Ganondorf knew it couldn’t last. The night he spent with Zelda had been like a dream. When the earth began to shake and smoke rose from the valleys between the city’s office towers, it felt inevitable. All dreams must end, and it was time to wake up.
He hated Hyrule, completely and irrationally. As he looked down over its streets, he fantasized about its destruction. His anger was compulsive; there was nothing he could say to explain it or justify its constant tugging at the edges of his mind. He had no past and no memories, and there had always been something missing inside him. Zelda had been a light burning at the core of his being, but he could not rationalize the desire that compelled him to pursue her.
Ganondorf was confident in all things except his own sense of self. As he prepared himself to follow Zelda underground, his body seemed to move of its own accord. No danger confronted him as he drove with Zelda through the crumbling streets of Hyrule. Inconsequential matters like fire and flood and earthquakes meant nothing to him, and there would be no obstacles in his way unless he willed them to appear. Something was urging him forward, and he could not resist its pull.
When Link met them at the door of Sidon’s townhouse, Ganondorf saw his determination to accompany Zelda shining in his eyes. He knew that Link would protect Zelda not out of any sense of obligation, but simply because that was who he was. That was who Link would always be, someone who never failed to offer kindness even under the most dire of circumstances. Of all the thousands of people named Link in Hyrule, this was the man who possessed the nobility of spirit of the hero he was named for.
Ganondorf was tempted to leave. There was nothing stopping him, and he cared nothing for the fate of Hyrule. It was not his home, and he owed nothing to its people. There was no reason not to turn away from Zelda and abjure his claim on her power. What use was this power, in the end? Men no longer waged battles with swords and magic, and untold stores of wealth were already his to manipulate as he wished. The means to shape the world according to his will was already firmly in his grasp, and Zelda possessed nothing he could not take for himself.
He could put Hyrule and its corruption behind him and return to the desert, where he could live as a prince among the women who would welcome him and speak to him in his own language.
But this was not a choice he could make, and he knew it. He could flee from Zelda if he wished, but he would not be able to stop himself from returning to her, again and again, in body and in spirit.
It never occurred to Ganondorf that this might be love. Something as gentle as love had nothing to do with the possessive desire he felt. Zelda belonged to him. She was his, as intrinsic to him as the emptiness in his heart, and he could not allow her to meet her destiny without him.
Ganondorf was free to indulge himself with thoughts of fate and choice and desire in the light of the morning sun, but everything changed the moment he set foot underground. The darkness caught him and consumed him, drawing him forward as inexorably as the connection binding him to Zelda. He needed to find the source of the Calamity just as surely as she did.
Underneath this magnetic pull was something even more insidious, a voice that was not a voice. It spoke to him in visions. He had seen these images in his dreams – different times, different places, different people, all overlaid onto one another in a palimpsest of rage. There was war, and blood; screams, and stone, and chains; horses, arrows, armies; monuments falling and buildings crumbling. And there was calamity – fire, flood, storms, earthquakes; searing heat, smoke, and ash. They were memories that were not memories; they were the words of a language of malice, of hatred and ill will.
This is what the malice said:
In a time long past, long before the Lanayru Ocean retreated from the desert, long before there was a kingdom called Hyrule, the land was rich with history and legend. Such stories must have their heroes, and so they must have their monsters.
When the evil and temptation in people’s hearts could no longer be tolerated, and when the suffering they inflicted upon one another could not be relieved through song and prayer, they turned to sacrifice.
So it was that the children of the earth came to be hunted. Monsters were designated so that the children of the sky could live as heroes. But no sacrifice is without value, and the blood of those who were put to the sword did not go unmourned. As the earth cried for his children, his anger rose to a towering pitch, and he could not be placated. Fire surged from the mountains and seared the fertile valleys. Great waves drawn from the lightless depths of the sea crashed onto the shores. The earth laid a terrible curse onto the children of the sky, but even when they had all but disappeared, this was not enough. The rift between the earth and sky was too great to be mended.
It was decided that a treasured son must bear the earth’s fury. He would wear the curse like a mantle, his destiny as the one chosen by the goddesses marking him as an outcast, and the suffering of those who remained in the blasted land would be directed onto a new sacrifice. But this sacrifice was nothing as simple as a quick knife or a cleansing fire; it would be a succession of small wounds, inflicted over and over and over again by kin and strangers alike.
To be different is to be cursed. To wield power is to be cursed. To be cursed is to become a monster, a creature whose pain is celebrated by all who witness its demise.
But it is not such an easy thing to kill a monster.
