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TLoSaI Ξ “The Meaning of Twilight”

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Vol. I – A Mysterious Arrival

Somewhere, in the vast regions of space, the bounty hunter, Samus Aran, was all alone.

Samus exhaled slowly as her navigational display lit up to tell her that she was finally out of Federation space, cueing up the autopilot and letting her hands fall from the controls. It never ceased to amaze her how much of a challenge this could be. As someone who had been travelling amongst the stars for her entire adult life, Samus knew full well just how much space there was, out here in space. And given the massive volume of the Galactic Federation and the positively minuscule size of her small, single-occupancy craft, one would think it would be a damn sight easier getting out from under their watch.

But they had eyes on her, the same as they had all the hunters they employed—no doubt enabled by the many Aurora Units developed and scattered across the galaxy, one of which she had just laid waste to on their dime. Samus had her own reasons to be suspicious of powerful, unknowable AI—they gave themselves bugs, for heaven's sake—but even after the fatal betrayal of the Chozo by Mother Brain, it seemed that the Federation's mood wasn't so much “How awful!” as “We want one too!”

And not just one—thousands.

Thousands, and aside from the one she had just personally deäctivated, all still perfectly operational, because even though the Space Pirates had already demonstrated their ability to hijack them, information was power, and power was at a premium, what with the unending, intergalactic war and all. How dare they think of terminating the Aurora program, especially now, after all of the hired muscle they'd rigged up with toxic biomaterial had turned, and brought them to their knees, with Samus (also hired muscle, also nearly succumbing to the same mutagen herself) left as the only person in the entire galaxy with the requisite equipment, experience, and carefully controlled infection necessary to take them down? Now, more than ever, they needed to place their fate in the hands of unstable, potentially dangerous supercomputers if they were going to win this war!

That—albeït in somewhat different wording—had been the response she had received to her mission report—and it had been the final straw. Slowly, but surely, she had made plans for her escape. She'd visited spaceports and stocked up on supplies. And now she had done it—she was Gone.

Gone—and just a little bit drunk, too. It didn't take much to get Samus tipsy, a fact that had earned her no end of ridicule back at the Academy—she had a fast metabolism but low tolerances, a side-effect of her Chozo genetic engineering. Alcohol hadn't exactly been a thing on Zebes, after all—and when her adopted family had named her “Protector of the Galaxy,” she was pretty sure that running from the cops on half a glass of cider probably wasn't what they'd had in mind.

There was a lot going on these days that the Chozo hadn't designed.

Samus normally didn't approve of alcohol—she was straightedge to a fault, actually, despite the culture that had surrounded the legend of the Galaxy's Greatest Bounty Hunter—she didn't approve of fans, either, for the record. But light alcohol consumption, combined with adequate hydration, had actually been shown to help with damage control from her Phazon infection, and now that she was cured… well, no better time than the present for breaking the rules and partaking in the final remaining bottle she had lying around.

A woman in her late twenties, breaking the rules by drinking a bottle of light alcohol which she had purchased with legal tender a few months before. Yes, that was Samus Aran, all right.

But she was breaking the rules, in a much bigger way; leaving Federation space without a permit to do so was grounds for a charge of treason—they could accuse her of conspiring with any number of anti-Federation organizations once they noticed she was gone. “Famed Bounty Hunter Goes AWOL”—she could imagine the tabloids now.

But they would need her yet again. What with the Aurora Units, those damned military scientists (still injecting soldiers with dangerous and untested biomaterial, for all she knew), the Space Pirates, and the continued existence of the creatures known as Metroids, it was only a matter of time. They all knew it—and if it meant doing a suicide mission to regain her good standing when she got back… well, she'd probably be the one going on that mission, anyway. It was worth it getting away while she had the opportunity now.

Time and opportunity: These were concepts which weighed heavily on Samus's mind.

It wasn't—well, Samus knew full well the risks of her occupation. Her blood parents had been taken from her at the age of three; her Chozo father had given his life protecting them all when she was sixteen years old. She had since lost countless friends and lovers and comrades to the battlefield and to the Galactic Federation's jailyards, and she knew, sooner or later, she would be joining them—it wasn't her mortality which frightened her.

