Through the smoldering remains of what once was Castle Town, Zelda walks with her head held high, uncaring of her bleeding feet or the bitter ash filling her mouth. The air is pungent with the clinging stench of burnt flesh and charcoal, and the silent wails of countless lost souls ring in her ears, clamoring for her penance.
Onward, she wills herself, looking away from a blackened corpse trapped underneath a collapsed guardian, its arm still reaching out for help that never came. You mustn't falter.
Above the roiling miasma encircling Hyrule Castle’s highest tower, a full moon hangs from the sky, crimson like the blood staining Zelda’s ceremonial dress.
Link's warm blood pooling on her lap, the weight of his lifeless body in her shaking arms, threatening to drag her under—
Zelda’s nails dig into her palms, the pain of it sharp enough to keep her present.
She cannot let herself grieve; cannot berate herself or dwell on what's transpired since that horrible first sighting at Lanayru. If she does, her resolve will abandon her, and she cannot, must not fail.
There is no army left to command. With Link in the Shrine of Resurrection, her father gone, and the Champions slaughtered without mercy, she is all that stands between the kingdom and the Calamity.
This is her fate. Her duty.
She is alone.
Soon enough the walls of Hyrule Castle — once her home, now a graveyard — tower before her, Ganon's presence a wrathful beast appraising her from the shadows, biding its time. Zelda's awakened power may have stalled its formidable assault for the time being, but it won't hold for much longer.
She cannot afford to hesitate.
Taking a deep breath, Zelda raises her right hand and closes her eyes. As she calls for her birthright, that accursed power that eluded her for so long, a tiny, selfish voice in the back of her mind wishes she could, just one last time—
Zelda's heart stutters painfully in her chest, divine light flickering and dissipating as her eyes fly open. She whirls around to find Impa sprinting desperately towards her, relief plain on her weary face. She is in terrible shape: the ends of her long hair are singed to a crisp, her armor is in tatters, and every visible inch of her skin is covered in bruises or congealed blood. She favors her left leg, there is a nasty gash running down her arm…
...but thank Goddess she is alive.
Before Zelda can open her mouth, Impa wraps her arms around her and squeezes tightly, foregoing any and all formalities for once. Zelda should push her away, knows this will only break her beyond repair, but how could she? She returns her embrace eagerly, breathing her in and swaying on her feet.
For the first time since the Calamity emerged, Zelda feels at home.
"I was told what happened to Link, I feared—" Impa rasps, her grip tightening. Zelda wishes it were tighter still; that she could crush her into dust. "I... I should've been there for you. Should've protected you, should've—"
"No!" Tears well up in Zelda's eyes, and she fiercely shakes her head against Impa's shoulder. "No, this is not your fault." This is only my fault. "You were only following Father's orders!"
"Even so." Impa pulls away just enough to give Zelda a quick once-over, pausing on the glowing mark on her hand. Her brow creases. "You're here to seal the Calamity."
Zelda gives her a sad smile. "Yes."
"...I don't know for certain." Zelda admits, looking over her shoulder at the billowing clouds of malice. The insistent thrumming in her veins grows ever stronger, beckoning intently. Hurrying her. "But I have to try." Even if it means sealing myself away with it.
For a long moment, neither of them speaks. Impa’s eyes rove over her face, searching desperately for something Zelda cannot give her. Not anymore.
"Are you certain there's no other way?" Impa asks in little more than a whisper, dropping her gaze to the ground. Zelda hears her voice crack all the same; hates herself for it.
"I..." Impa clasps Zelda's shoulders almost hard enough to hurt. When she lifts her head, however, her expression betrays nothing but her devotion. "I believe in you, Princess."
"Impa..." Zelda can only stare, grasping for words that refuse to come. What could Zelda say, after all? I'm sorry. Please wait for me. Please live a good life…
She thinks of the star fragment warming her room; of Impa's bashful smile illuminated by its ethereal glow; of that final birthday wish she never got a chance to make, and now she never will.
I love you.
Swallowing back tears, Zelda falls to her knees and presses her forehead against Impa's gloved hands. Impa's shocked gasp makes her smile despite the horror of it all. Always so earnest.
Does she remember kneeling before Zelda the day she swore her fealty?
"Impa of the Sheikah, Royal Advisor and beloved friend, I leave Hyrule in your capable hands." Zelda proclaims, pouring all her authority and poise into it. What’s left of it, anyway. "When the time comes, please… guide Link in his quest. Help him find me so we can bring an end to this horror, once and for all."
Impa's voice does not waver, but her hands tremble against Zelda's skin, fingers twitching as if eager for something to grab on to. "...Yes, Princess. I swear."
Above them, the Calamity roars. Zelda's blood burns bright.
"Thank you... for everything." Before her courage can abandon her, before her heart can think to break, Zelda kisses Impa's hands and takes off running towards the castle without looking back, raising her hand to the heavens. She feels her feet leave the ground as the swirling malice coalesces into a gaping maw, grits her teeth as her power tears through her body and consumes everything in its way…
By the time Impa screams her name into the night, Zelda is nothing but a fading light.