Okay... hang on just a minute... Gargravarr hasn't actually managed to put together a Zelda chapter of all things, has he? He HAS? Well, who'd-a thunk it. I think I'll drop in on Lucifer next and get some ice cream...
In all seriousness, I have so much written work still in states of half-completion, so many stories I've tried to tell and abandoned. I need to keep writing, I know that deep down, or I'll lose my focus completely. As of late, I seem to be recovering my muse; I've been reading A LOT of fantasy (working my way through A Song of Ice & Fire, for one, LOVE my Kindle), and I guess it put me back in the right mindset. So *shrugs* maybe you'll see more writing from me soon, maybe not, I just can't promise anything, though I have been working on the oh-so-torturously-tricky plot of Scars (seriously, it gets so convoluted I'm astonished to think I can continue it at times), and perhaps in the next couple of months will post another chapter of that. I do appreciate, though, that I have probably lost a fair amount of my audience at this point, and I realise I probably won't get a lot of reviews, but if any of my old readers do happen to drop by, I'd love to hear from you!
Enjoy!


Chapter 6
Faron Woods

(~^~)

Here we were.

I finally heaved my body off the ground.

Midna wrenching me through this… wall… drew back those unpleasant memories once more, when I had feared for my life.

What looked like a wall somehow became like water when she once again threw her hand at me. I had no time to react; she had grabbed me with whatever mystical powers she had and pulled me through.

It was very unpleasant, passing through this wall; it lasted only an instant, but it was like diving into freezing water. It stung at my skin, as if it were washing all the heat away from me. I felt almost like I was falling through ice.

And then it was gone, and I was panting on the ground again. The feeling of cold didn't leave me, back here in this place that drained the land of its light.

As I picked myself up off the ground, my limbs shaky, I realised the imp was glaring at me. Why wouldn't she understand I was not like her? She knew we were different, and yet she expected me to be up, on my feet and racing ahead of her. The look on her face made my blood boil. But I had no time to express myself to her; before I could blink, she was gone from the air and had landed on my back once more. I instinctively shook my shoulders, but my mind told me it was useless. Sure enough, her small but vicious hands yanked my ears, and I grunted from the sharp pain.

I couldn't stand much more of this. I was completely at her mercy. She could hurt me and I couldn't even touch her. But I had no other choice. Either I did what she said, or Ilia and Colin would still be lost, somewhere out there, alone and afraid. I had to get them back.

If this imp hadn't dangled the promise of help in front of my nose… my snout… I would have torn her throat out by now. And if she didn't follow through with that promise, I really would.

I shivered as I looked around.

Black squares were once more rising before my eyes. I didn't care any more what they were; all I knew was that it meant I was trapped in this dangerous land, my only ally this infernal creature of dubious loyalty.

She kicked my sides and I growled, but I started walking anyway. As I walked, I studied the path I knew so well, now so… alien… in this strange light. The entire place, it was completely different. Like I had been whisked away from Ordon, from Hyrule itself, and stranded in a distant land.

From what Midna and Her Highness had told me, I wasn't far off.

We'd been right, Rusl and I… that feeling we'd both encountered here before was a warning. Yet whatever had happened here had rushed in too fast for anyone to counter. If it was even close to what Her Highness had gone through… I had to do something.

But then, what could I do about it? I wasn't magical, like She and Midna were; I couldn't see what I was supposed to do here. All I could see was that I had become quite an effective killer in this body.

And what scared me about that was that it felt good.

When I had killed that beast in the Spring, I hadn't even thought that I was ending its life. Instead I had felt sweet victory when it finally fell to the ground, like a primitive competition to find the strongest.

Maybe that was why she wanted me, so I could kill things for her. But fighting back this Twilight… wasn't that like trying to fight the light of the Sun?

And yet… the Light Spirit that had revealed itself to me, the mighty Ordona… I would never look upon that Spring the same way again. It had to be a great blessing, to see the holy being that watched over our lands. My belief in the Holy Goddesses had never been very strong, but now I was starting to believe my prayers were not being lost to the air. But at the same time, amongst its words of admiration, and its declarations that I was some kind of 'Great Hero chosen by the Goddesses themselves,' it had decreed that I was the one to defeat the Twilight.

How in the world was I supposed to do that?

As I reached the end of the field, I wondered why the Goddesses hadn't chosen someone who actually stood a chance of understanding what was being asked of them.

"Hmm… so these are the weapons you use in your world?"

I'd noticed weight shuffling on my back, and now I heard Midna's voice sounding a little… muffled… I flicked my head around to glance at her.

I nearly yelped as I flinched back.

Midna had somehow managed to 'wear' the shield on her face, like a mask, but what was more pressing was that she held the sword… and she was swinging it blindly!

I growled at her as I ducked my head down – that was one of Rusl's swords, it was sharp! I could have sworn I felt its blade cleave through some of the fur around my neck.

She seemed to heed my warning and stopped. I tensed up, my anger building once more. She didn't even seem apologetic when I turned a glare at her. Instead, she commented on how pointless the weapons were.

