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Flowerblight Ganon

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No one knew when the shrines had appeared in Hyrule. It could have been around the time of the Great Calamity, or it could have been earlier. Magda wasn’t the type of person to be concerned with such mysteries. She was the daughter of a pair of merchants who traveled from stable to stable, and she picked up their trade after they retired to Lurelin Village.

Magda wasn’t the most successful merchant, truth be told. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sell the fresh fruit and fish her parents helped her procure from the Faron region. Rather, her wares were too much in demand. Magda could handle Bokoblins, who could be driven away with the warning shot of an arrow fired in their vicinity, but bandits were a constant cause for concern.

Many of the highwaymen who targeted Magda wore tattered livery with the eagle insignia of the old royal family. She had no doubt that they were former soldiers. With no monarchy to keep the peace, people did what they had to in order to survive, and Magda had been forced to surrender her entire stock to roving gangs on several occasions. She managed to survive unscathed, but there had been a few close calls.

Her trade was nevertheless profitable enough to motivate her to carry on despite the hardships until one of these attacks changed everything.

Magda was heading west toward Riverside Stable. It was sundown, right as the last red sliver of the sun sunk below the horizon. The light was in Magda’s eyes, so she didn’t notice the group of men following her. If they had been friendly, they would have hailed her, but she wasn’t aware of them until she heard the heavy clop of their horses’ hooves on Horwell Bridge.

Magda spurred her mule into a gallop. She was immediately pursued. The mule wasn’t built for speed, and they’d almost certainly catch her before she reached the stable. With her luck, they probably had one or two men waiting at the Whistling Hill crossroads to intersect her if she made it that far.

After she crossed the bridge, Magda broke off the road, urging her mule north along the riverbank. She remembered that the stable owners made a habit of leaving a fishing raft on the shore. If she could lose her pursuers in the shadows of the riverside forest, she could use the raft to make her way onto the Floret Sandbar. She assumed the bandits wouldn’t cross the river at twilight. Only someone in dire straits would risk being stranded on the island after dark.

But the men followed her through the forest, and they followed her into the river.

Magda watched helplessly as the riders plunged into the shallows. Even if they were delayed by the swift current, they would still catch up with her in no time. Magda dropped her pack and broke into a run, abandoning her mule on the shore. She hoped the unattended cargo would dissuade the men from pursuing her farther, even as she feared that it wasn’t her goods they were after.

Everyone knew the dangers of traveling at night. Lingering near Hyrule Field after dark meant risking attack from the monsters that walked by moonlight. Sure enough, the ground of the sandbar trembled as the pale bone of skeletal fingers broke through the soil and grasped at the cool night air. Magda hoped that, if she could just make it to the shrine in the distance, then she would be safe.

She ran for all she was worth. Every step hurt, and each breath was like a knife. Her sides ached, and her throat burned. The thought of giving up and allowing herself to fall into the fragrant wildflowers of the meadow flashed through her mind, but the orange glow of the shrine spurred her on.

Somehow she made it. Magda threw herself behind the curving wall of the shrine entrance, hoping that the sacred power of the mysterious ruin would protect her from the swarm of monsters.

The men who followed her were not so lucky. Magda cowered in the shadows, unable to plug her ears from the ghastly screams of the riders as the horde of skeletal creatures descended upon them.

When Magda finally emerged from the shrine in the light of dawn, there was no trace of the monsters, nor was there much left of her pursuers. It was as if the earth had swallowed them whole. Only a few broken blades and charred bits of armor remained.

Magda wondered if she should offer praise to Hylia for sparing her life, but that didn’t feel right. The goddess’s emblem was emblazoned on a gore-encrusted helmet half-buried under a clod of turned earth, after all. It wasn’t Hylia who saved her.

Her mule was exactly where she had left it. It flicked its tail in annoyance but looked no worse for wear. Her pack lay on the ground unmolested, and her cargo and saddlebags were untouched. Magda didn’t care to dwell on what the men had intended. It was better to focus on the shrine, and how beautiful it was. The light of the morning sun spilled over the eastern hills, illuminating the spires of Hyrule Castle rising in the distance.

Magda decided then and there to stop traveling. She had everything she needed right here.

