Riju had a lot to catch up on with Zelda, including this business with the Sheikah Slate. Riju didn't know much about ancient technology or how it worked, but she was impressed by the photos Sidon and his friend Link sent her. Having found themselves in possession of a hypermagical reality-altering device, they'd been using it to go swimming and rock climbing. Good for them. Riju was happy that Sidon had found someone his speed.
Meanwhile, Urbosa finally succeeded in getting Zelda to talk with her mother. Having to tiptoe around the topic of Zelda's mother had always been awkward, and Riju was relieved that her friend was willing to make peace with the only halfway normal member of her family. Taking the first step couldn't have been easy, and Zelda was visibly shaken after the conversation. She didn't cry, thank Hylia, but the first thing she did after the meeting was to ask for a drink. Riju dutifully provided Zelda with watered-down shots as they talked it over. Yes, it was all true, and yes, it was all very fucked up. Yes, the Sheikah were very scary, and yes, Urbosa was even scarier.
Riju was more than willing to use Zelda's company as an excuse to drink. As much as she'd once wanted to live in Hyrule, she missed the desert every day she'd spent there. Now that she was back, she hated it. She complained about everything from her two ridiculous mothers to the new skyscraper the pair of them were planning on building to her own frustration with being a public figure. Zelda listened as attentively as she always had, but the questions she asked were sharper than they used to be. If Riju wasn't mistaken, Zelda might be on the verge of entering public life herself. Which was good. It was about time.
Zelda was also keen to talk about magic. She was exactly like someone who'd just discovered voe for the first time. Yes, Riju kept telling Zelda, everyone does magic, it's not a big deal. She was aware of the taboo against magic in Hyrule, but she vaguely assumed the Hylians were like Gorons – it's not that they couldn't use magic, but that they preferred not to. After all, most Rito didn't fly, and most Zora wouldn't be caught dead walking around without clothing. Meanwhile, Zelda acted as though magic were much grander and more impressive than it actually was. No wonder she was so taken with Ganondorf, who was so inhumanly talented that he made magic seem like an art.
Riju was quite taken with Ganondorf herself. He got along well with the older vai, who were charmed by his polite and precise way of talking, and he was undeniably easy on the eyes. Not that his attractiveness mattered to her. Riju went through periods when she was interested in men, but what she found intriguing about Ganondorf wasn't his pretty face.
Ganondorf discretely made himself scarce while Riju spent time with Zelda. His Gerudo had gotten remarkably better in two days, as had his sense of fashion, but Riju still found it easier to speak with him in Hylian.
At the moment, Zelda was waiting for a call from a Sheikah scientist whose name Riju had written down but couldn't remember off the top of her head. Priya, maybe? She added it to her list of things to investigate once she returned to Hyrule. In the meantime, this was as good of an opportunity as any for her to talk to Ganondorf. The Gerudo had long memories, and there was something she was dying to show him.
"You've been out and about," Riju remarked as she led Ganondorf through the maze of archives and storage rooms carved into the bedrock underneath the palace complex. "What do you think of our city?"
"Everyone has been welcoming, and I can't remember the last time I ate this well. I have no complaints."
"How about the climate? Are you adjusting?"
"The days are long, and there's never a cloud in the sky."
What a clever tongue this voe had. "That's a nice way to put it. Are you sure you're not a politician?"
"There are better ways to make money."
"You might be surprised."
"I'm always willing to be surprised."
Riju laughed. "Do you know how my family makes money?"
"Holding companies. We can't legally own corporations or real estate, but there's nothing preventing us from managing the organizations that handle stocks and dividends. We're a constitutional monarchy, and everything we do is above ground, you might say."
"Your city does have a lovely skyline."
Riju nodded. Unlike Hyrule, where every building was marked by a neon logo, her family was careful to keep its name off its assets. "I see you understand the business we're in, then," she said. "Every once in a while, someone in Hyrule will make a big deal about the value of free markets. They're usually selling something."
