Zelda was freezing cold, yet her skin felt like it was on fire.
"That was awful," she muttered.
"It takes time to get used to," Ganondorf murmured in a low voice. He tightened his arms around her. She let him even though he smelled feral and wild, like the sky before a storm.
She rested her forehead against his chest. "I used to fantasize about the Twilight Realm when I was younger," she confessed, "but I never imagined it would be like that. I thought it would be, I don't know, beautiful."
"It is beautiful, but we passed through it very quickly."
Zelda wanted to ask him to elaborate, but it was difficult to speak. She was struck with a fit of shivering, and Ganondorf held her in silence.
"Would you like some tea?" he finally asked.
It would have been easy enough to answer, but Zelda couldn't seem to move her mouth to say the word "yes." She still felt disoriented, as if there were multiple versions of her that hadn't yet synced to one another. She nodded against Ganondorf's shirt.
He squeezed her shoulders before releasing her and taking a step back. Oddly enough, she felt warmer once there was distance between them.
"Make yourself at home," he said. He had insisted on using magic to transport them to his apartment, his justification being that it would be easier to talk if they didn't have to sit next to each other on her small couch. Zelda wasn't entirely certain that his intentions were noble, but she decided to trust him. She also had to admit that she was curious. Ganondorf was meticulous with his clothing, and she couldn't help but wonder what his apartment looked like. Link, who had helped him find the place, was clearly impressed and had even dropped a few hints about wanting to move in himself. He was joking, of course, but Zelda was still annoyed that Ganondorf had never invited her.
She looked around. Ganondorf's apartment was as sharp as his suits and almost painfully stylish. The open living room felt like a set for a magazine photo shoot, or perhaps the sort of venue someone would rent for a party; it looked like the sort of place that existed for the sole purpose of being posted on someone's Skyloft feed. The decor was tastefully minimalist, and the space was so spotlessly clean that it didn't seem like an actual person lived here at all.
The polished hardwood floors were accented by carefully positioned area rugs woven from material that was plain but obviously expensive. The centerpiece of the room was a set of couches that were upholstered in leather so finely tanned that it seemed to swallow the light, and they were arranged around a low table made of dark wood with a gorgeously sanded finish. On top of the table was a ceramic tray of decorative plants so green and healthy that they looked as though they had just been delivered by a florist. The steel beams of the high ceiling were artfully exposed, making the space feel even larger.
The room was illuminated by standing lamps covered in cream-colored mulberry paper, but most of the light came from the ambient glow originating from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Ganondorf's apartment was almost directly in the center of the city, and it was on one of the highest floors of a recently erected skyscraper. Zelda walked to the wall of windows and admired the view. She'd always loved heights. It was seeing Hyrule from this vantage point, more than anything, that calmed her mind and allowed her to feel more comfortable.
She glanced in the direction of the kitchen, which had no walls and was separated from the living room by a high counter. Ganondorf was already walking toward her, bringing with him two glass cups filled with steaming water.
"How did the water boil so quickly?" Zelda asked, only to realize that it was an unnecessary question. The answer was magic – he'd used magic, of course he had.
Ganondorf gave a slight nod in acknowledgment of her realization and set the two cups on the low table. He sat down on a low-slung chair, and she perched on a corner of the couch beside him. He passed her what appeared to be a small dried flower bud before holding a bud of his own over his cup and giving her an expectant look. It seemed that the bud was supposed to be the tea, so she dropped it into the cup and watched in amazement as it bloomed into a crimson flower. The water around its shimmering petals turned a delicate shade of gold.
"It's a voltfruit flower," Ganondorf explained.
"I didn't know voltfruit plants had flowers."
"They're rare but well worth the trouble to acquire. People with a sensitivity to magic often experience a unique aftertaste when they drink tea brewed from the flowers."
