Teachings of a Thief
As the sun crested over the morning mist into its dayward arc, Taden cleared a last bend before the vale leading into Hylian territory. He stopped in his tracks and sat back against a tree, taking in the dawnlit fortifications of Hyrule Castle and its prosperous estate. Jotun had warned Taden of impending war, armies amassing in the Hylian stronghold, but to Taden's surprise its main gates seemed to be open for commerce. A pink glow seemed to hover over the waving flags and washed mortar of the fortress, as if its drawbridges and gates separated more than mere terra firma from the lands beyond.
The King must still be gathering his army, he thought, standing to continue his trek. As he fastened his cloak, he heard the low rumbling in the distance of an approaching monster. Pulling his thick Wolfos hood over his eyes, he lost some depth of field, but shielded himself from the daylight creeping in through the misty trees. He tilted his head back, and listened closer still.
The sound was getting close, but Taden saw nothing in the woods whence it came. Then for a moment, he saw a shrub riggle at the far end of a snow-covered meadow. As his eyes adjusted, he saw a line of trees seeming to sway back and forth, in a wave heading towards the meadow. Taden threw back his hood and dashed out into the clearing, bracing himself in the demon's path as the earth shaking pitched to a roar. He swung his axe out for battle, but a tremor ran under his feet, bringing him down to one knee, and suddenly the thundering noise was behind him, heading south towards Castle Town, growing ever quieter, leaving the faintest ripples in the grass and trees, barely detectable to his wolfhunter's eyes.
Taden rose to his feet and looked in the direction of the burrowing beast, catching his breath. As silence fell over the meadow again, he pulled his axe back over his shoulder. "Hm...a tunneler, out here? A Mogma who can handle this weather could be useful..." he thought aloud. Almost on cue, Jotun's axe felt heavier, lowering his center of gravity, as if pushing Taden onward towards Hyrule Castle. Pressing one hand against the knife at his hip, he pulled back his hood and lowered into a running stance, then leapt up into the swaying trees, pursuing the digger from above, swift and silent as the wind.
Before long, he had overtaken his quarry, faster through the trees than he was underground. By midday, he had reached the shining gates of Hyrule Castle Town. Seeing no reason for stealth, Taden called out to the guards at the City's main gate.
"Hoy, officer!" he shouted. "I should like to enter your fair city."
"State your business," the nearest guard called back to him, sneering at the haggard mountain man in furs. Taden paused for a moment. Jotun had always advised him never to lie to nobility.
"Why, to buy bombs, of course!"
Miserable mountain riff-raff.
“Bombs, is it?” Gareth looked to his partner, who was assessing the wolf-skin wearing brute with a critical eye. The axe and the knife did not go amiss, they were dutiful soldiers in the Hylian army, and their King needed them to be vigilant. Hyrule Castle Town was a tense place of late, ever since the raid. The gates hadn’t yet been closed, but the guards were asked to pay far more attention to the details. “Dangerous stuff, bombs are.”
“You ain’t lyin’ ‘bout that, Gareth.” Guardsman Balfor agreed, spitting through a missing tooth and shifting his spear from his right hand to his left.
“And what, might I ask, does a mountain man such as yourself mean to do with such troublesome cargo?” Gareth asked coolly.
“Ah let ‘im through, Gareth.” Balfor grumbled. Gareth frowned, shot a glare at his partner, then nodded.
“Well, I can’t keep you from the city just now, but you’d best be careful inside.” He counseled the incoming traveler. “His Majesty has not precisely declared martial law yet, but things are tense just now. You step out of line and you’ll find that the soldiers won’t be too inclined to ask questions before upholding the peace.”
Taden Horwendil/Hyrule Castle Town/Day 1
"I'll take 50 Bombchus."
Taden stood with his arms folded across his chest, looking from under his hood at the shopkeeper behind the counter. The grizzled old Goron bombmaker stared back at him quizzically, looking out through a welder's mask. "Now what would a fella such as yourself want with that much firepower?" he asked, arms akimbo.
"That's none of your concern."
"By Dro' it's not! Last thing ol' Popper needs is the town guard nosing about, asking where the maniac who burned down the village got his blasted artillery! Times are hard enough for a Goron in Castle Town without strange boys in masks asking for a king's ransom in Bombchus! You know I'm the only armorer in town, eh? Where d'you s'pose they'll think ya got such delicate equipment as Bombchus? How do I even know you can properly operate machinery with this much deadly--?"
Taden raised an open hand to silence the skittish shopkeep. "It's alright," he said, pulling his hood back to show his Terminian face. "Where I'm from, the mechanical ones are child's play." Taden dropped a satchel of rupees on the charred counter top. The jingle of currency seemed to calm the arms dealer's nerves.
"...And I promise, I won't use them within the city walls."
Popper scooped up the sack and started counting through the colored gems. "Hm...I see enough here for shells, but you'll still need a bag to carry them in. Popper's luxury Bomb Bags are made of toughest Dodongo hide. With material of this quality, I can't ask less than 999 rupees, or payment in kind!"
Taden frowned at the shrewd shopkeeper. "I see." Jotun had warned him of Castle Town's cheats and swindlers. He had a feeling the old codger's paranoia was an act. "Payment in kind?" he asked.
"Yes, yes!" he said, dropping his welder's mask back down over his face to hide his missing eye. "As you might have guessed, a man in my line of work tends to make a few...enemies. Disgruntled customers, eh?"
Popped trotted into the back room of his shop to rummage through his inventory. When he returned, he brandished a plain, rather weathered broadsword fastened in a brown leather sheath. He laid it out along the counter, then produced a hefty Bomb Bag full of explosives that he set beside the old sword. Looking closely at the two items, Taden saw the insignia of the Goron tribe etched into the Bomb Bag, genuine Dodongo leather. On the hilt of the battle-worn sword, however, he recognized the Hylian royal crest, a great bird with wings outspread poured from pure gold, a brilliant, blood-red ruby set in its heart.
"How's about you let old Popper tell you about this special, one-time-only offer...?" As he spread his arms out over the overpriced bag of Bombchus and the Hylian sword, Taden could tell the demolitionist was smiling behind his rusted visor.
Tarah Vass/Hyrule Field/Morning 1
Growing up in Hyrule Castle Town, Tarah was the only daughter of a poor family. When she was very young, her father fell ill, forcing her to become a pickpocket and make money for the family. After her father’s eventual death, her mother took her own life in grief. Leaving the harsh memories behind at age 15, Tarah departed Hyrule Castle Town and now lives by stealing from passing travelers.
Tarah awoke as usual in the cramped living space she had constructed against the cliff face using wood from fallen trees of Faron Wood, the floor and walls of which were covered with items she had collected whilst living in the wilderness, rabbit skins lined the walls as an attempt at insulation and various scraps she had stolen but been unable to sell lay on the floor, awaiting a purpose.
As she left the hut to stretch, Tarah began to plan what she would do with her day, she remembered that she had eaten the last of her food the previous night and decided she would hunt for small mammals in the woods, or maybe go to the river and try to catch a fish. She stepped out of the entrance and glanced back at her shelter, it wasn't ideal but it kept her warm and safe. She had disguised it to look like an ordinary bush using leaves from the woods and was proud of how well it blended in with the surroundings.
She silently walked into the woods, eyes concentrating, looking for prey. Tarah was no expert hunter, but was usually able to sneak up on a rabbit or deer for food. As she crept through the undergrowth Tarah began to hear voices, two men were walking through the wood, she turned her concentration to their conversation, from what she could make out they seemed to be lost travellers. She briefly considered trying to fight them, and turning to cannibalism, but quickly removes those thoughts from her mind as she crept up behind the men, stood facing away from her trying to find their way with a map. She reached them and picked up the bags they had dropped behind them, she then proceeded to quietly retreat to her shack.
When she got home, she began to rummage through the bags, hoping to find food and maybe some rupees, but instead discovered what looked like explosives and fire lighting equipment. "They weren't lost at all" she whispered under her breath as she recalled the mens conversation and realised that they were looking for the best place to start a fire. As she looked through the bags she found scraps of ripped paper and lined them up to read what had been written, all she could make out was "Nee s o burn down in o lan ence. This is our k don't fa". She was taken by surprise by what she had found, somebody was planning to burn down Faron Wood. But why? She put all of her possessions in one of the bags and set out to find out. She knew the men would be gone by now so thought that Hyrule Castle Town would be the best place to start looking so left to satisfy her curiosity of what was happening, but mainly for something to do, life in the wilderness had been incredibly boring and now she had something to do she aimed to do it.
Tarah Vass/Hyrule Castle Town/Night 1
Tarah briskly walked into castle town, trying to push the bad memories back into her subconscious. She passed the house she had grown up in, the house where her father had suffered and died, the house where her mother had taken her own life, a lone tear flowed from her eye and ran down her face. Tarah saw a couple walking slowly down the street and quickly pushed her bad memories away and focused on the wallet in the mans pocket, it was hanging out as if it wanted to be stolen. She took the money and bought some bread to eat before taking shelter in an abandoned market stall for the night.
