Chapter 8: The Unmaking
"What is happening to me?"
Zelda was kneeling beside a man who was convulsing in the snow. Hot tears were streaming down her cheek.
"You're being possessed," Her voice was shaking. "Oh, Goddesses."
"Make it stop," he shouted. Blood was welling from between his lips. "Kill me if you have to. Purify it."
She reached within her, to her Light magic. It was so severely depleted that it was nearly nonexistent. "I… I can't." She began to shake. "I'm not strong enough. But I can't kill you— that won't stop it."
He convulsed again. His blue eyes switched to black, then back to blue. "Make it stop. Please, Zelda, make it stop."
She swallowed once. Her throat was thick. "I can't," Zelda responded. "Not completely. But there is something..."
His blue eyes bore into hers. His handsome face was twisted in agony and sadness.
"Do it," he gasped. Zelda shook her head.
"It will hurt," she said quietly, agony welling within her own breast. "It will leave you with a half-life for eons."
He convulsed again.
"Just do it!" he shouted. Zelda choked on a sob and scrambled to her feet, waving her hands above the man. He screamed and began to thrash as his body ever-so-slowly began to levitate. Dim light surrounded him, a brilliant green warring with sickly looking purple. Zelda kept up steady whispering under her breath, even as tears began to trickle down her cheeks. The light ever so slowly grew brighter and brighter, spheres of green separating. It took a long while, and the man writhed and shouted in constant agony, until at last all that was left around him was purple-black. His body sagged into unconsciousness. Zelda pulled the slender sword out of the sheath at her waist with shaking hands. With a cry, she sank it into the man's stomach as the blade glowed with pure white Light. The man convulsed, shouting in agony, eyes opening wide to reveal red and gold.
His body sagged again, and then slowly lowered back to the ground as his eyes shut once more. Zelda began to murmur Words again, and watched as tree roots twined out of the snow to encircle the man's body, until all that remained visible was the sword and his face. Above him was the green light, hovering in a great, glowing cloud. Zelda wrapped her hands around the pendant around her neck and poured her power into it, whispering Word after Word of Power. When it was done, she took the chain in her hands, extended it towards the glowing cloud, and released it. The pendant floated over into the green light, which resolved itself into a wolf. Below, the mask of a wolf appeared over the man's face. Zelda touched the cool porcelain once.
"I give this Protective Token freely as a sign of adoration," she whispered. "And I beg that you might forgive me one day for failing you."
She stood, slowly, and backed away, even as the man's hair began to darken to brown and his mangled body began to fade— mask, sword, tree roots, and all. All that remained was a great black wolf, staring balefully at Zelda with bright blue eyes as it sat in the snow.
"To keep the evil from escaping, I'm sealing this domain," Zelda said to the wolf. She felt a knife twist in her heart. "I will be using your power for this, and the last of my own. Perhaps you will find a way to drive the Darkness out and reclaim your body. I don't know. But… I have to protect my country first. I'm so sorry."
She drew on the last of her incredible energy, shouting the strongest Word she knew. The world flashed white. When the glare faded, Zelda looked out onto the barren landscape, falling to her knees as she felt the soul bond unravel, taking her magical core with it. She gasped quietly in agony, raising a shaking hand to her chest and pressing the flesh there, which was weeping slow beads of blood.
The pine trees, once so beautiful and lush, had twisted under the weight of her strength. And below the boughs of one tall, twisted pine, the wolf sat, watching her with his incredible blue eyes.
"You've used too much power, Highness," said Impa, appearing without warning in the shadows next to Zelda.
"I know," she responded, voice a whisper, eyes on the wolf. A pool of blood was spreading beneath her.
"You've tied up much of the kingdom's natural power in the Seal," Impa continued. "Likely, this will affect your line and the strength of your daughters will be diminished."
"I had no other choice," Zelda said. A trickle of blood ran from between her lips. "I did not, nor have I ever, possessed enough strength alone to defeat the monster, and the seal that I have placed on…." Her voice hitched. She stopped, took a rattling breath, and started again. "The spell will not allow his physical form to access his full power. His spiritual form will remain here, until the evil has been purified from his body. This will keep the nature of this place in balance until… until I or another of my line can return to finish the work I have started."
Zelda let out a shaky breath. "I know," she responded. "But the Royal Family will go on. My child…" Zelda's face twisted as she remembered the daughter she'd left in the safekeeping of the Deku Tree. She reached for Impa with one hand, seeping blood. The Sheikah took it without thought, grasping Zelda's slippery fingers even as skin began to slide off her fingers. "You must ensure that, one day, a daughter of my blood can come back here and umake my errors."
"I swear it will be done, my Queen."
Nodding once, Zelda cast her eyes to the charcoal colored wolf.
"Speak to none of what has trespassed here," she instructed Impa, feeling the fabric that held her together dissolving. "Keep the knowledge from the others of your kind."
"I swear it."
"And now I bind my own soul to this place," she whispered to the wolf. "I, too, will pay a high price for your folly."
She sighed. The snowy ground rose up to meet her like open arms even as her flesh dissolved into nothing.
