So this is it. This is the last chapter of ADP: The Defender. Next up is A Different Path: The Hero. I'd like to first give a huge thanks to everyone who has been following along for the past 5? years, as well as everyone who has joined us along the ride.
Before I continue, I'd like to give another big thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday or who has wished me luck on my class! It's going very well for anyone who'd like to know :) Turns out research I did for this story when I was 13 really paid off in the end, lol. And this is just my first step of many in the medical field.
Anyway, to those of you who I didn't specifically shout out who have been following this story, know that I see you and definitely recognize you! I'd like to give a full list of usernames but I also don't want to miss anyone :)
As for the Q/A, I think I'll wait on that because there actually were moreso comments and non-questions in the last set of reviews. Still appreciate those, and I actually want to address a few-
Sketchachu-You're definitely another username I always recognize :) And I'm right there with you-mental health gets tricky at college. It can be so much harder than I expected. Always put yourself first! As for taking classes outside your major, I'm actually not taking this class through my fulltime big university because it's pretty far away from where I live. I'm actually taking this program at a smaller technical college a little ways away from my hometown, so that's always an option for next summer, if you're able.
MyOtherRideisaMasterCycleZero: That's so cool! I always considered phlebotomy(...professional vampiring) as one of the many medical paths I could go down. A few of my EMT classmates/friends are actually going to take a phlebotmy class after this one, which sounds super cool. IAlso, t's always really fun to hear from a fellow medical nerd :)
Anyway, here we go. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own LOZ
"Who would want to see me at this time of night?" I asked Leal, confused.
"It's someone you know, but…" The old demon had a frown on his face, and I could tell something was bothering him. He opened the door, and I looked outside.
"Link!" My eyes stretched wide at the swordsman at our step. Without responding, Link walked in. Leal and I exchanged a look, and I slowly shifted a hand to the sword at my waist.
"Young man," Leal started uncertainly. I must recommend that…"
Link was standing there, and without looking at my companion, he turned to me. His eyes were red and swollen, and I stood there, speechless. Without warning, he embraced me, burying his face into my shoulder.
"I don't want to be alone right now," Link muttered.
I let the hand over my sword relax, things finally clicking.
"You got the final flame, didn't you? And… You found out what was in that room in the temple."
Link didn't respond.
Tightening our hug, I rubbed his back. "That's okay. The Imprisoned will be sealed for a while. You can stay with us for as long as you need."
We broke apart, and I wrapped an arm around his shoulders, guiding him towards the dining room.
"Say," I mumbled under my breath, my good sense coming back to me. "Remind me…how did we meet again?"
"Oh, uh…" my blood chilled as he didn't answer right away. But then I realized he was occupied with wiping his nose and eyes with his sleeve. He cleared his throat. "I…uh…I picked up your books after Groose ran into you."
I let out a subtle sigh of relief at his correct answer, and then we continued onward. If Link had found my random question to be odd, he was too out of it to let on.
"Hey," I said delicately as I reentered the dining room. Ghirahim and Platnox straightened up in their seats.
Ghirahim's eyes narrowed. Meanwhile, Platnox put on an artificial grin.
"Hey, look! It's my personal food tester." The taller demon chortled. "Great to have you back, Stink!"
I gave him a look, but then my eyes darted to Ghirahim again. "I know what you're thinking," I began, "but—"
The demon simply looked away, taking another sip from his glass. "What does he need this time?"
I looked at Leal, who was following close behind us. "Leal, can you escort Link to his room to set down his things?"
The old demon nodded slowly, giving Ghirahim an apprehensive look.
I looked to Link, taking his hand. "I understand if you want to go right to bed, but I'd really like it if you'd come back here and eat something. I need to talk to all of you about something. Either way, could you let me know?"
The swordsman nodded slowly, and then he turned, following Leal around the corner.
I took a seat, avoiding Ghirahim's look until I was settled. "Ghirahim, I…"
"I don't despise him as much as I favor you," Ghirahim said evenly. "But I would like to know why you've invited him inside my manor."
"Yes, well." I folded my hands. "I haven't talked to him about it yet, but if it is what I think it is… Zelda—the Spirit Maiden—has gone through the Gate of Time and frozen herself in the moment of Demise's imprisonment so that he can't come back in present time."
"I'm sorry, what?" Platnox pretended to wipe out his ear with the tip of his finger. "Is that as confusing as it seems, or am I just having a stroke?"
I let out a sigh. "It's a lot to take in, but I'm telling you guys because I think you have the right to know. And I trust you."
I gave Ghirahim a long look, and he met my gaze unflinchingly. "Knowing the location of the Spirit Maiden and the other Gate of Time means nothing to me now. You've made sure of that."
I didn't know what to say, so I pursed my lips, nodding my head slowly.
"So, why does he look like he's just seen a ghost, then?" Platnox asked. "She seems pretty safe to me, hoping that your orange lover doesn't know where she is."
