Ill Met By Twilight

It was a field.

A fairly boring field honestly. None of the endless vistas of Hyrule Plains, nor the dusk lit skies of her home. It was just a field on a gently sloping hill. Blanketed by blue skies and bathed in sunlight.

There were cabbages. Or maybe lettuces. He would have known which...

Groaning at the brightness, and at the hollow pain in her chest, Princess Midna threw a robed arm over her face and rolled onto her stomach. Taking a breath, inhaling the scents of dirt and growth, she let the comfort of the momentary darkness ease her rising anxiety.

Then she stood in a single smooth movement, surveying her surroundings with a grace and composure that would have had her harried old etiquette tutor weeping with joy. The complete lack of anyone nearby to see her did take a little of the satisfaction out of it; Only for the disappointment to be overridden by relief when she noticed the dirt clinging to her robes and face.

With a sigh she considered that there had been some advantages to being trapped as a hideous little imp monster. No-one would have judged her for being dirty when she was in that form.

Raising a considering finger her lips, she reflected that if she'd socialised much as an imp then the judgement might have been that the dirt improved her appearance. Or rather, that it masked her ugliness.

In the back of her mind fierce blue eyes blinked their disagreement at her, until she buried the memory of them.

A simple cantrip cleansed her body and clothes. Though it was no substitute for a good bath and she certainly needed one of those. Then Midna finally admitted to herself that she had no idea where she was or what she was doing there. Facts that were made all the more worrying by the alien sensation in the air: the smell and taste of the breeze; the glare of the sunlight; the flow of ambient magicks across her skin. None of it was unpleasant, per se, but it was all

Like she had walked into an almost exact copy of her bedroom. Comforting familiarity jarred with subtle disparity. This was definitely not the Light Realm...

So where was it?

"Well, no use standing around waiting for answers." She huffed under her breath. Talking to herself was a habit that had always gotten her in trouble in her childhood. Time spent with her silent wolf had served to unearth the habi-

Too late she caught herself. Too late to avoid the rush of misery. Wherever she found herself, it was not the Realm he called home. He was still lost to her. Their connection had been severed by her own duty-bound hand. Without anyone around, without anyone watching her, Midna could not find the strength to hold her composure and the tears began to flow in earnest.

But she had always been practical, preferring to meet her misfortune head on than to wallow in it. That slightly masochistic drive had been what made her get up from the twisted ruins of her Realm and embark on a journey to reclaim it. Now it was what dried her tears almost as soon as they had begun.

Yes. She had fallen in love.

Yes. She had lost that love.

Yes. She had been thrown into some distant land instead of returning to her people.

However that didn't mean she was going to act like a child and sit around weeping and wailing. What was one more pain in her library of hurts? Even if this one felt like it should be given pride of place.

So determined, she swept the tears from her face, being careful to neutralise their power. Her family's tears held potent magicks of unravelling and she had no wish to ruin this crop of...whatever they were.

Then she checked her clothes' many charms still held strong -especially the shielding anklets that her people used in place of heavy boots- and once reassured that they did, she picked a direction at random and began to walk.

Walking turned out to be extremely tiresome.

By the time dusk brought sweet relief from the sun, it felt like she'd covered dozens of miles. Unfortunately after almost two years of travelling the vastness of the world she could count paces too well for her own good. Even through the kind of dense forest that she'd been trekking through.

It had been barely three miles. Barely.

If her wolf had covered such a pitiful distance in the time from early afternoon to sunset then she would not have held back with her barbs. At least she didn't think so. She couldn't know for certain because even when he was injured beyond what his Triforce Piece and Hylian magic could quickly heal, Link had never been this slow.

Midna defended her performance with surety that it was a difference of stamina rather than fitness. She was well trained to fight with fist, spell or spear. She had been almost too active as a child. Surely if it was a short distance, a sprint, then she would do far better. Why she'd even beat long as he wasn't in the form of the Sacred Beast...and he was wearing all of his armour...

The point was that it was completely fine for her to be tired already. In fact stopping to rest her legs was entirely necessary. If she didn't get enough rest then her stamina would never improve.

