By the Shadow's Glance
The shadows of early evening fanned out, cast long by the sun’s glare as it descended toward distant mountains on the horizon. The clouds high above burned a dazzling orange and pink, and even before the golden ball settled below the jagged landscape, a few of the brighter stars could be seen faintly through the fading blue of the sky.
The royal palace of Hyrule, immense and implacable, stood silent and serene. The young nation of Hyrule had risen up out of necessity, and stood stalwartly in the heart of what had once been unfamiliar, even threatening lands. Humans had not long resided in this pastoral countryside, but their coming had heralded a sweeping change. The ancient tribes, they who had dwelt in the land that now bore the name Hyrule, had not moved to impede the new society that had formed in their midst. Even so, a palpable tension hung in the air.
Agreements had been made, out of necessity perhaps, but made all the same. The peace in the newfound kingdom was tenuous at best, but it was peace. Each people, the Zoras, the Gorons, they who had adopted the name ‘Hylians’, and even the foreign tribe that had begun to press in from the west, they who had named themselves ‘Gerudo’, had found ways of ensuring the peace.
That was why Majin had been sent.
The sheer walls of stone that comprised the keep of His Majesty, the King of Hyrule, were so large and so thick that they could repel an invading force of considerable strength, if the need ever arose. However, for all their height and all their strength, the bulwark was no impediment to Shadowcloak.
He scampered up the western edge of the wall, the sticky pads on his reptilian fingers and toes held him fast against the sheer face, and retractable claws extended to dig into the unyielding stone, providing him extra grip as he climbed. The cape of black that hung about his shoulders never moved or shifted, no matter how he positioned himself, it always hung completely stationary, obscuring him. The Hylian guards on the ground below never looked up and in, but ever outward. After all, if a threat were to arise, would it not come from outside?
At the top of the wall he paused, just beneath one crenelation, and listened. He could hear the footsteps of a pair of sentries’ boots on the naked stone as they marched past, making their rounds. Tensions had been assuaged only slightly by the treatise that had been entered into by the tribes of Hyrule, and these men still guarded against hostilities that might eventually arise.
Sadly, Majin thought, they were not prepared to guard against him.
Lithely he grasped the edge of the wall and threw himself up and over, landing deftly in a wary crouch, his immaterial black cloak never moving or changing, never shifting in response to his motions. The soft pads of his feet and hands muffled any sound of his landing.
Make a mess of it, he’d been told, even as his employer had handed him a bulging wallet.
Majin always served faithfully the terms of his contracts.
Swiping a hand through the inky material of his cloak, his hand came away with a mass of manifest shadow as though tearing free a piece of the fabric. Even as he lifted his hand up the blackness was transmuting into a spear of shadow.
He let it fly, watching grimly as it took the guardsman on the right through the upper back. The other stared in shock, frozen in place as he watched a sudden shaft of pure dark explode through the breastplate of his partner. He reached out even as the man began to topple, but before his fingers could touch the spear it became hazy and indistinct, losing its solidity, reverting to its original form.
Majin recalled the mass of inky shadow, and stood motionless as it rejoined his cloak as though it had never been separated.
The guard’s eyes followed and opened in shock as they fell upon the image of a single Tokay, barely larger than a child, standing twenty paces away. Shock and confusion flitted across his features, his jaw working silently.
And then he lowered his spear and took a menacing step forward. Majin smiled bleakly at the long shadow the guard cast. A wave of his hand called it to him, and it broke apart in the air before him, forming into needles of black, shadow-forms of a storm of arrows. The guard stared in horror for but a moment, then let out a strangled cry for reinforcements before the shadow arrows riddled his flesh, washing the smooth stones atop the wall with his blood.
Two men lay dead with no sign of their killer.
Without hesitating, without looking, Majin threw himself over the other side of the wall, dropping down onto the switchback stairs that led up its inside face. Guards, called from their posts around the keep itself, were unprepared for the nimble Tokay as he dropped down in their midst. Butterfly swords came free and he slashed several times during the confusion, slicing muscle and tendons low on their legs to bring them down. Several stumbled as they bled and dropped off the edge of the rising steps, landing with a clatter several stories below.
Those that didn’t topple over instead pitched forward, and found the green assassin’s blades shearing through their exposed necks. His scales dripped crimson as he descended into the courtyard. He exhaled sharply, chest heaving with the exertion of taking out multiple larger targets physically. He couldn’t expend all of the formed shadow though; he would need every bit of what he’d gathered to accomplish the job.
Two more guards in mail and steel helms with spears in their fists flanked the castle’s main gate; the torches already burning that would light the interior courtyard once the sun settled below the horizon. Shaved wooden darts flew out of the gloom, embedding themselves in the sentries’ exposed throats. Startled hands reached up to pluck them out and the guards stared at the needles in wonderment. Then, right on time, their eyes rolled back in their heads and they slumped down into numb heaps. He needed to leave them behind, as witnesses.