She slammed back into her body in a horrible, jarring moment. Impa stood before her dressed all in black and gold, smiling. There was something softer about Impa's face than there had been before; in the light of the silent realm she looked gentler. Younger.
"Well done, Princess Zelda," Impa said, extending a hand. A Dark orb rested in it— the physical, confined manifestation of the Darkness that had corrupted Impa. "You have passed the trial the Goddesses set for you."
Zelda clutched her pounding head, shaking, feeling nauseated. Her whole body was throbbing. She'd been filled too full, then squeezed too tight.
"I feel like I got hugged by a gibdo," groaned Zelda, even as she staggered forward towards Impa. "Nayru's thunder, Impa, I'm so glad you're ok."
The Sheikah opened her arms wide and Zelda lunged gratefully into them, inhaling the familiar smell of her. Unexpected tears poured down Zelda's cheeks, soaking Impa's shoulder as the princess shuddered and shook with heaving sobs.
"All is well, Zelda," said Impa. "I am whole again, thanks to you."
"I was so scared," Zelda whispered. "I'm still so scared."
"You've passed the trial," Impa said soothingly. "And the Goddesses will reward you."
Zelda looked up at Impa, who was smiling down at her.
"The silent realm is a land of shadows and of trials. The entire life of a Sheikah is one great trial; thus it is that my kind can traverse the shadows with ease. But for you, a mortal, to enter into the silent realm, is to invite a test of the Goddesses upon yourself. Failure is catastrophic, but success is greatly rewarded. Break this orb and claim your prize, Princess."
Zelda had forgotten that Impa was clutching the Dark orb. She took it with shaking hands and then smashed it on the ground. It immediately became dust, and the Darkness was absorbed by the magic of the world.
"Look within yourself, to your core." Impa's voice was a soothing wave.
Zelda did so, and was stunned to find that her magical resources had been replenished, and then some. She was stronger— not a lot stronger, but enough. She cast her eyes back up to Impa in surprise.
"You've done well, and I'm proud of you," Impa said tenderly. She cast her eyes to the man standing behind the Princess. "You as well, Sheik. But now the greater battle is at hand. Are you ready?"
Zelda took a fortifying breath. "I am," she said, voice unwavering.
The muted blues and pinks of the silent realm faded and Zelda found herself standing back in the underground castle.
She was in what looked to be a formal throne room, standing on the arched ceiling. Far above her, on a raised dais, laid the body of a man. He looked much the same as the chestnut-haired man Zelda had seen earlier, the one who had also named himself Link; however, a delicate sword was plunged straight through his stomach. He looked peaceful, as though he was sleeping. On his face was the same wolf's half-mask that Zelda's Link had worn.
She felt very ill.
"Impa?" Zelda asked, looking up at the man lying on the ceiling. "What's going on?"
"All will be explained later," Impa responded, her voice low and soothing. "You must trust me, Princess. Call the sword to break the seal; it will come to your hand."
Zelda shut her eyes, willing the sword to her. She could sense it, sense that familiar, old power attached to it; reaching her hand out, she found the flow of the power with her magic and pulled. The response was instantaneous: the sword came to her, fitting into her palm as smoothly as though it was made for her, and a strangely familiar and comforting magic washed over her for a brief breath.
Then, in a sickening tip of vertigo, the world righted itself, and Zelda found herself falling the horrible, long way down to the paraquet floor of the throne room.
She landed on her hip painfully and bit her lip, tasting blood. Impa likewise thudded to the ground beside her, even as Sheik transformed into a falcon and pulled into a clumsy dive. He slid onto the floor, black feathers shining, as Zelda scrambled to her feet.
On the dais, the man from the throne room floated above the man in the wolf mask. As Zelda watched, the man from the throne room's body turned more and more transparent, until at last he vanished.
The man in the wolf mask opened his eyes. Zelda recoiled. Instead of white, his eyeballs were pure red, and his pupil-less irises were glowing yellow.
"Thank you, Princess, for freeing me," he said. His voice was smooth and seductive. Zelda felt warm. Her eyes fluttered shut as the spell of his words washed over her. "Your generosity is nearly as great as your beauty."
Her breath deepened. Everything would be alright now. All of her worries, all of her fears… everything would be ok. Warmth enveloped her, soothing. Gentle. It cared.
The pendant against her chest heated suddenly, burning her. Her eyes snapped open and she came back to herself. She'd been encased in sticky, Dark webbing. Zelda began to thrash, panicking. The man laughed that same high, evil laugh she'd heard after Chancellor Makivelo had his energy drained. Terror kicked in, and in an instinctive move, she sent a shockwave of Light, burning away the webbing. Beside her, Impa, was struggling feebly. Sheik was nowhere to be seen. Zelda circled a beam of Light around Impa, freeing her.
The man tsked. Impa went flying into a wall and crumpled.
"So feisty, my Queen," he said. In the blink of an eye he stood before Zelda, gently caressing her cheek with the back of his hand. Zelda sent out a shockwave of Light but it vanished instantly as the masked man easily dragged his slim knuckles down her jawline. He cupped her chin, thumb tracing small circles near the corner of her lips, even as Zelda struggled against him, thrashing and pushing. It was like fighting the side of a mountain. He remained unmoving. The hand that held the sword was pinned uselessly between her body and his.