Ganondorf knew nothing of gods or sacrifices, but he understood the malice of the visions that cascaded through his mind as he followed Zelda into the darkness. He saw and felt it from dawn to dusk. Men challenged him for little reason than to prove their worth against him, and women stared at him only to be offended when he returned their gaze. Even with no accent, and with no foreign mannerisms or cultural odor to speak of, he was and would forever be an outsider in Hyrule.
It would be no different in the desert, where he was equally not at home. Even among the Gerudo he would never be able to cast off the weight of being perceived as a symbol of something he never wished to be.
Individuals could be kind, certainly, but civilizations need history, and their people need heroes. And indeed, legends require heroes, and heroes need monsters. Both Hyrule and the Gerudo Desert were filled with the debris of failed civilizations. Someone needed to be blamed for these ruins – for their lingering legacy of failure, and the shame they recorded in monuments of stone.
But why did it have to be him?
Ganondorf’s ruminations spiraled around the visions that rose unbidden into his mind, coiling his thoughts into knots so tight that he could barely speak. He moved his body mechanically as he followed Zelda, keeping her in his sight like the guiding point of a compass.
The pressure in his head grew steadily stronger as they descended deeper into the caves that burrowed through the ancient foundation of the old castle. In desperation, Ganondorf attempted to create a connection with Zelda. He sought comfort in the light of her magic, but the contact only intensified his disorientation, which became more insistent with each step.
Something was shifting; something was beginning to break loose and fall away, and that something was him. It was as if he were once again standing over the archaic Hylian manuscript with Riju, simultaneously dwelling in the present while suspended within the past as he studied the images painted onto the crumbling pages with an ink as dark as blood.
When the visions were on the verge of overwhelming his senses, Ganondorf finally saw himself. He saw himself in the paintings on the cavern walls – mounted and armored, his body and hair richly adorned as he wielded the symbols of his authority and prowess. He saw himself being pushed down by the hands of men and chained by hands of magic, and he saw himself overpower his restraints. He saw himself rise in a form he knew all too well. He saw the Divine Beasts stumble, and he saw their Champions fall. He saw the Great Calamity, and he saw the green fields of Hyrule burn in its wake. He saw the defeat and death of the hero, and he saw the triumph of the princess at Hyrule Castle. He saw these things, because he was there.
And then he knew.
Ganon was powerful, more powerful than any mortal could imagine. It could easily destroy kingdoms and decimate armies at its pleasure. Even sealed with the most potent magic known to Hyrule, it would not be suppressed as it cursed the land with each cycle of the blood-red moon. Ganon was a sea of Malice, thick and pulsing and unspeakably ancient. Its rage and pain gave rise to eruptions that coalesced into tangible forms, blighting each of the Champions. An even greater and more terrible blight confronted the resurrected hero.
But what of the princess who walked into Hyrule Castle, alone and unarmed?
The piece of Ganon meant to entrap the princess was an oozing sludge of Malice that spread through Hyrule Castle, an abomination that roiled and seethed around her, absorbing her tears and prayers for a hundred years. It was a scar on the castle’s sacred architecture and a blight on the soul of its sacred prisoner, formless and nameless. Yet it retained fragments of its creator’s spirit, a seed of humanity kept alive by the kindness and mercy of the princess. How it must have hated her, yet how it clung to her before being cast aside and sealed into a prison of ancient technology. It existed only to kill the princess, and it had failed. What a pathetic thing it was, too insignificant to be purified by the hero’s sword, too broken and nebulous to die properly.
Ganondorf walked but had no feet. He spoke but had no voice. Even as he touched Zelda, he had no hands, nor any will to enact with them. His body yearned to dissipate into the void it had sprung from, but the power of the sealing magic swirling through the cave denied him even the comfort of oblivion. As much as he was capable of wanting anything, Ganondorf did not want Zelda to discover what was at the center of the magic, but he had no choice. He had been wrenched into existence to bring the princess to this cursed place; and, may the goddesses damn him, this is what he had done.
The magic binding the corpse of Ganon’s vessel was strong, but it had weakened during the years when Zelda’s power was denied and restrained. After centuries, the Malice that remained in the corpse was finally strong enough to break free of its bindings. Its greed was palpable as it beckoned Zelda closer.
Her eyes grew wide when it spoke – I’ve been waiting for you, Zelda – but she was paralyzed by fear. She screamed as it wrapped a tendril of Malice around her wrist in a twisted lover’s embrace, but she could do nothing to fight it as it pulled her forward.
Link leapt to her rescue, but he was easily repelled by the thing’s magic. The defunct Guardians lying along the path rose with hideous clanks and squeals to confront him as he was cast onto the rocky ground. They ambled toward him, slowly but steadily, the blades of their ancient weaponry glowing.
