Chapter VII: Stealthy Collisions, Part 1
Elsewhere, beyond thought and form, lost in the limbo that seemed his destiny for eternity, a mind grasped for the threads that tied it to the other place…
…and found them.
With labored movements it drew them close and began to pool the remnants of his power to himself once more.
He sought weak minds, tools to use, to bend to his will. Corruption, like a plague, seeped from him, searching for susceptible hosts.
Things were beginning to move.
- Stealthy -
Still elsewhere, messengers of the twilight were busy worrying over the whereabouts of their Princess. It was not their place to protest anything requested of them by their beloved, if not capricious, princess (she’d declined to accept the full title as of yet. Marriage arrangements struck her too bothersome to be dealt with at the time.) but she’d become something of a pain to tend of late.
Upon her return from the Realm of Light, having cast down the usurper king, Zant, assisted in the downfall of Ganon, and all-and-all proven herself more than capable of ruling whether anyone liked it or not (mostly they didn’t mind) she gracefully reclaimed her throne. She’d changed almost beyond recognition; the indolent and impudent princess replaced by a woman every inch a queen in her bearing. The coming of Light had wrought horror upon the Twilight, but somehow had changed her for the better, strengthened her love and dedication to the people of the half-lit world.
Aside from sudden energetic enthusiasm for ruling, the members of her ‘court’ – the Twili do not have rank and title as Hyrulians do – found that she’d developed some new oddities to add to her previously known oddities. Though her principles and disposition toward the light-dwellers and the people of Twilight had matured beyond their wildest dreams, the Twili found their young ruler still had a few emotional kinks to work out before they could expect any kind of reliable daily schedule from her.
Thus, the pain mentioned.
She’d taken to long secluded walks through the Twilight, often lingering in places where the barriers betwixt this world and the next grew thin and (if one were readily available) find a high cliff, or a morbid statue upon which to posture herself for hours. Such lonely escapades were typically followed by an enthusiastic – somewhat manic – bout of productivity, during which she made duty to her people her number one priority before slipping away again for another session of melancholic reflection. Those less kind would call it moping. The Twili could only speculate what precisely she was ‘reflecting’ upon, but those brave enough to hazard a guess to her face usually got backhanded across the Dark Horizon.
Proving that Midna had not quite lost all her old vices – One of which was the aggravating habit she had of giving orders without explaining to her underlings the reasons.
Thus, nearly twenty odd members of the Twilight court found themselves delivering letters of summon to the most peculiar places possible without any explanation. She insisted at a single letter be sent through any gap big enough to allow passage from the Twilight to Hyrule, regardless where it might land. (Several popped out over lakes, volcanoes, rural forests and other places no reader could possible venture in search of postage.) Stranger still, she addressed them not to any of the expected people – the Princess Zelda, or the Hero of Twilight – but rather to a one ‘Sheik’.
If anyone had been brave enough to demand who this ‘Sheik’ was they may or may not have received an answer (read: back-handed across the Horizon) but Midna had gone mysteriously MIA. One of her late suitors had discovered a scrawled note on her throne reading: ‘Be back soon. Tell everyone to behave while I’m out.’ This alarmed her courtiers, obviously, but not half so much as what occurred next.
Through one of few gaps that her letters had been shoved…one was shoved back.
I apologize for my tardiness in replying, I’ve been preoccupied with matters in the Dark Realm (matters of which I’m sure you’re aware) and it took me some time to find your letter. I hope you didn’t send too many. I find I can’t bring myself to write the crux of this letter for fear you might throw it down in your panic and scamper off to do something you’ll regret. I know how fond you are of action, so I’ll say this now:
Do not attempt to save him. This is a matter between shadows, true shadows, Midna. You cannot get involved.
Wait for my next letter.
The letter ended there. No one was exactly sure who it was he meant; or if Midna had already done exactly what he’d advised against.
