Crown Princess Zelda neither dreamed nor hallucinated in the hours she had spent unconscious, so she did not wake startled into a world dimmed by battle and destruction, and yet, strangely enough, the moment she opened her eyes in awakening was also the moment that all of her previous recollections – namely, an artillery shell having taken out half her spacious office while Agent Link was moving her out – came back to her, and there was an instant where her intellect placed all that information into place in a way not unlike how a child would put together a jigsaw puzzle before she realized the predicament she was in. The calm realization that she was somehow caught in some sort of battle over the city – the dim lighting in the room she was in, coupled with distant sounds of gunfire and explosions, confirmed this – dawned upon her rather rapidly even as she slowly sat up from where she had been lying down, and it frightened her how fast she was able to accept this. Leaders were supposed to dread the day that their nations were caught up in a war on their own soil, and pray it never happened; that she could accept the situation so rapidly suddenly made Zelda quite self-conscious of how she was supposed to feel for her nation.
Expectedly, Link was the first to see that Zelda had regained consciousness, and his movements, fluid and subdued, caught the attention of Impa and Leonore nearby as the Joint Intelligence agent moved over to ensure his princess was safe. Leonore seemed sufficiently upset, as if what was happening was a great irritation, while Impa was quite distressed, obviously having been concerned over the well-being of her charge. Already, Link was beside Zelda, helping her up to a sitting position; as the princess' mind cleared, her eyes adjusted and she saw that she was being propped upright on a sofa. The lights were out – probably due to power being cut somewhere – although the dim glow of emergency lights illuminated the area just enough for Zelda to realize that she was in one of the palace's many safe room bunkers, an armored, security-sealed room in which the Hylian royal family, as well as key members of government, could be hidden and locked-down if the palace was ever attacked…such as now. Zelda recalled the specifications of the bunker, a ten-by-ten meter safe room, well-furnished with carpets and sofas, possessing enough food and water to last three individuals locked down inside for a week. The doors were reinforced and password-locked, preventing forced entry. The armor was formed from a C-carbon allotrope, and could withstand a direct hit from a ballistic missile. Although, Zelda reminded herself, if we're in a safe room on the upper floors, we'd probably still be killed when the Portland stone structure of this palace fails, and we come crashing down to the ground.
She decided not to share her worries with the other three occupants.
"Your Highness," Leonore was the second to reach Zelda as soon as she sat up straight in the sofa, shaking her head once to clear the haziness from her mind. "How do you feel?" The black, compact handgun in Leonore's hand was equipped with a silencer. Already, Impa was moving herself past both Leonore and Link, looking highly stressed as she quickly placed her hands on Zelda's shoulders, ascertaining that the princess was truly alright. The display was actually rather endearing, and Zelda allowed herself to entertain a small smile.
"I'm fine," she confirmed, more for Impa's sake than Leonore's. "Just a bit dizzy…" she stopped there, then, looking down the purple royal dress she had been wearing before, slightly tarnished by dust but otherwise undamaged, asked a bit uncertainly, "…Are there any wounds I should be aware about?"
The shake of Leonore's head dispelled Zelda's worries. "No, your Highness," she confirmed. "You were knocked out by the shockwave of what I guess was an artillery shell that hit your office. We didn't find any wounds on you, so you should be fine."
Zelda nodded; it was good to know that she was still in a position to take command of the group – no matter how small – if necessary. "How's the situation looking out there?" She rose to her feet slowly, making sure she didn't overstrain herself as she did. Thankfully, no wave of nausea ran through her head, something she had been half-expecting. Link immediately stepped back to give the princess some room, making sure his hand was slightly outstretched to provide support for Zelda if she needed it; she didn't.
Impa applied a bit of pressure on Zelda's shoulders, trying to have the princess sit back down on the sofa as concern and disapproval flickered across the older woman's face. "Your Highness, you should rest…" she murmured.
"I'm fine, Impa," Zelda reassured her chief of staff even as she gently brushed Impa's hands off her shoulders, smiled kindly and reassuringly at Impa. "I need to know what's going on. How long was I out?"
"Around three hours," Leonore responded, as if the question had been directed towards anyone in general instead of Impa, and Zelda barely noticed Link moving away from the peripheral of her vision. "All reports seem to indicate that we're facing a very coordinated attack from Valent forces. We still aren't sure of their capabilities or numbers. We do know that there's enemy infantry and armor on the city streets, and that they have both artillery support and air cover. We've managed to intercept fragments of enemy communications; there have been three different corps mentioned so far. Local resistance has been extremely underwhelming…" Leonore paused, took a deep breath, then sighed even as she spoke at the same time, causing Zelda to steel herself mentally, knowing that the news she was to receive was not good at all, "…Your Highness, the Haven was one of the first targets they took out. We practically have no coordination amongst our forces right now, local or nationwide."
The reception Zelda had towards this update was pronounced with a notable cringe. "Absolutely none?" she asked weakly.
The director of Joint Intelligence made a strange, almost sheepish smile. "Well, I tried coordinating with the soldiers I was able to reach, which only numbers amongst several companies right now, but…" she produced what seemed to be a map of the city with the rough positions of known Hylian defenders and known Valentine aggressors…hastily and completely hand-drawn on printing paper with a ball-point pen, "…as you can see, the verdict is out on that one."
Zelda's heart felt like it had dropped to her stomach. "I don't suppose we should hope that our soldiers can hold out until reinforcements come?"
It was Impa's turn to shake her head. "I'm afraid not, your Highness. Never mind the fact that local defending forces are heavily outnumbered; they are cut off from the Haven's armory and have no access to extra weapons or ammunition. The last time we heard from them, the navy was only barely managing to achieve parity in the Aurora Ocean, and will not be able to provide support. McKinley Air Force Base was one of the first targets hit, and the Valentines have air superiority in the area. Most of our regional commanders outside the capital are still trying to procure confirmation of the situation…"
"…Which no one is providing," Leonore finished.
Only after seconds of silence and a rising urge to sit back down on the sofa did Zelda realize that she was trembling. Her two-year-reign over Hyrule had seen some of the greatest dilemmas for the country's national defense and security, yet a solution – or at least a temporary countermeasure – could always be found if she concentrated hard enough. Yet with what sounded like complete Valentine supremacy over the theater of operations, Zelda felt, for the first time, completely helpless and powerless. How could it have come to this? Zelda wanted to ask. She felt as if her heart had turned to ash and been blown away. But in front of Impa, Leonore, and Link, she knew better. As long as there were subjects before her, she could not afford to show any weakness that would instill any form of doubt in those she was meant to command. She had to make the best of the situation.
