A Windy, Blustery Day

Chapter 3: In the Mists of a Muddled Middle, Part II (Or, A Simple Misunderstanding Gone Awry)

Chapter Summary:

In which Four wakes up and chooses violence, Shadow also wakes up and chooses violence, misunderstandings continue, and damage control somehow involves bombs.

Chapter Notes:

*watches LU reveal half the major secrets of the cast in like four upd8s, completely upending story status quo* I'm just gonna... pretend I didn't see that.

(Also new DL chapters!!! *delighted grabby hands*)

Not too long in the past...

Between the long, dull stretch of travel and the current lack of entertaining strangers to terrorize, Shadow had been more than prepared for boredom. Midna made a difference, of course, but apparently even Twili who did nothing all day but lounge around in other people's luxuriously carpeted shadows needed sleep, and Midna in particular had made it clear interrupting her beauty sleep, much like failing to pay rent, was forbidden on pain of death and subsequent eviction.

So, with no conversation partner and nothing better to do, Shadow had taken to sitting dully on the carpeted floor, arms crossed, listening in on the outside world between Midna's quiet snores.

It wasn't much. In the last hour, all he'd heard had been the crunching of pebbles and grass underfoot, the breeze, the occasional far-off wildlife, and one brief, inane conversation between Dusk and Wind. All in all, nearly as boring as watching Midna sleep, but again: nothing better to do. Even the stupid conversation dried up after a minute, so Shadow fell back into a state of vague oblivion in which all sounds melded into a bland, porridge-like mush of noise -- something not quite sleep, but not quite waking either.

He couldn't technically sleep the way mortals did, but he was near the closest state he could be to dreaming when, as if through a distant tunnel, he heard someone say his name.

He might have ignored it, but some half a minute later, he heard it again, and there went the napping session. The semi-pleasant oblivion faded away to crisp, boring reality in an instant, and Shadow grumbled -- albeit with only half the usual vitriol -- at the loss.

With a few second's consideration, Shadow decided he was, in fact, bored enough to get chatty and/or find something to beat the tar out of with a sword. Perhaps he'd take a fresh peek at the disgustingly sunny scenery, just for kicks. Climbing up into the ceiling of Midna's haven, he stuck his head out into the open air, like a dread sea-creature rising from the depths, and surveyed his surroundings.

Dusk and Wind had found some kind of inn, apparently, and the daylight visible through the open entrance had receded into a promising red-shaded sunset. The stink of hay and horse manure told of a stable nearby, mingling with the much more pleasant aroma of stewed meat and spices. The smell was enticing enough that, had Shadow needed food to sustain his form, he might have indulged in stealing some.

As it was, he had no chance to be discreet. He was already surrounded by the shocked faces of about a dozen well-armed young men, all rapidly taking notice of the figure of pure darkness climbing out of Dusk's shadow.

"Dusk!" one of them shouted, "behind you!"

"Where are we?" said Shadow, crossing his arms and exercising his nascent sense of courtesy by not stabbing any of the annoyances in the face. This proved to be a mistake, because not a full second later, a child ran up and skewered him from behind.

(Perhaps the warning had been misaimed.)

Now, had Shadow been a mortal hylian, and not a being of living darkness, the whole "skewered by an overly stabby child" thing would have been much more of a problem. The blade had run right between his ribs and through the left chamber of his nonexistent heart, which could have made him very dead. As it happened, Shadow was not a mortal hylian, so he simply rotated the top of his torso around to get a look at his attacker, instead.

Beside him, Dusk sighed. "You know, I'm not even surprised. I'm really not."

"Excuse you!" Shadow hissed, already reshaping his torso around the blade. It didn't actually hurt that much, but the intent couldn't have been any less clear. "Do you normally just stab strangers you don't like and ask questions later, then, or is this some kind of special treatment you give just to shadow constructs because you're all a bunch of paranoid dark-fearing nitwits?"

The child's face didn't quite ring a bell, nor the headband and the ridiculous patchwork shirt, but the determined look in the boy's bright blue eyes screamed Hero-type. The sword looked like it had seen better days, though -- it had a bent blade and a rag tied around the hilt, like it had been grabbed blindly from a blacksmith's repair pile.

Rather than reply, the child glanced down at the sword, as if surprised by its appearance (or more likely, Shadow's failure to drop dead.) In a single fluid motion, the child yanked the blade back out of Shadow's imaginary ribs to swing low at his knees, which were still more or less attached to Dusk's shadow. Shadow groaned and summoned a spectral black blade to block, rising smoothly the rest of the way out of the dark until his feet skimmed the floorboards with a flourish of black smoke. This made him look much more dignified, and also slightly taller than Dusk. Unfortunately, half the newcomers were taller.

In Shadow's peripheral vision, a man he assumed to be the innkeeper took cover behind a counter, and another passerby beat a hasty retreat from the doorway. Shadow silently awarded the former the title of Smartest Hylian in the Room, and noted the latter as a solid runner-up.

"Sky?" the child called out, "I think we need one of the better swords for this!"

"You honestly don't," Dusk interrupted, in a tone that might have been accompanied by a sigh and pinched brow if he hadn't given up on it about a dozen Midna shenanigans ago. "Sorry about the introduction-- this is, uh, one of the traveling companions I mentioned earlier. Please ignore him, he's just a nuisance, mostly."

"What the hell are you on about?!" one of the other travelers burst out. "That's literally the Shadow thing we were chasing! Y'know, the thing we were just talking about?"

The newest speaker looked around Wind's age, give or take a year (probably give), with a blue tunic and familiar sword, and-- actually, no, now that Shadow was paying attention, he didn't just look Wind's age so much as his spitting image.

