In contrast to my two previous comedic stories, here comes another longer, and more serious, story.
A Familiar Visitor. A Sudden Deluge. A Horror.
Hovering in the realm between wakefulness and sleep, Zelda hears the call.
It does not take the form of words, but instead a gentle tugging at the back of her mind, a lingering desire, a forgotten responsibility.
For a few moments, she contemplates ignoring it. After all, she is under no obligation, and surely whatever it is can wait until it is lighter outside and much warmer and when she isn't quite so comfortable underneath the fine silk sheets. But she knows that if she does ignore it, she will never get to sleep.
So she throws aside the covers and wraps herself in a heavy fur overcoat and, after a few moment's thought, brings her gleaming, ornate rapier with her.
In the deep of the night, few guards roam the castle. Those that see her acknowledge her but ask no questions, knowing they will get no answers. For the most part, everybody in Hyrule spends the nights hidden away in the warmest, safest place they can find. They stay away from the windows and never, ever go outside.
Dark things roam the night. And if you step out into that darkness you may disappear, never to return.
Zelda climbs flights of spiral staircases, up and up from tower to tower until at last she is at the very top of her castle, and she braces herself and steps outside into the freezing night air.
This far above Hyrule, the air is freezing, and a few tiny snowflakes dance is the breeze that whips up the hems of her coat and chills her beneath the nightgown she is wearing underneath.
She looks down at the city, sprawled out infinitesimally far, far, far below her. She is at the highest point, as high as the tallest mountain peaks, and she knows that in the dank depths of the city it is humid and warm and great fat bloated beasts make their homes in the places where it is always night time.
"What do you want now?" she asks the swirling winds and snowflakes, and the winds answer her.
"He is coming." It is a deep voice, at once calm, wise, and menacing.
Zelda turns and perched on the lip of the balcony like some great hulking statue is the biggest man she has ever seen. He is clad in magnificent armor that is pitch-black and gilded with gold, and the chill wind carries his long red hair tied back in a ponytail into the flutterings of the ornate cape he wears, decorated in graceful patterns of scarlet and gold. His skin is dark but his eyes are bright.
"Who is coming?" Zelda is unintimidated by Ganondorf and his calculatedly threatening demeanour. She wonders often how he acts among those friends of his in the city spread out before them, way down below in the parts where people wake up and are never sure if they will live through the day. She wonders if they know that during the nights when the city sleeps he wends his way up and up and up into the highest spires where the air is cold and the people even colder.
"I… I don't know," Ganondorf says after a time. "Not exactly. But I do know that there are two of us now, and there should be three, and the third is coming. Very soon- maybe even tonight."
Zelda flexes her right hand absentmindedly. The golden mark that glowed there had been tingling with power all week, growing stronger by the day. She knew that the matching one on the back of Gandondorf's right hand was illuminated also. "So what will you do?" She asks. "What will you do when Courage shows up at last? Try to induct him into your little band of friends with a taste for the blood of nobles? Storm up here and claim my crown for yourself?"
"I just may," says Ganondorf dangerously.
Zelda tightens her grip on her rapier. "Why not try right now? What's stopping you?"
He frowns, and she watches him for even a flicker of movement, waiting for even the slightest twitch of his hands towards the broadsword at his waist, but he does not move even in the slightest. Instead, he says mournfully, "What happened, Zelda? How did things end up this way?"
She chooses not to remark on this. The wind howls again, carrying more swirls of snow with it. "The snow is beautiful in the night-time," she says.
"I'll be seeing it later tonight. As rain," Ganondorf responds coldly.
"Why did you come here?" Zelda asks.
"I'm having my doubts." He levers himself up on the edge of the balcony, a single degree away from falling over. "I certainly can't be here any longer. If the bearer of Courage is to even live through this night in our fair city, then something must be done to protect him from whatever monstrosity lurks in Hyrule's depths. Not that you would be aware of that," he adds scornfully, "Up here, so far above the dangers of the darkness."
"Goodbye," Zelda says, without a hint of malice.
Ganondorf seems taken aback, but only for an instant. "Yes," he says, "Goodbye. Until we meet again."
And then he tips himself just that one single degree, and falls smoothly off the edge of the balcony and out of sight.
Zelda watches him land gracefully on another ledge countless stories down, and then jump again, falling heavily with his ornate cape trailing behind him like some bizarre plumage, buffeted by the winds.
