Dark Souls: The Princess and I

Chapter 9 - Princess

Orlai squinted through the rain at the silhouette of the church, broadsword in hand,

“I don’t see any.” She said glancing at the man in black,

“Careful.” He warned greatsword in hand. With a nod Orlai walked forward, tensing when she heard the hoarse screams of their attackers. Through the veil of the rain materialized a single swordsman, rusted blade directed at her throat. Setting her jaw Orlai ducked and swung, slicing its sword arm off cleanly spraying droplets of blood across her armor. She stepped smoothly into the undead, sliding easily past the shield to jab her broadsword into the center of its collar with a crunch. She quickly removed the blade and back stepped, switching to the next. A short sword cut through the rain like a lightning strike. Orlai hefted her new shield of red and blue decorated with insignia of a dragon spreading its wings, tail wrapped around a silver sword, and blocked. She pushed the rusted blade up and away, staggering the swordsman. He fell the next moment clutching at the broadsword lodged in its torso. She rushed forward, steamrolling the corpse and yanking her sword free, shield catching a bolt that streaked from the large doors of the church, stumbling slightly from the impact on her shield but maintaining the charge. The undead wielding the crossbow reached for its short sword too late, decapitated head falling to stone. Panting Orlai turned around, man in black walking towards her, greatsword resting on his shoulder. Three bodies lay motionless behind him,

“Good.” His voice was clearer, less scratchy that it had been before. The last two weeks spent with him had been to teach her how to kill and not be killed, which indirectly helped improve his speaking skills, but to get him to say a full sentence was still nearly impossible and emotes were his primary mode of communication. The rain hadn’t let up in the slightest since the first day leaving Orlai a shivering mess soaked inside and out every time they ventured into the Parish and back. Her long hair had become unmanageable, always getting in her eyes and looking like a tornado. She’d gotten tired of combing it only for it become a tangled mess again and again. So, like any sensible warrior, she decided to cut it short. The man had approved when he saw the haircut. Whether it was approval of the practicality or the fashion choice she could not extract from him. He still wore the black hood and cloth to her frustration, refusing to go without both no matter how much she pestered and teased him. She had, however, caught him brushing his teeth a few times with the toothpaste she had made for herself, using a shabby-looking makeshift toothbrush. She’d made one for him to replace the disgusting thing he’d thrown together. In addition the sweaty aroma that he usually gave off had vanished but she had yet to catch him bathing. Despite her constant vigil he consistently managed to sneak away. Her favorite, however, was teaching him how to cook a rabbit. He didn’t eat it, he never ate and declined any food she offered, but it’d been fun having him watch in awe as she turned a rabbit into a stew, going so far as saying it smelled nice.

She wiped her blade on the corpse of the headless swordsman, catching a slight glow from the estus flask in his pack out of the corner of her eye. He still wouldn’t let her touch the astral flames of the Bonfire but had done his best to explain them. Apparently the Bonfires, strange astral flame twixt round a sword jabbed into a pile of ashes, were his “guides.” They offered rest and warmth to his frozen body but whenever one rested in their light any enemies previously slain reappeared, except for a small few that the man in black had already defeated. It made no sense but he seemed to accept it. To Orlai the rules of this world were too confusing and strange for real life. She was also getting irritated calling him nothing more than “you” or “man in black” but he never responded to her nicknames for him,

“Good?” She grunted, “Great is more like it. That was my best time yet and I didn’t trip on my shield.” Orlai winced as she recalled the times she’d been incapacitated and the man in black had been forced to heal her. Once she’d been overwhelmed by four or five undead with broken short swords on the upper level of the church, her armor and flesh shredded into bloody ribbons. The man in black forbid her from going into the Parish for a full day, instead sparring with her using a pair of wooden poles Andre had fashioned for them. The bruises she got from him were almost worse considering he refused to heal them. Another time a stray bolt caught her in the shoulder, which wasn’t so bad, but the following strikes from a swordsman were the fatal finisher. After that he’d given her the shield which proved a challenge to wield and properly use to her surprise.

The shield messed with her balance thanks to its bulky weight, simply carrying it another matter entirely. The man in black had marched her back into the forest and back several times to strengthen her stamina and toughen her up. She did pushups every day, sparred, jogged in full equipment, and did whatever else he could think of for her to do rather than sit around. This had gone on non-stop the last two weeks, and the results of the exercises spoke for themselves. She was most proud of the toned muscles and abs she’d developed, her originally slim figure still as curvy and sensual as before but now a hard bastion of strength and beauty rather than a brittle work of art. Orlai had tried several times to entice the man in black into letting her showcase these features, in turn discovering his, though after their little rendezvous he carefully distanced himself from her. Not terribly, he was always at her side unless she told him off or he needed to bathe, but despite her best efforts she hadn’t managed to take his lips a second time. That did not discourage her of course, it just irked her that he’d drilled her so thoroughly but couldn’t take a damn hint when she winked at him saying she wanted to “rest.”

