Chapter 26 - Darkmoon
White marble warmed by quiet flame soothed bones and flesh, armor growing lighter as the icy cold melted away, soft heat gradually easing exhaustion burdening body and soul. Faint orange light flickering, the Bonfire lit a small white room painted pale orange by the flames, floor patterned in checkered green and white tiling. Transfixed on the dancing flames and the shadows they cast around the odd blade thrust vertically into a pile of bones and ash marking a Bonfire, peace eased raging bloodlust. Gently dissuading murderous vengeance towards lazy procrastination rage became contempt, contempt became frustration, and frustration became melancholy. Remnants of the terrible firestorm drifted aimlessly, like ash carried on salty sea wind, and the buds of calm serenity overshadowed by dark clouds beneath landscapes ravaged from hate bloomed chasing fetid clouds whence they came, momentarily curing the scarred landscape of its pain.
Bonfires had for so long stifled the Dark, carrying me on the journey of Flame in everlasting comradery. To sit in their presence once again was like returning home from a long hike that ground body, mind, and soul to dust, an ever present friend always willing to open their doors and heal one as twisted and warped as I. Nestled in this small refuge from the outside I cradled a brown blanket made from rough cotton, leathery legs of old and flaky gray skin stretching out from its bottom while a skull of similar appearance, skin pulled tight over closed eyelids sunken deep, poked out the top to rest against my chest.
Moaning softly the Firekeeper squirmed, ugly face scrunching I assumed she sought a more comfortable surface than cold steel and hard marble, cotton blanket doing little to cushion either. Still comatose from the earlier encounter her shoulders rose and fell with the breath of sleep, eyes darting to and fro beneath her cracked lids of leather skin.
I had not realized the strong female voice encased in gleaming brass possessed such a weathered and worn body of scarred decay. Admittedly I had day-dreamed her to be a shining woman fit to guard the gate of Anor Londo, one subject to countless suitors in her days as a knight, though reality and time are not so kind to even the greatest and brightest of individuals despite the imaginative hopes of one so naïve as I.
Who was she? How long had she stood watch over the Bonfire and who had assigned her here? What did she know of the Gods and Dark, the Chosen Undead and the cycle? Frankly speaking I did not expect much from her except a blade in the stomach after my tantrum on the bridge, but hope burned much more brightly in my silent heart when it was in the presence of a Bonfire.
Why would someone so withered and weak have been tasked with protecting the entrance of Anor Londo, The City of Gods? Were the ranks of Flame so horribly depleted? Had time so thoroughly worn through the “Heroes” of legend? Never before did I pay so much attention to my surroundings as I had in the past few…. How long had it been? I held no perception of time and Orlai leaving only worsened that fact.
Darkness pulsed, vengeance whispering awful desires.
I shook my head, focusing on the Bonfire and Anor Londo. Quite the desolate place now, before Anor Londo had been the shining gem of Lordran, and yet this hollowed woman guarded its gates? The idea seemed laughably unlikely, yet here she had always been to welcome me.
I sighed, looking around the room.
Shadows here were welcoming, understanding. They did not swallow the Bonfire’s flame but thrived in coexistence, knowing that without flame it would not dance so vigorously across the walls. Shadows did not wish to be dead and subdued, as the infinite Dark outside, but lively and ever-changing.
The Bonfire’s flames understood this, careful not to burn too strongly else lose the tinder that gave them life much faster than truly necessary leading to an abrupt death. Shadow did not harm flame the Bonfire knew, merely existed. So why waste precious fuel, its life, to banish shadow and burn at a nearly unsustainable rate? The Bonfire protected a Soul, comforting it from being assailed by the much stronger Dark beyond, not the harmless shadow that danced about the Soul. Why destroy an innocent to spite the guilty? Why would the Bonfire sacrifice itself and abandon the Dark Soul to a lonely fate? The shadow cast by the Dark Soul flickered faintly, but was a much greater menace than the benign shadows that danced around it. Should the Dark Soul’s shadow be without a flame to guide it…. The Bonfire knew of that which it kept under control.
As these politics played endlessly along the marble walls I smiled.
Face bare so as to warm its cold flesh in the Bonfire’s light I could not help but chuckle from my narrow-mindedness. For so long I searched for a key to the enigma of my own self when had been it right under my nose the entire time. Bonfires, the only real consistent truth in my eternal life, offered answers. Two opposites could find harmony and survive together without the death of the other, flames and the shadows they created, though what I witnessed was a natural occurrence, simple reality.