Pulling some Wolfos jerky out of her Pocket, Midna set about attempting the impossible feat of eating jerky in a dignified fashion. Then she promptly gave up and began chewing and tearing at it with the dignity of hunger. Which is to say, no dignity at all. At least it tasted nice enough, though almost any food was a priceless treasure in her view, so long as it wasn't goat.

With nothing else to do as she ate, she reached into her Pocket once more and withdrew a far more sombre treasure.

To touch it with her hands would have been like running her tongue along a bolt of lightning, even in its divided state. Instead Midna reached out with her inner self, with magic both personal and born of her bloodline, the two intertwined so much that she thought even Zelda's transcendent genius would have struggled to pick them apart.

Her people's treasures eagerly answered her call. Rising from her Pocket and orbiting her in gentle harmony. Their magic welcoming her focus as it had all the many many times she had studied their brilliance.

It had been an early mark in Link's favour that he saw the same beauty in them that she did. For as much as they were of Shadow and Darkness, they certainly were not of Evil. Perhaps they had been born in such vileness, but their long sojourn deep within the holy places of both Light and Twilight had purged that horror from them. The last of it fallen to the Hero's own blade.

What remained was the true inheritance of her family. The true majesty of her people. The proof that for all that their ancient mistakes might haunt them, the Twili had achieved wondrous things.

Which made their flaw all the worse. The shattered ruin of the first Fused Shadow, the crown that she had won from the labyrinth beneath the Sacred Beast's Temple in her youth, now reduced to crumbled pieces by the hand of Ganon himself. Destroyed by her folly, to try and match herself against one of the Chosen. The Bearer of Power himself.

It struck her as a repetition of her ancestors mistakes, in a way. They had measured their artifice against the Goddesses' endless Power and been found wanting, she had used their creation against one who held a fragment of that Power and had almost as little success.

She plucked the fragments out of the air, shivering at the magic that overflowed each piece and made her fingers feel simultaneously over-sensitive and numb. Their strength was undiminished...but the structure was shattered. Every delicate mana circuit, every precisely chosen rune, every finely balanced enchantment, thrown out of order and broken apart.

For all their depravity Midna had to acknowledge the masterpiece her ancestors had crafted. A masterpiece she had ruined. All because she intruded on a battle she had no place in.

Finishing her last chunk of jerky, she washed it down with a conjured stream of water and rose to her feet once more. It was warm enough to keep going for a while longer and while the night promised to be overcast, it wasn't as though she needed light to navigate.

Once the sun went down completely, Midna felt her pace increase. Sharing her soul with Zelda had allowed her to walk in the light but it she was still better suited to its absence. Which suited Midna just fine.

Without the risk of stumbling across some easily spooked woodsman, she could pull down her hood and shake her hair out of its confinement. Almost immediately she decided to remove her royal hair ornaments as well. They were horrible fiddly things, even with the spells that guided her hair into them, it was enough to make her wish for a maid for the first time in more than a year.

'And to think I was worried that I would be too used to my independence to return to pampered living.'

Dropping them into her Pocket with a grin, Midna took a breath of the night air and savoured it. The rising urge to panic was a hard thing to resist, but wherever she might find herself, the Princess of Twilight did not falter so easily.

Tucking her hair back under her hood, Midna stepped over a fallen branch, around a tree that looked ready to join it, and saw the edge of the woods. Having spotted a satisfying finish line for the day's journey, she hurried right up to the border and looked out over the land she would be walking through the next day.

It was distressingly wet. Not quite a marsh but close enough to make her shudder. It continued for a long way in every direction but one; to the north of where she stood there was tall and steep hill with a few ruins crowning it, at its base the forest resumed.

Seating herself upon the air, Midna considered her next move carefully as she stretched her stiff limbs. She had to get back to her people, which meant finding magic users who could help her figure out what had happened. That meant she needed to locate people of whatever sort lived around here. Unfortunately she had no idea how to figure out what direction she could find them in.

Link would have known. He'd have sniffed the air and felt the wind and nodded in the exact direction that they needed to walk in order to find a village or a caravan or something. Since she wasn't the Chosen Hero and lacked much of his skill-set, Midna decided to settle for tossing a dice to decide. With that in mind she had just begun hunting through the morass of clutter in her Pocket -certain that there would be a dice in their somewhere- when she saw the unmistakeable glow of firelight from the ruined tower atop the hill.