Apparently not enough to amuse her. No sooner had she thrown the sword into the ground than she dropped the shield over my face. I shook my head to try and dislodge it, growling angrily, when with a snap, the two things vanished in a puff of black squares.

When the shield disappeared it let me see her smirking face. Not that I was expecting anything less, but she could have cut me with that sword, and yet she seemed to think it was nothing more than simple fun. I was about to bark my feelings at her when she continued.

"All right, a promise is a promise, I guess…"

If I still had two legs, I would be clawing my fingers in frustration. She was keeping her word. I didn't know what was more annoying… the abuse I was taking from her, or the fact that I had to take it, because she would keep her promise in the end. It meant I couldn't stay angry at her… not if I wanted that help. With an almost silent snarl, I let go of the tension within me. Submitting to her.

There was one tiny glimmer of hope, though.

She said she trusted me.

Perhaps not enough to leave my head attached to my neck, but… it was progress. Maybe if she trusted me she'd tell me more about what was going on.

Then came the catch.

I had to do something more for her.

Gather things.

What things? She wouldn't tell me, and I couldn't exactly ask her.

Trust me. Well… she trusted me a little now, and… well, she hadn't gotten me killed yet… With a heaviness, I accepted I'd have to trust her. I still didn't like it, but I needed her, she needed me.

She lay across my head, and as if sensing my agreement, patted my had, just like she were complimenting a dog.

I swear, Midna… after you get me Colin and Ilia back, I never want to see you again!

Softly, a sound began to fill my ears. I turned my ears to its direction; the imp riding on my back shifted as well, so I guessed she could hear it too.

It was some kind of melody, but it was tuneless, morose… a ballad of indescribable sadness. Coupled with the way I heard things in this Twilight, it sounded chilling… haunting… I just knew I would be hearing that sound in my mind for days to come. In just a few moments I had worked out where it was coming from.

Faron Spring.

"Hear that?" My watcher said quietly, indicating with a nudge to my shoulder at the direction of the Spring. I looked directly at it to show I did. "That's the lament of a Spirit that's had its light stolen…"

A Light Spirit?

There was more than one, here? Another majestic creature, a servant of the Goddesses… and it was making that soul-wrenching sound?

"I wonder where it is…" And predictably, she giggled again.

Why is this all so funny to you? I wondered absently.

I felt her shift, and for a moment she lay absent-mindedly against my back, seemingly disinterested in the world surrounding us.

"Better hurry up…" She said idly. "It's not my fault what happens to your world if you don't find that light…"

I growled and gave in. Her little ploy to get me moving worked. The last thing I wanted was for this to get any worse; if she was saying I could bring back the light to these woods, could stop this hideous place bearing down upon Ordon… I had to. Both as my duty to Her Highness… and to make sure Colin, Ilia and I all had homes to go back to…

Even with Midna's hint, I didn't need to think about where the sound was coming from. My lupine ears guided me sure as an arrow, and I was greeted with an eerily familiar sight. Just like back in Ordon, golden light floated above the water of the spring. But unlike the mighty Ordona, this light was no majestic, ethereal animal. Instead, it was a shapeless apparition, hanging in midair. Its light was nothing compared to that radiated by Ordona, like a candle to the Sun. If anything… it was… pitiful… Sadness and lament hung around it, the air heavy with regret.

I stepped up to it.

(~+~)

Well, here I was again, looking at the Light Spirit… or what was left of it. It really did seem to be powerless, as if it actually had used up the last of its power trying to stop me, because it didn't react to me. I expected it to howl its indignity at me, that I should return, yet it remained silent until the beast plodded up to it. Maybe it had some power left, but nothing to do anything useful with.

When the beast sat before it, it finally awoke from its mourning. Not a word was spoken to me, instead it focused entirely on the wolf. It told him of the light it had so casually lost, scattered around the Woods, and that if the wolf could reclaim it, light could be restored to this place.

'Now that sounds good!'

I smirked at the thought. Breaking apart Zant's kingdom? Sounded like it was going to be easier than I thought.

The Spirit taught the wolf how to seek out the lost light, and without a moment's hesitation he spun around. He didn't even need me to kick his sides to spur him into action.

'That's it, boy. Go fetch!'

(*)

Minutes.

It felt like it had taken mere minutes.

The wolf had plowed through the forest at astonishing speed. My training seemed to be working. Nothing stood before the beast for more than a second before his vicious teeth and claws cut it down.

I had to say, I was impressed. I couldn't help but congratulate myself on moulding such a perfect servant. He didn't hesitate or question me the entire time. As soon as the scent of one of the light-stealing parasites reached his powerful senses, senses I'd taught him to use effectively, he was off. Seconds later the parasite was dead, its stolen light relinquished.

And now we were stalking the final bug the wolf could smell. I didn't need him to tell me this was the last one. His determination was obvious. His claws sank into the ground as he approached it, the sort of stride that dictated nothing would put him off his goal this close to achieving it.

I almost laughed, but for the sake of the final bug, settled for a content grin. Oh, we were close.

