When Heroes Fall
By: Selphie Kinneas 175
Chapter 35: Antebellum
The Zoras were prompt, arriving precisely at dawn on the day that marked one month exactly since Viscen's promise of war. The Bulblins appeared from the north shortly after, forming ranks across Hyrule Field alongside the Zoras. The Gorons rolled down the mountain following the sunrise, their trek short to join the fray.
Shad and Ashei greeted each of the leaders one by one, acting as liaisons to the hero. Ashei informed them where to stand, leaving formation within the ranks up to their respective leaders. While Ashei coordinated the art of war with their allies, Shad offered reassuring smiles.
"Not quite sure I should be the one helping you with this," Shad whispered after Ashei directed Darbus to his section.
"Don't be silly," Ashei smirked. "Link told me to bring someone to help me, so I brought you. Who could stand and smile nervously better than you, yeah?"
Shad gave her a look that she met with a genuine chuckle.
Yeto was eager to get up and meet his new friends. He brought his stick and his optimism, and he immediately ran into King Bulblin ordering his troops in place.
"Hm," King Bulblin eyed Yeto up and down, "You some kind of snow monster?"
Yeto placed a hand to his chest, "Yeto no monster. Yeto yeti."
King Bulblin looked no less confused. "You don't seem the sort for war."
"Yeto fight if he have to! Yeto brought big stick," Yeto lifted the big stick for emphasis. "Yeto here to help small human who save wife."
"Hah!" King Bulblin laughed a full belly laugh as it clicked, "Little guy saves wives, too? Should've known!"
Calie was quick to join Ashei and Shad, eager to be of assistance. She helped Ashei by getting the groups settled while Ashei answered the tough questions about strategy. In a brief moment of stillness, Calie caught Ashei staring.
Calie tucked her hair anxiously behind her ear as she looked down at herself, "Did I put my armor on wrong or something?"
Ashei quickly shook her head, "N-No, it's not that. I'm sorry, you just look so much like…"
"My brother," Calie offered in her silence.
Ashei nodded with a sigh, "I'm sure you're sick of hearing it."
"Not at all," Calie smiled. "It reminds me that he's still with me."
Ashei gave a solemn smile in return, "You're brave to be here in his stead."
Calie glanced around before getting in close and whispering, "I'm actually terrified. I've never fought before; I just knew this was something I had to do."
Ashei chuckled, "That makes you all the braver." Calie seemed unconvinced, so Ashei added, "Tell you what… I'm scared, too. I've never fought in a battle this big. We'll stick together, keep each other safe, yeah?"
Calie smiled brightly, and Colin shone through like the most brilliant light. She nodded and replied, "Yeah."
Inside Kakariko, the people prepared for battle. Midna awoke just after the sunlight pierced their window. Link had already been awake, organizing what he could and delegating what he couldn't. He sat now before the window deep in thought. She wanted to give him the space to have what little rest and solitude he could before the day. She ran her fingers along his bare back as she crossed the room to leave. He reached back and grabbed her hand for only a moment, squeezing it tight before letting go. Midna closed the door gently behind her, stepping out onto the landing just outside their room.
Down below on the first floor, she saw Zelda sitting cross-legged on the sofa.
Zelda saw her instantly, and they locked eyes.
"You're up," Midna said.
"As are you," Zelda replied.
Midna's eyes narrowed, "I haven't been out of it."
"Nor have I," Zelda said with a smile.
Midna smirked. She leaned forward onto the banister, looking down at the queen of Hyrule. "Heard from Emeline?"
"I have not," Zelda said plainly.
Midna nodded, her playful expression now hardened. Either way, Emeline had been right about dropping the barrier—it allowed Zelda to regain some strength, and no monsters came, likely because Viscen was saving strength himself and figured he already had the hero's company too frightened to drop the barrier anyway. The princess was clever, Midna admired that about her.
Midna watched as Zelda stood and brandished the sword she had gotten from Malo, swinging it to memorize its feeling.
"Are you strong enough?" Midna asked.
Zelda's eyes met her with seriousness, "Whether or not I am does not erase the fact that I have to be."