Her goal was far closer than she had realised. Too close to wait until morning to head for it. She dropped back to the earth and started across the not-quite-a-marsh that lay between her and whoever was up there. Holding back a shudder at the vile sensation of mud slipping over her feet, held back by the power of her anklets, but close enough to feel its horrible disgusting slimey chill.

By the time she was halfway across, Midna was missing her wolf more fiercely than ever. She glanced up at the distant firelight to remind herself why she was trudging through this muck in the first place and so she was looking right at when it disappeared.

Somebody had obviously extinguished the flames in a hurry. Why? Fear of being found? Time to go to sleep? Finished cooking? Explanations spread out in her thoughts and Midna considered that whoever had lit that fire might not be as friendly as she would prefer. For all she knew this was a bandit hide-out or some such, she and Link had cleared out a few such places in their travels, this had several of the hallmarks of one.

Then she felt it. A chill in the air, one that temperature had nothing to do with. A foulness tainting each breath, though the air remained as clear and sweet. It was another thing that felt almost familiar and yet alien all the same, but more important was what the familiar aspect reminded her of. Memories of dark chambers and flowing sand and creatures that should not exist. An ancient prison, for things that would not die.

It was close.

The fire had been extinguished.

Midna was diving towards the nearest shadow before the thought had even begun. Her body lost its colour and she plunged into a sea of darkness, the true substance of every shadow. She shot through the realm, propelled by her people's natural magic. Slipping from shadow to shadow as fast as she could, the distance to the base of the hill closed in a handful of heartbeats.

Her body strained at so much shadow travel so quickly, but Midna refused to slow down. She was more than halfway up the hill before she could take no more and burst back into substance, only to transition smoothly from shadow travel to leaping up the slope on her own two legs.

By the time she reached the ruins her mana circulation had recovered from the exertion, but she remained outside the shadows. It was a useful trick when you had a moving shadow to hitch a ride on, but if she was fighting alone then she'd just tire herself out before the fight began. Though judging by the sounds of clashing metal and desperate shouting, the fight had already begun.

She rushed into the ruins, vaguely noting that it had definitely been a watchtower in the past, working her way through closer and closer to the sound of conflict until she rounded a corner and came across a courtyard ringed by pillars, the sounds of battle emanating from within. Steeling herself for battle, Midna stepped between two of the old stone columns and got her first good look at the combatants.

One side was much as she expected; Dark cloaks and armour around bodies she could feel but not see, they carried swords and nothing else. It was the other side that was nothing like she expected; Instead of bandits or soldiers, the victims were four children in simple travelling clothes. They were holding short swords, but any fool could see that they had no idea how to use them.

Vileness poured off the cloaked creatures, turning the night air oppressive and choking. The children huddled back from them, clutching their blades and retreating two steps for each one that the five cloaks took towards them. Just a few steps remained before a fallen statue would cut off their retreat, already she could see desperation taking hold of them.

"Get back you devils!" cried the plumpest of the four, leaping forward with his blade outstretched. He was thrown back just as quickly, slumping against the stone ground.

Two of them stepped in front of the third, shaking as they prepared to defend their companion. Their bravery was hopeless and they were quickly tossed aside, but it was a charming display nonetheless.

As the final of the four slipped to the ground and began crawling backwards, Midna decided to reward his companions' courage; Punishing the creatures' arrogant demeanour struck her as an appropriate gift.

Letting her fury surge through her, she drew it into the palm of her hand and casually tossed the resultant orb of crackling destruction at one of the monsters.

It detonated and the creature was hurled forward with a wonderfully satisfying screech. It's companions whirled to face her as she stepped out of the darkness, her own cloak keeping her features hidden. Only the glow of her eyes revealed she even had a face beneath her hood.

A gasp from the fat child announced he had regained his senses, pulling Midna's attention away from the cloaks for a split-second. They ceased the distraction to rush her as a group, leading with four very sharp looking swords.

With a negligent giggle, Midna channelling her magic into the familiar vessel of her hair and sent it surging out of her hood. All but one of them managed to dive aside, but the on that didn't was caught by the full force of the blow, only her hair's grip on it kept it from being hurled off into open air.

An instant later she wished she hadn't grabbed it.

