Annabelle could feel a presence, and when she came to, a face came into her view. "Ourana," she said and began to sit up. Ourana had been standing over her counterpart, wearing a cold, soured expression. "You have much to answer for, mortal."
Annabelle blinked, "I'm afraid I don't understand."
The spirit shook her head slightly, "The reckless act of bravery you committed in attempts to save that boy has cost you much, and in your misfortune, that cost could very well pay for any safety measures I can grant you specifically." Annabelle nodded, feeling that Ourana was speaking the truth and wasn't entirely surprised by the fact that the outburst of power that she had demanded for would have side-effects. "What sort of cost, exactly?"
"We can never reach that level of power again; you strained yourself past your breaking point and that left us with little to no defense against the creatures of darkness that the witch countered us with. I cannot trust a feeble-minded simpleton such as yourself to command my gifts for such miniscule desires."
"If I recall," Annabelle countered gently, "you went along with me on that one."
"I sensed the witch was near, and you have become more of a nuisance to me in matters of control; you resisted me in the forest, and had the struggle continued, there was a chance that the witch would have caught us both. Her target wasn't the boy--it was me."
"So you're saying it was an intentional trap?"
The spirit nodded, "Yes; it was simple enough to make, since you are very predictable in regards to the boy, and something she could pull the strings on rather well. The boy is tied to her as well, but not in the same way." Annabelle frowned, "You mean that the witch had something to do with Link's transformation? I thought he was cursed when he was a child."
"And who might have existed at that point in time? This sorceress has vast amounts of knowledge and has an unfathomable length to her life to rival that of two of your companions."
"Sheba and Beshka? What do they have to do with it?"
"Must I explain everything to you?" The spirit folded her arms crossly, "The two witches we have associated ourselves with have a connection to her as well; it is unlikely that there is a single life existing in this land that has not been touched by this woman. There are many things that I sense, and one thing in particular is her power, her taint; the witches do not have a direct tie to her magic, but they understand how it works. This suggests that they, too, have dabbled in this dark ritualistic magic, and this in turn connects directly to your mortal boy and his curse. The signature of the magic cannot be denied; that woman is directly responsible for the foul creature that the boy takes form of." Annabelle felt a wave of sadness and sympathy covet her heart, but the spirit was shaking her head again, "This cannot be said to him; he will either discover it on his own, or not at all. It will be best that he not discover how you understand this knowledge. Should he understand that I can convey this knowledge to you, he will prod and poke more than is deemed necessary, and I will be forced to take action."
"You mean...?" Annabelle questioned the spirit. Ourana's eyes narrowed slightly, "...No, the boy is still useful to me. But if I must, I will forcefully erase his memories; his power to the gods is strong, but that is nothing compared to my capabilities. With each passing memory and meeting with that woman I grow stronger, and so do you. However, there is little you can do now; my powers are sealed off from you and must be replenished if you are to be able to use them again in a wiser fashion."
Annabelle felt a slight jolt in her being; having no magic was like a blow to her core. She sensed Juniper's words echoing from her mind, and the spirit nodded, "You will need to have the mortals teach you how to properly wield a weapon; they each hold a different kind of arsenal, and so it will not be difficult to select one. I strongly suggest that you ask your mortal boy for lessons in fencing."
"Do I have much of a choice?"
"You never have a choice; I allow you to be your own downfall." Annabelle sighed and shook her head, accepting her fate. No magic and no other options, her path seemed clear to her. She stood up to stand directly even with Ourana, "I'll do what I can to keep us both safe until I can master myself again; I don't think I should use your powers again, as much as I've been depending on them for my safety. I don't want the others to keep forcing themselves to protect me, either."
"That is what they are there for; they are a means to an end."
Annabelle frowned and stared angrily at the spirit, "If that's the case, why did you warn Princess Zelda of her death? If she was meant to die, you would have let the Circle take care of her before she had evacuated Artima and herself from the castle."