The thought crossed Midna's mind to tell her she didn't have to, that others could stand in her stead, but she knew it would be fruitless. She and Zelda were dissimilar in many ways, but they were alike in many more. They were both strong and stubborn to a fault—Zelda would not let anyone else fight for her, her kingdom, her people.
Zelda seemed to read Midna's mind, "I would not dare ask a people to stand for me if I am not willing to stand amongst them. If I cannot stand, no one will."
Midna smirked. She gave an honest bow in respect, "You got it, Your Majesty."
Zelda paused, a bit taken aback at the lack of argument. Then she smiled and nodded her thanks.
Talo and Luda came out of their rooms soon after. They were mid-argument, whispering as they clicked the door shut to avoid waking their daughters.
"I don't want you to fight, Luda, please," Talo begged.
"I have already made up my mind, Talo," Luda spoke confidently, adjusting the chainmail she had gotten from Malo the day before.
"What about the girls?" Talo asked, following at her heels as she moved across the room toward her sword.
"You can stay behind with them," Luda answered.
"What!" Talo spat, "That's not fair. I want to help our friends, too. I have to stay behind while everyone else defends what matters?"
Luda turned to him on her heel, "You would have me stay behind if you were to go fight, wouldn't you?"
Talo's voice cut out, his jaw slack mid-thought, but no words made sense.
Luda nodded in the lack of answer, turning to continue grabbing her things. Midna and Zelda observed in respectful silence.
Talo grabbed Luda's arm as she reached for the hilt of her sword. Luda turned to him, his head down to hide his tears.
"I just… I can't lose you," Talo whispered.
Luda lifted his chin so his eyes could meet hers, "Talo… I wouldn't do this if I thought I would leave my girls without their mother."
Talo remained silent, his disagreement not dissuaded.
"I need this," Luda said determinedly, standing up tall.
Talo was not convinced, but he knew he could not change her mind. He nodded once in resignation. Luda gave him a kiss on the cheek and grabbed her sword.
Zelda and Midna eyed one another in mutual understanding. Midna knew Link feared terribly for the ones who had only a few days' worth of training. She shared his same fear.
Rusl and Renado emerged from the kitchen with an array of chopped fruit. Renado stopped dead in his tracks when he saw his daughter armored for war.
He set the tray down and cupped Luda's cheek in his palm, "My daughter… You will be safe."
"Yes, father," Luda nodded.
Renado held the moment, grasped it firmly in his hand. He committed it to memory, desperate to hold onto it forever. She looked so much like his wife, the love of his life who he had not been able to hold onto. He longed to keep Luda confined, contained within his pocket so as to never have to lose her like he lost her mother, but she was too headstrong for that. When Luda smiled, his heart melted, and he smiled back.
He grabbed the tray of fruit and extended it to her, "Food that is light on the stomach but high in energy. Please, all of you, eat before you go." He said the last as he glanced around at the others.
Luda nodded in appreciation and took a bite.
Rusl, too, was prepped for battle, giving the others concern.
"You sure you're well enough to fight?" Talo asked.
Rusl nodded, though there was still a weakness in his step. "I can, and I will." He forced a smile and clapped Talo on the shoulder, though neither seemed convinced.
Ren had not slept the night before. Not even one minute. When the sun rose, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stared down at his clammy hands. He could summon fire at his fingertips, ice with a whisper, electricity with a thought. He conjured it all in rapid succession, testing himself.
He could not lose himself today. He had to keep control. Viscen would test him, would try to take him back. Midna warned him, prepped him, taught him. He knew everything that she could teach him, and he felt confident in his ability to use this power to defend himself. But… he wasn't as sure when it came to Viscen. He felt his heart race at mention of his name, his palms sweat at the image of his face in his mind.
He cast spell after spell that Midna taught him, desperate to go into battle with his mind sharp, his powers honed. Every element danced across his skin with ease. He knew how to start it and how to stop. He knew how to get it to do what he wanted, and how to prevent it from doing what he didn't. He could control this, he told himself again and again… He could control this. He could control himself.
Feeling as satisfied as he ever could, he dropped his hands to his lap with a sigh. He got to his feet and donned Malo's chainmail beneath the lordly getup he had received from Viscen—he still found a pleasant sort of irony in reclaiming his control from Viscen in the very clothing he had put him in. With one last look at himself, he knew this was it. He stepped out of his room, greeting Midna on the landing with a proud smile. She pat him on the shoulder as he passed her in the hall and descended the stairs. He joined his friends with confidence.
