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Breath of the Wild | Book One: Awakening

Which scene from the prologue did you like best?

  • Rito

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Zora

    Votes: 1 100.0%
  • Gorons

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Gerudo

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    1
Joined
Apr 9, 2019


Wherever Teba looked, he saw chaos. Plumes of smoke rose from recently quenched fires that marred the wooden platforms and staircases spiraling around the single, narrow mountain spire on which Rito Village was built. Feathers drifted lazily on the heated air, belying the deadly swiftness with which disaster had struck the bird-like creatures’ ancestral home. Those falling plumes caused Teba’s already simmering temper to boil over into a towering rage, one that had only briefly subsided as he took time to stop. To breathe. To make sure he was alive.

Those feathers belonged to his people. The snow-white plumage that enveloped Teba’s head and neck rose, like hackles on the winter wolves that prowled Dronoc’s Pass to the north. He looked skyward, his rage at war with the tears brimming in his golden eyes. His sight was second to none among the Rito. Those twin golden orbs had spotted Hyrule bass when all but he gave up Lake Totori for empty. In such lean times, the Rito’s most respected warrior had kept his people from starving. Now, all he wanted to do was keep them from dying.

Teba’s eyes did not need to focus on something as small as fish on this day. They found their target with pathetic ease. It loomed over the village, its shadow blotting out the sun and drowning his people’s home in unnatural midday darkness. The silhouetted shape in the sky looked like an enormous bird, but Teba knew it was not.

His breath rattled, emotions washing over him like the “lava” Kaneli had described when he was a chick: red water that flowed from the top of Death Mountain far to the east, the red water that could kill all but the Gorons who lived there. Kaneli said that, during the time of the Great Flood, this same “lava” had once formed the stone pillar upon which his own village flourished.

The warrior Rito did not know about all that, though he knew it was beyond foolish to doubt his Chieftan. He had never seen lava up close. But he could see this. Teba glared at the underbelly of Vah Medoh, the Divine Beast supposedly built and commissioned to protect his people long ago. Now the metal monstrosity blocked the sunlight that would have shone on a bird-like race afraid of nothing, except that this was like nothing they had ever seen. The machine’s enormous wings could span the entire village with room to spare. Circles of metal spun furiously under its shoulders. Teba could only assume that was how the giant contraption remained aloft, as its wings never moved -- proof that something so unnatural should never have taken to the sky in the first place.

Va Medoh’s metallic frame narrowed sharply at its front, where a lifelike beak had been fashioned. It did not move. Sound emitted anyway. The screech made Teba’s own warcry seem like the mewling whimpers he had uttered as a hatchling. It shook the warrior Rito to his core. It vibrated the wooden platforms on which he sat, on which his people nursed their wounds. He looked down one flight of stairs and saw, protruding from a blanket, the limp leg and claws of a dead Rito.

Teba’s primaries were made of the same soft white plumage as the rest of him, but the bone and muscles those feathers concealed were powerful. He heard a sharp crack and realized the sturdily built falcon bow he held had snapped in two under the strain of his aimless fury.

Talons clicking on the nearby wooden steps startled Teba out of his emotional reverie. Even in a time of crisis, his people knew not to drop out of the air right next to him. Such an arrival would be akin to breaking down a Hylian’s door. Teba supposed he would have forgiven them in light of this disaster.

He looked up to greet two of his kin. One wore soft brown plumage and bore a feathered spear. The other sported feathers as black as Teba’s were white, a falcon bow gripped in his right wing. Quickly sizing them up, Teba realized with a sigh that the pair symbolized the very dilemma with which his people now grappled. Mezli was deadly with a throwing spear when he had to be, but he always disarmed and captured if the opportunity presented itself. A useful quality, normally, but there was no capturing Vah Medoh. His braided head feathers, a Rito warrior’s source of pride, were sullied with soot and no longer held by twine. The loose feathers were still capped, however, with red metal hooks that resembled the blade of an axe. Mezli was brave, but that bravery was tempered by a patience that held no place in Teba’s heart this day.

Harth, however… had his eyes been the same color as Teba’s, one might have thought they were mirrored pools of revenge. Instead, they shone green beneath a swath of ebony head feathers combed to the side. His braids, like Mezli, were now loose and disheveled. Each Rito sported two, but the number did not matter as much as the ornaments thereon. Harth sported one red bead on each braid, still there thanks to the purple hooks attached to the ends. He was young, but skilled, to have already added beads atop the hooks. More tokens of battles won would come. Teba quietly prayed to Hylia they would come.

He meant to ask them for a report, but instead the Rito captain heard himself say, “My family is safe?”

Appalled at himself, Teba waited to see or even hear the shock at his own betrayal. Flock was greater than mate, chick or roost, and to ask about any of the latter first was to forsake the safety of the flock. Instead of seeing reprobation, however, Teba was startled (and secretly grateful) to see Harth loosen his death-grip on his bow, while Mezli simply sighed and nodded.

“Yes,” Mezli respectfully answered, “they are in one of the caves now, well-hidden.”

Teba could only nod dumbly in reply. Such had been the chaos from Vah Medoh’s sudden attack that he had flown and fought without thought for his wife and eggchick. Perhaps, Teba thought, his action in the moment balanced out his personal priorities in the aftermath. He offered another mental prayer to Hylia in hopes such logic would be received.

Though the village’s stone core was narrow in its middle, caves and passages honeycombed its lake-embedded base and perch-like top. Legend held that “lava” had made such a formation possible, but Teba did not give a chickaloo nut about the truth of that. His family was safe. Time to move on.

“Report,” Teba curtly ordered.

Despite wearing less ornamentation than Harth, it was Mezli who spoke first. Only Hylians thought battles equaled brains. The Rito knew a healthy dose of both was required, even if it took most of young adulthood to realize it. Mezli, the older of the two, spoke first without a hint of surprise or protest from Harth.

“Medoh has ceased fire. Its cannons remain quiet unless any of us fly too close. It appears the beast wants only to control the sky--”

Harth snorted at this, and Teba had to curb his own beak before doing likewise. The thought that anything would win the sky from the Rito was laughable, but Vah Medoh’s shadow seemed to seize that laughter and choke it in their throats. If the machine had indeed decided to rule the firmament, the Rito were as good as the mongrel dogs that Hylians chained outside their houses.

Mezli glanced at Harth, and Teba did the same with slightly more disapproval to bring him back to focus. Lose control now, and the Rito would forfeit much more than the heavens in which they soared.

“Eighteen are dead,” Mezli added heavily. “Fifteen warriors, two nest-makers and a chick.”

Teba’s vision swam for an instant. Not so many had died at once since the Great Calamity, and it was a miracle that more had not perished then. Rito Village lay far enough to the west to avoid the bulk of Ganon’s backblast one hundred years ago. Now, it found itself in the eye of a different storm, one made of metal that spit blue fire. Teba waved Mezli on, again grateful for the older Rito‘s neutral expression. He might as well have been reporting a daily patrol of the village’s eastern bridges that connected it to the mainland. Harth’s fingers had tightened on his bow again, however, his eyes blazing with green fire.

“Kaneli has met with the other elders,” Mezli continued. As leader of the Rito warriors, Teba would have had an equal place among them, but his duties during such an emergency had only just abated enough to allow him to catch his breath, let alone be aware of and attend an emergency council meeting. Such was the catastrophe that it was likely only half the elders had been there, meeting informally. Truly, the Rito ways appeared to be dangling by threads as thin as Harth’s braids. “They will announce it soon in the crevices, but it appears we will be encouraged to wait under cover until Medoh--”

“NO!”

This time Mezli did look shocked, while Harth’s face lit up with fierce hope. Teba did not remember standing up, but he was standing now, his narrow chest heaving against his breastplate with exertion born of fury. His feathers gripped his already broken bow as fiercely as Harth’s.

“We will NOT wait!” Teba shrieked. “We will FIGHT! We will destroy this devil beast and let our chicks play on its carcass! We will not cower as Gerudo vai do from a voe! We will slay the Sheikah beast or die trying!”

Mezli’s face was the picture of utter disbelief now. Warriors never rebelled against the wishes of the elders (though legends said Revali could do just that and already earn forgiveness by the time the elders found out). Even more appalling was to hear a respected Rito disparage another race. Hylians and Gerudo rarely came into the village, but plenty of them passed through the stable built just off the eastern edge of Lake Totori. Odd though their customs might seem, Kaneli had established a multi-generational respect with Hyrule’s other inhabitants.

Teba did not care. His elder was suggesting they cower like chicks terrified of their first storm, seeking the comfort of their nest mother. It was too much.

“I go to fight Vah Medoh,” the Rito warrior said with less fire, more iron. “Will you fly with me?”

This traditional Rito saying was used in countless contexts. Elders offered to allow fledgelings to fly with them so as to learn wisdom. A warrior’s greatest courage, it was said, was needed to ask that question of the nest-maker that had soared into his heart.

This time, however, Teba’s question rang like the tales of Revali’s Company, when the Rito Champion took one hundred warriors to meet the flood of monsters spawned by The Great Calamity. It was said that all had raised their bows and shaken them as one, a wave of feathered death ready to follow its Champion. Teba looked into his brethren’s eyes, however, and saw his commanding plea met half as well as he’d hoped.

“I am with you, flight brother!” Harth harshly cried.

Teba nodded, hoping that the younger Rito was ready for a test far sterner than any he had yet faced. Then his eyes met Mezli’s, and there they found not the scorching fires of battle, but the wet embers of caution.

“We cannot disobey the elders,” Mezli said quietly. “You are my flight brother and my prayers will soar with you and with Hylia, but I will stay to defend the flock.”

Again, Teba nodded, if more abruptly than he normally would have. He did not doubt Mezli’s courage, but he was sorely disappointed that action did not stir in his heart as it did in his own.

“Defend our flock, flight brother,” Teba said through gritted beak. “I go to save it.”

* * *



Dorephan, King of the Zora, Guardian of the Domain, Will of the Water, sat upon his enormous blue-green throne feeling the opposite of his last honorary title. If he were truly “Will of the Water,” he would order this blasted rain to cease. Instead, it pounded the glass-like surface of his beloved home with maddening consistency.

The Zora were impervious to rain. Even the drenching torrents formed in the Spool Bight to the east were of little consequence to Dorephan’s people. Their rubbery skin and natural ability in the water made storms into playthings for the calves and, occasionally, a still-childish bull. Unless those clouds spit forth lightning. Then, even the bravest bull ran for cover and treated water like poison until the storm had passed.

Thoughts of lightning turned Dorephan’s thoughts to his son. Sidon was a brave bull, enthusiastic to the point of recklessness, but his leadership had already manifested itself magnificently. Dorephan trusted his son as few would at such a young age. Still just one hundred twenty years old, Sidon had already been allowed to explore, track and fight throughout the entire Domain. Even when his son was just an infant, Dorephan had looked forward to the day his Sidon would lead a Zora party the Hylia river, perhaps even to Lake Hylia in the deep south. Such a thought was foolish now. That river skirted too close to Hyrule Castle, where land filth and lizalfos bred. No, the Great Calamity had essentially sealed the Zora to their own waters long ago.

As splendid as his son was, Dorephan worried for him. Testing the patience of an enraged Divine Beast was a good way for a Zora to live as long as a Hylian, especially when that test included shock arrows. Sidon and Seggin had taken what few such shafts could be found in the armory and gone to see if Vah Ruta’s ceaseless torrent could be quenched. Dorephan was grateful for his long life and equally long memory, for only that had provided a glimpse of hope in what was otherwise a hopeless situation. Shock arrows might stop the beast. They also might kill his son.

Dorephan shook his enormous head, which was topped by the silver crown of his station. It resembled a metal sun, complete with seven rays that each contained an arrow-shaped opal. The Zora king was the only one of his people to appear as whale, a rare likeness among the water-bound race. Sidon and Mipha had both taken after their mother, inheriting her dark red skin with the dorsal and tail fins of the fish after which Hylia had created their race. Dorephan fought a rare tear. It had been one hundred years since he had lost his daughter to Vah Ruta. He prayed to Hylia his son would be spared.

As if his prayer had been a summons, Sidon quickly came into view at the top of the gracefully built stairs that led up to the throne room, the roof of which was crowned by a majestically crafted fish of metal bigger than fifty Dorephans put together. The masterpiece overlooked the entire Domain and, before the setting sun dipped below The Veiled Falls to the west, gleamed like an enormous jewel in the twilight. The sun, however, had not shone upon Zora’s Domain in a week, unnatural even for the most water-abundant region of Hyrule.

Sidon strode quickly to the audience circle at the center of the chamber, with ebony-skinned Seggin close behind. For the first time in what seemed hours, Dorephan looked around at The Council ringing the outer walls of the chamber, which had also been waiting for the pair’s return. Many were old, older than Dorephan, even. It was rare for a Zora to join The Council before his two-hundred fiftieth birthday, and that unspoken statute showed in the wrinkled gills of its members. Wise they might be, but even the eldest among them gravely beheld their prince and the former Demon Sergeant.

Truth be told, more eyes focused on the latter, for it was he who had made Dorephan’s plan possible. Seggin was the only one among them to show any resistance to electricity’s fatal touch. Out of necessity, he had been called to serve despite being retired from his position some 50 years previous. Between need and desire -- Seggin might hate Ruta more than any of us, Dorephan thought sadly -- the old warrior had not hesitated to sling a silver Zora bow over his shoulder and nearly leave Sidon behind in his haste.

There was no need for Dorephan to call The Council to attention. Age and respect had already done so, unlike the Hylian meetings he had witnessed in the days leading up to the Great Calamity. The Zora would swim as the water let them, and if the flood proved too great, embrace the water from whence they came.

Dorephan and The Council looked upon Seggin carefully, noting his fatigue and no fewer than five angry scorch marks slashing across his rubbery black skin. Resistant to electricity Seggin might be, but he was still a Zora.

“Sidon. Seggin. We thank Hylia that the waters have brought you home.”

The words were rote, but Dorephan’s tone was anything but. Since he was a young bull, his voice had calmed any within its range, even during the Great Calamity. Mipha had been a curious and energetic calf, but her father’s tone had held her attention or sent her off to sleep with equal ease. The Council visibly relaxed, as did the two Zora in the audience circle.

“Father, we thank Hylia that the waters have brought us home,” Sidon greeted energetically even with a bow of his hammerhead brow. A couple of the younger Coucilfish smiled. The prince may not have inherited his father’s soothing effect, but his zeal would be contagious throughout the kingdom when he reigned. If there was a kingdom left.

“How fared you against Vah Ruta?” Dorephan inquired intently. The attention from the Council seemed to have sharpened, their fin-fringed arms held still so not a word would be missed. “Did the shock arrows succeed as we hoped?”

“Father, we swam to the East Reservoir Lake and approached Ruta from the rear,” Sidon began. “The beast was immediately aware of our presence and began spitting ice at us. I swam around to distract it so that Seggin could have a clear shot.”

Rare murmurs rose from The Council, no doubt betraying their appreciation of the prince’s bravery in the face of near-certain death. Extreme cold was a close second to electricity for the Zora. Eager though he was, Sidon paused his tale to allow order to resume. Dorephan held back a smile. A future king, indeed.

“Seggin targeted one of the red orbs on the beast’s shoulders as you instructed, Father,” Sidon continued. “His aim was true and, sure enough, the water did slow.”

Dorephan leaned forward along with the rest of The Council, though the latter kept quiet after their previous breach in protocol.

“The water, however, soon returned to full force,” Sidon concluded with a definite note of bitterness. “Perhaps because we could not strike it with enough electricity at once. I can only surmise as much after witnessing it myself. Ruta did not stop its assault, and we were forced to cut water.”

Yes, Dorephan thought, he had heard Vah Ruta’s enraged roars, had feared the worst for his son and former Demon Sergeant. “Cutting water” was a last resort among Zora warriors, but when a lizalfo holds the spear and the Zora holds the stick, better to use it as an oar than a sword.

Dorephan settled back into his throne, absentmindedly rubbing the scar on the left side of his prominent forehead. A Guardian had given him that long ago, one of its metallic claws nearly delivering a fatal blow. But The Guardian of the Domain had triumphed with strength only he possessed, hurling the spider-like machine into the ravine between Luto’s Crossing and Oren Bridge and shattering it beyond all repair.

The Zora ruler lifted his fin from his head and stared at it. Even he could not throw a Divine Beast. Hylia’s wings, he could not even wrap his girth around one of the machine’s trunk-like legs. Princess Zelda had once told him that Vah Ruta resembled something called an “elephant,” a beast bigger than a horse that roamed the lands beyond Hyrule. Not that it mattered what it looked like. From squat legs to snake-like snout, the thing needed to be stopped before all of Hyrule drowned.

Dorephan was about to speak these half-formed thoughts when, to his utter amazement, Sidon spoke first.

“Father, I have an idea.”

Fins fluttered in agitation at the boy’s unexpected interruption, but Dorephan knew his son would not usurp protocol without cause. He glanced around at The Council, waited for them to quiet, then nodded toward his heir.

“Seggin’s bravery will be told for countless generations,” Sidon continued, “but it is clear that shock arrows are a danger to even him.”

The former Demon Sergeant went as far as to open his mouth at this, but another glance from Dorephan silenced him. Now was not the time for Seggin to indulge his own stubbornness.

“I believe shock arrows can defeat the beast, but we need someone who can bear enough of them -- and use them safely -- to finish the deed.” Sidon paused, and it was clear to Dorephan that even his confident son was wary of his next words’ portent. “We need a Hylian. I propose we find one and ask him or her to help us.”

For the first time since the Calamity, The Council erupted with unrestrained emotion. The gills of the most elderly vibrated madly, betraying agitation normally reserved for young bulls before their first battle. Seggin, who had dutifully stood behind Sidon during his report, spat on the floor and frothed more spittle as he gave vent to his rage.

“I will have nothing to do with the traitor Hylians!” Seggin hissed. “They are the reason Vah Ruta is here, the reason he showers us with this unending deluge! The reason our Princess Mipha is lost to us!”

Mizu, the Eldest councilman whose head bore a sting ray’s likeness with fading green skin, clenched his withered fist toward the ceiling, his throat pulsating against the silver collar of office that spiraled around his long neck. Others followed suit, leaving Sidon to look helplessly at his father for direction.

“ENOUGH.”

Dorephan did not yell. He did not need to. Speaking just above his natural registers was enough to sound like not-so-distant thunder. The Council was immediately silenced in voice, if not in thought or expression. Seggin still appeared murderous, with the Eldest not far behind.

“Is your grudge worth the lives of the Zora?” Dorephan demanded while turning his great head to take in the room, his voice like a storm rumbling just out of sight. “Not to mention the lives of the Hylians who live just beyond our waters? You will not protest Sidon’s suggestion, not when it is the only course of action currently available to us. If The Council has a better plan, I am eager to hear it.”

More silence followed Dorephan’s words, deflated now that the Council’s protests were revealed to have little substance behind them. The Zora King knew the elders would not change their minds, however. He had only to look upon the statue of his beloved daughter in the plaza below to know that. Their love for Mipha had not been far behind his own, and it had festered rather than waned over a century’s worth of grieving.

“Sidon, I give you leave to search for a Hylian who is able and willing to do this task,” Dorephan announced. “I give you and those who swim with you leave to search wherever there is a whisper of hope.”

Eyes widened at this, but The Council did not dare risk Dorephan’s attention again.

“Avoid Hyrule Castle, but search any area you can safely reach,” the Zora monarch continued. “Arm yourselves as necessary. The Calamity’s essence still lingers, and you will need to survive long enough to find and return with a warrior who will help us.”

Without hesitation, Sidon knelt in the middle of the audience circle, his human-faced and shark-crowned head bowed to the floor while he declared fealty not to his father, but to his king.

“By fin, fish and freshwater, it shall be done.”

Dorephan nodded for the last time, and Sidon immediately bounded to his feet and dashed out of the audience chamber, no doubt keen to find other young Zora who would follow him anywhere. Young bulls and cows had already pledged their hearts to the future king, drawn to him by a charisma matched by none. Sidon would have ample company for the task even without the elders’ support.

The rest of The Council sifted out quietly, many separating into small groups of three or four to discuss what had just transpired. If Sidon did find a Hylian willing to risk his life, Dorephan thought warily, he would have to keep a close eye on his people’s “welcome.”

A young cow struggling to enter the audience chamber snapped the Zora King out of his reverie. The meeting was over, which meant none would bring business to Dorephan unless its nature demanded his attention. Her armor and spear named her a guard of the Domain. A few of The Council glanced at her, but Dorephan paid them no heed. Dunma, daughter of Rivan, was one of the few cows who had not fallen head over fins for Sidon. She would as soon bother her King with something frivolous as she would marry a lizalfo.

The young guard knelt in the circle and remained in that position until Dorephan quietly said, “Report.”

“Your Majesty,” Dunma replied, also quietly, “I apologize for appearing after an Audience, but The Guard felt you should know as soon as possible. The shrine has awakened.”

Dorephan had not thought anything else out of the ordinary could occur on such an extraordinary day, but this news caused huge furrows to appear in his massive forehead that criss-crossed his scar.

“Describe it to me,” Dorephan said calmly.

“It happened only moments ago,” Dunma continued. “One minute it was as lifeless as it had ever been. Now it glows with an orange light. We saw no one around it, nothing that would have caused it. We do not know why, but it shows life now.”

Dorephan had not felt the fingers of fate brush him like this in one hundred years. Vah Ruta, awake and rampaging. The shrine, a long-dead relic of the ancient Sheikah, now alive. What did it all mean?

* * *



Bludo, Patriarch of the Gorons, lumbered slowly across the narrow stone bridges of his beloved Goron City. Molten lava ebbed its way in channels cutting through the only city built on Death Mountain, a testament to the Gorons’ rock-hard toughness. No one else could survive, let alone thrive, in such a place.

The Goron “Boss,” as he was affectionately called by his people, did not walk slowly out of choice. In his younger days as Patriarch, Bludo would stride swiftly and strongly from brother to brother, radiating a strength remarkable even among his people. Years of labor and battle, however, had hunched the once proud Goron. His back, which had once borne the weight of boulders, was now prone to sudden flares of pain that rendered him all but immobile.

Bludo ignored hints of that pain now as he haltingly stumped through his city, taking special care to avoid the newly formed potholes that pockmarked the stone streets. His one good eye focused on an especially deep gouge in the rock, a rough circle still smoldering with bits of lava and ash. Bludo’s people were all but immune to lava and boulders, but when the two were combined into streaking missiles from Death Mountain’s summit, even a Goron was in danger. He made a mental note to tell Fugo about this particular hole, which was deep enough to risk the rock bridge’s collapse.

Lifting his gaze, Bludo watched his rotund brothers living as they would on any other day. Young Krane hefted a cobble crusher, the huge, rough-hewn sword favored by his people. No doubt he was on his way to patrol duty just outside the city gate. His white-haired top knot was held by a thick band of red mountain cloth, the only material not made of stone or metal that could withstand the extraordinary heat. Fugo had finally learned the making of the tricky substance under the tutelage of Master Rohan, the forger who knew more about his craft than any living Goron.

Bludo glanced toward the forge and saw with a smile that Rohan was still sleeping beneath the awning of his hut, which neighbored the great iron anvil upon which he worked. He could create an arsenal of weaponry if necessary, but when it wasn’t, the old blacksmith was just as likely to nap the day away. Fugo had learned quickly, however, that age and sleep did not dent his mentor’s memory. Rohan could wake at any moment and check with unerring accuracy whether his apprentice had accomplished each of the tasks assigned him that day.

The smithy was hemmed in by lava streams on all sides save the stone path that led directly to its entrance. Across the rivulet to its right loomed Bludo’s own rock dwelling, topped by a jagged boulder of obsidian upon which was etched the symbol of his people: the Goron Emblem, portrayed with a golden diamond atop which rested three small, gold triangles. Legend held that the Goron Ruby had once been as real and tangible as the stone on which Bludo now stood, but it had since been given to the legendary hero as a help for his mission many ages ago. The Patriarch had no clue where the Ruby was now, but he’d gladly give one thousand rupees to anyone who could halt the latest threat to his brothers.

A small rumbling from behind caused Bludo to turn around. The tremors were too small to be caused by Vah Rudania or even the infrequent eruptions from Death Mountain. Instead, the Goron chief saw a rough ball of what appeared to be solid rock roll toward him, stop, and unfurl into a young adult member of his people. Pyle’s perfectly round and jet-black eyes -- or the eyes of any Goron, for that matter -- did not convey emotion like those of Hylians. Wide mouths and dark eyebrows did that instead, and right now both of those features conveyed concern on the youngster’s normally cheerful face.

“He’s awake, Boss,” Pyle said worriedly. “Still a lil’ woozy, but the young’un should be just fine.”

“Yer in no place to be callin’ anyone ‘young’un’, young Pyle,” Bludo said gruffly. He softened his words by softly slapping the young Goron on the back, the most oft-used gesture of affection among his rock brothers. “G’on now, git yerself a big bowl o’ obsidian at Tanko’s. Tell ‘im to put it on my tab.”

“Thanks, Boss!” Pyle said cheerfully, his natural good humor restored. In a trice, the young Goron had curled himself back into a ball and was rapidly rolling to the west side of town, no doubt eager to sink his teeth into the rich black mineral.

Bludo turned his attention to the east side of town, where a sprawling hut dominated a large spread of solidified stone surrounded by the largest lava stream. The armory always teemed with activity. Cobble crushers, stone smashers and drillshafts were constantly being made or repaired, a necessity given the Gorons’ endless mining of their beloved mountain.

Lately, however, the rock structure was serving another role. Under its low roof, several Gorons lay sprawled on makeshift beds of stone, all of them sporting bandages made of the same fireproof cloth that held up their top knots. Bludo mentally apologized to Rohan, who was surely napping out of fatigue after churning out so much of the rare material. He would have to thank the old craftsman.

Wounds were an infrequent occurrence among the rock-hard Gorons. On the rare occasion one was suffered, it was usually treated quickly and without much fuss. Newly cooled lava was inserted into the injury and then bound until the damaged area looked just as solid as the rest of the brother’s body. In the wake of Vah Rudania’s rampage, however, a large number of Gorons were forced to wait far longer than usual for the treatment to work. The flying missiles of lava and stone caused painful gouges which required significant amounts of the cooled lava to fill, then heal. No one had died yet, but seeing such vulnerability among the strong people carried a disturbing reminder of their mortality.

There had been no warning or reasoning of Vah Rudania’s madness. The giant metal lizard, which had rested peacefully inside Death Mountain’s crater for a century, had emerged spewing molten rock and fire. Most of the Gorons, mining for precious stones as they always did, were caught in the open. The casualties mounted for two days before the Divine Beast supposedly built to protect the Gorons was finally turned back.

Bludo strode past his wounded brothers toward the back of the armory, where a young but massive Goron sat groggily on the biggest stone bed available. Unlike most of his brethren, Yunobo did not have his white hair in a top knot, but instead wore it loose in a broad, wavy line down the center of his wide yellow head. Enormous hands nearly engulfed that hair now, along with the rest of his face. His wrists and elbows bore bronze bracelets big enough to encircle the head of most Gorons.

“How’re you feelin’, boy?” Bludo gruffly asked.

Yunobo removed his hands from his face. Only his eyes were small, giving his face a very innocent and expressive nature that contrasted greatly with his overwhelming presence.

“I’m all right, Boss,” the youngster replied. He absent-mindedly tugged on the sky blue cloth that encircled his neck, which was tied in a pair of knots below his chin. That cloth had belonged to Yunobo’s grandfather, one of the most legendary Gorons in history. Daruk’s size and strength were a source of pride in Goron City, even one hundred years after Vah Rudania had proven to be the Champion’s demise. Bludo gazed into the face of Daruk’s grandson and saw not the wild bravery of his grandsire, but the preoccupied expression of a far gentler creature. Well, he couldn’t inherit everything from a legend, but he had inherited enough.

“Ya did good out there, boy,” Bludo said encouragingly. “If it weren’t for you, we’d all be done fer, and that’s a fact!”

Yunobo looked up and appeared momentarily cheered. Then the clouds of youthful uncertainty returned.

“It’ll come back, won’t it?” he hesitantly asked.

Bludo nodded, then added bracingly, “Aye, but when it does, we’ll be ready fer it! Between my cannons and yer Protection, we’ll drive that metal beast off as often as we have to!”

Yunobo nodded, then stood. Bludo couldn’t help but admire the youngster, even if he did carry far less fire than his grandfather. When he was small, the Boss’s father had told him of Daruk’s unwavering confidence, which the legendary Goron loved to instill in every brother he saw. Yunobo, on the other hand, seemed in need of borrowed conviction more often than most.

Usually. Now, however, the young Goron stood and pounded his fists together. Immediately, a bright orange shell of… something surrounded him. Through the opaque screen, Bludo could see Yunobo looking around at his magical shield -- the same gift Daruk himself had wielded two generations earlier -- and nod in satisfaction.

“I’ll be ready, Boss!” Yunobo declared with a fair attempt at sounding brave.

For now, Bludo thought, that would do.

***



Icy winds swirled the sand and cloaks around the ankles of two women as they dismounted outside the broad, stone walls of Gerudo Town. The sand seals they had ridden did not shiver, nor did their riders. The former boasted thick fur that by some miracle of Hylia kept them warm at night and cool during the day. The women did not tremble at the cold because they had known the harsh, dual climates of Gerudo Desert their entire lives.

Without a word, they handed off the reins of their mounts to a waiting woman of of considerable height, who then led the bulbous sand seals toward the northwest side of the city. The duo did not follow.Instead they opted for the much shorter walk toward the wall they already faced.

