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The River Ever Runs

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Zelda feels Link wake up like a jolt of electricity, a sudden gust of wind after a century of stale air, and she knows instantly that they were successful. 

The century stretching behind her seems to shrink into insignificance: he’s back, he’s here, he’ll come for her. She knows it. She knows it just as surely as she feels Hylia’s constant presence flowing through her. Around her the castle shudders as the Calamity realizes it, too, and it explodes outwards in a scream of rage that would have punctured her ear drums, were she still corporeal. It shoots into the sky, determined to break free and descend upon the Shrine of Resurrection—

No you don’t!

She can’t do much else to help him, but this – this, she’s good at. After all, she’s had a century of practice.

She draws on the light within her and yanks the Calamity back like it’s on a leash. The constant struggle is bound to drain her power – and sooner rather than later – but for now, she takes a certain vindictive pleasure in denying the beast what it wants.

If I can’t leave, you certainly can’t. You cannot have him.

It howls and thrashes every which way, seeking to break free with the greatest urgency she’s felt since right at the beginning, but at every turn she rebuffs it, throws it back, pulls it down, and it thrashes ever more violently, desperate for an escape, and then—

And then, something unexpected happens.

The roiling Malice seems to part for an instant, and she sees a man within it.

She recognizes him instantly; the pitch-black armor, the wild mane of red hair – she knows him from every half-remembered nightmare, every monster she’s ever imagined hiding under her bed. Even if she didn’t have the legends she was raised on to guide her, her soul has been awakened. She’d know him anywhere, now. In all her century of waiting, fighting, hoping, she’s never seen this from the Calamity before. For a moment she suspects it’s some trick designed to distract her. If so, it won’t work.

(She shunts it back almost casually as it tries to break free again.)

His eyes are shut, and he is still and unmoving, suspended in the Malice as it churns around them both. It wraps around his limbs, banding across his chest in thin, glowing ribbons and winding its way up his neck to his face. 

This, then, is the source of the Calamity?

But something is wrong. It flows through, not from him, holding him like a web with a thousand tendrils. He –

He is not in control of it, she thinks. She feels Hylia’s presence thrum inside her and knows it at once to be true.

An unexpected burst of sympathy chases that realization. They are each as trapped as the other, here, in the Calamity that has brought ruin on her kingdom. She stretches her power towards him, wondering, feels it brush his skin—

His eyes open.

They’re bright and golden and full of fire. They remind her of the sun she hasn’t seen in a hundred years, and for a moment she almost feels warm. His mouth opens as if to say something, but he never gets the chance. All at once the Malice boils, and he’s jerked away like a puppet on a string, into the swirling black.

It wants to keep him from her. She doesn’t know why; all she knows is that whatever the Malice wants, she wants the exact opposite. She dives after him with renewed vigor, parting the swirling Malice with rays of light.

He’s holding fistfuls of the viscous tendrils, trying to pull them off his chest, but they reattach themselves quicker than he can tear them away. He looks up at her, desperation on his face and in his wide eyes, and without knowing if it’s instinct or Hylia that guides her she reaches.

Take my hand!

She doesn’t have a voice to shout with, but he hears her, he must, because he stops trying to rip the Malice off him and stretches toward her, and as the clinging darkness starts to envelop him completely, she takes his hand in hers—

and

Chapter Text

Ganon sucks in his first lungful of air in millennia, and immediately regrets it. His muscles seize, and he spasms before starting to cough uncontrollably. Opening his eyes goes about as well as can be expected; the light is blinding, and he can't make his vision focus. He manages to roll onto his knees, and vomits black bile until there’s nothing left in his stomach, and then some.

Resurrection has never been pleasant, but this time, he thinks, might be the most painful of them all.

With a groan, he falls backwards and raises a trembling hand to his face to block out the light as he tries to sort through his jumbled memories. He remembers darkness. A crushing abyss, suddenly waking to find himself trapped, and –

The girl!

He jerks upright only to immediately collapse onto his back again, body not yet up to the task of sitting. His mind is spinning. The girl. Hylia’s avatar, it had to be. 

… take my hand!

He saw the divine energy pulsing through her, glowing bright as a star – but instead of turning it on him, she helped him. Freed him. But to what purpose? What reason could she possibly have for aiding him? What reason to keep him alive? He doesn’t understand.

His vision starts to focus; the light that was so blinding initially softens into early morning sunshine, and the blue blur solidifies into a sky full of puffy white clouds. There’s a breeze on his face, and grass underneath him, he realizes. It’s warm. Carefully he sits back up, and when his body doesn’t rebel, he starts to take stock of his surroundings. He’s sitting in a field of swaying long grass and wildflowers. The rolling green hills stretch out before him, dotted with trees, and in the distance he can see snow-capped mountains. Hyrule. He’s in Hyrule.

 He looks down and starts at the sight of his own body. He’s wearing the same black armor he was wearing the day he was first sealed away in the Sacred Realm. That can’t possibly be right. He remembers… other times, other forms. He remembers – he shudders involuntarily – he remembers losing his Gerudo form, and becoming a true monster, unable to turn back. But those memories all feel hazy now, like something out of a bad dream.

He carefully rolls himself into a crouch and, when his legs feel sure enough, he stands slowly. A weapon, that’s what he needs now; the field is quiet but for the sounds of birds, but he doesn’t believe for a second the Hylians won’t come for him eventually. He casts around for his greatsword, but it’s nowhere in sight, and –

Din’s fire. So that’s where he came from.

He’s finally gotten a good look at what lies directly behind him: Hyrule Castle, or at least he thinks it is. It’s surrounded by enormous pillars of black stone that stab into the sky, pulsing with bright, angry pink lights, and a black mist shot with the same virulent pink swirls around it. As soon as he lays eyes on it, he recognizes it. 

Malice. Demise.

He clenches his fists, a snarl rising in his throat involuntarily. As if in a trance, he raises his left hand, seeking the Power deep within him. For a moment, the triangle on the back of his hand shines brilliantly – and then, suddenly, something catches. There’s a feeling of resistance, and he pulls against it, until finally something snaps inside him like a frayed cord breaking, and it hurts. He falls to his knees, gasping, a cold sweat breaking out across his brow. In the distance, there’s a deep rumbling from the castle, and the black fog shoots up into the air like a geyser, and he has the sudden feeling of being caught under a baleful glare.

As if to confirm his intuition, there’s a rapid thud-thud-thud noise as some sort of machine comes skittering over the hillside. It carries itself on six prehensile arms – or perhaps they’re legs – and has a bucket-like head with a single eye that swivels like it’s searching for something. Someone. It spots him instantly, and the glowing marks on its body turn from blue to the exact same shade of pink that streaks through the black fog around Hyrule Castle. One of its arms shoots out towards him. He dives out of the way – barely – but another arm slams into his midsection, driving the air from his lungs. It hoists him up in the air, and he is too weak to fight it.

Spitting a curse, he reaches deep inside for magic he hasn’t used in thousands of years, and warps out of its grasp.

He barely makes it fifty feet, landing on the other side of the hill in a trembling heap and taking great gulps of air so he doesn’t black out, but it’s enough to break line of sight. He hears the thud-thud-thud of the machine’s footsteps, and despite all his muscles screaming at him to stop, he scrambles into cover behind a half-destroyed wall nearby. He can hear its thumping gait as it searches the area for him. His hiding place is inadequate at best; it’ll find him soon if he does nothing.

He takes another deep breath, focuses on his training, and thinks: again. Then he warps over the next hill, further from the machine. He actually does black out for a second this time, but he can no longer hear its footsteps, so he takes it as a victory. But it comes with a clear cost: he’s drained what little reserves of strength he had. If the machine should happen to come in this direction, he’s finished. He lies back in the grass and waits to hear its footsteps, but they never appear. The field remains peaceful, and quiet except for the buzzing of insects, and the sounds of birdsong. The sun is high in the sky before he feels recovered enough to climb raggedly to his feet.

Ganon is many things, but stupid is not one of them; it cannot be coincidence that the machine appeared, lit up with Malice’s glow, mere instants after he tried to use the Triforce of Power. That thing, whatever it is, was hunting him, specifically. He cannot stay out in the open fields; he’s risked much by staying as long as he has. He has to move.

He strikes out as near to southwest as he can manage; there are reddish mountains in the distance – mountains that, in the past, had served as the border between Hyrule and Gerudo territory – and he uses them to orient himself. There’s no question of going anywhere else, after all. A singular drive has taken position at the forefront of his mind: he must find out what has become of his people.

As he walks, the rest of his scattered memories begin to fall into place.

He remembered the desert when he first woke up, of course – nothing could take that from him – but the details were fuzzy, more a feeling than a memory. These are the first to return to him: the heat of the sun and sand like an endless golden sea; the sky lit up in fiery reds and oranges and pinks at sunset. His sisters, his mothers. All returned to the desert’s embrace, now. Nabooru comes back to him with a pang of sorrow he doesn’t understand until he remembers her standing on the other end of a spear, saying I can’t let you do this.

Goddesses, she’d been right.

He remembers the years of want, of not enough food to go around. He remembers the desperation that led him to try and seize the Triforce, and then he spends a good few hours mentally berating himself for his own carelessness. Of course the Hylians’ fabled golden power would be cursed – how fitting that the race that hoarded Hyrule’s bounty for itself and treated others like dirt should worship something tainted by darkness. His first mistake was thinking the Goddesses would not spit in his face.

Now, with his mind clear for the first time in uncountable ages, he can see how it had been poisoning him from the very beginning; making him cruel, wanton, savage – he’d wanted to conquer Hyrule for the sake of his people, not destroy it.

But destruction is exactly what seems to have happened, he’s realizing. He’s yet to meet another living soul out in Hyrule Field; so far he’s seen nothing but empty, hollowed-out ruins. He briefly wonders if there are any Hylians left. If there’s anyone left at all. Perhaps he’s the last living soul in Hyrule – him, and the Princess in her castle. It wouldn’t even be the first time he’s had the run of an empty kingdom.

A now-familiar thudding sound breaks his line of thought, and he instantly crouches behind a nearby oak, hiding himself in the tall grass as another one of those machines comes into view up the side of a hill. Miraculously, its roving eye doesn’t spot him pressed against the tree trunk, and he waits with bated breath until at last it turns and scuttles back the way it came from like some hideous black insect. Breathing a sigh of relief, he swings in a wide arc southward to avoid it before turning east again. It takes him across a rare sign of civilization: a road. It’s obviously old and in complete disrepair, flagstones cracked or half-sunk in the earth – but there are hoofprints and wheel tracks in the hardened mud, fresh enough that they can’t be more than a week old.

So there are still other people left in Hyrule.

It’s nearly sunset when he spies the glint of water through a copse of trees and suddenly realizes he’s parched; he nearly trips over an exposed root and falls flat on his face as he rushes towards it, dropping to his knees by the edge. He drinks until he’s sated, and only then do the waters still enough for him to see his own reflection.

He looks… young. Younger even than he was when he first claimed Power, which makes little sense, but he’s beginning to suspect his current form has more to do with the manner of his latest resurrection than any choice on his part. His hair is long, held in check by his topaz coronet and a clasp at the back; a few coppery strands catch the light of the fading sun as they trail over his shoulder into the water. His eyes, tawny gold as ever, are wide, and he quickly schools his expression.

The pond turns out to lie near the ruins of a large building; a weathered stone plaque declares it to be the Hyrule Exchange. Looking around the shattered buildings, he can imagine the goods that once might have been traded here. Echoes of the kingdom’s prosperity are everywhere, it seems.

He spends the night in the ruins, wrapped in his cape to ward off the night chill, hardly daring to sleep in case another of the machines appears. Almost despite himself he falls into a light doze when the moon is past its zenith, and only wakes up when he hears birds singing.

The faint pre-dawn light is starting to creep across the sky, and he groans as he stretches. Despite his youthful appearance he feels every one of his years; the cold has sunk into his bones, making them ache.

Now that it’s light out, he risks using his magic to light a small fire to warm himself up. Even a trick this simple is hard, and he wonders if it’s simple lack of practice or if his magical abilities somehow got left behind inside the Malice when he was expelled from it. It’d be just his luck.

He picks some apples from a nearby tree and continues on his way south-east, only to find, after a half-hour’s walk, that his path is blocked by a lake. A spire of rock rises from it, with what looks like the ruins of a colosseum nestled in the center. He can feel echoes of Malice coming from it all the way over here, so instead of drawing any closer he heads west, skirting the water until it turns into a small stream. A small wooden bridge spans over it; bokoblin work, judging from the roughness. He keeps an eye out as he crosses over and starts trudging up a hill, but there don't seem to be any around at the moment.

The sheer, rust-colored cliffs that had seemed so hazy and distant yesterday are almost close enough to cast a shadow over him now; he wonders if he might make it to Gerudo Canyon before the sun sets. He’ll have to stop to look for food eventually; a handful of apples won’t keep him going for long.

