A Windy, Blustery Day

Chapter 4: Two Scenes and a Punchline

Chapter Summary:

In which Warriors is impressively paranoid, a nap is interrupted, and various topics are discussed. Also, Hyrule decides to show off.

Chapter Notes:

me, looking at my current draft and estimating my final word count: wElL At lEaSt iT's nOt nOvEl lEnGtH

Well, thought Warriors, blinking the smoke from his eyes after a sudden dive out of range of a giant explosion, at least that thing's distracted.

The thing in question, wreathed in pitch-black smoke and an aura of menace not ten paces away, scowled as it parried Time's Biggoron sword and melted a step to the right.

"I can't believe you're getting on my case about this right now!" it shouted at the newcomer to the fight: a teen with a sword, embarrassingly familiar hat, and far too much moxie to explain his continued survival. "In case you haven't noticed, I am ever so slightly in the middle of something here!"

As if in emphasis, it jerked forward, distorting its torso to evade another of Fours' attempts to catch it by surprise, and swirled back together a few paces further away.

"The Subrosian Circle of Incendiary Materials doesn't care if you're in the middle of something, Shadow!" the newcomer retorted. His auburn hair bobbed like a chipmunk's tail as he spoke -- quick, sharp, and confident, brimming with wild energy and an accent Warriors couldn't place. "It cares about the proper honoring, respect and usage of explosives! Which that was absolutely not!"

Time went in for another charging lunge, aiming to drive the Dark Link (the Shadow) toward Warriors and the sacred blade in his hand, but the newcomer wandered right into his path like a fool tripping through a bomb flower field, without so much as a pardon.

Warriors had to give the kid credit -- it took skill to make a move like that look natural. That, or he was actually that much of an idiot, but that answer seemed less likely with each passing second. Mad intent gleamed bright behind the newcomer's eyes, and Warriors only didn't know what for.

"Fireworks are explosives, and last I checked you don't complain about those!" countered the Shadow, looking more irate by the second.

"Fireworks are designed for the spectacle!" the newcomer countered, weaving about to seamlessly block Four's next sneak attack like he didn't even know what he was doing. "Their purpose is still fulfilled without a target, and they fall under an entirely distinct set of bylaws!"

The argument would have been fascinating had Warriors been less concerned for the situation at hand. As it was, antagonizing a monster that could summon bombs the size of octoroks and blow half the roof off a stable sounded like a great way for the newcomer to end up dead, clever confidence and sword on his back or not.

Then again, the Shadow hadn't tried to kill the newcomer yet, which was more than could be said for the rest of them. And for all the hostilities, the teen acted like he knew that thing, the same way the fake Twilight had before--


He'd heard that voice before.

Is it working? Can they see us?

The newcomer was one of Dusk's friends -- Lore -- and suddenly, it all made sense. Or didn't, since this was still a Dark Link they were dealing with, and it had still somehow insinuated itself into the other heroes' group as a member despite its nature. But one thing was certain: if Lore considered the Shadow as much an ally as Dusk did, that made him just as much of a threat. More so, if the kind of charisma and gall he'd oozed from his introduction meant anything -- this was one dangerous hero, and the last thing any of them needed was to give their opponent a helping hand.

But why come play the distraction now? As night approached, the Shadow's advantage grew -- were they stalling until the hour gave them the upper hand? Plausible, but that didn't explain Lore's presence. Even now, the Shadow wasn't weak, by any stretch. Their efforts in flanking the thing would have brought down most lesser foes long ago, and only the Shadow's unnatural swordplay, ability to teleport, and resistance to most physical harm had kept it alive this long.

Stalling for time wasn't like their enemy, either. There was a reason Warriors had boxed off the area with a fire rod before anything else, and it wasn't just because he'd missed the mark with bomb soot in his eyes. Their Shadow would have cut its losses and run by now, but this thing had chosen to stay put and on the offensive. Unless Lore was there to cover its retreat? It wasn't exactly retreating, though...

"And the point of my explosion was to--" The Shadow's voice jerked Warriors back to reality, fight-or-flight reengaging. He watched it throw its hands in the air -- exasperation, or an aborted overhead strike. "I can't believe I'm having this argument with you. This is ridiculous. Aren't you at least going to rag on them, too? For, I don't know, trying to kill me?!"

"Did they now?" Lore turned around to survey the rest of them, putting on a very good show of acting like he'd only just noticed all the unsheathed swords and attacks of opportunity. "Well, that's no way to treat a stranger, is it? Can I ask why?"

"I don't know what it's told you--" Warriors began, stepping in before the others could get led astray by Lore's maverick train of persuasion, but the Shadow interrupted.

"They started it!" it spat, crossing its arms like a tattling child. The swords still did not leave its grip, which made it look either faintly ridiculous, or like a deadly ball of living blades. The last few minutes pushed it toward the latter.

"... Yes, we did," said Four, suddenly just beside Warrior's off arm, forcing him to hold himself back from startling. He hadn't even seen him this time. Damned bomb soot.

Warriors scoffed. "What were we supposed to do, not take issue with a dark copy of one of us crawling out of your friend's shadow?"

"I didn't even stab you first!" the Shadow retorted, and jabbed a finger at Four. "You stabbed me first!" It managed to sound indignant about this, like it had deserved the first strike, and found their failure to allow it highly disappointing.

"Alright," said Lore, "so there was some stabbing! But what's a little stabbing between friends?" He gave the Shadow a pointed look. "Especially friends who are nearly indestructable and have a history of murder? And have also committed shameful crimes against explosives before my own two eyes?"

The Shadow gestured to the master sword, hands shaking with almost comical frustration. "They are trying to kill me! It's rude! And they called me a minon of Ganon, even!"

"We also tried to kill you the first time, remember?" Lore countered, as if this made things any better. Was he even trying to help now, or just sow more distractions?

Hell, the Shadow was distracted as well -- was this meant to be an opening? Was he aware of the threat after all, and acting as some kind of double agent? He'd gotten in the way earlier, but if he meant to protect them from it instead of the other way around--

"But fair point on the minion thing," continued Lore. "That is quite rude. What do you all have to say for yourselves?" He put his hands on his hips, staring down all three of them expectantly.

