Shadow-Tree

A Dark Link Encounter

As he crossed the plains,

His eyes grazed futilely the unending light—

Searching for what shade he could gain.

Though he looked

As long as he could walk,

Every inch of Shadow was took.

Yet as soon as he had given up—

There it was!...

But be careful what you wish for—

This Shadow is not as it normally does…

--

There was not an inch of shade for miles. For as far as he could see there were only the bronze-gold sheaves of wild wheat that had surrounded him nonstop for days. They blew gently, mockingly in an irregular breeze that only worsened the heat he felt burning through him, bittersweet sweat rolling down his neck and back and into his eyes. A white-hot sun glowed incessantly on his bare shoulders, turning the weapons slung across his back by leather straps into burning iron brands against his pale, sunburned skin. Not a tree grew within sight; the seemingly barren, unending plains—unmarred by a single green-leafed plant—carved a harsh emptiness inside him, as he had grown up among cool forests and chattering brooks.

Feeling hopelessness begin to worm it's way through his mind in an attempt to consume him for its unending appetite, Link shook his head vigorously to keep his thoughts off it. His thick mat of blonde hair moved little, plastered to his forehead by sweat. He irritably brushed the long, wet bangs from his sapphire eyes for the thousandth time that day, glowering at the suffocating plains of heat stretched out mercilessly in front of him.

'If I can't survive this,' he wondered as he flopped down in the tall stalks of wild prairie grasses to rest, 'How in Farore's name am I supposed to make it across Gerudo Desert?' The teenage Hero felt himself wishing yet again he hadn't insisted that Epona—the trusty, faithful mustang who answered to none but him—stay behind at Lon Lon Ranch with her newest foal. Crossing Hyrule Fields on foot was looking like suicide to him now, though it hadn't seemed so bad when he first decided to go.

As he was about to continue this train of thought, Link happened to glance up again at the miles of prairie he still had to traverse and felt his dry mouth drop open in utter shock. He blinked, closed his eyes tightly, then opened them again to make sure he wasn't seeing things.

Sure enough, the tree was still there.

"What in all Goddesses' names…" the boy whispered, stumbling down the hill towards it. His equipment bounced painfully against his burned back and heels, but in his utter bewilderment he paid them no mind. He was preoccupied with questions about the nature of the mysterious plant: What was a tree like that doing growing in the middle of this heat-bath—especially where it hadn't been just twenty seconds earlier?

Link supposed he didn't have any reason to complain. Where there was a tree, there was shade. Where there was a tree, there was also bound to be water-soaked soil—which usually meant there was an underground spring of some sort nearby. Still, that it should appear as if by magic, and that its colors should be so dark… Instinct didn't like the looks of this, and he knew he should be obeying that little nagging feeling in the back of his mind. But shade was shade—right?

Yet there was something dreadfully wrong with this shade. The teen knew it as soon as he crossed into the folds of its cooling embrace. No patch of shade should be this cool; he almost wanted to put his tunic back on. Every trace of the suffocating heat outside seemed to have completely disappeared, as if it had never existed except for the proof on Link's skin. It was almost as if he had been transported to an entirely different place.

The warrior warily unbuckled the straps around his chest and carefully set his burdens on the deep-green grass beneath his boots, making a note of everything he saw around him as his training dictated.

Suddenly he straightened and spun on his heel, trying to quiet his breathing so he could listen. But there was nothing—not even the hint of a breeze stirred the leaves arched like a welcome canopy over his head. Then he heard it again—this time more distinctly. It was a low chuckle, and it sounded as if someone was sitting on a thick branch near the trunk of the tree behind him.

He didn't have time to react. Someone yelled as they dropped onto him from above, throwing him to the ground from their weight. Link quickly noted there was something strange about that feeling, though, as he reared up onto his feet and dumped the thing from his shoulders. The weight of it on him hadn't been entirely human. He'd been jumped before; he knew the feeling he got when any person made contact with his skin. It was as if the weight was there, yet not there—solid, but fragilely so.

The boy turned to face his attacker as he scooped up one of the weapons he had dropped, thanking the Goddesses profusely when he found it was the Master Sword. If there was any weapon in the world he wanted in his hand at that moment, it was the Blade of Evil's Bane.

Link froze as he found himself face-to-face with a mirror-image of himself, a shadowed version of his own blade pointed straight at him. Only then did he recognize the being for what it was—

Dark Link.

An evil manifestation of every flaw the Hero had, of every mistake he had ever made.

A twisted being representing every heart he had ever broken—all of them unintentionally.

That lack-of-will had been twisted into intention and shaped into Dark Link to remind him of the guilt he felt whenever his mind decided to dwell on those and other such matters.

