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TEEN: Hear That Which I Desire [Legend of Zelda One shot]

Thesaurus rex
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Here's my entry for the Summer One Shot competition - something of an unusual one by my standards, a Legend of Zelda short. Rated TEEN for infrequent depictions of blood injury and violent death.

Hear That Which I Desire

The injured bulblin screamed as Kestan drove his spear into its belly.

Its last words had been shrieked in broken Hylian. They might have been a plea for mercy. Kestan thumped his boot onto its thigh and hauled out his weapon. Black blood dripped off the long blade. Further down the street, a couple of Royal Militia dragged a struggling bulblin from a house and methodically stabbed it to death. Nobody was in the mood to show mercy. Yells and screams rose up from the surrounding streets as the Hylians butchered the routing monsters.

Kestan turned and trudged back to the market square. His body ached from the morning’s fighting, and anyway, he’d left his shield there when the rout started. His mail jingled disconsolately as he walked. This town must have been a handsome sight on market day. Some of the townhouses had been burned, most of them looted. To a man born and raised in the shadow of Hyrule Castle even a prosperous town in Faron Province was a little thing. But it had a stout wall and a keep – it was safety, for the time being.

The air smelled of blood, and monsters. Market square was where the bulblins had made their stand. A line of bodies marked where they’d formed their shield wall, and fought hard, but the Royal Militia all wore hauberks and steel helms. Visors lowered, shields raised, step-by-step they’d driven the monsters back. By the grace of the gods they had prevailed. At a distance you’d almost take the bulblins for human, till you saw their long sinewy arms, or the misshapen horns sprouting from their temples.

There were mercifully few Hylians lying among the bulblins. A familiar figure was picking through them scavenging after spent crossbow bolts.

“You’re still alive, then,” Kestan said.

Domiden gingerly wiped down a bolt. “Gods willed it this time. Not sure those devils know how to defend a wall anyhow.”

“The devils are running for their lives now.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. People started to emerge from their houses in ones and twos. There wasn’t any celebration. They just looked relieved that this was a liberation and not a sack.

“Makes a change, then,” Domiden said.

“Makes a change,” Kestan blandly agreed. Any kind of change would do after -

A peal of ordnance rolled over the sounds of marching and clinking armour and bulblin war cries. The gorons were firing their huge arquebuses. A pair of fist-sized bullets punched a seven-foot moblin off its feet. Kestan couldn’t see what it had done to the bulblins – there were three men in front of him and his visor squeezed his vision down to a narrow rectangle. He had no idea what was happening to the left, the right, or behind the line. His entire world was reduced to trying to march shoulder-to-shoulder with his companions.

A wizzrobe materialised above the bulblins at head height, destroying six men with a fireball while it hooted its laughter. Men hurried to fill the gap, having no choice but to step on the bodies of their burned companions. One of their own sorcerers levelled his staff and trapped it in a sphere of water. The bird-faced monster thrashed and struggled desperately as it drowned in mid-air.

Something roared, guttural and barbaric. A wave of fear fell upon the Hylians, pushing from the ranks in front as men tried to back away. Kestan didn’t dare raise his visor to see better – gods preserve us! A monstrously huge demon-boar had appeared behind the bulblins, black-haired, copper-maned, ivory-tusked. The worst of it was the foaming malice in the thing’s eyes, as if it personally hated each and every one of them.

A trumpet call quavered out: brace to receive charge.

Their sorcerer raised up his staff – it looked like he was trying to bind it in ice. The demon leapt at him, contemptuously shattering its bonds, clearing the bulblins in a single bound and landing on the Hylian line. The sorcerer was instantly crushed beneath its massive paw. It didn’t stop there. It ignored their spears, crushed their shields, killing, killing. The Hylians broke, and Kestan fled the carnage with them.


*​

A loud curse and a clatter rang from the next chamber. Kestan sighed in undisguised exasperation. It had been a fraught afternoon of hunting monsters through the keep, and these youths were not making it any easier.

“Not a puncheon of wine in this whole bastard town!” Tyren raged.

Kestan looked sidelong at the other two. Domiden just shrugged, his slung crossbow clinking against his mail, but Jarudd in the corner smirked none too subtly.

“Need a breather, old man?” he asked innocently.

Old man. They all called him that, with some justification. He knew he was getting on in years. At almost forty summers he was ten years older than most of the company – twice as old, more or less, than these three youths. Two of them weren’t so much looking for monsters as looking for loot. Domiden, though, was cut from different cloth, patient rather than petulant. The Royal Militia hadn’t been a choice for him, Kestan recalled. He’d been forced into the militia, after the Ordonian rebellion. But a crossbowman’s wage of sixpence a day was nothing to complain about, he said, for a second son of a franklin with nothing to inherit.

The Royal Militia hadn’t been first choice for Kestan, either. He was as swordsmith’s lad, truly. When his father had been alive it had been a decent life. They were freemen of the city, members of the Swordsmiths and Enchanter’s Guild, sold their blades at fairs all over Hyrule. Kestan could even read, in a specialised fashion, to work the forging-spells and weave enchantments into the steel.

But reputation is a fragile thing. He was more of a servant than a smith now, swinging swords more often than he forged them.

“There’s nothing in there. Just some scribe’s chamber,” Tyren said, appearing in the doorway.

“Hm,” Kestan grunted. He strongly suspected Tyren hadn’t looked very hard. “We shall see.”

Tyren didn’t move aside to let him pass. Kestan promptly bashed his ear, and made sure the boy felt it through his helm.

“I am your elder. Go and tell the captain the north-west tower is clear.”

Kestan found himself in an airy chamber at the top of the tower. It was clearly a scriptorium. Light streamed in from the tall windows piercing the east and west walls. There weren’t many places for even a miniblin to hide, but Kestan poked around with drawn sword anyway. Whoever the garrison’s scribe had been, he’d shelved his writing paraphernalia against the north wall. Goose quills. Sealing wax. Octorok ink, copperas, gum gerudo … he wondered whether anyone realised how valuable some of these materials were.