They all glanced between one another before landing unanimously on Midna.
"Shall we summon our hero?" Zelda asked with a smile.
Midna stared down at everyone who looked up at her. Those armed for war caused a lump to form stubbornly in her throat. People she never expected to see like this, on a day she was not sure they would ever reach. Renado and Talo looked most anxious of all. Fear sat beneath every single person's eyes. They were uncertain, afraid—they needed their leader.
"I'll get him," Midna said as she pushed off the railing.
She turned back toward their door and held the handle in silence a moment. This was it. She and Link were to ride into battle again. This was the last second of calm. The last moment to breathe. She took in a breath that filled the deepest reaches of her lungs, held it, and released. As she did, she opened the door.
Inside, Link stood, geared from head to toe for battle. She stood in awe a moment as he adjusted his effects. He looked just like he did when they were younger, only… more tired.
Link's eyes met hers, though he said nothing.
"The people await your orders," Midna said.
Link nodded, but he was still silent.
He secured his boots tight as they could get, fastened the straps of his pouches and his scabbard, and tightened his bracer. Midna watched, quietly taking all of him in. Once content, he looked up at her, asking without words how he looked.
"Hm…" Midna tapped her chin, "Something's missing…"
Link looked down at himself, "What?"
Midna reached into the breast pocket of her cloak. She looked at him as her hand hovered over its contents, making the moment linger to tease him.
He watched with bated breath.
Midna pulled the object out, her eyes fixed on his reaction.
His green cap.
At first, he did not react. His face remained blank, unsure. Then, his eyes met hers.
"Do I deserve it?"
Midna sauntered forward, closing the gap between them. She looked down at the cap in her hands with a smirk. "I remember the first time I saw you in this, the whole outfit really, but especially this silly hat. It's all such a symbol for light-dwellers, isn't it? It's a sign that the hero has come to save us all. That's how all the stories start, right? 'A hero clad in green,' and so on?"
Link looked down at it and spoke with a quiet voice, "Yes…"
She turned it over in her hands, "Crazy how such a light fabric can be so heavy to wear." Her gaze lifted to Link's pensive face. His nervous eyes met hers there, though hers were filled with nothing but pride in him. "You have always deserved to wear this. This is yours, Link. Wear it. Give everyone the sign that the hero has come to save us all."
Link's gaze faltered. He looked down again at the cap, the ball of green fabric in her hands, then back up at her. "You think I can lead them?"
"Don't be stupid," Midna scoffed, "You were born for this."
Link took in a deep breath and stiffened. She read his body language with a smile. She fixed the cap onto his head, tugging it down and securing it around his long ears with a gentle touch. She pulled out pieces of his bangs and combed her fingers through his shaggy hair. She stepped back and got a good look at him—the Hero of Twilight.
"There you are," Midna whispered with a playful grin.
Link reached up and touched it with his fingers, situating it and getting a feel for it again. He gazed at her with anxious but bright eyes. When the silence broke, it was with his calm voice.
Midna simply nodded. She stood aside and gestured for the door. He took in a deep breath and stepped out onto the landing.
Those waiting below froze, hushed, and stared up at him in awe. Link descended the stairs with Midna close behind. Ren watched, his mouth hung open and his hands trembling. Link stood before them, tall and confident, battle-ready and strong. Donned in the full hero's getup, with the Master Sword strapped to his back, and a determined steadfastness in his stance, Ren found himself speechless. This was the hero he had always heard stories about. The hero was his father. This was his father.
Link glanced between each of them. They all looked to him for guidance, for leadership. He knew how to be a lone wolf, how to keep himself alive, and how to win when only his own neck was on the line. This, however… this frightened him.
But he would not let them see that.
In this moment, no words were necessary. The mere image of their hero reignited with the flame that burned so brightly in his youth set a fire in turn in each of them. Those who had been just kids when Link was the hero saw once more their idol manifested, the very embodiment of safety, of protection. The queen saw the savior of her kingdom, the one who defeated evil personified and brought peace to her people, the one she watched fight death itself years ago. As Link stood, chin high and eyes powerful, each of them felt a surge of bravery rise to combat their fear. The visage of Link renewed was enough to rally the most timid to bear arms. They at last saw Link as he once had been at his most powerful—they at last saw the hero awakened.
