A.N.: Whew! Finally finished this one! Took a lot longer than I thought it would, sorry, all! But better late than never, right? …right? …yeah.
Anyhoo, sooo, this is actually more of an epilogue than a prologue, so I'm not 100% sure if this chapter should fit here or if it should be its own thing. I mean, it's still the same story, it's just… not really in line with the original premise of the story in general, in the sense that it's not part of the prelude to the game. Does that matter? I dunno, I'm not an English major or anything, haha. I'll leave it here for now, and if nobody has a problem with it, I'll probably just leave it as it is.
So if you feel there's a bit of a disconnect between the previous chapter and this one, it's because this has been written with the assumption that Pit has gone through all the levels, beaten all the bosses, gotten all the stuff, done all the things, and is now at the end. Just FYI.
Uhh, not much else to say here. Same disclaimer applies: Kid Icarus game, characters, and plot all belong to Nintendo, etc. etc. etc. Here goes! :)
Green lightning split the blackened heavens asunder as the battle between Pit and Medusa neared its climax. The Three Sacred Treasures shone with brilliant, golden light, illuminating the hero wielding them like a beacon of hope. The Pegasus Wings carried Pit aloft as the Mirror Shield warded off the petrifying effects of the enemy's hateful glare and Arrows of Light streaked across the sky, striking their target with deadly accuracy. Their target was, of course, the blood-red eye of the goddess of darkness herself, fully locked on him as he darted through the skies above the battlefield that was formerly his home. He skillfully wove through the air, despite it being his first real flight, narrowly dodging the bursts of darkness that she fired at him in an endless barrage.
She stood at the heart of Skworld, before the entrance to Palutena's Palace in the Sky, though she now looked even more terrifying than she had when he last saw her. She no longer seemed to have a body at all, but only consisted of a massive, grotesque, disembodied head wreathed with venom-spitting serpents that snapped at him if he flew in too close. Waves of darkness emanated from her, shrouding the once luminous realm of light in an oppressive veil of shadows.
Everything was riding on the outcome of this battle. It wasn't just his life on the line here: countless lives were counting on him to pierce through the shadow that loomed over Angel Land, including Palutena's. He'd realized this the moment he'd broken out of his cell in the Underworld, but this was where everything would finally culminate. He'd trekked the long and perilous path through the Underworld, across the Overworld realm of men, and finally into Skyworld itself. He'd defeated Medusa's highest-ranking officers and reclaimed the Treasures they had stolen. And now only Medusa herself remained between him and triumph. There was absolutely no backing down now.
"You impudent, little fool!" she hissed at him. "This world belongs to me now! Do you really think an insect like you can hope to stop me?"
"You bet!" Pit swooped around a marble pillar, firing off an arrow of light before ducking under a beam of dark energy. "I won't rest until light has filled Skyworld once again and peace has been restored! Your reign of terror is officially over, Medusa!"
The goddess sucked air in between her serrated teeth as the arrow sliced across her cheek. The pupil of her single, hideous eye narrowed to a vertical slit as she whirled on him menacingly. He grinned back triumphantly. "Oh, yeah! How does that Arrow of Light taste? That's how I - yeow!" His taunt was cut short as a serpent in her hair lashed out at him with its jaws open wide, driving him back as it snapped at his wing.
"The Sacred Treasures… You honestly think those will grant you victory? You're even more emptyheaded than you look," she spat at him. "Those glorified trinkets are nothing more than toys to the likes of me."
"You're wrong, Medusa!" Pit hovered before her, brandishing the Treasures heroically. "These treasures are proof that I've defeated the commanders you entrusted them to after you stole them, and now they're the very weapons I'll use to defeat you, too!"
"Ha… you may have taken out those lowlifes, but you'll find that I am not so easily disposed of." Another black shockwave raced toward him, and as he soared up and over it, he found himself in the middle of a barrage of green lightning attacks. He managed to deflect one with his shield but had to frantically dodge the others in a series of impressively skillful (or absurdly lucky) bobbing and weaving motions across the aerial battlefield to avoid being fried alive. "Palutena herself fell before me! You don't stand a chance, Sacred Treasures or not!" she boomed at him.
"We'll see about that! I'll send you straight back to the Underworld where you belong! Prepare to meet the light, Medusa!"
A guttural growl rumbled from her throat, but then shifted into a low snicker. She flashed him a maniacal grin that was not unlike that of a great white shark at a feeding frenzy. A surge of green lightning spread across her face and crackled along the serpentine bodies within her hair, shooting up into the blackened sky and highlighting the thick, black clouds a disturbingly jarring shade of lime.
"Whoa!" The change of the atmosphere took Pit by surprise, filling the air with an icy chill. He braced himself for a new attack, watching the sky for any sign of the evil lightning. He cautiously glanced between the electrified clouds and Medusa, whose sadistic gaze remained fixated on him.
Suddenly, the lightning reappeared, firing bolts of bright green electricity in all directions, and he barely had time to react before the sky was ablaze with the unnatural light. He frantically dodged the wild weather's attempts at frying him alive, suddenly realizing to his dismay a huge disadvantage to aerial combat: the complete lack of cover.
A bolt shot past his ear while another just missed his knee and a third one collided with the Mirror Shield and ricocheted off into space. But just when he thought he thought he might become Skyworld's most charred resident, the onslaught stopped, and the clouds returned to their inky black again.
He grinned triumphantly at the hideous eye. "Ha! Is that all you've got? Your darkness can't penetrate the light of justice, Medusa! It's time to end this!"
Instead of the thwarted scream he was expecting, a fiendish cackle filled the air. "You're right… it is time to finish this. But it isn't me who's finished."
"I know what you're up to. You think you can just keep coming back again and again, don't you? That no matter how many times you fail, you can just try it again, isn't that right?"
