They drove Zelda to her apartment and helped her pack. It didn't take long; there was almost nothing there.
To Link, whose flat was filled with the flotsam and jetsam he'd picked up during his urban exploration photo shoots across Hyrule, this was an affront. It was as if no one lived in Zelda's apartment at all. The shadow of the crumbling tenement building covered the small yard behind it in a thick gloom, yet the tangle of wild vegetation was curiously overgrown. Everything about the place seemed unnatural, and it felt good to leave.
"No offense, Zelda, but your apartment is a dump."
Zelda met his eyes in the rearview mirror. She was wearing the clothes Purlo picked out for her, and color had finally returned to her face.
"How elitist of you, Link. You start spending time with a prince, and now you have no regard for the common people."
Zelda looked back down at her laptop. Link had set up an encoded wireless network for her with his phone, and she was currently using it to download his photos. Zelda was like a different person when she was in front of a screen. She was quiet and reserved around other people, but she brought a focus to her work that was as sharp as a sword. Lit by the soft glow of her laptop screen, her eyes had the same eerie intensity they possessed when she held Ganondorf at bay.
It had been a relief to cut his ties with the Sheikah, who were engaged in far too many dark dealings for his taste. Still, perhaps Impa had been right to put Zelda under observation.
"I think you're the elitist one, Zelda. Only a rich person would think we common people actually live like that. Speaking of which, where'd you find that horrible couch?"
"On the street."
She smiled sweetly. "Don't underestimate me."
"We wouldn't dream of it," Sidon said, "but I'm going to have to agree with Link. You live in the sort of building kids tell ghost stories about. Are you sure it's not haunted?"
Link laughed. "People probably think Zelda is the ghost. I can already imagine the urban legend: The lady in the white lab coat. Who is she? What is she doing here? What does she want?" He thought for a moment, remembering the earthy smell of decaying bricks and the dark flicker of the half-dead fluorescent light in the corridor outside Zelda's apartment. "For real, though. Does anyone else live there, or is it just you, alone in that building?"
"My landlord lives there. He's a sweetheart."
"That Goron? Was he born before the Calamity? How is he still alive? Wait, is he alive?"
"He came down to offer us scones, didn't he?" Zelda patted the cloth-wrapped bundle resting on the seat beside her.
"Those rocks are supposed to be scones?" Link shook his head in mock dismay, but his concern was genuine. No wonder Zelda's apartment was in such a state. All sorts of people lived in Hyrule, and everyone had their preferences. Sidon's townhouse, for instance, was equipped with a large floor-level pool, while other Zora lived in humid greenhouses with glass walls. Zora-style arrangements were popular with Hylians, as were Rito-style aeries with open spaces and high ceilings, but Link had never heard of a Hylian wanting to live in the lightless caves preferred by older Gorons. If Zelda's landlord was a Goron elder, that would explain why most of the building's windows were boarded shut, as well as the general air of decrepitude, but it wasn't the sort of place he'd expect Zelda to choose for herself.
"If I didn't know better," Sidon said, "I might think you'd gone out of your way to locate the most run-down and inconspicuous flat you could find. I'm impressed that you found this place yourself."
She must have had help, Link thought. It was quite clever of her, really. If she wanted to evade the Sheikah, why not pick the most disreputable location she could find? It was like hiding in plain sight. If this had all been deliberate, it would make sense for her to dress poorly. Ganondorf would have been conspicuous in this neighborhood, however. It hadn't taken Link long to notice that Ganondorf used thaumaturgy, sometimes without thinking about it. He'd become more discrete as his Hylian improved, but he must have made use of it to evade Sheikah notice if he visited Zelda. Link remembered the riot of greenery in Zelda's garden, a stark contrast against the emotional void of her apartment. What exactly had she and Ganondorf been doing in there?
Speak of the devil. Link's phone vibrated with a text: "I'm on my way."
Link took a long breath and exhaled. No one asked for his opinion, but he thought it was a terrible idea for Zelda to spend more time with Ganondorf. There was something going on between them that had nothing to do with romance, and there would be trouble if they continued to act on whatever was causing their attraction to each other. Their relationship might have a chance at success if they were normal people, but there was a possibility that Zelda could genuinely be the avatar of a goddess, while Ganondorf… He didn't know what Ganondorf was. Link thought of the orange light pulsing in the eye sockets of the thing's mask and suppressed a shudder.
He tapped the screen to call the number. Ganondorf picked up on the first ring.
Link forced himself to smile. "So you managed to get yourself cleaned up?"
"No thanks to you."
Link felt a pang of guilt. Eldritch monstrosity or not, Ganondorf was still his friend. "You doing okay?"
"Don't waste my time with pointless questions."
"I wanted to let you know that we're about ten minutes away from Sidon's house. Riju's already there. If you do that shadow-walking thing you do instead of taking the train like a normal person, it's going to be just you and her, so you might want to give us some time."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Whatever you say, boss. And I don't want you using your weird technothaumaturgy on the gate to the access lane, so I'm going to give you the code. Do you need something to write with, or are you going to use your freakish memory?"
Sidon, who was stopped at a red light, turned around to speak to Zelda. "This is the guy he was just fighting with a mop?"
Zelda shrugged. "He says it was a broom."
Ganondorf wasn't there when they pulled into to narrow alley behind Sidon's townhouse, but Riju was, and with her was the most luminously gorgeous car Link had ever seen.
