A Song of Blood and Steel

A Song of Gold and Darkness

" . . . so  cam it to passe;  ðæt inn ye FIVTH AGE of þe KYNGEDŒM OF HYRULE, ðæt danger moste foul once agayne rose—fromme owte of legende-myst, a cursed fiend, stalker fen and moor, weald and mountayne-talle.  He hungered for þe taste of dethe and payne; but moste of all, this goddess-hated dæmon lusted for POWER, evenne as a stoat lusteð for bloode.

"Callynge forþ his hated under-defyls, þe damned dæmon þrew down þe gode KYNGE HARKINIAN of Hyrule, and as captyfe toke þe PRINCESS ZELDA.  Ðus provynge his power, he moste cowardlye slauhtered þe noble HYLIAN CNYCHTS evenne down to þe laste.  Darkness spread across þe sonne, and the mune becam as bloode.  In þe hefen-skye,  ÞREE GOLDEN STARS wept a tere of þe deepest redde to see soche yfel.

"Þe dæmon hight himme MANDRAG GANON.

"Nowe it happened in ðose days, ðat þe laste desendante of þe SHIEKAH escaped þe vyle sourceriæs of GANON.  Pursued fromme þe castle by hate-folle defyls of his armye, she founde herself at þe end of strength.  Yet did þe goddesses see fyt to send a CHAMPION to her rescewe.

"A yonge wariour, þe laste of þe HYLIAN CNYCHTS, destroyed þe cursed defyls, and ðus sayfed IMPAS lyfe.  She ðen revealed þe reason for hated GANON's attakke.  Þe yonge man burned wyþ dutyes bryght-flayme.  So wyþ bryght-pattyrned brand  and hard-linked maille, he journeyed evenne unto þe Centre of Darkness and ðus slew GANON.

"Ðus was þe fiend finally defeated, and þe yonge hero sayfed þe PRINCESS ZELDA.  His nam shall echo þrough historey:  he was LINK.

            --fragment from "Þe Laye of Hyrule" an ancient history of the world of Hyrule

Prologue

Evening approached.

A descending globe of fire in the west, the sun had already dipped halfway below the jagged silhouette of the Death Mountains.  Golden light, tinted ruby by the thin cowl of clouds that had settled itself around the peaks of the towering mountains, limned the world in shades of flame.

The piercing sunset cut through the mist-shrouded bowels of the venerable Lost Woods.  Ancient, knowing trees, gnarled by age and weather, basked in the rare evening illumination.  Their moss-hung boughs and the swallows' nests that they cradled stretched towards the warmth.  In the deepest, most forgotten glade of the massive forest, sunlight glinted off the petrified surface of two giant trees, once guardians of their arboreal realm.

Far to the east, the dark surface of the Great Water glinted with a thousand brilliant gems of reflected sunlight.  The gentle surf brought waves of carnelian light to scatter and diffuse into the moisture-darkened sand.  From the sheer cliffs that overlooked the easternmost tips of the coast, a handful of fishermen gazed admiringly upon the daily spectacle.

The sun imparted the day's last bit of warmth and light before finally slipping beneath the mountains and relinquishing the land to the guardianship of the stars and their pale queen, the moon.

Night had fallen upon the Old Kingdom.

Starlight mingled with the moon's pale radiance to highlight the world in silver.  To the north, an owl hunted for dinner in the maze-like Lost Hills.  A jumble of giant, monolithic rocks and boulders poking out like bones from a carpet of emerald green grass, the Lost Hills endured in quiet majesty beneath the diamond-studded sky.

Far overhead, the constellations burned with their pure, distant light.  Here, nine stars combined to make the shape that a village of child-sprites had named 'The Great Deku.'  There, on the other side of the sky, four blue stars and a red one formed the constellation known as 'Din's Torch.'

And in the center, eight stars, all golden, formed a constellation known to all who lived in Hyrule.  Long ago, the desert people had called it 'The Great Lasso.'  The ancestors of the Zora folk named it Sluurik, which means 'Wave of Gold.'

