He became aware of the deep feeling of angst lodged in the pit of his stomach even before his eyes had opened. It made his blood run cold, made his thoughts uneasy. He kept his eyes closed, trying to ponder the reason why such a feeling would come to him without reason. He drifted in and out of sleep, snatches of thought piercing the darkness that surrounded him. Logical thought was dulled by faint images of dreams, and he struggled not to be lost again in sleep.
While he lay in the void between reverie and wakefulness, Mira crept with quiet stealth until she was in his doorway. She grinned as she looked upon his inert figure. Coming inside, she moved with silent feet until she was at his side, her smile growing all the while. She hesitated briefly, then emitted a sharp, ear-shattering shriek, as though she were in imminent danger.
All thought and reason were obliterated as Istas's eyes flew open with shock, his heart pounding. Through the sound of his own harsh breathing, he could hear Mira's mocking laughter. "Oh, Istas, did I wake you?" she managed between giggles. He sat up, glowering at her. "Oh, come on, stop being so serious," Mira commented, "it wasn't my intention to make you angry." He sighed, stretching fatigued legs. His heartbeat was still quickened from the shock, and his thoughts had not yet aligned themselves properly. Slowly, he stood, and from far off, could hear the bell that called the trainees to the first meal of the day. Mira was already halfway to the dining area, and he hurried to catch up with her.
Striding so that his pace matched hers, he remarked, "Normally you're not in a hurry for breakfast." She muttered something under her breath, and he strained to hear. She turned to him, then reiterated what she had muttered in one forced, rushed breath. "I wanted to ask you something at breakfast." Although his curiosity at such a statement was piqued, he knew better than to prod her with questions. Doing so would only annoy her, and it wasn't her way to speak until she was ready to.
The small chamber for dining, located not far from where they stood, was already bustling with a multitude of trainees, eating, talking, bickering. The long tables where they sat were already prepared with bowls of steaming porridge.
Walking quickly, the pair reached their normal position at the table. Istas settled himself across from Mira, who stood above her food, glaring at it critically. "I swear to Nayru, this food gets worse every day. Hagen's probably in charge of preparing this stodgy slop," she complained. She eased herself into her seat, then gingerly lifted the spoon at the bowl's side, as if she were about to consume a deadly form of poison. She then thought better of breakfast, dropped the spoon, and watched as Istas began to partake of his meal.
Resting her chin in her hands, she continued to gaze at him at length. He became aware of her eyes upon him, drinking in his every move. He sensed Mira was about to ask her question of him.
"Istas," Mira began, her tone guarded, "I was wondering if..." She broke off, her mind searching frantically for the correct wording. He glanced up, surprise showing plainly in his face. It wasn't like Mira to be at loss for words. Mira drew a deep breath, then continued, "I was just curious...Do you really...love Anna?" Her voice retreated to a quiet mumble.
There was a long pause. Mira could feel the heat flood into her face, making her cheeks color. She lowered her head over her bowl, grabbing her spoon and grimacing at the taste of the vile porridge she shoved in her mouth. Istas watched with curiosity. What would possess her to ask such a question?
"Why?" he asked, watching as she shifted on the bench, swallowing the lump of porridge that had turned to stone in her throat. Her heart beat so quickly that she was beginning to feel strange. She didn't trust her mouth to open and form words correctly, and so she remained silent, mulling her next sentence. He waited with patience as she paused, then replied, "Well, you've had other girls you've liked and I never heard you speak of them as you do of her."
She then raised her head, brushing stray strands of hair behind her ears in agitation, expectant. Istas pondered deeply for a moment, conjuring his reasons behind why he felt so strongly about his beloved. In the midst of his meditation, however, the bell once again sounded, and the room erupted into pandemonium as trainees rose, dispersing in every direction to get to Hagen's chambers, not far off. Mira, too, rose, keeping her eyes on Istas. A wry smirk played across her face, and, eager to divert attention from the earlier embarrassment, she playfully hit Istas's shoulder. "Prepare to be thwarted by a girl again in training," she teased, and he smiled. "Not today," he vowed. Grinning, Mira ran ahead of him, taunting him to catch her.
"Late again, I see," Hagen thundered from his area of the chamber as Mira and Istas walked in. The curious eyes of the other trainees locked on them as they slowly continued into the large chamber, then took their place in one of the uniform lines. "This is the third time this week," Hagen ranted, and already Istas and Mira noticed the color that was beginning to creep into his cheeks. Istas glanced at Mira, who rolled her eyes and shrugged. "Your punishment..." the senior officer began. Mira heaved a sigh and shook her head. "Mira, is there something you'd like to say?" Hagen roared, noting her lack of respect. She stepped forward, looking directly into Hagen's eyes as she came. "Yes, there is," she said with her usual daring. The burly man folded his arms across his chest and glared with flaming, impatient eyes.
