the one member of our tribe who had ever seemed to feel anything. But even you turned me away. It was then, in the thrall of hatred and despair, that I turned my eyes to the heavens...and found a god." He smiled, chillingly. "Ganondorf. His power was housed in me; whatever I wished, he would grant, in exchange for my servitude. Here was a master worthy of my obeisance! Together, he and I took back the light realm that had been so long denied us." He finally looked at me. "Only the Twilight Princess and the Hero of Time stood in our way. But not for much longer."
The world around us began to shift, and Midna, frightened, dove back into my shadow lest we become separated. Zant proceeded to lead me on a hunt through all the parts of my quest that I had already seen. I was obliged to chase him through my own memories, from the Forest Temple to the Goron Mines, from the Zoras' realm to Snowpeak. He threw every enemy I had ever known into my path, trying to slow me down, but the Sol-infused Master Sword cut through them all like a breeze through a meadow, and they melted back into the shadows they truly were.
He returned us, finally, to the Palace of Twilight, where he manifested himself as a great bladed cyclone, whirling on the spot with swords extended. But the Blade of Evil's Bane would not abide him, and his ruined form dropped to the stone floor. "You traitors," he howled.
"Traitors!" spat Midna, appearing once again. "Do you know why none would call you king, Zant? We could see the lust for power burning in your eyes! Or did you really think our people would forget that our ancestors once lost their king to so much greed?"
"Foolish...foolish little princess," he rasped, hauling himself back onto the throne. "Your curse can never be lifted, my Midna. It was placed upon you by my god. Do you think you have defeated me? He will resurrect me, again and again, as many times as it takes. The power you held as leader of the Twili will never return! So long as my master Ganon lives, I will never die!" His mouth parted vacantly, and he began to laugh.
Midna growled, and I instinctively took a step to the side as she stared him down. Without warning, she exploded with power -- a massive red stream of pure magic power burst from the top of her odd headdress and flew forward, impaling Zant to the Twilight throne and reducing him to ash. Abruptly, her attack ceased as she stared at his remains in shock.
"I...I did that...with just a fraction of my ancestors' power," she whispered, eyes wide. "I used just a fraction of the power that's in me now! I couldn't take the evil power that Zant wielded, but I still have my ancestors' magic!"
"Are you all right?" I asked.
She shook her head, and looked at me intently. "I'm fine. Link, now is the time -- we have to save Zelda! I can give her back her own power now, I can give her back to you. Let's head back to Hyrule!"
It is a recurring thing, in more than one of our lifetimes. Ganon captures my princess and seals her in crystal. Agahnim sealed her in a crystal inside Turtle Rock; Ganon sealed her in a crystal during the saga of the ocarina. He has done it again...only this time, all of Hyrule Castle is locked inside of a golden diamond. She is the jewel within a jewel.
"So Ganondorf was just using Zant to help him return to the world of light," said Midna, as we emerged from the Mirror portal inside Arbiter's Grounds. "I guess now we know the true nature of that barrier over Hyrule Castle. He's in there, I'm sure of it."
"Do you think Zelda's in danger?" I was already running as I spoke.
"Probably. Where are you going? The warp portal's right here!"
We reached the castle, and I rushed at the barrier which was keeping us out. With a roar of frustration I slammed against it.
"Calm down," Midna told me. She had the fused shadows adorning her tiny body, and motioned for me to stand back. As I watched, the Twilight powers both within her and without began to merge, causing Midna to shift and grow. She was expanding, additional limbs springing from her dark form to smash against the diamond. It shattered beneath the force of her insurmountable power, shimmering like golden rain as it dissolved before my very eyes. Midna crumpled with it, collapsing in on herself and reducing in size until she was the imp I knew, plummeting toward the ground. I darted forward, dropping to my knees as I caught her unconscious form.
She woke in my arms after a few minutes, and smiled blearily at me. "Not bad, huh?"
"Not bad," I agreed.
She turned her head to stare up at the castle, now accessible. "She's waiting for you, Link...for us. Let's go." Summoning her strength, she moved from the cradle of my embrace and started forward. She almost yelped with shock when, out of seemingly nowhere, King Bulblin once again managed to materialize.
