Chapter 25 - City of Lies
Before anything could be done, however, I had something to prove.
The Royal Sentinel roared in anguish as I cut its legs out from under it. The giant being fell heavily to the marble floor and hunched over in pain as its bloody stumps ground across the stone. Mimicking the precise efficiency of a headsman I over handed Artorias’ Great Sword down upon the Royal Sentinel’s neck, neatly beheading the massive guard and it vanished into ash with a final roar of pitiful defiance despite being headless. Calmly turning on my heel I raised the Black Knight shield, deflecting the colossal swing of a second Royal Sentinel. Attaching the shield to my back I grasped Artorias’ great sword with both hands, nimbly dancing beneath the Sentinel’s guard to jump upon its chest. I scrabbled up, seizing the top of its helm with my off-hand and firmly planted both feet. Grunting under the strain I brought a one-handed horizontal slice around with my sword arm, kicking off and turning my body with the swing to gain extra momentum. The blade cut cleanly, removing the golden helmet from the broad shoulders of the Royal Sentinel. I twisted in midair, thudding to the floor with a loud grunt and rolling to my feet. Barely managing to keep my footing I stumbled from the force of the Royal Sentinel crashing to the floor before it too vanished in a cloud of ash. Exhaling slowly I sheathed Artorias’ Great Sword, looking up at the white stairs that lead from the massive cathedral I stood in to a second room of even greater luxury.
Sentinels dead and Silver Knights oblivious to the plight of the main hall’s guard I marched up the white steps into a large room where once two great warriors defended the Princess of Sunlight, their souls now sat comfortably in my Bottomless Box. Two lines of great white pillars trimmed gold ran parallel either side of me, great arches of exquisite craftsmanship bridging the gap between each pillar. At the far end of the room were three large indentations in the wall, two of which were occupied.
Center of the three Lord Gwyn looked down upon me as I drew close, his statues stone a golden pigment, eyes regarding me with silent pity, lips hidden beneath a well-kept beard and face partially covered by thick silky hair that fell past his shoulders. Golden bands of metal were wrapped around his ankles and wrists as well as two shoulder plates and a tall crown with several long points. In his hand rested a single great sword, tip touching the floor, made of solid gold. Lips twisting in disgust behind my black mask I sneered at the luxurious statue.
Humility must have been a strong influence in the creation of such an egotistical depiction of oneself, though the size was accurate. I snorted in wry amusement, noticing the artisan had neglected to update the statue. Now those soft eyes of pity were hollow pits, hair messy and matted, skin wrinkled and worn, clothing stained and frayed; a soulless shell of the being that once was Lord Gwyn.
The right statue, Gwynevere Princess of Sunlight, was one whom all considered the last bright flame that burned in the empty land of Lordran. Daughter of Lord Gwyn and embodiment of hope for those of the Flame, a beautiful gem more precious that the lives of any and all undead that dared coexist alongside her divine self. The statue did little justice to her glamour and breathtaking effect on the soul. I had spoken to and stood within her warm presence, filling me with courage and valor. Blindly completing the errands given to me I needed only remember her when hope began to fade. Perfect and beautiful she gave all those that worshipped the Flame purpose.
I would end that purpose.
Glancing at the empty third slot in the wall I chuckled, shaking my head. To think one forsaken by those it protected would continue to fight in their name. A lucrative ally for sure but more likely than not blind to the truth. Was the blindness willing or unwilling? I knew not.
Stepping onto a cylindrical lift I ascended to the next level, walked past a brightly burning Bonfire, and into a room of diminutive size compared to the previous two. Within lay a massive woman on an equally sized cushion or couch of some type. Silk drapes hung from the ceiling and royal red curtains dulled the bright light of the sun, aside from a window in over the woman’s shoulder covered by a thin sheet of creamy white cloth that framed her in golden sun.
