Shadow's Mastery: Chapter 91
THERE were boats on the shore, and drawn up against the jetty: three long dark galleys, with the weeping Sheikah eye painted in brilliant red upon the prow. As they started down the Temple steps together--six battered, ill-assorted figures and a limping cat--shadows faded out of the night and surrounded them with weapons drawn.
Vaati wriggled away from Sofia's grip and flung himself bodily at the lead shadow, who staggered back to catch him. "Lazuli!" the boy cried in high excitement. "It was awesome--there were all these Stalfos, and we fought a phantom, and I helped--and look, we rescued him! We rescued Dark Link!"
"I see you did," the figure answered coolly, pulling off the scarf and turban that had masked her features. "And I am very glad indeed to see you all alive and intact. But you, Vaati, are in a great deal of trouble. And Impa would very much like to hear what your companions have to say for themselves." The boy quailed at her look, but not for long; he was already chattering again as she led him down toward the waiting boat.
"Where is Carock?" said another of the Sheikah, and Link recognized the voice of the dark-haired man, the third council member.
"Carock's dead," he answered.
"Are you sure?" It was a quiet sober question, one professional to another.
"Yes." He closed his eyes for a moment, thinking over what had happened, what he had seen. "I'm sure."
The man's eyes gleamed with reflected light behind his silken veil, two sparks in darkness. "Carock was a foe little less formidable than Ganon himself. Songs will be sung about this one day." He glanced upwards, to the bleak blackness of the Temple rising into the night; when he spoke again, a moment later, he sounded as if he were smiling. "We came here ready for the battle of our lifetimes, and it seems it is all over before we begin. The shore is barren--all his creatures simply fallen in their tracks. Was this your doing too, Hero?"
"Not mine," Link said honestly. He knew that the man was waiting, hoping to hear more, but he simply didn't have the strength to give it right now. He'd have to sleep before he thought of it again--Anju, and Kafei, and the Medallions, and Dark. It was all too deep, too new.
"Hmmm," the man said, when it became apparent that Link would say no more. He nodded his veiled head, motioning to the boats. The others were already straggling off that way, as the great flaring beacons on the shore began to sputter and die. "Well... let us go."
He dreamed of Koholint. When he woke, in the dim greenness of the dormitory room, he could not remember what the dream had been, but he knew it had been good for the smile was still on his face.
"Good morning," Zelda said, standing at the table, and then made a slight preoccupied frown. "At least, I think it is morning. Close enough, anyway." She waved a plate at him. "Do you want some breakfast?"
"Of course I do," he said, sitting up. For one instant he felt a confused unease; the long room was as it had been before, with the same strewn belongings: had he dreamed the whole thing? Had they, in truth, never left this place? But no--not by the deep throbbing pain in his shoulder, where Carock's staff had bruised the bone. Not even Koholint had left wounds that deep. And there was something that had not been there before: Dark was sitting quietly to one side, with his hands folded in his lap. He turned his head, but did not return Link's glad smile.
"Where's Sofia?" Link asked after a moment. He took the offered plate absently but did not begin to eat; his good mood was fading inexplicably. After a moment he set the plate aside and glanced down at his right hand resting on the coverlet. The golden mark gleamed with reflected light, but there was no burning--when he touched it the skin felt like skin, nothing more.
"Next door, having a bath." The Princess's eyes were sharp and thoughtful when he glanced up; she had been looking at his hand too. "Does it hurt?" she said.
He opened and closed his fingers a few times, slowly. "Not any more..."
Silence fell, for a little while. He picked a piece of bread off his plate and ate it slowly. At the small table Dark sat as still as a statue and gave no sign that he was conscious of them: the whole of his awareness was, apparently, bent on the violet medallion in his lap. They had returned his ocarina to him--it lay on the table beside the breakfast things, apparently forgotten. Link frowned.
"I don't know where to go from here," Zelda said quietly, with simple honesty.
He turned his head. "Kleox?"
"Well, yes. That's part of it."
"Where is he?"
Now she made a smile, tight and worried. "They're being careful. He's... all right. Sofia and I spoke to him earlier, while you were still sleeping."
She held up the thing she had been fiddling with: the yellow medallion. "He won't take it," she said flatly.
Link stared for a moment. "What--won't take it? What do you mean?"
"Just what I said. We told him what it meant, set out the situation, and he said he wouldn't have anything more to do with it, or us." Her smile was humorless. "He put it a bit more strongly than that, of course."