Seconds later, the beast beneath me sank to its knees and leapt. Claws and teeth bared, lunging faster than the eye could see… the bug had no chance. The beast's sharp instruments tore it to shreds instantly. No chance to defend itself.

I could feel the wolf's victorious thoughts as the final piece of light was released. Not a second was lost; just as the spirit had told him, he touched the light, collecting it, and suddenly his body pulsed with golden energy.

I yelped; light was beginning to enshroud him. I had no choice but to become a shadow; the light was becoming intense enough to burn me. The light cast shadows all around him, and in seconds the Twilight's hold began to weaken. I watched in amazement as the light burned away the forced Twilight that blanketed the woods. He wasn't even paying attention, instead galloping back to the Spirit. I followed at a distance, jumping between quickly-appearing shadows as the Twilight was ripped apart at the seams, light returning to the forest.

I did feel regret; I still held anger at his people for what they did, and I still felt this was only fair. But I quelled that with the thought of bringing about Zant's downfall. The temple would soon be free of the Twilight, my servant would recover his own light, and we would soon obtain a piece of the Shadow. Oh, I could feel it! This was almost too easy! We were close!

And so I was almost ecstatic when I watched the wolf skid to a halt in the spring's water, the light leaving his body to rejoin the Spirit. The instant the light and Spirit combined, pure white light erupted across the land.

Even as a shadow I had to shield my eyes. It was an intense light, stronger than anything I had ever seen before. No wonder Zant had been forced to steal it; this light held the world in balance. It was so powerful I couldn't help but be awed.

It didn't last long. The flare gave way, and in seconds…

In seconds the Twilight was gone.

Pure light bathed the land, just like beyond the Curtain, which I quickly realised was no longer there.

We'd done it.

My servant had restored this place to light, and with it, lit up the way forward.

I smirked as I turned to jump into his shadow.

'Well, well, isn't this fancy…'

(~^~)

I had never felt so warm in my life. I felt the light take up residence within me as I slew those hideous bugs, warmer every time I reclaimed another piece until it felt like the Sun dwelt within me. So warm, so powerful… I thundered back to the Spirit, my body feeling light with the power I carried. This felt amazing.

Even when I returned the light to its owner, I did not feel that warmth leave. It rushed across the forest, warming everything there.

I had never felt more proud. Suddenly, power took hold of me once more, and I felt myself change. I couldn't tell what was happening, but I didn't fear it. I knew it was something good. I just felt it.

When the feeling subsided, I was looking at Faron Spring, just as it had been the last time I looked upon it during the day. Overhead, the Sun burned warm and bright. I felt energy and life around me; the woods that had once held their breath were now breathing easy.

From out of the spring rose a magnificent shape of golden light. It spoke to me with joy, revealing itself to be the spirit Faron, a giant manifestation of a tree creature. It hung from an orb of golden light, light I knew I had recovered for it, and I felt pride and honour swell within me.

I'd done it!

I grinned at the thought, listening to the thanks from Faron, until it told me to look at myself.

I did so, and gasped.

I was standing on two legs again.

That was what I had felt, my wolf body had disappeared had disappeared.

I was myself again!

I felt tears shimmer in my eyes.

I had feared so much that I had lost my body, and now I had it back.

After some time of letting that fact sink in, I noticed my clothes were very different.

Faron explained as I looked myself over in astonishment. I wore a green single-piece tunic in place of my patchwork shirt, with smooth pants in place of my ill-fitting but homely trousers, and sturdy adventurer's boots. Topping my head, I felt a soft, long hat that curved down my back, and tough gauntlets covered my arms and hands. Hefty chainmail protected my chest under the tunic, above a soft undershirt. This suit fit perfectly, and felt right. I had never worn anything like it before.

The clothes of Hyrule's previous Hero, Chosen by the Goddesses.

Wow. I wasn't too sure how to feel about this. Me, a hero, chosen by the Goddesses… It felt surreal. That I'd been selected to combat this invasion, that I was intended to bring about peace in this land.

That I was to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Hero before me. We all knew of those stories, of how eons ago a young boy decided the fate of the entire land, facing untold evil with pure courage, and now the idea that there was some truth in those tales… I felt honoured, and humble to be chosen.

I would make people proud of me. I would rise to this, combat this evil, and bring back the peace, for all who dwelt in this land.

Faron told me one final thing before it parted; deep within the woods was a dark power, supposedly sealed away, that I would need to combat to fight the ruler of the Twilight Her Highness had told me of.

Strangely, I felt no hesitation, despite what I'd been through already. I felt… confident… stronger than I ever had been. I'd been dragged into this Twilight, changed into a wolf, fought it back and now here I stood, wearing the clothes of a legendary adventurer, and I felt ready to face anything that stood between Hyrule and freedom.

I fixed my gaze upon Faron, the weight of what it had told me beginning to grip my shoulders, but I nodded. I was determined to face this.

(~+~)

I had to say, the boy looked much better in green. I didn't think he even had pockets like I did, where else could those clothes have come from… but as I listened to the Spirit's words, I understood.

Well, Zelda's belief in those old legends appeared to have been justified, much to my surprise. She spoke of a 'Hero' rising before in the Light World's history, and here was my servant supposedly wearing his clothes.

