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In the days of creeping darkness, shortly after the eerie silence descended upon the Lost Wood and the waterfalls of Zora River froze solid, after the plains of Hyrule Field grew shady and treacherous, the gloom that dominated the land became a breeding ground of monsters. While the evil of Ganondorf Dragmire slowly poisoned the kingdom of Hyrule, the shadow that followed a heroic young Hylian gradually took on a life of its own—the offspring of the natural world and the Gerudo Lord’s own powerful magic.
The being had no breath, no conscience, no self-awareness. It was born from darkness and guided only by a compelling need to follow its master. It had no concept of fear or pain or death; it was numb to all things it touched, yet was distantly aware of the world through which it passed. It could hear music, voices, the sounds of battle. It could see its surroundings, but there was no sensible mind with which it could try to understand them. Not that any of this mattered to the shadow—it had no dreams or intentions, no allegiance with one side or the other. It simply was, and it followed the steps of its shadow-maker, unaware of its tenuous connection to him in a world where the very air was saturated with evil. These malicious spirits, always seeking to corrupt the elements closest to their own kind, grasped and tore at the shadow until it at last became separated from its owner. It fled its attackers and wandered about the land, lost, aware for the first time of its desperation and loneliness.
Ganondorf discovered this shadowy being shortly before he infiltrated the underwater temple of Lake Hylia, and recognized its potential as a tool to destroy his strengthening foe, the Hero of Time.
Using his necromantic powers, Ganondorf bestowed the shade a physical body, flesh and blood and bone, whose features were molded into a dark replica of its own lost master. He kept his new pet locked in a room filled with grim illusions of the world above: a bleak spit of narrow land, a single leafless tree from which nothing grew, and a watery floor that reflected only the mist hanging above it. He whispered lies to the being, promising that all of its desires would be granted if it would destroy a certain intruder, one with golden hair, who carried a sword and traveled with a fairy companion. The being, now with dark eyes of its own, understood the lies only through the hunger that gnawed at the emptiness within it. And so it waited as it had been told, watching with new eyes for the intruder whom it would destroy.
The one with golden hair.
Link was not afraid when he found himself in a vast landscape, ankle-deep in water as far as the eye could see; he was, however, uneasy. There was light from above, but no sun could be seen. The entire place had a disturbingly artificial, stale quality to it. Even the fog felt unnatural. Navi fluttered out from beneath the folds of Link’s hat to scan the surroundings.
“Watch out,” she said. “We’re not alone.”
“I know,” said Link, having been aware of a presence from the moment he first entered the chamber.
He took a few cautious steps forward, the water sloshing quietly against his boots. He narrowed his eyes, searching the mist for any sign of life. He spied the dark form of a gnarled tree emerging out of the nothingness: an island. He approached and found nothing unusual or dangerous, at least by the standards of Hyrule’s currently horrific state. He ventured across the room and discovered that its vastness was only an illusion—there was a door of dark wood set into a misty wall just ahead. Link tried the iron handle, but it was locked. Dread dropped its heavy hands onto his shoulders and squeezed. This was precisely as he had feared: something was in the room with him, and he would not be allowed to pass through the enchanted door until it had been defeated.
“Keep close, Navi,” he said, drawing the Master Sword from its scabbard as quietly as he could. “I’ll need your help when the battle begins. I can hardly see through this mist.”
The shadow that had been watching Link from within the veil of fog manifested the sword it had seen him unsheathe, thoughts consumed with nothing but destruction for what it saw: the Intruder, the One with Golden Hair.
It hesitated a moment, perplexed. There was something familiar about this enemy, something which caused the shade to delay its attack. The intruder’s body was identical, his movements predictable and reassuring. He produced sounds that the shadow seemed to remember from a time very long ago, a distant dream full of connection and belonging. He came from a world of color and life and light, a place much bigger than this hazy prison of gray; a world that, the shadow knew, it had once been a part of.
But then the deceitful whispers, the shallow promises, rose hot and violent in its mind, and it tightened its swarthy hand upon the hilt of its sword. This creature, no matter how familiar or beautiful it was, had to be destroyed. Only then would the hungry fires be quenched. The Gerudo Lord said so.
The shadow struck without warning, and the colorful being countered and struck back. A blue light darted above the pair, crying out directions and warnings in a small, sparkling voice. The fairy. The shadow ignored the tiny creature and focused on its foe, repelling and returning the blows with an effortless, almost clairvoyant pace. It stared into the powerful blue eyes on the other side of its sword, contemplating how something could not change its shape yet convey a variety of . . . things. The shadow knew nothing of emotion, but an idea began to form in its dim little mind, the idea that this creature possessed something that made him unlike anything else the shadow had ever seen. It lay beneath those eyes, the thriving presence of something untouchable and eternal, alive and yet unable to die.
As they strove against one another, the shadow reached through the depths of Link’s eyes and began to learn, drawing out pieces of him in the form of memory, movement, voice, color, form, emotion. He struck Link’s left arm and the Master Sword went skidding onto the shore of the little island. Link had no time to draw another weapon—he continued to fight with his shield alone, pushing and slamming and blocking, lashing out with a punch or kick whenever he dared. Sparks exploded as metal clashed on metal. The more frustrated Link grew with his deflected attacks, the stronger his opponent seemed to become, feeding off of their encounter like a parasite upon an angry host.
The shadow grew excited the more it learned, knowing that this was what it had so desired since its creation, to connect with this familiar, mysterious source of power, to see it and feel it and hear it. It was as close to being alive as the lifeless shadow could get. But one thing it did not realize it was absorbing was a vital characteristic inherent within every human being: free will. And with that will comes the consequences of poor judgement; we call them many things, but the most apt description would be “mistakes”.
In that moment, the shadow became a person. No longer was it a mindless shell that acted upon instinct and need. The strings had been cut, and now the puppet moved, thought, and lived on its own. And that was where it—he—fell.
Link spotted the vulnerability in his foe and, using a well-aimed strike with the edge of his shield, sent the dark blade flying into the air. He reached out and caught it by the hilt before it could fall to the water. The shadow cried out in a voice very much like the figure he was mimicking and recoiled, stunned and confused.
Link did not hesitate. He darted forward, driving his opponent’s sword deep into his shoulder. The shadow gasped, indeed, he breathed for the first and last time, and he clutched his own blade in his hand, clenching until black blood ran down to the hilt and across Link’s fingers. The blood was warm.
Link looked into the face of his foe and watched the black, blank eyes go still with death. He pulled the sword from his enemy’s body and dropped it into the water, where it disappeared with a splash. A dark mist rose like a cloud of flies from his enemy’s crumpled body and fled into the surrounding fog. The sight made Link’s skin crawl.
He crouched down and carefully washed the blood from his hands. Then he waded over to the island and picked up his sword, returning it to its sheath with a clean, metallic snick. He turned, and the door across the way that had once been locked now stood ajar.
Navi was visibly perturbed, fluttering erratically around Link’s head. “That thing, it looked just like you! . . . Link? Link, are you all right?”
He did not answer until they reached the door, whereupon he turned and gazed out at the realm of mist. He said, “I feel as if some part of me just died out there, Navi.”
As the door closed itself behind him and his quest continued on, he had no idea how wrong he was.