Unsuccessfully forcing herself to stop trembling, Zelda asked quietly, "Any word on my father?"
"We received a report about an hour ago that the King was being evacuated from his West Arlington private residence," Impa was quick to respond, "accompanied by an armored platoon and his medical staff. We haven't received any word or update since."
"Can we raise them back on the radio?"
Leonore gestured lazily towards the radio equipment that Zelda noticed was on a table at the end of the room for the first time, Link silently attempting to adjust the dials and buttons on the radio. "The enemy has been jamming our communications for the last half hour. Link has been trying to circumvent it, but…no luck in that department." At the mention of his name, Link turned around to gaze upon the conversation going on around him, then provided a suspiciously apologetic shake of his head before turning his attention back to their link to the outside world.
"What about the local populace?" Zelda demanded. "Civilians?"
"Evacuating civilians and non-combat personnel was the first thing our armed forces started doing as soon as they got confirmation that the Haven was hit," Leonore confirmed with a nod. "They figured the battle was lost and decided to try to get as many people out of there as possible. That's one thing our armed forces did right. As far as we know, though, they've either already pulled out or have been whittled down. The pockets of resistance I've been coordinating with have largely been soldiers that have been cut off from the main army, or volunteered to stay behind and hold the line. Frankly, I don't know how far they've gotten with the evacuation effort, or if there's even still an evacuation effort in this city."
The pursing of her lips and the intensifying of her lowered gaze were clear signs that Crown Princess Zelda was working her legendary intellect into overtime. Her arms hugged themselves across her stomach even as she slowly paced the dark, carpeted room. Her thoughts quickly gained momentum as she assessed possible options and priorities, looking for a possible way out of this mess…or at least a way to salvage the situation and minimize damage. Both Impa and Leonore were appropriately silent as they watched Zelda silently tick away, the quiet interrupted only by the occasional bursts of static as Link attempted to toy with the radio to no avail.
It was when Zelda refocused her gaze on Impa and Leonore that the occupants of the room understood Zelda had gotten somewhere with her brainstorm. "The first and foremost objective we need to achieve is to re-establish our chain of command, confirm contact with our armed forces across the nation, and gain a line of communication with Gerudo. We were attacked first without provocation; we should have the moral high ground, and Gerudo will be obligated to assist us. A Valentine invasion into Hyrule works to Gerudo's favor; their economy is being kept afloat only by trade with us, as their national economy is dropping due to their recession."
"You're suggesting that we leave the safe room and find somewhere to reorganize and regroup," Leonore spoke slowly and deliberately.
For some reason, Zelda couldn't help but feel that Leonore's voice reflected disapproval. "You do not sound like you agree with my train of thought."
It was Leonore's turn to purse her lips, although it was less about trying to see the big picture as much as it was trying to force the big picture onto her princess. "Your Highness," she continued to speak in that word-by-word manner with lack of emphasis on any particular syllable, "we currently have lost contact with the only other living sovereign of this nation. I beg your forgiveness for saying so, but your father's survival is only symbolic in nature; his Majesty is not capable of taking the role of active sovereign of this nation. The mantle falls upon you, your Highness. If you were to be captured by Valentine forces by leaving this safe room – a safe room which the Valentines don't actually know you're in, where we can stay low for a week – it may permanently cripple both the morale and the effectiveness of our armed forces."
"I cannot raise the morale or effectiveness of my troops if I am locked away here without outside contact." Zelda's voice sounded icy; she was not certain why she was being so confrontational towards Leonore.
Leonore did not take the bait and remained calm. "No, you cannot, but at least you won't be causing morale to skydive. We're only several hours into the attack, but our armed forces will eventually learn that the capital was attacked. The remnants of our military forces will find a way to coordinate with each other, even without the Haven, and they will initiate a counteroffensive on Valentine forces here in Hyrule City. We can stay here, safe, for a week until reinforcements arrive. And if you are captured – a very real possibility, as we are without backup against an invasion force – you are giving the enemy a chance to gain codes that a member of the royal family and the director of Joint Intelligence are privy to. We don't need to give the enemy another advantage needlessly."
Although Zelda seemed rather calm and composed, anyone looking at her could tell that she was holding back a certain amount of anger…anger at Leonore, anger at the situation, or anger at herself, no one was entirely sure. "You're suggesting that I stay here like a coward while waiting for reinforcements."
Despite attempting to stay calm and reasonable, Leonore, Link noticed even as he quietly listened in to the conversation, was slowly beginning to become more irate at the princess' behavior, which almost seemed to be singled out towards Leonore. "No one doubts your courage, your Highness," Leonore sighed. "But you must look at the situation from an objective point of view. You are the sovereign of Hyrule; your personal pride cannot come before the welfare of this nation."
The two women looked at each other in a chilly impasse, both standing and staring down at each other in what was clearly an intensifying exchange of scrutiny, appraisal, and frustration, if not outright distrust. From beside, Impa nervously pursed her lips as she looked from one female to another, while Link pretended he did not notice the heated debate going on. Zelda and Leonore glared at each other unimpaired.
Zelda finally spoke first as she closed her eyes, seemingly in an effort to dampen what was undoubtedly rising ire; it was the first time in a long time that she had actually gotten into an outright argument with a high-ranking member of her government. Yet as much as Leonore made her arguments – armed with very good points, Zelda had to admit – she could not bring herself to follow Leonore's suggestion. Was it honestly on part of her own judgment, or a bias against the woman who had sent her half-brother to her death? Zelda honestly wasn't entirely sure, but emotions were running high, and even if she didn't like to admit it, they were, in one way or another, affecting her judgment.
"Duly noted, Director Leonore," Zelda finally breathed in allowance, as much as she was going to give the director of Joint Intelligence. "However, I still press my point. We may not have the luxury of a week. Judging by what you'd told me about the Valentine invasion effort, I believe that we may be facing defeat anyways if we do not attempt to coordinate our counteroffensive efforts immediately. My staying here, awaiting for rescue, matters little if our military forces are destroyed."
Leonore's lips were pressed into a thin line, almost invisible had it not been against the backdrop of pale skin pressed tightly together. "You don't know that will happen, your Highness."
"You can't be sure my capture is certain either," the princess countered.
Again, an impasse, except Leonore's self-conflict on this issue was much more apparent. She knew she didn't have the authority to stop Zelda; it was more of a matter of how to talk sense into this hardheaded princess. Therefore, Link was mildly surprised – to the point where he actually turned his head around back towards the conversation for a moment or two – when Leonore finally sighed in a mixture of exasperation and futility and conceded to Zelda's point.