The triumph slipped from Pit's face as uneasiness crept in at her ominous words. "Uhh… y-yeah. How do you know about that?"
"Oh, I'm fully aware of the cheating you've done in the name of 'justice'. I suspect that was Palutena's doing, wasn't it? But don't worry, I've officially put a stop to it."
"What are you talking about?" He shuddered as the chill in the air began seeping into his skin. If he didn't know better, he'd say it was doing so intentionally. What was going on?
"You might remember that it only works if your desire to keep going is stronger than my desire to kill you. And, believe me, nothing is stronger that." A twisted smile spread across the enormous face. "But even without that little loophole, my little homecoming present will take care of you."
As if on cue, the clouds rippled with green energy, and then the wind suddenly whipped up into a frenzy, blowing the blackened clouds in a wide semicircle around the makeshift battlefield. Pit struggled to remain in a balanced hover as the gale swirled around him, buffeting him first from one direction and then another. The clouds wrapped around the palace in a thick spiral, faster and thicker with each passing second, until they formed an impenetrable, black wall on all sides.
The only light in the enclosed dome he now found himself in emanated from the Sacred Treasures he wore and from the gigantic, scarlet eye leering down at him menacingly. Its fiery glow flooded the area with a blood red tint that made it very almost impossible to tell the blackened marble of Skyworld from the shadows of the Underworld.
Pit stared in horror at the disturbing expression illuminated in the mockery of light, the unease he'd felt earlier now completely replaced with terror and dread. "Medusa?! What did you-?!"
"Didn't you notice that most of that attack wasn't even focused on you? I've closed this place off to everyone but us. That will keep Palutena from interfering with our battle." The insane and impossibly wide grin somehow spread even farther across her hideous face. "Not even your precious goddess can save you now. Without her meddling, once I take you down, you're going to stay down, Sacred Treasures or not. Permanently." Medusa's eye began to gleam harshly. "I'm going to destroy you, fair and square, without any of her foolish parlour tricks. Your foolish quest – and your worthless life – end here and now!"
The lightning that she fired from her eye was aimed at him now, and it struck him hard in the chest, knocking him down and backwards. He screamed as his body spasmed uncontrollably and the icy, cold electricity flung him backwards. He could see more coming his way as he tumbled backwards, and in desperation, he rolled in midair and, with the howling wind filling his wings, he managed to just barely dodge a second attack and changed his fall into a somewhat controlled dive. Feeling the additional support of the Pegasus Wings tingling along his own wings, he launched himself forward with a sudden burst of speed from them and was able to swoop back upward in a tight spin, narrowly avoiding the electrical attacks that raced past him.
Keeping his momentum up, he leveled off and wove in between the lightning barrage, undertaking a more defensive strategy now that Medusa had just raised the stakes a few dozen notches. Even though he'd gotten significantly stronger since the last time he saw Medusa, much of that had been because of Palutena's gift.
This had been especially true in the Underworld, where he'd been at his weakest, but even as he'd grown stronger and made fewer mistakes, it was reassuring to know that there was a safety net if he needed it. Not that dying was an experience he'd wanted to make a habit of, but it was a relief to know that something as simple as a slip or a misjudged jump wouldn't be enough to terminate his mission and leave the world to despair under Medusa's cruel reign forever.
But now that safety net was gone. The training wheels were off, and every move mattered infinitely more now. This was entirely between him and Medusa now, with no second chances; one wrong move and it would be all over – for everyone.
And yet he'd come to this final battle already knowing this in his heart. He'd been prepared for a one-on-one showdown with the goddess of darkness with no room for mistakes. As he'd gotten closer and to Skyworld, the sky had been growing steadily darker and darker, and he'd come to the sobering realization that Medusa's darkness was slowly smothering Palutena's light. It wouldn't be long before she wouldn't be able to help him anymore, and it would all be down to him and Medusa, and there would be no turning back. That time, it turned out, was now.
Still, this was the goddess of darkness herself, the source and culmination of all the evil he'd faced up until now. This would be far more dangerous than anything that had come before. Could he really do this in one go without getting himself killed by her furious wrath?
As he swerved past a bolt of green lightning, swooping low to get out of its range, he noticed a large breach in the palace wall that looked like someone had thrown a wrecking ball filled with dynamite at it. Through it, he could see piles of rubble scattered around the small room beyond, filling up a round, bowl-shaped impression in the floor. The room was completely trashed; even without the chunks of wall tossed around the room, there were massive cracks in the floor and pieces of smashed light fixtures sprinkled everywhere. And even though it was hard to see through the oppressive blackness, glints of golden water sparkled faintly at him from under the rubble pile, as if it were the room's final, weak plea for help.
He gasped, immediately recognizing the ruinous room. "Nooo! Not the hot spring!" He clenched his teeth and glared up at the monster above him with rekindled determination. "That does it." This was one step too far. She was going down.
Finally, the hectic attack ended, and he soared back up to face Medusa with every bit of resolve he had. "You think that after everything you've done that's gonna stop me? Think again! I won't need a second chance to take you down! The world has suffered long enough under your darkness! The Overworld, the humans, Skyworld, Lady Palutena…" He drew an Arrow of Light with all his strength. "This is for all of them!"
He charged forward, firing off a series of arrows at the enemy. They struck their mark, and the serpents in her hair briefly recoiled as she winced from the blows, before suddenly lunging forward in a furious counter attack. "RRRAH! YOU INSIGNIFICANT, LITTLE WEAKLING! I WILL END YOU!" she screeched resuming her assault on the angel within renewed fury in the beams of dark energy that she shot out of her eye.
"Aaah!" He barely dodged one, then cried out as one grazed his side. He staggered in the air, but before he could regain his balance, a pulse of darkness swept across the sky and slammed into him, knocking him back. It was a much stronger blow than the lightning had been, and a recovery wouldn't be nearly as graceful as his last had been.
