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A Worthy Successor

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He would make, he thought, a worthy successor to the throne of Hyrule.

The ghostly light filtering through the high glass windows of the corridor was thin and attenuated, and the silence was heavy. Ganondorf’s footsteps should have echoed across the stone floor, but his footsteps were muted. There were layers upon layers of magic laid over the dust of this dim and airless place, and it was deathly quiet.

The flood had been a living nightmare, but what transpired here was worse.

As he walked through Hyrule Castle, Ganondorf kept his eyes on the windows, beautiful but useless as they were. There was nothing outside, only ruins of stone piled upon ruins of stone. The kingdom had become an empty monument to gods that had long since departed.

He would make a worthy successor indeed.

Ganondorf gazed at the statue of the hero standing at the foot of a grand staircase. It was a poor likeness. The boy had been so needlessly young. Faithless fool that he himself had been, he hadn’t understood what he was facing, and he paid for his ignorance. The years since that battle had been cruel.

Hyrule Castle was a tomb, but not for him alone. The golden crest on the back of his hand burned. Ganondorf could sense the bearer of wisdom trapped in the chamber hidden in the shadow of the hero. Hylia help him, the girl was crying.

… … …

Faceless marble guardians stood in a circle around the cathedral enshrining the Master Sword. At their backs were ornamental windows depicting the warped forms of other heroes, their glass eyes empty and unkind. A shallow moat of stagnant water surrounded the central stage. The air stank of mildew, but the light coming through the windows was still clear, and the stones of the walls were still strong.

It was beautiful, and its beauty was a waste. No one should ever have to set foot in this terrible place.

In the center of the ring of statues as an empty pedestal, and sitting on the pedestal was the pirate girl.

She hadn’t noticed him. He knew she would not allow herself to be caught like this, not by him. She was weak and miserable, but by the grace of the goddesses she was not yet dead. If she still had the strength to cry, she could still be saved.

Ganondorf scowled. How disgusting this necrotic kingdom was; how needless its sacrifice of its own children. He thought of the sages, their spirits bound to their temples, cursed never to pass on. He had freed the Kokiri boy and the young woman from the Zora tribe, the only two he had been able to locate. They had fought him as he performed the rituals to release them from their bondage, but not as hard as they could have. No, not nearly as hard as they could have.

He was certain the king would find others to replace them. He would call it an honor, and the descendants of the sages might even believe him. They would believe that they were capable of sealing his magic, as if the Triforce of Power were something that could be sealed. Would the king tell them about the Triforce? Would he explain why their sacrifice was necessary, or would he remain silent and allow them to weave their own tales of heroism?

He pitied the children fated to dwell in the drowned temples, but the princess was his priority.

Ganondorf had searched for her across the Great Sea, but he hadn’t thought to look for her here, not at first. But of course the king would leave her behind, trapped under the stone weight of the hero’s statue. The king had no use for the fierce girl who had come after him in his own fortress, and so he had left her here – the child who had been clever enough to aim her knife not at his eyes but slightly to the side, knowing that he’d flinch.

He was certain that the girl who had inherited the Triforce of Wisdom would fight him just as the two sages had.

But perhaps not as hard as she might.

The King of Hyrule could offer her glory and a legacy. He would promise her the lineage of a goddess and the shining power of gold. Ganondorf, on the other hand, had brought fresh bread and water.

… … …

“Don’t think I’m coming with you because I want to,” the girl grumbled at his back.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Ganondorf assured her. He spoke to her in a steady stream of conversation that, long ago, he might have used to calm a skittish colt.

He walked through the rubble-strewn ruins of the castle with long strides, and she followed along behind him. If she had trouble keeping up, she didn’t let it be known. He expected nothing less of her.

The girl had been here for days. She must be perched on the edge of exhaustion, but he didn’t want to take any chances. The other side of the barrier enclosing the castle was treacherous, and neither space nor time functioned in the way that it should. If she tried to run from him, she might come to harm before he could catch her. He wasn’t certain that her Triforce would pass to him if she died. It was in both of their interests for her to remain alive, but he had little confidence in her sense of self-preservation.

“Perhaps you’d like to see more of the castle,” he offered, wondering how she would respond. He led her along a needlessly circuitous path, and he was willing to walk for as long as it took to tire her out.

“You sound like you want to show it to me,” she remarked in a sour voice.

“It’s your castle, after all.”

“Why do you make that sound like an insult?”

“I’d think a pirate would be interested in treasure.”

“There’s nothing here worth taking.”

The multilayered curtain of magic that hung in the stale air swallowed the timbre of their voices and muted their footsteps, but he could sense her presence close behind him. Scion of ancient royalty though she may be, the girl was still an unwashed child, and she smelled like it.

“There are treasures enough if one knows where to look. The boy’s sword is the least of the wonders of this castle.”