Yeah, Warriors wasn't sure why he'd thought this was going anywhere reasonable.

"So 'world's worst parasite' gets a pass, but calling you what you are is a step too far?"

The Shadow's eyes flashed like embers, and it seemed to loom all of a sudden, taller and thornier than before. Its claws twitched and spasmed. "I. Am. Not. That. Pig's. Minion."

"Fine," Warriors said. "Someone else's minion. Your own minion. We still know what you are, shadow."

"Perfect! You've already introduced yourselves, then," said Lore, now skipping blithely past the attempted murder. "And while your apology was somewhat lacking, you clearly understand the situation! Now we just need to get past the part where we all try to kill each other, and we'll all be eating kumquats around the campfire and singing camping songs together in no time!"

Warriors stared at him. "... You're joking, right?"

Lore gasped, (mock?) affronted. "I would never joke about kumquats."

Goddesses, this was a mess. Warriors gave Time a meaningful look, and whispered, "We're not actually humoring him, are we?"

Time didn't answer him.

"How many of your group know the truth about this?" asked Four, eyes still fixed on the Shadow. "You can't really think we're going to just... keep your secrets for you, after this."

"What?" said Lore, at the same time as the Shadow. The latter let out a sharp, bitter laugh.

"What?" continued Four, almost snarky. "Did you not think this through? Or..." -- his eyes flashed, and Warriors couldn't tell what color, but he could hear the way Four's tone changed mid-word, the sudden strain of panic as he processed his own conclusion -- "... do they all already know?"

"Yes?" said Lore. "Obviously?" He tapped his chin and stared at them all a moment, uncharacteristically nonplussed, then added, "Did you really think we were all trying to keep this a secret?"

Warriors rolled his eyes. "Unless you've somehow convinced a dozen other heroes that this thing is safe to keep around--"

"I mean, nothing is truly safe," said Lore. "Not even bombs." His brow furrowed, an expression Warriors hadn't yet seen on his face. "Wait, is that what you've been doing? Keeping a bunch of important quest-changing things hidden from each other just because you didn't think to share? Is that why you didn't know about Story Time when we talked on the pendant earlier?!"

"It does sound bad when you put it like that, doesn't it?" mused Time.

"How in the world do you get anything done?!"

Apparently Lore could still be thrown for a loop, thank the goddesses. That, or he was simply appalled by their lack of... what, baring their hearts to whatever strangers they befriended around the campfire after a few weeks of travel? Please. Even as a kid back in the war, Time had taken months to properly open up, and probably-future-Wind had kept his secrets for longer. Between nine of them, just thrown together on the trail? Fat chance.

"It does cause us our fair share of troubles," Time admitted, like the hypocrite he was. Was he playing along, or was he actually getting suckered in by all this? "We keep a great many secrets between us. Maybe a few too many."

"You can say that again," muttered the Shadow. Warriors restrained the urge to scream.

"But some things are secret for good reason," Time continued, "and trust like that can't... shouldn't be forced, unless there's no other choice. Those who are ready will tell us in their own time." His lip curled in a hint of a smile, and Warriors had a good idea what he was thinking of. "Even if we sometimes wish they'd get on with it already."

"Like your Twilight not telling anyone he's your friendly traveling wolf?"

... well, at least Warriors had an excuse to know about that, now. Not that he could have missed it. All those wolf statues in Cia's garden...

"... He has his reasons to be shy about it," said Time, more indulgent than defensive.

"Well, I can't imagine needing that, but I suppose if it means that much to you..." Lore shook his head, and any trace of contemplation vanished like sand-writing in the tide. "We'll just have to introduce you all to Story Time later, then! Don't worry, it'll be fun! We can go first so you don't all feel so intimidated, if that helps."

"So you are all in on it," said Four, ignoring them both. "All of you. You all know about the Shadow in your midst."


And there was a bombchu shell, hidden in the tangent.

If a creature of darkness had fooled two heroes, bad enough. But all of them?

The Shadow managed to roll its eyes again, despite the lack of pupils. "Congratulations! That is, in fact, how not keeping secrets works! Are you done trying to kill me yet or not?"

Four shook his head. "You have to realize how dangerous this is," he began, addressing Lore directly as panic faded into conviction. "A creature made of dark magic--"

Lore grinned, still playing the fool, rolling his eyes like it was the simplest thing in the world. "Oh, come on now, Patches, we just talked about this! Just because Shadow's dangerous and commits crimes against explosives sometimes doesn't mean he's evil. Plenty of us have done that!"

Obviously, it couldn't be that simple.

Think, think. Lore was on the creature's side, that much Warriors could assume. Dusk, too, of course. Sky and Legend had an eye on Dusk, but Wind had seemed conflicted -- he might be swayed into helping him, given time. Maybe a diversion, then, to keep them from aiding the rest while Dusk escaped? But if the Shadow hadn't appeared, they wouldn't have even been fighting in the first place. Damage control, then; the Shadow didn't follow their orders, and now they had to bail it out.

That sounded plausible, but something was still off. If the plan was to get a loose cannon out of the action, the goal should be to shake off their attackers and retreat, not stopping to chat, distracting enemies and allies alike.

This wasn't a getaway, no. This was a diversion for something bigger. Lore was stalling, but what for? What could he -- what could either of them have to gain from a stalemate? What could--?

No. Of course.

He was an idiot. He was such an idiot.

An hour ago, Lore had been halfway across Hyrule. If he was here, Wild must have gone and picked up the group, the way they'd planned before the Shadow had revealed itself.

Wild, faced with the entire group of sympathizers and limited knowledge of the enemy, would easily accept a 'simple misunderstanding' or whatever lies the Shadow itself had fed them. Wind would be the same, once they arrived, Sky's conviction would be lacking, and Legend would be well outnumbered if he didn't play along.

