Chapter One

"I've looked at the budget proposals and the fiscal year report for last year from the Ministry of Defense," Zelda muttered even as the pleasant ding in the hallway foretold the opening of the elevator's double-doors, a pair of reading glasses loosely hugging the bridge of her nose as her eyes darted across several documents in a folder on her hand. "I don't approve. The armed forces has been spending practically a third of the national budget for the last three years, and the excuse that it's against Valent's military buildup is rapidly wearing thin. The minister should know better. Their special weapons projects are taking up an extravagant sum of funds, especially the air force." The polished metallic doors to the elevator opened, revealing a clean, fancy, and spacious elevator beyond. Already, two palace guards were posted at the elevator, expecting the princess, and saluted smartly in traditional Hylian uniform, long white overcoats with blue-sheen metallic shoulder armor. Although they were both armed with not only the aesthetically traditional rifle, which both were a replica of a century-old model, hidden in hip holsters under their robes were also modern handguns, just in case lethal retaliation against potential threats overrode the need to abide by palace customs.

Per tradition, the black-clad Joint Intelligence agent acting as interim royal bodyguard stepped into the elevator first and gave a quick cursory visual sweep of the elevator before Link, in the same split-second, stood at attention right beside the interior elevator console, prompting both Zelda and Impa to step through the elevator doors. Link keyed the buttons shortly afterwards, and the doors sealed shut before the familiar feeling of a descending elevator was felt by all the occupants, the elevator car moving from the palace's higher levels where Zelda's office was located to the main wing below.

Impa was appropriately armed with a bundle of folders and documents in one hand, most of which were military-related records pertaining to the re-scheduled Thursday conference. "The bulk of the spending is related to outsourcing contracts for our sixth-generation fighter jet," she explained even as she passed yet another relevant folder to the princess, which Zelda took gracefully and opened. "The details are in here."

Zelda's gaze whipped swiftly through the first words on the documents, found the key words she had been looking for in practically the same instant. "The Seraph," she muttered. "I'm aware of that little secret pet project. Five years down the line, several million dollars on part of the air force, and we still only have one prototype. Which contractor holds the bid?"

"Allen-Rosencrantz Heavy Industries, your Highness."

"Explains things," Zelda expelled a frustrated sigh. "Jealous of their profits and secretive of their finances. They're probably extending the contract for as long as they're able to. Money goes around."

"Is this something you wish to address at the briefing, your Highness?"

The elevator dinged pleasantly again as the elevator began to rapidly decelerate, coming to an eventual halt. "No," Zelda replied, and although the double doors opened, she remained in the elevator car, preferring the exchange between her and her chief of staff to remain in the confines of elevator walls, although Link stepped out first to assess security anyways. "I don't want to steal the spotlight from Morgan any more than I have to. We'll deal with this at a later time, but have Tim leak information of a possible upcoming ultimatum from this office involving declassification of all project documents…and Senate involvement, preferably oversight." Zelda permitted herself a small grin as she finally stepped out from the elevator, ignoring the two palace guards that took up the rear of the princess' escort while Link brought up the front. "I'd like the gentlemen over at the Haven to know what it feels like dealing with those old men."

Impa nodded even as the entourage stepped from the elevator and into the large main wing of Hyrule Palace, the Grand Hall majestic, large, and ornate, acting as the central hub of the palace. Brightly lit, the afternoon sunlight poured in from gigantic windows on both sides of the hall, which offered an admirable view of the metropolis capital beyond the castle walls surrounding the palace. It was to the main wing that the Grand Staircase of the Hyrule Castle led, and it was from the main wing that most areas of Hylian royalty's official residence could be accessed; the Grand Hall, effectively the entrance to the highly secure Hyrule Palace, acted as the main hub of the titanic building. The entourage passed through scattered members of palace staff, from bureaucrats to guards to maids, all of whom offered polite bows and curtsies before their sovereign-in-actuality as she and her chief of staff and bodyguards passed by. Zelda had taken years to hide her display of flustered emotions at the display of subservience on part of her staff; she had gotten more effective at hiding her embarrassment as time went by, and, to help things, the current agenda, irksome as it was, effectively took her mind off any distracting emotions she may have felt otherwise.

"How much exposure?" Impa asked in regards to Zelda's suggestion of a deliberate information leak.

"Rumors are fine enough," came Zelda's answer, allowing Link to steer them down a less-crowded western corridor. "We'll take a page from Director Leonore's book. I don't want anything confirmed, and we should have room for plausible deniability if the Haven starts pressing us for answers. I do want the Joint Chiefs to break a sweat, not prepare for political retaliation. Not yet."

Although Impa nodded in agreement, she couldn't help but purse her lips at the same time, a clear indicator of mixed feelings on the issue. "I understand, your Highness," she treaded the topic carefully, "Still, I'm not entirely unsympathetic towards this development. Both Valent and Gerudo have developed a true fourth-generation main battle tank, to which we still have no answer for. Our navy is still uncontested, but, deployment-wise, this is not going to help out strategic defense any, and I think most would feel more comfortable if we can boast a sturdier air force…" the seemed to be prepared to stop there, then, remembering another tidbit of information, added rather impatiently, "…since the army doesn't look like their R&D department will be getting anywhere soon."

"I'm not opposed to weapons development, Impa," Zelda's voice was stiff. "I just want to remind them – gently…" she quickly added, noting a funny look from her chief of staff, "…that the national treasury is not bottomless. With no trade whatsoever with Valent and a declining Gerudo economy, we should be looking for ways to strengthen our economy, not for more ways to spend money." They stopped before another set of elevator doors, already open and waiting for them. Again, Link entered first, although neither Zelda nor Impa seemed to wait for him, assuming that he'd push them right out if he detected any danger. This time, the palace guards entered last, standing to attention as they entered and stood guard on either side of the elevator doors, which closed before, again, the car began to descend.

"Fair enough," Impa relented. "Also, you have an appointment with Doctor Hal in two hours."

Zelda merely nodded. "This briefing shouldn't take too long. If it does, I'll just call him here and step out for a few minutes; I know what he needs."