The girl made a frustrated noise. “Why are you talking to me about treasure? And why are you so interested in this stupid castle anyway? Listen, whatever sort of terrible thing you’ve got planned, just go ahead and do it already.”

A memory of a different princess surfaced in Ganondorf’s mind, a girl so quick to assume he was her enemy that she was willing to rip open the stitches of the very fabric of reality to strike him down.

“My first terrible plan is to make you wash yourself. When was the last time you bathed?”

“Bathing is a waste of water.”

“We have all the water you could ever want here.”

“This isn’t water,” she replied. “Whatever the stuff down here is, it’s slimy and disgusting. I wouldn’t touch it if you paid me.”

It was an apt observation. Everything in this realm was held in an unnatural state of stasis, and not even water was able to flow. He would know; he’d had ample time to study it.

“You seem to think I’m giving you a choice,” he said.

“I thought you’d be more impressive, you know.”

Ganondorf smirked. “More impressive than what?”

“I thought you were supposed to be a legendary demon, but you’re just a gross old man. Is that what you do with all the girls you kidnap? Put them in a bath?”

He refused to dignify her insinuation with a response. Still, he wondered, how old was he? He’d never given it much thought. Regardless, his age was taking a toll on him. She was gaining energy as they walked, while he was growing weary of this exchange.

“You must be at least forty,” she continued, “maybe even more. That’s ancient. No wonder you only come out at night. No one would want to see your ugly face in the sun.”

“I can see that the Triforce of Wisdom has bestowed the gift of a silver tongue.”

“Too bad that’s one gift you’ll never get. Where are we going?”

“Outside.” They were nearing the rear reception hall.

“What did these people need with such a big castle anyway? Didn’t they get bored of walking down all these hallways without going anywhere?”

“They built it to demonstrate the magnitude of their authority.”

“That’s stupid,” she said dismissively. “It’s efficiency that matters, not size. Even the greenest deckhand knows that. No wonder they got their kingdom drowned by a dumb old man.”

Indeed, Ganondorf thought as he laid his hand on the barrier protecting the door that led outside the castle. He made a few adjustments to the magical field, and it dissipated in a shower of sparks that, admittedly, were not entirely necessary. Efficiency was important, but displays of force had their place.

… … …

As unnatural as the inside of the castle was, the outside was worse. The sandy path at their feet was lined with hedges, and there were trees in the distance, but the vegetation bathed in the eerie glow of the ocean above their heads was limp and unmoving. He and the girl were the only living things here.

“Is that supposed to be your tower? It looks like an overturned pot,” she snickered.

“If you’re trying to provoke me, it won’t work,” he told her. “Save your energy.”

The girl had made short work of the food and water he’d brought for her, and she quickly regained her strength after her shock at seeing the land sealed under the Great Sea. She seemed to have realized that he wouldn’t harm her, and now she walked several paces ahead of him as she attempted to goad him with childish taunts. She was obviously searching for a pressure point, and he couldn’t say for certain that she wouldn’t find one. The years had taught him patience, but he was still human.

His gaze was so focused on her that he didn’t see the spatial distortion until it was too late. The path dipped suddenly in front of them, but the girl appeared not to have noticed.

“Hold back,” he called out to her.

She ignored him and stepped right into the open air, losing her balance and tumbling several meters down a hidden break in the road.

He leapt down to her, but she had already picked herself up and was readjusting her skirt. He was struck with a red flash of resentment at her youth and resilience.

“Watch where you’re going, you idiot child,” he spat at her. “There are gaps in the magic holding this place together.”

“I couldn’t see it, okay?” she replied, making an angry gesture. “But now I know what the gaps look like. The light is different, it shimmers a little. You could have just told me and saved us both the trouble. I could have gotten hurt, especially in this stupid dress. Not that you care.”

He felt the urge to strike her and only barely restrained himself. “Do not forget that you accompany me as my prisoner, Zelda,” he growled.

“Tetra,” she said, glaring at him with eyes that shone like steel. “My name is Tetra.”

Ganondorf relaxed his fist and allowed his hand to fall to his side. Now that he’d had a moment to calm himself, he was impressed that she had learned to identify the distortions after a single encounter.

“Tetra, then. Come quickly. This place isn’t safe.”

“Is where we’re going any safer?”

He appraised her as she frowned at him. She was leaning slightly to the side to favor one of her ankles, and her shoulders were tense with the effort of keeping her back straight, but she still carried herself with dignity and grace. The boy would enter the tower and find himself compelled to confront the ghosts of the creatures whose lives he had ended with his goddess-cursed sword, but Ganondorf was beginning to suspect that Tetra would be able to see these illusions as nothing more than the pale fire and curling whorls of smoke that they were.

“No,” he admitted, “it is far from safe, but nothing there will pose any danger to you.”

… … …

“Once, there was a kingdom.”

