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Blinding Shade

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It was dark, Twilight was cold, and the Spirits only knew that next time they came across a portal he was going to check if his lantern was filled before stepping through it.

A splashing noise echoed through the walls of the cave when he took another step, and he felt his nose scrunch up. His boots were already soaked from the countless murky puddles he’d stepped in ever since he’d begun to walk, but somehow it still managed to drag his mood through its mud even further. He was almost impressed it hadn't already been floundering at rock bottom.

The yawning darkness that encased his entire surroundings beginning a couple of steps behind and ahead of him, even while he tapped into the enhanced senses that persisted into his Hylian form, had left him with no mental map. His lantern had helped at first, illuminating his surroundings enough to at the very least inform him this was a natural cave system, and not some sort of man-made dungeon corridor.

Problem was he had run out of oil about ten minutes ago, and since then the cold had already burrowed beneath his tunic and pelt like countless icy tendrils.

He had played with the thought of shifting into Wolfie, but not many things were less pleasant than a damp fur coat. (Thank you, Lake Hylia, for that piece of information.) Besides, if he came across any of the other heroes that weren't yet aware of his ability he'd be stuck in wolf form until they exited this cave. Departing as Wolfie and returning as a Hylian minutes later was significantly less viable for secret-keeping while half of the group would still be under the impression he was lost wandering on his own.

So he was wading through these caverns on his perfectly good Hylian legs instead, each step jangling his chain mail and equipment enough for the noise to rebound off the walls. 

It wasn’t as if this was a particularly new experience, were he to be candid. All around his Hyrule lay entrances to caves sprawling out into tunnel systems far outclassing this one in sheer potential to find oneself lost. The branching pathways had become his greatest foe in them a multitude of times.

He had to swat away the mental reprimand of not having learned his lesson about keeping his lantern filled back then like an annoyingly persistent fly.

Almost as if to mock him, the hand he’d been keeping steady on the wall to his right lost purchase as it ended. A single proper look at his surroundings revealed him now standing in the middle of a three-way intersection, the path branching to both of his sides, and it took all of his composure not to groan out loud. 

He was almost tempted to do so anyway. Maybe it’d be loud enough for one of the others to hear him.

Choosing a direction to proceed in had always been the bane of his apparently history-spanning existence in caves like this. At least during his adventure he’d… not had to make the decisions on his own. Midna had always -

Trying to ignore the squeezing sensation settling around his heart, he took a deep breath, pushing that thought out as well - though more gently than before. This was decidedly not the time. The bitter taste in his mouth lingered even after he swallowed.

Just as he was about to pick a direction purely by chance, something in the corner of his vision broke through the darkness, demanding his attention. His head swerved immediately, and he took in a breath of surprise when he saw the stone at the end of the left side path fill with a yellow glow.

That was light

Still a fair way off, and experience told him it was bouncing off another wall and not straight forwards, but definitely a light source. And, keeping his eyes focused on it for a couple of moments, moving as well, getting closer, basically erasing the chance of a wall-mounted lamp.

This had to be one of the others. A small part of him very firmly asserted that monsters indeed possessed the ability to carry torches, but a much larger part was busy yelling in relief.

His path was chosen either way, bless Ordona.

Filled with the newfound knowledge that no matter what, the monotony of dragging his feet through an endless dark hallway was about to come to an end, he began to make his way towards the light source. His steps were confident now, compared to the trudge he only now recognized he’d fallen into.

Relying on his senses not to trip over stray rocks or bumps he marched forward, the rattling of metal below his tunic filling his ears. Ultimately, the part of him that valued his survival led him to reach for his shield and fasten it to his arm after he’d walked about halfway - though he was fairly sure he’d have heard other, more damning noises by now were this truly a monster.

His speed of approaching what he could now see was a corner in the path felt about equal to whoever was carrying the light, so he let himself drift to the side a little, closer to the wall, to minimize the risk of crashing into them. With the Heroes’ luck, it was more likely to happen than not.

“Hey -” he began while he took the last step before he’d reached the corner.

His voice broke off once he had.

A few paces off into the cave stood Time, face and armour illuminated by a bright yellow orb above him, seemingly ready to release the magic any moment..

