Chapter 30 - I Swear
Groaning, I fell heavily to the marble floor. Sitting cross-legged in front of the Bonfire just beyond Gwyndolin’s lair I stank of blood, aching as if I’d sprinted for ten miles straight without pause or rest. Bathing would be required, but later. For the moment I would rest. Falling back, eyes closed, I ignored thoughts that clamored for attention, focusing instead on sleep. It would be nice to forget the aches and pains of reality for a while.
This surprised me.
I didn’t sleep. I never tired, never ached, never ate, never relaxed or rested from fatigue. At least not for long. I simply existed and acted, this body of mine nothing more than a tool. Unfeeling and frozen solid it always acted solely as a hollow puppet subject to the mind of mine that plucked at its invisible strings. Putting a hand to my chest I listened intently, sighing quietly in relief. Cold silence answered. What strange phenomena caused me to feel so spent and exhausted? Of course the fatigue slowly disappeared in the Bonfire’s warmth but I had always possessed near bottomless endurance, save for in the heat of battle. Even the greatest of warriors could not fight an endless war. Never did I waver in travel or between skirmishes, except on the rare occasion I did not possess ample supplies or miracles to cure injuries.
In fact, I had become so accustomed to Lordran and its foes I hardly needed Estus for its medicinal qualities. Occasionally I sipped the vial of Estus in my pack purely for it’s fiery warmth that scorched my throat and temporarily thawed the ice. It was like ale in that sense. I was careful, however, not to indulge overly in the false heat of life the Estus gave. The act was a dirty pleasure I enjoyed sometimes, nothing more. Always did I march constantly and without rest, so why now did I feel the need? I had not been physically hurt in the slightest, perhaps mentally then?
Wrapped in thought I failed to notice the Darkmoon sitting across the Bonfire from me,
“Nameless?” She asked curiously, “Is something the matter?” Frowning behind the black cloth, it occurred to me that the Darkmoon Ilyena had not attempted to kill me even after seeing her dead master. I didn’t bother questioning it out loud, no point in ruffling feathers better left alone for the moment. Dangerous or not, I still enjoyed the company of another. Despite its deathly silence I had learned that my heart still functioned in some strange way, hoping for something from nothing.
I did not answer her, the energy and need beyond me, already too preoccupied sorting out chaotic thoughts. So much had happened in such a short time I had trouble comprehending it all. Absent-mindedly I reached into my pack and uncorked the Estus Flask, taking a single swig from the glimmering bottle. The world I call my own, immolated by cleansing flame, of anxious fear and heavy sadness was gone.
Liquid flame of the purest origin seared my throat and insides, burning in sharp clarity as I swallowed and, for a brief moment, I was alive. The dull dark of the night outside and marble room color orange became crystal clear, like a heavy fog had been wiped from the lens of my eyes. Inky and black, a shroud of beautiful consistency tried its damndest to hide the white and gold city of Anor Londo. The Bonfire hummed loudly, hardly a natural sound from flame, and its corporal flames of ghostly creation twixt round the single barbed blade rusted brown and green turned with deliberate caution. The carved marble walls shone brightly, proudly showcasing the statues and inscriptions painfully etched into them. Colors bloomed, swimming across my vision as soft wind tickled my cheeks.
The Bonfire’s warmth became nothing but a candle to the overwhelming life the Estus gave.
Most amazing of all though, the Darkmoon shone like a like brighter than any I’d seen. I blinked away tears, unable to truly see the woman within aside from a silhouette and the rising sun behind her. How did I know it rose? The wind grew stronger, howling incomprehensible speech of the utmost importance it screamed desperately for me to listen yet I did not understand.
The moment passed, fading to soft heat, brisk cold, and finally dying out as solid ice once again gripped me, bringing with it the confusion and anxiety of before. I returned to my thoughts, replacing the Flask.
From my slight understanding of the mess of recollections I could piece together I had killed Gwyndolin rather brutally, satisfaction sparking from that, and discovered that he was undead or at least similar to one. Despite his supposed godhood and the rumored overflowing vitality they possessed he had been just as cold and lifeless as I. Unfortunately I hadn’t been able to question him due to my furious stupidity, though it was unlikely he would have said much. I did enjoy the thought of killing him more slowly, no matter how fruitless it might have been. Was I saying that to assure myself?
Others rose before I could answer, the Four Kings, Primordial Serpent Kaathe Darkstalker, several vague heroes now nothing but legend, at their head the Knight Artorias. Hand twitching to towards my greatsword instinctively I recalled the Knight of everlasting divinity, unbreakable will, and peerless skill with the greatsword I now carried. If only I could be so grossly incandescent. One of Gwyn’s Four Knights, the epitome of heroism and justice in a time when fools did not rule the world, only recorded it.