Foreign magic erupted from it, soaking into her enchanted hair and fighting to take control. She knew immediately that the power came from more than just the creature she faced. They had magic, she could feel that much, but no where near enough to defeat her even without her ancestors' power.

Whatever it was that fought her control was vastly more powerful than the creature she was holding aloft; Powerful enough to defeat her inch by inch; Powerful enough to shatter her defences and do with her as it pleased. It hurled fractured images at her mind, forcing her to split off more of her attention to blocking them, hastening its path to victory.

Midna had learned her lesson about fighting unwinnable battles, her opponent was hardly Ganon but she didn't have the Fused Shadows to draw upon either. Hurling her captive as far as she could, Midna declared the magical battle a draw and severed her compromised hairs with a casual sweep of her arm, drawing the rest back into her hood.

The whistle of a blade through the air reminded her that she still faced three opponents. Midna hurled herself backwards, barely evading in time. She pulled in her limbs to speed her rotation in the air, getting her feet beneath her in time to land lightly on them.

One of them was already slashing at her as she landed. Spinning into a crouch beneath the blade, Midna let her trailing leg sweep the cloak's boots out from under him.

Before she could exploit the opening, the other two came at her in a flurry of blows. Cutting wildly and forcing her back. She dodged what she could, and blocked the rest with her forearms, trusting the shielding magic there to keep the edges from her skin. Not that it did much to dull the force of each impact.

Their assault grew even more violent as she retreated, and behind them Midna could see the tripped creature was climbing to its feet. Her arms were going numb beneath the onslaught, each block coming slower than the last. In desperation she drew on her power and let it spill from her hands with a ragged shout. There was no time to form a spell but raw power was enough to send them stumbling backwards.

In the moments before they came at her again, Midna reached deep into her Pocket; Into those areas of that her curse had sealed off, all her possessions at the moment Zant had struck her down. There she found exactly what she was looking for.

She drew an ornate spear out of the air, one that she knew as well as either of her hands. It had been a gift when she came of age. The last gift she had received before...everything.

There was no time to reminisce, the creatures came at her yet again and Midna readied her spear.

This time she could deflect their swords properly, and punish them for their openings. In the first exchange she found several opportunities to dart her weapon through their defences, snaking it past their guard and finding purchase in their cloaks. Its layers of enchantment let it bite at their true substance, drawing more of their screeches as they discovered she could hurt them.

When they backed away she twirled her weapon with a bloodthirsty giggle and launched her own attack. After a few probing thrusts she feinted and spun, knocking aside their blades with the haft of her spear then following through with the blade. Though their armour turned it aside, it scratched scars in their breastplates, leaving them glowing with residual mana.

"I wonder how many more cuts you can take." Taunted Midna, "How about we find out?"

A madman chose that moment to ruin the atmosphere by charging through the pillars and hurling a lit torch at one of her opponents. He wielded a sword in his other hand and did so with rare skill. One of the monsters turned to fight him while the one he'd set alight flailed and spun.

The last of them proved more focused than its companions, rushing her with its sword held high. Her martial instructor shouted from a memory and the twilight princess grinned broadly beneath her hood. Then she stood perfectly still, making no attempt to block. Focusing on something other than the approaching monster. Ignoring the dismayed shout from somewhere nearby.

It didn't react to her passive stance, simply finishing its charge with a heavy downward blow.

Which was exactly what she'd been hoping for.

She swayed to the side just far enough for the blade to brush past her hood; Swinging her forearm up to tap ever so lightly against the flat of its sword as it passed her, discharging her latest spell as she did.

Increasing something's weight was the kind of spell that a young princess might learn for the sake of a prank, if they happened to be a prodigal sorceress. However it wasn't something a princess would find practical use for. At least that was what Mistress Prina had made her write ten thousand times after she cast it on everything she could find in the guards' quarters.

Midna crowed internally as the cloaked monster's sword crashed to the ground. Then she spun her spear to an underarm grip and stabbed it in the head.

The tip of her blade had just entered its hood when her weapon stopped dead in the air. Again that distant mage intervened on their behalf, finding purchase among the abundant enchantments upon the weapon and shoving against them with sheer power.

Gritting her teeth, Midna planted her feet and shoved right back. This wasn't an equal battle over manipulation magic. Her spear was spelled for exactly this kind of thing, she had this filthy revenant at the tip of her blade...and she...would! Not! Lose!