Kestan sheathed his sword and idly paced the chamber. They said octorok ink would stop mice eating your manuscripts. A sheaf of what he had assumed were accounts actually were, he realised, letters. Kestan usually used runic, for working enchantments. These letters were written with that clear script used by merchants, tradesmen, and the like.

My dearest wife,
Thank you for the gift of wine, though you should not have sent so much! Please don’t worry so much. The rumours you have heard are true – we must patrol the rivers more often than before. Lizalfos are abroad in greater numbers. But give me news of home -’


Three times now I have written, and still I have no reply. Why do you not send me the wages I am due? 7s 6d I am owed. If you will not pay me while I am in garrison, then send it to my son -’

Mere monsters shall not keep me from you, my beloved. Fie upon the lizalfos! Two I slew on our last patrol upriver. Nineteen days longer may I serve, then I shall return to kiss you with an hundred kisses -’

Ordinary men’s messages for home … probably dictated to the scribe. Expensive messages, to be sure, as a scribe would charge as much as three pence to do the writing. Kestan wondered whether the poor buggers were made to pay postage as well. These must be bound for Castleton, he thought. The bulblins hadn’t even used them for tinder. It occurred to Kestan that if he brought it up to the captain no doubt they’d be blithely forgotten about.

If I do not return then contrary to our custom my daughter Tona shall receive a quarter-share in my apothecarion that she may receive freedom of the city in accordance with the King’s law. And if any man should seek to alienate her from her inheritance may the wrath of Nayru pursue him -’

Kestan stared at this one for a while. This man was already dead, most likely, at the hands of some bulblin. A forgotten man killed by a forgotten monster.

He carefully folded up the letters, slipping them into one of the soft leather wallets he found hanging by the door. By the grace of the gods he would soon be returning to Castleton.

*​

Hundreds of men packed the Great Hall, many more than it could comfortably accommodate, but a communal meal after a battle was important. The best of the victuals had been given to Hylia. The priest had done his best, but it was a poor offering. Kestan tried not to be glum about the stew. There seemed to be a lot of turnip in it. It was easy to forget, born in the capital and seeing Hyrule Castle every day, that all the foods of Hyrule came to Castleton.

“This ale’s on the turn,” someone said.

“I’ve had worse.”

“I wouldn’t dare offer it up to Hylia, I do know that.”

It was just as well the stew was watery in spite of the chunks of turnip. Nobody expected manchet loaves, but trying to cut this rye bread was like sawing wood.

“They say the Gerudo have risen,” one of the crossbowmen said, his bow still slung over his back. “One thousand riders coming up from the Canyon Pass.”

“One thousand women,” Jarudd snorted. “If you believe it.”

“No, it’s true. Small Reny here was with the captain at the west gate, he saw their herald.”

Reny took a pull from his mug, enjoying the sudden attention. “One thousand horse archers, from the Chief’s own bodyguard.”

“What about the Kokiri? Their lands aren’t far,” the crossbowman said, to general murmuring.

“The Kokiri will never leave their forest,” Domiden said.

Kestan let the conversation wash over him, applying himself to his food. It was all second-hand gossip and speculation anyway.

“What fickle tides of fate are these?” someone declared expansively. There was a tell-tale smell of aniseed. Kestan glanced around and hastily jumped to his feet.

“My lord. I didn’t know you were here,” he managed. You didn’t show discourtesy to a knight of the realm, much less a royal steward. Sir Alectus was both young and obscure at court, which inevitably made him jealous of his honour. And apparently obsessed with dousing himself with aniseed oil.

“Sit, sit,” Sir Alectus said, in what he probably thought was a gracious fashion. Twerp. If he really had refined manners he would have shown respect for Kestan’s age instead of interrupting him mid-meal.

“I had not thought to be here,” Sir Alectus continued. “It is a sign, I say, a sign the gods approve of my course. Methinks I shall speak with your captain. I have a mind to continue your schooling.”

“As you will, lord.” Kestan was of the opinion that if anything, the gods had placed him here to find the messages of dead men.

“Good man. Good man. Make the most of the time. We shall be marching on Hyrule Castle in a matter of weeks,” he said confidently.

“Yes, lord,” Kestan said. It didn’t really mean anything, but Sir Alectus wasn’t really listening.

“I may send for you tomorrow. Exercise your sword arm!”

Everyone was staring at him. “What?” Kestan said defensively.

“It’s not often we get to eat with a gentleman in the militia.”

“You see a livery collar around my neck?” Kestan demanded. “He just wants me for his armsman, that’s all.”

“Why would he want you?” Jarudd said, the words ‘old man’ teetering on his lips.

“Because the name ‘Master Keston of Castleton’ still means something,” Domiden said quietly.

*​

That night, he dreamed of Castleton.

It was the first night since the carnage on Hyrule Field that he had dreamed of anything other than battle. He dreamed of his house on the hill, a little off the beaten path, that once rang daily to the sound of his work. He dreamed of the great drum towers beating out the hours, giving rhythm to the days. He dreamed of the bustle of the city, of arguing with knights over the price of weapons, buying hot pies by the borough conduit, meeting with his fellow tradesmen at the guildhalls to complain about business, whether business was good or bad.

Every day he would be woken by the drums beating the hour, while the street was bathed in shadow. By mid-morning he’d pass the time of day with his neighbour Cass the scabbarder. Usually she would bring him a loaf of new bread, sometimes a gallon of fresh-brewed ale. And sometimes, especially after returning from a fair, he’d have a handful of silver for her, her share of his profits. Legally Cass was entitled to make and sell scabbards in her own right, having inherited freedom of the city from her late husband, but it was inescapable that knights paid more for a scabbard when they bought it from a man.

A partnership like that took trust. Kestan rather liked Cass. They’d talked about marriage a few times, to join their businesses and so Kestan could vote in guild elections, but it had never gone beyond talk. Besides, Cass was thirty summers, vivacious and intelligent. If she had been a man she would have been titled a master of the guild.