"Plat." I glared at him. "I think you know how much I hated that, but the question is fair. Link…" I searched for the right words. "He and Zelda grew up together. I like to think that he and I are close, but we have nothing on what the two of them have always had. They're literally destined to be together. For as long as I've been here, he's been on the Surface, risking his life again and again just to reunite with her. And today, he finally got that chance, just to find out that she is Hylia reincarnated, and that the Goddess in her has been using him for her own good. And… you know that I know how that feels." I looked at Ghirahim. "We both do."
"So, what does he want?" Plat asked.
"Well," I shrugged. "He said he doesn't want to be alone. Maybe he thought being here, around a friend, would take his mind off things. I told him he could stay for a few days…" I glanced at Ghirahim. "If…If that's okay with you."
The Demon Lord got to his feet, face still unreadable. "Ah, yes. Nothing like sharing my home with my least favorite Hylian."
I felt my heart sink, preparing for the worst. Then he fixed his eyes closely on my face. "The boy means nothing to me, but if you care for him, he may stay."
"Thank you," I breathed, smiling sincerely.
"As long as you do not force me to interact with him," Ghirahim added.
"Well…" I cringed. "I was kinda hoping we could all talk to him once he gets back—we should make a plan. And, too…" I glanced at Plat, and then back at Ghirahim. "He might have something to do with what we talked about earlier. He should be here when we tell Plat."
"I'm sorry, what now?" Platnox was staring at us in confusion.
Ghirahim let out a long breath, but he took a seat, nonetheless.
I managed half a smile, covering his hand with my own. I hooked my finger around his thumb, absentmindedly stroking the back of his hand.
Plat faked retching noises behind us, but beyond those, I heard footsteps.
I turned around, and Link was standing nervously in the doorway. I gave him as big of a grin as I could, getting to my feet. I took his hand and led him to the seat next to me. Leal gingerly sat beside Platnox.
"Alright demons; once again, this is Link," I announced, "and he'll be hanging out with us for a little while."
"Wonderful," Plat licked his lips. "Fresh meat."
"Link, our jester over here is Platnox," I said dryly, shaking my head at him again. "You may remember his antics from before."
"Excuse me, I prefer 'village idiot'," the noble put in.
"Right, and this," I went on, going down the line, "is Leal. He's one of the kindest demons—or people—I've ever met, so be nice to him."
Leal lifted his glass, giving us a stately look. "You flatter me," he said humbly, though I could see a sparkle in his eye.
"And this," I continued, "is—"
"Ghirahim." Link stared him straight in the eye. "Yes, I remember."
"Before there's any conflict," I cut in quickly, "let's remember that we're all more or less on the same side here."
"What is it then?" Ghirahim asked. "More? Or Less?"
"You're the one who should prove yourself to us," the swordsman retorted.
"Hey!" I flicked them both on the back of their heads. "Ghirahim, Link has had a rough day. And Link, Ghir is letting you stay in his home. He's trying, alright?"
The boy set his jaw, but he nodded curtly.
"Now," I cleared my throat. "We both have some catching up to do. Who would like to go first?"
Link's hands were laced in front of him on the table, knuckles white. "Well, I suppose you're all wondering what I'm doing here. I'm not sure how to even start explaining all that's just happened"
"How poetic," Platnox drawled.
"I will kick you out," I warned the demon.
"You can't do that," he protested. "I was here first."
I raised my eyebrows. "But doesn't it matter more who's here last?"
"Oh ho ho," Platnox clapped the table with his hands. "What say you, brother?"
Ghirahim sipped his drink impartially.
"Guess you got me there," Plat chuckled, leaning back in his chair with a toothpick.
"Maybe…" I lowered my voice, turning to Link again. "Maybe you could start with what happened when you got the last flame? That was a lot faster than the previous temples. Did you have to fight Malice again? Was there anything different about it?"
"I mean, I guess it was pretty normal," Link sighed. "But actually, I didn't fight Malice."
I exchanged a look with Ghirahim, who now seemed interested. "Who did you fight then?"
"It was…weird…" the swordsman said, frowning. "It was…me. But not me."
"So a… Dark Link?" I clarified.
"Yeah, that's a good way to put it," he agreed. "The fight wasn't hard, to be honest. But on the wall when I first walked in, before the other…me appeared, I saw that there was a message written on the wall. It was in blood. And it was fresh."
"What did it say?"
"It said, 'all you have to fear… is all you may become'."
I shook my head. "He's a coward himself. He's just projecting. He was messing with you—with us."
"It's working on me," Platnox joked. "Not."
I shook my head. "If he were brave, he would've been there."
"I would have been there," Ghirahim grumbled.
"Yes Ghirahim, you would have," I agreed. "But he wasn't. And that tells us all we need to know about him."
"You may have a point," Link reasoned, "but there was something else."
"Do tell," Ghirahim grumbled.
"There was another message. I was in this shrine of sorts, and one of the walls depicted images of the Gate of Time. Over it, though, in the same substance as the other one, it said, 'I'll worry about your gate. You'll need an army to worry about mine'."
