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Malice

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Link was already wide awake. He had been awake for more than an hour. At first he lay next to Sidon and watched his chest rise and fall, hoping that the rhythm of his breathing would lull him back to sleep. His sense of unease only deepened, so he climbed out of bed and quietly put on his clothes. His intuition told him that he needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. He was waiting for something, and he wouldn’t know what it was until it happened.

He wasn’t surprised when he heard Zelda’s voice speaking to him as clearly as if she were standing right beside him. In all honesty, he’d been expecting something like this. Ganondorf was fine on his own, and Zelda had more than enough sense to take care of herself, but there was something about the chemistry between them that Link found disturbing. He couldn’t put his finger on what bothered him; it was just a feeling. They were both far too intense and brought out the extremes of each other’s personalities, but that wasn’t necessarily a problem. Plenty of couples were like that when they first started dating. Whatever was going on between them was something deeper. Sidon claimed that he hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, but he took Link’s concern seriously. Sidon had known Zelda for years, after all, and he cared about her. Link had already written a note to Sidon and left it on the kitchen table. He didn't doubt that Sidon would understand. Unlike Hylians, the Zora made no secret of the fact that they practiced thaumaturgy.

Link’s telepathic connection to Zelda hadn’t been strong enough for him to be able to understand everything she said, but he got the gist of it. She was with Ganondorf, and she was terrified. Link wasn't concerned about her thaumaturgic ability – that was why he’d been assigned to observe and monitor her, after all – but he wasn’t sure how to handle a situation like this. He didn’t know why Zelda needed him or what she expected him to be able to do, but he felt compelled to respond to her call for help. Ganondorf was still a mystery to him, but he’d been acquainted with him long enough to know that he wouldn’t hurt Zelda, at least not deliberately. If Zelda was in trouble, then Ganondorf likely was as well.

Link decided it was probably better if he didn’t send either of them a text to say that he was on his way. He put his phone on silent and secured it in his jacket pocket as he hurried outside to his bike. He strapped on his riding glasses, slid the key in the ignition, and then he was off.

Even at the height of summer, there was still an hour before light touched the sky. The main avenues were deserted. Link had run a swatch of metallic tape across his tail plate before he left, and he could ride as he wished, shooting past traffic lights with impunity. The bike, which he’d borrowed from Sidon, was a Komali prototype, fully electric and deathly silent. If he kept the headlight off, he could fly through the night like a ghost. This was no danger to him; he was an excellent driver, and he knew Hyrule better than anyone.

Link loved the way the wind blew through his hair, and he loved seeing the city lights flow past him like streaming ribbons. He loved the smell of the night air, and he loved the steam rising from the asphalt. He loved how the city was never silent; even in the darkest hours of the night, there would always be a siren going off, or a waste disposal truck backing up, or the shouts and drilling of a construction crew. Every city block contained its own ecosystem, and each possessed its own character. Link took a job as a courier as a cover for his position with the Sheikah, but he enjoyed the work. There was nothing he loved more in the world than traveling through Hyrule.

Link had seen any number of odd things on Hyrule’s roads, but never anything like what lay in front of him. He couldn’t be certain, but it seemed as though all electric power had been completely shut off within a three-block radius of Ganondorf’s building. Given that each of these skyscrapers must have been equipped with multiple backup generators, this shouldn’t be possible. There were no emergency vehicles in the vicinity, so it appeared no one had reported the outage yet. If this persisted, however, he wouldn’t be the only person rushing to the area. Whatever was going on with Zelda, he needed to get it resolved before the Sheikah showed up.

When Link arrived at the rear loading dock of Ganondorf’s building, he switched on the bike’s headlight, dismounted, and slid the slender vehicle under the gate arm of the underground parking deck. He made his way through the maze of cars and hid his motorcycle in an alcove by the maintenance office. Using his phone screen as a flashlight, he picked the lock on the service entrance, thanking the goddess watching over him that it wasn’t electronic.

He jogged up the stairs and emerged into the room behind the building’s main lobby. He wouldn’t be able to use the elevators during the blackout, so he’d have to ascend by means of the emergency stairwell. Before that, he needed to find something he could use to defend himself. He jimmied the lock on the supply closet and found what he was looking for, an old-fashioned broom with a sturdy wooden handle. He swung the broom in front of him. It made a satisfying whooshing sound as it sliced through the air.

Holding his phone in front of him like a torch, Link crossed the deserted lobby and pried open the door to the emergency exit. A seemingly endless helix of steps wound its way above his head. With no other choice, he began to climb, flight after flight after flight. Thank Farore he went running every morning.

