Chapter 15 - Human
I was naked and alone.
An ocean of skulls surrounded me beneath a sky of bloody crimson, jet black columns of smoke billowing miles above from fires beyond the horizon, if their origins began in flame rather than by some other means, and thick air choked my lungs. Hands reached up from the sea of skulls, rotting flesh peeling from the pearly white bone beneath, and a pair of corpses held one-another intimately to my front, as if sharing in their sorrow to a death they could not avoid.
Chosen Undead, Voices whispered, you know the fate that awaits you, their words drilled nails into my mind, you know what you are, why you exist, I could not move, body held still by a dark malice. The skulls began to rise, Death is inevitable, both yours and the one you think to protect, their jaws gnawing at my legs, do you believe yourself human, capable of loving this woman? My mouth would not respond, Circumstance is the name of your bond, had she met another undead her death would be less prolonged. I twitched, fighting to move and unable to feel my legs as the skulls reached my chest, You believe yourself special, Chosen Undead? You are but a pawn in a grand scheme controlled by forces beyond your ken, pushed and pulled by existences far greater than your own. The skulls reached my neck, Give in to the inevitable death you believe yourself capable of halting, instead only delaying the end you know waits at the end of this road you walk. The sky of bloody crimson slowly vanished as the sea of skulls swallowed me whole, You cannot challenge the will of a god, Chosen Undead, nor do even you think yourself able. No longer can you ignore the truth that feasts upon you, I gasped for air, no longer can you shoulder the burden alone, my vision faded, no longer can you fulfill the duty of the Chosen Undead, I drifted from consciousness, so surrender, undead, else you shall fade into oblivion.
An agonizing scream ripped from my throat as the flesh was torn from my bones in the depths of the skull ocean by countless jaws of jagged razor-sharp teeth,
I sat atop a snowy hill overlooking a land of white and grey, long rolling hills bare of trees and covered in the frozen dust of rain, an icy wind cutting through my armor, sky obscured by cloud cover and falling snow. A small girl stood next to me. Golden eyes that held deep wisdom far beyond her years fixed upon me and a short pair of ivory horns grew from her brow. The wind plucked at strands of her long white hair that hung to her waist over a serpent’s furry tail of white. She clutched a small doll in her arms, the same doll I had retrieved from the Undead Asylum,
“Hello,” The girl whispered, golden eyes shifting to meet mine, “Who are you?”
“Chosen Undead is the only name I can offer you.” I felt a slight surprise at my sudden fluency with the art of speech that had for so long confounded me, as well as the clear tone of my own voice, “Who are you?” My voice sounded alien, as if it was not my own,
“One feared by the gods.” She answered quietly, looking out at the snow, “An abomination.”
“Priscilla?” I asked,
“No,” She shook her head slowly, “I am not Priscilla. I am a spirit, an emotion, a will, an illusion, a false existence made manifest by another.” The girl turned to me, “Much like you and your own purpose.” I frowned behind a black cloth in the dark shadow of my hood,
“What do you mean?” The girl smiled sadly,
“So you do not yet know?” She shook her head, “Of course, ignorance is the curse you have been burdened with.” The girl stepped in front of me, sitting down between my legs. I realized how small she was even when sitting I was still taller and could easily fit her inside the chest piece of my armor, “Yet it is not my place to enlighten you,” She continued, “I am only to ensure that you are not taken so easily.”
“I don’t understand.” The girl nodded,
“Yes, but you will in time.” The wind blew more heavily, “Time runs short,” She said quickly, “You must persevere, Son of Darkness, listen to none but your own heart.” She hesitated, golden eyes sliding away to stare off into the blizzard, “I should not be saying this, the words not mine to voice, but please,” Her eyes refocused on me, “Protect my sister.” A heavy weight of exhaustion pushed upon my shoulders, pulling me down into the cold embrace of the snow. I slumped to the ground struggling to fight the exhaustion, and looked up at the girl,
“Who are you?” I hissed desperately, darkness closing in upon my consciousness. The girl touched my cheek with a hand, small doll held firmly against her chest with the other,
“I’m sorry,” She answered, “and remember I will always be by your side.” I collapsed as her words fell upon deaf ears.
