The Shadowmaster: Genesis

Written: 04/03/99 to 05/22/99
Revised: 05/12/2004 to 05/15/2004
Thankyou: Angelica, Kami, TheBlackFox, Doctoroc, Ma-san
All characters © Nintendo 1996 and used without permission
Now, the story...

 

 

The fishes leaped and darted in the clear blue waters of Lake Hylia, joyous in their new freedom. For seven years previously the beautiful lake had been a dry basin; now at last it lived again. Its cool waters sparkled in the sunlight like liquid crystal, bluer and clearer than the sky above.

Small wavelets washed against the shore of the lake, upon white sand which was still bare of any weeds or water plants. Those dormant seeds had not had time to sprout yet, but it would not be long before the sleeping life buried in the lake shore began to quicken. Nature never left any niche unfilled for long. The water met the land in a perfect sweeping curve which was unbroken by any rocks or other objects... except in one place where it was forced around an unnatural thing, a thing that disturbed the pure order of the shore. Earlier this day, a curious bird had landed on the object which seemed to have been washed up from the lakebed, mistaking it for a rock, but when the object stirred, the bird startled and flew away.

The object moved and clenched sleepy fingers. Presently it groaned and slowly pushed itself up onto hands and knees, and was revealed to bear the shape of a man. The shape but not the substance, for this being was as black as night: hair, clothes, skin. Blood-bright eyes glistened in the sun.

He yawned and drew the back of his hand across his eyes, but his skin was caked with sand and it stung. At once he rolled over onto his front, facing the lake, and splashed water over his face to remove the irritant.

"Where am I?"

He had some vague memory of being in a wet place and fighting someone whose face he could not see. After that there was nothing but a silver haze ... and before it there was nothing. Darkness. Nothing.

"Who am I?"

His mind was a blank page. Trees, sand, water, all were strange to him. He felt as if he had woken up in some far-off unknown land. Yet he knew not whence he had come, or why. His isolation was total: within, he was a void, a howling emptiness.

He coughed, for he had swallowed water, and stood up. Sand coated him; he spent some minutes brushing it away. In doing so he familiarized himself with his shape, which was also strange to him. Strange, and marked by lack. For there was something missing--perhaps several things. He thought he should have had a hat of some sort, and a ...

He knelt and swept sand away from a gleaming metal object. After a moment he found the handle of a sword and lifted it, shaking loose damp sand away. The weapon shone with a cold pale light and had a hand-guard shaped like stylized wings. Like himself it was dark, colorless, an antithesis. It felt right in his hand. He swung it twice, realizing that he was familiar with the weapon. So he was a fighter; that was something.

There was a scabbard strapped to his back and he slipped the blade into it. The hiss of steel, and the easy swinging movement, touched something within him: the ghost of a memory. This too felt right. Once more he knelt and pushed sand about until he uncovered the shield. Its strap was cracked and old, crusted with salt and sand, and he picked the shield up and hammered on it with his fist to knock the dirt away.

He had a sword and a shield now. He searched the shore for a while, wandering up and down, but he did not find anything else. Perhaps this was all in the world that he owned.

His tunic was salt-stained, sandy and wet and his boots leaked. The sunlight hurt him. He was tired, and sick, and immensely weary. The first thing he wanted to do was change into something dry and clean. But if he had nothing in the world, then how was he supposed to improve his lot?

Find someone weaker ...

He smiled.

 

 

"Malon! Hoy, Malon!"

Lon Lon Ranch was bright and green in the spring sunshine. The blond man pulled back on the reins as he approached the corral fence, and the red horse reared and pawed the air before coming to a prancing halt. A young woman turned from her task with a welcoming smile.

"Well met, Link. How are things in Hyrule Town today?"

"Oh, the usual," the blond man breezed as he dismounted. "I get mobbed in the marketplace, the girls just won't leave me alone, you know..."

"You are a dreadful tease," Malon said, folding her arms. "You're mean to do that to me!"

"I only do it because I care," he smiled, taking her hand. "And you would be disappointed, I am sure, if I stopped! So ... how is business?"

"Oh Link!" Malon said exasperated. "Do you really want me to talk about how much milk we sold this week, and my father's new mare?"

"No," Link answered, his bright blue eyes sparkling with mischief, "I just like to hear the sound of your voice. Tell me about the mare."

"Are you going to walk Epona to cool her down?" Malon asked. "It looks like you rode her quite hard."

Link looked a little embarrassed. "You're right ... poor Epona! Sorry, girl." He took hold of the bridle and led the horse into the corral. "Malon, will you walk with me?" he asked, his voice suddenly low and serious.

"Of course." Malon hurried to catch up, and she walked beside Link and the horse as they moved slowly around the inside of the corral.

"I really missed you," Link said. "I wanted to come back much sooner than this, but there was so much that needed doing elsewhere; Princess Zelda always has some task for me in Hyrule Town, and the Gorons were having trouble with Dodongos again, and then there was that mess with Ruto getting lost again. I swear she just does it to get to me--and I always have to go and pull her out of wherever she's got trapped." Ruto, Princess of the Zoran folk, had consented to break off the engagement with Link after it had been pointed out to her that he could not breathe underwater without a magical Zora Tunic--and leaving her ancestral home to set up house with a Hylian was obviously out of the question for the Zoran Princess.

Malon hesitated before saying anything. "Link... Princess Zelda--"

"I'm not interested in her, before you go on," Link said, second-guessing what she was thinking.

"But she is a princess, Link. How can you not want to be King of Hyrule? I'm sure she would marry you if you asked."

"Malon," Link said seriously. "I don't want to be a king. Can you imagine me sitting on a throne? Or dealing with matters of state? I could never run a country. All I really want to do is settle down somewhere and live my life. And the only girl I like is you."

Malon smiled shyly and let him hold her hand as they walked. "I don't think I could ever like anyone else, Link."

"You won't have to," Link said. He stopped, then, and touched her shoulder. "Malon, when I was just a child--do you remember when we first met? Anyway, Talon asked me if I wanted to marry you, in a joking sort of way. I said no because I was just ten years old, but ... I think he will let me change my mind, even though I have no real inheritance to give you. That is if it's okay with you..."

"What are you saying?"

Link put his hand into the pocket of his tunic and drew out a small, plain gold band ring. "Malon, will you marry me?" he asked softly, holding the ring out in his hand.

"Oh..." Malon said, blushing. "Yes--yes, of course I will!"

He smiled with relief. "Then it's settled! I think Epona's cool now; we can stop walking."

"Did you come here today just to propose to me?"

"Well, you know, I was just passing through, and I thought, hey, why not..." he grinned.

"You are really awful sometimes!" Malon giggled, then "Oh, Link, I'm so happy. My father will be overjoyed. You are like a son to him, in many ways."

Link smiled at her. His blue eyes shone. "Then here's to peace," he said softly, pulling her close to him. They sank down together in the corral with only the horses for company.

 

 

Princess Zelda paced back and forth in the Temple of Time. She was not alone; for another Hylian, an old and rather stout man in brown robes, stood beside the altar where the three Spiritual Stones of Forest, Fire and Water, rested in their niches.

"It is not right," Princess Zelda insisted. "You must be mistaken. Link defeated all of Ganondorf's monsters in the Temples. I was there, watching over him--I saw the spell of darkness lifted from each one!"

"Nonetheless," the old man responded patiently, "at least one escaped. I have reliable information that one of Ganondorf's magical phantoms survived the flooding of the Water Temple and is currently at large. Not, perhaps, the most powerful of his servants, but certainly the most insidious. You know of what I speak: the Hero's own shadow that was given life by the Evil King."

Zelda let loose an angry sigh and flicked a lock of her sun-gold hair away from her forehead. "Wonderful," she muttered. "So what you are telling me is that there are two Links on the loose?"

"Oh, do not worry about telling them apart," Rauru said comfortably. "Dark Link is--well, what his name suggests. There are very few Hylians with black hair and with his coloring he will stand out like a raven among swans."

"That is not the point," Zelda replied crossly. "The point is that Dark Link is still alive and presumably still dangerous. He has all Link's skills, remember, and Link single-handedly defeated Ganondorf."

"Not single-handedly!" Rauru contradicted with a frown. "Have you forgotten all we Sages did for him? He could never have done it were it not for our help."

"But Dark Link has Ganondorf's blessing," Zelda pointed out.

"And Ganondorf is gone."

The Princess whirled around and paced the other way, up to the Sage where he stood near the dais. She glared at him. "Even when he is sealed in the Sacred Realm Ganondorf is dangerous! His minions are still plaguing us wherever the Temples stood; the shadows of his curse lie thick upon this land even now. Can you deny that Ganondorf's influence is still strong in Hyrule?"

Rauru shook his head. "No, Princess. We could not destroy the Evil King; that was not within our power. Exiled though he be, he still has his wizard's magic and a third of the sacred Triforce, and perhaps in time he will regain the strength to use both. That, however, is a trial for our descendants in the centuries to come. He will not break free as long as the Master Sword is borne by the Hero of Time. I must remind you that the issue is not of Ganondorf, but of Dark Link. What shall we do about him?"

"You are right," Zelda agreed with a sigh. "We have to deal with Dark Link. I will tell Link what we have found, and perhaps he will be able to destroy his shadow--though I know not how this might be done. Do you have any suggestions, Rauru?"

The Sage of Light thought for a while. "There is something you should know about Dark Link, Princess. When Ganondorf's power was broken in Hyrule, his influence left his creations. The guardians of the Temples became powerless. All save one ... for this one draws his strength, not from his master, but from the one whose shadow he is. And he bears a sword which is to the Master Sword as he is to the Hero of Time." Rauru leaned close to Zelda. "The Sword of Tears," the Sage said quietly. "Do you know of the weapon?"

"No," Zelda said in surprise. "What is it?"

"It is a blade forged during the darkest period of Hyrule's history," Rauru replied. "Ganon, the Evil King who was Ganondorf, created it with ancient magic during the Seven Dark Years of his rule. Though the sword be new-forged, it bears curses a thousand years old and more. And it has its own mind: like the Sword of Evil's Bane, it is aware of its wielder, and of its enemies. So you see, it is not as simple as hunting down and killing Dark Link. You must also defeat his sword."

"I will send a messenger to Lon Lon Ranch," Zelda said. "At once."

 

 

The burly rancher folded his arms sternly and stood with legs akimbo, facing the tall slim warrior who stood in front of him, framed in light. A golden man whose outlines shone beneath the sun, untouched by any breath of darkness; the Hero of Time cast no shadow. "So you want to wed my daughter?" Talon said gruffly.

"Yes, I do," Link answered seriously. "I know I refused a long time ago, but I was just a child then. Talon, you know that it is little enough I can offer her, but..."

"But you're in love," Talon finished. "Oh no, lad, don't look so surprised--give me a little credit! D'you think I was born yesterday? You come in here almost every day with some little present for us; flowers, ribbons, even a twenty-pound trout once!"

"That was an accident. I didn't know what to do with it when I'd caught it..."

"Save it, lad," the rancher smiled. "I know what I know. And if Malon is agreeable to the match, then I've no cause to keep you from your sweetheart." Talon nodded to Link, indicating the ranch with a wave of his hand. "I'd like to leave the ranch to you, my lad, for I've no son to hand it to when I retire. And much as I have faith in Malon's abilities, Hyrule is a warrior's country and my daughter is no warrior."

Link knelt in front of the rancher. "I'll not fail you," he exclaimed, overcome. "Talon, this is more than I expected."

"Get up, lad," Talon said roughly, and there was laughter in his eyes. "I'm used to talking up to you--I can't handle it when you do that!" Link stood up again, slightly awkward in the movement for he was tall for a Hylian. "Just look after her, okay lad?" Talon said softly.

"That I shall," Link promised, and a bright light of passion kindled in his eyes. "No evil shall harm Malon while I draw breath!"

The rancher took hold of the warrior's strong shoulder. "Whoa there, lad. Let's be practical for a moment. When d'you mean to wed?"

"As soon as we may, now we have your permission."

"Malon will need a dress," Talon said, "and you need clothes too, unless you really do have more than a couple of old tunics and a pair of boots to your name! Why not go down to the town with the girl and spend a day shopping?"

"But what about the ranch?" Link asked. "We couldn't possibly leave you to manage all alone, Talon!"

The rancher laughed. "It'll look after itself for one day, Link. Besides, I have Ingo to lend a hand with the tough jobs."

"Oh, Ingo." Link grimaced.