The elevator ride was much shorter this time; the doors opened at a subterranean level before Link silently led the way out to the secure subterranean operations center, the military strategic center for the royal family in the palace. The guards saluted as they remained in the elevator, allowing the three other occupants to file out into the corridors. The well-lit hallways were largely abandoned; the operations center was generally unmanned during peacetime, with the exception of security forces ensuring the equipment and databases here weren't tampered with. Despite this, the facility was kept modern and clean, and did not possess a desolate feel about it, even with the minimal security detail; lack of changes in security patrols made it harder for spies to predict where the royal family was going to go next. Leonore's suggestion, Zelda reminded herself, realizing that she didn't really know what to feel about that…and, moments later, that she should have gotten over her grudge towards Leonore days ago.

Twenty meters and two right turns later, Link opened the doors to the main conference room of the facility, and as Zelda stepped in, she was greeted by the rising of around two dozen men and women already in the room, having been seated around circular conference table, talking and discussing amongst themselves, and waiting for the presence of her Royal Highness. Immediately notable within the group were the Minister of Defense, Major General Morgan, the Joint Chiefs, and Director Leonore. The remainder of the group was made up of a collection of generals and admirals, their aides, and a few members of record-taking palace staff.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Zelda greeted the members of the briefing conference politely even as she took the head of the table, marked by a larger chair directly opposite of one of the wall-mounted computer screens that could display various forms of media pertaining to whatever was at hand, but was at the moment carrying the national flag of Hyrule. The meeting joined her in taking a seat as soon as the crown princess was properly seated. Link, standing guard at the entrance, closed the door behind them and remained silent. From behind his tinted sunglasses, he kept his eye on both Princess Zelda and Director Leonore, the latter of whom couldn't have told whether or not her agent was looking at her through the tinted sunglasses, and showed no sign of noticing the reception of attention either.

Before the conference could kick off, however, one of the members of the Joint Chiefs, having been handed a handheld computer by one of his aides, quickly interrupted the proceedings. "I'm sorry, your Highness," he quickly spoke as he set down the computer in his hand. "I don't mean to be stealing the show from Major General Morgan, but I have an emergency update. We've received word that three Valentine armored divisions have been deployed across our border last night. We're still trying to get third-party confirmation from the usual sources, but intel at this point is fairly reliable."

A feeling of alarm flickered through the occupants of the room. Three divisions was the equivalent of anywhere between forty to sixty thousand soldiers, an extremely sizeable battle force. The fact that Hyrule City, the capital of the nation, was dangerously close to the Hylian-Valentine border, only seventy kilometers away, did not help the dreadful feelings of premonition any. "Are we looking at any possibility towards hostilities?" Zelda asked calmly.

"They do not seem to be operating in an offensive capacity yet," the general replied cautiously, "but it's a sizeable force under full battle readiness. We'd have to gather more intelligence on the rest of the Valentine armed forces before I can answer that question, your Highness."

Zelda sighed as she rubbed her temples with her fingers, then nodded. "We'll give you a bit of time for more updates to come in before we address that, then," she said. "I'm not fond of entering this kind of discussion without knowing enough. We'll approach this topic after Major General Morgan's briefing…unless anyone has anything else to add?"

Looks exchanged around the room revealed the consensus that the princess' proposal was acceptable. "I think we're safe to start the real topic of this conference, your Highness," the Minister of Defense answered as he spoke for the collective opinion of the room.

Zelda nodded again before turning to the host of the meeting. "Major General Morgan," Zelda addressed the middle-aged major general on the other side of the conference table, "Before we start with your briefing, I'd like to make sure that you've kept up with your promise of simplifying the acronym for the Office of Long-Range Electronic Reconnaissance. Impa here has expressed difficulty for her aged tongue to pronounce OLRER, and I admit I share some of the same reservations as well."

"My staff and I are already working on it, your Highness," Morgan, noticeably younger than most of the military brass gathered in the conference room and probably the only one with a more well-rounded higher education outside military academies, reassured Zelda as he leaned back in his chair and entertained the barest of amused smiles. "We're waiting for the official paperwork to catch up, as we are also changing the name of the entire office. In any case, we will have decided to rename ourselves the Office of Long-Distance Electronic Reconnaissance, your Highness, with the acronym of OLDER. I'm sure that's a name Impa can pronounce, relate to, and get behind."

Chuckles resounded around the table even while Impa made a face in response to being the target of the joke of the day. Zelda herself couldn't help but smile. "Well, then, that's out of the way. Go on, general. What do you have for us?"

The major general opened a document-filled folder right in front of him on the conference table, although the gesture seemed to be an indication of habit more than necessity, as he didn't spare a glance at the documents within. "On Monday morning, our P415 networks along the border of…" he started.

Zelda raised a hand from where they had been folded on the table to temporarily silence the major general. "I'm sorry to interrupt, general, but what's P415?"

Morgan cleared his throat. "P415 is our SIGINT, or signal intelligence, networks," he explained concisely, "comprised of different types of hardware and software designed to intercept, gather, and analyze communications. The program has been running since fifty years ago, and it's been designed to tap in on telephone communications, fax, internet connections, radio transmissions…and, nowadays, microwave transmission. Plus a few other theoretical methods of communication not actually implemented yet, but we want to be ready…" he paused, gave a slightly amused smile tinged with a bit of futility, noted in addition, "…You might know the system better by its name in popular culture, Echelon, characterized by the white, ball-like radome we use to intercept a large majority of transmissions nowadays." Clearly, Morgan found irony in how names were given unintentionally to military hardware, names that became even more mainstream and official than the actual designations initially given to them.

If Zelda caught onto Morgan's humor, however, she did not show it. "I see," she merely nodded, gestured at Morgan. "Please continue, general."

"Well, our networks across the Valentine border blacked out for twenty-three seconds at around eight fifteen. Came back online shortly afterwards with no immediate damage. An alert was not immediately raised due to the fact that we could not get sources to confirm that this was any sort of attack, electronic or otherwise, but further investigation from auxiliary instruments showed that Valent utilized some sort of electromagnetic power source to generate a pulse. We caught a brief shockwave of it, but it's believed that Valent achieved a rate of output no less than what can be measured in terawatts."

A period of silence pervaded the conference as the technical jargon flew over the heads of most at the table. Although Zelda and Leonore, as well as a small handful of others at the conference, seemed to understand exactly what Morgan was insinuating and looked quite obviously stunned at the revelation, the majority of those congregated were clearly confused and not-as-impressed…or as enlightened. "Terawatts…?" one of the military leaders at the table muttered aloud.

