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Era of Dusk and Shade

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Era of Dusk and Shade

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There is nothing in the sky. You look around, no clouds, no birds, no stars. Is it even night? Is it day? You can't tell. But you can see your friends waiting for you up the hill. Better hurry, they'll be mad if you make them wait.

"Your friends what kind of people are they? I wonder, do these people think of you as a friend?"

You don't understand the question. Of course they're your friends. They always have been. And always will be. Always.

Forever.

The girl is the first to greet you. She always is. No that's not true, now that you think about it the boy greets you first sometimes. Right? But this time the girl greets you first.

"I wonder, if you do the right thing, does it really make everyone happy?" She asks you. Do you know? You can't think of an answer and she just giggles. She takes your hand and leads you to the boy, he's standing under a tree.

"I wonder; what makes you happy, does it make others happy too?" The girl asks. Does it? Think about it. Why is she asking these questions?

Answer them.

The boy teases you. "Your true face what kind of face is it?" What type of question is that? Your face is your face.

Right?

Wrong.

"I wonder, is the face under the mask your true face?" The boy and girl run before you. Are you wearing a mask?

You are.

How did you not know? Your vision is restricted. Perhaps you should take it off. Perhaps.

Your friends run up to you again. The boy looks mischievously at you. "Let's play good guys against bad guys... Yes. Let's play that. Are you ready? You're the bad guy. And when you're bad, you just run. That's fine, right?" It doesn't feel fine. You don't like running.

But before you can argue they are gone. There is nothing in the sky.

"...Everyone has gone away, haven't they?"

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Chapter 1

Hyrule Castle

 

The wind swirled off the fields and swept up the battlements of the castle, sending crows into the air like a dark cloud. The shadowy murder in turn flew out into the amber sky, as if pulling the night in behind them as the sun set. Zelda stood atop a merlon, bow in hand, bowstring pulled taught, the reverse-twist of the hempen string digging into her fingers. She could feel the bite of it even through her leather gloves, the feeling keeping her alert and poised. The crows were gone, her practice hunt dissipating into the dusk. She let the bowstring loosen in her grip and resheethed her arrow.

The crisp evening air foretold the seasonal change, the crops would be harvested soon, bringing with them fetes to be had, gowns to be worn and strict traditions to be followed. Everything Zelda despised. Already the longing for next summer welled up in her, to be free to run the castle parapets and hunt crows, to ride Rhiannon around the grounds, to stalk the orchard and catch mice. She lamented the loss of freedom that the dying leaves brought with them.

Jumping back onto the floor of the parapet she unstrung her bow, packing it away in its wrapping. She didn’t need her father to know what she had been up to. She pulled her hair, the color of spun gold, out if it’s messy bun and tried to fuss it into something presentable. One day none of these pretenses would be held to her and she’d be free to do as she pleased, to be who she wanted, but until that day she was stuck.

“I thought I would find you here.” Zelda spun on her heels, confronted with her shadow. Elegant, dark and cunning, and everything Zelda wished she was, Hilda, her twin, stood against the darkening sky. Arms crossed, black hair swaying in the breeze, Hilda looked everything a queen should be. A gown of indigo and violet swept the floor around her, and a fine tiara weaved itself through her voluminous hair.

“You can’t be here, if father finds out we’re both up here do you know how much trouble we’ll be in?” Zelda exclaimed, rushing her sister towards the stairs.

Hilda laughed, a musical sound lilting across the night air. For being twins Hilda really was perfect in everyway Zelda wasn’t. “Well then, we will have to make sure father doesn’t find out we were here.” She grabbed Zelda’s hand, taking the lead and running for the stairwell, her feet softly padding the stones, she must have been wearing slippers under her gown. “I have something to show you Zel!” Hilda could barely contain the excitement in her voice. Down the steps, taking two at a time, Zelda struggled to keep up with her sister. Torches flew past them like blurs of flickering light, banners with the royal crest blended together.

Then suddenly they were at a stop. Zelda almost toppled over from coming to a halt so quickly. Hilda pressed them against the wall. Looking at her sister she placed a finger against her lips, and Zelda held her breath. They heard the sound of a guard walking down the hallway before them. Around the corner he was out of sight, but his footsteps were coming closer, the sound of chainmail and metal plates filling the hall. Both sisters started to inch away from the cross of hallways, hoping he didn’t turn their way. Zelda crouched, trying to remain in the shadows, and Hilda followed suit. The armored guard, tall and yet not imposing at all, marched into view, and just as quickly marched out of view, down the hallway and away from them.

The girls giggled, having evaded their “foe” they started a quick spurt across the hall. Hilda gripped Zelda’s hand tighter, causing them both to stop. A crested tapestry hung before them, indistinguishable from any other tapestry in the hallway. Hilda pulled the tapestry aside to the shock of Zelda, revealing a door only four feet high.

