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It’s always dark in here.

I’ve never gotten over that. Globes of light hang just below the ceiling, one in each corner, and we take our turns holding up the spells that maintain the light. But that spell exists for twelve, fourteen hours a day. Even rotating the task, it’s a lot of effort. So we keep the spell small. Not much light. It’s enough to drive one insane, sometimes. The days and years pass by, and we have nothing to do but wander this stone dungeon from one end to the other and wait for death.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better just to walk out and head for the surface. I could go west, I suppose, out of Hyrule and into lands where they’ve never heard of Ganon or the Triforce. I could do that. But every time I wonder, I excuse myself from the company of the others and go look at the broken shard…the shard from the Wisdom of the Triforce. I’ve never had the courage – or perhaps the foolishness – to actually touch it. But I go and I look. Maybe just seeing it can show one a part of its power, because every time I do, I immediately see that leaving is not my course of action. It’s not right. And I don’t mean not right in the sense that it’s morally wrong; I mean, it’s not right for me. I wouldn’t be happy with it, knowing that I’d left my duty behind me.

That’s something I thought odd. I always supposed that the Wisdom of the Triforce was some ultimate repository of that virtue…that the wisdom it gave would be absolute, unbiased, the wisdom of God if there is one. But the wisdom I got from it – if indeed I got anything – seemed personal. Specific to me.

That’s only speculation, though. After all, it’s only a shard…not the entire Triforce. It shouldn’t be able to do a thing, in that state. Its power is broken. But that is so hard to believe, as I watch that glittering triangle of shifting gold and shimmering, sapphire blue. It has an aura of power around it so strong that I just can’t believe there’s no substance behind that aura. Can’t believe it.

I should never have agreed to this. When Zelda asked me and the others to stand watch over the shard, I could have said no. Could have. Theoretically, anyway. But no, I’ve served the royal family too long for that. And besides, Nora would’ve thought less of me if I had. I don’t think I could’ve borne that.

She walks beside me now, and we talk. Talking is something you get used to down here; there’s really not much else one can do. So that’s what happens. We walk. And talk. The others respect our privacy, most of the time. They know that we, also, are waiting for the inevitable.

I fidget with the hem of my blue wizard’s cloak as we wander the halls. We step through a corridor into another room, just as featureless as the last. A few columns to hold the ceiling up are the only decoration. Jereth used to talk about building a room ourselves, with magic. We could do it, he said. Make a room, give it chairs, tables, a carpet…make it a reprieve from the dull gray of the rest of this place. It might even have been a good idea, I don’t know. If we could have found a way to keep the like-likes out. They would eat those chairs and tables and carpet and everything else, too, if they could get at it. But there hasn’t been mention of such a room in a long time. A year, maybe. Maybe more; time isn’t all that certain down here. Jereth died about then. One of Ganon’s moblin search parties found this place while everyone else was asleep, and Jereth was forced to take them on alone. Couldn’t risk letting any of them leave; they might report back to their master of this place, and all might have been lost. So he fought them. Alone. Killed them all, too. But one of them got him with a barbed spear in the side, and for all Nora could do with her limited skill at healing, he still died. A pity, too. He always had more hope than any of us. He could look the future in the face and say, sure, you’ll get me, but I’ll get you, too, you damn bastard. That was just how he was. But he’s gone now. And he never got anything from the future but the sharp end of a spear.

Still, at least he’s not left with despair anymore. We’ll all end up like him at some point. One way, or another.

I refuse to command that you do this, Zelda told us all, that you guard the Triforce against all comers. I can only request it. Because someday, one will come who will destroy you, and take the shard. And he will save us all. Except you.

We all spent a month once, speculating on the possibility that we might somehow recognize this “savior” when he came. That there might be some way to set him apart. But not all the creatures of Ganon are moblins and stalfos, beasts. Some are human. We nearly lost the shard, once, to a man with blonde hair and a sunny face and a sword so bright that it seemed impossible that he could be a creature of evil. He named himself Aaron, and he charmed us all with a few pleasant words.

We told him to stay the night, and we would take him to the shard in the morning. He agreed without question. Would not a creature of Ganon be unwilling to wait the night, we reasoned?

Nora was the one who discovered him, that night. She refused to say how. She seemed upset, so I didn’t press the issue. But I think I know what happened. Some of it, anyway. I don’t blame her, though.