Link had been in Ganondorf’s apartment before – he’d helped him move in, in fact – so he knew where he was going, even in the near-total darkness. Oddly enough for someone so secretive, Ganondorf never bothered to activate the electronic lock on his front door and had even removed the device, saying that it was unattractive and distasteful. As Link stood in front of the door for a moment to catch his breath, he found himself half-hoping that something would prevent him from entering. He had no such luck; the door opened without the slightest resistance when he pushed it.

A powerful odor hit him as soon as he stepped inside. Something smelled like a wild animal that had been hit by a truck, like blood and gasoline and twisted metal and burning. Furious magenta light was pouring from the hallway on the other side of the living room.

What in Hylia’s name had happened here? Link wished he had the foresight to bring something sturdier than a broom, but there was no turning back now. He raised the wooden pole in front of him as he cautiously entered the apartment, keeping his hand on the door as it closed to muffle the sound.

The light was coming from the bedroom. Link pressed his back against the wall of the corridor as he inched closer, hoping to scope out the interior of the room without being seen. Zelda was on the far side of the doorway with her back to the opposite side of the same wall. She was staring intently at something above her. There was a grim look on her face, and she wasn’t wearing any pants, but she appeared to be unharmed.

Link gave a small wave to catch her eye. Her gaze only flickered to him for an instant before returning to its focus, but she nodded in acknowledgment of his presence.

“I think you’d better see this,” Zelda said softly. It was only after she spoke that Link became aware of the other noises coming from inside the room. There was a sound like the whirring of a broken fan accompanied by a sound like the low thrum of an approaching subway train. Link couldn’t fathom the source of these noises, but there was something about their mechanical quality that put him on edge. What was Ganondorf keeping in there? And where was Ganondorf?

It was all well and good to have come here like a white knight charging to the rescue, but Link hadn’t imaged the possibility of being confronted with a situation like this. There was something hideously wrong in this apartment. Link was struck by the realization that he didn’t want to know where Ganondorf was, actually, nor did he want to see whatever Zelda refused to look away from. Her face had an eerie beauty in the unearthly light, but there was something unnatural and frightening about her expression.

Link made a conscious effort to swallow. His mouth was so dry that it hurt his throat. His heart was hammering in his chest. He thought about leaving, just turning his back and going out the way he came. No one would blame him. He could call the Sheikah as soon as he was outside. Impa could handle this situation much better than he could, he was sure of it. And he could take as many photos as he wanted from a safe distance. No one needed to know that he had gone inside the building at all. He would tell Sidon, and Sidon would understand. If he left now, Sidon would praise him for his quick thinking and resourcefulness.

Link knew he wasn’t prepared for whatever was on the other side of that door.

He took a deep breath and entered anyway.

He had been correct. He wasn’t prepared. It was impossible to be prepared for something like this.

Whatever the thing was, it was about three times the size of a person. It had far too many arms – or were they legs? – of varying sizes, and it was covered with some sort of black sludge that was dripping from its body. The wooden floorboards were scorched from contact with the substance. There were thick strands of long oily hair in the slime, but there was no way the thing could be organic. Grotesquely shaped chunks of glossy metal were embedded in the sinewy skin beneath the ooze, and bright magenta light emanated from circular hollows cut into these fixtures. Instead of a face, it wore a ceramic plate resembling a crude mask. At the bottom of the mask was a black hole fringed by rows of uneven teeth like clockwork gears. Two spheres of orange light pulsed within the mask’s asymmetric eyeholes. Link felt that he would go mad if he had to look into those lights, but the thing’s gaze wasn’t directed at him.

“Do me a favor and take a picture,” Zelda said.

Link opened his mouth to respond, but no words emerged.

“You brought your phone, right? Please take a picture. More than one if you can.”

“What are you going to do with a picture?” Link asked. It was a useless question, but he was still trying to wrap his head around the sight of the creature. Its appearance seemed to shift every time he blinked.

“I’ll explain later. And please hurry, I don’t think it’s stable.”

“Is it going to hurt us?”

“I’m not sure. It doesn’t move as long as I keep it in my sight. I think it might… I think he might be afraid of me.”

“Okay. All right. Whatever you say.” Link took a few breaths to calm himself and propped the broom against the wall before taking out his phone. This was beyond belief, and he had no choice but to trust Zelda.

“Just in case,” Zelda whispered, a hint of anxiety creeping into her voice, “you’d better disable the flash. I don’t know how he’ll react to sudden movements.”