Stepping past a curtain into an empty market stall, Taden found the young thief he had been following fast asleep. He saw she had scattered dead leaves around herself, sure to crackle under the footsteps of any intruders. He had been impressed by her skill watching her rob commoners in the marketplace, but this suggested more formal training. Rather than draw closer, he stood just inside the entrance to the stall, and pulled out the sword Popper had given to him, still strapped in its sheath. It's golden crest sparkled in the slight torchlight around them. He held the tattered blade aloft, steadied it in his hand, then raised it high above his head. The girl adjusted in her slumber and breathed in sharply, but slept on. Taking one step forward, Taden shifted his weight into the dead leaves, and thrust the blade down at the sleeping thief's feet, letting it clang against the dirt between her boots. The gold crest shimmered in the firelight as the vibrating blade came to a rest.
"Rise and shine, kiddo," he spoke in a low voice. "My name is Taden Horwendil. I've been watching you, and I can see you're quite adept at stealing goods--but what about returning them? Perhaps you'd like to make a little more profit than the typical robbery can bring?"
Tarah awoke to a loud noise, at first she saw the sword which had fallen by her feet as it shone with the faint light entering the abandoned market stall. She then looked up and saw a hooded man towering over her. Still half asleep, her first instinct was to run but she quickly realised that he was blocking her only exit and she was still on the floor. As Tarah began to sit up the man spoke.
"Rise and shine, kiddo, My name is Taden Horwendil. I've been watching you, and I can see you're quite adept at stealing goods--but what about returning them? Perhaps you'd like to make a little more profit than the typical robbery can bring?"
Tarah now realised that if he had wanted to kill her he would've done it while she slept, so believed his offer may be genuine. She considered turning Tadens request down but didn't like her chances if he turned against her so she decided to accept.
"Since i'm in the unfortunate position where bargaining with you isn't exactly an option, I feel i'm going to have to accept your offer" she whispered "So tell me, what exactly is it you want me to do?"
"So tell me, what exactly is it you want me to do?"
Taden smirked and leaned against the doorway of the stall. "I won't waste time on the courtesy of names." He pulled back his hood to reveal his face, and gestured toward the Hylian-marked sword that the girl now sat beside. Its gold pommel glinted in his squinting eyes.
"A city guard lost this sword in days past, and shall pay dearly to get it back. By fate, it has fallen to me, and now it falls to you. At dawn tomorrow, when the roosters crow, he will be waiting by the Castle Town fountain with my payment. All I want you to do is meet him then, and make this simple exchange. He will be gone before the market bells ring."
Taden pulled back his cloak to reveal the dagger at his hip, built for the hands of a Yeti hunter, its blade like a steel tusk. He unsheathed it, and began picking at a loose thread on his gloves, letting the young girl contemplate his offer. Her eyes bore into his like coals, and he saw her fingers inching towards the hilt of the proffered sword--to accept, or attack. He slipped the knife back under his cloak, losing patience.
"If profit's your worry, you may take whatever you can get from the bastard. I asked a mere 999 rupees for a safe return, but I predict he will come willing to pay his family's fortune, rather than admit to his superiors how his commissioned blade was lost. Take him for all he's worth, if you wish; it makes no difference to me..."
Stooping forward from the doorway, he unhinged his axe and let its blade slice into the dirt with a muted clang. He leaned his weight against its haft at a diagonal, blocking the exit with the broad blades of its face, and stared back down at the unarmed bandit sitting in the corner of the stall. He pulled back his cloak and rested his hand on his hip, next to his hunting knife.
"You are familiar with the tactics of extortion, are you not?"
"I know enough" Tarah finally said, after considering her task. She then paused, looks at Taden and said "You can leave now, It will be done."
Tarah now turned her attention away from the cloaked man and to the sword, which she had previously been unaware of. As she caught a first glimpse of it, the blade seemed old from battle, yet the hilt still shimmered in the low light of the stall, it was golden with a bright ruby in the centre. Tarah wondered how she would carry such a blade without drawing attention to herself, as other guards would no doubt be around, she decided to try to conceal it within her clothing, sure, her movement would be hindered but she thought nobody would notice.
It wasn't long until sunrise so Tarah sat in wait for the right time to move, waiting for night to pass and the sun to begin to rise.
"You can leave now. It will be done," she said, studying the sword Taden had given her.
"Very well," he replied. "Your target will be waiting by the Fountain in the heart of the city, before the first rooster crows." He rose from Tarah's dusty stall and fixed his axe over his shoulder. "And do remember, should you fail, one way or another, I must collect my sword."
"And how will I find you when it's done?" she asked, keeping her voice low. He grinned at the innocent tone she used to gain knowledge of his whereabouts.
"Oh, fear not, Tarah," Taden whispered back. "Tomorrow, I shall find you."
He left the young thief to contemplate the weapon at her feet, and disappeared into the alleys of Hyrule Castle Town.
Once he reached the outskirts of town, he pulled back his White Wolfos hood and smelled the thick, urban air. Stars dotted the sky, and a clear, full moon hung high in the black bowl, small but bright at the apex of her nightly climb. Before long, her cold light would sink into the haze of dawn's horizon, but for now, the dark milk of night coated the young shaman's pale skin, hiding him as his hunt continued.
From a far gate, leading down into another alley, Taden caught the strong smell of sulfur, as if someone had emerged from the deepest Goron mines and expected not to reek of their depths. The place was called Death Mountain for a reason. Following the scent, he trailed it to the front door of a small inn. "Perhaps my tunneler arrived in the night," he said, looking for another way into the inn.
Slipping his hood over his face, Taden climbed atop a barrel on the side of the inn, and pulled himself up onto the roof. He sidled around the scaffolding that ran along each window, and made his way to the third window in the row, left open by the room's occupant. The same scent of sulfur wafted from the open window as the trail below, faint but enough for his trained senses.
Looking in, Taden saw a tall man with extended hands and elongated ears standing in candlelight. He was dressed in small rags that seemed to fit his tall, lanky frame poorly. The room was sparsely furnished and bare of paint or carpet, only a sheet on a cot across from an alley-facing window. Before Taden could catch a good glimpse of the strange figure inside, he snuffed out his candle, and walked over to shut the window. Ducking down and scooting away from the frame, he notice the razor claws on the man's fingers as he pulled the window closed. As he climbed into bed, Taden peered back into the lightless room, and the moon was enough to reflect the silver fur of the man's tail, draping out from below the sheets and lying across the floor. It reminded Taden of the white coat of his own cloak and matted locks.
"Hm...a wild man from the hills? Perhaps a warrior he would make..."
Taden waited until he was sure the man was asleep, watching his breath rise and fall under the sheet, then sidled to the window of the next room. He removed one glove and pushed his bare palm against its glass. A thin frost spread across the window as he began to mutter a simple Yeti incantation. When the glass was frozen, he tapped it with his forefinger, and it shattered to the floor. He slipped into the dark and empty room, then walked into the hall to the door where the fur-coated human slept. Apparently exhausted from his long journey in Death Mountain, the man had left the small key to his room hanging in the lock of the door. Taden turned it, and as his fingers touched the key, frost veiled its tarnished silver, and spread to the wrought iron door knob. A chill fell over the tiny bedroom, coating the window with frost from the inside.
Standing in a dark corner of the room, Taden noticed the man stirring, his breath forming into vapor more quickly in the cold air. He pulled out his dagger again, an oversized Yeti hunter's knife used for gutting large game in the field, and approached the foot of the man's bed. He kept his Wolfos mask low over his face, but cleared his throat and spoke softly to the sleeper. As he spoke, his voice left no trail of vapor on his breath, the air in his lungs already as cold as that around him, if not colder.
"You smell of caverns no ordinary Hylian could enter and survive. And yet here you are in rags, smelling like the devil and sleeping in dirt. You have the look of a hungry killer, or a monster of the field."
Taden waited for the pale, beast-like man to sit up, then turned his knife around to face the handle towards him, laying its blade flat across his palm. He presented the hilt of his own hunting knife to the stranger, resting its pommel on the heel of his free hand.
"So, monster, why don't you put your talents to use? 999 rupees to stab a guard in the back at sunrise. This offer is good for one night only."
He smirked under his cloak as the man's wild eyes darted over the knife, its dull blade slowly coated over with glistening ice. He awaited the wild man's response.
"For a full bag of rupees? Well, I'm pretty much broke as of right now, so sure. Before I agree for sure though, why exactly do you want me to do this?"
"Fear not, it will not get you into any serious danger. I'd just like him exposed of before dawn breaks. If that's a problem, then I can leave now, if not, speak up."
"Yeah, sure. I'll do it."
Taden lightly pushed the hilt of his hunting knife onto Leif's hand, the ice making the hilt stick to his palm ever so slightly. Chills began to crawl their way all across Leif's hand, making him squint. His sensitivity to cold temperature made it difficult to stand the temperature Taden seemed to leave in the room, and the ice that's coating the hilt of his knife felt like a hot coal on his palm.
"You know where everything in this town is located I'd assume, so I'll keep the details nice and short. This guard will be talking to a young girl at the central fountain. They will be making a deal of sorts. Wait for them to finish their deal and for the girl to walk away, and then kill him. If you succeed, you will get your pay."
"Alright then, not like I have anything to lose."
"Good. Then it is done, and don't worry; I will find you when the job is done."