I looked him over from within his shadow. The clothes fit him very well. He looked much more like a warrior now, and would doubtless be much better protected from the dangers I was going to drag him into.

At the back of my head were thoughts that the Gods were playing with us. Twice now, from two different, though related, creatures, I had heard that this boy was chosen by the Goddesses of this land to save it. Then we had the Blue-Eyed Beast, a Gods-chosen saviour of the Twili, and he was that, too. I didn't know what kind of conclusion to draw from it, whether this entire journey would just be entertainment for them or what. I shelved those thoughts for later. More pressing thoughts were emerging.

A piece is nearby, to the north. Its presence is weak, but unmistakeable. You must recover it, my lady.

'Oh, I intend to.'

I grinned when the Light Spirit began to speak of the 'dark power' within the temple, especially when it told the boy he would have to fight it. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear the Spirit even shot a glance at me, in the depths of the boy's shadow.

'Maybe it's finally seen sense – it knows that power is rightfully mine, and if it wants to see it that way, letting me go get it will benefit us all.

The boy nodded, and I could see determination in his face. I really had set his mind correctly; he looked ready to do whatever was necessary to fight this invasion.

How convenient.

When the spirit slunk back into its pool, I rose from the boy's shadow. We had a deal, after all, and since I'd helped him banish the Twilight from this forest, now it was his turn.

The temple.

And within, the Shadow awaited.

(~^~)

As much as I hated to admit it, Midna was right. There was no way I'd have survived these Woods without her help. I had to stop myself grinding my teeth when I realised how she'd trained me in the castle, and how much I'd learned from it. Everything she'd put me through in my escape, I'd needed to recover the light.

And I would be lying if I denied envisioning her face on some of those creatures I'd ripped to shreds when using the things she'd taught me. At least they were trying to kill me, not holding themselves just beyond my grasp and tormenting me…

I agreed, we would head to the temple.

Midna grinned that unnerving grin and snapped her fingers. At my feet fell the gift sword and wooden shield we'd stolen… borrowed from Ordon. I took a steadying breath as I picked them up.

I knew what this meant. Dark forces lay ahead of me, and it was up to me to deal with them. I cracked the sword a few inches out of its scabbard, marvelling at the sleek, deadly blade, before replacing it and fastening the weapon across my back, where it was most comfortable. The belt across my chest and shoulder was perfect for anchoring the scabbard.

I slid the shield onto my arm; Rusl hadn't taught me much about shields, viewing them as secondary to a good sword attack, but as I felt its weight on my arm, I knew I would have to learn to use it. I'd faced several Twilight-corrupted creatures at once already; they hadn't given me pause to combat them one at a time. It was only because I had enough claws and teeth to go around that I'd been able to survive, and now I only had one sword.

I thought of Rusl again, hoping that he was healing. I longed to head back to Ordon and reassure him, but I knew Midna was right; we had to meet this dark power head on, here and now.

You got me this far, though, Rusl. I think I can handle myself from here.

Midna finally fell into my shadow, and I knew both her eyes were watching me closely. No stalling. I slipped the shield off onto my back, freeing both my hands.

I set off through the small cave, reaching the dark cavern that led to the grove. Without even asking, my lantern appeared on the ground in front of me in a swirl of black squares. I glanced down and saw the red eye watching me, and I knew it was a look of impatience; she wasn't going to wait for me to ask for anything, but instead throw me what she thought I needed.

I sighed and picked it up off the ground, clicking the flint to light it. I drew the sword and stepped into the darkness once more.

Midna, to her credit, stayed quiet, letting me concentrate as the vermin and vicious plants rushed me. I remembered what Rusl taught me, waiting until the right moment to strike with the sword. Unlike when I had rescued Talo, back then armed with a simple wooden sword, the steel blade of Rusl's fine sword dispatched everything it touched with a single swipe.

The vermin and keese especially were still aggressive; I knew this to be their nesting grounds, and they would normally defend their homes, but this wasn't defence. They were outright attacking me. The woods were breathing easier, but still not perfectly. A lingering darkness flitted through the air, and I guessed this was setting the creatures on edge. I worked my way through the cave quickly, trying not to slay creatures where I could. I respected the Woods, after all – all of us in Ordon did. We were raised to be a part of them, not to strike down whatever got in our way.

Emerging from the darkness, I caught an odd scent on the breeze. As my eyes adjusted, I saw the grove was covered with a thick, rolling, purple-ish fog. The scent left an acidic taste in my mouth, and suddenly my mind screamed danger. We certainly weren't done with the dark presence in this place. This fog was unnatural, and I just knew I couldn't touch it.

But as I looked across the grove, I saw there was no way through. The rocky outcrops, just a bound away when I had four legs, now seemed incredibly distant. There was no way I'd get through the grove without touching the floor, going through this-

Ah!

A blur rushed past me, snatching the still-burning lantern from my hand. I steadied myself to see a monkey holding it.