"Now I know you two don't get on, but you'll have to make up someday. Ingo's a good man, just easily deceived." Talon clapped the young warrior on the shoulder. "Look deeper, lad, and you'll find that almost everyone has a heart of gold."

"Well, isn't that sweet," came a voice. Link jumped and whirled, and his hand went instinctively to his sword. They had not heard the dun horse come up through the soft grass. Its rider was a young man with flaxen hair so blond it looked white, and pale gray eyes. He was wearing a dark red satin tunic adorned with the livery of one of Hyrule's noblest Houses. Sardonically he bowed his head, placing a hand on his heart, and flicked back his straw-blond hair. "Hail and well met, Link."

"Rushi," Link answered coldly, disrespectfully using the first name of the Prince of Calatia, a lowland country to the south of Lake Hylia. "What can I do for your Lordship?" Prince Rushi was high in King Harkinian's favor, a fact much due to the extent of his holdings in the south of the realm. There had been a misunderstanding at the Castle, during one of the Princess's balls, and since then he and Link had never got on well.

The Prince looked down from atop his horse, icy coldness in his pale cloud-gray eyes. "I see you're just as civil as usual, sirrah. Tell me, how is peasant life?"

"Is there any point to your visit?" Link asked with deceptive courtesy. There was a great world-weary patience in his voice.

Rushi scowled, for he heard clearly the scorn in the young warrior's tone. "I come bearing tidings from the Princess. She desires an audience with you so be quick about it will you? I shall not escort you to the town; I am sure you know the way by now."

Link summoned up his self-control and then shone a bright and sunny smile towards the Prince, full of joy and satisfaction in his existence. "I congratulate you, my lord! To be a courier to the Princess Royal is a great honor for you indeed! Many a Hylian would be jealous!" The insult was twofold; Prince Rushi knew full well that in Calatia carrying messages was a serf's job, and he knew that Link knew. Not only that, but he resented being compared unfavorably to a Hylian. He breathed in deeply and his gray eyes became colder.

"Enjoy your straw and horse dung, peasant boy." Wheeling his horse about, the Prince dug in his spurs and cantered down the hill out of the gates.

Link clenched his fists.

"Calm down, lad," Talon said quietly. "Don't get him angry. There goes a man you should try to get along with, if only for diplomatic reasons. He could make your life pretty unpleasant if he wanted to."

"I'll never get along with him--never!" Link snapped.

"You're more alike than you think," Talon sighed. "Well, Her Royal Highness is waiting, by the sound of things. Go on Link; Malon's wedding-day will wait a while longer."

 

 

The dark man set out away from the lake, charting his course by the sun. He decided to head towards the hills to the north-east, for there they were lower and there might be a path through them that was not too hard going. He knew that he would not be able to manage a difficult or lengthy climb. Most of all, he needed nourishment; not only water, for Lake Hylia's waters were brackish and had left him with a raging thirst, but also food, for he could not remember when he had eaten last. Indeed, he could not remember if he had eaten.

So many things were missing. He had the basic knowledge he needed to survive, the knowledge that the country he was in was called Hyrule; he knew the names of the creatures that lived therein and the properties of the plants and trees he passed. He knew the feel of a sword in his hand, and the sound of running water. But he knew almost nothing else.

As he walked, he delved into the black places of his soul, daring the shadows, seeking something that would tell him who or why he was. And at last something came to him. It hit him like a thunderbolt, making him reel physically with a rush of impotent hatred. One name.

Link!

It was all his fault. The young man frowned, self-consciously running his hand through his hair that was the shimmering black of a raven's wing. He remembered fighting the other, and... and he had lost, somehow. When he tried to bring it clear, the memory slipped away from him, remaining always just out of reach.

But he knew one thing now. Whoever he was, Link must die.

The sun beat down on him like a white-hot furnace. Pain howled in his head. He wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, feeling his salt-stained clothes chafing against his skin. His sword and shield were so heavy... too heavy...

He sank to his knees on the dusty ground. Determination had kept him upright this far, and the unbearable desire to know who or what he truly was, but now he knew that he was too weak to drag himself any further without rest. He collapsed on the ground, panting harshly. His blood-colored eyes closed.

One thought remained past all the others as he gave way to the heat and the exhaustion, as his drained body demanded rest.

Link... must... die.

 

 

Link was surrounded on all sides by the hopeful smiles of townsfolk as he made his way through the market square. The people of Hyrule Castle Town were always glad to see him, for the debt they owed to the one they called Hero of Time was great indeed. Sometimes their open-mouthed wonder made him feel uncomfortable, for they pressed close to him in their eagerness to touch the fabled Sword of Evil's Bane. Free drinks and meals were offered to him, as were certain other things, and the babble of voices around him made thinking difficult. Laughing, trying to conceal his genuine annoyance, he raised his hands as he pushed his way through the excited throng. "Please, my friends, let me pass!"

"Did you really-"

"-of course he did, he's the-"

"-Skulltula infestation in-"

Smiling faces presented themselves to his eyes. Hope strove with adulation as the crowd attempted to present a thousand demands.

"-word with you, sire, if you can spare-"

"-two rupees for a poor-"

"-horse is lame, sire, and-"

He could not answer all of the requests at once, and he could not answer one of them without ten others being flung his way. It would be difficult to get to the Temple of Time unless the crowd was somehow appeased. As usual.

"Please, my friends, let me pass!" Link pleaded, hemmed in by bodies. "I am here to see the Princess!"

The babble died away slowly. There was a commotion at the edge of the crowd.

"Let him pass!" Four Hylian soldiers were elbowing their way through the throng, cracking heads where they had to. Link smiled in relief, recognizing one of his friends among the guards.

"Dardo!"

"Hail and well met, young lord," the old soldier greeted him, gently shoving two buxom silk-clad washerwomen aside as he came to stand by Link. "How goes it?"

"By far the better for seeing you here, my friend!" Link smiled. "The princess--is she--"

"In the Temple, yes," Dardo agreed, taking hold of Link's shoulder. "She sent us to get you when we heard the noise out here. I'll say one thing, sire, the people do love you greatly."

Link smiled ruefully. "Aye, and it can be a problem."

"Be glad they do not hate you, sire. You've not seen this mob when they're a mob." Dardo took hold of Link's shoulder. "Well then, will you come with us? We'll escort you to the Temple safely. The way this lot are, they will rip you to pieces in sheer gladness!"

Link laughed and let the soldiers close in around him. The townspeople groaned in disappointment when they saw their Hero being led off by the guards, and made to follow. The rest of Dardo's company broke off to prevent the people from entering the Temple grounds, and Link followed the old soldier through the old wrought-iron gates into the gardens of the Temple. Unlike the royal palace gardens, the ground here was left to grow wild and shelter what small creatures could find a home beneath and upon it. Flowers sprang high from the tall grass, and instead of a laid path there was merely a beaten track to the ancient wooden doors of the Temple itself.

"Well, I shall go and see the Princess, I suppose," Link said finally, pausing on the first step. "Will you wait for me, Dardo? I must still make my way out of Hyrule Town afterwards..."

The old soldier smiled and nodded. "Go ahead, sire. I'll wait here." Dardo leaned forward, winking, and wagged an admonishing finger. "Mind you, I've still not forgiven you for you-know-what!" He had gotten in trouble eight years ago when Link, as a boy, had managed to sneak through the palace gates and make his way unseen through a multitude of guarded courtyards to speak with the young Zelda.

Link exchanged handclasps with the soldier, and then ran lightly up the steps into the Temple.

 

 

The peaceful calm of the ancient and sacred place washed over him like a sea of blessed silence. As it always did, the light pouring down from the high windows bathed him in restful purity that strengthened his spirit and resolve. The beauty of the Temple of Time was ancient and without end. But after so many visits to this place, Link was grown used to the temple's quiet glory. He strode without hesitation up the red-carpeted path to the altar where the Royal Princess stood, her back to him as she examined the three Sacred Stones upon it. Those glowing stones, keys to the Door of Time, held special memories for both Hero and Princess. Five paces away, Link stopped and waited.

"You took your time," Princess Zelda said in a low, cool voice.

"That's not fair, Princess. You should do something about your subjects, they kept me back."

"Enough of this," the princess said urgently, turning with a flick of her sun-like golden hair. She met his eyes with an intense gaze, and he saw there was real fear in her face. Link's face expressed puzzlement. "Princess?"

"What happened to you in the Water Temple?" she asked quietly.

Link was taken aback. "Water Temple?" He shook his blond bangs out of his eyes and then folded his arms with a frown. "What is wrong?"

"I need to know, what happened when you fought your shadow?" Princess Zelda replied. She came forward and looked up into his eyes. "It is vitally important. I must know everything you can remember of that time."

Link turned away, closing his eyes to aid his memory. "The Water Temple is strangely hazy in my mind, Princess... I remember that I fought another, and that his face was in shadow so that I could not see him, but I do not remember the outcome. The next thing I remember is speaking to Ruto in the Sacred Realm."

"I know more than you, or you have forgotten," Princess Zelda said quietly. "You told me once how Dark Link became more solid with every blow you dealt, as if the more you accepted his existence the more real he became. However, I can tell you more now, for Rauru has found out the truth of that day. The phantom of Dark Link was created by Ganondorf, and was bonded to your own dark side--your fear and your anger and hatred. And when you struck him down with the Sword of Evil's Bane, that dark part of your own soul was driven out of you by the power of that Sword. You lost your shadow that day. After defeating Dark Link, you went on through the Temple and destroyed the evil monster Morpha to break the curse upon the Water Temple. Then the Temple flooded, but you had already been taken in safety to the Sacred Realm."

Link nodded slowly. "I remember... a little more." Suddenly he frowned. "So why did you call me here? Surely not to tell me this."

"Link," Princess Zelda said quietly. "Dark Link is not dead."

"What!?" Link exploded. "But surely--even if he did not die when I defeated him--the flooding of the Temple--he could not have escaped in time!"

"You defeated him," Zelda said quietly. "But all the same, that was one battle that you did not win. What you did was nothing more than that which Ganondorf meant you to do. Do you realize what he gained that day? He gained you, Link--your skills, your strengths, even your sword. For Dark Link has a sword, Link ... a sword that is the shadow of your own."

"Now I see why you called me here," Link said grimly. "My work in Hyrule is not done. I must hunt down and destroy Dark Link."

Zelda nodded. "But be careful," she replied softly, touching his hand. "For your shadow doubtless has the same idea about you!"

 

 

The hut was small and poor, constructed of logs and driftwood from the lake's shore. The mismatched pieces of wood were lashed together into a confused amalgam that passed for shelter, but though the building looked rude and poorly made, no rain or wind could force an entry. Within, it was warm, and secure.

The old woman laid down a burden on the single hard bed she shared with her daughter, groaning a little with the effort she had expended, and then called out in a thin, cracked voice. "Kara, my daughter! Come to me! I need your help!"

A young auburn-haired woman, as straight as the other was stooped and as fresh and untouched as the old woman was gnarled, entered through the curtained opening that served for a doorway into the second of two rooms. "Mother?" she began, then saw what had been found. "Who is this?"

"I do not know," the old woman croaked. "I found him lying like a dead thing among the rocks. He breathes still, but what ails him I know not. Go down along the lakeside path, daughter, and fetch his belongings. I could not carry them as well as him."

As the young woman hurried out, the crone set about making their unexpected visitor comfortable. This was the real reason she had sent her daughter away, for despite her advanced age she was easily strong enough to bear the added burden that the weapons would have made. She peeled off the salt-stained tunic with an expression of distaste and arranged the young man in the bed, covering him up swiftly with a thin blanket. There was a bucket of water standing by the door and with this the old woman filled a pitcher. She took a rag and gently sponged the engrimed salt from the unconscious young man's face.

Kara ran back in, staggering a little with the sword and shield slung over her shoulder. She dropped the things so that they clattered upon the rough stone floor, then stretched her arms out with a wince. "Oh, they are heavy!"

"'Twas the strain of carrying them that overcame him, I'll say," the old woman replied. "And if this tunic is anything to go by he had a swim in the lake while wearing them, then rolled in the sand to finish off."

"How strange that he should be all alone," Kara said, gazing at the still figure. "Perhaps he was attacked?"

"Who knows," the old woman replied. "I'll tend to him, daughter, fear not." Her old voice softened a little and she brushed back the man's sand-coated black hair. "He's nothing more than a boy, poor child." The old woman's voice changed suddenly, adopting a commanding tone. "Get you gone, and do your chores, daughter."

