A/N: I own nothing except a copy of this great game.
Patrolling the outskirts of the kingdom was not one of Impa's favorite things to do. She shifted uncomfortably in the saddle of her horse, trying to make herself more at home on the leather load. If it were up to her, she would be walking at all times. To be in total control of one's sense of place was one of the core tenets held by the Sheikah people, of which she was a part of.
Alas, her ruler, the fair princess Zelda, insisted that her trusted lieutenant and commander in the Hyrulian Army take up the saddle during long excursions.
"You can at least pretend like you care about all of our traditions," Zelda had said that day, after seeing Impa return from a patrol completely filthy with her clothes covered in muck and grime and Goddesses knows what else. The other soldiers loved the fact that their commander was so willing to get down into the dirt with the rest of them. Truthfully, Impa knew that Zelda didn't mind either. It was the obnoxiously prissy "noblemen" that lingered throughout the Royal Court, the kind of fops Impa wouldn't see fit to wipe the edge of her blade on, much less rely upon for policy decisions. The princess and the princess alone was whom she served. Those others could rot in the halls of the damned, as far as she was concerned.
Which was nice in sentiment, but did nothing to correct the growing sense of exasperation she felt on this day.
A few weeks ago, amidst the sudden launch of offensives from the Valley of the Seers, there were reports that there was trouble brewing to the southwest of the kingdom. Just outside of Hyrule's reach, and right before the endless wastes of the Gerudo deserts, reports of raider-like attacks came flooding in. Unlike normal cases of plunder and villainy, it would appear that the monsters that came from the Valley of the Seers were meeting with an unknown enemy…and then the two sides seemed to crash into nearby villages and populated locales the way two wrestling Gorons might destroy an entire cliff side. These "Ravagers," as the locals were calling them, did not seem to be outwardly malicious in Impa's view. Perhaps just lethally clumsy and reckless. Still, to have a rogue force that could turn bad at a moment's notice and begin attacking Hyrule's exposed flank was not something that the princess was terribly enthused with. Therefore, it fell upon Impa and a detachment of the best soldiers she could find in order to reconnoiter the area and hopefully find some much-needed intelligence.
"Hold." Impa commanded. The Hyrulian soldiers, who had been marching nonstop for what had been a few hours now, seemed quite relieved at their leader's order. She gestured behind her, and one of the few Hyrulians on horseback rode alongside her.
"What is it, Commander?" The captain asked. He was a burly man. Not particularly impressive in any field of commanding, but was more than capable as a lieutenant to the real leaders on the battlefield. He had his full Hyrulian armor regalia on, and Impa sympathized with the poor horse that had to carry all of that weight.
"I have the strangest feeling." She said. "Like we're being watched."
"It's possible." The captain, named Welyon, offered. "There is a barbarian village just around these rock formations." He gestured to the mountainous cropping of rock that was a mere stone's throw away from where they were. "It's entirely likely that some of them are spying on us. Hyrulian steel does not often travel this far south unless war is afoot."
"If that is the case, then I suggest that we tread lightly." Impa said, speaking loudly enough so that all of her forces could hear. "I'd rather not start another war on another front because one of us pushed a local shaman by accident." She then turned towards Weylon, a curt frown forming on her face. "And, if you do mind me critiquing captain, I highly doubt that they would take lightly you calling them 'barbarian.'" Her words were cold as ice. She could see Weylon literally wilting in front of her.
"S-sorry, milady." Weylon replied. Impa nodded.
"Accepted. Just keep aware of your surroundings and who you are working with, captain. For once upon a time people like me might have been considered barbarians too."
The attachment began marching again on Impa's signal, and slowly meandered around the rock formation. If Weylon was annoyed with his captain for her calling him on what could be construed as a racist statement, he wasn't showing it. Granted, most people would not be able to read him due to the helmet obscuring his features, but Impa did not need facial expressions to read people. She knew that the man had had his pride wounded, but at the same time was genuinely contrite.
"Permission to speak, commander Impa?" One of the soldiers asked. He had the protective grating to his helmet popped up, revealing his boyish face beneath. Freckled, blue eyes, and a bit of an innocent expression on his face. Impa could tell, just from his tone of voice, that this was his first tour of duty.
"Granted, soldier. What's on your mind?" Impa asked.