He crests a ridge and finds himself on another road, one that looks better-traveled than the last. He turns southward along it, and after a few hours, he rounds a bend and spots the first real sign of civilization he’s seen. An inn of some sorts, by the looks of it – little more than a glorified tent and a small bathhouse with an attached stable. It’d be entirely unremarkable if not for the giant wooden horse’s head that forms the roof (and really, what is it with Hylians and bizarre architecture?). His instincts tell him to avoid the place, weakened as he is; it’s not yet midday, he could simply continue traveling. But he’s hungry, and tired after two days of hardly any sleep. He should be able to get supplies here, and directions, assuming the Hylians don’t immediately call the guard on him. Assuming there’s a guard left to call on.

Every eye in the immediate vicinity turns to look at him as he crosses the yard – most with varying degrees of wariness – but nobody makes any move to stop him. They’re not entirely stupid, it would seem.

It’s only as he’s approaching the front counter he realizes there’s a problem: he doesn’t have any money. He hasn’t needed any for tens of thousands of years. But without it, his only option is to sell a piece of jewelry. He bites down on an unpleasant grimace, removes his topaz earrings, and sets them down on the counter before the stable-master, a man with tan skin, green eyes, and a neat goatee.

“My earrings,” he says shortly before the other man can speak, “for a night’s rest and supplies.” Hylians, he knows, are driven by greed; he doubts the man will be able to resist such an outrageous offer.

The stable-master takes a short breath and picks one of the earrings up, holding it up to the light, clearly impressed. But then he lays it back down and says, “I cannot accept these.”

Ganon bristles. Does he think them stolen? He opens his mouth to argue – or perhaps threaten; he’s been permanently at the end of his tether since he awoke and this Hylian is testing his patience – when the stable-master continues, oblivious to Ganon’s rising temper.

“These are a fine piece of Gerudo craftwork! They're worth far too much for just a single night’s rest and some food.”

He’s shocked, despite himself. Of all the reasons to refuse the trade, a sense of fairness hadn’t even crossed his mind.

“Then allow me my pick of the weapons you have, as well. I… lost mine.”

The stable-master laughs. “I doubt we have anything worthy of your time – ah, but that reminds me! Botrick, the man who patrols the road, you might have met him on your way here? –” Ganon shakes his head – “told me of some moblins that have made their home near Lake Kolomo east of here. They’re harassing travelers on the road, making it hard to get deliveries from the other side of the Dueling Peaks.”

Ganon leans forward, bracing his hands on the counter. He thinks he can see where this is going.

“Now, you look like a man who can handle himself; get rid of those moblins for us, and you can stay the night – and I’ll even throw in the sword for free.” The Hylian reaches under the counter and withdraws a shortsword. “Not quite suited to your stature, but better than nothing, eh?” he smiles.

Ganon considers the deal; as weak as he is, he can probably still take on a few moblins without much trouble. And it would be useful to have a weapon.

“Very well,” he says, grabbing the hilt. “Just point me in the right direction.”

The stable-master – Embry, he’d introduced himself as – directs him eastward past a rocky butte, and the moblins prove easy to find after that: all he has to do is follow the stench. There are two of them, crouching down amidst a pile of bones, eating… something. An animal, or an unlucky traveler? Either way, they’re beyond help now.

Stealth is by no means his strong suit, but the beasts are preoccupied with their meal, and he manages to sneak up behind them without being noticed. This close, he can sense the Malice clinging to them like a mist, and he feels a brief and unexpected pang of regret. If the Calamity could control him, what chance did they ever have? They are utterly in its thrall. But there’s nothing he can do for them besides granting them release. So he drives his sword into the base of one’s skull with a heavy crunch, planting his boot on its back for leverage as he rips the blade out and whirls. It decapitates the other before it can stand.

Ganon breathes a small sigh of relief as he stands between the cooling corpses. Magic might be mostly beyond him at the moment, but at least he resurrected in peak physical shape. 

Embry looks surprised to see him return so quickly, but the blood splashed on his armor leaves no doubt of his success.

“Ah, you’re back!” he greets, smiling broadly. “I can’t thank you enough – we’ll be able to get supplies from the east, and people can travel safely again. At least until the next Blood Moon, anyway!”

“Blood Moon?” Ganon’s never heard of the term before. Embry looks astounded.

“Don’t tell me you don’t know about the Blood Moon! Have you been living under a rock your whole life?”

The man’s tone rankles at him – too familiar, bordering on disrespectful – but he breathes in, reminding himself this Hylian has no idea who he is, and that he wants to keep it that way. And he’s treated Ganon fairly so far, whatever his tone.

“I’ve been… away. I’ve not set foot in Hyrule for many years.”

“You must have traveled far, then!” Embry looks somewhat skeptical, but doesn’t push. “Well, if you were wondering, on unlucky nights when the moon is full, monsters in Hyrule come back to life! Nobody knows how or why, save that it must be the work of some evil magic.” He shrugs one shoulder. “But since nobody knows how to stop it from happening, we have to live with it, eh?”

Ganon thinks back to the Malice that clung to the moblins. He knows exactly how they’re coming back to life.

“You must be tired, though – please! Go in and rest. I’ll have Canni bring in some supper for you.” Embry waves him in, and he sheds the bulkier (and most bloodstained) parts of his armor and sets them down on an empty bed before taking a seat at one of the tables. There’s a few other travelers already eating, and the nearest one nods at him as he sits. A moment later a bowl of stew and a mug of some kind of ale are set in front of him.

“First time I’ve ever met a Gerudo – you come from the desert?”

Ganon looks up from his meal, surprised to be spoken to. It’s the man who’d nodded at him earlier. Ganon takes quick stock of him: young, average height, well-muscled but not burly. If the Hylian means trouble, he can take him in a fight.

He realizes suddenly he’s yet to answer. “... Originally,” he says, grudgingly. “I’m returning, not leaving.”

“I see. I’m Timas, by the way – and you?” he extends a hand.

Using his own name is likely a very bad idea. “... Dagah,” he says at last, accepting the hand cautiously. It’s a nondescript name, originally Gerudo but common enough that he knows it’s used across Hyrule as well; or was, in the past. Nondescript is exactly what he needs right now.

Unfortunately, the Hylian takes even his reluctant politeness as permission to start bombarding him with questions – about the Gerudo, the desert, himself. Where he’s traveled, where he learned to fight. The sorts of questions that make alarm bells ring in his head. Who is this Hylian, to ask such questions of him? A soldier, a spy? He answers as vaguely as he can without arousing suspicion. But as he turns back to his ale, asking himself if he needs to find a way to discreetly dispose of the man, he catches the Hylian openly ogling his thighs out of the corner of his eye.

… Oh. Oh.

He’s not mining for information. He’s flirting.

Ganon snorts into his mug despite himself. Well. That’s certainly a far cry from the days Hylians would whine and wail about Gerudo crossing the border to steal away their innocent men. If circumstances were different, he might well take the man up on his flirtation, show him how the Gerudo treat their lovers. But he has his armor to clean, and he intends to leave as early as possible tomorrow, so he merely nods at Timas – amused at the look of open disappointment on the other man’s face – before turning in.

The sun hasn’t yet burned off the early morning mist when he sets off the next day; the air is so crisp it almost burns his lungs.

Embry sees him off with a pack full of food – bread, dried fruits and nuts, mostly – and directions to the canyon entrance. It’s even closer than he expected, and he finds it easily before the sun’s gone much higher. Of course, finding it was the easy part. The numerous enemies between him and the other side of the canyon pose a slightly bigger problem. He can count a wizzrobe, a few moblins, something big on the central stack, and what looks to be bokoblins on horses on the far side.

The first group proves easy enough to elude – the wizzrobe could cause him trouble, but it’s far away and more preoccupied with dancing around the ruins of a house than paying any real attention, and moblins aren’t exactly known for their perception. He manages to sneak around the giant (which reveals itself to be a sleeping hinox as he draws closer) fairly easily as well, leaving only the bokoblins on horseback. These, he knows, will have to be dealt with directly; the horses can outrun him if he tries to simply push past, and the bokoblins are armed with spears.

He walks out into the open. One shrieks and immediately starts galloping towards him, spear at the ready; Ganon waits, bending his knees almost imperceptibly as the bokoblin draws near.

Now!

He spins to one side, seizes the haft of the bokoblin’s spear mid-thrust and uses it to fling the creature to the ground before skewering it with its own weapon. He vaults onto the horse as it rears, calming it just in time to gain control before the other bokoblin reaches him; the fight ends quickly enough after that.

Both of the bokos were carrying rupees – likely stolen off travelers, but a lucky break for him. He pockets the money and remounts the dark bay horse he’d so unceremoniously dumped the bokoblin off, turning it up the path.

The rest of the journey through the canyon is easy enough; being on horseback makes it far easier to avoid monsters, even if the horse is a little small for him. He starts to see signs of Gerudo presence as he draws further into the canyon – the lanterns, the walkways spanning the walls, the banners – and hope for his kingdom wells in his chest despite himself. 

Despite all that’s happened, the Gerudo clearly still exist; their craftsmanship, at least, is recognized beyond the borders of the desert. And to the north-east lies Hyrule Kingdom, all but undefended. He could reclaim his throne, lead his sisters to glory and prosperity beyond compare, all with minimal bloodshed. He could finally accomplish the destiny he’s been seeking since he was old enough to understand what it was to want.

The canyon is steeped in evening shadow by the time he reaches the end of it, rounding a bend to see another stable (with another giant wooden horse head on top; he makes a mental note to ask the stable-master here about it), lantern light spilling invitingly out from inside. He stops to remove his armor somewhere out of sight; this close to Gerudo lands, it’s increasingly likely that someone will recognize the unique tooling that marks him as king, and ask questions. Lacking a proper saddlebag, he wraps it in his cape and carries it under his arm.

He still feels wary heading up to the counter, but this stable-master is even friendlier than the last, and clearly more used to the company of Gerudo. He pays for a bed, registers his horse – the giant horse head apparently doubles as both a landmark and a sort of shrine to the God of Horses, who knew – and buys a proper cloak with a hood. It’s Hylian make, but the sizing and the pattern around the edge are Gerudo; as jarring as the contrast is, it doesn’t really matter. It’ll keep the sun off his head, and won’t give away his identity to anyone with minimal knowledge of desert history or culture.

He sits by the firepit to consider his next move. By the old laws, he is the rightful king of the Gerudo, but the Gerudo are masterful keepers of their own past: if anyone remembers the history of his campaign to claim the Triforce of Power, and the disastrous fallout, it’d be his sisters. He will have to be careful about how he plays his hand, especially without his magic to aid him.

He looks up as someone new approaches the stable: a Gerudo. Her eyes widen in surprise as they land on him, but she merely nods and sits by the fire as well. He’s suddenly glad he’s shed his armor, with its royal patters.

“Vasaaq,” she says. “Now here’s a sight you don’t see every day. Where has a gem like you been all my life?” She speaks to him in Gerudo, and it feels incredibly good to hear his own language again, even if some of the conjugation has changed. He shakes his head, smiling at her directness. It seems his people haven’t changed at all, and the thought warms him. 

“I have been traveling outside of Hyrule for many years, sister.” 

“A damn shame. I am Calista, legendary treasure hunter,” she introduces herself.

“Dagah.”

“A proper name for a proper voe. I’d lock you in my vault alongside my brightest finds.” She leans back, not even bothering to hide the once-over she gives him, and he laughs.

“Then you have a fine eye.” He smiles, resting an elbow on one knee, the picture of easy confidence.

“Are you heading to Gerudo Town? You should present yourself before the Chief. You don't see a Gerudo voe every day, after all.”

“I’m sure I shall.” He nods his head. When I take back my throne, he adds mentally.

 He lets the conversation hang for a moment before nudging it in a more productive direction. “Tell me, sister – I have not set foot in the desert for many years. How fare our people?” 

“Well, considering the circumstances. If you’ve been away you wouldn’t have heard the old chief died."

“I hadn’t, no.”

“Mm – a couple years ago. Her daughter Riju is chief now; she’s young, but she’s doing admirably. We’re all proud of her.” 

A child chieftain? It’s like the Goddesses themselves intend for him to retake his kingdom. It won’t even be a challenge. He ignores the subtle, grating sense of unease that flickers in the back of his mind. 

Calisa continues to explain the happenings of the past few years, and he participates just enough to let her know he’s listening, occasionally asking for clarifications where he thinks he can do so without arousing suspicion. The greater part of his focus, though, is turned towards the future. He envisages returning to Hyrule Castle at the head of a conquering army, and ripping the Triforce of Power away from the monster that’s held him in its claws for so long. 

He stays by the fire until long after the moon has risen and the cold night wind from the desert comes whistling down the canyon, and everyone else is asleep.

The following morning, he slips out of the stable just as dawn starts to paint the sky in delicate yellows and pinks. The air is still frigid, but even this early in the day it’s ripe with the promise of heat. He estimates it won’t be more than a few hours before it’s too hot for the average Hylian. He approaches the small embankment that leads to the desert proper – and stops. And sits, staring out at the dunes stretching out before him.

Goddesses, he’s an idiot.

