Dark Souls: The Princess and I

Chapter 29 - Duty

Ilyena looked down at the trampled Darkmoon shrine and open doorway. Ruined by careless footsteps the now-crumpled and wrinkled crimson carpet hardly seemed a respectful altar to the deity within, four candles at each corner snuffed out. Inside the doorway, where once was a barrier of impregnable white, stretched a hallway ten or twenty yards deep ending in a second door to another, larger, room.

For uncounted years Ilyena had knelt upon the crimson carpet in prostration to the god Gwyndolin behind the now missing door, leader of the Blades of Darkmoon. The Blades and their ideals had been Ilyena’s savior from the evils that ate away her sanity so long ago. It seemed strange now to remember the past she’d forgotten for so long, no matter how fragmented and vague.

A knight she had been called, protector of a town her family had nurtured and died for over the passing of countless generations. They had been an honorable order dedicated to the preservation of her home, and she happily took up their mantel. Until, that is, the undead curse changed her. Ilyena remembered little else than crippling sorrow and despair after that.

These memories and emotions gave her a sense of peace despite their pain. It was much more preferable than the soulless husk she had been hardly a moment before, a mindless machine believing itself alive performing a pointless duty to a cold and uncaring god. There seemed to be little logic in such a thing, why would one allow themselves to vegetate and fester as nothing more than a guide?

Ilyena unconsciously touched the smooth skin and silky hair she now wore, still in wonder of their sensation.

Gwyndolin had demanded Ilyena’s undying and unbreaking loyalty in servitude to permit the title of Darkmoon and ease the weight of the curse she bore. Gwyndolin promised a glorious and proud duty, one any hero or heroine would beg for; Gatekeeper of Anor Londo. It was only until now Ilyena realized the empty gift she had been given. Providing Ilyena with a heavy and cumbersome set of Brass plate to hide her hideous self, Gwyndolin assured her of its healing capabilities and inevitable return to human. Once Ilyena properly carried out her new duty Gwyndolin would grant her a second life. So, with newfound pride and honor, did Ilyena so blindly believe this self-proclaimed god.

However, she had been tricked, as so many heroes and heroines of legend.

Perhaps it was the restoration of her body and memory that allowed this fresh view point? No longer did she need to fear the hideous monstrosity she’d become, hiding beneath beneath cumbersome and painful brass plates. Now she could return home a human again.

...Mostly.

Blood frozen and stagnant in her veins Ilyena felt half-alive. Her limbs moved without hinderance, breathing regularly as if the flow of oxygen mattered, but she felt no pulse of life or the warmth of vitality. The return of her senses also came as bittersweet. Before, as a husk everything was numbed, pushed out of mind. She could not feel her body’s decay or the impossible strains put upon it. Instead she pulled at a puppet using mental strings, watching as it danced to please Gwyndolin.

Now she lived within an icebox of meat, shivering and trembling Ilyena began to regret leaving the warmth of the Bonfire. In fact why had she left at all?

I am nameless.

Ilyena looked up sharply from the desecrated shrine and down the hall. Moonlight lit the marble stones and looming statues watching her from above in pale light, casting long shadows from the window panes. Tightening the buckles of her leather armor, the cumbersome Brass set left behind for lighter, more flexible equipment now that the purpose for such full-body attire had passed, she took a cautious step forward with one hand on her trusty Estoc.

Ilyena had seen countless Chosen Undead, pointing them towards the city of Anor Londo and offering some small advice on their prophesied journeys. Always watching she guarded the Golden City’s gates against those who would do harm to its beauty. All different and unique in their own right each undead had marched to fates unknown to her, never to be seen again. She never guessed their ends, wondered their goals, questioned their characters, she had stopped long ago seeing the uselessness in it. If a single undead had managed to come so far as to Anor Londo, surely only Fate had allowed them entry. The odds of an individual successfully finding and entering Anor Londo of their own power and will were astronomical. Besides, no matter how many Chosen passed beneath her cautious eye nothing ever changed, for better or worse. Regardless their appearance or unknown intent, Anor Londo stood timeless, proud, and beautiful. Which was why she had left to find this single man.