“Just,” He cleared his throat, “Just be careful.” Orlai rolled her eyes,

“Good god.” She groaned sarcastically, shaking her head and smiling, “What are you my dad?” He grunted indifferently, “Look, all I’m saying is you don’t need to be on me so much. It’s annoying to always have you looking over my shoulder.” She raised an arm, pulling at the chainmail and tanned leather to expose her bare arm, “I mean look at these bad boys!” She flexed, muscles bulging. Orlai bounced her eyebrows at the man, grinning expectantly. He shrugged and her shoulders deflated, arms falling to her sides, “But they’re huge! I was a stick before and now I’m,” She raised her arms, growling for effect, “This!” The armor fit her more snugly than before, carrying her equipment with ease, and she was light as a feather on her feet. Her reward was a flat stare,

“Don’t,” He raised a finger, “Get cocky.” Orlai threw her hands in the air,

“Why can’t you ever tell me ‘good job’ or ‘nice’ or give me a kiss?” The black cloth crinkled as he opened his mouth to protest but she jabbed a finger at him, “A reward would be nice rather than you just being all Negative Nancy all the time and telling me I’m not good enough!” He sighed heavily, “Don’t you,” She mimicked his sigh, just with more flam, “me! I’m doing my best here!” He looked at her through the rain, a deep sadness in his eyes that seemed ever-present since he started training her. Orlai bristled, “And what’s with that look?! You look like a mopey little puppy that just lost its favorite bone!” He walked past her into the shelter of the church. She exhaled, knuckling her forehead, and stomped after him.

Inside the church were two columns of seats before a large altar, the statue of a beautiful woman wrapped in white robes cradling a small baby atop it. The man in black shook the rain off, Orlai doing the same and scrubbing a hand roughly through her short hair in a vain effort to dry it. He walked down the aisle to a door at the back readying his sword. He looked back at her expectantly, “I’m coming dammit!” She hissed quietly to avoid alerting the occupants of the church and jogged after him, armor jingling. Stopping next to him at the door they both peered at the three Balder knights inside, all looking the opposite direction. The man nudged her,

“You lead.” He whispered and she raised an eyebrow,

“You sure ’dad?’” She said slyly and he growled in response, “Take a joke.” She chuckled, “I’ll get the one closest on the left, you take the one on the right, doesn’t matter who fights the third. Sound good?” He smiled behind the mask,

“I love a leader.” Catching her off guard Orlai looked up at him in surprise and he rushed past her, slamming his sword into the closest knight, “Too slow!” He yelled,

“Bastard!” She shouted with a grin, assaulting one of the two remaining Balder Knights. It turned, raising its shield, and she slammed into the knight at full force, throwing it to the ground with her shield bash. The knight’s helmet flew off as it crashed to the ground. She raised a leg and, with a loud grunt, smashed its skull into a gory mess. Orlai looked up as the man in black kicked the other knight off of his blade. Cracking a grin she sprinted through the door to the courtyard outside, crossbowman and swordsman just beyond, a second swordsman just a short distance beyond. Orlai lopped the two closest foes heads off with a spin. Dexterously maintaining her sprint she slammed her shield into the jaw of the one remaining swordsman, shattering its skull with a loud crack as her body followed through throwing him to the stone.

She straightened, admiring her handiwork, “How was that?” She gasped as the man in black walked out into the courtyard, third Balder Knight dead behind him, “Not bad right?” Her vision wavered, head feeling light, “Though maybe I,” She mumbled, “Pushed it a bit.” Falling heavily to her knees she put a gauntlet to her head, steadying herself,

“Cocky.” Chuckled the man crouching down in front of her, another damn smile hidden behind that cloth,

“Oh shut up.” She growled, head clearing slowly, “I just beat some ass.” Placing the shield on her back and cleaning the sword with a cloth before sheathing it Orlai stood shakily. The man in black slipped under her arm and she glared up at him, “This better not end in a lecture.” He shook his head as they walked back through the church, him supporting her,

“No,” He chuckled, “Sorry.” She yelped in surprise as he lifted her up sweeping an arm under her legs, the other wrapping around her back, “I am proud,” He rumbled with a small cough, “Of you.” She shook her head,

“It takes me performing a superhuman set of moves and nearly passing for you to be proud of me?” She rested her head against his cold chest plate, still wet from the rain, and sighed, “Is it really so hard for you to care?”

“No.” He chuckled, looking down at her through the rain from beneath his dripping cowl with soft brown eyes, “Just shy.” His eyes were brown. The black pits that once bored into her skull now replaced by a two deep dark brown eyes that shone dully like a pair of polished stones,

“Your eyes are brown.” She said. He raised an eyebrow walking into the church and up the aisle of benches, “They were black before.” He stopped,

“Different?” He asked cocking his head,

“Yeah, they changed.” She pushed against his chest, “Put me down, I’m fine.” He let her down, “You’ve been changing you know,” She continued, “You talk more, your eyes aren’t so dead it’s almost as if you’re…” She hesitated, “Almost as if you’re alive.” Anger flashed across his brown eyes,

“I am undead,” He growled, “The dead cannot live.” Orlai bit her lip,

“I’m not saying you’re alive, just that you’re changing.” He shrugged, “I’m just saying,” She shot back, “Andre won’t stop telling me you’re a completely different man from the blank slate you once were and I like the new you anyway.” He cocked his head,

“New?”

