“The thing that most people don’t realize about technology,” Purah said, “is that it doesn’t have a mind of its own. Even the most sophisticated piece of machinery only does what it’s been programmed to do.”
Zelda watched as Purah placed a device that resembled the Sheikah Slate onto the dock of a large piece of ancient technology that she called a “furnace.” It was a squat chunk of smooth dark stone covered with the grainy ceramic spirals characteristic of ancient tech. It resembled nothing so much as an altar.
“There’s no point in thinking of any of this as ‘magical.’ Ancient technology was designed by people who weren’t any more or less intelligent than ourselves. It stands to reason that it operates according to a standard set of principles, even if we haven’t quite figured out what they are yet. Did that handsome friend of yours have any luck with the Sheikah Slate?”
Link, Zelda reminded herself. She’s talking about Link.
She cleared her throat. “He did, actually. He was able to activate the device by touching its screen. He says that there are five apps – ”
“Runes,” Purah interrupted her. “The functions of the Sheikah Slate are called ‘runes.’”
“Very well, then. Runes. Link found that there are five runes. The device contains a simple camera, as well as four runes that allow the user to manipulate physical space through seemingly magical means.”
“Thaumaturgical means, right.” The distinction between ‘thaumaturgy’ and ‘magic’ still wasn’t clear to Zelda. Purah used the word “thaumaturgy” to refer to technology-assisted magic, but Impa had called the simple light spell she practiced in her apartment “thaumaturgy” as well. Perhaps the Sheikah employed the term to designate a scientific system of classification, or it could be that they wanted to avoid the imprecise and mystical connotations of the word “magic.” She would have to ask for clarification later.
Zelda cleared her throat again. “One rune generates circular orbs that can be used to create explosions, while another instantly transforms free-standing water into uniform blocks of ice. One of the runes can be used to manipulate magnetic fields. The remaining rune manipulates gravitational fields, causing the targeted object to appear temporarily frozen in time. Despite its extraordinary powers, Link has reported that the range of the device is limited to no more than five or six yards.”
Purah nodded. “We have a body of data concerning the remote bombs and the stasis rune, but what we know about the cryonis and magnesis runes is mostly hearsay. Do you think you could convince your friend to come to the lab to give a demonstration?”
“I’ll certainly try,” Zelda promised. She hadn’t had an opportunity to experiment with the Sheikah Slate before giving it to Link, and she wanted to see what it could do with her own eyes. It would be ideal to observe it being tested in laboratory conditions.
“Did Link figure out how to access the secondary functions? The satellite map and the photo notations?”
“You’ll have to ask him yourself. I haven’t seen him since I transferred possession of the device.”
“It’s funny, isn’t it? I’ve read that it was possible for ancient tech to be configured to specific users, but I thought, in this case, the user would be you. We can’t confirm its provenance, but the Sheikah Slate reportedly belonged to the princess who survived the Calamity.”
“I couldn’t make heads or tails of it,” Zelda admitted. “I couldn’t even get the screen to activate. As soon as Link touched it, it was like flicking on a switch. I’m a little jealous that it came so naturally to him.”
“You’re not the only one who’s jealous. I’ve been fiddling with that thing for years.” Purah waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Ah, well. Better late than never. I hope you told that child to keep it off social media.”
“He’s worked for the Sheikah longer than I have. I’m sure he knows the protocol.”
“I’m sure he does,” Purah said with a smirk. “My little sister didn’t give me the full story, but she told me about how Link’s resignation came out of nowhere. I don’t suppose he enjoyed spying on you for your father to begin with, and I suspect someone finally gave him an ultimatum: your job or your Skyloft profile. I think he made the right choice, but no one asked me.”
Purah made a quick series of taps on the screen of the tablet attached to the ancient furnace. She appeared to be entering a passcode.
“I’d like to set up a Skyloft profile myself,” Purah continued. “You’re never too old to try new things, that’s my philosophy. But I also say, if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right. There’s no point in being on Skyloft if I’m not going to be popular. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble in that department, thankfully. Who wouldn’t want to follow the adventures of a beautiful and charming researcher as she uncovers the secrets of these gorgeous machines?”
Purah gracefully shifted her weight and stood on one foot while flashing a “v” sign with her fingers in front of her canary red glasses. She winked at Zelda, who couldn’t help grinning in response.
“That goes for you as well,” Purah added. “We should set up profiles together, darling. We’ll be internet famous. Now watch, let me show you something you’ll love.”
She pointed to a separate piece of ancient tech positioned above the furnace that hung over the tablet dock like a stalactite. “That lovely fellow up there is called a guidance stone. It’s powered by the energy stored in the furnace, and it serves as something like the machine’s hard drive. What you’re about to witness is a data transfer. I get chills every time I see it.”
As if on cue, a shining drop of bright cyanic light gathered at the tip of the guidance stone and fell onto the screen of Purah’s tablet. The way it mimicked water was so uncanny that Zelda almost expected there to be a splash.
The tablet chirped in acknowledgment of a successful transfer. Purah removed it from the dock and handed it to Zelda, who watched as a pictograph of a flower materialized on the screen. The quality was slightly grainy, but the image appeared to be a stalk of blue nightshade glowing faintly in the shadow of an old oak tree.
“What we get with each transfer is a bit random, but we’re slowly working out an interface,” Purah explained. “The tablet you’re holding is a facsimile that we’ve created based on the notes of researchers working in the aftermath of the Calamity. It would be supremely useful if we could access the original Sheikah Slate. If it only works for certain users, it would be convenient to know who they are and how the device recognizes them. As I said earlier, there must be some sort of programming.”