The creature looked back at me and began squeaking at me. The monkeys that dwelt within the forest were said to be smart animals, but this one seemed to be beckoning me forwards. Midna's voice hissed in my ear, predictably berating me for losing the lantern, but I ignored her. Instead, I watched as the monkey attached the lantern's handle to a stick and walked into the fog. As the lantern descended into the fog, the haze simply vanished, burned away by the flame!

I stood for a moment, amazed at the creature. It knew what it was doing, and it turned around, beckoning me down as it cleared a path by swinging the lantern around. The fog parted wherever the flame reached, and I grinned.

These creatures really do know the forest better than we ever could. I need to watch closely, I thought as I stepped into a fog-free circle. The monkey clapped and squeaked as I followed it, and quickly progressed forwards. It wouldn't release the lantern, insisting on being the one to clear the path. I soon saw why; more vermin roamed the floor of the grove, seemingly immune to the fog, along with those goblin-like creatures I'd first encountered when I rescued Talo. The monkey was in no position to defend itself, and neither would I be, if I were holding the lantern out before me. Instead, I took on the creatures.

I knew this was going to happen; two of the goblin-creatures rushed me at once. I couldn't strike both at the same time, at least not effectively, so I slid the shield onto my arm. I was working this out as I went along, picking one of the creatures to attack first whilst holding the other off with my shield.

It didn't work well, at first; when I swung for the creature, I instinctively moved my other arm for balance, moving my shield out of the way. As my sword slashed at my enemy's chest I gasped with pain as the other's club slammed into my right leg.

We both went down at about the same time; the creature didn't get up, and I couldn't, instinct telling me to hold my leg until the pain went away, but the other still held the club, ready to hit me again. Instead, I managed to roll onto my back, bringing the shield up to block the club, bracing with both arms. The club bounced harmlessly off the wooden surface, and quickly I threw my shield arm out of the way; my opponent was momentarily defenceless, and I made up my mind to act. I ran it through the chest with the sword.

Its breath froze, and almost as if in water, it dropped its club and fell backwards, its body slipped off the smooth metal of the blade as it went. It fell heavily to the ground and lay motionless.

No longer in danger, my focus snapped and the pain rushed back. I couldn't move my leg; for a moment I feared I'd broken it. What use would I be then? Unable to walk, fallen before the first challenge was even over…

Slowly, I felt heat build within me. Through the haze burning from my leg, I noticed the back of my left hand glowing once more, straight through my new gauntlets. The three triangles glowed gold.

The heat built in my hand until it rushed down my arm, shooting through my body to my aching leg, and instantly the pain began to lessen. I gasped as soothing heat played over the limb; I couldn't tell what was happening, only that it no longer hurt quite so much, then quickly, at all.

Just a few moments later the heat retreated back into my hand and vanished, the glowing gone. I lay panting on the ground, the fog that had invaded my mind clearing rapidly. I gingerly felt down my body to my leg, and found it actually didn't hurt to touch. I could move my toes again. I could soon move it without any trouble, and chanced putting weight on it to stand up.

Sure enough, I could stand without issue. I looked down at the club that hit me; it was a solid piece of wood, perhaps oak. Surely a blow from such a weapon would have broken my leg…

I shook myself out, picking up my sword and following the monkey once more. Perhaps the fog had got into my head and made me imagine it all? I didn't know. But we soon reached the other side of the grove; not a moment too soon, either, as my lantern quickly burnt out. The monkey seemed to shrug at the useless object, tossing it to the ground like a bad piece of fruit. I gave the animal a heated glare as I recovered it.

The monkey took off through the gates into the north clearing. As I worked my way through the goblins guarding this place, I worked on my shield technique as quickly as I could. The first few hits, I managed to deflect with the shield, but as I slew the second-to-last creature, its partner managed a lucky hit, smashing its club into my upper arm.

There was no doubting it. In the split-second before agonising pain stabbed at me, I felt and heard the bone break. No, it didn't break – it shattered.

Oh GODDESSES THAT HURTS!

The burning pain blinded me. I couldn't see, couldn't think. I'd broken a bone before – I'd fallen out of my tree and broken my leg – but it hadn't hurt this badly. I stumbled for a few moments, before I remembered something had caused my bones to shatter, and that thing was still there, ready to break more of me. I swung blindly with the sword, trying to remember where it was; I couldn't tell if I hit anything, but from the sound I heard, I got lucky, another body fell to the floor.

I stopped my wild swinging and tried to steady myself. What the hell was I going to do now? I could feel the fragments of bone in my arm grinding when I moved my body, the sharp edges digging into my flesh. My arm was useless. Goddesses, would it even heal? I was going to lose it, at the very least I'd never be able to use my arm again, at worst it would have to be amputated! I was going to lose my arm!

Panting erratically through the pain I supported myself with my sword hand on my knee, when the feeling of heat returned. I steadied myself, my breath hitching for a moment.

The heat grew more intense in my hand, as if brewing, and suddenly raced across my chest, diving into my shattered arm. I gasped, throwing my head back purely on instinct, and suddenly I felt the fragments of bone move.