The name by which it was known was, simply, 'the Triforce.'

This night, in the center of the triangular constellation, a single point of crimson appeared.  It flared to a blazing, hellish point of light for a fraction of a second, and then winked out, leaving no trace of its existence. While many a stargazer had witnessed the oddity, only a few would mark its importance . . .

*          *          *          *          *

The Red Pope shifted in his robes of office.

Heavy layers of scarlet and crimson brocade trailed from his shoulders, flapped lazily in the low evening breeze.  He adjusted his plumed, crested hat of office and pulled the rich velvet cloak around his shoulders a little more tightly.

Tonight was too cool for his liking.  The Goddess Din approved of warmth.  After all, had not she, in her infinite power, cultivated the land with fire and given the world magma for its lifeblood?  Was not the sacred flame that burned in the Red Pope's Cathedral called "Din's Fire?"

Of course, it made sense.  Tonight, on this cool, windy night, Din's Fire Star had appeared to light the way for the Red Pope and all true followers of Din.  This breeze was merely a sign of the other, lesser goddesses' jealousy.

"Jehan," the Red Pope snapped.  "Enough.  I have seen the portents; Din has spoken.  Let us return."  He gathered his cloak and robes in folds, flipped up his broad hood, and strode—blood colored boots clicking on rough stone—down the precipice.

Descending from the needle of stone that extended from the low rock formation a few miles out from the Red Cathedral, the Red Pope was an imposing sight.  In his youth, he had been a blacksmith, and the broad set of his shoulders still bespoke a build more typical to a laborer than a cleric.

His eyes had always been dark, but as his adult years lengthened into the shadow that heralded the beginning of old age, the word to describe them became flinty.  His life had not been an easy one, especially once he heeded the call of the One True Goddess and cast down his hammer in favor of a cleric's scepter.

Coarse, red-auburn hair framed his hard face under the hood.  Once, before age and worry had made his body hard and cold, his hair had been the angry color of heated iron just before quenching.  However, his devotion to the Goddess of Strength had tempered his body as well as his soul.

It was his devotion to the Goddess that had gained him this position.  The Red Pope was the highest position one could hope to attain in this faith; it was not lightly aspired to, or earned.

As only the seventh Ruwlish Red Pope to be elected by the Council of Din in two millennia, this was a position to be not only cherished, but held in the highest regard possible.  After all, everybody knew that Ruwlish were born even more sinful than the blackest-souled Hylian.  For a Ruwlish to achieve the status of Red Pope meant that Din had taken a personal hand in things.

And now, with the appearance of the Fire Star, she had done so again.

The Red Pope planted his foot firmly in the stirrup and swung himself up onto his horse's saddle.  "Come, Jehan," he said again.  "Din has much work for us, and little time in which to complete it."

Jehan, his manservant, was a young man of ample build and spare wits.  "Little time, your Holiness?  I thought we had a quarter century—"

Dark eyes narrowed.  "Din has spoken to me, my son," the Red Pope admonished, voice steely, "If we have all prepared in a mere quarter century, we shall be blessedly lucky indeed.  Now, let's be off."

His heart raced.  For the first time since the Jewel Crusades, the Church of Din would be lending its full powers to a meaningful cause!  The Red Pope grinned fiercely into the night and spurred his horse.

*          *          *          *          *

The steppes of the Gerudo Desert were an inhospitable nightmare.

By day, they were a scorching wasteland of tan and golden sand, dotted with heat-cracked boulders and the loathsome things which craved their shade.  Even seasoned travelers often lost their way and perished amidst the pitiless, driving sandstorms that were the only form of weather here. 

By night, the unbearable heat became a cold that was surreal by comparison.  The blazing sands turned pale and frozen by moonlight, and the boulders absorbed what warmth they could.  It was not uncommon to hear the crackle of frost-rimed sand underfoot while traveling at night.