Morgan's voice was appropriately serious and somber, unlike the usually casual, soft voice he was known for. "That's an output rate of approximately one trillion watts. Twelve zeroes. We're talking about one trillion joules generated per second. At the very least. And the system blacked out for twenty-three seconds."

"Layman's terms, please, general," yet another member of the conference requested, clearly not entirely sure exactly of how powerful terawatts were supposed to be and whether or not he should be worried. "Not all of us had the chance to study anywhere outside Victoria Military Academy." Again, chuckles came from different parts of the table, especially from admirals and generals of the older generation.

Morgan drew a breath, exhaled it in what would've constituted as a sigh in more civilian surroundings. "Terawatts are what we use to calculate the total energy consumption on the entire continent, including clean energy resources, petroleum, coal, hydroelectric, everything," the major general said, and just as he had dropped the bombshell, watching the composed faces of the military brass around him twist into that of astonishment, he added, almost as an afterthought, the completion to this little shocker, "Every year."

The silence around the table became complete as looks of bewilderment were exchanged, the revelation dawning upon all of them at last, and this lasted until someone finally remembered to breathe, expelled a breath, which eventually brought everyone back to awareness.

Impa was the first to recover, and the royal chief of staff spoke in angry tones that betrayed her impatience and discontent. "This is absolutely unacceptable, General Morgan," she snapped in a manner not unlike how a mother would scold at a child. "You should have requested an emergency meeting on Monday for this, not push this until today, practically three days later."

Morgan sounded appropriately standoffish. "Three days ago, we had absolutely no idea what kind of energy output Valent was packing, nor any idea what had happened beyond our SIGINT network failing, ma'am. It wasn't until this morning that I had the preliminary figure. And it's a very vague estimate at best."

Sensing the possibility for a potential argument, Zelda quickly brought the conversation back on track. "And you said there were twenty-three terawatts produced?" she asked, her voice reasonable and soft even as she regained her composure, sounding surreally calm for someone who had just learned of this phenomenon.

The crown princess of Hyrule knew that she wasn't going to like the answer when she saw Morgan hesitate and falter before making a face and sounding unusually sheepish. "No, your Highness," he breathed, "I didn't. I said a minimum of twenty-three terawatts. It could be a lot larger. Maybe twenty times larger. We have no idea. We know twenty-three terawatts at least, but we don't know the maximum value."

It was Zelda's turn to sound incredulous. "How could you not?" she demanded.

Again, Morgan sounded defensive as he spoke briskly. "With all due respect, your Highness, P415 was designed to intercept communications, not massive energy waves. The accumulated wattage at which communications on this continent produces is, at the very most, measured in megawatts, and that is very rarely. That is six less zeroes. And eight-five megawatts is our current maximum threshold of P415's reception capability, which is almost forty times more than what this continent ever achieves. The Office of Long-Range Electronic Reconnaissance, despite its name, is meant to intercept communications, not actually detect massive bursts of energy."

"Another reason why a name change is necessary," Impa muttered under her breath. Only Zelda actually heard her, however, although Leonore managed to glean what Impa said by reading her lips; neither had the presence of mind or patience to entertain her attempt at a humor with a smile of any sort.

"So this will happen every time Valent does something like this?" Zelda asked, folding her hands on the table and leaning forward, her voice clearly laced with displeasure. "And we wouldn't be able to detect it?"

"I'm afraid so, your Highness," Morgan sighed regretfully. "The only piece of hardware capable of long-range analysis of energy waves with that kind of capacity that I actually know of is in the Cybil Laboratories." He pressed a few buttons on the conference panel in front of him, and, moments later, the screen behind him lit up with blueprints of what seemed like a highly sophisticated cylinder-like device. "They use it to detect the trajectory of high-power atmospheric orbital lasers."

"Sounds like a weapon," one of the admirals muttered as he stared at the blueprints.

"It's actually supposed to be a key device in part of an experiment to map the electromagnetic field of the planet," Morgan corrected, clicking another button before the screen showed an animation of the graph zooming out as a line, probably representing a laser, fired from the cylinder and revolving around curving arcs representing magnetic fields around the planet, "but that point is moot. Cybil Laboratories is under international obligation to be completely uninvolved in any form of military affairs since it started building the Large Hadron Collider twenty-five years ago. The Hampshire Treaty is in place to enforce that. No weapons manufacturing or research. No requests from the military. It's a strictly civilian laboratory."

An older, graying admiral sat forward in his seat as he leaned against the conference table. He was Fleet Admiral Francis, chairman of the Hylian Joint Chiefs, and, already in his late seventies, the only commissioned officer in the fleet to have weathered three consecutive royal administrations in Hyrule. "There's nothing either Valent or Gerudo could do if we asked Cybil Laboratories for just a bit of detection help," he spoke in a raspy, almost conspiring tone of voice, and heads around the table immediately turned to face the normally reclusive and silent admiral. "Deniability; we could always claim the device had been in use for civilian experimentation while Valent was…doing whatever it was doing." He shrugged casually, "A coincidence. The regime in Valent has not re-ratified any of the treaties the previous government had signed before, so they're in no position to point fingers." His suggestion was not at all surprising; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs had a keen interest in military intelligence despite it not being part of his purview, and many high-ranking officers of those branches and offices were protégés of his.

Despite working in the more clandestine areas of the military, Morgan clearly seemed less than pleased towards the idea of skirting international treaties to appease the needs of the Hylian war pavilion. "Only if Cybil Laboratories is willing to work with us," he noted. "In any case, it's impossible. The device requires a twenty minute warm-up sequence. The blackout lasted only for twenty-three seconds. We'd never be able to get a very good match."

The Minister of Defense sounded impatient. "Then keep it turned on until it happens again, goddammit."

The sigh escaping Morgan's lips – he was never one to stand on ceremony or care all that much about rank, even when up against a full admiral – clearly indicated that his patience was being stretched to the straining point. "Minister," he did his best to explain in a reasonable manner, "this device requires wattage measurable in gigawatts even in warm-up sequence, never mind how much energy it needs when it's actually in operation. There's a reason why Cybil Laboratories uses it for only one second at a time. The costs of keeping the device on for an entire day, never mind an entire week, just to try to catch that energy wave would bankrupt the national treasury very quickly. Not to mention that both Gerudo and Valent would be able to detect the energy output as well. No doubt they would be suspicious."

