Chapter 23 - My Heart
Magnificent, truly and utterly grand, everything was just too perfect, almost as if he walked through a dream devised by his own ingenious mind. The King’s laughter echoed through the great halls of his very own palace of marble and golden sun, all of it, from the largest rampart and gallery, to the smallest servant and stone, was his. Earned through blood and glory he had triumphed over all others, worthless wretches unworthy of Astora’s Throne, and without him, the King, those called Gods would be headless chickens running about still quarrelling amongst themselves not so differently from the mortals they thought themselves above and beyond.
The King had brought order with an iron fist, subjugating this pitiful land of so-called Gods he had raised them above all others, holding it together with his sheer willpower and infinite strength. He was the King, God of Gods, King of Kings, Ruler of all and holder of truth, his word law, fist justice, mind an omnipotent consciousness that knew and saw all that would dare to threaten his reign. To him, and only him, the future lay before him as an open book, the present a painting clear as the shining sun, and past a bright reminder of his invincibility.
His daughter had returned to his loving embrace as a weapon prepared for use, yet still retaining some of her will. He would break her, ruin her, shatter the emotions and personality that tugged at her frail and insignificant mind, forging Astra into a steel queen of Flame fit to serve the King, too long had the old Queen been allowed free reign in his palace, his land. She dared challenge him at every turn, publicly questioning his every move and word, she thought herself a worthy opponent to his infinity, his invincibility, his great and unstoppable wrath. The King chuckled darkly, an evil sneer slicing across his beautiful face.
He would break them all,
“My King, your majesty!” The King turned, raising his chiseled chin to look down upon a nameless servant dressed in robes trimmed in shining gold, cloth the color of cream white. The servant fell to its knees to clasp its hands together, holding them forward and above its head, “I bring news!” The King nodded, regarding the servant’s fearful trembling. The staff of his palace feared the King, as they should, yet this shaking was not the usual fear the servants felt in his presence it seemed darker, more potent. Who would dare inflict a fear greater than his upon his very own servants?
“SPEAK.” The King boomed, servant jolting in terror at the sudden thunderclap,
“I-.” The servant swallowed nervously, “I am t-to report that th-the Chosen Undead i-i-is, um, well, he is u-um-.”
“SPEAK!” The King roared, seizing the servant and holding it aloft to stare into its face with his eyes of glowing white, “MY TIME IS NOT SO TRIVIAL TO BE WASTED BY ONE SUCH AS YOU!” The servant’s head bobbed,
“Yes, of course your majesty I ju-!” The King began to squeeze, “The Chosen Undead is gone!” It cried desperately, voice suddenly silenced as blood splattered across the King and hall, his fist swelling in size and closing mercilessly around the servant until thick gore oozed out from between his massive fingers.
So the Dark still thought itself a player in his game, believing it could triumph over the ace he held, his Daughter of Flame, with its own disgusting abomination of evil? Never had light fallen to dark, never had the hero died without the villain perishing as well, fate demanded the Flame live on and the King become forever immortal as the one true God who had lived in the age of Legends and Heroes whom brought about the end of Dark and gave his life as the everlasting Flame, or lived to tell the glorious tale and rule the lands of Flame. But the only existence capable of stalling this destiny had slipped so easily from his grasp after his nearly achieving fate’s call. Deep within the infinite mind of the King, the bastion of divine perfection, ramparts of righteous will, and golden brazier of Flame that held the beauteous fire of his soul lurked a small obsidian black stone, shimmering dully as it leeched from the light of his soul. Enraged, the King stormed through the halls of his great palace to bring the wrath of fate’s destiny to his foes, the smallest cinder of fear flickering in memory of a furtive existence of one whom once wielded the Dark Soul countless eons past. The secret must be kept.