- Stealthy -
An stillness had befallen the Palace of Twilight, a kind of muted and muffled worry engrained in the stone itself. Five days marked the longest stretch of time in nearly a year that the Twilit Court had gone without an order from their mischievous young royal. And not single one of their number could say they were not sorely bored for something to do.
It didn’t occur to them to search for her, because all Twili are, in fact, impartial creatures by nature. And it had never been the habit of the Twili to pamper their royalty; that taught no duty.
It was also one of the reasons Midna held such sway in their culture, not merely by blood or power, but by temperament. The dull and limited constraints of ascension by rite alone impressed few in the Realm of Twilight. Pedigree or no, if you could not both serve your people and keep them mildly intrigued with you, it took very little to unseat said noble.
Midna, however, was a rare and intoxicating blend of capricious and capable. In her presence politics had no room to flourish, so absolutely did the commanding young Twili conduct herself (and so potent was her knowledge of their ancestors’ Arts) that opposition simply had no leeway to get in around her. The sheer magnitude of her power choked out any of the usual insurgents and reluctantly they laid down for her. In her absence, however, they bred.
Suspiciously fast some would later remark.
The line of ascension being very strict about the rights to the throne, there arose some clamor over who would have the proverbial dibs should Midna fail to return. If Midna had been vastly unpopular, it would have taken no stretch of imagination at all to find some loophole with which to deport her. But seeing that she had the fierce loyalty of more than a substantial majority of her subjects, any upstart would have to produce some impressive consideration indeed if they presumed to take her place.
And so the throne remained empty.
The close of the eighth day brought with it a peculiar shift in weather. Mottled purple thunderheads boiled across the skies, dimming the already darkened skies to desolate black and grays. Though no thunder ever struck in the world of Twilight (indeed, few of them could tell you what lightening was at all) it did rain, substantially, heavy sheets of icy crystal showers that rinsed the air of dusk’s golden dust. In this darkness, the princess of the Twili returned.
The wickedly merry call sent a variety of her subjects spinning on their heels, gaping, shocked as the young heiress stepped in out of the rain. She swept the headdress from her forehead, letting the ornamental hood fall off the slope of her collarbone to her shoulders and grinning somewhat wolfishly she addressed the thunderstruck inhabitants.
“What’s with those looks? Behaving like idiots, you should be ashamed. Your Princess returns from her arduous journey, chilled and wet and there’s not a hot drink in sight? Tut-tut. What impropriety.”
One of her more important courtiers scoffed loudly. “Oh yes, impropriety, Princess; this from the impudent child who flits off into the ether for so little reason and leaves her entire kingdom in disarray?” He hissed, a common show of irritation in the Court of Twilight, and gestured several underlings to get something or another. Hot drinks possibly, towels, a backlog of paperwork. “You fling off decorum as if you were some fourth daughter of no particularly important lineage. You shame your entire bloodline. Ashamed? Us? Ha!”
Midna’s smile turned impious.
“I see you haven’t dulled your tongue a fraction, Howll.”
He regarded her icily.
With hardly a care for those watching, she unclasped the sopping outer garment and the cloth slipped to the floor with a damp slapping sound, laying bare the glowing hieroglyphic traceries down the slender angles of Midna’s arms to her wrists. They blazed blue through the thin black material that snaked up her arms to sternum. Wearing only that and the knotted sarong about her hips, the pale almost blue-white of her belly glowed against the dark cloth. She took up the hem of her hip wrap and twisted the fine black and silver embroidered cloth, wringing rainwater out in a stream.
“Dangerous games for the third son of a record-keeper. You’re lucky I like you.” Her tone was playful. She unlocked the beret binding the long ginger locks of her hair between her breasts and pulled the damp tresses behind her neck. “Ah, much better.” The beret dissolved into black particles and melted to nothing. “As stylish as that is, it’s rather uncomfortable. Tickles you know.”
“I can’t imagine,” Howll said drolly. The male courtier, accustomed to Midna’s casual indecency, didn’t even flinch at the young woman’s undressing.