A fire, no matter how bright, would never burn away every shadow in a room and all shadows would eventually return through the passage of time and fading of light. In fact flames created shadow, a shadow could not exist without light, or fire, and fire could burn regardless of the presence of shadow. Fire simply burned and shadow danced alongside, the two living hands-in-hands, either unconsciously or consciously I could not say.
Then there was The Dark. While shadow and fire were weights balanced perfectly on scales—Darkness overwhelms. Immortal and all-consuming Darkness eats light and shadow alike, enveloping all in stifling abyss. Lifeless and heartless it is a void of nothing capable of swallowing everything without remorse or awareness. Yet Darkness is also an ever-present fact of nature.
If fire could be extinguished but Darkness kept eternal, how could fire naught but die out? Would kindling the flames simply be delaying an inevitable end? All things died, didn’t they? Was there a greater fire that could never die, as it was with Darkness? What could even hope to face Darkness as an equal, a balance seemingly unattainable when faced by an eternal abyss of undying Dark?
A small realization came to me.
I could not die no matter the circumstance and did not know if gods held the same benefits. Though Priscilla had been feared by the gods, why would gods fear anything if they could not die or be destroyed? Were they too bound to the principles of flame? Or were they the bane of Darkness? Was it they who kept the world balanced? Yet if their duty was balance then it was obvious they had so horribly failed when Darkness now ran rampant. Granted I was at fault for the state of Anor Londo but Lordran as a whole already squirmed beneath the terrible boot of Dark. I could not recall a single moment of real, lasting peace in Lordran that was not within sight of a Bonfire, and even then the Bonfires were not always safe.
Child of Dark the denizens of the Painted world branded me, and Child of Flame the Angel from the gods had named Orlai, a living God herself and I an immortal corpse of cold flesh. Darkness and Flame, one everlasting and all-consuming, the other vibrant with life and grossly incandescent beneath a never ending sun. The similarities between the relationship of Fire and Dark between Orlai and I seemed almost ironic.
Perhaps Orlai and I were those meant to balance Lordran? It could not have been a coincidence for us to come together, and I had always wondered why love had so suddenly bloomed for her in such a fanatical, if not disturbing, way. I had known and cared for Rhea, the priestess doomed to fail in her crusade against the darksign, centuries longer than the mere weeks or perhaps month I knew Orlai. Yet when Orlai killed Rhea, I had of course felt overwhelming sadness, but… then I felt free. It was as if Rhea’s death signified the end of my constant march towards an unseen end I knew was not meant to be reached.
I’d never really understood my emotion or actions, and still do not to be honest, but now, in the aftermath of so much loss and dark, I felt a personality. I felt a life. I felt… I felt a Soul. Coughing I nodded slowly to myself, eyes fixating on the Bonfire.
Here, in its light, existed two opposites in harmonious company. Here I lived and thought. Here I had found Truth and strove to spread it. Here I knew that Lordran was broken from the forces that battled over its control.
Darkness, consuming all in death, greedily steals souls into the vault of oblivion speaking of truth but carrying evil taint wherever it treads, hungering to eat the very world itself without remorse or foresight.
Fire burns with blinding light scorching all too weak to stand in awe of its flame and damning those not born in its forge, using lies of legendary proportion and disgusting creation to instill its will upon the ignorant.
For such greed and sin, reliant upon both Darkness and Fire, shadow paid the price of innocence.
This was the world of Lordran. What if it all could be fixed, not with Darkness or Fire, but shadow? Was it possible?
My train of thought was disrupted by the shifting body I held in my arms.
In the company of the Bonfire I did not think myself in any sort of danger, relaxed and completely at ease I been taught, through centuries of experience, that once resting at a Bonfire it’s boon of unbreakable protection embraced you. However I had never dared upset the Keepers of the flame, so you can imagine my surprise at the knife I suddenly found wedged in my throat.
Gagging as icy blood filled my throat and lungs I fell back, grabbing the arm of the woman I thought unconscious as she shoved me down to the floor, crystal eyes blazing bright with righteous revenge, knife still firmly lodged in my throat,
“You think to make me your pet?” She jeered, straddling me as the brown blanket fell from her shoulders to the floor, “Stripping me bare and holding me close like some maiden won by conquest?” I pushed the pain of the knife out of mind, death called me to the Bonfire not three feet away.
Grabbing her wrist with one gauntlet and the ivory talisman in my pack with the other I fired a knee into her back. Gasping painfully the woman’s back arched away from the blow, but her grip held firm on the dagger. Fighting back and forth, gazes locked, we struggled to and fro for a moment. Impressed and taken aback by the strength still present in the withered body she inhabited I viewed this decaying corpse of a woman in an entirely new light, literally. In the dark of her shadow made longer by the Bonfire at her back I fought against certain death that had so easily ambushed me. I could not help smiling, seeing the difference between the imposing shadow on the walls and ceiling above compared to the frail thing that cast it. A frightening being with thick, jagged limbs and a warped body loomed overhead, vanishing and reappearing, twisting and turning through the dancing shadow and orange light. Seeing my smile she hesitated for an instant.