She traded her wares for a few tools and provisions and made a home for herself in the ruins of a village on the rocky shore of Batrea Lake. Once a week she would ride north to Floret Sandbar and sit next to the shrine. She watched the leaves of the birch trees turn gold before they blew away in the cold winter winds coming down from Lanayru, and she watched the branches sprout delicate green buds as the days grew warmer. It was a quiet and simple life, but she was happy.

In spring, a magnificent chorus of flowers burst into bloom around the shrine. Magda did her best not to think about the patches of soil where the flowers were most dense. With enough time, perhaps she might be able not to notice these locations at all.

One lazy afternoon, as Magda sat on the steps of the shrine and daydreamed as the wind teased the flowers, she caught sight of a young man poling his way down the river on a flat-bottomed skiff. He moored his craft on the sandy bank and came ashore with his pole, which he used to poke at the ground. Sometimes he would stop and dig a shallow hole. He paid no attention to the flowers.

“Hello there!” Magda called out to him once she realized that he hadn’t seen her.

The young man raised his hand in a wave. “Lovely day, isn’t it?” he replied before walking across the meadow to join her, trampling even more flowers in his wake. He had large brown eyes and sun-kissed golden skin, and the friendliness of his smile was undeniably charming. He explained to Magda that he’d heard about the shrine from a traveler at the Wetland Stable, and that he’d floated downstream to see it for himself. He joked that he was hoping to find buried treasure, but added with a wink that he was happy enough to find her.

Magda warmed to him as they chatted, but her good will was tested when he once again began to poke at the ground with his pole. He eventually pulled up a grimy helmet half-buried in the soil beneath a clump of flowers. The eagle wings of the helmet’s crest flashed in the sun as he polished it with the hem of his shirt.

A stab of panic pierced Magda’s heart. She rose to her feet, drawing the knife at her waist. “Please don’t disturb the flowers,” she heard herself saying.

The next thing she knew, her hands were red, and the young man’s eyes were growing dim at her feet.

Magda was horrified. She couldn’t have done this. It wasn’t possible. The thought that she wasn’t capable of such a heinous act was quickly replaced by the conviction that no one must know.

With her heart still hammering in her chest, Magda used the man’s pole to carve a shallow grave into the soil. As she dug, she apologized to the traveler and the flowers alike.

She returned several days later with a shovel and a birch sapling, which would have to do in place of a gravestone. To Magda’s surprise, the body was nowhere to be found. She was certain that she was digging in the right location. The soil was still loose, and it hadn’t been disturbed by animals. At a loss, Magda dug deeper, and then deeper. Her concentration was so intense that she bit her tongue when her shovel struck something hard. The taste of blood flooded her mouth as she cleared the dirt away.

Thick black roots encircled the young man’s body. Magda poked at one of them with the blade of her shovel only to realize that they weren’t roots at all. They seemed to be tendrils formed from some sort of tarry liquid, and they smelled like the pitch-black creosote used to coat the wooden barn roofs in Hateno. The odor was strong but not unpleasant. Magda stretched forward to touch the substance before pulling her hand back in pain at the searing sensation that raced across her skin.

She scrambled out of the hole and ripped up fistfuls of grass to create a makeshift compress for her burned fingers. As Magda waited for the pain to fade, she watched the clouds drift across the sky. Her gaze was drawn to Hyrule Castle, and the thick black fog twining around its spires.

A month passed.

The flowers of the Floret Sandbar flourished and grew even more beautiful. The birch sapling put down roots and began to spread its leaves.

The perimeter of Hyrule Field was a lonely part of the world. Every once in a while Magda saw a Zora swimming in Hylia River. They waved to her but never came ashore. At one point she was visited by a Goron trader who had seen her tending the flowers from afar as she walked along the cliffs of the eastern bank. The trader took advantage of the low tide to make her way to the sandbar. Despite her size, she tread lightly and took care not to disturb the plants. Magda spent a pleasant afternoon together with her as they drank spicy Goron tea and reminisced about their travels while admiring the flowers.

Spring gave way to summer, which turned to fall. The winter was cold and dry but mercifully brief. Magda didn’t dare to cross the ice when the river froze, but she returned to the sandbar as soon as the first patches of grass broke through the thawing soil. The shrine had begun to feel like home.