He had a brief sense of déjà vu as he was flung through the air, toward one of the few pillars that still stood in Skyworld. Not willing to have a repeat of the crippling impact that had happened last time Medusa had tossed him back like that – especially now that one wrong move would spell a permanent game over for him - he twisted around, managing to line up the Mirror Shield with the pillar as he slammed into it. The shield saved him from breaking anything, but crashing into a solid, marble pillar wasn't exactly the smoothest of landings, and it briefly knocked the wind out of him.
The power of the Pegasus Wings caught him from falling even further, and he hovered briefly, leaning against the pillar to regain his bearings and his breath. Suddenly, there was motion in the corner of his eye, and he turned just in time to see a snake angrily streaking out of Medusa's wild hair toward him. Except this one was much larger than the others, and had pale, green scales rather than the midnight black of the others. Most striking of all, though, was its unblinking gaze that somehow remained lifeless and dull in spite of the murderous intent glaring out at him.
He'd recognize that blank stare anywhere: the snake that had nearly strangled him when Medusa overthrew Skyworld had grinned at him with those same, dead eyes. Tanatos, Medusa had called it. He quickly leaped off the pillar out of the snake's way with a yelp as it careened past, narrowly avoiding its razor-sharp fangs. There was a bone-chilling snap! of Tanatos' jaws clamping together, followed by a half-growled, half hissed, "Nrrgh! Not ssso fassst!" Without slowing down, it wrapped itself around the pillar and, keeping the momentum of its dive, launched itself with surprising speed toward Pit.
"Whoa!" Pit barely had time to put up his shield as the snake barrelled into him. The force of the impact drove him backwards and down through the air as he tried to press back against the dead-eyed reptile. He was surprised how much strength a snake could have in the air; didn't they have to slither around on the ground everywhere? Tanatos' advance didn't seem to be losing momentum at all, and as the marble floor rushed toward him, he heaved his shield sideways, flinging off his attacker into a nearby pile of rubble near the cloud wall.
As he caught himself from slamming into the ground himself, he barely had time to catch his breath again before Medusa fired another barrage of green lightning at him. He frantically zigzagged between them, managing to avoid a direct hit, but wincing as he felt the cold burn of a few bolts that got way too close for comfort crackle along his wings. He darted back and forth, watching for a chance to launch a counterattack, when the green snake dove at him again. With a panicked cry, he just barely avoided him, then watched as Tanatos hit the ground running (slithering?) and shot up to the platform where Medusa's head was seated.
"Whoa! It's fast!" he blurted incredulously. "What's with that thing?"
"'Thing'?!" Tanatos repeated indignantly, sticking out a forked tongue as he lined himself up for another attack. "The nerve of you!"
Medusa cackled. "Disgraceful, isn't it, Tanatos? You'd think an angel of all things would recognize the god of death when he saw him."
Pit frowned. Now that she mentioned it, the name did sound familiar. "God of death…?" Suddenly, his eyes went wide. "Wait, you're that Tanatos?"
"Of courssse! Who elssse?" Tanatos bared his fangs menacingly. "You were exxxpecting Tanatosss the iccce cream man?" he shot back before springing into the battlefield again, venom-tipped fangs glinting in a flash of lightning.
Pit quickly dodged his strike again, then beat his wings furiously to quickly climb back into the air. Now he wished more than ever that he still had another chance at this final battle. It was nearly impossible to gain any altitude as Medusa continued to rain attacks down at him and Tanatos pounced at him repeatedly from every side, each time faster than the last. "H-hey! Two against one? What gives?" he shouted, deflecting a beam of darkness with his shield.
"Heh-heh… What's wrong? Too much for the little hero?"
Pit grit his teeth and shot upward into the fray. She'd meant it as a cruel jest, but he was determined to prove her mockery wrong. He would put an end to this, he would save everyone, and he would be the hero that would bring peace back to Angel Land. He'd promised. He wouldn't let Palutena down again.
Suddenly, his grimace shifted into a grin. There was just one thing he had to do before he could truly claim the title Medusa taunted him with, something he'd always wanted to do. And now was his time to shine.
As Tanatos sailed toward him again, he whirled in midair and fired an Arrow of Light into his gaping jaws. With an unexpectedly high-pitched howl of pain, Tanatos tumbled to the ground, writhing in agony all the way. By this point, Pit was now level with Medusa, and their eyes locked: blue determination against crimson hatred.
"Hear me, Medusa! I am Pit, servant of the goddess of light, and wielder of the Three Sacred Treasures! And I'm here to put a stop to all those who oppose justice and peace! Remember this well: those who dwell in darkness will be made to see the light! And in the name of that light, I will defeat you! You're finished, Medusa!" He was practically beaming at this point; everyone knew any hero worth their salt always saved the day with a dramatic speech. He'd waited forever for this moment, and it felt even better than he could've imagined. I guess all that practice along the way paid off after all!
With an enraged scream, Medusa launched everything she had at the angel. With an Arrow of Light at the ready, Pit surged head-on into her attack, daringly weaving through the onslaught of her final barrage. Deflecting and maneuvering the rage-fueled beams of dark energy, he fired his arrow at one that came flying at him head on. It exploded in a burst of sparks of smoke, and as he passed through it, the debris stinging his cheeks, he drew one final Arrow of Light. He emerged directly before the fiendish eye and, calling on every bit of strength and courage he could muster, he let it fly, striking Medusa's eye at point blank range.
Her head reeled back, and she let out an agonized screech that tore across the heavens like a thunderclap, the snakes in her hair shrieking along with their host. The deafening sound pushed Pit backwards a bit, and he raised his shield just in case Medusa had one last trick up her sleeve.