Was he really intending to overthrow a child to lead an army of Gerudo to assault the castle for his own benefit?

Because that’s exactly what this is: the first time he invaded Hyrule, it was for the sake of his sisters as much as for his own desires – but the Gerudo are fine now. More than fine; everything points to them not just surviving but flourishing, as much as it’s possible to flourish in this strange, fallen Hyrule. And from his conversation with Calisa, it’s evident the sisters love their young chief; he has no doubt they will fight for her, old laws of sovereignty or no.

He refuses to rule his people from atop a pile of corpses.

He turns his back to the desert, and leaves.

Away, north-east of the desert, there’s a fluttering sound as a boy lands on the remains of a highway. He folds his paraglider away, looks to the east, and nods before he starts walking.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Link sits with his back to a broad oak tree, studying the Sheikah slate intently. The day is warm, and the sun leaves dappled shadows where it shines through the trees. There’s crickets buzzing in the long grass out of sight, and high above a bird of prey wheels in the cloudless sky. Somewhere close by, a pot bubbles with some sort of stew, and the smell of it fills the air. As far as days go, it’s very nearly perfect.

The first leg of the journey from Kakariko to Hateno was easy enough, but now that he’s crossed over into a new region, the Slate’s map has run out. He managed to spot what he thinks is the East Necluda tower a few days ago while exploring the mountains south of Kakariko, and marked it. But the tower is still a ways away, and the terrain is so hilly it’s impossible to tell exactly what lies between him and it. He’ll have to be more careful; the going will be slower from here on out.

(That, and bokoblins keep hiding behind boulders to try and ambush him, which keeps delaying him. He wonders if those tactics work on the average traveler; they definitely haven’t had much luck with him so far.)

Despite it being almost two full weeks since he woke up, he remembers very little more than when he first opened his eyes. He still doesn’t remember Impa despite having met her in person (again?), though she clearly recognized him. More than recognized him; it was clear from the warmth in her voice they’d been close before the hundred-year slumber that stole away his past. Even though she’s functionally a stranger to him now, he feels strangely guilty he wasn’t able to greet her as a friend. Though he’s still not sure if her assertion he hasn’t changed a bit is reassuring or not.

None of the geography he’s passed on his way here is familiar, either; not the Dueling Peaks, and not Kakariko, though he clearly must have visited before at some point – nothing. He wonders if he’s been this far east before. He wonders just what his life had been like, before he woke up in the Shrine of Resurrection knowing his own name and how to swing a weapon and almost nothing else.

… He remembers the Princess. He thinks. Sort of. He sees flashes of spun-gold hair and porcelain skin in his dreams some nights, and he’s fairly sure it’s her. He doesn’t know why just the thought of her is enough to make his heart squeeze in his chest. Perhaps it’s simply because he failed in his duties as her appointed knight. That failure is the only reason she’s trapped in Hyrule Castle, doing the job he couldn’t.

He feels something nudge his shoulder, breaking his train of thought, and looks up. His horse, a chestnut mare he caught near the Dueling Peaks Stable and named Telma, is looking at him soulfully. He snorts and pulls an apple from his pack, offering it to her absently.

“Anyone would think you were starving,” he smiles, rubbing her nose. She snorts affectionately into his palm.

He looks over to his stew and estimates it’s probably done by now. A taste confirms this, and he portions it out into a few bottles he bought in Kakariko before putting out the fire and carefully packing away his things. Whatever secrets are lying hidden in his past, or inside his own head, he’s not going to unlock them sitting down.

He’ll have time to think about his missing memories more later. For now, the sun is warm on his face, and he has somewhere to go. For now, that’s enough.

With his plan – such as it was – to reclaim his throne now gone, Ganon finds himself adrift, literally and metaphorically. He returns to the Outskirt Stable just a few days after his departure, feeling hollow; Embry sees his brittle expression and wisely chooses to say nothing of his rapid reappearance.

He’s had some time to think about his next move while traveling back up the canyon, but no great idea has presented itself. There’s simply too much he doesn’t know about the situation, and his memories are jumbled, fragmented in ways he can’t explain, fuzzier the more recent they are – the more he’d been consumed by the Calamity. Everything from his ten thousand year imprisonment is just… flashes. 

He doesn’t know why the Princess was alone when he saw her, or how she’d gotten there, inside the beast. Did it trap her there, in the castle? Did she trap it?

He asks about Hyrule Castle at the stable and learns it’s considered so dangerous nobody dares come within a mile of the walls. Unfortunate, as it means nobody’s likely to know what’s actually going on inside.

He doesn’t know where the Hero is, either. Surely, surely the boy will assault Hyrule Castle at some point, Ganon thinks. His drive to save the Princess has never been anything less than formidable, no matter the circumstances. If he’s extremely lucky, the Hero – wherever he is – is already working to defeat Demise once more. But Ganon knows better than to rely on his luck.

And then, of course, there’s the worst-case scenario: that there is no Hero, or he’s dead already, and that is why the Princess appeared before him entirely alone. It’s certainly a possibility. It wouldn’t even be the first time. 

If that’s the case then he’s probably damned already. He knows there’s no way the Princess alone can win against the beast; she might be Hylia’s avatar, but the monstrosity is Demise, the Demon King itself. And it has his piece of the triforce. Without the Hero around to tip the scales in their favor, or the strength of an entire kingdom to pick up the slack, the most the Princess can do is stave it off. In that case it would only be a matter of time before it inevitably triumphed over the girl, and at that point—

At that point his only options would be either to ride as far as possible from Hyrule and hope the demon doesn’t come after him – unlikely – or to stay and try to shield the Gerudo from the fallout however he can, for as long as he can.

Neither are pleasant options to contemplate.

This then, he supposes, is what his next move should be: to find out exactly what’s going on. Once he knows, he can figure out how to deal with the situation. That night, lying in one of the Outskirt Stable’s too-small beds, he takes stock of what he knows of the Hero and finds it wanting: a youth (always), blond (mostly) with blue eyes (more often than not), wearing green (usually). The damned boy’s appearance has shifted enough over the millennia for a physical description to be just this side of useless, and learning about him was never a priority when he knew the boy would inevitably show up if he simply waited. The only true constants Ganon knows of are his skill in battle, and the Goddess-blessed sword he carries.

He asks around the stable to see if any battle-hardened travelers wielding unusual blades have passed through, but the closest he gets is a girl who claims she’s waiting for the Hero of Legend under a tree. She’s never actually seen him, however, and neither has anyone else. If nobody here has encountered the Hero, he thinks, then he must continue the search elsewhere. Until all his options are exhausted. He’ll allow himself nothing less.

The desert does not grow daisies, Nabooru’s voice laughs in his memory, echoing across millennia.

The following morning he asks Embry for a map and directions.

“I wish to reacquaint myself with Hyrule and its people,” he tells the stablemaster. “Where would you suggest I travel first?”

Embry hums and stares down at the map. “Well, Rito Village is probably the closest settlement – but you came from the north, so you’ve probably seen it already, huh?”

Ganon nods. A bald-faced lie, but the stablemaster has to think he came from somewhere, after all. He files the information away.

“Well, on the other side of Hyrule Field there’s the River Hylia – Riverside Stable’s there, pretty well-traveled. It’s famous for its scenery, you should pay it a visit if you haven’t seen it before! Then… let me see.” He scratches the side of his head, drawing a finger across the map. “Then there’s Zora’s Domain to the north and the Dueling Peaks and Dueling Peaks Stable to the east, and then near the coast there’s Hateno! Oh, and Kakariko is supposedly somewhere around the Pillars of Levia, though I’ve never been there myself. But if you want to meet people, heading east isn’t a bad idea, I’d say.”

Kakariko. A damn shame that, outside of the Gerudo, the Sheikah are the most likely to know his identity and recognize him, else his next step would be clear. If anyone would know the Hero’s whereabouts, it would be the Sheikah tribe. But he can hardly stroll into the town to ask. He gives some consideration to the idea of using magic to disguise himself, but quickly discards it. Even if his magic were up to the task of sustaining an illusion for long enough to get answers (which it is not ), the Sheikah have magic of their own. It’s the entire reason the tribe had been chosen to be the royal family’s attendants in the first place, after all. They’d most likely be able to spot the illusion. Still, the thought that information on the Hero’s location might be there is tantalizing. He files it away as a last resort.

Embry recommends that he avoid central Hyrule Field on account of the danger posed by the Guardians – which turns out to be the name for those insect-like automatons  – an assessment Ganon wholeheartedly agrees with, at least while his magic is shot. Instead, Embry explains, he should follow the road south again and turn east before the Gerudo Canyon entrance. 

Ganon wastes no time in giving his thanks and setting out. As he passes by the fork that leads to the canyon, he spares one last glance at the sheer cliffs that protect his homeland, burnt rust in the first light of dawn, before they slip out of view. The road east runs past an enormous plateau, still supported by the remains of the massive buttresses built to shore up the walls. A subtle shiver runs through him as he looks up at the top of the wall. It feels significant, somehow. Some powerful magic has left its mark on the place.

He travels slowly, taking time to explore the surrounding area, pushing as far north into Hyrule Field as he dares before swinging eastward, always following the main roads. He finds a claymore hidden in a chest in a hollowed-out building, still in good condition, and it’s much more suited to his stature. It’s still light enough to wield one-handed, though, obviously intended for Hylian rather than Gerudo physique.

He learns more as he travels; he asks questions of everyone he meets, secure in his anonymity as a passing stranger on the road. He learns of the Great Calamity that wrought near-total destruction to the kingdom a century ago, of the precarious existence the remnants of Hyrule have eked out ever since.

An entire century since Demise made its reappearance and brought Hyrule to ruin. Was the Hero not there at the time? If he was, and he survived the initial devastation, he’d be positively ancient by now – is that why nobody’s encountered a boy bearing the sealing sword? Every new fact he learns leaves him with more questions than before.

Close to the Riverside Stable, he finds the first person who seems to know anything about Hyrule Kingdom before its fall. She introduces herself as Traysi, and tells him she ‘specializes in rumors’.

Good enough, he supposes.

He asks her if she knows anything about a warrior who fought the Calamity, and her eyes light up. “Oh, you mean the Champions?” she asks.

“The… Champions?”

“Yeah, you know – the knights that guarded the Princess a hundred years ago! So according to legend, only the best and bravest of Hyrule’s knights got the honor of guarding the royal family! But then the Champions were even better than that, and they guarded the Princess! Or… maybe they worked for her, or maybe she was a Champion too? Nobody’s really sure,” she shrugs.

“They say when the Calamity came a century ago everyone inside Hyrule Castle died, and the Champions died too,” she continues. “Maybe they died defending the Princess? But everyone who’d know for sure is, y’know, dead, so.” She shrugs again, with a smile that’s entirely too bright for such a grim topic. The Hylian penchant for constantly smiling makes his skin crawl. “But they say you can still find a ton of gear in Hyrule Castle, so maybe there’s some stuff from the Champions too! It’s a total five-star rumor!”

A chill runs over him, totally at odds with the sunny day and the cheerfulness of the Hylian in front of him. Champions, guarding the Princess of Hyrule. What if the Hero was one of these individuals? It would have been a logical place for him to be, at the Princess’ side, defending her from the Calamity.

And now the Champions are all dead.

It doesn’t bode well for him.

Riverside Stable certainly lives up to its reputation. It lies nestled between sun-soaked fields and the wide Hylia River, which glitters like diamonds in the afternoon light. To the north and south, the road winds pleasantly between the hills and forests, off towards the mountains. Under different circumstances, he might have been content to stop and take in the quiet rushing of the river. At the moment, however, the beauty of the landscape is utterly lost on Ganon.

Everything he’s learned has either been confusing, or discouraging; now, more than two weeks after his awakening, the first good piece of information he’s had points solidly to the worst-case scenario. He’s forced to face the increasingly inescapable conclusion that the Hero is most likely dead, if he was ever there at all. Perhaps the Princess separated him from the Calamity as some sort of last-ditch effort to defeat it herself. Obviously, it hasn’t worked. All it’s done is condemn him to wander the remains of the kingdom until the Calamity wins, and when it comes for him next he will be powerless to stop it.

He hasn’t felt this frustrated and helpless since he was a boy, watching his people starve and unable to do anything about it. 

Damn you, he thinks, looking north-west to where Hyrule Castle looms, the black smoke turning it into a dark smudge on the horizon.

Nobody at the Riverside Stable has encountered a boy with a blessed blade, either.

A day after leaving the Riverside Stable, Ganon wakes up with a feeling of sharp anxiety that he can’t explain gnawing away at his bones. There’s a tension between his shoulder blades and at the back of his neck that must have set in while he was asleep; it feels almost exactly like knowing an ambush lies ahead, but not where. The feeling only grows more intense as the day goes on, and he catches himself glancing over his shoulder more than once. It must have a source, he knows, this feeling of unease – like dragging a bow across an out-of-tune string, resonant but off. But he’s damned if he can pinpoint it: it feels like it’s in the very air he’s breathing, surrounding him.

It’s only once the moon rises that night, blood red, that he realizes he was right.