But oh! the best of it all was those late summer evenings, when the sun hung low in the sky, the light soft as honey, and all things that were banal were made beautiful. And often Cass would come to sit with him in his courtyard with the spreading beech tree, looking up at the dreaming towers of Hyrule Castle and sharing the rare luxury of a bottle of wine.

Kestan awoke expecting to hear the bass thud of drums announcing the morning.

*​

River water surged at the bows of the galleys and foamed at their oars. The Dragonfly was slightly ahead of the Juliette. Both were flying against the current – because from the south bank came the sound of desperate battle. Kestan could see the fighting from the deck of Juliette. The monsters were forcing the passage of the river, floating out a bridge fixed on top of looted barges. The Necludan hillmen had been too few and too lightly armed to deny them. Bokoblins were streaming across the new-built pontoon bridge, the few valiant Necludan survivors trying to form a shield-wall around their banner.

Juliette swung closer to the south bank, almost line abreast with Dragonfly. Archers on the opposite bank were shooting at the galleys. To no avail – Dragonfly rammed the bridge first and buckled it severely, tipping bokoblins shrieking into the water. Juliette’s rowers strained at their oars, building a last burst of speed.

“Retract oars! Brace for impact!”

With a rending crash and a screech of tortured wood, Juliette tore the bridge in two. The air fizzed with arrows, the King’s crossbowmen shooting furiously from the forecastle. The trumpeted command rang out: charge. Men poured over the gunwale, bellowing ‘Hyrule! Hyrule!’ as they went. Kestan slammed his visor shut and followed the banner over the side. An arrow shattered on his helm, another thudded into his shield. The man in front of him stumbled and floundered in the waist-deep water.

Kestan kept going past the wounded man, his heart pounding. The copper tang of blood stuck to the air, the sandy shore dyed crimson and mushy from the spilled life of so many Hylian men. Lizalfos swarmed the shore – hunched, cunning, fleet, saurian monsters, scales mottled in shades of green. Through his visor Kestan saw one jerk from the force of a crossbow bolt thumping into its shoulder. Wielding his spear like a lance Kestan ran it into the monster’s hip, the spear reluctantly puncturing its scaled hide. The lizal fell anyway. Kestan stabbed it again and left it writhing on the sand.

To me, King’s men!” Kestan dimly heard over the battle. “To me!

The banner was driving into the thick of the monsters, making for the beleaguered Necludans. The lizalfos were darting around them with quick, sinuous movements, hunting for weaknesses. He saw a bokoblin stove a man’s head in with a bone mace. He saw a pair of militiamen pinning a snarling lizal between their spears. Another man lost an arm to a lizal sword. Another lay screaming in the mud as the melee and boots and clawed feet thudded around him.

Farore grant me courage, Kestan prayed, and charged into the melee.

Time seemed to slow down. With crystalline clarity he saw a lizal close in on an unsuspecting militiaman. He saw its intent predatory expression, its spiny shield, its fishbone necklace. And as it raised its sword, Kestan saw the opening, obvious as a gold coin in a handful of pennies.

Strike here.

He stabbed up, into the soft, cream-coloured scales of the momentarily exposed armpit. Easy as carving a cucco, the spear penetrated right down to the socket. Dark blood spurted around it, the drops flying almost balletically. The lizal’s expression changed from intent to agonised surprise. It knew it was dead.

A blow slammed into his side, swift and hard like the peck of some giant bird. His mail turned it. Kestan spun on his heel, and there, his gaze drawn to it as if by a golden thread, was the lizal drawing its spear back for another attack. Kestan stabbed at its belly – it leapt back out of range.

Throw it. The thought was calm, patient, the voice of the master every apprentice wished he had. Kestan spun his spear into an overarm grip.

A little to the right. The lizal had been expecting the throw. It dodged a little to the right. Kestan’s spear buried itself in its chest.

Left. Kestan didn’t think. He just obeyed, and looked right into the face of a howling bokoblin. The twisted goblin-thing stank, glowering with beady eyes either side of its damp, porcine nose, mouth studded with blunt fangs wide with bloodlust. Kestan raised his shield, blocking the axe blow meant for his neck. He kicked it in the shin and swept out his sword. The golden thread showed him how to kill it.

Snarling into his bevor, Kestan swung his shield like a mace. His first blow made it shriek. His second blow concussed it. Kestan stepped forward and stabbed, punching his sword through its leathern armour almost to the hilt. Jerking it free, he slashed down and split its face in two. It might have screamed. He didn’t notice.

He’d seen his next golden opportunity.

*​

Kestan had never felt so tired. Nor so old. His boots were sticky with blood – some of it had somehow seeped through the beeswax weatherproofing. They would probably never smell wholesome again. He looked around the field of victory, and in many ways it didn’t seem much different to a defeat. Their banners fluttered listlessly on their staves, royal crest in red alongside the Necludan bear. Bodies lay everywhere, a chaos of men and monsters. The Necludans, the victorious, valiant Necludans, didn’t look as proud as they ought to be. For now, and because of their valour, the monsters would have to capture the Great Bridge of Hylia to invade Faron.

Kestan had been fighting on borrowed vigour, he knew. Now the battle was over his body demanded its due. His side was beginning to seriously ache from that lizal’s spear thrust. It was his gambeson that saved him – the mail had a fine hole in it. Not everyone had been so fortunate. Jarudd’s wails intermittently penetrated the dull background hum. He’d been speared through the calf with a barbed lizalfos blade. Kestan wondered what was more painful to the boy, the wound or the sudden understanding that he was mortal …

What had he seen and heard in the red heart of that melee? The more he thought about it, the surer he was that calm voice wasn’t some echo of battle-fever. Men didn’t fight better when gripped by battle-fever, they just thought they did. Whether anyone noticed with his visor down, Kestan didn’t know, but he’d carved a savage path through the monsters. Those he hadn’t killed he’d maimed, removing arms, cutting hamstrings, always guided by that golden thread.