Of all the Chosen that she had seen, only he had done something.

Fate, she knew, was only a power wielded by great heroes and heroines for the good of the light and flame. Through honor and respect did Fate guide those it watched over towards a better future for all. Good always triumphed over evil and yet so many Chosen, those called to greatness by Fate, seemed to fail as Ilyena had not seen any evidence of any sort of success or triumph in for the good of all. So why, when this man had come to pass, did everything turn on its head? With him came darkness to Anor Londo, the death of the Princess of Sunlight Gwynevere. Smothering what little beauty was left in Lordran this Undead held strength greater than any before him with a brutality unlike any seen before. He carried a terrible aura of fear and death upon his shoulders, looking anything but a hero he ghosted through the city like death given bodily form. Ilyena believed his end would come quickly at first seeing him, as Fate would not allow the success of one so obviously not of pure Flame.

Anor Londo had been swallowed whole.

Fate could never lose, yet he had beaten it. Or was this Fate already, she simply too ignorant to understand the implications of such infinite wisdom and impossible machinations?

He had cured Ilyena of insanity and depravity, tending to her with a level of respect and courtesy not found in those Chosen before him or any she had met at all. Not even the precious few memories that remained of the long lost past self she once was could stand against his presence in mind. He had restored her existence as best as possible when a god could not, yet snuffed out the flame of Anor Londo? How could such heroic and villainous actions be carried out by the same individual? In fact how could an undead hold the power to reverse her Hollowing when Gwyndolin could not, and how could an undead single-handedly topple the crown of Lordran, Anor Londo? How could a single undead defy the will of gods?

What if he was not simply a Chosen Undead?

A chill came over Ilyena, body tingling with something akin to excitement as she walked through the hall of the Dark Sun towards the large room within. Curiosity long barred within the jail of duty pushed her faster and faster until she was running, seeing nothing but the far door and the great adventure that awaited within it. Fantastic images flashed through her mind, dark and bright both, they proclaimed vivid promises of amazing implication.

What she found was not at all what she had expected.

Stench of blood, metallic and sharp.

Burning flesh, pungent and repulsive.

A great marble tomb of massive size, twenty meters between each wall and a grand window reaching up to the high ceiling, allowing full view of the Golden City that glowed faintly under the light of a full moon.

A black circle ten meters wide had been burned onto the stone, at its edge a broken and crippled body scorched black.

Curled in the center of the room on the white marble floor, fully lit by the moon that hovered over top as if on guard, a man of black steel cradled an exotic greatsword of shimmering blue steel. His shadow seemed too long and dark to be natural, features obscured and mysterious. Ilyena could hear him… whimpering? She noticed a blood trail that ran from the hall, beneath her feet, down the stairs, and into the charred circle.

“Hello?” She asked nervously.

Nameless looked up.

Liquid stained the cloth of his hood and mask, slicking the two claw-like gauntlets that gingerly cradled the greatsword. Dripping to the white floor in crimson red pools the liquid trickled off those claws in a steady stream. To her surprise the greatsword was spotless, in fact it shone brightly in the soft light of the moon, glittering and shimmering with such dazzling ferocity Ilyena almost looked away.

"Ilyena.” He hissed, voice sharper than a blade that she could almost feel at her throat. Two glistening black eyes, harboring a soul so dark it ate what little light remained, focused on her. Ilyena took a step back, fastening a shaking gloved hand around the leather handle of her Estoc. The shadows around him seemed foreboding, dangerous, no longer so mundane as death given form. This man had become an entirely different existence. Shapes twisted and warped around him in erratic patterns forming a long black cloak of shadow that hung about him ominously, covering the bright marble in inky black. Shoulders hunched and head hanging, gaze hopeless and lost, Nameless stared hollowly back at her. He seemed to grow, swelling in size and scope until he hung over her like an ancient being capable of untold horrors. Ilyena’s icy body shook with fears she could not control, unable to believe a nightmare of such evil had clawed its way out straight from the depths of hell and into reality.