One of them was twice as tall as the other, and she strode very close to and slightly in front of her smaller counterpart’s side as they approached the open arch in the wall that marked the southwest entrance to the city. A guard, another woman, stood sentinel, eyeing the pair carefully until they removed the hoods of their cloaks to reveal sun-darkened skin, bright red hair and emerald eyes similar to her own.

Sav’saaba,” the guard neutrally greeted.

The taller woman nodded curtly, then strode quickly through the archway, her companion not far behind. It was clear she preferred to walk even faster, but the shorter woman’s gait was clearly setting the pace.

“She did well to keep her wits and not say our names aloud,” the smaller woman noted conversationally. “Remind me to commend her when I see her again, Buliara.”

The taller woman, Buliara, snorted through her large, hawkish nose.

“Lashley does no more than is her duty, Lady Riju,” she said shortly.

Makeela Riju, Chief of the Gerudo, carefully decided not to look askance at her captain of the guard’s coldness toward her own sisters in arms. Buliara was a cold woman, all but wed to the massive claymore she carried because she refused to marry a voe.

More important to Riju, however, was how she herself was viewed by her captain and her people. As the youngest ever to be named chief, she must earn the respect her station implied. To do so, Riju had vowed never to betray any emotion that might be seen as an indulgence to her youth. Impatience, anger, tears, passion, sarcasm. She had shed all of it the moment Buliara delivered news of her mother’s passing, grieving only when none could see.

“Duty is difficult in the face of disaster,” Riju said, still in that casual tone. She wondered if Buliara had ever snorted at her mother. She doubted it. “She remembered to ignore ceremony and prioritized secrecy despite being stationed in plain view of Vah Naboris, a sight that would cause many to panic.”

“She would not be part of the Guard if she were prone to panic,” Buliara answered crisply. A pause, then she added in a softer, albeit still gruff, tone, “I will remind you as you have asked, Lady Riju.”

The young chieftain made sure to nod without the slightest hint of satisfaction, though she felt it blossom in her exposed stomach. Riju had temporarily discarded her royal skirts and silk, sleeveless top in favor of the more practical, voluminous pants and tightly bound halter worn by most Gerudo. Her long red hair, normally worn loose beneath the golden Scarab Crown, was tightly bound in one long braid. It was far easier to sand surf that way.

The two continued their purposeful path through the night-shrouded city, silent save for the soft murmuring of water running swiftly through straight, raised channels of the same stone that composed the outer walls. The ancestors alone knew how such a miracle had come to be, but the presence of water had, according to the histories, allowed the Gerudo to cease their nomadic lifestyle. Here they had built their white stone city, in the middle of the vast Gerudo Desert that swallowed the southwestern portion of Hyrule. Only one path led directly to the four-walled town, a winding dirt track packed down from the steady use of travelers on foot since no horse could survive the harsh climes of the region. It ran northeast, toward and between the snow-capped Gerudo Highlands to the north and Spectacle Rock with its accompanying mesas to the east.

Inside the city, the small alley in which the pair walked spilled into a central plaza, where renowned Gerudo vendors sold their wares every day. Gerudo traveled for two reasons: goods and voe, and that was enough to ensure many of them were always out and about in Hyrule. That meant a steady stream of business flowing into and out of their homeland, to which its people -- and female members of other races who braved the journey -- flocked daily.

At night, however, the square was silent. Neither chief nor captain took any chances, clinging to the shadows along the closed and shaded storefronts until they were forced to ascend a broad set of stone steps at the northern side of the square. They did so swiftly, not stopping as they usually did at the first landing that led to the royal courtroom, but rather continuing up a second flight all the way to Riju’s private chambers.

A giant bed, made and waiting for its owner’s rest, sat with curtains drawn on a raised square of stone in the center of the room. Stone walls with shelves carved into them framed the chamber. Taking up much of the floor space were richly colored carpets and -- most impressive of all -- a small channel of water running parallel to the bed platform’s left side, continuously fed by seal-shaped fountains built into the back wall.

Just in front of the bed squatted a stone couch made soft with colorful cushions, blankets and pillows. There Riju sat down, finally acknowledging the fatigue and stress of her journey with one long sigh.

Buliara began pacing in front of the couch. Between her and her chief sat a small stone table on which rested an open book and plush toy made to look like a sand seal. In as casual manner as possible, Riju closed the book. She could allow her captain of the guard to see the toy, a gift from her mother when she was small. She could not bear, however, the thought of Buliara glimpsing her diary, the only emotional outlet she allowed herself.

Back and forth the muscular Gerudo paced until, unable to restrain herself, she stopped to face her chief and give vent to what Riju knew was coming.

“You could have been killed!” Buliara hurled the words like a lash, though she kept them to a hoarse whisper so as to keep them private from the most unlikely of passerby. “What good would you be to the Gerudo dead? You have no daughter! No heir to the throne! If your mother knew where you went tonight, what you did, you would be striped like a girl half your age!”

Riju let the words wash over her, understanding that anger was not the only emotion feeding heat to that voice. Buliara was not motherly, but Riju knew she viewed herself as the most mother-like presence in her life, now. This was the only reason she forgave her captain for this outburst, but she must be careful. Allow this to carry on too long, and the line between fierce, motherly concern and captainly duty would become blurred beyond saving.

“I did what I felt was necessary for my people, Buliara,” Riju said, more calmly than conversationally this time. “We must know what we are facing.”

“Then send me, or another of the Guard to investigate,” Buliara moaned. “Anyone but yourself! You are too important! You must learn to delegate so that--”

“Stop whining, Buliara,” Riju cut her off curtly, with just the proper amount of disdain. “Keep it up, and I shall think you are pining for a voe’s touch.”

Buliara’s eyes widened until they were the size of saucers. Riju stifled an inward giggle. Were it not for her captain’s vicious independence and propensity with all manner of weaponry, a voe might indeed find her striking.

“I went,” Riju continued before Buliara could recover, “because I am the best sand seal rider among our people. No other could surf through the storm Vah Naboris stirs. I saw what we needed to know, and that alone was worth the risk.”

Visibly chastened, Buliara swallowed her previously formed words and, gathering what propriety remained her, asked, “And what did you learn, Lady Riju?”

“That if it came to Gerudo Town, we would be helpless,” the young chief said flatly. “It spit forth sand and lightning the moment I got close. Were it not for Patricia’s speed, I would be as dead as you feared. If Naboris comes here, I’m afraid all of us will be.”

Buliara swallowed, then asked with a note of respect Riju felt was a marked improvement from her earlier tone.

“How did you come to be as I found you, unconscious in the sand?”

“Once I ascertained the threat of Naboris, I made to return straight away.” Riju thought it slightly unnecessary to comfort Buliara this way, but she had already been dealt a blow of authority. Her mother had taught her that not sparing the whip was important, but not sparing the hydromelon juice afterward was no less so. “Unfortunately we ran into a pack of bokoblins while still fleeing Naboris’ storm. Patricia balked and pitched me into the sand. That is the last thing I remember before you found me.”

There was an awkward pause at this, for both women knew that had one not found the other, the Gerudo might indeed be without a chief. The night cold alone could kill a person not keeping his or her blood moving, and if that didn’t, bokoblins or lizalfos or -- ancestors forbid -- a molduga surely would.

The moment passed. Buliara straightened her stance and then, causing Riju to experience another small thrill of royal victory, responded as she would in the royal court.

“I am pleased that you are not harmed, Lady Riju,” the Captain of the Guard said militantly. “What is it that you command?”

The young chieftain was about to respond when a clamor from below grabbed her attention and made Buliara immediately unsheathe her enormous sword. With strength superior to most voe, the warrior Gerudo picked up her diminutive charge with one arm and hurled her some 10 feet to the bed before turning to face the entryway, blade raised and emerald eyes alight with battle fire.

“Captain Buliara! Lady Riju!”

The voices, clearly those of her own people, caused Buliara to lower her blade slightly, though her eyes narrowed. Riju knew what she was thinking. Gerudo guards barging noisily into her private chambers in the dead of night? Something was wrong. Riju rose and stood beside the bed, well behind Buliara so it was clear they would answer to her captain first, but close enough to make their Chieftain's presence felt.

Barely had the pair of Gerudo soldiers breached the doorway when Buliara immediately called them to attention.

“Stand and report!” she ordered harshly.

Though they had undoubtedly sprinted up the stairway, neither Gerudo was breathing hard due to their extraordinary physiques. If a Gerudo guard was tired, she was likely on the doorstep of death. Both wore their red hair in high ponytails similar to Buliara’s, but only one removed the veil covering her mouth to answer.

“Captain Buliara, the Thunder Helm has been stolen!”

Riju was not aware of sitting down, but she found herself once again seated on the couch just the same. Before the guards’ arrival, her next words to her captain were completely centered on the ancient relic of her people, handed down from generation to generation. Worse, losing it meant losing the tangible symbol of her family’s rule. Would the Gerudo follow Makeela Riju, the Chief who lost the Thunder Helm?

Spoken words began to pierce Riju’s inner wonderings.

“It must have happened no earlier than two hours ago, Captain.” One of the guards was answering a murderous-looking Buliara. “We do not know who or how, only that when we arrived for our watch, the helm was gone. The previous guards were questioned and searched, but they do not know the whereabouts of the Helm.”

“We’ll see about that!” Buliara snarled.

“Buliara!”

Halfway to the doorway, the Gerudo captain stopped, arrested by the stern tone of her Chief. Riju had risen from her bed and walked swiftly toward them, so that she now looked directly up at Buliara. Curse the sands, but I wish I was taller! Discarding the notion for the umpteenth time, Riju continued.

“You will not harm the guards in question, Buliara,” Riju commanded. And it was a command. The actions of Divine Beasts and thieves were not her fault, but she would die before allowing her captain to sew distrust among her people. “You will question them. You will explain why you must search their homes before you do so. After that, you will bring them before me, so I may ask them about the Helm and how you treated them.”

Buliara’s throat constricted, but she swallowed and nodded. Riju returned the nod, and that was all the permission her captain needed to resume her flight through the doorway, followed closely by the guards who had delivered the news.

Alone for the first time since Buliara had found her, Riju sank into her couch, hugging her toy sand seal tightly to her chest. Oh Mother, she desperately thought, have I failed already?

* * *

The old man stood up with a groan, his back knuckling as he stretched to fully wake himself from the unplanned nap he had taken at the base of a thick chickaloo tree. A squirrel, no doubt searching for one of the tree’s namesake nuts, scampered away at the unexpected interruption.

Thick trousers and boots, a shirt and vest, heavy cloak and woolen gloves kept all but the man’s face covered, and even that was shrouded by a magnificently thick, white beard. Above it rested a broad nose, soft amber eyes and thick, white eyebrows. He gazed skyward to gauge the sun’s position, which was nearly at its noon peak. Nodding to himself, he gathered a half-full haversack and a staff nearly as tall as himself. Tying the haversack to his broad leather belt and the axe to his back, the old man used the staff to assist his short walk from the forest up a short path that cut its way through short wild grass and up a sizeable hillside.

His eyes rested briefly on the high side of the hill where the path ended, but he would not be going that far. Instead, he halted about halfway up, where a collection of slabbed stone formed a small overhang. He saw with satisfaction that the small pile of wood he had left there some days earlier was still there, undisturbed. Unpacking his supplies, the old man kindled a fire and once again rested his weary body, this time against the inside of the stone lean-to. After digging out an apple from the haversack, he deftly whittled the end of a nearby branch down to a sharp point, upon which he stuck the apple and lazily propped it over the fire.

The old man’s eyes closed briefly, but he was careful not to fall asleep. He kept his gaze lazily focused on the path that led up the hill, waiting to see what one hundred years’ worth of patience would bring. Soon, he would have to wait no longer. Soon.

* * *

This the first of a six-book series based on The Legend of Zelda: of the Wild.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 1: AWAKENING



Light. Bright, golden light pierced the blackness, shining more and more brilliantly at its center, like the birth of a star in the midst of a midnight sky. The light was both harsh and welcoming. It beckoned, unwilling to be ignored.

A voice, muffled at first, joined that inescapable glow. It struggled to be understood, but its tone was as the light itself: warm and inviting. It gathered strength with the light until it finally formed a discernible word.

“Link.”

That word meant something. What did it mean? Scarcely did the question present itself when the voice, so reassuringly familiar, was already saying something else.

“Open your eyes.”

But his eyes were open. How else could he see the light that seemed to be the only object in sight?

Suddenly, the light expanded. It did not overwhelm, but rather embraced.

“Open your eyes.”

He did, and suddenly the golden light dissipated, replaced by a harsher blue glow that came into focus the longer he looked at it.

“Open your eyes.”

The blue light faded, and he realized it was not one light but several, embedded within some kind of fixture attached to the ceiling of... where was he?

Other senses began taking hold. He felt wetness recede from his face, his chest, his toes, and realized he was lying face up. Water, glowing bright blue from light welling up beneath it, was receding from the surface on which he lay. His curiosity quickened, overtaking the relaxed feeling one has immediately after a fulfilling night’s sleep.

“Wake up, Link.”

Link. That must be his name. The voice had addressed him as such, and twice at that. Even as he savored the forgotten flavor of his own name, Link felt the last of the water drain from his… bed? He supposed he should call it that. He could feel now that the surface on which he lay was unyielding, but somehow comfortable at the same time.

Deciding he had learned all he could from his current position, Link reluctantly forced himself to sit up. Looking around, he saw that he was situated in the middle of a small, round chamber with walls covered in bronze-colored spirals of some unknown metal. The same material composed his bed, which still emanated that eerie blue light. Looking down, he saw he was clad only in close-fitting braies, yet he was neither hot nor cold.

Link rolled to his hands and knees in order to climb over the low wall of the bed. Doing so felt new and refreshing. He again thought of the feeling after sleeping, and wondered how long he had rested in this strange place. And why.

There was no point in lingering any longer. Link got to his feet, feeling the strange smoothness of the oddly decorated floor. Looking back, he could see now that the ceiling fixture was much bigger than he had seen from his point of view in the bed. It extended downward from a thick, root-like tangle of that same bronze material, the entire arrangement slowly pulsing with that unique blue light. Turning in a slow circle, he could see carved facsimiles of constellations on the curved chamber walls.

Link’s visual exploration halted at the sight of a small pedestal at the far side of the room. It was short and squat, its circular surface adorned with a blue-glowing constellation that nearly formed a complete circle, save for a few small gaps in the arrangement. Again, Link felt that overwhelming rush of familiarity, but he couldn’t remember for the life of him where he would have seen such a singular-looking object before.

He couldn’t remember…

The lack of memory, utter and complete, made Link stagger and forced him to grab the wall of the bed. A voice had told him his name. Beyond that, he had no clue who he was, no memory of his life before the golden light had woken him. Who was he? Why was he here? What had his life been before his…rest?

The lack of even a hint of an answer astounded him. No vague images or impressions came to his aid. He reached in vain to the recesses of his mind, willing memories of his childhood, of family, of a friend, to come to him. None did. There was only a void, similar to the one the golden light had interrupted.

The light…

He had not imagined it. It had restored his name to him. Perhaps it knew more.

Link -- yes, that had to be my name -- returned his attention to the pedestal, the glow of which seemed much stronger than the other sources of light in the chamber. Willing that to be some kind of sign, he approached it. As he did, the constellation on its surface suddenly intensified, its glow now strong enough to suffuse Link’s mostly naked body with a soft blue light. The pedestal was sloped toward him, the front reaching no higher than his waist.

Without warning, the center of the pedestal’s surface rose, temporarily breaking part from the glowing constellation. Embedded within the center of this smaller circle was a rectangular object. Its surface bore an intricate design made of the same bronzed material and lights as the chamber walls, though on a much smaller scale. The unique patterns formed the unmistakable image of an eye, topped by three triangular lashes, while a single teardrop hung from the bottom lid.

Even as Link processed this, a whirring sound emanated from the pedestal, which then lifted one end of the rectangle so that it stood nearly upright. Link could now see that the object was thin and able to be held easily in his hands. One end formed a handle so that fingers could easily wrap around and carry the object.

“That is a Sheikah Slate. Take it. It will help guide you after your long slumber.”

It was the same voice that had woken him, and this time Link felt an ache of longing accompany the feeling of familiarity he had experienced upon first hearing it. He knew that the voice belonged to a woman, but try as he might, he could not put a face or name to it. It could be his mother, a sister, or a complete stranger for all he knew. No. Not a stranger. He knew this voice, but from where or when, he had no clue.

Shaking his head, Link focused instead on what the voice had told him. “Long slumber…” Apparently, he had been asleep, and for a while at that. Looking at the “slate” still proffered up by the pedestal, he briefly wondered if he should trust the voice. That thought, however, vanished as quickly as fog in sunlight. He knew he could trust her, knew that to be true perhaps more than anything else at this moment.

Looking once again at the unique “slate,” Link made up his mind. He reached for the protruding handle and pulled. It came away from the pedestal with a small click, and he brought it closer to his face to better examine the thing. The side with the inlaid, glowing eye did not appear to hold anything of further interest. Turning it over, Link saw that the other side was dark and smooth, like glass without the promise of reflection. Without thought, he ran a finger over the blank surface.

Immediately, the dark face of the slate lit up with the same blue light Link had seen elsewhere in the chamber. At its center glowed the same eye design seen on the opposite side. There was no texture to this symbol, however. It was like a painting, except there was no dye to be seen or smudged. It simply appeared on the smooth face of the object, was one with it. Suddenly, it was gone, returning the slate’s surface once again to a dull and lifeless black.

No sooner had Link wondered what the point of this exercise had been than a part of the wall began to shudder. He realized it as a door, and marveled at how he had not noticed it upon his initial examination of this unusual bedchamber. It was actually divided into seven equal and vertical bars, which were just then raising themselves into the frame rather than swinging open as a normal door would.

Deciding there was no point in remaining any longer, Link made for the only exit from this strange place. The doorway opened into a narrow hallway adorned with more of the same swirling bronze patterns and blue lights, though the latter emanated from more familiar fixtures: crowned wall sconces protruding from the sides of the hall. It was musty in here, a sharp contrast compared to the disturbing cleanliness of the sleeping chamber. He saw at once the source of the difference: several wooden boxes and a pair of stone chests. Beyond them, at the end of the hallway, Link saw another doorway, though this one was, for now, still closed.

Failing to see anyone else to whom the chests would belong, Link thought it was safe enough to open them. No locks prevented him from doing so, just a latch that was easy enough to disengage. He did so and saw, to his relief, clothing resting inside. True, he had no destination in mind as yet, but he felt vastly more comfortable going anywhere with proper attire than without.

This first chest contained a pair of trousers, socks, brown leather boots, and a belt. The second chest held a dark green tunic, leather greaves and gloves, one leather pauldron, and a sword belt designed to be slung over his back. At the very bottom of the chest lay a perfectly folded cloak of faded black. Its cape bore an insignia he did not recognize: a pair of golden wings, in the center of which rested a pyramid of three golden triangles.

Link wondered at himself as he dressed. It was clear these clothes had been designed for someone comfortable with the possibility of combat and yet, though he could remember nothing of his previous life, donning them felt as natural as breathing. All of it fit perfectly, and Link could not deny a sense of satisfaction as he finished tying off the pauldron and sword belt. Looking down at himself, he noticed a pair of small hooks on the left side of his waist belt. Already half-knowing what would happen, he picked up the Sheikah Slate he had set down in order to dress and slid the handle over the hooks. Like his clothing, it fit perfectly.

Unconsciously, Link’s right hand reached behind his head, but his fingers found nothing. With a start, he realized he had been grasping for a sword hilt. Once he processed this all-too-natural action, he realized that not finding a weapon ready and waiting on his back was extremely disconcerting. Though clothed, he felt strangely naked while unarmed. Another quick glance in the chests and around the deserted hallway revealed no consolation for this new and unsettling feeling.

Shrugging into his cloak, Link resigned himself to being weaponless for the moment. He was already planning to sharpen a makeshift spear out of a tree branch. Why, though? he wondered. What kind of life had made weaponry feel like a need and the lack thereof an unnecessary risk?

Memories were no closer to surfacing, however, and Link tried to dismiss his uneasiness for the time being. Determining why would have to wait. For now, he could at least find out where he was.

At the end of the hallway sat another squat pedestal near the right wall. It was identical to the first save for two differences: this one’s broken circle constellation glowed orange -- save that its center circle shone blue in place of where his Sheikah Slate had been in the first.

“Hold the Sheikah Slate up to the pedestal. That will show you the way.”

The voice sounded from nowhere, like a sudden breeze through a quiet wood. It was proper and educated, but there was a warmth behind it that conveyed more than just instruction. Removing the slate from its belt hooks, Link did as he was told and held it against the myriad of glowing lines and circles.

The curious sigil flashed, and the previously orange constellation around it suddenly shone blue as well. A different voice, dull and lifeless compared to the first, sounded directly from the pedestal.

“Authenticating… Sheikah Slate confirmed.”

The eye symbol on the wall just beyond the pedestal glowed blue. It began protruding outward, and like the previous door revealed itself to be made of several pieces rather than one whole. Hidden locks clicked open as pieces of the door fled into wall, revealing natural sunlight streaming directly into the hallway. Link shielded his eyes until they became accustomed to a brightness seemingly long forgotten.

The first voice, the one known and unknown, sounded in his mind once more.

Link… You are the light -- our light -- that must shine upon Hyrule once again. Now go…”

Taking a deep breath, Link stepped into the light.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 2: THE OLD MAN



Warm sunlight washed over the green grass and trees Link beheld upon leaving the strange chamber. Its exit sat halfway up the side of a stony hill, where a raised path meandered down to his right. Birds twittered and flitted in high branches, and the nearby yelp of a startled fox briefly cut through the mid morning peace.

Link recognized none of it. Where he stood was just as much a mystery as who he was. With the sights and sounds around him lacking familiarity of any kind, he was momentarily at a loss.

Now what?

Part of the path protruded out and away from the hill, lending an easy perch from which to observe everything in every direction save the hill and chamber he had just left. Maybe I’ll see something familiar from there, he thought.

Link trotted to the edge, where he beheld for the first time -- according to his memory, anyway -- the land in which he dwelt.

Vast variety greeted his eyes. Link immediately realized the hill stood on a giant plateau, which allowed him to see much further than he otherwise would have. A small forest spread from the base of the hill below. Telltale movements in the trees and shrubbery betrayed the presence of wildlife, though what kind Link could not tell. Further out, the edge of the mesa was bordered by what appeared to be man-made walls, crumbling and far removed from their original glory. It was what lay beyond the plateau, however, that arrested his gaze.

A magnificent castle dominated the center of a great, open field. The edifice sprawled from a central spire, with smaller towers visible among the palace’s distant grandeur. Link supposed that if there was a ruling power in this land, its hand extended from that place.

Hills and other rises interrupted the scene to Link’s left, behind which he could see icy mist eddy around the summits of red, flat-topped mountains. To the northwest, Link saw more hills and, for a split second, something massive in the air. Before he could blink and refocus on the phenomenon, it was gone.

Frowning at his own fancies, Link turned his gaze to the other side of the castle. Beyond it and to the northeast reared a mighty mountain of smoke, stone and fire. Wherever he was going, Link doubted it would be there.

Turning to face more eastward still, Link beheld two mountains smaller than the volcano, but still massive in their own right. One appeared slightly shorter than the other, with only a narrow divide between them. The larger of the two, which sat to the south, trailed off into a much larger and rockier range than its smaller sibling.

Link’s visual track of that range was interrupted by a much closer object, and a man-made one at that. At the bottom of his hill’s eastern slope, beyond a small pond, sat a building. It was old and decayed, and Link doubted very much that it was still used for whatever its original purpose had been. What that was, he could only guess, but the front spire and gable roof gave Link the strong impression of a place of worship.

All of these observations failed to recall anything to Link’s absent memory, a sensation that grew more alarming with every passing moment. The world he could see was vast, his place in it forgotten. Is there some place — or someone — waiting for me out there? No one answered, not even the mysterious voice from within the chamber, and the silence seemed almost stifling.

I need to find someone, Link thought anxiously. Someone who can at least tell me where I am.

The castle was far too distant and off the plateau, besides, leaving only the ruined building east of the hill. Perhaps someone could be found there. Refreshed with purpose, Link started down the hillside path. He had only just begun his descent before discovering the object of his search.

Halfway down the path, sheltered under a lean-to of stone, sat a man by a fire.

* * *

Link wondered whether the man had seen him appear only to turn and hide behind a nearby boulder. A brief glance, however, showed that the stranger had not moved. Link could discern little else, as the hood of the man’s cloak all but hid his face from view.

The absurdity of what he was doing dawned on him. I wanted to find someone, Link berated himself. And when I do, I hide like a flighty fool. He could not fathom why he had done so. Instinct had taken hold before thought could reason. As it was, there seemed little to fear.

If that’s the case, Link thought bracingly, there’s no point in staying here. As he rose from his hiding place, however, Link noticed a branch that had fallen from a nearby tree. It was sturdy, and roughly the same length of a short sword.

How do I know that? Link wondered. The lack of an answer did not stop him from sliding the poor excuse for a weapon over his shoulder and into his sword belt. Satisfied that he now had at least some means of defending himself if necessary, Link emerged back onto the path.

It was a short walk down to the man and his fire, and Link made sure to keep himself in full view so as not to surprise him -- or miss any surprises himself. The stranger, however, still showed no signs of stirring, except perhaps a slight shift to show he was at last monitoring his new visitor’s progress.

Link was just suppressing the temptation to reach for his branch when something else arrested his attention completely. A hot, delicious aroma had invaded his nostrils, making his mouth water insatiably. The smell’s source could only be the old man’s fire, and indeed, Link saw him holding a branch over it, on the end of which was stuck a large apple. Two more apples, already roasted, sat at the man’s side.

When did I last eat? Link wondered. Surely not since before his “slumber,” however long that had been. At this point, it felt like his stomach was as devoid of memories as his mind, and Link was desperately eager to fill both.

He could hardly invite himself to the old man’s meal, however. Link was close enough now to see that the old man was indeed observing him from underneath his hood, though his expression did not betray whether he found his visitor to be welcome or intrusive.

Just as Link gathered himself for some kind of greeting, the old man beat him to the opportunity.

“Oho ho!” cried the old man with immediately disarming cheer. “Well met, stranger! It’s rather unusual to see another soul in these parts.”

Link could not help but warm to the old man, so enthusiastic was his salutation. His was a voice he could trust, though Link could not have said why. Now that he was close enough, Link could see amber eyes twinkling merrily underneath a pair of extremely bushy, white eyebrows. Those were matched by as impressive a beard as Link could imagine, a well-groomed mass of white blooming from the man’s face and spilling down the front of his tunic.

Link thought of returning the greeting, perhaps saying something equally friendly, but instead heard himself speak with alarming directness.

“Who are you?”

The old man paused for a moment as if considering, and for that Link was grateful. He was still savoring the sound of his own voice, which like his hunger had lain forgotten for lack of attention. It was neither high nor low, though its natural volume was softer than most. Link felt -- or at least hoped -- that the straightforward nature of his question was softened by his quiet tone.

Whether the old man thought similarly or not, he had finally decided on what he felt was an appropriate response.

“Me?” he mused. “I’ll spare you my life story. I’m just an old fool who has lived here, alone, for quite some time now. What brings a bright-eyed young man like you to a place like this?”

Link was not offended at his question being answered with a question. The old man was surely under no obligation to divulge more than he felt comfortable. That was just fine with Link, for he planned on exercising the same liberty. Who would believe him, anyway?

“I’m only just passing through as well, though I admit to have lost my way,” Link replied truthfully. There was no need to lie when it wasn’t necessary. In any case, the old man still invited his confidence in a way he couldn’t quite explain. “Could you tell me where I am?”

“You are in luck then, for I am one of very few who live here!” the old man responded good-naturedly. “This is the Great Plateau. According to legend, this is the birthplace of the entire kingdom of Hyrule.”

Link nodded. The name of the plateau did not spark any recollection, but its logic further cemented his trust in the old man. His last did words did touch on a memory, but it was a recent one. What was it that voice in the cave had said? “You are the light — our light — that must shine upon Hyrule once again.”

What did that mean, though? How could he, himself and alone without a memory to a name only just recalled, be a light for an entire country? And why?

Link shook his head and turned his attention back to the old man, who was slowly getting to his feet. Link could see now that he was stout, with a barrel chest and stomach to match.

“How do you mean, Hyrule was born here?” Link inquired. He wasn’t sure the answer would fill any gaps of knowledge about himself, but learning anything was an improvement over what he knew now.

Grabbing a nearby staff topped with a lantern, the old man turned and gestured further down the eastward path, toward the large building Link had seen from outside the chamber.

“That temple there,” the old man began with more than a note of wistfulness. “According to legend, the creation of this world began there. Since then, it was the site of sacred ceremonies for generations. Since the decline of the kingdom a century ago, however, it has sat abandoned, in a state of decay. Yet another forgotten entity. A mere ghost of its former self…”

The old man trailed off with a tinge of bitterness. Looking again at the temple, Link thought he could understand. Perhaps the old man had listened to tales of the temple from his grandfather or another elder, and now that place was a crumbling reminder of those stories learned as a child. Even without knowing fully what troubled him, Link could not help but feel for this vagabond, alone in a place that had clearly seen better days.

“I am sorry, sir,” Link said, and he meant it. “You are well met. I am new here, and unfamiliar with this place.

“Think nothing of it, my boy!” the old man exclaimed, his momentary sadness quickly dissipating. “If you are new here, you should acquaint yourself with the place! There are many interesting things to see. The temple is old, but enough of it remains to earn an appreciation of what it once was. I shall be here for some time,” he added, “so please let me know if I may be of service.”

Though a shred of melancholy remained in the old man’s voice, Link also sensed sincerity in his offer. Which reminded him…

“Thank you, sir,” Link responded. “That is very kind of you. I was wondering, if, perhaps…”

Even as he struggled to put his hunger into words, the old man apparently saw the object of Link’s ravenous gaze.