Link, thought Zelda in a panic, where are you?
Impa, in the meantime, laid unmoving in a crumpled heap by the wall. Zelda swallowed a thick lump of terror and looked back at the man, fisting her hands in her skirt.
"Who are you?"
The masked man's hands had moved to Zelda's hair. His eyes and brow were thoughtful as he twined his fingers in the brilliant strands.
"I am the King of Beasts," he said. "At least partly. I possess his body and mind, though I wield the power of the Demon King."
"The demigod?" Zelda asked, heartbeat a heavy drum of fear in her chest.
"Yes," he said. "The dark power that fills me has many names. He is the wrath incarnate of the ultimate Demon, and has used many pawns; the ancient Picori sorcerer, whose legend you know; the undying Thief is a second you'll be familiar with; this spirit's name is Malladus, and he says that I am the finest pawn he has commanded… or would be if I could corral my troublesome powers back into this form."
Zelda's head was spinning.
"Powers?" she asked, eyes on Impa in worry as the Sheikah began to feebly stir.
"That horrible dog who has been so ardently pursuing you," the man responded. "He possesses the exorcised soul of this body, and the powers of the King of Beasts; your ancestor, I believe, is responsible for the schism between the two of us. Nevertheless, I don't doubt that he'll be present soon enough. But in the meantime…"
Zelda felt herself thrown back against the wall, the sword clattering out of her hand and sliding across the cracked paraquet flooring. She let loose an involuntary cry as her back connected, hard, with the stone. Agony flared up her spine as her hands were pinned on either side of her head and she slid, slowly, up the wall, feet dangling below her. The corrupted King approached, step by menacing step.
"You are a pretty thing, aren't you?" he asked, his soft voice wrapping around her like an embrace. He stood before her, "It's such a shame you're so fond of Light. Such rebellion is unsuitable in my Queen." His fingers tangled again in the wild snarl that Zelda's hair had been transformed into over the course of the past few hours. His voice was thoughtful. "But I will take pleasure in beating it out of you."
She turned her head to the side as his lips brushed against her cheek. He chuckled in his throat, then backhanded her. Zelda tasted blood as tears burned her eyes.
"Such fire," he mused. "It will be a pleasure to tame you, Queen of Beasts."
Zelda spit out a mouthful of blood. "I'm not your Queen," she bit, voice a low and ragged cry.
He'd grabbed her left hand, the scarred one, in a single forceful movement and yanked it forward, inspecting the jagged claw marks with a critical yellow eye.
"This soul bond says otherwise," he said simply. "Though I'll admit, I'm currently not in possession of my soul, as it's running ragged— pesky thing— but I'll capture it soon. With the powers of the Beast King, and a bond with a Hylian Princess, I will be unstoppable."
Zelda felt ill. This was not happening. Couldn't be happening. She wouldn't lose.
Her thoughts must have showed on her face because the corrupted King laughed again, low in his throat.
"You can fight me," he said, voice a low growl, "but you will fail."
He moved towards her again, and it was as his nose brushed against hers that a sleek black falcon reared out of Zelda's shadow, plunging his beak towards one of the corrupted King's eyes. He recoiled with a scream as the orb popped, goo oozing down his handsome face, which had twisted into an ugly snarl.
"Cursed meddling Sheikah," he growled. But Sheik had afforded Zelda the moment she needed to rip herself out of the man's spell. On the other side of the room, Impa was on her feet, blades in hand, charging towards Zelda.
"Behind me, Princess," Sheik said, transforming into a man in midair. Zelda slid behind him as he moved his twin kodachi into a guarding stance.
"Fool," snarled the Beast King. He sent a blast of Darkness at Sheik but Zelda swiftly raised a quick Light barrier.
"Leave the battle to me and Impa," Sheik said to Zelda. "Figure out how to purify him."
And the Sheikah was off, running beside Impa. The two of them circled, parried, dodged, ducked, and sprang, and it was beautiful to watch them work so seamlessly. Had the circumstances not been so dire, Zelda would have loved to spend hours observing the two. It looked as though they were dancing, even as their blades shone in glowing arcs. But it was a battle, and the corrupted King was fighting back, and Zelda didn't have much time. She ran to grab her sword, which was lying in a corner, thinking furiously as she dodged blasts and explosions.
Purification was advanced magic, both in theory and in practice. Magic was the binding force of all things, but so could it also be dissolved. Purification could be done one of three ways: eradication, dissolution, or consolidation.
Consolidation was the easiest method of the three, but also the least likely to work in this instance. It consisted of calling all the Dark magic into a single, lifeless entity, and then destroying it. This was how Impa had dealt with the Gohma, and how Zelda had dealt with Impa. She highly doubted that it would work on the corrupted King of Beasts.
Dissolution was not an option that Zelda was enamored with, either, as it didn't fully fix the problem. Dissolution would unbind the Dark magic from its' living host, but this in turn would release it out into the cosmos. Though it would be in a vast quantity of very small, single pieces of Dark magic, Zelda disliked the idea of scattering the makeup of a Demon's magic to the world. Which left her with eradication, the most difficult form of purification, one that she'd only read about once, briefly.