Taden pulled his Wolfos mask lower, so the only visible feature of his face was his mouth. He turned around and opened the window, placing one foot upon the frame of it. He turned his head slightly towards Leif, who was still sitting in bed.
"It is 4:35 right now, 25 minutes to sunrise. Use my hunting knife to kill the guard after the girl and he had made the trade."
The ice around the room began to thaw, causing puddles to form on the hardwood flooring. Taden pulled his other leg up onto the window, and jumped down. Leif clenched the hilt of the knife and stood up. Water dripped down from the blade of the sword, making the area where Leif stood wet. He made his way towards the door, grabbing the key to give back to the innkeeper.
Tarah Vass/Hyrule Castle Town (Fountain Area)/Pre-Dawn Day 2
After considering her task, Tarah decided that carrying the sword to the guard would be too risky and decided to leave it in the stall she had slept in and tell the man of its whereabouts after they had made a deal, she quickly covered it with leaves and left on her way to the fountain to meet with the guard that Taden had spoken of.
She reached the fountain and perched on the edge of the wall surrounding the water, as she waited with in the odd light before sunrise she could hear nothing but the trickling of the water from the fountains until light footsteps came into earshot. As Tarah heard this, she began to regret her decision to stand in the centre of the courtyard and knew it would have been better to wait in the shadows of the streets for the guard to arrive. As she glared in the direction of the footsteps she could make out a faint outline of a man walking towards her through a foggy street, it was him, the guard. She was a little intimidated by his seemingly large physique compared with her skinny frame, but tried to stay calm as he approached.
In the grand scheme of things, this guard was no one. From an impoverished family, he joined the City Guard at the earliest opportunity in order to feed himself and his siblings. After all, as the oldest he had a responsibility to them. It had been twenty years since then, fifteen years since anyone truly needed his help. But by that time he was, in his mind, a somebody; a guard of the greatest city on earth. Or at least that's what he had to tell himself during his long nights of sleepless sentry duty. He would grasp the hilt at his side, retaining just enough dignity to keep himself from turning it on himself.
So when he had woken up to discover the sword was gone it frightened him. Not just because of what his superiors would say--something along the lines of a tirade about how there just aren't as many good guards as there used to be--but because it meant that he had a legitimate reason to feel ashamed. Despite his reckless denial of how much he despised the life he had fallen into, being a guard was the one thing that made him feel accomplished to an extent. Without this sword, the guard who was already no one turned into a corpse that happened to walk around as people everywhere would ignore him. No power, no purpose. Just a single note.
~Fountain at Dawn~ That was all, no signature or explanation. And so here this nameless guard was, walking towards a small shadow at the fountain in the dim created before the sun breaks the horizon. He felt, above all else, completely numb on this walk, and the girl had no impact on his feelings.
"Where is it?" was all he was able to let out when he reached her. And as hard as he tried, he just couldn't bring himself to make eye contact.
As the guard moved closer to her, Tarah began to notice that he walked without confidence, slightly hunched as if his life had lost meaning. He moved closer and seemed to be looking past her, unable to look her in the eye. After being chased by men in his uniform for all of her childhood, her current situation felt strange to Tarah, the tables had turned and now she was in a position of power over this demoralised guard. She should have enjoyed this minor victory, but couldn't help feeling sorry for the guard.
"Where is it" he muttered, and Tarah pushed her feeling to the back of her mind and concentrated on the task at hand.
"I heard it might be in your wallet. You should probably let me take a look in there first" Tarah responded calmly.
The guard slowly reached for the wallet tied to his belt and handed it to Tarah, she looked inside and almost let out a gasp, she had never set her eyes on such a beautiful sight, so many rupees, all glistening in the light of the rising sun, the bag was filled with vibrant red and silver rupees and Tarah struggled to pull her gaze away from it. After a few moment passed, she tried to make it look like she had been counting the riches and said "This is a sufficient price for what you desire, head down the street to your right and then take a left, you will come across several abandoned market stalls, your sword is in the one in the middle, buried under a pile of leaves." Tarah turned her attention back to the money and despite being convinced that Taden would want most of it, decided that this was too much to just give away and that she needed to leave as soon as possible.
Completely unaware of her surroundings and fully focused on leaving she began to briskly walk towards the drawbridge, unsure of where she would go next, but certain that she needed to get out of Hyrule Castle Town.
Won't Forget This
Leif stood up out of bed, stretching his two arms and legs very well, he was excited to finally be able to kill something again. One of his guilty pleasures was slowly murdering somebody, watching them suffer in front of him. He tightened his grip on the moist hilt of the Wolfos cloaked man's hunting knife and jumped through the sill of the window.
He jumped over to the balcony next to his, in much better shape than the one he had; well-painted white wood, no holes, well structured, etc., but he didn't expect much from a free room. He spotted Tarah and the guard making the exchange, although the guard's back was slightly hunched and he avoided eye contact, as if he were ashamed of something.
The guard handed her a large wallet that seemed to be filled up to the brim, then she pointed to her right, then bending her finger forward to the left, explaining where to go, then finally making a hand gesture of something being in the middle of multiple things. Leif understood that he had to go south east to where he is now, then go somewhere in the middle of multiple things which was the market stall. The guard nodded slowly and began to walk slowly to the stall, as if he were incredibly depressed while Tarah walked happily away, head held high.
Leif grabbed on to a horizontal plank above him and flipped himself onto it, running and jumping roof to roof to get to where he had to go. The shingles below his feet were crunching beneath him, and he was expecting some complaints about some leaks in their attics sooner or later.
Finally, he found where all of the market stalls were located, and jumped down. The hard landing from 20 feet below gave Leif a bit of a sting in his feet, but he shook it off quickly. If he were to slow down now, the guard would catch up and the plan would be ruined. He ran into the middle market stall. There he spotted a glint in a pile of leaves which he wouldn't have noticed if the sun's rays weren't bouncing off of the golden hilt. Leif heard footsteps nearby, and blew out the torch on the wall in the stall and hid in the corner.
The guard walked in, slowly and depressingly, his back hunched and the under of his eyes as shadowy as the corner Leif was hiding in. As the guard walked in inch by inch, gradually making his way towards the sword that he had spotted, Leif jumped out of the shadows, making the guard jump, his eyes growing wide.
The guard felt better just holding the sword. For so long it had been his only companion and with the familiar steel returned to his hands his spirits were lifted slightly. He had a purpose again; he was a guard, an esteemed upholder of the law, a man to be respected and feared. The fact that no close friends, no woman, no relatives that gave a damn about him just floated away.
And so it was a bit of a surprise when he was brought back down to earth by someone jumping down in front of him followed by a cheerful "Hiya." But someone wasn't the right term, this was a something. It was clearly a Lizafols, one of the monstrous reptiles who resided in the caverns around Death Mountain, but at the same time it wasn't. It appeared slightly more human that most Lizafols, but it made no difference. This was a monster and needed to be handled. He drew his sword and stared the thing down, "State your business quickly reptile or be prepared to face me."
The light of the rising sun bouncing off of the steel blade of the guard's sword shone right into Leif's eyes. He squinted, and started to smirk, mocking the guard.
"Woah, easy there!" Leif chuckled. "Look, I was hired to kill you for a hefty amount of rupees, and I'm not about to let that slip. If you'd be so kind, could you maybe just sheathe that sword of yours and make my work a bit easier for me? I'd rather leave here without any flesh wounds."
The guard's eyebrows raised slightly, showing a faint sign of worry. Then, as if reassuring himself, he tightened his grip on the blade and resumed to show a confident face which seemed to be hiding worry behind it.
"I don't know who you think you are, but I will take you down. I will be the one leaving here with no flesh wounds. I have a town to protect, and it needs me to protect it, which I will do so for as long as I live!" He raised his sword, preparing for battle.
Leif shrugged. "Meh, alright then," he swung the knife backwards making the blade point in the opposite direction, his thumb pressing on the bottom of the hilt. "just to let you know: This town's gonna lose it's protection in a couple minutes."
The guard let out a grunt and swung his sword horizontally aimed right for Leif's neck. Leif ducked under the blade and sliced across the guard's chainmail. The chainmail started to freeze over, ice crawling across the rings, engulfing each one in a frozen sheet. The guard kneed Leif in the bottom of the jaw, knocking him back.
He pulled himself back up, rubbing his jaw, but smirking.
"Hey, that was uncalled fo-" the guard jabbed his sword towards Leif's heart. The guard wanted this fight to be over and quickly, since he knew there's a very high chance this fight could be his last. He had to take every advantage he can.
Leif, having no time to react to the blade heading straight for his heart at a high speed, stuck out his hand in front of the blade. The tip of the sword slowly made it's way through Leif's palm until it was stopped by the width of the middle of the blade. He let out a yelp as the bone and nerves in his hand were pierced. Blood poured down the blade of the sword, and the guard started to smile. He realized he could make his foe suffer a bit more, then while he was checking his wound, he could kill Leif. A perfect plan, the guard thought.
"Well, it seems like you're stuck. I don't know what you were talking about this town losing it's protection, but clearly that statement was false."
The guard twisted the sword to the left while still jabbed into Leif's hand, tearing all of the muscle and nerves in his hand apart. A wider hole opened in his hand. A scream of agony was let out. The guard then pulled the sword out and kicked Leif down.
