Treason and Tremors. Preparing for War. Hyrule's Last Day.
He found the Commandant sitting on a bench in the castle gardens, staring absentmindedly up at the darkened sky.
"Viscen," he said, quietly, by way of greeting.
"Vaati." Viscen did not turn to look at him, but instead continued to gaze upwards at the enchantment sealing the city. "You have news?"
The wind mage glanced back and forth, searching for potential eavesdroppers. But they were alone, and the only sounds were the droning of insects and the gentle burbling of a nearby fountain. "Cole had some slums in the south end ransacked a few hours ago. There was fighting. Fourteen or fifteen people died."
Viscen sighed. "What the hell did he go and do a stupid thing like that for?"
"I guess there was an inn there- the place where Ingo got killed? He thought he might find the Gerudo hiding there."
Leaning forward, Viscen ran his hands through his silvery hair. "Damned idiot. What did Zelda do about it?"
"Nothing. Of course." The Princess Zelda had not been seen for three days now. She had retreated to her expansive private quarters in the highest reaches of the castle and left instructions that she was not to be disturbed.
"Of course." Viscen echoed. He thought on the news for a few moments. "This makes me nervous."
"Every time idiots like Cole spill blood, it pushes a few more people over the edge, driving them to join causes like ours," Vaati said. "It plays right into our hands."
"And that's precisely why it makes me nervous. It's too convenient."
He mentally cursed the old soldier's stubbornness. "You're worrying over nothing," Vaati said, sounding more confident than he felt, "she doesn't care about us, and she doesn't care about this city. What Cole did isn't any sort of gamesmanship by Zelda, it's just a stupid man doing a stupid thing."
Belatedly, he realized that he had been speaking a bit too loudly. Cursing, he floated up high enough to peer over the surrounding hedges. They were still alone.
He seemed to have convinced Viscen. "Let's talk numbers, then."
Vaati grinned. "Yes, let's. I have my personal retinue of guardsmen, or course-"
"What's that, twenty men?" Viscen was not impressed.
"Thirty," he said defensively. "Well-trained in magic, and absolutely loyal to me. Although the Goron and Rito chieftains both support our cause privately, they are reluctant to engage in an open act of treason.
"They are good men," Viscen said. "I can't blame them for doing right by their people. As for me, I can't be certain how many of my men will remain loyal to Zelda, and how many will betray her for me. There are some soldiers that I'm certain will side with us..."
"And?" Vaati asked.
"Maybe forty. Twenty-five, thirty at least. Forty at the most." With a tired grunt he lifted himself off of the bench, twisting his back and causing the joints to crack audibly. "So between you and me that's, what... Seventy people?"
Vaati nodded. "Seventy people. Against the entire standing army of Hyrule and the single most powerful sorceress the world has ever known."
Viscen patted Vaati's shoulder consolingly. "As long as we're planning suicide, let's go get some dinner. My private chef makes quite an excellent braised lamb shoulder; you could really do a lot worse for your last meal."
"Don't tell me you're giving up. This is the single greatest chance that we'll ever have."
"This is Hyrule's darkest hour!" Viscen didn't say 'literally,' but both of them thought it.
"Exactly, and this is when the hearts and minds of Hyrule's people will be aligned with us more than ever. Any revolution is a thing of momentum. We need to make a stand first, and when people believe that there is finally a chance to bring change to this city, then they will join us."
"You and I," Viscen said, "We don't stand a chance. But they do. Ganondorf, and Link."
They started walking back towards the castle. "So we wait on them, then."
"It seems the most prudent course of action." Viscen walked in silence for a moment before continuing. "We must wait, until our betrayal will have the greatest impact on the battle. We will likely be expected to hold the walls surrounding the castle grounds. If we spring our trap at the right time and allow the rebels inside the walls, the element of surprise may create enough of an advantage that the defenders will be entirely overwhelmed."
"We must wait, though. There's no way for us to communicate with Ganondorf, and his plan of battle may differ from our expectations."
"Again, we must choose the moment when we can strike the hardest. Who knows when that chance will present itself?"
Vaati cursed under his breath. The two of them planned to overthrow Zelda's regime but, really, what could they accomplish on their own? He and Viscen were opportunists, reduced to waiting on the actions of others more powerful than them.
"Braised lamb, you said?"
"With rosemary, garlic, and leeks. A favourite indulgence of mine." Viscen held the door open, and the two of them stepped inside
"I was more in the mood for rabbit myself."
It was moments later, as they were strolling down one of the castle's luxuriously appointed corridors when it happened.