The Calamity. The Blood Moon must be the peak of its influence, if that’s when it reaches out to resurrect the creatures under its control. That’s why his skin’s been crawling all day.

By the time the moon is halfway to its zenith he can smell the ozone tang of dark magic; a little while later and starts to see it, too: tendrils of black mist flecked with glowing pink rising from the earth, as if the land itself is sick with it. Perhaps it is. There’s so much magic free in the air he can feel the pressure build behind his eyes – he’s almost tempted to see if he can siphon it for his own use, to bolster his weakened magic, but siphoning the Calamity’s own magic feels like a good way to draw its attention.

He barely sleeps that night, and when he does, his dreams are haunted by a voice he can only half-hear.

At least, he reflects as he packs up his camp the next morning, groggy and sleep-deprived and with an annoying ache somewhere under his ribs, the passing of the Blood Moon has lifted some of the tension he’d been carrying around from his shoulders. He finds he can actually appreciate the morning sun, the grass swaying in the wind, and the distant murmur of the river as he draws closer to Proxim Bridge. 

His journey so far has been mostly undisturbed by monsters, but as he approaches the East Post Ruins, he sees that’s about to come to an end: a band of moblins and bokoblins is currently occupying them. Ganon dismounts his horse and cantilevers himself up into the branches of a sturdy tree. He counts four moblins and three bokoblins, though there might be more of the latter hiding in the ruins.

His new claymore, however, proves more than equal to the task. He draws the moblins away one by one simply by throwing rocks to get their attention; despite their size and the long clubs they carry, Ganon’s reach with the claymore is almost as great, and he’s far faster. They don't have a chance against him one-on-one, but he’s not here for a fair fight. Once the last one falls, he takes on the bokoblins all at once.

This sort of behavior is unnatural, he knows. Ordinarily, moblins and bokoblins wouldn’t attack someone so obviously stronger unless it was out of desperation. But their wills have been completely subsumed by the Calamity’s.

The dead must rest.

He can give them that, at least, until the next Blood Moon.

He sits on a half-tumbled wall and cleans the blood from his blade, and thinks of the Hyrule he once knew. Of the darkness that had poured out over it like an oil spill after he deposed the Hylian King – and he hadn’t ever given it a second thought. When his armies had swept across the land, they’d been armies of monsters, not Gerudo. Demise’s grip had been unshakable from the beginning.

He calls his horse and quickly mounts; if he rides hard, he thinks he can make it past the Dueling Peaks by sundown. But he guides it onto the bridge, he notices something curious: a shrine, tucked away against the foot of the hill. He’s seen those structures before, of course; both the Outskirt and Riverside Stables have shrines close by.

This one, however, looks different. The shrines Ganon’s seen so far have all glowed a harsh orange – but this one shines a deep blue. Part of the front of it has receded, revealing a small hollow inside, barely large enough to fit a Hylian.

Unless Ganon’s very much mistaken, that must mean it’s been activated somehow.

Heart suddenly thudding with something that feels dangerously close to hope, he dismounts again and goes over to inspect it. Though he spends the rest of the afternoon investigating, it doesn’t react to his presence – or to anything else, up to and including the electric current he spends entirely too much time and magical energy creating and trying to direct through the pedestal in front of the shrine. No matter what he does, the shrine remains stubbornly inert, and he gives up only once the sunlight’s almost entirely gone. He spends the night camping in a small copse across the bridge, and gets too little sleep for an entirely different reason.

Ganon wakes the following morning with renewed purpose. He returns to the blue shrine almost before the sun is up, determined to try one more time to activate it for himself – but no matter what he tries, it remains stubbornly inert. At last, by midday, even he’s forced to admit he’s tried every idea he can think of (some twice), without any results. Whatever the purpose of these shrines – and the Sheikah symbol above the alcove gives him several ideas as to what that might be – they were clearly never intended for him.

That doesn’t mean he’s out of options, however. He studies his map once more: from Proxim Bridge, the only roads lead either to the Outskirt Stable, or the Riverside one – and yet both their shrines glowed orange. If it was truly the Hero who activated this shrine, it stands to reason he headed across Proxim Bridge along the path traversing the Dueling Peaks.

Which would mean Ganon is, at the very least, on his trail – if not catching up.

This will have to be played delicately: he can’t risk the Hero finding out about his presence before he’s ready. If ever. Without the Triforce of Power and with his magic atrophied, the boy will crush him like an insect. Perhaps it will be enough to confirm the Hero is alive, and then he can simply sit back and watch Hylia’s chosen do his thing. The Hero and his holy blade alone should be enough to tip the scales against Demise and give Ganon the opportunity to reclaim his piece of the Triforce.

He can’t think of a single time things have worked out so neatly for him, though.

His breastplate and ceremonial pauldrons have lain hidden in his saddlebags since he left the Gerudo Canyon, and he adds his gauntlets and greaves to them, leaving him in just his underamor and hooded cloak. If he draws that up, he looks like any other traveler – a tall one, but still. Finally ready, he turns his horse down the road that passes under the mountains.

The Dueling Peaks are, Ganon realizes as he enters their shadow, absolutely enormous. It takes him almost four hours to traverse them, but as he finally leaves their shade, he spots another Stable across the river – and more importantly, another shrine.

This one glows blue, too.

He dismounts his horse near the shallow pool the shrine lies in, intending to inspect it before going to pay for lodging and feed for his horse.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” the Hylian woman at the edge of the water asks, before he can set a foot in it.

“... The shrine?” He supposes it does have an odd sort of appeal to it – he wouldn’t go so far as to call it beautiful, though.

“Of course! All glowing like that – gorgeous, don’t you think? Only, ever since that boy came, it’s glowed blue. I think I liked the orange better.”

Ganon freezes.

“Boy?” he echoes, heart racing.

“Mm-hmm! Came from the west, oh, two weeks ago? I wonder if he’s studies ‘em – the shrines, I mean. He didn’t know the first thing about the stable, or elixirs, so I gave him one of my own, told him to watch himself out there. Miracle he made it this far, y’know? Oh – I’m Sagessa, by the way.”

A boy who can activate the shrines.

“Dagah,” he introduces himself quickly before diving to the point. “This boy, what did he look like?”

“Huh?” Sagessa touches one hand to her chin, the other on her elbow, thinking. “Oh – well, he had blond hair and blue eyes, and he was kind of short… he seemed nice. Why, do you know him?”

“That… sounds like someone I might know, yes.” His voice sounds distant over the blood rushing through his veins. After weeks, here at last, another clue as to the Hero’s whereabouts. It has to be him. He’s passed through this place. “Do you know where he went from here?”

Sagessa shrugs and gestures over her shoulder. “Up north – towards the fork, don’t know where from there though.”

“I see. Thank you for the information; it’s helpful,” he says almost as an afterthought, turning away.

“No problem – hope you find your friend!”

He half-waves in response before realizing what he’s doing, and frowns at himself. Two weeks and change he’s been awake, and he’s already started assuming Hylians are – friendly. He’d started conversing openly with Sagessa without a second thought, practically waved at her like an old friend. How quickly he’s forgotten the suspicion of old, the accusing eyes that would follow any Gerudo who set foot in a Hylian town. The vile words, the hands that hid after throwing stones. How quick to abandon old wounds.

And yet, he hasn’t caught a glance that could be described as anything more than wary since he arrived at the Outskirt Stable in full ceremonial armor. It is strange, this new and wild Hyrule.

After paying for a bed for the night and a meal and brushing down his horse, he settles on one of the stools by the cooking fire, and watches as the sunset starts to tinge the sky a delicate orange-pink. The evening is balmy enough that he sheds his cloak, relishing how the east wind tugs at his hair as he surveys the land. Hateno lies even further east than this, beyond the ruin-dotted marshland that stretches out from the stable, beyond the rugged cliffs.

A rider approaches the stable from the north, guiding his horse at an easy trot. Perhaps it’s because of the hood he wears, or perhaps it’s because his tunic is dark blue under the leather armor instead of the green he’s used to seeing, but Ganon doesn’t recognize the figure on horseback at first. Until he does, and it’s like the ground has suddenly dropped out from under him.

It’s Link.

All the air leaves Ganon’s lungs in a rush. All this time searching for signs of the Hero, trying to stay hidden, only for the boy to find him, and now he’s here – he’s come to kill him, surely. The world narrows: the sound of the wind through the trees and the cuccoos squawking behind the stable; the last of the sun’s rays as they slip behind the ridge; the grit of the road under his boots. Ganon doubts he has enough magical energy to call his armor to him without knocking himself out, so he simply tightens his grip on his sword’s hilt imperceptibly, every nerve in his body alive with tension, waiting for the battle to start.

But it doesn’t.

Instead of drawing his sword, all the Hero does is nod at him as he sits by the fire; then he starts pulling food out of his pack and preparing it. Something is wrong. It takes a moment, but this close, he can see it if he concentrates: the sacred light that usually announces the boy’s presence like a clarion is… muted, hardly there. It’s a pale shadow of what it should be. Small wonder Ganon didn’t recognize him as he approached.

For a few minutes, the only sound between them is the snick of the boy’s knife as it slices through ingredients. Bird thighs, swift carrots, Hyrule herbs, a few shavings of rock salt – all go into the pot; the Hero turns them over and adds water once the meat is browned, seemingly wholly engrossed in his work. It all feels incredibly wrong to Ganon. Why has the Hero not attacked him yet? He’s certainly never hesitated in the past. Is it because of where they are? Does he fear the innocents at the stable might be caught up in the fighting? Or is he simply too weak? But the boy hasn’t so much as acknowledged him, and that is the strangest thing of all. It—

The Hero is looking at him. 

It’s not a hostile look, oddly enough – but it does make his skin prickle to be held under such close scrutiny, so he turns to meet the boy’s gaze directly, lifting an eyebrow as he does so.

“Yes?” His tone is a deliberate challenge.

The boy starts, then looks guilty, as though he didn’t mean to be caught staring. “Sorry,” he says shortly, and the sheer improbability of the Hero apologizing to him would have made Ganon laugh under any other circumstance. For a moment there’s silence, then the boy speaks again. “You’re… not Hylian?”

This conversation – if it can be called that – is getting stranger by the minute. “You speak as though you’ve never seen a Gerudo,” he says, more derisively than he meant to, but the Hero just mouths the word in repetition, staring at a spot on the ground near his feet, brow furrowed. As though he really hasn’t ever seen a Gerudo, which Ganon knows for damn sure isn’t the case, more’s the pity. He exhales through his nose, reminding himself to stay calm, and returns to sharpening his sword. 

“... I don’t remember.”

The words come with enough of a delay that Ganon needs a moment before his brain links it to his last words.

“You don’t – what?

The boy looks profoundly uncomfortable under Ganon’s wide-eyed stare, but meets it anyway. The Hero. Hylia’s chosen. He forgot? Forgot everything, to the point of forgetting the Gerudo even existed? That would certainly explain why he hasn’t tried to kill him, yet. It occurs to Ganon that such pronouncements usually merit an answer, but nothing seems even remotely adequate, so he says, “I see. I’m… sorry to hear it.”

Link shrugs one shoulder in a dismissive sort of gesture as he adds rice to the pot. It is what it is, it seems to say. It’s clear he doesn’t really want to talk about it, but Ganon’s mind is now afire with questions. He wonders if the boy’s lack of memory has anything to do with the Princess, and the demon trapped in Hyrule Castle; he has to imagine it does. He wonders if the Hero even knows the destiny he’s been born under for uncounted centuries.

Goddesses, if the Hero’s off living his life as a goat-herder or something, then who is to challenge the Calamity? Ganon certainly can’t, not while it has his piece of the Triforce.

“So,” he says with forced casualness, “what brings a man without memory out this far east?”

The Hero looks at him, and Ganon feels suddenly like he’s looking down through time, all the way to the beginning, where a boy from the forest stares back at him gravely – and then the moment is broken, and the memory washes away.

“I’m going to free the four Divine Beasts and take back Hyrule Castle,” Link says, as though it’s the simplest and most self-evident thing in the world. Ganon blinks. The four… oh, wait. He knows what those are; heard them mentioned on his travels. He also remembers them, more or less. That particular defeat had been – well, he doesn’t enjoy thinking about it. He strives to hide a shudder, and hopes that the boy hasn’t noticed.

“The four Divine Beasts,” he says, stalling for time. “You mean those things people regard as deities?” The boy nods.

“They’re machines. People built them long ago.” Link stirs the pot, and a mouth-watering aroma of poultry broth wafts up out of it.

“I see. And you plan to do this all on your own, boy?” He braces his elbows on his knees.

The Hero shoots him a look that makes it clear he doesn’t appreciate being called boy, but there’s no real heat in it. Ganon would know, after all.

“If I have to,” he nods.

For a moment there’s silence, and Ganon turns the situation over in his mind. The Hero’s lost his memories. No wonder he couldn’t sense him coming from a mile away; no wonder the golden light that usually suffuses him is more like a guttering candle right now. And he means to take on the Calamity-controlled beasts, alone, in this state?

