There was a shadow in the forest. That was the first thought Saria had spared for it. She had been in the Lost Woods listening to the melody of the trees when she had felt it watching her with scarlet eyes. Even then she had not turned to see it leaning against the trees she had simply continued to listen and put the thought out of her mind.
Soon, though it became impossible to ignore. It haunted only forgotten places, the places no one would think to look but it was there none the less. She could feel its gaze as it sat behind her, listening to the songs she played upon her ocarina. She could feel its smile as it watched her, laughing at the mistakes she would make as if it had heard the master of the winds.
It was only when she actually heard its laughter that she thought to confront it, to turn around and see it watching her with raised eyebrows. She had been expecting a sprite, an impish woodland spirit, but what she saw was quite different from what she expected.
It was Link and yet at the same time it was not Link. She blinked at that thought for this boy looked nothing like Link; this child had dark skin and hair as white as fish bones, his eyes were red as garnets and glowed like blood against the snow. She shuddered at the sight of him, sitting there smiling up at her the bitterness unmistakable in her eyes. No this was not Link at all, not even close, and yet she couldn't shake the thought from her mind.
He didn't speak, he seemed to be waiting to see what words she might come up with. That at least was similar to Link, the ever-present silence to wait and see, to listen. Link never threw away words preferring to say only what was necessary and preserve the rest.
"Who are you?" She asked finally the notes of her ocarina having long since died away into the silence. He didn't answer instead looking at her with a puzzled expression, she noticed the strange bandaged clothing and the red eye upon his chest.
"That depends." He said finally, she jumped at the sound of his voice because it was Link's voice as well. It was Link's cautious voice that spoke out from this moon-haired stranger.
"On you." He said in reply, shrugging his shoulders and returning to the silence.
"Oh…" She said wondering if she would find a way to let him elaborate or if he would merely sit there and let her thoughts wander.
"You can't decide, can you?" He asked her just as she became accustomed to the silence once again.
"There are many answers; would you like to hear a few?" He waited for her to nod before continuing, "Sheikah, while inaccurate is a common one now-a-days and is the one that is least likely to get me killed. Demon, is another and while also inaccurate tends to pop up every once in a while for more or less obvious reasons." He paused watching her reaction as she stared at him, trying to understand what he was saying to her.
"It's been a while since anyone thought to call me traitor, as the reasons have been forgotten by all and those who remember don't think to look my way. Failure has been forgotten as well, as it should be. Cripple refers only my body and I find it lacking in description."
She noticed how his right side seemed to droop, the few movements he made were jerky and done with a painful slowness and though he was still and silent she could see that his words were true.
"Shadow is the closest I have heard as Dark seems a little too simple. Then of course there is what you have been thinking the whole time, which is true more or less and yet not true, I'm sure that when you first saw me you must have thought to call me Link."
"How did you know?" She asked suddenly, backing away from him. The boy shrugged painfully, he looked up at her with those bitter red eyes even as she walked slowly away from him.
He didn't answer even as she turned to run from him, from his searching garnet eyes staring at her back, yet she couldn't erase him from her mind.
"So what are you really then?"
She found him leaning against the seal of the Forest Temple, his garnet eyes closed as he cast a shadow upon the light stonework. One of his eyes opened at the question, he pulled himself up into a standing position slowly, ever so slowly.
"I am not-Link." He said as he stared directly into her blue eyes.
"You didn't answer the question."
"I am a forgotten memory that doesn't have the decency to lurk out of sight." There was a quick smile before he lost interest and once more lay on his back and closed his eyes. His skin was a strange color, in the night it had seemed so much darker, but now in daylight she could see that it was not black so much as gray. As if he had covered himself head to toe in ash.
"I'm sorry?" She asked once again, fingering her ocarina for strength.
"Forgive me; I have a tendency to speak in riddles." The words came as a murmur from his dark lips, "You see when you're left alone in the dark with the water beneath your feet and only a room of illusions to keep you company… Well you'd be speaking in riddles too, wouldn't you?"
She did not respond preferring to study him once again, there was a striking similarity to Link. Though this shadow-child had garnet eyes and unkempt white hair, though he was covered in bandages and there was a red eye upon his chest, even though his smile was filled with bitterness and nostalgia she could see Link.
"He'd be speaking in riddles too, you know; he already does to an extent. He keeps his own council and the riddles are overtaking his mind, he simply chooses not to speak them aloud." The garnet eyes flicked open to stare at her curiously, "He's gone isn't he?"