Kara pouted. "But may I talk to him, mother?"

"Only when he's awake," the old woman replied practically. "Go on with you, my lass."

All morning the young Kara hurried through her chores, cutting corners so that her work was done, albeit carelessly, by midday. By the time she had finished, the young man still had not awoken although her mother was unstinting in her ministrations. Kara sat beside him, cooling his forehead with a damp cloth. The old woman saw one of her daughter's hands resting gently on the young man's, and she shook her head to herself, and scowled. It was about time her pretty daughter showed an interest in men ... but she wished it had not been this one. Something about the dark-skinned Hylian unnerved her. He was too dark, too strange. The old woman went into the hut's only other room and began to clatter about with pans, preparing a broth for when their visitor was recovered enough.

The young man stirred and then slowly opened his eyes. "Oh!" Kara exclaimed in surprise when she saw that he was awake. He looked at her for a moment, then closed his eyes again.

Kara rose from his bedside and stood back. "Mother?" she asked quietly. It had frightened her when she saw the color of his eyes--they were a bright, jewel-like red, a color that could never be mistaken for anything natural. "Mother, he wakes."

He opened his eyes again and sat up, holding the blanket over himself. "Who are you?" he asked in a low voice.

"I am Kara," Kara said. "This is our home. How are you?"

The young man sighed.

"What's wrong?"

"I know not even who I am, so how can I say how I am?" he answered in quiet despair.

"Oh..." Kara said. He was looking at her and she looked away, her cheeks coloring. Those shining ruby-like eyes were bright and hot and in his dark face they smoldered like coals. The effect was exotic and utterly strange.

The young man was feeling strange himself. For the second time that day--he assumed it was the same day--he had woken to find himself in a strange place. The girl who had been bending over him, he saw, was extremely pretty. Her large brown eyes were almond-shaped and she had a mass of dark reddish-brown hair curling around her face and shoulders. But she had turned away almost as soon as he saw her and now she held herself uncomfortably, looking at the floor. He looked around, taking in the rough yet clean little hut, with a square oak table just big enough for two and a roof of wattle and daub. But his eyes returned swiftly to the girl who had been tending him, for she seemed too attractive for a peasant's hut like this one.

He wanted very much to speak with her and learn some answers to the questions that plagued him--but that would wait. First he wanted to discover something else. "Do you have a mirror?" he asked quietly.

The girl looked up seeming startled, but then she smiled shyly and fled into the other room, returning a few seconds later with a small circular mirror made of beaten silver. He recognized the object as being one of worth, despite the cheap glass cut stones stuck to the twisted rim, and he accepted it with care. His fingers trembled a little as he looked at his face in the mirror; he touched his cheek lightly, making sure. "I do not recognize myself," he said softly, dreamily, "but then I did not know what I looked like until now."

"Don't you remember anything?" the girl asked. "My mother found you lying near the lake. You collapsed in the heat."

He sat bolt upright. "My sword!" he exclaimed in panic.

"It is here," the girl replied, motioning to the blade which, along with the shield, was propped against the wall. "It's all right; what did you think we were, robbers?" He held his hand out for the sword and she placed it into his fingers. At the cold touch of the leather-bound hilt on his hand much of his fear vanished, although he remembered the peculiar thrill of terror which had gone through him at the thought of the blade being lost. It was important; he knew not why or how, but it was vitally important to him. He clutched it gratefully, drawing strength from the familiar feel of it.

"We would have no use for such a weapon," the girl told him gently. "Wait, I will fetch you some clean clothes." She was back in a moment with a tunic woven of soft white linen.

He made the girl turn her back while he pulled the tunic on--he was not so far gone that he had no modesty left. It was comfortable, and made well enough although evidently old, but he disliked the color. Clothed and in possession of a little more dignity, he recovered the confidence to demand, "My boots."

Kara, convinced now that their visitor must be a lord of some kind--for why else would he dare to order around the people whose hospitality he was gifted with?--scurried to fetch a precious pair of her own light deerskin boots. His were clearly no longer landworthy. It was lucky that they were almost the same size.

The old woman entered as he was pulling on the new boots. "Well now, you look worlds better," she exclaimed, setting down on the table the tray she was carrying. "My name is Darpa, and this is my daughter, Kara. Might we know your name?"

"I don't think so," he answered in a preoccupied fashion, looking at the boots. The old woman's face registered confusion.

"He's lost his memory," Kara confided to her mother.

The young man reached for his shield but a dizziness swept over him suddenly. He sat back on the bed clutching at his head.

"Here," Darpa said coolly and handed him the bowl that had been on the tray. "Get some hot soup down you before you pass out again." He suddenly realized how hungry he was. All thoughts of leaving disappeared from his mind and he disposed of the soup in less than a minute. When it was gone, he shoved the bowl back into Darpa's hands and then lay down again. The two women waited for their guest to express his thanks, but he just closed his eyes, and slept, selfish as a child.

"How rude," Darpa muttered and took the bowl back into the kitchen.

 

 

He woke abruptly from a dream in which he fought with someone who parried every blow he swung, but whose face was shrouded in light so that to look into his eyes was a dazzling impossibility. The return to reality jarred his mind into a stronger awareness and he was able while still drowsy to make a mental snatch at the things which slipped away from his consciousness like silver fishes in midnight waters. He woke fully with one single, concrete fact in his head--and a feeling of relief.

I am Dark Link.

So he had a name! And therefore presumably a past as well. He was immeasurably glad of it; it gave him somewhere to stand in the world, a root to cling to.

Nobody else was in the room, and he looked around seeing everything with new eyes. The floor was spread with dry rushes and the bright air smelt of them--a clean straw smell. The small room was crowded by their furniture which consisted of the bed, a small table and three rude wooden chairs. Its baked mud walls were not decorated or covered, but in and around the window grew a small climbing vine with tiny white flowers, shrouding the view in a profusion of fresh green foliage.

Someone had covered him over while he had been asleep. He pushed the blanket back and got up, and found that he could stand without effort. There was new strength in his legs now--those two women had probably saved his life. He wondered why they had bothered, for he would not have done it for anyone he saw dying. Rather, he would have gone through their belongings for anything useful, then left them where they were--it was only practical. He picked up his sword in a complicated tangle of straps, slung it carelessly over his shoulder, and then hefted his shield.

"Are you leaving already?" The girl was standing in the doorway.

He shrugged and turned away.

"Aren't you even going to say thank you to us?" she asked sadly. "It is only polite, for you are our guest."

The concept of politeness was not one Dark Link was familiar with; nor was the idea of hospitality. But something did seem to be called for in this situation, because the girl was waiting for him to act. "I remembered my name," he said by way of explanation.

"Oh?" the girl said.

"There is something that I must do. I will come back." Now why did he say that? He had no intention of coming back. Oh well. It was the right thing to say anyway. The light of understanding appeared in the girl's face. "You're going to find your friends?" she asked.

"Friends?"

"Yes, the people who you were with before you got lost."

Had he been with someone? He thought not. But wait ... yes ... that figure that shone in his mind with a golden light. "Yes," he said. "That is what I must do. I must find what I lost."

"Oh." The girl looked down again. Her fingers knotted each other. "...Must you go?"

"Don't you want me to go?" he asked in surprise.

"Well ... can't you stay a while longer?" she replied quietly. "You didn't even tell us your name."

"Dark," Dark Link found himself saying. "My name is Dark."

"I am Kara," the girl said shyly. He had been told before, but he realized that he had forgotten. "Can you remember anything else yet?" she asked.

"Why are you so interested?"

"Well ... I care." She looked puzzled at the question.

Something in Dark Link's cold shadow of a heart was touched--some last remainder of his other self awoke into day, from a time when he had been whole. There was a feeling of unutterable loss in his soul as if he had been torn in two. That little gleam of light was too painful for him to bear, and he sought to extinguish it, but it would not die--he shuddered at the feel of it within him. "Are you all right?" Kara asked.

"Yes, I'm fine," he lied. Her voice directed to him in friendship eased his pain a little and he found the courage to smile. "I will stay. For a little while."

She smiled, bright and innocent.

 

 

The fleet red horse flew through the morning light like a crimson kingfisher, shining in the sun. Her feet flashed through the long grass; her white tail bobbed and glittered in the light. The blond rider leaned low over the horse's neck as she ran, urging her to reach the limits of her speed.

"Yahooo!!!"

The fastest horse in Hyrule, and she is mine, Link thought joyfully, as he always did when he rode Epona. He had won the horse off Talon's brother in a bet when Lon Lon Ranch had been under Ingo's less than expert management. It was one of many reasons why Link and Ingo were not the best of friends--Ingo was still bitter at being beaten in two races by a 'mere boy'. When Talon returned from Kakariko and reclaimed the ranch, he made the gift of Epona official. Nowadays Link could not understand how he had ever survived without Epona, for she made it possible to reach even the furthest corners of the realm in hours rather than days. And this was what he was aiming for now, for he hoped to reach Lake Hylia before nightfall. He believed that Dark Link would be around there somewhere, and without a horse the shadow could not have gone far from the lake itself before Link arrived.

Link's hat blew off in the wind of Epona's speed. He grabbed behind him with swift grace and just caught it by its tip. Maintaining the horse's pace he raised himself in the stirrups and shoved the hat underneath him where it could not be lost.

 

 

Epona passed by Lon Lon Ranch in a thunder of hooves. Link saw Malon at the gate and waved to her, but such was the horse's fabled speed that she was gone before the young woman could wave back.

Malon saw Epona speed across the grass and past the entrance to the ranch, so fast and smooth that she seemed almost to fly. The rancher's daughter smiled as she heard Link's joyful laughter. She too loved the feeling of speed when riding a horse, and she was glad that Link shared so many of her passions. "Come back soon!" she called, knowing full well that he would not hear her. He would come back anyway. Probably he would be carrying something ridiculous as a present for her and Talon. He had not brought them a horse yet; maybe he would this time! Malon laughed out loud at the image that that thought conjured.

"Come back soon, Link," she said quietly, smiling, "whatever the princess has told you to do." One of the horses neighed.

 

 

It was not long before Epona's speed brought her and her rider to Lake Hylia. Link dismounted quickly and left the horse to fend for herself. Epona was a special creature and would not wander off like other lesser horses might have done. Link had no fear for her, and he knew that even if she were to move away she would always come when she heard his whistle.

He walked to the lake's edge and looked out over the blue waters. Out there in the center of the lake there was an island, under which was the door to the Water Temple. Link closed his eyes and remembered...

The room was an illusionary lake which seemed to go on forever without end. The door by which he had entered seemed to be standing alone in the wide emptiness without a wall to back it up. Ganondorf's enchantments barred it behind him. Since there was only one way to go, Link set off across the glassy surface of the lake towards a central island with a dark dead tree growing upon it. When he glanced down he saw his reflection in misty grays beneath him, cupped in the strange watery floor. The image beneath him looked strange and frightening and he tore his gaze away.

He stepped onto the central island and looked around again. The other door was barred to him as well. Perhaps he could force it. Link took a few steps back into the strange water but then his eye caught something unusual. He looked down into the water which was now rippling around his ankles like ordinary water would.

His reflection had disappeared! He sensed danger and drew his sword, swinging his shield down off his back at the same time. With shield and sword readied, he turned round.

A shadow was under the stunted tree. Link could not clearly make it out. He went forward to take a closer look and then--without warning--the shadow leaped at him! He raised his shield instinctively and felt the phantom of a blade clang against its surface. Although the shadow seemed insubstantial, its weapon was real! "What are you?" Link shouted but the shadow did not answer. It was quick and strong, and he fell back before its furious onslaught, blocking with his shield, too startled to fight back.

Gradually the shadow drove him backwards, away from the island. At the very moment when the shadow relaxed to swing a stronger blow, he lunged with his own Sword and felt it clang off the other's ghostly shield. It fell backwards and then he could see it more clearly.

It's me! I'm fighting myself! he thought in shock. Ganondorf, what is this thing you have made?

 

 

Now he sighed to himself. He remembered how difficult it had been to defeat Dark Link. After all, Dark Link had all the skills he himself possessed, but without the honor that Link held to be most important. Such a one was more dangerous than any mindless monster.

 

 

"So how much do you remember?" Kara asked. She was sitting with him at the table in Kara's and Darpa's house. Spring-scented air and cheerful sunlight spilled in through the square window; but Dark Link had chosen a seat in shadow, well out of the sun's way.

He shrugged. "I know not. That is what frightens me. There might not be any more."