"Now that one…" Platnox cleared his throat. "That one kind of…gets me. I mean, I'm still certainly the most stoic demon here, but that one…"
I shook my head. "I'm not sure I get it. What other gate could he be talking about?"
"I don't know," Link sighed. "But he seems rather proud of it."
"Considering what you told me of his manor, he seems to be gathering an army himself," Leal spoke up for the first time. "Could it have something to do with that?"
Following his thought, I turned to Link again. "What about the other monsters you fought? Was there anything… different?"
"Well, actually, there was this one room." He hesitated. "It was…blue. Like, all blue. It was quite jarring compared to the rest of the place. And there were just three monsters in it—Not even any treasure."
"What were they?"
Link shuddered. "Well, there was this one that only seemed to reach my knees. It had a trident, and it made these little NYET noises. It was really quite annoying."
Confused, I shook my head. "And the others?"
"One was like a dead person, except it had red eyes, and these big gold earrings. And when I got close to it, it let out this horrible screech. I couldn't even move."
Starting to understand, my heart sank.
"And… the other?"
"That was the worst one." The swordsman shook his head. "It was a pile of white, bloody flesh, except it had a long neck and a tiny head. Then these bloody arms came out of the ground, holding me down so that it could try to bite me."
"Well, shit." I stood up.
"What?" The others got to their feet as well.
"Those creatures you just described… I've fought them before. But…not here. Not in this world."
"I'm sorry, what?" Platnox asked. "What do you mean, 'this world'?"
I looked to him and Leal, realizing I had no idea how much either knew about my true identity. "We're…uh… The three of us are gonna have to have a chat later."
"These are monsters from your world, then?" Ghirahim prompted.
I cringed. "Yes? But not really. Link has fought them before. Or… He will. I'm still not quite sure how the timelines work."
"Oh?" Link frowned, but then things kicked in. "Oh."
"If the room was blue," I went on, "then it was a message for me. He knew you'd tell me about it. Hell, he put the baddies that always scared me the worst as a child."
"He wants everyone to know how formidable he is," Ghirahim realized. "He wants to brag about the powers Demise gave him."
I gripped the chair for support. I'd never told Malice about how freaky I'd found these other Zelda critters. So, how had he found that much out?
"He has an army," Ghirahim said again.
"And it could be composed of literally anything," Link added.
"Well, that kinda complicates our news," I said dryly.
"And what would that be?" Platnox asked.
Ghirahim and I exchanged a look. Then he straightened his spine and looked at the others in the room. "I am taking the power I rightfully deserve. I am claiming my throne."
Leal's face dropped, and he looked at Ghirahim in a mixture of surprise and satisfaction—but also horror.
"But we're gonna need to get the support of the people," I added. "The days of ruling through fear are over in this realm. And it's about time, too, because if Malice has an army exclusively for that final battle…"
"We're going to need one too," Link finished
"And we are going to do it the right way," Leal declared suddenly. He stepped forward, standing before Ghirahim. "I saw Demise destroy village after village in order to compel our people to fight against Hylia. I will die before I see that happen again. But in you, I know we've found a true ruler." He turned to me. "And a fair advisor." Patting Ghirahim firmly on the shoulder, he looked at his leader with nothing but pride. "I will do anything necessary to see this through."
"We'll need all the help we can get," I assured him. "After all, if we really are going to attempt a full out coup d'état, and we don't want to just seize control from the people, then we're going to have to be methodological in terms of gaining support."
"And what do you have in mind, exactly?" Platnox asked.
"A campaign, of sorts," I blurted out without a second thought.
The four males exchanged confused looks, and I realized that a campaign was probably much more combat-oriented in their minds.
"Look," I took a breath. "Where I'm from, transfers of power happen all the time. For my people, the person who takes the position spends months—years even—traveling our land to gain support from the people. We're a democracy. I get that this is a monarchy and everything, but if we want any shot at putting up a fight, we're going to need more than Ghirahim's scrappy army."
The demon lord shot me a sharp look, but I spread my arms.
"Look, Ghir, I'm sorry, but the handful of bokoblins and moblins that we have in the barracks aren't going to buy us much time at all if Malice really has the kinds of creatures I believe he does. We're going to have to rally every able-bodied creature around here."
Leal narrowed his eyes. "The monsters our new friend described do not seem particularly threatening. So then… what kinds of creatures do you believe he has?"
Ghirahim stalked forward. Jerking a finger towards me, he grumbled, "If she can dream it, Malice's probably already made forty."
"What is he talking about?" Link asked.
I gripped the chair so hard that my knuckles turned white. "Malice created monsters—seemingly out of thin air—that are based almost exactly on one of many myths a friend of mine used to scare me with. If he has access to that much power and that much information…"
"He could create just about anything from your world…" Link realized.
"Or yours," I added. "I don't know the limits of his new abilities, but to be safe, if we assume that he can create anything—real or imaginary—from my world…" I bit my lip. "We'll be lucky to even stand a chance."
