Chapter XXII: Mirror
Chapter XXII: Mirror
For the first time in his life, Link felt cold. Truly cold.
He looked north as Epona trotted along the river bank, the water rushing past them, and shivered. He'd felt cool winds before, during the forest's winter season, but even then the Kokiri Forest stayed temperate, with the trees only occasionally going to red and gold. It had been like the Deku Tree and the forest's magic had held the winter at bay. He'd never felt such a powerfully chill wind before, causing him to shiver and his hairs to stand up on end.
But there was more to this chill than just the low temperature. There was a scent in the air that he couldn't place, which brought back memories of the ghosts and the undead that had lurked in the Forest Temple. The frigid touch of death mixed in with evil.
They were less than a day out from Zora's Domain, yet Link kept his mare moving slowly; he didn't want to charge into any unexpected surprises, and that scent of evil had him on edge. Night crept up on them, and he brought her to a halt beneath a stand of trees which seemed curiously bare and lifeless, their branches drooping and the leaves brown and gold. Against his better judgment, he decided to make a fire to ward off the cold.
Settling back against the trunk of one of the trees, Link warmed his hands against the fire, and wished he'd thought to bring cold-weather clothing. Malon had been right about his impulsiveness.
He closed his eyes, thinking back to her, and felt a little warmer at remembering her face. He kept her memory fresh as he relaxed, and the chill slowly faded away until he slipped off into sleep.
There was a familiar taste in the chill air, and he shivered at the unaccustomed cold. The thermal flows around the castle and his master's penchant for torches had kept things warm and pleasant, but now there was only the chill of the winds blowing from the Zoras' homeland.
He paused, bringing his mount to a halt, and considered again the path he was taking. With the Forest and Fire Temples cleansed, that meant that only three more remained. Of them, he was certain the Shadow remained untouched, and no word had come from the guards at the Spirit, which meant there was only one Temple he could be trying for. And in order to get there, the Hero would need the Zoras' help.
He smirked. There was little chance of the fish breed helping anyone now.
He halted once again, sniffing the air, tasting the familiar scents wafting through the cold. Curious, he dropped down off his mount and moved along the ground, eyes piercing through the dim starlight. He wasn't limited to simple human eyesight, and that advantage showed its value a few moments later.
Tracks. Horse tracks, to be precise. What looked like an unshod horse.
He looked up the river, his smile becoming more feral, and he chuckled darkly. Reaching up, the shadow hauled himself back up onto his horse. The Hero was no more than a day ahead of him, at best.
The hunt was on.
Morning came to find the impromptu camp abandoned and Link further along the river. Half a day passed before he was greeted with the distant rumble and roar of the waterfall he remembered from his last trip here, but as they drew closer, flecks of white drifted down through the air in front of him, and chunks of ice began floating down the river past them. Link had no idea what to make of this as he pressed forward into the narrowing canyons that led into the heart of the Zoras' territory.
There was something wrong here. The feeling that he was entering a place hostile to his very existence slowly grew on Link as he continued on. The paths narrowed like he remembered them, and he was forced to dismount Epona and lead her by the reins.
Soon, the paths became too treacherous, and the solid blocks of water grew more and more frequent. He left Epona by the river, and she watched him as he moved on reluctantly, her dark eyes regarding him with uncanny intelligence.
Darkness began to settle in again as they drew closer to the Domain, and soon, the sun had gone down. Link would have paused, but the apprehension that was gripping him drove him onward, to find out what was wrong.
As he moved through the narrow cliffs above the rushing water, Link finally realized what was putting him so ill at ease: the sound of the rushing water and roaring falls was gone. He could hear the hiss of a waterfall, but it was weak - almost a shadow, compared with his memories of the last time he'd been here.
He entered the wide grotto where the water had thundered out of the pools far above, and he saw a trickle of descending water from the once-mighty waterfall. The mists of the falls that had guarded Zora's Doman were gone, replaced by the frigid chill, and the flecks of whiteness flicked about far more violently and commonly now. Solid shards of ice filled the pool at the bottom of the thin falls. And far above . . . .
The gateway into the Domain was wide open.
"I don't like this," Link whispered, and began to climb the paths leading to the entrance. "Stay close."
"Right behind you," Navi reassured him, but he found the nervous timbre in her voice more comforting than he expected. At least he wasn't alone in his wary apprehension.
He was being followed.
Curious. He was being stalked as he was stalking his prey.
He couldn't place the shadow's exact location, nor did he know its intent, but he felt it. Red eyes watching him, sliding along the opposite river bank two hundred yards away, hidden in the foliage. He slowed his steed, and peered across the bank, searching for the watcher.
"I can feel you," he called. "I know you're out there! Identify yourself, in the King's name!"
The dark creature's face turned into a frown, and he was left alone once more, the presence disappearing.
The black horse stamped and whinnied, impatient to complete its task.