Leif was breathing heavy and quickly as blood poured down onto his lap, staining his father's old linen clothes. The guard raised his sword up above his head.
"Goodbye, beast. I'll see you in Hell!"
He swung the sword downwards directly towards Leif's skull. Suddenly, Leif raised his left hand which was just covering the hole on his right hand that the guard just made and caught the blood-stained blade. The guard's eyes widened. He tried to pull the blade back, but Leif's grip was too tight. A faded red crept its way into the white of Leif's eyes. He continued to push harder and harder on the blade, making it cut into his hand. The blade started to crack under the pressure and it smashed. The guard's eyebrows raised in fright and worry, and he backed away.
Leif raised the knife up to his head's level, the blade pointing towards the guard. He started to slowly walk forward. The smirk and cheerful attitude he once had at the start of the fight washed away with pure anger and hatred towards the guard, the smirk turned into an angry frown.
"Please, wai-!" The knife plunged deep into his chest, blood spewing out of his ribcage. The guard dropped quickly, leaving a puddle of blood beneath Leif. He left the knife in his chest, and the red was swept right out of Leif's cornea. His head began to circle around, and he fainted.
The red from Leif's corneas slowly drained away, and the anger and hatred disappeared. Pain and dizziness flooded his body. The temporary strength and raw power that he just had for a second vanished just as quickly as it came. His vision started to fade, and his head started to spin. He closed his eyes and fell face-first onto the cobblestone ground next to the blood-drenched guard.
Impa/Hyrule Castle Town (South Gate)/Pre-Dawn Day 2
A wolfish man in a wolfish cloak swept hither and yon through the streets of Castle Town, and wherever he walked, unseen eyes watched him from the shadows. First he went to a girl and told her to extort money from a Hylian guard who’d lost his sword. The girl seemed eager enough to comply.
Next he followed a trail of scent to a young abomination, some amalgam of Hylian and lizalfos, and offered him a hefty sum if he killed that selfsame guard who was to be extorted. The monster seemed only too happy to oblige, for the money was good and he did not have two rupees to rub together.
But a mere half an hour ere the Hylian sun rose, he found himself in what shadows could be cast in the gray gloom of pre-dawn, standing beneath the gatehouse and the tall guard towers that flanked the city gate. That gate would soon be lowered.
Smoke began to filter up into the air through manhole covers and vents just inside the city wall, wisps at first but growing thicker until it obscured the lupine man’s field of vision. To his credit, the smoke did not seem to put him ill at ease. This was a cold one.
“Taden Horwendil.” She spoke softly out of the smoke, and as it cleared he found a tall woman clad in dark, form-fitting garb standing before him with a grave expression on her face. A high-collared cape fluttered about her shoulders, obscuring her mouth but leaving her hard eyes to bore into the young man in the wolfos cloak. “You have been very busy tonight it would seem.
“I am here on behalf of someone whom you should meet.” Dawn was still a few minutes off, but Impa could feel the impending sunrise in her bones. “If you will follow me, King Dromand Hyrule will see you immediately.”
The woman in shadow stood with arms crossed in the middle of the road, the South Gate's great steam-powered drawbridge at her back. Taden crouched low into the street, resting one palm on the ground and the other on the haft of his axe. He kept his hood low and breathed deep, exhaling a chill over the air.
"I will follow no one, Madame Impa. As you know, the night's labors only now bear fruit."
In the distance, a rooster crowed. Taden sharpened his ears at the sound, and heard familiar footsteps coming closer. Tarah was ahead of schedule. Taden caught a glimpse of the young thief from last night dashing past in the mist, as she looked over her shoulder to face him--a flash of greed and terror, clutching Rupees to her chest.
"I told you I would find you!" he called out into the fog. With a clang, the market bells rang in the opening of the City's gates, and the gears of the town's great Southern Gate began grinding outward. Plumes of steam spewed from the streets as its subterranean boilers sprang into life. Pushing off with his leg, Taden hurled his battle axe forward into the street, slicing a path through the fog and steam past Impa, steadfast to its left, and past Tarah, stumbling to its right.
With a clap of white light the leaden blade slammed into the upright bridge, and ice hard as rock splashed across its rumbling steamworks. Chains vibrated under the tomb of ice and interlocking gears churned against it in vain, then with a great crack the drawbridge coughed up steam from the City's sewers, and fell silent. It would be frozen shut in its upright position until the ice was removed.
"I suggest you put any thoughts of flight out of your mind, Miss Vass," he said to the girl, walking past her to approach his axe. He gripped the handle firmly and pressed his boot against the frozen drawbridge, then pushed against it to yank the blade from the ice.
Holding the axe aloft in one hand, he snatched the wallet out of Tarah's hand with the other. "You will receive your pay when the job is done," he said, fastening the wallet under his cloak. He dusted frost from the chipped edge of his axe, then slung it over his shoulders so that he could lean in close and whisper in her air. "And if you try to run out on a deal without paying me again, I swear I'll chop your head off."
He pulled his hood back at last, and looked from Tarah to Impa. As the echo of the bells faded, the first rays of dawn etched through the crystalline ice of the gate, and Taden waved his free hand through the air, dissolving the fog and steam into a solemn snow. As the mist cleared, he caught a vague sense of his dagger in the distance, in the slums to the west. Leif was on the move, and the seeds of hate had been planted in West Gate.
"Now both of you, follow me to the place where this all started," he said, walking towards a nearby alley that led to the slums.
She watched mutely as the lupine lurker’s ice caused the steamworks powering the South Gate to seize up, effectively sealing the city. Impa had a keen eye for people, and she could perceive those who were gifted, who had skills far beyond the average civilian. He was one of them, and there might be others. She eyed the girl impassively, looking her over, weighing and measuring. There was more to her than she could see, but she knew not what hidden strength she might conceal beneath her ragged exterior. Still, she held Tarah Vass clear in her vision as they fell in behind Taden Horwendil.
That name gave her chills and she found her gaze drifting back to him. The axe, the profile of a predator stalking prey, the unashamed force of will... This one was more dangerous than the beast whose hide he wore. But he was also useful.
As they walked through the worse sectors of the city, through slums littered here and there with refuse and ramshackle buildings that saw little maintenance or upkeep, Impa drew closer to the girl, Tarah, and leaned in to say as they walked: “Tarah Vass, do not let that one frighten you. I have come for him, and now for you, I think, to do a great service to the King. Hyrule has enemies now where once it had friends, and King Dromand Hyrule needs help if his kingdom is to survive. Will you come with me to Hyrule Castle, into the presence of the King, and hear his call?”
Still listening, she patted the little slip of a girl on the shoulder and lengthened her stride to stand at Horwendil’s shoulder. He seemed utterly unconcerned by her presence, except to threaten her. She wasn’t concerned about the threat just yet, but she was curious. He was not like the others.
“I’ve found your antics this last night to have been very informative, Horwendil.” He paused in stride and turned his eyes to her. “You’re quite the… motivator.
“You have been atop my watch list since you arrived, citing the purchase of Bombchus as your reason. And since I picked up your trail, you have never once failed to disappoint. Threats, blackmail, extortion, murder. A cocktail of cruelty stirred by your hand. That sort of thing is very bad for Hyrule just now.” She gave him a significant look. “Unless perhaps it serves our purpose. After all, it seems that war may be just over the horizon, and Hyrule may need to do all manner of unpleasant things to weather the storm.”
At last they stopped, and Impa waited for what would happen next.
Hylian blood looked gold in the early sun, seeping into the cobblestone streets. The light snowfall generated from the drawbridge steam had created a white canvas in the concourse of the bazaar where the City Guard met his fate, red slashed into every corner. Taden raised his hood as he walked out towards the bodies. In the cold air, neither one seemed to be breathing.
"Ladies, allow me to introduce Leif," Taden said. "Or at least, what was Leif..."
Squatting over the gored forms, he rolled back one sleeve and reached down to pluck his dagger out of the guard's chest. Taden saw the guard's ribs exposed in the gaping wound, as well as his dead heart under empty lungs. Leif had plunged his knife straight into it. He pulled it from his torso with a squelch, and the heart came out skewered on the blade. Before the others had a chance to look, Taden slipped the guard's small heart into his robes, and cleaned his knife on his breeches.
As he turned to sheath his hunting knife again, he heard its most recent user groan horribly, as if in a painful nightmare. Taden could see the rise and fall of his breath in the blood dotting his long, catlike ears and the white fur that faintly coated his skin. Leif wasn't dead.
"He's fainted," Taden called out to the others. Blood still trickled from deep lacerations on both his hands, a stigmata from the sword that lay in pieces around him. Kneeling down, he scooped the man's long, feline hands together and cupped them in his own, then spit in his palms. Wads of ice formed over the wounds in Leif's hands, freezing them closed for the time being.
"He's lost a lot of blood. He won't last long out here," Taden said, muttering cold spells to himself in Yeti. Rubbing his hands together and breathing his chilled breath into them, Taden pulled Leif's hands diagonally across his chest and straightened his legs out together, draping his silver, bushy tail across his waist. He packed in the snow around his neck to support his head, then piled it around his torso to numb the body and slow his heart rate. He rose from his shaman's work and stared across the blood soaked snow at Impa.