Ganondorf could do nothing but watch. He was no one. When the princess and her chosen hero fell, as they surely would, Hyrule would be nothing. There would be no gods, no monsters, no history or ruins. There would be no more seals and no more binding; there would be no more pain. The Malice would glut itself on destruction and disappear once the fuel that sustained its fire was exhausted. When the Calamity was over, there would be only the green earth and the vast expanse of sky stretching above it.
This is what he thought he had wanted, once. At times he had desired it so greatly that he could almost see it in front of him – the buildings falling, the sea rising, tender sprouts pushing through the cracks of broken slabs of asphalt. But, for the time being, there was only Malice. If the thing that embodied it was once a man, it was no longer a man. He himself was never a man, and now he was barely anything at all.
Yet he could still hear Zelda screaming. Link shouted her name from somewhere in the distance. They had no training, and no weapons – no sacred sword, no silver arrows, no relics of past heroes. They had not been tested in battle, and they did not understand the tools and magic they had been given. They were alone, with their allies far beyond their reach. In denying its legends, Hyrule had denied its salvation. This princess and her chosen hero never had a chance.
None of this mattered to him. What remained of his body was wracked with pain as it dissolved back into the bitter Malice it had come from. He hated what he was, and he hated what he had become, and it was into this hatred that he would disappear.
But then Zelda turned back to him.
He had no eyes, but he heard her voice with crystal clarity. It was the voice of the princess, and the voice of the goddess. She called out a name. It was a name that was never his to claim, yet these were the only things he had – his name, and her voice.
It was impossible for him to be human, so he no longer tried. He allowed his physical form to erupt as it pleased. His consciousness dispersed, flowing into the crumbling Guardians and seeping into the pools of liquid Malice gathered in the crevices of the cavern.
His attention shifted to the hero who had been called to witness the princess, and to aid her. Courageous though he might be, he lacked the means to defend himself, and he was on the verge of defeat. He would perish if nothing were done. The Guardians were the only weapons capable of shielding him. The thing at the center of the magic was powerful, but the machines were many, and there were more in the distance.
He called to them, and then, as naturally as drawing breath, he became them. How, indeed, had he ever been anything else? The forlorn and forgotten things fell one after another to the lashing tendrils of Ganon’s magic, but it did not matter. What mattered was the hero, and the princess he must rescue.
Zelda resisted the pull of the beckoning corpse with all her might, yet she was compelled to approach it, struggling against each step. It had already established a magical connection with her – he had already established a magical connection, Hylia curse his hubris – and it used this bond to manipulate her body. As soon as it breached her defenses and entered the interior of her mind, she would be finished. Something must be done before she was pulled past the point of no return, but the hero was too far away.
He had no choice but to return to his cast-off body, which was putrefying in a puddle of its own muck. It was no longer a man pieced together from Ganon’s memories and the princess’s dreams, but an inchoate shambling thing. Its flesh twisted and splayed in spasms of Malice. It hurt to move, to breathe, to exist. He was lashed with a torrent of searing pain, an unending agony that became more unbearable with each successive fraction of a moment. He hurt, and he screamed, but he refused to allow Zelda to be taken.
He knew that he could not save her. No matter how much he might wish to, he could not act against the core of his self. He could not save Zelda, but he could buy time for the hero – and he knew better than anyone that she possessed the power to save herself.
A horrible misshapen thing, he crawled and oozed toward her, dragging himself over the filth of his own body. He was possessed by a primal urge to enfold the princess within the creosotic ropes of his arms and drown her within his darkness, yet he managed to hold himself back from surging. All he needed was a single point of contact.
The skin of Zelda’s leg sizzled when he touched her. He didn’t mean to hurt her, but he had no choice. She must remember herself. He attempted to push his memories of the princess into her mind, but what remained of his thoughts was nothing more than a stochastic jumble of disconnected images. Her skin was beginning to erupt in savage blisters. He had run out of time, so he allowed the Guardians defending the hero to fall still and silent as he concentrated his will into words. Human speech was beyond him, so he simply said her name, shining and golden.
Her face shifted as the Triforce blazed to life. The tears in her eyes continued to fall, but she was able to clench her teeth and raise her arm. Her hand blazed with luminescence.
And there at last was the hero, wielding an ancient sword of light he had won from a fallen Guardian. He charged forward past Zelda, guided by the hands and hearts of all the heroes who had come before him, and caught the silver arrow of Zelda’s magic with his sword before plunging it into the suspended corpse.
The husk of his body fell as the chains of the sealing magic broke. He was free.
The last thing he saw before his suffering finally ended was Zelda’s face. Her eyes were gentle and compassionate in the moment of her triumph, and he loved her.
Ganondorf was himself again. And then, with infinite relief, he was nothing.