“This kingdom? The one we’re in right now? How original.”

Tetra made a show of rolling her eyes, and Ganondorf scowled in response.

“Don’t be difficult.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t kidnap people if you don’t want them to be difficult.”

Ganondorf ignored her. They both knew what would have happened if she had remained in the chamber where the king and his hero had left her. With nothing but the unearthly light streaming in through the windows to sustain her, she would have become like the two sages trapped in their temples, never dying but no longer fully alive.

“Before this castle was even a dream in the minds of its builders, long before that, there was a kingdom. It was beautiful beyond anything you can imagine.”

“Try me. I’m pretty imaginative. I’ve got the Triforce of Wisdom, after all.”

“Does it show you visions?” Ganondorf kept his voice neutral, careful not to betray any hope.

“Oh, sure. All sorts of visions,” Tetra replied. “Visions of what a pathetic loser you are.”

Ganondorf released the breath he’d been holding. It had been foolish of him to think that this child would be able to understand the true nature of the power she wielded. Then again, it was possible she was bluffing in an attempt to trick him into lowering his guard. He knew what her ancestor had been capable of, after all.

“The kingdom was blessed with green fields and verdant forests. Horses roamed free on the plains, and groves of trees sheltered wandering deer.”

“What’s a horse?”

Ganondorf considered her question for a moment before waving his hand above one of the standing braziers lighting the room. The plumes of smoke took the shape of horses, their proud manes flying as they galloped toward Tetra and disappeared. A small group of deer ambled along behind them, a stag with high antlers at the lead. Smaller animals frolicked around their hooves, squirrels and rabbits and foxes.

“Show-off,” Tetra muttered, her eyes wide in amazement. Ganondorf smirked, and Tetra glared at him. “It’s not like that even makes sense,” she objected. “Trees and grass can’t grow without water, and there’s no island large enough for all those animals.”

“This kingdom was far from the ocean,” Ganondorf explained. “The rain that fell on the land was fresh and sweet, and it gathered into great rivers and lakes whose water was so clear that it reflected the colors of the sky. The people who lived in the kingdom were prosperous, and none of their children knew hunger or wanted for warmth and shelter.”

“That sounds boring,” Tetra said dismissively, but Ganondorf could tell that she had become caught in the flow of his story.

“It does sound boring, doesn’t it,” Ganondorf agreed. “The land was protected by tall mountains in the east and a vast desert to the south. No invaders troubled the peace of the kingdom, and the only conflict came from within.”

“If everyone was so happy, what did people have to fight about?”

“Words, mere words. Social ranks and titles, who owed loyalty to whom, who was allowed to speak and who must remain silent.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Indeed it is, but it provided incentive enough for people to turn their weapons against each other. Small differences of opinion grew larger, and the kingdom became embroiled in a civil war. Sister turned against brother, and the earth was drenched in blood.”

“This is finally getting good. Who won?”

“The king managed to emerge victorious in the end, but it is said that he was never the same afterward. He shut himself away in the fortress of his castle and no longer paid any mind to the welfare of his people. Many lives were lost to starvation and neglect in the aftermath of the war, but the king allowed the fields to lie fallow and the ruins to remain open to the elements. The small town surrounding his castle became his entire world.”

“He doesn’t sound like a very good king,” Tetra muttered in a dismissive tone, as if this conclusion were obvious.

“Some might say that,” Ganondorf replied.

“So where are the monsters in this story? Your story does have monsters, right?”

“Not every story has monsters.”

“The good ones do.”

Ganondorf shrugged. “Let there be monsters, then. The skeletons of children who perished in the war rose from the ground at night and walked by the light of the moon. The temples of the old faith were abandoned, and shadows roamed where people once worshipped. The soldiers who fought in the war were forever changed, and some became monsters themselves, as did the children whose parents they had slain.”

“So did a monster attack the king?”

“Eventually. But the king isn’t important to this story.”

“I guess not. You didn’t even tell me his name,” Tetra observed. “Who is important, then?”

“The king’s daughter, the princess.”

“I don’t get it. Princesses don’t really do anything, do they? I mean, besides get kidnapped, apparently.”

Ganondorf was amused by the bitterness in Tetra’s voice. “This princess was special,” he assured her.

“What did she do?”

“She understood that, as a princess, she was not allowed to move freely. She knew that she must be clever if she wished to bring her plans to fruition. What she could not do in the sunlight shining into the garden of her beautiful castle, her agents could do in her stead under the cover of darkness.”

“You’re making it sound as if this princess was as devious as you are,” Tetra interrupted, “but she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was just working with the resources she had. Maybe she wouldn’t have had to be sneaky if people would let her leave the castle.”

“I agree, young pirate, but that was how things were done in those days. Hylian women protected their homes and families while their men went off to fight their silly wars.”

“Fine, but what’s a ‘Hylian’?”