Lore wasn't a distraction for this battle. This battle was the distraction. Lore had been stalling for backup, and Warriors had let him. By now, the newcomers could have turned half the chain to their side, and all the members of their group who understood the true threat were in one place, losing ground.

"You're all working with it. And now, you're all here," said Four, seeming to reach a similar conclusion.

Lore nodded. "Yep! Wild's ferrying everyone across right now. That part of things actually went to plan -- kind of boring, if you ask me, except for the fight with the -- what do you call them again, guardians? -- but anyway, the train was only about half on fire at most, and we still got here before dark, so that's basically to plan. Once we find what we're here for, we'll be out of your hair before you can say maku teer... but with how late it is now, it looks like we'll be staying the night!"

"... and what are you here for?" asked Warriors, not knowing if he'd regret the answer.

Lore shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine! Usually we defeat the incarnations of Demise from whatever time period we're in, and then just take the portal to the next Hyrule, but this is definitely new."

The what. "You don't even know what you're looking for?"


Warriors narrowed his eyes. "Then why send your whole group, just to return one man? Just cut the act. What's your real goal here?"

Why should we trust a word you say?

"Wow," said another voice, from just off behind them all. "Twilight was not joking when he called you all 'kind of paranoid'."

Only long and bitter experience kept Warriors from whirling around to face the newcomer. He took a half step back, instead, angling his field of view to catch a glance at the speaker without losing track of the Shadow.

A boy stood behind them, sword undrawn. He had all the looks of a classic child hero: short stature (nearly Four's height), blonde hair with thick bangs and forelocks, wide blue eyes, the tunic, and yet again that goddamn nightsock hat Lana and Zelda had tried to wheedle Warriors into wearing back in the army "for morale". Only the color of his clothes -- purple, of all colors -- marked his departure from the archetype.

One of Dusk and Lore's group. There was no mistaking it.

"Hello," said the boy. "The name's Vio. I'm sure Lore and Shadow have introduced themselves by now."

Four visibly flinched at the new hero's name. Warriors filed away a mental note to follow up on it, but kept his eye on Shadow first and foremost.

"And you are..." Vio continued, glancing between the three of them, eyes skipping right over Lore and the Shadow. "... Huh." His gaze stopped on Time for a moment. "Oni's parallel, maybe? Or Mask's? And..." (he looked to Four now) "... one of us, I guess; you've got all our colors." He waved a hand at Warriors. "No idea who would wear that cape, though."

"It's a perfectly good cape," Warriors found himself saying, and then regretted rising to the bait. (He really should have been used to taking sass from twelve-year-olds by now.)

"Eh, kind of gaudy, if you ask me..."

"It brings out his eyes," countered Lore. Warriors did not know how to feel about this.

"Mine is better," the Shadow added, and Vio rolled his eyes.

"Yours has 'death to cows' written on the back of it."


Warriors groaned, and fought the urge to mash his face into his palm. He focused his glare on Vio instead. "Are you really going to look us in the eyes," he asked, searching for some sign, any sign of reason or better nature he might appeal to, "and tell us this thing isn't a real threat?"

"... yes?" said Vio.

Forget it. Warriors didn't know what he'd expected. This was insane. None of these heroes could possibly believe that they'd be taken at face value, but they just carried on like they really thought he would believe them.

That thing was blatantly evil, yet here they were, treating it like a local curmudgeon. It could have threatened to gut him head to toe, then and there, and they would have laughed it off like a joke. Had they honestly all lost their damn minds, or were they really so naive?

"Captain. Smithy." Time stepped past Warriors with his sword lowered, gently shouldering him aside. "I hate to say it, you two, but... we might not have made the right call."


"Oooh, we might not have made the right call," the Shadow mocked, still armed and bristling. It manifested another arm from black goop to make a free hand to puppet along with the words. "Goddesses, you people are insufferable even when you aren't trying to kill me."

"Old man -- Time, you can't seriously believe--!" Warriors found himself, for a brief and ignomonious moment, reduced to inarticulate gestures back and forth between the Shadow (still armed to the teeth) and the burning building behind them.

Time at least had the decency to look chagrined. He sighed. "It may be dark magic, but we were first to unsheathe our blades. It would seem our assumptions might have gotten the better of us."

He cast an aside glance at Warriors, then added, like a traitor: "... And calling that thing names didn't help."

"Assumptions or no, we still have no good reason to trust it!" Four countered. Rare for him, to dissent with their de facto leader, but if there ever was a moment, if would be now. "Just because it's won them over for now doesn't mean it's not a threat. Dark magic is deceptive and cunning, and Ganon's not the only evil around. You all realize that, right?"

Time gave Four his 'stern fatherly disapproval' look, just for a moment -- not so long as he might have with the older heroes messing around, but enough that Warriors expected Four to back down, or if nothing else, flinch away. Four did neither, meeting his eyes in silent challenge.

"If you're still worried about him actually trying to kill anyone, he's been with us for weeks and his total non-monster-or-Ganon body count is still zero," Vio informed them. He paused, looking thoughtful. "Well. That we've seen. I suppose he could technically have killed someone and just hidden it really well. But then, anyone has the potential to do that. I could do that. I probably would hide the body better, too. And actually come up with an alibi."

The Shadow scoffed. "What would I need an alibi for? If I kill someone, I think you'll all know about it, thank you very much--."

"And if you're worried about him trying to kill us," Lore declared, gracefully rescuing the pair from an argument about the merits of decoy to-do lists and shallow graves, "I'll have you know he hasn't actually tried to kill any of us since..." (He put a finger to his chin as if thinking it over.) "... You know, I'm not sure he's actually tried to kill us at all since he first joined us! I mean, aside from the collateral damage."

"If I wanted them dead, I've had plenty of opportunities," supplied the Shadow, with a wide, malicious grin.

"Yeah, and he's mostly just done things like buy a ridiculous cape and start feuds with cuccos," said Vio. "He's basically one of us now."

"Hey!" the Shadow objected.

Time raised an eyebrow. "Cuccos?"

