Disclaimer: The Legend of Zelda and all related characters belong to Nintendo. No profit is being made or sought from this story.
I suppose every longtime Legend of Zelda fan fiction author has to write one of these eventually – the Link and Dark Link fight. It's certainly a common enough story within the fandom as to become a genre unto itself. This is not a yaoi story. I am sorry to disappoint any readers hoping for that – in fact, this is rather "anti-sexy." I'm not ragey-against yaoi (at least not anymore), it's just that it's not my preferred genre and I've never seen Dark Link as an actual person / character. I've always thought of him as more of a spell and a symbol.
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He entered the misty room and could vaguely make out the sound of the door he'd come through sealing behind him. The Hero of Time turned around and the door was not there anymore. In fact, this room seemed to have no walls to it – it looked as though it went on forever, an endless sea of white. Water sloshed below his feet. A thin layer of it covered the floor. Navi's reflection was bright off of it. Link noticed that he did not seem to have one.
"Strange place," the young man said as he looked around cautiously. His hand twitched for the hilt of his sword, but he did not yet draw it. Navi drew his attention to a lone tree, bare of leaves. Link approached this tree, walked around it, and shrugged. There didn't seem to be any clue in it as to how to exit this otherworldly room.
The Water Temple. The Goddesses-cursed Water Temple. An endless room of white nothing – it was just one more thing to hate about this quagmire of a place. How the Zora managed to ever worship here, he figured he would never know.
"Watch out!" Navi shouted. Link drew the Master Sword as he turned around in an instant. His jaw dropped. His fairy flitted about him and gave him the most cryptic advice. "Conquer yourself!" she said before flitting out of sight.
Standing before him was something of a perverse mirror image. It was a dark being bearing his shape – black, but translucent like a shadow at the edges. Its eyes burned red, the color of arterial blood. The shadow laughed and drew a black-bladed replica of the Master Sword.
The air was filled with a smell. Link did not like it. In the instant before the shadow's attack, Link registered a distinct stench. It was the smell of corpses.
When he was around eight years old, Link had been out playing in the forest, away from the other Kokiri. He'd come upon the carcass of a deer. He was searching for a fairy, in fact, which was why he was out in the forest all alone. Since none had come to him, he'd taken it upon himself to search for wild ones, to outright ask if one would be his friend so he could be a true Kokiri. The ghastly sight he'd come upon was a young doe, dead from some unknown cause and she'd been dead for some time. Her middle had bloated until it had burst, leaving goopy gray entrails on the grass. Maggots crawled around where one of her eyes had been. The stench was enough to almost make the boy faint, but unfortunately for him, he was too tough for that and did not get the blessing of a quick escape. He had some nightmares about the deer for a while, even though Saria told him that the doe's spirit was okay. Link never forgot that smell.
There was another smell that Link would never forget. When he'd rushed back to Castle Town after obtaining the Zora's Sapphire, he'd encountered Zelda and Impa fleeing, then Ganondorf in pursuit. Clutching the Ocarina of Time that Zelda had thrown his way, he'd run through the streets, seeking information upon what happened. Oh, he knew that he had to get to the Temple of Time – that was the original plan between him and the princess. The marketplace was as it always had been – some people had seen horses and riders dash through the town gate, but no one seemed to know what was going on.
Link came upon an alley. There was a man there, a soldier of the Royal Guard. He sat leaning against the wall of a building. The man choked and cried out to Link, asking him desperately if he was the person his princess had spoken of. He told Link to head to the Temple of Time and then he slumped over and went very still. Navi calmly informed Link that he wasn't moving anymore. The poor fairy… she couldn't get out the whole truth. She did not want to say a blunt "He died" to her boy. There was a smell then. It was not the soldier's sweat, or the blood from his wounds, running out onto the stones of the street from beneath his armor. It was not even the scent of his suddenly loosened guts – an unpleasant indignity most stories of valiant death leave out. No, it was a distinct strange and indescribable odor, the departure of his spirit, Link thought, or perhaps a final release of chemistry on the part of the body.
Dark Link smelled like both these things – choking rot overlaid with the odor of someone freshly-dead. The shadow came for Link, who dodged, but felt the bite of the shadow-sword slide across his arm. He thrust the Blade of Evil's Bane only to find his dark counterpart standing atop the blade, weightless. To his horror, Link found the blade borne by the shadow coming down for his head. He felt its impact upon his skull and was thrown back, a nasty gash in his scalp sending blood running down into his eyes. He blinked it back to repel another strike.