"Alright, your Highness," she breathed deeply. "If I cannot dissuade you from keeping yourself out of harm, allow me to make a suggestion as to your destination instead."
An eyebrow raised. "Which is…?" Zelda asked.
It was Impa's turn to sound inquisitive. "The capital of Gerudo?"
"The Hylian-Gerudo border is only a bit further than the closest military base that we've not received a report of an attack on so far. And although we haven't heard of any attacks on nearby military bases outside McKinley, I'm willing to bet that nearby regional bases were hit hard too. It'll be difficult, if not outright impossible, trying to get there if there's a battle over these bases between our forces and theirs. By comparison, Valent probably figures that Gerudo requires several days to decide to support us militaristically, even more to properly garner the military forces for the counterattack, making the border a more feasible option. Plus Garuda City has a developed infrastructure for you to properly communicate with and command Hylian forces in the nation, and I'm sure Generalissimo Ganondorf would be more willing to acquiesce to your requests if you meet him in person. If we can put the Gerudo military into play, it'll also be easier for the two nations to initiate a joint-campaign against Valent if both of you are in the same room."
This was an argument that Zelda was not able to refute; it was highly unlikely that, with what had happened so far, Gerudo would ally with Valent, considering Generalissimo Ganondorf's staunch stance against the Valentine isolationist regime. The chances that they were in covert cohorts were even lower; Joint Intelligence had been watching the movements of the generalissimo and his staff for years. "I concur with your analysis," Zelda nodded. "We should split into groups of two. It'll decrease our chances of being discovered, as well as the chances of all of us being captured at once. It won't do us any good if the crown princess, her chief of staff, and the DJI are all caught in one go."
"I agree. I'll go with Impa. Take Agent Link with you."
Despite almost expecting such a pairing, Zelda couldn't help but look surprised. Link, now that he was mentioned, finally detached himself from his futile attempt of circumventing enemy jamming and joined the circle, although not the conversation. For the first time, Zelda consciously realized that the Joint Intelligence agent was still wearing his sunglasses despite the dim lighting.
Leonore caught Zelda's look and quickly explained. "Link is better trained for field work than I am. He and I are the only ones that have had field training, so we have to be apart, escorting one of you. But you'll have better chances with Link than you'll have with me; I've been sitting behind a desk for too long."
Impa was just as quick to agree. "She's right, your Highness," she spoke in a placating voice that made Zelda suspicious of Impa's intent, as if her chief of staff was trying to defuse an argument rather than look for the best choice of action. "You're far more important to the strategic effort than I am. The entire effort must be focused on you."
The frown on Zelda's brow clearly showed that she didn't like the idea, not out of suspicion or disapproval, but worry over her chief of staff, the woman who had been watching over her almost like a mother for what had been eighteen years. Feelings of worry and anxiety flickered across Zelda's face even as she struggled with her inner feelings over this decision, knowing that neither Impa nor Leonore would accept any other option, not when the safety of their princess was at stake. "Impa…" the princess whispered even as she took a step closer to her chief of staff, temporarily indifferent to what was otherwise a large crack of her queenly mask.
Impa offered what amounted as a reassuring smile from a woman who had seen enough of age to be unafraid of death. "Worry not, your Highness," she reassured Zelda, and, for a moment, they were, once again, chaperon and child instead of servant and princess, an adult comforting a child. "I'll get to Garuda City safely. This old woman still has some flame left in her. You keep your head down, and make sure you get to Garuda safe and sound, alright?"
Leonore offered the two a moment to themselves even as she took to another corner of the room, Link silently joining her; he knew that she wouldn't be letting him off the hook without at least the briefest of briefings. Sparing Zelda and Impa a quick glance, Leonore turned her attention to the young Joint Intelligence agent. "I don't think I need to tell you how long the odds are going to be," she muttered; her voice edged close to an exasperated sigh.
Strangely enough, Link felt a genuine calm settle over him. It wasn't any type of bravado as much as it was an uncanny absence of anxiety. It wasn't that he wasn't appreciating their abysmally low chances of escape; Link nodded, confirming that Leonore's analysis was right: It was going to be a very long shot. The chances of being killed were, in fact, quite high. He appreciated the odds, but it was mostly that, an appreciation of the statistics and the outcome; emotions and personal premonitions didn't come into it.
Noting Link's agreement and seeming lack of fear over what was otherwise a suicide mission, Leonore let out a true sigh this time. Signs of worry flickered across Leonore's weathered face, but they only lasted for a moment before her features hardened themselves once more, and she sounded like a strict disciplinarian. "No matter what happens," Leonore quietly instructed, ensuring that Zelda couldn't hear her, "remember that you're protecting the princess. Her life is priority, so you must take any option that means her survival..." she allowed her point to sink in for a few seconds before adding, rather importantly, "…even if it means surrendering to the enemy forces."
That surprised Link some; although Leonore couldn't see his eyes, she certainly could see the eyebrows behind the sunglasses arching in interest.
"Don't get into a firefight or a situation that might get the princess killed," the director explained. "I don't like her plan, but it's her plan. Just make sure she stays alive." She closed her eyes in what otherwise seemed like an expression of frustration, then sighed. "The same goes for you too. Someone needs to keep an eye on the princess, even if both of you are prisoners of war. I doubt they'll give you the chance to declare yourself a civilian despite the fact you're a member of Joint Intelligence, not the military."
There was clear hesitation on Link's part – surrender clearly had not crossed his mind before Leonore mentioned it – but he eventually nodded slowly, if not somewhat apprehensively. Leonore managed a small smile; the young man had never failed any attempt to prove his courage, and now this was the result. She took a moment to pat the agent on the shoulder twice, as if the gesture was a wish of good luck, before she removed her hand from his shoulder and, adopting a more serious expression, turned back towards Zelda and Impa. "We need to go," she said sternly. "The later we leave, the easier it'll be for the Valentine forces to lock this city down. We need to move while there are still pockets of Hylian resistance left to occupy Valentine attention."
Seeing that it was time to go, Impa took a step away from Zelda, moving towards Leonore; Zelda was clearly reluctant to see her chief of staff go, but the crack in her queenly mask was beginning to repair itself, and, again, she seemed more composed, more sure of herself. "It's time," Impa whispered.