"Yes, he's gone"
"Good." The boy on the ground said, "I'm not exactly eager to meet him again."
She didn't ask how he met Link, or why he didn't want to see him again, she could tell by the grim expression on his face and the way his uninjured hand rested upon his shoulder. There was no bittersweet smile this time, only a cold loneliness in his eyes that she had seen often enough in Link's.
"He won't come back you know, not this time." She whispered to him, the boy nodded.
"Try not to blame him." The dark skinned youth said to the earth, clutching at the green grass beneath his fingertips, "He had no other choice."
She didn't ask why he thought that, or if it was really true, because he could come back he might come back one day…
She remembered the hollow look in his blue eyes as he turned away from her to the Hylian fields, without even saying goodbye. She remembered the sword on his back and the Hylian shield that stared back at her as he crossed the bridge and abandoned her to the forest. Soon the others had forgotten him, a stranger in their midst that had drifted back into the mortal world, his memory only inhabited the old places now, the forgotten places.
Like the red-eyed shadow, like the youth with piercing eyes and bone-white hair, like the child who said his name was not-Link and left it at that.
"I miss him." She whispered to her companion.
He said nothing but somehow she knew that the shadow missed him too.
"Why do you hide in the dark?" She asked him as they lingered in the forest temple, a place that smelled of the forgotten earth and echoed with hisforgotten voice. She had come to love this place, this place that had not forsaken him, had not driven him from its memory and had let Saria remember him if only for a while.
"I am made of shadows, it seemed natural." The shadow explained watching her out of garnet eyes with a small contented smile. His bandaged hands clutched at the earth of the temple's floor, he gazed at the colored candles that lit the center of the room his strange eyes reflecting their light.
"The others have never seen you, they don't know that you're here, they think I'm seeing ghosts." Her wide blue eyes looked at him.
He said nothing, just like Link, he didn't pry or try to explain. He waited for the direct question; the one he couldn't avoid through silence. He kept his own council and chose when to speak and what to reveal. He hid behind his eyes and his expression as if they were only a mask to be taken off at will.
"Are you a ghost?" She asked him.
Her words echoed off the walls, passing through the candles' flames, through the doorways and the shadows leaving no room untouched. He didn't flinch as he looked at her, his hands still, moss still trapped in his fingers, his face revealed nothing and became an empty mask.
They were so very similar, it was hard at first to see, he was dark when Link was light but they're silences were so very similar and they had the same sorrow in their eyes.
"You love him." The shadow whispered to her, confirming for himself in the stillness of the forest temple. He said it softly without inflection, as if they were only words and nothing else, there was no accusation there no surprise only words.
"I'm sorry…" She said to him willing to take back the words, that hesitant hope that she had laid bare to this not-quite stranger, "I just… I miss him…"
The shadow stood slowly looking down at her with eyes filled with recognition, he then began walking away from her, into the shadows of the temple where she had not yet dared to venture without a candle to light his path. She wondered if she should run after him, if she should grab one of the colored candles to help light his path. She didn't, she sat still upon the temple floor contemplating her wretchedness.
Somewhere in the distance she could hear the rainfall.
She looked for him now, she used to simply find him along her path looking up at her with those strange eyes but now she looked for him. It was different though, chasing shadows was much different than simply finding them. He hid from her like he hid from the others; he was the pale shadow of the moon easily lost amid the overwhelming shadows of the ancient trees.
She couldn't tell herself why she searched now, why her search turned from passive to desperate, she wouldn't dare tell herself. She saw it all the same though, she couldn't help but notice the similarities behind the too-obvious differences, she couldn't help but see his face beneath that shadowy illusion.
So she chased and chased, she followed the shadows beneath the trees and into the darkness where she hoped to see his ruby eyes staring after her. She chased a dream of things that once were, the eternal summer that had been promised to her people, he wasn't supposed to leave.
(He had left though, he hadn't even said goodbye, he looked at her with bitter blue eyes on that bridge and had turned without even a wave goodbye…)
She only found him when she stopped looking. He stood in the bright sunlight, his hair shining like the moon and his skin the color of noon-day shadows. He looked down at her with those bright garnet eyes and when he spoke to her it was in a soft voice.
"It's hard to explain." He said to her, and she looked up in shock trying to wipe the desperate tears from her eyes.