Zelda felt ignorant. How long did it take for the tea to brew, and what was she supposed to do with the flower afterward? She wanted to ask where he'd found something like this, but she worried that it would be an awkward question. He said the tea was rare, so it was probably expensive. And what did it matter? It wasn't as if she could afford a luxury like this anyway. She wondered if she was supposed to drink the voltfruit tea with the flower in the water. Before she could ask, she noticed that Ganondorf was already raising his cup to his lips, so she followed suit.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, surprised by the taste. "It's sweet."
"It becomes more complex the longer it steeps."
He took another sip, so she did as well. This time it was mellower but also more expressive. The flavor felt familiar and even nostalgic, like a smell from childhood that she couldn't quite place, like summer mornings and sunlight and –
"It tastes like the sky," she murmured.
Ganondorf nodded in satisfaction. "I thought you'd like it."
"I've never tasted anything like this," she admitted. "I feel guilty for only offering you store-bought tea."
"You shouldn't," he replied, a concerned expression briefly surfacing on his face before his features smoothed out into their usual equanimity. "I appreciate the gesture. I know you prefer coffee."
"How did you…?"
"You never change after work, and your clothing smells like ground coffee beans."
She'd noticed that herself, but it's not as if she had any other clothes to change into.
"Thank you, you know, for before. For covering the bill at Purlo's. I'll pay you back when I can."
"You don't need to. Link and I agreed it was for the greater good."
"I don't understand why either of you would do this for me."
Ganondorf set his cup down and leaned back to look out onto the skyline. Zelda finished her tea. The last sip tasted like the dawn itself. She followed Ganondorf's gaze to the city lights outside the windows. The view was stunning.
"The off-the-rack clothing you wore didn't suit you," he said. "I understand the circumstances were less than ideal when you left your family, but you've been doing everything you can to make yourself transparent. That makes no sense to me. I know where you went to school. You could have gotten a better job. Your best defense against your family would have been to establish yours professionally, but you went into hiding instead."
"I didn't have any money," Zelda defended herself.
"It wasn't necessary for you to be poor. You must have wanted something, yet you were denying yourself everything. Or did you really see yourself as a lab assistant?"
"I wanted to be a scientist," Zelda mumbled, embarrassed at having to explain herself like this.
"No, okay, fine. I want to be a research scientist – that's what I planned to become."
"Tell me what you want to research."
Zelda shook her head. "That's the problem."
"I don't follow."
Of course he didn't. Zelda had always been opaque about her vision for her future, and the vagueness of her answers usually encouraged people to drop the subject. Zelda knew Ganondorf wouldn't allow her to evade him, however. She wondered how to justify her hesitation and came to the conclusion that the easiest way to explain herself was to go ahead and say what she came to say.
"I'm sorry for what I called you earlier," she said. "I just… It's not an excuse, but… When I was at school, my best friend, and my roommate for a short while, was Gerudo, and…"
Ganondorf smirked. "I find that hard to believe."
"No self-respecting Gerudo would let you leave the house looking like that." Zelda shot him a sharp glance. Thank Farore he was smiling. This conversation had the potential to turn south quickly, and she wouldn't get anywhere if he weren't willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
She returned his smile. "I used to dress much nicer, before."
"I assume this person is still your friend."
"She is. To tell you the truth, she's been complaining about the way I dress ever since I left my family. She told me she'd be happy to buy me whatever I need, but I already owe her so much, and… And I was just sick of it, okay? I was sick of always being expected to look perfect and polished every time I stepped outside."
Ganondorf gave a noncommittal shrug. "So tell me about your friend."
"Riju. Her name is Riju."
Ganondorf raised an eyebrow. He apparently knew who she was, then. Zelda knew he'd return to the matter later, but for now she was grateful that he allowed her to tell this story at her own pace.
"Riju's mothers kept pressuring her to find a boyfriend, and she hated it. They were always trying to set her up with Gerudo men, um, cisgender men I mean, I think they're called voe… And Riju wasn't having it. She would go on these awful dates and then laugh about them with me afterwards, but I could tell she was upset. There was so much pressure on her to find a partner to have children with, and she sometimes used the expression… You know, what I said to you."