"Of course there is," Kara said faithfully. "I am sure you didn't just appear out of thin air--that's a ridiculous idea!"

Is it? Dark Link thought. But he did not say that. "I wish I could remember more," he said softly, then looked up. "Do you have any idea what I could do? How may I learn the truth about myself?"

"I'm sorry--I don't know. But you are welcome to stay here in safety until you remember." She smiled kindly. "I would help you if I could."

He smiled back, a little unsure of the expression. "Thank you. I ... think I will take a look around outside now."

"Go ahead." Kara smiled and stood up. "I'm going to help my mother in the kitchen. Dinner will be in an hour--please try to be back by then!"

Dark Link strolled out of the hut with his hands in the pockets of his new white tunic, his shield and sword slung over his back. He was deep in thought, trying to recall whatever it was that wanted him to remember it. Struggling for his memories of the place where he had fought that bright and shining light, he wandered lakewards without realizing where he was going. Finally he climbed a sand dune and found himself looking down at the long blue stretch of water whence he had come that morning. The lake was as still and clear as it had been. But something was different this time.

He dropped flat upon the ground so that his position was masked by the long dune grass, and shaded his eyes from the fearsome sun. There was a bright light upon the shore, too bright to make out. But when it moved, he saw within it the shape of a person.

He could remember fighting the one named Link, now. Neither of them had been able to see the other properly ... they were too different in their nature to even appear clearly in each other's eyes. To Dark, Link had appeared as a creature formed entirely of searing light. This had to be Link! But why would he be here, right now, on the day when Dark awakened once more?

There was only one explanation. My enemy knows that I am still alive... and he is looking for me.

Dark's instincts were calling him to do something ... things were coming back to him faster now. He drew his sword slowly, remaining low on the ground, and then his free hand went to a golden crystal pendant around his neck ... a stone with a strange symbol engraved upon it, a crescent moon and star. This thing had some meaning to it, something else he had forgotten. He closed his eyes and called upon the power that slept within him.

And the bud of darkness in his benighted spirit bloomed, and swept up through him like a chill tide, and changed him. He could not but gasp at the thrill of pleasure that went through him at the touch of that shadow; it was a thing of his own pure nature, and he loved it.

Gathering his darkness about him, he stood. To all other eyes, he knew, he had disappeared. All that was left to show where he had been, was a faint shadow upon the ground, and a faint darkness in the air.

The shadow began to move forward, down the slope of the dune and onto the blinding white light of the sand... and towards his enemy.

Link, standing at the edge of the lake and looking out over the water, felt an abrupt coldness creep over him, as if the sun had gone behind a cloud. But the sunlight was as bright as it had ever been, and he felt afraid. He began to turn to go back, meaning to collect Epona and leave, but then he heard the horse neighing frantically. Link whipped the Master Sword out of its sheath, readied his shield and ran back towards where he had left Epona. There was nothing near the horse, but she was nearly berserk, rearing and striking out with her hooves at nothing. Link grabbed her traces and tried to calm the spooked horse. "Easy, Epona girl! What's wrong?"

Epona jerked her bridle free from his hands and bolted, knocking him over. Link scrambled to his feet in haste, looking all around for something--maybe a snake? that could have caused the horse to spook so violently; for Epona was not in the habit of taking fright at little things. There was nothing.

Then he saw something out of the corner of his eye. There was a shadow on the sand nearby ... but nothing close to cast it. He stared at the shadow and then saw a long thin streak of shadow slide out of it, the shadow of a sword's blade upon the sand. Link backed away.

He sees me, Dark thought, not entirely surprised. Without a sound he discarded the cloak of shadows and blindly attacked the burning light before him.

Link barely had time to leap back before the shadow's blade scored a line over his shoulder, just above the shield's protection. He cried out and fell back, hefting his shield to block any further blows. Dark Link--again! How could he have survived the Temple? Was it his sword? Certainly there was something about that gray and misty blade that was a shadow of his own ... Link's shoulder felt deathly cold where the sword had cut him. He struck out and felt his own blade clang against the shadow's shield.

I barely defeated him last time; will I be able to this time? But he was stronger now, in top condition after months of hard work and good food, and Dark Link was not. Now recovered from the shock of seeing, or not seeing, his shadow once again, Link began to drive Dark Link back towards the water's edge, meeting each one of the shadow's blows with one of his own. The two blades clanged together in a vicious dance, showering sparks onto the combatants.

Dark's ankle splashed into shallow water. Instinctively he looked down for a moment to ensure his footing--at once Link took the advantage, smashed his shield into the shadow's face. With a sharp cry, Dark splashed onto his back in the water. His sword spun out of his hand.

"Stop! Stop it!" It was a girl's voice. Link put a foot on Dark's chest, resting the tip of his blade at the hollow of the shadow's throat, and then turned his head. A girl was running towards them--a pretty dark-haired girl wearing a plain cotton peasant's dress. Her feet were bare. "Stop!" she cried. "Don't hurt him!"

"What?" Link was astounded.

"Don't, he's lost his memory!" the girl cried, running up to him. "He won't hurt you!"

"He attacked me," Link said through clenched teeth. Beneath his foot the shadow lay still, frightened of the bright sword at its throat.

The girl stood staring for a moment, her face white, and then she pushed him away from Dark Link, who sat up putting a hand to his head. "Tell me it's not true," she begged, kneeling beside the creature formed of shadow. He shoved her away roughly and stood up, snatching his sword out of the shallow water. Link readied his own blade.

"I thought you were a good person!" the girl cried in pain. She turned away weeping bitterly. Dark Link's head turned as he looked at her, then he sheathed his sword and reached out his hand to touch her gently on the shoulder.

Link stared at them both. Then he blinked several times and looked again. Dark Link's body was becoming visible to him! Dark put his arm around the weeping girl and Link, forgotten, watched as for the first time his own shadow's face became visible. It was a visage entirely of his own shape--his face, his hair--but black, black as night, with eyes that gleamed crimson. A shiver ran down his spine.

"I am sorry," Dark Link said quietly, but loud enough for Link to hear. "I did not mean to hurt you."

"Who are you really?" the girl demanded, brushing away angry tears. "Don't you know who he is?"

The shadow's smile was cold. "Of course I do. He is the one I was born to kill. I know who I am now--you should be happy for me."

"Are you satisfied now?" Link said coldly. The shadow's head whipped round and he glared ferociously, daring him to say anything more. Link stared back coolly and then went on. "This ... thing you see before you is a creation of Ganondorf," he told the girl, "with any luck, the last of his evil phantoms. And I was sent by the Princess Royal to destroy it once and for all."

Kara pulled away from Dark Link. "Go away!" she cried bitterly. "Leave me alone!"

Dark's lips drew away from pointed teeth and he snarled soundlessly at Link. Then before Link could do anything, he touched an amulet hanging around his neck and faded into the air. Link saw a darkness racing away across the sand and he ran after it as fast as he could. But his dark self was as fast as he was, and had a head start, and in moments he vanished into the grassy dunes where his shadow would not give his presence away. Link knew he had lost him and with a sigh of disappointment he whistled for his horse.

And the girl wept, forgotten, ignored.

 

 

Dark Link crouched down in the long grass for a second time and watched his other half mount and ride slowly along the shoreline, searching for him. The girl, Kara, was making her way away from the lake and he knew that she was crying even though she was many yards away from him. He knew he could not be seen by either of them; he was in no danger, so he simply watched. Watched and thought.

Now for the first time he had seen Link's face and he was surprised. He had not thought this other would be so utterly different to him, with sky-blue eyes and hair the color of sunlight: his enemy was a child of the day as Dark Link was a child of the night.

But something Link had said had given Dark pause; that he had been created by a man named Ganondorf. Was that true? Did Dark truly have nothing but that--that one purpose that drew him on so strongly?

Was that all?

He felt a great anger coming over him that Link should have so much when Dark had nothing. And slowly an idea grew in his mind. He could do something about all of this.

As if sent by a higher power, a dark cloud moved to cover the sun ... and to mask the shadow should he attack for a second time. Dark Link drew his sword again and again slipped down onto the beach and ran lightly towards his opponent.

This time neither Link nor Epona were aware of his approach. He ran for a few paces beside the horse which was trotting quickly through the clean white sand, and then he lunged and grabbed Link's ankle to pull him out of the saddle. Unprepared and unaware, the bright warrior toppled backwards off the horse, which bolted. Kicking out at his unseen assailant Link jumped to his feet and drew his sword. "Show yourself, you coward!" he shouted, whirling. Something poked him in the back and he whirled again, stabbing blindly at air. A mere second later the tip of the sword tapped his shoulder, lightly, without drawing blood. Dark Link was toying with him.

Link's jaw tightened. Even if he could not see Dark, he had a trick which would grievously injure anything nearby, and which had aided him when fighting Dark Link before. He sheathed his sword and, falling to his knees upon the ground, prepared to cast Din's Fire.

Dark Link faded into view right behind him. Before Link could release the spell, he brought the butt of his sword down hard against the back of his enemy's head. The bright warrior gave one short strangled cry and fell headlong to lie unconscious on the sand. Quickly Dark Link knelt beside him and began to go through his belongings, knowing that he did not have much time.

The first thing he reached for was Link's beautiful sword which had fallen onto a drift of white sand and now lay gleaming like a star. Dark's greedy fingers came within a hair's breadth of grasping the magical weapon but then there was a crack and he was thrown violently backwards. With a gasp he stumbled to his feet, massaging his hand which was tingling with the aftermath of a powerful electric shock. The tips of his fingers were singed and the sword seemed to vibrate slightly upon the sand. Regretfully he decided he would have to leave the sword where it was. But the rest of his enemy's gear was fair game.

He lifted up the shield Link carried, which had a front of burnished silver so polished that it was as a mirror. It was remarkably light for its size. Dark Link turned the shield to look at his own face, but the reflection he saw was distorted and dark. He grimaced and laid the shield aside then went through Link's pockets. The first and possibly the most interesting find was a blue crystal ocarina with the Royal Family's crest upon it. Something in the object sang to him with a powerful appeal; he had to have it. Dark put the ocarina on top of the shield. There was a strong bow with a quiver that was nearly full of arrows; this he took and strapped to his back. A bag of nuts he tossed aside contemptuously, not understanding why his enemy saw fit to keep them. He took an object made of metal with a belt clip, an extending spring-loaded chain and a grapnel on the end; although he did not know its intended purpose, it looked important. When he lifted the mighty warhammer his fingers tingled to tell him that this weapon was an object of great power and he laid it with the objects he had already decided to keep. Even the ornate gilded scabbard would do very well for his own sword rather than leaving it to Link. He took the small money Link kept about his person, and then stripped his alter ego down to his undergarments. Kitted out in Link's green tunic and with most of his weapons equipped, Dark tucked his inky black hair under the hat as far as he could, but he knew that his disguise would fool nobody at close range. It was intended simply to keep people from questioning him upon the road.

He sheathed his sword in its new and beautiful scabbard, then picked up the superior shield. His own black shield lay discarded; he took it up and flung it out across the lake rather than let his enemy have it. With barely a flicker of movement, Dark Link faded out again. His shadow flitted over the sand away from the lake and into the rolling dunes as rain began to fall. He smiled, glad that he now had stronger and more waterproof garments to keep him warm.

 

 

Link awoke with Epona's whickering and soft warm breath in his ear. A fine drizzle was coming down off the lake, and he was soaked through and chilled to the bone. His head pounded with pain. He got to his feet slowly and then realized that everything he had been carrying was gone!

"That cowardly sneakthief..." he muttered. "I will find him ... I will find him if it is the last thing I do in this world!"

At least Dark Link had not managed to call Epona to his own side. Link stroked the faithful horse, then rummaged through her saddlebags, taking out the soft red tunic that had been given to him by the Gorons and then the magical winged hover boots he had found in the Shadow Temple. He did not want to touch Dark Link's discarded garments lying upon the sand; he avoided them as if they carried some strange ill. He dressed quickly, lamenting the loss of his most powerful weapons ... beside the Master Sword. And that was something strange. Why had Dark Link not taken the Master Sword? The Megaton Hammer was gone; so were the Hookshot and his bow, but Dark had left the most powerful weapon in his arsenal untouched on the sand. Dressed, Link picked up the Sword and slipped it through his belt. The flat of the blade banged uncomfortably against his legs but he had no alternative seeing that Dark had taken even his scabbard. And the Ocarina of Time! Link groaned aloud at that thought. "How could I have been so stupid?"