The pain immediately ceased, and even though I could feel the sharp edges of the shattered bone moving within my flesh, I didn't cry out. I felt it, the bones reassembling themselves almost as if the strike to my arm was being undone. In seconds, I felt my bones knit themselves together, becoming strong once more.

I released the breath I'd forgotten I was holding as the heat within my arm cooled, whatever had been left racing back across my body to my left hand, where it vanished, as if it had never been.

I knelt in stunned silence for several moments, trying to figure out what had just happened. I'd felt my arm break; when the club hit me, I'd felt almost every splinter separate from within my flesh, felt the tiny pieces, sharp as knives, dig into my muscle, and yet I looked down at my flexing fingers. Not only was there no sign of that incredible pain, but I gingerly picked up the shield I had dropped. There was no way I knew that bone could heal like that. Some said months without movement would bring back some strength to a broken arm, but this had healed in but an instant.

Timidly, I glanced at my sword hand again. There was no glow visible there, but I was beginning to suspect, now. I placed the blade on the ground and, with my arm renewed, teased off my gauntlet, staring at the mark on my hand.

It was at the centre of all of this, I could feel it. I was beginning to suspect, now, that what I thought I'd imagined seeing, it was all real. When I had entered the Twilight, it had glowed, granting me breathing room from the beast until I had taken on the form of the wolf. The blow to my leg, it had glowed and suddenly the pain was gone. And now, I knew it had been glowing on my hand, the heat that flowed through my veins when it did, present once more, seeking out the injury I had taken and miraculously healing it.

Curiously, I pinched the flesh of my right hand with my left, but I was disappointed. Although my hand protested the treatment, the mark stayed silent.

Before the creature in my shadow could even protest my lack of progress, I had taken up the blade and shield and had risen to my feet. I stowed them away, still looking at the bare flesh of my hand as I followed the waiting monkey through the gate and into the northern grove.

I had just finished pulling my gauntlet back on when the monkey cried out in panic once more, another pair of creatures turning in shock to see me. I growled and shook loose my weapons, calming myself. Whether it had actually happened or not, I had felt my bones shatter. I wasn't keen on feeling that again, even if this mark on my hand seemed to patch me up afterwards.

My shield arm was a little stiff, but loosened as I began to fight them. The first was still startled as I approached it, and I wasted no time in opening its throat with my blade. The second was more wary, trying to block the strike I followed with as its companion slid to the ground. My sword bounced off its club, the thick oak resisting the steel, and the creature immediately swung for me. I got my shield up in time, and for a moment we traded blows, my sword to its club, its club to my shield, until I swept for its legs. Even though it saw my intentions and skipped back, it was too heavy on its feet to hold its balance, and instinct made it use its arms to stop its fall. It was all the opening I needed, and in mere instants it lay a few feet from its companion, green blood weeping from the wound my sword had left through its chest.

I shook out my shield arm again; it helped a little, soon feeling like it used to, and begun walking into the grove. Stretching out before me was the path up to the ancient temple; I knew without even asking that Midna wanted me to enter it. It had been forbidden for as long as I could remember, and likely before that. The woods were known to be dangerous, but the temple was said to be a wish for death itself. Stories arose in my mind of children and young men wandering into the place, either out of curiosity or bravado, and never being seen again.

For Colin and Ilia, I have to do this. I get her what she wants, she takes me to them. A deal's a deal.

A bird guarded a stall near the edge of the ravine; I took the opportunity to buy some lantern oil, after the mischievous monkey had used up all of mine. But when I turned back to the path, I stopped in my tracks.

Right at the entrance to the temple path sat an animal… a wolf, its coat a brilliant gold, its eyes ruby-red. And it chilled me to my bones when I saw the green of the path and the brown of the rock straight through its body.

It locked eyes with me, its mouth falling open, and a panting noise filled my ears. Short, sharp breaths fell from its snout, echoing in my ears like noise within the Twilight we'd just come from.

Suddenly, the spectral wolf fell into a stance I recognised all too well – a pounce. Without thinking, I had already drawn the sword and shield. Something in the back of my mind told me to run from it, but my legs wouldn't obey.

And when it came to it, neither would my arms. I saw the wolf leap at me so fast I didn't even hear the sword begin to swing, before the phantom beast was upon me, and my world faded once more to darkness.

(*)

Panting filled my ears as the blackness faded again to white. I knew I was on the ground, but surrounding me was not the white light of day, but… pure white light. I lay upon ghostly pale ground, and when I shoved my hands down to stand, it didn't feel like any earth I'd felt before; it felt like nothing at all.

I rose to my feet quickly, white light all around blinding me. I struggled to see as I followed the sound of breathing. I felt the same pull of instinct, the one that guided me when I had been a wolf, directing me to face the source of the sound; no sooner was I looking in its direction, than my eyes adjusted, and I could see.

The same golden-coated, ethereal wolf sat calmly in front of me. Its ruby eyes seemed to twinkle knowingly, before it threw back its head, loosing a chilling howl.

The sound was cut short by a white flash. I threw up my hands to shield my eyes, but it was over just as quickly. When I lowered my hands, I immediately wished I hadn't.