And in the next heartbeat, Twilight wasn’t in a dark cavern anymore. 

Instead, the world around him was now coated in a white haze, billowing at his feet as ethereal as he knew it to be, stretching out into an infinite distance. Structures and hills resided somewhere in the far off shroud, both impossibly far and yet eerily close.

And in Time’s place stood none other than the Hero’s Shade, withered, decaying, armour cracked and splintered and overgrown by copious vines, with his sword raised high and a shimmering orb of light at its tip.

Before he could even breathe the blade swung down at an incredible speed, the magic bolting towards him without relent, and in just that moment of hesitation from his stunned mind his instincts won control over his body.

In a motion more akin to breathing than even the intake of air accompanying it, he flung his right arm up to cover his chest, right before the projectile hit true. He felt the magic clash against the mere wood, the contact sending a buzzing up through his muscles, light aspected magic clashing with the shadows coiling through his being. It helped inform how long he waited, holding the shield in position until the sensation had crept up to just underneath his shoulder.

Once it had, he pushed, flinging his arm to the side in a practiced motion, and the magical projectile was propelled away from him just as fast as it had approached.

But not in as straight of a line as he’d aimed for. Instead of sending it back to his otherworldly mentor to land a hit he’d reflected it in an arc diagonally upwards, where it would keep flying until the magic itself fizzled -

A loud sound of impact shook his perception in its foundations. 

He blinked. There was nothing for the projectile to crash against here, he’d explored its boundaries before and found them ever shifting, unable to be grasped, not solid. Then how -

He blinked one more time, and when he opened his eyes again he was greeted by shadows instead of the ethereal white canvas of the Shade’s domain. Was acutely aware of the pelt residing around his shoulders, the missing weight of a cap absent from his head, and the string of the crystal resting against his chest.

Of Time standing opposite him, alive , in polished armour, Gilded Sword lowered, and casually side-stepping some debris and dust crumbling from the ceiling, even in the - for him - more prominent darkness.

The image jolted him back into full awareness before even his next heartbeat had gone by.

"Spirits, old man, don't scare me like that!" he managed to push out before an exceptionally heavy sigh followed suit. His free hand had already clasped itself into part of his tunic over his chest, feeling his heartbeat recover from the jump in adrenaline that was only just subsiding again.

A chuckle in Time’s low timber was the first reaction that reached his ears.

"Apologies, pup, but you should have spoken up sooner. I assume encounters in dark caves to be with enemies before I find proof of the opposite," the next.

Twilight didn’t suppress the short grumble that rose from his throat at the clearly more amused than apologetic tone of voice. Despite his calm outward demeanour, his mentor often found humour in situations he’d rather just avoid altogether.

“I hope you were able to deflect the magic without further injury?” Time then asked, and those words were missing the amusement, returning to the oldest hero’s more balanced way of speaking. “You went rigid for a few seconds while you did so.”

True concern shone through in Time’s voice, and Twilight swallowed the joking response he’d laid out in return. “Ah, yeah, I’m fine. Just… remembered something,” he confessed. He’d have to give some believable reason sooner rather than later, knowing his mentor’s perseverance. And before Time even had the chance to speak up, he added, “But before you ask, it’d take some time to explain. So I’d rather save that for when we’re out of here.”

Time’s eye narrowed a little, though he could tell it wasn’t in doubt, but curiosity. “I won’t ask, then.”

Twilight sighed once again. “Thanks.”

Revealing his past encounters with a Time far further into his personal future was… a daunting thought. It always had been, from the moment he’d made the connection. He’d promised to explain, though whether he was going to truly do so remained to be seen once they actually found the time to speak in private later. 

"That said,” Time continued, breaking him out of his musings, “it is good to know at least two of us were dropped in this cave system."

Twilight nodded at the observation, before realizing Time was likely barely able to make out his form and gave his answer a short sound to accompany it. Two of their number in the same place usually meant the rest hadn't been dropped too far either, even if there was distance between each of them.

A quiet clinking noise caught his attention then. Sharpening his vision revealed it had come from none other than Time himself, who was in the process of raising his blade back to chest-height. A smirk found its way onto Twilight’s face when he realized Time had most likely misjudged the distance between himself and the cavern walls as he’d done so.