"Okay," Impa interrupted tersely, her hand creating a cutting motion across the conference table as she spoke, as if to dispel any attempt to interruption or confrontation. "Never mind exactly how much energy was produced. Working theory: Valent has some sort of energy source with unrivaled output ability. I'm pretty sure that we don't have any type of power source that can rival that, do we?"

"Not even close," the major general shook his head to indicate negative. "Even theoretical nuclear power, which has yet to actually be developed, achieves only wattage that is measurable by gigawatts. Predications say that no nation will be able to develop energy source with terawatt capacity until twenty, maybe thirty years from now…" he shrugged and looked sufficiently lost and resigned, "…I find it impossible that Valent managed to do this."

"Is it possible that this is an astrological phenomenon?" asked the crown princess. "Maybe we were mistaken, and this 'wave' came from somewhere else."

"No, your Highness, we're pretty damn sure about its origins. Plus we cross-checked with our Gerudo counterparts; it's Valent. There separate military bases, in fact. Hadrian Army Base, Hewitt Naval Base, and Elysian Air Force Base."

"Which essentially confirms that this is a military operation," a general cleared his throat, and his words seemed to attract the agreement of the brass around the table, who made similar gestures of concurrence as they nodded and exchanged whispers. "Possibly even weapons development."

If anything, Zelda was slightly disturbed at how rapidly the leading military leaders of her kingdom were willing to decide that this was a sign of Valent's preparation for military expansion. "We don't know that yet, general," the crown princess spoke in a tone that was a bit more sharp and icy than she had originally intended, made a conscious effort to soften her voice, then addressed Major General Morgan once more, "Are there any known power sources at any of the three bases?"

It was at this that the commanding officer of the Office of Long-Range Electronic Reconnaissance finally nodded, and the conference room screen blinked once more to show three highlighted dots on a digital strategic map of Valent, complete with pictures of what the occupants of the room recognized as electromagnetic power plants. "All three, your Highness, all electromagnetic. But these bases are actually locked into the national power grid, and so they keep the electromagnetic generators off unless there happens to be a blackout. We don't have any intel about them bringing the generators online Monday. That said, the generators wouldn't be able to reach terawatts anyways."

The chief of staff to the Hylian crown princess shrugged. "Maybe they built a new power grid there," Impa suggested. "Multiple power plants to achieve that."

"To achieve that kind of rate, you'd have to have dozens, possibly even hundreds, of these plants," Morgan explained. "I think we would've noticed from surveillance photos long ago if that were the case. Not to mention the latest photos were dated last month; there's absolutely no way, no way, that Valent could've mustered the manpower or industrial power to build that many power plants in one month's time."

"Maybe they're located underground?" the Minister of Defense suggested.

From her corner of the conference table, director of Hylian Joint Intelligence Leonore spoke for the first time since the meeting began. "The massive allocation of resources and manpower to do this would have caught our attention," she sounded rather calm and amused, and could practically feel the collective ire of her political opponents as she added rather slyly, "Joint Intelligence does a pretty good job at keeping track of things like that." No doubt various members of the brass found that last remark to be a personal insult; vital information on Valent's strategic movements, shrouded in a veil of secrecy that the isolationist nation was extremely jealous of, rarely came from anywhere else but Joint Intelligence, and the fact that Leonore was succeeding where the branches of military intelligence were failing was indeed a sore spot for many generals and admirals attending the conference.

Zelda was not oblivious to this shift in political inclinations, but she was hardly in any mood to address it, especially not now. "So we have absolutely no idea of what the power sources are," she muttered, "no idea how much power it produced outside a minimum estimate, and no idea what was being powered."

"Your Highness," the general who suggested that Valent was likely to be flexing its military muscle spoke again, "I think we may wish to consider the very good possibility that this is a prelude to a possible military operation."

Murmurs of agreement rippled through the older generation of military leaders in the conference room, but Leonore begged to differ as she spoke again. "I wouldn't be too fast to condone all of us to war, gentlemen," she quipped. "This may not be a military operation at all."

"With all due respect," an admiral sitting across the table spoke in a voice that was just short of what could be called out as a mocking sneer, despite the fact that Fleet Admiral Francis looked disapproving of the sudden hostility and inappropriate inter-service rivalry, "Valent moved three entire armored divisions to the border in a seeming effort to bolster their defensive lines at around the same time, Director Leonore. Three separate massive energy waves were detected from three sources, all of which were military bases. It's a military operation."

"Not necessarily," Leonore shrugged, ignoring the obvious challenge in the admiral's voice and what were probably death glares coming from half the military leaders seated around her. "Valent's a nationalist military dictatorship. There's no other organ the nation would use to test what could otherwise simply be a power production experiment. Plus energy shielding is probably very poor, so I'm guessing this is prototype and untested technology, which would explain why, many great miles away, our P415 networks were affected."

"How do you explain the three armored divisions, then?" the previous general asked testily.

"Possibly a defensive measure against what we're assuming right at this moment," Leonore sounded like a patient schoolteacher, her voice almost soothing and deliberately soft, "that this is a prelude to a possible offensive military operation. Valent may very well be trying to make us think twice before responding to their actions. We don't have formal diplomatic relations, nor does Valent share anything with us, but that doesn't mean they don't know we're watching them, and it doesn't mean they don't know we're quite concerned about what they're doing on the other side of the border. They're just thinking three steps ahead of us. Besides, something like this? They probably want to keep us confused. They probably don't want us to completely realize what this energy thing is all about. They probably have some sort of technology that they know we'd kill to get our hands on, and they'd rather we stay the way we are right now: Confused and frustrated."

"Director Leonore," the minister frowned, "although I've faith in your insight, we cannot ignore the possibility that this very well may be a military operation."

"And I didn't say the possibility didn't exist." The director of Joint Intelligence sounded placating. "We should be putting up one hell of a defense, readying our countermeasures. But we shouldn't be sitting here and assuming that war's about to happen in the next couple of days, despite the fact that the possibility is actually greater than I'd like to let on. That kind of mentality only increases the possibility that we'll really go to war."