Link said nothing for a long time; he was thinking. At last he said, "Are we sure it's him?"
"Sure? Are we sure it's any of us?" She held the medallion out again, brandishing it, urging him to take it. "Does it feel warm to you?"
It didn't, of course. He held it for a moment carefully, then handed it back.
"Could we find someone else?"
Zelda's gaze was steady, cornflower-blue. "I don't know. I'm not even sure how these things work, how they pick their... bearers. You know how there was always a sort of rightness about it..." She hesitated for a moment, then dropped the yellow medallion into the pack that lay open on her bed, and began to pack her own things in on top of it. "Anyway, since he refuses to consider it, it's all irrelevant now, isn't it?"
Link said nothing. Kleox--a Knight? He tried to picture the huge, brutal Lizalfos in the context of Hyrule Castle, that bastion of civilization and refinement. It made a ridiculous mental image.
...As ridiculous, perhaps, as the spectacle of Dark Link kneeling before the King...
That had happened.
He turned his head. "Dark? What do you think about all this?"
At first he thought that the shadow had not even heard: Dark made no sign, no acknowledgement of his words. Then his head turned, and the blind red eyes narrowed slowly, focusing. He lifted his slim shoulders: don't care.
Unease stirred in the pit of Link's stomach.
He drew in a breath--but whatever he might have said was lost, for in that moment the door opened and Sofia came in, wrapped in a borrowed robe and vigorously towelling her hair. "Oh--good morning!" she said brightly, on seeing him sitting up. "How are you? We were starting to think you'd died--if it weren't for the snoring."
"Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome." She dropped down heavily on her bed so that the springs creaked. "Better hurry if you want any warm water, Link--we've all got to go and see Impa as soon as we're ready."
There was a big tub of fresh water set out for him, steaming and scented. He knelt down and washed himself, rather cautiously--at least the bits that weren't bandaged.
A few minutes later he was standing with the others in the great gloomy hall, listening to Zelda as she told what had happened in the Temple on the lake. The Princess's voice rang out strongly in the packed but silent chamber: he listened with half an ear, for his own thought, doubtless like that of many others, was on Dark. Fear and wonder seemed mingled in the atmosphere of the council room: Dark Link--here--among us! The shadow stood quietly, placidly even, with his hands by his sides. The medallion gleamed amethyst against the dark blue of his tunic, but by the detached, disinterested expression on his face, he might not have been wearing it at all. There was no gladness, no pride.
Dark..? Link sent tentatively, but came up against a smooth impenetrable wall. The shadow did not glance his way.
He gave up and looked away. Vaati, sitting on the lowest step of the dais, sensed him watching and gave an irrepressible grin. Link smiled back and let his gaze range further afield, to where a heavyset figure stood off to one side, half masked by the deep shadow at the edge of the hall. Kleox's hands were not bound now; he stood with casual ease, arms folded and tail swinging from side to side. A single nervous guard stood with him, hand on sword hilt.
Right now, Link thought with grim amusement, you worry me less than Dark does.
Zelda had stopped speaking. He turned his head and pricked his ears, suddenly aware that the attention of the room was fixed now upon himself.
"Will you tell us what happened in the throne room, Hero?" Impa asked quietly, leaning forward. "We have heard every account now but yours."
He sighed and stepped forward.
"I'll do my best..."
Packing up took a surprisingly long time, mainly because there were so many interruptions--people putting their heads round the door to wish them well, ask more questions, or simply to take another wondering look at Dark. At last they were ready and assembled in the outer corridor, carrying lanterns and light packs of emergency rations--though Farore grant that they would not need those.
Kleox was coming with them... for now. His road led to the surface too. "I do not approve," Impa had said, drawing Link quietly to one side, "but as it is the Princess's wish, we will release him into your custody. But please--for my sake, be wary of him: him and the phantom both."
Link had nodded his agreement--what else could he have done? Now, as they waited for Lazuli he glanced around at his companions, and thought of the roads that they had traveled together. He would have trusted Dark with his life... until today. The shadow waited silently, patiently, leaning against the carved stone wall; his plain sword, recovered from the abandoned temple, hung once more at his side. There was nothing at all out of the ordinary in the way he stood, it was entirely in character, and yet Link could not shake the impression that something was indefinably wrong.