“Oh, please, help yourself!” the elder warmly invited. “An apple and an open flame are small things to share amongst friends.”

Again offering his thanks, Link bent down and retrieved one of the apples that lay near the fire. It was still warm to the touch, and he immediately sank his teeth into the first bite of food he could remember.

Hot, bubbling heaven erupted in his mouth. Link wondered whether anything could compare to explosion of flavor they carried. Ignoring the pockets of heat that seared in his mouth and the juice spilling out of it, Link tore out ravenous bite after ravenous bite, nibbling all but the most stubborn strings of the fruit’s meat before ruefully tossing the core aside.

Without thinking of how it must look, Link allowed his gaze to find and linger on the remaining apple by the fire.

“Oho ho!” exclaimed the old man again, though with much good-natured humor. “Hungry, are you? Go on then, help yourself. Have two more in fact!” he added, removing the apple from his cooking stick.

Link gratefully accepted, tucking one away in his haversack with one hand while hurriedly transferring the second apple bite by bite to his mouth.

“There are many more apples — and mushrooms as well — in the Forest of Spirits south of here,” added the old man kindly. “You can also find wild boar should you have the desire for meat and the means to hunt it. Again, I wish you good luck. I look forward to seeing you again.”

And with that, the old man sat down again, contentedly rustling out another apple to roast and leaning his back against the inside of the lean-to.

“Thank you…” Link began. He had been about to address the old man name, but realized he did not know it. Now that he thought about it, the old man had not once asked for his name, either. Feeling that there might be a reason behind foregoing such an exchange, Link let his thanks trail off, and saw the old man nod in response even as his eyes closed contentedly.

He had just turned onto the path when Link suddenly became aware of a soft, repeating noise coming from the slate on his hip. He looked quickly over his shoulder, but the old man’s back was to him and he appeared to have slumped further against his resting place. Perhaps he was sleeping.

Satisfied with his privacy, Link removed the slate from its belt hooks and brought it up to his face. The black surface once again flashed a blue eye sigil before it was replaced with what Link immediately recognized as a map. It was black and bore no details aside from being divided by blue lines into several different regions. The smallest of them — which was near the center of the map — contained the only details of note: a small blue diamond, a pulsing yellow arrow and a blinking, gold dot to the arrow’s northeast. Turning to face that direction, Link immediately saw the arrow also turn to point toward the blinking dot. He, then, was the arrow. If he had to guess by its location in relation to himself, the diamond must be the sleeping chamber.

On a whim, Link touched the diamond with a finger. Slanted blue words instantly appeared next to it: Shrine of Resurrection.

Had he been dead then? Link debated whether or not that could be true, then decided there was no way of knowing for now. He tapped the yellow arrow and, sure enough, the words “Current Location” appeared next to it. Finally, he tapped the golden point. “Follow the Sheikah Slate.”

What kind of object was this? Link could think of nothing that brought such living detail to life. And why had the slate been kept with him in the “shrine”? More questions with no answers readily at hand. Was he doomed to know nothing for himself?

Raising his eyes from the slate, Link gazed northeast, where the blinking dot’s real-life counterpart should be. Judging from the distance between the shrine and his arrow on the map, his destination was not far ahead. The path continued to the bottom of the hill, with occasional groups of wide, crumbling stairs jutting out from the grass that had conquered them. Beyond a flat stretch of brick, grass, and dirt, a sizable dirt mound rose to the height of a large tree. Deciding that must at least be near his destination, Link replaced the slate on his belt and set off northeast.

* * *

The old man smiled as he watched Link’s reflection on the glass window of his lantern. The boy had paused on the path for a good five minutes before eventually moving on. Had he set off in the wrong direction, the old man would have been forced to intervene on some pretense. Luckily, that had not been necessary. Link had, as usual, known what to do.

The old man chuckled as he watched the distorted image disappear from the lantern face. A century’s churning had changed much, but Link appeared — at least at first glance — the same as ever. He had always been a boy of few words and much action. That much, at least, remained the same. How he might have changed remained to be seen.

His eyebrows furrowed at that last thought. It seemed that Link truly remembered nothing. That much had been expected, true, but to see that blankness staring him in the face was something else entirely. Could the boy do what needed to be done if he did not possess the most essential knowledge of all?

He would find the truth eventually. The old man was determined to reveal a good part of it to the boy himself, but being told something paled in comparison to the power of discovering it -- of knowing it -- for oneself. Link would need that before the end.

Rising to his feet, the old man saw with satisfaction that the boy was about to run into an early reminder of who he was. That would do for now. Seizing his lantern, the mysterious elder allowed himself another smile, then vanished in a swirl of blue-green flame.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 3: RISING TOWERS



Link followed the sloping path until it emptied into the remains of a large plaza just north of the ruined temple. A crumbling fountain, long devoid of water, sat at its center. The surrounding flagstones were either covered or dislodged by grass and shrubbery whose patience had been rewarded with triumph over man-laid stone.

The courtyard had clearly served as a place of gathering long ago. It connected two broad staircases, one leading up to the temple, the other descending further north toward Link’s ultimate destination. He followed the latter, noting the broken stumps of once-proud pillars that lined his path.

At the base of the stairs lay another spread of flagstones, the far side of which was interrupted by a long stretch of deep, stagnant water. More broken pillars jutted out of the pond like fingers clawing for air. Just as he was about to turn right toward his destination, Link saw something half-submerged in the water that made his stomach clench with unremembered dread.

Three clawed and metal talons lay open and dully gleaming, attached to a sinuously curved arm. Other identical arms lay at awkward angles, all running back to a squat, bell-shaped husk adorned with swirls and whorls similar to those within the Shrine of Resurrection. The entire object was made of metal, yet it gave the impression of a life-like ability to move, to writhe, to strike.

It was the top of the thing that caused Link to unconsciously grip the handle of his stick until his knuckles showed bone-white. Inlaid just above its wider base and surrounded by swirling patterns was a lifeless, circular eye.

Link could not see why the object — which exhibited massive signs of rust and decay — would cause him to feel such fear. He only knew that it did, and that he would never trust that spherical orb to remain lifeless no matter how long it appeared to be so. He backed away from the thing and the stagnant pool that had become its grave, not taking his eye away until one of the taller, broken pillars obstructed it from view. Only then did he release the death grip on his stick.

Ever since the decline of the kingdom one hundred years ago, it has sat abandoned, in a state of decay.

The old man’s words came unbidden to Link’s mind. They had specifically described the temple, true, but everything else Link had thus far seen seemed equally forsaken.

Shaking off an involuntary shiver, Link consulted his Sheikah Slate. As he had guessed, the map’s golden dot could only be the tall, brown mound that stood just two hundred or so paces northeast from where he now stood. Eyeing the small pond one last time, Link resumed his trek toward his destination.

As he drew closer, Link saw that the mound was nothing more than a misshapen hill of grass and dried mud. Upon circling the thing, Link discovered part of the knoll to be hallowed out. Jutting from within the cavity was a man-made something. What it was, he could not tell, but its design hearkened to the those who had constructed the Shrine of Resurrection. Bronzed legs held up an oblong sphere of the same metal-like substance that had comprised the bed in which he had awoken. Inscribed on it and facing directly toward him, was the eye sigil with which he was becoming increasingly familiar. From the sphere’s underbelly hung a four-sided stalactite of black stone that narrowed to a blunt point. Bronze constellation patterns were etched halfway down its length.

Link was just gathering himself for the small climb up the mound for a closer look when he heard a primitive squeal, followed by something ramming him in the stomach and sending him crashing to the ground.

* * *

His breath driven from him, Link frantically blinked away the swimming lines in his vision even as he fought to dislodge his attacker. It stank of a midden, and its breath smelled even worse. Link could both hear and feel the mindless snapping of jaws trying to find his throat while hands and feet scrabbled to keep him pinned to the ground until the kill was made.

With a mighty heave, Link hurled the thing off of him, leaped to his feet and in one motion freed the stick from the belt slung over his back. Still struggling to regain his breath, he beheld his new foe.

The creature’s skin was a dull red, like clay recently sodden with rain. It gathered in flaps and sags at bony joints while stretching tautly over a belly too large for its otherwise gangly body. Its ears were large, floppy and pointed. The creature sported only a handful of teeth, each square, dull and dirty. Its face resembled that of a pig, as did its challenging squeals. Only three stubby fingers, all bearing broken and dirty claws, sprouted from each hand, while hooves appeared where feet should have been.

Link heard additional squeals and saw two more of the creatures screaming encouragement from higher up on the hill. One of them carried a bow, but it appeared content urging its companion for the time being.

The beast facing him, Link knew, must be dealt with first. Clad only in a soiled loincloth, it wielded a roughly-made wooden club. With another squeal of rage, the monster leaped straight at him, weapon upraised and ready to strike.

As smoothly and naturally as breathing, Link sidestepped the creature’s wild attack. The club rebounded with a clack off a half-hidden flagstone, and Link quickly moved in to take advantage. Once, twice, thrice, Link struck the beast’s head with his stick. His movements were swift but powerful, and the thing immediately collapsed in a broken heap.

Screams of rage erupted from the side of the rock outcropping, and Link realized one of the fallen monster’s comrades was urging the other to loose an arrow at him. Thinking quickly, Link snatched the club dropped by his fallen foe and dove to his left. The shaft buried itself into the ground where he had stood a moment before.

Quickly sheathing his stick, Link sprinted toward them, his rapid approach forcing the archer into a rushed job of nocking a fresh arrow to its bow. Link was now very close to the pair, but still on much lower ground. Thinking quickly, he wedged his right foot into a small rock protruding from the side of the hill and leaped high into the air.

In the instant Link hovered at near eye level with the beasts, he hurled the club straight at the archer. The crude weapon’s round and weighted end gave it further impetus, and Link’s aim was true. It struck the monster squarely between the eyes, which rolled back into its head before it tumbled down the hillside. Link rolled out of his landing and back to his feet to face the last monster standing.

The archer’s bow had fallen from the ledge on which the creature stood, robbing it of an easy kill. Link saw with dismay, however, that the monster had seized its own weapon which had been lying in wait: a short, metal sword.

Link drew his stick once more, which he saw at a glance had already begun to splinter from its first kill. One slash of the sword which would certainly turn the paltry weapon into splinters.

The beast clambered down to the plateau and began circling Link, its tongue hungrily licking stained and yellowed teeth. Link eyed the creature’s sword warily, waiting for his opportunity.

The monster rushed, slashing the air wildly. The air whistled around empty air as Link leaped backward. The beast swung again, and again Link retreated just out of reach. Enraged at its own futile efforts, the thing stabbed forward this time in an effort to finish its infuriating quarry once and for all.

It was the move Link had waited for. Instead of leaping backward, he stepped to the side and, before the beast could recover, brought his stick down on its unprotected head in one crushing blow.

The sharp report of the branch breaking was matched only by the crack produced from the beast’s skull. It crumpled on the spot and did not move again.

Throwing aside the remains of his now useless stick, Link fell to his knees and leaned forward, willing natural breath to calm his madly beating heart. He had not noticed that, nor any emotion at all, during the heat of battle. Only now, at its conclusion, did he realize how close to death he had danced.

Link quickly surveyed his surroundings for signs of further enemies, but saw only low tufts of grass ruffled by a passing breeze. His eyes caught a glint of light glaring a few strides away. Getting to his feet, Link discovered the monster’s sword laying half-concealed in the grass. He picked up the weapon, slowly hefting and twirling it. It was indeed small, at least compared to whatever instinct told him he should be holding. He did not understand how or why he should know such things about weapons, nor how he had been able to vanquish three armed foes without a wound to show for it. Clearly, he learned how to fight in whatever passed for his previous life.

But how? Link wondered to himself. And why?

In increasingly frustrating fashion, no answer came to him. Frowning, Link secured the bare blade to the sword belt on his back. That, at least, gave him the satisfaction of something being as it should be. He was properly armed now. Rustling the last baked apple from his haversack, Link made the short walk back to the base of the hill.

* * *

Link walked a full circuit around the odd mound, missing nothing. There appeared to be nothing else of interest aside from the curious structure he had first glimpsed within. Satisfied, he climbed into the hallow for a better look. Directly beneath the stalactite sat another pedestal identical to the first he had seen in the Shrine of Resurrection. Like that one, it sported a broken circle of constellations that glowed orange upon Link’s approach. Its center contained a hollowed-out rectangle, no doubt the exact size of the Sheikah Slate. That space also glowed orange, and Link thought back to the latter pedestal in the shrine, which had shone with the same light. When he had presented his slate to it, the pedestal had turned blue and the door had opened.

There was no door here, and Link wondered what would happen if he inserted the Sheikah Slate into this particular pedestal. He consulted the slate one last time, and saw that his yellow arrow was resting on top of the golden dot that marked his destination. This was the right place.

Hoping for the best, Link placed the slate into its intended resting place. There was a click, then the slate revolved so that the smooth side of it lay face-up. The circle holding the slate rotated so that now the constellations surrounding it were connected as originally intended. The face of the slate, meanwhile, once again displayed the glowing eye sigil.

“Sheikah Tower activated. Please watch for falling rocks.”

The voice was the second he had heard in the Shrine of Resurrection: monotonous and lifeless. Link’s expression furrowed in concern. Watch for falling rocks…

The eye sigil on the bulbous structure overhead flared bright blue. Then the rumbling began, as if the very earth were breaking. Link fell to his feet, which made him feel ill when combined with the sensation that the ground on which he now knelt was rising beneath him. With an ear-splitting crack, the hill burst apart. Boulders bounced, rolled and flew in all directions, forcing Link to protect himself as best he could from the wildly flying debris.

Whatever he stood on continued to rise, but slowly enough that Link was finally able to get to his feet. Now that it was not mostly covered by dried mud and rocks, Link could see that the floor of the structure was a perfect circle, coated with rock dust, but unmistakably decorated with the bronze whorls he had seen in the Chamber of Resurrection. Six bronzed pillars supported the top of the structure from which the stalactite hovered directly over the pedestal. Looking out from his increasingly high perch, Link was startled to see similar phenomenons taking place all around him.

They were towers, each of them simultaneously ascending as though Link’s actions had awoken them all at once. Their narrow bodies glowed with an eerie orange light shining through bronze grillwork running up their entire lengths until reaching circular platforms at the top. Bronze steps jutted out intermittently from the tower’s height, like stairs for some awkwardly proportioned climber. The bulbous tops above their platforms also glowed orange, like beacons calling for those who sought them.

With a slight jolt, Link’s tower halted its ascent, as did all the others he could see. The top of his tower, which had previously glowed orange, now flared blue.

“Tower activated. Distilling local information.”

Blue lights appeared on the curious pillar extending down toward the pedestal, seeming to flow down in an impressive imitation of water. They trickled to the pillar’s blunt point, gathering until Link realized they were merging into an actual droplet of blue liquid that was now hanging by a thread.

It fell, splashing onto the smooth surface of the Sheikah Slate.

Marveling at the strange wonder he had just witness, Link cautiously approached the pedestal. The blue eye sigil flared brightly on the slate before his map replaced it. The center region in which his arrow resided glowed bright blue, then faded to reveal in complete detail the plateau on which he had awoken. Even the forest was portrayed by brown, bushy splotches against the lighter brown that represented land. The temple pointed out by the old man was also discernible, marked with rigidly straight lines that indicated a man-made structure. Link noted that his tower stood close to the plateau’s northeastern edge.

“Regional map extracted.”

With that, the pedestal proffered up the Sheikah Slate, which Link took with no small amount of gratitude. Here, at last, was some measure of clarity. He did not yet know who he was nor what was next, but at least he knew immeasurably more about his immediate surroundings.

Link was about to search for a way down from this odd structure when a voice -- the female voice that had wakened him -- murmured in his head once again.

“Remember… Try. Try to remember…”

The voice’s origin was as invisible as ever, but it pulled his gaze to a specific direction this time. Link turned north to face the great castle looming in the middle of the open plains. Then he saw it: a golden light, gleaming like a star from atop the center spire.

As he focused on it, the voice sounded clearer. He quickly approached the edge of the platform, straining to hear more even as the light began glimmering brighter.

“You have been asleep for the past one hundred years…”

Asleep? Not dead then, no matter that he had awoken in a “Shrine of Resurrection.” How could anyone sleep for a century? Link had barely considered the question when it was driven away by another rumbling of earth. This one, however, originated not from the tower, but from the distant fortress.

Even as Link looked, tendrils of black and red spiraled from the base of the castle, swirling up and around walls and spires alike until it must engulf the light that fought to shine through them. The sentinel-like pillars surrounding the castle were no longer dark, but dotted with disturbingly familiar constellations of their own. These, however, glowed dark red instead of blue or orange.

“The beast… When the beast regains its true power, the world will face its end.”

And then Link saw it. It rose like some primeval monster of nightmare from the red vapor enveloping the castle. Its body was formless, but the head resembled some great swine, with fierce tusks and a long, protruding snout. Where its eyes should have been, tiny pinpricks of golden light gleamed greedily despite the midday sun. It took to the sky, swirling around the central spire like some jealous predator guarding its kill. The horror’s jaws parted to give way to a roar the likes of which no living creature had ever uttered. It shook the trees and earth, causing animals to scamper into hiding and birds to take flight in terror. The sound went on and on until it was hard to separate the cacophony from its own echoes.

Link, however, felt no fear. Rage coursed through his veins like the rivers of fire visible on the volcano to the northeast. He wanted to sprint to the castle that very instant, to tear the phantom beast apart with his bare hands if need be. Unbidden to his mind came the image of a wolf ripping the demon animal’s life from its throat, and he felt his teeth bare in a rictus of anticipation.

“You must hurry, Link, before it’s too late.”

And with that, the monster dissolved into the red-and-black mist from which it sprang, which remained eddying and swirling around the base of the castle itself. The golden light from the tower winked out, leaving only a sense of foreboding from the evil substance that still half-engulfed the fortress.

Pausing only to secure the sword on his back, Link bounded down the widely spaced steps of the tower, eager to deal out death.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 4: RIPPLES

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Gruve was tired. Climbing did not come as naturally to the young bull as swimming, but Prince Sidon had made it clear that any and every vantage point must be used to better locate a Hylian who might help them.

The blue-skinned Zora shook his head, making the fish tail the back of it sway slowly back and forth. If there were any Hylians in the Lanayru Wetlands, they were likely in one of the cooking pots simmering in the nearby lizalfo camp. Gruve had seen the odd lizalfo before, of course. Occasionally, one of the lizard-like monsters was brave enough to venture as far as Oren Bridge or even Luto’s crossing. Such occurrences were rare, and the lone offender usually found itself outnumbered and fleeing an entire patrol of Zora guards.

Now, an alarming number of camp fires dotted the wetlands that stretched east and south of the rocky hill where Gruve was perched. Each site belonged to a small group of vicious lizardspawn, which meant at least ten score of them were gathered in what had for years served as abundant fishing grounds for Zora and Hylian alike. Gripping his silver spear, Gruve wondered if such a gathering had been seen since The Great Calamity. Only King Dorephan or the elders could answer that.

The Zora River, as well as the larger and parallel Rutala to the south, fed directly into the wetlands. Gruve had been just fifty years old when he snuck away for his first “adventure” outside the Domain. He winced at the memory of his mother’s stern look, and more so at recalling his father’s punishment. The Zora unconsciously rubbed his tail fin, which had served as his conscience ever since.

Since reaching adulthood at one hundred years old, Gruve had come to this place many times with fishing parties, and this hill had become his favorite resting spot. He liked the view; from here, he could see how the Zora and Rutala sandwiched this extension of the Zodobon Highlands that accompanied both rivers eastward.

Death Mountain reared majestically to the north, a smoke-and-fire-filled sight normally invisible from his home due to the heights of Upland Zorana. To the west and beyond the lizalfo camps, Hyrule Castle stood in forgotten majesty, lifeless save for the the dull gleam produced by the last rays of a setting sun. Gruve sadly wondered if it would ever again thrive as the histories said it once did. Gazing at the spread of evil before him, the young Zora doubted it.

Beyond the southern banks of the Rutala reared Quatta’s Shelf, a singular expanse of high mountain that supposedly hid the nearest village of Hylians. What was it called, again? Kakariko, that was it. King Dorephan had instructed his son and those accompanying him to search near the village, but not to enter. A people called the Sheikah, the king had said, might still dwell there even after the Calamity had destroyed nearly all the villages of men. If some remained however, the King had made it clear the Zora would likely be unwelcome intruders to one of the most secretive sects of Hylians in Hyrule’s history.

A handful of Gruve’s water brethren had circled north in an attempt to slip past the lizalfos and search as near Kakariko as they dared. Gruve hoped they were all right, that one of them might come across a Hylian village or stable (Dorephan said several of the latter dotted Hyrulian lands) before stumbling into a lizalfo hunting party.

Gruve was stationed to look for at least one of the Zora’s return and bring word swiftly back to Prince Sidon, who was eagerly waiting for his own turn to search at nearby Inogo Bridge. The blue-skinned bull grinned with pride. His prince had sent his party ahead by water while he and Gruve had combed the footpaths that travelers normally used to reach Zora’s Domain before Vah Ruta had sent her ceaseless rains. They found no Hylians, only the growing mass of lizardspawn. Urgent as their mission was, Gruve knew his prince was worried that so many of the enemy were gathered near his beloved homewater.

Without warning, the ground heaved beneath Gruve’s fins interrupted his reverie. He wondered wildly whether the lizalfos were scaling the hill en masse, but he heard no accompanying hisses or sounding battle horns to support his theory. He had been leaning against an oblong obtrusion of rock at the top of the hill, but he fell away as it broke from the ground and began to rise. Then Gruve was rising, the hill beneath him breaking apart as a previously hidden platform lifted him toward the sky. The ground’s rumbling grew distant as he was borne aloft. Clinging to the platform’s surface — it felt oddly smooth — the young Zora braved a glance at the quickly receding ground. The lizalfos were stirring like a school of Staminoka Bass frightened out of its alcove. The wave of enraged lizard monsters converged at narrow lines, then spread out again as they made their way across wooden bridges toward Gruve and his ever-rising tower.

Finally, mercifully, his skyward ascent halted. Gruve looked over the edge and saw that he was at least two hundred feet off the ground. Lizalfos bearing torches and weapons hissed and jabbered in agitation below him, though it seemed none could scale the tower directly nor by the oddly dispersed steps placed up and down its length.

Gruve knew now that the flying bird men he had heard King Dorephan mention before — the Rito? — had been some sick joke meant to frighten young calves who wanted to climb Ploymus Mountain. Nothing was meant to be this high, and he thought the back of his father’s fins would reinforce that fact if he could see his son now.

* * *

Branli threw his quill into his notebook, which he then slammed shut with disgust. An entire day, wasted.

The scientist — for he considered himself as such — was so very frustrated. He needed to see a Rito fly, and up close at that. And though his temporary home that was Tabantha Bridge Stable was technically closer to the majestic bird race’s home, crossing the stable’s namesake bridge and braving the Tabantha Frontier had proven to be a great scientific theory for certain death.

Only one known path navigated its way north between Nero Hill and Piper Ridge before skirting Strock Lake and arriving at the wondrous Lake Totori, where the magnificent Rito dwelled. Unfortunately, that path was also teeming with horse-stealing, man-eating, and science-indifferent Bokoblins. Never mind that Branli was more than willing to leave them to their own devices. Never mind that it was his life’s work and dream to find out, once and for all, how a Rito could fly. They would simply capture him, eat him and — he shuddered especially at this last thought — use his notes for kindling.

“Mindless little savages!” Branli moaned bitterly.

To make matters worse, the only other road leading to Rito Village curled far to the northeast, forced into its meandering track by the mighty Tanagar Canyon that gashed like a giant wound into northeastern Hyrule. Branli did not know nearly as much about that road, save for the two facts he had gleaned from travelers: a stable offered refuge on the canyon’s northern side, and only caravans survived the packs of starving snow wolves that swarmed the area.

Branli had thought Ludfo’s Bog, just east of the Thundra Plateau, might offer a happy medium. Its view of Rito Village, though disappointingly distant, was unobstructed by mountains. A broad opening between Mount Rhoam and Lindor’s Brow perfectly framed the famed Perch Rock on which the Rito lived. Branli had hoped against hope some Rito might stray to Ludfo’s Bog in search of fish. That notion, however, had proven fruitless.

He was just about to gather his things and find where his blasted horse had wandered off to when his eyes glimpsed something above the Perch. Branli frantically removed his spectacles and rubbed them against his rather rumpled tunic, then replaced them back on the bridge of his narrow nose. Was it a Rito? Surely not. It must be larger to be visible from this distance. That observation only fueled his scientific fire. It was odd enough that beings such as a Rito could take flight. What in the world could sustain itself in the air at that size?

Branli nearly dove into his knapsack in search of the prized “telescope” he had bought off a Gerudo tradeswoman. The haughty young woman had been unyielding in her asking price. Furthermore, the uppity little snippet had had the temerity to look offended after Branli had still shown the grace to pay full price and thank her for it! As if she expected more than the purple rupee he had forked over! She had simply looked him up and down, frowned, and said in her oddly broken accent, “You are not the voe for me,” whatever that meant.

Still, Branli had what he needed for what could be the discovery of a lifetime. He had just put the smaller end of the brass tube to his spectacled right eye when the ground heaved beneath his feet. The telescope fell from his hands and landed large end-first on the ground, shattering the glass lens that had topped it.

Cursing, Branli tried to close his knapsack, but the ground continued to roll and tremble. Suddenly, he realized he was being lifted into the air, the area around him receding quickly.

“I’m dreaming,” Branli muttered distractedly. “I’ve been thinking about flying so much that I’m actually dreaming I can do it.”

No number of pinches to his own arm, however, changed what was happening. A perfect circle of ground immediately beneath Branli’s feet continued bearing him upward, a curious work topped by many bronze arms and an obsidian stalactite at its center. Higher and higher man and structure rose until, finally, their heavenly climb halted.

Clutching the knapsack of scientific keepsakes to his chest, Branli walked slowly to and peered over the edge. He must be at least two hundred feet high!

“So this is what it feels like to fly!” the self-proclaimed scientist exclaimed with glee. “It’s… it’s… magnificent!”

After glorying in his newfound altitude a few minutes more, Branli removed his spectacles and scratched an offending itch on the top of his balding head.

“But...but how am I to get down?”

* * *

Almost exactly halfway between the Great Plateau and Hyrule Castle, another tower erupted from the ground and reached for the heavens. As the day waned and night approached, its elongated shadow lanced across the southern edge of Hyrule Field, falling just short of the long-abandoned ruins of fallen nation’s once-proud garrisons.

A century ago, that tower would have witnessed line upon proud line of Hylian troops, some on horseback, others on foot, all training with the sole purpose of defending king, castle and kingdom. The standard of their calling — a golden set of wings surrounding a pyramid of three golden triangles — would have waved proudly on banners of forest green all around the parade grounds.

Now, only a skeleton of the once-thriving barracks remained. Mounds of rubble surrounded broken battlements that rose to only half of their former height. The poles on which those standards had happily flown were now mostly bare, as though in mourning. One threadbare flag remained, hanging listlessly by the thinnest of margins and so worn by weather and time that only the oldest of those still living would know what it had once been.

The tower’s orange light cast a pale inhuman glow as day succumbed to night. The structure stood on a rise that had once served as the commander’s observation deck, from where he could view and evaluate troops to his satisfaction. Here, one hundred years ago, that commander had fallen with the last of his soldiers. Here, the heart of Hyrule’s army had stopped beating.

The bones of those Hylians had long since worn away, but the metallic remains of their enemies were still illuminated by the tower’s glow. Their large, bell-shaped bodies still lay rusted and half-buried in the ground.

One of the machines, fortunate enough to have retained six of its eight serpentine and clawed arms in death, lay motionless directly under the tower’s glow. Then, without warning, its single orb of an eye flared to blue life. The cylindrical top half of its body raised itself from the wider bottom half, breaking off decades of dust and congealed dirt in the process. Then, with methodical precision, the “head” rotated, scanning its surroundings in a ceaseless swivel.

Its orders were clear. Anything that approached must be eliminated.

* * *

Impa’s head gently swayed as she meditated, which in turn caused her straw hat to sway, which in turn caused the chained, eye-shaped hooks hanging from its brim to sway.

Impa knew the hat was the oddest of oddities about her, one that put off anyone but a Sheikah. Then again, the Sheikah were odd, which was partly why they had dwelt mostly undisturbed for centuries.

A frown deepened the lines of her aged forehead, which bore a blue tattoo resembling an open eye with three triangular lashes and a single tear dropping from its lower lid. The same symbol adorned the middle of her hat, though that one was dyed in red. She fingered her necklace of wooden beads, wondering whether her long wait would soon end. Her mission had not changed over her considerably long life, but how she went about it was far different than it had been a century ago. Acting was easy. Waiting was not. She was tired of waiting. So very tired.

Not that she could complain all that much. The mountain of red cushions on which her tiny body sat cross-legged was very comfortable. Her seating arrangement stood atop a raised portion of the wooden floor, allowing her the kind of equal eye contact her standing self could never achieve. There was something about a shorter person meeting a taller one eye-to-eye that made the latter uneasy. Uneasiness often bred truth. Truth saved lives. Concealing it for the sake of comfort could kill them.

Impa heard her granddaughter before she saw her descend the stairs that led up the back wall of her abode to the bedchamber above. She savored the smell of the tea Paya had prepared, gauging it before opening her eyes and uttering her first words of the day.

“Too much honey today, granddaughter,” Impa said with a kindly smile, “but a little sweetness is never bad for an old woman.”