Leonore checked the magazine of her silenced handgun, then slid the cartridge back into the handgun, cocked it. "We'll go first, see what's up ahead, attract attention if we have to," she said even as she stood beside the control panels to the metallic blast doors. "That way, if something happens to us, at least you'll have room to turn around." She made a motion for Zelda and Impa to seek cover, and they quickly moved up against the wall; Leonore keyed in a command, and let the double doors slide silently away even as she stacked up on the right side of the exit, preparing to engage any hostiles that might just be outside waiting for them. Link mimicked the motion on the left side, his hand reaching under his jacket in preparation to pull out his sidearm if needed.
The doors made a muffled click as they slid fully open and stopped on both sides of the entrance. There was no one outside in the darkened corridors, lit only by ambient moonlight and fires from a distance outside. Somehow, despite the battle having started only a bit more than three hours ago, Hyrule Palace felt like it had been abandoned for over thirty years instead. The feeling felt unsettling to Princess Zelda.
Slowly sticking her head out into the corridor, Leonore confirmed that there was indeed no one outside. She was more concerned of a patrol than an improbable ambush, which would've been a much larger force that would not need to rely on stealth camped right outside the door; there were dozens of safe rooms across Hyrule Castle, and the Valentine forces wouldn't have known which one Zelda was in anyways. After ensuring the coast was clear, she quickly stepped out. The click-clacking of her high-heels alerted her to that potential problem, and, without hesitation, she quickly took them off and threw them back into the safe room, deciding to go barefoot. Impa, with a bit more hesitation and much more reluctance, copied the motion.
Ensuring that Impa was behind her and following, Leonore turned back around to see both Zelda and Link standing there with stoic expressions on their faces; it was only natural for Link, but Leonore could tell that the lack of expression on Zelda's part was forced. Leonore gave what was an otherwise unreadable glance towards Link for just a few seconds…before turning her attention back to the princess. Her words were soft and kind as they left her lips. "Take care, your Highness, and be safe. We'll see you in Garuda."
And, with those words, the two women disappeared into the darkness.
Zelda stood there, watching where they had disappeared in silence and invisible anxiety. Link was not a mind reader, but he could tell what the princess was thinking, and decided to allow her to keep to herself for the time being. He checked himself over for a quick moment, making sure that his attire – black suit, black shirt, black tie – were all in order and that they wouldn't become a liability later in combat. Three minutes had passed on his watch when he decided that he had allowed Leonore and Impa to take long enough a head start, and stepped in front of Zelda, out into the hallway. He swiveled his head around, glanced over his shoulder even as he drew his handgun from under his black jacket, nodded to his princess with the clear message that it was time to go. It was only several seconds later that Zelda quietly nodded back.
They, too, moved on into the darkness.
That electricity was cut turned out to be a blessing of sorts to both Link and Zelda. While the entire Hylian defense system was offline and local resistance had little in the way to retaliate, it did mean that it provided both of them with an extra measure of stealth. This was especially so for Link, dressed entirely in black, whose clothing allowed him to camouflage with his darkened surroundings; this effect was only drastically enhanced by his proficiency in covert operations and stealth infiltration. This was less so for Zelda, who neither wore black nor was trained to be sneaky, but her clothing was dark enough and matched the blue hues of Hyrule Castle.
For the most part, they passed undetected even as they painstakingly made their way slowly through the palace, Link taking up the fore and silently motioning for Zelda to follow whenever he made sure the coast was clear. Their attempt at sneaking out was assisted by the fact that there was, in fact, very little in terms of Valentine forces in the area. In fact, the only Valentine soldier found in the area was a straggler or two looking for a place to lay low; it was clear that the aim of the operation was more pragmatic than it was symbolic, and the priority was the Haven over Hyrule Castle. Capturing the princess would be an excellent development indeed, but destroying the Hylian armed forces' capability to coordinate and react was an even more important strategic goal.
It was ironic, but the greatest threat to their national strategy was, in fact, the factor that was giving Link and Zelda quite a bit of good fortune at the moment.
Electricity no longer reached the elevators, and Link wouldn't have allowed them to take the elevator even if they had been activated anyways, so descending from the safe room – which turned out to be on the sixth floor – to the basement became an effort to conquer the downward descent of various staircases. They were, thankfully, for the most part, empty, and it took them less than half an hour of careful navigating to get down to the main wing and find the auxiliary emergency staircase, the one that wouldn't ring the still-active alarms, to the basement.
The basement was completely unlit save for a few emergency lights, and moonlight did not seem to come down to the lower levels at all, but, thankfully, Link was equipped with a small flashlight that seemed to be built into a pen. It was, by no means, powerful, but it was enough for them to make out roughly where they were going. It was by turning down several hallways that Zelda realized Link was taking her through a little-known underground passageway that linked the Senate Hall to Hyrule Palace more than a kilometer away. Under normal circumstances, the corridor would be sealed via several locked metallic doors running on independent generators, as well as armed soldiers at both entrances, to prevent unauthorized entry. There were no soldiers here, however, and the metallic blast doors were opened with Zelda's personal password, which allowed them to move on and seal every door behind them.
The Senate Hall was host to a battle at some point. As they emerged from the basement of the Senate Hall, Link and Zelda quickly saw that the walls were marked with a great deal of bullet holes, while walls had crumbled away from what seemed like artillery fire and explosive weaponry. The shape and frame of the massive seven-story building were still largely intact, but the damage was extensive enough for Zelda to cast forlorn looks across what was once a magnificent work of architecture. She did not necessarily miss the building, representing her two years of struggle against opposing senators on the floor of the Senate, but, as if the distant sounds of gunfire and explosions didn't do so, the devastation around them drove in the point that the enemy was winning.
The point was even more obviously pronounced when they came across the first dead bodies.
The path from the Senate Hall to the Haven was the length of two city blocks, both of which housed government office buildings, yet the entire path was filled with the corpses of dead soldiers and burning vehicle husks, Hylian and Valentine alike. It was clear that a furious battle had been fought here, but the overwhelming number of Hylian bodies, limp and sagging on the ground and behind cover, made it clear that the invasion force was simply overwhelming, and the Hylian defenders never stood much of a chance. It was at this scene of destruction and death that Zelda truly felt a sense of dread as she covered her mouth with a gloved hand, her eyes wide in what was not necessarily fear, but shock and revelation. She couldn't tell what Link felt about this; his sunglasses blocked out any attempt to read his feelings through the eyes. Sensing the slowing of her pace and the hesitance of her gait, Link quietly but empathetically took Zelda by the wrist and helped pull her along, deliberately staying close to walls and alleys to avoid patrols…and ensure his princess was away from the death and the carnage. The brittle breaths that Zelda took clearly indicated that she was shaken to the core by such a sight.
It was the sight of a devastated capital city.