"I thought I had killed you!" Link growled, eying the tip of the Apprentice Blade carefully. It was little more than six inches from his face—a very bad place for it to be.

The being grinned wickedly. "That's what you get for thinking," it countered gleefully. The Blade withdrew for a fraction of a second as Dark Link wound up for a killing blow.

Link acted instantly, the Master Sword whipping from its sheath to block the blow faster than his dark self had anticipated. The look of triumph it had worn morphed into a sneer as the being glared at him from the other side of the crossed swords.

The boy just smiled. It always gave him such pleasure to thoroughly spoil his every enemy's plans to remove him from their path to world dominance. They just never saw it coming—victory was the only thing they could comprehend in their little schemes. Failure wasn't an option until it became a reality, and even then they tried so hard to deny that fact.

Dark Link heaved against Link's defensive stance and managed to knock him back a step. Link came at it again, swinging the Master Sword in a diagonal slash toward the dark one's shoulder. The Apprentice Blade easily matched its glowing partner, darkness burning in a fiery wreath around the unnatural steel.

Time began to slow for Link as he matched his opponent blow for blow, though the two combatants were moving at almost twice a normal human's speed. Block, parry, a dodge, and they would back away again. Dark Link would usually rejoin the battle first, and Link would again be dodging, parrying, counterattacking, blocking, and parrying again. To an outsider, the dance of steel would have seemed almost preplanned. Numerous encounters between the two irrevocably linked beings had conditioned them to know every move, every block, every counter the other was likely to make.

But it only takes one wrong step to fall off the tightrope.

And for the first time in centuries, the Hero of Time fell.

Time had sped back up. Both fighters were loosing strength, weakening. The blows came more slowly, were more intermittent; easily anticipated, but not as quickly defended against. Dark Link had the advantage—it had begun the fight when Link was already tired, sweaty, and sore from days of travel in the hot sun. The dark one had been biding its time, gathering strength while the Hero toiled, unknowingly moving closer and closer toward the place where Dark Link was in its element.

Finally the Apprentice Blade clashed with the Master Sword and the sacred blade collapsed beneath its weight. Its wielder stumbled but couldn't recover his balance and fell on his back. The victor beamed triumphantly as the fallen one struggled to his knees, a manic gleam in its onyx eyes. Churning darkness swirled excitedly around the dark blade as Dark Link shifted it into a two-handed grip and raised it over his head.

There was only one thing Link had time to do.

"Nayru's Love!" he shouted as the Apprentice Blade fell from the apex of its arc. He closed his eyes and prayed it would work.

The boy heard a dull clang as metal clashed with something solid. He opened one eye warily and beamed triumphantly as once again his dark self's grin was turned upside-down. The mirror image of the sacred blade had come up against a magic shield nothing of evil intent could penetrate as long as Link had energy enough to fortify it.

Only one thing left for him to do now.

"Din's Fire!"

Dark Link screamed sharply as holy fire burst from the fallen Hero in a flashing ring of light, ripping through the being of evil as though it wasn't even there. The Apprentice Blade fell from its hands and disappeared in the flames, burned to its most basic components and banished once more to the Evil Realm. Its wielder quickly followed suit, its scream fading mournfully into nothing.

With a huge sigh, the teen gratefully released the energy holding his shield in place and fell onto his back, enjoying the soothing shade of the huge tree arching over him. He closed his eyes, savoring the light breeze that caressed his sweaty body. What he wouldn't give for a drink of water just then, though—that was the only thing missing.

"Hero of Time, thank you for driving away the evil spirit."

The boy sat up with a start. Who could possibly be here? With Dark Link gone now, he should be completely and totally alone again.

"The tree, O' foolish one," the voice chided playfully. "I have been released from that creature's spells by its banishment, and am in your debt for quite a while." He could have sworn the tree would be smiling if it had a face right then. "I suppose I can start with informing you that there is a small spring just behind me."

Link grinned foolishly. Evil banished and a tree owing him a debt of gratitude, paid in much-needed water? It was just another day in the life of the Hero of Time.


Author's Note: So this is ShadowTree, a little Zelda one-shot I came up with one hot summer day as I was watering our numerous plants. For those who are wondering, yes this Link is the same from my Immortals Cycle (the ID add-on for the "first" one is 4555613). This particular incident is about a year or two after the end of Golden Pendant (the aforementioned "first" story), as he would still be the teen described here but he wouldn't be in the middle of a frantic quest to save Hyrule.

So there it is. And yeah, I know the poem at the beginning stinks, but I stink at rhyming--but other than that, let me know what you think. I usually don't do one-shots. ;) D

Zel

P.s.--I'll edit this little note as I feel like it 'cause I always find there's something I want to say after I've posted something that I have to put in later... -sigh- D