I groaned painfully and curled into a ball as pain, not agonizing but certainly noticeable, stabbed with vicious abandon. A massive hole of melted metal gaped in the chest of my armor, scorch marks covering the black steel, I looked around at cruel leafless trees clawing at the pale sky, branches twisting this way and that, reminded of skeletal hands. The hands reached up hopefully for the hand of another waiting, praying for some sort of divine being to descend from the heavens and spirit them away in a holy embrace from the barren world they inhabited. A light smattering of fallen snow dusted the dilapidated forest in a thin layer of dull white that I would have mistaken as ash if not for the cold that bit through my armor. A chilly wind carried the smell of rotting flesh past my nose, ruffling my short hair lightly as wisps of white particles danced through the air.
Slowly pushing myself up I clutched at the knot of pain in my stomach struggling to ignore the burning sensation on my face. I leaned against a tree, forehead pressed against the rough bark I found no comfort upon its unwelcoming surface. I tried to pull the most recent memories from my mind but, to my shock and horror, hit a wall of white fog that refused to budge no matter how strongly I concentrated or forcefully I heaved. Snarling ferociously I drew my head back and head butted the tree I leaned upon with all my might, breaking the dead wood in half as splinters tore at my face and upper half of the trunk falling with a moan to land in puff of ashen snow. The fog remained, untouched and unimpressed by my efforts.
I slid down the remains of the, tree dragging a gauntlet down its side I dug its sharp fingertips into the bark, peeling off long shavings of wood that curled back upon themselves as I slumped to the gray snow. Tear drops of ice fell from my eyes, freezing solid as they met air to drop with muted thuds on the snow. An overwhelming sorrow suffocated me, the pain in my dead body amplified tenfold, choking the breath from my lungs and grinding me into the ground, yet I still did not understand.
Why did I hurt so badly?
I could remember no reason to be such a blubbering mess of self-pity, unable to recall what had so thoroughly beaten and wounded me, in fact who and what was I? What had brought me to this barren wasteland of skeleton trees and ash? What had I done to merit such a sentence, whom had I wronged to be banished here? The trees were unfamiliar and claustrophobic, air pitiless with its frozen winds and pale sky uncaring to the plight I was subject to. I shrank away from the merciless world of gray, pressing against the splintered tree. Why? Why did I hurt so, mind and body gripped in agony? Lost, confused and alone I huddled against the broken tree crying out to the uncaring heavens for answers, receiving none. I remained there for what seemed an eternity, wallowing in my agony and depression as solid tears fell to the snow,
Hello. Whispered a soft breeze, I looked up at a small girl of ten clutching a Peculiar Doll stood next to a skeletal tree gazing at me with beauteous eyes of gold that contained wisdom far beyond her years. A small sleeveless white dress the only cloth to protect her from the cold I wondered how she was not shivering violently from the icy winds that swirled. Golden eyes glittering brightly despite the sunless sky of pale dark gray, the only color I could see in the dead forest, she motioned for me to follow, those eyes already drawing me towards her. Hello? Her voice was distant, fading as she slid behind the trees, Hello?
“Wait!” Voice unable to be heard by even my own ears I stood clumsily, barreling towards the girl, “Wait!” Disappearing behind the tree as I reached it I fell to the snow in a pile, looking up to find her gone.
Hello. My eyes snapped to a distant figure far, far away past countless trees, only the gold light of wise eyes betraying her presence. Strength returned to my limbs, fog forgotten with the sadness that once chained me I stood smoothly, marching in a straight line through the forest. I came upon a sword of blue steel and shield of black, scooping them up as I walked and returning them to their rightful places. The familiar weight of Artorias’ great sword and the Black Knight shield, rather than adding to my burden, urged me forward until I found myself running through the trees feeling as if I was carried by wings. I streaked like lightning between the trees towards the distant voice of the girl whom called to me like a song bird with its sad tune.
Stop. I halted, back straight, chin high, eyes front like a squire on his first day of boot camp, Chosen Undead, the voice was low, dark, pricking me with anxious fear, Where is it to which you run? An ancient mind of black tugged at the strings of my limbs, What is it you believe to be? I, a wooden puppet, knelt to a will that bent my own, You are a False Existence, Chosen Undead, one unable to challenge God, only kneel in its presence. I did not move or speak, mind blank. The forest disappeared and I stood upon a massive worktable in a large workshop of toys and tools, the motionless wooden bodies of those I once knew from a land named Lordran sitting upon wooden shelves and hung from the ceiling by unseen strings.