He shook his head. The King would be informed that there were other spies about. Hyrule's shadows, the Sheikah, most likely. Ganondorf would want him to follow up on that after he killed the Hero, as they were the best lead to finding Princess Zelda.
He kicked his steed into a trot, and continued on up the river, eager to end this.
He thought moving inside would fight off the chill and protect him from the biting wind. Once he got into the cavern, however, Link understood just how wrong he was. Though there was no wind within the grotto beyond, the cold was intensified, as if it had built a bulwark against any heat inside the cavern. The frigid cold sent vicious shivers through his body.
Or maybe that was just the chill at what he saw.
His memories of Zora's Domain had been of simplistic architecture and flowing water, a cool, safe place filled with life and constant movement. The Zora had done little to embellish their grottos because they lived a constantly mobile life, and the Domain was no exception. Motion defined the species, so they cared little for crafting stonework.
Now, there was only frigid, absolute stillness.
The waterfall he'd remembered falling from high up in the grotto was frozen solid, a pillar of ice looming up into the ceiling. The waters running below were iced over, a solid and unyielding sheet of impenetrable white. He could see no Zoras anywhere; the only movement was the frosted air coming out of his mouth.
Link didn't say anything; his shock and fear for the aquatic people was too sudden and strong for words at the moment. Instead, he broke into a run, hurrying through the stone passages of the city, dodging around sheets of ice lining the passages. Navi hurried after him.
He neither saw nor heard any sign anything was still alive in here, save for his own fearful panting and the pounding of his boots on the smoothed stone.
There were no guards in the throne room, but at last, Link came face to face with a Zora as he rushed into the chamber.
Unfortunately, that Zora was frozen solid.
Link paused, caught somewhere between shock and fear, looking up at the bulbous shape of King Zora. He sat on his throne, but the King and his entire royal chair were encased in a block of gleaming red ice.
"I guess this rules out natural causes," Link whispered rhetorically as he moved across the room toward the King. As with all the other water in the Domain, the throne room's currents and rivulets were frozen solid, so he had to find a side path up to where the King was located. Link reached out to touch the ice, and his fingers brushed across it.
He recoiled in surprise and confusion. The ice wasn't cold - in fact, it was warm. Which meant . . . .
"Not ice," Link said, and Navi bobbed in agreement.
"Some kind of curse," she said. "But it's not dark magic. We would have been able to sense an evil enchantment on the King. Darkness is all around us, but this isn't part of it."
"Some kind of warding spell?" Link mused, tapping the "ice" again. He drew the Master Sword and experimentally tapped the barrier, before hauling back and hacking the blade down across the russet material. The blade rang and deflected off the ice, vibrating wildly, and the Hero grimaced.
"Yes," Navi said, thoughtful. She drifted close to the ice, and he thought she was touching it. "A modified protection spell. It looks like it froze him in time and place."
"I'm betting this is what happened to the rest of the Zora," Link added. "They're probably locked in similar spells underneath the ice. Is there a way to break the curse?"
"Lord Jabu-Jabu is a guardian spirit," Navi said, bobbing again. "He could possibly break it, but . . . ."
She trailed off, and Link understood. If Lord Jabu-Jabu could have broken the curse, why hadn't he?
The answer came a few minutes later when they hurried to the lagoon where the guardian deity made his home, or at least, used to.
The biting cold had redoubled as Link stepped outside, only to find himself alone and in silence, save for the wind itself. He turned to look out over the wide lagoon that the Zora's guardian had dwelt within, and found nothing but drifting snow and ice.
"Well, crap," Link hissed.
The other dismounted, near to where the Hero had left his horse, though he didn't realize it. The russet mare had already moved off, hiding further away along the river bank and out of sight of the dark creature. Blessed with preternatural intelligence far beyond that of most horses, Epona watched from a safe distance as the creature moved along the narrow ledges and jutting rocks, clambering up the cliffside toward the dead waterfall.
The horse started a bit when she sensed another presence close by, but a soft whisper made her ears flatten. Epona turned to regard the other intruder, who crouched amid the rocks a short distance away. The figure, a shadowy form with gleaming red eyes, moved up alongside the horse, which stamped her feet and shied away slightly, not welcoming something so unfamiliar.
The figure produced a small harp and quietly plucked a series of strings, mimicking a song that sent a wave of calm over Epona. The horse snorted and lowered her head, watching as the figure moved closer and reached out, stroking her neck.
"He went in there, didn't he?" Sheik asked, and the horse snorted again.
"How long has that thing been following him?" the Sheikah asked quietly, and then patted the mare on her neck again.
"Stay here," came the quiet whisper, and Epona stamped a paw and snorted in response. Sheik watched the creature disappear among the stones, and moved to trail it, hoping that the Hero could be found before the monster reached him first.