Zelda swiped through the pictographs stored on the tablet. As far as she could tell, they all depicted flowers, mushrooms, and other flora at close range. Many of the shots were quite good.
“I wasn’t joking about making this research public,” Purah said as she stroked the ancient furnace fondly with the palm of her hand. “Most of what we’re doing is harmless, and it would be nice to have more people working in the field.”
“I can see the benefits, but you’d have to acknowledge that thaumaturgy exists,” Zelda replied. She handed the tablet back to Purah. “I wonder what my mother would think about that.”
“That was before my time,” Purah said crisply. “And entirely unnecessary, if you want my opinion. Your mother is a clever woman, and your father would be twice the man he is now if he still had her support. At least Urbosa is smart enough to take advantage of her talents. From what I understand, she has an advanced understanding of thaumaturgy. I assume she’s teaching you?”
Zelda smiled politely, unsure of how to respond. Thankfully, she was spared by Impa, who strode across the floor of the lab as silently as a shadow. If Zelda hadn’t been watching the door, she wouldn’t have seen Impa enter the room at all.
“We’ll need to debrief you on the matter of your mother,” Impa said, not bothering with a greeting. “Needless to say, it wasn’t just her thaumaturgical acumen that made it necessary for her to leave Hyrule. Her abilities were something of a public secret. She was even engaged in talks with my predecessor to change the Sheikah policies on the matter. I believe she wanted to set up a special program to help train children in the proper use of thaumaturgy.”
Zelda was shaken by the sudden shift in the conversation, but she forced her expression to remain neutral. “Urbosa mentioned that the Gerudo have something like that,” she said.
A thin smile surfaced on Impa’s face, but her eyes were cold. “The Gerudo have their objections to the way we do things here in Hyrule, but we stand by our methods. We try to be as humane as we can, all things considered.”
“Some people might disagree,” Zelda said dryly.
“I wouldn’t put the Gerudo on too high a pedestal,” Impa countered. “For centuries they killed any male child who dared to be born to them, often along with the mother. Males that managed to survive to adulthood were treated as little better than indentured servants. Hyrule has taken in a steady stream of refugees from the desert over the years. No one likes to talk about it, but it’s only recently that Gerudo voe have been granted equal rights. You should ask Urbosa about that the next time you see her.”
Zelda frowned. “I’d prefer to ask you now, actually.”
“Fair enough.” Impa dropped her gaze and ran her hand along one of the swirls of the ancient furnace in much the same way her sister had. “According to their traditions, any voe could be the next Ganon. Some people in Hyrule still believe that any given Zelda could be a reincarnation of the goddess Hylia, but Hylia walking among us in human form would be an omen of an age of prosperity. If you believed that your child might possibly be responsible for the end of the world, though, you might feel differently.”
Zelda tried to imagine Ganondorf as a child. Riju, who wasn’t shy about expressing her distaste for the idea of reincarnation, hadn’t been able to find any records of a male Gerudo born within a range of years that would correspond to Ganondorf’s approximate age, at least not one who wasn’t already well documented and accounted for. Still, she told Zelda not to discount the possibility that Ganondorf’s birth may have been kept secret, especially if he had been born into a more traditional family far from the city. It seemed impossible to Zelda that someone like Ganondorf could ever have been young and vulnerable, but the likelihood that he may have been abused a child because of a silly superstition filled her with a cold and bitter anger.
“Surely the world isn’t so easy to end,” she said.
“If you were to go by the legends alone,” Impa replied, “you’d think that every challenge to the stability of Hyrule has been an earth-shattering catastrophe. We’d be in a sorry state if that were the case, and I’d like to think that we Sheikah aren’t completely incompetent. What we call ‘Ganon’ is another order of magnitude altogether, and it can’t be solved or averted by politics or diplomacy. It’s like a natural disaster driven by pure malice.”
Zelda sighed. What Impa was saying didn’t make sense. How could something like a hurricane or an earthquake be caused by “malice,” and what did any of this have to do with restricting magical ability?
Purah’s eyes darted between Impa and Zelda. “What my sweet baby sister means to say,” she interjected, “is that ‘malice’ is a form of thaumaturgical energy. I’m not a fan of the term, personally, but ‘malice’ is the only name we have to describe something we can’t even begin to understand. It resembles the energy we’ve found in the mechanical cores that power ancient technology, but it’s infinitely more volatile, not to mention inhumanly destructive. Whatever it is, it’s extraordinarily dangerous, and all we can hope to do is prevent it from manifesting.”
“I think I’m beginning to understand,” Zelda said. According to Ganondorf, magic was neither good nor evil. Rather, it was simply a way of perceiving and interacting with the world. For him, it was no different than math or science. For the Sheikah, on the other hand, magic seemed to have quasi-religious connotations. ‘Thaumaturgy’ was magical energy that could be harnessed and used for productive purposes, such as powering ancient technology. Meanwhile, magical energy that was not generated by humans and could not be controlled was ‘malice.’ But why call it “malice”? That seemed like an oddly judgmental expression to use for something that was, in Impa’s analogy, as mindless as a natural disaster.
Impa met Zelda’s eyes. “Unlike my sister, I’m not skilled at explaining myself. I hope you’ll start to see how all of this fits together once we begin testing your thaumaturgical ability. Purah has asked me to train you. But only by your consent, of course.”
Zelda was taken aback. As much as it was an honor to work directly under Purah, the prospect of spending time with Impa was even more daunting. Still, she was keen to learn more about Sheikah magic – or thaumaturgy, if that was what they insisted on calling it.
“It would be my pleasure,” she replied.
“I like your new haircut, by the way,” Impa said gently, as if offering an apology for her earlier severity. “It suits you.”
“Thank you.” Zelda smiled. “I did it myself.”