But her entire being felt sore; exhaustion had crystalized into a sharp anchor in her chest, perpetually dragging her down; her skin was cold and clammy and hard; these days, her reflection didn't look like the woman she knew at all. It wasn't just the sickness, and it wasn't just the booze—she was 28, and hadn't had a moment to herself since her teens.

Samus dimmed the mirror before its image had a chance to shatter her wholeness any farther. They might never let her fly off on her own again. But at least she wouldn't be spending her short life living in regret.

A part of her missed the old days, the old days when she was young, the young days when she could fly unnoticed to cities across the galaxy, admiring the skylines from little cafés along her route. She had thought she was learning the ways of the universe. She had been so young—young and naïve.

She'd thought it would always be that way; that “bounty hunting” would just be that, that with a paycheck, lovers in half the galaxy's cities, always a couch and a friend to collapse on. Her girlfriend broke up with her when she found out Samus was working with the Federation Police again. The illusion didn't last long.

Maybe she would find another planet to call home. Maybe, despite the sheer cosmic improbability, she would find another planet, with the right atmosphere and food she could eat and ingredients for her lab and she could just live there forever on her own. Maybe there would be other inhabitants too, and she could learn their language and their culture, and carve a life for herself as the Woman Who Fell From The Sky. She wondered if they would ever miss her, back in the Galactic Federation, if she just disappeared. She wondered if she would ever have anywhere else she could go.

Eventually, though, the water ran cold. Samus towelled herself off on her way out of the bathroom, groaning silently at the ache in her joints, leaving the damp cloth strewn on the floor beside her chair. She didn't even bother getting dressed, curling up with a large pillow in her pilot's chair, with a massive bowl of popcorn and cartoons recorded from streams before her departure. (Technically, this too was illegal. But it wasn't her fault that she couldn't catch the 20:00 because she was off on some godforsaken planet trying to save the galaxy! How was that for Space Piracy—Samus allowed herself a brief smile at just how absurd her whole situation was.)

But before she lost herself completely to the land of sappy, two-dimensional romantic dramas, Samus configured alarms on her ship's sensors to notify her of any habitable planets or strange anomalies. Maybe, if she was unimaginably lucky, she would stumble across some nice beaches before she had to turn around and head home.

☙ ⁂ ❧

Meanwhile, in the rural province of Ordona, just south of Hyrule, life was noisier than ever, and that was a good sign.

Ilia closed the door behind her, her chest stinging a little from laughter. She walked over to the window, giggling and waving back at the children who excitedly gave their goodbyes. Children were a regular occurrence at Ilia's house—Beth, self-declared Big Sister to Ordon Village and all-purpose caretaker when parents weren't around, was a close friend, and would often stop by, her small troupe of young ones trailing behind her like ducklings. Although, they weren't so small now, she supposed. Ilia remembered when that responsibility had fallen to her; Colin, especially, always standing in her shadow. But now he was up at the castle, and it was her little sister Linkle who was constantly bringing up the tail. (She was absolutely adorable, by the way—Ordon's shining light.)

It had been five, almost six years since the end of the Twilight War which had consumed the kingdom, since the children—herself included—had been abducted by dark forces, trapped against their will as the world around them slowly drained of light—and it was heartwarming to say the least to see them all laughing and joking together now. They had, all of them, been changed by the war—save maybe Linkle, who had spent the duration in her mother's womb. Reaching a place of normalcy afterwards had been a long, slow, and often painful struggle.

In the distance, Ilia saw Luda sneak a quick peck onto Beth's cheek before they disappeared around the corner and out of sight. There were good things which had come out of it all, even so. She came to appreciate that more every day.

But there were things missing as well. Living here, as she did, the disappearance of her childhood friend was a pain which had never fully left her. This was their house—Link, her teen crush, the whole village's hero, the one who had, at the young age of sixteen, not even a real adult, seemingly singlehandedly rescued each and every one of them, ridden up to Hyrule Castle, and dealt the finishing blow to the tyrant who had masterminded the whole invasion. They had gotten help from the Princess Zelda for that last bit, somehow—Ilia wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't been the village's own swordsman, Rusl, who had informed them of the news. Link, working alongside Princess Zelda… Noöne really knew what to make of that.