To everyone's great surprise, the young woman lowered herself to the floor as though in respect. "All hail the wonderful King Hagen," she said, and the acerbic tone in her voice revealed her gibe. Laughter rose from the assembly of trainees behind her, and she smiled sardonically at Hagen through her curtain of her long red hair. She then straightened, walking calmly back to her allotted place in line as though nothing had occurred.
Hagen stared with silent hatred at the trainee, his face flaming. She always managed to get the better of him, and this day was no exception. As he looked upon her with loathing, she gazed back, her eyes never flickering in their hold. The other trainees were hiding their amused smiles behind their hands, disguising guffaws in unnatural coughs. Hagen's indignant eyes flicked from one line to the other, hoping to catch another miscreant in the act of committing an infraction. Seeing nothing to vent further rage upon, he turned once again to Mira.
"All right, Mira," he started, forcing a note of false serenity into his deep baritone, "as punishment, you and Istas will find yourselves outside for a good portion of tonight on duty. As for the rest of you, get to work. You're all still too pitiful to be seen in battle."
"Yes, Your Majesty," Mira smoldered under her breath, narrowing her eyes sullenly. The other trainees began to follow Hagen's commands, choosing a partner to engage in false battle with. Mira faced Istas, folding her arms across her chest. "Sorry," she muttered miserably, "didn't know I'd get you on his bad side with that one." He shrugged in reply, removing a spear from a corner close by. "It's all right," he replied after a moment, "he could have done worse."
"I guess you're right," Mira grudgingly replied, then smiled as he brought the spear up by his side. "Same as the other day?" she asked, and before he could respond she was in the attack position, leaping out of the spear's range. "Come on," she saucily, smirking as she moved a bit closer to him, "what are you waiting for, hmm?"
He advanced on her, holding the sharp end in her direction until it nearly made contact with her flesh. She was quick to move out of its path, waiting for the opportunity to seize the spear or catch him at a negligent time. However, he wasn't about to repeat the mistakes he had made the previous time so easily. Instead of approaching her again, he regressed, waiting for her to come to him. She bided her time, hoping to see a weakness in his defense. Her small, complacent smile was replaced by a dark mask of concentration, and she remained still. Istas smiled, seeing she was flustered by the unexpected change in pattern.
For a second, neither moved or breathed. Both were considering the options available to them. Mira felt strongly that she knew what Istas had planned, just as he thought he knew what she was being mindful of. Suddenly, changing his scheme, Istas rushed forward, his sharp vehement bawl throwing her off-guard. She saw him coming toward her at fast pace with the deadly spear, its cusp aimed for her heart. She remained unstirring, adrenaline making her heart pound. The knowledge that she was finished had this been a real battle gave her chills.
The sharp tip touched her lightly, making her open her closed eyes. Istas grinned at her from the other end of the wooden shaft that was between them, his eyes alight with triumph. "Shut up," she breathed, before he could point out the obvious. He moved the cusp from her chest, holding his hands up in a gesture of peace.
The next hour or two passed without incident. The spears were traded for weaponless defense. The previous defeat had put Mira in bad spirits, and she fought now with determination instead of smugness. She won several small victories, but nothing atoned for what had taken place earlier. When at last the bell sounded its raucous tone, informing the trainees that their time with Hagen was through for the time being, she stormed out into the busy village outside, Istas jogging to close the gap between them. "Hey," he said lightly, to get her attention, and she turned to him, discontent's mark in her eyes. "Yes?" she asked crossly.
"Want to come with me to see Anna again tonight?" he asked, hoping to put her in a better frame of mind. She shook her head. "Hagen wants us out there most of the night, the fool. If we skip it, he'll be sure to come up with something else for us to do."
"No one says we're skipping," he rejoined, trying to cajole her into accompanying him. "We'll be out there, just not as long as he wants us to." Again, she refused. "I'm in more trouble with him than you are, so you can go ahead," she insisted. "All right," he agreed.
Mira started off in the direction of her dwelling, her mother already waiting patiently for her in the doorway. Istas returned to his own cave, laying on the soft bedding that was spread on the floor, putting his hands behind his head and closing his eyes, hoping to retrieve his lost rest. The sea of repose, lulling and somber, took him out upon its gentle waters.