“Hylians were the people chosen and protected by an ancient goddess who was said to have the same straw-colored hair and pointed ears that they did. Girls who looked remarkably like you once ruled the kingdom now fallen beneath the waves.”

“If the Hylian princess ruled her kingdom, why didn’t she fight in the war?”

“She was too young. Later she staged her own war, but every battle was fought in shadow.”

“Didn’t she have anything better to do? Why would someone so smart want to start a war?”

Ganondorf had often wondered about this himself. How could someone so young have devised a plan with such far-reaching consequences? The princess had despised him, to be sure, and perhaps she was right to do so. His ambitions had burned brightly in those days, and the princess had been blessed with the ability to see what others could not.

“There was no loftier goal that she could have reached for, and the princess knew it,” Ganondorf answered. “She wanted to hold the mythical power of gold in her own hands. If she could open the gate to the Sacred Realm where the Triforce was enshrined and lay her hand on it before anyone else, she would have the means to annihilate her enemies.”

“And did she?”

“No. One of her enemies reached it before she did. The princess may have been clever, but she was still far too young to understand the consequences of her machinations.”

“But the princess managed to defeat the monster in the end, didn’t she?”

“Why would you think that?”

“She had to! I saw the hero in the stained-glass windows in the room with the sword. The hero got all the credit, but I bet he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the princess.”

“You’re not wrong, but the story doesn’t end there. By allowing her precious Triforce to remain split, and by banishing two of its chosen bearers, the princess doomed her kingdom to an inexorable decline. Even wisdom has its limits, it seems.”

“I don’t like this legend,” Tetra said, clearly annoyed. “I would tell it differently.”

Ganondorf didn’t respond, and Tetra fell silent. There was nothing to say. They each had their own stories, and there was very little that they could agree on and still remain true to their essential selves.

“If I were telling the story,” she eventually said, “it would have a hero who doesn’t take forever to do what he’s supposed to.”

“The hero will come soon enough. He’s on his way as we speak. I can feel him getting closer.”

Judging by the troubled look on her face, Tetra could feel it too.

“Go to sleep,” Ganondorf ordered. He wasn’t interested in legends about heroes. It had been many years since his story began, and he was tired. In truth, he could barely remember what had transpired in an age so long past that its history had been worn away to nothing more than a myth. Why had he done what he did? What had he desired with such a blinding passion that he was willing to sacrifice anything to achieve it?

He could only speculate on the reasons for which he’d once thought it necessary to exert his control over a kingdom that wasn’t his by birth, yet he could still feel the sensation of the spring wind blowing through the tall green grass and warming his face with the sweet scent of pollen. He remembered the awe that bloomed in his heart when he first watched the rain fall over Lake Hylia for the first time, and he was struck with a sense of loss sharper than any blade.

“I want to be awake when the hero gets here,” Tetra insisted.

Ganondorf regarded Tetra in a rare moment of compassion. She would never know how beautiful Hyrule had been, and he pitied her. What sort of gods would force this child to suffer for the sake of a kingdom she had never seen?

“It’s not necessary,” Ganondorf said. “He doesn’t need you.”

“I think he does.” There was no doubt in Tetra’s voice. “I think he needs you as well.”

Ganondorf considered her words. Once, long ago, there had been a kingdom – a kingdom with a sacred treasure capable of granting nothing less than the deepest wish of whomever should touch it. If someone with an impure heart were to lay their hand on the Triforce, however, the kingdom would be cursed by calamity. What a strange thing for the goddesses to leave in the realm of mortals – the endless allure of a desire that could never be satiated; the ripeness of a forbidden fruit that could never be eaten. Under the influence of such an overwhelming power, anyone could become a demon.

Ganondorf had come to know himself better in the years since the sun’s rays had last shone on Hyrule, and he accepted the impurity of his heart. Innocence was a luxury of those blessed by the goddesses, and purity was only another name for obedience. Ganondorf distrusted the divine power that made playthings of mortals, and he had lost his youthful confidence that he would be able to bend it to his will. Nevertheless, he would have to try. He had no other choice. Yet the Triforce demanded a hero, and what use was there for a hero if there were no demon to draw out the magic of Hylia’s sacred sword?

“Perhaps the boy does need me,” Ganondorf admitted. If the hero required a monster to confront in order to realize his potential, there was no more fitting monster than himself. “Courage cannot prove itself without conflict.”

“That’s fine for him,” Tetra snapped, “but I want my own battle, and my own legend.”

Ganondorf admired her strength of will, and her defiance of her fate pleased him. When his plans at long last came to fruition and a new world emerged from the waves, the girl would thrive.

Ganondorf’s lips twisted into a smile, and his eyes gleamed in the dying light of the fire.

“You may yet have your chance.”

She would make, he thought, a worthy successor to the throne of Hyrule.