Smiles graced their lips upon sight of him. He gave them courage, though nerves still nipped angrily at its edges. Everyone felt the weight of the world heavy on their shoulders, all knew what was at stake. There was a silent agreement, an unspoken understanding, a wordless exchange that all grasped firmly to without need for verbal validation. Link nodded once in earnest, and everyone knew its meaning.
Everyone took one last moment to secure their effects, grab their weapons, steady their bearings. Final buckles were fastened, blades were sheathed, and arrows were stowed in quivers. They were ready, and they left the inn with only the sound of rustling fabrics and clanking metals.
Malo handed out one final wave of provisions he had brought from his shop. Sharpening stones or emergency arrow reserves, medicinal remedies and gauze for quick patch-ups on the battlefield. He had tears in his eyes which Link acknowledged with a firm grasp on his shoulder. Malo reached up and squeezed Link's hand on his shoulder, giving a silent nod of thanks. He motioned toward where the horses were saddled and ready, awaiting their riders to lead them into battle, Epona most eagerly of all.
Before leaving, Ren grabbed the bazooka Auru had entrusted him to pass onto Shad. He had left it with Malo's provisions for safekeeping. Malo and Ren exchanged smiles before separating with a reassuring nod.
They all mounted up, wordless, fearless on the outside, but rambling incoherent terrors on the inside. Link was horrified of leading his loved ones to their deaths. Ren was horrified of losing control and hurting someone. Midna worried for Ren, Zelda for Emeline, Rusl for Calie, and Luda for the futures of her children. All had stakes, personal, existential, all-encompassing.
Their horses trotted obediently behind Epona until they reached those already stationed. All races perked up upon sight of the hero. Ashei and Shad turned at the sound of approaching hooves. They stared up at Link and Midna atop Epona, the very image of power and grace, undeterred, steady. They knelt before them out of respect, for Zelda trotted just behind, and the very presence they all commanded left them unsure what else to do. Calie, still beside them, did the same.
Link brought Epona to a halt before them, and his voice was soft and endearing.
"On your feet," he said.
They rose, and when they saw their friend's reassuring smile, they felt at ease.
"Have introductions gone well?" Link asked.
Ashei looked around, the groups of allies huddled together with their respective people. Most looked their way now, awaiting orders.
"Yes," Ashei nodded, "Everyone is stationed and ready. All are at your command."
She looked back at Link for approval. He stared out amongst Hyrule Field, crowds of organized soldiers ready for war at his request. Some had campfires, fueling their bodies before the inevitable. Others sat, resting weary feet from travel while they still had the chance. Most, however, stood tall, ears perked up and eyes sharp, listening and watching for the sign that it was about to begin.
There was no sign of Viscen or his men. The road toward Castle Town was empty save the flittering of birds, blissfully unaware of the evil of mankind. But the king's absence meant nothing—Link knew he would show himself when he was ready.
Link looked back to Ashei whose eyes had not left him. He gave her a nod in appreciation before kicking Epona onward.
She watched him go, and Shad's gaze lingered just the same.
"Looks like he did all those years ago…" Ashei mumbled under her breath, pride a thick accent on her words.
Shad smiled, "What a sight," he managed nearly inaudibly, but no response truly held the weight of what he felt.
The rest of those to leave Kakariko trickled out after Link and Midna. Zelda, Rusl, and Luda, each on their own sturdy horse that Malo supplied them, and Ren atop Mila. As Ren approached Ashei and Shad, he undid the strap that held Auru's bazooka to Mila's saddlebag. Ren cleared his throat to get Shad's attention.
Ashei and Shad turned to Ren, taking a moment for the realization to hit their faces. Ashei gave a full-toothed grin and looked at her husband to see his reaction. Shad's eyes went wide, and his mouth fell agape. He stared for what felt like a long time before finally looking up at Ren.
"Is that…" Shad trailed off, reaching out toward it.
"Auru wanted you to have this. Said you always wanted to try it," Ren extended it with a smile.