"Leonore has a point," Admiral Francis noted in a surprise conciliatory gesture that turned many heads and invited many stares around the table. "Last thing we need is to give Valent a moral high ground. We can enjoy an alliance with Gerudo if Valent tries anything stupid, but not if we give enough reason for Valent to point fingers at us and say we started the fight. We should work up a good defense strategy, and figure out to what extent Valent is deploying its military, but not be aggressive about it."

"And continue looking into that energy phenomenon," Impa added.

"That too," Morgan conceded. "My office is ready to coordinate with Joint Intelligence and other related intelligence officers if needed." Leonore did not speak, but smiled casually from her end, indicating confirmation that she had no problems with Morgan's proposal.

"Do it," Zelda nodded to both heads of Hyrule's intelligence services. "I'd like to have enough information by three days to be able to address the issue directly and talk about what we may have to do about it."

"With respect, your Highness," Leonore quickly added, "in terms of technological issues, we may need to consult Cybil Laboratories…perhaps even ask for outright assistance. It's probably safer if Joint Intelligence heads up that front instead of OLRER, treaty and all. Still, I want to know how far I'm allowed to push them." She ignored the face that Morgan made, reflecting how he was not entirely keen on the idea, but remained relatively thankful that he did not actually voice his discomfort.

Princess Zelda made an odd expression that betrayed uncertainty. "I'm fine as long as no one from Cybil goes complaining for Senate oversight."

Chuckles were heard around the table at the expense of the old men that made up Hyrule's legislative body, all of whom would not have appreciated the princess' remark and were thankfully absent.

Seeing that Leonore was satisfied with the answer and that no one else had anything to add, Zelda moved on. "In the meantime, I want to talk about our defensive strategy and what we're going to do in response to Valent's military activity…"

Now that the briefing itself had been completed, the administrative leaders of the nation's defense began to knock their heads together with a particular goal in mind, coming up with an effective way to ensure the country's security should something untoward arise from Valent's decision-making. The general consensus, unfortunately, was that, due to the nation's heavy isolationist policy, it was difficult to ascertain exactly what Valent was up to. Since the coup d'etat nearly two decades ago, Valent had also entered no conflict other than suppression of dissidents and rebellions, all of which happened only during the first decade of the regime change. Therefore, in terms of intelligence, Hyrule's war pavilion could only use heavily outdated information on Valent's military deployment strategy – coming from the Second Continental War sixty years ago – and combined that with advancements in modern technology, as well as what little Hylian intelligence knew about Valent. By no means was the process accurate, but the eventual consensus was that Valent, should it actually be preparing for an offensive somewhere, would be able to execute an effective operation three to five days from now after all preparations were complete. A quick roleplay amongst the generals and admirals was done, and both Princess Zelda and the Joint Chiefs agreed that their estimation of Valent's battle readiness preparation time was as accurate as they were going to get, as a second simulation revealed that Hyrule's offensive forces would take just short of a full week to prepare and mobilize an offensive against any nation, and that Gerudo would take just a day less; these were figures not too far from the one they derived for Valent.

After consulting with the Defense Minister, Princess Zelda convinced the conference that she would be able to talk down any Senate opposition to shoring up Hylian defenses, which the Joint Chiefs promised would be at full readiness once all the necessary military defensive protocols were activated and personnel deployed, a process that was predicted to take just a few hours less than three full days, which should be enough to meet the pressing deadline. The Gerudo option was explored; there was a good chance that Gerudo would provide foreign military assistance if Hyrule was attacked, and Zelda announced she would attempt to raise these odds by means of diplomatic phone call to Generalissimo Ganondorf later in the afternoon, if not early evening, and the Minister of Defense promised to pull whatever favors from his friends he could as well.

Satisfied that whatever issues they could address for now had been so – and silently praying these countermeasures were not actually necessary – after nearly two hours in the conference room, the Crown Princess of Hyrule adjourned the meeting.

Admittedly, Zelda was not entirely certain what to feel even as the Grand Hall elevator doors closed, and, moments later, the elevator car began to ascend again up to the diplomatic meeting rooms two floors above, this time with six passengers instead of five. Impa, of course, was still there, as was Link, and there were the two palace guards standing on both sides of the elevator doors. There was also one extra passenger: Director Leonore. As was custom, Princess Zelda and her entourage had been the first to leave the underground facilities of the palace's west wing, and they had the elevator to themselves. Which was why Zelda had found herself a bit unnerved when Leonore swiftly caught up with them just as the group entered the Grand Hall elevators, a stunning display of alacrity that the princess had not been expecting. Furthermore, Link had simply just stepped aside from where he stood right in front of the elevator doors as a sentinel, allowing for Leonore to pass unasked and unchecked. It was understandable, of course, considering that Link was technically on Leonore's payroll and not on Zelda's, but, personally, the princess couldn't help but wonder if this would ever turn into a contest of loyalties.

And then she told herself to dismiss the thought. Link was only an interim bodyguard anyways, and would be replaced sooner or later. Zelda attempted to persuade herself that this was nothing to be worried over, that things would move on smoothly, and that she would be comfortable with the coming transition.

For some reason, she didn't feel very convinced at all.

"Excuse me, your Highness?" Leonore had asked, her voice polite and not unkindly as she stopped half-inside the elevator. "May I have a few moments aside? It's important."

Her misgivings aside, Zelda knew well enough that when Leonore said things were important, it deserved her undivided attention. It also meant that a good block of time should be carved out, though, and the princess wasn't all that eager to keep Doctor Hal waiting longer than he should. "Can you wait for a few minutes?" she had asked, but otherwise took a half-step back, a motion Impa mimicked, a clear sign that Leonore was free to join them in the elevator car. "I have an important appointment to rush to right now, but it shouldn't take too long."

Leonore had nodded courteously as she stepped into the car before the elevator doors closed. "Of course, your Highness, although I admit speed is of the essence."

And now the elevator car was decelerating as it reached the third floor.

The white, brightly-lit corridors of the palace revealed themselves once the doors parted, and Link stepped out first, followed by Zelda, Impa, and Leonore. The palace guards saluted where they stood and did not move; they were not required to escort the princess any further at this point. Moving toward one of the nearby doors that would lead to the meeting room where Doctor Hal awaited, Zelda nodded courteously to Impa and Leonore. "I'd like to see Doctor Hal alone for a moment. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes."