Lazuli arrived at last, with Vaati trotting at her heels, and another guard following behind with Kleox. They had returned his sword to him too, and he walked now with his clawed hands open and grasping, as if he would have liked very much to draw it. His orange gaze was directed carefully between them all, avoiding eye contact, and Link wondered what was going on in that incisive brain. He knew Kleox as his enemy, and was hardly inclined to underestimate him; but he did not know where the Lizalfos stood now.
Cautious to the last, Lazuli turned to the wall and did something which she hid with her own body. The secret portal grated open; she turned, unsmiling--but not, he realized now, unfriendly. "I am to be your guide," she said. "Are you ready?"
"We are," Zelda answered with tolerable cheerfulness. She, and Sofia, had changed back into their own clothes, now mended and freshly laundered by their kindly hosts. Link had had no choice but to keep his borrowed garments. He reached up now to adjust the swing of an unfamiliar gray cloak.
One by one they filed out into the open tunnels. He went last, following Dark, but was not quick enough to see the mechanism by which the door rumbled shut behind him. It seemed an uneasy sort of parting--no congratulations, no fond farewells, just the slamming of a door at his back. Abruptness seemed the Sheikah way.
Something plucked at his sleeve; he glanced down quickly. Vaati grinned up at him and slipped his small hand into Link's own.
At the end of the long tunnel, where the passage opened into the wider dark of the Underworld, Lazuli had them all stop and shut up their lanterns until only the faintest firefly glow escaped into the dark. They blinked like owls in a gloom that reduced their closest neighbors to shadowy ghosts. Lazuli's low voice, disembodied, floated through the chill and clammy air.
"I am to take you to the Hyrule City gate. It is some miles distant, but the journey may be shortened if we go by the Sixth Cavern."
"I know it," said a different voice, and Link flinched; Dark had been silent for so long he had ceased to expect him to speak. Now the shadow brushed by him, light as a puff of air. "I will guide my friends. There is no need for you."
"No," Lazuli said with flat finality.
Dark's eyes shone crimson: he was angry. He turned his back on Lazuli and directed his words to the others who stood uneasily together; Link felt Vaati's grip tighten on his hand. "Have I lost all your trust so soon?" the shadow asked softly, in a reasonable tone. "This is my country and I know every inch of it. I will show you safe to its borders."
The silence was painful. "We trust you," Zelda said finally, to a sharply indrawn breath from the Sheikah woman. "But... maybe Lazuli could come with us part of the way, Dark? And Vaati? Just until we reach the cavern."
"This is not wise," Lazuli said coldly. "But if it is what you wish..." She turned and made a gesture, inviting them to follow. They did so, silently.
For a very long time there was nothing but the trudging of their footsteps, and the little glimmer of the lanterns in the dark. Link walked carefully; with Vaati hanging onto his hand on one side and the cat pressing close on the other, it would have been easy to trip. By luck or judgement he did not do so, even when the ground grew slick and wet.
Twice they stopped to rest, and went on after a little time. Nobody complained, though Link was certain that the others must be as footsore as he felt. Nevertheless there was a mood of tired optimism in the air: they were going home. The pathways Lazuli chose led them steadily upwards.
Finally they stopped again, and Lazuli lifted the shutter of her lantern, revealing the cave in which they stood. It was much like any of the others they had seen and passed through: long and low, rough-edged, with a floor spread with fine sand. The only distinguishing features were the square opening nearby, and a weeping eye scratched into the limestone where Lazuli now stood in her wrappings of smoky blue. She pulled her scarf aside and faced them all, red eyes sparking in the undersea light.
"This is one of the entrances to the Sixth Cavern. It is an ancient labyrinth, partly natural, partly delved. Once through it, you will be within a short distance of the upward stair."
"Then we have no more need of your assistance," Dark said softly, coming forward.
The tall woman eyed him coldly. "Princess?" she said without looking away, and the word was very nearly a challenge.
Zelda sighed. "I think we will be all right, Lazuli. Thank you."
"As you will then. Vaati--come." The little boy looked up quickly, fumbled in a pocket, then tugged his hand free of Link's and ran to stand at her side. His look was solemn now, as carefully neutral as the older woman's, but he met Link's gaze with a meaningful intensity.
"I wish you good journey, then, Princess," Lazuli said. "Walk in shadow, but carry light with you." She raised a finger to touch the golden pendant at her throat, then laid her hand upon Vaati's shoulder and turned him away. They went together with swift, soundless, practiced footsteps; in moments the night had swallowed them.