Things only got worse as they emerged from the last alley and re-emerged to see the side of the Haven. Although they were only at the perimeter, next to a metallic barbed wire fence that had been run down, they could clearly see that this was the one point where the fighting had been most ferocious. Half the building was gone and burning; a pillar of black smoke was cast with an amber light from the flames below that burnt what was left of the Haven, a collection of rubble created from two hours of heavy bombardment from the Valentine Sixth and Eighth Corps, armed with large artillery pieces. Once the symbol of Hylian military might, the building now lay in shambles; Hyrule's military headquarters looked like they were ancient ruins, and the tanks and fighting vehicles guarding it had been destroyed and abandoned. The battle for the Haven was clearly over, and the only people left here were Valentine patrols guarding the relic of their decisive victory. There was a strange lack of dead bodies, something that Link appreciated…because he knew what Zelda didn't: Most of the bodies were inside the building, buried beneath the collapsed superstructure, being caught in the collapse when the artillery blasted the Haven.
It was either her shock or her feeling that Link seemed to know exactly what he was doing that was contributing to Zelda's silence, not asking exactly where Link was going despite having been led across half of the capital's city center for over an hour. But Zelda hesitated just a bit as she realized Link was pulling her inside one of the entrances of the Haven, at least one that was still intact. Link felt just a bit of resistance in Zelda's gait, turned around to see exactly what was wrong. She seemed to realize this, and made a flustered expression at being caught; to be honest, she had been hesitant to enter what she now considered a ghost building. A very human reluctance to enter a place that was likely to reinforce her belief that they were losing and dying had taken over for just a bit…but she quickly shook her head to make up for it. "It's fine," Zelda whispered quickly, trying to reassure Link that it was okay to go on…
…Then froze as, in the peripheral of her vision, she caught sight of a three-man Valentine patrol emerging from the rubble of the Haven's outer walls twenty meters away. The widening of her eyes was enough of an alert for Link, who immediately turned around and adopted a feral position. The opposition, three fully armed soldiers wearing green military fatigues and carrying assault rifles, saw them too, and froze just a bit; it was clear the patrol had not been expecting to find any survivors.
Link did not freeze. Already his left arm came up, shooting into a straight line as the sidearm in his hand quickly aimed at the Valentine soldiers up ahead, crouching even as his free right hand immediately shot for Zelda's shoulder without looking, pressing her down into a crouching position with him. It was only as Link outstretched his weapon that Zelda suddenly realized that the handgun was actually quite fancy, elongated, and bulky; it seemed more like a large machine pistol or a small submachine gun than a simple semi-automatic handgun. She probably would've wondered how Link – and all the other Joint Intelligence agents, for that matter – managed to keep so large a weapon under their jackets without other people detecting a bulge under it, and she probably would've assumed that this was the responsibility of some specially-designed feature in Joint Intelligence uniforms…had her life not been in immediate peril. As it turned out, the threat against what possibly was her life was one hell of a distraction.
In her fright, Zelda did not immediately notice that Link's firearm had already discharged. It was only after one of the Valentine soldiers suddenly dropped to the ground with a clean hole in his chest that she realized Link's handgun was internally suppressed, the muzzle flash cut down to a minimum and the gunshot sounding akin to a hands clapping underwater. With one soldier down, Link's aim immediately shifted ever so slightly to the right, and a double-tap, two shots in rapid succession, brought the second man his knees as the shots found their mark in the chest once more. Even as the second man fell, however, Link did not try to align for a third shot; in one fluid motion, he quickly spun backwards even as his right arm scooped itself around Zelda's thin torso and pulled her back with him. A near-dismissible fraction of a second later, automatic assault rifle rounds pinged across and tore at the stone wall that Link had been beside just a moment before, the third soldier completing the raising of her rifle and firing at the corner behind which Link and Zelda were hiding.
Even as Zelda pressed and huddled herself against the wall – she was actually strangely in control of her wits, yet shaken at her first time being subjected to gunfire – she noticed that Link seemed to be muttering something voicelessly; although she was no lip-reader, she could've guessed that Link was mouthing numbers. It was not until Link feinted a peek out, allowing his body to show the barest of a fraction beyond the corner he hid behind and into the line of sight of the soldier he was hiding from, and not until the Valentine soldier fired once again at the hastily-abandoned corner before Link started mouthing numbers again that Zelda realized that Link was trying to count the number of bullets still in the soldier's assault rifle before she had to change magazines, giving Link an opportunity to advance.
Unfortunately, what Link knew – and what Zelda did not know but could guess by the proximity of the gunshot sounds she had heard that round – was that the soldier had traversed a considerable amount of ground between the first and second rounds. There was no longer enough distance between the two of them for Link to try to make the soldier expend her magazine – which contained roughly, Link guessed, thirteen rounds – and force an opening.
This required a very different set of tactics.
Zelda could not exactly see what was happening, but she could guess – and rather accurately so – that the situation was dire, and that a handgun in the hands of an unarmored Joint Intelligent agent was not a very good match against a fully automatic assault rifle in the hands of a Valentine soldier wearing combat fatigues. She did not, however, take one factor into account of her breathless analysis as Link silently thumbed a switch on his weapon: His handgun was not a handgun at all.
For Crown Princess Zelda, it happened in an instant. The soldier had barely managed to round the corner, keeping a range of two meters around the bend, when Link shot forward. There was one flash, a flash that actually made Zelda cry out as her hands instinctively covered her head and the adrenaline spiked through her system, her mind instantly making the assumption that a shot had been fired…before, through the gap in between her arms, Zelda suddenly watched, stunned, as the assault rifle was severed cleanly into two in the hands of the Valentine soldier, who watched with equal disbelief as the forward portion of her assault rifle simply slid off and began falling to the ground. The flash had surprised the soldier, and reflex told her to immediately take three steps back even as she pulled on the trigger of her now-defunct assault rifle, clicking futilely three times every time she slammed on the trigger.
Link followed up with three wider steps forward, and training and instinct immediately took over as the Valentine soldier quickly took pulled out a combat knife for close-quarters combat. There was a second flash, and, in that instant, the knife was flying out of her hands, sparks flying where something had struck across it blade and knocked it violently out of her grasp.
There was a third, final flash…and Zelda watched in wide-eyed silence as a clean gash appeared across the chest of the soldier, as if something had slashed across it, and she, too, finally fell to the ground lifelessly.