He had not been dead to the world long when the first images of dreams began to flood his vision, hazy and wavering, insubstantial fallacies that played upon his mind. He drifted, lost in the comfortable darkness, going into a deeper sleep. The images grew stronger, more detailed. Soft voices called to him, echoing before they faded, lingering. Familiar voices and those that were products of his imagination all cried out in chorus, blending and rising in pitch. Suddenly, they all fell silent, as though something had startled them or bid them to remain quiet.
Do you really love Anna? Mira's voice whispered hauntingly, resonating in the sable cloak of his slumber. Even as her voice faded completely, the last of the echoes leaving him, he could see a dim figure, huddled before him. A soft cry of pain reached his ears. He recognized the hazy apparition and cried out, for he saw that it was Anna before him. She stood, her head lowered so that her facial features were hidden. "Istas," she murmured, stumbling toward him, and he could see that tears streaked her cheeks. Her soft sobs lanced his heart. As she drew closer, he could see that crimson blood was on her clothing, coating her hands. Before he could utter a sound, she had grabbed his hand, coating it with gore.
He awoke, cold sweat beading his forehead and running down his cheeks. His heart beat rapidly in his chest, and he held the hand she gripped in his dream out before him. His clammy palm ran with tracks of salty liquid, but was otherwise clean. Despite the dimness of the dream itself, the events themselves were horrific. The strange feeling that had brought him out of his earlier quietude returned, rushing to fill his veins with ice. Wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, he drew several, trembling breaths in an effort to calm himself. When he was finally able to breathe properly, he stood on weak legs. He judged that it was nearly time to meet Mira and head out for guard duty. His armor awaited him with his shafts near it, and he slipped it on, taking his whistle from where it hung on a wooden peg driven into the stone wall just above where he kept his spears. Putting this around his neck, he grabbed a spear and tested its point with a finger. Satisfied, he walked out and in the direction of Mira's home. He had scarcely stepped foot from his own doorway when Mira came from her own, her face set in a sour scowl. As the two began toward one another, he could already hear her snarling and swearing. At the sight of him, though, she moved closer to him, quieted down, and said softly, "So, how do you plan on putting it past Hagen?"
He thought for a moment, forehead wrinkled in concentration. "I guess I can go, and you can sneak back in and get someone else in my place." Mira grumbled. "Yeah, I have to do all the work while you run off. Nice."
They began up the tunnel that would lead to the outside. A cool wind hissed past them, chilling them both for a moment. The air was damp, and as the view of the outside world appeared to them, Istas could see that the sky was heavy with angry clouds. As they drew closer, a light mist began to wrap itself around them. The air temperature dropped a few more degrees, and Mira's body trembled. "He had to choose a night like this, all rainy out..." she said with ferocity under her breath as they walked into the early evening air.
Night had begun to fall, its gentle blackness creeping in to the darkness in the clouds, creating dark shades of ebony and grey. The moon shone with an albescent glow from behind its veil of thin, smoky cloud, and the stars appeared in patches, dotting the sky. The land below became black shapes that became one with the sky, indiscernible in the dark. The ghostly mist drifted around them, twisting around them as they walked through it to stand on either side of the entrance to their village.
Mira propped her spear against the rock, folding her arms across her chest in an effort to warm herself. Istas, too, was cold, but tried not to show it. "Hagen knew it would be like this," Mira accused between gritted teeth, bringing her hands to her face to blow a warm puff of breath into them.
Istas glanced up at the sky as a cold drop hit his head. "Looks like we're in for another storm," he commented. He had heard the thunder of the previous night's enraged gale, and hoped that another like it wasn't about to ensue.
Mira swore as another drop hit her in the face, then as another landed on her already frozen arms. "Hagen will make us stay in this, I know he will," she predicted, her voice sharp and bitter. The number of drops increased as the minutes passed, and the agitated clouds began to fulgurate, the sudden flashes lighting the subfusc stretch of the distant plains.
They were soaked now, their wet clothing clinging to their bodies under the armor. Mira grabbed her spear and started for the shelter of the village. "I'm going in, forget duty," she called to Istas over the growl of the thunder. He nodded, thrusting his spear into her hands, removing his armor and handing it to her. "Take these to my cave," he yelled to her, then started down the narrow ledge that would lead to the caves to take him off the mountain.
He walked as quickly as he could until he saw the outline of the cave in the driving rain. One misplaced step on the wet ledge could send him tumbling into oblivion, and so he took great pains to see where he lay his feet as he stumbled onward.
Finally reaching the protection of the cave, he leaned heavily against the rock, wiping the rainwater from his face. A chill worked its way across the whole length of his body, and his heart felt heavy. That feeling of sharp dread had returned, and he wondered over it as he took a breath, letting it out slowly. Running a hand through his dripping hair, he wrung out the corner of his shirt, a few clear drops hitting the dirty ground.