"Divine intervention is made for many purposes, and in this case, the princess needed to be in the land of Hyrule and close to our next destination."
Annabelle blinked, "The Frost Heights..." The spirit nodded, "In order for the scenario to work, as everything fated will come to pass with the passing of time, the fulcrum of Hyrule's destiny needed to be shifted and moved elsewhere. That being said, the princess must survive long enough for me to regain my memories and assist me in achieving my fullest potential. At that point I will be renewed, and I will be able to cast down the witch that hunts me."
"And what about the others? Where does everyone go after they've made their sacrifices for you? What's so special about you?"
"None of us know that, except the sorceress. Which is why we are going to meet her."
Annabelle gaped, "You've got to be kidding; we've spent all of our time running from her, and now you're saying the only way to get your memories back is by seeing her? We don't know if she'll be telling the truth!"
"She is a vengeful and angered spirit, as I am, and she will not be so keen to hide the truth. She wants revenge for something that occurred in the past, and she will not rest until she is justified. However, the attrocities she has committed goes beyond any justification she wishes to envoke upon herself, and I will be the one to cast her down."
"She'll probably kill us."
"That's a risk we're going to have to take."
Annabelle looked back and forth, conflicted and confused. "I suppose this means that we can't head back to Salty Quartz with the others; the princess can't make the climb in the Frost Heights, and I'm not even sure the others can." The spirit agreed, "Indeed, which is why we will be taking a small assortment of companions with us into the Heights, and leave the others behind. My destiny awaits in the mountains, and it needn't concern them. They would slow me down, and likely become useless over time. They would better serve guiding the princess and prolong the inevitable." Annabelle held her arms and bit her lip, "This is happening so quickly, Ourana..."
"You sense as much as I do that the sooner we reach the Heights, the closer we'll come to discovering the truth...not to mention getting closer to the location of your brother."
Annabelle's head snapped up, "William..."
The spirit nodded, "There is a facility on the other side of the Heights. As to what lays within it, none can say, but it directly ties to the sorceress that is pursuing me, and according to what the guard located in the Royal Square conveyed to us, those that had fallen in the fires will be located there in addition. The answer is clear, Annabelle; we cannot delay and we cannot detour. This is our destination." The spirit watched the mortal girl sigh and cave in with defeat. Splitting up wasn't favorable, but it made the most sense. "...How soon?"
"I will take the lead when we are ready to depart; you need some time with your companions, and I must rejuvenate the powers you recklessly depleted. That will take you with them wherever they go until I so choose otherwise. Until then, I suggest you talk to the woodland spirit Juniper; I suspect he will be accompanying you as well on this journey." Annabelle nodded and looked around herself, then back at the spirit. "You're always so cold and calculating, but you've warmed up since we've met," she said to Ourana. Ourana said nothing, and Annabelle found herself asking a question she had asked again recently before. "Who are you, Ourana?"
"If I knew that," Ourana replied, turning away from the girl, "I wouldn't need you."
And with that, Annabelle was dismissed.
Annabelle opened her eyes and felt warmth all around her. She turned her head over and saw Sheba's toothy grin glinting over to her, orange in the firelight. An involuntary chill went down her spine, and she looked elsewhere around the cabin. Link was against the window, sleeping with his head propped against the glass, and Artima was sharing the bench with him, curled up into a ball. Avian was using his usual bow as a support as he slept standing up, and the princess was resting on the opposite side of the bed from Annabelle. Sheba made some noises that drew the girl's attention back to her, and she saw a gnarly finger up against the crackled old lips of the sorceress. "Sssshh," she crooned gently, "we musn't wake them." Annabelle almost thought she could hear a cackle following, but none of the others had registered the sound. The girl forced herself to gingerly sit herself up without upsetting the bed and sat on the edge of it, facing Sheba.
She sighed gently. "I met Ourana again," she said in a low voice.
"You're the only one that seems to, my dear."