Chest tightening and breath catching, a tense lump condensed in my throat. Her skin appeared smoother than any polished stone and softer than the clouds above that cradled the infinitely setting sun, those curves of hers taking my eyes for a hectic ride through twists and turns that made my head spin. I stared at Gwynevere, a great weight pressed upon my shoulders nearly bringing to my knees. Goddess true, Gwynevere’s presence demanded worship of the highest order and tempted any into her service with ease. Wavering, my mouth opened and closed silently.
Seizing the darkness in my heart, screaming mutely behind the black cloth, I clung to the defiant dark holding it aloft as a shield to the radiance I faced,
“Oh Chosen Undead, thou hath journeyed far.” I twitched apprehensively at glorious angels singing behind each syllable she spoke. Her glossy red lips dropped each euphoric word upon my ears like thick honey, lathering me in sweet intention. Brown eyes glistening, she smiled, and I felt a light of the purest origin pierce my chest, black steel warming almost melting, from overpowering innocence.
In the face of her truth I was but scum, an evil assassin of the lowest conscience, a worthless beggar hoping to fulfill impossible dreams better forgotten as nothing more than the delusions of a madman who had long lost his sanity to a lifetime too long for even eternity. I could not destroy something so perfect as the Princess of Sunlight. I could not kill something so innocent, so bright, so grossly incandescent, I would not topple this land I had so long fought to keep alive. To do so would be insane. I had been a spoiled child rebelling against that which I knew nothing of, no right to sacrifice so much for something as selfish as my own emotions and wishes.
Black rage fought against the cleansing Flames, hate hardened my hollow eyes, dimmed the blinding allure of the Princess, nothing had changed after an eternity. No movement forwards or backwards, an endless cycle repeating again and again by the soiled hands of those who thought themselves gods. This creature before me was the poster girl of their rule. She represented those that had forced me to kill Priscilla and taken Orlai from me, holding the land of Lordran in an unbreakable grip. This was a test of my will, my resolve, my hate, and my dedication to Orlai. Enveloping myself in the darkness of my emotions I shot a glare up at the large woman,
“Chosen Undead?” She asked, “Why do you not speak?” The black rage struggled against the soothing tune of angels and soft touch of lavender. Her smile held me in a vice-like grip, body unable to move from the chains of the perfect brown eyes that cradled me in loving concern wooing me to obey,
“Tell me.” I growled, Gwynevere’s smile still strong, “Why are you here?” Laughing musically she leaned forward. I resisted the urge to glance down at the view she flaunted,
“For thine duty Chosen Undead.”
“Duty?” My voice barely held strong, nearly smothered under those eyes, curves, and voice, “What is your duty then?”
“To bestow upon thee the Lordvessel, thine tool to inheriteth the World’s Fire.” Gwynevere answered,
“What am I to you?” Light and Dark warred in the intricate labyrinth of my mind as Gwynevere cocked her head, neither side giving any quarter. I shook violently from the clashing of morality and desperate vengeance,
“Since the day Father his form did obscureth, I have await’d thee. Once living, now Undead, and a fitting heir to father Gwyn thou art, O chosen Undead and beseech thee. Succeed Lord Gwyn, and inheriteth the Fire of our world. A grave and arduous test of mettle, yea, it shall be. Indeed we had felt the warmth of Fire, its radiance, and the life it sustaineth. Without Fire, all shall be a frigid and frightful Dark.”
Her head exploded in a flash of lightning. No blood flowed from the mortal wound. Glorious and beautiful, the form of Gwynevere, Princess of Sunlight, dissipated into fog to be burned away in the rays of the setting sun. I stood alone, arm frozen on the downswing and talisman in hand. I gasped, body trembling beneath the stoic black steel of my armor. I had done it.
That which chained my will to this world had been broken, a being not of flesh and bone but fog and lies. Gwynevere had never lived, an illusion of her past self manipulating me. Relief soothed the terror I so fervently ignored to perform such a deed. If she had truly been alive I….
I had not killed a living god but another false truth. Eyes sharpening and shoulders squaring I glared down at the couch the illusion had occupied. How many more lies did Lordran hold to be destroyed? How many more illusions needed to be banished? When would my blade finally taste Gods blood?
