"This is top-notch work," Link said, studying the employee badge Ganondorf had made for him. "You even got the lanyard right. Do you mind if I hold onto this?"
"By all means," Ganondorf replied. He knew how much Link enjoyed collecting various pieces of flotsam and jetsam, and there was no pressing need to destroy the evidence of their excursion.
"But I have to ask, why did you go through the trouble of creating fake badges? Couldn't we just come to the museum during the day? Like normal people?"
"I dislike crowds."
"I didn't think they'd just let us in the door. They didn't scan the barcodes or anything. You didn't even have to intimidate them. But I guess a researcher wouldn't be a hard case, come to think of it. And no one can say that you didn't dress the part. That argyle sweater looks like something an archeologist dug up."
"It cost more than your rent," Ganondorf said. "I'll take fashion advice from you when you stop wearing cargo shorts."
Ganondorf hadn't expected the museum security to challenge him, but the barcodes on the back of the badges would have scanned with no problem whatsoever. As of this afternoon, he and Link were officially employees of the museum, at least according to the database in the institution's internal network. The museum's sitemap wasn't searchable, but it wasn't password protected. Finding a backdoor into the system had been the work of no more than half an hour. As far as Ganondorf was concerned, there was no limit to what you could access online if you simply knew where to look.
Since he returned from Lanayru, Ganondorf had tasked himself with compiling a list of property damage reports that occurred on the night before he found himself in Zelda's apartment. The locations of the incidents he checked weren't directly connected on a map, but there was a clear timeline. Chronologically speaking, the earliest report concerned a break-in at the Museum of Hyrule, which was said to contain a massive collection of ancient technology in its archives. Ganondorf had corroborated these rumors with a search through a private database of the museum's holdings. If nothing else, the building was worth a walkthrough.
Ganondorf made no secret of his motives to Link, who agreed to accompany him and act as a second pair of eyes. Based on the photos in his Skyloft feed, Link was a skilled observer, and it helped that he didn't have too many scruples about breaking and entering.
"How was your holiday with Sidon?" Ganondorf asked absentmindedly as he scanned the large floor map in the museum's central lobby.
"It was fantastic," Link replied, following along after him as he began walking to the wing devoted to ancient Hylian culture. "We spent a lot of time playing with the tablet Zelda gave me. The Sheikah Slate, she called it. I assume she gave you a full report. I've got to tell you, I don't know what use a normal person would have for something like that. It's wild. Did you know it can make bombs?"
"I'm aware of its functions."
"Really? No one besides me could even get it to turn on. Wait, let me guess. Did you hack into it?"
"Something like that."
"That figures. You'll have to show me what it's supposed to do sometime. I don't know if we were using it properly or not, but me and Sidon had a lot of fun up in the mountains around Zora's Domain. It's gorgeous out there, and the food was amazing. I ate so much that I thought I was going to go into a coma, but the scenery is so beautiful that I didn't want to sleep. Almost everything in the city center around the palace is carved out of luminous stone. It glows in the dark, did you know that? The only time we went inside was when it rained. Everything had this lovely gentle light when it was overcast. It was beyond romantic. Between the swimming and the hiking and the, um, naps during the rain, I'm still a little sore. But in a good way, you know? I almost didn't want to come back to Hyrule."
Ganondorf nodded. He'd come to feel the same way about Lanayru during the short time he spent there. It was difficult to put a finger on what exactly he found appealing about the city in the desert, but it had grown on him.
"It sounds as though you've considered moving there permanently," he observed.
"To be with Sidon? I would in a heartbeat. But it's still too early to bring it up, and, you know. He is a prince."
Ganondorf made a noncommittal sound, and Link changed the subject. "You know, it's funny. The Sheikah Slate has amazing thaumaturgical powers, but none of them are particularly useful. I mean, the thing can transform water into ice, but the blocks are so huge that I don't know where there'd be any use for them outside of, I don't know. An industrial warehouse, maybe? And it has this incredible magnetic power, but what am I going to do? Pick up a car? Why would I do that?
"I don't see the point of any of it, really. The Sheikah Slate is easy enough to use, but the people who made it must have lived in a different world. It's like the Divine Beasts. I guess I can understand why someone would want to build a giant war machine, but who in the world would design those things? They're completely fantastic. Sidon took me up to Vah Ruta, and it really does look like a giant elephant. It's marvelous, in its own way, but entirely impractical. One good blow to the side could tip it right over.
