The sewer under the former site of Hyrule Castle was a relic of a different age. Unlike the city’s more recent access tunnels, the old system did not conform to the map of the streets above. There were no glass reflector panels or yellow pebbled tiles on the ground, and there were certainly no guiding markers spray painted on the walls. They tunnels were still functional, yet they were almost impossible to navigate.
Link had been here before, however, and he knew his way around.
Link had two profiles on Skyloft. He went by his real name on the profile he used to post pictures of himself on his morning jogs through the city. On the other, neither his name nor his face appeared at all. It was possible that a few of Link’s hundreds of thousands of followers had connected the two accounts, but he doubted it. What he thought of as his “after dark account” was devoted to urban exploration. He went by the handle TwilightWolf, which he’d originally come up with to mock the performative edginess of the online subculture, but the name gradually started to feel like it fit him. Anyone could post pictures tagged with #UrbanExploration, which wasn’t exactly an uncommon hobby, but Link maintained his position at the head of the pack by challenging himself to go where no one else had been. This wasn’t always easy. At times, it was downright dangerous.
As Link led Zelda and Ganondorf through the maze of sewer tunnels, his eyes jumped to bits of interesting period architecture that he would have photographed if circumstances were different. Not that it mattered – all social media had been shut down. The city’s wireless networks were overburdened, and the Sheikah had probably engineered an artificial outage to prevent the spread of panic. Not that it would help, of course. Not when people could see what was happening to Hyrule with their own eyes.
The only message Link needed to receive was from Zelda, whose call had come through despite his phone’s lack of reception. Link was so astonished by the crispness of her voice over the line that he almost failed to notice how remarkable it was that she had called him at all. Zelda usually took days to respond to text messages, but there was an unmistakable tone of authority in her voice.
“I need you to help us get under the castle,” she said, and Link had known exactly what she meant.
He wanted to say no. He wanted to say that it was dangerous, and that she could go by herself if it was so important to her. He wanted to say that he preferred to sleep in, actually. It would be nice to take the morning off for once. A citywide crisis of this magnitude was as good of an excuse as any. Maybe everything would be magically better when he woke up.
Sidon had jumped out of bed as soon as the initial tremors struck. He said it was his responsibility to lead evacuation and rescue efforts for the Zora community. Link wanted to join him, but he knew that would only be shirking his own responsibility. Sidon hadn’t objected when Link told him that he needed to go somewhere with Zelda; he simply nodded in acknowledgment and said that Mipha was already on her way.
Zelda and Ganondorf met him at the door of Sidon’s apartment. There was something different about them, something that Link couldn’t put his finger on, and he didn’t like it. They were both dressed sensibly for once, yet there was an otherworldly air about them. Link found it difficult to look at their faces. In the second before he opened the door and met their eyes, he hated them. He hated Rhoam for dragging him into the company of such people, and he hated Sidon for being a part of their world. Who was anyone kidding to think that royalty didn’t exist anymore, or that legends were nothing more than stories for children?
There was a moment when Link could have turned away. He could have closed the door in their faces and gone back to bed. Zelda and Ganondorf may have been central to whatever drama was playing itself out as the city fell into chaos, but he was just an extra. They didn’t need him. There must be hundreds of people his age named Link. Thousands, even. It wasn’t as if he had been born with a special birthmark proclaiming his fate as a hero. It didn’t have to be him. If he turned away, someone would step forward to take his place. Riju, maybe. Sidon, or his sister. Link was a common name among the Gorons, and maybe there was a Rito named Revali out there just waiting for his chance to be a hero. Who could say?
Link knew he had a choice, but there was only one choice he wanted to make.
“I don’t suppose there’s any coffee where we’re going, is there?” he asked as he smiled and stepped outside, and then they were off.
Zelda was surprisingly adept at holding her own in the sewers. She was calm and observant, and she seemed to be charting a mental map of the passageways as they progressed. The going was admittedly easier with Ganondorf, who wasn’t pretending not to use magic anymore. Link had experienced several unpleasant encounters with feral creatures inhabiting the sewer tunnels, but everything that flew and crawled and slithered kept its distance from Ganondorf, who swiftly dealt with whatever made the mistake of drawing too close.
The high ceilings and stately columns of the pre-Calamity architecture made the sewers seem almost like a cathedral, and the water flowing through the canals was clear and odorless. Link had read that the original purpose of these tunnels was to redirect the flow of local rivers underneath the castle and thereby manage both floods and droughts, but there was no reason for these underground passageways to be so beautiful. Who were the ancient Hylians, to have built a gorgeous subterranean temple that so few people would ever see? Did everyone in the past have power like Ganondorf, to shape the world as they wished? What did Hyrule look like before the Great Calamity? If there had been no Calamity, what would Hyrule look like now?