Eradication took a tremendous amount of Light power that would be destroyed, forever. She would take Light, and bind it to the Dark, and the two would make up Shadow. Zelda felt a little sick thinking about how much Light she would need to counteract the Darkness. Ordinary eradication was dangerous, and the technique was never used, only written in books, due to how many sorcerers and sorceresses had been injured in the process. Eradication on a scale of this magnitude would very likely kill her.
She skidded to a halt in front of the sword, her hand closing around the hilt. Power rushed through her. This sword was old, and powerful. Unwillingly, she recalled her vision. Could she sacrifice herself? Could she eradicate the demon that possessed the King of Beasts' body?
Do it for Hyrule, she told herself as she whirled back to face the battle, remembering the Queen Zelda she had been in her strange dreams. Before her, Impa backflipped neatly out of the way just as Sheik executed a lighting-quick slice at the corrupted King, who blocked it. Sheik stepped smoothly to the side as Impa came down from above with a thrust, and he took another quick swipe at the Beast King, who countered both moves with a blast of Darkness that the Sheikah each nimbly avoided and contained. The world is bigger than you are.
Trusting the Sheikah to keep her safe, Zelda clutched the sword tighter, shut her eyes and connected with her locum tenens, back in her private study in the castle. The small clay figure responded to the psychic connection instantly, and she hopped it forward until it stood before her bookshelf. From the perspective of the locum, each book was as tall as a flag staff, and the bookshelf reached in a mountainous monolith to the distant ceiling.
Though the sight of the world through her locum's eyes often amused her, Zelda had other things to worry about, and instead called to a a thick tome, which wobbled forward off its' shelf and landed with a dusty thud beside the locum. The locum's little clay hands flipped the pages until it came to the diagram that Zelda needed. A quick glance and she knew what she needed to do. She opened her eyes, severing the connection, and took a deep breath, pulling on her power.
It came to her as easily and quickly as it had in the silent realm, for which she was grateful. She began to weave the spell, whispering the Words very quietly under her breath as she constructed the mechanism for extracting the Darkness from the body of the Beast King. That would be the first step. Then, she would bind it to Light, the second step. The third step would be to meld the Light and Dark together with raw power— the step that most often resulted in injury and death. The step that was the reason why nobody had attempted an eradication in hundreds— if not thousands— of years.
Don't think about it, Zelda reminded herself firmly. Just do it. For Hyrule.
The spell took shape within the sword, stronger for having a vessel to conduct it, and she thrust the sword into the air on instinct. The spell flew from the tip of the delicate blade and she flung it over the corrupted King of Beasts the same way that she would fling a sheet over a bed. He screamed and began to writhe, even as a cloud of Darkness began to rise from his form. In the same moment, the entire castle let out a noise rather like a shriek as Link slammed in through the doors. He held his own massive sword in his hand, and there was blood dripping from the blade and splattered across his body. A single streak adorned his wolf's mask like a red flag.
"You're late," Zelda managed even as he charged to stand beside her.
"Hi, Princess," he said, and then dove into the battle. As soon as he entered, Impa peeled out of the fight, and came to stand beside Zelda. She placed a hand on the Princess's shoulder, feather light. Steady power began to flow into her.
"You're doing well, Princess," Impa said, voice low and soothing. "Keep it up."
"I will not be denied!"
The Darkness had almost fully withdrawn from the man's body, and it formed a gigantic, horrible skull. As Zelda watched it turned a bright, nauseating blue, a blue that hurt to look at, a blue that writhed and squirmed and made Zelda feel thoroughly ill from the crown of her head down to the tips of her toes.
Below the blue cloud, the corrupted King of Beasts had begun to move in a way that reminded Zelda horribly of a marionette. His body, it seemed, was no longer confined by the rules that bound all other mortal forms to stay on the earth, and it instead swung wildly with superhuman speed. His eyes were shut.
"I'll handle the puppet," Link snarled, surging forward as Sheik dodged a nasty strike. For a brief moment, Zelda watched the battle— Link's body, too, began to ripple and change, shifting in part and in whole from man to wolf and back again as he battled against the body that, if her dreams and the demon were to be believed, once housed him.
"I need you to cover for me as much as you can," Zelda said to Impa as the horrible blue cloud began to undulate. It formed two hideous red-yellow eyes and an enormous red mouth split in a sickening smile. "I'll be busy trying to bind it."
"We will defend you," Sheik said solemnly. And then, again as one, the two Sheikah sprang into battle, this time moving directly after the spirit.
Again, Zelda set to work weaving the spell of Light that she would use, pressing it easily into the delicate sword she held in her hand. She felt herself tiring. Doggedly, she pushed onward, setting nodes and whispering Words and building a fabric of pure Light. Before her, Link tangled with the puppet, limbs moving in sinuous, unhuman curls. Tree roots rumbled up from the ground and wrapped around the puppet, who shattered them with superhuman strength in massive blasts. Link transformed into a wolf, jaws ripping, and then back into a man, sword slashing, even as the earth shook and quaked and tree roots writhed around the two. The puppet, not to be outdone, spun wildly, blasting and slicing and flying.