Kestan could think of only one power in the world that would guide him along that dreadful path. Her Grace the goddess Hylia had folded her white wings around him. His sword became her sword, and he a small, small cog in Her divine strategy. Why him? Why not someone younger, stronger, more devout? A priest might answer that, but it seemed to Kestan it was his part to accept it.

“Riders,” someone said. A dozen men-at-arms were cantering from the eastern road as if in haste, all in full armour. They were flying the banner of some high lord, twenty feet long, blazoned with a snow-white lemur on a green field. Their lord reigned sharply in and hailed the captain, impatiently waving away the bows and courtesies.

“My lord Faron,” the captain compromised. Kestan belatedly recognised that banner – he was the Duke of Faron, the King’s cousin.

“How many men have you?” Lord Faron barked.

“Two hundreds, lord.”

“Then make for the Bridge of Hylia. Delay for nothing!”

“But why, lord?”

“Hyrule Castle is taken,” he answered abruptly.

There was an awful silence.

“But how?” the captain said in disbelief. Kestan didn’t believe it either. Hyrule Castle was the strongest fortress in the land, all knew, it would never fall within mere weeks. Second-hand gossip, nothing more.

Lord Faron hesitated. “Armogohma.”

“… the king? The princess?”

“We don’t know. All of Necluda is rising, Sir. The other provinces will rise also, when the tidings arrive. Make for the Bridge and until then deny the monsters entry to Faron!”

“What about the Hero?” someone said. It was Small Reny, in a conspiratorial huddle with the other watching Royal Militia. Kestan could not hear him. Lord Faron’s words had hit him like a cold wave, freezing his heart. Armogohma. Where one armogohma walked, hundreds of lesser gohma swarmed in her wake. Walls were nothing to them. Wealth was nothing to them; they only cared for meat. Even if all the chivalry of Faron mounted a counter-siege, by the time the walls were stormed there would be nothing human left alive within.

What evil thing now lurked in his courtyard?

The monsters might have razed it. There might be nothing left but cracked stone and smoking timbers, with bodies lying among the ashes.

Kestan suddenly thought of intelligent, vivacious Cass.

“The Hero only appears when Hyrule’s need is greatest,” someone objected.

“Hyrule Castle has fallen,” Small Reny insisted. “How could Hyrule’s need be any greater?”

Bodies lying among the embers. Gods, if she didn’t escape, at least let it had been swift -

“It’s happened before. Vaati, in the time of King Daltus.”

“He’ll need the Master Sword,” Kestan said distantly. The others stared at him with a mixture of confusion and frustration. “The Blade of Evil’s Bane,” he tried to explain.

Could it be that they didn’t know? Every swordsmith in the land knew of the Master Sword. It was the superlative blade of blades, imbued with sublime magical power. Greater than magical, it was sacred, forged by Hylia herself, tempered by the golden goddesses, curse-breaker and demon-slayer. If the Hero was out there, he’d be searching for the Sword even now. A knight in unblazoned green.

Kestan realised why Her Grace had chosen him. Who else but a swordsmith, master of two guilds, to bring the Sword to the Hero? Or a man who had already lost everything. No forge. No house. No guild, no city, no Cass, no life -

The provinces might be rising, but Hyrule did not have time on her side.

*​

The lower-tier oarsmen were still on deck, resting tired limbs and sucking down ale. Kestan kept his visor down as he boarded the galley. They paid him no mind. Kestan moved purposefully, as if he knew exactly what he was doing and had every right to do it. The lower deck was dim, barred by shafts of light passing through the oarlocks, tainted by a fug of sweat and the dark emotions of battle. He grabbed his pack from the stern-hold and another smaller bag of provisions. Half a minute’s further searching and he found the last of what he was looking for – flasks of elixirs neatly loaded into an alchemist’s cask, labelled with runic.

He helped himself to two or three, briskly strode up to the upper deck and back down the gangplank. Hardly breaking stride he snatched up his spear, staked into the sand, ignoring his shield. Borne on the wind from north of the river came the smell of burning. Hyrule was in flames.

His heart was flat calm. How could it not be? The golden thread guided him and now he had nothing to do but follow it. Into the treeline, as if he were going to take a piss. Bearing south-east, away from the field of battle. Behind his visor he wept, because he was dead, or near as made no difference. Let Hylia fold her white wings around him. Let his sword become her sword.

*​

In the Faron Woods, you could believe there was no war. It was no surcease for grief. Kestan felt hollowed-out, empty, except when he wept. Then he remembered so acutely that there was nothing for him to return to.

You could believe there was no war, but you would have to close your eyes to keep believing it. Kestan hadn’t seen another Hylian since he’d left the river. An hour or two after dawn he’d passed through an empty village, the people probably fled rather than dead. And then he’d found a family of mothula nesting in someone’s barn. He’d killed the mother and burned the juvenile morths.

Kestan paused at the top of a slope and took a sip of elixir. Before long he’d need proper food but elixir would keep him moving, and moving swiftly. He’d only the vaguest idea where he was. Somewhere in east Faron. Hylia knew where to send him. He was following the golden thread down a deer path through an airy woodland of mature ash.

Go down into this dell.

The path wound lazily down the slope through thickets of hemlock. Monkeys occasionally dashed through the branches, while the woodland floor was soft and springy from a carpet of countless autumn leaf-falls. At the bottom, Kestan found the ruin.

It had obviously been abandoned for many, many years, unroofed save for the forest. Once proud walls of Eldin granite were now mossy and tumbledown. Safflina grew beneath the empty windows. Kestan walked round to the south side, and there found a bronze door, green with verdigris, where a single pristine silent princess bloomed.

He stared at it for a while, wondering what the proper thing to do was. Without quite knowing why, he carefully laid his spear against the wall. His sword belt joined it a moment later. The door wouldn’t open, so with some difficulty he had to climb up ancient ivy through a window.

It was peaceful within the ruin. The air was full of honest, vital smells, the remains of flagstones rich with moss and leaf mould. The breeze sighed in the leaves, throwing a dance of shadows across the hall. Images of monsters slain and demons sealed adorned the friezes marching along the walls. Somewhere above the forest a cloud left the face of the sun; the light shone through some intrepid fragment of window, drawing a beautiful scrolling pattern across the floor. This was a temple, or what was left of one.