Paya nearly dropped the porcelain pot and cups, so startled was she at the premature observation. Impa sighed. Her granddaughter should be used to her by now, but she was like a young doe — shy and swift to flight. Her soft brown eyes were wide with surprise, her white eyebrows causing unnecessary wrinkles among the red eye tattoo on her forehead.

Steadying herself, Paya finished her short journey from the stairs and around to face Impa, where she responded with downcast eyes, “I am sorry, Grandmother. I will do better tomorrow, I promise.”

Raising a wrinkled hand, Impa gently took her granddaughter’s chin and lifted it until Paya’s gaze met her own.

“One day, granddaughter, you will find a man who does away with the need for courage to face the day,” Impa said. “Until then, you must find that courage yourself.”

Paya’s eyes briefly brimmed with tears before she again looked toward the floor.

“I… I will try, Grandmother.”

Impa nodded, knowing she could not hope for the girl to find a backbone in one night. Hylia send her a husband soon. Paya was pretty enough. Part of her snow-white hair — a trait shared by all the Sheikah — was tied in an elaborate bun atop her head. The rest fell below her shoulders, enhancing her already youthful appearance. She poured the tea with the gentleness and grace that would serve her well as the Woman of her house, but Sheikah women — even those who were not warriors — must also come ready with strength. Paya lacked that still, but Impa had faith that something or someone would help her find it.

Taking a sip of the tea — too sweet, as she had known — Impa once again closed her eyes. She heard her granddaughter exit by the front door, no doubt seeking something frivolous to do so as to take her mind off the seriousness of their brief conversation. Impa, however, mentally returned to the even more serious discourse with her soul.

She could feel the enemy gathering. A scout had confirmed her premonitions the previous week, returning with word of bokoblins massing in the Ash Swamp to the south. A blow, that, she thought. If trade between Kakariko village and Dueling Peaks Stable was cut off, there was little chance the Sheikah could sustain what little profit they had maintained since The Great Calamity. No other trader — or traveler for that matter — had taken the winding path between the Pillars of Levia and Bonooru’s Stand in one hundred years, not even those from the still-intact Hateno Village. The Sheikah portrayed a secluded life for a reason, but no interaction at all with the outside world destroyed the very reason for which they existed.

Still, Impa mused, one force always rose to meet its opposite. If evil was indeed returning, good would appear to oppose it. It was on this she waited, hoping that these new bubbles of pestilence preceded their necessary cure.

And then, as Hylia so often arranged, fate revealed itself in the moment of Impa’s search for it. Her aged and wrinkled eyes snapped open as she heard two pairs of feet race up the long, wooden track of stairs sloping upwards to her hut. It must be important, she thought, for them to make noise on foot like this. The Sheikah were a quiet people in general, but scouts were next to shadows when it came to silence.

The door burst open, revealing two white-haired males clad in the traditional Sheikah leggings and eye-painted tunics. The slippers on their feet and balaclavas over their mouths normally guaranteed stealth, but that had been cast aside in favor of haste, it seemed. Still, their news was not apocalyptic. The niceties could and would be observed.

“May Hylia bless you, Little Brothers,” Impa intoned, but not unkindly. “You are welcome here.”

Halted and momentarily embarrassed, the pair bowed, forming a perfect right angle with their bodies as they returned the traditional greeting.

“May Hylia bless you, Lady Impa,” they said as one. “We thank you for welcoming us here.”

Order restored, the two Sheikah straightened and stared straight ahead as was proper, waiting for their hostess to grant them the opportunity that was hers to give.

“I am unable to entertain you with food or drink at the moment, but you may share news if you have it,” Impa said graciously.

The older of the two stepped forward, his curved straw hat barely concealing a still healthy amount of white hair. Sheikah rarely went bald, a fine quality for both sexes.

“I kept watch near the Peak of Awakening, Lady Impa,” he said in strong, quiet voice. Impa briefly thought it a pity that Steen was too old for her granddaughter. “For one fortnight, I saw no one approach from Hateno Village, but several bands of bokoblins and a fair scattering of moblins came from the east and settled in the woods between Ovli Plain and the village.”

Impa nodded, though she was somewhat surprised to hear that moblins were already gathering in numbers. Larger and far stronger than their bokoblin cousins, moblins were more likely to attack a village if they thought their numbers sufficient. Scouts would have to return and provide aid. Hateno Village, like so many Hylian communities since The Calamity, lacked warriors to defend it.

Impa knew, however, that Steen had yet to divulge his most important piece of information. She nodded at him to continue.

“The day before I planned to leave, I heard and felt the ground shake. It seemed to come from the south. I looked and saw, across the Fir River, Marblod Plain trembling as though Hylia herself was stirring it. Then, from its tallest point, a tower rose from the ground. It stands higher than even Meda Mountain. I left immediately to give you word, Lady Impa,” he concluded with another perfect bow.

“Was the tower blue or orange?” Impa asked.

Steen gave a start, clearly surprised that Impa had known to ask about such a finite detail.

“It… it was orange, Lady Impa. An orange light shone from its length and peak,” Steen stammered.

Again, Impa nodded. As expected. The towers would only glow blue when activated, and she would have been shocked had Hateno’s been the first. No, whatever change had begun, it had not originated there.

“Thank you, Little Brother,” Impa said warmly. “Your news is as welcome as yourself. Please stay until I am well with your parting.”

Steen nodded and straightened himself, once again looking straight ahead. A pity indeed, Impa thought ruefully before turning to the younger scout.

“What news do you bring, Olkin?”

He was in the prime of life, Olkin, but married and thus unavailable for Paya’s affections. Impa made a mental note to ask Hylia to bless her people with more children.

“I camped on the Sahasra Slope for a fortnight as was my duty, Lady Impa,” Olkin reported. “Lizalfos fester within the Lanayru Wetlands to the north and Nabi Lake to the east. At this rate, the Wetland Stable will be surrounded and cut off from goods and travelers.”

Impa shook her head. Unlike Hateno Village to the far east, that stable stood in the very shadow of Hyrule Castle. Granted, the Hylians that had built it had not witnessed The Calamity as she had, but they should have known better. Still, she could not leave them to the fate they were sorely tempting.

“Tell the next scout to take a companion with him and that both should arm themselves well. They must keep the path south of the stable clear, all the way to the Riverside Stable, if necessary.” That stable wasn’t built quite as close to the castle as its Wetlands brother, but being on the castle side of the river compromised what shred of common sense remained them. Hylians really were fools at times.

“It will be done, Lady Impa,” Olkin replied with a bow. Then he straightened and continued after another patient nod from the ancient woman. “One day before I planned to leave, I, too, heard and felt a rumbling from the ground. This came from the northeast, where I saw a tower exactly as Steen described rise just beyond Boné Pond. It… it was also orange, Lady Impa,” he added hesitantly.

Impa smiled and nodded, showing that he had done well to include this apparently relevant detail. Yes, that one would remain inactive for the time being as well. She closed her eyes as she formed her next course of action, noting with satisfaction the silence that emitted from her patient pair.

She must be careful. With the growing threat outside, Kakariko Village might start seeing more visitors than it was prepared to host. They could hardly turn away refugees if it came to that, but the safety of the village — its people and purpose — must be kept safe until its next role was played out.

Impa’s dark brown eyes opened, though Steen and Olkin continued to stare straight ahead. Only when she addressed them again would they meet her gaze.

“I thank you and Hylia for the news you have brought me this day,” Impa said, and she meant it. Her century-long wait was about to end. Now, finally, she could act again. “You will relay these instructions to our people: no one is permitted to enter the village save one who carries a Sheikah Slate. All others are to be treated as Yiga. They may be attended to outside the village, but none are to set foot inside the gates of welcome.”

The pair’s eyes widened, but they did not interrupt. Once again, Impa mentally thanked Hylia for the sense of her people.

“When the one carrying the Sheikah Slate arrives, he is to be escorted to me with every kindness.” That last was important. Hylia alone knew how the boy would react to the remotest hint of unwelcome. Impa would not see bloodshed when it was so avoidable and unnecessary. “You will relay this to everyone in the village, even the children.”

Again, the slightest sign of surprise from her scouts, but they nodded, a sign that they were ready to obey further instructions should she have them. She did.

“You will ask Claree to craft a new set of Sheikah garments. They will be made to the specifications I shall deliver through my granddaughter on the morrow.” Sheikah garments were rare. Only scouts and warriors wore them, and they were always received in ceremony. No current Sheikah was approaching his or her Day of Anointing, meaning that these were being made for the stranger with the Sheikah Slate. Surely he had to be Sheikah?

No, Impa thought with an inward smile. No he is not.

“Finally, you will retrieve a chest that resides in the cellar below my abode. You will bring it here and set it beside where I sit now. You will leave it there, as locked as when you find it.

“I thank you and Hylia for the help you give me,” Impa finished with warm finality. “I am now well with your parting.”

One last, perfect bow from the Sheikah men and they were gone, swiftly setting about the tasks assigned to them. They were a credit to her people. Impa hoped they lived long enough to know that before the end.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 5: QUESTIONS & ANSWERS


(Art by Razzle Dazzle, Tumblr)
The short sword on Link’s back jostled wildly as he leaped from step to step down the tower’s length. Anyone less limber would have had to descend at a much slower pace, using the narrow crevices that honeycombed the bronze-like metal sheathing the entire structure.

Link, however, took one-legged jumps from one small platform to the next, his eyes fixed on the distant and now-shrouded palace whenever it came into view. The sound of that familiar-yet-mysterious voice calling him, along with seeing the golden light swallowed by that fog of evil, compelled him to act as nothing else could. He needed to reach the voice, to protect it, to free it from the clutches of the monstrosity that threatened to drown it.

Link hit the ground at a roll, from which he rose ready to sprint north. He had just readjusted his belongings in order to do so when a different voice halted his headlong charge.

“Ho there, young one!”

And there, descending from the sky like some ill-proportioned bird, was the old man. His arrival, Link realized, was made possible by the curious contraption held fast by his upraised arms. It was comprised of wood and cloth, two pieces of the former holding a stretched-out portion of the latter between it. The result was some kind of man-made wing that kept the old man somewhere comfortably between flying and falling.

The absurdity of it all temporarily cooled Link’s white-hot rage, and the old man didn’t hesitate to take advantage upon landing.

“My, my…” he mused, looking up from the young man to the tower’s great height. “It would seem we have quite the enigma, here.”

Eager to be off, Link merely shrugged, already half-turning to begin his journey north. “I don’t know how it got here,” he said truthfully, if absent-mindedly. He was not sure he felt comfortable disclosing the secrets of the Sheikah Slate just yet. Besides, he needed to go. The voice -- her voice -- was waiting.

“I am sure you saw,” the old man said loudly enough to momentarily arrest Link’s attention, “other towers like this one erupt across the land. It is almost as though,” he added, with a swift and unmistakable glance at the slate hooked onto Link‘s belt, “they are linked, all awoken as one.”

He knows, Link thought, which led him to wonder what else the old man knew. And, at this point, was there anything to be gained from not telling him the truth? Looking at him, however, Link couldn’t help but feel another surge of trust. Those amber eyes were filled with knowledge, his very presence radiating a calm he had not felt himself since awakening.

“This,” Link said, pointing to the slate on his belt, “activated the tower. I don’t know how it did or why I have it, but it has guided me thus far.” Link did not add that he had been asleep for one hundred years. One incredible fact at a time.

“If you do not mind me asking,” the old man began, and he seemed truly uncertain as to whether he should voice the question at all. “Did anything… odd occur while you were atop that tower?”

“Surely you saw that thing around the castle…” Link began.

“I could hardly have missed it,” the old man interrupted wryly. “Nor would anyone within eyesight of the place. Was that all that happened, then?”

Link’s mind raced. The old man had already addressed the towers, as well as his slate. That only left...

“I… I heard a voice,” Link admitted. It seemed there was no point in keeping anything from this omniscient old man. But if he already knew the answers, Link suddenly and angrily wondered, why was he bothering to ask the questions?

“Well now, a voice you say?” the old man mused. “And did you happen to recognize it?”

Link was nonplussed. Could this vagabond know the identity of the girl that not only spoke to his mind, but also hinted at who he truly was?

Link’s bright blue eyes met that all-knowing gaze of amber.

“I… I recognized it, but I don’t remember who she is,” he said, again truthfully. Admitting his lack of memory was both relieving and heartrending.

“I see,” the old man said, and his voice matched the pity in his eyes. “Well, that is unfortunate.”

Unfortunate? Link’s anger returned as quickly as it had gone. Though he could defend his life, he could remember it less than a toddling babe, who at least recognizes its name and the people most important to it. If the old man knew who he was, then why was he so backward in coming forward?

And again, before Link could give voice to his emotion, the old man timely interrupted his raging river of thought.

“I must ask you,” he said, again with that searching gaze, “do you intend to make your way to the castle?”

Link recalled why he had raced to the bottom of the tower so quickly in the first place, and he turned to face the now shrouded palace. Looking to the spire where the golden light had winked out, he felt his rage cool and solidify into resolve.

“I do,” he said while still gazing north. “I do not know why, but there lies my journey’s end.”

“I felt you would say as much.”

Link turned at the old man’s response and found within those knowing eyes something different from the casual friendliness or searching expression he had seen before. Instead, above that great white beard and large nose, he saw purpose, which hardened as that gaze shifted from Link to the fortress visible over his shoulder.

“This plateau is completely isolated,” the old man began before his eyes returned to meet Link’s. “We are surrounded on all sides by cliffs made steeper by the ancient walls built to protect this place.

“The temple you saw earlier,” the old man added, noting Link’s questioning look, ”was once the most sacred place in Hyrule. Only those permitted by the Goddess Hylia and her appointed servants were allowed to enter. The plateau walls once ensured the hallowed nature of the temple remained intact.”

Link nodded, though part of his attention had turned inward. The Goddess Hylia. That name brushed another long-dormant corner of his memory, like fingers only just removed from the back of his neck.

“There is no way down,” the old man continued. “If you were to descend as you are now, well… no death could be more certain.”

“Is my journey over before it is even begun, then?” Link asked helplessly. The swirling evil around the castle seemed to mock him, now.

“Never fear, young one,” the old man exclaimed kindly. “With a paraglider like mine, you can leave the plateau easily enough.”

Relief surged into doubt’s place, and Link looked eagerly at the bundle of wood and cloth the old man had set down upon landing.

“Worry not. I will happily agree to give you my paraglider,” the old man reassured him before adding, “but not for nothing.”

Link had started toward the “paraglider,” but he came up short to look at the old man. He had not expected this. In their brief interactions thus far, the old man had been nothing but forthcoming in giving aid. Why would he require a form of payment now?

“I have nothing save a fallen foe’s blade and a morsel of food,” Link confessed sadly, “which is more than I possessed when we first met, sir.”

“I have no interest in Bokoblin weapons or rations,” the old man said cheerfully. “No, what holds my interest has yet to be obtained, and that will be my fee. Service in exchange for the paraglider.”

Fair enough, Link thought. “What did you have in mind?” he asked, wondering what sort of service an old man spry enough to fly a paraglider would need.

The old man turned to face southward, and Link’s gaze followed his raised and pointed arm.

“Do you see that structure there?” he asked. “The one shining with a strange light?”

And sure enough, at the top of a snow-capped mountain dominating the plateau, Link noticed a small mound that shone with the same orange light emitting from the newly risen towers. Link could not see much else to it, but nodded to show he had seen it.

“It began glowing at the exact moment those towers rose up from the ground,” the old man explained conversationally, though Link thought his gaze again flickered toward the slate hanging from his belt. “I would think such a place might house some sort of treasure, wouldn’t you? Treasure for the paraglider. A fair exchange, I believe.”

“How can you be certain that treasure lies within that place?” Link asked warily.

“Call it an old man’s intuition,” came the chuckled reply. Link saw the amber eyes twinkle merrily. “I will make the journey with you since you are new to this place. I ask only that you retrieve what is within when we arrive. What say you?”

What could he say? Link looked over his shoulder at the castle once more, searching for the pinpoint of light that had beckoned his attention — and memory — from the top of the tower.

“Very well, sir,” he said, then turned to face the old man. “Treasure for this paraglider of yours. It is agreed.”

***

The old man had assured Link that the journey to the mountain’s summit would take no more than a day’s walk. The snowy peak stood on the northern side of the plateau, by far the highest point in the area. Link would have preferred to hasten, but the old man interrupted their trek every so often to educate his young companion.

There was nothing, it seemed, the white-bearded one did not know. Before the land began to rise toward their destination, they had sidetracked into the fringe of the Forest of Spirits — Link had briefly consulted his slate, which now labeled everything within the newly revealed region on his map. There, the old man had retrieved a bow hidden beneath the half-exposed roots of a great hornbeam tree. He had allowed Link to get the feel for the hunter’s weapon and, as he had with the stick and sword, Link surprised himself with his own familiarity in its use. It took him only three tries to down the wild boar on which they now feasted by a low fire as night drew its long cloak over the sky.

They had camped, Link noted, halfway up a narrow rise between the Temple of Time and what the old man — and the Sheikah Slate — dubbed “Mount Hylia.” The air had grown noticeably cooler, prompting the old man to provide a thick doublet that (Link wondered at this, too) fit the younger traveler perfectly. Their camp lay situated in a small cluster of trees not far from where they had first met, well within view of the ruined temple.

The pair had already eaten their fill and, bellies full, settled against trees on opposite sides of the fire. The old man revealed a well-used wooden pipe from his supplies, which he puffed contentedly. Link lifted his blue-eyed gaze from the flames to his new companion.

“What kind of treasure are you hoping to find?” he asked with sincere curiosity.

Three prolonged puffs rose from the bowl of the old man’s pipe before he deigned to answer.

“That place,” he said with his eyes still on the fire, “was built by an ancient people called the Sheikah. Have you heard of them?”

“Only in reference to this,” Link replied, again pointing to the slate at his hip. “The voice told me it was called a Sheikah Slate, but why or what that means, I do not know.”

The old man nodded, then gestured with his pipe toward the slate.

“Legends say the Sheikah are Hylia’s servants, appointed as representatives of the Goddess to serve all of Hyrule’s people. It is they,” he added with a nod towards the still-glowing tower they had left that day, “who built those towers and the shrine to which we journey.”

Link let his eyes fall back to the fire, allowing his physical gaze to relax while his mind searched for anything familiar in the old man’s tale. “Sheikah” meant something, but, like the girl’s voice and the name of this goddess, he did not know how or why it would resonate with him.

“A shrine?” Link asked suddenly. “How do you know that is what it is? And if it is a shrine, why would treasure lie within?”

“I tell you what the legends have told me,” the old man chuckled. “The Sheikah’s ways were ever mysterious, but their work is recognizable to those who know what to look for. The symbol on the top of the shrine matches that of the thing you carry at your waist.”

Link frowned and looked down, seeing the tear-drop eye symbol of the slate staring back up at him. Once again, he felt that the old man knew more than he was letting on.

“So the… Sheikah… made this, then?” Link asked, lifting the slate from its belt hooks.

The old man gazed at the slate now laying in Link’s hands and shrugged.

“I would be shocked if they hadn’t,” he said. “Many legends vary, but that symbol has always been tied to the Sheikah. Their great power and knowledge saved this kingdom from peril time and time again in ages past.”

“You say legends,” Link said while fingering the slate in his hands. “Do the Sheikah no longer exist?”

Again, the old man delayed in answering, the smoke from his pipe emphasizing his silence.

“The Sheikah were legends because they wished to be so,” he said finally. “Their service was ever done in secret, devoid of desire for praise, prize or recognition.

“This was not solely out of humility mind you,” the old man added with a wry smile. “The Sheikah were, as I said, appointed servants of the Goddess Hylia. Their secret technologies were deemed sacred, and they guarded this knowledge as avidly as a mother bear protects her cub. Entire generations lived and died without knowing the Sheikah, though they were alive and well, still serving Hylia in their own way.”

Link gazed at the slate, which up to this point had shown him where he was and, briefly, where he must go. It offered none of the latter information at this point. The map, for the time being, was just a map, and still a largely incomplete one at that. There was no doubt, however, that it was an example of the “secret technologies” the old man had described.

“So what was their purpose, then?” Link pursued. “Why were the Sheikah entrusted with an entire nation? What creates the need for that kind of duty?”

This was the longest interval yet between question and answer, and Link wondered what knowledge the old man was hesitant to share. Whatever he says, these are more than tales told over the fire, he thought.

The old man ultimately exhaled a great cloud of smoke, then pointed across the fire to the north, toward the distant fortress. The red-black cloud, dully visible even at night, still swirled around its lower levels,.

“That,” he said coldly. “Calamity Ganon.”

A brief but violent flash of red flared in Link’s mind, and once again he felt the urge to tear something apart. Calamity Ganon. He struggled to remain aware of his surroundings, to tame whatever it was that raged inside him. He blinked and tried to focus on the old man, who was continuing his tale.

“One hundred years ago, that vile entity brought the kingdom of Hyrule to ruin.” For the first time, Link sensed bitterness from the old man’s voice. “It appeared suddenly and destroyed everything in its path. Countless innocent lives were swallowed up in its wake.”

Link’s eyes did not betray him. The old man’s eyes were gleaming with unshed tears. But why? he wondered. If the tragedy he described occurred a century ago, the old man would not have been alive to witness the catastrophe he described. Suddenly, however, a different question snared his mind’s attention.

“What stopped it, the Calamity?” Link asked, leaning forward.

Another drawn-out silence, another cloud of smoke.

“That, my boy,” he said with a sad smile of what Link almost took for pity, “is a tale for another day. You take the first watch. These old bones of mine need all the rest they can get before we set out again on the morrow.”

Link nodded without responding, watching the old man settle down to sleep. Then Link stood, stretching to restore blood flow to stiff limbs, and picked up the bow and quiver before beginning a slow circuit around the camp.

The old man’s tale was certainly compelling. Link did not doubt its truthfulness, only its completeness. It seemed as though he had not intended to bring up this Calamity Ganon at all, that he had only done so to satisfy the bare minimum of Link’s curiosity.

As his circuit took him to the northern side of the camp, Link found himself staring once again at the distant castle still half-shrouded in the residue of the evil. He supposed he should be grateful for everything the old man had told him already, but he could not help feeling his answers had only produced more questions. What exactly was this Calamity? What had contained it, if not necessarily conquered it? And why did its mere mention affect him so?

Link shook his head, willing himself to pay attention to his watch. The old man had said bokoblins -- the pig-like creatures he had battled earlier -- roamed the plateau in small packs. They had already come across one of their abandoned camps while hunting in the forest. Link’s nose wrinkled at the memory of the stench, and his grip tightened on the bow he now held half-drawn and ready to loose at the drop of a hand.

A story for another day.” Link would complete this night’s watch with every attention to detail -- details, he ruefully acknowledged, remembered by unconscious instinct -- but he was eager to hear the answers the morrow would bring.

***

The old man was careful to remain lying still even as his mind raced. He had known the boy would remember little before his time in the Chamber of Resurrection, had anticipated such a setback well before Link had plucked up the courage to approach his camp on the hillside. He was shocked, however, to find the boy bereft of all but his most instinctual knowledge. This was unforeseen. The question now was whether it mattered.

He hoped not. The old man had witnessed Link’s brief skirmish with the bokoblins. He smiled at that. It was brief because the boy had made it so, with all the skill and ease one could hope to see after his memory-crippling sleep. That much should, he hoped, be enough to see him through the morrow.

The old man frowned to himself. He could prepare the boy more if he wished. He knew -- by second-hand knowledge, at least -- what lay in wait in the shrine. But that, he had been instructed, would defeat much of the shrine’s purpose. No, better that the boy earn whatever stripes come his way.

Unnaturally quiet footsteps sounded nearby, then receded back into silence. Again, the old man grinned. Link remembered more than he knew, even if it wasn’t nearly enough.

***

Link’s eyes opened just as the rising sun began peeking over the crumbling walls of the Temple of Time. The early morning sky was a sequel of the previous day: blue with only the occasional cloud in sight. Looking around, he saw that the fire was not only doused but spread and covered. What few traces of their stay that remained were quickly being dispersed and hidden by the old man.

Link rose quietly, retrieving his sword and bow before realizing the latter was not his. The old man, however, had noticed and merely said with a chuckle, “You’re more than welcome to carry it, lad. I’ve enough to lug up the mountain without stringing a bow to my back!”

Link nodded gratefully. Shouldering the bow felt as natural and right as carrying a sword, and he was glad to be doing both. Looking toward their intended path helped Link understand the old man’s generosity. The steepest part of the climb remained, with snow and ice-covered boulders making the journey even more daunting. His companion still carried the iron lantern and pole, his own haversack of rations and the paraglider.

Under the morning daylight, Link could see a small waterfall cascading from halfway up the mountain, feeding a modest river that appeared to run westward off the plateau.

“Will we need to cross that?” Link asked as he checked his belongings.

“No, thank Hylia,” the old man answered as he finished breaking camp. “There is a path around the left side of the water that will take us up the mountain. It’s a good climb, but the distance is agreeable. We should reach the shrine by noon.”

Link nodded and, once the old man was ready, accompanied him up the pass. Link was as grateful as the old man that a river crossing was not required. The rise of the land, combined with the pleateau’s additional height, had completely changed the climate on this portion of the plateau. Chunks of ice covered still recesses of water along both banks, while a thin fog hovered over the eddying currents in the middle.

“This,” the old man said after an hour’s worth of trudging up the path gave them a bird’s eye view of the river, “is called the River of the Dead. It is so named for those who fell fighting alongside the Goddess in a great battle against evil.”

“That took place many ages ago,” he added after seeing Link’s questioning look, “when Hyrule was young and man unlearned in the art of war. The Goddess sent man skyward for safety, remaining behind with the other races She had created to return the forces of darkness to whence they came. Though Hylia’s power was great and they were ultimately victorious, many of those with Her fell to the enemy’s sword. That waterfall and its river, legend says, are Hylia’s tears, forever weeping from Her mountain as a memory and tribute to those who died fighting at Her side.”

The old man stopped to take advantage of a flattening in the path, where he found a small rock on which to sit and gather his breath. Link looked at him, wondering at the richness in detail of this story compared to the halting and reluctant tale shared the night before. Well, he thought, I might as well see where this leads.

“Other races?” Link asked. “What do you mean?”

The old man paused just as he was about to take a draught from his waterskin, then got on with the task before replying. Link waited patiently. This wasn’t, he realized, the first time his lack of memory had played a part in what the old man chose to divulge. He did, however, reply after finishing his drink and wiping away water droplets that had escaped to the white ocean of his great beard.

“Hyrule is not home to only humans and monsters,” the old man continued. “I said yesterday that the Sheikah watched over all its peoples, and that includes other races as well. There have been many over the ages and many more will likely rise and fall before this world ends, but those who have dwelt here the longest are still living. Among them: the Zora, the Gorons, the Rito and the Gerudo.”

Link savored each name in an effort to unearth anything familiar, but nothing came to him. Still hopeful this line of conversation would yield something useful, he pursued the subject.

“Have they always been allies of Hylia, those races?” Link asked.

The old man, sufficiently rested, rose from his stone seat and set off once more up the snow-covered path, his breath nearly matching his beard for whiteness. Link’s own exhaling created a steady cloud of mist in front of his face.

They had not walked long before the old man answered his question.

“For the most part, yes. The Zora have always been faithful to Hylia and the Hyrulean royal family. River trade strengthens that relationship -- they are a water people, you see,” he added at another questioning glance from Link. “They look as much like fish as they do like Hylians, but their honor in dealings with others is unmatched. Make a friend with a Zora, and you will have the loyalty of not only him, but his family -- or ‘pod’ -- behind you.”

“The others are not this way?” Link asked while wondering how someone could look as much like a fish as a human.

“The Rito are more fierce than loyal, at least toward outsiders,” the old man continued with a slight smile. “They are to air what Zora are to water. They resemble birds, and fly better than most of them. To earn the friendship of a Rito, one must, as they say, “fly with them.” That is, one must risk his life or reputation for another Rito in order to earn his trust.”

Link nodded. Fish and bird people. The old man had already shared too much useful information to be making sport of him now, but this still strained credulity. At least it did, until Link remembered the pig-faced bokoblins he had killed less than a day ago.

“If the sky and sea are spoken for, then, what do the other races claim?” Link asked with true curiosity.

“The Gerudo claim a different ocean of sorts. They dwell in the great desert, and they are the only people -- aside from animals and beasts native to the area -- who can do more than survive in that sun-scorched place. It sounds unappealing,” the old man admitted at Link’s quizzical expression, “but they are as comfortable on the sands as we are on grass. More importantly, their great craftsmanship draws trade from other races.”

“What do they make?” Link queried before drinking from his own waterskin as they walked.

“Almost anything, and all of it of high quality,” the old man replied. “Swords, shields, jewelry, all adorned with gemstones of the highest grade. They know the worth of their work, however, so their prices are steep -- and worth it judging by the number of travelers who brave the desert to purchase their wares.”

Link nodded, thinking a Gerudo sword would be preferable to the plain short blade he currently carried. “And the last?” he asked expectantly.

“The Gorons,” the old man replied, and this time his smile was fond. “They dwell on the volcano to the northeast, which you have no doubt already seen.” He did not wait to see Link’s confirming nod. “A friendlier and more loyal people you will never find, though meeting one is challenge enough. Only a Goron can withstand the heat from Death Mountain, so their interactions with Hylians usually occur while traveling elsewhere.”

“All of these races,” the old man concluded as the path wound around the southern side of Mount Hylia, “fought alongside the Goddess when they were needed most.”

Link decided this was a perfect segué into broaching the subject of the previous night.

“Did they also fight Calamity Ganon a century ago?” he asked as casually as he could.