“Yeah,” She nodded, “The new you.”

“New…” He seemed to roll the word around in his mouth, “I am new?” Orlai nodded slowly,

“Uh, yeah.” She held up a fist to the side of his head, knocking against his skull, “Everything ok up there? You’re not losing your mind because I called you ‘new’ am I?” He grabbed her hand,

“No, I am old.” He laughed quietly, “Very old.” He sat down on one of the benches, elbows resting on his knees. Orlai sat cross legged on the bench in front of him, folding her arms on its back and resting her head atop them,

“How old?” She asked, “Like, thirties?” To her pleasant surprise he pulled the cloth down from his face to smile brightly. Her heart beat a little faster,

“A long time,” He coughed with a smile and shrug, “Decades, centuries?” He sat back, thin colorless lips pursed in thought as he studied the ceiling, “A long time.” She watched him for a moment having difficulty believing he was an old man, especially when he looked just over twenty five,

“What do you remember?” She asked. He shrugged, “What does that mean?” He didn’t respond, eyeing the ceiling before looking down at her and sitting forward,

“You?”

“Me? What do I remember?” He nodded, “Well I…” She never told him that she’d lied about being a princess, “Well, I’m from a far away land full of magical wonders and... none of the crazyshit you have here, it’s all pretty fantastical and wondrous. Not nearly as dark and depressing as all this,” She jerked a thumb at their rainy surroundings and the bodies. He nodded in agreement,

“Very unpleasant.”

“You’re telling me,” She leaned back against the bench behind her, arms spreading out across its top, “Back home there are tons of people, all of them are assholes though.” He frowned as she spoke, “There’s this castle with a bunch of nobles who are even bigger assholes and they never shut up, always trying to get one-ups on each other in this stupid thing they call ‘The Game,’ which is basically one big cockfight.” He cocked his head in confusion, “Uh,” She gestured with her hands, “Let’s just say everyone there has a massive ego.” He nodded slowly, “Anyway they’re all assholes and I-” She stopped. He watched her expectantly,

“Princess?” Now or never,

“I’m not a princess,” She looked down at her crossed legs, “I’m actually just a servant apprenticed to the royal court mage, a really old dude who’s long past his expiration date. He didn’t really teach me anything about magic I was just sort of there out of respect for my mother, a witch, who died with my father in some accident, battle, or whatever. They never liked me anyway and dropped me at the castle before they ran off. I heard a few years later that they were dead.” She paused, “But I was born on Friday the 13th in the year 666 at midnight during a full moon and a thunderstorm at the same time the previous king died from an assassin while-” She shook her head, ” Look, a lot of stupid things happened at the night of my birth which somehow lined up with a stupid prophecy that said I was a devil child, or something stupid, cursed with the power to destroy the world. I guess the old man finally figured out a strong enough teleportation spell and banished me to this place,” She tried to recall his words, “I think he said something about finding someone called ‘The Chosen Undead,’ whatever that is. This place is full of undead so I’m in the right place I guess. You know I never thought he’d actually, you know, banish me. I never liked any of them I thought the whole kingdom was just a bunch of assholes but I felt like I belonged in a weird way. It’s hard to describe really. I had my own room the size of my thumb and it smelled like a broom closet, it kinda was, and-” She jumped as a claw-like gauntlet brushed her cheek. She looked up into the face of the man in black,

“Tears.” He said. She realized she was crying,

“Dammit,” She growled scrubbing her eyes, “Sorry.” Her nose ran and she hiccupped, “Dammit,” She wiped her face on her leather sleeves, “I don’t know what’s wrong, I hate that place. I can’t think of any reason I’d shed a single tear for those bastards.” He stared at her with those stony brown eyes, “What?” She spat, “Enjoying the show?” He shook his head,

“You are strong,” He said encouragingly, “Princess.” Straightening and clapping a fist to his chest he bowed his head to her. She laughed,

“You know people can’t become royalty just because someone calls them a princess.” He looked up at her, head tilted to one side,

“Why?”

“Because they need an estate or ten, subjects, money, respect, a private army, all kinds of things, royal things.” He frowned, looking around and humming thoughtfully, “I doubt you’ll find any of those here.” He turned back to her, stepping over the bench to sit at her side,

“No.” He sighed, taking one of her hands, ” You are my princess.” Orlai grinned, shaking her head,

“Damn you’ve developed quite the silver tongue.” She chuckled. He smiled, glossy white skin a shocking contrast to his black attire. They sat in silence, looking around the church and listening to the rain,

“New Londo.” He muttered. Orlai looked back at the man in black, he had pulled the black cloth back over his face to her disappointment, “You are ready.” He got to his feet, offering a hand, “Come.” Without hesitation she took the gauntlet and the man in black pulled her to her feet,

“Right behind you.” She replied.

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