In which Ganondorf and Zelda talk of the past in the ruins of the Arbiter's Grounds.


"I've never seen anything like this," Zelda said.

The sky wheeled above them in a brilliant shower of constellations, bathing the ruins in a light that was just as otherworldly as the Twilight.

The ancient sandstone was so white that it seemed to glow, but it was eroded beyond recognition. The only point of interest, as far as Ganondorf could tell, was a large tablet that had fallen from its base. It lay tilted on its side at the edge of a half-buried plaza that must have once marked the approach to the structure. Although it would have been impossible to see the shallow letters in the glare of the sun, the clear starlight provided just enough contrast to make out the individual characters.

Ganondorf watched as Zelda ran her hand over a passage in Ancient Hylian.

"Can you read the writing?" she asked.

"Here are housed Hyrule's most dangerous criminals."

"But can you read it out loud?"

It took him a moment to understand what she was asking. She didn't want him to translate the writing, but simply to read it.

He did, and Zelda seemed impressed. "So that's what it sounded like," she muttered.

She moved her fingers to the parallel text in Classical Gerudo. "And here?"

"Abandon hope, all who enter."

"Could you read that out loud too?"

He did, and she gave a small nod.

"That was your accent when you first spoke to Riju," she said.

Ganondorf was amused by Zelda's choice of words. Of course that had been his "accent"; he had seen an echo of his features on Riju's face and spoken to her in his own language.

"So that's where I know the name from," Zelda continued, not bothering to explain herself. "This is the prison from the war. But that must have been hundreds of years ago, maybe more."

Her words meant nothing to him. Ganondorf had more practical matters to attend to than studying Hyrule's history, and he had even less reason to concern himself with Gerudo history. The abstract and philosophical held no interest for him. Where he came from was immaterial, and what had been taken from him was so great that he couldn't begin to comprehend it. He was incapable of feeling the loss of an identity that left no trace in his mind. Nevertheless, the insult of its theft was abhorrent. Although it might take his entire life – however short that might be – to figure out how he got here, he would find whoever did this to him and take his revenge.

How ironic, then, that the only person he could find to blame was Zelda, who could bring him to his knees at the slightest touch. Go with me into the desert, she said. And he did, may the goddesses help him. Without question.

Ganondorf passed through a broken arch and set out into the field of sand beyond it. The rhythm of walking across the dunes, the fluid shake and balance, came naturally to him. He made his way to the first free-standing landmark beyond the plaza, a staircase that had crumbled above its first landing. He climbed to the top, testing each step to confirm that it would hold his weight, and looked out over the monumental blocks of weathered stone in the desert basin. There wasn't much to see aboveground, but this edifice – whatever it was – must have been supported by a substantial foundation built into the bedrock. He wondered how much of it was still intact beneath the sand.

There was no wind, and the barren landscape was as still as the surface of the moon. Ganondorf could feel the bitter chill of the desert night even through the thick fabric of his clothing, and he hated it. He hated that Hyrule could be so blessedly warm and humid while his homeland was harsh and inhospitable. The pale silver of the moonlight on the sand was beautiful, but he resented it. There was no life here now, if there ever was. It was beyond him why Zelda wanted to come to this forsaken place.

She drew up behind him in the quiet way he'd come to appreciate, with not even the slightest sound of sand crunching under her boots. She padded up the stone steps like a cat and stood beside him, silent as she surveyed the spread of stones in the basin.

"It looks like there are two sets of ruins," she said. "There's one on the outside – that's the marble. It's laid out like a rectangle, or close enough to one. The ruins on the inside appear to be sandstone. It's difficult to see, but I noticed the inner circle from a distance when we parked on the hill."

Ganondorf looked closer. Zelda was right; the sandstone ruins had a radial symmetry that spiraled into the earth, confirming his initial impression that the older foundation was extremely deep. This must have been an impressive structure in its time. It was curious that such a site would be left to the mercy of the desert.

"I'm not used to walking on the sand. My ankles are a little sore. Can we take a break?"