Link stood on one of the wide shapes of ice that had grown in the frigid waters of the once warm and peaceful lagoon. While the lagoon was still peaceful, it was a serenity brought by emptiness and a scent of evil. The darkness that he had tasted in the air on the way in was stronger.
They'd circled the lagoon, moving from ice floe to ice floe, and found nothing to indicate what had happened to Lord Jabu-Jabu, except that he wasn't to be found anywhere. Now Link stood on the hunk of frozen ice in the center of the lagoon, piecing together what had happened.
"Whatever curse befell the Zora, it removed Lord Jabu-Jabu," Navi said, pacing through the facts. "Jabu-Jabu is a spirit entity, but he could have been killed just like the Great Deku Tree."
"The Triforce of Power would allow Ganondorf to do that," Link guessed, gritting his teeth. If Ganondorf had taken Jabu-Jabu from the Zora the same way he had taken the Deku Tree from the Kokiri . . . .
"He would have had to have been targeted at the base of his power," Navi said. "Ganondorf could have weakened his power, and then either hit him with a death curse or simply slain him outright. The Triforce definitely would have let him do that, if he could have killed the Deku Tree with only his human sorcery."
"But even with Jabu-Jabu dead," Link said, peering across the lagoon and many icebergs drifting across it, "the Zora shouldn't have been frozen like this. Ganondorf would have needed another spell to freeze the Zora. Right?" His knowledge of spells was iffy.
"Right," Navi agreed. "And the enchantment looks long-term. That means it has to have a focus."
"What if it's like what happened to the Lost Woods?" Link asked. "Corrupting the Temple weakens the wards of the guardian spirits, and that lets Ganondorf corrupt the landscape. Cleanse the Temple and we break the curse?"
"Sound like it would work," she said, bobbing again.
"We have to find the Water Temple," Link said. "That's the only way we can save them." He turned toward the docks, all the way across the lagoon, and started across the ice. "Let's get moving."
There was magic here. He could taste his master's sorcery, the same that had breathed life into him, tingeing the air around the rocky grotto. The ice here was not natural, nor was the icy chill that flowed up and down his spine.
The Zora had been . . . defiant. They thought themselves safe, believed themselves rulers of Hyrule's waters and thus immune to Ganondorf's will. It was true that they held a potent defensive position, and their control over the River Hyrule ensured they held a strategically valuable resource, but the core of their power came from their god.
And the core of Lord Jabu-Jabu's power came from the Water Temple.
He smiled, stepping past the frozen form of the king of the Zora, sitting fat and impotent in his throne room, sealed away behind a block of crimson ice. A fallen king, ruling over a fallen land, locked away for eternity as punishment for their crime of standing against Ganondorf.
The other had come this way. He understood this, because he understood how the other thought. He would want to make sure Lord Jabu-Jabu was still there, watching over his people, no matter how much his instincts would tell him the god was missing. And from there . . . .
The air outside was as frigid as it had been when he'd passed through the falls. A mist hung in the air, limiting his vision as he slipped out onto the ice, but the gleaming red eyes cut through the fog. He paused, and took a long, deep scent of the sweet, frigid air, and drew his blade, before he emerged into the frigid outside.
Found you, Hero.
He caught a hint of movement, across the lagoon, and then the scent of evil.
Link froze, Master Sword rising. He stood, sword at the ready and shield before him, eyes flicking around the grotto. Navi went silent, and he could feel that she was searching their surroundings with her own innate senses.
They'd both sensed something in the darkness, moving along with them, though neither of them could properly place its source. It had been like a sigh, lost in the echoes of their own voices resounding across the lake.
"See anything?" he asked after a few moments, slowly backing away from the edge of the icy platform.
"Nothing," Navi replied, whispering. "But there's something out there."
"Yeah, I can-" Link stopped, listening intently. Yes, there was something - a sighing sound that reached out across the still lagoon.
They weren't alone.
A rustle. A scrape along the ice, somewhere in the darkness. Link took a step backward, spacing his legs out, raising his shield and sliding into a defensive stance.
He waited, the Master Sword in his hand, the heavy blade held motionless in his hardened fingers. Despite the chill, he felt a touch of sweat beading underneath his armor, sticking to his clothes. The cold stillness of the grotto crept through his nose, betraying nothing with its empty scent, except for the whiff of evil hanging in the air.
The icy lake before him remained dark and motionless, but that sense of evil, the foreboding darkness of any place corrupted by Ganondorf, lingered. But what was more, the aura of malevolence grew closer, stronger. Always, he had been the one moving toward it, but now, he could sense it closing in on him.
"Link," Navi breathed.
"I feel it," he said, and those words shattered the stillness like an avalanche.