"I have come to play!" he announced.
"I do not have time for this!" I bellowed. Zelda could be dying, for all I knew. I may have snapped; the days of strain and worry had finally caught up with me. All I knew was that I had no interest in 'playing' with this bovine monstrosity. I launched myself at him, over and over, furious that he dared to keep me away from Zelda even a second longer than necessary.
"Enough," he said abruptly. "I follow the strongest side; it is all I have ever known." From somewhere on his person he extracted a key to the castle, and dropped it to the ground.
"He spoke," said Midna, dazed, staring after the departing figure.
"We've got bigger problems," I said. "Company!" I had to dive out of the way before a winged attacker could come at me with a sword. Before I had even regained my feet, however, something like a cannon blast took it out of the sky.
"Not keeping all the fun for yourself, are you, Link?"
"Rusl!" I scrambled upright. "Ashei -- Shad -- Auru -- how on earth did you...?"
"We saw the diamond dissolve," said Shad, excitedly, "and we headed into the secret passage as quick as possible." Auru just smiled.
Rusl, who had fired the portable cannon mechanism, was crouched on the ground, but stood up as I approached. "Don't you have a princess to save?" he asked mildly. "Leave all this to us; you get inside."
Ashei was smoothing the feathers of her tame hawk. "Head for the chapel," she advised. "Something's happening in there, although I'm not sure what."
"So where are we going?" Midna called as we raced through the castle corridors.
"The Chapel of the Triple Goddess," I shouted back. "Most sacred part of the whole castle -- there's a massive statue of the Triforce in the arms of the goddesses. If Ganon's going to hole up anywhere, it's most likely there."
She reached the doors ahead of me and flung them open with her magic, staring down the sapphire carpet. "This isn't good." One of the elegant marble goddesses' heads lay broken on the floor before us. High overhead, the golden copy of the Triforce was dimmed. Suspended within the center of the three triangles was...
I couldn't take my eyes off of her still, silent form. Was she dead? Under a spell? I had to get her down to see if she was all right. I started forward, but Midna flung out one tiny arm to stop me. In an instant I understood why; while my eyes had clung to my princess, she had seen what I had failed to notice. Seated at the base of the statue was my green-faced nemesis, the red-haired nightmare who had pursued me across a dozen lifetimes. He smiled at us, his chin pillowed on one thick fist. "Welcome to my castle."
"So you're Ganondorf. I've been dying to meet you," Midna said.
"Your people have long amused me, Midna," he said. He began to speak of how they had fed his fury, how his soul had feasted on their anguish and hatred. "Your people had some skill, to be sure, but they lacked true power...the kind of power that those chosen by gods can wield. He who wields such power would be a suitable king for this world, don't you agree?"
Midna was snarling, gathering her power. "I will risk everything to deny you!"
"Shadow has been moved by light, it seems." He smiled again. "How amusing. Very well...try to deny me!"
He vanished, dematerializing into Twilight. "Come on, Princess," Midna muttered, levitating up to hover in front of Zelda. "Link...Link, something's wrong!" Even from where I stood, I could see that Zelda's porcelain skin was changing, becoming laced with the intricate Twilight symbols. Her eyes opened suddenly, and the deep midnight blue had been replaced by a sickly yellow. A blast of energy rushed from her body, catching Midna off guard and sending her hurtling to the floor.
I ran to her aid, but before I could reach her, the room was ringed with a wall of golden light, much like that which had comprised the diamond. I heard the soft thump as Zelda hit the floor behind me, and I spun around as she stalked toward me. "Both of you, faithless fools who would dare to take up arms against the king of light and shadow!" There was hatred in that beautiful face, and I had to remind myself that it wasn't truly Zelda. "So you choose. And so you shall feel my wrath!" Her slim rapier was suddenly in her hand, and she rose from the floor to hover in midair. She -- or I should say Ganon, for he was using my princess as his tool -- began to stalk me around the enclosed space.
Now he had done the unthinkable, the thing that I would never have expected even from my enemy of a thousand years. He was forcing me to make the impossible choice: kill my beloved princess, or be killed by her.
