Gods of Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Interlude: Part III

The Hero-Made-Four treaded carefully over the enchanted cloud banks. All around them blew mighty gusts of air, the darkness of the night enshrouding the scene in foreboding. From so high above, Link could have seen all of Hyrule. But his attention was not focused below him at the moment. Like a languid metronome, a distant thrumming reached Link’s pointed ears again.

“It must be just ahead,” Link called to the three others with him. “Be ready.” They followed close behind silently. One after the other they skirted the gaping holes that opened in the clouds, the ceaseless thrumming increasing in volume as they went.

They had come a long way to find the Realm of the Heavens. After the whirlwind had deposited Link and his other three selves in the Lower Falls of Zora’s Domain they had traversed seemingly all of Hyrule—plunging into the Forest of Light (turned Forest of Darkness) in the north-west, straying into the open regions south of Hyrule that he never knew existed, and even visiting the Blue Maiden’s remote village in the south-east of Hyrule near the coast of the open sea. Zelda and the six captive maidens were free once again but there was still much to be done; the stolen Dark Mirror was yet to be found, Vaati was still on the loose, and Ganon was at large somewhere, orchestrating his grand scheme…

From the sound of the heavy, deep tones they must nearly be there, Link decided. The four young men leapt into the chill, blustering wind, each of them clutching a blue-tipped feather from what must have been a truly enormous bird. Each landed deftly on the neighboring cloud bank, standing again to look over the stage where their next challenge would unfold.

Inscribed on the enchanted cloud floor was a circle of magic with a large open eye that Link easily recognized. Other circles of the very same magic had held the Darknaughts and their Royal Jewels bound in the Dark World, a place of shadows where things were startlingly similar and unsettlingly divergent at the same time. The magic circle inscribed on the cloud bank, however, held captive neither a Royal Jewel nor a cursed knight. Instead, the cruel, thick claws of a huge magical hand clutched a mirrored shield that Link acknowledged with a sinking heart. Etched into the surface of the mirror was a face that was drawn in a half-scream, as if in intense agony.

“The Dark Mirror,” Link said to himself, speaking aloud the name he had come to learn for the cursed item. His recent travels had confirmed the theories he and Afton had discussed; the mirrored shield he had once owned was, in fact, the Dark Mirror—the very same that had been ‘stolen’ from the forest in the north-west of Hyrule. Whoever had taken it, it must have been a good deal earlier than the White Maiden had suspected, for somehow it had ended up in a deserted castle by the canyons of Termina. If it had stayed there Ganon would have never been able to conjure Link’s shadow to trick him into releasing Vaati and none of the events of the past three days would have ever happened. The princess and the Maidens of the Four Sword Shrine would not have been captured and imprisoned in their own crystals, the soldiers and knights of Hyrule would not have been possessed by evil magic, and the other peoples of Hyrule would not have suffered equally terrible maladies. If the Shield of Agony had stayed in Termina…

Unwittingly, by carrying it back with him through the portal from Termina those few days ago, Link had brought it directly into Ganon’s reach. Shortly after Link had returned with the shield it was stolen by Ingo, the ranch-hand, in a petty act of thievery. Then (according to Rubeus’ remorseful spirit) Ganon had stolen the shield from Ingo left him alive to serve as his spy. With the Dark Mirror the King of Evil brought Link’s shadow to life and unfolded his scheme to induce chaos and pandemonium in Hyrule.

And now here it was before him again. The Dark Mirror thrummed invitingly, beckoning for its once-owner to reclaim it. But Link paused; the silhouettes of the four young men barely visible on that enchanted cloud bank high above Hyrule. Surely it could not be this simple…

Somewhere in the distance lightning flashed, calling into existence the silhouette of a fifth dark figure as a faint rumble rolled across the cloudscape. The figure had the shape of the hero, but none of the substance. From within the hollow sockets of its eyes glowed pinpoints of red light. His shadowy sword was in his hand. As if the sun were always at his back, Link had become accustomed to seeing his shadow preceding him wherever he went these days. He stepped forward, leaving his other three selves behind.

“He’s mine…”

A thunderous boom almost preceded the lightning flash, turning the world of darkness into raucous day for one infinitesimal moment, the sound rolling off across the cloudscape like a horde of Gorons down the slopes of Death Mountain. The Shadow swung his dark blade casually, sauntering toward his real counterpart. “So, you’ve finally found me. Can’t say I’m surprised. You are me, after all…and I am an ingenious one, aren’t I…? I see you’ve made use of the feathers of that Helmaroc I sent after the Gorons. Kind of funny how they bellowed when they saw the bird. To think; rocks afraid of a roc!” He cackled loudly at his joke, sounding like the shaking of glass shards.

Link drew the Four Sword from his back, tucking the Roc’s Feather under his belt. “You’ve caused enough trouble.” Link settled his right arm into his father’s shield. “This is where it ends.”

“I’m so scared!” The Shadow mocked, causing a shield of its own to materialize. “In fact I’ve been waiting for this moment. The moment when I cease to be ignored, unheeded, unnoticed. No one has outlived their shadow—neither will you.”

And like a starting signal, lightning flashing for the third time, booming out over the heads of the mortal enemies—Light and Dark, Real and Unreal—the one the exact opposite of the other. Swords clashed, shields bashed and stroke for stroke the Hero and his Shadow equaled each other for skill, strength and cunning. By the strobe of electric bursts in the surrounding thunderheads the match waxed more vicious, more frenzied, and more reckless. Once, twice blood was drawn and where the shadow was parted it was reformed the next instant. Again and again the Hero took risks that should have ensured him victory, but he was rewarded only with the satisfied cackle of his foe.