In place of the wolf stood an abomination. A skeleton, seven feet tall, dressed in fragments of cloth, with the remains of plate armour covering parts of it and wearing a fine helm. It faced me with red eyes, and instantly I knew it and the wolf were one and the same.

As I held its gaze, I saw it draw its sword and shield. Chills raced through my body, but somehow I retook control. I realised I was learning to hold back my fear, slowly, and I drew my own weapons, raising the shield to cover as much of my upper body as I could. I never once let my eyes stray from the walking corpse before me.

Though it was indeed a skeleton, there was no stench of death surrounding it, nor did its bones grate or clatter as it moved. Before I knew it, we were circling, both of us seemingly safe behind our shields, goading the other to make the first move.

My heart was racing in my chest, my fear only just beneath the surface. I held on as long as I could, but the urge to strike was too strong. It was threatening me, and something deep down ordered me to make it stop. To take off its head before it could do me any harm.

I leapt.

Just as quickly I was on the ground once more, winded and gasping for breath. I couldn't even tell if I was hurt; the blow came from nowhere as I had struck, sending me straight back down.

It took a long moment before I was able to stand, and with each passing instant I wondered why my foe did not strike now. I was defenceless, wide open to a killing blow. But instead, it seemed to wait for me to retake my feet.

I spun around to face it as soon as I was able to stand. Its red eyes regarded me with curiosity… wait, was that… distaste? Almost disgust seemed to flicker in those red orbs, as if it were ashamed in how easily I had fallen.

As soon as I was ready to lunge again, it spoke.

"ENOUGH!"

Even if I wanted to ignore its order, the way that voice screeched its demand made me stop. I wanted to hunker down and cringe for a moment, the voice was so hideous. Corrupted with incredible age, it seemed like the voice was barely there, clinging to the world by a thread, but it would not be silenced even in its death throes. It was all I could do to just grimace at it.

I lowered my blade and shield, took a breath and looked back up at the creature in a wordless challenge. What do you want?

It looked down at me, much as a parent would scold an unruly child. Its eyes seemed to speak volumes. Its voice filled in the rest.

"A sword wields no strength unless the hand that holds it has courage."

Its voice was softer this time, but it still rushed through my ears, haunting in its grating tones, as if gravel were trickling through my skull. I knew I would be hearing this voice for a long time to come.

Underneath the grit and decay of that ancient voice, though, I could pick out one or two things. First, it sounded a man's voice… second, dismay, perhaps? It seemed appalled that I had done something wrong. I kept my eyes on it, trying to figure out what it was.

"You may be destined to become the hero of legend… but as you are now, you would disgrace the proud green of the hero's tunic you wear."

I stopped, and just looked at him. A twinge of anger rose first, a small voice that questioned what right this… thing had to say such a thing.

"Do not think for one moment that the blessing of the Goddesses alone will be your strength," continued the spectre. Its voice had become thick with disappointment, its blood-red eyes regarding me with contempt.

For a moment, voices clamoured around my head, demanding I answer the creature. But there was a myriad of answers; I couldn't choose one. I stayed silent, listening intently to the phantom's words. Why had it appeared to me, only to berate me?

"The path you prepare to walk is stained with the blood of saviours and rogues alike. Before you set one foot upon it, you must have strength. To have strength, you must have courage."

Why are you telling me this? I just could not say the words, as I tried to work the answer out for myself.

"Only with courage, and the power it brings, will you become the hero for whom this world despairs."

The spectre suddenly raised its sword and shield. "I ask you now, have you courage?"

Cold chills began to dig into my stomach as the creature began to advance on me. Its sword was raised for the strike, its shield in a perfect place to block the swing I would have tried.

I wanted to run, there and then, but a new tiny voice, just loud enough to be heard, spoke to me. It told me to hold my ground. That I must do that, and nothing more.

I raised my own weapons, but I listened to that voice. I took up a stance to fight back, but I did not run.

Even as the towering monstrosity bore down upon me, I did not run.

As I looked in its eyes I felt sure fear would best me, but suddenly the cold within me seemed to melt away. A pulse of comforting heat was there. Without even a voice, it told me that this was the right course. Trust yourself, it said. Have courage.

The great sword the spectre carried was longer than my simple blade, and the creature was easily within range now; I would have to jump at it to fight, but I did not bend my legs.

Have courage against your adversary. Do not fight where there is no call. Stand your ground.

The skeletal knight did not attack, moving even closer, but in the absence of the fear I expected, I stood firm. The creature before me was no scarier than a goblin now. I breathed slow, never once taking my eyes from its own.

It was barely four feet from me now. At this range, it could lift my head from my shoulders with ease, and yet it did not strike.

Slowly I realised, it was not my enemy.

It had never wished to fight.

But two feet from my, it stopped. Its colossal form towered above me, as I craned my neck to maintain eye contact with it. And yet in that instant, even without skin to cover its face, I knew, just from its eyes, it bore the faintest hint of a smile on its ruined face.

The skeletal warrior slowly withdrew its sword and shield, the smile in its eyes unwavering. "There may yet be hope for you, Hero Chosen by the Goddesses."