On the surface, it was not a difficult decision; there was never an instant in any of my memories when I would have hesitated to give my life for Zelda's. But if -- as Midna had urged me to believe -- Zelda still lived, this meant that she would be returned to the control of her body only to discover that it had slain me. To allow Ganondorf's puppet to destroy me would, in turn, destroy her. I couldn't allow that to happen, not if there was the slightest chance my lady was alive.
I had to fight back, in a fashion that would save my own life while at the same time wresting control of her pallid form away from Ganondorf. As I watched, she raised her sword, then brought it down in a swift stroke, leveling a ball of energy at me. I held the Master Sword at the ready and, at the last possible second, struck the ball with a volley that sent it back at her. It struck home, and I heard an inhuman screech.
"That weakened him!" Midna said. "If you can hit him a few more times, I should be able to drive him from her body with the fused shadow."
I lost count of how many times it took. Everything about the situation seemed wrong; never, in all our lifetimes together, had I been forced to take up arms against Zelda -- my Zelda -- and it was a sheer test of will that I kept going. I had to believe I wasn't hurting her. Suddenly a howl of frustration echoed through the room. The golden barrier vanished, and Zelda dropped onto the seat at the base of the statue. She was hissing, and her skin had assumed a sickly greenish color. Summoning the power of the fused shadow, Midna pinioned her to the chair; I was grateful to the shock that kept me where I was. Then Midna retracted her power. Zelda's chin dropped to her chest; she was still and silent once again. The Twilight marks had left her body, and except for the part where I wasn't sure she was breathing, she seemed perfect.
"He's out of her," said Midna. She drifted over and leaned companionably on my shoulder. "We make a pretty good team, Hero. And a good thing too, because this isn't over." She pointed at the door, beyond which we could hear a sound I can only describe as a mixed squeal and roar.
A massive boar with flame-red bristles crammed itself into the doorway. "That's Ganon," I said. "I recognize this form. We'll have to wrangle him. Can you change me back into the wolf? I've got an idea."
As the wolf, I stood my ground when Ganon charged me. Midna, seated on my back, would use her Twilight magic to grab him by the horns and force him to the floor, as I'd done on a number of occasions with Fado's goats. Then she would quickly change me back into myself, and I would attack with the Blade of Evil's Bane. He screamed, recognizing the feel of the sword that had defeated him so many times. I was dizzy with exhaustion, and still he kept coming. He was going to kill me, and then he would kill Zelda and probably Midna too. Still he kept coming. Even the Master Sword, like an extension of my own arm, seemed to be weighted down with the effort. Still he kept coming. Still I kept fighting back.
The boar screamed again, and crumpled to the floor by the door. As Midna and I watched, it slowly disintegrated into a green mist that floated out into the atmosphere.
"That's...he's gone." Midna sounded confused and I couldn't blame her.
I stabbed the point of my sword into the floor and used it to support myself as I went down to one knee, trying to regain my breath. "Thank Farore...that's over..."
"Nice work, Hero," Midna said placidly. She had turned around and was eyeing the dais where Zelda sat immobile at the altar. "Now if we could just...what..."
I looked up at her, startled by the puzzled note in her voice. She moved closer to Zelda, studying her intently; I rose and followed, sheathing my blade. "Midna? What's wrong?"
"I'm not quite --" Abruptly she broke off, and gasped a little. I couldn't understand exactly what was happening, but there seemed to be a faint, misty something passing between the two of them. "Link," Midna exclaimed, "she was here all the time! She didn't just give me her power -- she put herself into me. Ganon never had her at all."
How is that possible? I wondered, though I just shook my head. Only Nayru's acolyte could possibly have done such a thing...but did it work? I watched Zelda, fearful, and my heart lifted as I saw color seeping back into her fair skin. Slowly she blinked, and got to her feet.
Midna exhaled softly. "Princess," she said in an awed voice, "I..."
"Say nothing, Midna." Zelda's eyes were on the little imp, and they were gentle. "Your heart and mine were as one, however briefly. Such suffering you have endured...I understand it now." Then she turned to me. For the first time in our waking lives, Zelda and I looked into each other's eyes as we had done so often in dream-meetings. I was overwhelmed by a dozen warring impulses -- to throw myself at her feet, to take her in my arms, to beg her to never leave me again.