He’ll be slaughtered.

… Which would normally be of no concern to Ganon, but right now that boy is his best hope of seeing Demise defeated, and reclaiming the Triforce of Power. He’s poured weeks of his time into trying to find him. He needs him alive.

“Let me come with you.”

The words leave his mouth before his brain can catch up with them, and he hears them like they’re someone else’s. The boy looks as surprised as Ganon feels; it’s clear an offer of help was the last thing either of them expected – for different reasons, no doubt. But it is a good plan, he has to admit: what better way to ensure the Hero doesn’t die – at least not until he’s served his purpose? Right now, the boy is his only hope of getting back into Hyrule Castle. They want the same thing: to end the Calamity. So he presses on.

“We Gerudo are known for our battle prowess. If you plan to take on those Beasts, you’ll need all the help you can get.”

There’s a beat of silence while Link turns a considering gaze on him. For a moment Ganon thinks he sees wariness flicker behind the boy’s sky-blue eyes, but then—

“All right.” Link nods.

It’s Ganon’s turn to be surprised; he wasn’t expecting the boy to go along with it. Certainly not that easily. It makes the hair at the back of his neck stand on end. He ignores the feeling and instead offers his hand; Link takes it after a moment. His grip is surprisingly strong for how slender his hand feels in Ganon’s.

“I am Dagah, of the Gerudo.”

“Link.”

Ganon moves his hand back to his knees and leans forward, smiling with a friendliness he does not feel.

“Well then, Link,” he says. “Where do we start?”

 

 

Chapter Text

They start, apparently, with Zora’s Domain.

It lies almost directly north of the Dueling Peaks Stable, but Link has decided to ride south and west first, towards the open Hyrule field, instead of traversing the Lanayru mountain range directly. Given that the road north leads directly through Sheikah territory, Ganon is perfectly fine with taking the easier, more circuitous route.

He does everything short of sleeping with his sword in his hand the first night at the Dueling Peaks Stable, expecting a knife in his back at any moment – but to his amazement, the night passes peacefully. The next day dawns clear and warm, perfect for traveling.

Despite his mistrust of the Hero’s intentions, Ganon chooses not to wear his armor again; or at least, not all of it. The vambraces, gauntlets and greaves are obviously of fine make but otherwise plain enough, lacking any markings beyond the generic Gerudo patterns. The gorget, breastplate and ornamental belt, on the other hand, all feature designs and script reserved exclusively for royalty, so he discards them for now, and uses only his under-armor. It’d be just his luck if the Hero could read Gerudo, and had simply forgotten he could. He’d get rid of them entirely, at least for the moment, but he doesn’t trust the boy an inch. Better to have it close at hand – just in case.

“The easiest way to Zora’s domain is north past the Riverside Stable, which I happen to have been to,” Ganon tells him as they mount their horses and set off. “Once we cross the Proxim Bridge, we can cut north from the East Post Ruins. There’s a road that runs almost directly to it. We should reach it by sundown if we don’t stop.” 

Link nods, a small almost-smile ghosting around the corners of his mouth. It’s not fully formed; more of a minute, friendly slant of the lips. This doesn’t make it any less jarring to see.

They set out at an easy canter, slowing to a walk occasionally to rest their horses, and the journey under the Dueling Peaks passes easily enough. But as they leave the towering mountains behind, bruised-looking storm clouds start to roll in from the south, blotting out the sun. Before they’ve even reached Proxim Bridge, the first fat raindrops start falling. Ganon curses, drawing his hood up as thunder booms somewhere not too far off. If his magic were stronger, he could simply create a shield against the rain and lightning both – but that sort of sustained magic is draining. Besides which, there’s no reason to go carelessly revealing the extent of his abilities to the Hero when he doesn’t need to. His magic could easily give him the advantage in a real fight, if it came to that. Which all means that right now he’s at the mercy of the elements… and carrying a metal weapon.

“I suggest we find shelter and wait this out,” he says as another roll of thunder passes overhead. “Unless you’ve a fancy for getting struck by lightning.”

Link nods and points towards the ruins on the far side of the bridge. “Woods behind the East Post,” he says, and they spur their horses into a gallop, dodging the crumbling architecture as the skies open above them. As they reach the shelter of the woods, Link looks back into the grey curtain of rain now obscuring the ruins behind them.

“... Someone cleared out the moblins,” he says as they dismount.

“That would be me.” Link’s eyebrows rise slightly in surprise; Ganon feels caught between feeling smug and offended, but all he does is shrug a shoulder as he bends to wring water out of the edge of his cloak. “I was heading east before we met,” he says laconically. 

The trees in these little woods are thick enough that the driving rain hardly reaches the ground, and they settle under the largest and driest of them to wait out the downpour. It’s by no means perfect, but at least they’re not the tallest things in an open field now. With nothing better to do, Ganon double-checks his tack and saddlebags, dries off his gauntlets and greaves, then settles into a standard training set with his claymore. Link, who’d been sitting against a tree looking out into the storm, shifts his gaze over to him. He watches unblinkingly as Ganon moves through the steps of the set, claymore whistling effortlessly through the air around him. Such close scrutiny from the Hero, of all people, makes the spot between his shoulder blades itch. It’s not even a particularly challenging set – though with his memories gone, perhaps the boy doesn’t know that.

An idea occurs to Ganon.

He stabs the point of the sword into the grass and turns to face Link. “Spar with me.”

There’s an eager light in Link’s eyes as he stands and draws his own sword, like he’d just been waiting for an invitation. Once again Ganon remembers the sacred blade, and wonders where it could have gone. The boy and the blade are practically one, after all. He wonders if he’d even be able to fight Demise without it.

But that’s a concern for another time. Ganon takes a breath and sweeps everything from his mind but the present. The smell of the rain, the grass under his feet, the warrior and the blade in front of him. Time to find out how much of his Goddesses-given strength the Hero has retained – and how it measures up to his own.

To his surprise, Link falls naturally into a Gerudo stance known as saa’ve vehsun – fool’s guard, in Hylian. He must have trained extensively with them at some point; it’s not a stance usually taught to beginners. Hand by his hip, swordpoint low, it’s a stance designed to lure opponents into attacking. Well, far be it from Ganon to disappoint: he settles into standard day guard, sword high over his shoulder.

They circle slowly for a moment, each studying the other. Then, all at once, Ganon steps forward, throwing a lazy downward strike. Not terribly difficult to parry, but not exactly easy, either. Sparring with naked steel isn’t wise – but it feels right. Link catches his slash against the broad side of his blade, and then they’re trading blows. It’s not even close to the frenetic pace of their previous battles, though. Part of that is due to the terrain: Ganon’s advantage in reach is muted by the close trees surrounding them, and the roots and undergrowth threaten to trip them both up. But part of it is simply that they’re weak. He can feel the difference when Link’s blade clashes against his: neither of them have anywhere near the power they once had.

And while Link has obviously retained some muscle memory, his blows lack the wild, killer instinct he remembers. His technique is a strange mix of Hylian, Gerudo, and what he thinks might even be Zora, and it see-saws back and forth between masterful and sloppy. Ganon falls back into hayaaq’ava – dawn’s gate, a defensive stance – to observe him for a moment as he parries one strike and dodges another. Link’s swings fly just a little too wide (like he’s used to wielding a sword that’s slightly longer), leaving an opening at the end of the arc… there.

He rushes in, takes advantage of Link’s surprise to lever a foot behind him, and uses his sheer bulk to topple the other man. Link lands with a grunt as the air is forced out of his lungs, but instead of immediately rolling to avoid a follow-up strike, he blinks dazedly.

A golden opportunity to run him through, if there ever was one

Instead he offers his hand, and the Hero takes it. He rises with a determined glint in his eyes, and says, “again.”

A savage smile breaks across Ganon’s face. The boy may have lost most of his strength, but his fighting spirit is certainly undiminished. He steps back and falls into day guard again. This time Link doesn’t bother with the fool’s guard, choosing Hylian sky guard instead, hands by his head, sword-point forward. He strikes first, and quicker than last time, and Ganon is forced to step back to try and put some space between them. All the reach advantage in the world is useless in close quarters, and that’s exactly where Link is trying to put himself. His swings are still too wide, though; perhaps after this round, he’ll let the Hylian know. Ganon dodges a swing, waits until the very end of the arc, then steps forward again, aiming a stabbing blow at Link’s shoulder.

Link follows the swing through into a pivot, Ganon’s sword goes flying, and –

– and the tip of the Hero’s blade is hovering near his jaw, rock-steady.

He knew

The Hero identified his own weakness, and then used it to lure Ganon in. He stays completely still, eyes wide; every instinct he has is screaming at him to fight, fight, kill before he can kill you

Link puts up his sword, looking satisfied, and wanders over to fetch the claymore from where it landed in the undergrowth. Ganon lets out a quiet breath, and the jagged tension under his skin dissipates little by little.

“You’re fast.”

Ganon’s eyebrows rise skeptically as he turns his head toward Link, still on edge. Is the Hero… mocking him? “Not as fast as you, clearly."

“Faster than most.” Link offers him back his claymore hilt-first. “Again?” he asks, and there’s something unsure in his voice. Does he think he’ll be put off by a single lost round? Ridiculous. Ganon breathes through his nose, expelling the last of the tautness in his shoulders.

“Again.”

They go a few more rounds after that, but there’s less intensity to them. Every time Ganon attempts to quicken the pace, Link draws back into a defensive stance; he wonders if it’s the boy’s own preference, or if he perceived his discomfort earlier. If that’s the case he needs to watch his expressions more carefully – his mothers would be ashamed at him giving away his feelings like that. At last, the rain tapers off and the clouds part, revealing a vivid, red-gold sunset. Ganon sheaths his claymore, surprised: he hadn’t realized so much time had passed.

It’s too late to keep riding, unless they want to spend the last part of their journey wading through stalkoblins – and besides, now that the adrenaline is wearing off, he’s starting to notice just how sore he is. Link is certainly a more worthy opponent than the moblins and bokoblins he’s been facing so far. From the slight stiffness in the other man’s movements as he deposits his sword by his pack, he suspects Link feels similarly.

They make quick work of setting up camp; Ganon takes on the job of collecting firewood from the mostly-dry forest floor, and when he comes back, Link has managed to produce a cooking pot, a hunk of raw meat that looks like it might be mutton, and an entire pumpkin. 

Where in Din’s name… was he keeping all that in his saddlebags?

He gets his answer soon enough, as it turns out. He busies himself lighting the fire with a knife and some flint, and when he sits back, he’s treated to the sight of Link elbow-deep in a pack that’s definitely not big enough for an entire forearm.

How are you doing that?” He gestures to where Link’s arm is now almost completely swallowed by the pack. Link flicks his gaze up to him, then back down.

That not-quite-a-smile is back. “Secret.”

His hand comes back out of the bag holding a bundle of various dried herbs. Ganon gives him a flat look, which Link has the audacity to completely ignore as he focuses on removing the top of the pumpkin. He looks at the bag, eyes narrowed: there’s some sort of magic on it, that much he can tell, but he’ll be damned if he can figure out what it is, exactly. It feels nothing like standard spatial magic, the kind he’d use to warp or to store his weapons away for later summoning.

“Fine then,” he huffs. “Keep your secrets.”

He has to admit, though, that whatever the magic on the bag, the stuffed pumpkin is absolutely delicious. Of all the skills for Hylia’s chosen to have, a talent for cooking never would have crossed his mind.

He offers to take first watch that night. As the moon rises, he contemplates the Hero, sleeping with his back to the fire as it burns low, and wonders how much else he doesn’t know.

Link isn’t quite sure what to make of his new traveling companion. The man is clearly intelligent, confident, and a capable fighter – but truth be told that’s not why he agreed to the company. He agreed because this man, this Gerudo, feels… different to everyone else he’s met so far, in a way Link can’t put his finger on, no matter how hard he tries. It’s this whisper of a feeling at the back of his mind, so subtle he can’t tell if he’s imagining it or not.

He almost – and this is the strangest thing of all – he almost feels familiar. Which is clearly impossible; Dagah is obviously a young man, and everyone who knew him from before he went into the Shrine of Resurrection is aged. Or dead. Except Purah, and he’s pretty certain she’s a special case. He would have to be over a century old to have known Link from before. Or perhaps it’s that Dagah simply looks like someone he once knew. Is it possible to be reminded of someone you don’t remember? Perhaps he really is imagining things. 

Whatever the case, if Dagah is serious about traveling with him to free the four Divine Beasts – and it looks like he is – he’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.

The morning is clear and bright, subtle petrichor still lingering on the tall grass, as they pack up their camp and set out. Link doesn’t know the territory north of the East Post Ruins, so he follows Dagah’s lead as they mount their horses (and very deliberately does not laugh at how outsize the Gerudo is for his steed, feet dangling below the animal’s belly). Since the Riverside Stable isn’t far, they decide to simply stop for directions to Zora’s domain and continue on their way.