"Hyrule has its fair share of holding companies."
"It does, doesn't it? I don't know if Zelda told you, but I have a degree in international law. I know better than most people that every legal code has loopholes. I want you to understand that I'm not trashing my friend, but Zelda's interest in science has always amused me, given the resources she has."
"She takes her work seriously."
"I take my friend seriously. Otherwise, I might never have learned what an interesting person you are."
"I'm flattered by your interest."
Ganondorf flashed his teeth in a wide smile. He knew where this conversation was going, and he didn't seem to be bothered in the slightest. Zelda described Ganondorf as guarded, but that wasn't Riju's impression of him at all. He had such an air of easy self-confidence that it was hard to imagine him feeling threatened by anyone. He certainly wasn't behaving defensively toward her. He and she were co-conspirators, his grin seemed to say. As far as Riju was concerned, this was accurate. She couldn't hurt him even if she wanted to, and he had yet to give her a reason to want to. Zelda introduced him as an investor. As it turned out, that wasn't far from the truth. Why not give him a worthy cause to invest in?
"It's not flattery, let me assure you. You're quite interesting. I'm fascinated by the fact that you don't exist, at least not on paper. Or, I guess should say, you exist only on paper. You have a phone number, a bank account, and precious little else. It does make me wonder where you came from."
"Not everyone has a lineage as illustrious as your own."
"If you were from a small settlement out in the desert, I suppose it would make sense for your mother to take you to Hyrule, or for you to go there yourself. I hear voe aren't treated well in traditional families."
"One could say that."
"Don't let me tell your story for you."
"By all means, please continue. I'm intrigued."
"So I started thinking, if I were a refugee who came from nothing and wanted to make a place for myself in the world, what would I do? The service sector is out of the question. Most employers in Hyrule run background checks, especially for menial positions. Isn't that a charming custom? I also wouldn't be able to apply to most white-collar jobs, not without an educational background. If I were smart, I'd look for a place where a sharp suit and my natural charisma would be all the credentials I needed. In an industry where ambition is rewarded, preferably. The finance sector, perhaps."
"You make walking into an investment firm sound easy. It would be quite a feat if you could pull it off."
The voe was right; it would be difficult – although perhaps not so difficult in Hyrule, where Gerudo men sometimes seemed to be even more highly prized than they were in Lanayru.
"I'm not saying I could actually pull it off," Riju replied. "I'm no good with numbers. And I think the sort of people who run investment firms would probably kick you out into the street if you weren't able to perform at their level. You'd have to produce incredible results, and I assume you'd have to do it in no time flat."
"That would be a tall order."
Riju nodded. "Absolutely. So what I would do, especially if I were working in Hyrule, would be to give myself an advantage. Not anything unfair, of course, and certainly not anything illegal, but just enough to get a foot in the door. My computer skills are pretty basic, but if I could program, it's conceivable that I might be able to create a network of programs that could engage in high-frequency trading. I don't have any special talent for magic, but I do have a small affinity for manipulating electric currents. I'm given to understand that it runs in the family. Maybe, if I could figure out a way to enchant my hardware so that it runs slightly more efficiently, I might be able to gain an edge over the competition."
"You certainly could, but the right set of algorithms would be just as effective."
"My mothers handle the family finances, so I don't know much about securities. You'll have to forgive my ignorance, but I hear that, when it comes to high-frequency trading, it's not so much the algorithms that matter as the disruption of the market. But you're the expert."
"Market disruption is a risky strategy. I wouldn't recommend it. That sort of exchange would require careful management. You couldn't simply set up a program, sit back, and make money."
"I guess you're right, but it probably doesn't hurt to have big numbers to use as variables to plug into your equations. If you could access a source of capital that the other traders at your firm couldn't touch, that might help. And – just hypothetically speaking – if I had the balls to create an identity from scratch using publicly available records, I might not shy away from taking advantage of the dividends of certain accounts as they transition from one holder to another. When one of my firm's clients dies, or maybe declares bankruptcy. For example."