"D'ya think we'll be running into heavy resistance from those Ravager types out here, ma'am?" The soldier asked. Impa smiled a little, though did not deign to turn around in the saddle and look at him. She figured the poor boy was embarrassed enough having worked up the nerve to ask his question; if she looked at him now, the poor kid might spontaneously combust.
"It's possible, but unlikely." Impa said after a moment's consideration. "We aren't officially at war with anyone here to the south…so they won't attack us on sight, if that's what you're asking."
"If I do say so, ma'am, that's good enough for me." The soldier replied. This brought a round of chuckling from the attachment of Hyrulians. Even Impa cracked a smile at the soldier's wit.
All joking ceased as they rounded the corner.
There was a village in front of them. Or, rather, what attempted to be a village. Essentially a circle of huts, thatched together poorly, at the foot of a gigantic mountain. There was a large bonfire in the middle of the tents, though it had long since worn down to some flickering embers. There were clear signs of war and damage in the village. Some of the huts were torn, some of them looked like they had been rebuilt a few times, and most importantly there was little sign of life anywhere.
Impa cautiously led her attachment into the village, fully aware that there was not yet a scenario better suited for an ambush than this one. She motioned to Weylon, who ordered everyone to stand on high alert. Everyone, even the joking soldier before, snapped down the protective grating to their helmets. Though no one had their weapons drawn at the ready, there was clear evidence that they were forming a shield wall.
Impa dismounted from her horse in the center of the shield wall, and began walking forward. As she stepped on the clay-like ground, she felt the comforting weight of her weapon on her back. It was a Biggoron Knife, crafted by the Goron people as a thank you to her for slaying a mighty beast deep within their mountains, and many a Moblin and Bulblin and other such foul creatures had fallen to the mighty piece of steel's thirsty edge. She refused to give the weapon a name; by all rights, it was an extension of herself and thus a part of her own being. To name it otherwise would be redundant.
Impa walked directly towards the fire pit, eyes scanning everywhere for even the slightest of details. The fire had once been large, though the ruined wood in the pile implied that it had long since died down. What interested the Sheikah warrior was the placement of some smaller logs at the foot of the pit. From the looks of it, they were newly burnt. The aroma of firewood still hung crisply in the air.
Someone had restarted this fire pit. And recently.
"Hello?" Impa called. "Is anyone around?" She asked.
"They gone, baby. They gone."
The voice was worn, drawling, and weathered, yet still carried the sonorous baritone of a male in the prime of life. Impa turned towards the source of the voice to see a man emerging from one of the huts, throwing aside the cloth that amounted to a "door." He was a giant of a man. Though Impa was close to six feet tall herself, this man easily stood at six and a half. He wore ramshackle clothing and cloth to cover his body (it was clear that he'd patched and re-sewn his pants numerous times), but it was the duster he wore that drew her attention. Muddy brown, with clear and present signs of battle damage. Nicks here. Loose-hanging strands of fabric there. A few patches sewn in as well.
He was lighter skinned than she was, though it was hard to tell considered the dirt and grime covering his face. He looked as though he'd walked through an ash cloud, and rubbed charcoal right under his eyes as a form of war paint. His hair was shaggy and unkempt, and he had a bushy beard that would make some of the manliest men in Hyrulian beer halls green with envy. Again, it was dark brown hair, though the dirt and dust that collected in it made it hard to tell.
He stared at Impa, and flashed a toothy grin. One of his molars was capped with gold.
"If'n you're lookin' for the villagers, they run off a while ago." The man said. "They had it up ta here-" he held his hand to his shoulders. "-with the Moblins and their nonsense. Either stay here and die, or flee inta the mountains and maybe die. Easy choice for them, really."
"Who are you?" Impa asked.
"Now ain't that the question?" The man said in his weathered voice. He slowly reached into his duster pocket, and pulled out a pipe. It was as beat up as he looked. He started dropping something inside it, and let it loosely hang in his lips. "'Course, suppose I might as well ask ya the same thing. Who're you?"
"Is it not obvious?" Impa asked, somewhat testily. "We come from the north, from Hyrule. We heard that there were raider attacks to the south, and princess Zelda sent us to investigate."
"Did she now?" The coated man mused. He pulled out a match, struck it against the heel of his boot, and lit up his pipe. Now he seemed to be puffing smoke with each syllable.
"Do you know anything about these attacks?" Impa asked. The coated man let out enough smoke to cover his head in a barely-visible haze, and spoke up.