Shadow sized up the travelers again -- the tallest, broad and solid, with half of Oni's blue and red marks across what could have been an older Ocarina's scarred, pointy-nosed face; the pink-haired swordsman with a face Shadow barely recognized between paler skin and a tired, sour scowl; Gen's memorable cupid's bow and soft, fluffed-up hair on a tall body a few pounds more solid than Shadow remembered -- the rest, unrecognizable, but disgustingly familiar.

"I stop paying attention for half an hour, and you've found more heroes already?!" he demanded, glancing over his shoulder at Dusk.

"I'll explain later," said Dusk. With a poorly stifled sigh, he turned back to the others. "Okay, so it's complicated, and I know this looks kind of bad, but--"

"Yeah, no shit it looks bad!" the pink-haired one snapped. "You knew you were traveling with this thing?! Just letting it hide out in your shadow like the world's worst parasite, this whole time?!"

"... yes?" The playful note in Dusk's voice was the only thing keeping all of his blood inside his body -- well, that and Midna, but Midna was a given.

"It's not like I'm the only one in there!" Shadow objected, pointing his sword at Dusk.

"Midna's asleep, she's not part of this." Dusk grimaced suddenly. "Or not. Nevermind."

"Wait, Midna?" asked one of the taller travelers -- one Shadow didn't recognize, whose tidy hair and flowing blue cape gave him the look of some clueless noble.

"We're sharing the space," said Shadow. "How and why is none of your business. Also, Dusk, if the short brat behind me isn't one of us, I am pushing him down a well or something later, and I hope he breaks his neck."

Said short brat took the opportunity to make another valiant attempt on Shadow's life mid-sentence, this time with a running leap and decapitating swing. Shadow ducked, letting Stabby's momentum send him hurtling across the room, but the boy caught himself in a tidy somersault instead of crash-landing, rolling to a disappointing stop at his allies' feet. At least Shadow got a few softly muttered curse words for his troubles.

"I wasn't asking you, shade," Cape Idiot snapped. "And if you so much as lay a hand on anyone here--"

"Am I the only guy here who doesn't get who this is?" asked the stranger near the cooking pot. (Shadow mentally noted him down as "Scars", for the ruined left side of his face peeking out behind his long hair.) "The shadow thing was all goopy and shapeshifted. I've got costumes that look like this guy."

"It literally just shapeshifted in front of us," Pink Hair retorted. "Or did you miss the part where he melted up out of the guy's shadow?"

"I though the shadow only took monster forms?" said the Gen-lookalike, sounding uncertain.

"More importantly," said the Oni-looking one, "Ord-- Dusk? Care to explain what this thing's been doing riding along in your shadow?"

"Being bored out of my skull, mostly," replied Shadow, more to annoy Cape Idiot than anything else.

"He's with me," Dusk explained. "We teamed up after-- well, it's a long story, but he basically showed up and announced he was part of the team, so we decided it was easier to just let him join. And if he knows what's good for him and behaves himself -- Midna's words, not mine--"

"You teamed up with a Dark Link?" shouted Cape Idiot again, living up to his new name with unmatched fervor.

"Yeah, it was a bit awkward at first, but--"

"A Dark Link? What the hell is that supposed to mean?" interrupted Shadow. "I'm the Dark Link, one and only, last I checked, unless someone's been summoning counterfeits!"

"A Dark Link, the Dark Link -- listen, none of us care," said Pink Hair. "Teaming up with a thing like that is a sketchier story than I've seen guys in caves draw on maps. Old Man? Captain? Anyone? Are we kicking his shadowy ass or not?"

"Alright," said Dusk, "I don't think you're listening, but I'm telling you, whatever you think is going on here--"

Shadow growled and rolled his eyes. It was a bit difficult to pull off without pupils, but he managed. "You just watched me take a sword through the heart and live. Are you too stupid to tell I'm impervious to your pathetic little blades, or do I have to spell it out for you?"

("Could you both stop interrupting me?" said Dusk.)

"You're not immune to light magic, are you?" Pink Hair shot back, shortbow already in his hands, as if Dusk hadn't spoken at all.

Pink Hair and Cape Idiot were both rising dangerously high on Shadow's mental hitlist. Nowhere near Ganon, of course, but considering the length of said list, any ranking high enough to note was quite high indeed. (Stabby Kid was also on the hitlist, at a few notches higher, but at least his dogged determination to kill the unkillable almost wrapped back around to endearing, in a stupid sort of way.)

"Okay, seriously, listen," Dusk intervened, a little sterner than before. "This isn't the Shadow you guys know. He's frequently unhelpful and a total menace, yes, but he's actually, technically, on our side."

"He's about to be technically full of silver arrows, if we don't get some really convincing proof in the next few seconds to back that up!" snapped Pink Hair.

"Even if he's not the same Shadow we've been chasing, I have a hard time believing he's friendly," the Oni-looking one agreed.

Shadow hissed. "I'll show you friendly--!"

"Can someone please explain, for the rest of us, who this thing actually is?" Gen's lookalike piped up, suddenly standing. "The Shadow, I understand, but a Dark Link...?"

"A being of dark magic," the Oni-looking one declared. "Meant to destroy whatever it imitates."

"Nah, they're more like puppets. Usually minions of Ganon or something," added Pink Hair, casually. "Saw an evil sorceress summon a couple once, but they were just cheap copies. This guy's worse."

"You met her too?" Cape Idiot asked. "Ugh. She's the worst." He gestured to Shadow with a free hand. "Mine were fairly smart -- they had tactics. Less mouthy than this one, though."