I fell to my knees, head in hand as the shock of reality hit me. I had killed Gwynevere. I had killed Gwynevere willingly. I had killed Gwynevere willingly, of my own accord, ignoring that which I knew as truth, destroying the foundation upon which I had been told my life was built. For the first time a decision was made from my own judgment, my own will, and my own council. I had acted on selfishly and for my own benefit. Disbelief rattled me, body trembling.
They were right, all of them. A hideous existence of dark and nefarious malevolence had risen in my place. The monster craved for more, recompense long overdue from those responsible for its deranged mind and tortured life of endless suffering.
I clawed at my skull as sharp pain flashed within,
We demand blood.
Blood, give us their blood.
Familiar voices, innumerable and suffocating they hissed,
Their blood, Dark One, we demand their blood!
Barriers I had not known existed cracked, ancient thoughts breaking through,
Torn asunder by the morals of my life I knew to be false and dark voices crying out for bloody justice the fabric of my mind began to rip. Voice joining theirs I screamed,
The lie was broken, banished, gone, discovered, removed, DESTROYED! Truth began to reveal itself to me. Golden light of the setting sun fading darkness shrouded the room, as night falling upon the City of Gods, Capitol of the Flame, Anor Londo. An unseen voice spoke, silencing the hysteria between my ears, and I looked up,
“Thou that tarnisheth the Godmother’s image.” It accused quietly, “I am Gwyndolin and thy transgression shall not go unpunished. Thou shalt perish in the twilight of Anor Londo.” The voice faded. Cloaked by the night in the dark gloom of twilight I gasped loudly for air, collapsing on the red carpet.
There was no turning back now, I had set events in motion that would not be undone, and regardless of doubt in mind an unstoppable death march had begun. Whose death though was still in question and this was a reminder that no gain or victory came without guilt and sacrifice. If I was to kill gods and rescue the world from a fate worse than death it would require the weak mind I carried not to break every time I killed those I once followed.
Standing carefully, eyes shifting about searching for signs of another, I exhaled. It was time to move on. I left the room, sword and shield at the ready. I held no knowledge this Gwyndolin who somehow rattled me out of my insane fit but for whatever reason the name brought a bitter taste to my mouth. I’d never battled or heard of the woman, the voice that spoke too high-pitched and soft for a man’s, though she was most certainly of the Gods. No mortal would have been allowed to possess “Gwyn” in their name, perhaps she was another daughter of Gwyn? Odd that I’d never heard of her then.
Outside the Princess’s room I walked past the Bonfire, descended the lift, and stepped out once again beneath the gaze of Gwyn and Gwynevere. Shadows shrouded their faces and dominated the room, its former glory hidden by the night. Outside the room and beyond, where I had battle the Royal Sentinels, was much the same. Pitch black from the lack of interior lighting and sunlight the palace seemed much more dark and foreboding. Stepping outside through the gate I stood on the first steps entering the palace. Hollow and empty beneath the dark sky buildings appeared skeletal and lifeless, golden spires and white walls no longer shining, instead colorless and subdued, smothered by Dark the city of Flame was now reduced to ash.
Behind the black cloth I smirked. I had done this, choices and actions bringing darkness to a land where the sun had never set since its founding. Never had darkness dared touch Anor Londo, until now. Eyes turning up beneath my hood I beamed at the dim sky of thick clouds. A great hunger rumbled in the depths of my soul. Confidence blazed within my cold chest of immortal flesh and black steel, change had finally come to Lordran, I its herald.
But… deep down, shut away in the farthest corner of my mind and hidden beneath the layers of vengeance that gave my actions reason twinkled a lonely light, pitiful but resilient. Regret.
Dull light glinted below on the bridge between the palace and tower. Turning my attention to the light, jaw tensing, I watched a figure clad in brass armor calmly marching across the bridge to halt at the base of the steps I stood atop. I had thought Firekeepers could not leave their Bonfire, apparently not. Armored in brass plates, carrying an Estoc and parrying dagger, the figures helm tilted back to regard me. It gestured for me to come down. Hefting my sword and shield I descended the steps, the brass warrior allowing me to walked until I too stopped at the base of the steps with ten feet or so separating us.