Shad took it in clammy hands and grinned like a child with their favorite toy. Ashei watched him happily for a moment before she could no longer resist a question that burned at the very core of her.
"Did you see Aveil?"
"Yes," Ren nodded, "She's okay. Just wants you two to make it back home. She misses you."
Ashei nodded in return, keeping strong and stern. She lowered her head in appreciation, "Thank you."
Ren smiled, gave one last look at Shad, and urged Mila onward.
Once Ren was out of earshot, Shad turned to Ashei.
"I truly have always longed to use this," Shad chirped gleefully, "Am I that obvious?"
Ashei laughed and shook her head, "Nah, I don't think so."
Those in the procession behind Link followed him to the front of the ranks, falling in line beside one another with Epona the very spear-point of the entire formation. Link did not look back at anyone. He felt Midna warm at his back, but she was just as silent. He could not look away from the castle in the distance, could not get surprised. He led all these people here; they were his responsibility—their safety was in his hands more than perhaps it ever had been. He had to be ready, had to be sharp; he had to see the enemy the second they emerged over the horizon.
And emerge they did. Slowly, surely, small specks in the distance grew into shapes of armored men. Men on horses, men with spears, men with bows. The rustling from his allies around him went still. Fires were put out with a swift crackle. Metal clanked only briefly as those sitting rose to watch the enemy loom toward them. All was silent. All was still. Midna's grip on him tightened. The king came into view.
Link's heart beat in his ears, in his throat, in his stomach. He felt it acutely in every square inch of his body like the drums of war. He swallowed a boulder that sat unwelcome in his throat. Midna squeezed again. He peeled his eyes from his adversary and looked around at his allies.
The Zoras stood far to his left with elegance, staring at him with a graceful patience in their seafoam eyes. King Ralis stood in front of his people, a spear in his hand twice as tall as his slender frame. He locked eyes with Link, poise in his stance and trust in the tilt of his chin. He awaited orders.
The Bulblins stood center a bit of distance behind him, war-hardened and prepared. Some rode on boars, some wielded crude bows, and others held blunt clubs in lime-knuckled grips. Before them, King Bulblin held himself with ruthless dominance. Lord Bullbo snorted beneath him, and Yeto stood with squared shoulders beside him. King Bulblin's eyes met Link's with a nod, his stare entirely unbothered, primed, eager. He awaited orders.
The Gorons stood at his right with unparalleled brute strength. The earth caved just slightly beneath their rocky toes, their hands and feet clenching and unclenching as they prepared themselves for battle. Their weapons were their fists, their bodies of molten rock and crust. Darbus stood in front of his people, a paragon of brawn and sinew. There was a power unequivocal in his stance, his dark eyes trained on Link that ran deep with loyalty. He awaited orders.
He knew the others were just behind him. His closest loved ones. His friends and family. Shad, Ashei, and Calie had fallen in alongside the last group from Kakariko. He need not look at any of them—he felt each pair of eyes on his back like the heat from the sun. They awaited orders.
He looked back to Viscen and felt Midna squeeze again. The king was far ahead of his troops, waiting patiently in the very middle ground between the two sides. He stared Link down—he wanted the hero to meet with him.
"This won't be like last time," Midna leaned in close and whispered, "I'm here with you, no matter what." Her warm breath on his ear trickled through his veins and steadied his heart just enough. He smiled only to himself.
Link gave one last knowing look at each of the leaders in turn, and they glanced between him and the king and understood his intent. They remained in position while Link and Midna rode to meet Viscen in the middle.
Ren watched with anxious breath. He tried to lean in toward Zelda to hide himself from the king's cold eyes, but he felt with a chill that Viscen had already seen him. He felt his pulse begin to quicken. Luda noticed Ren's discomfort and reached out a hand to him. He smiled as he took her hand and held it tight for just a moment.
Epona came to a halt before the king's majestic, white stallion. Adorned in mauve silks bearing the symbol of Hyrule that matched that of its rider, the pair looked fit for ceremony, not for battle. Viscen's chin was held so high it was hard to believe he could even see those he sneered at past his pronounced nose. Despite his sinister snarl, he had a look of piety, of one who tried to avoid war at all costs and was driven to it only by a selfless devotion to his people. His hair curled elegantly at his temple just beneath his ornate crown, and the fuzzy collar of his luxurious cloak accentuated his strong jaw. He held himself with a grace that did not deserve him.