"Why you--" There were definitely words trying to come out of Shadow's mouth, but they were a bit too busy choking each other in a blind rage to resemble a sentence by the time they got there.

"I can second the minion of Ganon part," added Stabby Kid, who had once again learned to use his words. "Mine was, too."

"He's a minion of Ganon?!" The wooden spoon and pot lid in Scars's hands shouldn't have looked so much like weapons, but in the right hands, it appeared, they could. Dusk raised his voice to say something, but Shadow was a bit too far past caring to hear him.

"Didn't he literally just threaten to break someone's neck?" Another doppelganger chimed in.

Shadow growled again, this time in a way no other Link could manage while hylian. It was a low, guttural sound that promised a great deal of agony and death for anything unfortunate enough to hear it, and matched very well with his bared fangs and newly sharp-clawed nails. The doppelgangers snapped to attention, looking almost properly menaced. "Call me a minion of Ganon one more time, and I'll-!"

Pink Hair's arrow hit Shadow square in the chest, burning like sunlight given murderous intent, and Shadow's words strangled into a screech.

"Alright, that does it!"



Back in the present, Wild would say plan "get everyone together and figure out what's going on" had been going better than expected.

He hadn't expected Twilight and the newcomers to show up at the shrine before he'd even started off to look for them, but Wild wasn't going to question the good luck right now, because frankly, there were bigger things to be asking much, much bigger questions about. Questions like "how are we even in the same reality?", and "why are there so many of you?", and "so, quick question, is the Shadow actually with you guys or is your hero of Twilight just lying through his teeth?"

That last one came out as an actual spoken question. It probably could have been phrased a little better, but still got to the point, so he was calling that good enough.

"I knew we should have told them," said the redhead on the roof of the giant metal cart now parked by the shrine. The cart didn't look like Sheikah tech, but Wild didn't have any good guesses for what else it could have been, assuming the newcomers hadn't just brought it to his time period with them. Wild would've liked to see the portal that could fit that through it, though.

The tiny one with Time's bangs gave Twilight a pointed look. "What they don't know won't hurt them, huh?"

Twilight's expression grew tight, but the tension broke a second later into a sigh. "It could have been worse?"

"They're kind of trying to kill each other right now," Wild told him. "I'm not sure it can get much worse from here, unless--"

"Don't say that!" shouted one of the small heroes, dressed in blue. "That's like an invitation to make it worse, it's practically a narrative rule, everyone knows--ngh!" The red one next to him elbowed him in the side, cutting off the complaint. "Oh, come on, that wasn't even--"

"Listen, I just need to get someone over there as fast as I can before anyone else gets stabbed again," Wild continued. A thousand questions bubbled under his skin, but time was of the essence. "Who here is best at... negotiations and people stuff?" He'd be taking Twilight on the first warp run, obviously, but that left two or three slots open -- four, if he could manage the extra mass. Most of the new heroes were smaller than Wild was used to, which helped.

The group exchanged glances among themselves.

"Lore and I are usually the co-leaders with Dusk," began the one that looked like Sky, "but if we both go, and so does Twilight..."

"We can handle ourselves for five minutes," said the tiny maybe-Time, with a huff. "Just go before whatever's going on out there gets worse!"

As if it could hear them, the other Wind's blue charm let out a familiar chime.

At his hip, a split second behind, Wild's slate made a valiant effort to join it, screeching and gurgling through crossed wires and questionable compatibility. It almost sounded like a bell, if a bell had been caught in time and jittered back and forth like rabbit in a giant wolf's teeth while someone whacked it with a stick repeatedly. If the slate had a normal function that made that sound, he'd never found it, and he wasn't sure he wanted to, either.

Smaller Wind held his charm at arm's length, and it took more effort than Wild expected not to flinch, ever so slightly, at just how familiar he looked. This one was even more alike than Dusk was to Twilight -- barely any shorter, probably the same age, even with the same tunic and sword. Wild was starting to understand just what Impa and the rest must have felt, seeing Wild himself wandering into the world a century late like a stranger in their old friend's skin. (And a little guilt nestled in his gut, right after, because it wasn't like the kid could really do anything about it, not any more than Wild could have when he first stumbled into Kakariko.)

The charm glowed blue, retaking Wild's attention, and a hazy impression of his Wind's face appeared, jerking around and clipping in and out of view as scenery stumbled by in a rush. The sound through the charm's connection wasn't as clear as it could have been -- the entropic crackle of background chaos ate every other word -- so the message that came across sounded something like:

"Wild, where the--" (crackling, a loud snap) "-- are you?! You just--" (more crackling, the twang of a bow) "--disappeared! Smith and Captain flipped and Vet's gone all--" (the sound of something tree-sized hitting the ground, more crackling like the person carrying the charm had perhaps had to dash for cover) "--and said he's not to be trusted, but I think-- oh, sh--"

A muffled explosion tore through the end of the sentence, and the world inside the charm spun wildly between grass and sky for several spun seconds before Wind's face reappeared, intact but with a few more scrapes than before. An inhuman screech echoed from somewhere out of view, and the clang of metal resumed. Wind stood steadier now, righting himself, and the group caught a glimpse of flames and smoke as the camera bounced at chest-level with Wind's new sprint away from the chaos. "Anyway, I dunno what you're doing, but I really hope it's something useful, 'cause--"

Wild watched as Wind's head jerked to attention at something unseen, and he swore again, under his breath, but loud enough for the charm to pick up. There was a brief pause. Then the connection fizzled out, and the stone fell dark again.

"Oh boy," said another of the small ones. This one was small, straw-blonde, and wore green; this made him indistinguishable from about three or four others who were also small, straw-blond and wore green. Wild didn't bother trying to nickname him. "You guys should really get going."