“Some light might not be a bad idea, for now,” he said, crossing his arms. “I can see about enough to navigate, but I doubt you can.”

He’d not expected much resistance to this particular suggestion, so Time’s agreement came as no surprise. "You’re right, of course. Do you have your lantern on you?"

That, however, caught him just a little off-guard. He’d spotted Time through what he was fairly certain had been his own magical light, even if it had turned out to also function as the projectile he knew all too well from his past - or, future? - spars with the man.

"I do, but I ran out of oil," he explained, and tried to study his mentor’s expression as he did so. "Why even ask me, though? You had a perfectly fine source of light earlier, before you flung it in my direction."

He made certain to infuse the last part with as much of an accusatory glint as he could manage. His efforts amounted to nothing, however, when Time barely acknowledged its existence with a twitch of the corners of his mouth.

“I did. Shield your eyes for a moment.”

The instruction was easy enough to follow, so Twilight both closed his eyes and covered them with his forearm. Only once the leather of his arm guard had settled against his face did he notice a flash of light from right where Time stood - he could tell even through both of his safeguards that the brightness would have sent him stumbling blind for at least a couple of seconds had he witnessed it without them.

The incredible intensity only lasted for a split second. It gradually rescinded to what would likely be much more manageable once he opened his eyes again, and soon the brightness was steady.

“It’s safe to look now,” Time confirmed his guess. Twilight wasted no time lowering his arm while letting his eyelids flutter open.

For the first time since his bothersome arrival, the cave around him was illuminated by something other than the still limited shine of his lantern. Unaffected by either the whims of flame or his own perception’s shortcomings, the solid rock surrounding them held much less of an alarming quality to it.

Another contribution to the sense of security building back up inside him was no doubt the presence of his mentor opposite him. Time’s sword arm was struck into the air above his head, not unlike the pose that preceded Sky’s divine radiant strikes, and for a split second Twilight had to shake off the Shade’s image overlaying itself onto his currently alive mentor’s form once again.

On the tip of his blade once again rested a magical orb emitting the bright light that enabled him to see this much detail in the first place. Back in the Shade’s realm, he’d never noticed quite how intense its glow truly was - and how the warmth of sunlight was absent from it, despite its similarities in colour.

"It doesn't provide warmth, but at least we won't stumble in the dark," Time said, lowering the blade far enough for the origin of the light to lie underneath both their lines of vision. 

“Can you just conjure that whenever you want?” Twilight asked, unable to keep his curiosity from seeping into the words. There was no better opportunity to ask than now.

He’d always wondered whether some of the Shade’s techniques had come to him due to his state as a spirit, or if Time had learned them the regular way. So far, most of the evidence he’d seen pointed towards the latter possibility, and it filled him with satisfaction to know his mentor had not needed shortcuts to achieve that sort of strength he’d always admired.

When Time turned to him, with the look in his eye enough to tell he’d answer the question, Twilight felt his chest fill with excitement. “I can conjure it at will, but it takes a considerable amount of my magic reserves to keep it alight permanently. I haven’t mastered that aspect of the spell yet.”

Twilight hummed to himself, taking in the information. "Still, that's convenient. And you barely use your magic in battle. Why've you never done it before when we were traveling at night?"

"It's rather bright, and also at the tip of my blade, which means it will move a lot,” his mentor explained. As he spoke he raised his blade from where he’d held it to not blind either of them without warning, and a single straight-on glimpse of it without preparation proved Time’s point for him even without the words that followed. Twilight instinctively jerked back, his hand flying back up to his eyes.

Time’s following chuckle only added to the irritation. “As you’re currently experiencing, in a group it's as much at risk of blinding someone as it is likely to help. We have enough other methods of illumination at our disposal that are more effective."

“Alright, got it,” Twilight groaned, blinking to chase away dancing spots of colour in his vision. “Let’s go and find the others before you manage to blind me permanently.”

This time, the mischievous low laughter that rang out across the cavern was entirely justified. 

But despite the outwardly sour expression that had settled on his face, Twilight found he didn’t truly mind.