“So it was you, was it?” The woman accused, “How dare you lay a hand upon a deity? How did you ever get this far?” Dagger poised to parry and Estoc ready to strike she advanced, “I shall end your suffering.” Voices growling, rage flaring, malevolent emotion suddenly swelled over me in a drowning torrent,
“No.” The voice was my own, “I shall end yours.” I struggled for control. Abyssal black smoke curled out from the joints of my armor. Without consent or command my arm flew out and twisted cruelly, as if clutching the warrior of brass within its grip. Crying out in surprise the warrior fell flat, turning to look back at brass ankles ensnared in tendrils of smoke that seeped from between stones on the path, “You think to know.” Declared a man of evil intention and fiendish disposition, “You believe yourself the bearer of truth.” Kicking furiously to free herself the warrior roared as more smoke bulged from cracks and slits in the ground restraining her flailing limbs. The ancient being smiled dangerously, eyes black pits of hollow death,
“Scum!” The warrior screeched, “You will never prevail! Darkness shall always fall to Fire!” Claw of black steel descended the Child of Dark hovered over the restrained woman’s neck, “My death is nothing! There are countless others! We sha-.” Gauntlet closing around the armor protecting her throat the woman’s voice cut suddenly with an agonized gag. Closing, the terrible claw of black steel crushed the fragile brass metal protecting her throat like dead leaves. Brass helmet falling into the cloud of abyssal smoke mutely as the claws removed it the woman spasmed against her bindings, reacting instinctively to the strangling. Abyssal smoke flowed over her body and the brass warrior’s jaw flew open soundlessly, the gauntlet clamped on her throat preventing any noise aside from quiet gags.
I gazed upon a hideous skull seared black by flame, skin flaking off, muscles torn, the face barely looked human. Ears burned off and cheeks ripped open, bulging eyes of blue crystal clouded by terror were the only evidence of any humanity present in the monstrosity. Lifting the thing into the air and pulling it from the smoke revealed a depraved body stripped bare of its gleaming armor. Skeletal and revolting the woman squirmed, hands scrabbling over the unforgiving black metal of the gauntlet crushing her throat. What I held naked to the cloudy night sky could not have been any clearer beneath even the light of the sun setting.
Bare of any illusion or trickery the gatekeeper of Anor Londo twisted and twitched. Ugly and undead, tears brimmed in her eyes of blue crystal at the atrocity forced upon her. Cold spheres of black indifference stared back at the blue crystals. No longer a warrior of the sun or protector of the gods this woman, stripped bare, was an abomination of scorched skin and tattered flesh employed to preserve the glorious image of Gods. Hideous and scarred the gatekeeper had been chosen, last of those fool enough to remain yet unworthy of ascending as a hero capable of standing among the gods themselves she kept watch over dregs. Protecting a world that had long fallen to the rot of time she believed herself courageous, a Darkmoon devoutly serving her master Gwyndolin. Hidden in the brass metal of the armor granted by a god she thought herself legendary.
Now though, the abomination that thought itself a hero had been shown cold truth. It was nothing, a small lonely pawn tricked into believing it was a great knight, though it was in fact carrying out a duty better left to kings and queens led by the wisdom granted from Gods.
It was this, the Child of Dark held aloft. Not a gatekeeper, pawn, or woman but tangible truth. Even sweeter, there was another to bear witness to this discovery of truth. The Child dragged the Gatekeeper close, until her face was less than an inch from his own, and gazed deep into her eyes,
“I have suffered.” The Child declared in a deathly quiet voice, “And chosen to end it.” His eyes crinkled as he smiled behind the black cloth, “Yet you still suffer,” The grip tightened, gatekeeper struggling to gasp for air, “And revel within it.” The Child reached back with its free hand, grasping the handle of the sword sheathed on its back, “Behold, gaze upon Truth in its purest form.” The corpse’s eyes bulged in absolute terror as the weapon left its sheath, a great sword that carried with it the touch of the Abyss. Artorias’ Greatsword.