His employer insisted on it.
The treasury, an outbuilding inside the palace curtain wall, was guarded by two more soldiers. Majin approached directly, sauntering with supreme confidence across the courtyard toward them. The armed men eyed him with confusion at first, then outright shock next. One of them lowered his spear, leveling it at the Tokay’s chest. His companion shortly followed the other man’s lead.
“Halt!” One of them commanded in a harsh tone. Their concern, particularly as he drew close and they realized just how small he was, seemed to fade a bit as their surprise gave way to belligerence.
Majin threw his arms out to the side and then brought them sweeping forward, pulling away the misty folds of his “cloak”, holding formless masses of shadow in each hand. The guards stared, their eyes going wide, and then one of them charged.
From the mass of shadow in his left hand, a tendril plumed out into an undulant whip and wrapped itself around the man’s boots, upending him. He landed on his back with a hard clatter and Majin was already moving, leaping up and over the man at his companion, the inky black mass in his right hand forming into an immense crescent-bladed battle axe. The guard deflected the first swing of the shadow axe, but the tendril snapped up and wound its way around the man’s wrists, binding them, forcing him to drop his spear.
The axe transmuted into a sword blade and Majin plunged it into the man’s chest, penetrating the mail shirt. The guard’s eyes went wide with shock and pain, and he threw his head back in a strangled cry as Majin twisted the blade.
When he took his hand away, the shadow morphed back into an indistinct mass.
“Who are you?” The other guard asked, having risen to his knees as Majin killed his partner.
“Don’t worry about it.” He replied bleakly, letting the shadows settle back over him as an approximation of a black cloak. He turned toward the door, but the guard let out a strangled cry and leaped to stop him.
Majin’s hand whipped up over his shoulder, plunging through the immaterial cloak of shadow, pulling free the crossbow on his back. The guard couldn’t move in time, the quarrel took him in the chest, dropping him back to his knees. With a grim expression the Tokay reached into the quiver and prepared another bolt.
“Do it then.” The guardsman challenged, looking up into Majin’s face with determination on his face.
With the key he took off the guard’s body, Majin was able to open the treasury building. Inside was the collected wealth of the Hylian monarchy, standing in ordered stacks and piles. Gold, silver, rupees of every colorful denomination, as well as various other priceless items, littered the ground floor of the treasury. What Majin was after, however, would be in the vault down below.
The vault door was located in the deep basement, and immense iron door standing immovable in the stone and mortar wall. However, Majin had been instructed how to overcome this particular obstacle. Looking up, he saw the control mechanism that would open the door set in the ceiling directly overhead. The shadows of his cloak formed into tendrils again, reaching up to work the controls, something that not even a Hylian at his full height could have done from the floor. He shifted pieces around in a sequence that had been given to him by his employer, and smiled at the audible click as the combination was properly entered.
Groaning, the iron double doors shifted, throwing off a cloud of unsettled dust, and slowly swung inward.
The inside of the vault was dark and empty, save for one fluted pedestal in the center of the chamber, atop which lay a single ornamented key. Smiling at a job soon to be completed, Majin strode in and snatched it up.
As he made his way out, the thought of what would befall Hyrule in losing the Trust was inescapable. Their neighbors would not respond well.
That was the point.
Majin whistled a jaunty tune as he made his way out over the corpses he left behind.
King Dromand Hyrule/Hyrule Castle/Day Zero
Countless eyes, all wide with fear, looked to him, King Dromand Hyrule, for answers. The night had hardly fallen, but the darkness descended this night with thunderous force.
“Tell me again.” He insisted of the guardsmen before him. They had been found unconscious at their posts, poisoned tipped barbs stuck in their necks. They’d lay but a mere few paces across the courtyard from a charnel heap of their butchered comrades. “What did you see?”
These men, still suffering from sickness that must have been an aftereffect of the poison, crouched on the flagstones before his throne, shivering in what must have been a combination of illness and fear. They had failed their king and their kingdom; they feared what would become of them.
“It wasn't human, your Majesty.” One of the men declared, and the other nodded vigorously. “It came suddenly; it was on top of the wall before anyone raised the alarm.”
“The way it killed...” The other said, taking up the telling. “It left no trace behind, no weapons. It was like a specter.”
King Dromand pursed his lips and considered this for a moment, thinking it over. Not human, they both seemed to agree to that. What did that mean, exactly? The young kingdom of Hyrule had forged uneasy peace with the races of the land, but tensions had been on the rise of late as his people moved further and further out from Castle Town, settling lands closer and closer to the realms of the Gorons and Zoras.