His dream flitted into his mind, the soft voices coming to greet him once again. The wind itself formed Anna's cries and gentle whisper, and he shuddered, turning away from the storm and heading into the deep tunnels and passageways of the cave. The thunder's vibration came alive under his feet as it snarled outside, and lightning lit the passage ahead of him.
Continuing deeper in, the sounds of the outside world were lost to him and were replaced by his own footsteps. The way ahead grew dim; he hadn't brought anything to show his way. However, he'd been in these tunnels before, and did not need the assistance of light to find his way.
After traveling through many twisting passages for several minutes, he saw light up ahead. The mouth of a cave greeted him, and he stepped once again into the damp night air. Through the tenebrous curtain of rain and fog, he could see the high roof of the Sanctuary. He wasn't far from his destination now. Leaping from the rock on which he stood, he landed on the ground, his bones jarring with the impact. The ground beneath him was muddy and cold, and he was nearly frozen with the bitterness of the wind.
Determined, he managed to find the path that would lead him to Anna's. His boots stuck to the ground with every move he made, and the gale was determined not to let him more than a few feet before it cried out savagely and tried to strike him. He braced himself and trudged on.
Finally, after what seemed hours of torturous walking, he managed to navigate the path far enough to reach the cottage where she was sure to be. Yet, as he drew near, he saw the small forlorn figure of the dwelling was dark and cold. No fire, no life. Puzzled but resolute, he continued on to the one place she was most likely to be if not at home.
The windows of Hyrule Castle glowed with warm amber light, streaking out into the greyness of the storm, a welcome sight to Istas's tired eyes. No soldiers were standing about in the heavy rain, which seemed an oddity to him, for they were always out. He left the trail for the cobblestone footpath that would take him directly to the castle's front doors. The stone was welcome to him, for even in the rain it was easy to tread on. Upon reaching the front door, he reached out with a gelid hand and rapped. The sky behind him flared with the storm's dying light. Hurried footsteps sounded inside, and the doors were suddenly opened. Warm light flooded out over him, and he shielded his eyes at the unexpected illumination. In the doorway stood Impa, the princess's nursemaid, her skirts billowing in the high, vicious wind. "A-Are Link and Princess Zelda here?" he managed to stutter out, trying to raise his voice to be heard over the howling of the gale at his back.
Impa nodded, placing a hand on his shoulder and guiding him into the castle's mild glow. "By the goddesses above, lad, you're soaked clear through!" she exclaimed. "Why don't you sit awhile before the fire before you tell me what's brought you here?" Before he could begin to formulate a protest, the older woman had led him to a fireplace where a fire cracked and popped, filling his numb body with warmth. He settled down, absorbing it.
Impa stood, watching him, her body aglow in the fire's coppery luminescence. "Link and the princess are asleep upstairs right now," she began, continuing the conversation. "They didn't have an easy time of it last night, I'm afraid," she went on, and Istas caught the faint tone of weary sadness in her voice. He felt his heart begin to pound, and the room before him seemed to tilt and sway.
"Anna...?" he murmured questioningly. There was a long pause from the nursemaid, and when he turned to glance at her, he could see tears gleamed in her hollow eyes. "Link brought her here last night...Brought her extremely ill, and..." The silver-haired woman heaved a great sigh, her shoulders shaking with contained sobs. "I, we, stayed with her for a good part of the night, lad, but she was...was too far gone..." Istas's breathing stopped, and everything seemed so quiet, so still. Even the fire before him had ceased its crackling. Interrupting this silence came the nursemaid's quivering voice to finish her horrible tale. "The princess showed Link the castle burial vault. That's where she's laying now, the poor dear..." Istas stood on legs that seemed barely able to support him. "I know you cared for her dearly," Impa said quietly. Numbly, he nodded, unable to speak. He stared deeply into the flame, watched its dancing and sparking. There was a long pause. Tears silently coursed down Impa's face as she stared at him. "I'll let you see her one final time if you wish, lad," she murmured. Once again, he moved his head in consent. She turned away, walking off to find some lanterns, her shoulders and body convulsing as at last her anguish and guilt overtook her.
When she returned to him, pressing a lit lantern into his hand, she also lay a hand of comfort on his shoulder. Smiling weakly through her tears, she said gently, "We all cared for her. Now, she's with our goddesses, I'll wager." He could see another lantern in her own fist.
"There's no better place for her now," Istas muttered in a monotone, temporarily devoid of all feeling, including grief. Impa nodded, then began to sorrowfully lead him into the castle's bowels where the crypt lay. Down several flights of dim, narrow stairs, past many chambers filled with vermin, she led him, until they finally came to a place in the floor that had been moved away to reveal a dark stairway.