"Gaah! No! H-how?!" she spluttered desperately. The entire area around her shook violently as she flailed in agony. The air itself seemed unstable, the wind tearing apart the wall of clouds around them as her dark clutches on the world finally started slipping. Lightning flashed in every direction, and rippling shockwaves pulsed viciously across the sky. Everything in sight seemed to be tearing apart at the seams at the goddess' death throes. If Pit didn't know better, he'd swear the world was ending.
"You…!" Her gaze returned to him, somehow holding infinitely more wrath and malice than before. Her skin, already an ashy grey, was turning pale and chalky, with an almost stone-like, gritty texture. Fissures were beginning to run across her face as it, too, appeared to be crumbling before him. Even her voice was gravelly and raw, clawing out of her throat like a wolverine, held together only by the hatred she so firmly held onto.
"This… isn't… over…!" Her eye was beginning to cloud over with the dusty texture that was rapidly engulfing her, but her expression didn't falter. A latticework of cracks started to form everywhere the texture spread as Medusa uttered her final threat. "I'll… be… back! Palutena… Pit… Re…venge…! HRK!" Her face froze in a hideous snarl as she completely solidified into a lifeless statue. By now, there were so many cracks in the cold, dead surface, that it was hard to even see anything that resembled a face at all, and after a heartbeat of silence, the statue dissolved into dust and was swept away by a final, conveniently timed gust of wind.
For a moment, Pit thought he caught a glimpse of a womanly figure in the middle of the crumbling statue, tiny in comparison to the enormous disembodied head that was now disintegrating around her. She was throwing her hands up in anguish, grasping for something that was not there, and then she limply collapsed into the dust as the last of it drifted away.
Before he could ponder whether or not he had simply imagined the sobering image, something else now stood in the same spot. It appeared to be an oddly shaped pole of sorts, mystically hovering before the now cleared entrance to the Sky Palace. Its shape was immediately recognizable: tall and thin with two symmetrical golden arches, elegantly crafted, and holding in place above them an azure orb that seemed to be levitating a few inches from the socket. He immediately recognized it as Palutena's, but aside from the fact that it was floating by itself in midair, it simply looked like an elegant, but otherwise normal staff, and not the accessory of choice for the goddess of light. Just as he thought this, though, the blue orb at its top began to weakly flicker to life, before sputtering briefly and then vanishing in a final flash of light.
Pit gasped. He'd never seen the staff without Palutena, and to see it alone without its normal, cheerful glow and then to see it suddenly disappear was disturbingly unsettling. "H-hey! Wait!" he called after it and swooped down to the entrance level below.
With evil now vanquished, the glow of the Sacred Treasures dimmed to a soft, ambient glow. The Pegasus Wings powered down as well, dropping Pit off at the spot Medusa had stood only a few seconds before. Not wasting a moment, he took off at a sprint down the hallway beyond, ignoring his fatigue and any injuries he'd gotten in the battle. The long, gloomy hall stretched on seemingly forever, towards a closed off chamber at the far end that seemed as chillingly lifeless and empty as the rest of Skyworld.
"Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay…" he frantically chanted under his breath as a desperate plea against hope. A sickening dread began building in his stomach. What if he was too late? Could Medusa have already exacted her final revenge before he'd gotten here? Could he have come all this way for nothing?
He pressed forward with increased urgency. If Palutena was hurt in any way, he'd never forgive himself.
Suddenly, the door at the end of the hall opened, and light spilled out into the corridor. With a surprised shout, Pit had to skid to an abrupt halt, reflexively protecting his eyes with the Mirror Shield. This was the first real light he had seen for days, for even the rays of the sun had been blocked out by Medusa's thick clouds. He'd been so used to fending off darkness that coming into the light nearly blinded him. Dazzlingly bright and warm, it filled the hall with its golden touch, immediately banishing the last of the shadows that tainted the Sky Palace.
For a second, Pit thought that he, too, might be blown away by its intensity, the brightness searing through his eyelids like a red-hot coal despite the shield's efforts to block it. But then, just as he thought he couldn't take it anymore, the brilliant light dimmed to a much gentler glow. He slowly lowered his arm, squinting blearily around him. The soft touch of the light bathed the entire hallway, transforming the cold, lifeless stone into elegant, marble tile and wrapping everything in its familiar embrace of radiant warmth. As he stood in breathless awe at it all, a warm and familiar voice emanated from the chamber.
In the center of the room, with the radiant symbol of light shining from behind her, stood the goddess of light herself. Long, shimmering locks of emerald hair flowed like a cape down her back, nearly as far down as the ankle-long skirt of the white gown she wore. She showed no obvious sign of injury, aside from being slightly paler than usual, standing as straight and tall as ever, smiling down at the battle-weary angel with gratitude shining in her jade eyes.
"Lady Palutena." Relief flooded through Pit like a monsoon, sweeping away the foreboding dread that had clung to the back of his mind. He'd feared she might have been horribly injured by the Underworld Army, or Medusa might have turned her into a grotesque monster beyond recognition and he'd never see the smiling face of his best friend again. However, seeing her well and unharmed after everything he'd been through banished all those thoughts in an instant.
A weak laugh forced its way out of his lungs, and he was suddenly acutely aware just how sore and exhausted he was. He staggered forward into the chamber and then collapsed into a bow on one knee, trying not to show how much his muscles were trembling. "I'm so glad… you're safe," he huffed shakily. "I… I thought I might never see you again."
Palutena's smile softened. "It's good to see you, too, Pit. Welcome home."
He raised his head, meeting her gaze cheerily. "It's good to be back, Lady Palutena." He glanced around the little room briefly, noticing how small and empty it was, with nothing more than a pile of destroyed furniture in the corner and shreds of what used to be curtains scattered across the floor. There was a wide gash torn through one of the walls that had been barred over with thick, black tendrils through which was a clear view of the ruins of Skyworld, with crumbling pillars and petrified centurions scattered everywhere.