"What is that?" Realm wondered aloud, squinting into the distance.

The fading sunset made it hard to tell, but he could make out the glow of something sitting on the horizon, with a shape sitting pretty between 'shaft of moonlight' and 'bonfire'.

"Looks too low to be a star. I'm... not sure?" Link replied. "But speaking of stars -- it's gotten late. My friends will be looking for me soon, if I'm not back." He winced. "I was probably supposed to be back before dark."

It was then that Realm was forced to make a decision.

While he was perfectly capable of sleeping out in the wilderness, since he'd been doing that for the last... two years, on and off? (Had it really been that long?), Realm did honestly appreciate, even prefer, the comforts of an actual bed with an actual blanket, especially one that wasn't soaking wet with muddy swamp water. The squelching grass beneath his boots did not look promising, and thoughts of sleeping curled up on his shield only alerted him to the fact he'd lost said shield. Again.

Putting that all into perspective, and considering that nobody had found him in several hours (which meant they were either nearly as lost as he was, or extremely busy), shelter at a nearby stable sounded quite nice. Who said staying put was the best way to be found, anyway?

"I don't think any of my friends know where I am, and I don't think they're going to figure it out in the next few hours at this point, so... would you mind, if I took you up on that guiding offer?" Realm asked.

"Of course," Link offered, with what Realm suspected was mostly relief. "It'll be no trouble -- well, assuming I can find it."

"You're more likely to than I am," Realm assured him. "So, which way?"

"I came from..." Link paused. "This side of the shore, I think."

He picked up a fallen stick from the ground held it out at arm's length, prodding at the muck, and drew a candle from his bag for better light.

For some reason, Realm found himself staring at the red wax and brassy candle-holder in Link's hands, unable to place the feeling they gave him. Something about them just seemed... familiar? Yes, that had to be it. They had that style of the candle-holders back in his own era -- which, now that he thought about it, he hadn't seen anywhere else.

New era, old customs. Perhaps this time period came after his own? There was a sort of comfort to the idea of having his own successor someday, Realm supposed -- knowing that the world he lived in would carry on, even after he'd finished his quest and hopefully grown old and died.

Link paused at the water's edge, and then suddenly frowned at the water. Realm got a good look at his expression by candlelight, just before Link very deliberately set one foot on the water's surface and cursed under his breath.

"I can't believe I forgot I had these on," said Link, with an already fading scowl. "I got mud in my socks for nothing."

"Do what?" Realm asked. Link tapped his boot against the water's murky surface again, and then stepped forward directly onto it.

The water held Link on its surface like an skater on ice: smooth, reflective, and perfectly solid. Only ripples through the surface and murk below outed it as perfectly ordinary swamp water.

"I was so caught up in wading I forgot I could just walk across," Link lamented to no one in particular, leaving Realm to gawk behind him. Rather suddenly, a number of puzzle pieces began to click together: the green tunic. The name. The sword and shield. A portable source of fire. And now magic boots.

He was beginning to feel a bit stupid.

"So you said your name was Link, right?"

"Yeah?" said Link. "Same as you."

"... you wouldn't happen to be the legendary hero of this era, would you?"

Link startled, and then gave Realm an absolutely baffled look. Alright, so that wasn't the most elegant way of putting it.

"Uhhhhh," said Link.

"You are?"

"Nope. Definitely got the wrong guy." Link shook his head, with a sudden nervous air Realm found he really did not like, because Link was very obviously trying to reach for his sword without looking like he was reaching for his sword, which put things about two wrong sentences away from having to fight him. Realm did not have the utmost confidence (or interest) in the idea of fighting another hero he barely knew, alone, shieldless, in rapidly approaching darkness, in the middle of a swamp, where his opponent could walk on water.

Looking back, personal questions had summoned a skittish evasiveness in the traveler, whenever Realm stumbled upon one -- he'd been willing to give his name, but not his companions' names, or where he'd come from, or much of anything else. Realm could respect him being the private sort, but it had grown just a little tiny bit concerning as the day wore on.

To add to all this: the kingdom, from Realm's extremely short and scattershot tour of it, had also seemed rather... empty, with what looked suspiciously like a mossy, decrepit Hyrule Castle standing ruined in the distance. The landscape had been notably full of abandoned, crumbling buildings. And skeletons. Sometimes even skeletons in abandoned, crumbling buildings. (Not Stalfos, either -- just plain dead people, all piled up in little bony heaps, like they'd been there a long, long time.)

The picture forming wasn't a terribly pleasant one.

"... okay then," said Realm. It seemed like the best idea for the time being. "I guess I just saw the magic and all, and your name is Link, so I thought..."

"The boots?" said Link. "Oh, that's not really-- I mean, they're enchanted, but it's not like spellcasting. I don't use my magic for them."

"You can use magic?" Realm blurted out, before his common sense could caution him.

Link made no effort to deny this tidbit, though, with a small, proud smile on his lips. "Well, I've learned a few spells, here and there."

"What kinds?" Lucky for Realm, Link seemed to relax at the change of topic. "Sorry, I just-- it's really rare to meet anyone who knows any magic, and I've um, I've been curious about it for a while, and..." A few of the other Heroes (Ocarina and Mask, Wind, technically Steam) had spells, but those were basically magical items or boons from the goddesses -- they didn't take much more than a bit of pointing and shouting to figure out the basics. Nobody else seemed to have much information about spell spells... if that made any sense at all.

"Oh, just a few that are useful," said Link, with a shrug that could have been false modesty or genuine bashfulness. "I can summon a shield? And there's one that just lets me jump really high, which is good for mountain climbing, I guess. And some others, too."