The floor beneath their feet heaved upwards suddenly, and then just as quickly skewed wildly to the side, sending statues and vases toppling and dislodging paintings from their hangings.
Vaati, always light on his feet, managed to remain standing, at least until Viscen toppled into him, knocking them both to the floor.
"What is this?" Vaati shouted.
"By the Gods," Viscen scrambled to regain his footing, pitching forward once more as the floor continued to shake wildly. "The entire city is shaking!"
The tremors seemed to be intensifying, if anything, and from somewhere close by came the deep rumbling cracks of fracturing masonry.
"Get out, get outside!"
Vaati didn't need to be told twice, forsaking the ground altogether and flying through the violently bucking halls. Viscen stumbled along after him.
He shot out of the door into the gardens, and as soon as he was outside he craned his neck to look at the enchantment that sealed the city. "Oh my," he said.
Sunlight bled through several visible cracks in the magical wall, and as they watched, more and more fractures formed. The quaking beneath their feet increased in intensity, and there was an slow rumbling crash as one of Hyrule Castle's towers collapsed in an explosion of mortar and dust.
All around them, more people were pouring out of the castle, panicking and looking at the sky. Similar sounds of chaos echoed up from the city below, but the noises of terror and of collapsing buildings were drowned out by the sound of Zelda's enchantment finally breaking completely.
It came apart like a great pane of glass shattering- the cracks of light raced across the magical barrier, widening and weaving together like an enormous spiderweb, until there was finally such an explosion of light and noise that Vaati was compelled to clap his hands over his ears and avert his eyes.
The noise faded, but the light remained, the entire castle ground illuminated as if-
As if it was sunlight.
Day had come to Hyrule once more.
Wide-eyed, Viscen glanced down at Vaati. "I suppose you'd better go and make certain your thirty men are armed and at the ready."
"Yes." He was in a daze. The detection of magic was a sixth sense to Vaati, and right now it was like he had been blinded. Never before had he felt such an uncontrolled outpouring of power. "Yes, I suppose I should."
"Vaati," Viscen said, "Go. Now."
"Hm?" He snapped out of his reverie, suddenly realizing the opportunity that they had just been handed, and he became dead serious. "I'll be ready. We must strike decisively- we won't get a second chance."
"Same to you."
There was no time to waste. The two conspirators took off in opposite directions, one gliding and the other striding with determined speed across the carefully manicured lawn, now strewn with rubble and populated with dazed onlookers all staring confusedly at the noonday sun.
Her eyelids fluttered open, and the room slowly came into focus.
With surprise, Zelda realized that she was lying face down on the floor of her study. The last thing she remembered was for an instant feeling the Triforce on the back of her hand suddenly go cold, as though her arm had been plunged into ice water. Then everything had gone black.
Looking around, she realized that her study was a disaster. Two of her bookshelves had toppled over, the floor was strewn with broken glass and loose sheets of paper, and her writing desk had splintered and cracked down the middle. The air was filled with dust, which floated about in the sunlight that shone through the shattered windows.
Her breath caught in her throat. Sunlight!
Hurriedly, she climbed to her feet and rushed out onto the balcony. The sun hung in the sky, and there was no trace of the barrier that had encircled all of Hyrule only an hour ago. The enchantment that she had cast had been broken, the city was no longer sealed.
A strange emotion welled up inside her. Her guardian had failed to protect her reliquary. She had lost control of the spell woven within the very foundations of the city. None of this was supposed to happen.
For the first time in centuries, she was no longer the omnipotent ruler of the sprawling city below her. She could no longer feel its heartbeat, pulsing within her in lieu of her own stilled blood. She was blind, isolated atop a cold tower.
As she gazed, uncomprehending, at the defiant sun, Zelda presently became aware of several new sensations. Her heart had begun beating beneath her chest once more, warm blood rushing through her veins and colouring her cheeks and hands as the cold wind bit at them.
She turned her hand over. The Triforce had vanished from the back of her palm.
Turning away from the daylight, Zelda went back inside, back to her study. She wrenched one of the drawers on her splintered desk open and rifled through it, seizing a letter opener.
As she clutched it in her hand, Zelda was mildly surprised to find out that her arms were trembling slightly. Stilling herself, she calmly pressed the blade of the letter opener down against her open palm, slicing the skin open and tracing a line across the pale flesh.
For a moment, the cut remained as a thin white line across her hand, but then blood welled up in the incision and spilled out across her palm, incandescent scarlet against the pallor of her skin.