After the war, Link had seemed much the same—but also different. Looking back, Ilia wondered if the only reason they had been able to act so normally was because they knew it would soon be over. “I need to return my sword”, they had declared to the village, once they had all made it through the winter. “And seek answers. It may be some time before I return, so… don't bother holding on to all my stuff, okay?”

“It's no problem, Link,” Ilia had responded resolutely. She had only recently reconnected with her former self after the traumas of the war, and her emotions in those days were turbulent and frequently carried her away. She was incredibly, very, oh-so-much in love. “I'll take care of your old treehouse, and all your stuff. It'll be sitting here waiting for you whenever you decide to return.” As will I, came the unspoken words.

Link had just smiled at her. “Okay,” they said, simply. “I'd like that. Consider them yours.”

It was the last anyone had seen of their hero.

Ilia smiled, thinking back on her childish fantasies—that one day Link might return; that the two of them might live together under the same roof, first as friends, and then as lovers; that, here in the woods and away from the prying eyes of the villagers, she might pull her hero on top of her, run her fingers up inside of that green tunic and feel those muscles which had become so strong…

She was blushing, now, into the twilight, even though she was older and knew better than to expect such things. Here in the quiet, late hours, when the children had all gone away and the world grew dim around her, Ilia relied on such things to keep the sadness at bay. She didn't deny herself the pleasures of a twentysomething young woman living alone on the edge of civilization, especially not here in the bed of the one person she had ever truly loved. If Link took issue with that—well, they could ride their beautiful horse right back here and make it known.

Even that would be enough, she told herself—just seeing them again, after all this time. She exhaled softly into the night.

Darkness had finished its descent by the time Ilia washed her hands in the bucket of springwater set aside for freshening up. Momentary reprieves aside, her night wasn't over yet; there was a town meeting that she was obligated, as the mayor's daughter, to attend. It was harvest season—which meant little time for such discussions in the mornings or during the day; in the evenings, additionally, parents wanted time to spend with their families—and none could begrudge them that, considering. So it was that town business, when it came up, was relegated to “after the kids are asleep”—in other words: late at night.

Ilia tugged her dress on over her head and glanced momentarily in the mirror, trying and mostly failing to do something about the cowlick that had developed itself in her hair. She could swear that she hadn't had nice hair since the day she'd moved in here—cursed by the spirits of longing to an eternity of embarrassing coiffure. Sighing, she admitted defeat and made her way out the door.

The nighttime air was brisk, indicative of the season. The time was fast approaching for the village's annual gifts to the Crown. Ordona was technically an independent nation from Hyrule proper; its people—save Link, now departed—weren't ethnic Hylians, and like all the other tribes of the world, had been granted limited autonomy and self-governance in exchange for their second-rate status in Hyruleän affairs. Nevertheless, as they were effectively a protectorate, tributes such as the annual harvest season gifts had historically helped keep negotiations smooth and the troops far away.

Of course, that was the situation before the war, when the fall of Hyrule under the Twilight Army had left Ordona entirely vulnerable, and only through the efforts of their own—and not just Link, mind you, but also Rusl, Malo, Ilia herself—had peace been restored.

“If they're not doing anything for us, I don't see why we should do anything for them,” Jaggle stated plainly, his face illuminated by firelight. “The Guard is incompetent, we're sitting ducks, and it's not like Zelda has been doing much—”

And it was true. Ever since the war had ended, Princess Zelda had barely even been seen. Some said she was in mourning for those who had been lost. But there was another, more insidious rumour: Zelda had been held hostage in the Castle during the invasion, and some said that she had actually begun to sympathize with her captors. Whatever the situation was, her coronation—which had been imminent prior to the war; just a few weeks out—had been postponed indefinitely, and the sole surviving member of the Hyruleän Royal Family seemed a far cry from being able to lead.

“It's time we faced the facts,” Jaggle continued. “Hyrule is a kingdom in decline. The time has come for Ordona to go its own way.”