All I know for sure is that was the first time I saw her with blood on her hands.

Hunting parties come more frequently these days…some are made up of creatures I’ve never seen before. Ganon must be getting desperate. We keep track of time by the seasons, and by the seasons it’s been four and a half years since his rise to power. We’ve performed our task. Ganon still lies deprived of this part of the Triforce.

Nora and I pass through another room. This one has a few like-likes huddled together in one of the corners. I can hear the soft rattling sound as they suck at the ground, picking up crumbs, stones, bones, and the occasional sleeping rat. I wonder how a creature like them can survive, sometimes. Spongelike, no muscles, no breathing, no excretion…nothing except the constant feeding on everything in reach, dead or not. I don’t understand how they can even move. But ah, well. We keep out of the way of the like-likes when we can. We would have destroyed them all long ago, but they’re tough to kill, and they can be useful sometimes. A good distraction for anything that might be too damn big for them to eat. Like, say, a moblin. Though a like-like can even eat a moblin, if the moblin for some reason can’t get away. I’ve seen it happen. It was slow, and it sounded painful. Not a good way to die.

And this is only one dungeon with one shard. There are eight shards, all guarded as this one is, one way or another. When our savior and destroyer arrives, I hope he has the courage of a thousand lions. He’ll need it to face the hell that awaits him.

And we’ll need it to face the man that somehow walked through that hell.

It is night, now. At least I think it is. We start getting ready for sleep when dusk arrives outside, but after that it’s hard to tell whether ten minutes have passed or ten hours. But I think it’s still night. And I have a strange feeling. Not fear, exactly…I’m no stranger to that after living with it so long. More like…anticipation.

I can’t sleep.

Neither can Nora. I can hear her breathing beside me, and it’s not the soft, deep breaths that I normally hear. These are quick, heavy, almost alarmed.

Something…is about to happen. Is it time?

Richard is on guard duty tonight, watching the entrance. And when I hear him take his quiet steps into the room – always the quiet one, Richard – I know that we’re not alone in this place anymore. An intruder. And not an insignificant one, or he would have taken care of it himself. Richard was never one to bother the rest of us if it weren’t necessary.

I feel him shake my blankets; there’ve been enough intrusions during his shifts that he knows just how hard to shake, to wake me. Except I’m not asleep. I remove the cushion-like construct of magic that I made earlier, the one that I have been lying on, and let myself drop the few inches to the ground. I tell him I’m awake. He acknowledges in a whisper, then moves on to Nora’s blankets. I was right about her being awake; she responded to Richard far too quickly to have been asleep. A few of the others do, too. But some really are asleep. Maybe it’s just the weather. They say animals get restless in bad weather; maybe humans do, too. Maybe there’s a storm outside. Beneath all the tons of dirt and rock above us, there would be no way to tell.

It’s known without him having to tell anyone that there is an intruder. There are only two questions. I forget who posed them.

The first one: Human?

Richard says, yes, it’s a human.

Tension increases tenfold. A human means a possibility. The possibility that we might die this day, all of us. The possibility that today our deaths will pave the way for Ganon’s defeat. But even with such a noble cause at hand, we are afraid. Even in this world of stone and despair, life is precious and death a thing to be feared. None of us want to end up like Jereth. I don’t want to end up like Jereth. I don’t want to see Nora end up like Jereth, either.

But she agreed to this. Without hesitation, she agreed to it. I only followed her. I didn’t want to see her die alone. I didn’t want to live knowing she would.

And so we’re here. Will it end today?

The second question is a request for the intruder’s description. What, someone asks, should we expect?

A foreigner, Richard says; looking almost Hylian but with a few inconsistencies in the brow and the shape of his ears. Not particularly tall or short, fat or thin. Average stature, but strong, and with the look of a haggard battle veteran to him. A fairly simple sword of white steel and a large shield of brown metal. Clad in green…a forester, maybe? And one of those defensive rings on his hand, and a bow, and a few other things. Ready for anything, as the saying goes.

We split up. There’s about twenty of us total; Nora and I join Richard and Celeste and Jord and wait in one of the rooms. A pair of like-likes are there. This is good for us, one more distraction for the opponent.