Of course, before the princess had realized it, Link had already moved past her, opening the door and stepping in. Temporarily stunned at what she at first interpreted as complete disregard towards her order, she ignored the surprised looks on the faces of both Impa and Leonore as she stiffly stepped into the room as well. Already, she was looking at a standing Doctor Hal, who looked fine enough, if not slightly puzzled at the Joint Intelligence agent standing before him. Zelda prepared to speak, but Link, as if reading her mind, held up a finger as if to silently ask her to give him a moment, then proceeded to conduct a quick search on Doctor Hal. Feeling rather embarrassed at the spectacle, Zelda gave a disapproving look at Link when he finally turned around and nodded to indicate the doctor was clean; the agent then proceeded to exit the room, closing the door behind him.

Doctor Hal was, for the most part, exactly how Zelda remembered him since they first met more than a decade ago: Aging, thin, and exhausted. Lines were beginning to form on his face that indicated the age and stress, and his graying hair was only testament to that. His suit and tie should be the same set that he always wore, yet they seemed almost a bit too large for him, a clear indicator that he had thinned…which was dangerous at his age, him already in his late fifties. His tired smile, even more fatigued than usual, sent waves of worry down Zelda's spine; Hal was insistent that Project Durandara was not what was eating away at him, but if not, what was?

"Your Highness," the doctor greeted politely with that exhausted smile of his.

Zelda was equally courteous. "A pleasure to see you again, Doctor Hal," she replied, then, in a slightly embarrassed manner, gestured towards the door where Link undoubtedly stood guard outside along with Impa and Leonore, "I'm sorry about my interim bodyguard; he can be a bit overzealous."

"He's only doing what he's supposed to do," Hal chuckled. "Although no doubt he's captivated by your charm."

The princess suppressed an urge to make a face. "You flatter me. How's your family?"

A shrug pronounced Hal's answer. "Oh, you know. Gabriella threatening divorce, kids refusing to speak with me…the all-too-universal characteristics of a work-a-holic."

Inwardly, Zelda cringed even as she fought down a grimace, opting for a more saddened expression instead. Contrary to her hopes, Hal's family situation, having deteriorated over the last couple of months, was not getting any better at all. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

Hal's smile was not unkindly. "Don't be. I asked for the work, I suffer the consequences. Anyways. This…" he quickly steered the subject towards more comfortable territory as he reached into his jacket pocket before plucking out what seemed to be a miniature data storage flash drive the size of a lighter, handing it over to the princess, "…is what you asked for."

Glad that Hal had tactfully switched the topic for her, Zelda adopted a more serious expression instead as she gingerly took the delicate flash drive, studying it. To her satisfaction, the device looked like any other flash drive, although the silver color of the device did not betray the fact that it actually was made of a silver-titanium-carbon alloy. "Everything I asked for is in here?"

"Everything and more," the doctor confirmed, then, in a more hesitant voice, continued slowly and deliberately. "I'd like to say that it'll perform beyond my expectations, your Highness, but I don't think you need me to remind you that this is purely experimental, and I cannot guarantee success without running simulations first…which, as you well know, is an impossibility at this point."

"I remember, but thank you for the reminder," Zelda reassured Hal even as she gently slipped the flash drive into one of her hidden dress pockets, then sincerely addressed him on a more personal basis in a softer voice. "You've worked on this more than anyone else; I probably should fill you in, let you know exactly…"

Again, Hal gave his tired smile even as he blinked once in a remarkably long manner, holding up a hand to stop his princess mid-sentence. "I'm sorry to interrupt, your Highness," he apologized, "but it's really alright. Chances are I don't really want to know. Anything that can chance MPs knocking on my door at night and infuriating my family even further is something I want to actively avoid."

Zelda managed a humored smile. "I see. But thank you regardless. You must've put a great deal of work in it."

"Sleepless nights are sleepless night," Hal shrugged good-naturedly, then he dropped his smile as he once again followed more traditional court protocol in front of the princess, now that their unofficial business had concluded. "This is really all I came by for. I shouldn't be taking up any of your time; I saw Director Leonore waiting for you outside. Bet whatever she has to say is more important." Hal began to bow out, preparing to complete a gesture of respect for her Highness and leave the room, but Zelda quickly reached over, a hand quickly securing his arm as she took one step closer. Her hushed, conspiring tone immediately caught the doctor's attention, who understood that this was not any form of advance than it was a secretive discussion.

"Doctor, I have to ask," Zelda's expression was serious and devoid of humor, her brows slightly furrowed into a bit of a frown. "Are you aware of any energy technology capable of achieving twenty-three terawatts of output?"

The fact that she had never seen Hal actually upset in any way before made the doctor's dark look of apprehension and foreboding that much more frightening as he gave Zelda a worried glance and muttered, "So the rumors are true."

That spiked Zelda's interest. "Where did you hear the rumors?" she asked.

Hal managed to look appropriately sheepish and embarrassed without actually having to smile, unusual for the good-natured scientist. "Let's just say," he noted in an almost whimsical manner, "I'd be concerned about how well the brass over at the Haven can keep secrets, your Highness."

Zelda had to consciously prevent herself from scowling, the urge translating instead to a mere controlled nod. "Duly noted," she replied, allowed three seconds for Hal to speak once more, then, realizing that he wasn't taking the cue, added, "My question still stands."

"About the technology or about where I heard what I wasn't supposed to hear?"

"The former."

Pursing his lips in what was almost a sign of discomfort and insecurity, Hal responded hesitatingly, "I know of a few practical technologies, all of them theoretical. No nation has the capability of achieving more than twenty terawatts within twenty seconds at the moment."

"Let's assume the technology exists for a moment. Any idea what it can be used for?"

"Could be used for powering a city grid," the doctor suggested casually with a straight face.

Zelda frowned; it was easy to see that she wasn't being impressed by the doctor's strange sense of humor – or sardonic behavior, if it were that – at the moment. "Hal, this is Valent we're talking about."

It was only when Hal, Zelda's tutor and mentor for so many of her childhood years, looked back at her after turning away with a heavy sigh that she realized Hal, the doctor with the sad, tired smile, would not, for once, be able to provide his princess and pupil with an adequate answer. "I honestly don't know, your Highness," he whispered even as he gave that melancholy curve of his lips once more, tucking his hands into his pockets as if the movement registered futility. "No reply I give you would really come close to being a confident answer. All I can say is? If it's Valent that has its hands on that kind of technology, I really wouldn't be sleeping soundly if I were you."