Kestan wandered slowly down the hall, till his boots rang on metal – an image of the Triforce, worked in bronze. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to pray. On the far side of the hall was an archway, framing a staircase up to the sanctuary beyond. There was some rune-script incised above the arch, faded and obscured by the years, illegible to the likes of him.

No voice guided Master Kestan of Castleton as he ascended the stair.

There it was – shimmering like a spike of silver, diaphanously veiled in mist. Somewhere above the forest, the sun broke out. A sunbeam alighted on the Master Sword. The Sword’s blade was unmarked by any rune or discernible spell, only by a Triforce etched into the ricasso. It had no scabbard. Well, that was fine. If it had stood here for as long as it took the temple to collapse then plainly it could suffer no harm from mere rust. He could simply wrap it in leather for portage.

Heart fluttering tremulously, Kestan reached for the Sword’s hilt.

The Sword burst into white flame, shining so brightly he could see nothing else. A gale of power radiated from the blade – Kestan tried to resist and dug his heels into the leaf mould. He might as well have tried to hold back the dawn. The next thing he knew he was crashing onto the flagstones like a bag of turnips, the breath jarred from his lungs.

The light vanished. Kestan looked round in shock, heaving down harsh lungfuls of air. The Sword glittered innocently at him.

The Sword had rejected him.

Why? While Hyrule burned and all fell to death and darkness, why would Her Grace send him here only for the Sword to reject him?

“What would you have us do?” he demanded. “I saw the demon-boar! I saw the slaughter!”

There was no response. Even the singing birds ignored him. The Master Sword remained quiescent, its unparalleled sacred power untouchable. A sudden fury flared in Kestan’s chest.

“What must we do? Nothing but pray till you deign to save us? I will not! I will not!

*​

I will not!

The thought had become a prayer, if you can defy the gods in prayer. He’d found the village again. They had a forge, a swordsmith’s forge. Well, Kestan would be using it in the smith’s absence. He would not need to take much, and he would leave coin behind. The smith might even survive to receive it one day. He flung his tabard into the corner. He would be Royal Militia no longer.

He began the incantation of the Enduring Flame.

*​

He had laboured furiously, hardly sleeping, eating less, fuelled by stamina elixir. Now through exhausted eyes, he surveyed his work with grim pride. It was the ugliest sword he had ever made – a bastard sword in the Akkalan style, thirty-odd inches tapering to a strong and bitter point. There was nothing that was not entirely functional. The blade was covered in tool marks. The grip was simple wood. The quillons were unpolished and undecorated.

There was a magical principle commonly called the Left-Hand Path. That any spell, through simple alterations, might be induced to produce an opposite effect. Few enchanters studied it, and like most of the guild Kestan rarely advertised it. All magic had consequences, not least the Left-Hand Path.

Consequences didn’t seem to matter any more. Down the middle of his new sword Kestan had carefully engraved six runes:

S U N D E R

*​

Thunder rumbled in the louring sky, but Kestan kept his eyes fixed on the brute that was the bulblin captain. He didn’t know the name of this town. Probably nobody lived here any more more anyway. Behind the captain the other bulblins stood watching – behind him the Hylians did the same. Single combat. It was getting frustrated, glowering from beneath the brim of its looted kettle helm.

The monster rushed him – Kestan parried its sword, lower down the blade than he intended. Stepping forward, he slammed the pommel into its face. Teeth broke beneath the impact. He flicked his blade over its shield, laying the edge on its neck. One quick slice opened its throat.

The Hylians let up a cheer as the bulblin captain choked to death on its own blood at Kestan’s feet. Kestan levelled his sword at random into their ranks. You.

A ripple of fear ran through the monsters. They didn’t quite know who was next. The bravest of them tried its luck and swung at him with a poleaxe. Not quick enough. Kestan grabbed hold of the weapon and killed the owner with a thrust to the heart. All around the clash of arms rang as the Hylians charged. Kestan beheaded one inattentive bulblin, chopped the arm from another.

The monsters’ nerve snapped. First a handful fled, down the street and round the corner, then the melee turned into a rout, the Hylians cutting them down as they ran. It didn’t last long. Almost immediately the pursuers had somehow become the pursued.

“Run for your lives! Darknut! Darknut!” men yelled as they fled in panic, militia or men-at-arms, it made no matter. Kestan had neither intention nor urge to flee – he was dead already – he darted from the middle of the street and knelt behind the bulk of an abandoned wagon.

Sir Syrax came stumbling round the corner. A mace the size of a pumpkin hit him between the shoulders. Kestan had never seen steel crumple like that. Syrax’s killer appeared. A demon-knight, almost twice the height of a man, clad head-to-foot in black mail. An iron crown was riveted to its helm. It strolled calmly along the street as if out for a morning walk about the town.

The darknut halted just in front of Kestan’s hiding place, watching the Hylians flee like mice, running into alleys, into buildings, anywhere to be out of sight.

An idea formed in Kestan’s head. He raised his visor, since it obviously wouldn’t protect him anyway. The runes on his sword started to glow a dim red. Kestan rose himself to his feet and stalked closer, the gutter mud muffling his footsteps. The runes glowed brighter as he raised his sword high.

He swept the blade down. The black mail split like a rotten lemon, the sword biting deep enough to hit the bone. The thing roared like a bull. Kestan pulled his sword free, SUNDER blazing as the blade reacted to his intentions. He spun it point-up, concentrated, and drove it through the mail into the titan’s armpit. Shuddering reluctantly to one knee, the mace slipped from its fingers.

Sunder!” Kestan screamed.

*​

Thunderclouds were bringing an early dusk to the afternoon. The town was theirs, but the monsters still wouldn’t give up. Kestan liked that. It kept them within reach of his sword.

