The Hyrulian Valhalla Saga: Side Stories
By Queenie Z
Trial of the Deep Abyss
In the cultures of Hyrule and its surrounding areas, the New Year coincided with the coming of spring. As the harsh snows of winter gave way to fresh green grass and newborn sprouts, so too did the past give way to the future. And this did not change for our Heroes in the world beyond - seasons still changed and years still went by, giving them plenty of reasons to continue their New Year's traditions even in death.
Each Hero had their own way of celebrating the season, by themselves as well as with their loved ones. Twilight, whose love for nature and all of its creatures was nearly endless, welcomed each New Year by embarking on a hike through the fields and forests of paradise. Sometimes he would share this trip with family members; such as his daughter, who had inherited his affection for Farore's green earth. Other times he'd go with a friend or one of his fellow Heroes. However, this year, he'd decided to make the journey alone, wanting to more deeply drink in the sights, sounds, and smells of spring.
From his resting spot at the base of a tall oak tree, Twilight opened his eyes and looked up. He smiled at the tiny leaves basking in the glow of the early morning sun - by summer, he knew, they would grow fuller, sprouting acorns and covering the tree in a lush shade of green. He thought that perhaps he could come back then and take a nice, long nap under its shade.
His thoughts were interrupted, however, by a cold breeze blowing from behind him. He startled a little, having not expected such chilly wind on this mild spring day. Then, he spotted something fluttering in the breeze out of the corner of his eye. He reached over and grabbed it, inspecting it curiously. When he realized what it was, his face fell in confusion; it was a withered oak leaf, dry to the touch and rotted almost completely black.
Dead leaves on the second day of spring? He likely would have dismissed it as a leftover from the previous winter, if not for the sudden gust of wind blowing around even more blackened leaves. Clutching his hat to keep it from blowing off of his head, he stood, gaping at the sight.
"What the hell?" he muttered to himself as he watched the leaves being scattered about. He turned around towards the source of the ominous wind - a huge, gaping hole emitting a malevolent black smoke. Just like the leaves, the plant life around the hole had decayed and turned dark. Knowing that this was clearly the work of some sinister magic, Twilight narrowed his eyes and reached habitually for the sword he hadn't thought to bring.
When his hand met dead air, he scoffed; of course this presence would wait until he was unarmed to show itself. How could something like this even show up in their perfect paradise, which had seen no evil since the beginning of time? He knew he had to alert the others, but he had no intention of doing so without having at least some idea of what this threat was.
His eyes narrowed in determination, he approached the hole, being careful not to fall inside. He peered into the opening, then recoiled in disgust with his hand clenched over his nose and mouth. The smoke rising from the hole's entrance smelled rancid, like rotted wood and pungent mildew. However, beyond that, he found nothing - nothing but a seemingly endless black abyss leading Goddess knows where. Having only reaffirmed his suspicions of the dark nature of this phenomenon, he decided to get away from it as fast as he could and come back later, armed, with the others.
Twilight froze in his tracks when he saw a figure standing right behind him. It was the spitting image of himself, cloaked entirely in shadow save for two glowing, menacing red eyes. But before he had time to process what he was seeing, the shadow grinned, reaching forward with both arms and shoving him into the hole. As he tumbled down into the endless void, the light from the world above grew dimmer, until, finally, it disappeared.
The putrid stench of mold and rot finally startled him awake. Though he knew his eyes were open, the darkness surrounding him was barely any different from when he had them closed. Panicked and disoriented, he looked around frantically. However, he quickly realized something horrifying: his feet weren't touching the ground, his wrists were bound, and his arms felt as though they were about to tear off of his torso.
His blood ran cold - he'd been chained at the wrists and left hanging like a slab of meat...!
"Rise and shine, cowboy!"
Twilight gasped as his shadow's taunting echoed in the darkness. Then, the creature's red eyes began to glow, illuminating faintly the outline of his features and his smug smile. Enraged, the Hero snarled at him.
"You," he growled, "What did you do to me!? How did you even get here!?"
The shadow frowned. "How rude," he said, "don't you want to know who I am before you start screaming at me?"
"I know exactly who you are!" said Twilight. "The others told me about creatures like you - you're a shadow, a copy of me created from evil magic!" He grunted, struggling in his bonds. "If it's a fight you're lookin' for, bring it on! I'll beat you with my bare hands if I have to...!"
The shadow Link was merely amused by his outburst, however. He rested his chin on his fist. "Yeah," he snickered, "good luck with that." He tilted his head, his smile growing unsettlingly wider. "Although, having you chained up like this, acting all wild and angry... it's kind of kinky, don't you think?"
This only infuriated Twilight more. "You smug bastard," he swore, "who the hell do you think you - "
He was silenced when a cold hand grabbed his jaw, squeezing it painfully and digging its fingernails into his skin. The phantom leaned forward, putting his face uncomfortably close to his counterpart's.
"I was sent here to have a heart-to-heart talk with you," he said in a sultry voice, "but I think I'd like to get to know you a little bit better beforehand...!"
Before he could make another lecherous move, however, Twilight wrenched his head out of the dark Link's grip. Then, he bit him, sinking his teeth into the other's hand as hard as he could. The shadow cried out in pain before yanking his hand away, hissing in pain.
"Don't even try touching me again, you pervert!"
The creature glared contemptuously at Twilight, flexing his wounded hand. "Pervert? ...Please. At least I have the guts to take the initiative."
"What are you talking about!?"