When Doctor Hal realized that the weight of his words had clamped down on Zelda's lips and that she, in her cold realization and worry, could not quite formulate a good response, Hal sadly smiled for the last time as he completed the bow he wasn't able to the first time, and, just as he passed his princess, patted her on the shoulder in the manner that the tutor used to do to the pupil, taking advantage of a moment that pronounced their old relationship. That done, Hal allowed his hand to slip off Zelda's shoulder, and walked quietly out the door.

"…but keep me posted. Inform the palace staff that I'll take care of her Highness, and that they should remain on alert."

Admittedly, Zelda was not giving Leonore her undivided attention even after the two of them, escorted by both Impa and Link, returned to Zelda's officer on the upper floors of the palace. She wasn't entirely sure what was upsetting her. That Doctor Hal had no good answer for her was of little surprise, not when the leading experts and intelligence and reconnaissance had gotten nowhere with finding out the truth behind Valent's energy surge. It still unnerved Zelda somehow, however. Possibly because he had always had all the answers Zelda needed when she was a child and he her tutor, or possibly because he was the leading researcher for most of Hyrule's scientific projects, one of the most brilliant minds of the century, if not any century. His words somehow carried far more futility than it did from anyone else.

Zelda shook her head. She was being bothered by too many things these days.

"My apologies, your Highness," Leonore interrupted Zelda's thoughts even as she slipped a cell phone back into her pocket.

"What was that about?" Zelda tried not to make her voice sound bored and distant. She wasn't entirely sure she succeeded, but Leonore showed no sign of noticing…probably out of tact rather than obliviousness.

"I had Joint Intelligence call me anytime they received an update for our situation at hand," Leonore answered. "For obvious security reasons."

Nodding in a half-hearted gesture of understanding, the crown princess sighed once more as she looked back down on her desk, papers that Leonore had brought with her neatly placed upon the surface. "You understand I need proof before I can bring any legal charges against Admiral Francis," she remarked, and looked up to bring her troubled gaze to Leonore. Behind the director of Joint Intelligence were Impa and Link, both of whom remained silent. Impa could be trusted to make a comment when necessity called for it, while Link could be trusted to not contribute to the conversation unless asked.

"Not anything I can use to incriminate him yet," Leonore allowed. "But I must remark that this looks awfully suspicious, especially in light of Admiral Francis' current actions."

Sliding a cluster of financial statements and bank documents back over to Leonore, seated on the other side of the desk, Zelda seemed less than convinced; perhaps she deliberately put on such an impression and façade. "I can think of a long list of unethical reasons as to why Admiral Francis is pumping Allen-Rosencrantz," the princess leaned back against her seat. "But his actions are hardly illegal."

Leonore shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. But you may want to look at this from a different angle, especially if you're familiar with Allen-Rosencrantz's background."

"I'm listening," Zelda shrugged.

"Allen-Rosencrantz is a dummy corporation set up by Valentine-founded Rainer Conglomerate Industries three decades ago. Under the Free Technology Trade Act, foreign companies conducting technological trade in Hyrule require a legal partnership with a similar Hylian company; the idea at the time was that shared technologies would prevent the likelihood of extremely sensitive technology being leaked, not to mention a lessened possibility of technology theft. It would be too easy to legally commit technology theft with this act, so it was, in a sense, a measure to force companies on both sides to be careful. This also added a layer of security for both sides of the deal, especially since encryption systems could be shared. Also added a layer of financial oversight. Rainer Conglomerate Industries used Allen-Rosencrantz to sell technology onto the Hylian market…while absorbing technology from its Hylian partner and not having to disclose actual high-level technology, which RCI guarded safely, to its partner."

Zelda did not need Leonore to elaborate the situation step-by-side as she immediately understood the unspoken words behind Leonore's explanation, already moving two or three steps ahead. "You're suspecting that Allen-Rosencrantz might still be affiliated with RCI despite it having moved most of its Valent-based assets to Hyrule after the Valentine Revolution," Zelda spoke softly but with an edge in her voice even as she leaned forward, clasping her hands together right in front of her chin while she settled her elbows on the desk. "If it's true, this can raise some rather complicated problems, especially since RCI has undoubtedly been 'nationalized'."

"And can easily be acting as a front for Valentine intelligence, yes," Leonore concurred.

Giving herself several moments to mull these new pieces of information over and attempt to fit them together to weigh possibilities, it was not until fifteen seconds later that Zelda asked, "How far do you think Admiral Francis' involvement goes?"

"Unknown. Worst case scenario is that he's in full collaboration with Valentine intelligence – which I doubt. Hopefully, he's merely an unwitting pawn…but that doesn't make him less dangerous. I'm not surprised he's suddenly putting Hylian forces on alert. I'm supposed to inform you…" she plucked out her cell phone and waved it in her hand, referring to the call she had received earlier, "…that security measures have been increased, now that he's declared a raise in threat level."

Zelda scrunched her brows into a clear frown. Events were moving far too fast for her liking, and she did not believe in coincidences occurring in rapid succession. Her lips parted as she prepared to speak, but she had not managed to utter the first syllable when a flash outside her window, combined with what felt like a distant rumbling, caught her attention. She wasn't the only one that had noticed it; Leonore suddenly rose to her feet as her attention went towards the window, Impa seemed surprised and looked in the same direction, and Link was already moving towards the princess briskly and rapidly.

One second later, the sound of what sounded very much like an explosion was finally reached Hyrule Palace and shook the glass windows even as the sound reverberated in the massive office.

"What was that?" Zelda asked, immediately alarmed as she rose to her feet and attempted to move towards the window, but Link had already grabbed her by the arm and was moving her out of the office, ignoring feeble resistance from his princess, followed immediately by Leonore, who shared the same brisk determination and understanding as Link, and Impa, who was less certain of what was going on but not reluctant to follow where everyone else was going.

The explosion that blasted through her desk where she had been sitting before and tearing down that half of the office, even as Link immediately pushed Zelda onto the ground and shielded her with his body while rubble rained around them and dust engulfed her surroundings and the shockwave overwhelmed her senses, answered her question just as she lost consciousness.