Ganondorf's grin widened. "You most certainly could do that. Someone should make that sort of thing illegal. It's a shame that no one has, really."
"It's not my country, so I can't judge. Thanks for indulging in my flight of fancy."
"It's quite a tale. I wonder how many other people that line of speculation would occur to."
"Just me. For the time being, at least. But it's a wild story, no? I've been thinking I might share it with Zelda."
"Between us, Riju, I don't think Zelda would be the most receptive audience. Stories like that don't seem to interest her at all."
Riju felt a twinge of annoyance. Of course Zelda knew how Ganondorf made his money. He probably told her himself. He'd more than likely guessed – correctly – that Zelda was already familiar with her own family's finances and wouldn't be bothered by whatever sort of dubiously legal monkey business he was engaged in. Given the immense political corruption Zelda's relatives took for granted as a family tradition, what Ganondorf was doing probably didn't trouble her at all. And he knew it, the clever bastard.
Well, just so long as they were all on the same page.
"I don't know if Zelda told you, but she recently spoke with her mother."
Ganondorf winced. "That can't have gone well."
"It didn't. She's probably going to cut her visit short. She didn't say anything to me, but that's how she makes decisions. I'm sure you've noticed that about her. I assume you'll accompany her back to Hyrule."
"That's up to her."
Riju rolled her eyes. "Of course it's up to her, and she'll say it's up to you. Can you at least offer to drive her back? How long have you two been dating, anyway?"
"How long have we been walking? Surely this basement can't go any deeper."
"Fine, change the subject. Good timing, though. We took the scenic route, but we're here."
Riju placed her hand against a dragonfly crest carved into the wall. She visualized a doorway, just as she had been taught, and the stones slid open to form a passage into one of the many rooms of the royal family's archives. There were no glowing glyphs on the walls or any other sort of magical ornamentation to indicate that this section was different than any of the others. It wasn't even hidden that well, as the outline of the doorway was still visible on the wall even when it wasn't open.
This room contained some of the most valuable documents in the archives, however, as well as some of the more disturbing. Many of the manuscripts weren't from Lanayru at all, but from Hyrule and its outlying territories. There were stone tablets from the Gorons and the Zora, tapestries from the Rito, wood carvings from the Koroks, and scrolls of mulberry paper from the Sheikah, not to mention thick books with soft vellum pages from the ruins of the former site of Hyrule Castle. What was preserved in this dark and silent room was the history of Calamity Ganon.
Riju had first come here with Rotana, the palace archivist, in the company of Urbosa. Her mothers were far too involved in managing the kingdom's economy to serve as public figures, so it was decided that Riju would inherit the throne directly. This was mostly a matter of diplomatic relations, which Riju had been studying in one way or another for her entire life. In order to fully understand the responsibilities of her position, Urbosa told her, there was something else she needed to know.
She could not have been more surprised by what this entailed if Rotana had revealed that aliens were real.
"What most people don't know about Ganon is that he was a real person," Riju explained. "One of the rare Gerudo voe, in fact. He was named Ganondorf, and he came from an era long before anyone except us thought to write down their history. There were only a few hundred Gerudo living here at the time, and most of them concentrated on the far eastern edge of the desert, right at the mouth of the canyon where the main highway is now. The Hylians believed that the Gerudo were a band of thieves. And who knows? They very well could have been, although that's obviously not how they described themselves in the documents they left behind.
"Whatever the case may have been, there was war after war after war. Hyrule was an absolute monarchy at the time, and its kings apparently weren't interested in negotiating with anyone who wasn't male. It was therefore a Gerudo custom to appoint a voe as a 'king' for the purpose of maintaining relations with Hyrule. Ganondorf clearly isn't a Gerudo name, so this could have been what the Hylians called him. Is this ringing any bells for you? Bringing back any memories?"
"Zelda raised the possibility that I may have come from another era, but the likelihood seems dubious at best," Ganondorf responded, his voice as dry as the air in the sealed room.