The only folk to call the steppes their home were outlaws, nomads, and those few tribes of unfortunates who still lived in exile.  Out of those who still lived in amidst the monster-infested dunes, only one noted both the existence and significance of the red star.

Shellak's worried eyes glared into the center of the golden, triangular constellation, willing it to revoke the dread omen.  Moonlight etched her face in lines of care and age as she sighed and shook her head.

Once, many years ago, her face had been reckoned beautiful by her small tribe.  However, the passage of time had been unforgiving as the desert winds to which she had become accustomed.  Red eyes in this part of the world were looked upon as demonic rather than a blessing, and tapered ears marked her as outcast in this human-dominated land.

Her hair was silvery-white, but it had always been so.  As far as she knew, that was an exclusive mark of her tribe's lineage.  Legend told that in an age past, her ancestors had taken the vow to become sheikah—"shadows"—to protect the Royal Hylian family.  Shellak had always found it odd that hair the color of the moon had been bestowed upon a people that named themselves "shadow."

Shellak shrugged creaking shoulders and turned.

Several paces away, her daughter Impa slept.  Shellak had been gifted with Impa late in life, and so while Shellak herself counted nearly three score years to her own age, Impa had just completed her rite of passage to womanhood a year past.  Like her mother, Impa boasted hair of silver and eyes crimson.

"Wake up, lass."  Shellak's command was nearly a whisper, but it produced an immediate result.  Impa rolled to her feet blearily, and placed a sleep-heavy hand on the long knife at her belt.

"Trouble?"  Impa's voice held the same iron timbre as her mother's but edged with the energy of youth.

Shellak nodded gravely.  "Trouble of the worst kind, I'm afraid."

Impa's eyes flickered towards the center of the Triforce constellation, widened.  "You can't mean . . .?"

"I can.  You've always known that it might happen in your lifetime, girl.  Don't go all tremble-kneed on me, now."  Shellak tried to keep her voice stern, but a cold knife of dread twisted itself in her guts.  That her daughter, of all people, had been ordained as fate's pawn . . . The injustice of it made Shellak burn with anger.

Impa straightened her shoulders bravely.  "Where must we go?"

"East," her mother answered simply.  East and east and east.  So far east, you will begin to hate the sight of the sun in the morning.  The thought of the impossibly long march bent Shellak's mouth into a frown.  "East, into the Springlands."

Impa blanced.  "The Springlands?  Hyrule?  We're outlawed there!"

Shellak held out her arms, palms up.  "We have no choice.  The Royal Family--"

"Banished us hundreds of years ago," Impa snapped, "For our failure to protect them during the Sosarian War.  We have no allegiance to them, now."

"If you must see it that way," Shellak sighed, with the air of one weary of repeating the same argument, "Then think of this: all lands will be affected by this curse.  You know the prophecy as well as I, girl."

Impa ground her teeth, but remained silent.  Several heartbeats passed, with no words exchanged between mother and daughter.  Finally, Impa shifted her cloak and nodded, once.  "As you say, I always knew it might happen in my lifetime."

Shellak felt like hugging her daughter, but feared it might break both of their resolve.  Instead, she gathered up her pack and walking staff.  Briefly hesitating to consult the stars for direction, she motioned eastwards and began to march.

*          *          *          *          *

Death Mountain.

Ancient myth said that once this had been a mountain in truth, but that a duel between wizards had blasted it hollow.  For thousands of years since then, it had been home to the rock-like goron race, who thrived in the semi-volcanic conditions within.

No longer.

Near the peak, a man swathed in raven-and-crimson hued robes passed a pale, bony hand before his face, and nodded, as if to reassure himself.  The birth and death of the Blood Star confirmed what a myriad of other portents had suggested: this was the night.

Turning, he marched back inside, ignoring the chill mountain wind that twisted his robes into strange, billowing shapes.  Now that the Blood Star had revealed itself, he had little time.  The ceremony would need to be performed quickly if all was to proceed as planned.