"Cucco gang, very serious business." Lore delivered this claim with the same ineffable confidence he had everything else so far. This offered no clues to its veracity.

"Bob is not an enemy to take lightly," the Shadow added with a disdainful sniff, and then it hunched into itself again, still armed and bristling. "Anyway, as flattering as all this talk of deception and cunning is, I've already told you I'm here for revenge on Ganondorf and company's sorry asses. What would be the point of trying to kill the heroes I'm traveling with? I need those portals as much as they do. Also Midna would kill me."

"She is probably going to try and kill you after this," confirmed Vio, and there was not enough time in the day to unpack that.

"Portals?" said Four, which was fair, because anything involving involving the Shadow and portals was a red flag big enough to make the rest look like little handkerchief pennants.

"Yeah, y'know, the holes this lot have been traveling through," the Shadow clarified, waving a hand at Lore. "Some sort of Demise nonsense, ripping up reality and all that. Anyway, since they're fated to run across all the fools on my to-murder-painfully list, and also I live in their reality and would like to keep doing that, I've been hitching a ride."

"It has a to-murder-painfully list," Warriors repeated, giving Time a look of his own. A slightly hysterical part of him was still waiting for sanity to return and the fight to resume, because there was no way anyone should have been taking this seriously, even himself.

"Who doesn't have a to-murder-painfully list?" said Lore.

Four grumbled something generally displeased in Time's direction, paired with an emphatic hand gesture and meaningful, borderline mutinous look.

"Darkness alone is not the same as evil," Time returned, though Warriors could hear the wariness lurking in his tone. "If all of them know exactly what he is, and they're vouching for him regardless... I think we can give our fellow heroes a little credit, here."

"Like you believed any different a minute ago," scoffed Warriors, as much on reflex as for any real dispute.

"Fair," said Time, with half a smile, "but it's still true, isn't it?" His hands offered another story, as he turned and locked eyes with Warriors and Warriors alone.

Hylian military sign didn't carry much room for complexity, but outnumbered; possible trap, caution; stand down, negotiations told him plenty.

Too many to be worth fighting head-on. Trust them for now, but stay wary. See if talking works. Fight as a last resort.

Keep your friends close, and enemies closer. Warriors could, unfortunately, see Time's line of reasoning.

Above them, the twilit sky broke into thick clouds, and a moment later, began to rain. Lore was first to look back across the road to the fire; Warriors followed his eye, and rest followed after.

Not far from the already dying flames, Wild had brought back another group of heroes, mostly Vio's age, or maybe Wind's. In the middle, on twin instruments, two played. The sound reached Warriors' ear just before the rain drowned it out -- a sweet and lively waltz on a pair of ocarinas. He'd heard Time play it before, though he didn't remember the name.

"So? Are we over the 'trying to kill each other' thing, or not?" prompted Lore, tapping his foot in the quickly softening mud of the torn-up field. If he'd had a pocket watch, Warriors was sure he would have been checking it for comic effect. Lore didn't seem to do anything by halves.

"I'd call a cease-fire, if my companions would be so kind as to join me." Time put a hand on Four's shoulder, slowly at first, like a stray cat that might startle, but Four only grimaced and lowered his sword, just as slow.

"Oh, good," said Vio. "I was starting to think you'd be out here all night."

Warriors lowered his own sword, not sheathing it (too dirty, ugh), but pointed to the rapidly soggying grass. "... I'll stop fighting if your Shadow stops trying to kill us."

The thought that an abomination of dark magic like that thing could be counted as one of them... Hylia, it still put a bad taste in his mouth, but he'd have to swallow it for now. Whenever the rest of the newcomers' group showed up, his brothers would be outnumbered, and they weren't making any allies here without it. At least negotiations gave them a safer point to proceed from, and didn't put them on a warpath with their own.

Four glared at the ground for a moment, muttering to himself, and then said, "If this goes wrong, I get to say I told you so."

Warriors sympathized. Lore nodded enthusiastically.

"Well, it's settled, then!" announced Lore. "Welcome to the group! Now let's get back to that stable and see what we can do about fixing the place up, shall we?"

"Ugh, finally." Vio glanced back over his shoulder at the crowd across the road. "At least now that's over and done with. The other group is a mess right now, and we still need to figure out where Realm ended up."

And then, from some distance through the rain, came a terrible, earth-shaking thud.



From the way things had been going so far, the stage had been set for a slow, uphill struggle full of unnecessary tension, misguided right hand against left, soon to settle into an uneasy parley and begrudging, delicate peace. Returning plot threads, however, cared little for such things, and plowed merrily through conflicts as they pleased.

This was to say: Farore had had a plan, and she had executed it to the best of her ability, with the limited tools she had to hand. And of all her incarnations, much to her great chagrin, the one most in tune to her will was still the most directionally challenged adventurer to walk Hyrule since Linkle, and he had just tried to teleport on purpose.

And of course, he was late. All Links frequently were. In this case, he was late for the goal of forcing teamwork upon his stubborn and unnecessarily hostile reincarnation-counterparts, by giving them a boss enemy to unite against and battle side by side.

That was not, however, to say he had failed.

So, while Warriors, Time, and Four begrudgingly began to accept the possibility of a Dark Link that was only half murderous instead of completely (and Shadow moved from enacting his grudges to merely nursing them like a glass in a dimly lit milk bar), and Legend was busy getting complained at by several different people while Wind (the older one) surreptitiously kicked him in the shins, and the other heroes collaborated in the valuable goal of Making The Stables Not Be On Fire--

Enter: Realm and Link, pursued by Hinox.

The Eventide Island Hinox, which had been woken from its nap all of two minutes ago by a pair of very surprised hylians, did not understand why it was suddenly no longer on an island, but it felt very strongly about both of these things -- the island and the nap -- and insisted on making those feelings extremely clear to everyone within a hundred foot radius.

Said radius was veering dangerously close to the edge of the stable's perimeter, and made all the more dangerous by the fact nobody had been expecting a hinox within a thousand feet of the stable without advance warning, let alone a few hundred.