"You say you are prepared to walk in the shadow of war?" he asked the sorceress. Taden pointed down at Leif's still body. "This wild demon has murdered an officer and a nobleman. If you would fully submit to the imperative of war, I want you to take us to your sanctuary and revive him to his full strength, without any of us being seen. Have your King meet us there, if you want. Then let us leave."
He turned to look at Tarah. "I'd stick around if I were you. If the assassin dies, his cut goes to you."
Tarah had let her greed take over and sorely regretted it, she had angered Taden and now had nowhere to go, and no choice but to follow him and Impa.
She hung behind them as they walked back to the market stalls so when she caught sight of the bodies she didn't even hide the look of disgust that flooded her face. Tarah had seen darkness in her time, but nothing as gruesome as this. Blood covered the cobbled road and sprayed out of the guard as Taden pulled the knife from his chest, as he did this, Tarah caught a glimpse of the guards bones and organs and began to feel light headed. She quickly looked away and tried forget about what she had seen, and how she had led the man to his demise for his money. Taden spoke to her and she turned to look at him. "I'd stick around if I were you. If the assassin dies, his cut goes to you." He said, and Tarah nodded, unable to form a response but trying to seem as unaffected as he was.
She knew she was in over her head now but had no choice but to follow as Taden and Impa briskly walked away, carrying the bodies but leaving the blood to wash away with the melting snow.
Leif's heartbeat echoed in his own ears. His body was being rocked back and forth slowly, and he felt as if he were in a cold yet furry hammock. The injuries on his hand felt freezing as if ice formed around his hand while he was passed out. The pain seemed to be gone for the most part, but he still felt gloomy. He inhaled a large amount of air very quickly and let out a rather loud, scratchy yawn which shocked the whole group that was now surrounding him. Leif stretched his arms outwards completely unaware of Tarah, nearly poking her in the eye. Tarah moved her head out of the way quickly, rolling her eyes at Leif's abrupt awakening.
"Ah, you're awake." Taden said while he was re-positioning his arms as Leif was stretching so he didn't fall. "If you think you're all right, I can put you down so you can decide whether or not you're able to walk on your own."
"Uh... yeah, I think I might be fine," Leif groaned. "just put me down for a second, I wanna see if I can support myself at all."
Taden stopped and slowly put Leif on the ground, grabbing onto his forearm to help him up. Leif blinked hard and started to look around trying to help his eyes adjust to the brightness around him. He shook his legs around and jumped a few times to make sure his legs were functioning properly. Taden's eyes grew slightly larger, surprised at Leif's stamina even after what he had just been through. Leif turned his head towards Taden.
"Yeah, I think I'll be able to walk on my ow-" Leif stopped. He noticed the guard that he had just fought in the girl Impa's arms. He laid there, ribcage open, stained chainmail and clothing in her arms drooping like a plant that had been left in a room without sunlight. The sides of Leif's eyes began to sting as red crept back into his corneas and his claws began to extend. His heart beat faster and his breath grew deeper. Impa took a step back and noticed that Leif's eyes were targeted directly at the guard. The anger that had just recently fueled him during the fight with the guard had returned. Taden drew his knife from its sheathe and pointed it towards Leif.
Suddenly, Leif's eyes then widened and the red slipped back behind his eyes, his claws retracted and his heart beat returned to normal.
Leif looked down at himself almost in disgust. "I'm sorry, I'm really not sure what's going on... I'll just try not to look at that prick." Everyone stared at Leif in worry, and Tarah seemed to be upright scared.
Optional Mandatory Recruitment
Impa/Hyrule Castle/Dawn Day 2
As the troupe of mismatched miscreants filed into the lengthening shadow of the Hyrule Castle, Impa continued to watch each of them with a keen eye.
She looked now at Leif in particular. He was still bloodied, and though he seemed not to be bothered by the murder he’d committed in the quiet streets of Castle Town, the specter of violence still lurked close about him. His eyes had gone red with rage at seeing his victim’s corpse in her arms, and she made a note of that particular signpost for later.
Still carrying the limp form of the fallen guard, another dead man to add to the mounting list, she led the group in through a little used side gate in the castle walls and across the interior courtyard. She chose this route because of the lack of guards protecting it, because it was designed for her to use in the manner she chose, so long as she served and protected the royal line of Hyrule. And for this she did not want prying eyes observing that which they shouldn’t.
“In here.” She told them, leading them to an outer door in the west tower. Still carrying the body, she looked to Leif. “Would you mind?”
Sparing only a brief grimace toward her and the man whose body she bore in her arms, the peculiar Hylian hybrid pulled open the heavy, iron strapped door for her and she led them in.
In relative darkness they ascended the spiral stair, climbing up and up until they stepped off the top into a broad, circular chamber lit by a ring of torches. Against one wall stood a table of rough hewn ash atop which she laid out the murdered guard’s corpse. In the center of the chamber stood a broad, circular table ringed with simple, unpadded chairs.
Once free of her burden, Impa looked to each of those gathered in the chamber with her.
“I have brought each of you three here because you possess skills and abilities beyond the purview of Hyrule’s general populace. On top of that, none of you seem terrible scrupulous, if tonight is any judge.” She pulled out a chair and slid into it all in one fluid motion, flourishing the folds of her cape over its back as she came to rest. “If you would care to hear why, then we wait.”
“For whom do we wait?” Leif asked, still trying hard to keep his gaze averted from the supine form of his victim.
A small smile passed her lips, hidden as they were beneath the stiff collar of her cape. “For the King of course, Master Leif.”
When the door opened, it was not to admit the Hylian King.
Instead a guard swept in, his heavy breath telling Impa that he had hurried up the spiral stair. She waved him over, noting the watchful eyes of her companions at his intrusion.
The guard leaned in to whisper as he returned their speculative stares. “Madame Impa, I apologize for my imposition, but we arrested a pair of individuals last night. Constable Felick thought that, because of the nature of their crimes, you should be informed.”
She quirked an eyebrow. “And?”
The guard looked a bit flustered, perhaps uncertain of himself. Impa had always been able to instill such thoughts in people by her demeanor, and by being one of the few who truly held the king’s favor.
“One was a Mogma salesman, the other a young girl. The Mogma apparently returned from an expedition recently in possession of a…” The guard leaned closer still. “A timeshift stone. He sold it to the girl, who took it to a local merchant.”
Timeshift stones. Yes that was something that fell under her jurisdiction.
“What did you do with them?”
“We had them detained and imprisoned, Madame Impa.”
She sighed and nodded. “Go back and bring the Mogma here to me. They are a rare breed in Hyrule these days, and his skill set could come in handy. If the girl no longer has the stone in her possession then you may release her at your convenience, though I would advise her to beware of the items she purchases from now on.”
“Yes Madame Impa.” And the guard clapped his fist to his heart in a brief salute before withdrawing.
Prison Guard/Castle Dungeons
“I hear that he has prophetic visions some nights when he sleeps.” One guard declared in a tone of absolute conviction as they strode through the torch-lit corridors lined with iron barred cells. Most of them were usually empty, but of late they had been filling up as tensions rose in Castle Town.
The other shook his head vigorously. “Nah, I hear that he’s the descendent of the living Goddess Hylia.”
The first scoffed. “Yeah, ass, that’s why he has visions, obviously.”
“Well I never heard that he had visions.” The second contended, drawing an exasperated sigh from his partner.
“That’s because you grew up out on the ranch. Too much time playing around in horse shit and too little time learning about your king.”
“Hell with that.” The second all but spat. “I’d still be out there if I hadn’t been getting a bit too close to the owner’s daughter. Couldn’t have some lowly ranch hand plucking his precious flower, eh?”
The first chuckled and nodded. “Ain’t that the way of it.”
And laughing together they stopped outside of one cell, peering through the bars. The figure inside sat patiently against the far wall, waiting. The second guard pulled the key from his belt pouch and inserted it into the lock.
“Mister Kourtz?” The first asked of the figure within. A silent nod was their response. “You’ll have to be coming with us, by order of Madame Impa in the name of His Majesty, King Dromand Hyrule.”
The second time the door opened, it still was not the king, but a furry figure who glanced furtively about as he was escorted into the chamber by a pair of guards in serious want of a bath.
“Here he is, Madame Impa.” One practically mumbled, his eyes downcast. “His name is Kourtz.”
“Thank you, you both may leave us now.” And they did, leaving Impa to consider the newest member of their group from where she lounged in her chair. “Well then, it appears we’re all here.”
King Dromand Hyrule/Hyrule Castle/Day 2
“Now we are.” He declared in a resonant voice that belied his weariness. King Dromand, the young monarch of Hyrule, swept into the circular chamber atop the west tower, his crown standing straight atop his brow and his fur-trimmed crimson cape fluttering behind him. He cast a quick eye over those there assembled, then looked to Impa, who sat in her seat with an unreadable expression upon her lean face. “Is this it then?”
Impa only shrugged. “For the time being. I suspect that there may be more to come in the future.”
The king nodded. “Let us hope so.” He closed the door to the spiral staircase behind him and paced across the chamber, his hands clasped behind his back.