The battle ended as abruptly as it began, her spear impaling a head her eyes could not see. She angled downwards and continued her thrust until the blade sank deep into the stone. Even if it wasn't dead, it would at least be trapped for a while.

Midna grinned in breathless satisfaction and took in the state of the battlefield. There were no more of the cloaked creatures in sight. Assuming that the man now fussing over the children was not another enemy, the battle was over and won.

She bent her head and muttered a grateful prayer to the Fierce One, then after a moment's hesitation, followed it with a somewhat less grateful prayer to the Goddesses. Mostly Farore, since of The Three she felt best inclined to she that had chosen Link as her champion.

"Greetings stranger, and well met." said the madman, though with his blade sheathed and no torch to wave around he seemed much more rational. Middle-aged and unkempt but not dirty. He wore travelling clothes, sturdy and coloured to blend into darkness and forests, with a number of pouches belted to him and a second sheath on his belt holding a blade that sung to her a little, enough that she wondered why he had wielded the other in battle. His voice pulled her thoughts away as he continued, "I am a ranger, known as Strider in these parts, and the hobbits that you saved are named Merry, Pippin, Samwise and Frodo." He accompanied each name with a gesture at what she assumed was its owner.

The expectation that she give her own name in turn was plain. The smart thing to do would be to lie about her name, make some subtle inquires -such as what a hobbit was and why all five of them had such strangely rounded ears- and then excuse herself. Midna knew that. Her appearance would make her unwelcome through much of Hyrule and this world might well be even less welcoming. Revealing herself would be foolish and short-sighted; Foolishness more in line with who she had once been then who she had been tempered into...

Midna tossed back her hood and released the clasps that kept her cloak closed around her.

"My name is Midna, wandering adventurer and sorceress. Well met to you as well."

The stunned look on Strider's face would have been hilarious, if the joke hadn't been ruined by the terrified looks the hobbits were giving her. Their looks continued while he recovered his composure.

"Apologies my lady, I'm afraid I have not heard a name such as yours before."

'Polite as well as tactful? I'm almost impressed'

"May I inquire after your homeland?"

Opening her mouth, Midna was surprised to find the words catching in her throat, "I...Have you heard of the land of Hyrule?"

"I haven't."

"Well..." Midna bit her lip until thoughts of her leaderless people ceased roaring in her ears, "...then you definitely will not have heard of my homeland."

"Surely it cannot be so very far? Given you speak the common tongue of these lands."

"I..." With a jolt Midna realised that she had no idea how she was speaking to him at all. The language came as naturally to her as any she had learned, and she had assumed it was one of the more obscure among them...but now she stopped to think, she realised that it was entirely foreign to her. Meaning she had not simply been transported...

She turned her attention to the fearful cluster of 'hobbits' before that line of questioning could continue, "There is no need to be afraid, I do not often eat children."

"Children!?" Yelled the fat one...Samwise?

Merry -or maybe Pippin- picked up the thread, "I may not be of age quite yet, but I'm twenty eight years old, hardly a child. "

'Twenty eight!?' She had heard legends of a race in the Light Realm that remained children throughout their lives, but in all her time there she had seen no trace of them. Had they journeyed to this land? It was certainly worth looking into.

Pippin -or maybe Merry- continued, "How old are you then? To be calling young men such as ourselves children."

Covering her surprise with her sharpest grin, Midna shot back, "It is rude to ask a sorceress her age, and a little unwise."

They almost tripped over one another backing away from her. Strider was left behind by their retreat, leaving him standing halfway between her and the cluster of hobbits. The deepened furrows of caution on his face were enough to make her regret intimidating the little men.

With a deep breath Midna reminded herself of a great many lectures on diplomacy, usually given after she made one of her playmates or, in later years, sparring partners cry...then she softened her features and addressed the hobbits, "I must apologise, I am the one who has been rude. There are none such as you in my homeland and I was embarrassed at my ignorance of your nature. Please forgive my poor manners."

'And if you're not willing to forgive me after that then we'll all see how far I can throw you little pests!'

Fortunately for their continued status as ground-bound and intact, the hobbits were quick to apologise in turn. Merry and Pippin in particular launched into a flowery display of diplomacy that further endeared them to Midna. Assuring her that her mistaken impression was "truly a compliment of our youthful vigour," and that they were merely "taken aback by such a beauty as yours, my lady."