We won’t be the first to face him. I know this place well, I know our…deployment, for lack of a better word. We decided early on that we would do it this way. When confronted with an unknown threat, split into groups and remain in different rooms, so that we can’t all be killed at once by more powerful magic, or explosive weapons. The structure of this place is fairly specific, and we know that the intruder will face others before us.

I hope he never reaches us. Because if he does, either the others ahead of us have fallen to someone who is not to be the savior, and thus died without necessity…or the intruder is the savior, and we will shortly follow those before us.

I hate knowing I’ll be killed by a friend.

But now is not the time for such worries. I can hear the sounds of conflict in the room ahead of us; the map I hold in my head tells me it is the intruder’s second battle within the confines of this place. Some of us have already fallen. I spare a moment to wonder who…but not long of a moment. We have to be ready. I share a glance with Nora and the other three, and we take up our positions. Jord and I to each side of the door, Nora and Celeste in the corners. Richard in the center of the room. He always was a risk taker. We draw our hoods down to cover our faces, and after that we are nothing more than figures of cloth broken only by our hands reaching out from the loose sleeves.

I grip at my robe tightly with both hands as we wait. It’s a nervous habit of mine. We wait and listen to the sounds of battle in the next room and the sucking sound of the like-likes as they go about their dark business. We stare intently at the steel door that separates the rooms. Not even we can open that door, now. Not until either the intruder has fallen, or our brethren have.

Silence rises.

We listen intently, each of us. Ragged gasps emerge from the next room.

Even from here, we can tell there is only one person breathing. Each of us is conscious of that fact beyond all others as the door slides open without a sound.

And we see green. Not blue or red wizards clothes, but plain green forester’s clothes.

I get a second or so to look at him, before the fight. Richard’s description was accurate, as far as it went. But when he called this man a veteran…it just doesn’t describe him well enough. I look into this man’s eyes and I see a hundred battles. He is the lone wolf, the hunter, the wanderer that travels the whole world and has seen so much that there is no longer anything he wishes to see. The clothes belie the man; he is no forester. He is a warrior. The green cloth is stained with blood, some of it still flowing; he has not made it this far unscathed. Yet it does not faze him.

I liked Aaron, as I remember. I liked him. I don’t like this man at all.

I respect him instead.

Yet it means nothing. I liked Aaron, but he was still a creature of Ganon. I respect this man, but that doesn’t mean he cannot be the same. And so we must fight.

And it seems that as soon as that thought crosses my mind, perhaps a second and a half after the intruder’s entry, it has begun.

He moves first, before we have a chance to cast the spells we have prepared. His sword is sheathed, oddly; in its stead he raises a wizard’s wand of sapphire blue. My blood rises in anger and pain at the sight of it. I recognize it. It belonged to Dirk.

Dirk had been one of those guarding the room he had just fought through.

He raises that sapphire wand and a luminescent wave of magic is propelled through the air, at Richard. Richard smiles slightly. I can’t see it beneath his hood, but I know the smile is there as he speaks a single word and the wave parts around him before continuing onward and impacting on the far wall in a shower of sparks.

Richard strikes back with his own magic as the intruder stands in shocked silence. Perhaps he hopes to win the fight within that small mercy of time. But no; the instant Richard’s bolt leaves his hand, the warrior snaps to action. He drops the rod and draws his sword smoothly with one hand, in a single motion. He twitches his shield just enough to catch Richard’s bolt, and I watch in horrified wonder as the magic is absorbed effortlessly and without effect into the very metal.

Richard, Jord, and I raise our arms, chanting a word in unison. Lightning leaps from our fingers, and it seems that at least one spell must penetrate. But no…the warrior dives and rolls forward, catching Richard’s bolt on his shield while the other two pass inches behind him. I am forced to guard myself against Jord’s magic, unable to help as Richard desperately tries to evade the intruder’s flashing sword, somehow sliding away from each strike.

Suddenly I see Nora and Celeste appear from nothingness just behind Richard’s attacker. I hold hope for a moment that they can strike him before he realizes they are there. The hope is short lived, for he turns and in one motion cleaves Celeste in two at the waist. My heart lurches in pity, sadness, and fear. Pity and sadness for a friend, someone I knew. Fear for…something else. Nora teleports away safely, but it could have been her. Could still be her.

Will, if this man is who I hope and fear it is. If he is the one we waited for. My heart rebels against our mission; I don’t want to die, I don’t want to see my friends destroyed. Not for this, not for anything.

