"Listen, I'm not saying I actually believe this, but hear me out. Maybe Hyrule should return to a monarchy. I can't imagine how anything gets done in this mess."
Riju scowled at the dusty cardboard boxes piled along the basement corridor. They were stacked almost to the ceiling, and many of them were beginning to disintegrate around the edges.
"Wait, hold up. Are those actually floppy discs?"
"I wouldn't touch that." Ganondorf shook his head at Riju, who was on the verge of opening the loose flap of a box whose sides were falling apart.
Riju withdrew her hand. "You're right, I wouldn't want to bring down an avalanche. Mipha wouldn't stand for this, you know. She'd snap her fingers and the funding to digitize all of this mess would appear like magic. Like I said, I'm no monarchist, but you have to admire that sort of absolute authority. It's efficient. A little evil, but definitely efficient. I don't suppose you've met Mipha, have you?"
"Just her brother."
"I'm sure you'll meet her soon enough. If you think Sidon is attractive, you're in for a treat." Riju covered her mouth as she coughed. "They've got to have a better way of disposing of these documents. Look at this stack, I bet it's all expense reports from twenty years ago. Who needs this?"
"Someone with something to hide."
"You think the Hylians built a literal bureaucratic maze down here?"
"It's an efficient recycling program. There's no need to dispose of anything if you can use your paper waste to camouflage your secret passageways. It kills two octoroks with one arrow."
Riju turned around, looked back at him, and grinned. "We're on the right track, then."
"I would say so."
The lobby of the central tower of the complex of government buildings was magnificent, with polished marble columns supporting vaulting ceilings. Meanwhile, in the subbasement, the floor was tiled with faded squares of linoleum that curled at the edges like scabs under the sickly light of bare fluorescent tubes.
"Is this how you broke into Zelda's lab, sneaking through a secret passageway?"
"I didn't 'break in.' There was no sneaking involved. Let's say I gained dubiously authorized access."
"You know what, I don't need to know the details. What did you think of the lab?"
"They're storing a large cache of ancient technology, but I didn't want to linger. From what I could tell, the level of the technology is both highly advanced and somewhat primitive. Whoever designed it intended for it to last a long time. The ceramic patterns are perfectly balanced to resist stress and erosion. A single hard drive is as large as a car, perhaps to prevent the machine from being moved or lost. The armored Guardian scouts have an unstable center of gravity and can be dismantled from below, but this could be a deliberate feature intended to facilitate repair and the quick exchange of moveable parts."
"So you saw a guardian, did you? What did it look like up close?"
"The heads are larger than you'd expect, and the claws are smaller." Ganondorf paused as he considered the best way to describe the machines. "They're almost cute," he said.
Riju laughed. "I can see why you and Zelda get along."
It pleased Ganondorf to hear this. "What surprised me," he continued, "was how low the level of technology in the lab was. The computers used by the researchers are almost as primitive as the ancient technology. Copies of typewritten notes are printed out in duplicate. The desk chairs must have been thirty years old. I think I saw a fax machine."
"I'm impressed you were able to stay there long enough to dig up information about this place."
"Their security was just as outdated as their office furniture."
"That's government funding for you. So all we have to do is find the service elevator on this level, right?"
"And enter the code, yes. That should take us deeper underground." Ganondorf didn't add that, if there were any maps of the caves below the subbasement, he hadn't been able to find them.
"What do you think they're hiding down there?" Riju asked. "Do you think it's another Divine Beast?"
"I couldn't say." He only knew what Zelda told him about how she was taken there as a child. If there was some connection between them, he might be able to find a sign of it here. If nothing else, he wanted to see the site for himself and determine whether it merited future investigation. He didn't understand Riju's desire to accompany him, but he'd needed her assistance to gain access to the basement of the Hyrule city government offices. Ganondorf didn't inquire after her motives. Her friendship with Zelda was enough reason to extend his trust until she was ready to explain herself.