We demand blood.
“No.” I growled, forcing the ancient mind back and smothering the hissing chorus, “You will not take this body so easily.” Black smoke swirling about me I closed the small section of consciousness I controlled off to the great expanse beyond, focusing upon the ugly woman held captive by abyssal black claws. Words boomed between my ears, skull rattling from the strength they threatened to burst from a great pressure but I did not listen, holding strong. I would not acknowledge them. Releasing the gatekeeper’s throat I enclosed her in a careful embrace of steel, shielding her from the black whirling smoke surrounding us. The words beat at the walls of my mind, roaring, “Stop.” I ordered, stood firmly upon my two feet and glaring at the smoke. Protecting the pitiful existence in my arms I refused to lose control to the Dark once again. The smoke existed, the words did not. The smoke held tangible form that could affect the world, those trapped in my skull could not unless I allowed it. I was in control, not them. This was my body, my mind, not theirs. The words fell silent, pressure vanishing.
Exhaling loudly and shoulders slouched I fell backwards onto the stone, landing a bit painfully on my rump, gatekeeper landing in my lap. I had not kept myself from their clutches for an eternity only to lose control now when everything was at stake. I hadn’t noticed until but the slow poison of their insanity had nearly taken me. Resisting power and knowledge forbidden to all but madmen I held what few scraps of my mind remained close, shrinking away from the ancient. Memories first surfaced of Solaire, Andre, Laurentius, Griggs, that sad fellow, Rhea, and… and Orlai. Vividly dancing past my eyes these men and women spoke silently. Faces as clear as if they stood before me chatting casually these people were proof of my existence, driving the decisions behind every action I carried out. I lived with them, influenced them, changed them, knew them. They lived with me, influenced me, changed me, knew me. We were all related, one affecting the other, our relationships were dynamic. We were all caught in the cycle together.
Beneath these images were emotions and instincts I could not name or describe. Foggy and mysterious they seemed the core of my inner workings, causing me to act or speak in ways I did not understand. The emotions and instincts, despite being the smallest piece wedged in a corner of the small fortress my consciousness inhabited, were the most vital part, even against memories I thought most dear.
The ancient thing or things outside the walls of these memories and emotions hungered for them like a starved beast. Ancient, older than I perhaps, the beast offered power beyond comprehension and knowledge that would baffle even gods. Yet instinct forced these away. I once thought the beast my consciousness, will, drive, existence, it gave me life. No longer. Withdrawing from the council of mine own self I left the mental fortress and the peace it offered, turning my attention to physical reality.
Body shuddering, skin cracking, the rotting corpse sobbed as I cradled it. The ancients had driven me to reduce this victim of the Gods to such a state and kill the illusion she had been tricked to preserve. This woman did not merit my vengeance and nor did any other undead who thought themselves faithful servants of sly liars disguised as heroes and gods. I could not afford to be so thoughtless in the treatment of my own kin.
Black smoke gone and mind quiet I looked down on the woman. Pulling a blanket from the bottomless box in my pack I hide the now unconscious abomination beneath its brown weaves of soft cotton. Head turning the woman looked up at me suspiciously, crystal blue eyes narrowing suspiciously. I could not help marveling at the pair of sapphires hidden beneath her closed lids and how out of place they seemed on such a hideously mutilated body. Perhaps she was a beautiful woman worth seeing once long, long ago. Pushing my hood back and mask down I leaned over, touching my forehead to hers.
She was cold, skin dry as paper and rougher than sand. Rotting meat stench curled my nose and bones jutted out from her decaying flesh, a far cry from any semblance of allure she was absolutely repulsive. I straightened, studying the nameless woman who kept the Bonfire alight. Cocking my head curiously I realized I’d never been so close to another undead before. I pulled the undead closer. Her head resting on my chest and legs draped over mine a strange comfort came over me, one that I could not describe. I was not drawn to this woman at all mind you, Orlai was still firmly in possession of my heart, but to be so near to another felt… soothing.
I hated being alone.