By the smouldering side of the support pillars, still in the middle of directing the lingering fire brigade, Lawdon's eyes went wide, and he fell silent for a moment to stare. A hush swept the crowd next like a sharp breeze, followed by a ripple of panic.

Meanwhile, Realm and his new friend had just teleported in six feet off the ground -- a new literal high and disastrous almost-low for Realm. Both took the landing with as much grace as could be mustered, which was not much, all things considered.

The pair were, by now, a tad worse for wear: one of Realm's boots had parted ways with him in a sand dune shortly before some sort of giant lizard-thing had burst out of the sand and nearly swallowed them both whole, and his hat had a lizalfos arrow caught in it from a gut-dropping near miss, while the hem of Link's tunic had been singed a bit by a brief lava-skirting detour through what might have been Goron City but had been too hot to stick around in and ask.

None of these problems would be fixable for some time yet. The pair had hit the not-so-forgiving ground in a tangled heap; their priorities, in order, were 1) not dying, 2) finding the stables (or another hero -- whichever came first), and 3) anything else.

Realm tried to get his feet under him, but as soon as he did, the world flickered and threatened to disappear from under him, just like it had the last several times. None of them had been particularly helpful. To forestall this, Link grabbed his wrist, quite firmly, and a pulse of magic scolded Realm's own to sit still for a just a moment, which miraculously worked and kept him in place long enough for Link to stagger to his feet, hoist Realm over his shoulder like a sack of rice, and start running.

"How much distance do we need to leave it behind?!" Link asked, putting on a burst of speed that sorely wanted for a pair of pegasus boots. Realm shrugged, then remembered Link couldn't see him.

"At least a few--" Realm considered. "Well, I'm not actually sure! Just keep running, I guess!" Narrowing his eyes through the rain, he added, "I think I see something up ahead!"

It was difficult to make out details by the fading evening light, as the dark and the rain made the stables little more than a murky shadow in the distance, but the group ahead of it was slightly clearer by virtue of being very loud and shiny.

With his new friend over his shoulder and a pissed-off miniboss in hot pursuit, though, Link was a bit too busy putting some meager distance between himself and the Hinox's log-throwing range to do much more than shout "Incoming!" through the rain and hope any poor souls in their path got the message. He tore on past the group gathered in a nearby field, headed for the general direction of the river and smouldering stables, Realm in tow.

"Oh, say, is that Realm over there?!" cried Lore, suddenly distracted. "I knew we'd find him eventually! HI REALM!"

Realm, who was not focusing on running and thus had a somewhat better view of the situation at that moment, leaned over and shouted "HELLO LORE AND ALSO EVERYONE ELSE THERE'S A GIANT BEHIND US SO YOU MIGHT WANT TO RUN TOO" at the top of his lungs as they passed by. The volume shouting right by his ear made Link stumble briefly in surprise, and let the Hinox to gain a few feet on him.

"So, good news and bad news," Realm continued, this time talking to Link. "Good news, my friends are here! ... Also good news, I think this might be the stables!" He frowned. "Bad news is also that this is a stable, and, you know, we're still being chased. It would be really bad if the giant stomped on all the horses."

"Oh, don't worry, the horses were already evacuated!" yelled Lore, who could still hear them, somehow.

"What?!" asked Link, who had quite frankly not processed even half of all that.

"Traveler?" called a voice from nearby. Realm wriggled around in his potato-sack position on Link's shoulder to find one man from the cluster of strangers near Lore staring at them, eyes shaded from the rain with one arm while the other gripped an unsheathed sword.

"We're at the stable," Realm repeated, for Link's benefit. "Or, a stable, anyway, I think. And my friends are here!" He squinted into the rain. "... maybe some of your friends too? And also the giant. Which is bad, because other people might get crushed if we're not careful."

Not far away enough for comfort, the Hinox had slowed to investigate a nearby copse of trees. The shapes of the branches seemed to confuse it, as did the concept of branches in general. It had not left its island since Ganon's return a century ago, and found itself rather out of practice with any trees that did not look like palm trees. Link slowed as well, watching it hover a meaty fist over several trees indecisively.

"This does look about right," confirmed Link. "Smells like woodsmoke, and I think that was the big river back there." Then he spun around to face the group. "Wait, old man?"

("They don't all have to call me that," groused Time, under his breath and unheard. "I don't even look that old.")

"Captain?" Link continued. "Smithy? What are you all doing out here with...?"

"Long story," replied the tallest stranger, a man in heavy armor Link certainly hadn't mentioned before. "Who's your friend?"

"That's Realm, he's one of ours," said-- oh, hey, Vio was here, too. And Shadow.

Realm waved from Link's back, twisting around to get a good look at everyone. "Hello! Is everyone else here, too?"

Two of Link's friends exchanged a look. "They'd better be," snapped Shadow. "You've all been taking long enough to get whatever this is sorted out."

The moment Shadow spoke, silence filled the air. Then several things happened all at once:

Link's eyes went wide as he dropped into a battle stance, reaching for his sword, and shouted, "All of you! Look out!"

Realm, still slung over Link's shoulder, got in the way. Instead of drawing the magic sword in a single clean swipe, Link got it about six inches out of the sheath, and Realm got a face full of gem-studded crossguard.

The armored man raised an arm, calling: "Traveler, wait--!"

"Are we seriously doing this again?!" cried Vio.

Last but not least of all: the Hinox, having finally gotten over its indecision, grabbed a thin elm in its meaty fist and ripped from the earth.

"Ow! Sorry!" yelped Realm. "Should've moved. But, er, why are you--?" His eyes followed Link's line of sight to Shadow. "... Oh. Right, so, funny story..."

"For crying out loud," Vio was still complaining, quieter but just about audible over the rain. "We just established a ceasefire, and now you're already ruining it--"

"Don't worry. I know what that is," said Link to Realm, with surprising calm. "It's a dangerous foe, but we've got it outnumbered."

Link made another move to draw his sword; Realm, realizing the position he was in, clamped his free hand over the crossguard, keeping it sheathed on purpose this time.