"You know, I keep thinking about the Yiga Clan," Riju said in a soft voice, as if talking to herself. "They used to have their headquarters out in the foothills of the mountains on the northern edge of the desert. We have all sorts of records pertaining to them stealing from us, mainly food. Their lives couldn't have been easy. Based on reports from the time of the Calamity, the Yiga Clan must have had dozens of members, maybe even hundreds, all trained marital artists and skilled at magic. They apparently blended in well with normal society, and they could even pass as Hylians. So why did they defect from the Sheikah to go live all the way out in the wasteland? You know how the desert gets, and the higher elevation makes the extremes in temperate even more unpleasant."
Ganondorf listened as he navigated the floor plan he'd memorized. The poorly lit corridors of the subbasement formed a maze of innumerable branching paths. The technicians who serviced the building probably needed to consult a map every time they had to come down here to do maintenance.
"I know people in difficult circumstances join cults," Riju continued as she followed along after him, the tapping of her heels muffled by the boxes lining the halls. "Nayru only knows how many weird cults there are out in the desert. About five years ago we had to grant a land occupation permit to a group of Gorons who called themselves 'Sand Eaters,' whatever that means. But this business about the Yiga Clan worshiping Ganon sounds like bullshit. I had our head archivist consult a collection of primary sources, but she told me there's not much to go on. Everyone says the Yiga worshiped Ganon, but nobody can say how or why. I mean, every member of that group was an adult Sheikah. What did they know?
If the legends are true, and if Ganon possessed the Guardians and the Divine Beasts, then the Yiga Clan didn't have anything to do with the Calamity at all. They certainly didn't cause it, we understand that much. Who knows, they may have even been trying to prevent it. Although I guess they could have just been annoyed by the royal family's prohibition against technology. Din help me, I'd get upset too if some king came along and tried to take away my smartphone."
"We're here," Ganondorf said. He was interested in Riju's line of thought, but he needed to concentrate on the matter at hand. They were in the right place, but there was no elevator to be seen in this stretch of hallway.
Ganondorf's eyes fell on a tall metal filing cabinet coated in a nondescript shade of gray paint. The cabinet cast a slight shadow against the wall, indicating that it hadn't been pushed all the way back. There were no boxes stacked on top of it. Even more telling, he had been following a trail of black scuff marks on the linoleum, and it stopped here.
"Stand back," he said, waiting for Riju to retreat before pivoting the cabinet on a hidden hinge. It swung forward to reveal an old-fashioned service elevator.
"Well I'll be damned." Riju slipped past him and tugged at the elevator's metal grating. It refused to budge.
She stepped away and rubbed her palms on her pants. "You want to do the honors?"
Brown flecks of rust dotted the edges of the grating, which looked like a tetanus shot waiting to happen. Ganondorf had no intention of touching it. He grasped the metal in his mind and snapped his fingers. It slid open with a discomfiting squeal. He hoped the elevator mechanism was in better condition.
"Neat trick." Riju stepped over the threshold and onto the platform. A clear white LCD light flicked on as soon as she entered, revealing that the elevator was far more sophisticated than indicated by the ancient gate screwed into the plaster drywall of the basement.
"It looks like someone put some money into this," she observed.
Ganondorf walked onto the elevator platform and stood beside Riju. He was relieved that the floor didn't sink under his weight. There was only one button on the burnished metal panel set into the interior wall. He pressed it with his knuckle, and the platform slowly began to descend along a diagonal incline. Unlike the gate, the elevator was perfectly silent.
Riju looked up at him with an amused expression. "A bit quick on the trigger, aren't you?"
Ganondorf shrugged. "We've already come this far."
"I was worried there would be cameras, but don't think there's any recording equipment here."
"There shouldn't be any underground either. It seems modern technology doesn't work well in the caves."
Riju craned her neck back to look at the lighting fixture at the top of the shaft, which was steadily growing smaller. "I hope that's not the only light we're going to have."
Ganondorf had considered the matter, but walking into the city government building with an industrial flashlight hadn't been a gamble he was willing to take. He removed a cigarette lighter from his pocket and offered it to Riju. "We'll make do. I remember reading something about there being a supply of wooden torches."
"Wooden torches? I guess they spent all their money on the elevator," Riju grumbled before lapsing into silence. The platform continued to descend, and the remaining light grew dimmer by the second.