The princess laughed, the sound a musical staccato, three notes of amusement ringing clear. “Eee, hee, hee. That’s why you’re no fun, Howll.”
“Gods forbid I should bore you,” he said sourly. “And where has our little runaway been holing up? Fretting atop a clandestine grave marker in some decrepit and depressing hole of the Dark? Mewling at the edge of the Light? Pining away –”
Midna waved an impatient hand, striding past the irritable Twili. “Practice your vocabulary some other time, Howll. I’m in somewhat of a hurry. Has Sheik answered my summons?”
If the brush off bothered the other Twili, he didn’t show it. “Yes. He did that.”
“And I presume you’ve taken the liberty of reading my mail?”
He snapped ebon fingers and with a ‘zat!’ the letter appeared between them. “No doubt not the answer you were looking for,” he said, handing it to the waiting Princess. “Who is Sheik, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Would you be so kind as to tell me where you’ve been all these long days?”
“Moping and pining. The hole wasn’t particularly decrepit, but it was dark.””
“Ha and ha. What were you doing?” he reiterated.
Midna read as she walked, frowning very slightly before she tucked it in the waistband of her skirt. “I was looking into those ‘matters in the Dark Realm’. Couldn’t afford to be slowed up with an escort, so I took off myself. Knew you lot would hem and haw if I told you I was leaving all on my lonesome, so…”
Howll said nothing, because really he hadn’t a civil thing left in him. The young Princess strode down the halls with a feline confidence, bare feet slapping the floors with loud, commanding snaps that echoed down the long halls in all directions. Howll could do little but trail her like an indolent puppy, glowering in hopes she would feel the glare and subsequently feel bad about it. A thin hope, he knew, but a hope.
“You know…” he said after a moment. “That’s very bad form, Midna.”
She smiled back at him, a dazzling, infatuated smile. “Isn’t it?” she asked, awed.
“Your suitors were fretting.”
She made a disdainful sound. “They would. If I didn’t come back how would they ever become King? Boring, weak little things, I’m afraid and with ambition disproportionate to their abilities.”
Howll glowered. “You turned down some of the most powerful Twili in this Realm.” She made a dubious sound, as if his silly words were subject to many interpretations. “Forgive this observation, but it seems to me you’re valuing something few Twili men can offer.”
“You mean strength? Novelty? Daring? Defiance? Pride? A will that won’t bend unto any power, even my own? I don’t see what so hard about that? I only ask for someone with a backbone and, if available, a face worth looking at for the span of my rule. I really don’t know why that’s so rare. You’re almost brazen enough –”
“The thought sends me reeling with disgust,” Howll quipped instantly.
“You know,” Midna’s tone was wry, “it’s a wonder I haven’t had your tongue cut out by now. Anyway, you can see my dilemma, no?”
“Princess,” he said, “you make it sound as if nothing less than a feral beast will satisfy you.”
Then she stopped walking suddenly. A strange thoughtfulness fell across her features as she considered this. After absorbing it a moment the soft shape of her lips curled back, baring a long triangle of glittering ivory teeth. In that reckless grin, he saw something like lust, something like insanity and something suspiciously like knowing. “Would that be so terrible?” she inquired crassly.
Howll glared. “Yes. And you’ll not find a creature like that bred in the Twilit Court.”
Her expression smoothed easily to casual disdain. “Pity. Is the Council meeting today?” she asked rapidly.
“Yes.” Something occurred to him. “Where are we going, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Oh…” she said, waving her hand elegantly, “to take care of something. I’ve been meaning to get on with it for a while now, but whenever I got around to the task I’d think to myself ‘Wow, I could be moping on a rock somewhere. Why don’t I do that?’ So I would. So I never got around to this thing that I’m consequently on my way to do now. Don’t you love me being responsible?”