He walked carefully while wearing the Hover Boots; they were very slippery and not intended for day-to-day use. Grasping Epona's saddle horn he pulled himself up into the saddle and flicked the reins. The red horse ran along the shoreline, kicking clouds of sand; he headed north for a while and then abruptly turned inland. He could not face the Princess and tell her that his own shadow had got the better of him. Instead he would run Dark Link down if he had to go across the whole world to find him. The hunt was on.

 

 

Dark Link was still cloaked in his shadow-invisibility when he saw Link passing to the north on the red horse Epona. He ducked down reflexively, although he knew well that his alter ego could not see him as he was. Link looked furious and Dark knew that it was a good idea to keep away from a confrontation ... at least until Dark was more confident of his abilities. Link had one great advantage over him: the power of magic. He could cast no spells, work no sorcerous tricks.

But you can have that power too, a voice said to him suddenly.

"What?" Dark Link whipped out his sword, afraid that someone could see him despite his near invisibility. "Who are you?" There was nobody nearby; he turned around on the spot, his eyes wide and disbelieving.

I am Ganondorf, the cold voice replied and he realized that it was speaking within his own head. I created you; you are mine. Of all my phantoms, you are the only one who did not fade and fail me. Now I reach out to you from my place of banishment, for your task is not yet done.

"You ... created me?" Warily he lowered his weapon. "What task?"

You know what task. You were given life to do this one thing. For I knew--yes, I knew--that I could not defeat the Hero of Time. I knew the Sword he bears would be my downfall. But my plans have not gone all awry, for you have come to be. In your genesis lies the seed of his destruction. You must kill him. Kill him, kill his descendants, exterminate his race. That is your purpose. Destroy that legendary Hero, and his line, so that none will ever wield that Sword!

"How may I do this thing?" Dark Link said quietly. "How may I stand against such a Sword?"

You were born of darkness. Use that darkness. Illusion, deception, imitation--these things are your magic. Do not underestimate their power. It is a limited power, for there are those with eyes that can see the truth, and they will always see through your artifice. Nevertheless, it will aid you. If you so desire you will be able to make yourself seem as another ... and change the appearance of that other. Should you so desire.

"I understand," Dark Link said softly. And a great strange love swelled his shadowed heart for this Ganondorf, this one who had given him life. For was not this man his own father, in a way? Alone on the dunes he knelt, pledging allegiance to the empty air. "And if I kill this one ... will it free you, my lord? Will you come back to this world?"

I shall, replied the voice of Ganondorf. I am the true King of this land, and I have no little power of my own. But that Sword holds my power at bay. Do this thing for me--destroy the wielder of the Sword, and ensure that it will never again be used against me--and I shall not forget you when the time comes.

"I will do as you ask, my lord," the shadow whispered reverently. "I am yours to command. All that is within my power, I will do." Gently he stroked the carved hilt of his sword with his fingertips. "This blade has your name on it, my friend," he said to the air, his voice now tinged with menace.

There is one more thing, Ganondorf said. A small gift for my faithful servant, to aid you in your quest. Go down to the lake now and you will find it. It has been waiting for you to waken, just as I have.

"What is it?"

A surprise. Think of it as a long-term loan.

Dark Link smiled. "You are truly gracious, my lord!"

To those who serve me faithfully, I give with both hands. I am after all a King. Do as I ask and you will see how gracious I can be.

He turned and headed back down to the lake's edge, where he saw a tall black horse saddled and bridled upon the sand. The animal pawed the ground aggressively when he approached, but he knew that it would not harm him, for it had been sent to him. This is my horse, Ganondorf told him, so take care of it. I shall not be pleased if you kill it. When you have no use for it, command it to enter the charm you wear around your neck and you will take it with you wherever you go.

"Very useful!" Dark Link laughed coldly. He grasped the ornate leather pommel of the stallion's saddle and swung himself easily up onto the horse's back. Now he had everything he needed--clothes, weapons and transport. The spirited stallion reared at his light touch on the reins; with innate skill he wheeled the animal round in a circle, and sent the horse thundering across the green plains in the direction his bright enemy had gone.

 

 

Evening.

"Kara dear, won't you tell me what's wrong? You've hardly spoken to me since this morning." the old woman asked kindly. "Did something happen between you and that young man?"

The young woman sighed heavily and shook her head. "No, mother." She continued to toy with her dinner, gazing out of the window with an expression of sad longing on her face.

"Well." The old woman rose and began to clear the plates. "Forget about him," she advised as she disappeared into the back room. "He was a nasty piece of work, I'm afraid. Mayhap I should have left him where he was, but I always was a soft touch for poor injured creatures."

Kara stood up and went over to the window. She pushed aside the rough cloth drape and looked out into the darkness beyond. The sun had only set a short time ago yet already the plains were dark as midnight; the stars and moon were cloaked behind thick mats of cloud. The lamplight that poured from the windows of the lighted house reached only a few short feet into the impenetrable darkness and made it seem as if their house was adrift in a sea of night. Kara shivered at the thought--and then against her will she thought of Dark Link out there somewhere, alone in the darkness. Was he afraid or lonely?

Stop it, stop thinking about him! she commanded herself sternly. Everyone had heard of Dark Link who had heard of the quest of the Hero of Time. What Link said was true, Dark Link was evil and did not deserve pity. Not even because he was so strange and beautiful, and sad.

Kara lost herself in a daydream and all the men who walked the pathways of her mind had dark hair and ruby-colored eyes.

 

 

Link stared into the flames of his campfire and moodily lamented the loss of his bow. With it he could have shot a rabbit or even a crow and had something to cook, but he was forced to go hungry this night. He determined to purchase another bow as soon as he could get hold of a few rupees. In the meantime he sighed and leaned back against the flank of his recumbent horse. Epona's rhythmic breathing was a comfort to him.

Somewhere outside this little circle of light, Dark Link was stalking. It irked Link that he could not search for his shadow even in the darkness but he knew full well that it was impossible. It was difficult to see Dark Link even in full sunlight when he was using the shadow-magic to cloak himself. In the darkness of midnight it would be too dangerous even to try.

Link's fingers tightened around the object he held. It was another thing that had been in Epona's saddlebags rather than upon Link's person, and so Dark Link had not acquired it. Link was not sure but he thought that leaving it might just have been his shadow's undoing. The object was a pair of spectacles with rims made out of some metal wire. The lenses were clear and they seemed too heavy in the hand to be glass; probably some kind of crystal. This artifact was the Eye of Truth that let the wearer see what was hidden in the darkness. It had served him well in the realm of the dead, where nothing was what it seemed.

He had not tried it since that time, but he knew that he would soon if he had no more luck in his search. He sighed, decided he was going to get cramp if he did not move, and stretched out his long legs towards the fire. Sometimes he felt too tall.

Suddenly there was a jingle of harness outside the circle of firelight--followed by a soft scraping sound, metal on metal. Link got to his feet quickly and snatched up the Master Sword which had lain close to his hand ever since he made camp earlier that evening. Epona was also on her feet and whickering anxiously. The red horse sensed a presence.

Dark Link appeared out of the night as he dismounted from the black horse and landed soundlessly on the grass. He was still wearing Link's tunic.

"I did not think you would seek me out," Link said grimly and readied his sword. He knew he was disadvantaged by the lack of a shield, but he had fought without one before, and he was confident he could hold his own.

"I did not come here to fight," Dark Link answered.

"Then what?" Link said angrily. "To steal my horse as well?"

The shadow smiled coldly and touched the black stallion's glossy flank. "As you can see, I have my own. No, I came here to steal something else from you tonight."

"You shall not have it," Link said and raised his blade.

"I have already taken it," Dark Link answered with a laugh.

He pulled the Mirrorshield from the back of the black horse and turned it towards Link. It was with a great shock that Link saw his own reflection, dark-skinned and raven-haired. He looked back to Dark Link and saw himself there instead. "What is this trick?" he demanded, furious.

"No trick," Dark Link answered and touched his sun-colored hair. "I cannot kill you as I am so instead I shall become you! See if any of your friends will help you now they think you are me!" Link leaped over the fire towards his shadow, angry enough to want to cleave Dark Link's head from his body--but the other was mounted before he could get within striking distance. Dark Link dug his boots into the black horse's sides and the animal sprang away like a thunderbolt. His hoofbeats receded into the night. Link ran after him a little way but it was already too late.

Link held the reflective blade of his sword up to his face to verify what he had seen reflected in the Mirrorshield. Sure enough his face had changed color to be like Dark Link's and Dark--well, he had seen what Dark now looked like. Link's heart sank as he began to realize the trouble he might be in.

But then he took a closer look at his reflection in the sword's shining surface. The strange illusion had not penetrated all the way through, for his eyes were still the same blue they had always been, even if his hair and skin were so greatly changed. It comforted him a little to see that there was a limit to the magic that had been worked upon him. And he still had the proof that he was not evil: he had the Master Sword and the Eye of Truth. He walked towards his horse but Epona moved away uneasily.

"Easy, Epona girl, it's me!" Link said, holding his hand out. The horse doubtfully kept her distance. He frowned and then tucked his black hair behind his ears. "Come on Epo, it's your old friend Link! You know me!" He whistled softly Epona's song that Malon had taught him and the horse came forward and let him stroke her face. "Good girl," Link whispered, pulling himself into the saddle. His disguise was good but Epona had seen through it. That meant that others might too. But he did not think it would be a good idea to head for Hyrule Castle Town until he could lift the illusion. The guards at the gate would throw him in jail the moment he chanced to approach the entrance to the town.

He could think of only one person who might be able to help him and who would recognize him even changed as he was: Saria, his oldest friend who lived in the forest of the Kokiri. Now there was no time to lose and he rode away from the campfire as though pursued by monsters.

 

 

The guard at the gate of Hyrule Town woke suddenly to the sound of hoofbeats. He leaped to his feet, hoping that nobody had noticed him asleep on duty, and then looked out of the small slit window of the guardroom. The room looked onto the moat.

He might be half asleep but he recognized the green tunic and blond hair of the Hero of Time--there was none in the country that would not know it. Why should Link want to gain entrance to the town at this time? Surely he knew that the gates were not opened at night but only when the sun rose? And it was still two hours off dawn. "What's your business here?" he shouted out of the window.

"I need to see Princess Zelda!" came the reply.

"Don't you know what time it is?" the guard shouted.

"Yes! Let me in!"

"But the gates are not opened until dawn!"

"I don't care! Open them now!"

The guard did not want to be the one who refused the Hero of Time entrance into the town. He raced to the heavy mechanism that lowered the recently repaired drawbridge, and began to turn the crank. The chains rattled through their fastenings and a shudder went through the ground at his feet. With ponderous dignity the drawbridge began to lower towards the edge of the moat. Before it had even touched the ground, Link kicked the flanks of the strange black horse he was riding--and the animal leaped the gap and galloped down the slope of the gate to thunder away into the town. "Wait!" the guard cried, stretching out a hand, but the young man was gone towards the royal castle. "But I need to know your business in the town!" There was no reply; nothing but the distant echo of hooves on stone. Oh well, he thought. His lordship is obviously in a hurry--and who am I to stand in the way of the Hero of Time?

 

 

Another problem became apparent when Link, lonely and tired, came to the village of the Kokiri that lay deep within the confines of the forest. The houses were dark and dead and there was no movement anywhere within. "Hallo!" he shouted, standing in the grassy patch by Mido's house. "It's me, Link! Come out!" There was no reply. "Please! I need your help!" Still nothing moved.

Link's eyes slid sideways to a prickly bush; he had heard a small sound. He tensed and then he leaped into the bush, grabbing the Kokiri hiding there. She screamed and tried to get away but he held her tightly. "Fado!" he said earnestly. "It's me, Link!"

"No you're not," the Kokiri girl cried. "You don't even look like him! Go away!"

Link held her down with one hand and withdrew the Eye of Truth with the other. As gently as he could, he placed the glasses over her eyes so that she had to see him through the crystal lens. "See the truth!" he ordered. In a moment Fado gasped, blinked twice, and stopped fighting him. Link let her go and stood up slowly. "Do you believe me now?" he asked.

"Why do you look like someone else?" the Kokiri girl asked curiously, holding the magical glasses in her small hands. "We all thought you were one of them." Other Kokiri were appearing now.

"There is a magic cast on me," Link explained. "I need your help to remove it."

"But we don't know how to do that," Fado said.

"Then perhaps the faŽries will," Link answered. "Where is Navi?"

"She is with the Deku Tree Sprout," Fado told him, handing back the Eye of Truth.