Link was not surprised to see that the old man clearly was not fooled. The bearded face turned sharply toward him, the amber eyes narrowed as though wondering whether the young man’s query was truly devoid of the information it was asking. Link kept his pace at the same speed, returning his companion’s gaze with a level one of his own. What is it he doesn’t want to tell me? Link wondered for what felt like the umpteenth time. Finally, with their path still spiraling in tighter circles up the mountain, the old man answered.

“All of Hyrule rose in an effort to stop Calamity Ganon’s onslaught,” he said slowly. “Bands of warriors arrived from all four corners of the land, united in purpose even though they could not know what they faced. All that came, met their doom.”

“But what is it, exactly?” Link pursued. “What is Calamity Ganon?”

The old man, slightly ahead of Link on the narrow and snow-covered path, turned and smiled before ending the discussion.

“That, my boy,” he said, his eyes twinkling under the hood of his cloak, “I will tell you after you return from the shrine. We are here.”
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 6: THE SHRINE

39475


Immersed as he was in the conversation with the old man, Link was surprised to see they had already reached the summit of Mount Hylia. The icy breeze was the only distraction from the majestic view of the plateau and the lands beyond.

The shrine stood in the middle of the flat-topped peak, and Link realized with sudden discomfort that it looked like a larger version of the rusted metal monster he had seen half-submerged near the tower, though this relic did not bear clawed arms of metal. Like that creation and the chamber where Link had awoken, the shrine’s metal surface was adorned with Sheikah-carved whorls. The curious patterns emitted a visible orange glow despite the noonday sun.

At close quarters, Link could now see there was more to the structure then he had first noted from the plateau below. A doorway identical to those in the Chamber of Resurrection marked the front of the shrine. It was sealed, however, with the door’s horizontal divisions interlocked with nary a flaw or gap to be found between them. A curved metal step extended a fair distance from the doorway. At its center was an inlaid circle of bronze patterns emitting orange light, and between that and the doorway: a squat pedestal bearing the Sheikah eye sigil. Link was sure that if he held his slate to it as he had with the latter pedestal in the Chamber of Resurrection, the doorway would open.

“Magnificent, isn’t it?” the old man chuckled.

The question startled Link. So fascinated was he with the shrine’s similarities to the other Sheikah structures that he had temporarily forgotten the old man was there.

“Why did the Sheikah build this?” Link asked while slowly circling the shrine. “Surely not to hide away something as petty as treasure?”

“Oh no?” the old man replied with an amused tone. “How is it you know so much of what a Sheikah shrine contains?”

Link did not answer immediately. He did not think the old man would mock the tale of his awakening, but sharing it would raise more questions than he was able to answer.

“Fair enough, sir,” Link replied with a quiet smile of his own. “Are you ready to find your treasure, or would you prefer to rest those old bones of yours?”

“Oho ho!” the old man bellowed with good humor. “Do not underestimate your elders, young man! They may yet surprise you. But as for this task, I believe we are at a misunderstanding. If you still require my paraglider, it is you alone who must earn it.”

“You are familiar with these things, or at least the legends of them,” Link protested. “At least accompany me with your knowledge, and I shall be more than willing to perform whatever labor is necessary to retrieve your prize.”

The old man shook his head while he began preparing the makings for another fire. Even at midday, the air at Mount Hylia’s summit carried a chill sharp enough to pierce cloak and gloves.

“It is you alone who must do this, Link,” he said intently without looking at him.

Link whipped around to face the old man who seemed to know everything -- including a name never spoken nor shared.

“How do you know my name?” Link demanded. “Do you know who I am? How did I come to be here? Tell me, please!”

Again, the old man shook his head, but this time he met Link’s desperate gaze with amber eyes full of compassion.

“You will know soon enough, Link,” he said, quietly but with enough force to quell the possibility of changing his mind. “Enter the shrine. Bring back what you find and I shall tell you all.”

With that, the old man went back to preparing the fire. Link stood and stared a moment longer. He could refuse. He could demand answers, make it clear he would go no further until his curiosity was satisfied to the fullest.

Looking at the old man, however, he was forced to admit such rash actions seemed unwarranted. He had been assured he would be told “all” after returning from the shrine. He did not doubt the promise, only his own patience.

What is another hour or two, Link thought humorlessly, after one hundred years?

Without another word, Link turned and faced the shrine. As soon as Link raised the Sheikah Slate to the pedestal, it flared blue, and the doorway separated into its rectangular pieces, each of them retreating into the sides of the arched frame. The inlaid circle on the step behind him also changed from orange to bright blue.

Link saw another bronzed circle on the floor just inside the doorway, a blue-glowing Sheikah eye at its center. He stepped onto it, and with a shudder it broke away from the rest of the floor and descended into the core of the mountain.

* * *

The sigil-adorned platform descended in a pillar of blue light, the source of which Link could not identify. Despite dropping ever deeper into the mountain, Link felt the air warm rather than cool, until it was all but aligned with his own body temperature. His hand strayed unconsciously to the hilt of the sword over his shoulder to grip it reassuringly.

Finally, the platform reached its destination, where the narrow well opened into an enormous cave that water and time never formed. Taking it all in was difficult. The walls of the shrine rose high before meeting a vast ceiling that emanated blue light. Link noted the same Sheikah craftsmanship that marked the Chamber of Resurrection, though on a much larger scale. Bronze constellations with orange glowing points adorned walls of the smoothest metal. Wide beams of flawless stone cross-crossed the ceilings at random. Smaller walls of the same dark stone divided the shrine into smaller rooms and hallways, with one of the latter beginning directly in front of where Link stood.

It was the object to the left of the hallway that seized Link’s interest. He had seen it before atop the tower: a man-made stalactite, its blunt point hovering just above a squat pedestal. Link saw at once that, like its counterpart at the tower, the pedestal sported a rectangular hollow in its center that was sized perfectly to hold his Sheikah Slate.

Link was on the verge of stepping toward it when a voice sounded from everywhere and nowhere in the chamber.

To you who sets foot in this shrine, I am Oman Au. In the name of the Goddess Hylia, I offer this trial.

The voice sounded old, like a man at the edge of long-lived life save that it did not lack for volume. Its tone did not threaten, but the mention of a “trial” was enough to send Link’s hand back to the hilt of his sword, ready to unsheathe it should something appear.

Nothing did. The eerie blue and orange lights continued to cast their pale glow. Other than that, no sign of life revealed itself.

Slowly releasing his sword, Link realized this “trial” would not commence until he initiated it himself. Hoping the old man’s treasure was worth whatever he was about to face, Link walked forward and placed the Sheikah Slate into the pedestal. Just as it had on the tower, the pedestal accepted the slate and rotated it until the smooth surface faced upward.

Sheikah Slate authenticated. Distilling runes.

It was the lifeless, monotonous voice Link had heard upon activating the tower. The glowing constellation around the slate flared blue light, and blue-glowing symbols began flowing down the pillar. As inexplicably as they had on the tower, the symbols coalesced into a tangible tear of blue liquid, which dropped and splashed onto the smooth surface of the slate.

Four small, empty squares appeared on the slate’s face, aligned along the right side of the map. Each contained different symbols within them: a sideways ‘U,’ a circle, a lock, and a snowflake.

Task complete, the pedestal proffered the slate back to Link, who took it no wiser as to what had just happened. No other instructions were shown or spoken, leaving him no choice but to follow the narrow hallway into the depths of the shrine.

Link drew his sword this time, unwilling to allow the element of surprise to whatever “trial” awaited him. The end of the hallway, however, did not reveal any foe. It was just another large room, its two side walls made of the same flawless metal. The opposite wall of the room, however, was made of several large squares of stone wedged tight. In the middle of the room rested a large sphere of iron.

Sheathing his blade, Link wandered around the sphere and to the far wall. There was no pedestal to indicate an unopened door, nor did a mysterious voice offer further instruction. What manner of trial was this?

Link paused his pacing and racked his brain. His experience with other Sheikah structures had revolved around the use of his slate. The Chamber of Resurrection had released him from sleep. The tower had shown him his location. The shrine?

Link removed the slate from its belt hooks and brought it within view. The smooth surface immediately displayed the map, his yellow arrow glowing on the top of Mount Hylia. The “runes” were also there. Recalling how certain objects on the map had reacted to his touch, he poked a finger at the U-shaped rune.

The rune flashed blue, and words appeared below the map:

Magnesis: manipulate metallic objects

Link frowned. It couldn’t mean what…

His eyes widened with understanding. He looked up and ran over to the iron sphere. One rap of the knuckles revealed what he had hoped: the thing was solid throughout. His idea should work. But how to go about it?

A quick look at the slate showed the Magnesis rune still glowed blue. Unsure what would happen, he held the Sheikah Slate up toward the sphere, and pressed the rune again with his thumb.

A rope of red light shot forth from the slate and struck the sphere. Link could feel the weight of it on the other end, knew he was now connected to it through the power of the rune. Trusting that feeling, he raised the slate higher, and was rewarded with the sight of the metal orb also rising effortlessly into the air.

So that was it. The runes were the key to unlocking this trial. Elated with his discovery and awed by the slate’s power, Link moved forward until he was close enough to the stone-blocked wall. Swinging the slate and sphere like some enormous mace and chain, Link smashed a large portion of the wall out of the way. Beyond it lay another hallway.

The passage was too narrow to bring the sphere with him. Another tap of the Magnesis rune deactivated it, leaving the metal orb to fall with a thud onto the floor before he moved on.

This hallway also opened into another room which, like its predecessor, sported a wall of tightly packed stone blocks. There was no sphere, here, however, and Link was forced again to consult the Sheikah Slate for answers.

The magnesis rune was the top-most to appear on the slate, and that had been the first rune needed. Hoping he was correct, Link pressed the second, which was a simple circle. Words appeared.

Bomb: Damage or destroy objects

Link understood the concept now, even if he was not sure how this specific rune would respond. Raising and pointing the slate toward the far wall, he pressed the rune. He nearly jumped, however, when a bright blue sphere appeared in his right hand.

He held it up to better examine it. It seemed made entirely of blue light, but it was smooth and solid to the touch and fit perfectly in his hand. A different light in his left hand caught his attention. The Bomb rune on the slate, rather than remaining solid blue, was flashing.

Reading the rune’s description once more, Link decided to back up to the wall with the hallway he had just exited. Then he turned and threw the sphere at the far stone wall. It hit the floor without making a sound, but nothing else of interest occurred. Wondering whether he had run into a dead end, Link half-consciously pressed the rune to ensure it was working correctly.

The blue sphere exploded, showering the room in debris and dust. Link was grateful he had placed himself on the other side of the chamber, as shards of stone ricocheted off the metal walls with great speed. After a short coughing spell, Link looked up and saw the far wall now sported a gaping hole through which he could climb.

“The old man will owe me more than a paraglider and a story after this,” Link murmured wryly as he shook his head to rid himself of the bomb’s sound and dust.

The subsequent chamber was far larger than the previous. Unlike its predecessors, the far hallway was clearly visible, save that a continuous line of large stone spheres rolled unceasingly across the front of the entrance. Link could not fathom where the boulders came from nor where their narrow track took them after disappearing into a tunnel through the other wall, but he knew he could not chance running between them without being crushed.

He consulted his slate once again, this time selecting the rune shaped like a basic padlock. Words once again appeared below the map.

Stasis: Stop an object’s flow in time

Stop time? It sounded like something from a child’s fantasy. Link was dubious, but the Sheikah technology had not failed him yet. Holding up the slate once again, he pointed it toward the tunnel from which the stones entered the room and pressed the rune.

A flash of golden light emitted from the slate, striking a boulder just as it emerged. It stopped in place, and the spheres behind it began stacking up, their weight and momentum completely failing to budge their halted leader. Link was momentarily flabbergasted. This power stretched the imagination to breaking point, but here it was, happening in front of his own disbelieving eyes.

Then he saw the frozen sphere begin to flash with the same golden light with which it had been struck. It blinked faster and faster, and Link immediately realized the rune’s effect could only be temporary. He bounded through to the hallway just before the boulder sprang to life, speeding along its track once again with its fellows close behind. Catching his breath after the brief moment of panic, Link moved on to what he hoped was the final portion of the trial.

Another large chamber awaited him, but this one was covered with a thin sheet of water. Instead of a hallway, a raised platform stood on the other end. Its sides were made of the same flawless metal that covered the walls of the shrine, and no obvious stairs or handholds presented themselves as a path to the top. Link could see part of a blue-glowing something on top of the platform, which rose twice his height above the water-covered chamber.

He consulted the Sheikah Slate for a fourth time, and pressed his index finger on the final rune shaped like a perfect snowflake.

Cryonis: Create pillar of ice from liquid surface

Link thought this was by far the most detailed and understandable description of all the runes. It did not prevent him from marveling, however, upon seeing it function. Walking to the very front of the platform, he pointed the slate toward the floor directly beneath him and touched the final sigil.

A perfect square of ice appeared beneath his feet and began rising rapidly. It did not appear to use up any of the existing water in the chamber. The ice pillar merely sprang from it, emerging smoothly before stopping exactly level with the platform.

Wondering at the miracle of it all, Link stepped off the ice and onto the platform, only to halt upon seeing what awaited him. Encased in an enormous box of glowing blue light sat the remains of a man, long dead, on a dust-covered throne of bronze. The bones bore only a pendant around the neck, on which was engraved the Sheikah eye sigil Link had seen numerous times.

He approached slowly, wondering how long these human remains had been here. He briefly entertained the wild thought that this was some sort of trick, that the old man had lured him here so he, too, would live out his days in this underground tomb before suffering a slow, agonizing death.

Your resourcefulness speaks to the promise of a hero.

It was the old, paper-thin voice Link had heard upon first entering the shrine, but this time it seemed to emit directly from the dead Sheikah. It did not move. Even its face was stationary, making Link wonder if he had only imagined the voice and its origin. Then it spoke again.

May the Goddess smile upon you.

Blue light flared to Link’s right, and he saw a door in the wall open to reveal a circular platform identical to the one that had taken him down into this place. With a last glance at the box and its dead occupant — neither of which seemed to require any further attention — Link realized with a start that he had yet to find the treasure for which he had come in the first place. He knew none were to be found in the previous rooms, and he looked around eagerly, assuming it would await here, at the end of the trial.

Nothing presented itself. No chests or tables containing riches or valuables. No hidden door opened to reveal fiscal rewards. Link wondered if someone had indeed already been here, had perhaps used his or her own Sheikah Slate to obtain the riches within the shrine.

If they have, Link thought firmly, there is nothing I can do about it. At least I have the runes. Perhaps those can help me if the old man won’t.

Securing the Sheikah Slate onto his belt, Link walked to and stood on the platform. As it began to rise, he could not help wondering why such an unusual set of events were happening to someone who simply wanted to remember who he was.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 7: DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES

39492


Sunlight filled the shrine’s entryway, marking Link’s return to the surface of Mount Hylia. He had spent most of his ascent mentally mapping out arguments for why the old man should still hand over the paraglider despite his very obvious lack of the agreed-upon treasure. For a brief moment, however, he allowed himself to enjoy natural light again. Only now did he realize how draining the underground trial had been.

Once his eyes adjusted to the sunlight, Link took stock of his surroundings. The sun was setting, its gleam bright orange as it neared the reddish, flat-topped mountains to the west. It had taken him all afternoon to traverse the shrine, and a rumbling discontent from his stomach emphasized that length of time.

Link turned eagerly toward the campsite set a few paces away from the shrine, but no old man nor heavenly sight of slow-cooking food greeted him. The fire was doused and cold, though enough wood remained to kindle another. One haversack of supplies lay on the ground near the place he had last seen his mysterious companion.

Something fluttered under the corner of his supplies. Upon closer inspection, Link realized it was a piece of parchment. Removing it carefully lest the mountain wind snatch it away, Link read the message written upon it:

Link,

You have completed the trial of the shrine, as I knew you would. That is because I do know you, Link. I believe you are now ready to learn much of what you do not yet remember, including who you are. Meet me within the Temple of Time. I have left you enough supplies for the journey. Trust me when I say that the wait for the answers you seek will be worth it.

There was no name signed, but Link knew the words to be written by the old man. There was also no mention of treasure. Maybe he assumes I’ll have brought it with me, Link thought. He sincerely hoped not. The only thing he had obtained — the runes of the Sheikah Slate — were useful to him alone.

Wondering what answers would be worth another night’s wait, Link set about rekindling the fire and preparing a meal. He could only perform a rough imitation of the old man’s roasted boar from the previous night, but it was still enough to satisfy the hunger that gnawed at him after his journey through the shrine.

Link reflected as he ate, allowing the hot food and fire to combat the frigid breeze that eddied around the mountain. Perhaps the old man had only used treasure as an excuse for Link to enter the shrine? But if so, why? He had to have known the Sheikah Slate was the sole means to obtain entry. Then the shrine had enhanced the slate, giving it powers normally reserved for fairy tales or the imaginations of children.

What if the slate is the treasure, and its power is what he seeks?

This logic was alarming, and Link reached for the slate as if to ward off the thought. He took his hand away almost as soon as it arrived, however. Link could still visualize the old man’s face. Whether it was telling of those who died before Calamity Ganon’s onslaught or addressing him by name just before entering the shrine, he invited a trust that Link could not dismiss. True, he took his time divulging what Link wanted to know, but everything he had shared thus far had been timely and useful.

Continuing to wrestle with his own half-formed conclusions, Link eventually dozed off, with the soft crackle of the fire making the only noise atop Mount Hylia.

* * *

Link ran faster than he had ever run in his life. He had been running for so fast and so long that even the sword on his back, which had always felt a part of him, was digging painfully into his back. He could feel the long, angular end of the hilt jab into his shoulder blade again and again and again, rubbing raw the skin that could be seen through his torn and mud-spattered tunic. The rhythmic pain of the sword was matched by a similar fire searing his side, a stitch that jabbed as sharply as any blade.

Link did not care. They had to get away.

Rain poured from the heavens in an unceasing deluge as Link struggled to avoid trees, shrubs, and rocks in his headlong sprint through the forest. Pools of water and mud gathered to further punish him every time he failed to avoid an obstacle, but Link paid them no mind. Cleanliness and stealth were no longer options. They had to get away.

Link did not look back, but he felt his companion’s hand gripped firmly in his own. It was a smaller hand, smooth to the touch where mud did not cover it. He knew that if he loosened his iron grip, if he so much as let it slip, she would fall and likely not rise again. He could not let that happen.

Like foxes fleeing the hound, they delved blindly into the forest depths. Link inwardly thanked and cursed the rain. It gave them additional cover, but it did the same for their pursuers. Link knew the odds were greater that they would be discovered before evading discovery.

Movement to the right. Link did not wait. He swung his companion by the arm, flinging her behind the cover of a great chickaloo tree. He stood in front of it, hoping to draw the thing’s attention. His sword was drawn, its blade glowing blue in the darkness. Unsheathing it had been an unconscious act that took no more time or thought than a breath. He peered through the trees, willing his enemy to reveal itself.

A single eye flared red and blue. Its glow intensified. Link snarled at the thing, willing it to attack him so his charge could escape. Anything was worth that. Anything.

Blue light erupted from the eye, and Link had only a split second to meet it with his blade. The world erupted in blue fire.

* * *

The keese circled slowly above the object of its search, its single yellow eye confirming what its other senses told him. A man lay below. It registered enough warmth for the Keese to know it was sleeping. For a brief moment, its eye burned red. If it was here with a swarm of its fellows, it could kill the man and dine on its flesh in a matter of minutes. The Keese longed for the taste of fresh meat.

That, however, had not been its instructions. Remembering that returned the keese’s eye back to its natural, vivid yellow, interrupted only by the vertical pupil that ran down its center. Its bat-like wings fluttered silently to remain aloft. Indeed, the keese was like a bat, save for its single eye and propensity to feast on much more than fruit or insects.

It was cold hovering above the mountain top, especially without the keese’s fellows to buffer the night’s chill air. It had flown long and far to find the man because the Stalfos had told him to. The Keese did not like the Stalfos, but it was bound to obey it. The connection that bound creatures to the skeletal monster had been established by a power higher than either of them.

“You will find a young man on the plateau. Return to me when you do. You will tell me exactly where he is and where he is going. Then we will hunt him. Do this, and you will feed well.”

Those had been his instructions, spoken from mind to mind. The keese had briefly wondered why its brethren would not join the search. Unfortunately, the question crossed its mind while it was still connected to the Stalfos.

“Because, keese, I do not want the man to know we are seeking him. Not yet. And if you fail in this, if he sees you, he will kill you. If he does not, you will curse the fates that allowed you to escape when you return to me.”

There had been a pause after the Stalfos’s raspy voice faded from the keese’s mind. Then pain. Pain that made the keese squeal pathetically in the night. None of its brethren came, as it knew they would not. Turning on a bokoblin or even a moblin master was within the realm of possibility for a swarm of keese. Bokoblins and moblins needed flesh and blood to live. The Stalfos did not.

So the keese suffered its punishment, then flapped pathetically away with the Stalfos’s laughter ringing mockingly in its head. It was a long time before that sound faded.

Now, however, the bond was weakened by the great distance between them. The keese was hungry. It had not stopped to eat during its journey. Without its brethren, hunting was difficult given the keese’s diminutive size.

Here, however, was a sleeping man, its flesh and blood made warm from slumber.

If the Stalfos wants to kill the man, the keese thought suddenly, I could do it now. It would be pleased. I could eat.

Satisfied with this logic, the keese wheeled one last time directly over the man. Its fire was out. That was good. The man was beginning to stir, however. Better to make it quick. Several rapid bites to the neck with dual, needle-sharp fangs would be enough.

The keese folded its wings and dove.

* * *

“NOOOOOO!”

Link’s sword hand thrust forward, seeking the source of the deadly blue light that threatened to extinguish his life and that of his companion.

He was rewarded with the feeling of his blade striking true. His eyes snapped open, revealing the difference between dream and reality.

The blue-eyed threat was gone. Instead, fluttering in its death throes, a bat-like creature no bigger than his boot lay at Link’s feat. Its single eye, pierced by his sword, oozed purple liquid. A few more death throes, then it lay still.

He looked around, still struggling to separate what he had seen from what now lay before him. He had been dreaming. Dreaming of running. What had he been running from?

Link’s left hand reached behind him, but found no smaller hand nor wrist to seize. Someone had been with him in the dream. Someone important. A girl, he remembered suddenly. Who, though?

He shook his head, willing images of the dream to return, but few did. Link could not recall seeing the girl’s face, only the sense of fear and fleeing the source of that fear, then the defiant rage once their flight proved futile.

It was more than a dream, Link thought to himself. She was more than a dream.

Link was curious, shaken and frustrated all at once. His dreams were as bad as the old man, hinting at everything yet revealing nothing.

Thinking of the old man caused Link to look up and eastward. Lightening skies betrayed the oncoming sun, which would break the horizon soon enough. In what remained of night’s darkness, Link could see four towers scattered across the land in that general direction, still beckoning with their orange lights.

His eyes roamed nearer, ultimately finding his next destination. The crumbling spire from the Temple of Time jutted into the sky like some skeletal limb. The old man had told him to meet him there, had promised him answers there.

Taking one last look at where the bat-like creature lay dead, Link decided there was no point in trying to go back to sleep, and began gathering his provisions and belongings.

* * *

The Stalfos would have cursed had there been a point to such exhibitions. Instead, it merely stood and walked back into the cave that served as its resting place.

The keese was dead. The connection had been too distant for the Stalfos to know how or why it had met its end, but the fact was enough. In a way, it was simpler. The keese’s death all but assured the boy was on the plateau.

The Stalfos could not smile, but it tried anyway. Its fleshless jaw bared in a rictus grin, and it briefly wondered if this is how it had looked when it died: mouth agape, flesh hiding the lifeless smile its bare bones now showed.

The Master would be pleased. The Stalfos quickly sent a mental summons to the two bokoblins hiding in the nearby forest. They were stupid beasts, even less reliable than the keese. Oncoming daylight, however, made them necessary. The Stalfos was dead during the day. Only at night did its bones rise again, granted unnatural life by its Master.

The bokoblins ambled into view, clearly terrified to come any closer than was absolutely necessary. The Stalfos would have sneered if it were possible. Stupid beasts. They were no better than the swine they resembled. The Stalfos remembered when one such beast had ended its mortal life with a blunt club. At that moment, it had pleaded for mercy. At that moment, it sold its soul to its Master.

The Stalfos focused on the bokoblin to its right.

“Take your brethren through the mountains and wait by the tower. If you see a Hylian approach, kill it, leave its body unspoiled, and send me word.”

The bokoblin grunted, then retreated to the forest from whence it came. Its companion remained, its eyes rolling in fear as the Stalfos’s voice resonated inside its primitive mind.

“Go with him. When you reach the tower, take four of your brethren and ride to the Master. Tell him I have found the boy.”

The bokoblin nodded frantically and squealed its pathetic willingness to obey. The Stalfos was sorely tempted to kill it right then and there, but it was nearly dawn, and there was not enough time to find a replacement for the task. The undead skeleton allowed the bokoblin to flee back to the forest before retreating into its own cave.

When night returned, the hunt would begin. The Stalfos would have to remember to spare one keese to deliver the same message to his Master, just in case the fool bokoblin failed to do so. The rest of the Keese would join the hunt.

Light did not enter the depths of the cave, but the Stalfos knew dawn had arrived. It could feel its life draining, feel its skeletal limbs begin to crumble around it. Its final thought before oblivion came was that the Master might even reward the Stalfos with flesh by which it could live during the day.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 8: A TALE OF CALAMITY


("The Calamity" by MaskedGolem / DeviantArt)
The journey back down the mountain was uneventful. Link did not seen anyone or anything that disturbed the cold, crisp morning. He stopped only to refill his waterskin at the River of the Dead, where a handful of fish flitted in its depths.

In a brief moment of whimsy, Link used the Sheikah Slate’s cryonis rune to create a square pillar of ice in the middle of the river. It rose in immovable solidity, forcing the frigid waters to divert around their new obstacle. Further experimenting with the slate revealed its ability to remove the same object it created. A second use of the rune caused the pillar to break apart, restoring the river to its natural course.

Shaking his head at the wonders of the slate, Link returned his attention to his current surroundings. He was back on the familiar path leading from the Shrine of Resurrection to the Temple of Time, his focus completely on the latter. Though he had passed through the temple’s northern plaza two days before, he had not taken the time to fully appreciate what the structure was. Or had been.

The temple stood on a natural rise leading toward the mountain behind it, with stone stairs, plazas and buildings spilling out before it. Though the main structure was still recognizable, it was overcome with vines and weeds seeking to win a terrible battle of attrition. Holes pockmarked the main walls, while beautifully arched window frames sat devoid of the colored glass that had no doubt filled them more than a century ago.

Link noticed the remains of smaller (if only compared to the temple itself) buildings nestled into the elbows of the descending staircases. Unlike the temple, these were completely ruined, with nothing more than foundations and some jagged remains of walls still standing. The roofs were completely gone, while the few remaining window frames were often cut short like the walls that held them.

Link removed and packed away the warm doublet given to him by the old man. It was no longer necessary now that he was removed from the biting altitude of Mount Hylia. The sun shone more warmly here as the presence of lazy butterflies confirmed the peace of this place.

Seized by momentary curiosity, Link turned off the path and approached one of the smaller ruins. He found a gap through the low, crumbling wall and entered, only to find himself face to face with another decayed, single-eyed metal monster.

Link’s hand whipped his sword out in the same amount of time it took him to leap backwards. It did not matter that the thing was, by all appearances, lifeless. Link did not want to be near it, especially in the close confines of this ruin.

“That, Link, is called a Guardian.”

Link spun around, sword upraised, before recognizing the voice’s origin as the old man. Seeing him standing with nary a sign of concern or wariness was enough for Link to lower his weapon, though the act fought against the very recent memory of seeing that single eye up close.

The same eye as the one from my dream! Link thought suddenly.

The realization filled Link with elation. True, he did not know what the dream meant, but at least he knew it had been more than just that. Something about that dream, about these creatures, had been real in his life. He wondered suddenly if the old man knew what.

As it was, Link's revelation had not gone completely unnoticed.

“Do you remember, then?” the old man asked quietly, searching Link’s face. “Does hearing the name awaken something in you?”

Link shook his head.

“I dreamed last night that one of those things — a Guardian? — was hunting me,” he said. “Me and another.”

The old man’s eyes widened.

“Do you remember who the other person was?” he asked, and Link heard a note of hopeful eagerness in the question.

Again, Link shook his head.

“I only remember helping her get away,” he said, wracking his brain for any other details of interest. “The Guardian caught up to us. I pushed her behind a tree, tried to give her time to escape. That’s when I woke up.”

Unshed tears glistened in the old man’s eyes, and something he had said two days ago resurfaced in Link’s mind.

“You said it was unfortunate I did not know who spoke to me atop the tower,” Link slowly said. “Is it the same person from my dream?”

“Yes, I believe it is,” the old man said, his composure returning quickly. “I will tell you who that is shortly, Link. Please, follow me.”

Securing his sword to his back once more, Link followed the old man out of the small ruin and up the stone stairs toward the temple. Like the wider steps leading to the lower plazas, these were mostly overgrown with grass. Link could see they had been cunningly built into the rising land, leading up to the climax that was the Temple of Time.

As they approached the front entrance, Link saw that more dead Guardians littered the abandoned grounds. One even lay directly at the top of the stairs, its bell-shaped body completely devoid of clawed and serpentine arms. Link could see a large hole in one side of the thing, and he wondered what had dealt the machine its death blow.

“Ganon despises the temple and everything it stands for,” the old man said conversationally. “Legend says he was once imprisoned beneath these very grounds, bound here for centuries before he built up enough power to break free.”

Red fire flashed through Link, a mindless rage threatening to engulf him completely. A scene stole across his mind's eye: a circle of barren ground, unmarked save for a small black pit at its center with tendrils of smoke rising from its depths.