Then she burst into the Council Chamber with a horrendous bang as she smashed both of the monstrous double doors aside with nary flick of her wrists. The giant things rebounded from the walls with a series of deafening booms, people screamed, someone fell off their chair, several men lunged up as if to flee or fight. Taking it all in stride, the young woman squared herself in the entry, hands on hips, and addressing all those seated about the chamber she – in the very same tone one might inquire ‘Gentlemen?” – announced:
A cold beat of silence.
Howll stared in horror at the princess. Midna – who adored shocking the nobility – seemed to be enjoying herself immensely, watching the effects of her words ripple through the room like a chord vibrating though water. Her eyes glittered wicked and bright, pale marigold almonds offset by russet auburn disks. Around the low obsidian table, the collection of nobility expressed a rainbow variety of shock and appall at this sudden accusation. The shock wore off quickly enough.
“So the errant princess returns,” came one luxurious sneer.
Another took his cue. “What an honor to be recalled. We figured you’d simply…run off.” Muffled laughter.
Then the young woman laughed: a long winding crescendo of disdainful music that threw her head back with its rhythm. Then, just as the spectacle edged on frightening, she bit it off. In the aftermath of her laughter, there was silence again. Howll shivered.
“Oh, yes,” she said, amused. “Turn this back on me. But as awful as my offenses are – and remind me again why leaving for a week is so reprehensible – yours are far worse. There is no forgiveness for stupidity and that’s exactly your crime, my friends. Pity on you. Shame, shame, shame. Did you think you could do such a thing and not reap the consequence?” Howll heard the cold beneath her merriment, that poisonous and deadly tone. Her fingers set astride her hips dug grooves into her skin, nails biting crescents along her navel.
“Did you think you could blight something I cherish without my notice?”
And there, apparently, it was.
One of the Twili stood, throwing their finger at the girl with a crowing laugh. “So there it is! She says it plainly now,” he leered, casting his gaze imploringly about the room. “Cherish? Cherish? What words are these for a Princess to utter? What treachery –?”
Midna’s right hand tore from her hip. The whole room recoiled, but the ruling enchantress merely lifted a single finger in warning. “Do not speak of treachery,” she whispered.
Howll swallowed reflexively. All was still and soundless for a moment, every corner of the room resonating with those words, echoing deep and chill with the threat.
“We will speak of what needs to be spoken of,” said one woman sharply, throwing words into the quiet and tossing her chin high. “You shirk your duties, Princess. You mock all that had been bequeathed to you by the doctrines of our people for so little it is next to nothing. No. Not next to nothing. Nothing. A worthless impractical thing so faded it is but a worn and useless memory. That is what you sacrifice your people for.”
Midna seemed amused. “Oh? I’ve been sacrificing things have I? Tell me, please, what have I given up?”
“Title,” snapped one of the men in the far back. “You would deny yourself the position of Queen on a whim –“
She flung up a hand, stopping those words. “Oh please. That cannot possibly be your reason.” Her iridescent gaze burned like hell fire, chilled like hoarfrost. “Try again. I’m feeling generous.”
“Is that reason not enough?” said one of the younger men standing nearer to her, his flaming orange hair hacked short, swept back in curling spines. Familiar glowing green etchings wound down his bare chest to his belly and branched across his torso like a star-struck galaxy. His voice echoed low and melodious. “That our ruler seems ill-inclined to lead her own people, even with the full favor of her kingdom at her back? Is that not worrisome enough to stir our interference? You’re distracted, Princess. We merely mean to focus you.”
Midna’s eyes fell to him. “Lyre,” she named her former suitor quietly. “I liked you well enough. Why are you doing this?”
His mouth pulled in a rye smile, a twisted mimicry of amusement, perverse and pained. “Liked me well enough? Ha. Do not cater to my ego or my wounded heart, princess. You’ll find it doesn’t bleed for you any longer. I could accept that you find me inadequate, that you find me repulsive, that you could not bear my company.” A bitter pause. “But no more. I know the truth. I know what it is that corrupts your heart.”