"Maybe this sounds weird, but I think the nicest thing about the Sheikah Slate is its camera. It takes great photos, and there's a slight 3D effect when you tilt the device or adjust the touchscreen. There's a gallery on there too. The only saved images are pictures of birds and mushrooms, but I'm not complaining. I've never seen a lot of the things in those pictographs outside of the nature documentaries I used to watch when I was a kid. I don't know what Zelda expects me to do with the Sheikah Slate, but I know what I'd like to do – I want to track down the location of each of those shots and figure out who took them. You can learn a lot about someone from their photography, and the person who had the tablet before I did must have loved being out in the wild. They must have seen some incredible sights."
Ganondorf was used to Link's rambling monologues. He enjoyed listening to him talk, and it was pleasant to walk through the dimly lit corridors of the museum. He could come back later with Zelda, who no doubt had any number of thoughts and opinions. He'd been daydreaming about Zelda as he explored Lanayru, but he hadn't gotten a chance to take her out before she insisted on leaving. It would be nice to spend an afternoon with her.
He was just about to ask Link for recommendations when he was hit by a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach. His head swam with vertigo. He stopped walking and scanned the gallery as he waited for the sensation to pass.
He noticed a short span of blank wall that would have been a grainy eggshell white if the display lights had been turned on. It was slightly removed from the main wall. Ganondorf stepped over the velvet barrier rope set up in front of the wall and tapped it with his knuckles. Sure enough, it was whitewashed particle board. He located its edge, pulled it away from the main wall, and shoved it to the side to reveal a rough hole through the wood and plaster of the interior wall. Its jagged edges were at least twice as tall and wide as a person. There were still small chunks of debris on the floor, which was covered in thick gouges. It was as if a wrecking ball had swung down and demolished only this particular spot.
Beyond the hole was a trail of something that looked like dried tar. The faint acidic smell of creosote lingered in the air.
"Sweet Hylia, look at this mess," Link said from behind him. "Buddy, I hate to tell you, but this is what it was like in your apartment that night when Zelda had me come over to, ah, deal with you."
Ganondorf wasn't listening. He was consumed by a memory that wasn't quite a memory but more like a memory of a dream. He could hear an echo of a woman's voice in his head. It sounded like Zelda, but he couldn't be sure. At the back of his mind he wondered if it might be one of the phantom voices Zelda heard herself when she was a child. It's time, the woman's voice said. Wake up!
Ganondorf allowed his feet to carry him along the tunnel of destruction, which led down an employee stairwell and into the museum archives. No one appeared to have made more than a minimal effort to clean the mess. It wasn't difficult to imagine why – even the shelves that hadn't been knocked over were filled with a disorganized jumble of dusty cardboard boxes and file folders. Unlike the neatness and precision of the Gerudo archives Riju had guided him through, this place was a disaster.
Link kept up a steady stream of patter, but Ganondorf paid him no mind as he pressed forward. The vertigo that assailed him earlier had disappeared. Now he felt only the drive of a nameless compulsion that was so sharp it made his eyes water and his ears ring.
Ganondorf paused only when he heard something fall to the floor at his back. He turned to see Link looking back at him with a sheepish smile. There was a pile of pottery shards at his feet.
"It was like this when I got here."
Ganondorf understood that Link was trying to lighten the situation, but he could only respond with a blank stare. His mouth was bone dry, and it was becoming hard to breathe.
He forced himself to swallow. "There must be hundreds of pots here," he managed to say. "I'm sure they wouldn't mind if they were to lose a few. You'd be doing them a favor."
Link nudged another pot sitting precariously close to the edge of a shelf with his elbow. He looked away and whistled as it shattered on the concrete floor with an oddly satisfying smash. "Oops," he said, shrugging.
Ganondorf took a deep breath, turned, and began walking. He had a suspicion that his face would be hideous if he attempted to smile.