"Many thanks to you." Relieved by the small success, Link hurried through the village towards the Deku Tree's meadow, accompanied now by a crowd of curious Kokiri. The forest children went only as far as the entrance to the meadow and there they clustered while Link disappeared through the mossy passage.

There was a cloud of faŽries around the Deku Tree Sprout but they scattered like dragonflies as soon as Link entered the meadow. He trotted down the slope to the young tree ignoring the faŽries' panic. "Great Deku Tree," he began. "I--"

"Who are you?" the Deku Sprout demanded. "How did you find this place?"

Link was taken aback--but then he drew the Master Sword and threw it down before the young tree. "I am Link, though you may think otherwise, and that is my proof!" he shouted. "I need your help in lifting an illusion! See truly, Deku Tree--my appearance has been changed by dark magic, and I must find a way to change it back!"

The Deku Sprout was silent a long time then its leaves rustled softly. "Ah," it said quietly. "Now I see through the illusion. Yes, I understand your problem, Link."

"Can you lift the magic?" Link demanded.

The Deku Sprout chuckled in amusement. "You get yourself into some tight places, Link!" the tree said. "No, I cannot lift it."

"Then what--"

"It is not what you think. The magic that has been cast is within you. It is something you have done yourself, and I cannot undo it. Nor can any other."

"But--"

"I cannot lift this enchantment," the Deku Sprout insisted. "Only the one who created the illusion can destroy it."

Link hung his head. "Then it is hopeless, for Dark Link will never lift this magic of his own free will!" He bent and picked up the Master Sword, then gazed upon it in helpless despair. "I might as well go into exile, for while I look like him I will be in danger from every good-spirited creature in this land."

"Not so," the Deku Sprout said. "We who are here recognize you now. Those who are wise or courageous enough to see the truth will see you as you truly are, and they will see Dark Link too. But you may need to help them see what is true. It will certainly not be easy to convince people, especially Hylians, that you are who you say you are."

"How can I defeat Dark Link?" Link asked.

"Only you know that," the small tree replied. "You had better decide what to do."

 

 

"Link asked to see me urgently?" Zelda asked curiously.

"That is what he said," the palace guard replied. "He seemed strange somehow ... there is something different about him. I was in half a mind not to let him in, but he is the Hero of Time. He awaits you in the courtyard, my Princess."

"Thank you," Zelda answered. She patted her golden hair selfconsciously as she passed out through the archway into the courtyard, smoothing her silken dress. Link was sitting on the edge of the fountain with his back to her, swinging his feet idly. She smiled to see him occupied in such a boyish way. But then Link often veered between the extremes of being deadly serious and acting like a child. His quest to defeat Ganondorf had sent him through time too often; sometimes she thought that he was still not sure whether he was ten years old or seventeen. In all his great adventures he had not had much time to grow up.

She knew she loved him, but she also knew he loved Malon, the daughter of a simple farmer who supplied the town and castle with home-grown produce. Out of love to Link, Zelda did not try to impose herself in that relationship, although she did not know of anyone else she would consent to love--ever. It was a sadness she would have to live with.

But now was not the time. With an effort of will the Princess shook off such thoughts and walked lightly forward into the courtyard. "Link?" she said quietly.

He turned and smiled at her. His hat was pulled down so that his face was in shadow underneath his blond hair. "Hallo, Princess. You took your time!"

"Did you find Dark Link?" Zelda asked, sitting down beside him on the white marble fountain.

Link grinned. "You could say so. He stole my horse." Zelda took a breath to speak but then Link drew a sword from the blue and gold wrought scabbard he wore. "But I got this, so who had the better deal?"

Zelda touched the dark sword gently with the tip of her finger and then drew back. The blade was ice. "The shadow Sword," she breathed; "you recovered it. That was well done; this blade must never be used, for evil or for good purpose." Then her eyes widened in anxiety. "But where is the Master Sword, Link? Surely you did not cast it aside in favor of this cursed weapon?"

"It's safe," Link answered with a laugh. "But don't ask me where, for I won't tell you!"

The Princess nodded, accepting it on faith. "But Dark Link himself?"

"Is still abroad," Link said sighing. "I cannot find him alone; he has the power to disappear at will. Oh, he is cunning. I shall need your aid and the aid of the Hylian people to find him and recover my horse."

"You shall have it," Zelda promised. "But there is nothing I can do for now. You had better return to your ranch and come back here in the morning to decide what we must do."

"It is a long way to Lon Lon Ranch without Epona," Link said casually. "To be honest, I would rather not have to ride there tonight. I think I will take a room in the town somewhere."

Just as casually, the Princess suggested, "You could stay here tonight, if you so wish ..."

Link smiled. "Thank you, Princess, I would be delighted."

He followed her to the guest rooms that were in the north wing of the castle, and the Princess showed him to one of the best. Link paused in the doorway, smiling at her, and the look that passed between them was a secret one. No, Zelda thought. I should not ... it would be a betrayal of Malon's trust. But nevertheless she heard herself, casually, offering an invitation to dinner. And just as casually, he accepted.

It was done, then. She walked away alone, and her thoughts spun with confusion ... and guilt.

Once he was alone he threw off the hat and flung himself on the bed to enjoy the softness of the silken covers--he was a sensuous being. Comfortable as a cat he sprawled onto his side and gazed for a long time into the large full length silver mirror that had been placed against the wall nearest the window. His eyes gleamed dark red beneath the golden hair, but when the hair cast shadows upon his face the color of his eyes was not noticeable.

 

 

Meanwhile Link--the real Link--was sitting despondently on a tree stump in the Lost Woods and wondering what his next course of action could be. The Lost Woods was the only place in Hyrule where he could go without the fear of meeting people who would mistake him for another. Dark Link's magical illusion had worked well; he had seen that for himself when the Skull Kids who had been his friends attacked him. Not even his closest friends could recognize him with Dark Link's spell still hiding who he really was.

He drew the Master Sword and turned it over in his hand several times to feel the familiar cool metal surface of the sacred blade. His fingers gently stroked the Triforce symbol upon the hilt, and not for the first time he wondered whether the Sword could lift the illusion he was under. Whether that was true or not, he knew not how to do such a thing. He did not understand this strange enchantment. Link sighed heavily and lowered his head to gaze at the mossy ground between his boots. He wished that the faŽrie Navi was still his companion, for he felt lonely and afraid. But then probably Navi would have followed Dark Link instead, thinking that they were each other.

Link heard again in his mind the cruel taunt:

I cannot kill you as I am so instead I shall become you! See if any of your friends will help you now they think you are me!

Those foul words had been at the forefront of his mind for hours, ever since he saw his shadow last. It was what he was most afraid of--that Dark Link could take his place as the Hero of Time and from there work to break the seals upon the Evil King, and nobody would be the wiser. They would just think it was Link himself--and then, even if he were able to defeat Dark Link, his own reputation would be irreversibly stained. Yet if he did not fight Dark Link he would be condemned to an existence as an outlaw, forced to walk alone. For Dark Link would have the entire country up in arms against him as soon as he could gain the power. And Link was sure that it would not be long before his shadow had the power.

There was one other possibility. If Link returned to Hyrule Castle Town bearing the Master Sword in his hands, the Sword that no evil could touch, then nobody could question that he came with honor. The truth would come out if he and Dark Link were to duel before a witness, for the Master Sword would defeat Dark Link's weapon, whatever that might be. Even if his shadow wielded the greatest sword in Hyrule, Link's own sword would surely prove the stronger. For had not this Sword brought down even Ganondorf Dragmire, the Evil King?

But something else told him that the plan would fail. As soon as he showed himself within the town, the people would rise up against him. They would believe that he had stolen the Master Sword. Certainly they would not believe that he bore the Sword in the name of peace.

He opened his other hand and looked at the Eye of Truth which he still held tight; he was terrified to lose it. It was the one thing he possessed that could reveal the illusion. With the Eye he could prove that he was the real Link ... assuming he could get close enough to someone to show them the truth. That would be yet another problem.

"Well, you cannot stay here forever," he muttered to himself as he stood up slowly. "You have to face the world some time soon." Resolve grew. He would go to Malon first and make her believe him about Dark Link's magic--and then perhaps she would be able to help him or offer advice. Link stooped and picked up the Master Sword again, slipping the sacred sword through his belt. He put the Eye of Truth in his pocket to keep it safe and close to him--he would not let the precious artifact away from him even for a moment--and then made his way back through the Lost Woods to the Kokiri Forest village. Epona waited just outside the entrance to the village, and Link made himself enjoy as usual the short walk through the greenwood, with the scent of green and growing things all around and the light of the fading moon shining upon the trees.

Epona greeted him with her usual soft snort and let him climb up onto her back without any sign of fear. In the dark it did not matter what he looked like; his scent was the same. He patted the horse then rode her in a half-circle and set off toward the lighted windows of the ranch, high up on the ridge overlooking the plain.

The first light of dawn had kissed the eastern skies by the time he reached the ranch and the first few signs of Hylian life were appearing in the ant-like movement down by the town, so far off that its walls were shrouded by morning mist. Link tried to tuck his hair behind his ears, a futile way to hide its changed color, and wondered if this was the way Dark Link always felt. If so Link could even find pity in his heart for his shadow who had never asked to be as he was--for Link was a kind-hearted man. He urged the horse up the ramp into the ranch and dismounted as soon as he was hidden from view of the town. This was not his way to come silently as a thief.

Link was met by Malon and a pitchfork as soon as he entered the wide area in the center of the ranch. "Stay back, I'm warning you," she said dangerously, holding the impromptu weapon at his throat. Slowly he raised his hands to show he was unarmed. "Drop the sword," Malon demanded.

"Malon--"

"Drop it!" Her voice was deadly.

He was not afraid of her; but he was terrified of hurting her, were he to try to disarm her. Keeping his movements slow and precise, he pulled the Master Sword free from his belt and threw it on the ground at her feet.

Malon's expression changed. "That is Link's sword," she said in horror. "What have you done to him?"

"Malon--"

"You black devil," Malon hissed. "You'll not get away with this!" She burst into tears and threw the pitchfork aside, kneeling instead to take up the Sword and clutch its worn hilt in her two hands.

"No!" Link said in alarm. "You have got it all wrong! Just listen to me for a moment! I am not Dark Link! I know I look like him, but--"

"I sent the ranch hand out of the back entrance the moment you rode in," Malon said dully. "The King's soldiers will be here any moment. They'll kill you."

Link took a deep breath. "You may just have condemned Hyrule to a terrible fate. Just listen to me for a moment, Malon. Think about it. Do you believe Dark Link would come here if he had killed me? Of course not! Would he not want to avoid any of these places? And he certainly would not come here during the day; he shuns full sunlight! You know all this--I told you about the Water Temple before!" Malon was not even listening to him, he saw. "Listen!" he ordered angrily and knocked the Sword out of her hands as he grasped her shoulders. "It's me, Link! Recognize me! You have to recognize me! This is an illusion Dark Link created!" His voice softened as he saw that there were both tears and terror in Malon's eyes. "Malon," he said gently, "please believe me. You ... you still wear my ring," and he took her hand and touched the golden band.

She gasped. "How did you know about that?"

"I was the one who proposed to you," Link said, his heart breaking. "Malon, it really is me."

Malon reached out and with her fingers gently parted that shining black hair to look into his face. She drew a shuddering breath. "Your eyes ... Link, it is you. O Nayru, I was so frightened ..." With a sob she flung herself on him and wrapped her arms tight around his chest, lying her head on his shoulder. Link held her gently and buried his face in her hair.

They stood like that for some moments, each deriving peace from the recognition of the other. Then there was a sound of jingling harness and chain mail on the slope outside the ranch. Malon pulled away quickly. "Link, the soldiers!" she exclaimed and her eyes became wide with fear. "I forgot all about them! Ingo will be with them--we have to hide you!"

Link looked around quickly for a hiding place, saw a pile of hay in the back of Talon's wagon which Malon had been working to move from the wagon to the ground. "I'll hide," he told her, "and you tell them something."

"Tell them what?" Malon panicked.

"Anything!" Link said hastily as he dived into the hay and pulled it over himself. In moments he was hidden from view, but the hiding place seemed such an obvious one that the soldiers would surely not fail to look there first. Unless, Malon thought ...

"Ho, there!" The first soldier rode into the ranch. "You, girl!" he called to Malon. "Where's the shadow?"

"You're too late," Malon said, self-consciously trying to smooth hay from her skirts. "He ran in here as though demons were after him, then he went straight over the wall and out."