Link glanced down at the thing Vaati had pressed into his hand: an elderly wood-handled magnifying lens, greatly smeared by small fingerprints. It had the look of a much loved and much abused toy. Puzzled, but touched, he slipped it into his pocket.
"I am glad that you all still trust me, at least this far." Dark spoke with heavy irony. "Well--come. Follow me." He moved forward, gliding featherlight over the rocky ground, and ducked into the passage.
Lazuli had been right to call the place a labyrinth. It was more confusing than the tunnels under the temple. There were no landmarks--or at least none that could be trusted, for while the walls were decorated with carved reliefs, the designs repeated over and over, with endless minor variations, until the eye grew dizzy of trying to mark them.
They fell into a kind of marching order: Dark first, then Sofia, Zelda, Link and the cat, with Kleox sullenly plodding along at the back. The shadow set a harsh pace and they were soon puffing with the strain of keeping up with him; Link wondered whether he were punishing them for their perceived doubt of him. It seemed unlike Dark to be vindictive. Still there was nothing Link could point to as being wrong. His own sense of direction, poor though it was, said that they were still heading upwards little by little. Dark was strangely silent as he walked--well, on the other hand, when had he ever been talkative?
More twists and turns. The passage grew wet, then dry, then damp again. Link could no longer be sure that they were heading upwards--was no longer sure of anything in the chaotic confusion of these tunnels. He drew an arm across his brow to wipe away the stinging sweat, then hurried on with redoubled pace before the Princess vanished round the next bend.
They stopped, finally, in a small round room that served no apparent purpose. The passage forked into two from here. Dark stood leaning against the wall beside the left hand path, arms folded, and watched as they came stumbling in one by one. There was a cold twist to his mouth that Link could no longer deny: it was triumph.
"Nayru's Love, Dark!" Zelda exclaimed breathlessly as she sank down on the rubble-strewn floor. "What's gotten into you? It's not a race, you know!"
"Do you not wish to leave this place with all speed?" he said softly, taunting.
"Well, of course, but there's no need to make us run all the way!" She sounded irritated, and rather puzzled. She accepted a water-bottle from Sofia and drank deep, then wiped at her flushed face with a sleeve. Quietly, unremarked, Kleox crouched down a few paces away, and watched them all. Link caught a glimpse of the sharp slit-pupilled eye, alert and alien, swiftly darting from face to face: the momentary eye contact left him feeling strangely unsettled, and he touched his sword hilt for reassurance. Prowl did not sit; she paced, head low and mouth slightly open, showing her white teeth.
"Well?" Dark said after a little while. "Are you ready? There is still a long way to go." His eyes were bright and chill. He toyed with the chain of the violet pendant, but not in any possessive way; more as if it were some irksome thing he was consenting to wear for the time being. Link stood up slowly. The unease was bubbling up now, forcing its way to the forefront of his brain. Old memories.
The Forest Temple... the Lost Woods... He is as he was when we first found him, when we saved him from the mirror. But powerful now--restored.
Dark turned suddenly, as if sensing the gist of his thoughts; turned and looked right at him. "Do you not trust me, Hero?" he said softly.
Link said nothing; shame and caution warred within him. He clenched his right hand until the knuckles showed white, until the tendons creaked with pain.
Dark smiled, secure in his ascendancy. "Come," he said, and turned, glided towards the left passage. Wearily they shouldered their packs and stood to follow him.
A rough, gravelly voice said, "That's the wrong way."
Heads turned. Dark's eyes narrowed like a cat's as he turned back, stepped back out into the open space.
"And you would know, would you?" he whispered. He had to tilt his head to look into Kleox's eye; the Lizalfos was a head taller than he.
"Yes," Kleox said, quite calmly. "I would." He nodded towards the right hand fork. "That one smells of fresh air. Your choice doesn't. What are you playing at?"
"Short cut," Dark snarled at him, and turned away. After three paces he became aware that nobody was following; he turned back, eyes flaring in fury. "You will trust him over me? Is this how I am repaid?"
Zelda held up both her hands: slow down, everybody. "Just wait," she said. "Wait a minute. Let's just talk about it."
"Talk--always talk!" he hissed at her. "The choice is simple--follow him or follow me! Have I ever led you ill?"