Orlai’s eyes opened to a blue sky of feathery clouds, chilled wind blowing over her blanket of cloaks. Sitting up with a groan she scrubbed the sleep from her eyes. The air was brisk, but not uncomfortably so, a Bonfire’s warmth sheltering her from the worst of the cold. She found herself once again in Firelink shrine, Chosen slumped against a nearby tree. Stretching Orlai yawned loudly,
“What’s up?” She asked him, scratching an itch on her head. He did not respond, “Hey, are you there?” Nothing. Worry beginning to touch her Orlai quickly walked over to him, kneeling down, “Hey.” His eyes were closed, shoulders rising and falling with the breath of sleep. She’d never seen him sleeping before and felt no reason to rouse him from such a rare occurrence. Another gust of wind wracked her body with a shiver and she looked down at her torn and cracked armor.
Red energy scorched her body and she was hurled like a ragdoll, skipping off the ground and plowing through the bone piles. Skidding to a stop she laid motionless, body numb of all sensation. The ground shook with the battle she could not see, her head buried in bones…
Orlai put a hand to her forehead, dark fear taking hold she wrapped her arms tightly around herself realizing how close to the end she’d been. Something caught her eye and, glancing down, Orlai noticed the small doll in the man in black’s lap. Reaching down to pick it up she studied it, seeing nothing but a dirty old wooden doll, and tossed it absently back down to the grass,
"I wouldn’t do that." Orlai spun around grasping for her broadsword, instead finding an empty sheath. A small girl stood next to the Bonfire with glowing eyes of golden irises, a small pair of awkward ivory horns growing from her eyebrows and long curtain of white hair that hung to her waist over a strange tail of white. The girl seemed translucent, ”Daughter of the Flame." Her voice rang with the distant sound of bells,
“Who the hell’re you?” Orlai growled pulling a knife from her boot, “Stay back.”
"I am a false existence, much like your bond with him." Orlai glanced back at the man in black, ”Daughter of the Flame, do you remember your true self?"
“What?” The girl smiled sadly,
"I see," Orlai realized girl held the same doll in her hands that had rested in the man in black’s lap, ”My question has been answered."
“Who are you,” Orlai hissed, stepping forward threateningly, “Are you here for us?” The girl watched her calmly,
"So you have not changed. I’d hoped he would help you realize your arrogance and stupidity, but perhaps it is too soon."
“The hell did you say?!” Orlai snarled, whipping the knife forward it passed through the girl’s skull, ricocheting off the stone wall behind her,
"It is a wonder," The girl sighed, fading, ”Why are those held aloft so high so often the least wise?" She was gone. Orlai reached down, shaking the man in black awake,
“Hey, wake up!” His eyes flew open, looking up at her. Orlai shrunk back from him fearfully, abyssal black pits void of any emotion or humanity stared up at her from beneath his black hood,
"Silence,” His voice deep and echoing, ”Child of Fire, your reckoning has come." He stood, drawing a massive sword black as night, ”Your sins have been judged unacceptable, I your headsman, kneel." Orlai fell back to the ground,
“What?! What are you talking about?!” She cried as he raised the great sword, eyes emotionless,
"Die." She screamed as the weapon fell.
Orlai gasped, sitting up,
“Princess?” She looked over at the man in black, brown eyes watching her curiously he cocked his head. Orlai ran her fingers through her hair, “problem?”