She rolled her eyes magnificently. “Ugh. Such dramatics,” she groaned, making an eloquent face. “You make me sound like some ancient spinster. I’m offended. Let’s try again. This time, why don’t you tell me why you doddering fools thought it wise to unleash One Unnamed?”
Howll made a muffled gasping sound.
No one paid him any heed. Midna went on; face a mixed mask of malicious delight and righteous fury.
“Better, tell me how you – with your second-rate enchantments – managed to persuade something so vile and corrupt to move as a pawn for you. What did you promise him? What could you weak idiots have possibly offered him to bring that wonton thing under your banner? Not even the First Born of the Royal Family succeeded in taming that darkling monster, so how could you?”
Lyre smiled at that, the fine bones features of his dark face twisted in repulsive pleasure. “We shared a common goal.”
“What goal?” Her eyes blazed.
“Why can’t you guess?”
“I disdain guessing games. You would know that if you were even half worthy of my attention.”
“We’ve killed your pet, princess. You’ll have to train another.”
That was too far.
Howll looked away quickly enough that he didn’t see what, exactly, Midna did to him. Several of the Council members screamed, one of them might have been Lyre. Through his peripheral he glimpsed a blaze of mottled neon light, like a pulsating mass of liquid gold and sun-set suddenly surging out over Midna’s delicate shoulders. Coils of acid colored power wrapped her form like a cloak, more beautiful and blinding than any other. Then the nimbus of magic vanished and like-wise, Lyre no longer stood among those still living. Only his chair, toppled and empty gave allusion to his fate.
For an instant, no one knew what she might do.
Then Midna turned away from the silent number of her courtiers. “You fools,” she said plainly. “You simply don’t know what you’ve done.”
And she strode away into the halls of the palace, presumably to get something hot to drink.
- Stealthy -
Howll was wrong. Midna didn’t get herself anything warm to drink after all. He followed her at a half-sprint through the ancient halls of their hallowed home, refraining from the full sprint lest he actually catch up with her before she’d properly cooled her temper. At the moment, the farthest thing from her spinning mind was the delicate blend of spices she might prefer to sooth her palate. Rather, her thoughts had been quite caught up in matters of an entirely different nature.
The last humming dregs of power still shivering through her, buzzed uncomfortably through the ligaments of her arms and legs, throbbing in her stomach. She shook out her arms and rolled her neck for good measure.
“It’s appalling, Howll,” she called over her shoulder, refusing to turn to her subordinate. “The things my own people do to each other.”
He didn’t say anything, for which she was grateful. There was no telling what she might do at this new and dangerous point she’d reached, now that she’d been shoved beyond her limited patience. Midna threw open the doors into the Record Chamber, the ancient halls echoing mournfully with the twin thud of doors. A variety of bright-eyed young librarians looked up from their filing, startled and bedazzled at the sight of their Princess suddenly, violently among them.
Delicately tapered brows jumped together in her forehead, furrowing with displeasure. “My, but aren’t there a lot of little mice in here,” she said, baring her teeth in a truly frightening manner.
A storm of books pounded to the floors, robes rushing like whispers and there were no librarians left.
She pushed away from the doors and set off down one of the long isles, the wall of books on either side of her like the walls of a great black labyrinth. Her voice carried a harsh lilt of laughter to it, one that didn’t fit the sharp and noxious flavor that clung like lichens in her throat, coating her words with false merriment. She couldn’t help the words. They came like vomit when she was angry, anxious, hurt.
“You’d think after this long the Council would get in their heads that revolt only works if the people agree to it. Kings of our past forgot it, Queens and Warlords and Wizards all: In the end, the people hold all the power. They always have, always will,” she mused aloud, voice singing down the rows of endless black tomes. “The records are all here, every one of them, each insipid and ridiculous detail of our sad and sordid past.” Midna selected a book at random, opened it, then tossed it over her shoulder. “Useless!”
Howll caught the book. She could feel him glaring, hot maroon stare needling a hole between her shoulder blades. “Princess, the history of your people is hardly useless.”