"What are you--? Stop that!" hissed Link, reaching both hands now to try and wrestle his sword free of Realm's grip.

"Okay, look," said Realm, "I don't really know how to explain this right now, but Shadow isn't--"

"Realm, trust me, I've faced this thing before," said Link. "It's no common monster, I already know that."

"Well, no, that's not what I meant at all, but-- wait, what do you mean you've faced him before?!"

Link opened his mouth to answer, only to choke on a gasp at the sight of something Realm could not see. He dove aside, nearly dropping them both into the mud.

The Hinox's log hit the ground with a tooth-rattling crash, tearing a gash into the mud-slick earth not three feet from where they'd both stood, and, arrested of perhaps half its momentum, tumbled end-over-end toward the rest of the gathered parties.

Lore, as the nearest, got out half a syllable of what was probably supposed to be "Break!", only to be tragically interrupted by a mouthful of stray elm.

(The others understood what he meant.)

"We need to get it away from the stable!" declared the so-called Old Man, deflecting a flying branch with his bracer.

(In Realm's opinion, he looked nothing like an Old Man -- maybe middle-aged at best -- but regardless, he was clearly some kind of leader to Link's group, already stepping forward with a decisive air. Maybe he was also the Captain? It hadn't been terribly clear.)

"Time to get its attention?" suggested the one in the blue scarf, whipping out what looked suspiciously like Lore's fire rod.

"I'm with you," said the small one. "Toward the shallows?"

"Where else are we going to lure it?" snarked Blue Scarf.

"Riiight. You all have fun with that," said Shadow. "I'll be--"

"Shadow, just participate for once," groaned Vio, putting a hand to his face. "You can complain all you like, but we clearly need a show of goodwill with these people."

Vio gave Blue Scarf and the small one the stink eye. Neither of them responded to the jab, though Blue Scarf rolled his eyes.

Shadow grumbled several things too low to distinguish, and then, with a heavy sigh, settled on, "You'll owe me for this."

"Name your price," said Vio.

"They have to apologize," said the Shadow, "and get me a new cape."

Blue Scarf made a spluttery noise. "We already--!"

The Hinox roared again, as if personally insulted by the way the scene had been ignoring it.

Speaking of: the Hinox. It wasn't a terribly impressive Hinox -- only a simple blue-ranked one, whose only enemies for quite some time had been mostly tropical wildlife, rogue bokoblins, and on one noteworthy occasion before the last blood moon, a screaming naked hylian.

The hylian had, admittedly, won that match. The Hinox would blame the bokoblins and moblins who clearly hadn't picked the fruit trees clean enough or guarded their cookpot properly; otherwise, the hylian should have died in one hit, or maybe two if it was lucky, rather than running around with the sort of maddened vigor that could only come from three straight servings of boiled durian and spite.

The Hinox had been since reinvigorated with new blood, though, so to speak, and had also begun to refresh its memory on non-tropical kinds of trees, although its choices left something to be desired. Wrapping its fist around a somewhat more solid young oak, the Hinox gave a tug and grunt of frustration. Stupid deciduous trees with their thick, uncooperative roots. Palms didn't do this sort of nonsense. What a pain.

"Oh, come on-- We don't have time to argue about this!" snapped Vio.

"How dare you! You ridiculous oversized Eyegore!" Lore shouted, much louder than anyone else. He spat out another chunk of bark in the Hinox's general direction, blood running in a thin line down his chin. It was too far off to tell if he was missing a tooth. "You interrupted me! In the middle of my thing!"

"Apology, cape, and I get the first helping of whatever scar-face was making for dinner," Shadow declared. "And Lore doesn't complain about what I do with my bombs for the rest of the fight."

"I have absolutely no power over that last one," said Vio, "but you can certainly try and see what happens."

"Eh, good enough," said Shadow, and lobbed a fist-sized bomb at the Hinox's face.

The bomb exploded on impact, just barely missing the Hinox's huge, sideways eye. The Hinox grunted in surprise, squinted, and seemed to realize at last that there were several more tiny hylians running around than it had initially observed. A great deal more, in fact. The woods near their strange bonfire was downright teeming with hylians, all locked in some sort of squabble the Hinox suddenly did not care about as much as before, because Lore had just gotten close enough to start swinging at its legs.

Another earthshaking thump rattled the crowd as the Hinox tried to turn Lore into a ginger pancake. Lore dodged, rolled through a bush, and narrowly avoided collision with a still staggering Link and Realm. Link had finally managed to unsheathe his sword, while Realm continued more or less holding on for dear life on Link's back.

"Quite the giant you've picked up here!" said Lore, conversationally.

"Yeah, we found him on an island." Realm ducked as an arrow shot overhead, embedding itself in the Hinox's knee. "Actually landed right on him. He was not happy about us interrupting his nap."

"You!" cried Link -- that was to say, the Link currently giving Realm a piggyback ride. He pointed at Lore.

"Me, yes!" said Lore. "I'm Lore. Did I introduce myself yet? I feel it might have gotten lost a bit in all the fighting. Anyway, you?"

"Who are you?" replied Link. Lore wrinkled his nose.

"Rude," said Lore, "and I just told you, I'm Lore. This is Realm-- he did tell you his name at least, right?"

"I did," confirmed Realm.

"No, I-- who are you all?" demanded Link, gesturing vaguely back at the crowd in the field, who had begun their own advance.

He and Lore both dodged another meat-fisted slam from the Hinox, which roared as an arrow from one of the other heroes hit just inches from its eye. The Hinox turned around and got to stomping towards the newcomers, giving the Lore, Link, and Realm all a bit of breathing room.

"Whatever do you mean?" asked Lore.

"We're heroes," explained Realm. "All traveling together, long story--"

"You're what?!"

"Did he really not tell you about that?" asked Lore.

"Would you believe me if I said it never really came up??" said Realm.

Link moved to put his face in his hands, then regained a sense of situational awareness regarding the whole bombs-and-arrows-still-flying thing, and thought better of it. "Your name wouldn't also happen to be Link, would it?"