“Yeah,” She wheezed, shaking her head, “Yeah, just a bad dream.” His brows knit together with concern, “I said it’s alright!” She snapped. The man in black nodded slowly, picking up a dirty doll in his lap he placed it delicately into his pack, “What’s the doll?” He glanced at her, a deep conflict in his eyes,
“Who?” He shook his head,
“Nothing.” He grunted. Orlai cocked an eyebrow but didn’t pursue the topic, instead focusing on another rather important point,
“So I’m naked.” She observed, looking under the cloak acting as her blanket, “And the last thing I remember is not being naked.” She eyed Chosen and he stiffened, “Why am I naked?” He coughed awkwardly and cleared his throat,
“Armor ruined. Need new set.” Orlai nodded slowly,
“Right, now why am I naked?” His brown eyes slid to the side, not meeting her own, “Last I remember you had ample cloths in that ‘bottomless box’ of yours.” She grinned mischievously, “Or do you prefer me like this?” She let the cloak drop slightly exposing her cleavage. He glared off to the side, hood hiding his face. Orlai grinned, teeth flashing in the sunlight, enjoying how easy he was to tease.
I looked up at the sky, trying to distract myself from the woman in front of me. Orlai’s battle with the demon was just the beginning, and my training her up to this point a structure for which her strength would be built. There was still much to do, still many things for her to see and learn but I dared to believe things were getting better, to hope that there was a chance I had not made a mistake accepting this strange woman. I started rooting through my bottomless box,
“What’re you doing?” Orlai asked. I didn’t respond, pulling out a set of Silver Knight armor. It was nearly identical to my own, inscribed and masterfully crafted, but lacked the physical and magical defense of my own. If I had another Black Knight set I would have given it to her but, alas, I did not. Orlai’s eyes lit up when she saw the Silver Knight armor, “What is that?” She asked in awe. I set the armor in front of her,
“Silver Knight, new armor.” Her eyes glittered,
“For me?” She took the chest plate in one hand, cloak sliding down her back, and lifted it. I focused on her jade eyes struggling to ignore the rest, “This is fantastic! Mind if I put it on?” I glanced slyly at me, “You can watch you know.” I bristled, jumping to my feet and striding down the steps to the lower level of Firelink. I waited halfway down the stairs leaning against one of the walls. I carefully extracted the Peculiar Doll from my pack to study for the hundredth time, wooden hair framing its face in a curving square perfectly trimmed and combed just above the shoulders, an ancient fraying sleeveless dress covering its dignity, frail limbs lovingly made with excruciating detail and functionality. The colorless doll seemed ancient as if thousands upon thousands of owners had handled the little thing over an impossible stretch of time. When I held the doll I felt a strange warm fondness from it, the sadness it once gave off a distant memory, and could not help but return its affections for whatever reason. Calm came over me when I held it, soothing me of petty worries and troubles with its polished wooden figure. Why though? Why did such a small and mundane thing ease the ancient mind within me, how could it serenade the wisdom of centuries and quiet the cautious voice of reason? No matter how long I studied it the doll would not answer,
“How does it look?” Orlai stood at the top of the stairs clad in the Silver Knight armor gleaming brightly in the sunlight. Words failed me,
“Fine.” I never realized what attire could do, the silver sheen of the armor a perfect accent to her jade eyes and fiery hair,
“Fine?” She laughed, “That’s all?” I looked down at the doll, warmth beginning to wane. I glanced up at Orlai curious if there was a correlation,
“You are beautiful.” I stated clearly and the doll tingled with white hot... anger? Orlai on the other hand blinked several times, cheeks turning red. Odd, was there a relation between her and the doll? A surprising thought occurred to me, was the doll jealous perhaps? Was it sentient? I held the doll to my chest, gently caressing it, “You are beautiful as well.” I whispered to the small thing, and amazingly enough the anger melted away into soft glowing happiness, mysteriously odd. Never had I imagined simple sounds capable of influencing people so greatly though I doubted most of my foes would’ve listened if I’d tried to use words. Swords were much simpler means of communication with much simpler outcomes. If only people were so easy to deal with,
“Say that again.” Orlai’s face filled my vision and I twitched in surprise. Were my senses beginning to dull, or her skill growing? Thinking was beginning to do more harm than good to me,
“You are beautiful.” I repeated bluntly,
“Yeah, see, that’s the problem, I’m having trouble believing you just said that.” Orlai laughed, shaking her head, “How can you say that so matter-of-factly?” I thought a moment, considering the best response. She enjoyed praise, positivity, compassion, things I sorely lacked. What would Andre do? He seemed much better at this than I, perhaps taking inspiration from him might work?