Her hand began to tingle oddly, a feeling that at first confused her. But then she opened and closed her fist and the tingling became a sharp searing burst and she remembered- this was pain.
The wound did not heal, not until she consciously knit the skin together with a burst of magic, her hand glowing faintly. Still, the blood remained pooled on the surface of her palm.
Zelda hurried from her quarters and began the descent downwards towards the castle proper. There was work to be done, and after eons of waiting, time was suddenly growing short.
"Set him down, set him down here."
"Here? You sure? I can carry us all the way to the top, it's no problem-"
"No, we've waited long enough."
The tendrils of shadow that were holding Link aloft gently lowered him until he was lying on the staircase. His broken leg was jostled slightly, and his vision darkened with the pain.
Ganondorf knelt and began to undo the torn strips of cloth binding the wound, which were made from the remnants of Midna's old clothes. She had no need for them any more.
After their defeat of the Nameless and her seizing the Triforce of Wisdom, Midna had reverted to her old, diminutive shape. Instead of clothing she once more was garbed in a film of shadow, and the heavy stone helm of her reliquary sat once more upon her head.
And, as was her wish, she had been visited with enormous power, which far surpassed any might she had previously known. It had been a mere trifle for her to envelop both Ganondorf and Link in plumes of shadow and bear them upwards, towards Hyrule. They had been making good time until Ganondorf had told her to stop.
She looked down at them with one wide yellow eye. "What are you doing?" She asked, "We need to get back up into the city."
"We need to do something about Link's leg, and soon," Ganondorf said. "The tourniquet I rigged is just a temporary solution. Now that we're away from that foul place, we can set him down and have a good look at it."
But when Ganondorf peeled away the last of the blood-soaked cloth and examined the wound in detail, his brow furrowed and a very grim look came over his face.
Link sat up as best he could. "What? What is it?"
He came straight to the point. "The bone has been shattered completely. Without powerful magical intervention, it will never fully heal. You'll be crippled for the rest of your life."
"But we have powerful magic," Midna said. "Between the three of us, we have the entire Triforce! We have to be able to do something." She thrust her hand forward as if to prove her point, displaying the stolen piece of the Triforce that glowed there.
Ganondorf recoiled from the shining symbol as though it disgusted him, but he nodded. "It is true that exceptionally skilled magic users may draw upon sources of great power and heal their wounds. I am a powerful mage. So is Zelda. And so are you, Midna. Link, you are not."
"But I've used magic before," he said. "In... in past lives, I have. I remember it."
"Exactly. In the past you were able to consciously use the Triforce of courage, and fight through wounds that would have otherwise been mortal. If you can remember how to do it, one more time..."
Link closed his eyes and tried to recall how it had felt to use the magic of the Triforce. But the sickening pain in his leg clouded his thoughts, and the memories of his past lives swam hazily beneath his lidded eyes. "I... can't. I can't remember. It's like- it's almost there. At the edge of my vision."
"I have an idea," Ganondorf said. He looked up. "Navi?"
The fairy swooped down and landed on his hand. "What is it?"
"You're going to try to heal Link one more time."
"But he's hurt too badly, I don't have enough magic to-"
"Don't use your magic. Use his. The Triforce has power enough to heal this wound. If, together, we can awaken that power, he may yet be saved. Midna and I will try to draw the magic from inside him, and you must start the healing process using that magic. Ready?"
"What happens if this doesn't work?" Midna asked.
Link answered her. "Then you leave me here. I'm only slowing you down- you have to leave me."
"That was the plan," Ganondorf said grimly. "Let's do this."
Ganondorf knelt down and gestured for Midna to float closer. The two of them both set one of their hands on top of Link's, with one third of the Triforce glowing brightly on each of them.
Link closed his eyes.
He could sense the Triforce within him now, more clearly than ever before. The presence of Power and Wisdom, inside of Ganondorf and Midna, was a tangible thing, something that he could reach out and touch with a mere thought.
He did so. The power of the completed relic flowed between the three of them, seeking to finally be made whole again. Visions swam in front of his eyes, visions of what he could do with the might of the Triforce at his disposal, and he was sure that Ganondorf and Midna were seeing the same things.
The thought of so much power terrified him. Ganondorf was right, he knew- nobody could ever be trusted with it.
So distracted was he that he almost failed to notice that magic was being drawn from him, and that the pain in his leg had vanished.
Link opened his eyes, and stood, throwing aside Ganondorf's and Midna's hands. "What was that?" he gasped. He looked at Navi. "What did you do?"