"And I just felt like," she rushed on, "every time I tried to date someone, it didn't matter who they were, they always knew who I was. Some of them would pretend not to know at first, and some of them would even try to hide the fact that we were dating, but the worst was when people wanted to show me off. The most awkward dates were always with the people someone in my family set me up with. It wasn't just my father; my uncles and aunts and cousins were always pushing men on me. It was like it was feudal Hyrule all over again, like they thought they would be able to raise their political standing by setting up an advantageous match. It made me feel like I was just a machine, just a Zelda who would give birth to another Zelda who would give birth to yet another Zelda. It was like I didn't matter as a person as long as the bloodline was maintained. Even worse, it was like everyone knew that there was something wrong with me, but the next Zelda might be normal, so they just needed to get to the next one as soon as possible."
Ganondorf took a deep breath but didn't make any attempt to comfort her. She resented him for not reaching out to take her hand, but she supposed this made sense, given the circumstances.
"Your father still believes in the old legend, then," he said after a tense moment had passed.
"The legend of Zelda? Don't get me started," Zelda responded. She could hear her resentment creeping into her voice, but she made no attempt to disguise it. "And it's not just him; they all act as if they're still royalty. At least my father married into the family, so at least he's not as bad as some of the others."
"But your father is opposed to you becoming a scientist."
"No, it's not that, it's…" Zelda trailed off as she realized that she still didn't know how to explain her family situation. Riju and Mipha understood without having to be told. This was the first time she'd attempted to describe the awful weight of her father's expectations to another person.
"I'm going to make more tea."
It wasn't a question, and Ganondorf didn't wait for her to respond before standing and walking to the counter at the edge of the kitchen. Zelda followed along behind him, and he slid her another glass of hot water over the bar with a smooth and practiced movement. She pictured him as a bartender and enjoyed a private smile. She couldn't even begin to imagine Ganondorf drinking; that would be trouble.
He passed her another dried voltfruit flower, and there was a small spark between them when their hands met. Ganondorf allowed his fingers to linger on hers, and the gentleness of the gesture filled her with warmth. Maybe all of this will turn out okay, Zelda thought as she dropped the bud into the water and watched another flower open like a dancer twirling its skirt.
She took a sip of the fresh tea and tasted more than she could before. If the flavor was the sky, the sun was setting and horizon was stained a deep crimson. The scorching heat had begun to evaporate from the sand, and the stars would come out soon. Riju was always telling her that she was homesick for the desert – is this what it was like?
"I want to study ancient technology," Zelda began. "I always did. I was fascinated by it. Not just the science, but the history and the archaeology as well. What sort of society was capable of manufacturing such things? What did they use them for? And why did we lose this technology? I knew… I guess I always knew that magic was involved somehow. But my family worked so hard to cut me off from my own magic, and I always assumed it was for my own good. I hated them for controlling me, but I hated…"
"I suppose I hated myself as well, for allowing myself to be controlled. For needing to be controlled. If I studied ancient technology, would I truly be doing it for myself? Or would I be doing it to spite my family? Or would that be what they actually wanted all along? And that's the problem – I just don't know. So you're right; I was trying to disappear. I need time to figure out who I am and what I want."
Zelda drained the rest of her tea, barely tasting anything this time. "I know magic exists, but I'm not sure how I should feel about that," she continued in a smaller voice. "Maybe it would have been better for me not to know at all, because now I can't ignore it, and…"
"And now you have a Sheikah Slate," Ganondorf said. Zelda caught something curious in his tone. She glanced up and was surprised to find that he was giving her one of his rare smiles.
"Yes," she replied, not catching his implication. "Now I have a Sheikah Slate."
Ganondorf finished his tea and set down his empty cup next to hers. "I wonder if you'd like to see what real magic looks like," he offered.
"I didn't bring the tablet with me."
"I should hope not." Ganondorf exhaled. "It's a tool that replicates the experience of using magic for the benefit of someone with limited ability. We won't need it."
Zelda thought about the terror of her nightmares and the pain she experienced while traveling through the Twilight Realm, but at the moment none of that seemed to matter. She wanted to see what "real magic" looked like.