"The wall?" the soldier said in amazement. "You're trying it on, girl, nobody jumps walls eight feet high."

Malon pointed to a pile of crates stacked up against the ranch wall several yards away.

"Din's Fire," the soldier muttered.

A chill of cold horror stole through Malon as she noticed the Master Sword which was still lying on the ground in full view of the company, right beside the hay pile. They would notice it any moment and then Link's only weapon would be lost. She did the only thing she could think of under the circumstances--she moved and stood before the sword to hide it with her skirts.

"What are you hiding?" the soldier demanded, noticing her furtive movement.

"Nothing!"

He urged his horse forward a few steps. "Step aside!" He could not see the hand snake out of the pile, grasp the sword and withdraw silently, but when Malon moved there was nothing there except the hay.

"All right," the soldier sighed. "The only thing that side of the ranch is Gerudo Valley and the deserts--we'll search for him there and near the lakeside." He wheeled his horse around and rode hard out of the gate again. The others followed suit.

There was a rustling and movement in the hay and then Link's head broke the surface with a thunderous sneeze. "I thought I was going to do that while they were still here," he said sniffing thankfully. "I was holding my breath! That was a good idea of yours to send them off to the lake!"

Malon lent a hand to help him climb out of the hay. He brushed strands of hay off his clothes and out of his hair. "What is going on here?" Malon demanded. "There's the rumors of Ganondorf awakening, you look like Dark Link who we have all been told to watch out for--and if you are here then who is the Link at the castle?"

"At the castle?" Link exclaimed. "It must be him! I look like him and he looks like me--it is some magic that he has placed upon me. I have been seeking a way to lift the enchantment, but nobody can tell me anything." He breathed in slowly. "If he is at the castle, Princess Zelda may be in terrible danger."

"What are we going to do?" Malon asked.

"There is only one thing we can do," Link said grimly. "You have to get me into Hyrule Castle Town."

"That will not be easy. Link--I mean Dark Link--rode into the town only a few hours ago and then messages went out to all of Hyrule that Dark Link--that's you--was on the loose and we should shoot first and ask questions later." Malon held his hand tightly. "The provinces are out in arms to hunt you down, Link! This is all a dreadful mistake!"

"It was not Dark Link's mistake," Link pointed out. "But so far Epona, the Kokiri, the Deku Sprout and you have recognized me--at least that means people can, if they look hard enough. I have to reach the Princess and convince her; only with her help can we get rid of Dark Link. And she of all people must know how to lift the illusion."

"I hope she does," Malon said. "I don't like you with black hair."

 

 

They waited at the ranch throughout the heat of the day in order to avoid being challenged by soldiers. With Malon's help it was easier to convince Talon that Link was who he said he was, and the three of them--minus the untrustworthy Ingo, who had been sent to deliver goods to the town--sat inside discussing possible plans of action. "We had better go as soon as the sun begins to set," Malon said, "or we won't be in time to get through the gates before they close for the night."

"How am I going to get past the guards?" Link asked. "I do not have Dark Link's power of becoming a shadow--although it would be cursed useful if I was Dark Link right now!" He ran his hands through his hair.

"Don't talk like that," Malon said. "If you were Dark Link I wouldn't help you."

"You'll have to go in disguise," Talon said practically.

"It is too dangerous," Malon insisted. "What if we are challenged at the gate? Link won't have a chance to fight or escape, and they won't wait to question him. Their orders are to kill Dark Link on sight."

"If going in disguise is the only way, I'll do it," Link said firmly, though he looked dismayed at the prospect.

There was a momentary silence as all three thought.

"What if we delivered more milk to the Castle?" Malon suggested suddenly. "An extra few crates which have been requested of us. Except that one of the crates will not hold milk!"

"Brilliant," Talon praised his daughter.

 

 

Zelda and Link sat facing each other across a wide table in the royal palace's dining room. Although her hands were folded primly in her lap, the Princess felt like dancing for joy. He has chosen me--he has chosen my company over Malon's! Perhaps she would yet have a chance to love him as she wished to love him.

Food was set before them and for a while longer there was no speech between them. Presently Zelda set down her cup and spoke quietly to break the silence: "I like your clothes tonight." Link had changed for the occasion into a tunic of dark blue--the breast embroidered with a gold Triforce. She had never before seen him in anything save the green Kokiri tunic he always wore. The difference was quite startling.

He smiled at her. "I thought a change would be good," he said deliberately.

"You say that as if it means something special," Zelda said with a faint hint of a question.

"Perhaps it does," Link said and bent his head to his plate.

"Oh?" the Princess said quietly.

Link gestured with his cup. "Once I get rid of--of my shadow, I want to change the world." He laughed. "Never let it be said that I lacked ambition!"

Zelda nodded slowly but her mind was very busy. Now she could see what the guard had been talking about when he said the Hero of Time seemed somehow changed. "Link ... is there anything wrong?" she asked.

"Why should there be?" Link smiled.

"No reason," Zelda answered softly. She ate sparingly, preferring to watch him over her plate. Yet there was nothing she could put her finger on to say, yes, this is what has changed. It was more a subtle alteration in his whole being--the way he moved, the way he held his head. He spoke with an odd fierce confidence, boastful and brash. Even his smile was strange to her tonight: it came too easily to his lips, bright and brittle, masking something deep and dark. "So," she said after a little while longer. "You saw Dark Link, and he took your horse. Did you ... did you exchange any words with him?"

Link shrugged. "No more than was necessary. I suppose he is hiding somewhere now that he knows I am on his trail. When I am rested, Princess, I will go out and hunt him down." He smiled coldly. "I will not stop until I find him, I promise you that."

Zelda inclined her head to show that she had heard and understood him but his words had troubled her. It just did not seem like Link to be so eager for a kill. But perhaps he felt challenged by the presence of his doppelganger in the realm. She knew well that if there was an evil Zelda on the loose in Hyrule as there was an evil Link, she herself would not wish to wait before destroying her clone-self. Perhaps that was all there was to it. He was nervous about his task, and eager to get to it--that was all.

Her companion fiddled with a golden pendant under the table. Dark Link was fighting against the furious orders of his lord and master: through him, Ganondorf could sense the closeness of the Crown Princess.

Get her, now! She's the dangerous one! Kill her, damn you!

No, Dark returned firmly. I need to use her to finish Link. She has the power; she has the authority. On her word I can do anything I want. Once I have tricked her into destroying the Hero of Time I will kill her, but not before!

The Princess was gazing at him, a curious look upon her face. He smiled swiftly to comfort her and pretended to be toying with his food. She would have to trust him without question before he could make full use of her; he had to assuage her suspicions. He needed the woman. At least for now.

"Link," Zelda said, leaning forward. "You will have to use the Master Sword to kill Dark Link. It is the only way such creatures of evil can be destroyed, even though he does not have his shadow sword to protect him. If I were you I would retrieve the real Sword from wherever you have hidden it--it was commendable of you to place the weapon where he could not try to destroy it, but you are going to need it yourself before too long!"

Dark Link nodded with a smile of understanding. Is that so ... I can only be killed by the Master Sword? That is interesting; I will have to keep that in mind, he thought. Aloud he said, "What does this sword, this dark counterpart to the Master Sword, do?"

"I told you before," the Princess said with a frown. "It is the shadow of your own Sword, as Dark Link is your own shadow. As you are linked to the Master Sword, so he is linked to its twin, and it may give him great power of his own. But unlike the Sword of Evil's Bane it will not care what it destroys. It is an evil thing."

"Still it sounds useful," Dark Link said thoughtfully.

"It is not a blade you can use," the Princess insisted. "Put it out of your mind! Such weapons are not for those who walk under the sun. Leave dark things to those who are suited to them."

"Oh, I shall," Dark assured her. "Each to his own." He laughed again.

"Are you finished?" Zelda asked coolly. Disapproval was hard in her voice.

"Be still, my Princess," Dark smiled just as coldly. "I have everything under control."

The Princess shook her head slightly; the gesture was almost unconscious. She sensed now that something was wrong in this room. But Link, as if he knew her sudden doubt, was looking at her with that open and trusting look that he did so well--an expression which surely could hold no dark secret. He was so beautiful sometimes. She sighed.

"What is it?" he asked, frowning slightly.

No, she thought. There could be nothing wrong. An overactive imagination on her part, that was all.

And he was here, and he was with her, and such a moment might never come again, if she let it go by now.

"Link?" she said softly. "I have an unusual request for you. Would you come to my chamber tonight? I believe we should discuss this matter in greater detail."

"I will do that, Princess," he agreed.

"I will tell you where to go," Zelda said. "Walk quietly when you come--I would appreciate it if you kept this a secret for now."

"I understand."

And it was as easy as that.

 

 

The laden milk cart rattled slowly through the gates of the town. The rancher and his daughter were well-known figures in Hyrule Castle Town and several people stopped to wave at them. Nobody asked why Talon should be delivering milk this late.

They parked the cart just outside the main gates of the royal castle, out of the immediate sight of any palace guards, and Malon carefully lifted the lid of the crate upon which she had been sitting. She helped Link to climb out--he was stiff after being squashed into a cramped position for so long. He groaned as he clambered out of the crate.

"You shouldn't have grown so much," Talon said. "You're too tall, lad!"

"I can't help--"

"Ssh," Malon warned. "The guards."

Link looked up at the castle. Although it stood mostly dark, there was a lighted room in the topmost tower of the north wing. He knew well which room that would be. "Princess Zelda is awake," he told Malon; "we can get to her tonight if we hurry!"

"How are you going to get up there?" Malon asked, craning her neck back to see the high tower. She looked dismayed. "We should have thought this through better. You certainly cannot go through the gate!"

Link bit his lip. Of course, Dark Link had taken his Hookshot. He had forgotten. If he had been a child he could have climbed through the water system as he had done before, but he was too big for such paths now and the road between times was closed. In any case, he did not have the Ocarina of Time. "Perhaps if I climbed," he muttered, and then shook his head irritably. The walls were sheer and did not afford a handhold. "This will be difficult."

"Look there!" commanded Talon and he pointed to the castle's gray stone flanks. There was a jutting line of irregular brickwork only a short way up--it might have been reachable with the Hookshot. From there it would be possible to reach the ledges and bastions which adorned the north side of the castle--and possibly a skilled thief could climb all the way to Princess Zelda's distant window, if he had a good head for heights and more than his measure of foolhardiness. But there was no Hookshot with which to take that first step. "So?" Link demanded. "I cannot jump ten or twelve feet!"

The rancher tossed him a rope with a slightly rusted grapnel attached to the end. "I came prepared, Link lad," he grinned. "I thought it'd be like this!"

 

 

Zelda opened the door a crack and saw Link waiting outside. She had sat up by the light of a lamp, waiting with impatience and more than a little nervousness for his knock upon her door. "You are late," she said coldly.

"I had to change first," Link told her. He was wearing a tough gray tunic and dark leather boots and was now armed. "I am leaving at first light to hunt my other half down."

"Come in," the Princess whispered and stood aside to let him enter. Link stalked into the room, moving with the predatory grace of a cat--his blond hair glittered cold and starlike in the light of the lamps she had set about her room. And did he notice her gown, and the braids in her hair, and the jewels she had so carefully chosen? Quietly Zelda shut the door behind her and latched it against the intrusion of any unexpected palace guards.

Link went straight to the wide window and flung it open; leaned out into the night as if he hungered for the darkness. "Well, Princess," he said quietly, with a bright knowingness in his voice, "what shall we discuss?"

Careful, Zelda thought. He is far more dangerous than you believed. This is no mere boy! "Do you know what you are going to do?" she asked. "How will you defeat your other self when you face him?"

Link drew the sword from the scabbard strapped to his back. "By this blade," he said with infinite coldness.

She recognized the weapon and cried out. "Link, no! You cannot! That sword is too dangerous! It corrupts those who wield it!"

"But it will not corrupt me!" Link shouted. "I am master of the sword!" He lifted the sword that was not the Sword, and swung it slowly in a circle. The smoky blade gleamed with a cold and eager blue light. "See," he said in a calmer voice, "the sword obeys my commands. And it is the only way to defeat him. He will cough up his life on the blade of this weapon and then I shall have no further need of it." He replaced the sword in its sheath--the sheath that was meant for the Master Sword--and turned to her with a bright warm smile. "Trust me, my Princess! I know what I am doing!" And I do, he thought. I know very well.

"Do you really?" Zelda asked quietly.