"Keeheehee! Well, my dear," Sheba pointed at her, "you went on quite an adventure with her, and from what I could see, it was a wild ride!"
Annabelle was shocked. "You were watching?" she hissed and Sheba chuckled, "I would have brought candy if I had known it was the drama you two made it out to be!" Annabelle felt her face heat up and she balled her hands on her knees into fists angrily, "Why didn't you do anything?"
Sheba smiled, "Where would the fun have been? We do too many things for you kids as it is, but only because we know that we'll get the pleasure of seeing you go along your journey, lost little lambs, until ol' Sheba and Beshka come to the rescue. And besides," she said in a softer tone, "you needed to develop a deeper connection with your spirit. Whether she acknowledges it or not, she has more use for you than just mechanics alone; you give her humanity."
"I do?" The crone nodded, "Think of it this way; the more society an animal is subjected to, the more tamed it become. Now I'm not saying that the spirit is tameable--" Hardly, Ourana's voice sounded in Annabelle's head, dividing Annabelle's attention. Sheba was still speaking, "--am suggesting that you influence the more relatable qualities in who she used to be."
"And who might that have been? Surely have you have some idea now, after seeing what was happening out there."
"Her tie with our adversary is undeniable; my best guess is that the spirit Ourana was a powerful wielder of magic, enough to rival the enemy. How she came to be in you is a mystery, and the fact that the enemy still lives is enough to prove some theories...but now is not the time to relay that information to you. I know Ourana wishes to know more, and my sister and I may have a few leads as to what her true past was like and the connection it has with the sorceress, but we know it is best that you both discover it for yourselves in the snowy mountains we sit at the base of."
Annabelle nodded, and Sheba added, "Without any form of proof, we'd only give you more questions, and once Ourana regains her memories, there truly would be no more use for you, my dear." The girl felt touched, "This is your way of protecting me?" The witch grinned toothily, "I wouldn't go as far as to say that, my dear, but whether you realize it or not, your companions too also are held on-course by your influence. You are a charming young lady and easy on the eyes for some of the men here, even so far as to charm a Kokiri. A Kokiri! Legends are being uprooted by you, my dear, that were long-buried for centuries. It would be a confusing world if everyone couldn't tie the pieces to you specifically." Sheba nodded to the ground, and Annabelle's eyes sought her pack. "Is the tome still with you? And the tablet?" Annabelle searched her possessions and nodded in confirmation, seeing both of them nestled together like eggs in a nest. "You will need those if the Frost Heights will be a worthwhile journey for you," Sheba said as Annabelle secured the pack again under the bed. She looked up, seeing Sheba's eyes in the firelight; they danced sincerely with red and orange flames, almost as if they were made of glowing embers. She speaks truthfully; these are the keys to my past, Ourana said and Annabelle found surprise in the sudden statement ripping into the silence. Sheba grinned, "I know that spirit wants to talk to me and make me spill the beans, but she doesn't quite trust me as she once did before she lowered her guard and I tore open a hole in the barrier to her memories. In all honesty, I'd think she'd be thanking me. But spirits aren't prone to being entirely honest with how they're influenced by feelings."
"Sheba...the spirit mentioned that you and Beshka rival the sorceress. If you don't mind me asking, what exactly do you share with her?" Sheba sat back and smirked, "I see she catches on quickly; she may just be the shrewdest of the bunch here combined." She fastened her claw-like fingers on her thighs and began to massage them slowly as she contemplated. Her long crooked nose tipped up and she hummed softly. "The practice of magic has long been out of date, even in this age and in years before. All sorceresses have to dabble in the black arts now and again; we can't help ourselves. Beshka and I were researching this magic well into our youth, so it isn't surprising that there's a sort of link connecting us to that sorceress.