“Sunder!” he snarled. The bulblin tried to duck, and his sword removed the top of its skull. He cast around looking for the next kill. There was nothing left alive in the square, except -

A man. Not a monster, a gerudoman. He was tall, powerfully built, cloaked in red silk and armoured in black lacquered plate. A gold crown nestled in his coppery hair like a halo. He would have been regal, dignified, were it not for the foaming malice in his eyes.

Demon …

Kestan levelled his sword. You.

The king levelled his sword. You too.

His strength was incredible. Trying to parry his first blow sent Kestan to his knees. The gerudo king rained attacks down on him. Somehow Kestan regained his feet, arms already aching from blocking the repeated blows.

His sword flared into life. The king threw another savage cut at him – Kestan apparently parried it with an assertive backhand swing. His sword sheared through it with a scream of steel. The ruined blade clanged onto the cobbles.

The gerudo king contemptuously threw away the hilt. The intensity of the hatred in his gaze was like an attack in itself. In that moment Kestan realised he wasn’t as dead as he thought he was.

ignored their spears, crushed their shields, killing, killing

Kestan summoned up all his rage and grief. His runesword blazed brighter than ever. He didn’t think, he just attacked. The king’s hand shot out – Kestan’s sword slammed into his grip. Kestan tugged viciously at the hilt, to no avail, and snarled to drown out the rising fear. Something golden started to glow on the back of the gerudo king’s hand. A triangle of three triangles.

What? Kestan thought, staring at the Triforce in disbelief. The king squeezed molten steel between his fingers as the runesword wilted. He chuckled, seeming to relish Kestan’s shock.

In a sudden blur of movement the Demon King hammered a boot into Kestan’s chest. He never knew how far he was thrown. Six feet, ten feet, it made no matter. He tried to look up, fighting against the agony in his chest. There was a trail of spilled paper on the ground.

my daughter Tona shall receive … if any man should seek to alienate her

Oh. Ordinary men’s messages for home. He’d forgotten he was still carrying them.

His breaths would only come in hollow gasps. A cold raindrop splashed against his cheek. A long, lingering thunderclap rolled across the heavens.

The storm broke.

*​

The rain never stopped falling. Day after sunless day it fell. Crops were beaten down into the mud. Rivers were turned into raging torrents. Villages were swept away, towns drowned. Amid the chaos people still fought against the tide of monsters.

To a very few the message came: flee to the mountains. It was said in later days that the gods meant for many more to receive the call. But the gods would not tolerate evil on the face of the earth. And so the rain did not stop falling.

The memory of the kingdom vanished, but its legend survived on the wind’s breath.
 
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and now for something completely different

I liked your style here. The narration definitely feels like you've been reading more Fire and Blood than normal, which is absolutely not bad. The tone is grim but for the most part clinical; you methodically outline how fucked Kestan's situation is going to be, and not over-dramatacizing it really drives home how mundane these horrors are supposed to be. It also gives you a lot more room to flex lyrically every now and then -- lines like "what was more painful to the boy, the wound or the sudden understanding that he was mortal" and "might as well have tried to hold back the dawn" can come to surprise us out of nowhere, or the beautiful way that you outline the torrential flood at the end. You convey the story in a way that's largely understated, except for when it isn't, and it works.

Honestly I couldn't pick out which particular entry into LoZ you were trying to prequel here -- I was imagining BoTW and that worked incredibly well for me, but I'm not sure if it particularly matters. This fits in really nicely with all of them, and as far as fanfics that try to be canonical I liked the way that this integrates with canon. It's something that obviously did happen that doesn't get narrative focus, and yet it feels incredibly natural. I don't have much familiarity with how LoZ fanfic operates, but this concept + how it fits into the canon works. It's a lot darker than the videogames let themselves be, but at the same time it has to be -- for Hyrule to need a hero so often, Hyrule's gotta be in some pretty deep shit.

A lot of my thoughts about the plot are mixed up in the following section, but one thing I'd like to note here about Kestan and his character: this was a really interesting, well-constructed read, but at the end I just walk away feeling sad. That's sort of the point, and I get it, but I feel like I can't fully engage with the work because there aren't really character arcs here: it's a grim heroic journey that ends the way that (as you'd say) heroic journeys would realistically end. No one learns any lessons and the world continues to be a little shittier and sadder than before, and that's shitty and sad, but for me it makes the story a little static, since for the most part everything ends in the same state that it began. And that's almost a necessity to this kind of story, since it's practically a prequel and the growth and restoration part of this story is wrapped up in Link's story instead and that's part of why this fic is so clever, but as a standalone entry it's a little quiet on character change. Kestan goes from an old cynical warrior willing to die for Hyrule to an old cynical warrior who dies for Hyrule. It's not like he's introduced in having a ton of faith in Hylia so his turn from "I'll get the Master Sword" to "fuck the Master Sword I'll make my own" doesn't really feel like any sort of abrupt evolution on his part -- he's already so jaded and empty when the story begins that there's really not much room in his arc for anything else.

the plot and theme~~

sticking this in a separate category because this is one of your less oblique works. or, in better words, I feel like a lot of your works don't try to tango too much with deeper philosophication or attributing meaning to events -- your work takes a more realistic perspective, and reality doesn't often wrap itself in a themed bow. and certainly not to the level that I thought things were trying to go at in this particular story, so I've got this section divided out nicely so I can just pull the ripcord and jettison it all if I'm wrong.

On first glance the only undelivered message here is the stack of letters that Kestan doesn't deliver. They're ultimately not really key to the story; it becomes clear that the motivation of watching his hometown burned to the ground and razed by monsters is much more pressing to him than soldiers writing about missed paychecks. Kestan doesn't give the letters a second glance until Ganon mercs him, and even then it's sort of a passing thought, trivial in the face of Ganon merc'ing him. I thought this was sort of a cop-out, given that the story would've unfolded identically without them. There's another undelivered message at the end of "run to the mountains if you don't want to drown", but at this point, the story is over and done and this is just grim icing on the grim cake.

And tbh this one-readthrough take would be in-character for you to write; you don't write happy endings where dreams come true and loved ones get to hear loving messages against all odds. It'd be cynical and sad, and ultimately a testament to why medieval times would've benefited from a more robust postal system -- again, all things I'd expect.