She sat down without waiting for his answer. Ganondorf had no wish to linger here. He looked down at Zelda, wanting to protest, but he was struck by how slight the curve of her slim shoulders was against the rough chunks of the staircase masonry. The chill of the stone would freeze her in no time at all. He sat down next to her, and she leaned against him. Her body fit perfectly next to his. A heady flash of desire passed through him, but he resisted the urge to kiss her. Something about this place made him feel ill at ease.

"My family used to be the royal family of Hyrule," Zelda said without preamble.

"I know," Ganondorf replied. He'd wasted no time in uncovering everything there was to find about her, which wasn't a lot. It was odd that someone her age wouldn't have any sort of social media or online presence, but it made a certain amount of sense. Privacy is a privilege of the wealthy, after all.

"My family is associated with a lot of old legends about… About why we had the divine right to rule, I guess you'd say. People used to believe that it was my family's sacred duty to protect Hyrule from evil.

"Not that the royal family did it themselves. They had an army, of course, and it's said that a hero would always appear in times of dire need. The stories are never clear about where this hero came from, unfortunately. Was the hero a knight, or was he a farmhand? Was he a woodsman from the forest or a scion of a landed family? Regardless of where he came from, there was a different hero for every era of history. But not even this is clear, really. Some legends say that it was the same hero, and that he possessed the ability to travel through time, hidden until the moment arrived for him to wake and save Hyrule."

"I'm not from Hyrule."

"I didn't say you were the hero." Zelda shoved him playfully. Ganondorf grabbed her hand and pulled her closer. She leaned into him and rested her head against his shoulder.

"I only meant to say that there's a possibility that the technology to travel through time might actually exist," she continued. "Or the magic? Maybe something like the Twilight, except… I'm not sure. Manipulating time instead of space."

It was an interesting theory, but impractical. "I don't manipulate space by going into the Twilight," Ganondorf said. "I only create a temporary passage into a separate dimension that lies just underneath our own."

The process was as ingrained in his procedural memory as walking or speaking. Ganondorf lacked the precise language to explain how it worked, and he could only describe it through a system of analogies. "Even if magic could be used to create an entirely new dimension of space," he explained, choosing his words carefully, "getting there would be difficult. Entering the Twilight is nothing more than a matter of stepping slightly sideways, and you've seen how painful even that can be."

"But what if you could do the same thing with time? What if you could step sideways through time, like taking a small jump from one spoke of a wheel to another?"

Ganondorf considered the mechanics of Zelda's suggestion, but it was a pointless exercise. Even assuming that streams of time functioned like layers of space, passing into even a close and familiar moment of time would not be as simple as entering the Twilight, which existed unchanged regardless of any one person's interaction with it. Altering a stream of time through the act of entering it would be tantamount to recreating the entirety of the Twilight with each journey. Even as a variation of dimensional magic, such an endeavor would be far beyond the scope of even his own considerable ability.

"Magic is difficult is because it requires you to expend energy in order to change reality," he explained. "The greater the disparity between your intention and your current reality, the more difficult the spell will be to perform. The trick is to align your magic as closely to natural laws as you can. If your intended goal is too far from the preexisting natural order, the outlay of energy becomes results in mental exhaustion and acute physical pain. Being in the Twilight is unpleasant because it forces you to expend energy to survive in an unnatural state. I don't know enough about physics to understand how time would work as a tangible construct, but the amount of energy necessary to alter it would be massive. The pain would be inhuman."

"But what if that's what happened to you?" Zelda insisted. "What if Sheikah technology was implanted in you to help you perform this magic and survive outside the stream of time? And what if something went wrong? What if the magic was so powerful that it turned you into a monster?"

Ganondorf clenched his jaw to prevent himself from snapping at her. They had been skirting around the subject all night, but she'd finally come out and said it. In Zelda's mind, he hadn't temporarily changed his form; he fundamentally was a monster.