Debris from the battle flew over to where Impa and Sheik were engaged with the blue cloud, but were immediately vaporized as soon as they came within a ten foot radius, so strong were the magical attacks firing back and forth. Sheik had summoned massive Shadow tornadoes, while Impa was alternately wielding each of the elements against the demon, blasting and slicing, whipping and stunning. Fire, Water, and Wind moved in a blur, even as Impa strengthened herself and Sheik with defensive Questing spells. Both the Sheikah were beginning to lag, though, and Zelda hastened to finish her own enchantment. She felt her core weakening, even with the replenishing the Goddesses had given her. She bit her lip, hard enough to taste blood, and the pain spurred her on. She could not fail now.
She nearly crumpled with relief when she finished the fabric of Light, but instead she straightened her spine and twisted it around the perimeter of the battle the demon was having with Impa and Sheik, just beyond its' perception. Then, she squeezed, and the Light adhered to the Darkness. The cloud let loose an unholy cry even as Zelda chanted seven Words, in quick succession, to bind the thick blanket of Light to the Darkness. Around and around and around she wrapped the Light, binding layer after layer after layer of it to the Darkness, until the nightmarish blue cloud was impossible to see. But it was still there, she knew— there, at the center of so much Light, a pulsing heart of pure evil.
The Puppet swung wildly over towards Zelda, even as she felt her core beginning to crumble. She didn't have long now. The puppet's sword bit into Zelda's arm, but she ignored the pain, even as Link slammed the puppet aside with a fierce battle cry. It didn't matter. Her core was slowly coming apart, and she would dissolve, becoming part of magic, because she'd used too much magic. Drawn too much on the capacity of her core to take the power of the world around her and convert it into something she could use. Control was an illusion, and all magic had its price.
She would pay that price.
Zelda gathered the sheer power of the world around her, the immensity of it, and pulled it through her core. She didn't shape it into Wind or Fire or Water as she normally would, didn't pull it into Light or Quest or anything else; instead, as she began to rapidly dissolve, she dragged the rawness of the world around her through what was left of Zelda, took aim at the ball of Light, and let fly.
It was the most beautiful, spectacular thing Zelda had ever seen. Colors that she hadn't dreamt of, sweet scents that reminded her of childhood, a low singing like music— this was Pure magic. The magic of the Goddesses. The blood of the world.
There was a noise rather like the shattering of a thousand glass windows. The puppet dropped like a rock. The great ball of Light and Dark melded together, bleeding into each other and swirling. Zelda could hear a high-pitched screaming— the Demon, no doubt. Her core had come completely unraveled at this point, and she sank to the ground, marveling at the agony as her heart stopped beating.
"Link," she whispered quietly, even as he stared down at his body. She couldn't hear him, only see the movement of his mouth, the way his hands reached for the form of his twin in the wolf mask.
And then she dissolved into the cosmos.
It was incredible. Ribbons of magic twined their way through the fabric of reality, thousands of different, beautiful colors. The same singing she'd heard in the throne room was still there, hundreds and thousands of voices raised together. The smell was something familiar, just beyond the reach of her memory. And then it all faded, and she was lying on a cool, perfectly white expanse that had neither start nor end. In the same thought, she was standing, or perhaps the expanse had simply reoriented to suit her better.
Funny; she hadn't thought that death would be quite like this.
The whiteness began to resolve itself into the Academy. Zelda stifled the urge to groan. After all she'd done, she was going to spend eternity cooped up in some stupid tower?
"Well done, Daughter," said a quiet voice.
Zelda's eyes snapped up. Sitting in an armchair before her was a woman who looked familiar. She dazedly recognized it as a painting of Queen Zelda IX, who had lived and died hundreds of years ago.
There was some resemblance between the two of them, Zelda thought, looking at the face that the painting hadn't quite managed to capture. But not much. Queen Zelda was beautiful; her hair was not brown, nor was it blonde, nor red, but an interesting in between that was something like auburn. She had pale blue eyes that, strangely enough, reminded Princess Zelda of Link. Her face was long and serene, her eyes narrower than Zelda's, her entire body lithe and wraithlike. But there was something— something in the set of the mouth, in the gentle slope of the nose, that hinted at relation between the two.
"Where are we?" Zelda asked the Queen.
"We are neither here, nor there," the Queen said, fluttering one elegant hand. "We are in between realms, where the flow of magic is the strongest."
"I see," Zelda said, even though she didn't, not really. If the Queen caught her lie, she didn't say, but a gentle smile crept onto her face.
"Let me look at you," the Queen said, rising from the armchair and gliding forward with grace that even Julietta would have envied. Zelda's stomach wrenched as she thought of her sister and her betrayal, but then returned her focus to the Queen. Zelda stood very still as she was inspected, feeling bulky in the presence of such ethereal beauty. She could feel every snarl still in her hair, the rips and tears on her gown, the blood on her sleeve. But the Queen didn't seem to notice that— instead, Zelda had the feeling that the Queen was looking straight through Zelda, to her soul.