"I'm sorry… What's…" She didn't finish the sentence because he appeared to be finishing it for her.
"Link and I." Here he smiled, Link's bitter reflective smile that seemed to mock his own soul, "There are times when I don't understand it either, it's very difficult to follow."
He sat down upon the grass and gazed at his dark palm, "To understand you have to start from the beginning, and I don't think even he knows where the beginning is…" His smile was familiar now, not the dark thing he normally wore, and Saria felt as if she had known him far longer than the other Kokiri children as if he had always been a shadow upon the woodland's heart.
"Would you like to hear a story Saria?" He asked, his hands are open towards the sky and he was staring at her.
Once upon a time there was a boy with hair as yellow as corn, it was thought that he was Hylian but even the Goddesses don't know for certain. His mother gave him to the forest and the Kokiri children took him under their wing. He grew up there, among the childish dreams of the forest, a stranger in a strange land. He had friends, and he loved his childhood, but deep down he knew, just as they knew…
He grew up happily with the friends he had made and the small differences he had tucked away inside the depths of his soul. Somewhere deep down though, he knew that he'd leave, because he always leaves, he can't help it. He tried not to think about it, he put it down into the depths like everything else he didn't want to think about.
It worked, for a while at least.
Times change though, and eventually, most everything falls to pieces.
He was there more often now, she didn't have to look anymore and she imagined that something has changed between them. He was no longer the shadow of a face she once knew and while it still hurt to look at him and realize that he'snot coming back. At least she was left with a few reminders.
She thought that they were friends, but she wasn't sure. It was hard to tell, he wasn't like the others, he was quiet and pensive speaking in intervals often about unrelated things. He didn't laugh or run, he didn't pick wild flowers or climb trees, he simply sat and watched like the trees he grew in the silence of the world. He was still a shadow at the heart of things.
He was there though; he sat beside her at the river's edge, watching as the sunlight bounced off of the water. He stood in the light, and somehow she knew that it was her that brought him there, out of the temple and the shadows.
Perhaps it was selfish but she no longer cared because somehow it felt as if hewas back even if he wasn't. It was like nothing had changed and they were still the children they were. If she closed her eyes she could see his pale face staring back at her and his wide blue eyes blinking in the sunlight. She could almost hear his silent laughter and look past the suffering in his gaze…
(But deep down she had to admit that it was a lie and that she was talking to shadows of things long since passed.)
He told her not to call him Link but sometimes she couldn't help herself, it was so easy to let yourself slip and to fall into the comforting arms of memory. He'd stare at her with a familiar pained expression and then he'd look away and comment on the weather.
She could see their reflections in his garnet eyes; he was the shadow upon the forest's heart. He was the dark hidden face of the moon that could be seen through the trees at night. He was the outside world with the forest hidden within the depths of his inky heart.
Together they'd watch as the stars rose behind the clouds, his arms around her and her head resting upon his dark shoulder both of them staring skyward into the darkness.
He travelled the world, farther than he had ever imagined, yet in his heart the forest remained. The farther he walked though, the more he realized that he could never really return home. Sometimes you can't go back, you've changed so much that the old clothes just don't fit anymore. Sometimes you realize that there's no going back.
He walked across mountains, traveled over rivers, crossed the fields back and forth on the whims of a princess drawing himself farther and farther away from the forest. He had thought it was for a purpose, that there was an end goal in sight, but soon enough the Goddesses came to him and said it wasn't enough.
They picked him for their puppet because he had survived so much already, but he wasn't perfect, not good enough for them. They made him wait, for seven years they kept him in the realm of the sages and then delivered him onto the barren world as if he were their greatest blessing.
And inside, when he awoke, he felt as if he had died.
"Are you afraid of being alone, Saria?" He asked her with her pale hands clasped in his, he watched the colors play off of their skin in the moonlight. Somehow it seemed as if the shadows had become ink beneath his garnet eyes and she could see the passage of time in their depths.
She wanted to lie and say that she could go back, that they could go on without him; that his absence hadn't scarred her soul but it was more difficult than she could articulate. So she told the truth instead, because it was easier to make him feel the guilt through his tormented shadow.
"Yes." She said in a harsh whisper as the stars made their way across the skies, season through season they changed overhead and yet she and the shadow had always remained the same and always he was holding her hand.
"You must know that in time even the shadows of things fade…"
"But you won't." She said for him.