"Course I knows. I been fightin' in them skirmishes for months now." He said.
"You don't look like a raider." Impa said.
"And you don't look Hylian." The man countered. "What are you, Gerudo? Didn't think that they were too keen on y'all, not since the legends of old…" He drifted off.
"That's beside the point, and you're wasting my time." Impa said. "Now, I'm going to ask you agai-" She was cut off by the man's chuckling. It was a little, high-pitched "hee-hee" sound. Impa found it rather unpleasant.
"Wastin' yer time?" He asked, mocking shock. "Well, I'll be damned. Looks like I am wastin' yer time. O'course, that was just ta give me time to even the odds."
At that moment, Impa knew that she'd been tricked.
Like ghosts in the mist, men and women of all color and race began emerging from the shadow and from the ruined huts, slowly surrounding the Hyrulian Army attachment. On instinct, the Hyrulians drew their swords and raised their shields. The coated man laughed. It was a hoarse sound, like that of a long-term smoker.
"Heh, heh…that's a good trick there, sweetheart. How long they need ta learn that?" He asked.
Impa was too busy scanning the ranks of the men and women around her. They were all dressed in rags like the man in the middle, and all wore dusters of their own. There were Hylians, there were some barbarian-looking types, she thought she saw some craols*, and…was that a Goron in their midst? They all carried shabby weaponry, as if they were modifying and appropriating whatever they could find at the time. Goddess, some of them were carrying tree branches with a large rock tied to the end of it! Someone had tied a cook's knife to the edge of a long…what looked like a flag pole, and fashioned himself a makeshift pike. They were a sorry-ass looking bunch.
But the implied menace radiating off of them was all too real.
"Cat got ya tongue, my dear?" The man spoke again. He seemed to be much more jovial, now that he had his little buddies surrounding him.
"I'll ask again: who are you?" Impa demanded. The man chuckled, and now some of the surrounding rogues began to laugh as well. The man spread his arms out wide, as if gesturing for the world to take in his performance.
"The name's Ishaka*, my dear. And if you're lookin' for what y'all all callin' the 'Ravagers'…you done found us." He said.
"Good." Impa said, her expression hardened. "That saves me the time of hunting down the leader of this pack. I can tell that you and you alone are the commander of these people."
"Commander?" Ishaka asked, as if he was confused and offended by the question. "My lady, I'm hurt. There are no commanders here. We're all jus'…brothers and sisters. United in a cause."
"And what cause would that be?" Impa asked.
"I can tell y'all have fight in ya. Y'all want the truth. Tell ya what. Play a game with me, and all y'all wanna hear…I'll speak."
A whistle went through the crowd. The Ravagers surrounding the Hyrulians were grinning now and wolf-whistling, men and women alike, at the last comment. Ishaka glanced around in an amused fashion, and then turned to Impa with a sly grin.
"As much as I like a pretty lady to look at…" He said, reaching into his duster's pocket and pulling out what looked like a pipe and a match. "…I like a lady that can talk her way out of the dictionary." He scraped the match off of the sole of his boot, and held the lit match to the pipe he dangled loosely from his lips. "How about a game o' wits, sweetheart? Been so long since us Ravagers got to hear someone on the other side with a way with words."
"What's in it for us?" Impa asked. Ishaka shrugged.
"Ain't saying much, but it might help y'all get out of this sticky wicket, if you don't mind me sayin' so." He said. "Here, I'll start: a treasure chest with no lock. No need for a key. But there ain't no denyin' that what's golden inside it…is most precious to either you or me. What am I?"
"Easy. An egg." Impa said curtly. There were whistles and whoops from the Ravager crowd. The Hyrulian soldiers, still huddled into a shield wall, glanced at one another nervously. Ishaka grinned.
"Not bad, sister. Not bad. Your turn." He gestured to her. Impa scrunched her brow in thought. Then it came to her with a confident smile.
"You cannot see me, but you feel my kiss. Through warm or cold, I'm there. But just when you beg for and need me most…I vanish into thin air. What am I?"
Now it was Ishaka's turn to look slightly puzzled. The Hyrulians looked a little confident. However, he soon brightened in realization.
"Ooo…that's a good one, sister." He said. "Never heard a pretty little line about the wind like that one!"
The subtle look of disappointment on Impa's face was all the Ravagers needed to start clapping and whooping.