“Now, now, Jaggle,” Rusl said, raising his hands gently in a placating gesture. “Let's not jump without a Cucco.” Rusl had been one of the members of the Resistance which had restored the Crown to power, and his son, Colin, was currently at the castle training for the Royal Guard. Consequently, he was Loyalist as they come.

“Rusl is right; the Castle might not be doing much for us, but what about Kakariko?” Ilia's father, the mayor Bo, spoke up. Kakariko Village was, by now, essentially Ordon's sister city—it had been utterly devastated by the war, and the two communities had been working hand-in-hand during reconstruction. “She's half Ordonian at this point, at least. Surely you're not suggesting we go to war with our own people?”

“I never said anything about a war,” Jaggle said, backing down, if only for a second. “Gods know, we don't need another war right now. But I don't see why we should be obligated to send a gift.”

“If we don't send a gift, it will only hurt our chances with diplomacy later,” Rusl countered. “I propose we take the opposite tactic: Send them something which asserts our strength as Ordonians! Remind the Castle that we have value, after all!”

“If saving their asses didn't already remind them of that,” Jaggle scoffed. “I'm not sure a gift is going to cut it.”

“We can make our decisions regarding the gift at another time,” Ilia cut in. She was already getting tired of being there; half the time it seemed like the village men just showed up to argue. It was the other reason she wished that Link was still present. “Right now we need to be making plans for the harvest. Father?”

“Ah, yes,” Bo said, a little sheepish. He was the mayor, but his strengths lay in agriculture, not community management. Ilia taking charge in these sorts of situations was par for the course, and it embarrassed him a little every time. “About the harvest…”

There was much to say, and the meeting would run late into the night.

☙ ⁂ ❧

It had been a couple of days, and Samus had been lounging around in her blue Chozo jumpsuit, wistfully flipping through old photos, when the alarms had rang. Somewhere between exhausted and excited, Samus pulled up the readings on her display.

Not that it was ever really a surprise to her anymore, but what she saw was something she had never expected to see.

It was a wormhole, and an incredibly stable wormhole at that. In her last mission, The Levianthans from Phaaze had used such wormholes to travel the galaxy spreading their toxic sludge, but those tunnels tended to be ephemeral, preventing passage back to Phaaze once they had closed. This one, given its rate of decay, might stay open for centuries, and perhaps already had. And, well, they weren't anywhere near Phaaze.

Still, Samus had an uneasy feeling about this. She brought up her star charts and analysed their location. Granted, wormholes were wonky, and she was out in uncharted space, but given the angle of entry…

All she could say was that she couldn't rule anything out. Phaaze, this wormhole, and her best guess at its destination lined up a little too neatly for it not to be worth investigation. And, she was Samus Aran. Flying through uncharted wormholes was all a part of her job.

Granted, she was currently on the run from her employer. But, well…

Samus's hopes that this whole thing might just be a coincidence quickly faded when she got to the other side.

She was on the outskirts of a solar system, and within that solar system, there was one particularly notable planet. The right distance from the sun; water, oxygen, and carbon in the atmosphere; visible greenstuff on its surface… Phazon or no, a wormhole leading to a habitable planet brimming with vegetation was no small thing.

Samus made a note in her ship's logs to investigate whether wormholes expanded with the rest of the universe.

Dropping into orbit and sending her sensors about their various tasks, Samus allowed herself a brief moment to marvel at just how Earth-like this planet was. Not that it did much for her, personally—despite her outward appearance, her body was actually much better-suited to the planet of Zebes, thanks to the genetic-engineering work of the Chozo—but the Galactic Federation, who was constantly looking to expand its human colonies, would certainly consider this one a catch. The solar day even clocked in around… well, 23 hours, give or take. A little fast. But definitely workable, especially given the odds.

Then, she looked at her first sensor report, and her illusions of this planet resembling anything like Earth faded like dust among the stars.

When she was younger, Samus had been given an extensive education by her Chozo guardians, in a diverse set of topics deemed fitting for a would-be galactic protector. By the time she had departed from their care, at the age of sixteen, she had meaningful backgrounds in such things as linguistics, political theory, rhetorical studies, martial arts, ethnography, music, and comparative religion—and to this day, she would sometimes make an effort to stay up on these fields when she wasn't busy fighting to save the galaxy. Nonetheless, the breadth of this educational programme meant that certain other specialized topics—such as “measuring quantum behaviours to gain insight into the nature of surrounding spacetime”—she had somewhat needed to pick up on-the-fly.