She shook her head in disbelief, recalling the calm and powerful man of strength, compassion, and wisdom she had never known any but gods to possess. Muddy brown eyes of confidence and serenity, stature of invincibility and superiority, he had been pulled straight from legends recounted by old soldiers around dying campfires and mothers whispering wonders to their wide eyed children just before bed. A hero who performed miracles and feats thought impossible. He could do anything so long as he set his mind to it.

What she saw now was no hero, nor what one expected of a hero.

This was a monster of unspeakable creation. An uncontrollable beast that hungered without cause or end. Nameless was no man, undead, or even Chosen Undead. He was a demon.

Standing slowly Nameless hefted his sword overhead and Ilyena’s breath caught, gaze fixed on the giant weapon, seeing it split her newly restored body in two with her mind’s eye. She heard screams, helpless against a foe who could kill gods. Who else was that burned corpse meant to be? It was obvious Nameless had killed Gwyndolin, and none too cleanly.

Yet instead of attacking, Nameless teetered to and fro, bending beneath the weight of the greatsword for a moment, until he managed to sheath it clumsily on his back. The shadows began to recede, black eyes fading, aura of fear nothing more than a nightmare passed.

A single man worn down to his last legs remained. Breathing ragged and labored Nameless looked into Ilyena’s eyes,

“Hello.” He coughed painfully. Hollow and broken, his voice sounded like dry sandpaper dragged over rough wood. Ilyena, half expecting him to start coughing blood through his mask, leaned in, somewhat taken aback,

“Nameless?” She asked apprehensively. Nameless cocked his head, a small pinprick of confusion flashing in exhausted eyes shadowed by the black hood stained with god’s blood. Ilyena stood there a moment, waiting for an answer. Instead he remained silent, slumped tiredly to one side, as if in wait. Ilyena did not break the quiet, readying to draw Estoc, scrutinizing him for the beast that had been in his place only seconds before. Yet she could only see a shell of the man who’d called himself Nameless, the hero that had risen to her salvation. Suddenly Nameless sighed so loudly she nearly jumped out of her skin. Eyes turning away from her own he advanced, stumbling shoddily forward, head tilted, hood hiding his face. Ilyena could only stand frozen. It was as if she had been bewitched, her mind caught between fear and confusion, body held captive by unseen chains she could not move or think as Nameless walked slowly towards her. She struggled to draw Estoc, screamed for her mind to respond but no avail.

He stopped in front of her, head rising, gaze once again finding her own. Beneath the shadow of his black hood in those two hopeless eyes Ilyena saw something unspeakable. The two abyssal holes of his irises drew her in, an impossible to describe sensation that pulled more strongly than any duty ever taken or pledge made previously.

Agony.

Confusion.

Despair.

Rage.

Regret.

Justice.

Revenge.

Love.

A furious storm roared in those eyes, but she could only see its fringes. As if just at the edge of perception and reality the storm existed almost entirely out of sight, but only just. Emotions so long buried beneath an all-too familiar burden ran out of control from centuries of internment. Duty. Duty so timeless and vast it demanded nothing but absolute subjugation and complete devotion. In those muddy eyes Ilyena saw the very world she lived in upon his shoulders. She saw a man out of time and reality, a relic of a time long past, transcendent beyond any who dared call themselves gods.

“Ilyena?” He asked plainly. Ilyena blinked, returning to herself,

“Who are you?” She blurted thoughtlessly. Nameless studied her a moment, as if considering a response. Rolling his shoulders with a sigh he marched past her.

Ilyena released her grip on Estoc and turned to follow in his footsteps.

As if it had always been so.

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