It was a refreshing change from keeping company with a mute and his horse. Even if Link was capable of layering an astounding volume of meaning into a few grunts and a smile, the fact remained that it had been an eternity since she heard proper grovelling.

So focused was she on enjoying the show that Midna missed the warning in Strider's eyes. By the time he loosed a shout, a grip of cold iron had already snapped shut around her ankle. Unlike her bracelets, the charms on her anklets weren't made to stand up to much more than the paltry assaults of mud and thorns, and already they buckled beneath the creature's grip.

The very same one that she had pinned to the floor had stretched out to wrap its armoured fingers around her limb, seemingly untroubled by the magical spear impaling its head. With its free hand it was straining for its dagger, fallen just out of reach at some point in their fight, presumably to try stabbing her if squeezing her foot off failed.

Strider was at her side with his sword raised to strike at the monster, but she was nearly as quick to bar his way.

Before her would-be-rescuer could start with the inevitable questions towards her sanity, Midna began gathering power into a crackling nimbus clenched in her fist. The hand on her ankle was snatched away and she allowed herself a grin at the note of agitation flowing through the creature's mana.

"Oho, so the little cloak can be trained after all? But I'm afraid it's already too late to start behaving, you're due to be punished no matter what."

There was no surge of terror. If anything the creature calmed down at her taunting, settling against the stone and watching her with hidden eyes. It struck Midna quite suddenly that whatever this thing was, it was many years her senior and now well aware of her youth. As if in reaction to the thought, sheer malice boiled out from it, driving her to stagger back in horror as she finally saw its true nature.

A king of times past, stripped of all that he had been and remade in a foul image. It was ancient and terrible and for all that she had caught it off guard, it would not be intimidated by her.

This time she gave no resistance as Strider stepped between her and it, drawing her behind him.

"Careful, my lady. Though weakened this far from their master, the Nazgul are still a terrible foe."

Midna gathered her composure and her courage with it. She had faced worse and she wouldn't be intimidated by this creature either. Even if its disregard for being stabbed through the face was a little unnerving.

She addressed Strider, "My weapon is not mere metal, it is no sacred blade but its enchantments are powerful. Strange that it does so little."

He spoke with a trace of amusement, "To immobilise one of them is no small feat, I have never seen the like of your spear's design but you should think no less of its maker for this." He sighed heavily, and Midna was not sure if he even noticed how his hand strayed to the second of his swords. "I fear that to truly slay one of the nine would require a weapon far beyond the norm."

His words immediately brought one blade in particular to mind. She smothered a laugh at the thought. From all she knew of it, the Blade of Evil's Bane would annihilate these things with its mere presence, that divine sword was probably much more than necessary...

Strider was speaking of setting fire to the creature so she could safely retrieve her weapon, but Midna hardly heard him. Fragmented and sundered that it might be, she had something in her possession that might accurately be described as less than the Blade of Evil's Bane, but much more than her spear.

Certainly the whole could not be used with a piece shattered...but there was power enough in a single piece to create the maddened guardians that link had fought... Might that be power enough to destroy this creature?

Midna stepped around Strider and looked carefully at the twisted monstrosity that it truly was. Examining it as deeply as she dared.

She found a monster to match any that she and Link had stumbled on in that damned prison. Past the darkness, past the wraith-flesh and the cold shroud of hatred, she could just barely see fragments of the twisted magic that had birthed it -focused mainly around one finger of its left hand, beneath the armour, a ring perhaps- from the man it had once been, and they called to mind nothing so much as maggots. Feasting on the lingering scraps of his soul.

Her birthright came eagerly when she called it, though she only let one of the four pieces emerge from her shadow, choosing carefully among the pieces still intact. The mask was most suited to this task. Meant to face whatever obstacle stood in its wielder's path, its purpose was external workings. So if she had to wield only a fragment; then it was this fragment she would wield.

Midna turned her mind to its craft, searching for aspects that functioned despite the incomplete form. Her endless study proved its worth as she realised that some fraction of what was dormant could be woken if she acted in stead of the shattered crown. If she fed mana to this circuit and altered the enchantment here and swept away the overflow from these runes when she woke the power of this design and...