"She makes herself too predictable; her vengeance is making her sloppy, but even still, she isn't one to be underestimated. Sorceresses can take on different forms in the workings of illusions, or transport themselves over long distances. If there's magic still in this world, you're seeing some of the most powerful wielders of this age. Your spirit is no small feat, either; it seems that she possesses a rather raw, feral magic. It is most illusive and something neither my sister or I can fully comprehend. If that woman has a score to settle with your friend, then she'll be the best source of revelation you can find." Annabelle nodded, and when she looked up, Sheba was suddenly in her face. She yelped with surprise, but Sheba's hand was over her mouth and muffled the noise to keep it from upsetting the rest of the group. She felt Sheba's other hand on hers and she looked into Sheba's eyes, fixated on them. Annabelle blinked with surprise as she saw genuine concern reflecting for the first time in the prankish-crone's twin orange orbs. "My dear," she uttered gently, "this will be the most fearsome trial you have faced, and if you are to make the journey, you will need to be able to defend yourself. The time has passed for you to allow these poor souls to burden you any longer, and the time will come soon that you must be separated from them. To what end, I am not sure, but secrets lie beyond the Frost Heights, and you, my dear, are the only one that can breach them." She removed her hand from Annabelle's mouth. "She is not to be underestimated, as prepared as you may become," she continued, "and there is no guarantee that you will return to us the same as you once were. I know we will see you again, and if anything is awry, ol' Sheba will know...as will Beshka."
"I feel like I was waking up in that forest just yesterday," Annabelle breathed, and Sheba grinned, "The passage of time is a fickle thing, my dear, and the journey never truly stops where we think it will. You're never too old to feel grown-up, and you've had a lot of doing that without your parents to guide you. You truly are an unfortunate wielder, little one." The girl looked down, feeling her eyes burn with incoming tears, and Sheba snorted empathically, "We can't choose which road we start off on, but as for the direction we take, that is always in our grasp. What the Circle and society taught you, my dear, shouldn't apply now; honor is held in the hearts of the courageous. It is fine if you wish to cry for the fallen, child; there is no shame in that." Annabelle felt the restraints on her tears fall away and thick, heavy and endless waves of tears poured freely from her eyes. Self-consciously she kept her sobbing silent, and Sheba held her hand the entire time. "You're still just a young woman, mixed up in the ending of an era," Sheba said, "and you have duties, but you're still human. So do as the mortals do." As Annabelle found comfort in her crying, Sheba took her hand off of the girl's and hobbled back to her seat, sitting down. Annabelle dried her eyes with her sleeve and sniffled, nodding her appreciation. Sheba smirked, "I've lived too long to watch the foolishness of the Circle become what it is today; the princess will have some work to do in order to fulfill her role. There will be a future, if these old bones can help it."
Annabelle nodded and looked at her pack, feeling the call to Ourana's destiny more strongly than before. She looked back at Sheba, "When are we leaving for Salty Quartz?" The witch smirked crookedly, "Well, my dear, there was only a bit of small talk of heading back there, however I would assume we shall be departing tomorrow morning. Beshka will have stopped playing in the snow by then." Annabelle blinked and looked out the window, seeing a cackling old mass leaping around like a child, kicking up snow and blasting the air with flurries. "Senile old dog," Sheba muttered and wrapped her shawl around her even more tightly, as if to keep warm, and Annabelle grinned at the strange behavior of the sisters. The girl lay back down on the bed and stared at her pack, and then at the fire, soaking in all that had been said to her. It was a lot to process, and she sensed that her path hadn't been laid entirely before her yet. Now is not the time to dwell on that. You need to rest so we can get my strength back, Ourana directed, and Annabelle sighed in response, submitting to the lulling of sleep with the sounds of the crackling fireplace popping in her ears.
Sheba sat back and frowned one more, staring at the girl before looking at the fireplace. "...Oh yes, deary...this will be your greatest trial yet..." She grinned, "Oh what fun this shall be!" The hut was swallowed in silence after a small chain of cackles emitted from the fire-wielding sorceress.