She stopped at the reminder and for a moment a hot wash of something almost like pain swept through her, coiling in her belly like a curl of red-hot wire. It could have been guilt. Then again if could have been her breakfast, she was feeling a bit nauseous. Then she shook it off and continued. “I know, Howll. But I’m terribly mad just now and I might be liable to say all kinds of things. Don’t take it too hard if I hurt your feelings, will you?”
“I will endeavor to endure,” he promised her irritably, setting the book in its proper place, disapproval rolling off him. “Princess, you’ve just killed a Prince of Twilight. Far be it from me to protest what idiots you choose to smite from this Realm, but I do believe his family – the second most powerful House of the Twilit Court, mind you – might be just a little anxious about your reasons for tearing their heir to pieces.”
Her hands flung up, a violent motion that sent the air spinning, the pages of open books reeling to their prologues. “Because he was a fool and a murderous, influential one at that. He overstepped his bounds, Howll. We Twili may not pertain to any illusions of loyalty – mere treachery I can forgive – but this was a matter of debt.” Her voice ached and she cursed the rawness in her words. “We Twili may break promises, but we always repay our debts –”
“–lest the shadows swallow us for our impudence,” Howll finished the archaic saying. “I know. We all know. I’m just not certain your actions would be construed as judgment so much as a revenge. Justified or not, a Queen would do well to more carefully construct her arguments before she eradicates certain important figures from existence.”
“But he was so tedious.”
“This is no time for levity. He was a Prince, Midna.”
She spun about, whirling in a twirl of black skirts and copper hair, bright eyes flashing furious in the dim light. Howll braced himself visibly, a faint glow jumping into his dark red eyes.
“Unfathomable!” she shouted, letting her rage steal away all pretence of poise and princess-like prestige. “That I only killed Lyre was mercy! I should have killed each and every one of them. You have no idea what they’d unshackled from the Dark, what they’ve done.” She was breathing too hard at this point, tearing her fingers through her hair, furiously dislodging tangles. “Dammit! Where’s a comb when you need one?”
“Maybe if you told me…”
“I should have killed them, you know. That would have taught them.”
“I’m sure it would have,” said Howll, vaguely sardonic as always.
“I should have!” she spat.
“Don’t think I wouldn’t have done it, Howll. I know what kind of respect I must command. I know duty. I know it!” The last three words vaulted themselves high into the ceiling, lingering there with their damning inflection: desperation and despair. Midna put her back to him again, her hand slamming against the smooth obsidian of a nearby pillar, fingers splayed against the black stone, the white of her knuckles pushing through her skin. “As if I were a child,” she said bitterly.
Howll made a soft sound behind her. “You’re not a child, Princess. You’ve made that much clear tonight.”
She grinned somewhat recklessly. “I did, didn’t I?”
“Where are we going?” the courtier asked gently. “Surely the record keepers haven’t formed a coup?”
“No. I have to speak with someone,” she said quietly, seriously. “Sheik is being evasive. It’s his nature. I don’t hold it against him but it’s doing me no good to sit about and hope a dusty relic like him recalls to write me a postcard. I want to know the situation for myself.”
“Will this involve killing anyone?”
“Good goddesses. It was only Lyre, for heaven’s sake. You didn’t even like him.”
“No,” he said thoughtfully. “No, I didn’t.”
They reached the center of the Record Chamber, where the ends of all obsidian shelves converged around a great blue sandstone table, the surface a smeary azure of fired glass. The stone itself still hummed with the power of the men and women whose power had forged it. The ancient stone slab, known only as the Blue, had been passed through the generations, an heirloom of their ancestors who’d once seated themselves around this very table when they decided to unmake the world and defy the gods. This was a strange and sacred place.
Midna – enthusiastically disdainful of the word ‘blasphemy’ – immediately climbed up on the table and hopped into the middle of it. Behind her she heard Howll groan and begin searching the shelves nearby for something.