Silence fell for a moment. I turned to see Platnox pacing with his hands over his head.
"Plat?" I slowly approached his side.
"I'm sorry, but…" he laughed harshly. "When was someone going to tell me that the scruffy little ginger you pissed off was some sort of cosmic deity?"
"He's not," Ghirahim snapped quickly. "Demise is giving him this power."
"Did you know?" Link asked carefully. "…About how much power he could give his servants, I mean. Did you know?"
Now Ghirahim was pacing. "I always knew that I could take advantage of his vast powers even in his dormant state, but I never considered relying on them so heavily. If I'd known what they could do…"
"Well, that's in the past now," I interjected quickly.
"How…" Platnox was still staring straight ahead. "How does that shrimpy dude even channel such energy?"
"Well, think of it like an instrument," Leal spoke up suddenly. "It is as though one has a tornado's worth of air to blow through a horn, but it's missing its mouthpiece. His mortal servant can be that missing piece. It is through one who is free that he can channel that untapped power."
"Great," Platnox said. "We're dead."
"What kind of monsters could we expect from your world?" Link asked, somehow maintaining his composure better than Ghirahim and Platnox.
"Well…uh…" I cleared my throat. "There's a lot to unearth there. It'd be physically impossible to prepare for anything that he could cook up. So, we're going to need to find out more, if we can."
"Can someone clear this whole, 'Ocean's world' thing up for me?" Platnox broke in again. "Did I miss that lesson? Did someone take notes for me? Because I could really use an enlightenment."
"Right, well." I looked to Link and Ghirahim. "I think I'm going to need something to drink."
"I'll fetch some water," Leal offered immediately.
"No, no…" I sank into a chair. "I want something a little more… alcohol-y."
Link and Ghirahim's heads jerked towards me, mirroring each other's stunned expressions. I ignored them, staring straight down.
"Red wine, coming up," Platnox responded immediately, whipping towards the cellar. "I hope you enjoy my favorite, because I think we're going to finish the keg tonight."
"Well…" Plat sat back. "This is all…pretty bad." He clapped his hands on the table nervously, clearly enunciating each syllable. "Pret-ty baaad."
Ghirahim's face was planted firmly in his palms as he hunched over the table, no doubt stressed beyond belief. Link just sat there, pale, with his shoulders leaning halfway over the table. Leal, the master of maintaining composure, had taken a seat with his fingers laced and hadn't spoken a word for the entire time that I was speaking.
I couldn't exactly blame them for that reaction. After all, not only had I spilled the beans about my other world, but I had also warned them about Link's other reincarnations. I hadn't even told Ghirahim about that second part yet. But considering that time travel was possible in this world, I figured it would be worth mentioning.
Not wanting to miss any potential threats, I'd given them a lowdown of some of the most basic things that they may have to fear from my world. Anything from real animals to aliens to Stephen King's best work.
Needless to say, they were…
I knew Plat and Leal would come around soon enough, and Link usually bounced back from this kind of panic quickly. But as for Ghirahim—
I'd been having the worst time trying to read him lately. And now, seeing his reaction to Malice's potential army, I was starting to worry.
"Ghir?" I touched his arm, but he didn't move.
A crack of thunder suddenly shook the room.
"Welp," Plat said suddenly. "I need some more alcohol. Like a lot more. Does anyone want anything?" He took a 360, looking at the people around him. Catching my eye, he gestured to Link and Leal. "Come on. You guys better come with me so that I don't break anything. You know how it goes."
"T-That sounds like a wonderful idea," Leal agreed, catching on.
Link looked thoroughly confused, but he followed the pair anyway.
I waited until they had left, and then I turned my attention back to the demon lord.
"Ghirahim?" I gripped his wrists, trying to lower his hands. "Hey, talk to me."
He was just shaking his head, massaging his temples with his thumbs.
"Hey," I nudged him. "Communication, remember? What's eating you? Talk to me. I'll understand, I promise."
He still didn't say a word, seemingly caught in an episode of serious contemplation. I sat there for what felt like hours, an anxious feeling spreading across my body. Normally, I could follow his train of thought without him saying a word, but now I wasn't so sure.
I began to get to my feet. "I'll go get us some wat—"
"I could have been the commander of that army," Ghirahim said abruptly, making me freeze where I was. I slowly slid back into my chair.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He shook his head. "I should have known that Demise could have provided me with such power. I could have done so much with it." He slammed his fist on the table. "I wouldn't be dicking around with made up creatures like that twit is. I would have apprehended the Spirit Maiden long ago."
"Maybe." I nervously twiddled my fingers. "But consider—in the game I just told you about… I mean, in Hylia's simulation, you didn't have much of an army. There was a battle with a big mob of bokoblins, but it wasn't exactly the mobilization that Malice is attempting now."
"Was nothing else different between real life and that damn Goddess's guesswork?" Ghirahim snapped.
I folded my hands, trying not to be hurt. "True. You're much different than you were in that simulation. But there wasn't much contrast when I first met you."