He saw red, gleaming lights of fire, stabbing toward him through the darkness, and the shield in Link's right hand rose. Something charged over the chunk of ice to his forward right, and leapt through the air. There was a flash of drawn metal, striking downward as boots skidded across ice-
Steel smashed into steel. The Hero's shield arm shivered with the sheer power behind the blow, even as he snapped his right arm out and hurled the striking blade aside even as the platform bobbed with the sudden weight that had landed upon it. The Master Sword rose in a swift backhand chop, an expert counter done with the speed and surety of a veteran warrior.
It met steel itself, and was deflected by a gesture, knocking the holy blade aside with as much ease as he himself had parried the first strike. As Link stepped back, sliding into his usual guard, Master Sword held at his waist and raised to strike around his shield, he finally got a good, hard look at the red-eyed spectre, illuminated in Navi's harsh blue glow. It stood a few paces away, matching his stance exactly, a long black blade held behind a matte black shield, peering at him over the top of the steel.
The Hero of Time stared at his own face, regarding him with glittering red eyes and a knowing smile.
Far away across the remnants of Hyrule, the King of Evil reclined in his throne, hands folded together before him, and stared at the scrying portal before him.
"Finally," he rumbled, laughing quietly in anticipation.
The look on the Hero's face as he stared into his own sent a vast smile spreading across Ganondorf's face, and he settled in to watch the show.
Link stared, not certain what exactly he was looking at, except that it bore his features, clothing, and equipment, like a matte black mirror. Red eyes burned in the darkness, gray-black hair framed the face if equally gray-black skin. The shield the other bore was featureless, while the sword in its left hand was a perfect replica of the Master Sword, forged out of black metal.
"What?" he breathed, not knowing what was going on. The specter across from him smirked.
"Not what," it said, its voice a perfect echo of Link's, except for a slight distortion that made it deeper. "Who."
Its sword lashed out an a sudden arcing cut, ringing against Link's shield. He took a step backward, bracing his boots against the slippery ice floor, and intercepted a second cut. The shield shuddered, and then his attacker leapt up in the air, hacking down at Link's head as it struck over the shield. The Master Sword rose, parrying the overhead chop, and Link punched out with his shield, hitting his airborne foe in the chest. The creature tumbled backward, hitting the ice and rolling to its feet.
No, Link understood, not it. He.
The creature, the dark mirror of himself, grinned and moved forward again in a loping, unhurried gait, sword and shield bouncing. Just when he got within blade's reach, he snapped forward, a lightning-fast stab that Link caught on his shield and turned aside. The Master Sword arced down, flashing in the dim light, and crashed into his foe's shield. The dark creature deflected the blow, but Link stepped in closer, smacking his shield against his opponent's while it was parrying the Master Sword. The shield went out wide, and the Master Sword arced back, slashing across the creature's flank.
He recoiled, hissing as black blood jetted from the cut, and then the wound sealed just as quickly as it had been opened. The dark vision of Link fell back into a defensive stance, glaring, and then its expression became a smile.
"What are you?" Link demanded, now over his shock. This was a creature of Ganondorf's creation, but not like his other monsters. The black blood sizzled against the ice like acid. It bled like a human, but the blood . . . it was corrupted, somehow.
"I said who, not what," the other replied, edging forward. Link took a step backward. "Just who do you think I am?"
"Something Ganondorf created, obviously," Link countered. "And whatever he made, I can kill." The specter burst out laughing at that, shaking his head.
"You can't kill yourself, Link," he snarled, his smile becoming a predator's grin.
"So, that means you can't kill me, either?" Link replied, brow furrowing in confusion.
"No. I mean, yes. I mean . . . I can kill you!"
"No, you specifically said you can't kill yourself, and if you're me, then that means-"
"Stop making sense and die already!"
The other's blade whipped across, and Link picked it off with the Master Sword, deflecting it high. At the same moment, the creature's shield shot forward, crashing into Link's and shoving him backward along the ice. The other's sword came down in an overhead chop, and Link snapped his shield up to catch the blow while thrusting up at his foe's chest. The blade deflected off the other's shield, and he broke away, hopping backward. Link rushed ahead, chasing after him, and the Master Sword hacked down in another lateral chop.
The other ducked low and sideways, sliding under the blow, and his shield shot forward, the edge clipping Link's boots. His forward momentum carried the Hero over the shield, and he toppled forward toward the ice. Link came up in a roll and spun around just in time to parry and block two rapid strikes at his back. The other wore a manic grin as he hopped backward, bouncing from foot to foot even as he held his defensive stance.
Link hissed quietly. This thing, whatever he was, had excellent skill with a sword and shield. The only time Link could recall he'd had to fight an opponent with a similar style was the lizard creature in the Dodongo Cavern, and that was when he was a child.
The other suddenly surged forward, sword hacking back and forth in a series of wild, vicious swings. Link snapped up his shield to block, and took the blows while hunting for an opening. To his surprise, though, the other kept hammering the shield, as if aiming deliberately for it. Each impact shook his arm, but did little to damage the stout metal shield. It was a risky act of wild aggression, and while the other seemed manic and violent, it didn't make sense.