“What have you brought us here for?” A particularly bestial looking man inquired, almost snarling the question. Dromand ignored the break from propriety, he had not had these individuals gathered because of their attention to etiquette.
“That is a very good question, Master…?”
“Master Leif.” The king filed the name away for later, then cleared his throat. “I am sure that each of you here has heard of the recent attack that took place upon my castle, yes? A great many rumors have been floating around about it, but there are very few in the city or in my court who know the truth of what transpired.
“A day and a half ago, an unknown infiltrator raided Hyrule Castle’s treasury, killing eight guards on his way in and incapacitating two others. I have heard speculation that it was a wraith or a demon or some manner of monster, but there has been no definitive answer as to who or what the culprit was.
“Unfortunately, that question is the least of many.” Dromand drew a breath, glancing about the room until his eye fell upon a crystal decanter atop a side table of polished oak. Pausing in his story, he crossed the room and poured himself a glass, ignoring Impa’s questioning glance. He was king, after all, and he could drink chilled wine at his convenience.
He swallowed a mouthful of the cool, bitter drink and sighed. He had gotten little sleep again over the night; the dreams assaulting his unconscious mind.
“Who here knows of the Hyrulean Accords?” He asked, looking from one face to another, noting the confusion that flitted across the expressions of several of them. “After the demons and their monsters were driven out, and this land became safe again for mankind, many descended from our avian haven to settle on solid ground where we could expand and form a new society. Unfortunately some of the tribes who had long dwelt on the surface did not take kindly to our imposition. It would have come to open war if my ancestor had not facilitated a treaty between the peoples of this land.
“A cornerstone of that treaty was the Trust, a pact made by the Hylians, the Gorons, and the Zoras to protect our lands against all the devastation that could be wrought by free use of an ancient power. By the graces of all three tribes, that power was stashed away and, to protect it from being unleashed by any one tribe, it was sealed behind a door that requires three keys to open. One key went to Gorons for safekeeping, the other to the Zoras.
“The last has resided inside my treasury vault since the time of my ancestor.” A look of understanding began to dawn on the faces of those in the room, save for Impa, who already knew all of what he was telling. “Yes, it was this key that was stolen in the raid, and it can be no coincidence. There are only two discernible reasons for this theft: the perpetrator means to start an open war between the Hylians and our neighbors, or they mean to take the power behind the thrice-sealed door for themselves.”
King Dromand let his words sink in for a few minutes as he poured himself another glass of the chilled red wine and drained it. Once he was sure his words had had sufficient time penetrate even the densest of skulls, he looked to each face in turn.
“War is coming.” He insisted gravely. “The Zoras in particular have been itching for an excuse to attack since King Tiburon ascended their aquatic throne. The theft of our key is all of the justification he needs, for he will see an attack on the Trust and the Accords as an attack on their sovereignty, or at least that is how he will spin it to his people.
“I have an army, but what I need is a force that is capable of operating under… looser conditions.” His eyes swept the room again, settling for a moment on the face of he who was girded in a cloak of wolfos fur. That young man, his eyes like pits of ice, returned the gaze. “I need people who can do what has to be done to find the key, or the one who took it, or both. I need ones who won’t be averse to operating outside of the law. My soldiers can’t do this, but unofficial special operatives could.”
Dromand turned to look at Impa for a moment, but she was typically expressionless. “Madame Impa here will be my eyes and ears, if you should accept my proposition. I assure you all, however, that while I must keep you off of my records for obvious reasons, serving me will have its benefits. Considerable benefits."
"What is this ancient power that your governments deigned to deny the world?" It was the cold-eyed man who spoke. Several of the others nodded their support for the question.
"Time, Master Horwendil, it was the power of time. An ancient society that once resided in these lands mined a material that, through a variety of methods they had at their disposal, could have profound effects on the flow of time. I'm sure none here is blind enough that they cannot see that that kind of power, in the wrong hands, could be catastrophic. My ancestor and the ancestral leaders of the Gorons and the Zoras realized this as well, and they locked away every scrap of timeshift stone that they could find."
"Now that stockpile, and the power it represents, is under threat." And the king went back to the decanter and poured one last glass as he waited. "Still, the choice is yours.”
Kourtz’s mind rushed at it tried to keep up with what had just transpired. A few moments ago he was sitting in a dingy jail cell. Now he stood before his majesty King Dromand, a man he never expected to see let alone talk to in his life. The most amazing part though was that he was asking him for help. Of all the people in the world Kourtz couldn’t believe he was being offered the chance to serve as a special operative for Hyrule. Yet here he was, the highest ruler in the land staring back at him.
Kourtz turned and looked at the group the lady in black had gathered. Never before had he seen such a rough band of misfits assembled under one roof. He waited for one of them to speak up, but when no one did he decided to make the first move. "Yo... Umm, your majesty." For a brief moment he thought about how informal he had just sounded. "Sorry if I don’t sound proper or anything. I didn’t exactly think I’d ever meet up with royalty like you". After a second of regaining his thoughts he continued.
"Anyways, I’m interested in the offer you gave us. However I think we need to know what we are getting into first. Do you have any kind of lead on where we should begin our search or what we might encounter along the way?"
Tarah had never liked royalty, it was mainly down to jealousy which is only natural for someone who had lived with nothing to have towards people who are born with everything. She wanted to let out her frustration with the rich but held it in as the king delivered a speech. He spoke of trust, war and time, three concepts that Tarah disliked for different reasons. The kings then offered the group a task to carry out as special operatives, to search for the stolen key.
She had remained silent as the king spoke and continued to do so afterwards as she wasn't sure how to respond. One one hand, the prospect of adventure and reward, but on the other, she wasn't experienced or prepared enough for such a task, and possessed few useful skills. While the others spoke and questioned the ruler before them, Tarah thought about her choices, and finally decided to accept the kings offer, as she could always back out later if she needed to.
After patiently listening to the king answer a question posed to him by Kourtz, Tarah finally said something. "Will we be provided with equipment for this task? Some new clothes would nice, i'm not sure if you've had much experience wearing rags but it's not very comfortable. And some sort of weapon could be useful as well."
"This man cannot answer your questions, for he knows no more than we," Taden said to Tarah and Kourtz. "For all he knows, it was we who robbed his palace that night, and slaughtered ten guards."
The young King winced into his wineglass at the words. Taden's eyes flashed towards the drunken monarch. "...And that is exactly what you will tell your people."
He stepped out of the shadows and rested his hands on one of the high-backed chairs surrounding the King's round table. He had heard many whispers and questions from his corner, but had listened in the dark long enough.
"You say you give us a choice, but do not delude yourself," he said softly, folding his arms behind his back. "You leave us no choice."
He raised his knife into the air with one hand and with the other, the fat wallet of the guard who lay dead against the wall. He cut through its bottom, and red rupees spilled onto the table in a glittering pile, casting a ruby glow into the eyes of the four gathered rogues. Red light in their eyes, he followed Tarah's gaze from the money to the King, and continued speaking.
"A thief must see the world differently from the King. Each of us are hunters of treasure and men--a burrower, a burglar, a monster, and I--and for our crimes the King may imprison us. Brought into his tower, we cannot but leave as fugitives."
He looked across the table to Impa, seated near the door. Already, she had allowed several guards into this chamber to debrief her and escort Kourtz in, guards that had seen their faces. She met his eyes, and he knew that she had planned this. Pulling his chair back, Taden took a seat at the table, twisting his knife into the polished wood.
"You must order your guards to take us to the Castle dungeons," Taden told the King. "The corps has to believe the assassins have been caught. From that point on, you will be cut off from our operation. We will escape from the dungeons, and you will order your knights to pursue us for the crimes our quarry committed."
Taden reached into his cloak to put away his dagger. "And lest you forget, should any knight get too close, we must maintain our disguise, and this one will not suffer the sight of the King's steel for long." He pulled the dead guard's heart out from his cloak and tossed it on top of the red gems, a frozen and bloody hunk of flesh. Taden lifted his eyes towards Leif, and saw the red returning to them in the crimson light.
Leif's eyes widened at the sight of the heart, and veins of blood shot out of the corners of Leif's eyes. His hands began to tremble as his claws once again extended to full length. His breath grew deeper by the second, warming up the cool air in front of his mouth. Leif darted his eyes towards the King, the one man that had the ability to annoy Leif just by looking at him. Leif took a few steps towards the King, his head low but his pupils looking straight towards King Dromand. He lifted his arm up to neck level and grabbed the King by the throat. Leif held him against the nearby wall, still pushing on his neck. While everyone was distracted, Taden picked the guard's heart back up, slipping it back into his pocket.
"G-Guards..! Take them awa-" King Dromand stopped. Leif started to slowly push his index and middle claws into the King's right side, below the ribs. Blood dripped down Leif's claws as he continued to sink them into him, however it was not a critical wound yet.
Two guards then grabbed Leif from behind and pulled him away from the King. They kneed him in the stomach multiple times, causing him to keel over. The other guards that were in the room started to tie the others' hands behind their backs and started walking them to the dungeons. Leif tried to pull himself up, but the other guard kicked him in the side of the head, knocking him unconscious. His claws retracted back into their former size and his breathing returned to normal. They tied his hands into a knot behind his back, and carried him down to the dungeons.