Link came over to her and gently took her hands in his which were covered by the golden gauntlets that gave him supernatural strength. Zelda felt the power flowing through him and was intoxicated by his closeness. "Yes, I do," he replied, his voice intent, full of passion. "And it is for you that I do it."

"And what will you do after you have killed Dark Link?" Zelda asked, pulling back. "What will you do with the Sword of Tears?"

"I will not need it," he replied casually--too casually? "You may take charge of it, to see that it never falls into the wrong hands again."

"Very well," the Princess whispered. "But I fear that it has gained too great a hold on you for you to give it up without a struggle, Link."

He still held her and now pulled her towards him. Zelda gave in like a willow tree bent by the wind--she felt caught up in a fairytale romance, and here was the mysterious warrior from a foreign land come to sweep her off her feet and carry her to some distant world. Just as she had dreamed many years ago when she was a child reading books, her fairy prince had come. She folded in his arms and bent her head against his broad chest to listen to the strong slow rhythm of his heart.

Something cold and hard pressed against her cheek. She lifted her head a little and saw that the object was a golden amulet on a fine chain around Link's neck. Zelda's eyes focused on the jewel and she saw that it was engraved with the symbol of the Gerudo. "Link," she began. Stupidly, she was going to ask him why he would wear the sign of Ganondorf when he was sworn to fight against him--but then a flash of fire went off in her brain. Zelda tore herself away from his arms. "No!" she cried.

"What's wrong, Zelda?" Link demanded, and he took a quick step towards her. The Princess backed away just as quickly. But there was nowhere to go--the door was locked, damn it! She had locked it herself to prevent their being disturbed. She cursed her stupidity. Link had been corrupted by the sword. He had taken the sword, and it had caught him in his innocence, and he had sworn allegiance to their mutual enemy. And she was alone in a room at the top of a tower with the most powerful and dangerous man in Hyrule: the Hero who was not the Hero, bearing the sword that was not the Sword.

And then her heart stopped. Link tossed his hair aside as he came towards her and drew his sword, and his eyes flashed ruby-red in the light of the lamps. And she knew the truth then, and it was worse than any of her imaginings. "You ... you are ..."

"I suspected that you might have seen through the disguise," he said calmly. "Unfortunately, Princess, I cannot let you go now. You see, it might prove difficult for me if you told the palace guards what you see in me. And then again, it might not ... They might even think you were the mad one, Princess--for how can you make people doubt the evidence of their own eyes?" The dark sword gleamed fitfully in his hand. "Of course," he said lightly, "that leaves me with a problem. What should I do about you?" He smiled. "Perhaps I can buy your silence."

"Get away from me," Zelda hissed. "I know who you are! How dare you come here! Leave this place and do not return!"

"Why?" Dark Link snapped. "So you can wait for your true hero to come along and save you?" He scowled. "Are you stupid? He is in love with that farmer's daughter! He cares nothing for you, Princess, except in the very proper way!" Zelda breathed in sharply and drew back, for he had touched the very heart of the sore place in her soul. "Link is too much of an innocent to ever be able to love you!" Dark Link went on and now his blood-colored eyes shone like coals in Link's fair face. "Would he make a king? You know that life--you were born to it! Does he have the determination--the ruthlessness--to make you a husband?"

"And I suppose you could do better," Zelda said with a weight of scorn. "You are a mere reflection of him. You have no real personality, no substance of your own! What makes you think that you could overcome him?"

Dark Link's face grew cold. "You will regret those words, Princess," he said quietly. "We are alone and until morning I am your master. What will you do to stop me? You are powerless!"

Zelda snatched up a nearby candelabra made of massy gold and brandished it in front of herself. "Do not come near me," she warned. "Do not think me defenseless!" But her threats were empty, and he knew it as well as she.

He laughed. He flicked his sword out and contemptuously caught the candelabra upon the point of his blade. With a flick of his wrist he flung it from her hand and tossed it carelessly into a corner. The candles guttered and went out and the room was plunged into a deeper gloom. "Are you so ready to die?" Dark Link asked coolly and his mirth disappeared. This was the real Dark Link--the exact opposite of Link in every way. He was cold where Link was warmly demonstrative, hot-tempered where Link was laid-back and cruel where Link was kind. And Zelda realized with a shocking thrill that this kind of man she could also love. But she could not forget the real danger she was in while he was near her, and so she pulled back and tried to slide around the bed to the door of the room.

At once Dark Link sprang to interpose himself between her and the escape. "Naughty girl," he remonstrated without a smile. "I told you, Princess, you are mine. You will be mine. Rule at my side! Let us make something of this backwards little country!"

"What are you going to do to me?" Zelda asked in fear. In answer he grasped her by the arms and pulled her into his embrace. She was attacked by a crushing kiss. Furious and trapped Zelda fought in his arms but Dark Link did not let her go until he had finished. Then he pushed her away from him with rough passion and she fell to her knees on the floor of the chamber. "Touch me again," she threatened breathlessly, gulping air, "and I will scream."

"If you were going to scream you would have done it already," Dark Link said coldly and pulled her to her feet. "Look at me. I am what you want, not some soft-headed farmboy. I alone can rule and dominate--I have the material of a King!"

Zelda stood quite still and looked into his shining fiery eyes. "Yes," she agreed softly. "In one respect you are right. Link is not a ruler. But you are not a King. You have no shred of honor in your soul, Dark Link--if you have a soul at all and not a dark void. I give you three days to leave this land and go where you will. You are nothing. You are banished, like your dark master."

"But only if I want to be," Dark Link told her with a smile. "Remember, my Princess, though you may be the heir apparent to the throne, in the end the only real power belongs to the one who wields the greatest weapon. And in this room, here and now, that one is not you. It is I."

Zelda watched over Dark Link's shoulder. He had his back to the window and she saw a dark shape rise up into the window's frame and silhouette itself against the pale white orb of the moon. Two hands grasped the window ledge and then the intruder pulled himself through the window into her room. His dark black hair did not shield his clear blue eyes from her sight.

The real Link drew the Master Sword which shone like a star-

and Dark Link whirled to meet the blow with his own sword, the smoky blade of darkness and lies. Without a spoken word the two warriors closed in for the battle, meeting steel with steel in a deadly dance of swordsmanship. Zelda pressed up against the locked door of the chamber and watched with her heart in her mouth. She did not know which one to cheer for--the dark one or the one with golden hair? Which Link was which?

"Die, curse you," grunted the fair Link, slamming his sword against the other's. Sparks flew.

The dark-haired Link ducked and kicked out at his enemy's ankles. Caught unawares the blond one fell to the ground--but rolled, recovering quickly. He got to one knee and flung a dagger which grazed the dark-haired Link's shoulder. The dark-haired Link grunted in pain but leaped to his feet, shaking off the small wound, and rushed his enemy without hesitation. "You will not escape me this time!" he shouted.

"I have no intention of escaping," the other informed him and slashed out with his sword. The two blades met and locked in midair, clashing their spread wings; and their wielders strove for mastery, each pushing at the other. But Dark Link wore the golden gauntlets and he began to drive Link to his knees. They fought against each other with identical expressions of rage upon their faces until it was no longer clear that there was a difference between them.

Without warning Link gave underneath the pressure and threw himself to the ground before rolling away. Dark Link fell over him and was thrown roughly against the bed. They flew at each other without stopping to recover from the mutual surprise.

But then Zelda entered the fight with a heavy silver ewer. She leaped forward and brought it down upon the fair Link's head with all the strength in her body. "Hit him quickly!" she shouted to the other Link. "Use the Master Sword!" Dark Link struggled to stand, stunned.

Link lunged forward with his sword, throwing the whole force of his body into the thrust. His blade bit deep into Dark Link's chest, grinding against the bone of two ribs, and the newly bloodstained point broke through the other side. Dark choked and fell to his knees with his hands shakily clasped around the hilt, dropping the shadow sword as if it were nothing. Link let go of the Master Sword--suddenly horrified at what he had done. The shadow's warm blood was on his hands and tunic and it was just as red as that of any Hylian. He had slain many monsters in his life, but none that had bled red blood.

In that moment the door to Zelda's chamber burst open. Soldiers poured in! The sound of the battle had attracted attention, but in the excitement of the fighting neither Zelda nor the Links had heard the sounds of the palace guard trying to break in. The guards stopped dead when they saw what was before them--as it appeared to them, the victorious Dark Link stood over Link who had been impaled upon his own sword.

"Sorcerous dog!" The first soldier ran forward drawing forth his own blade. "He's killed the Hero of Time!"

"Stop!" commanded Zelda, and she sprang between them. "It is not what you think!"

Link knelt beside Dark Link and grabbed the collar of his tunic. "Lift the illusion and I'll see that you live!" he ordered savagely.

"Too ... late ..." Dark coughed. His trembling fingers closed around the hilt of his sword and as he touched the weapon his weakness seemed to lift. He turned the blade and snapped it forward to drive it into Link's thigh and as he fell with a cry Dark got slowly to his feet.

The soldiers backed away in fear. Dark Link's illusion was fading as his blood stained the floor at his feet. But although his injury should have killed him by now, he was standing--and with the Master Sword still embedded in his body! As if in slow motion Dark Link looked down at himself. With his right hand he grasped the hilt of the Master Sword, screwing his face up as if the very touch of the sacred blade was painful to him. Slowly he pulled the sword out and dropped it to the floor where it lay smoking slightly, glowing in the torchlight. It was obvious to the watchers just who was who now, for Dark Link's illusion left both of them with a hiss and a faint pall of smoke.

Zelda helped Link to his feet. He leaned on her with an expression of pain, pressing his hand to the wound in his thigh.

"Get the shadow," the Princess ordered the soldiers.

Dark Link waited for the first of them to approach; his right hand clasped over the wound in his torso and the Sword of Tears still within his left hand. Suddenly with astonishing speed he ran and dived for the window. The soldiers leaped after him and the sergeant caught hold of the hem of his tunic just as he went through. For a moment Dark Link hung by his clothing and then the tunic ripped. There was no scream--merely a faint splash several eternal seconds later.

 

 

Morning.

"Thank you for saving me," Zelda said to Link, walking by the side of the red horse as he rode slowly to the gate of the castle. His thigh and shoulder were bandaged but he had avoided serious injury in the fight. Dark Link had apparently not been so lucky--the golden gauntlets and some shreds of ripped cloth had been recovered from the moat but the shadow's body had not been found. It was not surprising, the sergeant in charge of the search had said, for if he had fallen in the moat then he could have been swept over the weir and out of Hyrule Castle Town, and from there wherever the river saw fit to take him.

"You are welcome, Princess," Link smiled. "At least we should have no more trouble out of him!"

"I will tell the soldiers to look for his sword and recover it if possible," Zelda told him. "We can never let that weapon fall into the hands of one of Ganondorf's minions, even if Dark Link no longer wields it. It is too dangerous to be free."

"And I shall keep my eyes out for any more monsters in Hyrule!" Link promised with a laugh.

"Good-bye, Link," Zelda said softly. And in her heart she knew it was forever. She would not come to the wedding.

"Fare thee well, Princess." And with that he patted the red horse and rode quickly through the palace gates. There were only a few townspeople about, but they waved to him; and he waved back, glad for once to be recognized.

The drawbridge was just being lowered as he reached it. He rode Epona out into the wide green reaches of the field, and turned the horse's head towards the ranch which gleamed golden in the morning sunlight.

 

 

Epilogue

The heavy knock at the door made Kara gasp and jump in surprise. Who would want to visit them at this time of night, and in such a storm? The wind howled about the house as if it were trying to extinguish all lonely living things foolhardy enough to venture out during such a tempest, and driving sheets of rain battered the foolish few who had been caught out when the clouds burst. Some lone traveler looking for shelter, she supposed, and she stood up with a sigh and walked over to open the door.

The dark-haired man was leaning against the wall, struggling for each breath. His hands were clasped over his chest and she saw the stain of blood all down his tunic. He opened his glowing red eyes a little and looked at her, too weak to smile.

Kara caught him as he fell, and dragged him inside. His sword fell from nerveless hands as she lifted him onto the bed and gently began to peel the blood-soaked tunic away from his wound...

 

 

 

 

To the curious:

ELOZE grew from a single seed. This story is that seed.

And that is why I feel justified in coming back to The Shadowmaster after all this time, and in editing and revising it. I have made few real changes to the plot or structure. What alterations I have made have merely brought The Shadowmaster's substance more in line with that of ELOZE.

 

 

E-mail: quillandlauren@yahoo.com

 

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