Link very nearly reconsidered the face-in-hands maneuver. Had he been a hero of lesser restraint, he might have gone through with it, situational awareness be damned. "I can't believe it."

"Can't believe what?" asked Realm, tentatively.

"I thought when you first told me your name you might be a Hero, but I guessed you weren't because there's already a hero from this era, and-- ugh." Link shook his head. "Goddesses, this is stupid. How many of you did you say there were again?"

"Sixteen or so," said Realm.


"Or so. The number's a little wobbly because some of us are several people at once."

"..." Link opened his mouth for a second, shut it again, and then said, "Alright, we can talk later. There's too much going on right now, and the Shadow is still on the loose--"

"Shadow is friendly," said Realm. "I thought I literally just tried to explain that."

"Well, last time I saw that thing it stabbed me in the gut, so that's news to me," said Link.

"He's one of us now," Lore explained. "He may be a complete menace and squanderer of sacred combustibles, but now he's our complete menace and squanderer of sacred combustibles, and that means no killing him."

Link very briefly made a very specific face. It was a face Lore had grown used to seeing upon allusion to topics like the Subrosian Circle and Holodese Blockading Laws et al outside of their respective kingdoms, or really just to most of Lore's Lore-ness in general, and one he now took in stride: a sort of vaguely concerned expression silently questioning the regarded's sanity, typically followed by keeping a minimum fifteen foot radius of safe distance from the regardee on all future interactions.

Then he shrugged, nodded, and said, "Okay. Sure."

"Wow, you're taking this way better than your friends did!" shouted Green, running past them. He stopped just long enough to add: "Does one of you mind being a Distraction again for a bit? The others are trying to lead your big monster away from the stables and it's not very interested in doing that. Any mirror shields are a plus!"

"My time comes once again," said Lore, straightening up to his full height (not very tall, given he was a Link.) He stuck two fingers in his mouth and blew a shrill whistle nearly on par with Gen's, then dashed off a few degrees east of the Hinox, which was currently being kept away from the stables by three bows, a boomerang, and whatever explosives Shadow could summon up. "ALL RIGHT, LOOK OVER HERE YOU ENO-DEEY LÕMPU FO DEEMÕLT ABDEESÕX! PERFECTLY SMASHABLE HYLIAN, COMING RIGHT UP!"

Whatever he said after this went unheard and untranslated, lost in the rain, wind, and general level of nearby screaming and roaring.

"So, er," said Realm. "Do you mind helping us out? Normally I'd be running around as the distraction myself, but obviously right now that's kind of..." He nodded his head vaguely in the direction of his boots.

"Of course I'm going to help," said Link. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, I mean, not all of us are suited to the role of the Distraction, since it's kind of a--" Link took off toward the Hinox, and Realm yelped, nearly bashing his face into Link's scabbard again. "Right, right, okay, monster now, talk later!"

Up ahead, the combined groups of Links had already made progress diverting the Hinox onto the path of least destruction. Mask, Dusk and another hero Realm didn't recognize rained arrows at every bit of exposed flesh to deter it from the ruined stables, though after Mask's arrow first caught it in the eye, the Hinox had started shielding it with one giant hand as it stomped, which was so unfair.

The others from earlier had gotten to work as well -- the Not-Very-Old Man and a few others had formed a vanguard of sorts, shielding the stragglers from the stables as they fled, while the Captain and the short one ran in and out, striking at the legs. The cuts didn't look deep enough to bleed, least of all when struck through the Hinox's armored leg bracers, but they certainly hurt, and between them and the rotating cast of heroic archers and opportunists, they'd begun harrying it eastward like herding dogs nipping the heels of a massive, singlemindedly violent flock.

With the first free shot at the Hinox's weak point already spent, progress had slowed a bit, but the combined parties of heroes had numbers, and numbers can do a great deal. Especially when they are numbers of arrows. Or the diameters of very large bombs.

Case in point: Shadow, who seemed to have chosen to give his all after all, or at least maybe a quarter of it. Most of the "all" was going into the size of the next bomb arrow he was busy twisting his torso in knots to line up correctly. The ensuing explosion didn't blow the Hinox's fingers off, much to his disappointment, but it did knock its hand aside just enough that another hero's hookshot, of all things, made it through, embedding smack in the pupil of the unlucky Hinox's eye. It howled and raised its other hand to slap the chain aside, swinging the attached and nearly-as-unlucky hero sideways into the trees. The end of the hookshot pulled free with a spray of dark blood.

"Careful, it's infected!" yelled one of the older heroes. Link hissed under his breath.

"Infected?" asked Realm.

Link pointed up at the Hinox's eye, now trailing a sluggish line of something dark and tarry that, on second inspection, looked a great deal less like the stuff that normally bled from Hinoxes. "See the blood? That's not natural. We've been fighting monsters like that for a while now. They're stronger than normal, too. Even with all of your friends here, we shouldn't underestimate this thing."

"I think we'll be alright, but sure!" said Realm. "I mean, we fought Ganon a few times as a group, and we were only mostly losing against Demise, I think-- um, anyway, it's pretty outnumbered right now, isn't it?"

Link opened his mouth, but didn't get time to ask the obvious follow-up question, on account of the Hinox having other ideas. Pained and momentarily blinded, it bellowed and swept its sturdy oak tree trunk through the crowd of would-be attackers, poleaxing a few heroes and knocking green-clad bodies aside like bowling pins. For good measure, it dropped itself butt-first onto the ground like a petulant child, sending ripples through the wet earth and rattling the foundations of every structure within a hundred feet.

Link stumbled, but kept his balance. Others nearer to the source were less lucky. On the far side of the river, the huddling crowd looked at each other, a few wondering if praying would still be helpful.

The next bomb arrow-- arrows? possibly more than one at once-- didn't displace the Hinox, exactly. It had far too much mass, and far too much inertia, and a rather low center of gravity, sitting on its rear in the mud. But the Hinox certainly didn't enjoy another explosion going off right about where its nose should have been, just barely deflected from its poor tortured eye by an increasingly tortured shielding hand.