Taden Horwendil/Castle Dungeons/Day 2
The group was trotted into a large cell in the cavernous Castle dungeons. Captain Felick had taken charge of their escort, and now locked them behind bars himself with a silver key tied to his belt. The grizzled captain paused for a moment with his arms crossed, studying the four bandits who had appeared in the Western tower. "I never forget a face," the Captain said, "especially one as pretty as you." He spat at Tarah's feet before slamming the door shut on them.
"Captain, sir--! You're needed at once--evidence chamber, officer Kelvin...," a breathless guard arrived outside their cell to alert Felick. Nodding, the Captain called two Knights to attention and ordered them to stand guard by their cell, then marched off down the long hallway with his subordinate. The two sentries walked to either end of the hall, and began marching up and down the length of it.
When Captain Felick was gone and the two guards had taken their posts, Taden leaned back against the cool, stone wall and sank to the dirt floor. His palms pressed into the moist earth. For a moment, all was quiet. He wondered if Impa were still somewhere nearby. "We must be at the Castle's foundations," he said to the group.
"And among friends!" a harsh old voice suddenly whispered from the wall behind him. Taden turned around, and looked through an eyehole in the bricks to see the dark and beady eye of a Goron staring back at him.
"So they got you too, Popper?" Taden asked, keeping his voice low when the guards came by.
"Oh, they're rounding us all up, they are! Word is some Mogma brought a timeshift stone into town--I saw it with my own good eye!" the bombsmith chuckled.
"I hope you don't think this changes our deal," Taden growled through the wall.
"Why, of course not! I haven't forgotten our little bargain," Popper crooned. "Look here!"
Taden leaned towards the hole in the wall and saw Popper's eye patch. He pulled it away, and to Taden's surprise a small mechanical mouse rolled out from behind the patch into the hole between their cells. The little mouse sped through the hole in the wall, then climbed out and up the wall in a widening spiral. Taden noticed what looked like a lit fuse on its tail shooting off sparks as the rest of its body started to glow red with heat.
"I'd stand back if I were you!" Popper called, and with an explosion the wall between them fell. The two guards instantly rushed to the cell doors and called inside. "What's going on in there?" They slammed their fists against the heavy iron doors, but only Captain Felick had the key.
Ignoring the guards, Popper lurched forward, hunching in the low cell, and waved to the four gathered there. "Ah, and you must be the infamous Kourtz, the most wanted Mogma in Castle Town!" the old smithy said, grinning through his thick beard at Kourtz. "Perhaps you'd like to help me dig us out of here?" Popper stepped to one side, and revealed a large tunnel in the floor behind him where he'd started digging a way out.
"If you'll follow me, I'll take us straight to Kakariko Village. The Gorons have helped the Hylians there build a whole maze of tunnels that runs under the village's Well and Windmill. We can pop up in my Armory and settle our debts there."
"You'll do no such thing!" one of the guards called through the door to them, looking in through the sliding tile at the door's window. "Constable, alert Captain Felick of this escape attempt at once!" The sound of the one of the sentries rushing down the hall echoed back to them.
"Haven't you and your buddies had enough yet?" Taden said, slapping his hand against the window to block the sentry's view. The guard continued banging on the locked door from outside, creating quite a ruckus. Taden turned to Kourtz and readied his axe to help dig through the tunnels.
"What'll it be, Mogma?"
Kourtz stood there in the jail cell, scantly two doors down from where he was less than an hour ago. He seemed surprised that Popper had somehow ended up in a cell next to them and was even more surprised that he knew Taden. After a sudden explosion the hefty Goron walked in. "Ah, and you must be the infamous Kourtz, the most wanted Mogma in Castle Town! Perhaps you'd like to help me dig us out of here?"
"Well I hate to be infamous and all that, but yeah. You bet I'll get us outta here. It's the least I owe you for getting you roped up in this jam." Kourtz scurried over to the hole Popper had begun to dig out. After a brief explanation of their plans the band of misfits prepared to escape, much to the anger of the guards locked outside. "What'll it be, Mogma?" Taden barked over as he readied his ax for digging.
"Don't know about the rest of ya, but if I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about this plan before I sure as heck am now." Cracking his fingers back Kourtz lunged his claws into the dirt and began shoveling. "With all of us tunnelin' we should make it out of town in record time." Using his powerful arms he began pushing himself through the soil in much the same way a swimmer would push themselves through water. Behind him Popper and Taden smashed the tunnel open wider in the spots Kourtz missed.
Before the guards could properly react a small passage way had been constructed beneath the castle walls. To further slow them down Kourtz ran back towards the entrance and collapsed the roof of the tunnel behind them. Running back past the narrow space between his new comrades Kourtz quickly touted off "Well if their tailing us at least were off to a great head start."
Tarah was not happy, she had assumed that working for the king would have meant things would finally go her way, and that maybe for once in her life she could stop being chased by guards but thanks to Tadens great plan she was down in one place she had avoided her whole life, the dungeons. As the door was shut and locked behind the group Tarah muttered "Oh he'd better have a good plan to get us out of here" under her breath, and nobody seemed to hear. Before she could collect her thoughts into words there was an explosion and the wall between their cell and the next had fallen, in it stood a Goron and the beginnings of a tunnel. Kourtz began to continue digging the tunnel out and Tarah followed.
Kourtz/Hyrule Field/Day 2
Though tired from all the digging Kourtz knew he had to press on. He briefly thought of how his belongings in Castle Town would have to be left behind, not to mention the dinner Meredith had invited him to. In the face of life imprisonment or even death though those problems seemed pitifully trivial.
"Alright I think we've gone far enough" the Mogma said as he came up to the surface to gain his bearings. Kourtz looked behind him to see the Castle Town walls far enough in the distance. "If we try to dig ourselves all the way there it will take all day. Plus I'm worried we might lead them to us. I suggest we walk across Hyrule Field until we get a bit closer to Kakariko."
It felt good to finally be out in the sun after spending so long underground. Tarah's clothes which had already been filthy and torn were now coated in dirt to a point where it was almost impeding her movement. She quickly spotted a trade wagon moving across the field and recognised the driver as one of the few with no real security. After a while of her stealing from moving carts most of the traders had worked it out and made it difficult for her by putting someone in the wagon with the goods, but this guy just never bothered, as if he enjoyed being stolen from. He was driving down the road towards the group and Tarah decided to take this opportunity to restock on food. She crouched and began to move towards the roadside, ignoring the group to cater for her own needs.
As the cart moved past her she grabbed the side and jumped on as she had done for years, and opened the large chest in the wagon. "Jackpot" she whispered, as it contained several sets of clothes, bread and meat, and a bow with a quiver filled with arrows. She quickly changed her clothes and was now wearing ordinary looking trousers and a top with a long coat. She stuffed as much of the food as she could into the coat pockets and grabbed the bow and quiver, assuming that it could come in useful despite not knowing how to use it. She threw them off of the back of the cart and quickly followed, diving gracefully into a roll. She stood up and went to lean against a large rock situated by the roadside as the cart had been moving and she knew she had to wait for the others. She ate some bread as she waited, then began to test out the bow, pulling back empty strings to test its strength, and considering firing an arrow at Taden as practice but deciding against it.
All caked in loose earth and swaggering with the arrogance born of escaping the royal dungeons, the group of thieves and killers emerged into the sunlight of Hyrule Field as the sun loomed high overhead.
Tarah, less at her ease than the rest of her crew, split off for a moment’s time as they got their bearings and acquired items off of a merchant wagon. As she was testing the quality of her bow, she felt a slight tap on her shoulder and spun to find Impa, decked all in black as per usual, standing silently behind her, arms folded across her chest, eyes intent.
“I see you found the items that you required.” She observed dispassionately, looking Tarah over. She was still dirty, but her clothes were new and clean. The bow was another matter. Impa looked at it closely before nodding. “This weapon will serve you well, I think. A wise choice.
“Listen closely Tarah. I realize that you may be ill at ease in your present company, and for that I apologize. You are in the company of thieves, beguilers, and murderers because the king needs them. Know, however, that he realizes that he cannot trust them, not fully. That is why he needs you. King Dromand has seen the heart that beats beneath your breast, and he knows that you at least can be counted on. It is small comfort, I am sure, but he wished me to tell you that you are not entirely alone.”
Tarah’s expression was unreadable, which Impa knew was a defense mechanism borne out of a life as a street urchin. She was not one to trust easily or give loyalty to anyone else.
“If you will excuse me, Tarah, I have one other message from my master.”
Impa left Tarah to ponder her words, hoping that they would have the desired effect. The king insisted that she would be an integral part of the team if she could reconcile her past with the realities of the present. Now Impa strode across the grassy plain to where the rest of the group awaited. She did not look to any but one, the oft-hateful face of Leif. She walked purposefully up to him, drawing perilously close.
“You performed your task well back there, Leif.” She said in a congratulatory tone, her hand dipping beneath the folds of her black cape, fishing around for something. “I have something here for you, as a reward.”
Then she struck, fast as a whip her arm withdrew from her cape and she slammed the heel of her palm into the dead center of the brute’s face. Blood began to pour from his nostrils as he bent over and put his hands over his nose to stem the flow, but Impa wasn’t finished. As he was bent over for little more than an instant she scissor-kicked him in the back of the head, driving him into the grass.