He clearly isn’t the type to fill silences with idle chatter, which suits Link just fine. It also means he can use their time on the road to study him further, when he’s confident Dagah isn’t looking. He’s very different from the Hylians and Sheikah he’s met so far. It’s not just the sheer size of him – he stands a good head and shoulders above Link – but also his sun-bronzed skin and thick, flaming red hair, currently drawn back into a ponytail that cascades partly over his shoulder. His eyes are almost a brighter gold than the topaz on his brow. Everything about him seems designed to radiate intensity.

Dagah glances over at him and Link hurriedly shifts his gaze to the scenery.

They haven’t gone very far when something catches his eye. Small statues, half-hidden in the swaying tall grass. “Hold on,” he tells Dagah, pulling Telma’s reins to slow her and jumping from the saddle. The other man slows his horse with a quizzical expression. As Link draws closer he sees his instincts were right: two statue shrines stand at a drunken lean in the field, one of them with an apple in its bowl. 

Definitely a Korok.

He roots around in his pack until he finds an apple of his own, then tosses it into the empty shrine. For a split second nothing happens, then –

“Yahaha! You found me!” The Korok appears in a shower of colorful sparks and deposits a small seed in his palm.

“What is that?”

Link whips around to look at Dagah so fast he almost pulls a muscle in his neck. The taller man is off his horse, hand on the hilt of his claymore, though he looks startled more than outright aggressive. He’s staring right at the Korok. Link realizes he’s basically frozen with one hand still outstretched to the tiny creature, so he straightens, pocketing the seed. 

“You… can see it?”

“Of course I can see it,” Dagah replies testily. He lowers his hand, though. “Wait.” The Gerudo frowns. “... Are you saying that’s unusual?”

Link nods slowly, fixing Dagah with a considering look. Hestu himself said nobody'd been able to see him in a century. A small voice in his head whispers: I was right. There is something special about his new companion, even if he can’t tell exactly what it is.

How to explain this, though? ‘I took a pair of maracas from some bokoblins and a magical tree most people can’t see made my pack bigger’ is… it’s a little hard to believe. Then again, Dagah can see them.

“... They’re called Koroks,” he says at last as they remount. “Forest spirits.”

“I see.” Dagah’s brow is furrowed. Then: “Why did you give it an apple?”

“Seeds.”

Dagah looks supremely unimpressed with this answer, and Link rubs the back of his neck, trying to figure out how to explain things. “There’s…” Goddess, this is tough. “It’s going to sound crazy,” he warns. He can feel the tips of his ears start to heat. The last thing he needs is to make his new companion think he’s a loon. Dagah says nothing, but shoots him another flat look that clearly says: try me.

“There’s a… big one.” Link can already feel the words threatening to slip from him. He doesn’t know if this is a problem he’s always had, the way anger and worry close around his throat like a fist, or if it’s new from the Shrine of Resurrection – either way, it’s damned annoying. He takes a calming breath and tries again. “I did him a favor and he offered to make my bag bigger. On the inside. In… exchange for the seeds.”

“And that’s why you can fit a greengrocer’s worth of produce in there?” Dagah exclaims. Link chokes on a laugh, ducking his head against his sleeve as his shoulders shake. The man’s immediate acceptance caught him completely by surprise. Something different.

“I have two more outfits in there, too,” he offers as they set off again.

They make it to the Riverside Stable by late morning, and the sky today holds no promise of rain. Link hopes they’ll be able to make up for lost time – not that he thinks a matter of hours will make a difference, but he’s feeling an increasing need to do something, to get started already. They’re about to head up to the counter to ask for directions when Link spots a familiar face: it’s Pikango. The traveling painter’s set his easel up in the shadow of the stable, and is looking at the scenery with an air of intense concentration.

Link reaches for Dagah, tapping him on the upper arm before jogging over to the Sheikah painter.

“Ah, you’re the guy who found the fairy fountain!” the painter exclaims as he spots Link approaching. “I came down the Sahasra Slope to paint the beautiful scenery at this stable. As you can see, it’s well worth the trip!” He gestures at the river, flowing wide and slow in the bright sunlight. “Funny running into you here – are you traveling too?”

Link nods. “Just stopping for directions.”

“Well, I’ve traveled all over,” Pikango says, paintbrush leaving a brilliant streak of blue across his canvas, “so I’m happy to tell you about new places. If you’re looking for a particular spot, chances are I’ve been there.”

Now that he mentions it – he recalls their conversation in Kakariko, Pikango’s offer of help. At the time he hadn’t thought much of it, but his album has a lot of images, and he hasn’t been able to identify any of them yet. 

“Do you… recognize anything?” He turns Slate towards the elderly painter, and waits with bated breath as Pikango studies the photos, muttering under his breath about the marvels of captured images.

“Ah! This one, here!” Pikango points at one of the first pictures. “This view… that looks a lot like the garrison by Lake Kolomo, out west of here. Judging by that and the Dueling Peaks in the background, I’d say this was taken from somewhere on the western shore.”

Link pockets the slate, heart suddenly thudding wildly, and thanks Pikango with all the sincerity he can muster. He recognized a spot. I know where it is now. The album seems suddenly real in a way it hadn’t before, now that one of the pictures has a tangible location attached to it.

He looks over his shoulder, expecting to see Dagah behind him, only to realize the other man hasn’t accompanied him over to where Pikango is; instead, he’s speaking to a portly Hylian over by the cooking pot. Link jogs over to him just as Dagah leaves the conversation. 

“Friend of yours?” the Gerudo asks, nodding his head at the painter. He tilts his head in a yes-and-no gesture. His thoughts are whirling far too fast, so he starts with the easy parts first.

“His name is Pikango – he’s a traveler. I found a fairy fountain for him.”

“A fairy fountain? I thought those were myths.”

Link waves that away; they’re definitely not, but that’s not important right now. “He says he recognizes one of the pictures in my—”

All at once he realizes he hasn’t even explained what the Sheikah Slate is to his new companion. He takes a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart, and he shows Dagah the Slate, the runes, the album. Then he explains, as best he can, how it came to be in his possession, how it’s all connected to the Princess. Dagah listens intently without interrupting; he expects pity or shock when he explains that he nearly died a century ago in a battle he can’t even remember and got put in the Shrine of Resurrection – but apart from a brief narrowing of his eyes Dagah’s expression never deviates from gravely attentive. When Link finishes, he asks to inspect the Slate. Link hesitates for only a moment before handing it over.

“A Sheikah Slate. How curious.” Dagah turns it over in his hands, thumbs through the functions. Link wouldn’t ordinarily trust another person with the Slate, but in this too the Gerudo is somehow different. He’s oddly certain Dagah won’t damage it – or activate the bomb rune by accident. “And so?” the other man asks. “Do you wish to search for the location?”

Link looks out to the west, though the view is blocked by rolling hills. Impa did advise him to seek out the locations in the photo album… but they’ve already lost half a day to the thunderstorm. Can he really justify losing more time just to search for a place that might or might not help him regain his memories?

“It’s… not necessary.”

“The answer to a question I did not ask.” The Gerudo fixes him with a direct stare. “Do you want to go and find it?”

Does he? The thought of being close to one of the spots from his album – Princess Zelda’s album – makes his stomach do funny flops, caught between excitement and apprehension. He bites his lip.

 … What if he finds the spot and nothing happens?

There’s a sigh. “I passed by Lake Kolomo on my way east, you know,” he hears Dagah say beside him. “It’s not far; we could make it there and back by sundown.”

That settles it for Link. He turns back to his companion and nods.

This is idiocy, Ganon tells himself for the umpteenth time as they set out from the stable. Helping the hero try to restore his missing memories is just about the most dangerous thing he could possibly do. What if finding this location makes him remember something of his past lives? What if it makes him remember everything? 

The Goddesses might as well strike him down here and now, because his sense of self-preservation has clearly been left inside the Malice.

He’s going to get himself killed, and all because he actually – for the briefest of moments – felt sorry for the Hero. His own memories are an increasingly sparse patchwork as time goes on, but at least he has them. For all the suffering in his past, he’d never willingly let go of it; not if it meant giving up his memories of the sands and the sun and the scent of safflina on the dawn wind. Not if it meant giving up his sisters, his mothers. He has little doubt the Hero has similar people in his own past, somewhere. People he would grieve, if only he could remember them.

You’re a damn sentimental fool, he tells himself.

A few hours later, they crest a hill to see Lake Kolomo laid out in front of them like a bolt of blue silk. The entire western shore is populated with slender, white-trunked birch trees, so when they reach it they dismount and proceed on foot, checking the view of the lake against the one in the image every few meters. He’s glancing out over the water when Link stops so suddenly Ganon walks right into his back; the Hylian takes a step forward for balance, but otherwise doesn’t react, his shoulders a tense line in the dappled afternoon sun.

Ah. They’ve found it, then.

Link walks forward towards the treeline as if in a trance and Ganon lets him, taking a discreet step back. This is it. He hasn’t tried warping since that first day in the field, but he calculates he can likely get far enough away that the Hero won’t be able to follow him, if it comes to that.

He hopes it doesn’t.

For what seems like an unbearably long time, Link stands motionless as Ganon waits to see the outcome. They’re evenly matched physically, he thinks, if warping fails and a fight does break out; and he has some magic in reserve, but he can’t fight to kill, and the Hero will have no such compunctions if he –

Link sighs and slides the Slate home on his belt. Then he walks off as though he’s forgotten Ganon is there entirely. After a moment, Ganon follows him.

“... Well?” he prompts, once they’re almost back to their horses and the Hero still hasn’t said anything. Perhaps none of his memories came back?

Link glances over at him, and the look in his eyes puts paid to that idea.

They return to the Riverside Stable in silence as the sun sinks low behind them; Ganon knows better than to pry after seeing the expression on his face. Clearly, whatever memory he’s managed to recover isn’t a particularly happy one.

“I don’t,” Link says abruptly as the stable comes into view again, then stops, jaw clenched. Ganon halts his horse and looks at him patiently. Link huffs in exasperation – at his memory, or at himself, he’s not sure. A minute passes by, the only sound the chirp of crickets and the distant murmur of the river.

“I don’t think she liked me very much,” he says at last, spurring his horse into motion again.

I doubt that, Ganon thinks, but does not say. The Hero and the Princess’ entire existence is interwoven; two halves of a whole, standing against the darkness. He can hardly imagine a world where the Princess and the chosen Hero didn’t at least tolerate each other. He doubts the Goddesses would abide it.

Then again, if they could abide a world where the Hero was slain by his hand, who’s to say?

He decides to give Link space for the rest of the evening; they eat their dinner in silence, and he stays sitting at one of the small terrace tables, under the stars, long after the boy turns in. Finally alone, he turns the day’s events over in his mind. It certainly could have gone worse, he has to admit. His moment of absolute and complete idiocy didn’t end with four feet of steel shoved through his chest, which is always a positive outcome in his book. It could have gone a lot better too, though. Fitting, he supposes, that his attempt to be helpful has instead worsened things. He should learn to mind his own damn business where the Hero is concerned.

When he wakes up the next day, the sun is already past the horizon, and Link is gone.

 

 

Chapter Text

For a few groggy seconds, he stares, failing to comprehend the meaning of the empty bed and missing pack beside his. Then it clicks. With a bitten-off curse, Ganon throws back the covers and rolls out of bed to his feet, grabbing his belongings as he goes. The stable inn is empty bar a few travelers – none of whom are Link – and he strides outside, heart thudding wildly in his chest. The Hero isn’t out here, either. There’s a tightness in his stomach; he must have done something to scare him off without realizing, or else he really did remember something of their past battles, and—

Wait. His horse!

Telma is still in the stall, chewing placidly on a handful of hay.

He exhales in a rush, panic flooding out of his system almost as quickly as it blossomed. If Link’s horse is still here, then the boy must be around somewhere as well.

“Ah, you’re awake!” He turns to see the stablemaster passing by, hauling a bundle of firewood. “Your friend left quite early today.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

The stablemaster shrugs one shoulder as best he can with the firewood in his arms. “Sorry, no – all he said was he’d be back for dinner and could we please feed his horse in the meantime.” And with that, the man leaves, clearly more preoccupied with his chores than with conversation.

All the panic’s run out of Ganon by now, replaced with confusion and irritation in equal parts. He leans on the fence that cordons off one of the livestock yards to take stock of the situation. What could the boy possibly have to do that was so urgent he couldn’t even take a moment to wake him up? Or at least stop to leave a note? It’s downright rude to go haring off without so much as letting him know, and courtesy aside, it’s common sense to keep your travel companions informed if—

Oh.

His line of thought stops dead in its tracks. Now that he thinks about it… Yes, the Hero’s long sleep could have something to do with it, but – now that he thinks about it – he’s only ever seen the boy be alone. Alone, or with the Princess, and she’s obviously not here now. Whenever they’ve crossed blades, it’s generally ended in a one-on-one duel. Perhaps Link genuinely didn’t think to tell him.

A curiously uncomfortable thought to start the day on. When Link told him he planned on facing the Divine Beasts alone, he’d chalked it up to sheer recklessness: the exact same recklessness that had once driven a boy from the forest to stare up in defiant silence at him as though daring him to strike, even though the blood of Hyrule’s king was still fresh on his blade. But perhaps, he’s forced to consider, that’s not it, or not the entirety of it.