He said nothing, his words locked up in his inky heart where they would reside until they overflowed. They piled on top of one another, each clambering to the top of that deep well inside in his chest but they seemed to be so far from heaven and yet they climbed and climbed and climbed…
He had so many secrets, so many stories, so many words left unsaid. All of them clambering, climbing, crawling their way out of his ink filled heart.
So he ventured out into the world again, this time knowing the faces of his mistresses, and he slaughtered for them. Monsters but still they were only puppets, maybe they didn't deserve to die, like him they were only following orders. He was just a little bit faster than they were, and they died because of it.
He stabbed me too you know, in another life, I still have the scars. He can't kill me though, not without killing himself, and I don't think he's figured out how to do that yet.
He did his job; he saved the sages, all six of them. Including you, you were one then too, but you didn't know it at the time. Most of them didn't realize it until he had already saved them and they were standing in that crystal realm staring at his pale and hallow face. What, did you expect him to be pretty?
He saved all of them, all the innocents and all the creatures of the light. He banished the power of the desert and Hyrule was Hyrule again.
"I've stayed too long." He said one day, this time in the bright sunlight as he watched the other children from the hill.
Saria didn't ask him to clarify but he started talking anyway and the words came bubbling out and all his fears and hopes came gushing out into the sunlight and there seemed to be no end to them.
"He loved this place, he loved you, he misses it even now… I feel like I'm drowning in his emotions, the ghost is getting louder and louder with every day I've spent here. It's like from before the split, those memories are always so blurry, like something remembered in a dream… It's like I'm going back to sleep and I can't wake up."
His garnet eyes turned to hers and in them she saw all of Link's desperation and pleading for forgiveness, "I've stayed too long."
I've found that people often forget the martyr, they glamourize him and praise him but in the end they forget him, they only remember the idea of him. They see him the way they want to, a child in green wandering about the land, vanquishing the darkness through his courage and strength; they forget that in reality it's quite a different story.
The hero doesn't always come home victorious and while he might be courageous and good he's not nice and there is darkness in his soul, not me of course, but his own darkness a new bunch of shadows that grew after I left, replacing the empty chasm the gods had placed in his soul.
In his own way he's more frightening than Power or Wisdom because he's different from them, Courage is in his blood but his power doesn't come from the Goddesses, they only think that it does. He's beyond them, he's a part of the chaos that was Hyrule before the Goddesses set it in order, in his blood there is a wild magic that has almost disappeared from this world. He's not the same type of pawn as the others and it's tearing him to pieces.
He may come back, long after this forest has been cleared and the Kokiri children are dead, he may not even remember your name, but he may come back. It's easier if you don't see him again, because I know him better than you do, and I can tell you that you don't want to see him again.
He's changed Saria, more than he can possibly tell you, the magic has been loosed and he knows there's no going back.
I can see him sometimes, not as clearly as before, but I still can see him. He lives in a world where time barely exists, where space twists and turns, and where his shape is a thing to be bent to his will. He runs through time backwards and forwards regardless of the current, rewriting the universe as he goes along.
Trust me Saria when I say that you never want to see him again.
The shadow said goodbye, perhaps it felt that it was necessary, as it was his reflection that had left her behind without a word.
She found him on the bridge between the woods and the outer world, looking over at her with those garnet eyes filled with pity, he held out his hand towards her, still waiting on the bridge.
"You're leaving." The words fell through the leaves and the trees, a whisper of the outside wind rustling her insular world.
"Yes." He didn't smile but instead looked away from her, through the dark tunnel that lay on the opposite side of the bridge, the place that led to the sunlight and the golden fields.
"You're not coming back either."
"I don't intend to."
They stood in silence and watched as the leaves drifted slowly down from the trees, it was Spring again, and soon the flowers would be in full bloom. Another Spring of another unchanging year and he was leaving her alone again.
"I'll miss you." She said to the trees and the bridge.
"No, you won't." He smiled at her, that strange half-hearted smile.
"That's not true." She said in protest. "I will miss you, just as much as I miss him, you aren't just a substitute you know. I won't forget."
He didn't say anything, but he no longer had to, because she could see that it was true. She'd forget him, he'd blend with his reflection until they were the same person, he'd move onwards and she'd live on, a child forever. Eventually she would forget both of them, the blue and the red fading from her mind until all that was left was the dust. So much dust.
She'd forget, and someday in that great cold world he'd forget her as well.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading, reviews would be splendid.
Disclaimer: I don't own Legend of Zelda