Suddenly it shrank, and I realised it had backflipped, the aged carcass sailing through the air with astonishing ease. It landed nimbly and silently on its feet several yards away, its eyes returning to mine.

"You have the courage to face the unknown. I will teach you to fight it."

The last few words stunned me. Teach me? I almost questioned the phantom when it spoke again, lifting its sword. It spoke of enemies I would face on my quest for Hyrule, to restore the light, and how courage was my steel, the core of my strength. And like steel, it must be tempered to be used. I would need to master the sword before I set forth on my path, it told me, and it would teach me how.

For a long time, the phantom showed me a strike it called the 'Ending Blow,' a simple enough skill that would help me survive on the field of battle. Instead of trying to reach a fallen foe and open their throat in two separate actions, the phantom demonstrated a strike that would end their breath with precision, from a great distance. Tirelessly it taught me what I should aim for, either the heart or throat, how I should leap and, most importantly, how to hold the sword; if I neglected this, so much could go wrong, it told me, from lodging in the ground too deep for me to recover in time, to being swept aside by bone, to breaking my arm if I were to land badly. The phantom had me put my weight to the hilt by holding the blade close to me, aiming with my hands, and bringing my entire body weight down upon the steel when I landed. This, it assured me, would strike through even the thickest of ribs, and would leave my foe with no chance of drawing another breath. It also told me, as I perfected the landing, the blade might enter the ground deeper if I were to go for the throat, but if its entry were straight and true, I could remove it cleanly and continue.

The spectral teacher ended its 'lesson' by having me fight it in single combat. I remembered its words well, and broke through its simple defence, knocking it to the ground and refused to hesitate, leaping high into the air and bringing my blade straight down through its fleshless chest.

As I leapt back, recovering the sword in a clean movement, the phantom rose from the ground. Its eyes smiled once more.

"A mortal foe would draw no more breath after such a strike. You have learned well. You have courage, and soon you will have great strength. Though the path before you winds far into the unknown, hold fast to your courage, and know that we will meet again when you are ready."

The knight held out its sword, just as it had before we had begun our lesson, and again I touched my sword tip to its, a respectful salute to my self-proclaimed teacher.

"Goddesses be with you, Hero…"

With that, the gravelly voice faded away, and the light around me turned to white.

(*)

I gasped as my sight returned. I lay face down on the earth, and as I pushed myself to my feet, I realised I stood exactly where the spectral wolf had struck me down. I dusted off my arms and legs, wondering if it had all been real.

I spied the sword on the ground, and picked it up. Almost immediately, I recalled the motions I had used to enact the Ending Blow the knight had taught me; my legs suddenly yearned to leap, my arms to drive the sword through the chest of a foe who would try to recover its feet and strike me again. It felt as natural as breathing, an instinct deep within me.

As I felt the smooth leather of the sword's hilt beneath my fingers, I knew it had been real.

"Well it's about time!"

As was this, it seemed.

The red-eyed form burst from my shadow, rising to my eye level. I was in no mood to listen to her rant at me, but she held my gaze.

"Your little friends are far from home, and yet you're napping in the middle of a forest? Gods, you really do care for them! The more time you spend sleeping, the colder their trail gets! Don't forget that now!"

Sleeping?

But… I felt like I was… wherever I was…

I thought it was real!

But did that mean… it really was all in my mind?

I pushed away from Midna, sliding the shield and sword across my back. It had felt real, all of it, and the knowledge seemed to course through my veins. I could hear the spectre's voice in my ears, clear as a bell. I even remembered how its ghostly ribs had split apart under my weight as I drove the sword through the spot where its heart once was.

It had taught me a great deal, and in ways had changed how I looked at my sword; no longer just a weapon for slicing at an enemy, but one which could be used in different ways. It had vowed to teach me more, and though I knew almost nothing about the apparition, I found myself looking forward to our next meeting. Something at the back of my head urged caution. But, I told myself. If it was all in my head, what's there to be afraid of?

I faced the temple ahead of me. Have courage, something whispered. And I did. A deal was a deal. And now, this place that had filled me with foreboding didn't seem quite as scary. Even the spider-web covering the entrance no longer make my skin crawl; instead I drew my lantern, lit it and touched the fire to the silk. The entire web went up in a flash of flame instantly, revealing the dark passage beyond.

I drew the sword, more out of comfort than anything else, and stepped into the shadow.

Here I go… ready or not…


Once again, I find myself toying with my character interpretations. Here, the interactions between Link and Midna seemed to drag on at times; I did my best to go over them, but I think I hit some rough spots such as the deal the pair hold, and why Link's prepared to stand so much abuse from Midna; I had to remind myself more than anything what's in it for him.
I also took a fair amount of license with the Hero's Shade scene, fleshing out the Shade's introductory lesson.
So yeah... have I lost it? Still have some hope? Would love to hear either way (tasteful comments only though, please! Constructive criticism always welcome, flames will be doused in foam and returned to sender).
As a final note, I know it's been a while, but I'm loving the improvements FFN have made to the site; it's now quite a bit more usable, convenient and secure. Well done guys!
Until next time, I bid you good night!