CLOCKWORK EMPIRE ~ The Ruler From Within The Locked Room
Halls of pink marble and sculpted stucco curling into the shapes of legends, long forgotten. Moonlight warped through grand designs of stained glass, sparsely coloring the unlit corridor. Oil was in the air, the smell of hot iron. There was a tired whistle as a clockwork servant whirred its way down the hall, flicking a feather duster here and there. If the things could feel, Zelda would have assumed it was bored.
The young woman pressed tightly against the shadow of the wall, watching the automan quietly, her gauntlet beating the song of the shadows. In the dark, she was hidden. More, she could occasionally feel the connections between shadows, and cross the darkness like a conduit. Of course, the flitting of the occasional shadow was not beyond the skills of a lowly guard to notice. While the Twilight magic allowed her entry, to get this far she had to rely on her wits, and her patience. Both of these qualities she had in spades.
The clockwork servant rolled around a corner, and in an instant Zelda leapt across the gap, hopping down the entire corridor in a dark flash. She stopped, still clutching tight to shadows as her clothes settled around her. She strained her ears against the buzz of silence, trying to hold in an adrenaline-filled breath. Always, always did magic expended rush to fill her. It was heady feeling, something she couldn’t let herself get lost in. She had work to do. Places to be. An important person to meet.
The clockwork servant, Zelda thought, did it shut down? Did it go into one of the rooms? Did I miss the rumble of a door opening and shutting? Those servant storage closets could be anywhere, built into the fabric of the stone and only opening for the magic touch of a constructed being. The closet could even be under her very fingers—
She resisted throwing herself from the spot. Patience. Quiet. And peace. She drew a tiny breath, and slowly nudged her nose around the corner, avoiding another long beam of light.
There. The door. The door. The large door carved from the finest deku oak, slathered in rich mineral lacquers, a shining triforce carved into its flesh. And it did shine, lightly in the moonlight, as if it was enchanted. Given what it had to protect, it would be no surprise if it was riddled with innumerable protective spells…
Beyond it, Link. Prince Link, of the country Calatia. The ruler from within a locked room. The godlike figurehead who didn’t dare sully his hands with common matters. A complete enigma, worshiped as if he spoke for the goddesses themselves.
The rumors spun all around Zelda’s head. She thought, I’ve never gotten this far. What will I find beyond that door? Do I dare approach the captive prince? And most strangely, she wondered, Would he be expecting me? If he was so closely connected with magic, the goddesses, who could say…
She waited quietly for a moment more, listening for guards or clockworks, then slowly began to inch forward, along the one sliver of dark afforded to her by the stained moonlight.
There was a gurgle of stone parting. She froze. Where? Ahead? Behind? Where? Do I shoot forward? Back?
Directly behind her, the sound of servant’s portal scraped at her ears. A clockwork hummed to life, whistled hot steam. She could smell the iron so strongly, yet all she could see was the spell of shadows pulse on her wrist. She didn’t breathe. Didn’t dare flinch. She stood strong, still as a statue, still so well hidden she had no need for fear.
The clockwork servant rattled off, not towards the enchanted door, but back down the moonlit hall, clattering gradually getting quieter and quieter.
Yet, she still only dared breathe through her nose. Her eyes were locked on the door now. She would not be halted inches from her final goal. Yet still, it was with an even stride and a keen ear did she inch along the wall, still so attentive for another unwelcome surprise.
None came. She was now so close, the back of her hood could have brushed against the doorframe. Her arm pressed against the end of the hall, the last sliver of marble and stucco art.
She flipped around. Stared at the raised deku wood. Flicked her eyes back down the corridor. Strained her ears.
Her wrist shot to eye level and the shadows fled from her body. The magic rushed back to her, and her hands swiftly summoned another spell. A little looking glass spun in front of her hand, a magic mirror floating on insect-like wings. If there was a certain spell was required to get through the door, she’d know it in an instant, she’s see the aura of a spell flare instantly—
A triangle floated in front of her eyes. Gold, radiant, rotating slowly in place. It was unlike anything she had ever seen before. But before she could guess at what it meant, there was a loud, audible click. Her shadow spell snapped back around her—
The door opened an inch. And when no body, man or machine, pushed it open further, she shot through.
Unusual that an identify spell should be the key to opening a door, she thought, But with how rare spellcasters are, I—
Zelda froze. She tried to recall the shadows again, but there was simply not an ounce of darkness to hide her.
She had expected a bedroom. Perhaps a noble suite or a sitting room. Oh, she would not even have been surprised if she had walked in on a naked man blowing spit bubbles and claiming to be descended from the Zora.
She had not expected to walk in on a brightly-lit forest conservatory. She did not expect to see evenly cut gardens surrounded by perfectly groomed trees. She did not expect a painted blue sky above, or butterflies and bunnies intermingling with lazily churning clockworks below. There was even a little false moat around the enclosure.
Patience. Planning. An illusion? I need to hide…
“Uncle Dragmire? Is that you?”
Occupant is alert!