His wings drooped at the sight. She'd spent all this time trapped in here? Strictly speaking, it was a step up from where he'd been locked up (though, admittedly, not by much) but she would've been constantly surrounded by the complete devastation of her home while completely helpless to stop any of it. He sighed heavily. "It's a bit of a fixer-upper right now, though, isn't it?"
Her smile fell briefly as she followed his gaze, and for a moment the telltale shadow of exhaustion passed over her eyes. "Medusa wanted to destroy everything about this place. That was her plan; to have me watch her bring everything I cared about to ruin." Her expression lifted again as she turned back to Pit. "But I don't think she counted on you."
Pit grinned, pushing himself to his feet. "You got that right! Medusa and the Underworld Army are history!" he proclaimed, posing dramatically. He thrust his hand forward with two fingers raised in a "V". "Skyworld: one! Underworld: nothing! Total victory!"
"You've done well, Pit." Palutena smiled at the beaming angel. "And the Sacred Treasures suit you."
"Haha, yeah!" Pit showed off the gleaming relics proudly. "These things are amazing! Medusa barely knew what hit her! Hey, maybe they should become part of our official uniform. Nobody would ever mess with Skyworld again if we had the Sacred Treasures with us!"
"I'm afraid that's not how they work, Pit," Palutena explained gently. "They can only be used in the most dire of situations, when things are at their bleakest. That's why you aren't flying anymore."
Pit glanced at his wings wistfully. "…Oh. Right. I was kinda wondering about that." So much for being able to fly on my own, he added silently.
"And they can only be used by heroes who have overcome impossible odds in the name of justice." She smiled warmly as his face lit up again. "So, while they can't be used on a regular basis, I think it's a good idea to keep them safely stored away in case of an emergency." She closed her eyes and extended her hand forward, her palm facing downward. A ball of light started to form in her hand, and in a flash of light her staff appeared, the blue orb at its end still flickering weakly. "So, in that case, I'll just-aah!"
The moment her fingers wrapped around the slim, blue shaft, a harsh blast of green light burst out of it, throwing her hand back. Pit barely even have time to gasp in alarm before he was completely engulfed by it. It wasn't at all like Palutena's light, which had warmed him with its rejuvenating glow, but it burned everywhere, wrapping him in searing pain that numbed every part of him. And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it was over, and he shakily staggered backwards as the Sacred Treasures clattered to the ground around him.
Palutena clenched her staff as the unfamiliar energy suddenly vanished and it immediately powered down, suppressing any further unexpected surprises. She herself was unharmed, but she stared in disbelief at the other occupant of the room. "Uhh, Pit…?" she called to him cautiously.
"Oww…" Pit groaned as his vision cleared. He wasn't hurt, but he felt… weird. He was dizzy, and he tingled everywhere. He shook his head and almost fell over, then quickly shifted his attention to Palutena. "Daydy Paduteda, are you-"
He stopped mid sentence as he realized that maybe she wasn't the one he should be worried about right now. "Wait… Izzat by voice…?" he asked in an uncharacteristically nasal drawl. He glanced back at Palutena, eyes wide with alarm. She was perfectly fine, but at the bottom of his vision was a large, skin coloured… thing. It moved with his vision as he moved his head. It couldn't be… was that his nose?! He tried to reach out and touch it, but his arms didn't seem to be working. His legs didn't seem very stable, either, now that he thought about it, and he couldn't feel his wings at all. He looked back at Palutena, who just stared right back, the colour draining from his face as she looked like she was trying very hard to suppress laughter. "What… happ'ed to be? What's goi'g od?""
Palutena covered her mouth with her hand, struggling to maintain her composure. "Oh… Pit," she said, her voice trembling with mirth. "D-don't look now, but I think you've got… a new look." She cleared her throat as professionally as she could. "Unfortunately, since the Underworld Army has been defeated, I don't think the Specknose style is in fashion anymore."
"De WHAT styde?! Wh-whooaa!" Panicking, he swung his head around to get a look at himself. However, with his head now making up about 90% of his body, and about 90% of that now consisting of an oversized olfactory organ, the sudden motion knocked him off his feet (provided he even had feet anymore) and he toppled over sideways. He tried to right himself, but his arms, legs and wings didn't seem to exist anymore, and flailing what little he had left only caused him to roll helplessly around on the floor. "Aaah! Hey! What's happedi'g?! He'p!"
The spectacle of what amounted to little more than a large, disembodied head that resembled a caricature of the captain of her guard if he'd had an extreme allergic reaction to a bee stinging his nose and was now rolling around the floor like a baby panda was too much for Palutena, and, despite her best efforts, she burst into uncontrollable laughter. It was her first real laugh since the Underworld invasion, and she soon found herself gasping in between giggles, using her staff to hold herself upright with one hand while she hugged her ribs with the other.
The angel-turned-specknose let out a groan of embarrassed humiliation. While it was wonderful to hear the goddess laughing after all that she'd been through, he really wished it wasn't at his expense. "Hey! C'bod! How cad you daugh at a tibe dike dis?" he cried nasally. This was crazy! By some cruel twist of fate, he'd been transformed into an Underworld monster! One of the uglier ones, at that! And to make matters worse, his inability to fly had also been carried over into this new form, which was the only means the monsters had of getting anywhere at all. They didn't even have legs! How could monsters like this even exist in the first place? Who designed these things? "This is worse dad bei'g ad eggpdadt!"