Link knew he had to reassess the situation. He leaped away, recovering from the rage of the battle. His Shadow simply smirked and stalked from one side to the other, maintaining its distance. Link’s other selves would be no help in this battle; his shadow was only regenerating every time he struck it. He had fought and vanquished countless copies of his shadow before, but there was something different about this battle… Link shook his head; it was so difficult to think with the heavy throbbing tone of the Dark Mirror ringing in his ears…

And then a shaft of light opened in the thunderhead above them casting a brilliant light over their cloudy arena. For a moment the Shadow winced and staggered back while out of the column descended the princess Zelda.

“Link, you have to stop!” called the princess’ voice from the edge of the magic circle which held the Dark Mirror bound. “He’ll only keep regenerating; the Dark Mirror is sustaining him!”

The column of light dissipated and the Shadow finally recovered. Before he had a chance to recapture the princess, however, Zelda spoke a single word and a protective blue prism appeared around her. The Shadow snorted his irritation. “She’s a smart one, your princess,” the thing sneered over the mirror’s tones. “What is she now, your girlfriend?”

“Shut up!” Link shouted. “She’s smarter than you!”

“Well, at least you admit it…”

“Link, don’t let him get to you,” Zelda interrupted. “I’ll have something ready in a moment; just hang on!”

“Oh, great. The princess has an idea.” The Shadow laid his sword on his shoulder dispassionately. “Well, I guess we’ll be here awhile. Anything you care to talk about?”

“You heartless little imp…” Link’s face twisted up in a bitter sneer. “You aren’t ashamed of anything, are you?”

“Ah, now heartless I am,” clucked the Shadow as he puffed out his dark, empty chest. Somehow having his shadow agree with him did not do anything to quell Link’s anger. “But shame? Hah! For what?” The thing crossed its arms.

“You lured the Darknaughts to their deaths.”

“Oh, no…” rebutted the Shadow. “Ganon and I only invited them into my world… They were quite comfortable there until you came along, I might add. In fact you killed them, if truth be told…” The thing chuckled with glee, like the sound of glass grinding under the heel of a boot.

“You know nothing about truth,” Link responded. “You’re a lie yourself.”

“And I suppose you know about it?” It lowered its piercing red gaze on the boy. “You don’t know what’s real. You believed you were a forest spirit until just last month. Crying over not having a fairy; Oh, woe is me, I haven’t got a fairy—pathetic. And then you go trying to get Navi back as if she wasn’t incredibly annoying…”

Link ground his teeth, fighting the urge to respond.

“…And then there was that time when you thought you could cozy up to an older girl. I mean, let’s be honest; you were a ten-year-old in a teenager’s body. Zelda would have never gone for you and neither would that half-brained ranch girl…”

“Zelda…?” Link jaw was clenched so hard his ears whined with the pressure.

“Wait Link; it’s not ready…! This circle is made of ancient magic…” She continued mumbling to herself and weaving her arms around each other, but Link could not tell what she was saying.

Link’s shadow gave Zelda a fair appraising look. “Then again, she might go for you now that you’re mentally the same age… Oh, who’m I kidding? You still think you’re a fairy!” The Shadow crooned, amused at this.

And like a harassed dog released from its chain Link flew at his shadowy counterpart, sweeping the Four Sword in wide arcs. Again the battle ensued, the combatants deflecting synchronized blows with their shields, dodging and parrying in perfect unison. And then—

“Guys! Now!”

Three new combatants leaped into the fray and the Hero-Made-Four attacked the Shadow from every side. Where one attack was deflected another three landed and with each blow the Shadow was hacked into finer and finer shreds. Finally the thing lay in ribbons, disjoined and inert on the cloud-floor. The Hero-Made-Four sighed in relief.

Link looked up. “Hey Zelda, I guess we didn’t need your help after…”

“Look out!” called three male voices, and Link’s foot was suddenly pulled out from under him. His face hit the enchanted cloud surface and sprang back, throwing his head at an odd angle. Only just in time he rolled away from the swing of a shadowy blade and stood on his feet again, casting his watering eyes about to see what had happened. When his vision cleared his heart sank to his stomach.

Where one shadow had been—cut to ribbons—now there were four, each staring with hollow red eyes.

“Uh, Zelda? A little help?”

“Cheeky boys…” muttered Zelda. She threw up her hands and an enormous globe of churning light sprang into existence, casting its brilliance over the scene. The quartet of shadows cawed and shrank back as the eye inscribed in the magic circle slowly closed. The throbbing tone of the Dark Mirror became less frequent and finally, as the shadows cowered from the white blazing orb, the last note sang and was lost to the thunder and wind.

“Gah!” cried the Shadows, shielding their red eyes with their insubstantial arms. In the light of Zelda’s orb they were revealed for what they were: a mockery of reality; no more than illusion. Link and his other three selves rested their blades on their shadows’ thin, frail shoulders.

“You deserve to disappear and never return,” said Link, his chin lifted proudly.

Link’s shadow chuckled weakly under its hand. “You really think you’ll get rid of me? I’m your shadow. I’ll always be lurking… Always…” It twitched, visibly weighed down by the light of the princess’ orb. “Besides, I’m not really your enemy. You are… You—”

But without permitting any further discourse, the Hero-Made-Four slashed through the smoky essences of their foes, parting each of the shadows in two. The four dark figures wavered, flickered, and blew away like so much smoke in the blustering wind.

The magic circle holding the Dark Mirror dissolved into powder and likewise dissipated. Zelda recovered the mirror from the cloud-floor and held it firmly in her arms. Link exchanged a look of weariness with the princess. It was done.

The Shadow was no more.

[End of Interlude.]

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