On the cusp of summer, right before the rainy season, Magda was visited by a woman who identified herself as a Sheikah researcher. She said she was studying shrines. This particular shrine was called Hila Rao, she informed Magda. It was named after an ancient storyteller, or perhaps an artist. “The records are unclear,” she explained. “We only have fragments of his work. He seems to be a minor figure, so it’s curious that there’s a shrine named after him. I believe that…”

Magda allowed the researcher to talk. Her lecture on Sheikah history was above her head, but she enjoyed the rise and fall of the woman’s voice. She made the appropriate sounds of agreement in response, but she wasn’t really listening – until she heard the word “excavation.”

“Excavation?” Magda repeated.

“Well, ideally, yes,” the researcher replied. “It would be difficult, of course, with Hila Rao Shrine being so close to the river, but this location is a prime candidate for an exploratory dig. Most of the extant shrines are in dangerous areas. But it’s quite safe here, isn’t it? There’s nothing but flowers…”

Magda’s anger came to a boil inside her chest. She couldn’t abide the thought of her precious shrine flowers being trampled, and she would do anything to protect them.

The woman was almost quick enough to put up a fight, but she turned out to be more researcher than Sheikah. Her last red breath bubbled from her slit throat as she lay defeated among the flowers.

When the haze cleared from her vision, Magda was overcome with panic. She was lucky that no one had tried to investigate the disappearance of the treasure hunter, but she was no match for the combined forces of the Sheikah. It was only because she took the researcher by surprise that she still had her life.

Magda fled the sandbar and returned at night with the proper tools. She was possessed by a calm certainty that the Stalkoblins and Stalizalfos would not bother her while she completed her task, and in fact they did not. No monsters rose from the earth as Magda dug a grave under the crimson light of a rare Blood Moon. It didn’t take her long to find the mysterious roots. They were not black in the moonlight but pulsed with an eerie magenta light, just like the shrine. Just like the castle above the hills.

Magda was not afraid. Whatever the force animating the roots might be, it would protect her from the Sheikah, just as it protected her from the soldiers. She was sure of this, and she was correct. No other Sheikah came to the sandbar, and the flowers grew ever more beautiful.

And so the years passed. There were many mysteries in Hyrule, but they did not concern Magda. She was not a treasure hunter or a researcher, just a woman tending the flowers growing in the grassy field surrounding the shrine. With time, her sightings of Zora in the river gradually declined. Her Goron friend visited a few more times, and then not at all.

Magda didn’t take it personally. The numbers of merchants visiting the stables along the river had decreased, and the stables were now staffed by only a few people. Although there were fewer travelers on the roads, the natural world thrived. Forests spread, and wild animals left the safety of the trees to build their nests in the shadowy ruins of houses. Herds of horses grazed in meadows that were once roads. Moss covered the casings of the ancient war machines that had settled to rest in the hollows of buildings that had rotted away. The kingdom of Hyrule was slowly becoming a memory.

Every so often Magda was granted an opportunity to feed the dark roots extending from the castle to the sandbar. She took pride in her gardening. This part of the world was a lonely place, but it was beautiful in its own way.

But there had been more monsters on the prowl in recent days, and the Blood Moon rose more frequently. The pond on the other side of the river had soured and become a swamp. Magda could smell its sulfurous odor when the wind blew to the east, and she thought there might even be a Hinox lurking about. Every so often she spotted a Guardian. The machines had once kept to themselves on the flat plains of Hyrule Field, but travelers brought rumors of sightings as far south as Lake Hylia. Something had changed, and not for the better.

One spring night, as Magda watched the flowers sway gently in the breeze under the hazy light of the moon, she remembered a legend her mother had once told her. It was said that a princess still lived in the ruins of Hyrule Castle, as pale and silent as a ghost. Her magic kept a terrible monster sealed away. One day the princess’s chosen knight, thought to be lost to the Calamity, would return to save her and cleanse Hyrule of its blight. Magda used to love this legend as a girl, but now she found that she didn’t care for it. She didn’t care for it at all.

If this legendary hero returned to Hyrule, he would seek out the shrines, which were said to be waiting for him just as faithfully as the princess. Magda had tended the flowers with utmost love and care. Surely the hero wouldn’t object to the garden she had planted in honor of the shrine. She had even laid out a path to the shrine’s entrance among the blossoms. If the hero did indeed come, all he needed to do was to show the proper respect by staying on the path.

But oh, it would be a terrible shame if he were to step on the flowers.