Realm fiddled a moment with his belt, gathering up his courage and channeling Lore to the best of his ability, then asked: "Do you, by any chance, offer lessons?"

"... I don't think I'd be able to teach you much in a single evening," Link answered, after a long, uncertain pause. "Speaking of which, I should really be heading back. If you're coming with me to the stables, we should go now, before it gets any darker."

"Oh," said Realm. Now that he was paying attention, it had gotten quite dark. The murky waters of the surrounding swamp loomed all the more treacherous in the dimming twilight, and he couldn't for the life of him remember which way Link had pointed him earlier. "Does it help at all if I wanted to try a specific spell? Like teleporting?"

By the look on Link's face, Realm might as well have just suggested challenging Ganon armed with a nothing but a small twig, or possibly bungee-jumping over lava with no rope. "Teleporting spells really aren't for beginners. I don't know any, either, so I couldn't help even if I wanted to. I'm just a traveler who's learned a few tricks, not a master mage."

"I'm not asking you to teach me the spell," Realm clarified. "I just want to know how to cast spells. Deliberately. And also how to stop casting them."

Link shook his head. "I'm not, in good conscience, helping a novice spellcaster try to teleport. There's far too many ways that can go wrong."

"I'm not exactly a novice," Realm argued, and Link's concern gave way to bafflement and frustration.

"Why are you asking me, then?"

"It's... complicated." Realm rubbed at his ears absentmindedly. "Technically, I can already do the spell -- I just don't have any control. Also, the one time I started trying to do it on purpose, I overdid it so badly I needed special counter-enchantments just to make it stop."

"... the earrings?" Link guessed, after a moment. Realm nodded.

"You can tell, then?"

Link shrugged. "They're really strong. I can feel the force of whatever counterspell you've got on them just by looking." His face grew a contemplative sort of look. "They're like weights or anchors, almost. Like they're trying to hold you down. If I pay enough attention, I can almost sense something trying to wriggle free."

"Oh, yeah, that makes sense," Realm replied. "They're anti-Wandering charms." He stopped, briefly, pulling his hand away from his ears. "That's what the spell was. Wandering, I mean. Or, the princess said I was Wandering, I think? I'm not really sure what the difference is supposed to be, but whatever it is, it means I sort of... accidentally teleport, whenever I try to travel somewhere. Very subtly. And also mostly at random."

"Oh," said Link, who seemed to be thinking to himself, now. "Hm."

"That's actually how I got onto this island," Realm continued, not minding the new one-sidedness. Old Men and dragons weren't much for conversation, so he had long ago learned to make do. "I took off the earrings for a bit to see if I could get somewhere more useful -- I've never even learned how to swim. It used to be I'd just walk places, and sometimes there was water around them. I've visited a lot of islands that way."


"Some of the islands are very nice, but I did keep getting stuck on one -- it was all alone in the middle of a lake, actually, and I have no idea why, but at one point it seemed like every other few steps I took ended on that same tiny little island. The scenery was beautiful, but the mood really started to wear off after the sixteenth or seventeenth time, I think."

"So..." Link proposed, "if the problem is just your aim..." He hummed thoughtfully to himself. "I'm not sure I can help you with stopping, but maybe I could help your targeting? Or at least, if I help you with casting, I could try to to fix your aim, and we could figure it out from there."

"Huh," said Realm. "That sounds like something worth a try."

The earring came off more smoothly, the second time -- with any luck, Realm was getting the hang of it. He winced as the backing pin pulled at the sensitive bits around the piercing. Alright, mostly getting the hang of it.

Link watched intently. "Do you need to take all of them off, or...?"

"One set should be enough," Realm decided, already undoing the second earring. With deliberate care and a chastising mental note, he slipped both earrings into his tunic pocket, then nodded. "Alright. I think I'm ready."

"Great." Link took in a deep, steadying breath, and then let it out again. "So, I've never done this before, but..."



Meanwhile, Farore's wailing could be heard all the way to the Sacred Realm. "No, no, no no no no no! Why are my babies fighting?!"

"I though the other ones weren't your babies?" asked Din, deepening an edge-of-the-world trench for extra Hero-proofing.

"That's not the point!" cried Farore, gesticulating wildly over the Reality Window. "I only took my eyes off them for a moment... Oh, and I was making progress with the shadow one, too! He almost felt appreciated! And loved!!" She paused. "Well, maybe not quite loved yet, but I was getting there!"

"Try giving some kind of sign he's one of yours," Din suggested. "A mark, or a flash of lightning, or something."

Farore shoved her face into her hands. "I would, but light in him is so fragile, I'm scared to try in case I might hurt him instead!"

Din raised an eyebrow. "Isn't he the most durable one you have?"

"Against normal things, yes! Against lightning and holy magic, not so much!"

"... Okay, so not a mark on him directly. Anything else?"

"Ughhh..." Farore groaned, peeking out between her fingers to keep watching the fight. "If I could do something like that trick with the swords again I would, but I don't have power over theirs, so it wouldn't make good proof, since they already don't trust mine..."

"You're sure they can't just fight it out until they're tired or something?" asked Din. She wasn't exactly at a loss, but each veto brought her steadily closer.

"I don't want them to kill each other! And they're too close to lead away from each other, either."

Farore sighed, fidgeting with an abstract set of species variations like a string of worry beads. Din put a hand to her chin, thinking for a moment as she looked over the unfinished, low-polygon landmasses on the far side of a river. "Maybe they could--"

"Wait! Fighting!" Farore straightened like an unfurled paper party kazoo, just barely sans the sound effects. "Din, Din you're a genius!"