“You are my diamond.” I pulled from the smith’s words several days back, hoping it would produce some form of success. Orlai’s eyes narrowed and she pushed me against the wall,
“Now I’m suspicious.” She growled, “What’re you up to mister?” Now praise had the opposite effect? Or was it because I’d used Andre’s words? Was that the issue, originality? Did I have to speak my own mind for her to react well? I blinked. Honesty. I had to be honest. I couldn’t use another’s feelings and words to convey my own. Perhaps I was beginning to learn then; learning how to be human again? The thought seemed so impossible and wrong yet I could not deny the hope I felt from it. What if I was? If I was then if I became human could I cast off my duty and run away with Orlai? Guilt crippled me and I looked down the stairs. I could not let Orlai see my face, she was much more perceptive of emotion than I. I did not know how to hide such things. How selfish of me this was, to even consider abandoning Lordran. I had no right to drop a Duty I knew only I could carry. I was undead, Chosen Undead, and never would I be human. No magic or gods could reverse the undead curse, “Chosen?” A hand reached inside my hood and pressed against my cold cheek turning me to face Orlai, “Are you alright?”
“Are you sure?” Pained worry twisted her expression, jade eyes offering kindness I instinctively refused. I pushed her back, stepping up the stairs. Humans were honest, humans followed their hearts and dreams. I was undead, heartless and without emotion, Duty my only calling or “dream.” I needed to get to Priscilla so Orlai could escape.
Stopping at the Bonfire, Orlai just behind me with that same worried look, I reached into my bottomless box pulling out a sword. The leather of the sheath was simple, hilt and guard anything but. The handle was fashioned from silver, shaped in patterns of metallic lumps for maximum traction so the bearer did not lose grip. The guard though shone dully in the light of the fire, waves and curls of metalworking twisting inside and out upon its surface. I handed the sword to Orlai,
“Sunlight Sword.” I said with a nod, “Good for sunbros.” She raised an eyebrow,
“‘Sunbros?’” I nodded again,
“The hell’s a sunbro?”
“Great warriors, praise the sun.” I raised both arms to the heavens, standing upon the tips of my toes. Orlai stared at me,
“Right.” She replied hesitantly, taking the sword and unsheathing it, “Whoa.” She gasped as the weapon shone brightly in the sun, polished metal almost shimmering, “This feels… good.” I frowned, watching the sword uncharacteristically glow, “It feels so… strong. Almost like I can take on the world.” Light danced upon the weapon’s surface in brilliant rays nearly blinding me,
“Let me see.” I said. She handed back the sword, grudgingly, and I held it in my black gauntlet. Its former light vanished as soon as it left Orlai’s hand,
“Maybe I’m just stronger than you eh?” Ignoring her I held the sword up to the sun trying to reflect the light, which it did but not nearly with the same brilliance as before. Baffled I handed it back to Orlai, bright glow instantly returning as she took it, “Well,” Orlai’s said proudly, “I’d say it’s about time I can do something you can’t.” I glared at her,
“It glows.” I grunted sarcastically and she scoffed,
“So? You can’t make it shine like I can.” Eyes rolling I reached back into the bottomless box pulling out a large round shield trimmed with gold, a sun painted on its front atop a white background, strange face at the sun’s center,
“Here,” I grunted, “Sunlight Shield.” To my irritation it began to glow as well once she took it,
“Well?” Orlai proclaimed, hoisting the sword and shield, “What do you have to say now then huh?”
“Training.” I glowered, drawing my great sword, “Ready?” Orlai cocked an eyebrow,
“Are you jealous?”
“No!” I snarled, “Train you in their use.” She shrugged, smug smile twixt her lips,
“Of course, of course, come on then!” She roared, bashing her sword across the shield in challenge and planting her feet. Silently, I charged.