"Nothing," she said. "Or, almost nothing. I just tried to heal you the way I always do- and then there was suddenly so much magic- It wasn't mine, it was yours!"
"But a fraction of the power that is contained within the Triforce," Ganondorf said, pulling Link to his feet. Link was surprised to find that he didn't need the help, as his leg was as string as it had ever been. He breathed deeply and found that his fractured ribs had been healed flawlessly, as well.
Midna was laughing. "Amazing," she said. "Absolutely amazing. We can do anything, the three of us."
"No," Ganondorf said. "No, we cannot. It makes me uneasy to even have the three pieces of the Triforce this close together. It works to Zelda's advantage."
"Not while we hold them and she doesn't," Midna countered. "We have to use this power against her!"
"I will not see the Triforce assembled. It is too dangerous."
"How can she take them from us? Her spell is broken! She is powerless now!"
Link did some light stretches, beginning to work out the stiffness in his magically healed leg. "Don't underestimate her. Power isn't everything."
"Indeed," Ganondorf said, "Zelda has been preparing for this moment for thousands of years. Triforce or no, she is a foe to be reckoned with."
Midna did not argue further. Instead she arched her back and cracked her tiny knuckles. "Well, we've wasted enough time. You guys ready?"
Link and Ganondorf shared an apprehensive glance. "I suppose," Link answered her.
Midna raised her hand and snapped her fingers. For a brief second, the Triforce shone brightly there- before her diminutive form was engulfed completely in darkness as the shadowy form of the Nameless swept over her.
She'd already carried them halfway up the enormous stone staircase, and in only a few more hours she could have them back up into the city proper. Midna had become truly powerful, and the amount of magic that she was now able to command was fearsome indeed.
As black tendrils of shadow crept around Link's torso and lifted him into the air, he was visited with the same sensation of horror that he had felt when fighting the monster that Zelda had created. He sensed the same agony within this magic; the pain of a thousand souls crying out in perpetual terror.
Midna hadn't killed the Nameless. She had taken control of it, and somehow absorbed it into herself. The notion was... worrying.
But they had more pressing problems. Once Zelda had been dealt with, then Link and Ganondorf would confront this new issue.
Does she know?
The question gnawed at him, growing inside the back of his mind until he could no longer hear anything that Zelda was saying.
It took every last bit of Vaati's willpower to not glance at Viscen. Thus far, Zelda had shown no indication that she was aware of their imminent betrayal, but Vaati knew that she was smart, and that she would figure it out if either of them made even the slightest slip.
The princess had summoned her most influential retainers to a war council in one of her audience chambers high above the city. The two traitors had had no choice but to attend, and hope that their treason had yet to be noticed.
"Their forces will be small, at first, but should they achieve any measure of success we can expect them to grow exponentially," Viscen was saying. "The rebels must be slaughtered, and quickly, or we could have a city-wide war on our hands."
Zelda stood at the centre of the audience chamber. She was clad in only a simple white shift, and as she spoke two small servant girls scurried about her form, setting two gleaming silver boots at her feet, which she stepped into. "You must draw the conflict out as long as possible, Commandant."
Viscen blinked dumbfoundedly. "But, your Highness-"
"Mount a token defence at the gates on the High Street. Hold the invaders off there for as long as you can without killing too many of them, and then abandon the gate and fall back into the castle grounds."
Vaati's immediate impulse was to run away. Zelda had just repeated to them the very plan they had drawn up mere hours ago. Against his every instinct, he remained still and kept his face dispassionate. "Princess, if I may offer my opinion...?"
"Nobody cares about your opinion, you little wretch," Veran spat.
The two servant girls were now buckling greaves to Zelda's legs. She nodded coolly at Vaati, indicating for him to speak.
"Simply allowing the Gerudo into the castle grounds when they can be easily eliminated before that occurs is putting all of Hyrule at risk. I see no purpose to your plan. If you could perhaps explain your reasoning to us, then I'm certain that this decision will make a lot more sense."
Now it was Rusl who scolded him. "Your place is not to question her Highness' orders, but to follow them!"
"Shut your mouth, you old fool, you're not the Commandant any more. As an adviser, my place is to advise."
Rusl scowled and looked away.
"The Gerudo must have hope," Zelda said. "They must believe they have a chance of success. If the futility of their situation becomes apparent too soon, then one or more of their commanders may flee, and with my spell broken, there is nothing stopping them from leaving the city."
The remainder of the chausses were strapped to her legs, now, and Zelda raised her arms to slip a doublet over her head.
"Let them come to me. I will not have this chance again."