That said, her ship's processors seemed fairly conclusively convinced that the nature of this surrounding spacetime was, well, unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. Samus had assumed that she'd seen the upper bounds of mind-boggling physics anomalies when she had arrived on Aether, a pair of planets which, through some amazing feat of mumbo-jumbo, had manage to occupy the exact same position in spacetime. But, if Aether had been two planets, what she saw before her now was more like, five.

Not for the first time, Samus found herself envying those old, excitable human scientists who could look at something like this and say, “What a fascinating discovery! I think I will spend my entire life just studying this one planet, with nary a care for anyone or anything else in the universe,” and not: “Well, fuck, how many people are going to be threatened by this, this time.”

Greater than one, evidently, as her ship started picking up on structures that bore signs of intelligent, organized social life. Samus flipped through the images that her onboard computer had produced for her: Okay, these were probably bridges; yes, that looked like agriculture; sure, that was likely a settlement… and was that a fucking castle?

Whatever it was, she was going in for a closer look. She still didn't know if this planet had been targeted for Phazon corruption, but if a Leviathan had produced the wormhole that brought her here, detecting it should be a straightforward task once she got close.

Samus let her ship descend, entering the planet's atmosphere. It was nighttime, which meant she could hopefully scope out the area without drawing too much notice, maybe even make a landing and look around. Her scanners weren't indicating much in the way of electronic activity on the surface—but it didn't seem to be nonexistent, so she toggled her radio and began scanning frequencies, just in case. Static, more static…

…And then all of the lights suddenly went out.

“What the hell?” Samus cursed, quickly climbing out of her pilot's chair and moving to check on her ship's circuits, trying not to think about the fact that she was now hurtling towards an uncharted planet out of control. If ever there was a bad time for a Total System Failure, this was it.

She tried summoning her Power Suit, knowing its scan visor would help her to figure out what the heck was going on. …She tried again. When nothing happened, well.

She was well and truly screwed.

The Chozo Power Suit was an instrument which, by intentional design, required sustained focus to operate. In the case of a critical failure, or the incapacitation of its wearer, the last thing that one wanted was to be trapped in a heavy, possibly immobile suit of armor. Rather, in these situations, the suit would dissolve, stored as energy inside of its wearer's body, until such a time as it could be brought back into operation. (The self-repairing Zero Suit jumpsuit, which Samus wore underneath, offered some degree of protection in the meantime.)

But Samus wasn't incapacitated, she was able to apply the necessary focus in her sleep (and had before—sometimes accidentally), and her armor hadn't sustained any damage to speak of. Instead, it felt like her mental connection to the Power Suit had simply disappeared… She tore gently at her sleeve, watching the fabric rip easily. Self-replicating functionality was a no-go, too.

But, right. She was supposed to be avoiding a crash.

Samus's gunship was a model of her own design. Custom-built for her at the shipyeard of Aliehs III, it tastefully merged the best of Federation and Chozo designs and capabilities. And, because Samus was paranoid and liked doing things right, this naturally included a manual override system—even if most people considered it outdated, and the entire bloody Federation laughed at her when they heard about it.

Still, it was one thing to have a manual override system, and another thing entirely to be able to use it to make a safe landing, hurtling at unknown speeds an unknown distance above an unknown planet, in the dead of night, with no power or anything but analog measurements and controls.

She was aiming for the lake. Samus remembered the bridges, she remembered there was a large body of water coming up, and assuming she got her angles right and didn't smack into the side of something on her way down, it was probably her best shot at a safe landing. The ship probably wouldn't survive. At this point, she wasn't really worrying about the ship.

Her name was Samus Aran, she was the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter, and she knew how to fly a damn plane. She was aiming for the lake.

She hit the trees.