It was what the infiltrator took, though, that sent chills down his spine. The words of the Hyrulean Accords, a document that had been drafted and agreed upon by all of the peoples of the land after his ancestors had descended to settle on the surface, now whispered to him, reminding him of promises made and trusts bestowed. He too shivered as he considered the implications.
“You’re certain it came for the key?” He asked, knowing what the answer would be, though desperately hoping that he was wrong. “It wasn't just incidental?”
The guards shrugged, but by their expressions Dromand could tell that they thought otherwise. “Your Majesty… What does this mean?”
King Dromand Hyrule, so young and inexperienced, rose from his throne and clasped his arms behind his back as he walked around, looking at the tapestries draping the long stone walls of the throne room. Many of them depicted ancient events, triumphs of the Hero, the descent of humankind back to the wild lands of the surface world, and one that depicted the leaders of races of the land, standing around a table upon which three keys lay, one before the representative of each tribe. Three keys, three tribes, that had been the agreement made. The desert mercenaries, calling themselves Gerudo, had come later to take up residence in the desert, after the mines of Lanayru had already been depleted. They had not been a part of the Accords.
“It means Hyrule is in danger.” The King responded quietly, his back turned toward those to whom he spoke. “It means we need to act quickly.”
He turned back to face the assembled government of his fledgling kingdom. “We need to bring all of our forces into Castle Town. Every soldier we have in the field is hereby re-assigned. I want our streets packed with as many armed men as we have at our disposal.
“After that I want men sent abroad to seek out valuable mercenaries that we can convince to help us. We are going to need all of the manpower we can muster, I think, before this is over.” He closed his eyes and breathed a sigh. And then we’ll see what happens.
Goron Patriarch Darmoto/Goron City/Day Zero
Patriarch Darmoto, chieftain of the Goron people, sat with his legs crossed beneath him, his big arms draped over his knees. His grisly, dark mane framed his tanned face, lending to its gravity. Braziers of glowing coals radiated heat through the cavernous hall, as if Death Mountain needed any more of that.
A missive had just arrived from their ambassador in the human court in Hyrule Castle Town. It contained only three words, and was neither signed nor sealed, as per instructions.
They've lost it.
The words, which would have made little sense to any who might have intercepted the message, troubled Darmoto deeply. How could they have let this happen? What had become of it? The Trust, as it was known in the Hyrulean Accords, was both the greatest treasure and the greatest burden of the tribes of Hyrule. The Hylians, as the humans had come to call themselves, had declared that they would safeguard it with their lives, and yet it was lost to them now.
The implications of that loss were staggering. As Darmoto sat there, faced by the elders of the Goron people, he felt the weight of duty pressing down upon him. He could see the unease in the faces of his tribesmen, the apprehension.
“You know what has to be done. Prepare the Gorons to move.” The faces looking up at him for guidance grew cold. They knew what he meant. “And send some of our people out into the land; have them look for mercenaries and informants. We may soon need every man, woman, and Goron capable of taking up arms.”
Orders given, his Gorons hurried from the chamber to see that they were followed. Darmoto closed his eyes and sighed in the heat, heat that would have been challenging for any but a Goron. They were a hearty people, living in a land of rock and fire. The Hylians were soft.
As if he could see it from within the city of the Gorons, Darmoto considered Kakariko Village, a young settlement that had been built at the base of the mountain. If the Gorons indeed moved, it would be against Kakariko first. There was little military presence there, and a great many women and children.
That thought made him shiver in the heat.
King Tiburon/Zora’s Domain/ Day Zero
The sound of falling water was ever a comfort to King Tiburon, recent inheritor of the Zora throne. It represented a constant in the land of the Zoras, one of the oldest and most influential of the surface tribes in a land that had come to be named Hyrule. Throughout their long history they had dwelt in these lands, administering the waterways and holding court in the lakes, and in all that time the mighty waterfall had roared in their domain.
He was not young. He had been firm about that since ascending the throne. Zoras lived long lives indeed, and among his people he was youthful to have gained such power, but he was not young. He was, in fact, quite a bit older than the Hylian King, and just a hair younger than the Goron Patriarch. It was old enough to have lived and watched, old enough to have seen how flawed the humans were. His father, the previous King Zora, had found the Hylians intriguing, had found their industriousness and their ability to embrace change heartening. He had always said that the Zora people had become too restricted to their ancestral rivers and lakes, that they had become static.
Tiburon had never seen it that way. The Zoras had always been the greatest of the tribes of the land. He refused to call their lands a part of “Hyrule”, a kingdom of men, though the Hyrulean Accords had made it so.