Taking a few deep, controlled breaths and coughing politely, Palutena stood upright again. "Ahem. S-sorry about that, Pit. I guess Medusa had one last trick up her sleeve after all. I should've suspected she would have tampered with my staff while she had it." She examined at the staff in question thoughtfully. "It looks like she infused it with a curse of her own design. It was probably meant for me, but it must've been attracted to the Sacred Treasures. I think it's run its course now." She tapped the blue sphere at the end of the staff and it obediently lit up, resuming its normal, cheery glow. She smiled in satisfaction then glanced down at Pit. "You're lucky you still have your mind intact. The Treasures probably protected you from turning you into a complete monster."
Pit grunted as he bumped into the Mirror Shield. "Wedd, I guess dat's a redeif. Add I ab gdad you wered't affected by it." He sighed and looked pleadingly up at her. "But you cad fix dis, right? I bead, I cad't stay dike dis! You gotta he'p be!"
"Hmmm…" Palutena hummed pensively. "I don't know. Reverting the curse of another goddess is no easy task." She sighed heavily. "And I'm not really at my strongest right now, what with the Underworld occupation and everything."
Pit's heart sank. "Oh doh... you bead I'b godda be dike dis forever?"
"Well… there might be one way…"
"It's a bit risky, though."
"Det's try it, pdease! What is it?"
She locked eyes with him. "The Judgement of Heroes."
Pit blinked. "The 'Judgebedt of Heroes'?" He'd never heard about anything like that before. "How duzzat work?"
"It reflects the nature of your heart, allowing the whole world to see who you really are," she explained.
"Uhh… I… do't t'ink I'b foddowi'g you."
"Well, defeating Medusa was certainly no small feat. I'd even go so far as to say it was heroic. But, as you know, heroes are judged by their deeds as well as their accomplishments. And some of those deeds are more noble than others. You may have completed the task you set out to do, but everything you did along the way is equally as important as the final outcome."
"Wha… Seriousdy?" Pit's confused expression fell into one of concern as Palutena explained the fine print of heroism to him. Nobody told him he'd be judged on this! He didn't even get a chance to study! Wasn't slaying the goddess of darkness and liberating Skyworld from her fiendish clutches enough? He almost groaned in desperation. "Cad't you just… take by word for it?"
"I'm afraid that's not how it works," she replied gently. "In order to find out your true worth, your heart must be laid bare before the Judgement of Heroes, which will weigh your cause against your actions." She tilted head slightly questioningly. "What do your actions say about yourself? Do you truly live up to what you claim to be?"
"Uhh… I… t'ink so?"
"If so, then your appearance will change to match." Her gaze suddenly fell. "Medusa took the test, you know. Not even gods are exempt from the truths it finds. And now everyone can see what truly lies within her heart."
"Bedusa?!" Pit blurted incredulously. Why in the world would that monster take the Judgement of Heroes? "You bead she got the Judgebedt of Ebil Bodsters, right?"
"I told her what she was doing was cruel and wrong, and she refused to listen. I warned her many times of the consequences of her actions, and she continued to ignore me. So, I presented her with the test, which would undeniably prove whether or not her treatment of humans was just. You've seen yourself what the result was."
Pit paled. That was the power of the Judgement of Heroes? A draft from the opening in the wall blew gently across his face, and he briefly envisioned himself with snakes wriggling in his hair, and dry, scaly wings that were ragged and torn. He shuddered. That was not something he had signed on for! "Uhh, I'b dot so sure about dis."
Palutena raised an eyebrow challengingly. "What's wrong? I thought you didn't want to be a monster anymore. This is the only thing that can overpower her curse."
"Yeah, but, I do't wadda edd up dike Bedusa…"
"Don't you think your deeds were heroic, Pit?"
"Er… O-of course I do!" Although maybe I shouldn't have threatened that storekeeper that one time. Or said all that nasty stuff about that guy that threw the monoliths at me and called me a weakling. And maybe I spent a little bit too long in the hot springs in the fortresses. Does it matter that I died as many times as I did? And what about…
"Then you shouldn't have anything to worry about." She flashed him a quick smile and lifted her staff above her head. "Now, Pit, angel of Skyworld and wielder of the Three Sacred Treasures, let the Judgement of Heroes bring your heart into the light!"
"Ah! H-hey, wait-!" Pit's protest was drowned out by yet another surge of overwhelming light. This one, while not harsh like the previous one had been, was just as intense. As it enveloped him in its glow, he suddenly felt incredibly dizzy, as if he was moving in every direction at once and yet not at all. He felt numb and tingly again, and even though it didn't hurt, it stole his breath away as it swirled around him.
Events played out all around him: from the moment he'd stepped out of his cell in the Underworld to when he'd delivered the final blow to Medusa. He immediately felt self-conscious as he could feel someone or something watching it all with him, silently judging every little thing he'd done while on his mission. It was an impartial presence, emotionless and cold, as if someone was simply ticking off a checklist with each new played out memory. Every single monster he'd killed, every time they'd killed him or when he'd simply slipped and fallen, every victory, every defeat, and everything in between was on display for whoever or whatever this other presence was.
Is that you, Lady Palutena? he silently called out to her. It didn't feel like her, but she was the one in charge of this, after all. She might be overseeing this at any rate. Part of him hoped she was; maybe she could put in a good word for him, seeing as how he'd saved her and all. On the other hand, there had been some points along the way that he wasn't exactly proud of, and, really, she didn't need to see. At all. Regardless, there was no answer as the test continued unhindered.
It was a bit of an eye-opener to himself, too. He found himself grinning as he watched himself take down Medusa's commanders (even if they had taken a few tries), then cringing the next moment as his bartering attempts with an unimpressed and likely underpaid storekeeper ended up with him having to pay double for the items he'd asked for a discount on. He smiled as he could feel the heat from the recreated memory of the hot springs he'd found along the way and frowned as he relived entering what he thought was a treasure room but turned out to be a nest of monsters.