"Link! Behind you!" Navi cried.
Link spared a glance back, and he suddenly understood.
Each impact was pushing back along the smooth ice, and the platform was slowly tipping as the weight shifted backward.
It was shoving him backward until Link's own weight dropped him into the frigid waters.
Link surged forward, meeting the next blow head-on with his shield, boots scraping across the ice. The shield rose up in a hard block, meeting the blade and knocking it backward, and Link shot ahead with two rapid thrusts to force his opponent backward. The other brought up its attack short, snapping its shield down to parry the blows, and then skittered sideways, sliding across the ice. His sword hacked low at Link's knees, and he dropped his own shield to parry.
The other's shield swung up in response and punched out, the metal edge clipping Link's cheek.
Stars flashed across Link's vision, and he was spun around by the impact. The other's sword slashed in hard, and acting purely on instinct, Link brought the Master Sword across to parry. The blades scraped together, holy steel on dark metal. Link spun with the deflection, shield rising and flying out wide, and as he came around, the metal barrier smashed into the neck of his opponent.
They came out of the spin swinging blades, half-blind, and a searing pain lanced through Link's flank. He stumbled away, and knew he'd been hurt badly. He came around, sliding back into a defensive stance, the ice platform bobbing with the shifting weight.
Blood dribbled down the Hero's flank, but he saw he'd hit his own foe down the back. Black blood dripped from the other's armor and stained the ice. He glared at Link, red eyes shining with pure hatred.
This time, the wound wasn't sealing so quickly.
"Ouch," the creature breathed, the words coming out as a sharp hiss. Then he charged.
Their blades and shields met again, but this time it wasn't a clash of swords, but simply an impact of hardened steel and raw rage. Link raised his shield to block and the other slammed into him with all his strength, their weapons locking together as the other's momentum met the Hero's braced legs.
Link found himself skittering backwards, and the ice floe began to tip over again. The other kept pushing, boots skidding and shoving against the ice, snarling and laughing and cursing all at once, forcing his sword down at Link's head. The ice floe began to tip over further, threatening to dump them both into the frigid - and thus lethal - waters.
The Hero twisted the Master Sword around and suddenly withdrew it, for an instant, and then snapped it back forward. the impact on the other's blade knocked it backward, and then Link snapped the Master Sword forward again, twisting the other's blade aside. Their weapons met again, crossed directly overhead - but this time the pommel of the Master Sword was pointing at the creature's temple.
Link brought the blade down hard, and there was a sickening crack as the pommel hit the other across the side of his head.
"Navi!" Link yelled, and the fairy shot down in the momentary opening. There was a flare of blue light, and the other recoiled, momentarily blinded. He fell back, momentum lost for a moment, and he waved his shield and sword before him to prevent the next attack as he recovered his sight.
Link didn't follow through, instead spinning and hacking down behind him with the Master Sword, the blade cleaving through the ice. He spun back toward the other as his vision cleared, and the creature snarled, rushing back at him again. Link raised his shield once more and set his boots.
The other crashed into him again.
"Idiot!" he yelled. "You're trying to do that agaiwhoa!"
Their shields met a second time, but in this case, Link had set his feet properly, and planted his left foot inside the groove in the ice he'd just cut. He spun as the shield met, and redirected the other's momentum around him instead of stopping it cold, and this time, the creature slid past him. The Master Sword lashed out, cutting a deep wound in the other's shield arm, and then it slid over the edge of the ice.
He leapt, in desperation, and hit an ice floe closer to the docks, sprawling onto his stomach. Link, sliding forward on his own platform, leapt forward as well, flipping the Master Sword over in his grip. The next platform was tipping forward under the other's weight, and he drove his shield's pointed bottom into the ice to stop himself from sliding down into the water. A couple of meters to the other's left, Link hit the ice and stabbed the Master Sword down, anchoring himself.
The other's sword came across, and Link had to snap up his shield to deflect. It shivered under the blow, and then a second, and then a third. The ice platform continued to gradually tip over under their weight, and icy water was only a couple of meters from their boots.
"Navi!" Link yelled again, and his fairy companion once again dove to his assistance. She flew in front of the other's face again, for on heartbeat, dazzling his eyes, and as he recoiled, Link snapped the shield down, bringing its rim onto the other's stomach and groin.
The resulting noise was rather satisfying.
Link's left arm flexed and he hauled himself up toward the Sword, trying to balance the weight of the bodies on the ice. He spun around the blade, putting his weight on the other side, and that gradually arrested the ice floe's tip-over.
As the ice floe began to level out, Link tugged at the Master Sword. It began to slowly come loose, but the other was tearing his shield free already. The Hero focused and directed his will and energy into the blade, and the swirling light of the blade's magic began to play around the Sword. A second later, the ice around it cracked, and he tore the weapon free. Link spun, unleashing the energy toward the other-
Only to have a dark swirl of energy crash against it and cancel it out.