"Then yes," she said, "I'd like to see what we can do."
"What do you think of this apartment?"
"That can't be your honest opinion."
"It does feel a little corporate," Zelda admitted.
"I thought so." Ganondorf nodded in agreement. "I don't have time to fool around with this sort of thing. I had one of Link's acquaintances handle it for me, a man named Bolson. I'll introduce you once we've gotten you out of that miserable apartment."
"It's not miserable."
"Name one good thing about it."
"I like the garden."
"As do I, but it's not properly maintained. Even your perennials will die when it gets colder, and all you'll have left is a bare patch of dirt." Ganondorf waved his hand dismissively. "But you're suggesting that plants would make this space feel more like home to you."
He walked around the counter and stood by her side, and they faced the main room together. He offered her his hand. Zelda was confused by the gesture, but she placed her fingers into his waiting palm anyway.
"I'm going to create a connection between us," Ganondorf informed her in a low voice. "Tell me if that's all right with you."
There was a slight tingle of electricity in the tips of Zelda's fingers as a gentle warmth spread across her hand. She was suddenly conscious of the beating of Ganondorf's heart and the buzzing of his nerves and the weight of his muscles. When he took a breath, she did as well. She felt traces of the steam from the hot water on his skin, and she could taste the tea on his tongue. This was much more intimate than anything they had done earlier that evening, but she was completely at ease.
"Before anything, we need to create a place for the roots to take hold," Ganondorf said, and Zelda watched as the wooden floorboards split open at the edge of the far wall to reveal a plot of dark earth that surely hadn't been there before. She could feel Ganondorf performing the magic, and she could sense that it was a complicated problem of balance and substitution. It was like a long equation, organic and shifting. Zelda couldn't grasp all of the variables at play, but she was starting to understand the principles. She'd assumed that she wasn't capable of much more than the rudimentary exercises she'd practiced, and she never imaged that she would ever be able to comprehend more complicated spells. As she felt Ganondorf's magic flow through her, however, she began to understand that what he was doing was not something mystical and abstract; his magic operated by its own internal system of logic, and that system was something she could learn.
"Tell me what you'd like to plant," he said, and the words he spoke were mere echoes of the internal voice she heard through their connection.
Ivy, she answered, not bothering to speak aloud.
Let's give it a stone wall to climb on, he responded, following her lead.
Ganondorf once again proceeded to reshape the world with his magic, and Zelda was flooded with a visceral sensation of vitality and potential. It filled her with satisfaction not simply to see or study his calculations but to intuit and feel them. This was everything she loved about math and physics and chemistry. It was liberating to experience magic that wasn't limited to transporting a rupee across the room or summoning a small ball of light. This was transforming flimsy drywall into solid stone; this was making something happen. Zelda finally understood the intensity of Ganondorf's focus. She was the much same when she was in front of a desk with keyboard and a stylus, after all. But Ganondorf was not limited to a series of numbers on a screen; the entire world was his to reshape as he chose.
Help me with the ivy, he requested. Help me visualize the fractals. She did, and thick vines of ivy began to grow from the earth and twist up stone wall as she watched. Ganondorf borrowed power but fed it back to her at the same time, creating a feedback loop whose continuous renewal lent power to their shared magic. At a certain point, his magic felt less like math and more like music, and Zelda began to grasp that, when it came to magic, math and music were one and the same. If she could learn to understand the balance and symmetry and rhythm and flow, she might be able to perform a similar type of world-shaping magic.
Ganondorf released her hand when the spell was complete, but Zelda could still feel the glow of what he shared with her in the tips of her fingers.
She crossed the room and touched a strand of ivy clinging to the newly formed stone wall. It was as real as anything else in the room. She plucked a leaf from the vine, and a milky bead of sap welled from the stalk.
Zelda's mind raced. She wanted to crystallize the epiphany she had just experienced. Magic still felt more intuitive than intellectual to her, and she was afraid that her understanding would fade if she didn't find a way to capture it.