Zelda’s eyes flicked left and right, and in a moment of planned panic, she dove behind a flowerbed, and instinctively pulled forth her song of shadows…
But the dratted false light allowed no shadows large enough to hide behind.
Damn the goddesses! If I knew the layout of the place… why didn’t I hunt harder for a blueprint?
“Tik-Tok, was anybody there?”
There was a tiny tinkling sound, like the ringing of a small bell.
Focus, Zelda. Maybe if I roll into a bush… no, they’ll hear the sound immediately…
“Really? Well, where’d they go?”
There was a whirring of gears, and the sound of steam.
Cover’s blown. Any moment now, the Prince… it is the Prince, isn’t it? Zelda’s brain buzzed quietly for a moment, listening to the soft sound of silk on grass. What would he think of me, lying in hiding behind his bush?
With not a moment to waste, Zelda shot to her feet. She caught a quick glimpse of the person before her, a teenaged boy of pale skin, brown hair, and fine dress, before she flourished into a low bow.
“Most esteemed Prince Link,” Zelda said. “Forgive me for my sudden disappearance. I had tripped and fallen, you see.” Zelda cut herself off. Simple lies. Stick to simple lies…
She remained bowing, but the Prince spoke no more. Zelda rose smoothly, hands behind her back, still acting as if everything was perfectly normal and exactly according to plan. As far as he knew, nothing would be of suspect.
But the Prince remained silent, staring at her. If anything, he looked bemused.
“Who are you?” he asked, eyes twinkling. “How did you get past the guards?”
Of course he’d know in an instant that I didn’t belong. Of course…
“I’ve come for you, Prince Link.”
His eyes were widening. He asked, “Are you an assassin?”
Link snapped his fingers. “Drat!”
“Drat?” Zelda sputtered. “Do you wish me to be an assassin?”
“Well, I suppose I don’t wish it no…” He stroked his chin, still smiling. “But I’ve been looking forward to battle something for so long. I thought I’d at least trade blows with a true enemy, if one appeared.”
Zelda gaped at him. Trade blows? Did he think death was a game? He is either supremely skilled, or supremely idiotic.
“In any case, you never answered my question, miss…”
Well, Zelda thought dully, someone had to guess my gender right in one. “My name is of no importance,” she said crisply, “I’m simply here to take you away.”
“From the palace?” Again, such excitement filled the Prince. He clapped his hands merrily, eyes glued to Zelda, looking her up and down. “Yes, you seem like such a skilled guard! I mean, beside the little trip you took. But no matter!”
Zelda ducked instinctively as Link made to grab her. He stumbled against the bush, but never fell. It was a friendly gesture. He’ll be disappointed… But no, the Prince only grinned even wider.
“Good! Your reflexes are good! Do you spar? When we leave, would you spar with me?” His eyes darted to Zelda’s side. To her broadsword. Zelda gripped it instinctively. “Perhaps I would have to find a heavier blade once we get out. I’ve only got a rapier! No, sorry, I’m getting distracted.”
Link rose, straightened his robe, and for a moment seemed to feign a somber air. But he could not restrain his boisterous attitude for long. “Please, my lady. Your name, and our time of departure?”
“I am… Sheik,” Zelda said automatically, resigning herself to a long-forgotten stage name. “And I’d like to leave immediately, if we can.”
“Immediately?” Link laughed. “While I still stand in my bedclothes?”
Zelda stared. She had not realized, simply because she had never seen clothes so finely made and elaborately sewn. How could anything be fancier than that? What in the world could he possible wear on his outings? Wait, outings? He never has those. A thought bubbled to the surface of her mind. Does he simply stay in his bedclothes day and night?
“Then,” she said, “We leave as soon as you are ready, Prince Link.”
Link nodded heavily and turned away, clutching the edge of his dress as he dashed off to some unseen door. And Zelda waited, frozen to the spot, wondering what in all the lands did she think she was doing.
Kindnapping the Prince? After how much work it took me to get here? The trip back will be with this clunky, impatient lug. How will I hide…? Zelda watched as the clockwork servants buzzed after their master. Probably gone to dress him. Oh Goddesses, what spotlighted corner have I talked myself into?
It was surprising how little time it took for Link to return, and, much to Zelda’s relief, his ‘outing’ clothes looked much less fancy than his bed things. Noble, yes. Clothes spun from Ghoma silk and jerkin of expensive Romani hide. But the important part was that he didn’t look like a living incarnation of the Goddesses, and that was good enough for Zelda. He even had a little rapier and a red messenger bag slung over his shoulder, marked with symbols he probably didn’t understand.
Link beamed at Zelda. “Still here, good!” He hefted the bag on his shoulder. “I’ve been packed for ages, you know. I had dreamed you would come for me, Sheik.”
To this, Zelda’s ears perked. “Dreamed? Do you sometimes have visions, Prince?”
I know of visions, of their potency. Maybe this was fate…
Link shrugged, “No, just dreams. Daydreams, strong wishes, dark clouds parting and my savior coming the light. That sort of thing.”
Zelda quietly closed her eyes. Or maybe, she thought dully, I have just stumbled into my own grave.
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