The trail of black slime terminated at a large steel vault door that had been partially melted and ripped from its hinges. On the other side of the doorway was a dark auditorium that was large enough to be an airplane hangar. The room was filled with the shattered remains of what must have been ancient technology, but it was difficult to tell. Everything in the vicinity of the door was completely wrecked. Shards of glass and metal littered the floor along with large chunks of black stone and grainy ceramic tiling. The debris radiated out from a shallow pit. The concrete floor was warped and scorched with ash.
Ganondorf was inexplicably filled with rage as he gazed at the epicenter of the explosion. A hot jet of anger pulsed through him, thrumming like a heartbeat at his temples. A notion entered his mind, as cool as a splash of water on a warm day. It occurred to him that he could bring this entire building down around him. Just one earthquake, local and focused, right underneath the foundation. He could feel the stress points in the webs of awareness that spread underneath his feet. The ruins of this place would be a sight to behold. Not as picturesque as the Arbiter's Grounds, certainly, and nowhere near the same scale, but this would be a good start. In this climate, it wouldn't take long at all for vegetation to reclaim the land. Thick vines would soon twine around the steel support pillars and twist them until they shattered –
As Ganondorf struggled for purchase in his slipping mind, he became aware of an eerie sound. It was hideous and inhuman. If he wasn't mistaken, someone was screaming, and –
And it was him. Ganondorf clenched his jaw shut, bit his tongue, and forced himself to be still.
His heart raced as he carved each breath from the stale air. He barely knew where he was, but he knew he needed to see Zelda. Why, he couldn't say, but he needed. To see. Zelda.
He came back to himself as he focused on her name. No, he shouldn't see her. Not like this. Not when he couldn't be sure what he would do – or what he would become.
"Dude." Link circled around him at a safe distance and waved his hand in front of his face to catch his attention. "What the fuck."
Ganondorf exhaled slowly. "What the fuck indeed." He smoothed back his hair and adjusted the knot of his tie to widen his collar. He looked around the room again. The lighting wasn't good, but he could tell that most of the ancient technology stored in this cavernous space had been destroyed. If there were answers here, piecing them together would take far more time than he was willing to spend in this place.
"Did you hurt yourself?" Link asked in a tentative voice. "Are you, you know, injured?"
"No," Ganondorf answered. He was physically fine, but he felt as though something deep inside him had been ripped violently open. "Tell me honestly, did you not feel anything?"
"Okay, fine. Not at all. But I'll be real with you, I'm starting to get creeped out."
"We've seen enough, then. We should leave. Unless you'd prefer to investigate further."
"I'd prefer not to, thanks for asking. I think I'd prefer to retire to the country, actually." Link crouched and picked up the remains of a metal keyboard that had seen better days. He studied it briefly before tossing it back to the floor. "I think I'll start a farm. Eat fresh apples every day. Keep a few dogs. Raise a horse, maybe."
"I wouldn't mind doing a bit of that myself," Ganondorf said as he stepped over a pile of crushed ceramic plating.
"I think that might be good for you."
"Perhaps you'd like to get a picture of this before we leave."
"Only if you do that primal scream thing again. You know, get really into it. Maybe take your shirt off, beat your chest a few times."
Ganondorf gave him a sour look.
"Just kidding, the light is terrible. Are we done here?"
Ganondorf looked around once again. In the space of an instant, he saw a phantasmal vision of himself throwing up black bile as he supported the bulk of his bloated body on limbs with far too many joints. He could almost feel the shattered glass under hands that weren't hands, and he was once again pummeled by a bilious wave of vertigo. He wanted – he needed – to claw his way into the open air and release himself from the pain of the monstrous pressure bearing down on him from all sides.
Ganondorf shut his eyes and let a few seconds pass before he opened them again. "We're done here."
He was done here, in any case. He'd managed to confirm that he had some sort of connection to Sheikah technology, but he hadn't yet formulated a hypothesis regarding why that might be. It would be necessary to get his hands on unbroken and functional artifacts before he could draw any conclusions.
Ganondorf had decided to give Zelda space after her prolonged silence during their trip back from the desert. The silence had been comfortable, and the drive had been pleasant. Nevertheless, he understood that Zelda needed to process her emotions alone, and he respected that. He had a crystal-clear idea of what he wanted to do with her when they saw each other again, but he had no desire to force himself on her. He would keep his distance until she was ready.
He felt no such obligation, however, to keep his distance from her lab.