He froze in embarrassed horror as he listened to himself play out how he'd envisioned himself heroically slaying the goddess of darkness, rehearsing different versions of speeches he might say at the climax as he'd wandered around aimlessly in the fortress Pandora had built for herself in Skyworld. He'd gotten so caught up in it (should he or shouldn't he use the word "smite"?) he didn't notice the eggplant wizard in the room ahead of him until it was too late. It, of course, had noticed him and with a wave of its wand, did what eggplant wizards do best to distracted angels. As he was searching for someone who could un-eggplant him, he accidentally stumbled into a room full of miks, who consisted of nothing more than drooling, disembodied mouths with an eternally unsatisfied hunger and a strangely acquired taste for eggplant. To say the least, that was not one of his finest moments.
Please don't tell Lady Palutena about that, he silently pleased to the nameless essence of the Judgement of Heroes as his own terrified scream rang in his ears. She'll never let me live that down.
As the review of his quest came to a close, he felt a strange rustling within him that began swelling rapidly, its intensity competing with that of the brilliant light around him. Suddenly it seemed to explode outwards, and the hundreds of hearts he had collected from the monsters he'd slain swirled around him like a tornado. He could feel something emanating from them all, surrounding him, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He just suddenly felt… happy. It almost felt as though each and every one was thanking him for defeating Medusa. They giddily danced around him, faster and faster, before suddenly soaring upwards and out of sight. All this excitement was followed by a heavy, silent pause.
Ooo… kay… I have no idea what's going on anymore. Is it over? Can I please be an angel again now?
As if in response to his silent complaint, there was one final flash of light and he was abruptly knocked forward by some unknown force. He gasped as he could finally breathe again and stumbled forward shakily. Catching himself and reeling his arms for balance, he steadied himself and heaved a sigh of relief. "Hah… that was… weird."
"So how did it go?" Palutena looked down at him curiously. "Do you feel any different? More angelic, maybe?"
"Oh!" Pit quickly over himself, immensely relieved to see that all his limbs – wings included – were back in their proper places exactly the way they were supposed to be. He waved his arms and shook his legs out, just to make sure they were working properly. "Alright! It worked! I'm me again!"
The goddess of light smiled at him. "Congratulations, Pit. It looks like you passed."
"Ha ha! Yes!" He jumped up, flapping his wings happily. He glanced back at them in disappointment when they didn't keep him airborne. "Aw man…"
Palutena's smile turned slightly apologetic. "It only changes your appearance, not your abilities. I'm afraid you're still grounded."
"Yeah, yeah," Pit muttered dejectedly. Then he looked quickly looked around and realized something was missing. "Hey! The Sacred Treasures! Where'd they-?"
"Don't worry. They're here." She gestured to a rectangular case resting beside her. "I couldn't just leave them where you dropped them, now could I?"
Pit laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. "Well, they kinda fell off of me, so…" He paused as his fingers brushed against something metal in his hair. "Huh? What's this?" It was an unfamiliar, textured object that was snugly wrapped around the back of his head. Carefully pulling it off (and wincing as it took a few hairs with it), he stared it in puzzled wonder.
It was a delicate, round headpiece with an elaborate yet simple design. Golden leaves were symmetrically laid out along a smooth, slender shaft, with a pattern of veins subtely carved into each one. It glistened cheerfully in the light as he turned it over in its hands. Something else caught the light at the same time, and he noticed golden bands around his wrist guards that he had never seen before. Looking down at his toga, he could see other additions to his outfit: the gleaming, white fabric was entirely new with a red hem that was embroidered with golden thread that wove an elegant pattern all around it. There was also a red brooch on his shoulder pinning the toga together while also wrapping the excess material around his neck like a scarf.
"Hey, where'd all this come from?" he wondered aloud.
"By the looks of your new uniform, I'd say you not only passed, but you got a promotion, too." Palutena pointed at the headpiece in his hands. "That's a laurel crown, a symbol of courage and strength. Those are exclusively reserved for champions and renowned heroes."
He stared up at her in disbelief. "Really?" At her nod, he looked back down at the symbol of prestige in his hands with a mixture of glee and reverence. "Wow…" He gingerly placed it back on his head, and its moulded shape fit perfectly, like a tailored glove. "How's it look? Am I putting it on right?" He grinned as he fiddled with it, carefully positioning it just above his ears. "There. That should do it." He struck a regal pose. "A 'renowned hero', huh? I could get used to that."
"Of course, most heroes don't usually say 'I'm finished!' all the time."
The angel's smug grin slipped. "What? How do you know about that?"
"My power was what brought you back, remember? I know exactly how often you died."
"Hmph." His face fell into a petulant scowl. "It wasn't that often. And I got better at it as I went along. I hardly died at all once I got out of the Underworld. And it wasn't like I was trying t-"
He froze mid-rant as a soft set of lips was suddenly being pressed against his cheek. They were gentle and warm, with hardly any force behind them, but his skin tingled and burned beneath them. He didn't dare to breathe as the moment, brief as it was, seemed to stretch on for ages. His mind reeled in a dizzy panic, while his heart pounded in a sudden surge of wild ecstasy. He wasn't quite sure what was happening, but he was pretty sure it was really, really good.
And then, in a heartbeat, they pulled back, and he could feel Palutena's soft breath tickling his ear as she gently whispered, "I know. Thank you, Pit."
"Oh… heh. Y-yeah. Sure." Pit's face slowly turned crimson as a goofy smile spread across his face. He tried to think of something else to say, but his brain had completely abandoned any form of cognitive thought beyond Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! and She kissed me!
Palutena couldn't fully conceal a giggle, but quickly regained her composure and lifted her staff high. It sprang to life with a blinding flash, then shot rays of light in every direction. The long, dark tendrils that stretched across the window shrivelled and crumbled to dust from the piercing rays. Then the rays of light turned upward, into the ceiling, and forced back the shadows that still clung there, revealing curved window frames that made up the domed roof of the room. The windows themselves had been shattered, with only a few shards of crystal glass hanging from the golden frames, but that didn't stop the brilliance from spreading across the sky, finally breaking up the overbearing, black clouds that filled the sky.