We had no time for any of them. A terrible shaking began to rattle the castle around us, and through the front door came an explosion of heat and power and twilight. Ganon wasn't dead; I began to fear he would never be destroyed. The air whipped past us in a frenzy of evil as yet another form of the beast propelled itself into the Chapel of the Triple Goddess.
"This ends now," growled Midna. The glimmering darkness luminated her being, and as we watched in shock and fear, she began to rapidly grow in size. The Chapel was filled almost to capacity with the presence and power of the King of Thieves and the Princess of Twilight. I reached blindly to grip Zelda's hand, determined to defend her against anything Ganon might try to do; then, dimly, I realized that Midna meant to confront him herself, and I started to move to her aid.
Before I knew anything else, I was standing alone with Zelda in the middle of the soft expanse of Hyrule Field. Puzzled, I turned to ask Zelda whether this was her own doing or Midna's. Before I could frame the question, however, the earth beneath us quaked, and we whirled around as a brilliant light began to form on the horizon. As we watched with horrified eyes, Hyrule Castle erupted in a cloud of black smoke.
Slowly, as if moving in one of my dreams, we could see a figure emerging from the great plume of darkness which spiraled up from the castle ruins. It was massive, and moved forward at an almost ritualistic pace. Then it turned, and we could see Ganondorf sitting astride the most dreadful black stallion I have ever seen; a Twili horse, perhaps. Ganondorf appeared to be laughing, and he lifted one arm so that we could see the object he clutched between massive fingers. Even outlined against the billowing smoke, it was only too easy to identify the peculiar dual horns of the little shadowy headdress.
"Midna..." I wasn't entirely certain whether it was Zelda or myself who spoke. It may have been her; my throat was so thick with grief that it would have been hard for me to say anything. As we watched, he tightened his grip until the helm crumbled in his grasp. Then he raised his terrible sword and began to charge us. Behind him, emerging from the very air, came a small army of ghostly riders, similarly attired and equipped for battle.
There was no time for tears. I pulled the Blade of Evil's Bane from my scabbard; it was too late to save Midna, but I could at least try to protect Zelda.
Oddly, she stopped me. I glanced to where she had laid a gently restraining hand on my sword arm, then raised my eyes to meet hers. She looked at me, her beautiful face radiating great sorrow and determination, and gave a single nod. Releasing my arm, she lifted her hands in supplication.
"Spirits of light!" she implored in a ringing voice. "Wielders of the great power that shines far and wide upon the lands of our world...in my hour of need, grant me the light to banish evil!" Ganondorf was bearing down upon us, but I spared him not a glance; I was transfixed by Zelda's prayer. In the instant before his blade could have cut down either one of us, we were pulled away from the scene of battle.
Looking back, I suspect we may have been transported to the Sacred Realm. Certainly we were safe, wherever we were, and the land was filled with light. I could see the animal forms of Faron and Ordona, of Eldin and Lanayru; they soared faster and faster around Zelda, coalescing into orbs of pure essence. She opened her arms, and into her embrace the spirits deposited their gift -- the Arrows of Light. Then they were gone, leaving us alone in the ether.
Head bent, she studied the arrows for a moment before slipping them into a quiver at her waist. Her eyes were closed as she did, but once she had finished she opened them. They were as deep as I had always remembered, and filled not only with wisdom, but exhortation, and the love that I knew so well from our dream-meetings.
"Link," she said, "chosen hero...lend us the last of your power!"
She lifted a hand to her breast and, to my utter astonishment, bowed at the waist. Bowed to me.
"Zelda," I began, but again my throat constricted. Who was I that the Princess of Light should bow to me? Did she still not know, after all these centuries, that everything I was and everything I had was hers to command?
"I will do whatever it takes," I managed at last. "For Hyrule, and for Midna. But most of all, for you." Trembling just slightly, I extended my hand to her -- my left hand, the one which bore the mark of the Triforce. She straightened, and took it with her own left hand, meeting my gaze once again. "Whatever happens," I added quietly, "I will always love you."
"Until the stars grow old," she replied.