It was only after confirming that the Valentine infantrywoman remained unmoving on the ground that Zelda finally returned her gaze on Link, who stood calmly with one hand extended in the air in what almost seemed like a composed fencing stance. The weapon in his hand was no longer a handgun; instead, what was effectively a seemingly collapsible blade emerging almost a meter from his grip, formed from what seemed like a number of smaller blades, creating a weapon that bore a resemblance to a longsword, albeit one with the handle of a firearm. A flourish of his arm allowed him to trigger a switch on the weapon once more, and Zelda finally understood why Link's weapon had seemed bulky and long compared to a normal sidearm; as the blades folded on itself twice by power of mechanical bolts, they locked themselves back around the barrel of Link's firearm, hiding the blades once more like a giant collapsible army knife as it took the form of a large handgun once more.
It was only then that Zelda realized Link's weapon of choice was a gunsword.
From the distant reaches of her mind, Zelda barely managed to recall that the gunsword was an exceptionally difficult weapon to use, never mind master, by design; it was neither fully gun nor sword, but a bastardization, something in between. Their high learning curve and difficulty in usage made it impractical for conventional military usage, considering how few soldiers could manage the weapon and how expensive it was to create one. Most gunsword wielders used it as a custom weapon rather than as standardized equipment. This was the first time she had actually ever seen one in use.
Ensuring that the coast was clear once more, Link quickly moved back to where he had left Zelda, three wide steps away and pressed against the way. She seemed shaken, as if she hadn't been before, but still possessing a great deal of calm. It was the adrenaline, not denial as to what was happening to her, that was temporarily causing her body to shake and turn cold, and Link knew that she would be alright. Even Zelda, who huddled herself close together as she hugged herself tightly, managed a small smile at Link's otherwise stoic self, an indication that she was fine. "N-Not every day that I get…" Zelda managed, swallowed, fought down a shake, then let out an embarrassed giggle, "…get shot at."
Link did not smile, but the loosening of his normally serious features coupled with a futile shrug indicated that he appreciated the attempt at humor. Whatever he would've done next, however, was interrupted as his head twitched just once from the direction of the rubble, and, immediately, with both arms, he quickly grabbed his princess and twisted further into the entrance, just as assault rifle fire from a second Valentine patrol tore through the air where they were once before, the patrol quickly converging on their position. Without hesitation, Link swiftly pulled Zelda further into the building, deciding against getting into yet another firefight with Valentine forces while having to protect his princess. It certainly did not take long for the two of them to disappear within the ruins of the Haven and lose their pursuers, if only temporarily.
The Haven was remarkably hard to navigate. This had nothing to do with Link's extent of familiarity with the structure – he had been here often enough – or Valentine patrols within the ruins – there were very few of them, with most patrols concentrated around the perimeter of the building. Instead, the main problem was the extent of the building's destruction; many hallways and staircases had been utterly destroyed and were effectively gone, and far too many times did Link have to double back with Zelda to find a detour after finding out their path was cut short with a corridor that had caved in.
Link knew he did not have much time to navigate the ruins. They had already been discovered by Valentine patrols, which must have already radioed back to their commanding officers. This meant that a search party would be sent, hunt-and-kill teams sweeping the interior of the Haven. It left him with little time to move, but he found his lucky break when one of the staircases leading down proved to be remarkably intact. The sign at the bottom of the staircase, reading "Armory", confirmed that he was headed in the right direction.
Pushing through the door, Link found himself leading Zelda along a corridor of white bricks and metallic bars; long cages to their right were filled with military weaponry, from assault rifles to machine guns to grenades to rocket launchers. Unlike the other parts of the Haven, the arsenal of the Haven ran on an independent power source that the Valentine forces seemed to have yet to find and cut, so the area was well-lit, and the security systems were still on. This included the entrances to the armory cages, but handheld weapons weren't what Link was looking for right now. No matter how powerful a weapon he found here, he wasn't about to engage the Valentine patrols by himself while having to watch over a vital package in the form of Crown Princess Zelda. He moved right beyond the armory cages, through the door at the end, and down another hallway.
The white brick walls eventually turned into a combination of gray metallic and concrete corridors, and it was at the end of the hallway that the two stopped before another set of security code-locked double metallic doors, clearly labeled "Garage", indicating the military arsenal for armored vehicles, not parking spaces for Haven employees. Inwardly, Link was actually quite relieved at the sight; the heavy blast doors must've been locked when personnel were evacuated from the Haven, and without heavy breaching equipment, Valentine soldiers must've been locked out. They probably decided it was more prudent to secure the entire city first before destroying the doors and helping themselves with the whole package of military vehicle goodies. It meant that there shouldn't be any Valentine troops beyond…and that the vehicles inside should still be untouched.
Tapping the access code – memorized from years of reading briefing packets from Joint Intelligence – into the security console beside the door, Link unlocked the door and listened in silent satisfaction as the reinforcing cylinders rolled away, the lock-jaws unclenched with an audible click, and both doors rolled silently apart.
The lights of the garage were already on. It was within that Link found a mother lode that would make any adrenaline junkie or mechanic have wet dreams for the night: Rows and rows of military vehicles, from tanks to armored personnel carriers to infantry fighting vehicles to buggies to humvees to artillery to mobile ballistic missile launchers. Organized in sections and rows, the army of vehicles lined down to as far as the end of the garage more than two hundred meters away, a steel-and-concrete cache of weapons that probably would've beaten back the Valentine invasion…had the soldiers that were supposed to man them got here.
Link did not hesitate in moving forward as soon as the doors were open, although he still remained alert and kept his weapon out even as he stepped in – considering the vehicles dictating the terrain here, this was a very bad place to be caught in an ambush – but he stopped when he realized that Zelda wasn't following and turned around to see what was wrong. To his surprise, Link found his princess…seemingly afraid. It was a different kind of fear than the one he had witnessed when she was caught in the crossfire with Valentine troops. Although she tried to hide her anxiety, her hands were clasped together tightly while her lower lip trembled just a bit; her gaze was seemingly toward the garage itself. As soon as she noticed that Link had turned around, however, she quickly shook her head with a bit of a flustered expression, and returned to Link's side. "It's…" she muttered, took a deep breath, then, with more conviction, "It's nothing."
Not entirely convinced, Link shot a quizzical look at Zelda, wondering if there was anything he should be worried about.
Zelda successfully read that look. "I have a…slight fear of vehicles," she explained in a somewhat feeble manner, giving a small smile of slight embarrassment. "It's…my parents. Both of them…" She trailed off, leaving Link to figure out the rest. Thankfully, the fates of the Hylian crown princess' parents were well-known to the public, and Link knew exactly what she was referring to. Not at all unsympathetic, Link gently placed a hand on Zelda's shoulder, provided a reassuring nod, as if telling her everything was alright.