"I am so proud of you," Queen Zelda said finally. "You are so lovely, my Zelda. So brave, and strong. You have suffered, and you have triumphed, and I apologize for my hand in your fate."
Zelda wanted to reassure the Queen that it wasn't ok, wasn't her fault, but the words stuck. Was it? She didn't know. Instead, Zelda fumbled out, "What exactly is going on?"
"You're not dead," the Queen said. "At least, not yet. If you wish to pass on into the land of the Goddesses, you may."
"I have a choice?" Zelda asked.
The Queen nodded once. "You do," she said simply. "You may pass on, or you may return to your own realm."
Zelda gaped at the Queen like a fish out of water.
"Twice in the span of mere hours," Queen Zelda said, raising a long-fingered hand, "you have unraveled your body to defeat the ultimate Darkness. Twice you have made the greatest sacrifice without hesitation, thinking only of the good of your people. The Goddesses reward such strength, daughter. They will return you to your worldly form, if you'd like."
Zelda nodded once in understanding.
"Why are you here?" she asked.
The Queen sighed, her face taking on a distant look.
"I, too, fought Malladus," she said quietly.
"That was really his name?" Zelda didn't mean to interrupt. She really didn't. But the words burst out of her.
"That is one of his names," the Queen corrected gently. "He has many. Wrath of Demise. Plague of the Picori. Majora. He is a legendary and undying evil."
"But I defeated him," Zelda said, confused.
The Queen smiled again, but it was a sad smile.
"There must be balance in all things," she said simply. "For Light, there is Darkness, and Shadow in between. Malladus is dead— for now. But so long as there is love in the world, there will be hate, and Malladus will one day rise again."
Zelda whuffed out a gust of air, irritated.
"However," said the Queen, "it will not be for many, many eons. You have led the world into an age of Light, my beautiful Zelda."
She nodded. The Queen smiled again.
"I fought Malladus, and lost," she said. "I was able to weaken him only, not defeat him."
"Why?" asked Zelda.
"I had allowed myself to become soul bound to a Creature of Power, the King of Beasts. He attempted to use my Light magic in the battle against Malladus, and this backfired, weakening each of us. I was unable to complete the purification of Malladus, and instead sealed him in the body he had possessed— that of the Beast King— until one of my blood could come and complete the task. In doing so, I chose to wait here, before the gates to the ever after, to greet you."
"You knew it would kill me?" Zelda asked, more curious than angry. The Queen's face was remorseful.
"I did," she said. "Do you blame me?"
Zelda shook her head once.
"Can you tell me," the Queen asked quietly, a little desperately, "what happened to my daughter? In the ever after, one can see that which happens in all realms, but in the space between…" she shrugged helplessly.
If she was Queen Zelda IX, then her daughter was Queen Saria II, the fabled Nymph Queen. Zelda smiled and looked at the Queen's hopeful face.
"After your death, the Kingdom was in turmoil from the war. Many of the nobles tried to seize power for themselves, and the Kingdom was fragmented. Impa left your daughter hidden in the woods until she was old enough to claim her crown. Saria rode forth from the Lost Woods with an army of magical creatures at her heels, and she united the Kingdom through magic and goodness. The people adored her, and under her leadership Hyrule entered into a golden age of prosperity. She wed a duke from the Sea of Trees for love, and gave you many grandchildren."
The Queen smiled at this.
"I'm glad," she said quietly. "I was not so fortunate as she. My husband— Onkled, Duke of Gamelon— was a loathsome man. It was he who called down Malladus," she said with a sigh. "And he was consumed by the spirit's power."
Zelda shrugged helplessly. The Queen turned her bright blue eyes on the Princess once more.
"You must choose now, Daughter," she said quietly. "Whether you will go back, or continue forward."
Zelda looked at the Queen, chewing on her lip. Finally, she spoke.
"Link," she said quietly. "What was he to you?"
"I loved him dearly," the Queen responded. "Though not, I think, as he wished me to. His heart was a wild one, but good."
"Can I trust him?" Zelda asked.
The Queen looked at Zelda long and hard. Finally, she spoke.
"That, I cannot answer. Have you made your decision?"
She had. In her mind's eye, she saw Link's eyes, and more: she saw her sisters. She saw Aveil and Ashei bickering. She saw Saria smiling. She saw Tetra reaching out her arms, black eyes bright and happy. Her heart burst with longing.
"I'll go back," she said simply. "To live out my life."
The Queen nodded and smiled, seemingly satisfied with this answer.
"I will see you again in the ever after," she said, and the world around Zelda dissolved.
Her first thought was one of agony. Her second thought was that maybe she shouldn't have come back to this life if it was going to hurt so dratted much.
She was kneeling in the wreckage of the throne room. Impa stood in the center of the room, Sheik beside her. Both were staring at Zelda, white as ghosts. On the other side of the room was Link, still in his wolf's half-mask. Before him was the body with the brown hair. He didn't seem to have noticed Zelda's presence. As she watched, he vanished, becoming as transparent as dust motes in sunlight.
