Chapter Five: Shadow
The old temple rose like a beast from the overgrown forest floor. It was a small one, barely enough room for a dozen people, and the boards over the door frame nearly as rotted as the door. Someone had tried to seal it shut, and from the plants growing up the walls and even from the roof, Sheik guessed they had succeeded.
Still, it was shelter, and after the events of last night both Link and Sheik really needed the comfort of a ceiling before they finally went to sleep. The door turned out to be not so much rotted as repeatedly kicked in; evidently Link and Sheik were not the first ones to think of using this place.
As he climbed under the crumbling barricade, Sheik couldn't help noticing the look of the place. It wasn't like any modern temples. No pews or stained glass, just an open floor and alter at the back. There was some kind of reflecting pool beneath the alter, but the growth over the windows made the water look inky black.
Packs and spare cloaks were spread out in a corner to form a makeshift bed. There was some rather awkward half-sentences and gestures before they agreed to sleep close, but not really together-together. Exhausted, Sheik at least fell asleep almost instantly.
The shadow listened to them both breathe through the morning, and felt much better for it.
When Link woke, late-afternoon sunlight was streaming through the gaps in the branches. He smelled smoke, and sat up to find Sheik had lit a fire on the alter.
Sheik turned and smiled. His hair was still tousled from sleep, and even with the mask on his smile was stunning. Link coughed and pulled his makeshift blanket up a little higher.
"How long have you been up?"
"Not long. I pretty much rolled out of bed and got some wood."
Link refrained from making a very bad joke that would not have helped his current predicament. "Smells good. What are you cooking?"
Sheik stabbed something with his knife and pulled it out of the fire. "Found some wild apples."
"Mm. There's a stream a little ways out back."
"Okay. I won't be long."
Link took his cloak with him, and Sheik didn't ask. The cold stream was enough both to calm him down and wake him up, and he was feeling much better when he returned to the temple.
Even though Sheik looked adorable with messy hair, Link had no such illusions about his own appearance. As he approached Sheik and the waiting breakfast, he glanced in the reflecting pool to try and flatten his bangs.
His reflection grinned at him.
Link yelped and jumped back, he heard Sheik drop something next to the alter. He scrambled over next to him, the sticky remains of a baked apple still clinging to his fingers.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah… Yes, I'm fine." Link leaned over the pool again. From the ink-black water, his own face stared up at him.
"How many of there is you?" the reflection asked. When they both stared at it blankly, it scowled and added, "I know, I know, that was horrible grammar. I'm not sure how you say that properly. Is it 'are?'"
"Who- what are you?" Link demanded, wishing his sword wasn't buried in blankets.
"A shadow," the reflection said. "A living shadow, I mean, you know, obviously. Because I can talk. Although… some dead things can talk too. But I'm not dead. I'm alive."
"Do you have a name?" Link asked. Sheik was clinging to Link's arm, and Link had yet to find a reason to ask him to stop.
"Lots! People keep giving me new ones. Dark will work, though. Dark was the first one."
"All right, Dark…" Link glanced around the temple. "Why are you here? Why are you in that pool?"
The reflection, Dark, winced. "Oh, you know… reasons."
"No," Link frowned, knowing that tone. "We don't know. Why not explain it to us?"
Dark sighed. "You're going to get all suspicious. I am a victim of racial profiling!"
"If a human kills a person or two, they just ask why. If a shadow-person-thing kills a person or hundred, they go and seal him in a reflecting pool! It's not fair!"
"Hundred?" Sheik repeated, afraid. His grip increased. Still not a good enough reason to speak up.
"In my defense, that was spread out over like fifty years. Maybe more. You'd be surprised how easy it is to lose track. And I was being paid for a lot of them too. Did some mercenary jobs. Hey do they still do that? Pay people to kill people?"
"All right, back up," Link held out his free hand, still unnerved when his reflection did not do the same. "You're a shadow."
"And you… killed a lot of people, and were imprisoned in this pool."