I shrugged. "I don't know. I guess, since things have gone so differently, I'm not sure we can say what you would or wouldn't have done in this reality, had you stayed with Demise."
He gave me a stony look. "You mean, if you weren't here?"
"Well…" My eyes stung. "I changed things, yeah. I think a lot of us have. Your life constantly being in jeopardy… I think that's humbled you. Frankly, Ghirahim, Malice is typically humbler than you. Or, at least, more realistic. Personally, I think you could have only taken the vain approach to resurrect Demise. I don't think you would've asked him for more power."
"And why not?"
I put my hands on my hips. "Well, Ghirahim, listen to yourself. You clearly sound like you have something to prove. You always have. And now that you're watching someone else do what was your initial mission, you still find yourself reasoning how you would've done it better. But what do you still have to prove, Ghirahim?"
He glared at me. "Nothing. You're wrong."
"Come on, Ghir. I know you."
"Apparently not enough."
"Then why are you so caught up on how he's doing this? It doesn't matter how you would've approached it—that's not your job anymore."
"Because it was my choice." He pounded his knuckles on the table again. "My choice. That's what I must prove, Ocean. I chose to leave his side. Not the other way around."
"Oh." I felt my voice grow small, and I lowered my gaze. "Well, you're right. It was your choice. He wouldn't have sent Roseza if he didn't want you to come back."
He fixed his gaze on his fist, still planted firmly on the table.
"Are you…" I cleared my throat. "Are you maybe upset that Demise never offered you this much power? I mean, did he?"
"It was always on the table," he responded evenly.
"But did he ever say, 'hey old sport, if you want a little edge on your enemies, I can lend you some of my godly powers'?"
"Well," he snickered humorlessly. "Not like that. I would have had to ask."
"But you didn't," I pointed out. "That was another choice."
"And now that shrimp has done it," Ghirahim grumbled. "Now, I'm supposed to command some ragtag group of soldiers? That's what my path led to?"
"You're not happy with it," I realized. "Your path… Your choice. You regret it."
He sighed. "That is not the entire truth. But I must confess… I would much prefer to be the commander of the other army."
"I see," I choked, my voice pinched.
What had I done?
I lost myself in thought, and I was only yanked out when Ghirahim's hand accidentally brushed against mine. I looked at his face, following his gaze to his fingers. I gently slipped my pinky over his thumb, and he looked at me, his eyes cold and level. His irises were dark, but in the light, I could clearly see the brown undertones.
"Do you remember our fight in the courtroom?" I asked him quietly. "Do you remember what I told you after you threatened to hurt Vi and made me promise to stay away from Malice?"
To my surprise, he answered immediately.
"You told me that no one would care for me, that I would die alone."
I shifted my jaw, my guilt returning to me. But I tried my best to hide it. "Yeah. And I stand by it."
Ghirahim's mouth parted slightly, but I shook my head.
"What I mean is that I really think you would have, if you'd stayed on that path. Link will win. I can feel it. If you had been the commander of that army, you would have been defeated. Hell, Demise himself could have even killed you personally. I'm sure you wouldn't put that past him."
Ghirahim said nothing to refute that point.
"The way I see it," I went on, "we have two competent demons leading two different armies. At the end of the day, yeah, either of you could be killed. But the difference is that now, with us, you're fighting for peace, Ghir. You're on the side that fights so that everyone who resides in this realm—and the rest of the world—may live without fear. What you're doing is noble and selfless."
"What good will that do me in the grave?" Ghirahim asked dryly.
I hesitated. "Ask Herb."
I felt a lump in my throat. "Herb was noble and selfless. His choice was to sacrifice his own chance at survival so that you could live. He believed in you. And you know the craziest part? He was a nobody. He wasn't the leader of any manor. He didn't have any power. All he did with his life was help people. And yet, when he died, it took a lot of effort to keep his burial small. A lot of people wanted to show up and speak on his behalf. Herb was the kind of person that you grieve."
"What about me?" Ghirahim humored me.
I narrowed my eyes. "No one grieves for someone who lives only for himself. On the path you were on, you may have had a full funeral. You may have had tears shed, speeches given, and all that other shit. But none of it would have been genuine. And that's only assuming that you were successful. If you were to fail… I wouldn't be surprised if there'd been a sea of empty chairs. But now… Now you have a chance to mean something. We all do."
Ghirahim was silenced for a long minute. He lowered his head, and after a bit, when he raised it, he had regained his composure.
"I have one last question," he stated coolly.
He got to his feet. "You said that dying was Herb's choice. You make it sound like he saved me. Was it not you who healed me?"
I stood as well. "I did. But when I first got to the infirmary, Herb was still alive. He was dying, but awake. I tried to heal him, but he told me that I had to save my powers to heal you. He didn't think that I could save both of you."
"Sensible." Ghirahim nodded. "But then, wasn't it you who chose for me to live?"
I searched for the right words, distracted by the increasingly loud sound of rain on the roof. "Herb tried his best to stop me from saving him. I'd made him a few promises, and I knew I had to respect his wishes. But yeah, I guess it was my choice."