The man— the King of Beasts— opened his eyes and groaned, sitting up and pressing a hand to his head. His hair turned blonde, the same color as Link's had been. He looked directly across the rubble at Zelda, and she felt as though she'd been physically struck. The eyes were the same eyes as Link's.
She pushed herself to her feet and limped over to him, using the sword as a walking stick, even as he too clambered up, movements stiff. Zelda went to raise her right arm, but hissed in pain; the deep gash from the Beast King's sword remained. Zelda thought to herself rather mutinously that Queen Zelda had failed to mention that Zelda would be coming back to a painfully battered body; deciding it was too late to deal with it, Zelda instead moved the sword from one hand to the other, then raised her left arm. The wolf mask looked like a puckered film over his face. She touched it gently with two fingers and it slid off into nothingness.
Zelda stared at Link as they stood surrounded by smoking rubble. The man that looked back at her was one of the handsomest she'd ever seen. His blue eyes, though ferocious, were set in a surprisingly gentle face. His mouth looked inclined towards a soft smile. He watched her with all the caution of an uncertain hound.
"How much do you remember?" she asked, stepping back quickly and wrapping her good arm around herself, as though that would protect her from him. Sheik melted tactfully into Zelda's shadow while Impa stepped back into the darkness, giving the two a bit of privacy.
The King of Beasts scratched his head, handsome face pulled into an expression of pain. He wore the face of the man who had manifested beyond the Seal, and yet where Malladus's shadow incarnation had been handsome and cruel, the face of the King of Beasts was good-natured and wild.
"Not a lot," he finally admitted. "It's hard, having two sets of memories jostling in my head. The last thing I really recall with any clarity is… is Queen Zelda pulling my soul from my body. Then it all gets a bit jumbled."
"Do you know who I am?" Zelda asked.
"Of course I know who you are," he responded, as though the question were the stupidest he'd ever heard. "I'm confused, not an idiot."
Zelda recoiled. This new Link was a little different than she'd expected.
"We have a Soul bond," Zelda said anyway. "And before, you… your dark self called me his Queen. Is that true?"
"A Soul bond like ours— one willingly taken on— is a marriage at the deepest level," the King of Beasts responded. "Though I suppose you didn't know that when you bargained with me." His mouth quirked up in a handsome smile that stole Zelda's breath away as forcibly as though Ashei had socked her in the gut. "I've been up to mischief, I see."
"Can I ask you a few questions?" Zelda asked. The King of Beasts nodded once.
"What do you want to know?" He made no moves towards her, instead standing perfectly still several paces away. Zelda had the very distinct impression of a predator ready to strike, and tightened her grip on her sword, useless though her right arm was.
"Were you using me from the start? With the dancing and all?"
He thought about it for a long moment, eyes narrowed in concentration as he sorted through several hundred years' worth of memories. "Yes," Link responded at last. "I was."
"You wanted to make me fall in love with you? Why?"
"When your ancestor pulled my soul and powers from my body, she bound them together into a flawed form, to balance the flow of power in this region," he began. "Though my Light form was strong, I was unable to access the bulk of my powers. I had hoped that either a second Token or the removal of my mask by one of Harkinian blood would fix the flaws in my temporary body and more readily allow me to fight my Dark self," he said, expression and voice opaque. "Though I was incorrect— it was not until you drove the evil from my body that I was able to enter into my old palace." He kneaded his head. "Gads, it's difficult remembering anything with any sort of clarity. Though one thing sticks out."
Zelda felt cold as his words sank through her.
"You should know, Princess," the Beast King said, "My soul was fascinated by you from the first, and my affection is genuine." He touched his chest, as though the sensation was a curiosity, unexpected.
"How do I know I can trust you, after everything?" Zelda was fighting to keep her voice calm. "You've used me, you've lied to me… you tried to steal the magic of one of my ancestors…"
"You don't know you can trust me," he said calmly. "Given all that has happened, your basis for trust in me is nonexistent."
That didn't help her feel any better. Well, at least he wasn't asking her for dances in return for answering her questions. She was consumed with the momentary, idiotic urge to run him through with her shiny new sword.
"Why did the Queen bind you into a flawed form?" Zelda asked. "It seems… intentional, almost. Though I don't know the whole story, only bits and pieces… I've been having dreams."
The Beast King sighed.
"I'd feared you would," he said, and now he sounded a little disappointed. "The power that the Queen— your ancestor— expended still remains strong in the area, and it is unsurprising that you'd encounter remnants of her memories. The spells she wrought in her final moments were born of the same suffering you have been experiencing, and it is natural that the memories would cleave to you when you resonated with similar emotions.
"So I will start from the beginning.
"I was born more than seven hundred years ago. My father was incredibly old, and required a suitable heir— though he had several sons, they had all been born of mortals, and none was a fully realized Creature. Though they each had many traits of an Immortal, including long life spans, none had the capacity to wield the power of the King of Beasts. So my father planted a seed of his power in the Guardian Spring, and it is from this that I was born. My father was happy to have an heir, though my relationship with him was likely as strained as yours is with the King of your realm. I was groomed to succeed my father, and did so when he passed away, one hundred and fifty years after my birth.