In that instant I pulled the dagger free, twisting it out of her grasp, talisman glowing with holy light to repair my damaged flesh and drilled an elbow into her chin with the same arm holding the talisman. Thrown off and a few feet away the woman crashed to the ground, motionless. Instinctively rubbing where the dagger had pierced I stood up,
“Easy.” I growled in warning. Head turning to me her teeth clenched and the woman pushed herself up shakily with a growl of her own,
“E…easy?” She mumbled, body swaying, “You….” The woman’s legs folded on themselves and she fell back. I watched coldly as she crashed to the tile whimpering in quiet pain. I did not know what the black smoke had done to her nor did I particularly care. Ignorant or not she had willingly pushed me to link the Flame and continue the cycle all these centuries just as the Gods, Fire and Dark alike, intended,
“You live. Why, do you think?” I asked purposefully. Scowling the woman glared up at me,
“Live?” She barked a humorless laugh, “I died long ago, now in service to Lady Gwyndolin as one of the loyal Blades of the Darkmoon.” I frowned, her words striking a chord in me and the Bonfire flared from a moment, the woman of Darkmoon glancing at the fire in surprise. Darkmoon sounded familiar.
Putting a gauntlet to my forehead I withdrew from reality from a moment, delving into my memories of the past. Blades of the Darkmoon, those who hunt sinners, traveling across space and time to do so, they were a very simple and very exclusive covenant and most importantly they strove to retain order, or at least their version of it. Any who broke from the norm would be hunted down and killed without question or mercy. Resurfacing from my memories I looked down at the Darkmoon.
Blue eyes sparkling in the Bonfire’s light the Darkmoon’s gaze did not waver or quake like the frail, withered body of an Undead that handicapped her. Without those eyes she looked a near clone of the undead soldiers who inhabited the lower levels of the city, the Undead Church, where Andre had set up his shop. But the eyes of those… things were hollowed and lifeless, filled with madness they were the eyes of senseless killing machines. This Darkmoon had humanity, soul, personality, drive, hell she could actually speak. Despite being what looked to be a primary contributor to the cesspool Lordran was now I held no hate for her, in fact I wondered if she truly knew what it was she had been doing. Though, what could I do?
I had killed Gwynevere, or what appeared to be her, the very thing this Darkmoon had sworn to protect and nearly killed the Darkmoon after she tried to avenge the death of her charge. Recalling the voice that had spoken to me just after killing Gwynevere and this Gwyndolin the Darkmoon followed I wondered if Gwyndolin had been the speaker? That aside there was little I could likely do, considering I’d been nothing but a complete menace to the Darkmoon. I would not kill her though,
“Speak, scum!” Blinking I refocused on the Darkmoon, who was now leaning heavily against the wall, blanket wrapped tight over her body, “Answer me!” She declared proudly, despite her shaking body it seemed her voice had regained its power, “Kill me now in combat or offer me the means perform it myself!” I forced my expression to remain stony, hiding my amusement at such blind pride. Knights were all the same,
“No.” I coughed, voice raspy as if clogged by dust, though even if I said no it wouldn’t change much. Proud as she seemed the Darkmoon would find a way to end her own life, and as much as I did not want that to occur, despite my earlier bloodlust for it, there was probably no way to stop it without chaining her up.
The voice sent a shiver down my spine, shockingly enough it sounded as a greater, more echoic and self-important, version my own,
Without thought or understanding I reached out to the Darkmoon and took her into my arms, she fighting feebly apparently having expended the last of her strength in her surprise attack earlier, and knelt before the Bonfire with her. One arm holding her close I reached into my pack and flicked open the bottomless box, rummaging around for a minute before pulling out something I had not used in… well I couldn’t recall.
Suspended in mid-air above my gauntlet floated a diamond of black smoke outlined in white, a strange thing I knew only as Humanity. It was one of many, I held quiet a bundle of the little things. At its appearance the Darkmoon froze and out of the corner of my eye I could see her gaze fixated on the small thing hovering above my gauntlet. I calmly thrust the Humanity into the fire.