"There's a first time for everything," Kleox said.
"You think, then, I am mistaken? That I have lost my way?"
"No." The Lizalfos's voice was a guttural growl, thick with threat. He advanced a pace: a massive, muscled form. "I think you know exactly what you're doing. You're feeding us a line. Why?"
Dark's hand flashed to his sword hilt. So did Kleox's, in the same instant. Link grabbed for the handle of his own blade at the sight of them; the chamber rattled with the echoes of weapons half drawn. It was Kleox who stepped back, released the hilt--but not in defeat. He turned his scarred head and pitched his words to the girls who stood side by side, frozen in their shock.
"I know you've no damned reason to trust me, but I hope I've shown you I'm not stupid. All I want is to get back to the surface, preferably in one piece. D'you think I'd lie about that?"
"But if he says it's a short cut--" Zelda began timidly.
"Boar's piss to that! He's taking you deeper in--it's the wrong way!"
She was unsure--frightened. "Link..?" she asked.
He never had a chance to answer; Dark whirled. "Do as you please, then!" he spat at them all, standing framed in the left hand passage. "I will waste no more time on this pack of sniveling children--my road lies here!" And swift as a fox he ducked through, and was gone.
Don't let him go--!
Link leaped forward, ignoring the confusion and shouting, and was out of the room before anyone else moved. Perhaps it was a simple thing--Dark ran, and like a terrier he chased. His right hand ached where he gripped his sword hilt so tightly, but he refused to let go even for an instant.
Dark was always just at the edge of view, just flitting around the next bend in the tunnel. Link sprinted after him, slipping and sliding in the puddles that now covered the floor of the tunnel. Intersections loomed; he jigged left, then right, then left again. Down a flight of steps three at a time, ducking the stalactites that hung low around his ears. Something whisked out of sight down a side tunnel. He gasped in a breath and plunged after it.
"Link!" Zelda's voice could have come from anywhere; the echoes were so strange here. "Wait--wait for us!"
He'd even outdistanced the cat in his first rush, though he could hear her bounding behind him now; her whuffing animal breaths carried well in the still tunnel air. He had no time to spare for her--he ran on, skidding around tightly angled bends in a sheet of sparkling water. He was gaining--he could tell--
An archway, a round room--and a single passage leading on, straight as a spear-shaft for a hundred yards. No Dark. Disbelieving he skidded to a halt and stared about--how was it possible that he could have missed him? The chamber was empty: a little round well of a room, like a guard-house at a gate, with no place to conceal anything larger than a mouse. He'd been right on the shadow's heels. The only way Dark could have evaded him was if he could--
He threw himself to the ground. The Kakariko sword sliced the air over his head and shattered a rusty chain that had stretched from floor to ceiling. In the darkened passageway a heavy iron portcullis he had not seen slammed down, sending up a cloud of rock dust. A few small stalactites fell and shattered on the floor.
Prowl skidded to a halt and yowled, then reared to batter on the inch-thick bars that suddenly blocked her way. Behind her the girls came racing up, shouting in alarm.
Link ignored them all. He rolled over and got to his feet, staring all the while at the slender figure a few paces away. How could he have been so stupid? How could he not have seen this?
"Now, Hero," Dark whispered, eyes blazing red fire. "Give it to me..."
His hand burned.
Cursing from the doorway: Kleox had arrived. "Where's the chain? Can't lift it without the chain--"
"Link!" Sofia cried, and stretched her arm through desperately. "Let us in! Let us help!"
"Foolish boy," Dark said, and flicked his sword blade, handling the weapon as lightly as if it had been a feather. He stood like a fencing tutor, feet together, back straight. "Do you think you can defeat me?"
Link... you may have to kill me...
...Do it right...
The serpentine dagger hummed as he lifted it, slowly, in his burning right hand. Dark quirked an eyebrow with something like amused affection--as if admiring a child's make-pretend game. A cold wind out of nowhere stirred his shadowy hair. Was that a trick of the light--the green lantern that still hung at his own belt, casting a strangely angled hue over the scene? What was causing that play of colour, like oil rainbows on the black?
"Farore's Wind," Link whispered, horrorstruck.
There was not much physical difference between them, in truth--a shifting of countours here and there, a lengthening and waving of the hair. The change moved down Dark's body like a wave, head to feet, and left behind a formless black into which the colour bled: dye spreading through liquid. The cries from the tunnel dwindled to shocked silence.