"Hero," Viscen's voice at last came like a psalm. Like a sing-song thing with far too much brevity. His direct stare did not waver, his eyes fixed probingly on Link. "I see you brought company."
Link met the king's unfaltering eye contact with his own. He did not fear this man.
"As did you."
Viscen smiled. The mischievous way his lips curled made Link's skin crawl.
"Why, of course I did. Our last meeting was…" he glanced away, searching for the words as if they weren't already lying in wait on his tongue, as if he hadn't recited them in preparation for this moment, "…less than pleasant. I am afraid you left me no choice."
"Strange," Link spoke confidently, no sarcasm or retort, only fact, "I recall our last meeting differently."
"I imagine you would," Viscen cocked his head just to the side, brows drawn in mock confusion, "Weren't you a wolf last we saw one another?"
Link's jaw set, his eyes hardened.
"Why…" the king continued, once again gazing off as if digging deep for the memory, as if it was not dangling right in front of him waiting to be plucked, "As I recall… You have hardly been yourself during any of our meetings. Do forgive me if I seem rude, but I expected more from the Hero of Twilight."
Link stiffened but gave no verbal response. Viscen could see the contempt in his eyes. Link felt Midna tense behind him.
"I once believed the hero to be the grandest of men, the embodiment of the power of the gods. Now I see the hero is nothing but a bag of flesh, weakly hung together through divine intervention, held up like a puppet by the strings of the goddesses," Viscen's voice lowered to a hiss, his brown eyes narrow.
Link still did not react. He listened only, his posture confident but stone. He felt Midna fidget uncomfortably.
Viscen held Link's gaze for several heartbeats. All was silent. The oblivious birds were long gone. The breeze up and left out of sheer desire to avoid this evil. Link felt the eyes of his allies on him, the eyes of the Hylian soldiers, but his eyes never left his adversary's.
Viscen's did. He extended one arm wide, gesturing to those surrounding them, the other holding the reins. His voice rose as he declared, "Word of the hero who saved Hyrule reached the ears of all on this great earth. He who has been touched by the goddesses, of the triforce that endows him." He paused for effect before lowering his arms as well as his voice and settling his eyes again on Link. "I became fascinated with the concept of hero. I wanted it. I have seen your scars. What you have survived. I want that power, to avoid death."
Midna could hold her tongue no longer. Her voice whipped from her lips with tendrils of malice and bottled resentment, "He didn't avoid death because of the triforce or the goddesses. He did that on his own. You possess one of the greatest powers to ever exist, and you'll still die today."
Viscen's eyes for the first time found Midna, sitting behind Link in the saddle. Link flinched as the king's gaze flickered, something sinister flashing across his face.
"Ah," Viscen pretended to see her for the first time, as if her presence was so insignificant that he had not noticed her, "The witch. So timid without your power. So weak. Still clinging to greatness by association as you never could find it for yourself."
Midna snarled, but her wit was quick, and she had no desire to hold herself back like Link did. "At least I know greatness. You chase it down like a rabid dog, but it escapes you over and over. How does that feel? To commit your life to something you can never catch. To be the loser in every fight you start."
Viscen's jaw clenched, his nostrils flared, his brow twitched, but he held it together. He stared at Midna for moments uncounted. The king's attention on her made Link uneasy, unsure of what he might do, but Midna was not afraid. Her glare met Viscen's in the middle, battled it there, and refused to back down.
Viscen was the one to cave, looking back at the hero with resumed zeal. "I had hoped we could come to an understanding without violence. As I am sure you recall, all I requested were my prisoner and my wife returned to me."
Link remained stoic, unshakable. "You will get neither."
Viscen paused, glancing briefly over Link's shoulder at Ren in the distance. "I also request the boy who has something that belongs to me."
Midna flinched defensively, "That something is mine! And you cannot have him."
"I see," a devious smile crept across Viscen's smug face. "So you wish for war?"
"If that's what it takes," Link replied simply.