The Hinox fell on its back into the mud as Shadow rushed it, and the fight came to a sudden, almost awkward pause as an amorphous ball of darkness and sharp things bodily launched itself onto the Hinox's face, blades flashing nearly faster than the eye could see. The poor monster's bellowing screams would have been horrific if the progress weren't so heartening.

Still carrying Realm, Link grimaced. "You're sure he's not an enemy?"

"I definitely wouldn't want him as one!" said Realm. "Wow. That's faster than I thought he could go. I don't think he's been holding back, but I suppose fighting in weather like this, past sunset..."

At some point, in what had briefly stopped being a fight and become more of a one-sided butchery, the Hinox managed to connect a wild swing, knocking Shadow off its face and into the mud at last. After a second of rest, in which darkness-soaked approximations of neurons fired signals like sparks in a combustion engine, some part of its brain latched on to the rather outdated premise that it was still fighting a proper fight by Hinox standards, rather than squinting through black-bloodied tears and lashing out at whatever blurry little shapes happened to be closest, and it staggered to its feet. This turned out to be completely pointless for the Hinox, because a moment later Shadow had gotten up again, this time with twice as many swords.

("If it means harm, it's gone farther than I'd expect to feign otherwise," said Time to Warriors, having stopped harassing the poor monster's legs in favor of watching the carnage with everyone else.

Warriors had nothing to say to that.)

"IS THIS ENOUGH FOR YOU?!" screeched Shadow, still tearing into the Hinox's rubbery hide with swords only a few features removed from being bare, furious claws. "IS THIS ENOUGH?!"

Somehow, Realm didn't think he was listening for answers.

"Do we actually need to do anything at this point, or...?" asked Ocarina, approaching and slowing to a stop near Realm and Link.

Mask, never far away, scoffed. "Would you want to get between Shadow and that Hinox right now?"

It truly was a sight to behold. Shadow had optimal conditions to tear into the poor thing -- the growing cover of almost-night, the clouds blocking out what little remained of the sun, and above all, a highly convenient target onto which he could vent a great deal of unrepressed rage. Suddenly any plans of herding the Hinox one way or another seemed rather outdated next to the possibility that Shadow might just... finish the fight himself.

Then, of course, was the part where the Hinox's flailing landed another hit, and this time, Shadow went crashing into the smouldering wreck of the stablegrounds, disappearing through the entrance like a victim of a particularly rough outdoor bar fight. And then, a moment later, the Hinox got up, still bleeding black and half-blinded, but unfortunately still alive and kicking. Because of course it did.

In a fit of fumbling, the Hinox managed to pick up the same oak tree trunk it had dropped a moment ago, still more or less intact, and began swinging at the nearest blurrier-than-ever little shapes through a swollen, nearly-shut eye, and Realm watched the nearest parts of the field dissolve into a rather deadly and chaotic game of blind man's bluff.

The Hinox was probably on its last legs, truth be told. If it could have been asked, it would have said it had no idea how it was still moving, only that this must have been the gift it was given. Blood rushed in its ears and screamed to keep moving, to keep fighting, to kill those little hero-shaped things by whatever means necessary, which was rather impressive given that the Hinox did not tend to use such fancy words in its own internal monologue. It wasn't even sure what a monologue was, or why it had one, actually. A kind of tree?

Its internal monologue didn't have time to contemplate that. There wasn't enough room, not with all the agony and movement and the frantic urge to kill. Kill them. Kill them now. With everything you've got, kill them. At least one of them. Cripple their numbers. Squash the small ones. Destroy the shapes that hurt. Destroy, destroy, destroy.

This phase of the fight lasted approximately fifteen seconds before everyone remembered what they had been doing before Shadow's one-Dark onslaught, and then the chaos transitioned back into a marginally more controlled form of chaos seen earlier, but with a few minor changes.

For one thing, there were a few injured heroes to drag out of the way, lest the Hinox squash them in passing. The Not-So-Old Man and maybe-Captain Blue Scarf had started on that, though Realm couldn't make out the details of who exactly they were rescuing. Meanwhile, Ocarina, Mask, Lore, and another hero Realm didn't quite recognize had started racing down the hill back into the fray, the strategy of distraction abandoned in favor of a rapid collective beatdown on whatever exposed Hinox parts they could reach. No point in distracting your opponent with a mirror shield if they couldn't even see.

(Shadow, in the stable wreckage, decided he had probably done his part now and was busy grumbling and picking bits of debris out of his cape.)

"Hey, Realm," said Link, casting a speculative eye over the recovering free-for-all. "I've still got some magic left. What do you say we make... an entrance?"



The first thing Wild heard when he came back was the boom. He had arrived slightly too late for the flash, which had been blinding for the unprepared (or at least, the unprepared who still had functional eyes.)

The tang of ozone hit his nose next, and then the conscious recognition of pounding, pouring rain that had already gone well on its way to soaking through his tunic, through everything, and that couldn't have possibly been right, because not five minutes ago he'd seen the Sheikah Slate's weather forecast predicting clear skies all through the evening in Lanayru.

Thunder? Had there been a lightning strike? Or had that been...?

Wild stared through the trees at the rapidly decaying body of the entire goddamn Hinox not fifty yards from the stables, and then at the clumpy, clustering field of mixed Links, all in varying states of disarray. Black blood pooled beneath the Hinox's corpse as it rotted away, malice decaying into wispy smoke only to be beaten back down to earth by the inexplicable downpour.

Somewhere off by the stables, someone was still fussing about the poor, spooked horses.

Also, within shouting distance stood Hyrule, returned from his wetland exploration, giving a piggyback ride to another maybe-hero Wild definitely hadn't ferried across.

"Huh," said Wild, to no one in particular. "... What did I miss?"

Chapter End Notes:

Lore Translations

  1. maku teer (Labrynnian) Maku tree
  2. eno-deey lõmpu fo deemõlt abdeesõx (Darkling) One-eyed lump of melted beeswax.