With Medusa defeated, the darkness was swept away by the shining light that bathed the war-torn land in its warmth. Its healing glow stretched across Skyworld, over the toppled pillars and flattened buildings, and onto the grim-faced statues of the centurions who had been turned to stone during Medusa's invasion. At its touch, the grey stone shuddered as cracks spread across each statue, before bursting outward in succession and releasing the soldiers within. They staggered around briefly, some gasping for breath while others just shook their heads in disoriented confusion. But a triumphant shout of joy quickly rose up from all around, and they lifted off the ground to rally around the goddess of light as they all realized that Medusa had been defeated and light had been restored to Angel Land.
Pit watched in awe as the light travelled across the vast expanses of Skyworld, and out onto the Overworld below. He hadn't realized just how much he had missed it, and how much of an immediate difference it was making right before his eyes. Colours burst forth as the land was liberated from the oppression of darkness, and plants and animals alike joyously emerged into the warm, familiar glow that had been restored to them. The trees and bushes rustled with rediscovered life, and birds gleefully took to the clear, blue skies. Humans, forced into hiding by the Underworld monsters running amok, were also able to come out into the open at last, scarcely believing that the nightmare was finally over. It wasn't long before even Pit could hear the cheers of the people of the Overworld reveling in the triumphant return of the goddess of light.
Palutena slowly lowered her staff with a soft sigh. She looked around at the elated centurions circling her, the gleaming marble of Skyworld, and the celebrating world beyond. It would be a while before things were completely back to normal; after all, even she needed time to catch her breath. Restoring the ruins of Skyworld to their former glory would be no small feat, and the earth would take even longer to heal. Medusa, brief though her rule had been, had left quite the scar on the world.
However, it was impossible not to smile at the overwhelming jubilee that accompanied the end of the war. In spite of everything betting against it, good had triumphed over evil, and light had banished the darkness. And, glancing down at the underdog hero that had brought about the hard-won peace, she new exactly what needed to be done next.
"Well, I don't know about you, Pit, but I could really use a nice, hot soak after all this drama."
His head whipped in her direction as he heard the words "hot soak", but his elated grin suddenly changed to a frown. "But the hot spring was destroyed. It's nothing but a room full of rubble now."
"Then I guess that's the first order of business," she returned with a grin. "I'm hereby initiating phase one of Operation Clean Up Skyworld: refurbishing the hot spring!"
If Pit could smile any harder, his face would split in two. "Woo hoo!" He leapt into the air excitedly. "That's the best idea I've heard all day! Bring on the hot spring!"
"I'm glad you think so. Now, run along. No time like the present."
"That hot spring isn't going to restore itself, you know."
"But… But I thought…"
"Can't you… with your staff…?"
"Pit, I just restored light to the heavens, freed the remaining centurions, and performed the Judgement of Heroes on you, remember? If I push myself much harder, Skyworld itself might fall to the ground."
"Oh. That… would be bad."
"Now, maybe I'd have the energy to if you'd been able to decide what pose would best fit your triumphant return before you'd gotten mauled by that reaper..."
"Erk! Y-you know about that…?"
"I know everything, Pit. Now, I've got to find a safe place for the Three Sacred Treasures, while you start cleaning up the hot spring. I'm sure the centurions will be happy to help out their victorious captain." With a winning smile, she turned on her heels and headed into the palace with the Treasures' case held securely under her arm.
Pit sighed, slumping slightly. That's Lady Palutena, alright, he thought with a tired smile. As humiliating as her humour could be sometimes, he was ever so glad that she still had it in spades. She was back, and it was a relief to know that not even her recent imprisonment could dampen her spirits as she cheerfully issued orders to the inhabitants of Skyworld.
Speaking of 'dampen'… "Okay, men! You heard Lady Palutena! Let's get working on that hot spring!"
Palutena turned and watched as Pit and his soldiers headed down towards their work site. The freed centurions were cheering on their captain, and a few had swooped underneath him and were carrying him on their shoulders despite his loud protests. She couldn't help but smile as he struggled to maintain the air of a newly-promoted, dignified, heroic captain as the celebrating and contagious laughter joyously erupted all around him.
She retreated to the depths of the Palace in the Sky and rubbed her face firmly. She wasn't kidding when she'd said she didn't have the energy to help out right now; her power was only beginning to return after Medusa had suppressed it for so long. But she couldn't let Pit see how exhausted she really was. It wouldn't be long before she got back into the swing of things, but for now, it wouldn't be right to ruin his triumphant return by having him worry about her.
She shook her head as she pondered the overlooked, little angel who, despite lacking the fundamental ability to fly had earned the right to wield the Three Sacred Treasures, defeated the Underworld Army, and literally saved the entire world entirely on his own. The same angel who had just passed by the remains of the kitchen and had discovered a relatively intact sandwich in the somehow still functioning cooler that he was now happily munching on as he followed the centurions to the hot spring.
Maybe he was a bit of a goofball sometimes, and maybe he wasn't always the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he had a few other shortcomings she could name, but he more than made up for it with his unquenchable determination, unwavering hope, and eternal, childlike belief that the good guys would always win in the end. He was always there to make her smile, even when there didn't seem to be anything to smile about. And she wouldn't want it any other way.
A.N.: Eeeend scene!
That was… quite a bit longer than I thought it was going to be. But I think I got the ending flushed out enough. I tried to incorporate the "multiple endings" into this as well, even if I only focused on the worst and the best ones – they're the only interesting ones anyway, hahaha.
Anyway, thanks for reading, please don't hesitate to leave a review, and have yourself a wonderful day! :D