To be honest, Zelda found Link's silent way of offering reassurance rather amusing. She wasn't sure if his intended effect worked, but the gesture was humorous enough to raise her spirits a bit. "It's okay," she assured Link, "I'll be alright. Procuring an escape vehicle is more important right now."
Slightly confused but largely glad that they were getting a move on, Link merely nodded before he continued to move on, closing and sealing the blast doors behind him, then deliberately taking a low crouch as he moved through the thin gaps between the vehicles instead of the broader roads between the sections that separated vehicle types and models, ensuring that Zelda followed. It gave them a semblance of cover and invisibility; Link had no intention of walking down an open lane and being put down by the sniper hiding somewhere in here. It was unlikely that any Valentine soldier had gotten down here yet, but he didn't want to take chances.
"So," the princess whispered even as her eyes darted left and right through the arsenal of military vehicles, trying to find something that caught her eye as something that would make for a good escape vehicle. "What kind of vehicle are we looking for?"
Link didn't answer, but quickly moved to another section of the garage, where lighter vehicles were lined up, including humvees, jeeps, and two-seater reconnaissance buggies…which Zelda ventured was moreorless the agent's way of saying "something light and fast". He certainly was avoiding tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, for the most part, even though they bristled with heavy firepower. Clearly, Link's priority was geared more towards getting out of the combat zone than busting his way out. Made sense, the crown princess conceded; no one would be looking forward to diving headlong into a firefight with no backup, no reinforcements, no allies, and against a numerically superior enemy with greater firepower. Plus Link was probably focusing only on how to get Zelda out of there. That realization alone helped her mood some.
Although Zelda was not familiar with the layout of this garage, and although Link stepped in irregular patterns, going here and there, she could help but feel that Link was actually looking for something in particular, yet did not know where it was. That problem, however, was remedied when he finally stepped out from the vehicle sections and towards one of the walls of the garage, which had various blast doors connected to them, similar to the one they had entered through. Unlike the one they had passed through, however, these double metallic doors had any combination of words and symbols on them, some denoting restrictive access, others marking engineering teams assigned to whatever project was behind those doors, and even more with what seemed like emblems and insignias not unlike those found for military outfits.
It was roughly in the middle of the entire length of that wall where Link stopped, moving to one set of blast doors that seemed identical to the others. Unlike the others, however, the paint on the steel plates were unusually plain, for the blast doors bore only what seemed like a serial code: MRX402A ULATRV. Moments later, after Link keyed in what was probably a code or a command into the lock console next to it, the unbolting of locking mechanisms were unheard, reinforcing metallic cylinders rolled away, and, with a quiet hiss, the blast doors slid smoothly and soundlessly apart, the lights behind the doors flashing on with industrial power and revealing what was inside.
Zelda could only stare, wide-eyed in utter astonishment and disbelief at the vehicle behind the blast doors. "…No," was the only word she managed to shakily breathe, taking a slight half-step back even as she uttered that one word. Her phobia aside, she could handle any other vehicle…but she wasn't getting on that.
Link only grinned.
Sergeant Blanche was relatively glad that her patrol route was actually quite derelict and abandoned. Although she had initially been very nervous when she first received orders that she would be patrolling the area around the Haven, the military heart of Hyrule, her expectations of heavy resistance were quelled when she actually got to the scene; the once proud building representing Hylian military might had been reduced to ruins and rubble after the Sixth Corps pounded away at it with artillery. Resistance was nonexistent; all Hylian personnel must've already been evacuated or killed, and the Valentine fireteams dispatched to the area were told that this should be a relatively quiet sector.
If it was any reassurance, the area was actually rather well-lit by moonlight and fires despite power to street lighting being cut during the early phases of the invasion. Other than a few darker alleys that had been cleared out by hunt-and-kill teams an hour ago, the patrols commanded good nighttime visibility. The cityscape glowed with a faint orange; flames of war burned in the distance…which was exactly how Blanche liked it. Not that she was fearful of actual live combat, but she'd rather keep her men alive and away from flying bullets.
Her fireteam of four had actually been split into fire and maneuver teams of two in the interests of covering more ground. A good portion of the initial patrol had been sent inside the Haven along with military intelligence staff in an attempt to see what documents they could salvage from Hyrule's military headquarters. Probably not a great deal; Blanche was relatively convinced that the Hylian brass – or Valentine artillery – must've destroyed any vital documents or data…not to mention the intelligence effort just seemed halfhearted and lackluster as a whole. She wasn't exactly sure how to explain it, but it seemed as if the intelligence team themselves did not actually expect to find anything…or even care about what information they found here.
On what was probably the seventh round of her patrol across her part of the Haven, the familiar voice of their commanding officer crackled across the radio. A bit of a surprise; as Corporal Roger, who was tasked with her on the same two-man fire and maneuver team, would sarcastically put it, "I thought HQ had forgotten about us." For now, Blanche quelled that same sentiment even as she listened carefully to the update.
"All units in the Haven armory area," came HQ's broadcast, "two high-profile targets have been spotted headed in your direction. We believe that they're attempting to escape the area. Stop their escape, and try to capture them alive."
"Patrol 2-5, copy," Blanche replied immediately. "We'll keep our eyes peeled." She immediately re-slung her assault rifle on her shoulder, angling it to a better ready position just in case she needed to be quick on the trigger. Beside her, Corporal Roger did the same even as the other patrols confirmed that they had received new orders over the radio. Like the rest of the light infantry outfit they were part of, the two were both equipped with assault rifles, a handgun, grenades, bulletproof armor, and a helmet with a pair of fold-down nightvision goggles…which should be more than enough to take care of two strays. Blanche still felt that the green fatigues that represented the national colors of Valent did not suit the modern battlefield at nighttime as much as the blue fatigues of their Hylian enemies, but their nightvision goggles and superior numbers should be enough to compensate for that.
"Hey, you hear that?" Roger suddenly stopped in his tracks and bent his knees a bit in caution, slipping his assault rifle into a ready position. Blanche copied his movements while frowning; the corporal had always had better senses, whether it be hearing or sight, than her, making the sergeant feel just a bit inadequate. Quite a bit of effort was put into straining in the attempt to hear whatever Roger was hearing until she was certain she heard something that sounded like a the motor of a vehicle roaring away. Or, rather, screaming; the distant, muted exhaust sounds seemed to distinctly indicate a small vehicle with higher torque.
Blanche looked at Roger, and the two traded silent nods that communicated more between longtime comrades than what words could accomplish for two random individuals. No point in taking chances.