"Goodbye, old friend," she repeats softly, before retreating eagerly into the welcoming warmth of her own bed.
Deep within the blanketing darkness of the trees, between the shadows of trunks and branches, a warm light flickered.
Link saw it and rode towards it, urging Epona away from the beaten forest path and towards the firelight. A novice woodsman would have said that there was no way to fit a horse and rider through the narrow spaces between the trees, but Link spotted the gaps and so did Epona, and the two navigated the brush with practiced ease.
He dismounted and stepped into the ring of light cast by the fire. There was a single, thin man seated at the fire's edge, and beside him was an enormous pack at least twice his size.
"Hey," Link said. "Can I sit?"
The man turned to look at him, revealing serene eyes and a wide grin. Link wasn't sure is he was reassured or creeped out. "Certainly, certainly," he said, "I am always glad to meet a Hero on a journey."
"Hero?" Link said, bemused, "Hardly."
"Perhaps you just don't know it yet," the strange man offered. "After all, a Hero needs a Quest, and you can hardly be a Hero if you haven't got your Quest just yet!" He had the unmistakeable air of someone who has just proven their point.
"Could be I don't want a Quest."
"But you will soon have one. Is violence justified for the sake of what is right? Can a good person still commit evil deeds? How far will you go to stop a friend who has strayed from the light? Do you trust your comrades enough to leave your life in their hands? Can you face the darkness in your own heart and prevail? All of these, Hero, are question that you must ask yourself."
"I think you've made a mistake," Link said simply.
"I don't make mistakes," the man said warmly. "Here. Have a present."
He turned around and dug through his pack for a few moments before withdrawing something colourful and pointy and tossing it onto Link's lap. He picked it up and looked at it. "What is…"
It was a mask. Heart shaped and edged with wooden spikes, its two yellow eyes glared out at him from patterns in purple and red. "I daresay you've earned it," the strange man said.
"Earned it…?" Link was confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Nothing, nothing. Why don't you put it with those other little keepsakes of yours?"
In his pack, Link had a pouch that was filled with odd little trinkets he had collected. If you'd asked him where he'd gotten them, he wouldn't be able to tell you, but he hung on to them regardless. There was a gleaming silver ocarina, a battered conductor's baton, an oddly-shaped rock gilt with strange orange designs, and an hourglass with no sand inside it. There were only two souvenirs that he found he actually ever used: the strange green had that he wore out of habit, and the strange, shining sword that felt so very light in his hands.
He took the strange mask, because it felt right to do so.
"Would you like something to eat?" The smiling man asked, and Link looked up from the mask to see a rabbit roasting over the fire, something that had certainly not been there before.
The two shared the food in silence. When they had finished, the smiling man stood up and shouldered his pack like it was nothing. "I really must be going now," he said. "But I will see you again Hero, and perhaps sooner than you think. It is best that you move on, too- there is a storm coming. Continue on down the road and you will find shelter."
Almost as if it is spurred on by his words, Link feels a droplet of water splash against the back of his hand.
"Go on then, Hero, go find your quest."
The man with the eerie grin and the enormous pack disappeared into the darkness of the forest, leaving Link alone in the flickering firelight and the increasing rain.
By the time he had mounted Epona and guided her back to the forest path, the rain had become a steady downpour. By the time he had ridden ten minutes down the road, it beat heavily on his head and he spurred his mount onwards. By the time the trees began to thin and the path grew wider, the rain was a deluge, and Epona clipped along at a gallop.
At once he broke out of the wood and into the open, a boom of thunder marking his passage. He was at the edge of a vast field that seemed to stretch on forever, marked in the centre by a single, gargantuan edifice.
As he made out its silhouette against the flashes of lightning that lit the sky, he saw towering spires, vaulting rooftops, and high walls. It was a city, the biggest city he had ever seen. As he grew closer the city loomed large in his vision- He craned his head and could not see the tops of the high towers, and the massive walls that circled the city dominated his vision and lost their curve.
The city was ringed with a vast moat, a deep river that split in two to form the island in the center upon which it rested. Water poured from drainage holes in the wall to join the rain splashing into the river below, and countless bridges spanned the gap to disappear into doorways of varying sizes.
He crossed a stone bridge. The night was so dark, and the downpour so torrential, that there was a point at the middle where he could not see the city walls looking ahead, could not see the filed looking back, and could not see the river rushing by below.