Distantly she was aware that her momentary companions were speaking, but she did not hear. The creature on the ground scrambled to escape, but she did not see. Its distant master looked through its eyes, but she did not sense the attention. She was lost in the depths of her work.

It came together all at once, a perfect working that stretched to infinity in her thoughts. For one beautiful moment she could find no distinction between herself and the wonder of her ancestor's craft. They were both surrounded by what she had created, both supporting it and channelling its power, both singing the same eternal song.

As all moments must, it passed. Midna remembered that she stood in the ruins of a hilltop fort and that at her feet was a creature that had to be destroyed. Between her and it was a sphere of Twilight, its surface flowing with the lines and runes of Twili magic, awaiting only her will.

For once she was solemn, "Goodbye, forgotten king."

It began to screech defiance and was silenced as her spell bathed the hilltop in brilliant light. Magic bloomed into devastation, focused directly upon the creature, piercing deep into the hill beneath it. The creature's magic vanished from her senses, though she waited almost a minute more before she cut off the flow of mana and let herself sag with exhaustion.

Brilliance faded into the dim runic framework of the spell, then that too faded and all that remained was the narrow tunnel she had bored into the depths of the hill, its sides stained with Twilight. For a moment she was afraid that she'd need to climb down to retrieve her spear, then she saw it lying a few feet away, presumably thrown aside by the force of her spell.

Despite her efforts to part the blast around it, the weapon had been scorched badly. Badly enough that she felt a twinge of regret when she walked over and stooped to pick it up. The enchantments within it were severely weakened and she was no runesmith. Until she found someone to fix it, it would be little better than a mundane spear.

The memory of what she had slain easily quieted her remorse.

Turning to find a sword levelled at her chest restored it.

Strider wore the face of a warrior and spoke without warmth. "What are you? What did you do?"

She was too drained to cast anything worthwhile even if she'd had the distance to complete a spell. Her spear was still in her hand, but held loosely and at her side. After careful thought she dropped it to the floor and stayed very still.

"My name is Midna. I am a sorceress from the Twilight Realm, and I swear to you; I am not your enemy."

He did not relax in the slightest. Though Frodo spoke from where the hobbits huddled behind Strider, "The Twilight Realm?"

She addressed the hobbits as well with her reply, "It is home to the Twili, of which I am one. It is a distant place and one that would seem strange to you, but it is not evil, nor are the Twili, nor are our magicks."

The sword remained steady, "It was a fell thing that you wielded to drive back the wraith."

Sword or no sword, Midna had never let anyone understate her accomplishments before, "I didn't repel the creature, I destroyed it."

"That's impossible. The Nine cannot be slain."

"All things have a first." It was a struggle to stay polite with her capabilities being insulted so unjustly, "I understand their nature very well, and I am telling you that it is no more."

Abruptly the sword was back in its sheathe and Strider's expression had eased a little. Now he merely looked mistrustful, rather than ready to kill her.

"If what you say is truth then you have done a great thing here." He still didn't sound like he believed her, "Either way, you saved my companions when I might not have reached them in time."

His brow furrowed as silence stretched on between them. Finally, just as Midna was about to say something, anything to fill the quiet, his lips crooked into a wry smile. Though his eyes did not thaw entirely.

"I suppose that strange times make for strange allies, and I have been a poor ally to treat you so."

The almost apology caught her off guard, "Ah, no, I understand your suspicion."

"Regardless, I should be asking how I might repay your assistance, not casting doubt upon it."

"In that case," Midna pounced on the opportunity, "You could introduce me to a mage of some description. It was probably a magical accident that brought me here, and I want to go home."

More furrowed brow, more deep thoughts. Midna decided to call his eyebrows Zola and Nimka. They were the star crossed lovers in a nauseating play, that her father had loved, about rival houses whose lands had floated far apart. At the climax of the play the lovers worked together to pull the distant islands together, uniting their families and blah blah doe eyes and kissy faces blah.

Anyway, the point was that those eyebrows needed to spend more time apart.

"Then I have a request to ask in turn." His voice called her back to reality and she favoured him with a questioning look. "Would you accompany the five of us to Rivendell? We will be meeting a wizard there who can surely help you, if any wizard can, and-"

"And you wouldn't mind having another fighter if those things attack again?" Midna finished for him.