“So much to do and so little time again, like always,” she said, words coming easily in her distraction. She flung her arms wide and in a smattering of glassy chimes hundred of gemstones siphoned from their shelves, swirling about her like a swarm affectionate birds. “We’ve so much work to do.” She shook her head despairingly. “As if this isn’t hard enough without the time constraints. Hand me that book, will you, Howll?”
He flicked a wrist and the tome bounced off the table into her arms.
She flipped through it. “Thank you. Now could you imagine if the gods would just give me a break and let me do these things like a reasonable person? I can be reasonable, but no one ever knows it because I’m forever put in unreasonable situations… Gimme that crystal, the one by your head.”
Howll scanned the area impetuously, in that methodical little way of his before spotting it lodged in the wall near his left ear. He reached back, popped it loose from the stone and tossed it to the Princess without really looking at her, absorbed in the pages of a thick, creamy-paged rule book he’d unearthed. (He was still trying to understand why it was okay that she’d just blown a Prince of Twilight to smoking bits.)
“I really can’t abide all this decorum sometimes,” she complained abstractly, more for the sake of filling the quiet that her usually vocal courtier was failing to. The smaller Twili didn’t look up, his dark face contorted with concentration, looking remotely irritated with her distractive talking. She glared. “Honestly, Howll. If the Princess of Twilight decides to execute a traitor, I can’t see why her only real confidant is intent on finding her guilty of something. Put that thing down and help me balance this array.”
He looked up finally, angrily. “The House of Lyrics will not be pleased. You just killed their heir. They could demand reparation of you.”
“Again with all that, Howll? The House of Lyrics can whine all the way back to the Dark Horizon. I’ve done nothing but protect them for ages now and it’s about time they realized their place. Put simply, Lyre was out of line and, my dear, dear Howll, I can’t be having with that.” She bared her teeth in an impulsive and wicked grin, the one she used to reserve for moments of insanity, but was finding surprisingly hard to resist lately. “Besides, if they mourned that idiot long, they wouldn’t be true members of the Twili would they?”
“It’s not their mourning that concerns me,” Howll said coolly. “We Twili don’t mourn the foolish. What concerns me is that our Princess is finding it prudent to strike down members of her court for the sake of a Light-dweller.” Midna spun about, white-hot fire blazing down her arms, crazy fury in her eyes. “Even,” Howll said loudly, stopping her retribution short, “the Hero of Twilight. Midna, I don’t discredit him. We Twili owe him everything and Lyre’s treachery was a betrayal of that debt, but you must promise me you won’t do it again. You can’t do it again. Your people will love and respect your judgment this time, but choose a Light-dweller over your own people again and they will doubt you.”
She smiled serenely at the other Twili. “Howll, not even I can kill someone twice. You’ve nothing to worry about.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he muttered.
The beautiful young woman only smiled a prettily insane little grin and after a moment staring – glaring, actually – he sighed and slammed the ancient book shut on the tabletop. Green glinted off the gems laid about her feet, mathematical pinpricks of crystal set in painstaking patterns all about the floor.
“I don’t see how any of this helps. The Mirror of Twilight is shattered, my Princess. You cannot help even if you wanted to. This is needless torture.”
“That, Howll, is simply not true,” said Midna easily. “I’m a Princess of Twilight. I’ll help him.”
“Sheik already advised…”
“Sheik says a lot of things,” she snapped. There was a hint of madness in the way she said hissed that accusation, a hysteria that faded just as fast as it ignited in that hot place beneath her heart. She sighed. “The problem is just…with the Mirror broken I thought I’d done my part,” Midna explained, finally. “I thought I’d done enough to protect him…I was wrong.”
“Why did you break the Mirror, Midna?” It was a dangerous question. “Really?” Now, more than ever.
For a moment she just stood there, staring at the design of gemstone arabesques about her bare feet, feeling strangely fragile without her heavy royal robes. She lifted unearthly eyes to the arching black ceiling as if in wonder, taking in the ancient bowers of the Twili carved centuries before her time and she lifted her hands gently to touch a place above her heart.