Viscen looked pleased. "Very well," he said calmly. Then he raised his voice to a shout, but never turned from the hero, "Bring out the princess."
A group of soldiers behind the king parted in two, and from the middle, Emeline was brought forward. Two men held her up on either side, and she was limp and weak in their arms. Her hands were bound before her, and she was sullen and ghostly pale.
Far behind Link and Midna, the others could not hear their interaction with the king, but they could see Emeline emerge, her ankles nearly dragging through the grass. Zelda's heart skipped a beat, but she did not show it. Ren's breath visibly hitched in his chest.
"Perhaps you know of the princess' crime?" Viscen asked, perched brows in Link's direction.
Link glanced only briefly at Emeline, then returned squarely on Viscen. "I'm afraid I don't."
"Treason!" Viscen's voice boomed. It was the first thing everyone could hear, clear to the farthest rows of soldiers in waiting. "She defied her king! Conspired with the enemy! She knowingly went behind her king's back, repeatedly, scheming her own family's downfall! Plotting regicide with traitors to Hyrule," the last was laced with so much venom Link was sure he could taste it.
For a moment, it was silent again. The king anticipated a reaction, waited for it, was anxious for it. It never came.
He became impatient.
"What do you have to say for yourself, princess?" Viscen at last glared over his shoulder at his daughter slumped forward on the ground.
Emeline lifted her weary head. She looked frail, her bones far too prominent beneath tissue paper skin. Her exhaustion was palpable. Her gray eyes were wide open, her breaths ragged, her hair a tangled mess about her sweaty cheeks. Instead of addressing her father, she turned as much as she was allowed and spoke instead to the Hylians at arms behind her.
"The king has lied to you!" her pained voice was a tremor, a crack in the soldiers' already unstable armor, "He will not stop until he has everything! Even if that means killing you and your families!"
"Silence her!" Viscen screamed in a panic to regain control.
The men at Emeline's side quickly thrust a cloth over her mouth, but she could see their colors trembling, shifting, questioning. They were afraid, doing only what they knew to avoid the wrath of their king, to survive.
"Bring her to me," Viscen seethed through gritted teeth.
The king dismounted his steed and unsheathed his sword. His men brought Emeline before him with shaking hands. She did not writhe or fight their clutches. She closed her eyes and tried to calm herself, but her breaths were shallow and dissonant. Link could hear them, and he had to look away.
Zelda had told him of her warning from Emeline the night before. She assured him they could trust her, that she knew what she was doing. She had clearly said, 'When you think things are dire tomorrow, do not believe what you see.' Is this truly what she meant?
Link glanced indistinctly over his shoulder toward Zelda. He did not have to fully see her, just to help him tune into feeling her. Her heart promised him it was okay—he was not to intervene.
Midna had been informed, too, but she had looked away long ago.
The metallic ringing of Viscen's drawn sword lingered on the air. All was so silent, so still, all breath collectively held, that it was as loud as a thunderclap. The king did not hesitate. Emeline forgot to breathe.
The blade pierced her clean through the middle. Silver steel glinted in the sunlight at her back. Despite knowing it was coming, the princess screamed. It squelched through her flesh, and it felt at first ice cold and then piping hot. She looked down at herself. She had never seen her own colors before, but she was bright red, like a warning signal, a scarlet tanager's song, a poppy in full bloom.
Ren screamed, too. He couldn't help it. Zelda had closed her eyes, focusing only on her breathing to survive the moment. She reached over at Ren's outburst and placed a gloved hand on top of his. He looked over at her with terror in his bulging eyes. She did not look at him, but he heard her slow, calming breaths, and he knew she knew something that he did not. It gave him little comfort.
Ren's voice caught Viscen's attention. Emeline collapsed to her knees, blood dripping through her dress, down her legs, and pooling at her feet. Viscen wiped his blade on the nearest soldier's sleeve, a middle-aged man who had also closed his eyes moments ago. Viscen stared daggers at Ren across the field. Ren felt his heart stop, felt fire at his fingertips, felt ice in his veins. He stared down at open palms. They did not want to obey him. He felt his eyes burn, his ears ring, and when he was nearly positive Viscen had wrested control back over him, he heard her voice.