"And do you regret your path?"
I moved so that I was facing him. "Herb was a great friend and a wonderful person. He's the reason I learned how to use my gifts. There's little that I wouldn't give to be able to see him again. If I'd chosen to save him, he may be the one standing in front of me."
Ghirahim's gaze was locked intently on mine. It seemed to be his turn to search my eyes.
"But he's not here." I rasped. Then, surprising Ghirahim, I wrapped my arms around his shoulders. "You're here, though. And I can't express how happy I am for that. You're right. I made a choice. But we both did. Let's not make each other regret our paths, alright? Promise."
After a moment, he slowly relaxed against me. Without a word, he reached back and linked our pinkies. Pressing my face into his shoulder, I took that as a yes.
A fair while later in the night, Ghirahim and I were sitting in the library. I was sitting in the chair while he sprawled across the couch. I was quietly reading him The Book Thief—we were nearing the end—and Ghirahim was staring at the ceiling. Beside us, the crackle of the fireplace warred the torrent pelting the windows.
"Is this helping?" I asked Ghirahim after a while, yawning.
"It's better than lying in the dark," he responded. "Alone."
"Uh... Right." I cleared my throat. "Anyway…"
After a few more minutes of this, there was a scratching sound at the door. My blood turned cold, and from the look on Ghirahim's face, he wasn't any keener on finding out what it was.
Then, the sound was followed by a quiet knock.
Steeling myself to be courageous, I cleared my throat. "Who is it?"
"Uh… Link. It's Link."
I frowned, opening the door a crack. Sure enough, the swordsman was standing just outside, dark rings below his eyes. I heard a squeak, and looking down, I watched Tiger swagger into the room, tail in the shape of a question mark. He hopped onto the couch beside Ghirahim.
"S-Sorry…" Link muttered. "I couldn't sleep, so I went to look for you. Then this remlit was acting like he wanted me to follow him.
"Tiger must remember you," I noted.
"Right, well…" Link rubbed the back of his neck. "I shouldn't have bothered you guys. I'll leave you in peace."
"Um," I grabbed his collar. "Not yet you won't. Come in."
I pulled him inside, closing and locking the door behind us.
Ghirahim glanced toward us. "He's back. Hooray."
Ignoring him, I led Link to the chair, motioning for him to sit down. "What's the matter?"
"I just…" He pulled at a loose string on the arm. "I couldn't sleep."
"Yeah, well…" I sat beside his chair. "I'm not surprised, given all that happened today. Especially with Zelda. I really am sorry about that, by the way."
Link nodded slowly. "It's just so hard to…" Suddenly his head jerked up. "Wait, you knew that was going to happen?"
I rubbed the back of my neck. "Well, yeah. That's kinda the joy of being me, remember?"
"You didn't think it was a good idea to, ya know, warn me?" The swordsman pressed. "I kind of just got my heart broken, Mar. That's not cool."
"Well…" Lost, I bit my lip. "Remember what I told you? About how I wanted to stop predicting everything for you? So much has changed… It's not like…"
"Yeah but," Link grabbed my arms. "Couldn't you have just…" He trailed off, his grip loosening. He clenched his teeth, blinking rapidly.
"Hey," I took his hand. "This really sucks. I'm not going to deny that. But we're going to get her back in one piece, alright?" I looked to Ghirahim, and he was staring at us with a blank expression on his face. I turned my attention back to Link.
"She used me," he whispered.
"No," I shook my head vehemently. "Hylia did. Hylia's been using all of us. But coming from someone who's been ordered around by her since getting here, I can guarantee you that she and Zelda aren't the exact same person. Zelda's still your friend. She still has all your childhood memories. She still cares for you and your father—she just has a lot more knowledge, now."
"We're really gonna get her back?" Link asked carefully. "Things can really go back to normal?"
"Well…" I opened my mouth to respond, but Ghirahim cut in.
"Nothing's ever going to be the same again," he said flatly.
I gave him a look.
"What?" He raised his brow. "I've found it's best not to sugarcoat the hard truth. Not everyone makes empty promises, Sky Girl."
I avoided meeting his eyes. "Right, well…"
"He's right," Link agreed. "But maybe that doesn't have to be a bad thing."
"I knew he'd come around," Ghirahim hummed dryly.
"Then…" I nodded slowly. "With that settled, how can we help you sleep?"
"I dunno." Link focused on his boots. "Sometimes, when I can't sleep, I play Zelda's harp. But right now, I'm not sure I could touch it."
"That's okay," I reassured him. "Music, huh? We can do music. Why, we…" I trailed off, looking around the room. The piano beside the biggest bookshelf caught my eye. Approaching it slowly, I took off the cover.
He looked up from the remlit he was subtly stroking. "Hmm?"
I smirked wearily. "A little birdy told me you used to be exceptional at piano. You want to show us?"
"'Used to,'" Ghirahim scoffed. "I still am. But I don't play anymore, nonetheless."