"Down there, lad," Impa's reverberating voice told him, motioning to the dark flight in front of them. "Do you remember the way back well enough?" she questioned, and at his gesture of consent stood. Taking her own lantern from the ground, she murmured, "May the goddesses keep you." Turning, she hurried off into the dark, her lantern swaying and bobbing as she went.
Istas knelt to retrieve his own lantern. Just below, in a dim crypt, lay the light of his existence. He needed to say good-bye to her, had a burning desire to lay eyes on her a final time. Slowly, he began his descent, holding the lantern before him. His shadow stretched out before him to meld with the dark, and a damp smell reached his nose. The stone walls were coated with soot and grime, as were the stairs under his feet. He was going further down, and the smell of decay was becoming stronger with every step.
Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, his wavering light caught the figures of the stone biers, the beds of the deceased, and the stone coffins that lined the walls. The symbol of the Triforce was etched into each bier, each coffin. Eerie shadows moved with him as he walked past several biers. His light at last fell upon her, and he froze, his heart quickening. With hesitant step, he moved to where she lay.
Clothed in white, she looked like a lost wraith misplaced in flesh. The gentle glow of the fire in the lantern gave golden color to her pale, cold flesh. Upon her face was a look of soft serenity, and for all the world she looked as though it were sleep, not death, that had brought her to lay there. He slowly reached out and touched her unresponsive hand. The coldness of her once warm flesh made his heart skip a beat. She was truly gone. Removing his hand, he saw something wink at him in the firelight. A sob threatened to leave him as he saw it was the ring he had given her. Gently raising one of her clasped, stiff hands, he carefully removed the ring from her finger, holding it before him for a moment before placing it in his pocket. "I-I'm sorry," he whispered to her still figure. "I wish I could have seen you more, but sorry can't help you now..." He realized with sudden pain that he had never told her he loved her, never kissed her. He remembered their last embrace, how warm it had been, so loving. He recalled her laugh, her sweet voice. He couldn't forget her emerald eyes, so full of adoration. Lowering his head close to hers, he kissed her lips gently. Oh, fate, that his first kiss should be his last!
Laying a tender hand upon her face, he murmured, "Good-bye, Anna." Then, no longer able to stand the haunting atmosphere of the crypt, he gathered his lantern and rushed out blindly, up the stairs, through the chambers. He was unaware of his fatigue, his aching lungs. He burst into the upper areas of the castle, where the light hurt his eyes. He went down the hallways and past the figures of chairs and tapestry, all blurred.
With the lantern still in his hand, he ran out into the storm, his warm tears of anguish coming forth to mingle with the cold, impassionate rain. He continued on through the mud, managing to find a cave that led him into Death Mountain. The persistant dream voices had come to toment him again, ringing in his mind.
By the time he finally reached his village, he felt so old, so lifeless. His tears had stopped, he had none left to spare for grief's sake. The lantern's fire had died in the storm from all the wind and wetness; he had stumbled through most of the passages blindly.
Mira, who stood in her doorway with arms folded, saw him walk with lead feet toward his cave. "Istas!" she called, and he turned to face her. As she walked to him, she said, "I put those things back." Then, noticing his wan complexion, his glazed eyes, she commented, "You look like death warmed over." He turned away silently, continuing on as though she hadn't spoken. She shook her head in quiet dissaproval as she saw him go. What's his problem? Normally he's in a good mood, she thought. Sighing, she returned to her own dwelling, but did not go inside.
She continued to stand silently awhile in her doorway, pondering Istas and what could possibly be bothering him. Outside, she could hear the raging storm augment, the cold wind whistling into the village and making her shiver. Finally, she walked over to where Istas lived. "I need to snap him out of this," she muttered softly to herself. She approached his doorway on silent feet, deciding that a joke was what was needed to cheer him. Peering in, she saw him laying on his floor, his head resting in his arms. His turban lay unwrapped and wet, strewn across the floor. Smiling, she surmised he had fallen asleep. Stepping fully into the doorway, she lowered her voice as deep as she could, and in a fair impersonation of Hagen, boomed, "WAKE UP, TRAINEE!" To her great surprise, he hadn't moved, hadn't stirred a bit.
Coming all the way inside, she noticed that in his partially closed hand lay a tiny, shining object, a diamond ring. She gasped in horrification, her heart nearly leaping from her chest with shock as she took in the rest of the scene. Surpressing a scream, she saw that Istas's skin was ashen, the ground beneath him dark and stained with sickly gore. Just a few inches from him lay a dagger, ruby with his blood.
Back to Story Menu