He considered himself to be human, and he'd never had any reason to believe otherwise. He woke and ate and thought and spoke and slept like everyone else. In fact, he sometimes suspected that he understood other people better than most of them understood themselves. Something horrible had happened to him, obviously, but he always believed it to be something that someone else had done to him, a chain of cause and effect that existed outside of himself.

And yet he was haunted by phantom memories of lives he could never have lived, and at times he was consumed by a nebulous anger that had no purpose or direction. What if his sense of self were nothing more than a persona, a mask hiding an unspeakable face? What if, underneath the thin sheet he had woven for himself from the threads of a borrowed civilization, he were some gibbering, mindless thing pulled out of an abyss even more terrible than the Twilight?

This possibility was the closest thing to a fear he possessed, yet Zelda spoke of it with no hesitation whatsoever. A compulsion to hold her down against the freezing stone and wring her lithe and perfect neck passed through him just as fiercely as his earlier desire to kiss her.

Ganondorf exhaled and watched the cloud of his breath disappear into the cold air.

"You said yourself that I'm no hero," he said, forcing himself to speak softly. "I can't imagine what motive I would have for working with the Sheikah. It would be illogical for them to leave me without a way of retaining some sort of message, either to myself or whoever might find me."

"Don't you remember anything?"

"I remember being trapped in darkness. I remember hearing your voice. I remember hating you."

"Maybe it wasn't my voice. Maybe it was the voice of a different Zelda."

"Another Zelda in the unbroken chain, you mean."

"Or it could have been me, I guess, just… a different incarnation."

Ganondorf could hear the icy bitterness in Zelda's words, and he recognized his own resentment of the possibility that he might have been someone else before he was himself – and that he must now answer for that person's actions. Transmigration of the soul was as fantastic and impossible as time travel, however, and none of this was anything more than speculation.

"You can't truly believe that you're a reincarnation of your ancestor," Ganondorf said, running his hand down Zelda's arm and pulling her closer.

Zelda shook her head against his shoulder. "I don't know what to believe anymore. But look at this."

She raised her right hand. The outline of her fingers shimmered with a faint golden glow for a moment before the three triangles of Hyrule's crest burst from her skin in a magnificent explosion of light.

"Does this mean anything to you?"

Ganondorf marveled that she could ask such a question. He could feel the power surging outward from her body. It broke over him in waves, and he could feel the pulse of her energy thrumming in his gut. The hair stood on the back of his neck. He opened his mouth to speak but could only sigh.

Zelda concealed her hand inside her cloak. Ganondorf stared at her, but she wouldn't meet his eyes.

By the gods, was she aware of her own ability? With that sort of magic she very well could travel through time. She could completely reshape reality, or time itself. She could do anything she wished.

It was obscene that a power so great should exist in the world.

"Last night, when you attacked me, the light of the Triforce was the only thing that kept you at bay," Zelda said. "I didn't believe it while it was happening, and I'm not sure I believe it now. Now that I know more about magic, I think there must be some sort of rational explanation, but I'm frightened. I'm frightened of the Triforce. I'm frightened of myself as well. Can I tell you what happened to me when I was hospitalized as a child?"

Ganondorf was still reeling from the intensity of Zelda's magic. He couldn't speak, so he nodded.

"I heard voices when I was younger, and I had incredible dreams," she began. "I told you about the nightmares. But, before that, neither the voices nor the dreams were unpleasant. I remember actually enjoying the strange abilities I had.

"You told me it took time for you to realize that other people don't know about the Twilight. It was the same for me. I was raised at home by myself, and it never occurred to me that other people didn't hear omniscient voices and have prophetic dreams. It's fair to say that I had an unconventional childhood. I had tutors, can you imagine? Like a little princess. But I don't mean to imply that I was unhappy. My parents loved me, or at least they seemed to, and I never wanted for anything. Our estate was like a castle to me, and I liked to imagine that I was living in a fairy tale.

"My father and mother were both on the older side. I don't want to dwell on the details, but they must have been trying to have a child for a long time. Or I could have been a happy accident, who's to say? However it happened, there I was, the baby of the family. My grandparents and aunts and uncles adored me. My cousins were all many years older than I was, and they doted on me."