"Well," I smiled innocently. "Can we change that tonight?"
"For him? Forget it."
"Please? What about for me?"
Ghirahim just shook his head, laying back down on the couch.
"Ugh, you little…" I let out a deep breath, taking a seat at the instrument. "Then I'll try. I think I can play something."
Ghirahim snickered. "Now that's something I'd like to see."
"Hush, you," I shot back. "I learned to play recorder by ear. How complicated could this be?"
"Go ahead," the demon lord encouraged dryly.
I played a few notes, cringing at how tentative I sounded. But while I had no clue how to play chords, I knew the music staff. Maybe I could try to transpose something.
After a few quiet tries, I managed to play very slow, very simple, and very flawed versions of"Epona's Song", "Zelda's Lullaby", and "Song of Storms."
Intrigued, Ghirahim got to his feet. Carefully, he took a seat beside me on the bench. He watched my clumsy fingers as I began to attempt "Song of Healing."
"Curious," the Demon Lord remarked. "Even with your novice technique, I can recognize those pieces."
"Really?" I looked at him in astonishment. "You have these songs here?"
"But of course," Ghirahim reasoned. "I've been playing variations of them since I was a child. They are folk songs, of sorts. The question is, how do you know them?"
"The games I told you about," I specified. "I learned them through Link's future reincarnations."
"Fascinating," Ghirahim muttered. "Do you know any others?"
"Well, this one is a bit of a stretch," I admitted. "But it's one of my favorites. If only I could transpose it. I think it's too complicated for me to play by ear, though."
"Sing it for me, then," Ghirahim prompted.
"No, I don't sing."
He rolled his eyes. "Whatever, then. Hum it, I suppose."
Feeling overtly self-conscious, I tried my best to hum the tune that was in my mind.
After a while, I stopped. Ghirahim said nothing. Looking at the ground in disappointment, I sighed. "Yeah, I figured it would be a bit of a stretch. But it should sound something like…"
I attempted to find the first few notes, when suddenly, a quiet, more confident set of chords overtook mine. Stopping, I looked to the side and saw Ghirahim's graceful hands effortlessly begin the main theme of Wind Waker. I stared at him, mouth ajar, as one of the most beautiful renditions of my favorite piece blessed my ears. As he continued, he gracefully changed dynamics and tempo to his liking, even throwing in a few improvisations of his own.
As I sat there, stunned, I felt a wave of nostalgic emotion wash over me, and I struggled to keep my composure. I would have regained myself if it hadn't been for Link, though. Quietly, on the next verse, he joined in on his harp, delicately plucking away in a gorgeous duet. All I could do was sit back and try my best not to ruin the magic.
As I looked to Ghirahim's face, I saw the most peaceful expression that had ever graced his lips. It was such joy, such calm, such… fulfillment.
Then, when that piece ended, he continued with his own renditions of many other pieces in the series, and I felt tears of sheer joy well up in my eyes. I had to turn around so he wouldn't stop to gloat.
Turning to Link, the grief on his face had turned to contentment, and he sat there, adding his own twists to the songs Ghirahim was playing. In the end, Ghirahim returned to the initial Wind Waker theme, but he concluded it with such expertise that it felt as though he himself must have composed it. After he'd finished, none of us wanted to be the first to speak a word.
I just stared up at Ghirahim, at a complete loss for words.
It was Link, however, who broke the stillness. "That was… something. To be honest, that really helped. I think I can sleep now. Thank you, both of you."
I hopped off the bench, and Link approached me.
"Link, I," I bit my lip. "That song—all of them, really—accompanied me throughout my childhood. Music from your games always makes me happy. It always has. And I know, it must be weird to hear this, but when I first played them, I wasn't much younger than you were in that specific reincarnation. As I grew to be this age, so did you. It feels like we grew up together. And I'll always be grateful for that."
Link gave me a small smile, his shyness turning his cheeks scarlet.
Realizing what needed to be said, I continued. "Look, guys. I know that we've all made choices that have altered our paths—probably forever. And I know a lot of those choices are my fault, and you all are having to suffer the consequences. But after all the time I spent as a child, falling in love with your world and everything in it, I can only be grateful that this is the path I chose."
Without a word, Link embraced me tightly, and I pulled Ghirahim into the hug as well. And then we knelt there—
Servant, Defender, and Hero, all together as one.
I tried to sniffle quietly so that they wouldn't hear me. If they had, neither one gave any indication.
After that, a very sleepy Link stretched and returned to his room. I took a seat at the piano with Ghirahim once again.
"You made me touch him," Ghirahim grumbled.
He raised his brow. "That embrace? You forced our contact."
"You barely touched him," I protested.
"It's like electricity," Ghirahim countered. "It conducts."
"So you're saying you two had electricity?" I suggested.
Ghirahim's face reddened. "Traitor," he grumbled.
I chuckled, shaking my head as I turned back to the piano. "Thank you for that," I said quietly. "Your playing… it truly is beautiful."