He didn't disagree.

Though she would never admit it, the affirmation that the wraiths might attack again unnerved her. She would not have surprise on her side next time. Nor the advantage of a heavily enchanted weapon.

A sidelong look at her new sword-wielding companion failed to fill Midna with confidence. Strider seemed capable enough, but she doubted he'd be able to protect the hobbits as well as her. If it came to a fight again, then there'd be nobody to keep her safe. No guarantees.

"What kind of sorceress would I be if I left helpless travellers to fight monsters? Of course I'll accompany you." Strider took the jest for what it was, and returned her grin with a slight smile of his own.

Merry piped up, "So if that's all sorted out, how about a quick bit of bacon before we head out?"

To Midna's secret disappointment, Strider was adamant that they had no time for bacon.

Hours passed after they left the ancient watchtower behind them, just as hours passed across all the rest of the world. However, in this particular location, something waited for the coming dawn. Something strange and new.

Something dark.

As the night went on it spread freely, dying the weathered stones in the colours of dusk and writing across them in green and gold. Where it touched life, that life was...changed. Plants twisted into exotic neon shapes, the few animals that didn't flee were altered even more so. Magic grew thick in the air. A kind of magic unknown even to the wisest of Wizards or the most ancient of the Eldar.

Only one had ever walked upon Middle Earth, and she spared not a thought for what she had left behind her.

Rightly so. For when the dawn came, like in so many a tale, it lifted the dream of Twilight and restored what once was. The Light of true dawn was far beyond what the fragile Twilight could survive. The plants and animals became as they once were, the lines and runes of magic were erased and the colours of Twilight lifted to reveal the unchanged stones.

Except...for one place.

In what was once a courtyard, a thin shaft had been freshly bored into the ground. Created with the same magic that had taken root during the night. It's upper reaches were easily purged by the dawn, but it descended deep, deep into the hill.

Perhaps even that would not have been enough. Perhaps the light would have fallen to the very bottom, and cleansed all that it found there. Perhaps much of what was to come might have been averted.

If only that shaft had not been sown with a very particular seed.

That seed had held terrible magic for more than a millennia. Then it was suddenly left hollow, its powers purged and scoured and torn away, leaving only a hungry shell behind with the faintest echo of a purpose. An echo that it whispered to nothing, with a voice that had no sound.


It did not know what it sought. No power called out to it, no familiar magic reached out to fill the void within.

It yearned and yearned and yearned, with a mind that was less than a mind, a will that was almost without will.

Seek...the power...

That will was on the brink of its end, starved and alone, when it came to a realisation. It realised that though it starved, it was surrounded by magic. Simply not the magic that it knew.

It had been abandoned by the magic it knew.

Seek the power...of the One...

But was it not magic just the same? Why would it still seek what it once had? Why long for what was lost?

Seek the power of...

The seed found itself as a starving wretch thrown into a land of plenty.

It gorged on the magic around it. It filled the space of its lost substance, but it could not hold onto the alien magic, could not replace what it had lost. Yet still it struggled to unite with the magic, fighting for its only hope with the fervour known only to the mindless.

Finally it felt the coming dawn. There was almost nothing remaining of what it had been, but fear of the dawn was among the fragments. It knew that it would not survive the purity of that light.

Then the light touched the spreading Twilight, and at those first purges everything changed. The magic surrounding the seed had shunned it, but now it was afraid, now it was being destroyed, now it sought shelter, any shelter, against the coming doom.

This time, the entreaties of the seed were met in kind. The magic called back with the same mindless drive to survive and in that moment, the two became one.

The seed was filled to bursting, then overfilled. Its lingering power merged with the new magic.

It was reborn.

Seek the power of...the Shadows

Dawn broke across Weathertop. Light re-affirmed its reign in these lands. Its crusading army found every nook and shadow, and reclaimed what had been taken. Even in the deepest pit its rays were dauntless. They seared the Twilight from every surface, and they lit the gold of a ring half-buried in the earth.

Light won the day, unknowing or uncaring of the thin green lines that etched themselves into the ring.

With a final whisper, the newborn horror fell to a kind of slumber, waiting for the end of the light.

Seek the power of the Twili