"I don't think any of my cousins knew I had supernatural abilities, but they must have understood that I was precocious. Sometimes they would hide things from me or ask me questions whose answers I couldn't possibly have known. It was something of a game, I think. It was amusing for them to try to stump me, but it wasn't meanspirited. It was like how one of my cousins could play the piano beautifully, and another could draw caricatures. My talent was being able to go straight to the tin of candy someone's mother had hidden in the top drawer of the china cabinet in the sitting room, that sort of thing.

"To figure out what I needed to know, I would sit very still and listen for the voices to start speaking to me. It wasn't always the same voice, but it was always a woman. There was nothing mystical about it, at least not to me. These voices were always clear and direct, with no riddles. 'Will Agitha get a pony for her birthday,' I would ask, and one of the voices would say, 'Not for her birthday, no, but she'll receive one as a gift two months later after her mother settles a case and buys a cottage in the Tabantha highlands.' It didn't work every time, but none of us took this odd ability of mine seriously to begin with.

"I was rarely in the company of children my own age, but I was never lonely. I would see my cousins in my dreams, almost as if I were right there with them. This was all well and good when we were younger, but then a few of them started dating. I didn't understand what I was seeing, so I asked my mother to explain it to me. She wouldn't say anything except to warn me that I shouldn't mention these dreams to other people.

"I didn't understand my mother's refusal to talk to me, so I eventually went to my father and told him about the dreams and voices. Unlike my mother, he seemed interested, and I was flattered by the attention.

"Once I started to spend more time with my father, I began to see dreams about some of the people who were constantly visiting our house. I told my father about what I saw in these dreams, mainly because I wanted to have an excuse to talk to him. He seemed concerned at first, but he would always ask for details. He was at a critical point in his career, I think. He needed to get ahead somehow, and I guess he couldn't help himself.

"I would have done anything to please him, and I started taking naps during the day so that my dreams were fresher in my mind. That's when the nightmares started.

"I already told you about the nightmares. I don't remember them well, but they were like movies I was too young to watch, with monsters and fire and a lot of chasing and running. If I'd only had one or two nightmares like this, it would have been easy to call them anxiety dreams, but they were extremely realistic, and they wouldn't stop. I would wake up in the middle of the night, completely terrified and convinced that something horrible was going to happen.

"One night I screamed until my parents were finally summoned. I apparently overwhelmed them with the details of what I had seen in the dream, although I can't remember what I said. That's when they decided to take me to the hospital. After that, everything gets hazy."

Zelda took a deep breath. Her face was flushed, but her eyes were clear.

"I don't know if this was real or if I was just medicated," she continued, "but I had persistent visions of taking trips to the old castle. Sometimes I would see myself being strapped to a gurney and wheeled in, almost as if I were watching it happen to someone else, but sometimes I would just suddenly wake up in one of the lower levels of the castle with my father and his Sheikah aides beside me. We would take an elevator down to some sort of cave. It was so huge that it must have been a natural cavern, but there was writing on the walls. There were paved paths and small buildings, and… I can't be sure, but I think there was an underground river, maybe even a lake.

"The Sheikah would put me on my feet and force me to walk. I think they expected me to guide them, although I never figured out where we were going. I know it sounds like all of this had the potential to become a fun adventure, with a brave young girl leading her escort of armed guards through a forgotten maze of magical caves, but I was terrified. I was convinced that this was the place where my nightmares would come true, deep in the earth with no light to see what was down there with me. It was just like my dreams – I couldn't shake the feeling that I was trapped with something terrible. I cried and begged, but they kept forcing me to keep walking. Wherever I was supposed to take them, we never got there."