"Les'see if you get this one. Few have." Ishaka said. "When I come to you, you cherish me. You can't wait to tell the whole world about me. But when you loosen your lip, lemme give you a tip: that is precisely the moment you'll lose me. What am I?"
"A secret." Impa said. Ishaka blinked once in surprise. The Ravagers whooped and hollered, now thoroughly entertained with this display. Despite themselves, the Hyrulian soldiers were starting to enjoy it too. Even if they weren't sure where this was all going.
"Here's one for you." Impa said, her smirk growing. She slowly started walking towards the Ravager leader, closing their gap from about twenty feet to fifteen. "I can run…but I cannot walk. I have a mouth…but I cannot talk. I have a head, but I cannot think. And I have a bed but never sleep. What am I?" She placed her hand on her hip, confidence radiating off of her.
Ishaka looked rather confused for a moment. He took a puff from his pipe. Inhaled, and then another one. He seemed lost in thought. And then the answer came to him.
"You're a river."
Impa nodded curtly, the disappointment clear on her face. Now Ishaka started walking, circling around Impa while slowly closing the distance.
"This one I don't envy ya." Ishaka slowly drew one of his knives; an ugly looking thing with a slightly serrated edge. "I've only told this riddle a few times. Ain't no one got this one before."
"I am ready." Impa said, now with both hands on her hips. Ishaka grinned, a toothy look.
"Oh, no doubt." He said.
"What does man love more than life? Fear more than death or mortal strife? What do the poor have, what the rich require…and what contented men desire? What does the miser spend, the spendthrift save…and all men carry unto their grave?"
He stared at Impa expectantly, twirling his knife between his fingers like a drum stick. Every now and then, it caught a glint of sunlight and gleamed in the light.
Impa scratched her chin in thought. A look of worry was exchanged by some of the Hyrulian guard. Had the great Impa been stumped? Not one of them could get the answer, no matter how hard they thought.
Sighing, Impa shrugged.
Ishaka stopped mid-step, nearly choking on the fumes of his pipe. He blew the smoke out, a soft haze around his face.
"I'm sorry?" He asked. Impa shrugged.
"The answer is nothing." She said. "Our greatest love is to be alive, and our greatest fear is of the unknown that comes with death. Poor have nothing, rich need nothing. Misers never spend, and spendthrifts never save. And when we die, all we have is our name. Therefore, the only thing in common with all of these different themes…is nothing."
There was a pregnant pause. Ishaka looked blown away. And then he recovered, and laughed.
"Well, I'll be damned. A first time for everything."
The Ravagers exploded into cheers. Impa looked quite pleased with herself.
"You should think twice before intimidating me with your little knife." Impa chided. "Sheikah don't scare."
"'Little knife', eh?" Ishaka chuckled. "How about two?" He asked. He drew the second slowly, letting it sing off of the sheath, and then twirled them both expertly. There were some whistles from the crowd of Ravagers. Most of them had taken to sitting down or crouching, instead of being poised to leap into battle. "What do you think of that, sister?" He asked.
Impa just laughed.
"What do I think?" She asked. "I think that those aren't knives…"
She drew the massive blade from her back, and with one arm held it horizontally away from her body. Judging by the steely way her arm held, it was as if she wasn't even lifting a thing. The crowd began to "Ooo" in shock.
"This is a knife." Impa said.
That did it. The Ravagers exploded into cheers. Ishaka stared at her, and then started laughing at her heartily. He swirled around, facing his men.
"Ravagers, stand down!" He said.
In perfect unison, these rag-tag gang of outlaws sheathed their weapons and stood at ease. Ishaka turned back around to face Impa before speaking again.
"I ain't much of a fan o' the Hyrulian Royal Family…" He said. Then he broke into a sly smile. "…But I'll be damned if I make an enemy of a lady as interesting as you are, miss…"
"Impa." Impa said coolly, having sheathed her knife. "You can call me General."
"I think I will." Ishaka said. "You got some stones, Sheikah. Ain't no harm gonna come to you or your men in this place. As long as we have anything to say about it, that is." He extended his hand. Impa returned the handshake.
"Welcome to the Valley of the Damned, Sheikah." Ishaka said.
"The Valley of the Damned?" Impa asked. "We've always called it the Southern Vale."