“Because I’m selfish, Howll.” She closed those eyes and her fingers coiled over her breast, trembling with the pressure of curling inward. “Because I’m selfish and I know duty.”
He didn’t dare question her farther.
“What did the Council unleash?” Howll said harshly, breaking her grief with business.
“The One Unnamed. A true Shadow, birthed in the Dark Realm and created for one purpose and one purpose only,” she said, instantly falling into her old commanding confidence. A bitter smirk twisted those lips and she crouched on the tabletop, knees splayed, hands running gently across the blue glass stone. Her voice was disdainful now. “He was created only to kill the True Hero. Goddesses…I have to give them credit for that at least. They found the one thing that might stand a chance of hurting Link in all the Realms. Damn them, doddering old fools.”
The gems at her feet began to glow, light like a pool spreading beneath her hands and soaking the stone in it warm glow. Howll shrank back, eyes wide in the dark as that strange and alien radiance filled the room, thrusting beams of light like lances into every corner of the gloomy halls. Midna had no eyes for Howll, however. She sank to her knees on the Blue. The Princess was smiling into the blinding sun beneath her, undaunted by the light that used to terrify her with its brilliance.
“Princess.” The word was a little weak. Howll had to raise a hand against the light. “What is that?”
But she was barely listening anymore. “Hullo, idiot. I see you’re still as you were.” She could feel Howll staring. “Thank the gods for that.”
Then the light went out. All was quiet.
Midna remained hunched in the dark, grinning into the black stone beneath her fingers where that blinding light had been sucked down into a swirling other-world of smoke and shadow. The two Twili could see into this realm more easily and in it, made out the shape of a man standing at an angle against the glass, head upturned, as if looking over his shoulder into something overhead. Midna smirked at the familiar figure, a silhouette she’d memorized in her sleep, but wrong, utterly wrong.
“I see you, you bastard,” she said gleefully, “shadowing his steps like a parasite.”
All was quiet. Then someone was laughing, low, insane chuckle of a man verging on hysteria. Laughter of the mad vibrating through the Blue into her realm. Midna felt her skin crawl, felt the room shake with the sound of it, an eerie triple beat that was almost like his, almost exactly... except crazy.
“Heh, heh, heh.”
“Be quiet,” Midna ordered imperiously. “You know to whom you speak.”
“I do,” agreed the shadow. There was another abstract giggle. “But why come to me? Are you lost, child?”
“Better run and hide, little darkling. Once I catch up to you, there will be no mirrors to bring you back,” Midna snarled.
The dark was quiet briefly, murk swirling in the Blue.
“I have him, little girl,” said the shadow. “I’m so close. Sooo close.”
Midna said nothing. (Behind her, Howll was suddenly very, very afraid. Things that could silence Midna were rare indeed, rare and dangerous.)
“Are you jealous, little girl? Are you angry?”
Again, she said nothing.
“You must not care for him then.” The shadow seemed disappointed. “Pity, I’d hoped for a little more from you, half-light whore. I’ll see if I can’t get him to beg your name in the darkness. That would make you happy wouldn’t it?” Then he was gone.
“Princess?” Howll kept his voice low, trying to hide his urgency. He burst out, “Midna?”
She lifted her head, eyes glowing hot in the dark, wide with a strange and terrible awe. Her heart was in her throat, throbbing hot and fast. She hadn’t realized…she’d forgotten the sound even in so short a time. She swallowed the heat.
“You know,” she whispered, “I think…he’s a little mad.”
- Stealthy -
His power was there, diminished, like the embers of a fire that has almost gone out…
Diminished, but not gone, it would take more than death to wrench power from his grasp utterly.
And so, across the limbo, the expanses of realities, through the mists of distance the game resumed. The rules had changed, and the objectives had shifted, but the pieces where still there, right where he left them.
And the outcome was more certain this time.
And somewhere in the shadows he grinned.
“Rook chases knight… knight chases queen… queen chases knight…”
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