"I am?" Din asked, brow furrowed.

Farore dropped the string of species variations and clasped her hands in delight. "If I can give them a fight against something else to bring them all together, I can make them all team up and trust each other long enough to stop fighting themselves, and tire them out enough not to try and kill each other afterward!, Oh, this is a great idea! I just need to figure out which ones to target, and what I can send their way -- oh, there's bystanders, so something a little less explosive maybe, but--" She trailed off into a flurry of muttering.

"Uh, okay then," said Din. "... Glad to be of help?"



Reality wove itself back together in strands of immaterial blue, and the smell of smoke didn't so much fill the air as punch Wild in the face, in the way a bokoblin camp full of suddenly-ignited bomb barrels might assault a lone traveler armed with totally unrelated fire arrows upwind.

"Wow," said the new hero that looked like Sky, stumbling forward off shrine's warp pad. Dusk had called that one... Gen, right? Wild made a mental note to ask him later. "That was almost as bad as getting teleported to the Twilight Realm."

"You've been there?" asked Twilight, sounding only a little surprised.

"With Dusk," the recently named Lore confirmed. "We all got cursed. I was a rabbit again, even. Though at least I wasn't pink!"

An upside of ferrying other experienced heroes: the shrines' warp system needed neither explanation nor careful hand-holding. The first time Zelda had wheedled Wild into taking her along for a test ride, she'd taken one look at the view from the top of Lakeside Tower, walked three wobbly steps, and thrown up over the railing. Twilight, on the other hand, hadn't been bothered at all since he'd first warped along as a wolf, and the newcomers (commentary aside) looked unfazed.

This was a very good thing, because not fifty paces from the shrine's warp pad was utter chaos.

Flames licked merrily at the wooden frame of the stable as the small crowd of regulars milled about outside, reactions ranging from apprehensive to furious. Malanya's effigy on the roof had caught alight from debris, and the blaze spat up through the central shaft like it had learned to breath fire. Beyond the building, a pair of stablehands rushed to the river, bearing buckets for an improvised fire brigade.

An untied mare ran past the shrine, whinnying in a panic; the local guide, Ami, jogged after her on his half-pint legs with a breathful of minced oaths, barely sparing a glance at Wild and the newcomers. The rest of the horses had been lead down to safety down by the river with the goats and cuccos, at least, with Rebonae bridge as the clear next path of escape -- thank Hylia for that.

Beside the local crowd stood a cluster of four heroes. Wild spied the glint of Legend's sword rested level and threatening on not-Twilight's shoulder as he engaged in a heated argument with Wind and Sky too far away to discern -- probably the same argument they'd been having when Wild had left. Not-Twilight's hands were raised in temporary surrender, but he seemed distracted by something Wild couldn't see. Lawdon, the stable owner, stepped forward from the crowd and grabbed Legend's attention, shouting something about damage to the premises; as resident hero, Wild had a sinking feeling he'd be the one paying.

All the ruckus at the stablegrounds seemed downright orderly, though, when compared to the other side of the road.

The neighboring footpath and field around the cliffs had become a battleground swept by wildfire and arrows, three heroes and the shadow fighting it out on the open ground. The flames had spread to several more battered trees (or at least, there were more trees on fire than there had been when he'd left) and scorched the grass around, but it did little to deter the battle raging on. Wild winced as a fresh wave of flames from Warriors' borrowed fire rod swept within arm's length of the stable fences. Maybe, just this once, more fire wasn't the solution.

"Alright, who wants to do what?" asked Lore, striding off the warp pad like he'd been teleporting all his life. (Which could have been true.) "I think either one of me or two of you should be enough to break up the fight, but I could also try charming the crowd, if you'd like!"

"I'd start with the fire," said not-Sky, surprisingly calm. "People will panic less once that's dealt with. Champion, Twilight, can you, uh, help talk to your friends and tell them we're not their enemies? I think they'll take it best from you."

"Of course," said Twilight, answering before Wild got a word in. "Lore, if you go out there, you mind lending one of us your ice rod? I don't have much gear for fire-fighting, and Gen's bellows didn't look like enough for one this big."

"I could lend you some frost arrows, too," Wild added, trying not to be left out. He didn't wait for a reply, already pulling out bundles of arrows from his bags, but not-Sky hummed and nodded, shading his eyes against the afternoon glare and squinting at the flames.

"That would be good," not-Sky said. "We'll probably need everything we can get."

"Well, if that's all settled..." said Lore, fishing an ice rod out of his bag and slapping it into Twilight's open hand.

Wild wasn't sure what he'd expected next, but Lore shouting "Break!" and dashing at full pegasus-boot speed across the road wasn't quite it.

"Alright, then!" Following Lore's cue, Sky's double took off at toward the stables -- at a gentler sprint, Wild would admit, but making good time down the path. Twilight followed apace, and Wild jolted forward out of his inaction to join them.

Lawdon's ranting grew clearer up close, and Wild winced, despite himself. He'd expected the fighting, but somehow, an irate stable owner seemed far more intimidating than a pile of shadows with a sword.



"--three weeks! Three weeks, since we've had this second floor built, and it's already been set on fire!"

The stable owner, as it had grown clear, possessed the voice of a man who worked with horses and with idiots -- one who knew how to hush down to the gentlest whisper, and when to boom like a hunting horn.

Dusk could appreciate that. He really could. It was just that in his current predicament -- stuck in the middle of several different arguments, half of which wouldn't even acknowledge each others' existence -- Dusk appreciated it slightly less. The part where Lawdon kept accidentally shouting straight into Dusk's ear wasn't helping.