Perhaps he’d looked surprised at Ganon’s offer of help not because he thought he didn’t need it, but because he simply hadn’t expected it.

That final thought takes the wind out of his sails completely, replacing irritation with – something. He’s not sure what, exactly.

At the very least, he can be sure Link plans to return, else he wouldn’t have left his horse behind. He exhales again and starts digging through his pack for his comb. In the time it takes for him to eat breakfast and brush out his hair the last of the lingering adrenaline fades, and he feels like a person again. He’s not sure what he should do, but he’s most certainly not going to wait around like an abandoned sand seal for the boy to reappear – so he decides he might as well scout the area. 

He rides out north from the stable and follows the road as it bends to cross the river. There’s another shrine glowing blue on a small island where the river forks. This one must be new from today, he wagers; Link told him on their first night at the Duelling Peaks Stable he’d never been to this part of Hyrule that he could recall. There’s no sign of him, though: he must have already moved on. He makes a mental note to ask him what those shrines are actually for, later.

If Ganon was hoping his scouting might turn up a worthy challenge – a band of moblins, perhaps, or at least a lizalfos pack – he’s disappointed. Riverside Stable, it seems, is truly idyllic. Hyrule Castle is far enough away that even the guardians don’t bother roaming this far out. There’s a bokoblin camp in the forest across the river, which he discovers once he’s already on his way back and takes care of in short order, and another by the banks, and precious little else to disturb the peace. 

The late afternoon sun on the River Hylia makes it look like liquid gold as heads back towards the stable. If Link isn’t back by now, he reasons, he’d be well within his rights to start searching for him –

An orange glow catches his eye through the trees.

At first he thinks it might be a shrine, but as he dismounts his horse and draws closer he sees that it’s a… pinwheel? It’s a pinwheel, sticking out of a tree stump, spinning gently in the river breeze. It looks completely normal, apart from the fact that it glows almost exactly the same shade as the sunset sky to the west.

Ganon smiles to himself. As with the statues, he can’t feel any magic on it – that would defeat the point of hiding, he supposes – but if it’s not another one of those forest spirits, he’ll eat his coronet. At least now he’ll have something other than bokoblin teeth to show for his day of scouting. Assuming he can figure out how to get the creature to show itself, that is: somehow he doubts offering the pinwheel apples is likely to draw it out of hiding. He steps closer to examine it in greater detail, and the question answers itself as three large balloons burst into existence, floating in the air. Each one has a target painted on it.

He almost laughs: what are the chances the creature’s test would be so suited to his skills? Hitting the moving targets might be a challenge for an archer, but he has no need for arrows. He glances around just to make sure he’s not being watched – he is not – and then he rolls his shoulders and stretches one hand towards the floating balloons. Drawing on his magic, he channels it upward, gathering it in his palm.

Three small lightning orbs spring from his fingertips and arc towards the balloons, which burst instantly upon contact. There’s a shower of sparks.

“Yahaha! You found me!”

“Indeed.”

The Korok presses a seed into his palm, and Ganon inclines his head in thanks before returning to his horse and continuing on his way. It’s only polite, after all.

He’s almost back to the stable when his attention snags on two trees a little ways beyond it. Something about them feels off, but for a few seconds he can’t figure out what it is – until he realizes quite suddenly that he passed by that exact spot in the morning and there was only one tree there.

He leaves his horse to the stablemaster’s care and wanders over to the not-tree. It turns out to be a Korok, sure enough, but larger than the two others he’s seen so far, by several orders of magnitude. It’s taller than he is. It’s also holding a pair of startlingly crimson maracas, for Din knows what reason. This, he thinks, must be what Link referred to as the big one; he can hardly imagine them getting much bigger and still being mobile.

The Korok pays him no mind as he approaches, which stands to reason, if it’s assuming he can’t see it. Ganon bites down on a smirk, leans against the actual tree, and takes a good look at the creature before saying casually, “You must be the one who expanded Link’s bag.”

“SH – SHALAKA?” the Korok cries, turning towards him in comical overreaction. “You can see me too?” 

It’s very off-putting, Ganon thinks, to see a tree wiggle like that.

“No,” he says dryly. “I can’t.”

“Oh.” The Korok’s bark eyebrows droop in disappointment. “I thought… W—wait a minute, shaka! If you can’t see me, how can you hear me?”

Ganon hastily turns a laugh into a cough: sarcasm clearly isn’t this one’s strong suit. “I jest.” He waves a hand. “I can see you, truly.” The creature wiggles happily again, and he makes a mental note to avoid saying anything that could make it do that in the future.

The Korok’s name, he learns, is Hestu, and he is lost. 

“I’m trying to get home, but it’s really hard to find. They’re not kidding when they call them the Lost Woods, shala-laka! My grandpa always said to follow the river north, but there’s so many of them, I can’t tell which river to follow, shalako!”

“Well, that one in particular is the River Hylia, if it helps,” Ganon replies with faint amusement, crossing his arms. “And this is Central Hyrule, if I’m not much mistaken.” Leaving the forest without even bothering to find out if there’s more than one river in the vicinity is laughably foolish; he wonders if all Koroks are like this one. The other two at least seemed content to be where they were.

“R-really, shaka?! Then that means the Lost Woods is even further north. Thank you, mister!”

“Think nothing of it,” he murmurs automatically, suddenly distracted by the figure he spies coming up the road.

Link’s returned.

He raises his hand in quiet greeting and Link returns a wave, breaking out into a light jog as he approaches. The personal thundercloud he’d been carrying around all evening yesterday appears to have cleared; his eyes are bright and his expression unguarded, and he greets them both with a friendly nod.

“Propitious timing,” Ganon says, and tosses him the seed, which Link snatches out of the air and turns over in his palm, head tilting. “This is the one that expanded your pack, no? I would see it for myself.” It’s only after he’s said the words that he realizes how much they sounded like a command – how he slipped instinctively into royal bearing – but Link doesn’t seem to have noticed anything amiss.

“All right,” he shrugs, and reaches into his pack for more seeds to offer Hestu.

It turns out to be a mistake. Ganon’s fairly certain the Korok’s strange dance will be returning to haunt his dreams at some point. And he’s not even significantly more sure as to how the magic on Link pack works by the end of it. Is the dancing a necessary component of the spell? The maracas clearly are, as ridiculous as that is. He’ll stick to standard spatial magic, thank you very much, he decides.

“I regret having asked,” he mutters as they return to the stable for the night. “Unnerving doesn’t begin to cover that display.”

Link turns away, but he can hear his quiet chuckle behind his hood.



The following morning dawns blustery, with patchy clouds that the sun starts to clear as they set off. The stablemaster gave them directions to the next stable along the road to Zorana – Wetland Stable is the name, which Ganon finds unflattering, but perhaps Hylian sensibilities are different.

They haven’t even reached the river when a scream from up ahead shatters the early morning stillness.

Link is the first to react, driving his heels into Telma’s flanks and darting ahead; Ganon takes a moment to put a settling hand on his own horse’s neck before following. Despite the scream, he’s not too worried: if there were anything more dangerous than a bokoblin around, he’s fairly certain he would have found it yesterday. Sure enough, a bokoblin is exactly what it turns out to be. The thing is wielding a crude club fashioned from a branch, and is currently preoccupied with hopping excitedly over the body of a Hylian woman – judging from the lack of blood, she’s most likely unconscious, not dead.

Which is more than the bokoblin will be able to say in a moment: ahead of him, Link draws his sword and spurs his horse into a full gallop; as he rushes past, he throws out a backhanded swing so powerful the bokoblin goes flying over the edge of the bridge. There’s a splash, the sound of Telma rearing with a whinny, and then peace is once again restored. By the time Ganon makes his (unhurried) way to the two, Link’s already helping the Hylian up.

“She should learn to use a sword if she insists on coming out here alone,” he says, unimpressed, after they see her off back towards the stable. No self-respecting Gerudo would ever put themselves in such a precarious position, he’s sure. This sort of lack of judgement is typical of Hylians, though he doesn’t voice his opinions out loud. No point in antagonizing the Hero when their journey’s only just begun. 

They cross another bridge and crest the next ridge, and beyond it they find the reason for the Wetland Stable’s moniker. It looks like some goddess has laid an enormous mirror out across the land, to reflect the soaring blue of the sky. The shallow water is dotted with trees and swaying fleet-lotus flowers, and the sunlight sparkles off it like silver; in the distance he can see the remains of a village.

It must have been beautiful, once.

Link has his Slate out, and is using its scope function to look out across the water to the Sheikah tower that glows orange atop a distant hill.

“Anything?”

Link hums. “Lizalfos on the water, moblin near the tower.” Then he sucks in a sudden breath through his teeth. “Hinox on the far island,” he adds, pointing to a small thicket. It lies directly in their path to the tower.

Damn. No wonder the road veers off northward instead of cutting straight across the wetland towards Zora’s Domain. Lizalfos are already dangerous enough that the average traveler would probably want to steer clear, but a hinox is in another class entirely.

“We can probably take it,” he offers, although fighting hinoxes isn’t his favorite pastime by any means. There’s no skill involved, as there would be with a lynel or a molduga; fighting a hinox is a matter of endurance, of simply hacking away at a mountain of flesh that could crush you just by sitting on you (and will almost certainly attempt to do so). He’s somewhat relieved when Link shakes his head. Thus decided, they turn away and continue along the road.

They’ve almost made it to the stable, by Ganon’s estimation, when they spot another commotion. A pair of travelers, beset by yet more bokoblins. The man is swinging ineffectually at one with a short sword, while the woman is preoccupied fending the other off with what looks like the lid off a cooking pot. They’re very clearly out of their depth.

“Oh, for Din’s – does everyone in Hyrule need saving today?” he snaps irritably. Link doesn’t bother answering, already in motion, sword drawn as he spurs Telma on. Ganon rolls his eyes, but follows suit, breaking into a gallop. As he reaches the first of the two bokoblins, he throws himself from his horse, rolling and drawing his claymore on the way back up and feeding the forward momentum into a horizontal swing that cleaves the boko nearly in two. A ways away, Link dispatches the other handily, to the two Hylians’ wide-eyed amazement.

“Th–thank you!” the man stumbles over his words, bracing himself heavily on his knees. “I guess this goes to show I need to train even harder to protect my love!”

Ganon’s eyebrows inch towards his hairline despite himself. Train harder, indeed.

The pair are called Sorelia and Tye, it turns out. Newlyweds searching for, of all things, a flower. And not just any flower, but a silent princess – possibly the rarest flower in existence – to swear their love by. To that end, they insist on staying out in the forest instead of accompanying them to the stable, no matter that, as Ganon points out, night is fast approaching.

The entire affair leaves a sour taste in his mouth. If they had a lick of sense they’d swear their love over a common blue nightshade and stop risking themselves needlessly. Romantic notions are a flimsy shield against monster claws. He goes to fetch his horse, unable to refrain from muttering under his breath about “typical irresponsible Hylians.” These two, he reflects as he adjusts the saddle, remind him of exactly the sort of Hylians he most abhorred in his youth: feckless, more concerned with fantasy than reality, always taking their peace and plenty for granted. When he returns, Link’s looking at him with an odd expression.

“You…” the boy coughs. He sounds uncertain. “Don’t like Hylians?” he says at last, and Ganon freezes. Shit. He hadn’t thought Link would actually be able to overhear – Hylians and their damn ears.

“I…” A thousand memories flash through his mind. Hunger, suspicion, despair. Blood and dust. “I like them just fine, when they’re not throwing their lives away over nothing.” That’s closer to the truth than it would have been, once; he has no love for Hylians, but the ones he’s met in the past few weeks have little enough to do with the ones from his time, and they’ve done nothing to earn his ire as of yet. Foolish sentimentality is a minor sin at most.

Link hums thoughtfully, as if not totally convinced by the answer – but he lets the subject lie, and they manage to reach the stable without any further upsets.

As it happens, they hear signs of the stable before they see it: the mellow sound of an accordion, carried on the warm, late afternoon breeze. Following the melody, they ride over a hill and find themselves practically on top of it. It’s almost more beautiful than the Riverside Stable, Ganon thinks – a fact entirely due to its placement on the side of this hill. Beyond it lies almost all of Hyrule: fields, mountains, and open sky. The sun is just starting to set behind Hyrule Castle, turning it into a dramatic silhouette, as they enter the stable ring and dismount.

The wistful music turns out to belong to a… humanoid bird? It looks male, with bright, sky-blue feathers and an impressively large beak. In its hands – wings? – is an accordion, which it plays with remarkable dexterity for a creature with no actual fingers. After a moment’s consideration, Ganon realizes that he actually recognizes the race. It’s a Rito; he’s seen them before.

A blur of brown and white feathers, snatching the Hero and the Princess from his grasp – heat and light, fire—

He shakes his head to clear it and turns with the intention of asking Link something-or-other about tomorrow’s itinerary, but Link isn’t there. Instead he’s approaching the Rito, a look of open fascination on his face.