But at a second look, there's a lot of undelivered messages depending on how much symbolism you wanted to draw from it. The literal first line is the bulblin screaming for mercy, a message whose contents Kestan utterly ignores. In Kestan's flashback, the trumpet call is a message to the Hylian line to remain strong in face of a charge; they break at first engagement. And it continues, and there's tons of tiny messages peppered in here that get ignored because war as you outline it here is a heartless, cruel event that's devoid of conversation, mercy, and meaning. To me it builds up to the final message between Hyrule and Hylia -- Kestan emblematic of the countryside that must've burned in order to create the Hyrule setting that the player experiences, sick of all the unanswered prayers; and Link, slumbering and unhearing of Hylia's call to save the world.

And in that regard, I think me being more familiar with your work was detrimental to you here; if anyone else had written this story I'd absolutely have thought this was an intentional setup because it's done so naturally that it doesn't feel like you were trying to shoehorn the theme in. Like, it's the fucking title but it's so at-odds with your normal work that I'm still wondering if this wasn't your aim and I'll be an idiot for interpreting it as such.

Writing it out I've managed to convince myself that the latter was the intent here, in which case, cynical thematic self-contained pieces represent a massive departure from your normal genre, but one that was incredibly well-executed.
 
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a Legend of Zelda short
Wait what

--

Well! This was an interesting read to take on. I wasn't expecting to end off these readings with something not even remomtely Pokemon related, but here I am! I'll say, this one was definitely something that is enhanced by the fact that I actually know about these creatures and places and lore, because otherwise, I feel like I might be a little lost. That's sort of the tricky thing about going out-of-fandom for these, but I suppose that's beside the point.

I'll go over some quotes before I get my final thoughts in:

To a man born and raised in the shadow of Hyrule Castle even a prosperous town in Faron Province was a little thing.
I'm gonna just point a few of these out, but I feel like a comma would've been useful after "Castle" so I don't run through the whole big sentence.

A familiar figure was picking through them scavenging after spent crossbow bolts.
Same here, after "them."

A monstrously huge demon-boar had appeared behind the bulblins,
Oh hi Ganon.

Edit: Oh right, that reminds me. I found it odd that this creature is described, but all the other monsters aren't quite thoroughly described. I got it all because I'm familiar with Zelda lore, but a bit of prompting might be useful for all the mooks. I know Ganon didn't get a name because the protagonist doesn't know it, but the reader might not know any of them! ...For readers here, at least.

a scribe would charge as much as three pence to do the writing
Just a minor nitpick, but... pence? Wouldn't it be rupees?

“The Hero only appears when Hyrule’s need is greatest,”
I actually didn't think the Hero would be mentioned in this. It seemed to be one of those stories of "when the hero isn't around," which is always something to think about, especially after that whole Hyrule split-timeline got confirmed.

Kestan levelled his sword. You.

The king levelled his sword. You too.
Now this was a great line.

--

Okay, so now for some overall thoughts about this one. It's sort of hard for me to get a placement on the undelivered messages prompt, and that one sticks out to me the most. The literal letters were a bit of a red herring, and the whole theme about Hylia and the Hero not showing up is another, but I wasn't really sure what the whole focus of it was. It seemed more like Kestan got a message from Hylia that wasn't meant for him, perhaps? Something like that, since it seemed like he was following a call that ultimately hadn't been for him. Maybe this takes place in the timeline where Link hadn't shown up?

Another thing is that--well, I'm not familiar with your writing style, but according to the review above, this might be par for the course--the style is a bit clinical for what's going on. I feel like a bit more time could have been dedicated to the fighting, considering how much there was... But then again, that would've bloated this story a lot more, and brought it well beyond its word limit.

The scope of this story was hasty. It definitely felt like it could have been expanded into a two-part piece, or perhaps a three-part piece, detailing his tragic not-the-chosen-hero's tale. But instead, it sort of rushes from location to location, scene to scene, particularly near the middle and ends of the story. It felt like a rush to get to the key ending points.

All in all, though, I enjoyed it for the interpretation of lore. I don't read Zelda works, so this is technically a first -- and a good experience at that. Good luck in the competition.
 
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I thoroughly enjoyed this. I have the odd quibble, such as using the esoteric "quillons" when the relatively vernacular "crossguard" would serve perfectly well, or the fact that TLoZ enemy names often sound quite juvenile in what is a pretty grim take on the setting. I also can't know if I would have liked it less or more if I knew anything much about TLoZ. I knew that Kestan was probably fucked, but I didn't know that Ganon would curbstomp him as hard as he did. Nevertheless, the prose is of a high calibre either way, and I love the characterisation of our aging smith-turned-infantryman.

I also really like the take on the competition theme. Kestan decides he's going to deliver some literal messages, and then instead elects to do Link's job for him apparently out of sheer defiance when he's "meant" to be helping ordinary folks instead of taking on that destiny. It's so human, and his mistake is so easy to root for, his efforts quashed so inevitably. Delicious. Kestan intercepting a "calling" meant for someone else is a take on the tragic hero I haven't yet encountered, and it turns out I'm a big fan. It helps that I'm already a sucker for defying gods and fate.

I have to say, this is one I'd love to see with a few thousand words of extra bulk, or with related works in the same vein. A surprising, but worthy entry.
 
I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle
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A very enjoyable story. I think my familiarity with the Zelda series enhanced my enjoyment significantly but even without that I feel I would love this look at a very common event in fantasy fiction; the collapse of the mortal armies against hordes of monsters and demons and the fall of a nation against the rising "dark lord". This is very often a background element in stories, and one that's of course quite prevalent in Zelda itself.