Andre the puppet sat, face carved in a cheery smile, hammering away at a sword never done, eyes hollow of emotion despite the laughter that adorned his face. Rhea the puppet knelt before a statue in prayer, shrouded by the milky robe of her faith. Others in various poses with various props were placed about the workshop, all crafted with sharp efficiency and detail, each different yet together whole,
Dancing by my hand, speaking by my will, existing by my fancy, they are Nothing. The puppets nodded their heads, bound to the unbreakable strings of fate, You are Nothing.
He is a man. The workshop vanished.
I sat at the edge of a long cliff, my back against a cold boulder looking out at a castle partially hidden by small bramble of snow covered trees upon an island floating atop a sea of billowing clouds, all shrouded by the dark light of a gray, moonless night. As wounded and battered as I had been before, fog dissipating from my mind to leave me hopelessly confused while memories Orlai and my eternal travels of Lordran returned, I exhaled, feeling myself return. Thought and memory filled the empty shell of dead flesh with sentient personality and emotion. Standing, something fell from my lap to the snow. Looking down I found, to my surprise, the Peculiar Doll sprawled in the snow. Gently picking up the small doll I put a hand to my forehead with an expression of complete confusion,
“What happened?” I grunted in amazement, voice scratchy and faint. The featureless face of the doll looked up at me blankly, “Neither do I.” I coughed and cradled the doll protectively, watching the castle to pick out dark figures walking the walls. What had taken me here, to the Painted World of Ariamis? After the Angel killed me, and then Orlai, turned Goddess, killed the angel I should have reappeared at the Bonfire in Firelink Shrine, the last place I rested. Instead, here I was.
Head shaking in disbelief I closed my eyes, the furious Goddess of Flame roaring back at me from the backs of my eyelids. Orlai was a god then, a divine being of Flame and true Light, one who ruled over the world of man to guide its mortal residents through the Dark with the torch of light. I raised my gaze to the godless sky, laughing at the irony. I had feared she would die, leaving me alone in the world to face my terrors and doubts alone without the bright light her life gave to my soul. Instead I had left her, a Goddess, and without any goodbye or heroic sacrifice I had died, without flair or drama, a corpse unceremoniously stuck through the gut by a flaming stick to be tossed heedlessly to the stone while Orlai rose to the heavens on wings of Flame to leave the lifeless corpse that thought itself needed below.
Don’t ever leave me like that, words echoed hollowly within my empty chest, image of the Goddess fixed in mind and jade green eyes that turned up to the world above, having forgotten who watched from below the Goddess ascending to the heavens having realized her true self. Orlai had left me. A bitter taste worked its way into my mouth and I spat over the cliff, a wry smile twixt my lips at the comedy of events leading up to this moment. So it was over then, to think she would be the one to discard me after all my worries, fears, and doubts, working to build her into one I would calmly walk astride without fear of her weakness, all nothing more than smoke in the wind now. As a Goddess she was invincible, omnipotent, Orlai no longer needed an immortal corpse of ash and cold flesh such as myself. I felt no anger, no spite, how could I? I was a corpse, undead and damned to the eternal ring, deserving of nothing but hollow immortality and the duty of the Chosen Undead. What could I offer her but death? What happiness would remaining with my sober ass give her?
I had one saving grace that kept me living and moving, however, that I would help Orlai escape Lordran, or die trying. I had managed to make good upon that promise but it did little to ease my sorrow, only enough to prevent myself from fruitlessly jumping off the cliff behind me. With a heavy weight and a sad sigh I touched the doll to my head, reappearing at the base of the ruined castle, a rickety suspension bridge swaying dangerously behind me. I dragged my leaden body up the winding path through the snow-covered bramble, sighing sadly all the way. To think that I, an immortal corpse of ash whom felt no hunger and needed no sleep, a lifeless being that only existed to light the Flame in everlasting duty, an ancient consciousness that had learned through centuries of death and despair that all things ended in tears, to think… to think that I… that I….
I clutched at my chest nursing something I had not known or dared to possess, now broken to never be repaired.