“Greetings, traveler. How about a song?” The Rito’s friendly gaze roves over Link, reaches his hip, and catches, eyes going wide. “Th-that there… on your hip! … No, I’m sorry – it’s nothing. I didn’t mean to pry,” he finishes unconvincingly.

He recognizes the Sheikah Slate? Hmm. Ganon tries to catch Link’s eye, but the other man’s attention is entirely on the Rito; the strangeness of a non-Sheikah recognizing the Slate appears to have slipped by him. He understands why when Link says, “are you a… bird?” Ganon has to duck his head to avoid the surprised laugh that threatens to burst out of him. Din’s fire, the boy is direct to a fault.

“Have you… never met a Rito before? Odd.” He seems surprised, but quickly recovers. “My name is Kass. As a bard—” Ganon snorts at the unintentional pun, and the Rito’s eyes flit briefly to him before returning to Link – “I spend my days traveling this land in search of ancient songs. Have you heard the ancient songs of Hyrule?”

Link shakes his head.

“Ancient songs – songs that sing the praises of a hero who beat back the Calamity in an age past,” Kass clarifies. “One of the more famous among them recounts the events of ten thousand years ago.”

Oh. So that’s what the bird is on about. He starts to look for a way to discreetly draw Link away from the conversation. He doubts a folk song will jog his memory if standing in one of the very spots he’d once visited with the Princess didn’t, but there’s no point in tempting fate.

“I happen to know it; it was passed down to me by my teacher. Do you care to hear it?” And Link is nodding, and Ganon realizes it’s too late to redirect the conversation – and the other people in the stable are gathering to hear the Rito’s song, as well. He takes a step back as the Rito launches into the melody.

Everyone in the stable is engrossed by the song, and despite himself, Ganon’s attention is caught, too; the Rito does have a talent for theater, he has to admit. As the bard tells of the fight that occurred ten thousand years ago, he finds himself remembering it despite himself – and shudders. It’s no wonder the Hylians committed it to song; that defeat had been one of his most brutal and humiliating.

It had been raining, he remembers that. Not a thunderstorm, but a fine, mist-like drizzle that had beaded on his armor and in his hair. He remembers the sudden, seizing pain as those infernal machines had blasted his protections away; the golden light pouring from the Princess’ hand, the Hero’s flinty gaze as he held the swordpoint to his chest and stabbed down

A touch at his elbow makes him jump, suddenly jerked back to the present. The song is over, and Link is looking up at him with something that looks to Ganon absurdly close to concern. He realizes suddenly that his hands are tightly fisted, and he makes a conscious effort to relax.

“All right?” Link asks, low enough that nobody else can hear. Ganon’s seized by the sudden urge to laugh, and he clamps down on it, hard. Din’s fire, he has no idea what to do with a compassionate Hero. He nods mechanically and takes a breath to unstick the words from his throat.

“Just lost in thought.”

He can’t quite shake the strange cold that seems to have settled in his bones for the rest of the night, though.

It’s still dark outside when Link leaves the shelter of the stable and sits himself down by the cooking fire to prepare their food for the next leg of the journey. The Wetland Stable is less sheltered than the Riverside Stable; the breeze that comes down from the Zorana uplands is gentle, but carries a hint of cold.

They procured supplies from the stable last night – actual sugar, and wheat all the way from Tabantha – so he decides to start with a set of small, single-portion apple pies. As he peels and cores the apples with his knife, his thoughts turn inevitably towards Dagah. He’s more and more certain the man has secrets he’s not sharing (the way he reacted to Link’s sword at his neck, still and wide-eyed, like he’d actually expected him to follow through – the sort of shadow he’s seen crossing his face a few times now – and just what would make him tense like that, like it was a real fight?) but he has no idea what those secrets could be. Whatever they are, it doesn’t look like they’re happy memories, not by a long shot.

Unhappy memories, or no memories, he muses as he simmers the fruit, stirring so it doesn’t burn. He wonders which of the two of them would be the more unlucky. Either way, it’s not his place to pry; if Dagah doesn’t want to share, that’s his prerogative.

… Still. He can’t help but be curious.

Oh. Speak of a talus and find one under your feet, he thinks. There’s the man now, rising with the sun. He must have been restless last night, because his hair is an absolute bird's nest, which is… completely at odds with his dignified bearing, and therefore unreasonably hilarious. Link’s fingers twitch – he really wants to run his fingers through it and work out the tangles. It looks soft. Instead he turns back to his cooking.

(Maybe he’ll try, once he’s sure Dagah won’t take it the wrong way. After all, he tells himself again, they have a long journey ahead of them. There’s time.)

“... ‘morning.” Dagah’s voice is rough from sleep, and Link hands him one of the still-warm pies as he sits beside him. He doesn’t miss the small, appreciative sound the larger man makes as he bites into it, and turns away to hide a smile. He must have been a decent enough cook before his memories were lost, because it’s deeply ingrained enough to be instinctive, now.

Link turns to savory meals – glazed meat, sautéed mushrooms, things that will keep for a few days – as Dagah starts combing out his wild mane of hair. Once it’s back in its customary tail and pinned back by his coronet, he unfolds his map, and Link pulls out the Sheikah Slate to compare it with the markers he’s set. Between the two, they manage to estimate how long it’ll take them to reach the Sheikah Tower, as well as a rougher estimate for Zora’s Domain. The terrain looks difficult – Zora’s Domain lies nestled in the center of what is essentially a mountain range – but there is a road that leads straight to it. Unfortunately, Dagah’s map doesn’t tell them much more than that. He wonders again how the Sheikah Towers manage to produce such a perfectly detailed map, down to the last tree.

“Assuming the road’s been properly maintained, then it depends on how much resistance we meet,” Dagah concludes. “Three days at the outside, I’d wager – though we might reach it in two if the weather holds.”

Link nods and starts packing the food into his bag, though not before taking a large bite of his own pie.

“By the way,” Dagah says abruptly, brow furrowed. “You… do have a plan for dealing with the Divine Beasts once we get there, yes?”

Link snorts despite himself – he hasn’t had any plan more substantive than ‘travel to the next marker on the map, figure things out once you’re there’ since he woke up. 

“Nope,” he says wryly, polishing off the last of the pie. Dagah stares at him incredulously for a moment before sighing.

“Of course. Why would we need a plan? Improvisation it is.” He pinches the bridge of his nose; Link claps him on the shoulder as he rises. Then, with no other reason to linger, they pack up the rest of their things and set off into the gentle morning.

About halfway to the tower, they spot a shrine out on a small island in the middle of the Zora River.

It’s a delay, but the shrines are useful and he wants to investigate it; once he explains their purpose to Dagah, the other man agrees to watch their horses while Link is otherwise occupied. He’s about to activate the cryonis rune on his Slate to build himself a stepping-stone bridge to the island when a voice calls out to them, quite suddenly.

“Oh! You two there! Hylians!”

Link starts minutely, glancing over reflexively at Dagah in surprise before looking around. He can’t see anyone around them; the road is clear. Where...?

“Over here! I’m over here!” It sounds like the shout is coming from somewhere out in the river. As he and Dagah approach the edge of the water, the owner of the voice surfaces next to them, and Link blinks.

It’s a… fish?

“I am Ledo, a proud member of the distinguished Zora,” the fish – Zora, rather – says; then, incredibly, he bows. Link’s not sure how he manages it, almost fully submerged in deep water like that, but it’s unmistakably a bow. “Ah, but now that I am closer, I see that you are a Gerudo! My apologies!” Out of the corner of his eye, Link sees Dagah incline his head in response.

“Regardless,” Ledo continues, “as you are both members of land-dwelling races, I had no choice but to call upon you!” His voice takes on an urgent note. “Do you see that tower over there? I need you to go upstream of the Zora River there, to Inogo Bridge. Now – I can imagine you thinking, ‘why us’? A reasonable question for two travelers accosted by a passing Zora in such a manner!”

As it happens, Link was thinking no such thing – but he’s having too much fun listening to Ledo speak to correct him. He’s so formal it manages to shoot straight past pompous and land on charming.

“... But I must assure you, this venture will be profitable for you as well!” Ledo continues. “For you see, Prince Sidon of the Zora is in desperate search of a strong Hylian – or Gerudo! And as this is a request from the Prince himself, it’s safe to assume a generous reward is in the cards—”

“We were already heading that way,” Dagah cuts him off. “If your Prince is there, we’ll meet with him; you can be sure of that.”

“How wonderful! I will inform Prince Sidon of your imminent arrival!” And just as quickly as he surfaced, the Zora disappears back underwater.

“... I forgot how much they talk,” Dagah mutters under his breath, and Link exhales a breath of laughter.

Now – about that shrine.

By mid-afternoon, they’re standing just north-west of the tower, trying to decide on a plan of attack. By himself, Link might have simply scaled up the back of the hill the tower sits on, and evaded most of the monsters that way. But now there’s two of them – and, if he’s honest with himself, he’s eager to see Dagah in action when there’s more than a single boko to challenge him. Based on their sparring match from before, he has a feeling it’ll be worth seeing.

Although – he eyes the rickety platforms constructed by the lizalfos out on the open water, then the Gerudo beside him. They’re the only way of reaching the tower without taking a dip, and they don’t look particularly stable.

“Can you… swim?”

Dagah shoots him one of his flat looks. “Would I be offering to accompany you if I couldn’t? I’m a Gerudo, not an idiot.”

Link raises both hands in a mollifying gesture, though he knows he probably looks far too amused for his own good. He hangs back slightly and lets Dagah take the lead as they step out onto the wooden platforms. The lizalfos spot them almost immediately, and he lets them approach, standing completely still as they scramble towards him – and then they’re within his reach.

It’s like watching lightning strike. Dagah explodes into action, skewering one of the lizalfos before it can react; he grabs the second by the tail as it whips it around to strike, and uses its own momentum to toss it into the water almost casually; Link follows up with an arrow through the monster’s eye as Dagah rips his claymore from the first corpse and delivers a crushing blow to the third and final lizalfos. Link can’t help but whistle a low, impressed note at the sheer savagery of his technique. It’s a style clearly designed to do a maximum of damage in a minimum of time – and Dagah is very good at it, that he can tell.

“Shall we?” He extends one arm towards the tower in mock invitation; there’s a splash of green blood on his cheek. Link rolls his shoulders and strides casually past.

They make short work of the rest of the creatures on the promontory; navigating the narrow, rocky path that winds up it without losing their footing is almost a bigger challenge than the monsters themselves. A short while later, Link’s hauling himself up over the edge of the tower’s central platform. He leans back over to help Dagah, who’d started lagging behind by the third or fourth ledge, pulling him up with a grunt of effort. He honestly shouldn’t be surprised at how heavy the man is – he’s obviously pure brawn under the amour. He wonders if all Gerudo are that strong.

“I’m curious to see how it works,” he says as Link docks the Sheikah Slate in the pedestal. He watches intently as the tower – well, Link’s not sure exactly what it is that it does, but he ends up with a map once it’s done, and that’s the important part as far as he’s concerned. He zooms in on the Zora River, looking at it critically: it doesn’t look like an easy journey, that’s clear enough. The terrain between them and Zora’s Domain is both rugged and heavily-wooded, and the road winds and doubles back on itself multiple times. 

“We may be able to cut across here, and… here,” Dagah says, pointing to a few spots on the map; he looks serious, concentrated.

An idea pops into Link’s head. It’s not a good idea by any means, but it’s very, very tempting. He returns the Slate to its spot on his hip and peers over the edge of the platform.

“How far down to our horses?” he asks; Dagah blinks, taken aback.

“Perhaps… a quarter mile, as the crow flies?” he estimates. Link agrees.

He takes a running start and throws himself off the top of the tower.

The wind whistling in his ears isn’t loud enough to drown out Dagah’s surprised cry as he flings himself off the platform, free-falling for an exhilarating fraction of a second before unfolding his paraglider with a juddering snap. As his momentum slows, he angles himself back down towards their horses, touching down gently on the opposite shore of the Zora River. Turning back towards the tower, he gives a cheerful wave in the direction of the hilltop, and settles to wait. He keeps an innocent expression firmly on his face as Dagah finally crosses the wooden platforms back to the north bank a few minutes later.

“A little warning perhaps, next time,” the Gerudo growls as they mount their horses again. He looks like he’s profoundly annoyed and only half trying to hide it.

Link bites down on a chuckle and spurs Telma into a trot.

Definitely worth it.

They’re drawing close to Inogo Bridge when water splashes against Link’s cheek. He looks up, surprised – rain? But the sky was clear not five minutes ago. And yet, it’s definitely starting to rain. Beside him Dagah mutters a curse and draws his hood up.

“I don’t see the Zora Prince,” he says. “Perhaps we should find shelter instead.” The bridge certainly seems deserted, Link has to admit; maybe he’s somewhere in the river itself? He draws closer to the enormous pillars that flank the bridge, scanning the water for any sign of a Zora – and then a voice comes from above.

“Say, hey there!”