Of course it was. The very notion was ridiculous, but it didn't hurt to ask.
"You could be a reincarnation," Riju suggested.
"I'm not a reincarnation." Ganondorf shrugged. "Or perhaps I am. If such a thing were possible, any of us could be a reincarnation." He turned away and began to study the labels affixed to the drawers of a cabinet carved from Faron sandalwood. The cabinet must have been hundreds of years old, and the scrolls it contained were much older.
"Can I tell you something funny? I used to think that I was a reincarnation of Ganondorf," Riju said as she walked across the room and opened the wide drawer of a layered shelf built into the sandstone wall.
"What provoked that idea?"
"I hated this place," Riju answered. She considered putting on a pair of archival gloves before handling the text she intended to remove, but she decided that she didn't particularly care about its condition or preservation. "I hated being a princess, and I hated the palace. All I wanted was to go sand seal surfing all day every day, but sometimes I even hated the desert itself. There were a lot of sandstorms when I was younger. The thunder and lightning would last for days, but it never rained. Some of Urbosa's older advisors took it as an omen of who knows what sort of terrible thing, but I just thought it was awful and boring to have to stay inside all the time. I begged and begged and begged my mothers to send me to school in Hyrule. It seems childish now, but at the time I had vivid fantasies about what Hyrule was like. Urbosa eventually convinced my mothers to let me go, but not before she brought me down here."
Riju placed the book she'd retrieved on a reading table and snapped her fingers to turn on the light overhead. "'Be careful what you wish for' is what she wanted to say to me, I think. There's something of a tradition of Gerudo rulers becoming a bit too infatuated with Hyrule. The country seems small and weak, but there's a reason it's been able to remain independent. Ganondorf wanted Hyrule, and look what happened to him."
She found the section of the codex she was looking for and gestured Ganondorf over. He stood beside her and watched as she flipped through the pages of the illuminated manuscript, moving from one illustration to another: A cloaked man with red hair, now in heavy armor on a charging destrier, a castle in flames, a volcano erupting, a river freezing, an empty lake, a pale hand rising from a dry well, desiccated corpses shambling through a deserted town.
"Hyrule has its own magic," Riju said, trusting that Ganondorf could follow the story without needing its moral to be spelled out. "No matter how lazy or terrible or incompetent its kings are, no matter how old or infirm for insane, it's still better than the alternative. The Hylian legends say the old kingdom was cursed, but that curse worked out well for them, if you ask me. Or at least some of them, the ones with enough power and authority to decide which legends would end up in books like this."
Riju skipped forward to another section of the codex and allowed the pages to open naturally to an illustration that was heavy with gold leaf. A young woman with a cruel face stood surrounded by beams of light with a flawless and unstained sword in one hand and a shining triangle on the other.
"You've walked the sunset roads," Riju continued. "I think the Hylian word 'Twilight' is a much better name for that place, don't you? It's a world neither living nor dead, a place where only shadows can walk without pain. I won't deny that it's convenient, but I can't help but be a little afraid of whoever created it."
She skipped to the end of the volume to show the final illustration: A Gerudo man with an upturned face, his chest pierced by a sword with an elaborate hilt that resembled a pair of spread wings. There was no blood, but the man's face was twisted in a rictus of agony.
"Personally, I would hate to be the person Hyrule decided was the bearer of its curse."
Riju allowed the cover of the codex to fall. She'd read a translation of the manuscript, and she was familiar with the story. It ended here. Whatever happened after the "demon" was killed apparently wasn't important to whoever compiled these legends.
Ganondorf cleared his throat. "What made you decide you weren't a reincarnation after all?"
"Who knows?" Riju tapped the wooden cover with her fingers. How had he put it? "If such a thing were possible, any of us could be a reincarnation."
"So the possibility still stands," he replied with a smirk.