"Yes. A long time ago. I'm not sure if they ever meant to let me out, but I'd appreciate a hand?"
"Not on your life. You really think we're dumb enough to let a convicted murderer out of his prison based on nothing but his word?"
"I've seen your kind." Sheik's voice was low and dangerous, but his grip on Link's arm was starting to sting. "You take the form of a person, and you can copy all their movements. You're in the stories, at least three, maybe more."
"See? That's what I mean! You think just because my people might have attempted to kill a hero or two that makes us all killers?"
"You are a killer," Link pointed out. "You admitted it yourself."
"Oh, well, if you want to get technical."
"I think we do." Link gently pried one of Sheik's hands off his arm and squeezed it in his own. "You okay?" he asked softly.
"I've seen his kind…"
"I'm not my kind, okay!" Dark snapped. He sounded serious this time. "Look, we're people, you know? We're not all the same! You can't judge us all by the example of one. How many honest hard-working citizens make it into the legends, huh? No! It's the ones who do crazy stupid shit that get remembered, even though they're maybe one in a thousand! I lived among humans for more than a hundred years. I made some mistakes. And the ones in the stories? I'm betting they were young. Shadows don't communicate like you meat-people, we talk to each other all the time. Suddenly not being able to hear everyone, having to use bits you didn't have a moment ago to speak, it's… it's disorienting! I wasn't good at it at first either, but I was lucky. I had friends who helped me." He shook his head. "When someone summons us, we obey. We don't have a choice. And if we've never had a physical body before, it's… It's…"
"Okay," Link said quietly. "All right, we understand."
"Sorry," Sheik added, though he still sounded scared. "You… you are a killer, though."
"I was," Dark agreed. "A long time ago. A very long time. I've served my time; I've paid for the lives I took."
Link and Sheik exchanged a glance. Sheik still didn't look convinced, but he squeezed Link's hand.
"Dark…" Sheik said slowly. "Do you, as a shadow, have abilities beyond just copying someone?"
"Oh sure. Well, I do. Well, I did. It's been a while."
"Would you be able to tell if there's another shadow here? In this world? And who summoned it?"
"Well… not exactly. I'd know if someone was a shadow if I saw them, but I'd have to see them."
"Then I don't need you." Sheik let go of Link entirely and walked back toward the fire to put it out.
"Wait!" Dark exclaimed plaintively. "I can do other things. I can sense magic, I can feel it. And I can tell when there's been a rift in the world. I don't feel anything in here, nothing. I haven't for… so long." His voice sounded hollow. "Nothing but cold. I don't have a body, I can't feel warmth, so why… why is it so cold?"
"How long have you been in there?" Link asked, startled by what sounded for all the world like his own voice filled with pain.
"I don't know. No way to tell in here. I can't see unless someone looks in the pool and I can borrow their eyes. I can hear, though. I wonder why…"
"What was the year when you went in?"
Link blinked. "What, but that doesn't make sense. It's 1385 now."
"He's going by the old calendar," Sheik said quietly. "That would have been about three hundred years ago." He paused, and thought. "Three hundred and twelve."
"That is a lot of years," Dark said. "Every… everyone I know is dead. Again." He sighed. "You know what? Leave me in the pool. Let me go insane. It would be a relief at this point. I'm tired of feeling bad for things I've done."
Link glanced at Sheik, who nodded.
"Dark, if I help you out of there, if I let you copy my shape, what will you do?"
"I have no idea."
Link chuckled. "All right, let's see if we can't help you with that." He bent over the pool. "How do I get you out of there?"
Beaming, Dark stretched a hand toward him. He still just looked like a reflection, but Link copied the motion and reached his opposite hand toward the water. It touched the surface, fingertips brushed his, and Link plunged his hand the rest of the way in and grabbed Dark's.
He yanked him out of the pool, somehow bone-dry, an identical twin in shades of black and gray.
Dark was still beaming as he ran his hands over his chest. He was dressed in clothes identical to Link's, only pants and an undershirt since he'd been sleeping, all in black. His eyes were a little more slanted, his canine teeth a little more pointed, but no one looking at them would doubt they were related. Even though they weren't.