Link stood before himself.
His double was correct in all respects, even down to the thin and faded scar upon his cheek, and the borrowed blue and gray clothes he still wore. Only the sword, and the medallion--purple rather than green--gave away the truth.
Dark Link lifted his head slowly, shook the auburn hair back from his face, and smiled. The irises of his eyes glittered red.
His sword blurred.
"Get that door up--!"
"It won't shift--"
"--get out of my way, damn it!"
I was never a great swordsman, Link thought, backing away across the floor. Never as good as you, anyway.
Their weapons wove a glinting, scintillating pattern through the air. He let his sword-arm guide him through a complicated sequence of thrust and counter-thrust, looking all the while into his own face--wondering if he really looked so savage when he fought. His double snarled, baring white fangs; the inhuman eyes glowed with crimson inner light.
Is this the real you, then? Is this all you ever were--a soulless phantom, as the Sheikah believed? Where is the Hero I knew on Koholint..?
A blur--a feint--a backhand blow. He turned it. His bruised shoulder pounded with pain, but it was not his right arm; at least he could bring his true skills to bear in this fight. It would give him a little more time, anyway. A clear cool fire burned in his right hand.
Carock took the medallion out of you. I thought it would be enough to make you wear it. Farore forgive me, I had it wrong...
"--it's too heavy--"
"Wedge it with something--"
"--Link, look out!"
The others were struggling, trying to raise the portcullis by bodily strength alone; within the room, tantalizingly visible, the broken end of the chain dangled only an inch beyond their reach. Zelda stood still, and stared. Beyond the bars the two figures moved with unreal speed and quickness, circling each other, trading blows almost too swiftly to be seen. It was impossible to tell who had the upper hand; it was impossible to tell them apart, unless she kept her eye on the distinctive weapons, Kakariko steel and desert bronze. But they moved so fast, they blurred...
She'd never seen Link fight like this. She'd never seen Dark fight like this.
Her bow was on her back, with a quiverful of white-feathered arrows--she could have strung it, could have tried a shot through the bars. If she had been able to tell even for a second which Link was true.
The sword cut him--a nick on his jaw, a few strands of hair. He dropped back, cursing himself. As ever, he was just a little too slow, just a heartbeat behind--forced to defend so desperately that he had no time to attack. Dark pressed him without mercy, pushing him back with a lightning flurry of blows; he intended to pin him against the wall, cut off his retreat.
He was going to lose. Yet again, he would fail. Too weak, too slow, too inexperienced--some Hero he was. Couldn't even keep a promise to a friend...
The wall hit him in the back--cold rough stone, gritty and damp through his clothing and the bandages that still wrapped his torso. Nowhere left to go. His double's eyes flared with triumph.
"A thousand years, my lord..." Dark whispered, and drew back his sword for the blow.
The cool fire in his hand grew stronger. It spread; he felt himself filling with it, as if he were a vessel, and liquid pouring in. In his fingers the serpentine dagger seemed to vibrate; he sensed peppermint, arctic light.
Master yourself, said his grandfather's voice. Watch. Be aware. You have all the time you need. You have all the strength you need.
The Kakariko sword came gliding in. It was so slow... He reached out, air resistance tugging at his arm like treacle, and turned the blow with lazy ease. Something shifted in the face that floated before his--there was surprise there, shock. Only for an instant; then his double struck again, savagely. Time returned to its natural flow. Link ducked, struck back.
His hand was glowing.
Zelda stared, her heart hammering against her ribs. The others had not seen; they were still struggling with the portcullis that blocked the passage. Kleox had it raised an inch, but no further; he cursed and jammed his muscled shoulder against the bars, scrabbling for a better grip.
The mark on Link's hand--the triple triangle--blazed white, pure as a star. A similar brilliance crept outwards along the length of his sword. He was fighting back, driving Dark across the room; the other was struggling to parry swift enough now, defending where he had attacked.
A memory: the church dim and gloomy, smelling of woodsmoke and old stone.
Please... don't make me fight you...
His sword leaped with a life of its own, like a tongue of flame. He pressed closer, forcing his enemy to give ground inch by inch. His world had narrowed down to the length of a blade, and the serpentine dagger trailed a ribbon of light. His double flinched away from it.