"I don't think so. People keep telling me that it's important to respect our heritage, but this is all so stupid. If something happened in the past, why couldn't we just record the facts of its history? Why does everything have to come down to us through all these levels of myth and hearsay? That's why I told Zelda to go to the ruins of the Arbiter's Grounds, by the way. It's an important historical site, but almost no one knows about it. We treat it as if it doesn't exist. I'll occasionally read something on the internet, someone saying that it's dangerous because it's structurally unsound, or that it's in the middle of a molduga wildlife preserve, or that it's haunted, or whatever. I suspect that it's probably just bad PR for Hyrule. You went there with Zelda, didn't you? What did you think?"
"What I think isn't important. You should see the ruins for yourself."
"Fine, be that way." Riju clicked her tongue. "Maybe one day I will. Speaking of which, I got a report that there was a freak rainstorm out that way the other night. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
"I couldn't say. You might want to ask Zelda."
Riju chuckled. "Okay, I get it. I'll let her speak for herself, then. The two of us have been talking a lot these past few days, you know. About legends and magic. And destiny, once we've had enough to drink. You do know she likes to drink, right?"
Ganondorf made a noise that wasn't quite a laugh. "I'm aware of that, yes," he answered.
It sounded like there was a story there. Riju made a mental note to ask Zelda about that as well.
"So anyway," she continued, "Zelda has about as much patience for legends as she does for finance fraud. Less, probably. Her interest in ancient technology is… Not academic, although there's an element of that, but let's say… Practical. Pragmatic, even. Don't let anyone tell you that Zelda isn't ambitious. She wants to figure out how ancient technology works so that she can use it."
"She mentioned that to me," Ganondorf muttered absentmindedly. He'd started to flip through the codex, and Riju noticed his eyes darting back and forth as he scanned the lines of the flowing cursive script. She watched him for a few moments. He could probably read the language of the handwritten text, she decided, but it didn't seem to be affecting him. If he was experiencing any sudden revelations, he was hiding it well.
Whatever. That wasn't why she'd brought him here.
"I'm also interested in ancient technology, but for different reasons," Riju said. "Do you mind if I put that book back in storage?"
"Not at all." Ganondorf gently closed the codex and handed it to her.
"I wanted you to understand why no one from Lanayru has tried to go to Hyrule to study ancient technology, or why we haven't offered to buy bits and pieces of it from collectors. I'm sure you can imagine why it would be of interest to us, but 'let Hyrule keep its secrets' has been a guiding principle of my family for generations. And I want you to understand that Zelda is my friend. I wouldn't change that for the world. But if she's interested in ancient technology, and if it's her decision to see if she can get it to work again, then I'd like to help her. I think it might be a good investment opportunity, let's say."
"I assume you're looking for a business partner," Ganondorf said. Now that she had his full attention again, its weight was almost palpable. Riju was beginning to get what Zelda meant when she called him "intense." So much the better.
"I might be doing just that, but I wouldn't want to work with just anyone. I'd need to find someone who was aware of the risks of this sort of venture."
"And someone who wouldn't take advantage of your friend."
"Let me be real with you, Ganondorf. I don't mean any disrespect, but I don't think you're capable of taking advantage of Zelda." The idea was laughable. If she were reading their relationship correctly, Ganondorf would kneel at Zelda's feet if she asked him to, but that was none of her concern.
"I'm worried about her, though," Riju continued. "The Sheikah are one dangerous group of assholes, and they're not stupid. They probably had a good reason for keeping this technology inoperative, which makes it all the more suspicious that they've enlisted Zelda to help them reactivate it."
She sighed as she traced the ridge of the spread wings of the Hylian royal crest emblazoned on the cover of the codex. "Like I said earlier, I wish people had been clear about what happened in the past instead of coming up with all of these idiotic legends. Let me tell you, I used to have fantasies about what would happen if there were a fire down here in the archives. It's not as if something like that could ever happen, not with of all of the preservation systems we have in place. But what if it did? Would any of this old paper be worth saving?"
Ganondorf met her eyes. "I would let it burn."
A slow smile spread across Riju's face. That was exactly what she wanted to hear.