The image vanished, and Link was left grasping at the old man’s last words.

“Was that what happened one hundred years ago?” Link asked.

“Yes and no,” the old man replied as they passed through the incredibly high and arched entrance to the temple itself. “Ganon did indeed free himself a century ago, but that tale is far different than what took place here countless ages past.”

Link stopped and stared at the back of the old man, who seemed to sense his companion halting. He turned, and though Link still beheld the same trustworthy light in his eyes, he could hold back his doubt no longer.

“Who are you?” Link demanded. “How do you know all this? How do you know my name? Why did I sleep for a century? Who is the girl I have heard in my mind and seen in my dreams?”

The questions poured out of him in roiling rivers of white-hot frustration.

“How do I know how to fight? Why don’t I remember anything? Who am I?”

The last question echoed loudly throughout the high-ceilinged temple, startling nesting birds among the half-exposed rafters. Their flapping exit was the only other sound as Link’s voice faded into silence. He saw the old man was once again looking at him with an expression of pure pity.

“Your last questions are more pertinent than the first,” the old man said finally. “Come. Come see who you are.”

He gestured toward the back of the temple. At the end of a short flight of steps and raised upon a platform stood a large statue. It was made to look like a woman, robed and bearing wings upon her back. The old man, however, walked toward the side of the stairs, and Link realized he was gesturing not toward the statue, but to a full-sized mirror standing just around the staircase.

Irrational fear clawed at Link. He had shouted the questions. Now the answers were only a half-dozen steps away. Would he recognize himself? Or would a stranger stare back at him from the glass?

“It is alright, Link,” the old man said kindly, still gesturing toward the mirror. “You will not find anything unnatural there, only yourself.”

More reassured than he would like to admit, Link approached the rectangular frame. It was taller than he was, allowing the viewer to observe him or herself completely. Link stood in front of it and saw himself for the first time since awakening.

Bright blue, almond-shaped eyes met their reflection. They looked hard, far harder than they should given his youthful appearance. They gazed from below a head full of dark blonde hair, which was tied in the back at the nape of his neck. Pointed ears and slanted jawbones framed a modestly pointed nose and small mouth, combining to form an extremely youthful, if reserved, visage.

Link saw that his body was on the thin side, but he felt it fit him. Recalling his battle with the Bokoblins, he knew speed and stealth were greater allies to him than raw strength. Even so, he thought enough of the latter remained should he need it.

All in all, Link was not disappointed in his appearance save for the lack of recognizing it. Somehow, the reflection seemed slightly off. He thought it might be the sword. Its short hilt seemed to fall short of what he expected to see, and Link could not help wondering why.

Turning slightly, Link saw the old man’s reflection observing him. He rounded to face him, resigned to the fact that his image would shed no light on forgotten memories.

“You do not recognize yourself?” the old man asked gently.

Link shook his head, lowering his face to hide the hot tears that threatened to overtake him. If his own likeness spurred no recollection, what hope was there of ever remembering who he was?

“This is not unforeseen, Link,” the old man said quietly. “I will tell you how you arrived at your current state -- and why. As for your memories, I believe that they will return in time. ”

Link looked up, hoping against hope that the old man’s words were more than consolation. He nodded, then allowed himself to sit down on the lowest step below the statue. The day was only half-gone, but he already felt spent from the turmoil in his mind and heart.

The old man also walked toward the steps, but remained standing in front of Link.

“If you know who I am, if you knew what happened to me, why wait until now?” Link heard himself ask. He was not angry. He was just tired of the riddles. Tired of not knowing.

“I did not think it wise to overwhelm you while your memory was still fragile,” the old man replied. “I thought it best to assume a temporary form, at least until I knew you were ready or would not wait for the answers you needed.”

“A temporary f—?”

The question died on Link's lips. He had looked up to ask it, only to see the old vagabond he knew gone, replaced by a man of equal age but of a far different station. A golden crown rested on top of his white-haired head, from which the familiar beard still extended. Instead of a traveler’s garb, he wore a cream tunic embroidered with golden triangles down its center. A belt of office encircled his waist, cinched by an enormous golden clasp with a sapphire at its center. Inlaid upon the jewel was a pyramid of three golden triangles identical to the one embroidered on the back of Link’s cloak. A coat and boots of blue, each embroidered with golden designs along their respective lengths, completed what Link could only conclude was a royal ensemble.

“I am — I was — Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule, the last living King of Hyrule,” the old man said in a full and confident voice.

Rhoam’s eyes were prouder now that he had revealed his true identity, and Link could not blame them. Only now did he realize the look of a king fit him far better than that of a humble traveler. Link felt an instinctual impulse to kneel, but something the old man — no, Rhoam — said nagged for his attention.

“Was?” Link asked questioningly.

The pride slowly dissipated from Rhoam’s eyes. He sighed, closing his eyes as though bracing himself against something troubling or painful. Then he opened them and refocused on Link, who sat waiting patiently.

“Your story, Link, begins before you were born, and continues after my own life met its end. Hear me out, then feel free to ask me any questions you may have. I promise to remain long enough to answer them.”

Link nodded immediately. He was already curious as to what Rhoam meant by the beginning and end of his “story.”

“You asked me two days ago what Calamity Ganon was,” Rhoam began, “and that is where our tale begins. Legends, stories and histories all agree that the Demon King was born into the world of Hyrule, though he is not bound to it in mortality as most are. He is evil incarnate, a formation of the purest malice made flesh that is reborn in time without end.”

An echo of the Rhoam’s words, albeit in a far harsher voice, suddenly echoed from some dormant corner of Link’s memory.

“My hate never perishes… It is born anew in a cycle without end!”

In his mind, Link once again saw the boar-like monster of red smoke and vapor rise from the depths of the fortress, swirling around its central spire in an effort to block out the gleaming light that had beckoned him.

“Those legends and histories,” Rhoam continued, “teach us that Ganon has attempted to overthrow Hyrule countless times over the ages. He can be turned back, defeated, even slain. But, like the eternal evil he is, Ganon can never be completely eradicated.

“Ganon’s history coincides with that of two others. In my studies, I learned of a princess with a sacred power bestowed to her by Hylia herself, and her appointed knight, chosen by the Sword That Seals the Darkness. It was they — or rather, their resurrected selves — who kept Ganon at bay, time and time again.”

Link looked up. He was not sure what called to his shrouded memories more: the mention of the princess or that of the sword. It was like hearing a song recently forgotten, with his mind trying desperately to recall the words.

“Such a war had not taken place in many long ages,” Rhoam continued. “Peace had ruled the land so long, I did not fully believe the tales of Ganon until after I ascended to the throne. It was then that the first signs of evil were seen. Bokoblin bands raided traveling caravans. Animals were torn apart and left uneaten by monsters during the night. Disappearances that no one could explain occurred more and more frequently.

“Around that time, I was approached by the Sheikah, a rarity even for a king,” Rhoam added with a small smile. “They had presented themselves openly to me just once before, and that was the day I accepted the crown. He had been little more than a messenger, a representative sent to confirm my ascension to the throne. This second meeting, however, was with the oldest among them, likely older than any living human in Hyrule. She told me a prophecy existed that foretold Ganon’s return, and that its fulfilling was at hand.”

Rhoam paused, making sure he had Link’s full attention before continuing. He needn’t have bothered. Link was hanging on every word, willing all the different pieces of this story to form the answers he sought. He thought he could feel that moment drawing nearer.

“The prophecy,” Rhoam continued, “stated this: ‘The signs of a resurrection of Calamity Ganon are clear. And the power to oppose it lies dormant beneath the ground.’”

Link found himself interrupting for the first time.

“Did you believe her?” he asked. “Did you believe Ganon would return?”

“I could hardly have done otherwise,” Rhoam answered dryly. “To discard rare counsel from the Sheikah would be extremely foolish, and then there were the signs that were already showing themselves. Bokoblins had not been sighted openly for decades. And then,” he added incredulously, “there was this: the Sheikah pledged their people and labors to help us fulfill the prophecy. Such open assistance from them is all but unheard of. We knew, then, they considered the matter of the utmost importance.”

Link could only imagine. These were the same people who had built the magnificent towers and shrines, who had designed the slate hanging from his belt. No king would lightly value their advice or help.

“In the end, we decided to heed the prophecy,” Rhoam continued. “All we had to guide us was the power that lay ‘dormant beneath the ground.’ We interpreted that quite literally, and began excavating large areas of land that had lain undisturbed for centuries. Hylian masons, Goron miners and Sheikah advisors collaborated their efforts. It wasn’t long before they were rewarded.”

Link relaxed at this. For a split second, he had been afraid he was supposed to be the power “dormant beneath the ground,” though the only power he knew belonged to the Sheikah Slate on his hip. True, that had also been stored away in the Shrine of Resurrection, but if that was the answer to the prophecy, what need was there for Link to be put to sleep there for a century? In any case, Link thought, I was not underground when the prophecy was told, so it could not be me.

Then he remembered the girl’s voice.

“You are the light. Our light. The fate of Hyrule rests with you.”

Frowning at his own indecision, Link tried to focus as Rhoam went on.

“In various parts of Hyrule, we discovered ancient relics crafted by the hands of our distant ancestors," the former king explained. "They were enormous, as big as villages and more powerful than armies. The Sheikah told us they were called Divine Beasts, giant machines each meant to be piloted individually by warriors of great skill.”

“Our search,” Rhoam continued, “yielded more fruit. We also found the Guardians, mechanical soldiers that, when repaired and set right, fought autonomously for their master.”

“You found the Guardians?” Link interrupted disbelievingly. Even now, his skin crawled at the mention of the metal monsters. “They fought for you? I thought, I just felt that they were, well, on Ganon’s side.”

Rhoam gazed beyond Link, staring at something only he could see. His voice dripped with bitterness as he responded.

“Your feelings serve you well, Link,” he answered. “They were originally meant to serve and protect Hyrule, as were the Divine Beasts. The ancient texts said as much, that they were the forces to be marshaled around those who commanded them: the princess and the knight that I mentioned before.”

Link stood up and began pacing. A worm of dread had begun to wriggle its way into his stomach, and he couldn’t explain why. Rhoam seemed to know, however, that he was still listening.

“One hundred years ago, there was a princess set to inherit the sacred power. We knew this because such was her inheritance, an inborn gift passed from mother to daughter. With training, she, too, could master the magic that would bind Ganon upon defeat.

“Around the same time,” Rhoam added, “the Sword That Seals The Darkness came forth and chose one to wield it. He was young — very young — but extraordinarily skilled. I did not doubt the Sword had chosen a worthy vessel. With those signs, along with what we had discovered, it was clear that we must follow our ancestors’ path.”

The worm was now a snake writhing in Link’s middle. He could feel bile rising in his throat, threatening to make him retch. Rhoam was the king of Hyrule, which meant the princess...No. He told himself. You don’t know. Let him finish. Rhoam pressed on, either unaware of or unconcerned for Link’s discomfort.

“We selected four skilled individuals from across Hyrule and tasked them with the duty of piloting the Divine Beasts. With the princess as their commander, we dubbed these pilots and her chosen knight Champions, a name that would solidify their unique bond. They trained well, learning to pilot their mechanical charges as no one else could. Meanwhile, the Guardians were operating as expected, better even.

”We thought,” Rhoam added with regret, “that we possessed an army large enough to turn aside any threat, that we were sufficiently prepared to seal Ganon away once again. We were not.”

Link stopped pacing, which had ceased to provide sufficient release for the mad energy that now suffused him. Unthinking, he seized stone pillar that marked the bottom of the short staircase. His hands gripped it convulsively, trying to squeeze unyielding stone while simultaneously leaning on it for support. When he spoke, he hardly recognized his own voice.

“What happened?” Link asked hoarsely.

“Ganon was cunning,” Rhoam admitted bitterly. “He responded with a plan beyond our imagining, emerging from deep below Hyrule Castle when we least expected. Using dark magic, he seized control of the Guardians and the Divine Beasts and turned them against us. Facing the very tools meant to assist them, the Champions lost their lives, as did everyone residing in the castle and the surrounding town. From there they rampaged across Hyrule, forcing all to flee before them.”

“The appointed knight,” Rhoam added quietly, “was gravely wounded, and he collapsed while defending the princess from Ganon’s hordes even as they fled to escape them.”

Link sank to his knees, unwilling to face the untold truth that was already whispering inside his head. In a daze, he recalled the dream from the night before, the desperate need to run, the need to keep his companion moving, to protect her from the faceless horror that pursued them. His right hand convulsed as though it could still hold her by the hand or wrist. Instead, his own nails dug deep into his palm, threatening to draw blood.

“What…,” Link paused to swallow. It was a struggle to get the words out. “What happened to her?”

Rhoam’s appearance had not changed, but he no longer looked like a king. He looked like a man who had lost something irreplaceable, something beyond recall.

“She returned to the castle,” he whispered, “to face Ganon alone.”

Link looked up at the king — at his King — and saw the devastation that surely marred his own features. If his soul had snarled at seeing Ganon soar above the spires of Hyrule Castle, it now howled in agony at the thought of this yet unremembered girl confronting that same horror alone.

“That princess,” Rhoam finished brokenly, “was my own daughter. You were her appointed knight. It was you who protected Zelda to the very end.”

Link’s vision swam. He did not remember falling, nor did he recognize the scream that rent the air as his own. It went on forever, and he vaguely registered the angelic statue looming over him. It offered no forgiveness, no relief from the pain searing his soul. Its neutral expression seemed to silently confirm the merciless mantra screaming within him.

You failed her. You failed her.

Darkness took him.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 9: LEAVETAKINGS



Link awoke to the sound of birds chirruping, accompanied by the gentle stirring of windblown branches. He was outside. Raising his hand, he felt a cool compress set on his forehead. Though it felt pleasant, Link removed it in order to sit up and take in his surroundings.

A fire burned low nearby, its fuel just sufficient to keep it alive. Link saw the camp was situated within a small forest. His weapons were propped up against the tree nearest him, while another set of supplies lay loosely organized on the other side of the fire.

A cursory look around the camp did not reveal the old man — Rhoam, Link reminded himself. His name is Rhoam — but he did sight the spire of the Temple of Time rising above the hill to the east. The sun was well on its way to its midday zenith, having already risen above the temple.

Seeing the ancient building brought the final moments of Rhoam’s tale crashing back. They replayed themselves slowly, recalling the moment it dawned on Link that the princess must have been Rhoam’s daughter and that he was her appointed knight. The moment he realized he had failed her… and countless others.

Link shut his eyes in an attempt to stave off the same wave of emotions that had overcome him at the temple. Distraction came to his rescue in the form of a snapping twig nearby.

Rhoam had entered the camp, and it was clear to Link he had stepped on the twig on purpose to announce his arrival. He no longer appeared as he had in life. Rhoam looked like an old traveler again, and Link wondered if this was meant as a small mercy to eliminate at least one reminder of his failure.

“How are you feeling, Link?” Rhoam asked gently.

Link simply nodded as the former king made his way to him, then peered closely at his face to make sure his young charge was indeed well. Link could not make himself meet Rhoam’s eyes. The man’s daughter was dead because of him.

“Link,” Rhoam began quietly, “I ask for your forgiveness.”

Incredulous at what he had heard, Link finally lifted his gaze to meet that of the king he had once served. Memory’s eye still did not recognize Rhoam, but that did not assuage the feeling of bottomless debt he felt toward the amber eyes looking at him now.

“What reason have I to forgive you?” Link asked bitterly. “I failed you and your daughter. The only forgiveness in question is that which you should refuse to grant.”

Rhoam stepped back, a look of utter disbelief on his face.

“Is that what torments you so?” he whispered. “You think you failed? Link, you do not know how mistaken you are.”

Despite himself, Link felt the first drops of comfort fill his heart since learning what had happened one hundred years ago. He had no right to them, but they were being forced upon him by the man who should be withholding them with a vengeance.

“How then?” Link asked, hoping the harshness of the question would dispel the solace he did not deserve. “Your daughter’s champion fell, leaving her to face what you called ‘evil incarnate’ alone. I still do not remember it,” he added honestly, “but my heart confirms your tale as truth. I know who I am and what I failed to do, even if I cannot yet recall it for myself.”

Rhoam appeared pensive at this last statement, as though considering how to best respond. Finally, after a considerable silence, he sat upon a log opposite of Link across the fire.

“It seems I have yet another reason to beg your forgiveness,” the fallen king began, warding off what would have been another interruption from Link. “No, you will listen. It seems you have been misled. You believe your fall was the death knell of my daughter’s life and of Hyrule. Despite what you have seen and heard, that moment has not yet sounded, Link. If you thought otherwise, I am truly sorry.”

Hope. Link felt it trying to take root within him. He stamped it down.

“You said she went to face Ganon alone,” Link persisted. “You claim that she did so and won?”

Rhoam shook his head before answering. “Zelda did confront Ganon. She did not win, but neither did she lose. As you have no doubt surmised, the words of guidance you have been hearing since your awakening are from Zelda herself.”

Link stood, ignoring the lancing pain shooting through his still tender head. Hope again took hold, and this time he did not uproot it. Despair had blinded him to the simple logic that the voice he had heard was proof that Zelda still lived.

“How?” Link asked with a voice that betrayed his newfound hope. “How is it she still lives?”

Rhoam smiled at seeing Link’s spirits returning.

“The sacred power mentioned in legend — a power that is the birthright of every princess of Hyrule — awoke within her,” the former king explained. “It was enough to contain Ganon and his Malice within Hyrule Castle, if not enough to seal him away completely. It is there she remains, and must continue to remain, so long as Ganon threatens to break free once again.”

Link recalled the point of light he had seen shining from the castle’s tallest spire, and the swirling evil that threatened to drown it. The meaning of it now dawned on him… as did the reason behind the voice’s plea.

“She can’t seal Ganon away completely without the chosen knight, can she?” Link asked with a questioning look. Rhoam shook his head in response.

“More to the point,” he answered with blatant directness, “she cannot do so without you. As I told you, you were the knight chosen by the Sword That Seals The Darkness. It must be you who aids her in vanquishing Ganon once again.”

Link frowned, not because he doubted Rhoam’s words, but because he seemed so ill-equipped for the task.

“I searched the Shrine of Resurrection,” Link said, exasperated. “There was no sword there, and I doubt that,” he added with a bitter gesture toward the short blade leaning against the tree, “will serve in its place.”

Rhoam waived his concerns aside.

“The Sword That Seals The Darkness was hidden by Zelda herself after you fell. Do not ask me where,” he added with a hand held up to forestall the question already on Link’s lips. “I do not know. No doubt she placed it where she knew you would find it when you are ready to wield it once again.

“In any case,” Rhoam continued before Link could interrupt again, “the Sword is not your only concern. You admit to me that, despite your feelings and reactions toward what I have told you, you do not yet truly remember any of this, not even Zelda or the Sword. Is that true?”

Halted in his rush to inquire about the Sword, Link realized what Rhoam was saying.

“I… I don’t know why,” Link exhaled. “My heart feels the weight of my failure, but it is still another’s tale to my mind.”

Rhoam nodded thoughtfully.

“This is not altogether terrible,” he concluded. “Better that than its opposite. Your heart has already convinced you of the things you value most. It also,” he added with a sudden smile, “remembers the skills you need to stay alive.”

Link thought back to the bokoblins by the tower. No, he inwardly agreed, it was not remembrance that aided me. It had been something more and less, something recalled by powerful instinct rather than mechanical memory.

“The loss of your memory,” Rhoam continued, “is the cost of avoiding the fate that nearly took you a century ago. After you fell, you were placed in the Shrine of Resurrection, which was designed by the Sheikah specifically to heal the most grievous of wounds. Yours were such that it required one hundred years to heal your mind and body from the horrors you faced. Your youth was also preserved so that, upon your return, you would at least be physically able to challenge Ganon once again.

“Your memories,” Rhoam added with a gentle tone of regret, “were lost in the bargain.”

Link could say nothing to this. Desperate though he was to regain his sense of self, he could not begrudge the means by which he stood here today, able to amend the failures of a century past.

“You said in the temple you felt my memories would return in time,” Link remembered suddenly. “Must I simply hope for that to happen while I seek the sword?”

Rhoam shook his head.

“Your memories are indeed important, but neither they nor the sword will simply appear. I believe, however,” Rhoam added, “that you may discover both as you ready yourself to face Ganon once again.”

”How?” Link answered quickly. “I already remember how to fight, and the shrine added powers to the slate that will surely aid me.”

Again, Rhoam halted Link’s headlong rush into action.

“Skilled though you are, you cannot hope to infiltrate Hyrule Castle alone, nor meet Ganon with strength enough to finish the task should you reach him. Still-living Guardians swarm the palace, and they are no doubt watching for you now that the Sheikah towers have risen.”

Link had not thought of this. If Ganon knew of the Sheikah technology, those towers were nothing less than a beacon announcing Link’s return to the waking world.

“What help do I seek, then?” Link asked, discouraged. “You said the Champions lost their lives in the Calamity. Even if had they not, they and anyone else I knew would have lived out their lives by now. And even were they alive,” he added bitterly, “I would not recognize them."

Rhoam did not answer immediately, but instead began packing his supplies. Only after Link rose to his feet did the former king reply while still clearing the campsite.

“There is one who can show you the way, if she still lives,” Rhoam began over the low hiss of the fire he was dousing. “If not, she may have left her people instruction for your return. Her name is Impa, and it was she who told me of the prophecy all those years ago.”

“A Sheikah?” Link asked while gathering his own things. It felt good to finally be up and moving with a clear goal unfolding on the path before him. “So they do still exist? How am I to find them if they, as you said, go out of their way to avoid others?”

Rhoam shouldered his pack and haversack, then motioned for Link to follow as they talked. Link saw they were heading east. Briefly consulting the slate, he realized that if they kept on this track, they would pass just north of the Sheikah tower and reach the edge of the plateau.

“It is true that the Sheikah keep to themselves, but their home is known by those who dwell near it.” Rhoam explained. “They reside in Kakariko Village, which lies three days east of here. Do you see those twin peaks?”

Link looked in the direction Rhoam had pointed. Sure enough, he recognized the pair of mountains that nearly mirrored one another. Their journey had now taken them close enough to the edge of the plateau for Link to see a river cut directly between the base of the twin mountains.

“They live there?” he asked curiously.

“Beyond,” Rhoam corrected him. “You must pass through the Dueling Peaks and then proceed north. There is a path that will guide your journey, as well as a stable just beyond the mountains. There,” he added in explanation, “you will find other travelers, perhaps a horse to buy if you obtain the means to purchase one. Aside from a handful of outer villages that survived the Calamity, the stables are all that remain of Hyrule’s denizens. Our own people are especially scattered, Link, united by only the thinnest bonds of fellowship.”

Link nodded as they drew closer to the man-made ruins that marked the edge of the plateau. The walls were as thick as the lengths of two men, the battlements rearing high over the plateau's natural floor. A broken gap in the wall allowed Link a view downward. He could see now that Rhoam had been all too honest in assessing his need of the paraglider. The drop to the mainland below was steep and deep, unforgiving to even the most experienced of climbers.

“When you arrive at Kakariko Village, ask for Impa,” Rhoam continued. “Most would be refused an audience with the Sheikah elder, but I believe the slate will grant you that privilege. It was she,” he added, “who left instructions that you were to enter the shrine.”

Link looked once again at the unique slate. The runes were aligned alongside the map, which remained dark and unrevealed everywhere save the plateau. He would be traveling blind, at least until he scaled another tower and transferred its knowledge to the slate. Lifting his gaze, he could see one of those towers directly in front of the left-most of the two peaks. I’ll go there first, Link thought.

He turned to face Rhoam, who was unshouldering his supplies, including the paraglider. With a smile, he handed his haversack to Link.

“Your appetite, by the way, is as voracious as it ever was, Link,” Rhoam laughed. “You used to eat enough to impress even the Gorons, which is no mean feat.”

For the first time since waking up, Link smiled. It felt like ice thawing. How long had those muscles gone unused? What would have made him smile before the Calamity?

Rhoam’s own fond expression faded as he saw Link’s clouded visage.

“You will remember who you are Link, of that I have no doubt.” Rhoam assured him with gentle firmness. “Trust your heart to guide you until then. It will not fail you, just as you will not fail Hyrule.”

Link looked up at this. He could not find the courage to protest the utter confidence shining from Rhoam’s eyes. He had assured Link that he had not failed Zelda one hundred years ago, that she still lived within the castle of her youth, albeit no more than a prisoner locked in a struggle she could not win. Not by herself.

She is not dead because of me, Link thought, but she is trapped because I was not there to fight alongside her.

It will not happen again, he vowed to himself. I will finish the task I left undone.

“I know you will.”

Link had not realized he had spoken this last thought aloud. Rhoam had once again transformed to appear as he had in life: every inch the king. Link did not stop himself this time. He drew his sword and knelt, his forehead resting on the unadorned pommel of a slain enemy’s blade. He felt a heavy hand rest upon his head.

“I give you my blessing to go forth and prepare yourself for the battle that lies ahead, Link of Hyrule,” Rhoam intoned. “May the Goddess shine Her light upon who you truly are, and may that light guide you to my daughter and to victory.”

The last words echoed even as Rhoam, the last King of Hyrule, began to fade. Link looked up just in time to see his bearded face gazing at him one last time before he disappeared in a haze of blue-green fire.

Without a word, Link shouldered his added supplies, secured his sword to his back, and unfolded the paraglider. It was as he had first seen it: an expanse of cloth connecting two curved pieces of wood.

Gripping the wooden handles, Link took a deep breath and leaped off the edge of the plateau.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPER 10: A DARK ERRAND


( "Blood Moon" by Opa-lescence / DeviantArt)
The bokoblin shivered in the half-darkness that enshrouded Hyrule Castle. Despite the sullen red of the sun fighting to penetrate swirls of black-and-red mist, it was cold here, the warmth from this place having been drained long ago.

But not life. Things lived within Hyrule Castle, if not in the same manner as other creatures. The bokoblin was all too aware as it limped its way along the broad, smooth avenue meandering up snaking between towers, walls and natural cliffsides. The entire structure was built into the only rise of land in Hyrule Field, making it the unmistakable and undisputed seat of the kingdom. Those who sought an audience with the castle’s ruler were forced to symbolically walk the ascending pathway to meet him or her.

That was how it had been long ago. Now, no travelers journeyed to or from business with royalty. No citizens dwelled within the ruins of what had once been the vast city that sprawled just beyond the palace’s magnificent southern wall. The seat of Hyrule was now home to a different sort of denizen, one which nearly made this day’s visitor turn back in terror.

Only fear of disobeying the Stalfos prevented the bokoblin from fleeing back down that sloping street of flagstones — that and the attention of countless eyes upon it, single orbs that glowed red in the semi-darkness obscuring the entirety of the castle. They were perfectly round and emotionless, unceasingly monitoring the bokoblin’s progress toward the central spire. Some stared from within large, bell-shaped bodies of metal that sat on battlements or clung to walls with serpentine, segmented arms. Others tracked him from flying, armless versions of those same machines, looking for all the world like hovering, up-turned urns. Each Guardian kept its gaze fixed on the intruder until it turned a corner and escaped its line of sight. Then their eyes would return to glowing blue, though still alert in their never-ending vigil.

The bokoblin could not abort its terrifying errand, but neither could it hasten its completion. Mounds of red-and-black ooze covered large portions of the avenue. More of the strange substance clung, fungus-like, to walls of natural rock or man-made stone with equal tenacity. In some places, it had even grown to support itself upright, stretching taught filaments from surface to surface like some hellish spider’s web.

Single eyes sprouted from these last versions of the sticky substance, but eyelids made of the same ooze gave them a life the Guardians lacked. They rarely blinked, allowing bright yellow orbs divided by vertical pupils to drive further fear into the bokoblin’s heart. It had only been here once before, but it could already see the putrid evil had grown, slowly seeping over and devouring the once-proud capital of Hyrule.

The bokoblin’s right leg accidentally grazed the edge of a pulsating mound of ooze as it rounded a corner, causing it to immediately squeal in pain. The cursed stuff burned worse than wildfire, leaving a patch of smoldering, discolored flesh between hoof and knee joint. This nearly caused the beast to collapse completely, compromised as it was already by a wound in its side. The bokoblin snuffled pathetically at its bad luck, mentally cursing in its own dark tongue the Sheikah arrow that had found its mark. It had been lucky, however, compared to its kin, all three of which had fallen to the pair of Sheikah warriors that had ambushed them at Horwell Bridge. They had no reason to think Sheikah would be patrolling so close to Hyrule Field. That lack of thought had cost the Stalfos three of its four messengers.

The lone survivor now limped piteously along the final stretch of street that fed directly into the southern entrance of the Sanctum, the main chamber within the center spire of the castle. One last hovering Guardian monitored its progress, its single eye momentarily changing from blue to red before recognizing its target as a creature of the Master. It then changed back to blue before moving on in its circular flight pattern, the final sentry between the outside world and the horror within.

The bokoblin’s entire body was seized with violent tremors, a combination of mortal terror and agonizing pain from its wounds. It stopped briefly upon passing two small statues facing each other from atop the low walls lining the avenue. Both were originally fashioned to look like proud birds, their squarish bodies framed by a majestic set of wings. The one on the left still retained most of its original form. The statue on the right, however, was a crumbling ruin of what it had once been, a final reminder of Hyrule Castle’s fate.

Still trembling uncontrollably, the bokoblin limp-shuffled through the open archway into the Sanctum, the former throne room from which Hyrule’s royalty had ruled for untold generations. Unlike the rest of the castle — inside and outside — this main chamber stood undisturbed save for the pall of darkness that hung over the entire structure. Marble archways lined the circular wall, forming an exterior hallway for those waiting their turn for an audience with a member of the royal family. More hawk-like statues stood atop pedestals placed at intervals along the rail lining the balcony above, completely intact unlike their unlucky counterparts outside. The crown jewel of the chamber hung above a low dais where a line of thrones would have been assembled: an enormous work of gold fashioned into a pyramid of three triangles.