I swear, when that little punk get back from his stupid rampage out there I'm going to--!

Midna wasn't helping either. She'd woken up about halfway through the whole mess, and the first thing she'd had to say about it was... not something he'd understood, admittedly, but which Dusk had no doubt was not acceptable in any polite company, particularly any that understood Darkling.

"Midna, as much as I more or less agree with you right now, there are kind of more important things to be dealing with!" hissed Dusk, aiming for a discreet enough volume not to sound like he'd gone insane, and missing the mark by several inches.

The tip of Legend's sword still rested on Dusk's shoulder, just a short flick from his throat, but Legend seemed frankly too preoccupied to make good on any leverage. Dusk wasn't completely convinced he'd had a plan to begin with, but any semblance of one had evaporated under Lawdon's tirade about damage payments, which came interspersed with more tender comments about the poor spooked horses, followed by tirades a few decibels louder about being careless with bombs and the danger of a stable fire to said poor, dear, innocent horses.

(That Legend, specifically, had not been the one throwing bombs did not seem to factor into the equation.)

Lawdon's butting-in had at least paused the previous argument between Legend, Wind, and Sky (Dusk had attempted to participate, but been mostly ignored), over what exactly they planned to do with the friendly doppelganger who'd been carrying their newest enemy in his shadow all day without mentioning it. Salient points had included his Master Sword's failure to respond to the others', his failure of communications, the mysterious teleporting and convenient excuse for such, and The Wolf Thing, which Legend and Sky had apparently both been initiated into, but had not expected Wind to know about.

Sky, who'd been mediating the argument in the way of one suspicious but hesitant to rush any judgement, seemed conflicted on the turn of events. He kept half-raising his hand when Lawdon finished a sentence, then lowering it again, as if he'd thought to intervene and then thought better of it. Wind's attitude, on the other hand, had swung from a vaguely put-out scowl to absolute, schadenfreude-filled glee at watching Legend get bullied by a man armed with nothing but a curry comb, a great deal of nerve, and an equally silly hat.

"Hey, we saw the fire-- can we help?"

At a finally familiar voice, Dusk had to stop himself from whirling around straight into Legend's sword. He instead turned his head as far as it would comfortably go, then turned the rest of the way with steady care, not taking his eye off the blade's edge.

Is that--? Midna began, but she didn't need to finish the question.

Gen, approaching from somewhere uphill, appeared mildly scorched and disheveled as one might from putting out at least two fires already, gust bellows tucked under his arm like a set of bagpipes. Wild followed a few feet behind him, a bundle of frost arrows in one hand and his slate in the other. And then, Dusk looked at the man next to Wild and blinked once, twice, then a third time, as if maybe blinking hard enough would clear his vision of the doppelganger standing in group's midst.

Dusk had understood, on some level, that he would be dealing with his double sooner or later, but -- well, maybe it was because of that awful fever dream at Lake Lanayru, but the sight still unsettled him, ever so slightly. He didn't let it catch him off-guard for more than a fraction of a second, though, at least in part because everything was still happening rather all at once.

"Do I look like I'm in any position to say no?!" squawked Lawdon, still (intentionally or not) at foghorn volume. At least this time, it wasn't in Dusk's ear.

"Champion, what the fuck do you think you're doing?!" said Legend, at approximately the same moment.

"Helping!" answered Wild, in the manic, far too cheerful tone of a man taking frantic refuge in audacity.

"We--" Legend spluttered, and his aborted attempt at a frustrated hand gesture might have taken Dusk's head off had Dusk not stepped slightly out of the way a minute ago. "I'm sorry, did I just hallucinate the bomb-throwing Shadow construct trying to kill us, or--" He cut himself off to stare at Gen, and this time the hand gesture would have definitely decapitated someone with slower reflexes. "Why did you bring another one of them?!"

"I brought the Ordonian with me, too!" Wild protested, gesturing to the doppelganger, who made a strained expression Dusk remembered himself making a lot more often before the Lakebed Temple. Dusk felt a vague pang of sympathy.

"I promise we can explain everything," said Gen, "but we really need to deal with fire and stuff first."

"And you're on board with all this?" Legend asked. Something in his tone made it clear the question was aimed at Dusk's double.

"We've talked about it already. They have their reasons for teaming up with an old enemy," said the doppelganger, whose name Dusk was going to have to use sooner or later: Twilight. Up close, he was a few inches taller, and though his voice sounded nearly identical to Dusk's (only a little lower and with an Ordon accent a touch thicker), it held an air of added maturity Dusk couldn't put his finger on.

(Are you jealous of yourself, little wolf? Midna's voice threatened to break into a full-blown cackle.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Dusk whispered back, gritting his teeth and praying the byplay would be swallowed by the chaos.)

"Hey, speaking of the fire-- you!" said Lawdon, rounding on Wild with such a renewed fervor as though he had never been interrupted. "The hero of Hyrule, they're calling you these days! One of the old knights! The princess's own guard! Of all people!"

Wild sighed the subtle sigh of someone facing down the promise of an arduous task, and possibly wondering why they had bothered getting out bed that morning. It was a sigh most Links knew well, and Dusk was no exception.

"Yeah, they certainly are calling me that." Wild raised the hand not occupied by a bundle of arrows to wave, almost timid. "I-- Listen, I'm really sorry about the mess. I'll have Zelda send you the rupees for repairs when I can, but I can't guarantee when I'll next see her... uh, but if you want wood, I guess I can just--?"

"Wood and manpower, if you please. If her highness's personal knight is going to go around causing this kind of trouble at our humble stables, then at least--!"