“Where does this lead to?” Zelda ran her hand around the doorframe. The wood was rough hewn and unlike most woodwork in the castle.

“It is a surprise.” Hilda winked and pulled the door open by the iron ring. The dark tunnel beyond filled the hallway with cold air, causing Zelda to shiver. Hilda drove ahead, seemingly unbothered by the temperature of the tunnel. The door slammed shut behind them, shrouding everything in a murky blackness. Momentarily they were blinded, Zelda gripped the hem of her tunic, hating the darkness, a hummed song and then Hilda held a flickering cerulean flame in the palm of her hand. A simple spell, something they had both learned early in their tutelage. Though Hilda had always taken to magic faster than Zelda.

Glancing back at the door Zelda could see an eerily familiar vestige of a eye carved into the interior, before Hilda was too far ahead and the door itself was swallowed in darkness. Following her sister’s silhouette in the blue halo they quietly made their way through the tunnel.

“Father is going to be so mad if we’re late for dinner.” Zelda sighed.

“You worry too much about what father thinks, Zel.” Hilda shrugged, holding the flame more aloft, cyan and cobalt dancing on the stones of the tunnel. “We are almost there.”

The light grew brighter as Hilda approached the end of the passage. Zelda heard a click and a creak as her sister opened a door, warm light flooded into the tunnel and Hilda disappeared beyond the door.

Hesitantly Zelda stepped into the room beyond. A study of some sort, a fire burned in the hearth against one wall, books lined the rest of the walls. A cot was built into the shelving across from the fireplace, and a desk and chair took up most of the center of the room.

“Is this not gorgeous?” Hilda spun, her gown twirling around her. “A secret library in the castle!” Zelda paced the room, inspecting the details. The only door was the one leading to the secret tunnel, a single window behind the desk gazed out into the night sky. Books were stacked haphazardly on and around the desk, notes scrawled everywhere, a plume left out, ink dried and nib bent. A globe beside the desk was faded, but covered in eyes, marking various locations around the world. Seeing it in the light now Zelda recognized it as the emblem of the Sheikah, Impa’s lost clan.

“Who lives here?” she inquired, motioning to the fire.

“Not a soul I believe, the hearth is enchanted, it lights itself and extinguishes itself as you come and go from the room.” Hilda sat on the cot, tossing dust into the air. “Clearly, it seems no one has been here in a long time.”

“This room has something to do with the Sheikah.”

“I inferred that from the insignia of their tribe. Do you think Impa knows about this place?” Hearing her name drove home how much she missed Impa. Tugging at her heart she paused to gather her thoughts. Impa would be home soon, she was just on her yearly pilgrimage. And yet every year when she leaves Zelda missed her more. It was a lonely life within the castle walls and, besides Hilda, Impa was Zelda’s only true friend.

“She’s never spoken about this, she would have told me.” The look Hilda returned made Zelda feel immature. She turned her attention back towards the globe, running her fingers over the mountains and rivers she recognized all the locations from her studies though she's never been to them herself. “What do you think these markers mean?”

“Sheikah memorials, ancient temples, secret places; who knows?” Hilda dismissed. She pulled a book from the shelf beside her, the worn leather tome brought with it the dust of a library long abandoned. Walking across the room Hilda handed it to Zelda. “The topics in this library are fascinating, look at this- it is a tome on the Kokiri tribe.”

Zelda flipped through the pages. She had heard of the Kokiri tribe but it was just things of myths and legends, stories about green-clad heroes and demon pigs. And yet this book spoke of them as if they were real, as if they had been studied, as if they were known.

Hilda opened her mouth to speak again but was cut off by the sound of Zelda’s stomach growling. “Well, it seems to be dinner time.”

“Father is going to blow a gasket.”

“Father is going to blow a gasket.” Zelda slipped the book into her bow case, if this library was truly abandoned no one would miss it.

Hilda shook her head and lead the way out. A snap of her fingers and a click of the door and they were in the tunnel lit by cyan once more. But this time Hilda surprised Zelda, taking a hard right into what she had previously thought was a wall. Zelda yelped a little then followed suit, chasing her sister down a different tunnel. “Where are we going?”

“Another surprise.” Hilda grinned back at her. She slowed as she reached a door, creaking it open she peered out before rushing the two of them into the hallway beyond. This door was also hidden behind a hanging tapestry, but the hallway they stood in was different. Zelda recognized it immediately as the lead-in to their suite.

“This was here the whole time?!” She gaped. “And we never knew?”

“Correct, there are also a few other tunnels that I have come across in there that I have yet to investigate.” Hilda guided them to their suite, letting Zelda in to change. “It appears that there are Sheikah secrets all over the castle.”