There--unexpected, unlooked-for--a vulnerability in Dark's guard, the first he had ever seen since he had known the shadow. He lunged with a desperate eagerness, wanting only to end this terrible thing--
--and saw the trap too late. He could not draw back: his arm was already moving, driving the sword forward in a smooth stabbing blow that should have sheathed itself in his enemy's breast. Instead, Dark leaped over it. A beautiful lazy backward somersault that would have made a circus tumbler proud.
There was stillness, even from the doorway: someone whispered a shocked oath.
Frozen in the act of striking, Link stared up into the glittering, triumphant eyes of his doppelganger
who crouched, perfectly balanced, on the edge of Link's outstretched sword.
Dark struck. There was no question of parrying the ferocious downward blow: Link leaned back just in time and felt the Kakariko blade sear across the top of his scalp. No pain--yet--his mind was still howling with the impossibility of what he'd seen. His double leaped again, graceful as a bird, and landed with the tiniest click of bootheels.
Blood ran hot into his eyes; he shook it away with a curse, and heard drops spattering on the stones. Farore, how bad was it?
Steady, whispered his grandfather's voice, and he felt, or thought he felt, a gentle touch on his hand. It calmed him. Worry about wounds later--this was more important.
He'd lost ground; he began to make it up now, placing his attacks with superlative precision, forcing his foe back once again. The dagger shone with a star's brilliance; he wielded a brand of light, a magnesium flare. His foe cringed back, familiar face twisting in unfamiliar agony.
Link saw the opening--did not take it--would not be tricked again. His sword was a darting fence of light, herding the other, driving him back toward the edge of the room despite his increasing desperation, his wild attempts to break through.
His foe's back hit the wall of the chamber, and he saw the panic in his own reflected face.
No going back now.
The Kakariko sword leaped to block as his own blade darted. They met--a great spark went up--and the blazing serpentine dagger sheared cleanly through the other, leaving his enemy with a six-inch splinter. Dark knew what he had was useless; he opened his hand and let the remnant fall.
Do it right...
He drove the sword home. Into his double's breast, through it, into the wall behind.
The light died in a sputter, and he released the hilt and stumbled back, suddenly himself again--and horrified at what he had been forced to do. With a hiss like dissolving seafoam, the illusion faded, and he was looking again at the face of his friend--eyes wide now in shock as blood began to stain the blue tunic black. Dark reached up, gripped the hilt and struggled, but he could not draw it out, to free himself.
"Why?" Link said.
Dark looked at him with a terrible intelligence, but said nothing. His face twisted, then; he crumpled forward around the hilt of the dagger--and faded. The blue tunic fluttered and hung limp and empty, suspended only by the blade that was still wedged in the wall.
He was not conscious of the portcullis screeching upward, as Kleox finally got his back under it and heaved; he was not conscious of the girls coming toward him with hesitant steps, or the blood still flowing stickily down the left side of his face. He just stood, and looked at what he'd done.
The dagger's hilt gleamed the dull cinder-red of cooling metal. He reached out and drew it from the wall, and tunic and medallion tumbled together to the rubble-strewn floor.
Kleox led them out, with many backtrackings. They followed him meekly; no-one else had the will to take charge, after the terrible thing that had happened. Link carried the discarded things in a bundle--he had insisted they stay to gather them, even the shards of the sword, though the girls were sickened and would have left Dark's belongings to lie.
At long last there was a passage, clogged with broken masonry; Kleox hauled the rocks aside and they clambered out one by one onto a shore of barren gray mud. The lake beyond was true water, black and gleaming, and on the sand at its edge stretched a clear trail of footprints--two pairs of light Hylian-style boots, and the spoor of a cat. The marks were dry and old.
Silently they followed the trail back until it petered out on rock. A few hundred yards further on, a great arch loomed out of the night.
Link shifted the bundle awkwardly, feeling something hard and round pressing against his forearm. They'd almost quitted the Sheikah stronghold without the ocarina--Sofia had only happened to spot it under one of the beds as they were leaving the room. Another clue, if he'd thought to pay attention: would Dark ever have treated it with such disdain?
Zelda, with head down and shoulders slumped, plodded on toward the stair, following the others who had already gone beneath the arch. Link moved forward a few paces--then stopped.
...do it right...
"Link?" She'd turned. "Come on--there's no reason to stay now."
...don't let me come back again...
They still had the Shadow Medallion.
He tucked the bundle carefully under his arm.
"I'm going back," he said.
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