That had always chafed him. Tiburon did not like that his ancestors had bent to the will of the human interlopers who had descended from the sky. These lands were not for them; the wild lands of the surface were for the tribes that had tamed them, the Zoras and the Gorons, tribes that had warred with one another as much as they’d worked with each other. The humans were an irritant to Tiburon, who had spoken to his advisers of secession on more than one occasion.
The Trust, they would say, holds us bound to them.
Thus it was with a peculiar sense of satisfaction mingled with the fear and sudden anxiety that Tiburon listened to the news that his scout had brought to him. Seated in the slowly running waters flowing in from the sacred pool, Tiburon listened intently.
“… an invader, supposedly imbued with supernatural power, raided the Hylian capital. He killed a number of their soldiers and broke into their treasury vault.”
“And you’re certain that this invader took their key?” The solemn nod was all the answer he needed.
Tiburon sat in silent contemplation for a time, considering what this news meant. The Hylians had failed in their duty, as he’d known they eventually would. They were not one of the great and noble surface tribes; they had taken shelter in the sky when conditions had grown too hard for them to endure.
“Very well.” He said at last. “Return to their Castle Town. Tell their King that we know of his failure and that because of it the Hyrulean Accords have been invalidated. The Zora tribe will be a sovereign nation once more, and the waters of this land belong to us.” The Zora ambassador bowed deeply and withdrew. Tiburon turned to his commanders. “Divide the Zoras into three regiments. I want one to remain here in Zoras Domain. Take the others to Lake Floria and Lake Hylia. I want them within striking distance of Castle Town.”
“It will be done, your Majesty.” They said in unison, and they too bowed out of the chamber.
King Tiburon smiled a small Zora smile. Whoever was responsible for the theft in Castle Town had given him exactly the excuse he’d desired.
Sand on the Wind
Gerudo General Namira/Gerudo Desert/Day Zero
Namira, General of the Gerudo, stood at a sandstone precipice gazing out over the sweeping vista of sand dunes and pillars of wind-worn stone. Below, sheltered in the shadow of the cliff, her people’s tents stood in clusters around their campfires. As she looked down from her vantage point, Namira could pick out the sentry positions that formed the camp’s defensive perimeter.
The camp, such as it was, had been organized in the shelter of the rocky hills before the gradually rising stone structure that would one day be their stronghold. The great Gerudo Fortress, as it had been called by her forbears when they’d first broken ground with a spade, was little more than half built, a shell of what it might one day be. Even so, it was a symbol.
Her people had come to these lands, this harsh desert, in search of wealth. Timeshift Stones were so powerful that they were incalculably valuable. Even a small amount of the raw material from the mines would have fetched her band of sell-swords and thieves enough rupees to live the rest of their lives in comfort.
They’d found none. Previous generations of her tribe had delved into the mines, exploring every tunnel and cavern. The mines were stripped bare, all of the timeshift stones harvested long before the Gerudo people had come. All that had remained for her people, then, was a wasteland of sand and rock and all manner of impetuous creatures.
And what had become of all those stones and all of that power? It was as though it had disappeared. It had not been used, to the best of her knowledge, nor had it been sold on the market. The Hylians, industrious as they were, had managed to support themselves quite admirably as they’d developed their fledgling nation. They had not needed to sell the stones for food or supplies. Did they still have it? Had the other tribes wrested it away from them?
“General?” Namira breathed a sigh and turned to see Nabrun, her most trusted captain, approaching her. Captain Nabrun’s naginata was gripped firmly in her right hand and her uniform, gossamer as it was in response to the heat, was immaculately groomed. Such had always been her way.
“We've had a message from one of our raiding parties.” Nabrun said, her tone uncharacteristically terse. She seemed to be on edge for reasons that Namira couldn't fathom.
“Forces are gathering in Hyrule, General.” She replied after only a moment’s hesitation. “The Hylians have mostly withdrawn into their walled city. The Zoras have dispatched armed forces to the lakes.”
Nabrun shrugged. “Who can say? They don’t invite outsiders into their mountain hall.”
Namira nodded thoughtfully. Armies were on the move; it appeared that Hyrule was on the brink of outright war. For her part she couldn't help but be surprised that it had taken them so long to get to it. The surface tribes, from what she could glean, had never appreciated the sudden invasion of humans, and the humans had treated the native races with equal disdain. Each were obstacles to the other, so the fact that they’d been able to coexist for so long was, in her mind, quite impressive.
It was also, apparently, pointless. War came eventually, all the surface tribes had done by delaying it was allow the humans to build their strongholds and gain a proper foothold. If the Zoras and the Gorons thought to dig them out now, they would have to wade in lakes of blood to see it through.
“Very well.” She said at last. “Let them have it out. We’ll wait and watch until the attrition of war has left them all weak and vulnerable.”
And then we’ll know. Then we’ll step over their corpses and find out what they did with all of those stones.