Link took another breath, exhaled, and swiped open the camera on his phone. The light leaking out of the creature had a strange ultraviolet quality, almost as if it were outside the visible spectrum. Link had to make a quick series of adjustments to the digital aperture and shutter speed of his camera to get an image to show up on his screen at all. There was a slight lag between frames, which made it clear that the thing was in fact shifting, but only slightly; the mask and metal fixtures remained the same. There also seemed to be something sticking out of its back. More arms? Wires? Tentacles?

Link took a few shots and moved a step to the side to get a better angle. His foot hit the broom leaning against the wall, knocking it down. The momentum sent it careening into the room. The creature let out an insectile screech and lunged at him. Link dropped to his knees and reached for the broom to defend himself, but he knew he would never make it.

STAND DOWN.”

Zelda stepped in front of him and raised her right arm. A glowing triangle appeared on the back of her hand, and golden light burst from her palm.

The thing screeched again, making a noise so terrible that it made Link’s teeth hurt. It flinched and retreated, moving impossibly fast for something of its size.

“Pick up the broom!” Zelda commanded. “We need to get him into the shower!”

Link had no idea what was going on or what Zelda was talking about, but it never crossed his mind to disobey her.

Making use of the broom handle and the thing’s fear of the light emanating from Zelda’s hand, they maneuvered it through the doorway, down the hall, and into the bathroom. The blobs of goo it shed in the wake of its passage sizzled on the wood floor. Link had to take care not to step in the smoking puddles, but Zelda never took her eyes off the thing. Its form continued to shift as it moved, and it seemed to be shrinking. It began to look more human as its appendages faded and disappeared. Link initially assumed that the monster had attacked Ganondorf, but the pieces of the puzzle were beginning to come together in his mind, and he didn’t like the picture that was emerging.

“Hold him against the wall while I turn on the water,” Zelda said once they’d cornered the thing in the bathroom. The shower recess was filled with thick slime that threatened to overflow at any second, but Zelda stepped around it with the assured grace of a dancer. Link had no such confidence in his own ability to maintain his balance, especially not while keeping his grip on the deteriorating broom handle. It made him nervous to think about how exposed Zelda’s skin was, but she didn’t seem to be afraid of the creature at all. Now that he’d seen how it cowered at the sound of Zelda’s voice, Link had to admit that it was somewhat pathetic. There was nothing preventing it from charging forward and overtaking them both, but it didn’t look away from Zelda for even an instant. She was right – it was afraid of her.

Once Zelda managed to turn on the shower, the thing’s coating of black slime began to melt under the water. As it continued to shrink, its ceramic mask cracked and fell away. Its eyes were still glowing, but it was unmistakably –

“Ganondorf.” Zelda said its name, and it looked at her.

“You can put the broom down,” she said to him. He withdrew the wooden handle but kept it in his hands. Zelda might not be frightened of whatever Ganondorf had become, but he was concerned about Ganondorf himself. A monster was a simple matter that could be overcome with force, but Ganondorf had managed to charm them both without either of them knowing anything about him. Even without the extra arms and metal appendages, who knew what someone like that was capable of?

“Ganondorf,” Zelda repeated. “Wake up.”

The orange light streaming out of Ganondorf’s eyes disappeared. He bent forward and vomited a torrent of horrible black tar. It seemed to go on forever.

Finally he coughed and looked up at them. His eyes were human once more.

Ganondorf pushed his wet hair away from his face and looked at Zelda, and then at him, and then at Zelda again. He scowled at them, making no attempt to hide his nakedness.

“Does either of you want to explain what the fuck is going on here?”

It seemed Ganondorf was back to normal. Link let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. He knew he should say something, but there was a more pressing matter he had to take care of first. Despite the sludge pooled at his feet, Ganondorf was gorgeous in the golden glow coming from Zelda’s hand. The light was fading, however, and he didn’t want to miss his chance. Link couldn’t help himself – he pulled out his phone and took a picture. It was a perfect shot.

“For Din’s sake.” Ganondorf spit a wad of something dark and bloody into the drain before looking back up at Link. “If you’re going to take a picture, why don’t you and Zelda get in here too. You can use that idiot hashtag you were bragging about earlier.”

“Hashtag?” Zelda raised her eyebrows. “There’s a hashtag for this?”

“Sure,” Link replied, feeling as dazed as Zelda looked. After what he had just witnessed, it felt more like a curse than a joke, but he shrugged and continued. “Between the three of us, we make one hell of a Triforce trio.”