Although Princess Zelda had no way of knowing at the moment, the three Valentine tank divisions that had been moved to the border the night before were joined in the afternoon by another tank division and four infantry divisions, raising the total number of troops at the border to a stunning one hundred thirty thousand soldiers that was reorganized into the Valentine Sixth, Eighth, and Twelfth Corps. The ground forces had in possession more than four hundred armored vehicles, including tanks and artillery pieces. Like most successful surprise attacks in history, Valent achieved complete surprise through the very judicious use of the radio, ensuring that the Hylian Office of Long-Range Electronic Reconnaissance would not be able to intercept their communications, and chose to move their forces in conjunction with bad weather where photo-optic surveillance would be more difficult.

Although Princess Zelda had no way of knowing at the moment, the three corps initiated a three-way blitzkrieg against Hyrule City, with the Sixth and Eighth Corps taking up positions north and south of the city to cordon off the city from enemy reinforcements and provide artillery support, and the Twelfth Corps conducting the actual invasion of the city, having been specially trained for urban combat. The operation had been deliberately set at dinner time, where most of the capital staff would either be eating dinner with their families or on their way home, and wouldn't be able to immediately respond to the incoming threat.

Although Princess Zelda had no way of knowing at the moment, the Sixth and Eighth Corps had pinpointed and destroyed various targets of opportunity within the city using long-range artillery within the first hour of the operation, including the McKinley Air Force Base, Fort Patterson, and the Haven, Hyrule's military headquarters. This not only deprived the defending Hylian forces in the city of sufficient cover and defenses upon which to fall back, but also greatly reduced the number of deployable soldiers, many of whom were caught in artillery fire while at the base. Many more soldiers, having been off-duty, were unable to procure their weapons and equipment in the chaos that ensued, and were casualties in their own right. Most importantly, it deprived the entire nation of its military command, and left the Hylian armed forces across the country uncoordinated and uncertain of what to do next, giving the Valentine army several valuable hours to secure the capital city as infantry and tank divisions flooded the streets, slowly but surely eliminating pockets of Hylian resistance in ferocious house-to-house fighting. The city was already beginning to experience ruin as primary power was cut, and the capital went dark even after secondary emergency generators came back on, dooming the city to imminent takeover. Valentine air power, having sent up an air wing to secure air superiority with just shy of one hundred fighter jets, added to this dreadful premonition, ensuring that aerial reinforcements from Hyrule could not assist in the defense.

Although Princess Zelda had no way of knowing at the moment, the attack on Hyrule City was by no means an isolated offensive; aside from the army and the air force, the Valentine navy had also been activated, with the Third and Sixth Fleet keeping Hylian naval forces in the Aurora Ocean north of the continent at a stalemate, preventing superior Hylian naval power from providing long-range support to its army and air force cousins. And while the Valentine Fifth and Eleventh Corps continued to vigilantly defend their borders from a possible counterattack, the newly-organized Fourth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Corps, two hundred and fifty thousand strong, crossed the Gerudo-Valentine border and launched their assault on northwestern Gerudo, taking three separate cities completely by surprise. Two wings of fighter-bombers complimented the assault, and the Gerudo capital was saved only by its great distance from the Gerudo-Valentine border as its northwestern territories fell before the Valentine onslaught.

Although Princess Zelda had no way of knowing at the moment, the opening shots had been fired by Valent, and the war had started.

Exoria File #001
Uniform and Color Coding of Hyrule

The advancement of Hylian society from medieval ages to modern ages has seen more uniformity and simplicity when it comes to clothing for official stations. The usual suit-and-tie dominates Hyrule's government offices now, replacing men and women dressed in varying, unique robes and tunics. Not a nation to lose its taste of aesthetics, however, Hyrule has still maintained the use of designs and color-coding to indicate the department and rank of government officials everywhere. As the national colors of Hyrule are blue and white, most uniforms incorporate some form of blue into their clothing. For example, the staff responding directly to the royal family, such as Impa, Zelda's chief of staff, can be found wearing clothes of blue and purple. Class A uniforms for commissioned officers of the military can be found in white and blue with angular design; these designs tend to become more simple as rank goes up, surprisingly. There are, of course, exceptions; most intelligence services choose to utilize black suits and ties with white shirts to make it difficult for non-intelligence personnel or foreign spies to immediately recognize which agency they belong to, with the exception of Joint Intelligence, which has an all-black clothing scheme, such as Link. Except for departments related to the military and intelligence services, higher-ranked officials in Hyrule's departments may choose to wear their own clothes to work as long as they follow the traditions and colors of their office as opposed to the standardized uniforms.

Exoria File #002
Hylian Joint Intelligence

Until five decades ago, Hyrule's intelligence agencies only possessed intelligence-gathering protocols and equipment, leaving actual black operations and counter-terrorist operations to the clandestine arm of the military. It required cooperation between two rather unrelated departments, which did not always go well. Military intelligence specialized only in wartime intelligence, and did not possess the proper capability to operate small-scale, clandestine operations where terrorism, counter-insurgency, and assassinations may be concerned. During the Second Southern Gerudo Civil War, the Hylian royal family secretly signed Direct Executive Order #1942, which created the Office of Joint Clandestine Operations using selected personnel from both Hyrule's various intelligence agencies and the military in an effort to launch highly clandestine and coordinated covert operations into Gerudo to secure Hylian interests while maintaining plausible deniability. It effectively functioned as both an intelligence-gathering organization and a covert armed service. Its performance in the civil war was highly exceptional, which led to the Office of Joint Clandestine Operations being upgraded to the umbrella organization for all of Hyrule's intelligence services while being renamed to Hylian Joint Intelligence when the organization was eventually declassified and made known to the public. Despite public awareness of the organization, much of Joint Intelligence's operations, protocols, and modus operandi remain top secret. They are assumed, however, to have first priority when it comes to equipment and manpower in the Hylian intelligence community, and the Director of Joint Intelligence is known as one of the few people who are "allowed to wake the King with a nighttime telephone call". Due to its near-universal role in intelligence-gathering, however, Joint Intelligence has effectively earned a small degree of ire and contempt from military and other intelligence agencies, who see them as having far too much influence. Lenore is the fourth Director of Joint Intelligence, who was designated by her predecessor after much personal pressure from the Hylian royal family.