Link’s thoughts were interrupted by the tremors of another earthquake. A thick sheet of dust and small chunks of debris rained from the ceiling, and the canal water pitched and roiled in its concrete trough. Zelda and Ganondorf seemed unperturbed. Link didn’t question their lack of concern. Their minds were more than likely on more weighty matters. His role was merely to serve as a guide.
They eventually arrived at an expansive cavern. It seemed to be a nexus of the sluggish streams flowing through the tunnels, which into a vast subterranean lake. The moat that once surrounded the old castle may have disappeared, but not the source of its water, which pooled in this lightless reservoir before draining into Hylia knew where. According to the research Link had done in the city library’s archives, this lake was once crossed with a network of wooden docks where food and other shipments of goods were delivered to the castle before it was destroyed in the Great Calamity.
Earlier that morning, Zelda offered to exchange Link’s heavy high-power LED flashlight for the Sheikah Slate. Link accepted it without question. He’d been using the glow of its screen to illuminate the path, and it occurred to him that he could use its magic to form a bridge of ice across the lake, which would save him the hassle of having to navigate the steep slope lining the outer shore.
“I’m going to try something,” Link stated. He pointed the Sheikah Slate at the surface of the lake and activated the Cryonis rune. Thin beams of blue light danced across the water in a geometric pattern, and Link tapped the tablet screen to transform each glowing square into a block of ice.
Link lowered the slate and studied his handiwork. It might be possible to cross the icy stepping stones, but it would be treacherous. The blocks weren’t that big, and Link knew from experience how slippery they were. He didn’t want Zelda twisting her ankle in a poorly timed jump, and he couldn’t be certain that the ice would support Ganondorf’s weight. Link considered crossing the lake on his own. On he was on the far shore, he could check to see if there were another path, or perhaps a bridge or a sluice gate that he could lower to form another path.
“Allow me,” Ganondorf said. He held out his hand for the slate. Link hesitated for a moment before passing it to him. Relinquishing the device to Ganondorf felt strange, but Link was curious to see what he would do with it.
Ganondorf took the Sheikah Slate and began rapidly tapping its screen. The device’s glow shifted from a gentle blue to a violent orange. Ganondorf raised the tablet and aimed it at the black surface of the lake. A wide bridge of ice spread across the water in the space of a few seconds, as solid and sturdy as stone.
“Show-off.” Zelda clicked her tongue.
“Damn,” Link said. He laughed, and for a moment everything was normal again.
“Have you been down here before?” Zelda asked as she stepped onto the ice.
“A few times,” Link replied, “but I’ve never gone this far. It was too dangerous.”
No one said what they were thinking – as dangerous as the subterranean lake might be, this was the easy part of their journey. It was only going to get worse from here. Link had been afraid before, but never like this. His heart thudded in his chest like a broken machine, and every step forward required a discrete act of will. He didn’t trust himself to maintain his courage, so he did what he’d always done in uncomfortable situations – he started talking.
“You know, it’s funny. I never wanted to work for the Sheikah,” Link began, casting out for something to say. He was surprised by the words that left his mouth, but he was too nervous to stop speaking. “It was wild, putting on a uniform in the morning and then turning around and breaking and entering by night. I learned a lot about security systems during my training, but let me tell you something crazy: almost nobody bothers with alarms or cameras. At least not in the parts of Hyrule where anyone would need them. It would be a waste of money. There are dozens of factories and warehouses out in the suburbs that have been completely abandoned. It would be a relief for everyone involved if someone were to burn them down, and not just because of the insurance money. It would be much easier to sell the land if it were vacant. If anyone can even figure out who owns the property to begin with, that is.”
Link glanced at Ganondorf, whom he suspected had a deeper-than-average knowledge of the legal gray areas surrounding ghost properties, but his face was unreadable. His mind was probably elsewhere. Link could sympathize.
On the other side of the ice bridge, the path was blocked by a slurry of loose earth mixed with stone debris. Link stopped to consider the situation. He and Zelda might be able to squeeze around the side and climb onto the higher walkway, but Ganondorf would probably have trouble maneuvering himself through the narrow gap between the landslide and the uneven rock wall.
“The Sheikah Slate should have a rune that generates an explosive,” Zelda said, apparently having arrived at the same conclusion. “Do you mind using it?”
Link was amused by the eager anticipation in Zelda’s voice. He turned to look at her, and she dropped her gaze. “But we can find another way, if…”
“No, it would make me extremely happy to blow up something right now,” Link assured her. He directed the Sheikah Slate’s sensor toward the base of the blockage and activated the Remote Bomb rune. A gently glowing blue orb materialized on the ground a few feet in front of him.
“Maybe we should step back,” Link suggested. Neither Ganondorf nor Zelda moved.
Link shrugged and activated the fuse. The resulting explosion was highly compact, producing no shrapnel at all. The dislodged earth slid quietly into the lake. It was oddly anticlimactic.