The symbol of Hyrule’s power, however, was not what held the bokoblin’s transfixed gaze. That lay upward, where marble columns soared to meet a vast, domed ceiling. Like some diseased fruit, a great, pulsing mass similar to the ooze that had burned the bokoblin just moments ago hung from the center of the ceiling. Vein-like cords, so numerous and tangled it was impossible for the naked eye to separate them, held their unnatural produce securely in the air. Every so often, a part of the disgusting sack bulged, as though something within was straining to escape. The attempts were brief, but the bokoblin looked on with a pathetically simple combination of terror and awe. Even its dumb mind could see that hanging mass had grown significantly since its previous visit.

Pain. Pain such as the bokoblin had experienced only once before. It was worse, far worse, than the scratches that were the wounds in its side and leg. It squealed in agony, throwing itself on the tiled floor and thrashing again and again. The Stalfos had once threatened to toss the bokoblin into one of its own cook pots. That would have been a mercy compared to this.

As suddenly as it began, the pain stopped. The bokoblin whined, sweat pouring from its body as it lay limp on the floor, waiting to die. Instead, a voice resounded in its head. The voice made that of the Stalfos sound like a lullaby. It grated like metal being ground upon metal, with only an echo of humanity to give it more life than that. It boomed within every corner of the bokoblin’s consciousness. There was nowhere it could flee, nothing it could hide from that voice. It could kill with a word and crush with a breath.

STAND AND REVEAL ALL TO ME.

Shivering in pain and fear, the bokoblin complied. As it clambered upright, the air in the middle of the Sanctum began to shimmer with a red haze. Horizontal lines coalesced until they formed a vague outline of a giant boar, completely wild in appearance. It sported two enormous tusks, and its pinprick eyes glowed with hungry yellow light.

Before it solidified, the image shifted into the unsteady image of an immensely tall man with a sloping forehead and hawkish nose. Heavy eyebrows hooded over eyes that bore the only similarity to the boar in that they glowed yellow at their center. He was clad in regal attire, complete with a sweeping cape and an enormous sword sheathed at its side.

Quick as a thought, the image shifted again, this time into its most frightening apparition yet. It reared and writhed, and the bokoblin had time only to discern a leering, rotten skull with gleaming yellow sockets before the red tendrils dissipated again and reformed into the boar.

The bokoblin’s eyes rolled madly toward the back of its skull, the fright and pain of the last hour nearly robbing it of its senses.

NO, FILTH. YOU WILL STAY AWAKE LONG ENOUGH FOR THIS.

The bokoblin was frozen, its eyes trapped in an expression of extreme stupidity. Though its body clamored to move, even if only to tremble out its fear, not so much as a shiver escaped it. It might as well have been a statue.

Then, like a man in a dark room that knows someone else is there, the bokoblin felt the Master’s presence in its mind. It was like feeling a rat scurry near its sleeping place, a fairly common occurrence for its species. Its Master was sniffing here and there, honing in on His quarry through a maze of stupid and broken thought.

AAAAAAHHHHHH…

Ecstasy bloomed within the bokoblin’s mind. It was so powerful that the feeling of euphoria might as well have been its own. If it could move, the bokoblin would have smiled.

Instead, it remained motionless, held captive by nothing it could see. Once more the flickering image in front of it morphed into a sinuous, skull-headed monstrosity before reverting back to the boar.

LISTEN WELL, WORM. YOU WILL RETURN TO THE STALFOS AND TELL IT TO KILL THE BOY. YOU WILL SHARE THE SAME MESSAGE WITH ANY OTHERS YOU MEET ALONG THE WAY. IT IS TO BE DONE IMMEDIATELY, HIS HEAD RETURNED TO ME. THE CREATURE THAT DOES THIS WILL BE MADE KARANLIK.

The bokoblin was again forced to absorb a shudder that would have otherwise racked its body, but this was a tremor of bliss. To be Karanlik — Chief of Dark — was a prize without equal, coveted by any who followed the Master. The Karanlik was second to Him only, Commander of His legions and receiver of His spoils. A lowly bokoblin would attempt to kill a Lynel for such an honor.

ONCE YOU HAVE DONE THIS, YOU WILL CONTINUE EASTWARD BEYOND THE FORT RUINS AND GREAT CLIFFS. THERE YOU WILL FIND MANY OF YOUR BRETHREN. TELL THEIR LEADER THIS: ATTACK THE VILLAGE. LEAVE NONE ALIVE. AFTER THE VILLAGE FALLS AND THE BOY IS DEAD, WE WILL CHOKE THE SHEIKAH FROM THIS LAND — ALONG WITH EVERY RACE THAT HAS OPPOSED ME.

The Master’s rage coursed through the bokoblin, far more intoxicating than the cheap spirits its kind often drank by a night fire. In its mind’s eye came the unbidden image of houses burning, humans falling to the clubs and blades of its brethren. Smoke blackened the sky, stifling whatever hope Hylians sought from the heavens. The bokoblin wanted to lick its chops. It would feed well when the glorious reign of the Master began anew.

Without warning, the bokoblin was released from the power that held it. The beast collapsed on the floor, its wounds throbbing anew. Once more, the transparent red image in front of it changed to reflect the cruel, austere man. His eyes gleamed yellow, drawing in the bokoblin’s gaze until it felt nothing else existed.

FAIL ME, AND YOUR SCREAMS WILL BE HEARD FROM THE FOUR CORNERS OF HYRULE.

The pain returned, and if the bokoblin’s screams did not reach that far, they at least resounded throughout the entire breadth of the castle. The yellow eyes of the red-black ooze outside widened, seeking the source of the shrieks. The blue-glowing orbs of the Guardians did not stop their circuitous search, uncaring of the howls that echoed off the rock walls and battlements on which they perched.

Only when the bokoblin fled as fast as its wounds would allow did the Guardians’ eyes change once again, briefly flaring red while monitoring the beast’s pell-mell gallop down the broad flagstone street. Once it disappeared from their sight, their mechanical eyes’ glow returned to blue, unconcerned with the squeals still uttered by the terrified bokoblin — or the harsh, peeling laughter behind it.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 11: MEETINGS


(art by MLeth / DeviantArt)​

Link’s cloak flapped behind him as he drifted eastward with the wind, his hands gripping the wooden handles of the paraglider as tightly as they could. He was directly above the path Rhoam had pointed out, a wide dirt track sandwiched by thin woods to the north and low hills to the south.

Beyond the latter, Link glimpsed another Sheikah tower on the far side of a great lake, which was divided by a massive bridge of stone. Its ends were marked by arched gateways made of the same material and topped by battlements built to safeguard those traveling in both directions. Even from this distance, Link could see parts of those entryways were crumbling in a manner uncomfortably similar to the Temple of Time.

The effect of flight, even a mockery of it, was exhilarating. Link wondered what it must be like to be one of the Rito that Rhoam had described, able to take to the sky whenever you please and cut through the wind far faster than feet or hooves could march. Surely there was no better way to travel than this.

As he descended, Link’s marvel at being airborne gave way to concern over what lay directly below him. Small ruins of long-decrepit buildings lined the sides of the broad dirt road. Here and there a wall rose high enough to reveal the empty socket of a former window, but most of the remains left much to the imagination. Some purposeful destruction had done most of the work. Time and nature were finishing it, leaving only bare foundations and a few pockmarked walls as reminders that this place had been home to a number of people long ago.

Link carefully scanned the ruins and adjacent woods, aware that he was easy descending prey for enemies lying in wait. Nothing stirred. No telltale signs of life betrayed the presence of bokoblins. Whatever this place was, it appeared truly forsaken.

The landing could not have gone more smoothly. Link hit the ground at a slow lope, the paraglider collapsing easily the moment the wind and his muscles ceased working to keep it taut. He quickly stowed the contraption on another set of hooks hanging from the back of his belt, where it would be out of the way of his hands and arms. Between that and his poorly filled haversack, he was traveling light indeed.

After one last glance around, Link turned his attention toward his destination: the orange-glowing Sheikah tower and the aptly named Dueling Peaks just behind it. It was very nearly a straight shot eastward, the road all but pointing to it.

The outset of the journey was a depressing reminder of what Link was setting out to overcome. Long-forgotten refuse dotted the ground all around the ruins. Cracked barrels and broken-down handcarts lay near one building that might have once been a storehouse. Near another, Link glimpsed at least three rusted weapons — a sword and two spears — laying half-covered in the dirt and grass. Perhaps an armory. Self-sustaining this place might once have been, but its desolation was absolute, leaving Link to wonder again at the long-lasting devastation his forgotten world had suffered.

The ruins extended eastward, though most now lay on the northern side of the path as hills encroached from the south. From what Link could tell from a glance northward, this place lay at least two days’ journey from the castle. Given the size of the town and the road running straight through it, this must have once been a thriving thoroughfare for travelers in this area of Hyrule.

Gone, now, Link thought. How much gone since I went to sleep?

The thought of his long rest brought Link’s attention to the sun, which was already setting quickly behind him. He did not fancy the idea of sleeping inside the skeletal remains of a ruined building. Looking ahead to gauge the distance remaining to the tower, however, he was surprised to see a light glimmering further down the road. As he approached, Link realized its source was a torch lit and hanging from a pillar that marked the beginning of a small, stone bridge. The sound of rushing water confirmed the need for such a structure, and Link realized with another pang of regret that the bridge must also have once marked the once-proud entryway into the ruins he had just passed.

He was about to search for a suitable campsite when Link heard noises up ahead, near the bridge itself.

“Gerroutofit, yeh mangy swine!”

The heavily accented shout was followed by several pig-like squeals. Link did not hesitate. Drawing his short blade, he ran headlong up the shallow, overgrown steps of the bridge and into the fray.

* * *

Brigo stood his ground against the three bokoblins trying to force him back toward the east side of Proxim Bridge. If they succeeded, he knew they would be able to circle him and finish the job. His best chance was to keep them on the bridge itself, where its narrow width and his long spear could keep his enemies in eyesight and at arm’s length.

“Ye’ll not throw meh in yeh cookin’ pots, filth!” he bellowed as he turned away a half-hearted swing from a Bokoblin club.

Brigo cursed himself as eight kinds of fool, as only a fool let three stinking pigspawn take him by surprise. He should have seen the signs he had learned from knee-high to his mammy’s apron strings, but he’d let himself go lax after a fortnight’s worth of quiet patrol. Now he would likely pay the price for it.

Hylia, but the lads back at the stable would have a raw good laugh if they could see meh now! he thought viciously to himself.

One of the bokoblins began hefting its club to throw. It was a childish move, but one that Brigo immediately recognized as devastatingly effective. Forced to fend off the projectile, he would be all but exposed to a rush from the other two beasts. He re-gripped the haft of his spear, readying himself for the inevitable charge.

“G’on, then, yeh great, filthy excuse fer a pig’s dinner!” Brigo roared defiantly. “‘Ave a go!”

The offending bokoblin was about to do just that when a sword point emerged from its chest. The beast looked down stupidly, then slumped lifelessly to the stone bridge floor as its killer quickly engaged the other two monsters.

Brigo stood slackjawed as his rescuer -- a young man hardly removed from boyhood -- dispatched a second bokoblin with a swift slice across the snout. The warrior’s dark blonde hair, tied back at the nape of his neck, whipped around his face as he avoided a desperate swing from the third beast’s club. The blow struck only air as the newcomer — with nary a sign of emotion showing in his hard, blue eyes — sidestepped the blow, then ran the monster through with his short sword.

The job was done in a trice, and Brigo could not contain his amazement at the deed.

“Strike me, lad, but yeh did a fair job wi’ those pigspawn, so help meh yeh did!” he exclaimed.

Brigo’s rescuer looked up — he was much shorter than himself, though that was the case with almost everyone he knew — and met his astonished gaze. Brigo was extremely glad to be the saved and not the slain for more than one reason. Those eyes — like a bloody wolf, he thought — were cold enough to crack the ice his grandpappy had taught him to avoid in the mountains to the far northwest. Not cruel or mistrusting. Just hard, as though what the boy had done was nothing more than an everyday task completed.

O’ course, Brigo thought ruefully, he ruddy made it look that way, didn’ ‘e?

The stranger looked around at his handiwork, eying the dead bokoblins with a small frown. As he did so, he took out a cloth to clean the blood from his blade. Brigo noted the boy also carried a bow and small quiver of arrows. A curious, rectangular object he didn’t recognize hung just off-center from his belt.

“Are there more of these near here?” the stranger asked quietly.

Brigo ran his fingers through his short, brown hair and shook his head. “Nary a sign o’ the beasts asides these three. If yeh don’ mind me askin’, lad, where the devil did yeh come from? Did ol’ Tasseren send yeh’ to back me up? If ‘e did, ye’d better tell that horse hopper that ‘e’s in for a good thumpin’ when I see him again! This ‘ere is my patrol, an’ I ken do it by mehself jus’ like I allus have!”

A quiet smile stole across the stranger’s face as he sheathed his short sword over his shoulder. Brigo forgave him his mirth — it wasn’t funny, and he had meant every word — if only because it was good to see that hard expression thawed.

“No one sent me,” the stranger answered while gesturing behind him. “I come from the plateau to the west. I saw them attack you and thought it’d be rude to just sit by and watch.”

Brigo was only half-listening. He had caught a glimpse of the golden insignia on the back of young man’s cloak while he had pointed toward the plateau in question.

What in bloody blazes is he doin’ wavin’ the blinkin’ Hylian sigil around like a bloody beacon? he wondered to himself. Aloud, he elected a less invasive question spurred by the boy’s answer.

“The plateau?” Brigo asked, surprised. “Did no think anyone lived up there aside from the birds and bees. How in blazes did yeh wind up there?”

The boy shrugged. “I was left there a long time ago. I don’t know how. It’s the only place I can remember being.”

Brigo looked hard at the young man. He didn’t peg him for lying, but he was telling as little of the truth as Brigo himself would when skirting his mammy’s highly attuned sense for trouble. Well, he thought to himself, best let him be. The lad did right by me, after all.

The rapidly darkening sky momentarily distracted his attention from this strange newcomer.

“Well then, the least I can do is offer a fire an’ a place to kip up for the night,” Brigo said. “I know a place a ways up that hill yonder ah’ve used many a time. It’ll do if yer keen on it.”

The young man looked up at him, and Brigo was pleased to see those sky-blue eyes were much softer than they had been.

“That sounds just fine to me, good sir,” he said. “I accept, with my thanks.”

Deciding to do away with one more formality, Brigo held out his hand.

“There’ll be no ‘good sir’ with me, lad,” he said warmly. “Name’s Brigo, but yeh can call me Brig. All meh friends do.”

Oddly enough, the young man seemed taken aback by his words. He hesitated an instant before clasping Brigo’s proffered hand. The warmth in the gesture matched that in his voice.

“I’m Link.”

* * *

The small, smokeless fire burned low into the night, barely illuminating its two caretakers as they rested from their evening repast. Link looked around at the campsite his new companion had chosen. It was one of the few flat areas atop the elongated hill running alongside the road leading to Dueling Peaks. Their view of that path was blocked by the section of an enormous, fallen tree trunk, ensuring their privacy from any other bokoblin bands roaming the area.

Brigo’s meal was the most delicious thing Link had tasted since awakening in the shrine. The tall man, who appeared some ten years older than himself, had proven as adept at hunting fish in a river as he was fending off bokoblins with his long spear. Brigo had landed two healthy sized bass, then added his own concoction of spices from a well-stocked pouch in the enormous pack he had previously stowed at the campsite.

Link had smiled at his outspoken friend’s running monologue as he grilled the lot in a large, black pan also produced from his ample supplies.

“Nothin’ like a couple o’ bass to fill yer belly after slayin’ a few pigspawn,” Brigo cheerfully remarked while preparing the meal over the fire. “Besides, yeh look like yeh need a little fattenin’ up, lad.”

Link had not objected nor interrupted. Simply put, it was good to have a friend. Rhoam had, ultimately, been his king, and one not of this world in the end. Brigo was like himself, if unweighted by the task Link carried. And a touch more loquacious, he mentally added with a smile to himself.

Bellies full and campsite secure, the two had settled in comfortably against the back of the log. Brigo patted his own stomach contentedly, though he was still as tall and lean as ever despite the healthy meal.

“That there was exactly what this body o’ mine needed,” Brigo chuckled. “I take it yeh enjoyed it, seein’ as yeh hardly said a word, lad.”

Link nodded, then answered so as to reassure his host.

“Your skills with a spear and a pot do both your parents proud, Brig,” Link said earnestly. “You tell them I’ll vouch for you if they’ve yet to know that for themselves.”

Brig’s gaze shifted back to the fire, his expression temporarily subdued.

“Yeh do me honor sayin’ so, lad, but yeh’ve no need to vouch for meh,” he said resignedly. “Meh mammy an’ pater ‘ave long since gone to the green meadows and quiet springs of the Goddess Hylia, may they rest in Her embrace.”

“I am sorry, friend,” Link said quietly, and he meant it. Brigo’s enthusiasm was one of the best things about him, and he felt terrible for having blunted it, however unintentionally. “I guessed you to be fairly young, yet, so I assumed they would still be among the living.”

Brigo waived off his apology.

“Yeh’ve no need to be feelin’ sorry for me, lad,” he answered. “‘Tis twenty long years since they passed on. Meh heart’s made peace with it, though ‘twas what happened to them that’s made me what I am today.”

Link merely nodded, silently allowing his friend to decide whether he wanted to go on. He did.

“I was born in the great Hebra Mountains to the northwest o’ here, south o’ the peak, mind,” Brigo continued. “We lived by ourselves, like most do thereabouts. Only ever saw the occasional traveler or one o’ those barkin’ mad Rito on a mission to get hisself killed.”

“You’ve seen a Rito?” Link asked, impressed.

“Oh aye,” Brigo answered nonchalantly. “Even had one in our house once: a young male. I was only a boy, but I remember it well. Taller then a man, ‘e was. Stood and talked like one, too. ‘Cept for that, looked like a winter hawk, ‘e did. Feathers white as snow an’ eyes fierce enough to freeze yeh where yeh stand.”

“Why did it visit your family?” Link asked, curious.

Brigo snorted in response. “The bloody fool’d hurt himself huntin’ lizalfos. Evil lizards,” he added, somewhat surprised at Link’s questioning look. “I’d’ve thought yeh’d killed yer fair share o’ those, the way you scrap, lad.”

Link shook his head. Lizalfos. Clearly, more than bokoblins had infested the land since his unwilling sleep a century ago.

Brigo eyed him a bit longer before ultimately continuing his story.

“Anyway, me mammy patched him up as best she could. Barmy bird did no stay long enough fer ‘is wing to heal. Said e’d get along jus’ fine. I dunno if he did, but the lizalfos wot hurt ‘im must’ve been trailin’ ‘im. A day later, they came knockin’, so to speak. Too many for meh ol’ pater to handle by hisself. They hid me awa’ in a space under the floor jus’ before the lizardspawn broke in.”

Link said nothing while his friend kept his gaze locked on the fire during the tale. Finally, he shook his head and went on.

“I decided I was goin’ to keep the same thing from happenin’ to other good people. Once the lizardspawn left, I made meh way over to the stable east of where we lived, a good two days’ journey to the Tabantha Tundra. I trained with the patrolmen there, and when I came of age, they told me the stable down here needed a good spear. Ah’ve been here ever since.”

“Is it just you serving this stable, then?” Link asked, wondering how few stood against what appeared to be the daily threat of Ganon’s minions.

“There’s allus at least a score to a stable,” Brigo explained, again eying Link curiously. “I came here on account o’ the Dueling Peaks stable bein’ a hand short at the time. We patrol the area, an’ if we see a group o’ filth bigger than we can handle, we’re to see if we can find out where they’re goin’, ‘ow many there are and if the people at the stable need to pack up an’ flee.”

“Where would they go, though?” Link persisted. “If the stable is where people stay for some measure of safety, what’s left to them if it falls?”

“There’s allus another stable or, in some cases, e’en a village within a few days’ journey. Meh stable’s lucky as it’s atwixt two villages that are still standin’ since before the Calamity. ‘Twould take a fair number to make a stable pack up and leave, though,” Brigo added with a thoughtful nod. “Between patrolmen and travelers and a few preparations, they’ve got enough to fight off at least a score o’ the beasts, if not more, an’ that many ‘aven’t been spotted together in a century, lad.”

Link nodded at his friend’s explanation. The enemy were many, but disunited, it seemed. All the better for what he had to do.

He had little time to keep that line of thought to himself however, as Brigo had again taken to eyeing him until he could no longer contain his curiosity.

“If yeh say yer from the plateau, I’ll believe yeh, lad,” he began slowly. “Yeh saved meh life an’ I’m indebted to yeh, no matter how much it sticks in meh craw to say it. But I can no lie, it’s hard for meh to believe yeh don’t know most o’ what I told yeh already.”

Now it was Link’s turn to stare into the fire as he deliberated how much to tell his new companion. If he could not trust a man alongside whom he had fought Ganon’s creatures — a man who had vowed to do so as often as his life required it of him — whom could he trust?

“What I’m about to tell you is true, Brig,” Link began as he adjusted his back against the log, “but I won’t blame you if you call me ‘barmy’ by the time I’ve finished…”

* * *

A bubble of fear surrounded the Stalfos wherever it went among the bokoblin camp. It would not have normally deigned to mingle with the pig-like creatures, but they needed an element of terror to keep them obedient. Failure could not be risked, not when their quarry was so close.

The undead skeleton conducted its survey astride a saddled stalhorse, which restlessly pawed the ground. Like the Stalfos, the reanimated steed was impatient to be moving during the precious nighttime hours. The Stalfos did nothing to calm its nightmarish mount. Comfort was for the living.

A wickedly curved scimitar rested on the Stalfos’s back, as cold and deadly as the creature itself. It should not need such tools to finish the boy itself, but it was never a bad idea to carry weapons around a large group of bokoblins. Mentally chained to the Stalfos they might be, but its control over them was as dependent on fear as its unnatural bond, which was strained now that it touched so many at once.

Such examples seemed unnecessary, however. The normally impudent beasts were giving their master and its mount a wide berth. The Stalfos did not even need to fix its eyeless gaze directly on them… until two of the swine approached him from behind.

Without uttering a sound, the Stalfos wheeled the Stalhorse around and, in the same motion, separated the first bokoblin from its head. He was about to do the same to the second before it fell to the ground, its three-fingered hands held high to show it meant no harm. The Stalfos did not bother to look at the beast it had just slain, nor did it acknowledge the terrified squeals of its brethren. What mattered was the swine that still lived — and the message it contained.

Delving into the bokoblin’s mind was a simple affair, though not as thorough as that of the Demon King. The Stalfos was only granted a portion of that power, but that was more than enough to sift through the brains of these dim-witted creatures.

This bokoblin was a lookout, one of the few far-sighted of its kind. The Stalfos traced the beast’s linear line of thought. It had been waiting for three of its brethren — scouts — to return. They had not. The bokoblin feared, even now, what that message might mean for itself.

The Stalfos would have taken dry satisfaction in fulfilling that fear, but it could ill afford to lose more of the beasts under its command. All were needed to accomplish the task that would earn the Stalfos the greatest honor under the Demon King — the honor of Karanlik.

The skeletal monster had nearly killed the bokoblin that had borne news of that prize. Why allow word of it to reach others that might be capable of claiming it? But murdering his Master’s messenger before its task was complete would be foolish to the extreme. No, better to remain in his Master’s good graces and hasten to find — and kill — the boy first.

The Stalfos was well positioned to do so. Its camp lay in the shadow of Dueling Peaks, on the sloping side of a hill just north of the river. Its steep southern face met the inlet from which one of the newly sprung and cursed Sheikah towers rose. On the hill’s gentler northern side, a score and a half of Bokoblins lay in wait. If the boy circled this way to reach the tower, he would be dead by the time he realized what was waiting for him.

Taking no chances, the Stalfos had also stationed ten bokoblins on the south side of the river, ensuring that the boy would meet his end on either bank. If he somehow proved a match for the smaller band, it would not be without the larger noticing.

Such precautions would likely be unnecessary. The boy, the Stalfos had been told, would seek out the towers, that this tower in particular was likely along his path and therefore too tempting to pass up.

The bokoblin’s thoughts confirmed as much. The Stalfos had heard nothing of any patrolling stablemen since its band had arrived the day before. If three scouts between here and the plateau were dead, it had to be the boy’s handiwork.

The Stalfos was resigned to the fact that the boy was likely to journey by day, robbing it of the personal pleasure of killing him itself. The same held true for the flock of keese — creatures that hunted only at night — currently hiding in the crevices of the mountains. That was why it had driven the blade of fear into the swine, a reminder to finish the deed in the Stalfos’s absence. If it rose the following night to find failure, any bokoblin still living would wish the boy had finished it.

Dawn was still an hour away, but the Stalfos was not going to take any chances. It would not trust the bokoblins to let its bones rest undisturbed. A small niche at the base of the mountain — well away from both camps — would do tonight. Before it turned the stalhorse in that direction, however, the Stalfos stopped one last time in the middle of the camp, sending out a final message to its followers.

The boy will likely arrive here tomorrow. You will kill him, but leave the body unspoiled. The Master has commanded it. Fail in any of this, and I will send you to join that.

That last the Stalfos said while pointing to the headless corpse of the slain bokoblin, which lay in a wide swath none of its companions dared approach. The dumb beasts backed further away still, nodding and snorting their intended obedience.

Once again, the Stalfos wished it could smile.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 12: DUELING PEAKS



Link rose with the dawn’s light to see Brigo already up and preparing for their departure. He did not dally, but rather pitched right in to help his friend break camp.

Their conversation the previous night had only strengthened Link’s trust in the patrolman. Brigo had indeed been taken aback by his tale, but not once did he doubt its truthfulness.

“If yeh say yer the ruddy hero wot escorted Princess Zelda and fought Ganon with his legendary sword, so be it, lad!” his friend had said with good humor while shaking his head at the magnificence of it all.

Though grateful for Brigo’s confidence, Link was unsettled that parts of his storied failure had survived a century’s passing. When he pressed this concern, however, the patrolman had simply shrugged and dismissed it.

“Yeh do no want to be proclaimin’ who yeh are to every soul yeh meet,” Brigo admitted. “No one’s too keen on wot exactly happened. A few tales are still swapped wi’ a pint or two, but most o’ wot I heard is more about Ganon. Most I ever heard about yerself is that yeh carried a great magic sword an’ that yeh were Hyrule’s...wot was the word? Oh, tha’s right, Champion. That’s allus how yeh were called in the stories. That bein’ said, everyone knows these hard times started wi’ the Calamity. Some are more bitter than others, mind yeh, but only ‘cause they heard tell from their granddaddies about the good ol’ days.”

Link hoped Brigo was not sparing his feelings, but neither was he eager to find out. If this Impa was still truly alive, she would have more answers than any number of travelers’ stories put together.

What few questions Brigo had asked were not overly invasive, merely efforts to clarify those hazier portions of Link’s tale. He did not, much to Link’s relief, pursue the subject of his relationship with Zelda. Link himself tried not to dwell on that, nor would he until he knew how to begin to amend his failure to her and Rhoam. Instead, Brigo had been more eager to discuss what lay ahead rather than what had already transpired one hundred years ago. Link was grateful for that and for his experience, which was helpful almost immediately.

“Kakariko Village?” the patrolman had confirmed with a raised eyebrow. “Why, ‘tis but a day’s journey north from the stable. Ah’ve been there meself a few times, only to accompany the odd trader and his cargo to the place, mind yeh. I should no be surprised, seein’ as yer carryin’ whatever that thing is. ‘Tis clearly Sheikah-made.”

That last Brigo had said while gesturing off-handedly to the slate hanging from Link’s belt. Again, to his relief, the patrolman had not pursued the matter. It was clear, however, that he understood much from what he saw, thanks in no small part to his travels around Hyrule. What had truly surprised Link was his unexpected offer.

“‘Course, I’ll accompany yeh if yeh’ve no objection,” Brigo said casually. “We’ll pass the stable on our way an’ I’m due fer a break after patrollin’ fer two weeks straight. Sure as anythin’ there are worse ways to spend a few days than makin’ sure some bygone hero gets to someplace ‘e can no remember. I’ll deliver meh report an’ then we’ll be on our merry way.”

Link had gladly accepted. He did not doubt his own ability to survive, but traveling blind in a land he no longer remembered was no way to make his journey quickly. To that end, he had willingly explained to Brigo his need to reach the tower and retrieve from it the portion of the map it no doubt contained. His friend had readily agreed.

“I can tell yeh I’m interested to see yon tower meself,” Brigo admitted before settling down for the night. “No harm in makin’ sure that side o’ the river is safe as well.”

With that, Link was left to the first watch with his heart lighter and stomach fuller than at any point since awakening on the plateau. Those feelings increased as they finished gathering their supplies now, readying to set off for the tower. They would, Brigo had told him, follow the Hills of Baumer on which they had camped, giving them a clear view of the river and its banks for at least part of the journey. After that, they planned to descend to a natural rock bridge often used to cross the Squabble (as Brigo had informed Link the river was named).

It was but the walk of a moment to ascend what remained of the hillside. The eastward path they had left the previous night disappeared into a small wood immediately below them. Brigo had assured him they would return to the road after visiting the tower, as it cut directly between the mountains and led straight to the stable.

To the south, Link saw the Baumer descended into a swamp that half-swallowed what had once been a sizable village. The remaining houses were in an even more advanced stage of decay than those he had passed the previous day. He gestured toward the place with a greave-clad arm.

“What was that place, Brig?” Link asked. “Did it also fall to the Calamity?”