A void of white, I still encased by armor of black steel and possessing my precious sword and shield. As far as the eye could see there was nothing,
“Who are you?” Turning around slowly I looked down at a woman clad in armor mixed with leather padding and steel plates held together by strips of more leather. A parrying dagger and Estoc sheathed on her right hip she sat cross-legged, head cocked to one side, sparkling blue eyes looking up into mine as a pair of slim brown eyebrows climbed her forehead in surprise she asked again. Those eyes were familiar, “Who are you?” The armor she wore seemed practical, simple, unimpressive but sturdy. Even sitting I could tell she held herself at the ready, body tense but flexible and prepared for action an aura of surety and respect hung about her. Brown hair pulled back in a pony tail that whipped about when she shook her head the woman continued, “Are you deaf, a mute perhaps, or just a lost fool?” In a manner of speaking she could be considered beautiful in a tough but elegant sort of way.
"I am Nameless.” Answered a deep voice that echoed through the white, it seemed fitting it was my own. The woman stood cautiously, eyes narrowed in curious suspicion,
“Nameless?” She muttered, hand on her sword, “You look like Death.”
A black cape billowed behind me, stemming from the hood and mask hiding my face, and tendrils of abyssal smoke curled up from my weapons and armor. I felt no surprise at my appearance and her nervous manner, as if in the presence of a greater being,
"I am that which you perceive.” I gestured towards her with a claw-like gauntlet, ”Who are you?"
“Me?” The woman scoffed, if a mite nervously, “Why? I am a simple knight from Carim, what could you possibly want from me?” I knew this, sensed it. Reaching out I spoke,
"Name yourself, knight of Carim." The woman did not shrink away, instead frozen by emotion I could no place, blue crystals wide I saw my gigantic hulking form in them, ”Child,” I repeated, ”Speak it.“A tip of the claw touched her forehead.
“Ilyena.” Whispered the Darkmoon, and in a fluff of white smoke the skeleton of gray flaking skin and fleshless body vanished, replaced by a beautiful woman of pale skin and deep brown hair that fell about her shoulders in waves. Toned muscles shaped her solid body in rigid lines that drew the eye with their lustrous appearance. The Humanity burned away...
And what I had just done occurred to me.
Slumping to the floor the Darkmoon’s eyes slid shut. I stared at the actual woman, fair skin, shapely body…other things, and there she was just lying next to me. Blinking several times as if she was some illusion that could be willed away, I couldn’t believe my eyes. When she didn’t disappear I sat down slowly, took a deep breath, and put my hands on my head. I had talked to a woman named Ilyena who looked exactly like the one in front of me in some strange white world and burned a Humanity somehow turning a disgusting corpse into a beautiful woman.
Scrubbing my hair furiously I quickly reached into the bottomless box and wrestled a brass set of armor that looked exactly like the set she’d worn previously. Where’d I found it I couldn’t recall, nor did I particularly care at the moment and, feeling a heat not brought by the flames rising in my cheeks, I briskly slipped the woman into the identical armor.
After completing the deed I sat back on my laurels.
Face serene, lips full, eyes closed, hair splayed out on the floor, the helmetless Darkmoon lay lengthwise between the Bonfire and I. There was no particular reason for keeping the helmet off. Just figured it would help her… breathe. She was very pretty though. Shaking myself I snatched the black cloth, wrapping it around my face and pulling up my hood. Scooting up against the wall I put a safe distance between her and I. Fixing Orlai in mind I imagined her beheading the Darkmoon if anything happened like with Rhea.
How and what had I done? Once a corpse now a pretty lady, a miracle was the only thing that came to mind. I only knew combat and healing miracles and I hadn’t used the ivory talisman, the Humanity possibly? I raised a gauntlet, studying its inscribed black steel for a hint or answer, scarcely able to believe I could reverse hollowing. Leaning down I put my forehead against hers. Breathing a sigh of relief I sat back. She was still dead, only seeming human her body was cold as ice, just like mine. A part of me feared she would be... living. If I could heal the Undead Curse well… then I’d be a god, and if I was a god...
I pulled the cloth down, spitting in disgust. I was undead, always and forever, refusing to even consider being similar to the gods at all.
Far below, in Darkness never disturbed whispered voices more deadly than poison,
“…He… he has awoken." Spoke one,
“…No…it is too soon." Answered another,
"It…is as we foresaw." A third reminded,
"Death has come." Declared the furtive souls three.
High above in the clouds never seen rumble voices that rivaled thunder,
“This cannot be!” Boomed one,
“The Dark, it rises!” Called another,
“The Child, we must send her!” Ordered the third,
“The Flame shall live eternal!” Roared the gods their weapons bared and voices strong.
And somewhere far beyond the reach of any in a place long lost to time and forever forgotten by all, something stirred.
Time, after an eternity of absence, slowly began to resume its steady pace and the future finally drew near.