Link jumped out of the Wind Fish, slammed the door shut behind him, and approached Riju with his hand outstretched. "Nice to meet you," he said as she took his hand in a firm grip. "What is that beautiful creature?"
Riju grinned. "You like it? It's an Epona N-class 64, next year's model."
"No such thing exists. How did you get that?"
Riju's grin widened. "Being a princess has its perks."
She looked over his shoulder and dropped his hand. "Thank the goddess, someone finally put you in some decent clothing."
Zelda joined them as Sidon got out of the Wind Fish and went around to the back hatch to retrieve her luggage, a cheap vinyl gym bag that looked like she'd bought it on sale at a corner store.
"I haven't seen you in weeks, and I just had a very traumatic experience. I'm fine, thanks for asking."
Riju clapped Zelda's shoulders. "It's about priorities, Zelda," she said before drawing her into a fierce hug. "Speaking of which, where's that monster boyfriend of yours?"
"I'm right here."
And there he was, standing behind Riju. Link would have been startled if he weren't already used to Ganondorf's habit of showing up out of nowhere. Zelda's face went pale, but Riju didn't so much as flinch. She did look extremely annoyed, however.
Riju spun around and started speaking in rapid-fire Gerudo. Her words were too quick for Link to make out what she was saying, but she was clearly chastising Ganondorf about something.
Ganondorf watched her with an impassive expression before raising his hand to silence her. He responded in Gerudo in a slow and even tone.
Riju stared at him for a moment before bursting out into laughter.
"Am I missing something?" Zelda asked in Hylian.
"Did you hear was he just said?" Riju replied, still giggling. "Whomst."
"He does have a funny way of speaking, doesn't he? I think it's charming." Zelda smiled at Ganondorf, and the stiffness of his face thawed.
Riju seemed satisfied as she watched this interaction. "What's wrong with your ears?" she asked Ganondorf in Hylian before glancing at Zelda. "Can I touch them?"
Zelda laughed. "Aren't his ears cute?"
Ganondorf scowled. "We should leave before the sun gets higher. I don't want to spend all day driving through the desert."
"Who said you're driving?" Riju dangled the keys in front of his face. "A voe like you, I bet your feet can't even reach the pedals."
. . . . .
Ganondorf did end up in the driver's seat, which made Link unreasonably jealous. He wanted to drive an Epona himself one day; it was something of a seven-year plan for him. Unfortunately, the way this mess was unfolding, who knew where he'd be in seven years.
"So," he said as he and Sidon watched Ganondorf back out of the access alley with an uncanny degree of precision, "what do you think?"
Sidon considered his question for a moment before answering. "I know he's your friend, but…"
"You're my friend. Say what you need to."
"Whatever language that man was speaking to Riju, it wasn't Gerudo."
"She seemed to understand him just fine."
"Let me rephrase that. He wasn't speaking modern Gerudo. I only caught a few words, but he was using a form of the language that only someone like Riju would be able to understand. I only understood him myself because Mipha used to bring me along to religious rituals when we visited Lanayru."
Link remembered when he first met Ganondorf. He'd spoken some sort of foreign language fluently, but Link couldn't understand him. When Ganondorf started speaking Hylian, mainly by repeating what Link said to him, he picked up vocabulary quickly, but his accent was thick and impossible to place.
Link had wondered about that. There were all sorts of legends about various Hylian heroes using mystical artifacts to travel back and forth through time, but Ganondorf's personality was as far away from "heroic" as someone could get, and he clearly wasn't Hylian. In fact, he and Riju looked so much alike that they could have been cousins.
"If Ganondorf isn't Gerudo, who is he?"
It was a rhetorical question, and Link was surprised when Sidon answered.
"I don't think it's a matter of 'who' he is, but 'what' he is."
"What do you mean?"
"I didn't want to say anything yesterday, but I don't think he's human."
"Why didn't you tell me? You said you didn't notice anything strange about him and Zelda."
"I'm not…" Sidon shook his head. "I don't have anywhere near the magical ability that my sister does, so I couldn't be sure. It was just a feeling. And I'm still not sure what Zelda is planning."
"What Zelda is planning?"
"That woman is extraordinarily powerful. I discussed this with Riju while you were in Zelda's apartment, and we both agreed that she didn't used to be like this. Something happened to her, and I think that 'something' might be Ganondorf. Between her magic and her connections, Zelda would be more than capable of getting rid of him if she wanted to, but she doesn't."
"He's an attractive man, and I don't blame her for keeping him around. Why do you think she's planning something?"
Sidon crossed his arms over his chest and looked away.
Link placed a hand on Sidon's curled bicep. "Listen, we don't have to talk about it in the street. Let's go inside. I just fought a monster and saved a princess. I could use a bath."
"I've already got the downstairs pool heated up for you." Sidon smiled, and Link could feel his skin growing warm under his palm.
"How would you like to go to Zora's Domain?" Sidon continued. "We have records dating from before the Calamity, and someone might be able to tell you something about this handsome and mysterious stranger of yours."
"Are you jealous?" Link asked as he stroked the hard ridge of Sidon's muscle.
"No, but I don't like it that you left my motorcycle parked at his building."
"I can make it up to you."
"I think you should." Sidon covered Link's hand with his own. "You can start by meeting my sister."
"Is that supposed to be a punishment? I hear she's as kind and beautiful as you."
"She most certainly is." Sidon narrowed his eyes. "Mipha is many things at once. When you meet her, I think you'll understand this Zelda of yours much better."
"Are you worried about her?"
"Oh, it's not her I'm worried about."