Brigo looked briefly at the forsaken spot and nodded.

“Aye, ‘tis another corpse left behind by Ganon’s handywork,” the patrolman said sadly. “Deya Village was ‘ome to the best river fisherman born wi’out fins or wings, or so ‘tis said. Not too much o’ their history is known, but what we do know is kept in a few books sittin’ at the stables so patrolmen know their routes. Deya supplied the East Post -- the ruins yeh passed yesterday -- wi’ food. The Post guarded ‘em in return fer their troubles. When the Post fell, well, Deya did no stand a chance against the Calamity.”

The East Post. Deya. Was one of those places my home? The thought came to Link suddenly. Rhoam had told him much, but there were so many holes that the urgency of his mission and lack of time had left unfilled. He thought of the fishermen, their wives and children, defenseless under the onslaught of Ganon’s rage.

Brigo’s hand halted Link’s arm halfway to its unconscious journey to the sword hilt over his shoulder.

“Yeh can no carry the burden of the world on yer own two shoulders, lad,” Brigo said quietly. “Yeh did what yeh could and yer settin’ out to do more. ‘Tis all anyone could ask o’ yeh.”

Link could not vocally argue the point, even if his heart still protested. It did so more quietly, however, at the sight of the tall patrolman looking down on him with concern, for all the world like an older brother tending to his younger sibling.

“I know what you say is true, Brig,” Link responded slowly. “It will take time and action for me to feel it.”

Brigo nodded sympathetically.

“I would no expect anythin’ different from yeh, lad,” the patrolman said bracingly. “So let’s get a move on, then, shall we?”

The pair resumed its march along the hilltops, the ruins of Deya slowly sliding behind their right shoulders. The last hill was the largest, topped by a trio of nearly identical trees. It gave them an ample view of the surrounding area. Clouds scudded in from the west behind them, muting the midday sun’s light. Link saw they were now much closer to the tower, which loomed over the river on the opposite bank.

Movement. It was fleeting, like an insect fleeing his line of sight. Link’s eyes narrowed, but could not discover whatever had caught their attention in the first place.

“See somethin’, lad?” Brigo asked. Link started, having half-forgotten about his companion. He saw the patrolman was also scanning the area around the tower, hoping to confirm what Link may or may not have seen.

“I thought I did,” Link admitted, “on that hill behind the tower. If there was something, it’s gone now.”

Brigo nodded thoughtfully.

“Might’ve been a heron lookin’ for fish. There’s a pond on the other side o’ that hill, so birds get the best o’ both worlds from there, don’t they? But allus best to assume the worst is possible,” the patrolman admitted. “We’ll see soon enough.”

With that, Brigo began descending the grassy hill. Link followed closely behind, glancing every so often at the opposite bank. He saw no sign of what he had previously glimpsed. That hill — which jutted out from the northern twin peak — appeared lifeless, save for the visible orange gleam from the neighboring Sheikah tower.

Their own hill emptied into the the small wood that ran alongside the river. Nothing disturbed the tranquility within.

“Yeh hear it, don’t yeh, lad?”

Brigo’s unexpectedly hushed voice nearly caused Link to draw his sword. Only now did he realize his companion was half-crouched as he was, remaining silent at the behest of some sixth sense. At first, he did not understand the question. Then it dawned on him.

“It’s too quiet,” Link agreed, albeit softly.

Brigo nodded. “‘Tis an odd thing when yeh can no hear a blinkin’ squirrel or bird in a grove next to a river. Somethin’ ain’t right. See that slab o’ stone? Hide yerself be’ind it whilst I take a look around.”

Link nodded as Brigo backtracked into the woods. Speech was an unnecessary risk, now, at least until it was proven otherwise. He stalked quietly toward the rock outcropping his friend had pointed out. The east-bound path cut directly through the woods. The rock was on the other side, between the road and the river. He used the trees for cover, not moving until he ascertained no one — or nothing — else was watching. Link hastened across the road as quietly as he could. The mound lay lengthwise in the ground, but even so, it was still tall enough to conceal him from most of the woods as well as the river.

Link did not have to wait long. Brigo returned as stealthily as he had left, jerking his head behind him.

“There’s eight, maybe ten bokoblins further back in the trees,” Brigo said quietly. “Most of ‘em ‘ave kipped off to sleep. Lazy gits if they ‘ave nothin’ to keep ‘em occupied. Though I do no doubt yer skill wi’ yer blade, I’d rather get to that tower o’ yers an’ then press on to the stable. The folk there need to know about this, an’ that won’t happen if we’re slain tryin’ our odds here.”

Link nodded, willing his hand to release the hilt of his sword despite himself. Whether it was overconfidence or instinct, some inner bravado told him ten of the beasts were not cause for alarm. Still, he did not argue with Brigo, who knew the countryside and his stable’s needs far better than Link.

Brigo stopped a moment longer to retrieve something from a narrow side pocket in his pack. From it, he withdrew three arrows. Instead of pointed heads, however, they were topped with small, tightly bound bags of red cloth.

“I did no carry a bow wi’ me, but you do, so these’ll be useful if we get into a scrap,” Brigo said while handing the arrows and a large scrap of cloth to link. “If yeh haven’ used ‘em since wakin’ up, yeh’ll not remember what they are. They’re bomb arrows. Loose ‘em with enough speed, they’ll deliver a gran’ wallop the moment they strike the ground. Use the cloth to keep ‘em separate in yer quiver. Yeh do no want them to rub yer other arrows the wrong way, if yeh catch meh drift.”

Link nodded to show he understood, then carefully stowed the trio of bomb arrows in his quiver as instructed. The objects also reminded him of another weapon at their disposal — the Sheikah Slate. There had been no need of it since leaving the plateau. There might be now.

Quietly as they could, the two travelers swiftly made for the rock bridge that lay directly before them. It zig-zagged across two thirds of the river. A handful of sporadically placed boulders accounted for the remaining distance.

Link motioned for Brigo to go first, unshouldering his bow to show his friend he would act as rear guard in case they were discovered. The patrolman nodded, then proceeded across the bridge. Neither he nor Link wasted any time traversing the first and longest portion. Once they arrived at that section’s end, Brigo stopped only to briefly gauge the distance he’d need to jump, then did so with little fanfare.

If the bokoblins in the woods were awake, they had not noticed the two humans openly traversing the river. Mentally thanking the trees’ cover, Link shouldered his bow to finish the crossing unencumbered.

Brigo reached the opposite bank just one jump ahead of Link, who immediately unshouldered his bow again as soon as he joined his friend. There was no sign of the bokoblins emerging from the woods, however, allowing both Hylians to momentarily relax.

“Hylia favors us, lad,” Brigo said. “The pigspawn’ll likely snooze away the day. Let’s get a move on to that tower.”

The structure, which stood but a short walk away, sprouted from the center of a small cove continuously fed by the Squabble. Though the neighboring hill rose nearly halfway up its length, it lay too far removed from the tower to serve as a means of reaching the tower. Link, saw, however, another series of half-submerged boulders offering a rough path to the tower’s base.

“There, Brig,” Link said while pointing out there way. “We can climb from the bottom, just like I did on the plateau.”

The patrolman nodded. “Lead the way, lad.”

The pair traversed the makeshift path as quickly as they could, aware they were still very much exposed to the southern bank and woods. Like their first crossing, however, they reached the tower with no disturbance. The last boulder on which they stood butted up against the structure’s base, allowing them an easy start to the climb.

Brigo could not help but reach out and touch the bronze grillwork through which the orange core of the structure shone.

“What me pater’d say if ‘e could see ‘is only son touchin’ the work of the Sheikah,” the patrolman murmured in awe. “Never mind touchin’ it, I’ll be climbin’ the bloody thing!”

Link grinned at his friend’s honest amazement.

“I’ve had enough of Sheikah monuments,” Link laughed. “After this, I’ll be eager to meet their builders and get some answers. Come on, friend.”

With that, they began to climb with Link leading the way. As its twin on the plateau had done, the tower offered easy handholds via the bronze grillework. They were making their way quickly and had made their second stop on one of the small platforms to catch their breath when Brigo gasped and pointed toward the adjacent hill.

“Blessed Hylia, protect us!”

More than a score of bokoblins pockmarked the hill like a disease, only now visible due to the fact that Link and Brigo were high enough to see its far side slope away from them to the north. The beasts were camped on that slope now, though clearly keeping their presence as inconspicuous as possible. Brigo had immediately crouched down behind the raised lip of the step-like ledge they had reached, and Link was only a split second behind him.

“A band that size’ll have at least one scout fer sure,” Brigo whispered. “We’ll be in its line o’ sight, now, and it’ll be Hylia’s mercy alone that keeps it from seein’ us.”

Link was torn. He needed the information the tower contained, but obtaining it would no doubt expose them to a pack the size of which his friend had never encountered before.

Have I? he briefly wondered.

Dismissing the thought, Link brought his attention back to the present.

“The towers are here for the slate, and I’m the one who was left with it,” Link said half to Brigo, half to himself. “We’re already here, and we may not get this close again.”

Brigo nodded thoughtfully, then quickly motioned to Link. “Gimme yer bow an’ quiver. I’ll cover yeh from here while you do what needs be done.”

Link willingly obliged, handing over the wooden bow and half-full quiver to his friend. He waited until Brigo had both situated to his liking, then waited for his blessing to go.

“Good luck, lad,” the patrolman said with a grin.

Link smiled back. “You too, Brig.” Then he turned toward the face of the tower, took a breath, and launched himself up the grillework as fast as he could.

* * *

Only one quarter of the tower’s length remained when Link heard a horn sound into the cloudy, late afternoon air. Risking a glance down, he saw that a bokoblin stationed near the hill’s summit had indeed seen him. It was alternating between blowing its horn and pointing at him frantically. Its excited squeals were barely audible at this height, but Link did not need to hear them to know trouble was on the way.

He let himself down on the final platform below the top of the tower, giving his hands the briefest of respites from the completely vertical climb. Link heard Brigo yell from the platform below him.

“I see yeh, yeh great snivelin’ pigspawn! Here’s a present from ol’ Brigo an’ the Dueling Peaks Stable!”

A short pause, then an explosion louder than any Link could remember hearing. Looking down, he saw a small fire and a billow of smoke rising from where Brigo’s bomb arrow had no doubt landed. Link could make out at least two motionless bokoblins in the chaos, but their surviving brethren had already gathered themselves from the shock of the attack. Most were streaming down the hillside, from where they would no doubt reach the tower just as the Hylians had. A handful remained at the top of the hill, where they began firing arrows at Link and Brigo.

A shaft glanced off the tower immediately above Link’s head, and he briefly thanked the fates he had not already resumed his ascent. Another shout emitted from Brigo, followed by another bomb arrow directed at the small group of archers. The fiery blast forced Link to close his eyes. When he opened them again, only scorched corpses remained atop the hill.

“Hurry up, lad!” yelled Brigo from below. “I do no want to find out if the swine can climb this thing!”

Berating himself for waiting this long, Link resumed the climb as speedily as he could. Now he was only a couple of his own body lengths from the platform opening. The bokoblins’ guttural squeals sounded closer, now. Link could only hope their haste would work against them while traversing the river rocks.

At last, Link hoisted himself to the top-most platform, which spread out far wider than the tower shaft supporting it. Link raced to the pedestal at the center, over which hung the familiar stalactite of obsidian-like stone. Out of breath, he slammed the Sheikah Slate into its slot.

As it had on the plateau, the tower flared blue in place of the orange light it had previously emitted. Then an automated voice sounded from the pedestal.

“Tower activated. Distilling local information.”

Blue-glowing Sheikah runes immediately began trickling down the pillar’s length. They gathered at its blunt point, coalescing into a tangible drop of blue light which then dropped onto the slate’s waiting surface.

The map appeared on the slate, but Link did not stop to assess it. Satisfied the tower’s task was begun, he raced to the edge of the platform to see how his friend was faring. Brigo had switched to regular arrows, no doubt saving his remaining bomb arrow for a last, desperate stand.

Link thought that time might be fast approaching. Though Brigo had felled at least three bokoblins en route to the tower, that still left plenty to continue the pursuit. Only two, however, had managed to traverse the boulder-sized stepping stones leading to the structure’s base. The rest were either unable or unwilling to risk falling into the water, something Link made a mental note to remember if he lived long enough to do so.

“Brig!” Link shouted. “Climb up! We’re done here!”

An unintelligible shout answered from below, but Link did not verify his friend’s answer. He raced back to the pedestal, which was just now offering up the newly enhanced slate. He took it and hooked it securely onto his belt, then darted to the opening in the middle of the platform to monitor Brigo’s progress.

Once he was close enough, Link reached down and hauled his companion up to join him. Between breaths, Brigo caught Link up to speed.

“Glad we’re done here, lad, ‘cause that lot down there is hankerin’ to have us in their bloody cook pots!” the patrolman gasped. “If it’s all the same to yeh, I’d rather get outta here and on to the stable.”

Link nodded, but knew fulfilling Brigo’s wishes was easier said than done at the moment. They could not go back down to the waiting bokoblins, some of which might even now be scaling the tower. The river’s boulders and swift current made the Squabble an unappealing destination as well.

The face of the smaller twin mountain rose ominously in front of them to the east. Link was just about to resign himself to the river when he saw another possible route of escape.

“Brigo!” he said excitedly. “You see that ledge? That’s our way out!”

Brigo peered over the eastern edge of the platform and looked down the mountain face. His eyes lighted on what Link had seen: a wide ledge jutting out from the mountainside that wound around and into the gap between the Dueling Peaks. It would have been too high to climb from ground level, but from where they stood it was a steep fall just beyond a jump’s reach.

“I know yer supposed to be a bloody hero, Link, but there’s no way in Hylia we can jump that far!” Brigo exclaimed.

Link was not listening. He had reached behind his back and unhooked the collapsed paraglider from its belt hooks. Unfurling it, he motioned a reluctant Brigo to come closer.

“We won’t get far with the two of us on this, but it should be enough to get us to that ledge,” Link quickly explained while pointing out their path. “The bokoblins won’t have an easy time reaching us, and by the time they get near that ledge we’ll be long gone.”

Brigo scratched his head and looked dubiously at the now unfolded paraglider.

“I did no understand half o’ what yeh just said, but I’m game if yeh are, lad!” the patrolman said bracingly.

Link nodded, then motioned for Brigo to grab one of the two handles with both his hands. Link grasped the other.

“On three, we run and jump off as hard as we can toward that ledge. Ready? One! Two! Three!”

Link had delivered his instructions quickly in the hope that action would override any hesitation on Brigo’s part. It did. Like two participants in a four-legged race, the pair launched itself off the edge of the platform and toward the face of the mountain.

Two bodies’ worth of weight made the paraglider sink far faster than it had during Link’s departure from the plateau. That was actually for the better, as it prevented them from sailing face-first into the mountain. Instead, the paraglider took a buffered fall toward the ledge, which — Link was grateful to see — was easily wide enough for two people. Screams from behind them signaled the bokoblins’ fury at their potential escape.

Bracing himself and hoping Brigo did the same, Link allowed his knees to absorb the impact of their rapid landing onto the ledge. They stumbled into the rocky face of the mountain but were otherwise unharmed from their joint sojourn in flight.

The patrolman looked at his hands, which were shaking uncontrollably.

“Ne’er again,” Brigo mumbled. “I’ll ne’er again wonder what it’s like to be a bloody Rito. They can ‘ave the sky and heaven’s treasures for all I care, so ‘elp me they can!”

Link hastily stowed the paraglider onto the back of his belt, then looked behind to check the state of their enemies. The setting sun showed the bokoblins’ distant silhouettes hopping about angrily at the base of the tower. They would need to traverse at least half a dozen more widely spaced river boulders to reach their side of the cove. Even then, they would be stymied by the height of the ledge on which he and Brigo now stood. That did not mean Link wanted to wait around to see it.

“I know you don’t like traveling at night, but we’ve got to put as much distance between us and them as we can,” Link said urgently so as to jolt his friend from reliving his flying experience. “Do you know how far this ledge goes along the mountain? Can we use it to get to the stable?”

Fear forgotten in the face of necessity, Brigo looked down at Link and nodded firmly.

“Aye, we can follow this a fair bit,” the patrolman answered. “‘Twill run its course just shy o’ the other side. ‘Tis a short distance to the stable after that. We should get there b’fore dawn if yer luck holds out, lad.”

Link smiled. “Lead the way, then, Brig.”

At a swift trot, the companions left their pursuers howling in rage as night’s cloak began to spread overhead.
 
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
CHAPTER 13: THROUGH THE DARK


(Art by toroyuri, DeviantArt)
As fast as they dared, Link and Brigo hastened along the ledge jutting out from the northern Dueling Peak. Neither Hylian knew how much time had passed since their successful “flight” from the tower. They knew only the fatigue their bodies currently felt -- that and the relentless stinging from scratched and bruised hands that half-blindly groped the mountain face to ensure they did not fall off the ledge. Even the light from that night’s nearly full moon was of little help in the narrow canyon that divided the twin mountains.

The companions heard no sign of pursuit from behind. Either the bokoblins had been unable to find a path along the narrow northern bank of the Squabble, or their quarry had outdistanced them. Link was willing to let either possibility be true as long as it meant their reaching the stable safely.

The canyon-funneled wind cut strongly here, but the pair’s flight created enough warmth to combat it. Brigo was leading, one of his hands using his spear to feel out the ledge’s path. Link could not believe it had already carried them this far.

Just as that thought entered his head, Link half-stumbled into his companion’s back. Brigo reached wildly behind him, and Link immediately grabbed him by the pack strapped to his back and pulled him backward. The two tumbled in a heap, though still safely on the ledge.

“Sorry… lad,” Brigo gasped. “Ledge… ends… here.”

Slowly getting to his feet, Link felt his way along the mountain face while testing the ground with his right foot. Sure enough, he found what Brigo’s spear had already discovered. The ledge ended abruptly, leaving an unknown drop to the ground before them.

“We could... use my paraglider again,” Link suggested breathily. “The ledge has hardly risen, if at all, and I don’t remember it being more than three or four of our heights off the ground where we started.”

Brigo’s ragged breaths punctuated the time he took to evaluate the idea.

“This bank… is narrow, Link,” the patrolman countered. “I’m no too keen… on jumpin’ down there wi’out knowin’... what we’re jumpin’ into… even wi’ yer bonnie sail. An’ we can no light a torch if the pigswine be nearby.”

Link nodded to himself, thinking. Finally, a compromise presented itself.

“Let me get behind you. If you’ve got flint in that pack of yours, strike it only until you’ve got an idea of what’s below. Then we can make the jump.”

A hand sporting a ripped glove and no few scratches from their journey found Link’s shoulder and clapped it heartily.

“That’s usin’ the ol’ noodle, lad,” Brigo gamely said. “Gimme a tick to fish out the flint.”

While the patrolmen began sifting through his pack, Link carefully maneuvered around him so he was between his friend and any possible pursuers behind them in the canyon. A clack of steel on stone told him his friend was trying to briefly illuminate their path.

“‘Tis narrow as I said, but a straight jump out’ll do the trick,” Brigo announced. “Dig out that contraption o’ yers and let’s be off.”

Link removed the paraglider from his belt and worked his way next to Brigo at the ledge’s edge. They had each taken a handle apiece when an unnerving screech rent the air, echoing eerily in the canyon.

“Keese!” Brigo hissed. “Filthy lil’ air vermin! No tellin’ how many. Time fer us to be off, lad!”

Link did not bother to ask what a keese was. Knowledge could come later. Survival was now. Without bothering to count down, the Hylians leaped off the ledge and into the darkness.

The fall was considerably shorter than it had been from the Sheikah Tower to the ledge. Their feet touched grass in almost no time. Their landing was accompanied by another screech from the pursuing keese. It was closer, this time.

“Hylia’s hair, they're onto us, lad!” Brigo cursed. “Nothin’ for it but to run an’ hope we make it!”

The patrolman raced forward, letting his spearpoint drag along the mountain wall to ensure they did not stray into the neighboring river. Link ran just behind him, his short sword out in case the keese found them before they reached the stable.

Another screech, then another. Link heard the faint flapping of wings. Not one set, but many. Suddenly Link remembered the bat-like creature he had unintentionally slain on the top of Mount Hylia and knew that was the “air vermin” that pursued him and his friend.

A sharp cry echoed in the canyon, but this one came from Brigo rather than their hunters.

“The stable!” the patrolman cried triumphantly while still running as fast as possible. “Nearly there, lad!”

Just past Brigo’s running form, Link saw pinpricks of firelight emerge from the darkness. Yet another screech sounded behind them as the keese’s telltale flapping sounded closer behind them. His side burning, Link ran flat-out toward the lights, no longer staying behind Brigo now that they were emerging from the canyon. He prayed that no stray rocks or bushes tripped them up over the final stretch of this race between life and death.

A high-pitched voice rang out in the darkness.

“What business have you at a stable of Hyrule?” it challenged loudly. “Answer or be slain, stranger!”

Brigo’s gasping answer shouted in reply.

“Giro, yeh daft twit, it’s me an’ a friend! A flock o’ keese are after us! Rouse an’ raise yer bows, lad!”

A horn sounded ahead from where the unknown voice had accosted them. Other voices shouted in response, accompanied by the sounds of men running to arms.

A blaze of firelight flared from above the scattering of smaller torches Link had seen before. Its source was an enormous flame contained in a raised, metal bowl. The contraption illuminated what could only be the stable, an oversized, multi-sided tent attached to a series of horse stalls. Some of the animals therein were screaming, while others -- Horses used to this sort of thing, Link thought -- seemed perfectly calm. The dirt ground around the stable was packed flat by the constant trodding of boot and hoof.

Roughly a score of men and women, all armed, emerged from the stable and rushed toward Link and Brigo. One man had climbed a ladder from inside the stable to man one of the small wooden platforms that ringed the upper portion of the tent. On each of them, a large crossbow was fixed atop a small wooden pole from where it could be swiveled about.

Link did not stop to admire it. Instead he turned about so as to face the enemy with the stablemen, and not a moment too soon. The torchlight had exposed the keese, which immediately dove toward the Hylians.

Link had already drawn his bow, as had the stablemen around him. Perhaps it was imagination, but the fluttering creatures’ deadly dive seemed centered upon him. He sighted along an already nocked shaft, focusing on the lurid yellow eye of the frontmost keese plummeting directly toward him. His arrow was joined by others, most of which found their targets among the tightly packed swarm.

The creatures wheeled and broke off, screeching in rage at the timely answer from the small band. The fifty or so that remained regrouped in the air, then zoomed in from the right side in an effort to outflank the bows.

Link and the stablemen turned to meet them and loosed another volley. More keese fell, leaving the survivors to again flee to the sky. Their furious screeches echoed unnervingly, but they did not risk a third attack. Instead, they circled well out of range overhead, then retreated back into the canyon within Dueling Peaks.

No cheers emitted from the Hylians. Most simply lowered their bows and lingered a few moments longer to ensure threat had passed. Once they were satisfied, they shouldered their weapons and made their way back to the stable, some in small groups with those they knew well.

Link turned to do the same just as three men were walking up to meet him. One was Brigo, his familiar, large pack of supplies and long spear now absent. To his right was a short, portly stableman with closely cropped brown hair. The other man was taller than Link, but well short of Brigo’s stork-like height. His dark brown hair was braided down each side of his head, and he sported a curling mustache of the same color. His head was topped with a hat fashioned to mimic the same multi-sided shape as the stable tent, and it was him that Brigo introduced first.

“Link, this is Rensa, Equerry of Dueling Peaks Stable,” the patrolman said with a weary gesture. “An’ this scoffin’ windbag is the great Giro, who nearly shot us in the ruddy dark!”

The rotund patrolman shrugged none too apologetically at this.

“S’not my fault,” Giro replied sulkily. “You could’ve been a couple lizalfos for all I knew, running that fast in the dead of night!”

Link dismissed any fault-finding with a clasp of the patrolman’s forearm and a smile.

“You didn’t shoot us, friend Giro,” Link reassured him. “What’s more, you made sure this beanpole and I survived the night.”

Giro perked up mightily, though whether it was over Link’s praise for him or playful insult at Brigo’s expense was unclear. Rensa, meanwhile, stepped forward and offered a hand that Link met with his own.

“Well met, Master Link,” Rensa greeted in a startlingly deep voice. Between that and the firmness of his handshake, Link could see why he had been chosen to be Dueling Peaks’ leader. “We are happy to aid you or anyone under siege from nightspawn. Please, come out of the night and into our stable.”

“Thank you, Rensa,” Link replied warmly. “We are grateful for your welcome.”

The four men turned to make their way back to the stable, from which light shone brightly through a tent flap that had been left open for their return. Brigo was bringing Link up to speed as they walked.

“You lads made short work o’ those air vermin,” he nodded happily. “We three were in the stable. There’s allus two or three who stay as a last line o’ defense for those unable or unlearned to fight. What was it, Rensa, four little ‘uns an’ a pair o’ mothers?”

Rensa nodded as they reached the tent flap, where he allowed the other three to enter first.

“They arrived two days ago from Ovli Plain, near Lake Jarrah,” he confirmed. “Ganonspawn ran them out. Only one had a husband. Now, neither does.”

Link’s concerned interest in the tale was momentarily distracted by his first sight of the stable’s interior. The entire floor was made of slatted wood on which booted steps clunked intermittently. Four-poster beds were lined up against one quarter of the widely angled tent walls, and Link saw two were already in use in the still-dark hours of early morning. Lanterns hung from wooden beams that helped support the tent, most of them now lit in the aftermath of the brief battle with the keese. Those with whom Link had fought were seated at several of the round wooden tables clustered by another portion of the tent wall. Many of them drank from wooden pints undoubtedly provided by the stable. Immediately next to the tent door through which they had just entered sat a u-shaped counter, where another braided and mustached man was keeping busy providing drinks and consulting a parchment.

“That is my brother, Tasseren,” Rensa offered. “It is a running joke that Hylia wanted twins stationed at the Dueling Peaks Stable. Whether it is funny or fate, we are content to do what needs doing in these parts. Tasseren! Get us four pints, will you? I must speak with these three.”

Rensa’s twin nodded and immediately filled four wooden mugs with a frothy liquid issued from a barrel behind him. After sliding them toward the grateful foursome, he jotted down a note on the parchment.

“He is a good man, Tasseren, but as reserved as Brigo here is rowdy,” Rensa murmured for Link’s benefit. He nodded the group toward one of the empty tables somewhat apart from those already seated. Brigo did not wait until they sat, however, to return the conversation to its previous subject.

“Yeh said those women an’ their young ‘uns came from Ovli Plain?” Brigo asked with a note of surprise. “Why the devil didn’ they jus’ head over to Hateno Village?”

Rensa did not meet Brigo’s questioning look, but his hand asked him to keep his voice down before answering.

“That is what I wish to speak about,” Rensa said quietly.

They did not talk again until they were seated and had taken a couple of healthy draughts from their pints. The brew lent Link a warmth he had not known was needed after a full night’s flight through the canyon. Despite the ominous tone of Rensa’s previous words, Brigo and Giro were clearly at ease enough to see which of them could down his entire mug first in one go. Giro won, forcing a muttering Brigo to hand over a small, green gem Link could not identify.

“If you are done drinking the stable dry,” Rensa interrupted wryly before continuing in earnest. “Firstly, I am glad you are all right, Brig. More than two weeks is a long time for anyone to be out.”

Brigo waved off Rensa’s concern. “Yeh’ve no right to be worryin’ yer great braided head over meh. I ken fend for mehself, though truth be told,” he admitted belatedly, “Link here did pull meh fat out o’ the fire at Proxim Bridge.”

Rensa nodded as he shifted his gaze to Link.

“Brig told me of your skills,” the equerry explained. “He is not given to blind praise when it comes to food or fighting, so I know you are truly a gifted warrior. You showed as much tonight by joining us despite the hard road you ran during the night. I thank you for that.”

Link was not sure what to say, so he simply nodded and took another drink to hide his discomfort with the praise being heaped upon him.

Rensa, meanwhile, had shifted his attention back to Brigo.

“In all, how many do you think you saw?” he asked the patrolman.

“Including the three Link put down and one I took care of the day before that, nearly two score,” Brigo answered while shaking his head. “Mind yeh, most were part o’ that large group I already told yeh about. Never seen a brace that big before, not e’en in Tabantha. I don’ know what they were doin’, but it can no be anythin’ good, can it?”

Brigo briefly glanced at Link at the end of his report, all but confirming he had not divulged Link’s story to the equerry. Link kept his eyes on his mug, but nodded ever so slightly to show he understood and appreciated his friend’s confidence.

“Two score bokoblins?!” Giro’s voice was very nearly a squeak, one that belied his rotund form. “What in the name of blessed Hylia are that many doing in one place?”

Silence met the question. Link knew why he and Brigo were not answering, but he was surprised to see Rensa being equally pensive while rotating his half-empty mug in his hands. Brigo, apparently, noticed the equerry’s behavior as well.

“Spit it out, Rensa,” Brigo said bluntly, if quietly enough so those at the other tables would not overhear. “What is it that yeh know? Does it have to do wi’ those two widows yeh was talkin’ about earlier?”

Rensa nodded while still keeping his eyes on his mug.

“You are right, Brig, that they should have fled to Hateno Village,” the equerry answered slowly. “It is closer. The passage easier. They did not because they could not. They had no safe path to the village.”

“What rubbish is that, they ‘aven’t got a path?” Brigo snorted. “There’s a road south o’ the plain that leads straight to the village, o’ at least there was three moons ago.”

Rensa lifted his eyes now, the lantern light playing off their seriously drawn features.

“You misunderstand,” the equerry grimly corrected him. “They had no safe path. The woods just west of the village are overrun by Ganonspawn.”
 

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