“Too well. Know that the next time you draw the blood of kings and gods I will do the same to you, even as I have done here today. Now the scales are balanced and you can go on about your work.”
She then cast her eye to Kourtz. “You have done well, Master Kourtz, but your work is just beginning. Prepare for what is yet to come.”
And then at last she sought Taden, who stood swathed in heavy wolfos hides with the hood up, even despite the light and heat of the sun. “You don’t look well, Horwendil.
“There is a man in Kakariko that may know something of the creature who stole into the king’s treasury and made off with Hyrule’s part in the Trust. His name is Haldar, the very worst sort of drunk, at least on the surface. In the criminal underworld he is known as the Pariah. He is an information broker of sorts, and his connections are considerable. I would begin looking for your target by questioning him.”
Impa cast one last look about at the rag-tag band her liege had gathered. They were a disorganized, devious, and largely misanthropic group, but they were the best that Hyrule had to offer so far.
“I have some other important business to attend to for the king, but I will rejoin you all anon.” She reached her hand into the folds of her cape, taking hold of something. “Good luck.”
Her hand snapped down and thrust a deku nut into the grass, where it exploded in light and smoke, obscuring her entirely. Only when an errant breeze gusting across the plain caught the smoke up and carried if off could they see that she was gone.
The dust from Impa's smoke bomb was soon picked up by the wind and carried off, and in its place the wind brought a sound of ringing bronze. From the west, Taden could hear the gilded bells of the City ringing out as an alarm was raised. If the gates were closing, he assumed that Impa was most likely to follow them to Kakariko, at a safe distance.
As Leif lifted his head up from the mud, Taden walked over to him and took a knee. He scooped a clod of wet earth up in his hand and breathed into it, then spat on it as he had before, causing a layer of frost to coat the mud. He shoved it into Leif's nose, waiting for it to stick to his skin, then helped him stand up.
"You'll want to leave that on for a while to keep your nose from swelling. You can scrape it off once it stops throbbing."
Leif merely glared at Taden with a menacing fire in his bloodshot eyes that seemed to pierce through his chest. Taden smirked.
"I don't think it's broken, but it might be a little more...distinguished from here on out," he said. For a moment he thought Leif might have smirked as well. He exhaled sharply through his nose, and felt himself about to utter a laugh, when Popper suddenly rolled up behind him and started ranting.
"You soft-headed skinbags enjoy your hike, I'd rather get into town before nightfall," the old Goron yelled, wobbling over to Taden in his limping hunch. The old Goron lowered his voice. "But before I go, I thought we'd settle up."
Pulling Taden to one side as the group continued to walk, Popper slipped a satchel under his arm, with the briefest glimpse of emerald scales glimmering out in the place of leather. Taden slid it behind his cloak almost motionlessly.
"Let me know when you run out. If this morning is any indication, you and your friends here should be very good for business," Popper mused. "Say, out of curiosity, are you really going to take these chumps to see the Pariah?"
Taden looked down on the grizzled Goron hunching before him. "You know too much already," he snarled.
Popper's face scrunched up into a toothless grin. "Oh, I may have overheard a word or two from your shadowy overlord...or should I say, lady? I wonder what good ol' Haldar would pay to know the identifies of Madame Impa's new reconnaissance unit..."
Taden paused under the dappled shade of a towering old tree. The troupe had crossed into a sparse patch of woods along a stream, the sound of flowing water echoing through the leafless autumn branches. With a swift twist that threw his hood back he rounded on the Goron and brandished his knife between his beady eyes, stopping him in his tracks. A flock of buzzards blustered out of the nearby trees and swept off into the overcast canopy.
"Hoy there!" Popper yelped, throwing up his hands. "Forget I said anything! Not any of my business, mate! This old Goron put down his hammer years ago," he said. Taden held the blade up to his head for another moment, and Popper followed its chiseled point up and down with the lean young hunter's breathing. "Even if there were a war, Patriarch Darmoto would never make us old geezers fight again...," he whispered, his voice trembling. Taden kept the knife trained on his forehead.
"Look, Mister Horwendil, we've both had quite a long night, admit it. Let's just finish up here and I'll be on my way, alright?"
Popper took a step back from the knife, and held out his hand as if waiting for a gift. He began tapping his foot impatiently. "Now then, I believe I was explicit about proof?"
Taden stared at the old man without blinking, then returned his knife to its sheath and turned around. He walked away from the arms dealer, but spoke to him without looking back.
"I'm keeping the heart."
As the Terminian departed, Popper's forehead flashed bright red and steam fumed from his nostrils. He pointed a finger at Taden and bellowed, stomping his foot into the earth. "Oh yeah? Well, just see if I cut you and your little shadow puppets a deal when you reach my shop! You better wise up if you want to get far in Goron country, buddy. Dishonor like this can get your skull crushed in!" he cussed, then rolled up and sped off the Hylian road, splashing mud onto Taden's white cloak as he bounded over a ridge and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Sighing, Taden brushed the dirt from his cloak and pulled his hood back over his head, continuing on his eastern walk.
A dense fog had fallen over the lowlands of Death Mountain, and even at a distance Taden felt it changing the air. The remnants of enchanted shadows flowed through its currents, familiar after meeting Impa, and as he breathed the air a metallic tinge coated his tongue that tasted of cold blood. The fur on the edge of his hood stood on end, bending straighter and longer as they came near Kakariko, until a mane of white fur seemed to flow behind his movements. Ominous shadows hung down from the foothills of Death Mountain, as if some violent magic had stirred black banners to loom over the mists of Hyrule's lush green hills.
"An ill will has passed through yon gate," Taden muttered, gesturing towards the stairwell hewn into the distant ridge. They had crested a deep valley and now looked down on the marshlands at the foot of Death Mountain, a wide and shallow stream winding across the distance between them and Kakariko. The sun slowly evaporated from the land as clouds of rain gathered over the foothills. In the distance, thunder rolled, with the echo of Hyrule Castle's bells carried on winds from the west.
"If you are in this for the money, I suggest you turn back now," Taden spoke, and began making his way down the steep path before them, his eyes trained on the shadow of the great Windmill in the distance, its blades just visible as they peaked over the misty ridgetops beyond.
With every step Tarah took she thought about leaving. The only reason to stay with her current company was the potential reward, she struggled to believe that the king genuinely needed her there and didn't feel comfortable in her current position. Kourtz seemed friendly enough, but she didn't like being near Leif after his recent outbursts and simply didn't trust Taden.
As they passed a stream on the way to Kakariko Tarah paused for a moment to drink some of the flowing water and wash the dirt from her hands and face. She stared into the water at her reflection for a moment, pleased with her appearance. Standing up again she noticed movement in her peripheral vision, she slowly turned to see a rabbit wandering across the field not far from her and took this as an opportunity to test out her new bow. She quickly pulled an arrow from the quiver and placed it in position on the bow, pulled back the string, carefully aimed at the head and released. For her first shot it wasn't bad, lacking the accuracy to kill it sunk into the soil a few inches from her prey and she cursed under her breath, she strapped the bow to her back and picked up the arrow before briskly walking to catch up to the group.
As the group approached the foggy marshlands at the base of death mountain, Taden spoke, "If you are in this for the money, I suggest you turn back now," He said and Tarah was sure he was speaking for her benefit. The dark fog gave her chills as she gazed towards the stairs to Kakariko but she urged herself to ignore Taden's words and keep going until a more convincing reason to turn back arrived.
Taden walked down the steep path first, closely followed by Leif. As they began the decent Tarah turned to Kourtz and began to speak to him, hoping that a conversation would make the walk more interesting. "I've always wondered, surely you Mogma's get hot up in the mountain with all that fur." she inquired curiously.
As Kourtz continued on the path towards Kakariko he could feel an unnatural mist gather in the distance. His fur had begun to stand up on his skin while Taden's wolfos hood mirrored the Mogma's look. Slightly squinting his eyes Kourtz' ears perked up in interest at what could be causing such a disturbance.
"An ill will has passed through yon gate" Taden remarked to the group. "If you are in this for the money, I suggest you turn back now".
Kourtz had assumed they were all in it at least partially for the money and half expected everyone to run as soon as Taden muttered these words. But to him it was never a question if he would continue or not. Kourtz despised the thought of spending the rest of his life hiding from the law as a criminal. Without his shop he didn't have much to go back to, or much elsewhere to run. Even if he didn't get a single rupee out of this quest he still hoped the king would clear his good name when all was said and done.
After sliding down the embankment near a shallow stream Kourtz was surprised to hear the voice of Meredith Delaan asking a question like she always did. At least, that's what it sounded like to him at first. Turning around Kourtz only realized it was Tarah who had spoken to him. The young tunneler felt foolish for having made the mistake, but with his mother and Meredith being the only to women he had ever personally known he understood how that happened.
"I've always wondered, surely you Mogma's get hot up in the mountain with all that fur".
"Huh"? Regaining his train of thought Kourtz replied back in his thick accent "Oh yeah, I know what cha' mean. I often wonder why in Hylia's name we have thick fur when we live in such a fiery landscape. Still when you spend you're whole life next to a volcano you get use to the heat eventually".