"People must have written books about this," she said, speaking mainly to herself. "If not the specific spells, then at least the principles. There has to be some sort of rational system involved. Was there a transfer of matter? Of energy? There must be some way to quantify what just happened."
"Without a doubt," Ganondorf said. "But for now, it will be easier to learn by doing it yourself."
He gestured her over, and Zelda joined him by the windows. They were very high up, and the glass separating them from the night air was cold. Ganondorf stood behind Zelda and placed his hands on her shoulders. She nodded her consent, and then she could feel warmth radiate from him as he reopened the connection between them.
"Don't look at the city," he said softly from behind her. "Focus on your reflection."
She did, and he met her eyes in the glass. "That shirt looks wonderful on you," he murmured, his voice low and steady, "but we can always order another. Let's transform this one into something that belongs to you alone. Show me what you want to see yourself wearing."
"Anything you can imagine."
Anything, he repeated, this time without speaking. Zelda considered the possibilities. Ganondorf was correct when he told her that she had been trying to become transparent. She wanted to be unremarkable. The professional outfits she'd tried on earlier suited her, but she couldn't picture herself in anything that she actually wanted to wear. Still, she remembered reading about a woman in her family who lived in the era when Hyrule was still becoming a modern city. This woman – a great aunt, if she recalled correctly – was an architect who shared her name but had a reputation for being bold and brilliant and confident and beautiful.
"I want to look like…" she started to say, but then she realized that she didn't have to say anything.
Zelda imaged herself in a dress from the turn of the last century. The garment was loose and beltless, not quite a tunic but approximately the same length.
Focus on the details, Ganondorf suggested.
The dress was sleeveless with an open neck, its shimmering fabric ivory white but ornamented with small scales that were bright gold on the inside. She would seem to be wearing a plain white dress if she stood still, but she would shimmer with gold when she moved. Zelda had only seen old pictographs of this style of clothing, but she could almost feel the texture of the fabric on her fingers. It would be as weightless on her body as an array of feathers.
Ganondorf lent her his power, and her shirt shifted. It seemed to glow for a moment, and then something different settled onto her frame. It wasn't an exact likeness, but she was wearing the dress of her –
– and he hated her, he despised the sight of her, he would hunt her down and destroy her, he would –
Ganondorf removed his hands from Zelda's shoulders and stepped away. His sudden absence was so unnerving that she got goosebumps; it was as if someone had turned off the radio during a song she liked. The sudden silence in her mind was heavy and uncomfortable. And the static of thoughts before he disconnected from her – was that real? Where had it come from?
"The dress looks good on you," Ganondorf said.
"Thank you." He was right, it did look good on her.
"That woman, your relative –she researched ancient technology."
Zelda was surprised that Ganondorf had been able to perceive the images in her mind, but she supposed that magical energy wasn't the only thing they shared through their connection. "She may have," she replied, "but I'm not sure."
"Yet you think your family would prevent you from researching ancient technology."
There was something strange about Ganondorf's voice, but Zelda couldn't read the expression on the reflection of his face. Something had definitely happened between them, but she didn't have the slightest clue what it could have been.
"I don't think they would prevent me from doing so at all," she said. "Some of them – my father included – actually encouraged me to become a researcher. But I always found their encouragement off-putting, not to mention condescending. It was as if they were telling a little girl, 'Go and play with your antiques,' or something to that effect. I knew they would monitor my research just as closely as they monitored everything else in my life, and I didn't want to become an actress in whatever drama they had planned out for me. That's why it's important for me to be invisible to them, at least for the time being."
"So you intend to work with the Sheikah."