Ganondorf grit his teeth. Zelda's story wasn't easy to listen to, and he was furious on her behalf. Putting the flagrant child abuse aside, what she was saying didn't make sense. Magic wasn't a precise science, but what Zelda was describing shouldn't be possible. You couldn't use magic to see the future, for instance. If you wanted to make predictions, you may as well use a horoscope for all the good it would do. Magic could conceivably be used to alter someone's perception of reality, but chemical substances would be much more reliable and precise. Whatever voices Zelda heard must have been entirely of her own invention. It was fitting that Zelda said she had a childhood like a fairy-tale princess, because the sort of "magic" she described was utterly fantastic.

Regardless, Ganondorf believed her.

"I don't know whether I was awake or asleep," Zelda said in a sheepish tone, as if apologizing for the outlandish nature of her story. "I think I spent a lot of time sleeping when I was in the hospital. I don't remember being awake much at all.

"When they finally they released me, it was more than a year later. They told me something about having to induce a coma because of a brain injury, but I don't recall any surgery, and I don't have any scars. The only thing I had to show for all the months I spent in the hospital was a daily cocktail of pills. I was too young to question any of this. I guess I was happy that the nightmares finally stopped. Every so often I would hear voices again. I would tell one of my doctors, and they would adjust the dosage of my medication.

"It didn't occur to me until much later that perhaps the cave I saw in my visions was real.

"Every time I'd come across a picture of one of the Divine Beasts – or any other piece of ancient technology, for that matter – I would get a strange feeling. When I finally took myself to a museum during my first year of college and saw artifacts of ancient technology in person, I understood why. The cave I remember from my visions in the hospital was filled with ancient technology, and seeing the specific details again, like the interlocking swirls in that weird ceramic plating they have, brought everything back. Maybe the cave was real, but there was no one I could ask about it.

"And I was always interested in the old legends of Hyrule," Zelda added softly. "What girl doesn't imagine being a princess and going on adventures with a hero at her side? But I never took any of it seriously. I hated that 'Princess Zelda' always seemed to be the first thing anyone said when they met me. When I realized that there might be more truth in the legends than what I had learned in school, I started to read about ancient technology, and also about the history of technology in Hyrule. I considered becoming a historian, but writing papers felt pointless to me. Science and math were the only subjects I had any aptitude for. Playing with numbers and recording concrete observations made sense in a way that politics and law never did.

"But why am I telling you this? It doesn't matter. I'm rambling, sorry."

"Say what you need to," Ganondorf assured her. Between the eeriness of the ruins and the lingering effects of the Twilight, Zelda's voice was having a strange effect on him. He regretted his decision not to take her to bed. He would rather hear Zelda's unsettling story while secure in the warmth of her body, not crouching on a pile of stones in the freezing desert night. If he interrupted her now, however, she might never be willing to speak of any of this again.

"I'm almost done, I promise," she said. "I told you about how I did some research into my medication, and how I found out that it doesn't technically exist. So I stopped taking it after I left my family. The nightmares came back, and even the voices to a certain extent. Sometimes I'll hear one when I least expect it, but I can't summon them when I want, not anymore. And then, only a few weeks after the dreams started again, there was you."

And now there was him, indeed. Zelda didn't put her assumption that he had come from her nightmares into words, but the implication was clear. Here he was, some sort of misbegotten thing without a past, a creature that could only remember its name – and hers, for reasons he couldn't begin to fathom.

Ganondorf resented Zelda even as he longed for her. He wanted to shove her down into the chasm of sand and leave her here for having been able to enjoy any sort of childhood at all, and at the same time he wanted to bury a blade between her father's ribs for what he'd put her through. He wanted to twist her unbound hair around his fist and ask her to try calling him a monster one more time even as he envisioned laying her down on under the starlight. Zelda had made herself vulnerable to him, and he wanted to punish her for reminding him of his own wretched vulnerability.

"Perhaps you are Princess Zelda," he said, knowing how much this would upset her. "Perhaps you are a goddess reborn, the keeper of the sacred Triforce. Put your power to use, then. Turn back time, if you think you can. These ruins called to you. See what you came to see."

Zelda's body stiffened. "Very well," she said.