A great example is the mention of how a Gohma swarm cannot be stopped by fortifications, or how the appearance of a Darknut causes victory to turn to panicked retreat due to how powerful the creatures are.
The best examples, of course, were Ganon's two appearances, initially as the "boar demon" that instantly caused the Hylian line to collapse as smashes through and kills their sorcerer, and then in the end as the King of the Gerudo. Since there's surely some readers not familiar with Zelda I'll note the really cruel part; Ganon generally cannot be killed by weapons that were not empowered by the Goddesses or other powerful supernatural beings in some way: although clearly a skilled maker of weapons, poor Kestan likely stood zero chance, even if he were the greatest warrior ever, of winning his duel.

I also believe it feels more "authentically medieval" than a lot of fantasy stories. The multiple layers of (actually functional) armor is one example.

My one quibble is the use of "pence" instead of "rupees" (I think "Castle Town" being renamed "Castleton" at some point can be explained pretty easily so it didn't stick out the same way).
 
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Responses!

I liked your style here.
Believe it or not, I was trying to channel something of spectra. I don't normally go in for the "dark" style - whatever that means at this point - and certainly this story is intended to have something in common with an apocalypse narrative.

Honestly I couldn't pick out which particular entry into LoZ you were trying to prequel here
It's a prequel to The Wind Waker, being my idea of some of the events leading up to the Great Flood. The canon doesn't really have much to say about this period, and just when the Flood happens after the events of Ocarina of Time are rather ambiguous. Since Hyrule never keeps the same geography from game-to-game (And since in The Wind Waker we never see anything of Hyrule other than Hyrule Castle) I decided to go for a Twilight Princess aesthetic (Since the game could reasonably take place at the same period on the alternate timeline) and cheerfully use the geography of Breath of the Wild as my starting-point to avoid a lot of planning.

As far as the plot's concerned it didn't come out quite the way I intended. If I were to come back to revise the story I think I'd make more of what inspired me - how the gods apparently expect Hyrule to just hope every time Ganon shows up, and how at this period of Hyrule's history their idea of answering their prayers is to flood the world and drown most of the people. But you're right, there's not much of a character arc in there. It's something that bothered me a little but I didn't have the time to really mend it.

I found it odd that this creature is described, but all the other monsters aren't quite thoroughly described. I got it all because I'm familiar with Zelda lore, but a bit of prompting might be useful for all the mooks.
I wanted Ganon's appearance to have more impact than the rest of the monsters. My beta did comment on the fandom-blind issue, so I hope I've struck a reasonable balance in the end.

Just a minor nitpick, but... pence? Wouldn't it be rupees?
... fuck. Of course it should.

The narrative isn't quite there, as you pointed out. The pacing is off, but I couldn't think of how to mend it without just writing filler, and since I was on a deadline I decided it was better to have bad pacing than bad words. Perhaps with some more time, a more flexible word limit, I could turn it into a three-act story and deal with those issues.

the fact that TLoZ enemy names often sound quite juvenile in what is a pretty grim take on the setting.
They do. For a while I did try to find an alternate name for the Darknut (Which has to be the silliest name in the franchise, though damned if I can find out why a twelve-foot suit of armour has that name). In hindsight I'd rather have stuck to my convictions on that one rather than stick with canon.

Since there's surely some readers not familiar with Zelda I'll note the really cruel part; Ganon generally cannot be killed by weapons that were not empowered by the Goddesses or other powerful supernatural beings in some way: although clearly a skilled maker of weapons, poor Kestan likely stood zero chance, even if he were the greatest warrior ever, of winning his duel.
I'm glad that came through. It doesn't matter what Kestan does - the canon is clear that the Master Sword is important for a reason. Related to my comments about raging against the gods above, this is what seems especially unfair to me. The people of Hyrule never really had a chance, either
 
I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle
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It's a prequel to The Wind Waker, being my idea of some of the events leading up to the Great Flood. The canon doesn't really have much to say about this period, and just when the Flood happens after the events of Ocarina of Time are rather ambiguous. Since Hyrule never keeps the same geography from game-to-game (And since in The Wind Waker we never see anything of Hyrule other than Hyrule Castle) I decided to go for a Twilight Princess aesthetic (Since the game could reasonably take place at the same period on the alternate timeline) and cheerfully use the geography of Breath of the Wild as my starting-point to avoid a lot of planning.

As far as the plot's concerned it didn't come out quite the way I intended. If I were to come back to revise the story I think I'd make more of what inspired me - how the gods apparently expect Hyrule to just hope every time Ganon shows up, and how at this period of Hyrule's history their idea of answering their prayers is to flood the world and drown most of the people. But you're right, there's not much of a character arc in there. It's something that bothered me a little but I didn't have the time to really mend it.
Something I'd written out then somehow got deleted in revision is that as I read I found myself trying to solve the riddle of which game this was specifically based on (and if it was--Ganon returning is such a clockwork thing it's easy to imagine this being about an unseen incarnation of him). At first I thought Twilight Princess due to the aesthetic (Ganon's description and the mention of the provinces introduced in that game). After the fate of Hyrule Castle's town I started wondering if it was actually the Imprisoning War. The ending let me figure out it was Wind Waker, though. For a while I was wondering if the sword Kestan made was a weapon from one of the games I'd forgotten the description of, maybe even the Magic Sword from the very first.

Now, the Goddesses got some interesting characterization from that game due to how awfully they handled Ganon with no Link around, and it was probably just because Nintendo wanted a Zelda game on a boat and went with a divine flood to create the setting. I recall a fan theory I've seen before that Din is actually on Ganon's side (hence him so often receiving the Triforce of Power), which is why the Goddesses never make things that easy for Hyrule.

They do. For a while I did try to find an alternate name for the Darknut (Which has to be the silliest name in the franchise, though damned if I can find out why a twelve-foot suit of armour has that name). In hindsight I'd rather have stuck to my convictions on that one rather than stick with canon.
Darknut's always been weird--a lot of the other enemy names sound odd but there's a form of consistency suggesting you're hearing terms from another language for some of them (the various "-fos" and "-blin" being good examples).
"Dark Knuckle" may have worked better and would maintain the connection to Iron Knuckles that the Japanese name has (which some sites say is "Tart Knuckle"), but Darknuts came out first. I guess we're lucky we didn't end up with "Ironnut" as a monster.;)
 
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