Link came to an alcove in the wall, dismounted, and knocked. He waited, and when there was no answer, pounded on the door again.
"Is it…?" He said, and then pulled on the thick wooden door with all his might. There was a ponderous creaking, and it swung open slowly, on rusty hinges. "…unlocked," he finished.
As soon as the door is open, Epona reared up on her hind legs, eyes wild with fear.
"Whoah! Calm down, girl, calm down… hey! No!"
The horse bucked back as he tried to grab the reins, and then she was gone, turning and galloping headlong away from the open doorway. His battered pack fell and lay sodden in the rain.
Link knew better than to go after her. He shouldered the pack wearily, and then turned and stepped through the doorway.
The stone walls that ringed the city were think enough that Link got the impression of walking through a long dark tunnel. At last, he stepped out the other side and into the city itself.
Rainwater was everywhere, ankle-deep on the streets, pouring from gutters, dripping down from rooftop to rooftop. It was an odd sensation, to have there be buildings everywhere he looked, streets deserted and droplets of water flickering in the firelight of unattended torches.
Every house he passed was boarded up. The neighbourhood he was in looked shabby and mismatched, and he could tell that the occupants were simply getting by with whatever they had at hand.
He walked aimlessly through the streets, soaked to the bone, searching for an inn or tavern. At one point he crossed over a stone walkway that revealed countless more buildings spread out far below him, and he realized that the city was built deep into the earth as well as high into the sky. Rainwater ran from the streets above to the ones he walked now, and from those down and down until it reached its final destination, untold leagues below.
He was just pondering this when he thought he saw something move in the shadows behind him. He whirled, hand on the hilt of his sword, but saw nothing.
Something hit him, hard, in the back and sent him flying forward to land hard on the cobblestones, tumbling end over end until he righted himself and stood, drawing his sword in one easy motion.
There was nothing.
Still on guard, Link turned in a full circle, eyes searching the darkness for any hint of movement.
Something hulking and dark and slick with runoff poured out of an alleyway and batted him aside easily, throwing Link into an unyielding stone wall.
"What the hell?" He raised his sword high in the darkness, and the magical glow of the blade revealed something he wished he had never seen.
It seemed to be made out of nothing but darkness itself, many-legged and fluid, incapable of remaining in one solid form. Bright glowing eyes flashed crimson and yellow, and below the eyes a horrible maw yawned open, revealing too many enormous pointed teeth that shone too brightly against the darkness of the monster.
The thing lunged at him, reptilian and lightning-fast, and anybody else would have been dead.
As it was, Link barely flung himself out of the way, and didn't even think about trying to fight the hideous thing that was impossible to look at. He turned and ran headlong down streets he didn't know, turning down every alley and trying to make his path as erratic as possible.
He heard footsteps behind him, footsteps that were far too light and fast and close, and then the thing lunged again, missing Link and crashing to the street with a thunderous sound that couldn't have possibly been made by something with footsteps so light.
Link slipped on the slick cobblestones, falling and then scrambling to his feet and running again, not daring to look behind him.
But then the shadows ahead wavered, and the horrible dark thing was flowing out of them now and it was no longer the sick reptilian beast but Link himself, and it disarmed him easily with a flick of its ghostly sword, and swept out its legs from beneath him with an easy kick.
On his back, Link felt a foot on his chest. This was no boot, but a great heavy clawed foot, and the thing had once again assumed a gargantuan, many-legged form. He saw red-and-yellow eyes flicker and the slavering jaws open wide enough to swallow him whole and knew that he was going to die in this strange and infinite city-
A ball of fire arced lazily out of the darkness and hit the thing in the spot where its face should have been.
The beast screeched in rage and looked up, only to be pelted in the face by fire once more. Enraged, the thing charged forward at its unseen enemy, only to be met and thrown backwards.
Link scrambled to his feet and turned. There, in the rain, was a strange creature floating in midair and cursing fluidly. It conjured another ball of fire and hurled it at the fallen monster. Standing in front of the creature was a white-haired man outfitted with rusty armour and an equally rusty spear, and an enormous hulking man in a travelling cloak, wielding a broadsword at least as long as Link was tall.
He couldn't believe it- they were fighting the creature and they were winning.
But then the thing leapt from the shadows behind them, and they scattered- the tiny floating creature swearing like Link had never heard, the white-haired man falling hard to the ground, and the giant landing on his feet and skidding to a stop next to Link.