As the swords – one of light, one of shadow – pressed against each other, steel and darkness scraping sparks, Link looked into Dark Link's eyes. Revelation came to him, clear and terrifying. Those eyes and the shadow-form itself held something.
Revelation came to the Hero of Time. This place was not a real place. Their swords were not real swords. Link was within his own soul right now. Despite the warm blood running and cooling across his skin, despite the cold feel of the water soaking through the leather of his boots, despite the very air that he was breathing, this place was not a physical place. Navi was here, floating above his head – he did not know how she was here, except that, perhaps, she was such a part of him that she had to be here.
The red eyes of the shadow held all of Link's shame. As they fought hard, the creature made screams and yelps that echoed his own, but in a voice that was slightly deeper. Dark Link whispered to him, gray and low, speaking of cruel and selfish impulses.
You wanted to steal those bottles of milk from the cellar at Lon-Lon…
How accomplished you feel when you strike an enemy through the throat… Does not the thrill of killing feel wonderful?
You wanted to leave Mido to the Deku Babas… just for an instant…
I am that instant. All of those instants.
"Shut up!" Link demanded.
You long to kill me. I am you and you are me.
"I am a hero!"
Sure you are. Every hero is someone's villain. You've been the death of many creatures…
"I had to! They were monsters, only bent upon destruction! I had to save people!"
You, too, are a destroyer. Do not deny it. Embrace the feeling of conquest…
"This is what Navi meant when she said I must conquer myself," Link whispered, dodging the dark blade's tip aimed at his throat.
Dark Link moved quickly with a sharp thrust. Link felt the shadow's blade cleave his sternum. The pain was intense. He was certain he'd been slain. Then, he felt the sliced flesh of his heart beat against the hard steel of the shadow-sword. He looked down at himself and saw no blood. What was there was more horrible – blackness, shadow that curled around him in tendrils, over his torso, creeping down, up and everywhere. The shadow burned like fire.
The Hero felt many strong emotions, most of all fear. It wasn't the kind of fear that inspired him to grit up his courage – this was a more insidious kind of fear. This was his every insecurity making itself known. This was all of his shame. These were the feelings of worthlessness that plagued him throughout his young life, fueled by the things people thought he'd lacked – his being the "boy without a fairy" a "weirdo," "something other," "a person without a place." This was his every angry impulse, every brief desire he'd ever had to grind those who'd hurt him down, to see them – anyone- under his boots. This was a desire to bend people and the world to his will – something that everyone has to a degree, often the root of bigotry. This was finding thrill in the taking of life – even the lives of monsters – rather than keeping it as a solemn and necessary duty. This was the sadistic joy he took when young in chasing and beating frightened chickens with his little Kokiri short-sword. Every tiny cruelty was made manifest in his mind.
This is everything that would make him worse than Ganondorf. And he had the power to become a tyrant, oh, yes. Link knew that in this moment. As the shadows burned over his neck, closing over his windpipe and wending their way into his eyes and his brain, a single thought came to him - the absolute, clear truth.
If you do not conquer your dark side, you will become it.
Dark Link had no goal to kill him. The sword in Link's chest and the darkness rolling over him were turning him into the shadow. The shadow was melding into him and he into the shadow.
I am him and he is me.
If you do not conquer your dark side, you will become it.
A battle cry ripped itself from Link's lungs. He set his eyes like steel, tore himself off Dark Link's sword and brought the Master Sword down hard upon the shadow. "I will not give in!" he yelped. "I choose to be a hero!"
The Master Sword cleaved Dark Link's shadowy head in twain. The mirror-image of the Hero screamed an agonized death-cry before dissolving into mist. Link heard the doors of the chamber slide open. He saw an exit-door appear through the fog. He fell back into the shallow water on the floor.
"Link!" Navi cried, hovering above him. "You did it!"
Link winced. He had not been consumed by the shadow, but somehow, the journey into his soul had been, at least in part, physical, after all. His chest was intact, but he bled from wounds on his arms and legs, in his sides, and the one nasty gash in his scalp. Red ran into the water in clouds around him.
"Oh, Link, you're hurt! I think you still have a bottle of red potion left."
Link sat up slowly and fished around in a pocket. "Yeah, but I survived," he said. "I survived. I… I conquered myself."
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