☙ ⁂ ❧

Ilia held the lantern high as she and Rusl treaded their way into Faron Woods. Her arm was already showing signs of fatigue—silently, she cursed the lean and slender build of a young woman who spends the bulk of her time managing diplomatic relations for her father and not out working in the fields. Her mind wandered back to Ashei, the young warrior who had passed through Kakariko Village on her journey southward after the war. What she would give to be built like that, Ilia thought. And then she would be the one carrying the sword.

Ilia glanced up at Rusl, keeping pace beside her; his face was gravely serious, his hand tense over the hilt of the blade. When they had heard the crash coming from the forest, it had taken him no time at all to volunteer to go investigate. She knew what he was thinking, because they all were—remembering the monsters that fell from  the sky back during the war. Rusl hadn't been able to stop them then, and Ilia knew that he felt guilty about all of the suffering that they had faced as a result. It was why she couldn't afford to let her lantern-arm droop now.

There had been a time when “monsters in the forest” had been nothing more than an old folk tale, designed to keep young children from straying too far and getting lost. But six years ago, they had turned out to be all-too-real. When the Twilight War had ended, the forest had returned to normal—but it would be a long time before anyone trusted the trees again.

The lantern sputtered and flickered in her hand, and Ilia silently reached into her satchel for oil. Before long, it was bright and steady, guiding their way. Neither she nor Rusl had spoken a word since crossing the treeline. As they walked, the gentle sound of raindrops grew against the canopy leaves, and Ilia felt a drop make its way through the foliage and graze her cheek. She quietly reached up and brushed it away.

A soft glow appeared in the distance, and, at first, the pair warily slowed. As they drew close, however, it became clear from the size and shape that the blaze which produced it wasn't contained. Rusl cursed under his breath and ran forward, Ilia jogging to keep up behind him. Stories of dragons and danger flitted unbidden to the front of her mind.

The canopy above them had been decimated by the crash, and rainwater poured in on the flames, thankfully helping to keep them down. There were no dragons in sight, and the object before them didn't appear mobile at all—despite the fact that it had somehow dropped itself into the middle of a dense wood. As it clearly wasn't living, Ilia figured it had to be a transport of some kind. It was big, almost house-sized—Ilia felt her eyes drawn upwards, wondering what manner of creature might possibly have left it behind.

If it was intended as a transport, that meant that there might be something inside—and indeed, Ilia noticed a hatch hanging loose on one end. She took her lantern to it as Rusl kept an eye on the flames. The interior looked… vaguely reminiscent of a room—but it appeared to be leaning on its side, whether by intent or accident Ilia didn't know. There was a soft rustling sound, followed by a moan, from somewhere within.

“I think there might be someone in here!” Ilia shouted, wasting no time climbing inside.

The room wasn't as big as it had seemed on the outside, and it didn't take Ilia much time at all to discover the source of the noise: a woman, lying on her back, sprawled across the floor. She appeared to be out cold by the time Ilia reached her—but breathing steadily, very much alive.

The woman was incredibly tall and well-built—muscular—with long hair tied into a ponytail, and a sizeäble bruise across her face on one side. She was clothed entirely in what seemed to be a stretchy blue undergarment—no skin was visible, but very little was left to the imagination regarding her physical assets. Ilia mentally scolded herself for blushing in such a situation, and busily looked around for—well, anything to cover her up from Rusl's eyes. Amazingly enough, there was a towel laying nearby.

Rusl appeared at the room's entrance, peering inside. “The rain seems to be taking care of the worst of the flames,” he said. “I think it will be alright.”

“There's a woman in here, and she seems hurt, but she's definitely still alive. I think she fainted,” Ilia replied. “We can take her back to my place—it's closest—be warned, though, she's not exactly modest right now.”

And so Ilia was once again cursing her spindly arms, holding the woman by her legs as they carried her through the night. They stopped only once—just before crossing the bridge back into Ordon, taking a breather and giving Ilia the chance to top off the lantern for the last time.

“I don't suppose you noticed her ears,” Rusl asked softly, as the two of them continued on their way.

Ilia hadn't thought to look. Pointed ears meant Hylian—ethnically Hyrulèän, the goddesses' chosen race, the magic-weilders. Ilia had assumed—a muscular blonde woman, descended from the stars.

But she had been wrong. “They're Ordonian,” Rusl said.