"Yeah," the other breathed, grinning through the agony rolling up from his stomach and crotch. "I can do that trick too."
They stared at each other for a second, and Link saw the wounds he had cut into the creature were sealing back up, and the pain from his crushed stomach and genitals was fading with each passing second. He couldn't wear this creature down. He had to hit the dark mirror hard enough that he couldn't recover.
Link's eyes flicked to the icy waters, and he knew how.
"Come on, Hero," the dark creature taunted, moving forward again with that steady, bouncing, almost whimsical gait. "Got any more tricks up your sleeve?"
"Yeah, a couple," Link replied.
The Master Sword hacked down at the creature, and they crossed blades again. The blades met and deflected, shields bashing together. Link hissed in pain as the other's shield clipped him across the knee. He returned the favor scoring a long, glancing cut across the creature's chest, the armor splitting apart under the might of the Master Sword.
They broke away again, Link trying to keep his weight off his bruised leg, while the injury to his mirror simply sealed back up, though the armor remained rent in that particular place.
"The King of Evil's magic is strong here," the creature murmured, smiling.
"Yeah, hardly seems fair," Link grumbled. He glanced across the lake, toward the docks., and realized how he could take advantage of the frozen lake.
"You're not gonna run, are you?" the creature asked, sounding disappointed. "After what you did for your little Kokiri girl, I can't imagine-
The Master Sword cleaved an inch-deep gouge across the front of the other's shield, hurling sparks as it cut. The creature leapt back, surprised, and then burst out laughing as Link stood there, glaring at him.
"Yeah, I figured that would get a rise out of you," he said. "I should-"
He stopped in mid-sentence, flinching, and then frowned. The other looked down at his shoulder. A bit of moonlight glinted off a long, slender needle of steel that was buried a quarter of the way into his shoulder.
"Huh," he murmured. "That's-"
Another needle stabbed into his exposed left knee. A third whizzed past his face, cutting a long gouge in his flesh that sealed up almost immediately. This time, the creature jerked away, raising its shield, and more needles rang off the barrier.
Link spun, looking in the direction the familiar projectiles were coming from, and spotted a dark figure on the shoreline, standing at the docks. He didn't wait when presented with a sparkle of good fortune, and broke away from the creature while he was still defending himself from the thrown needles.
Link dashed across the ice, Navi beside him and lighting the way. On the shoreline, Sheik's arms continued to pump, and more needles flickered in the moonlight. By now he could hear cursing and yelling behind him as the other tried to chase after him. Link spared a glance back and saw the other was chasing after him, bulling through the needles as they buried into its chest and neck, not even bothering to pull them free. Still, the creature was limping from the one wound in his knee.
"Legs!" Link called, bounding to another platform. "Hit his legs!"
He didn't get any acknowledgement, but a moment later the creature's cursing became a shade louder and angrier. Link leapt over another ice floe and was nearly at the docks when Sheik stopped in place and then leapt away suddenly.
A heartbeat later, a metallic claw on the end of a chain latched onto the railing at the dock, and Link heard the rattle of gears and chains tightening and coiling behind him.
"You've got to be kidding me," he breathed as he jumped onto the stone of the docks and spun around.
Someone, maybe the Goddesses, or someone else equally deific, was laughing at him, because the other was closing in, holding a clawshot of similar design to Link's own, and was flying toward the dock with his sword in hand, seconds away.
Link spun and hacked the Master Sword onto the clawshot's blades, the metal ringing as the weapon struck, but not yielding. Link chopped a second time, then a third, and then a dark-metal blade was stabbing at him.
"Not getting away that easy!" the creature roared, swinging his blade as he hit the docks, skidding in place. The shield had been completely discarded, and instead the creature was wielding the clawshot in his right while hacking with the sword in his left. He skittered around as Link's shield took the sword strikes, putting the Hero's back to the icy waters.
Their swords clashed twice more, and the other continued hacking away, aiming at Link's shield and forcing him back again with another of those wild, furious assaults, and then the clawshot flew up in a blur, firing at the Hero's face.
He ducked and twisted aside, and the claw flew past. Link rose up, preparing to countercharge, when he heard an impact behind him, and the sound of the claw latching onto something. The other's eyebrows rose in surprise, and then he was yanked off his feet and sent hurtling past Link.
He whirled to follow his opponent's flight, and saw that the claw had apparently been caught by a slender chain in mid-air and then directed downward to latch onto the ice. Sheik, disentangling the chain from the clawshot, was leaping back onto the docks.
"Get back!" Link yelled to Sheik, and started focusing his will. "Everyone, get back!" Navi flittered away, knowing what he was intending, and Sheik's red eyes blinked before the Sheikah simply vanished from sight.