"It was not long after this— not long to me, anyway— that turmoil began to occur in the nearby mortal lands. We felt the shockwaves of shifting power even here, and knew that something unnatural was happening. My suspicions were confirmed when a young Queen, just a few years older than you, sought refuge with her trusted servant in my mountains. She had heard of my Kingdom, and thought to seek help with me.
"I was still very young at the time, you must understand; though two hundred years seems like ages to a mortal, I was young for one of my kind, and foolish. Seeing the incredible Light magic of the Queen made me greedy, and I bargained with her. She would bestow a mortal form upon me— my brothers each had one, and I did not— and in return I would banish the evil from her lands. She accepted the deal.
"When she granted me the body of a man, I took the opportunity to soul bond with her. I planned to steal her Light magic and use it for myself, partially to vanquish the evil that had risen in her lands, and partly from pure avarice.
"Of course, I set out into her Queendom, and carved my way through the demon's army."
"Malladus," Zelda said simply. Link's eyes snapped up to her. She shrugged. "It's name was 'Malladus.' It seems like a clearer name than the Demon."
"Right you are," responded the Beast King mildly, though he had shuddered a little at the sound of the demon's name. "I lured Malladus after me, up into my realm, where I was at my strongest. And then, at the moment when the entire battle should have ended, I tried to draw upon the power I had slowly leeched away from the Queen.
"The resulting backfire did incredible damage, weakening both me and the great evil. Malladus possessed me, and my draw upon the Queen's power had weakened her enough that she could not purify me. So she split my soul and powers from my physical form, and granted me a temporary body, but that body came with a catch. When Malladus was weak, at night, I took whichever form I wished— generally that of a man. When Malladus was strong, during the day, I was consigned to the body of a beast.
"When you asked me to bond to you— when you indebted yourself to me— it gave me access to some of the powers that I had lost through your own blood ties to the Queen's magic. I anticipated that this would happen. Though you benefitted greatly from our bond, I perhaps benefitted just as much. It strengthened me countless times over.
"And now I have twice used the powers of your bloodline. I have twice lied."
He bowed his head.
"I loved the Queen dearly, but I loved her much in the way that you love your spellbooks. I have been trapped for a long time in a cursed form— to take the shape of a weak man by day, and the form of a mute beast at night is a great punishment indeed. It was ensnared within these immutable bonds that I learned what it is that makes mortal magic so potent.
"Suffering. Passion. Desire."
His eyes were bright on hers.
"All of which I feel when it comes to you."
"Between my two bodies, I have lived a thousand years in solitude," Link continued. "I have learned the depths of the emotions that mortals carry within their fragile forms— Greed. Suffering. Loss. Loneliness. And I realize that I have erred greatly, though I still maintain I could have taken no other course of action."
Zelda's mouth was dry. She wasn't sure what she was feeling, so she contented herself with blinking a few times. Link watched her face carefully, his own expression unreadable, before he moved forward with the slow grace of a wolf. Zelda held up her hand to halt his approach.
"May… may I see your true form?" she asked quietly.
Link paused. Then, slowly, he nodded.
The light around him shifted, drawing inward. He was bathed in the glow of the same pink magic that Zelda recognized as the ancient Queen's. It brightened until Zelda was blinded, and then faded.
A wolf taller than a horse stood before her. He was golden, though he had white marks on his forehead that shifted ceaselessly in a kind of crown. Link bowed his giant shaggy head as Zelda stared at him.
He was magnificent.
Link shifted back to the form of a man and Zelda didn't even have the strength to protest as he stood before her. Slowly, he dipped his mouth down to hers to kiss her once, lips lingering on hers, light as the touch of a butterfly. Before she could respond to the kiss— lean in, push away, she wasn't sure which she wanted to do— he stepped back again.
"I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me one day," he said, leaning his forehead against Zelda's. Her eyes fluttered shut as her heart skipped a beat at his next words.
"I release you, beautiful Zelda, from the debt that binds you to me."
She felt the magic of her debt to him unravel. She gasped, stunned, and looked inward. The soul bond was still firmly intact. She looked up at the Beast King, eyes curious as a hand went to her chest.
"You are my Queen," he said. "It would be unseemly."
"I'm not your Queen," Zelda responded. She took a step back from him, and then another. "I don't even know you. You're different from the Link I know."
"He is within me," the King of Beasts said, touching one hand to his chest. "He is the essence of who I am."
"I have duties and responsibilities in Hyrule," Zelda said, continuing to back away. "I can't stay here. I'm going home."
He watched her, blue eyes bright, and then finally exhaled.
"I promised you I wouldn't force you to stay here, and I won't," he said, frowning as though this promise annoyed him. "You can walk away from this, Princess. You can run as fast as you can, if you'd like. But I will come for you one day."
"I'll keep running," Zelda said, even as her back bumped into the wall. She groped her way towards the door of the throne room. Link watched her for a long moment, and then he smiled. It was a smile full of promise, wild and hungry and completely predatorial, and it sent a shock of fear and desire straight from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.
"I'm the King of Beasts. I always catch what I chase. And one day, Princess, I promise you: you'll want to be caught."
Without another word, Zelda turned and fled.
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