He turned and shouted at Link. "For the love of the Gods, grab your sword and run!"
Before Link knew it, the monster was right in front of him and he had caught its advance with the flat of his broadsword. He struggled against the beast that was many times his own size, and then with a cry dropped and rolled and shrugged its weight off him and into what appeared to be a closed-down fruit stall.
Link sprinted after the giant, snatching up his sword from where it had fallen as he ran by it. There was a howl of pain and rage, and he knew that the monstrosity was following them.
The fire-conjuring creature floated by them, facing backwards and sitting on nothing. "Go! Go, go, go, go, go, go! Let's get the hell out of here!" It continued to pitch fireballs, the whole time swearing in a high-pitched, feminine voice that did not at all suit the language that most sailors would be ashamed of.
"Where's Viscen?" The giant man demanded, turning down a side alley.
"I don't know! Who cares! Leave him!" The foul-mouthed creature bellowed. "He's dead!"
"I most certainly am not." The white-haired man vaulted from a rooftop and landed smoothly in front of them, falling into step effortlessly. "And… turn!"
The giant grabbed Link and yanked him down another alley, while the man called Viscen just plucked the tiny creature out of the air and, to its great displeasure, flung it bodily after them.
There was another screech and a crash of effortlessly shattered stone, and the shadow beast came at them from the direction they had just been running.
"If you throw me again-" the creature began, but stopped in time to blast a chunk of flying masonry out of the air. "- I will take that rusty spear and shove it-"
"We're almost there!" the giant man yelled. "Get ready!"
"Give me some cover!" The creature floated on ahead of them, tracing odd designs in the air and leaving fiery lines. It was fighting one-handed now, throwing fireballs with one hand and creating glowing designs in mid-air with the other.
"You! New guy!" Viscen yelled.
"New guy?" Link repeated.
"On three," the giant commanded, "We turn and fight."
"Fight that thing!" Link yelled. "Are you out of your mind?"
"Show some courage!" he yelled back. "Are you going to leave our fair lady defenceless?"
"Lady?" Link repeated, bemused.
"One!" the giant shouted.
"You're god-damned right," the fireball creature said.
Link saw that they were now standing in front of a pub, and that the door to the pub was throw wide, golden light spilling out into the darkness.
As one, Link, Viscen, and the giant turned. At that exact same time, the creature stopped conjuring fireballs and started chanting something he couldn't make out.
The shadow-thing loomed large, in the form of some taloned, winged beast, and Link slashed at it with his sword. The glittering blade sliced cleanly through one of the extending limbs, but two more grew in its place and sliced down on Link's left arm, breaking it easily.
The killing blow never came, deflected barely by the giant's broadsword. Another phantom limb sliced through his travelling cloak, the blow glancing off armour beneath with a shower of sparks. Viscen threw his spear and it lodged just below what could be called the thing's head, and it howled and dove at them-
The creature was shouting now, and the giant roared- "DOWN!" And the two crashed down on top of Link, on top of his broken arm, and the pain almost drove him into unconsciousness, but he hung on to his senses.
Fire, incredible amounts of fire, roared out from the tiny creature and slammed into the raging shadow. It screeched in agony as rolling flames threw the shabby street into sharp relief, lighting up the spot in front of the pub as if it were daytime.
Link imagined that he got a glimpse of something insubstantial- that in that moment, the monster was as solid as a ghost- but then it screamed one last time, and disappeared into the rain.
Clutching the sword to his chest with his good arm, Link was dragged into the pub wounded, tired, and chilled to the bone. The inside was warm, and his vision of it flickered and faded.
He saw Viscen's face clearly, white-haired and grizzled.
Beneath the giant's cloak were bright eyes, dark skin, and an angular red beard.
The fireball creature was imp-like, with an oversized stone helm that covered half her face and a plume of hair that looked like flames.
"Lay him down, lay him down," a matronly voice was saying.
"I can't believe that just happened," Viscen gasped. "I can't believe we just did that."
"Rest now," the giant said. "All of you. We're here for the night, so we might as well."
The last thing Link heard before he slept was the imp-creature. "I hate you," she was saying. "I hate you all so much."
I don't really have much to say about this story right now.
That is, there's not much I could say without spoiling it right now.
For now, just enjoy, and please review to let me know what you think.