It boiled up in his heart. Liquid fire suddenly seethed through his veins, broiling heat that didn't burn or sear his body or his clothes.
Across from him, the other was rising up, digging his fingers and the clawshot into the ice to stop his skid, and started to stand.
The fires within him beat against his body, pulsing through his muscles and his veins and his mind. Despite the deathly chill, sweat poured down Link's brow.
The other scrambled to his feet, and with a howl, he charged, raising the clawshot toward the Hero's face.
Link grimaced, and then sent the searing heat building within straight through his arms and out his left hand. He dropped the Master Sword and slammed his palm into the ground.
The sun rose on Zora's Domain, if only for a couple of seconds, as Din's wrath was unleashed.
A dome of roiling fire seared out from around him, scorching stone and sending gouts of steam from every icy surface it contacted. The individual strands of flame whipped and twisted, alive in their own right, shaped by magic and Link's spirit and unleashed like hellish snakes.
The struck the other as he charged across the ice, and he recoiled, screaming in pain, clothes set ablaze and his armor glowing white hot as the heat seared it. Steam roared up around him as the ice melted and erupted, and suddenly he was falling.
Then, it was cold. So cold that the sudden shift in temperature caused his armor to snap and break as frigid water rushed up through him, filling his every extremity with sheer, deathly cold.
He thrashed, twisting, heat sapped away by the pervading, frigid water and leaving in its stead only a dead numbness. He screamed as he sank, air escaping his lungs and the chill waters replacing it.
The dark magic that sustained his life could only defend against physical damage. It fought to keep him alive, but even the spells of Ganondorf, King of Evil, could not stave off the swift, rapid death of his body as air was lost and lethal cold settled in.
As he reached the bottom of the lake, the dark mirror of the Hero of Time began to break apart, flares of dark, purple light emerging from his corpse as it dissolved into the once-sacred waters of Jabu-Jabu's home.
On the surface of the lake, the ice was already reforming, as if annoyed that they had been evaporated, and within minutes, the grotto a still, frozen, and darkened place once more.
Back inside, in the slightly warmer confines of Zora's Domain, Link winced as he walked down the smooth stone ramp toward the throne room.
"Are you hurt?" Sheik asked, and Link grunted.
"Oh, you bet," he replied, wincing as they walked back into the throne room, passing the still-silent king.
"You need to rest," the Sheikah said. "Let me patch you up."
"I'll live," Link grunted, straightening and walking more steadily. "But rest sounds like a good idea anyway."
"He doesn't rest," Navi grumbled, her tinny voice annoyed. Sheik looked back toward the lake outside.
"Yeah," Link said. "Ganondorf's making copies of me now. He must be bored or something." Link raised a hand and gestured toward the King. "So . . . bad juju?"
"Yes, bad . . . juju," Sheik replied. The Sheikah glanced up at Navi, who bobbed once in a dismissive manner, as if saying don't ask me.
"What happened?" Link asked settling onto a non-frigid part of the floor. He opened his pack and took out some bandages, and got to work, peeling off his armor and his tunic enough to apply the cloth.
"Zora's Domain has been cursed," the Sheikah said, and he grunted.
"I thought the ice was just redecoration," he mumbled. "Give a nice touch of death and finality to the place."
Sheik glared down at him for a second, and he shrugged.
"Near death experiences get me cynical," he said, after a moment. "Sorry. Please, keep on."
"The Temple of Water has been corrupted by Ganondorf," Sheik continued. "Without it, Lord Jabu-Jabu couldn't protect the Zora. The Zora themselves tried to deny Ganondorf control of the waterways around Hyrule. His response was . . . decisive."
"So, the Zora are all dead," Link muttered, to which Sheik's head shook.
"Not dead, simply put into stasis." He raised an eyebrow. "Frozen. Only . . . without the freezing and the death. This ice is magical. You saw what happened when you melted the ice in the lake. The curse sustains it and keeps the Zora here in a state of suspension."
"And the curse is powered by the Water Temple and whatever's inside it," Link said, nodding. "Gotcha. Me and Navi figured most of that out already, but good to know for sure. So, clean out the Temple, break the curse, break the ice." He frowned. "Guess just using Din's Fire won't work on this ice."
"No," Sheik said, head shaking, and that made Link's eyebrow rise again.
"You're familiar with the spell," he said, and the Sheikah nodded. A couple of seconds passed. "And?"
"And?" Sheik replied, raising both eyebrows in turn.
"There's an awful lot you don't tell me," Link muttered, leaning back against the wall and closing his eyes. "Like the locations of all these Temples."
"If I knew where they all were, I would have told you," Sheik replied. "And even if I'd told you where the Temple was, that wouldn't have stopped you from coming here, and being ambushed by that thing."
"Lucky he decided to fight me in a dramatic location," Link grunted. "Why'd you come after me?"