At the entrance to the ceremonial chamber within the mountain's peak, two guards stood.  Hunched slightly in their boiled leather armor, they grunted to one another nervously.  Covered underneath their armor with coarse, brown fur, the creatures had no need of cloak or garments against the mountain air.

As the dark-robed priest approached, both monsters stood a little taller.  Incapable of standing fully erect like men, the creatures' attempt at dignity was more comical than anything else.  The priest would have laughed, but knew that the fangs of the bulldog-like moblins were easily capable of tearing out a deer's throat—much less a man's.

He brushed by the guards imperiously and proceeded to the center of the chamber.  Lit by scores of bone-white candles whose flames—eerily—did not waver in the wind, the chamber was otherwise nearly solid black.

The floor was of polished obsidian, set with white marble tiles that formed a mosaic human skull.  The dark priest smiled grimly.  He supposed that the Master had been human once, so the image of a human skull was not altogether inappropriate.  The myriad of candles reflected in the floor and ceiling, momentary illusion of walking amongst a sea of stars.

At each corner of the perfectly square room, dark iron braziers burned with angry red flames that warmed the chamber somewhat, but provided little illumination against the nighted color of the walls and ceiling.

In the exact center of the room stood an altar, made of the same polished obsidian as the floor, walls, and ceiling.  However, no candlelight glanced off its surface.  Stained with generations of unholy rites and sacrifices, altar exuded an atmosphere of its own.  Cold.  Dead.  Bitterly hateful and jealous of life itself.

The priest took a few steps towards the altar and stopped.

The preparations had already been made; as he stepped closer to the altar, a circle of runes surrounding it began to blaze with a cold light.  The candles guttered, although the wind outside had died down to nothing.

Upon the altar, a brass-rimmed iron bowl shuddered.  The liquid in it was not blood, although it may as well have been, as far as the priest was concerned.  As he picked it up and turned it over above his head, the cold, unclean feeling of it chilled him through his skin to the core of his being.

He knew the canticle he must recite—knew it by rote.  He had practiced it, the foreign words with their dark inflections and grisly undertone, for hours on end.  As he replaced the bowl on the altar, he could see smoke beginning to rise from the circle of runes in his peripheral vision.

Pressing ahead, he began to chant, repeating the words over and over.

Not for the first time, he questioned his own motivations; the point of no return was fast approaching.  Was such drastic action truly necessary to restore the balance?  He closed his eyes—that would not interfere with the ritual—and continued the chant.

He had been a cleric of Farore once, giving thanks for the rain and the waters and the wind.  But he had grown disenchanted with his religion—with the world.  How could he sing praises to Farore every day and give thanks for her blessings when all around him, the land grew warped from the lack of the Third Triforce?  The Goddesses had meant for all three of the sacred artifacts to guide life on Hyrule, but the last had been lost a millennium ago.

Gradually, his disillusionment had turned to bitterness; he began to study the dark arts, long forbidden by honest sorcerers.  He had gathered together the last of those who could teach him the rites necessary for the resurrection of the one who had stolen the Triforce of Power so long ago.

The chant was complete.

The priest gazed straight ahead.  He would be unleashing an unimaginable evil upon the world with this act, but that was part of life; light could not exist without darkness, and good could not exist without evil.  He would accomplish what the rest of the Priesthood had feared; he would bring evil back to the world in order to make it whole once more.

He gripped the bone hilt of his athame and took a bracing breath.  Then, before there was time for his resolve to crumble, he hurled himself forward onto the wickedly sharp blade of the ceremonial knife and onto the altar.

In his last seconds, he knew that he had made a mistake.

Something huge and black and unfathomably evil coalesced from the smoke.  So dark that it made the obsidian seem white by contrast, the thing stretched, and chuckled.  The sinister laughter was so obscene, the air seemed to shrink away from it.

And beneath Spectacle Rock on Death Mountain, the world trembled.