If I live through this, I think to myself, it is the end. No more. I leave tomorrow. With Nora. I hope.

Magic explodes in the air. This time it is too much for him; he cannot block or dodge it all. Of the four spells, mine gets through, and I make a small noise of satisfaction as my power hurls him across the room to crash against the wall.

We try to follow it up, to finish it. But he is in the corner now, and his shield is large enough to hide behind. He blocks the first wave and charges, scattering us, drawing blood from Jord and Richard, running like wind from one corner to the opposite one, where he turns again, looking at us warily. We stand set. This time we are the ones who wait. Wait for his initiative. We will let him make a mistake first.

I hear Nora cry out in pain. I didn’t even see him move, but I see the boomerang he threw return to his fist. Its trajectory is impossible; it’s almost certainly spelled. I look back at Nora in worry and fear. Beneath the hood of her robe, I cannot even tell how badly she is hurt.

A second time the weapon lances out, and Jord doubles over as it thuds into his gut. I hear the sound clearly as one of his bottom ribs breaks. This time, the boomerang falls to the floor, its momentum spent in a more solid blow. And then the warrior is off again. His blade scores Jord again, on the shoulder, as he passes, and he makes it to another corner. The fallen wizard manages a weak blast at the warrior’s back, enough to hurt and push him facefirst into the wall. When the warrior turns around, blood is flowing freely from his nose to join that of his recent wounds.

He sets himself, as if to start another run at us. I ready myself wearily; I no longer believe we have any chance of winning this fight. But maybe we can weaken him enough that the next one will drop him.

And then a like-like, moving faster than I ever believed it possible for the spongelike creatures to do, darts in from a few feet away and tries to latch on to him.

It doesn’t succeed, of course. Not quite. He is too good for that, and twists just barely out of the way. But it catches his shield, rips it from his arm and swallows it whole. I shiver, with horror and new hope. Saved by a sponge? Perhaps God has a strange sense of humor. Perhaps not. The warrior’s sword dances and weaves in a hypnotic pattern of death, and the like-like is reduced to shredded pieces of spongestuff before anyone thinks to take advantage of the distraction. But the blade cannot penetrate the tough lining of the thing’s stomach, and the warrior’s shield goes unrecovered.

For some reason my mind does not see that as making any difference. I feel no rise in hope.

For good cause. The warrior wastes no time, does not stand still in disbelief or shock, but darts across the room again, our magic bursting behind him. He takes refuge behind the other like-like, taking a more careful watch on it this time. He will not make the same mistake twice. But then, he will not have the chance to; moments later, our combined spells reduce his living cover to ash.

And from out of that falling ash he charges yet again, whether from courage, insanity, or battle-rage I don’t know. And that is when he takes me.

I do not even realize I have been stabbed until his blade has already been removed from my chest, and his person removed yet again to a far corner of the room.

It hurts.

It hurts. But not as much as I thought it would. I wonder, almost absently, what will happen to me now.

Sight leaves me first. Darkness beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in this dismal cave envelopes me, and I know without doubt that this time there will be no further light. The realization fails to move me.

I can still hear, though. I hear desperate shouts, and the warrior’s flashing blade and breaths. And I hear Nora screaming, struggling as she tries to hold up my weight, speaking to me in desperate tones in words that I can’t seem to understand.

And I hear the warrior stop for a moment. Just one moment. He is death one second, but the next he halts to allow Nora her grief.

I hear it stretched out, that moment of silence lasting far longer than it should have. For the others, it must have been only a heartbeat. They can’t hear it, can’t notice it. But it answers the one question I had, the one question we could not dare to gamble on the answer to.

A creature of Ganon would not hesitate, would not give her that moment. This is no creature of Ganon.

This is him.

I try to speak, to stop the bloodshed, to stop the dying, but no sound comes out. I hear the sound of battle begin again moments later, and I know it’s too late but I keep trying…

At least I have one consolation. I cannot see. I don’t have to watch Nora die.

I hear Zelda’s voice again, for the first time in years. Someday, one will come who will destroy you.

He’s here, your Highness. Someday is now.

And he will take the shard.

I have no doubt. We can’t stop him. None of us can. Nor would we want to.

And he will save us all.

Except us.

Except you.