"I'm talking," he said, balling his hand into a tight fist, "about how you're nothing but an incompetent, spineless cretin...!"
He threw a punch at Twilight's face, which landed squarely on the side of his head. Then, while he was disoriented, the shadow Link struck him again and again; once in the chest, once in the gut, and once to the other side of his face. Though punches could not bruise a dead man, they could still cause pain and leave the Hero in a breathless stupor.
"At least I'm not the one who stands idly by as he watches people leave him," said the dark Link angrily as he grabbed a hold on his counterpart's bangs. "At least I'm not the one who's let everyone he's ever loved suffer or walk away...!"
Twilight groaned, wincing. "That's..."
"You've done nothing but drive everyone away since the moment you crawled out of your mother's womb and killed her! Your father grieved for her, but you didn't do a damn thing for him until the day he died!" He shook Twilight's head around violently. "You did nothing to stop the kids from getting taken, you did nothing to keep Ilia from forgetting about you, and you did nothing while you watched your princess sacrifice her very life!"
Twilight grunted as his shadow let go of his hair, letting his head slump pathetically against his chest.
"...And most of all," said the phantom quietly, "you let Midna walk away from you forever. The one friend who was always with you during that hell you went through - you didn't even have the guts to say 'goodbye' to her." He narrowed his eyes. "It's a wonder you ever managed to keep anyone around... not that you deserved it."
Like knives, the words tore open old wounds. Indeed, Twilight was more than acquainted with loss and helplessness. The grief for his parents, the guilt of his friends' suffering, and the regret of his partner's departure loomed over him like a dark cloud for years, for decades... and now, here in paradise, this thing was trying to break him with all of his past burdens.
Regaining his bearings, Twilight tightened his hands into fists. He would not let that happen - he would not let his shadow win...!
"You think you've got me all figured out," he said, a proud smile creeping across his face, "don't you?"
The dark Link noticed his sudden change in demeanor, and his eyes widened slightly in surprise.
"Well, you're right about one thing," continued Twilight, "I lost a lot of people, and I made a hell of a lot of mistakes. But so what? Everybody does. And now that everything's been said and done, now that everyone's together again... it doesn't even matter anymore." His lifted his gaze, his eyes burning with proof of his line's courage. "If you're trying to break me, you should just give up - you can't break an unbreakable spirit...!"
In an instant, Twilight's form changed, becoming the divine wolf that made him into a legend. He slipped through his bonds, landed on all fours, and growled ferociously at his shadow. Shocked by this sudden change of events, the dark Link cowered, shooting the beast a dirty look. Finally, Twilight pounced, clawing the phantom's arms and sinking his teeth into his neck. When he finally relented, the dark Link cried out in anguish, clutching at the bloodless wound in his neck and disappear into the darkness. When he saw no sign of his opponent, Twilight reverted to his human form. Breathing heavily, he reached down and rubbed his right wrist where his chains had been.
"...I should've guessed it sooner," he mused with a small, breathless laugh. "This happened to Sky, too, didn't it?"
The sound of his nickname startled him out of his thoughts, and he turned, facing upwards. To his amazement, the chains were gone, and sunlight now shone into the pit. Moreover, he could just about make out three faces - Sky, Mini, and Time were all peering inside, and they all smiled in relief when they saw their friend.
"Thank the goddesses," said Sky, "he was in here along."
"Geez, Twilight, how'd you wind up in there?" said Mini with a hint of playful derision in his voice. "I thought you were smarter than that!"
Twilight laughed. "It's a long story. How'd you guys find me, anyway?"
"We followed the marks you left on the trees," said Time, who then quickly turned to Sky with an impatient glare. "You've got your whip with you, right? What are you waiting for!?"
"R-Right, I've got it," said Sky nervously as he fished his whip out of his pouch. Then, he called down to Twilight. "Catch!"
He flicked the whip down with just enough force as to allow Twilight to catch the end with both hands. Then, the younger Hero positioned one of his feet on the cavern's wall. "Okay, I'm ready!"
Mini and Time assisted Sky as he pulled back on the whip, acting as an anchor while Twilight scaled the wall of the pit. In no time, he surfaced, and Time lent him an eager hand to help him up.
"You never came back for lunch," said Time sternly. "We've been looking for you for nearly two hours - we were worried sick!"
"That's right," said Mini, "I thought Time was gonna burst into tears if we didn't find you soon."
Time shot him an irritated glare. "I was not."
"You guys," said Sky somewhat sheepishly, "let's just be glad that Twilight's safe and sound." He turned to Twilight. "Right?"
"Right," said Twilight, scratching his head, "sorry I made y'all worry so much." He glanced back at the pit - the dark magic and decay were gone, and all that was left from his experience was an ordinary cave. And yet...
"Twilight?" asked Mini, "What's up?"
"Oh! Uh, I'll tell you later." He began to walk away, calling back to his friends as he did so. "I'm gonna go visit my folks - maybe Midna, too, if she's around. Tell the others I'm okay, will you?"
The other Heroes looked to each other in confusion as Twilight's form disappeared into the woods. Then, Time sighed, resting his hand on his hip with a slightly perturbed look.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with him," he said.
"I don't think you'll have to do anything," Mini assured him. "He'll fill us in soon enough."
Sky, however, turned his attention to a couple of stray dead leaves that had been blown towards his feet. He squatted down, picking on up and inspecting it closely. Finally, he seemed to understand, and his lips curled into a small, proud smile.