"It's not like we were the ones with the giant bomb," snapped Legend, regaining a measure of boldness now that Lawdon was in someone else's face than his own. "We're already doing you a service getting rid of that thing."

"Is this really the time for haggling, you guys?" asked the Wind who still needed a new nickname, throwing his hands in the air. "We're kind of in the middle of something here!"

"And I don't care to know who started it when my home and business are still in shambles!" countered Lawdon. "Make the shadow one help if you need be fair about it!"

"We might not even be here tomorrow!" Wind-in-need-of-a-nickname retorted.

"Then I guess you'll have to be quick about it! There's, what, ten of you?" Lawdon turned an eye back to Wild, and shot him a look along the lines of won't you get your idiots into line, already? Then his voice softened, as he added, "Speaking of, Link, I'm surprised to see you not traveling alone anymore--"

"Oh, would you look at that, I need to go back and grab the others! To, uh, get help and stuff!" Wild blurted, stepping forward and suddenly shoving his bundled arrows into Gen's already burdened arms. "Uhh, here, take these, gotta go, bye!"

And with that, he pressed something on the slate, and the whole crowd of them watched him dissolve into a mass of sparkling blue particles that vanished into the sky, like a stage magician vanishing in a puff of technological smoke.

"For the goddess' sakes', cub," muttered Twilight in the ensuing lull, almost too softly to hear. Louder, he added, "Again, we're really sorry about all this."

Lawdon scoffed. "I'd sure hope so!"

("Vet, we're trying to make nice, put down the sword," hissed Wind-who-needed-a-nickname, elbowing Legend in the ribs.

Legend, still looking less than thrilled at the idea, but finding no justification not to, lowered the golden sword to menace the ground instead. "If he was really one of us, she would have stopped us by now," he muttered back. "Isn't that right, Sky?"

Sky winced. "I don't know," he whispered back, too loudly to be truly stealthy. "I mean, his version of the sword doesn't--"

Wind rolled his eyes at Legend and elbowed him again.

"Sailor! What was that for?!" Legend hissed, trying to grab Wind into a headlock with his off hand.

"You guys are missing the point!" Wind wriggled free, and made a show of glaring at them both. "He's not just one of us. He's from a whole other world. Of course the sword is different!"

"You're missing the point where we're trying not to look like a disorganized pack of fools in front of-"

Dusk's eyes met Sky's over the ensuing mini-wrestling match. A silence passed between them, awkward on one side, and bemused on the other. Sky's eyes flicked back toward Gen, where he made an indecipherably baffled expression, like he'd been handed a horseshoe and told to predict the weather with it.

Dusk shrugged. He didn't have any idea either.)

"So, uh, the roof?" Gen asked again, holding up the arrows to re-orient the conversation around them. "We might be able to put it out faster than a water brigade, but we'll need some space."

Ah, yes. The fire. That was still happening, wasn't it? Funny, really, how easy it was to lose track of one's surroundings while being yelled at. Dusk glanced up at the blaze, where smoke still rolled up through the horse-head decoration like a strange, misshapen chimney.

Unfortunately for Dusk (and almost everyone else involved), the Fire Problem would not be solved before the end of the incoming scene transition.

Dusk would blame the smoke that blew in his eyes right about then for why he didn't see Shadow, just across the road, heft an absolutely massive bomb above his head, tossing it into the air with a wink. The ensuing blast rocked the ground a second later with yet another earshattering boom, the shockwave kicking a haze of dust and debris into everyone's faces, and Dusk wondered, vaguely, if between Lawdon and the bombs he would be half deaf by the end of all this.

"YOU BÕBMO-RAIDGENÕNSQU RAABÕDST!" Lore's voice echoed after it, somehow all the clearer despite the ringing silence chasing the explosion's tail. "WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT PROPER RESPECT FOR INCENDIARIES!"

"ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GETTING ON MY CASE ABOUT THAT RIGHT NOW?!" Shadow seemed determined to 'out-loud' Lore, to little effect but further irritation.


Dusk grimaced and covered his ears, which didn't actually allow him the peace of tuning out the conversation, but at least muffled both parties down to an acceptable volume.

"What in Hylia's name is going on over there?" Sky wondered, just loud enough to hear over the ear-covering and ringing.

"That's Lore," said Gen, by way of explanation. Sky opened his mouth, then closed it, and pointedly did not make eye contact with his double. Dusk hoped that wouldn't be a pattern.

"Should we be... worried?" asked Wind, squinting at the pair of shouting figures in the distance. "What's he even trying to do?"

"He's doing what he does best," said Gen, a tired grin growing across his face. "Being the distraction."

Chapter End Notes:

Wild: i brought help!
random dl links: hi what the heck is going on?
Wild: *teleports out to avoid responsibilities*

This chapter took way more rewriting than expected, lol. I'm pretty sure the Shadow scene hated me personally (which is, perhaps, in character for Shadow.) Not sure if I'm ending up with four or five chapters total by the time I'm done with this, but... yeah. Would you believe me if I told you this and Chapter 2 were supposed to all be a single 6-7k chapter when I planned it?

... at least it's not novel length?

Also, for all the LU people who are probably going "wait? why did FOUR try to kill shadow first?! aren't they friends??": The FSA manga is noncanon to Linked Universe, and Jojo has said at least once that Four is more suspicious of dark magic than the average Link, not less. There are apparently plans to do something with Shadow, but as much as I love the manga, I'd assume LU!Four is the type that can and will pick a fight with a Shadow Link before anyone tells him not to.

(four will just see a shadow link and go "is anyone gonna fight that" and not even wait for an answer)


Lore Translations:

1. bõbmo-raidgenõnsqu raabõdst (Darkling) bomb-squandering bastard