The shield halted the two-handed overhead blow I dealt to her and to my shock rebuffed me with a bright blast of light. Stumbling back I barely dodged the almost blazing Sunlight sword, seeming to have become a white-hot bar of flame. Orlai’s teeth flashed in a wide grin, eyes fixed on me. Anger boiled as I saw the eager confidence that burned in those jade eyes of hers naively believing that she had a one up on me. If she thought exotic weapons would let her beat me a harsh lesson needed to be taught. I regained my balance, jumping back to set my feet. I sucked in a deep breath as my muscles constricted, waiting for an instant, before whipping Artorias’ Greatsword around in a wide sweep that destroyed Orlai’s defense. Her shield arm flew back, Sunlight Shield thudding to the ground as looked up in shock. I pressed the tip of the great sword to her throat,
“Yield.” I spat. The fire in her jade eyes did not waver.
She smacked the blue steel blade aside with her sword of flame and darted beneath my guard. I deftly evaded, bringing up my knee and knocking the wind out of her as I dodged, finishing her by hammering the hilt of my sword into her back. Orlai gagged and crumpled, falling to the ground limply,
“Shit.” She coughed, rolling over and climbing to her feet, “Again.” Snatching her shield up, stood again at the ready. I landed a heavy swing on her shield and again was blow back with a blast of light. Something was wrong, was she using some sort of power, did the shield only react to her in such a unique way? Confused I decided to continue testing the shield. Careful to avoid her sword I shouldered into the shield and was blown off my feet, rolling to regain a foothold. Did it rebuff attacks? If so why was I able to break her defense before? I blocked the sunlight sword, landing another overhead blow on the shield which, this time, buckled. Orlai fell back, shield dropping enough to expose her chest, and I drilled a kick into her torso throwing her back. Before she could recover my sword was at her throat. Sweat poured from her forehead, breath ragged and gasping, did the shield’s ability consume stamina or was it merely activated by her touch? I sheathed my sword,
“It is not the weapon that make the warrior.” I rumbled, “It is the warrior that makes the weapon.” Orlai sighed,
“I know, you said that the first day we started training. Who told you that anyway?” Chosen shrugged, “Whatever, this shield and sword are awesome what did you call them?” She wheezed sitting up. I sat next to her,
“Sunlight sword and shield.”
“Sunlight huh?” She panted, I nodded in response, “Cool, where’d you get em?” I winced,
“A great warrior.” She glanced at me,
“One of those sunbros?” I nodded solemnly,
“Solaire of Astora, a great warrior, a great man, a great friend.” She raised an eyebrow,
“That important huh?”
“He must be, you practically composed a poem just now. You talk like he’s dead” I grunted indifferently. She didn’t answer a moment, as if waiting to see I’d say anything else, “So these were his?”
“They’re amazing.” I glared at her,
“It is not the weapon that makes the warrior-”
“It’s the warrior that makes the weapon, I know, you just told me that!” She snapped, sitting up, “You will not stop harping on that, I know alright?” Orlai punched my arm, “But damn huh?! These are cool!” Picking up the shield and balancing it on her lap Orlai watched it shimmer, “I mean why does it do this?” I could only shrug. She grinned, “Maybe it’s because I’m special eh?” She mused, chuckling,
“You are special.” Glancing at me a slight red hue crawled into her cheeks,
“Yeah I’m special, I mean c’mon look at me!” She raised an arm, flexing her muscles beneath the Silver Knight armor, shoulders rolling, “Call me wonder woman!” I snorted skeptically,
“Special, yes, wonderous, no.” Ignoring me her gaze remained fixed to the golden light of the shield and I watched as it tried to mimic the sun itself. What was it she did, how could she turn the shield and sword into such ascendant versions of themselves when she wielded them? At the moment the sword sat plainly on the grass where I’d kicked it, a stark contrast to the flaming inferno it had once been. She was most definitely special, but what was it that made her special? I watched curiously as she giggled holding the sunlight shield closely. I suddenly realized how oddly convenient it was that the Silver Knight armor fit her.