She drew away from him and got to her feet. Ganondorf stood alongside her and watched as she raised her right arm. The golden triangles on the back of her hand began to shine, faintly at first but with a steadily increasing brilliance. Ganondorf was fascinated by the golden glow, but he forced himself to tear his eyes away from the Triforce.

The sand pooled within the broad hollow of the natural basin shimmered and sparkled, and for a moment the air smelled as sweet as the fresh grass in the yard of Zelda's apartment. From the flat plain of the desert hardtack rose a hill of rock stained the same dusty red as the canyon separating Lanayru from Hyrule. As Ganondorf watched, a grand temple materialized on the face of the hill. The exterior was lined with glass windows and a multitude of dark wooden doors. Water flowed through grates at the temple's foundation, clear streams collecting in shallow ponds ornamented with lilies. The mirage was as spectacular as a rainbow, and despite the distance he could see whatever he wished in minute detail. It was breathtaking.

As he watched, the marble bricks of a larger edifice began to climb around the perimeter of the temple. The newer structure was built in the classical Hylian style, with broad plazas and towering columns. The temple was demolished and rebuilt as a colosseum. As a prison, Zelda had said. Ganondorf sensed that there were no longer any deities here. The stones cried out with human misery. Above it all, crowning each hideous piece of statuary, was the Triforce.

It was no wonder the Arbiter's Grounds had been abandoned and forgotten. Who knew what horrors still lurked underground? A hero might dare to bring the mysteries of these ruins to light, but he was no hero, just a man disgusted by the pathetic history of this forsaken place.

"Is this what you wanted to see?" he asked, glancing at Zelda. Tears ran down her cheeks.

"I knew there was a great war," she said, "long ago, between Hyrule and the Gerudo. But why…?"

Zelda's breath caught as she struggled not to cry. She lowered her hand, and the mirage faded.

"Why would Riju tell me to take you here? It makes no sense," she muttered.

Ganondorf agreed; none of this made any sense. He had no understanding of the magic she had just performed. Was the vision she produced an accurate record of the past, or was it a scene from her nightmares? Did the Triforce have a will of its own, perhaps? Was Zelda nothing more than a vessel for a much larger power?

Ganondorf's contempt for Zelda vanished as quickly as it had arisen. He wanted to comfort her, but mere words would not suffice.

"These ruins are cursed," he said. "Let's bury them."

Zelda looked up at him, her eyes still wet. "What do you mean?"

The night air was cold on Ganondorf's face. He grasped it with his magic and turned it over in his mind. All it would take to create rain would be a sudden release of the heat stored within the earth. He shot the grip of his perception into the bedrock underneath his feet. There was still water here, lying in wait and full of potential. This place could become an oasis again, perhaps only briefly, but long enough for the patchy desert weeds to grow and crack the remaining slabs of stone. What the sun could not cleanse as it burned in the sky, the breath of life could reclaim as it surged from the earth. The power necessary to create an appropriate geologic shift would be substantial. How fortunate, then, to have that power standing beside him.

"Would you like to see trees grow in the desert?" he asked. "Lend me your power. Let me show you a miracle."

Ganondorf could see the curiosity in Zelda's eyes – and the desire.

"You want the Triforce."

"I want you."

And he did. Zelda's face was ghostly pale in the moonlight, but in the golden glow emanating from her hand he could easily believe that she was a goddess. A goddess of what, he couldn't be sure, but he would worship her in the only way he knew.

Ganondorf lowered his head and kissed her. The heat that rose between them was immediate. Ever so gently he created a connection between them, and she opened herself to him. He could feel the warmth gathering between her legs, just as he knew she could feel him hardening against her. He was struck by the realization that this pulse of life was exactly what he sought: the power to make this barren land fertile. He shared his wish with her and felt that she wanted it too, if for no other reason than that it was in her ability to make it happen.

Ganondorf allowed Zelda to break the kiss, and he held her as they faced the ruins. She lifted her hand once again. In an instant the night was filled with gold.

A violent wind swirled around them as lightning flashed through the sky. A storm was rising, and it would soon break.