Ganondorf's voice was still oddly flat, and Zelda thought she was beginning to understand why. When she was connected to him, it wasn't just he who had access to her. She was able to sense things inside his mind as well, and she'd managed to catch a glimpse of something he didn't want her to see. It wasn't that he hated her or the dress she wore, but rather the lineage of Zeldas in her family. And wouldn't that make sense – wouldn't all of this make so much sense – if he actually were Ganon. Then again, she hated the idea of being nothing more than the most recent scion of an unbroken chain of Zeldas, so the undercurrent of Ganondorf's thoughts may simply have been a resonance with her own unconscious mind. Still…
"Riju has asked me to visit her in Lanayru," Zelda said. "I've been thinking that I should take her up on her offer, and I think you should come with me. She's spoken with me about magic before, and she tells me it's common among the Gerudo. If we travel with her, or with Sidon for that matter, we won't need passports." Zelda came to a decision as she spoke. "Let's, actually… Let's go right away. Let's not wait for the Sheikah to find me again. I'm starting to feel that it's not safe for me to be in Hyrule anymore, and…"
…and my mother is there, Zelda wanted to say, but she'd already exhausted her supply of courage for the night. A conversation about her mother could wait for another time. She suddenly felt very tired, and it occurred to her that she may have had too much tea.
"Can I use your bathroom?"
Ganondorf gestured toward a series of doors along a corridor leading back from the main room.
"I feel like this is a wizard's tower," Zelda said, only half-joking. "What happens if I go in the wrong door?"
"You'll have to face a series of trials," Ganondorf responded with a completely straight face.
"Are the rooms filled with traps?"
He finally smiled, but he looked as drained as she felt. "Not at the moment. Perhaps next time."
Zelda walked down the short hallway and stepped into the bathroom. It was a world away from the one in her own dingy little apartment, with smooth slate floors and a handsome granite countertop facing a floor-to-ceiling window whose surface was treated to double as a mirror. The tiled shower was slightly sunken but otherwise completely open, with no curtain to grow mold and twist around your legs in the steam. Like the rest of Ganondorf's apartment, the room was like something in the magazines she read while she was in school and still entertaining fantasies about where she would live when she was older.
Zelda washed her hands and face. The soap smelled like him, as did the towel she used to dry herself. Everything here was so nice – even nicer than what she had grown up with – and everything she touched smelled so good. It was difficult to believe that this man had kissed her only a few hours ago.
When she stepped back into the living room, Ganondorf was waiting for her. "I can call you a cab," he offered.
"I think I'd like to stay here," she replied, looking up to meet his eyes. "Can I go back in the morning?"
Ganondorf returned her gaze. "I'm too tired to be of much use to you."
"That's fine," Zelda said, trying not to think too deeply about what he meant. "And that's not why I asked. I mean, it's late. We used magic to come here, and I don't know where you live. I don't have a problem sleeping on the couch," she explained, and she meant it. She didn't want to go home alone in the dark, and she liked the idea of falling asleep while looking into the sky.
Ganondorf took a deep breath. "You can have the bed."
She protested. He didn't respond but merely showed her to his bedroom. It was empty except for a Gerudo-style bed that consisted of a low wooden platform supporting a simple mattress covered by a single comforter. The bedroom was on the same side of the apartment as the living room and bathroom, and its walls were lined with the same enormous windows. The lights were off, but the night was brilliant with the city skyline.
"Can I get you anything?" Ganondorf asked from behind her.
"Can I use one of your shirts? I like this dress, but I don't want to sleep in it."
He did something with his hand, perhaps using a magical shortcut. A soft terrycloth shirt appeared on the bed, neatly folded into a perfect square.
Zelda started to reach for it but then turned back to him.
"Can you join me? We don't have to do anything. I feel like I'm going to fall asleep as soon as I lie down."
Ganondorf nodded. "Give me a few minutes," he said and left the room.
Zelda took off her dress and changed into Ganondorf's shirt. The fabric felt heavenly against her bare skin. She undid her hair as she looked out over the city. She was somewhat cold but drowsy nonetheless. Maybe they really wouldn't do anything in bed. In fact, she might prefer that. It had been a long day.
I'll just lie down for a bit, she thought, and her eyes were already shut when Ganondorf climbed into bed next to her. He pressed his body against hers and kissed the top of her head before hugging her closer with one arm. She could feel the length of him half-hard against her, but his breathing was deep and slow and only getting deeper and slower. He was so warm and smelled so nice, and she felt safe and secure in his arms. While listening to the soft rhythm of his heartbeat, she soon fell asleep beside him.