"I know where the Water Temple is," the Sheikah replied, and that made Link's eyes open. "You won't be able to reach it on your own, unless you can breathe in water."
"Naturally," Link said. "Never easy, is it?"
"It can be," Sheik said, "sometimes." A moment later, the backpack slung across the Sheikah's shoulder fell to the floor, and Sheik opened it.
"It's . . . ." Link frowned, looking for the proper word. "Blue."
"And it has flippers."
Link glared at Sheik. It was a couple of days later, and they were well outside the Domain and the chill waters flowing around it. The grassy plains of Hyrule stretched out in all directions, and the river ran below them.
"You'll need them," Sheik explained. "They're useful for underwater movement."
"It. Has. Flippers."
Link wasn't a terribly fashionable sort, but the Zora-crafted scale armor he was wearing was ridiculous by his standards. Silvery scale mail covered his torso, and a silky blue cloth extended from head to toe, and scale gauntlets covered his forearms and hands. That part was fine, and he actually though that, minus the rest, the outfit was actually kind of stylish.
But he was wearing a big metal fish on his head. And big black flippers instead of boots.
"How do I fight in flippers?" he demanded.
The "fish" was more of a bronze and sapphire studded combination of helm and facemask, but it had a long and floppy blue extension on the back that reminded him of his favored hat, except it was shaped like a long and floppy fish, complete with fins.
"They're necessary," Sheik repeated.
And there were the flippers, too.
Above them, Navi sighed and drifted away, to where Epona was grazing on some grass.
"This is going to take a while," she murmured, and Epona snorted, as if in sympathy. At the river bank, the argument continued on for a good long while.
It was cold and it was empty and he was alone and yellow light dug into his eye sockets and hard stone pressed against his body and a shadow loomed overhead and-
–couldn't breathe –
A gauntleted hand's fingers were wrapped around his throat, raising his naked body up into the air.
Yellow eyes glared down at him, but there was no anger in them. Only disgust, and disappointment.
Somehow, that was worse than the towering rages he'd endured before.
"Pathetic," Ganondorf snarled, looking down at the naked, dark copy of the Hero of Time. "Useless. Worthless. Pointless."
His arm flicked, and the copy smashed into a nearby wall, blacking out for a few seconds. When he came to, his head was wreathed in agony, and the King of Evil loomed in the center of the room, amber light streaming in from the stained glass windows.
"Master," he breathed, trying to rise, and did so shakily.
Ganondorf gestured, and a bolt of white energy smashed into him, throwing him against the wall again. Snarling, the King of Evil stalked toward him.
"I do not understand what value you have to me, now," he rumbled. "Such a pathetic thing groveling before me. You are like a child, but at least a child has an excuse for being useless!" He raised a hand, another bolt of energy surging into his fingers, and he fired again, hitting the clone in the chest. The creature fell back against the wall, grunting in pain.
"Now," the King of Evil rumbled, looming overhead. "You do not need to explain your failure, for I saw it clearly with my own eyes. Therefore, you should prove to me that I have a use for you."
The creature stared up at Ganondorf, meeting his eyes. His red eyes connected with the King's yellow, and a myriad of emotions hit him: shame, at losing to his enemy and this losing his master's favor. Fear, for his own well-being and for the agonies he knew his master could inflict if he was angered. Rage, at being so humiliated by the Hero.
And determination that he would not be defeated again so easily.
He stood, shakily. He reached up, pressing his hands against the wall, rising as best he could with his legs so weak from the reincarnation. Ganondorf raised a hand, summoning more power into his fingers, but he continued to rise, clambered up onto his feet. The energy in the King's fist grew to almost blinding levels, but he managed to steady himself and meet Ganondorf's gaze.
The King of Evil loomed over him, nearly twice his height, and the power in his hands shivered the air. It was enough strength to kill a man in an instant, boiling the flesh off his bones. Their eyes stayed locked together.
Ganondorf finally grunted, and with a flick of his fingers, the magic in his hand faded away.
"You are fortunate your existence is tied in with the Temples," he muttered, turning and stalking back across the room, cape billowing behind him. "That spell was complex, but it might yield some value. At the very least, I can afford to keep sending you out to die like a worm."
"Then I can go out to avenge my defeat, my King?" the creature asked. Ganondorf paused, and then turned.
With a flick of his wrist, he released a bolt of magic that blew the creature's head clean off his shoulders. The body collapsed, falling apart into fire and ash.
"Yes," Ganondorf said, nodding, and walking away from the summoning chamber. Behind him, darkness began to meld together as the magic binding the creature to this world reformed him, using the strength of the corrupted Temples. In less than an hour, he would be conscious again.
"Yes, my champion, you can."
Author's Notes: Yeah, that took too long to write. But hey, Dark Link. :D
Next chapter, the Water Temple. Yay. :(
Until next chapter . . . .