“I don’t know why people go to college,” Link said. He’d just used an impossibly ancient magical artifact to clear his way forward through the abandoned tunnels underneath the site of a ruined castle as if it were something he did every day. He felt like he was born to do this, in fact. “I guess university-level training is useful for some people,” he continued, thinking of Zelda, “but it’s probably just a waste of time for someone like me. I did a year of college, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back the next fall. There’s nothing wrong with being done with school, that’s what I think, but then I couldn’t find a job. The Sheikah were the only decent employers willing to hire someone without a college degree. And they paid well. Who am I to complain?”
As they walked, the path turned away from the lake on an upward slope that ended in a narrow stairway carved into the solid rock. The stone blocks of the stairs were roughly hewn and half-buried in dirt and mud. This tunnel was far older than the sewers. Link did his best to keep the light of the Sheikah Slate steady at his feet despite his trepidation.
“I know you’ve got issues with your family, Zelda. I don’t mean to suggest that you didn’t suffer, but Rhoam isn’t such a bad guy. He means well, I think, and he doesn’t talk down to people. That’s more than you can say for most of the people around him. I was hired as an assistant to his security detail, probably because I was young and unobtrusive. Almost no one paid any attention to me, but Rhoam noticed the work I did. Before long I was acting as an assistant to the president himself, but then…”
Link stopped speaking as he realized that they had arrived at a fork in the path. One bore of the tunnel continued upwards, while the other plunged even deeper into the earth. Neither Zelda nor Ganondorf showed any hesitation as they turned toward the descending slope. Link assumed they were able to sense something he couldn’t, so he stood aside, let them pass, and followed along after them.
“But then what?” Zelda asked.
“But then your father ordered me to keep you under observation. I thought I would hate you. I assumed you’d be a spoiled little rich girl, but you work harder than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“Harder than you?”
“You’re right. Being this beautiful isn’t easy,” Link agreed. “But what I was doing was wrong. Maybe it would have been fine if I were just presenting reports about you to your father, but before long I was asked to report on your lab, and then other labs in the building, and then other offices in the district. I was good at it, that was the worst part. When I figured out how wide the Sheikah’s surveillance net was, I just couldn’t work for them anymore, especially not when I understood how easy it is for them to bypass every law on the books to get what they want.”
“So I quit.” Link shrugged. “I miss it sometimes, but I like being a courier. It’s honest work. Still, it’s not like this job isn’t shit too. I’ll never be promoted. There’s not even a position for me to be promoted to, and the salary is too small for me to save money and start my own business. I probably would have lost my apartment if Sidon hadn’t come along. Either that, or I would’ve had to start transporting something more profitable than packages from Beedlenet.”
Link looked at Ganondorf, expecting him to make a comment about money and power, but he was silent. Still, Link didn’t doubt that he was listening. Ganondorf’s tacit approval made him bolder.
“I don’t have a degree, and I don’t come from money, so it’s like I’m nothing,” Link continued. “I’ve got some followers on Skyloft, sure, but that doesn’t pay the rent. I’m just supposed to give away my life for free, and no one cares if I can’t make a living. So what if I break into some old warehouses and empty apartment buildings after dark? What if I smash a few windows? And you know the weirdest thing? My photos get more attention if the location I’m shooting looks like a disaster site. People don’t care about the history of the buildings or neighborhoods where I take photos, they just want a fantasy. And that’s what I give them.”
Link took a deep breath. “Anyway. I don’t know what’s down here under the central government towers, but this isn’t the only set of ruins in Hyrule.”
“You know, I’ve been thinking about this,” Zelda replied. “I’ve actually thought about it a lot since I moved out of my father’s house. You wouldn’t believe some of the places Riju and I saw when we were looking for apartments. Or maybe you would, but still. I always imagined that people could live easier and better lives if our level of technology were more advanced. I wanted so badly to figure out what our ancestors used to know, but I’m starting to realize that maybe there are other things in Hyrule’s past that are worth investigating. And there’s still so much I don’t know about the present day. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, don’t apologize. You can’t take the blame for everything that’s wrong with Hyrule,” Link assured her. “And who knows, maybe these earthquakes will shake things up.”
Zelda smiled at Link over her shoulder, but her expression was strained.
Link began to feel guilty for making the grim atmosphere even heavier. “At least we’re trying to do something good in the world,” he offered. “If I had to choose, I’d rather fight an ancient evil than your family.”
“There’s no need to choose,” Ganondorf said. “We can fight both.”
Link didn’t have a response to such a statement. He admired Ganondorf’s ambition, but he couldn’t deny that he was a little afraid of him, especially when he said things like that. It might not have been the best idea to accompany someone like Ganondorf into the haunted caves underneath Hyrule, but Link comforted himself with the knowledge that at least they were on the same side.