"Well good for all y'all. Yer wrong." Ishaka said. "This place is deader than a gutted Dodongo these days. Nothin' but pain an' misery and sufferin'."
"What has happened?" Impa asked. "That is what we were dispatched to find out."
"Everything you can imagine. An' then some." Ishaka said. His jovial manner seemed to have dropped. "Whoever the hell that sorceress in the northeast is, I guess she done figured her armies could get some practice cuttin' the heads offa the locals down here." He said. He took out his pipe, and spat bitterly into the ground. "That's why we started in the first damned place. Sick to death'a these damned beasts killin' people. Innocent people!" He growled.
"It seems there has been a lot of collateral damage to your war of peace." Impa noted.
"Don't patronize, Sheikah. It don't fit ya." Ishaka growled. "The people here would rather die knowin' that someone's fghtin' for them, rather than dyin' afraid an' alone. Like they don't mean nothin'. Just dirt to be trodden on. Well, not 'slong as I'm here. We are brothers and sisters in arms." He gestured to the Ravagers around him. "We been ravaged by war, and we shall in turn be ravagers in vengeance. Oo-rah." He didn't say that last word so much as spit it, the last syllable snapping off of his lips.
"OO-RAH!" The Ravagers barked in unison.
"Impressive mettle." Impa said. "Tell me though, what have you accomplished by yourselves?" She asked.
"We drove off a band of raiding Moblins from killin' civilians a few days back." Ishaka said. "Gained a few soldiers for the cause in doin' so."
"I see." Impa said. "Have you gained back any of the villages that have been lost?"
There was a pause. Ishaka sighed.
"Not yet." He said. "We're focusing on savin' peoples' lives first. Then, when we got enough, we take back what's ours."
"By yourselves?" Impa asked. Ishaka shrugged.
"Who else we got?" He looked at her and snorted. "You?"
"Yes. Us." She said. "We didn't come down here to do nothing. We wanted to know what was going on. Of course, the original plan was for me to report back myself…but…" She trailed off.
"But what?" Ishaka asked.
"…But a first-hand account might do better things to generate sympathy from the nobles who will never know what it is like living under the guillotine of war." She said. Ishaka cackled.
"You're suggestin' that we Ravagers leave the valley, trek up north with y'all, and then throw my scruffy ass in front'a the princess?" He snorted. "You think she won't throw my raggedy band of hardasses out on her doorstep for getting dirt on her welcome mat?" He challenged.
"I cannot promise that your presence will not…upset…some of the nobility." She said. Before Ishaka could protest, she spoke again. "But the only opinion that matters in the end is that of the princess. And I can promise you that she is not one to take your concerns lightly."
Ishaka looked suspicious.
"You build the lady up quite a bit, sweetheart. Is she really all that?" He asked. Impa smirked.
"I'll bet you ten rupees that I'm right." She said.
This brought a cackle out of the Ravager captain.
"Deal! If'n there's one thing that I respect, it's a lady who knows the value of a good old-fashioned bet." He frowned. "But what am I s'ppos'd to tell to the locals? That I'm just leavin' with them?" He asked. "They won't think too highly 'a that, I don't s'ppose."
"You need not worry." Impa said. "They will come with us. And when they ask why they must leave their homes, you will tell them that we shall return." She stared into his eyes. "They will listen."
Ishaka pondered her words for a moment. And then he spoke.
"Deal. Make camp here with the majority o' my men fer the night. I'll be back wit' th' villagers…what's left 'a them." He said sadly.
He led some of the Ravagers with him into the mountains, remarkably fleet of foot, and in a few moments they were out of sight.
Impa instructed the Hyrulian guard to set up a watch, and keep an eye out for any approaching Moblin forces. But most importantly, to keep an eye out for future refugees.
She felt a twinge within her, a tickling within her heart. Something, though she couldn't explain it, was reaching into her, almost questioning. She smiled. The princess already knew. She was miles away and safe within the castle, and yet she already knew the results of Impa's exploits.
That Ravager was really going to miss his ten rupees.
A/N: A little prologue to what has swiftly become one of my favorite games on the Wii U. May you enjoy this journey.
craol = A person of mixed birth, usually between that of a Hylian and that of a desert dweller. Typically distinguished by tan, olive-colored skin and bright eye colors unbefitting their complexion (ie. Blue, green, etc.)
"Ishaka" = pronounced "Yee-Shah-Kah"