Impa had to have known about them then. That would also explain how Impa had managed guarding the twins for so long, appearing seemingly out of nowhere whenever they were about to get into trouble. But why had she never told Zelda about them? She had always assumed there were no secrets between them, but that evidently was not the case. If she managed to keep a whole secret passage system from Zelda, what other secrets did Impa hold?

***

“I am very disappointed!” their father bellowed from across the dining hall. Zelda and Hilda hurried to their seats at the table. King Rhoam Daphnes Hyrule was everything a king was expected to be: big, commanding and boisterous. Ruling the land since he was sixteen he was considered a stern but fair king that did what was needed, if not always wanted, for his people. And there was no one that was more true for than his daughters. “Apologize to our guests immediately.”

“We are ever so sorry for the delay.” Hilda led as both her and Zelda curtsied to the family across the table. Duke Plen, with his wife and son, their late mother’s brother, visiting from the Akkala Province far to the east. Everything that their father was, their uncle was like a pale shadow. King Rhoam was tall, broad shouldered and large in the way former soldiers put on weight in their old age, his strong set jaw and narrow eyes stern and observant. Plen was tall but fat, carrying his weight in his belly, his big head and beady eyes gave him the look of a skittish horse.

“Kids will be kids.” Plen dismissed condescendingly. Zelda had never liked her uncle, but he was the only living relative on her mother’s side, and her father had been an only child. She took her seat exchanging a momentary look with Ralph, Plen’s son, who gave her a sympathetic shrug. With a flaming coif as wild as his rumored personality, Ralph was brash, spontaneous and a rumored playboy. He was still empathetic for the twins’ situation, having grown up in a royal family as well. Zelda had never been close to her cousin, as Plen rarely left Akkala, where he held most of his power.

“I am especially disappointed in you Zelda, I expect the highest pedigree from you.” King Rhoam shook his head in dismay. She avoided making eye contact with her father, instead staring at the salad before her. She could feel her neck and ears burn red. Beneath the table Hilda gripped her hand, squeezing it in reassurance. For as long as either of them could remember their father had been harder on Zelda. Neither of them knew why, and as much as it frustrated Zelda, she knew it hurt Hilda more.

“Enough of the pleasantries!” the Duke interjected, shoveling salad into this plump cheeks like a chipmunk. “Have you told them the good news?”

“I have not, and in light of recent actions, I may rescind my offer.” the King huffed. “The negotiations with the Gerudo are moving along better than predicted. They have requested a council with us to sign the treaty.”

“That’s wonderful news, your Majesty.” Hilda exclaimed. She waved away the soup course as it came to her.

“That it is. I had planned on taking Zelda with me but she clearly is not mature enough to experience this monumental occasion.” Hilda deflated, turning her gaze to her plate. She didn’t speak for the rest of the meal.

“But fa- your Majesty!” Zelda yelped, a chance to go outside! To see the world beyond the castle walls! She couldn’t lose this opportunity. She had to collect herself, make herself appear regal and mature. “Your Majesty, I have worked on my studies, I have practiced my arms, I know my words. If I’m never to witness these proceedings how am I ever to learn what to do?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Duke Plen spoke up, finishing his soup and gesticulating for the next course to be brought over. “She seems a reputable girl, I’m sure this will be a fantastic learning experience. Bring them both with.”

Hilda looked towards her father hopefully.

“Very well, Zelda, you may attend this event with me. Hilda, you are to stay here and continue your studies.” The King crossed his arms, baring down at Zelda. “Do you remember your studies on Gerudo customs and cultures? They are a very strict and rigorous people, and it has taken many moons to negotiate this treaty. The last thing I need now is for you to attend this and hold a faux pas against them.”

“I remember your Majesty!” She wasn’t going to let her father take this from her. She was finally going to see Hyrule and the Gerudo Desert. This was more than she was expecting.

“Very well, we leave at dawn, have your attendants prepare your belongings tonight. It will be a long ride to the border.”

Zelda couldn’t believe it. She was getting out! She was going to leave the castle! This was possibly the best day of her life.

***

She screamed as she jumped from her covers. Heart racing she could still hear her father’s last words ringing in her ears. She looked at the dish of slop that had just been slid beneath the door. Her meager meal for the day, as it had been for all the days previous, she had no idea how long she had been in the cell. Had no idea how long it had been since they had killed her father and dragged her into this dungeon. The stone that made up the floor and walls burned in the sun and froze in the nighttime chill, and yet she couldn’t seem to keep track of days passing.

She could see the blood on her hands, seeping from her father as he lay dying on the floor of that room. The Gerudo man laughing in the corner, something cold and harsh and violent. Zelda pulled her knees to her chest and started to sob.