They eventually settled at the bottom of the shaft with a smooth landing. There was no gate on this level, just a rocky cave filled with shadowy mountains of debris. Riju sparked the lighter flame and held it at eye level before stepping onto the dirt floor. As Ganondorf's eyes adjusted, he began to make out the distinctive ceramic swirls of ancient technology. He took out his phone and used the light of the screen to get a better look. They were surrounded by Guardians in various stages of decay. The cavern narrowed as they walked. After a minute or two, they arrived at a pile of dismantled Guardian parts so large and impossibly tangled that there appeared to be no way too move through it.
Riju stopped and held the lighter above her head. The small flame revealed a pile of refuse that stretched to the ceiling and blocked the entrance to the main cavern.
"It looks like this is as far as we go," she said. "Unless you can figure out a way for us to haul away all this junk."
"We won't have to do it ourselves."
"Oh? What's the plan, then?"
Working on the basis of his brief contact with the Sheikah Slate, Ganondorf had developed a piece of software that could interface with ancient technology. It was partially programming and partially magic, but most of the code was pure guesswork. He hadn't had an opportunity to refine his work until his brief foray into Zelda's lab, where he'd consulted Zelda's own notes regarding an enormous hard drive she called a 'guidance stone.' He checked his program by comparing it to the tablet Zelda had apparently been using to interact with the ancient computer, and he was fairly certain it would work. This was a perfect opportunity to test it.
Ganondorf launched the app from the home screen of his phone. The camera opened, and he used it to scan the cave. After a minute of trial and error, he was able to isolate a Guardian that seemed to be fairly intact. He pulled a control panel onto the screen and tapped the 'activate' button, and the infrared light on his phone began to pulse with magenta light.
The Guardian received the signal, and the cracks between its ceramic swirls were flooded with the same florid pink luminescence. With a wheezing sound like a long, dry cough, the machine shuddered and lifted itself onto its spindly legs.
"Holy shit," Riju muttered. The Guardian's head swiveled in her direction, and the cyclopean lens of the eye set into its head seemed to blink as it regarded her. "Is it going to kill us?" she asked.
"Probably not," Ganondorf replied as he played with the controls. The Guardian shimmied back and forth, its legs emitting faint buzzing sounds as they moved. Ganondorf felt sorry for the thing, which didn't deserve to be abandoned here without proper maintenance.
"Look at how all those legs move, that's amazing. It must have taken someone forever to program that," Riju mused. "You know what? It is kind of cute. I bet Zelda would love this thing."
"I'm going to activate its targeting system. I haven't tested this yet, but it should work," Ganondorf said as he pulled up a second set of controls on his screen. "Get behind me."
"Okay boss," Riju replied with a wry grin. "What you're about to do, is it safe?"
"No, I would say not. This is extremely dangerous."
Ganondorf smiled and tapped the screen.
There was a low hiss, and the cave was filled with the sharp smell of ozone.
A split second later, the Guardian fired a laser at the pile of debris in front of them. The blockage was blown backwards, leaving a clean trail in its wake.
The guardian twisted its eye around to regard him, almost as if it were expecting approval.
"Clever girl," he said, and it blinked again.
Riju sucked in her breath. "So, just to be clear, you're not an evil mad scientist, right? You don't have any plans for world domination? Just making sure."
Ganondorf's smile faded. It would be ridiculous for him to plan world domination when he could barely summon the courage to call Zelda. He'd waited too long, and now it was awkward. He planned to ask Riju for advice regarding the matter, assuming they didn't die down here or get arrested as soon as they returned aboveground.
"My only plan is to see what's in this cave."
"Do we have to take the Guardian with us?"
"I don't see why we wouldn't."
"It's a giant murder machine."
"It's a mobile source of light."
"Fair enough, but it's still creepy. Can I at least give it a name?"
"No one is stopping you."
"Let's call it Patricia."
"I used to have a sand seal named Patricia," Riju replied. "She had the same big blue eyes and dopey look on her face."
"Patricia, then," Ganondorf said, somewhat disappointed. 'Patricia' would work well enough, but he was thoroughly charmed by the keen elegance of the machine's design and the sleek efficiency of its movements. If they had to give the Guardian a name, he would have preferred to call it Zelda.