The radio was immediately in Blanche's hands even as the engine sounds, Roger noticed, began to fade. "Come in, HQ."
Battalion headquarters was quick to respond. "This is HQ."
"Patrol 2-5 here. We think your strays may have procured an escape vehicle. Confirm there are no friendly vehicles rolling around in the area and that we're not mistaken?" Blanche realized that she couldn't hear the engine sounds anymore, and, looking at Roger, quietly noted that even her own sensitive partner couldn't either.
Although his voice didn't reflect it, Lieutenant Colonel Ford, Blanche knew, probably would've appreciated the thoughtfulness of ensuring that it wasn't a friendly vehicle the patrol was hearing. "Stand by" were the two words that came before a rather lengthy pause, with HQ checking all known Valentine assets in the area, before the answer came, "Confirmed, all vehicles are operating roadblocks in your area at this time and standing fast. What vehicle did the targets escape in?"
"We didn't actually…"
Blanche did not finish that sentence.
It happened suddenly. The whining of the engine had only become audible for a single second, but it was clear by its rapidly increasing volume that the vehicle had suddenly become very close. Both Blanche and Roger had barely turned around towards the source of the sound in great alarm, fearing an ambush, when more than four hundred kilograms of sleek, black, polished metal suddenly flew right between them, soaring with so much force – enough to crush either Valentine soldier had it not slipped right between them – that, for a moment, both soldiers were stunned to immobility. It was traveling extraordinarily fast, almost three hundred kilometers per hour, but, for some strange reason, time seemed to slow down for Blanche. It didn't do her any favors in terms of allowing her to raise her rifle to shoot the vehicle any faster – or regain her wits any faster, for that matter – but, just for a moment of astounding clarity, she could've sworn that, upon that vehicle, she saw a young man dressed completely in black wearing sunglasses – yes, sunglasses, even though it was clearly nighttime – calmly sitting at the controls of the vehicle. Yet what caught the sergeant's attention more was the young lady, decked out in a purple dress and sitting behind the young man, a very obvious look of terror on her face even as her arms formed a tight death-grip around the young man's torso, refusing to relinquish her hold on what may be the only physical entity keeping her from being thrown off.
A split-second later, the vehicle quickly swerved in a tight turn, its drift allowing its tires to screech and leave a trail of burnt rubber across its path even as the trajectory formed a mean arc, before it just as instantly disappeared behind another group of debris and rubble and out of sight.
For a very long moment, Sergeant Blanche and Corporal Roger could only stare in bewilderment, as if trying to confirm to themselves that such a thing had actually happened, stunned into complete silence even as their dazed gazes refused to leave where the vehicle disappeared from sight, the distinct growl of its engine growing fainter every passing second.
"What's going on out there?" came the alarmed voice at HQ over the radio, the lieutenant colonel worried that Patrol 2-5's transmission had been suddenly cut off. "Respond!"
Blanche barely heard the demand for a response from HQ, barely remembered that the lieutenant colonel would send search teams to the area if they didn't respond, and barely had the presence of mind to click once more on her radio even as she reported in pathetically, "Uh, HQ? This is Patrol 2-5. They have a motorcycle."
Exoria File #003
MRX402A ULATRV (Ultra-Light All-Terrain Reconnaissance Vehicle) "Epona"
The MRX402A ULATRV, codenamed "Epona", is the prototype (as designated by the "A" at the end of its model number) of the fourth-generation ultra-light all-terrain reconnaissance vehicle designated for eventual limited production by the Hylian armed forces. Specifically a high-powered light-armored motorcycle, only one prototype had ever been constructed for testing purposes. It possesses a 1360cc, four-stroke, four-cylinder, sixteen-valve, liquid-cooled DOHC engine, which can allow the Epona to achieve 200 horsepower and speeds up to 350 KPH (216 MPH). It also has a dual-throttle system and a six-speed close-ratio gearbox, and can make it past 97 KPH (60 MPH) in little more than two seconds with computer-assisted traction management activated. In an effort to reduce weight, the Epona carries light armor at best, lined with ultra-light C-Carbon armor that largely protect the more vital parts of the motorcycle and its rider, with the grooves on the motorcycle largely designed to minimize the effects of a potential explosion or shockwaves hitting the vehicle. One of the key features of the Epona is its relatively advanced microcomputer systems, which monitors the motorcycle electronically and assists the vehicle's stability, traction, heat, and other vital factors. More importantly, it is also equipped with frontal optic scanners, which scan the terrain ahead at a twenty-degree inclination utilizing laser and spectroimagery technology. This allows for the computer to near-instantly analyze the terrain ahead and make adjustments to the stiffness and position of the Epona's suspension systems, which allows for greater reliability when it comes to all-terrain transport, as the Epona can actively accommodate itself to new terrain ahead. Aside from the handles, the Epona can also be turned by a pressure system that receives input from the hips and legs due to the possibility of close-range bladed combat. It is also equipped with a very advanced auto-drive system and a GPS, which allows for the Epona to be called upon remotely to the rider's position without actually having a rider. Although the Epona is armed with two frontally-fixed .50 caliber machine guns with a 260 rounds per minute rate, engaging targets with more firepower than a Humvee is discouraged, as the Epona is largely a reconnaissance vehicle with limited ammunition capacity, and not meant for active offensive roles. Lightly-armored, its best defense is largely its speed and small size, although the Epona is notably much larger than modern hyper bikes. Seatbelts are not included.
Author's Note: Three chapters – or, more accurately, one prologue and two chapters – in, and I've yet to receive a review. That makes me sad, so please do review; contrary to popular belief, authors do need their egos stroked sometimes.
I'd like to make a special mention of thanks to AuraNightgale and TextOnlySword for their input on Exoria so far. While Text has been giving me random ideas and suggestions (even though I didn't take some of his rather sound advice in the interests of literary awesomeness), Aura has been a very dedicated proofreader (even though I didn't ask her, so even more special kudos for her). So bow before their awesomeness. The errors in the last two chapters that Aura have pointed out to me have also already been edited, so proofreading is awesome.
Chapter Two is where the story really picks up. I've spent the last two chapters trying to set things up, and it's from around here where the action starts heating up, and where you'll begin to see a somewhat familiar Zelda formula setting in. I won't explain exactly what that means, but I'm pretty certain that there's going to be a lot more to come that will catch your attention. There are a lot more mysteries to be solved and a lot more plot to be introduced, so do please stay tuned. In the meantime, please continue to read and review. If chapters had names in this story, the next one probably would've been "Motorcycle Chase Scene".