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Malice

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She was dreaming. Surely she must be dreaming.

Zelda remembered falling asleep in Ganondorf’s arms. She could still smell him close to her, the fragrance of his cologne lightly accenting the scent of his skin and hair. Underneath his familiar small, however, there was something terrible and rotten, like ancient stonework broken open by the elements and left to decay. Zelda was surrounded by the sad and lonely smell of neglect – and something else, something sharper and riper. There were dark stains on her white dress, and she had a terrible feeling that the smell was blood curdling in the oppressively humid air.

She wore ornamental sandals whose wet leather straps cut into the skin of her calves. Loose gravel crunched under her feet. She was walking up an outdoor incline that may have once been paved with concrete, and there were high stone walls to either side of her. The stones might have been white, but she couldn’t quite tell; the light had a curious quality. Zelda didn’t know whether it was day or night. Heavy clouds hung low in the sky, swirling like plumes of smoke, and the unearthly landscape was illuminated by cinders that rose from no fire she could see.

Every so often a gust of hot air would blow down the path, bringing with it the acrid smell of burning. The banners hanging on the ramparts flapped and twisted in the wind, but they were so badly damaged that Zelda couldn’t make out their heraldry.

She seemed to be completely alone. She couldn’t see any signs of other people, until suddenly she did and dearly wished that she hadn’t. Now she knew where the heavy stains on her dress had come from. The smell of ash and decay grew stronger, and it was becoming difficult to breathe.

Zelda hadn’t passed any gates or doorways, but one of the walls in front of her had been blown open by some force that left no trace of its passage except a gaping hole in the stones. Maybe the air quality would be better inside. She scrambled over the rubble, being careful not to catch one of the flimsy soles of her sandals under a loose chunk of mortar. If she injured herself, there would be no one to help her.

The smell was worse inside, and the putrid air was even thicker. Small sparks case an eerie glow onto the ruined interior of the building. Zelda couldn’t see what was producing them, and she wondered if they were the lingering discharge of some sort of magic. The light was uneven, and the darkness was thick. As she walked along the filthy carpet covering the corridor, Zelda caught glimpses of movement in her peripheral vision. She could swear that something was moving through the shadows, something that didn’t want to be seen.

Zelda had never been in this terrible place before – of course she hadn’t – but everything felt disturbingly familiar. There was something about the lines and planes of the architecture that felt almost nostalgic, as if she had spent time here as a child. But that was impossible; everything she saw was like something from another century.

Zelda looked closely at the arches bridging the ceiling, trying to remember if she had read about something like this in an old book, or perhaps one of the pictographs her relatives had hanging in ornate frames in their estates in the suburbs. She looked up as she walked, which is why she didn’t notice the mound of black slime in front of her until she stepped in it.

When the goo touched the bare skin of her foot, it felt like she had been stung by a large and furious wasp. Zelda yelped with pain and jumped back. Her sandal snagged the hem of her dress, and she tripped and fell to the floor. The slime oozed toward her. She scuttled back on her hands.

A tendril of goo emerged from the sludge with an awful slowness, and a bubble formed at its tip. The globular mass pulsed with a steady rhythm, almost as if it were breathing. The orb split down the center and revealed an eye shining with a fierce orange radiance. It was easily as large as her head, and it was staring directly at her. As if on cue, other eyes popped open along the walls and ceiling in front of her, revealing that the entire passage was coated in the tarry black slime. Neither Zelda nor the eyes moved; they simply watched each other.

The eyes filled Zelda with revulsion, yet there was something uncanny about the feeling. The eyes were beautiful, in their own strange way, and there was nothing particularly frightening about them. Rather, it was as if they were connected to her mind somehow, and they were broadcasting their disgust of her.

Zelda knew she should try to get away, but there was nowhere to run. She could only return the way she came, and she didn’t want to turn her back on the eyes. Still, she had no other choice. She climbed to her feet, gathered her will, and set off down the corridor. She expected something to attack her from behind, but nothing happened. She was followed only by the same hideous silence.

As Zelda approached the corridor from a different direction, she could see that there was a narrow set of stairs cut into one of the walls. It was darker in the staircase than in the hallway, but she decided to climb it anyway. She placed her hand against the wall to steady herself. The stones felt sticky under her palm. Her foot still stung from touching the slime, and every step she took was uncomfortable.

Zelda was possessed by the unshakable sense that this horrible place was where she was supposed to be, and that this was where she belonged. Perhaps she had even come here of her own volition. Still, something was wrong here, something was unspeakably wrong, and she was trapped here with some sort of monster. It was taking its time as it made its creeping and ineffable progress, but it knew she was here. It wanted her, and it would have her no matter what path she followed. It would get her eventually, and their meeting would be slow and long and full of teeth and blood. But it wouldn’t stop at her body; it would devour her until there was nothing left of her mind or soul.

Was she left here as a sacrifice? Or was she meant to fight this creature? Was there some sort of weapon hidden in this maze? And, even if she won, there didn’t appear to be anything here worth saving. Zelda shuddered as she recalled the scorched earth and piles of bodies outside. Regardless, all she could do was continue walking.

When she reached the top of the staircase, she found that the exit was blocked by a wall of creosotic sludge. The was no way to move forward, but she could hear a soft but terrible sucking sound behind her. Dreading the worst, she turned around. One of the eyes descended from the ceiling, which was slick with ooze. A gob of slime dropped down and stuck the back of her right hand, which burned as if it had been touched by a hot iron. Zelda gasped, and the eye lurched toward her on its stalk until it was mere inches away from her face. It smelled like something that had died in a lightless hole, and she could hear its shriek of wordless rage vibrating inside her head.

Zelda had been struggling to keep herself together, but this was too much for her to take. She began screaming, and she screamed until she woke up.

Her eyes flew open. The side of her face was still pressed against the soft linen of Ganondorf’s bed, and the lights of the city skyline were still twinkling outside the window. Everything was as it should be, except…

The smell from her dream hadn’t yet dissipated. In fact, it was just as strong as it had been when she was asleep. And there was something creepy about the way Ganondorf was breathing behind her; his breaths were labored and irregular, like the frenzied stuttering of a broken machine. She felt no warmth from his body, and his arm around her waist felt much larger and heavier than it should have. And what of his arm around her shoulder? And – Zelda tried not to panic – his arm around her knees?

By sheer force of will, Zelda kept her breathing calm and steady. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind. This could just be part of the nightmare. If she remained quiet and didn’t move, she might be able to go back to sleep. Or she could open her eyes and try to make out her reflection in the glass of the room’s windows. She didn’t want to. Sweet Hylia, she had never wanted anything less in her life, but she couldn’t help herself.

Zelda took a deep breath, opened her eyes, and looked at the vague images reflected in the window glass. She could see herself, small and frail. Something had happened to the comforter, which lay in a pile on the floor. She appeared to be alone, which didn’t make sense. She narrowed her eyes and concentrated. She still couldn’t see clearly, but there seemed to be something crouching behind her. It was enormous, and it wasn’t a person, not remotely. Zelda screwed her eyes shut, but that didn’t change the fact that the thing was in bed with her, that it was touching her, that it was holding her to the grotesque tumor of its repulsive body.

Zelda held her breath and bit her tongue in an effort to keep herself from screaming. She wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that she was awake much longer. What she could do – what Ganondorf had taught her to do – was to reach out with her magic while there was still time.

Zelda took a deep breath and concentrated with as much focus as she could muster. The words she sent out came to her naturally, as if they had always been waiting for her for her to say them.

Link… Wake up, Link… Please… Something terrible has happened. I’ve been trapped by Ganon. Please come… Link!