Viscen cleared his throat. "I assume that the people you are referring to are Link, Ganondorf, and-"
"Midna," Zant said in unison with the Commandant. It was the first word he had spoken since the council had begun.
"Yes. This is the most important element of the plan. These three must be allowed to slip past our defences and gain entry to the castle. They will seek me out, and-"
"NO!" Zant cried.
Zelda held her arms out so that her gauntlets could be slid onto her hands, and the vanguards strapped to her forearms.
"She must die! She must! She must! I must be the one to kill her, to burn her until not even a cinder remains! It must be so!"
She seemed to consider this for a long time, as the shining cuirass was buckled together over her torso, and the dark flowing cape was pinned to her shoulders. "Very well, then, Zant. You may have the honour of killing the Twilight Princess. But bring her body to me."
The picture of calmness, Zant bowed. "I thank you, your highness." But the sadistic glee was clearly audible in his voice.
She buckled her rapier to her waist personally, while the two attendants stood respectfully aside. As Zelda lowered the golden circlet of her royal office onto her brow, she spoke to all of them once more. "Victory is not assured. You all have your parts to play. Hold the castle, and as soon as Link and Ganondorf are inside, crush whatever resistance remains. These are your tasks- now prepare for battle."
And, dressed for war, Zelda swept out of the audience chamber, her indigo cape trailing behind her like the dark plumage of some terrible bird of prey.
It was only when she had gone that Vaati risked a glance at Viscen, and the unspoken question hovered between the two of them.
What do we do now?
But what was there to do? It was too late to do anything but proceed as planned.
See now, the city of Hyrule, a city that has been at war for centuries.
Long ago it was born, hewn from entire mountains and carved from whole forests, growing outwards until it occupied entirely the island upon which it sat and from there rising high into the sky and plunging down into the earth.
For generations, Hyrule has been a city mired in conflict between two great powers, the Princess Zelda and the Gerudo King Ganondorf. The war was taken many forms, and cost many lives, but always it has boiled down to the wills of the two blessed with the power of the gods.
So it went, for years upon years, until finally the third of their number arrived, and the balance of power shifted, and the ancient conflict began to move inevitably towards its end.
This is Hyrule, as the sun rises on the final day of this long and bloody struggle.
This is Hyrule, at the dawn of its final day.
See the traitors, Vaati and Viscen, waiting for the moment when their betrayal will become known. Waiting, until their turning will have the greatest influence on the tides of battle.
See the loyal man, Rusl, the broken and disgraced Commandant, as he dons his battleworn armour and prepares to shed blood once more, for the Princess.
See the madman, the vizier Zant, his mind a twisted maze of hatred and the remnants of what once might have been love. He is consumed now, and nothing but death with sate him.
See the Twilight Princess, Midna, the lonely girl who was too weak. She has power now, more than she knows what to do with, and there has long been darkness in her heart.
And see now the three.
The Princess Zelda, sequestered as she has always been, high in her cold towers. Armoured and ready for battle, she paces back and forth in a room that she long ago set aside for this purpose. Magic flows from her fingers as she traces the designs of one final spell, the one that she has spent lifetimes perfecting. Hyrule may be dark to her, now, but she is far from powerless.
The Gerudo King, Ganondorf, who stands pontificating atop the bridge in the Market District, his voice thundering even above the cheers of his remaining Gerudo. Those sparse few soldiers are now joined by a growing flood of discontent citizens who have at last seen a chance to rise up, and strike back against the regime that has oppressed them for so long. Ganondorf raises his sword high in the air, and as first rays of the dawn gleam against its blade, a thousand others are also thrust skyward.
The Hero, Link, watching in quiet contemplation as he prepares himself for the bloodshed that must now come. This is a joyless, hollow sort of anticipation, one that he has undertaken a thousand times in a thousand different lives. He watches the furor in the Market District, raises his gaze to touch briefly upon the highest parapets of the towers far above him, and then lowers his head, savouring the last moments of peace before the storm.
The light of the sun shines on Ganondor's blade for one more second, before the grey skies above swallow even that sparse brightness. In the distance, the skies are dark and a chill wind blows, bringing with it the promise of rain.
This chapter gave me a lot of trouble, as it is necessarily all over the place- we visit pretty much every major character and storyline, setting the stage for the conclusion of Sacred Reliquary. It was important for me to condense all of this exposition into one chapter for the sake of pacing, as I'm sure at this point everybody's looking forward to the imminent ending. And it is going to be good. Expect three or four more chapters, and an epilogue.