"I don't have a reputation for nothing," the demon responded dryly.
I laughed, but I was still trying to regain a hold on my emotions.
Slowly, Ghirahim smiled again. "Is there another song from your world that you would like me to play?"
"Well…" I thought for a moment. Then, taking my phone out of my pocket, I found a recording of "Für Elise" that I had saved to my phone. "Let's start with this."
To my great astonishment, Ghirahim only had to listen to it half a dozen times to catch on, and then he was adding his own twists to what now sounded like a piece he'd been practicing for decades. Genuinely astonished, I continued to supply him with songs from my world. No matter how difficult or how strange, if I could give him an impression of the melody, he could play his own rendition of it. Afterwards, I encouraged him to play some of his old favorites.
"Amazing," I whispered, watching him touch the keys so gently, yet so forcefully. I could tell how passionate he was, because he was using his whole body to both play and keep time. His head nodded along, and as he did so, his asymmetrical hair kept falling into his face.
"You need a haircut," I teased.
Ghirahim stopped playing. He folded the cover back on the piano, staring straight forward. "Then give me one."
"What?" I frowned. "I know I joke about your hair a lot, but…"
"I wasn't joking. Cut it."
"No way," my mouth dropped open. "But your hair is what makes Ghirahim, Ghirahim."
"Perhaps it does," he mused. "But so did my position at Demise's side. And my adversity towards Hylians. And my hatred for mercy and selfless fools. And yet…"
"Ghirahim," I realized now that he was at least being partially serious. "I don't want to change you like that."
He looked at me for the first time since he'd started playing, and his gaze was empty. "Haven't you?"
I pursed my lips, turning away.
Ghirahim summoned a red dagger, and he handed it to me.
"Ghirahim…" I shook my head, face burning.
"But…" I hesitated. "You don't want this. Not truly, do you?"
"I don't know."
I tried to give a playful smile. "Doesn't the concept of a new 'do scare you? I mean, you've had the same one for how long?"
"I know." His tone was flat as Fi's chest. "Just do it."
Before I could protest again, he took the dagger back. Grasping a handful of his snow-white locks, he blindly cut off a quarter of a foot.
"Foly Huck…" I spluttered.
"Now fix it," he commanded dryly. "Is that not what you do best?"
Knowing better than to argue, I reluctantly ran my hand across the jagged cut. Taking a deep breath, I adjusted my grip on the knife. I really had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to fix it without completely altering his previous style to my preference.
And yet, that had never stopped me before.
I know this wasn't the most ~regular~ book ending, but I wanted to present the themes and ideas that I've been playing with in this story for what they are-confusing and conflicting.
As for the lack of action these past few chapters, it's as my beta put it, "the calm before the storm."
I know this book wasn't always as dynamic as the previous one, but it was kind of supposed to be this way. I wanted the first book to be all about the inciting incident and the initial framing of the various relationships. This one, the second volume, was more about plot and character development, as well as a lot of background. I know it isn't always the most exciting thing, but it was necessary for payoff for the next book, which will hopefully be a good culmination of the past five years of preparation. In ADP: The Hero, there is going to be a lot of twists, bloodshed, and tense situations. There will hopefully be a lot of drama, tragedy, and excitement, though you may all hate me by the end. Such is the life of an author, I suppose.
The final volume will likely be shorter than this one, which was shorter than the first. And I know that isn't ideal, and I probably could have split it in two parts, but this was what made most sense to me. At lease this means you'll get to find out how everything ends sooner :)
When exactly will the next book begin? I don't know. Will it be by the end of summer? Yeah, most likely. It could be much sooner, too. It all depends on my motivation. Those of you who have followed along this long know that I can be very bipolar in terms of writing. I try to be the kind of person who writes a little each day, but that's just not how my motivation works. I end up writing six chapters in one week and then none for the next month. It sucks, and I'm trying to get better, but it always helps when you all bear with me so that I know I have an audience to come back to.
Until then, though, I would really love to hear your thoughts about the second book. Comments? Constructive Criticism? Questions? Predictions about the second book? I want them. What was your favorite part so far? What about favorite character? (Ocean doesn't count, she's supposed to be relatable, lol.) Most surprising twist? Guesses about the next book? Please, supply my addiction. Also, please fav/follow so that you know when the next part begins :)
Nearing the end, I would like to take this time to give a HUGE shoutout to my beta. I don't know what I'd do without my buddy reading my late night manic writing sessions. Thanks a million, friend!
Finally, just for fun, I'd like to leave a Link (lol) to what I imagined Ghirahim's playing to sound like: watch?v=eKJ0_US4630
I looked up the main Wind Waker theme on piano, wondering how it would sound, and this was perfect! I mean, I'd maybe say the one in the story would be a little slower since Ghir is kind of a dramatic guy, but it's close enough. Also, for my fellow Wind Waker stans out there, check out FreddeGredde's WW medley. It's sooo good.
Well, that's all folks.
Hope you all are enjoying your summer and staying safe!