It was the smallest thing. The whisper of a mouse. Ren's eyes darted to Emeline. She weakly turned her head toward him, silver-blonde hair covering her pretty face.
'Give me… some time… And I can… return to tending your darkness…'
He trembled at her weak voice inside his mind. He closed his eyes and focused on her.
'Hold on, Ren… Please… Don't give up…'
He heard her breaths grow more ragged, more agonized, more shallow. The sound of it wound knots in his stomach.
'Wait for me…'
He felt her taper off. He opened his eyes and saw her topple over, a beautifully broken doll curled up on the ground. Her plain white dress surrounded her like a cloud, her silver hair her halo. She looked like a sleeping angel, a winter fairy awaiting her wings, a goddess not yet woken. From this distance, Ren could almost ignore the blood.
Link and Midna could not, and so they did not look, but Viscen egged them on.
"Won't you do something about this, hero?" Viscen said, motioning to his handiwork. His crumpled daughter gave him not the slightest pause.
Link refused to indulge him.
"What a hero you are!" Viscen proclaimed loud and clear, arms outstretched as he turned to the onlookers. "To not even step up and do something you deem me so evil for! What makes any of you think he has your best interest in mind? Hm? He will stand by and watch you all die by my hand just the same, doing absolutely nothing while he pads his own reputation as hero! Your lives mean nothing to him!"
Midna quivered with fury. Link felt it behind him. He reached back and squeezed her arm, the briefest consolation.
Realizing he was not getting the reaction he wanted from Link, Viscen's rapidly darkening eyes whipped to his wife.
"Come!" the king declared, his voice louder still, menacing, terrifying, "Use your wicked magic and save your daughter! Bring her back, as I know you can!"
Zelda kept her eyes shut tight. She clenched her fists and bit her tongue. She ignored her husband, and it infuriated him.
Viscen's blood boiled. None of them did anything. Emeline lay dead beside him and they did nothing. He shook with fury, his lips pulling back to reveal bared teeth. His eyes were wide enough for the others to see their whites, and his nostrils flared with every rapid intake of fuming breath. He pointed his blade toward them all and released a guttural scream.
It flinched every single person standing there. The few wild creatures that remained nearby fled with all the haste they could muster, the sounds of frantically flapping wings and rustling leaves in panicked escape was all that was heard for moments afterward.
Spittle spewed from Viscen's quaking lips. "Get her out of the way!" he screamed, waving maniacally for the men to remove Emeline.
Ren jolted forward again, his gut reaction beyond his control. She looked truly gone… Tiny, limp, devoid of all that was the girl he adored. How could they all so easily be okay with this?
Zelda felt his uneasiness. Though she did not look at him, he heard her soft voice, "Trust in Emeline, as I do."
Ren took a deep breath and held it before uttering, "Yes, Your Majesty…"
Viscen's blade stayed brandished in his hand as he returned to his saddle. Link perked up, anticipating the moment the king finally declared war. Viscen held his sword toward the heavens. Lightning cracked and hissed, and from him emanated a malevolence thick like smoke. Dirt picked up and swirled all around him, and energy charged and smacked about him like whips.
"We need to fall back," Midna whispered in Link's ear.
Link agreed without a word. He pulled hard on Epona's reins and she whirled around in a flash. Behind them, Viscen's heinous laughter grew into something larger than himself. They felt the wind at their backs like the outskirts of a tornado. When they returned to their side of the battlefield, they looked back. Storm clouds black as night hovered overhead, and from them poured all manner of Twilit monsters. Birds, beasts, foul and twisted. The demons joined Viscen's ranks, roaring, clawing, clamoring for blood. Viscen's men looked horrified, but they drew their blades and prepared themselves just the same.
Link turned to his allies, fear and uncertainty in their eyes. They stared at him, awaiting orders.
"Draw your weapons."
The great war begins.
A/N: Let me know your thoughts, friends. Life is busy, but I'm doing my best to get out what I can for you when I can. I love you all to the moon and back.
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Cynfall, Jacob Peachey, InnerEnigma, Ivalee, Jabri Johnson, Jessie H, KingRoxim, Lee Glerum, Lotus Eater, Amber Milligan, Fez, Mandelbrot, Nebelfaenger, Sabine, Silvia Delgado, Tyli Ariegh
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