Sheik shivered and returned to Link's side, offering him a warm piece of fruit. "If he tries anything…"
"Don't worry," Link assured him. "I won't let him hurt you."
Sheik laughed dryly. "That's not what I'm worried about."
"Okay!" Dark clapped his hands. "Point me to the nearest city; I need to learn how fashion has changed. Also, are there still whores? I need one of those. Unless you two-"
"No!" they exclaimed in unison.
"I was just asking." He crossed his arms and huffed, his hips jutting out. Despite Link's very masculine body, the shadow moved and stood like a woman. The next few days were going to be very confusing.
"Do you need to still be here?" Link asked Sheik, concern written all over his face. "I mean, for your quest. After last night, I wouldn't mind spending a few days in a city."
"Neither would I," Sheik said. "It's all right. There's someone I want to confer with anyway."
"You're on a quest?" Dark perked up. "Is that why you wanted to know if I can sense other shadows? I can in my natural form, actually, but only if they're in their natural form as well. Is the shadow you're looking for taking the shape of a person? Do they look like you?"
"One at a time!" Sheik exclaimed, unable to hold back a small smile. "I can't talk about my quest, but… part of what I'm looking for looks like a copy of a person, yes."
"Well, shadows aren't the only shapeshifters, so that doesn't narrow it down a whole lot."
"I know." Sheik sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Let's pack up and get going. Where's the closest town, Link?"
"As long as it hasn't been abandoned, there's a mining town not far from here. We can probably get there by tomorrow night."
"Mining town? Then they must have a way to get to a bigger city."
Link nodded. "Last time I checked, at least."
"Will there be whores there?" Dark asked.
"Probably," Link said at the same time as Sheik exclaimed, "No!"
Sheik glared at him. Link shrugged. "Well there are. I'm just saying."
"We are not encouraging the murderer down a path of debauchery!"
"Please Mom?" Dark mock-whined. "Just one whore? Or two, but it will be at the same time so that hardly counts."
"I don't care," Sheik huffed and went to pack up his things. Link leaned against the altar and helped himself to the remaining baked apples. Dark glanced at Sheik before joining him.
"Hey, so, your girlfriend-"
"Sheik is just a friend," Link said. "And he's a man."
"Right. Well uh, does he know magic?"
"Yes, a bit."
"Awesome," Dark sighed, sounding defeated. "I guess I'm with you guys for a while."
"You can do what you want, you know."
"No, I don't know. That's the thing. I've been out of the loop for three centuries, I'm lucky the language hasn't changed too much! Much less just wandering off on my own and trying to make a life for myself. I don't have to eat, so… I mean, you don't mind if I stick with you, do you?"
"I don't," Link shrugged. "Sheik might."
"And he's the one with the magic." The shadow scowled. "You should hurry up and bang him. Everything looks brighter from the other side of a come."
"Oh gods." Link rolled his eyes. "Are you going to be like this the whole time?"
"Hey, we're all adults here! I think we're adults. Your Sheikah is pretty short though, dang." He looked to where Sheik was bent over, shoving his cloak in his bag. "Not bad from the back."
"I am not even talking to you."
Sheik slung his bag over his shoulder, pulling on his gloves with his teeth. "Are you coming?"
The shadow grinned and Link elbowed him in the ribs before he could answer. "Yeah, just a second." He finished the apple and wrapped the rest in his handkerchief, handing Dark one to keep his mouth busy.
"Look," he said in a low voice, "I like Sheik a lot. A whole lot. But I don't even know if he fancies men, and I'm not going to screw up our traveling arrangement by making unwanted advances. Either way, if you keep implying it, I'll make sure we leave you behind. You'll have no friends, no one to help you. Got it?"
Dark nodded, mouth full.
"Good," Link smiled. "And we need to get you some clothes of your own."
"I like purple."
"I'm sure you do."
Who loves Dark?
I LOVE DARK.