Reaching into my pack I withdrew the bottomless box. Carefully opening its top I extracted a small worn ring, scars of a timeless life reducing it to a shadow of its former self, a once-golden band tinged dark green headed by a tiny teardrop emerald . Studying it in the light of the Bonfire I daydreamed of a much simpler time, when heroes had lived in the young mind of a hopeful undead chasing dreams he would never catch.
Now I could barely remember anything but the words and broken hopes that came with the ring,
This ring symbolizes Knight Artorias’s
covenant with the beasts of the Abyss.
It’s wearer, like Artorias himself, can
traverse the Abyss.
The Covenant of Artorias used by the Abysswalker himself to, according to legend, walk the Abyss and defeat the Four Kings. A bitter taste woking into my mouth, I sneered at the ring seeing yet more evidence of lies behind it’s glory. If only Artorias had known he was being used. If defeated, why did the Four Kings still live now? While Artorias was undisputedly a hero, what sense did it make I followed in his footsteps to discover the job unfinished? Once Artorias had been an infallible model of perfection to me. Like a small child I adored him in wide-eyed awe, but now I questioned. So much had come down around my ears, what else would fall next? The world I’d come to know degenerated into beautiful lies and terrible deceit with every new step,
“Nameless?” I glanced at the Darkmoon, “I was wondering if you needed a companion.” Caught off guard I sneered beneath the mask,
“Why?” I coughed, surprised by the question, “I am your enemy.” The Darkmoon hesitated, astral flames of the Bonfire dancing in those crystal blue eyes of hers. I wish I’d been able to see her in that instant of light. What would I have seen then? She was simple now, attractive but not breaktaking. I wondered though,
“An enemy would not act as a savior would he?” She countered and my eyes narrowed,
“I am no savior.” I declared flatly. Ilyena shook her head,
“You are. You healed the hollowing that has plagued me for centuries when Gwyndolin could not herself. Salvation from the monster I’d become was her reward in return for the loyal service I so blindly gave.” The Darkmoon shifted, sitting forward those sapphires focused on me. Something flashed in those eyes, too quick for me to see, “For as long as I can remember it is all I have done. But you healed me, body and soul, giving back memories I’d long forgotten. Possibly by my previous master, so as to allow Gwyndolin to more easily command me. You cleansed me of Darkness.” So she had been tricked then? This woman was just a pawn in schemes grander than she, or I for that matter, could imagine.
Wasn’t her situation the same as mine then?
Centuries fulfilling a duty long-forgotten, only the drive to see it done remaining, the action keeping some semblance of sanity and life intact. There were no questions to be asked or words spoken, constantly moving forward so as not to fall into the Darkness that followed so close behind. She had stood guard ever since I begun my own march, that I could remember. How long had she been here? Longer than I? Her task the exact opposite my own, were we two somehow linked from our similar duty, to Link the Flame? Did she remember the cycle too? I wasn’t overthinking this was I? I’d been trying to understand the concepts and process of thought but usually in vain. Everything fell together in a jumbled mess.
No, her awareness of the cycle was unlikely. Why wouldn’t she try to escape? A dark hole formed in my stomach,
“I am no savior.” I sighed, too confused to answer with anything else. We sat in silence, I watching the ring and remembering better times while Ilyena scowled. Fixating on the Bonfire she stewed in her own emotions. Those sapphires called to me seductively, cooing as they glittered in the flame. Refusing to stare I set about ignoring the Darkmoon’s presence.
“Will you allow me to follow you?” She asked after several minutes. I responded with a shrug, avoiding her gaze,
“Do as you will.”
“Then I will follow you.” She declared stoutly. Kneeling down on one knee, head low, she drew her Estoc and held it out, flat of the blade resting on her palms, “Nameless, Knight of Ash and Savior of Undead, I pledge myself to you and you alone. I wish to repay you for returning to the life taken from me by offering it as compensation. Will you accept?”
Suddenly the Bonfire vanished, dark and gloomy shrine gone with Ilyena.
Golden halls higher than clouds, grand columns and fixtures hanging from thin air trumpets blew deep notes and rumbling drums rattled my bones. Throne of sun and the purest of white marble I stood atop a raised platform when silence fell. All stood expectantly, a crowd of countless looking up at me.
A lone drum sounded, one clear and thunderous note.
The vision was gone.
“Stop.” I growled, facing the fire. Out of the corner of my eye Ilyena looked up from the floor quizzically,
“But sir,” She answered slowly, “I owe you my life. It is custom among knights to pledge themselves like so. Honor demands it.” Knights, I thought disdainfully. Clearing my throat I glanced at her under the brim of my hood,
“I didn’t kill a god,” I said deliberately, “For you to serve me.” She paused, outstretched arms lowering somewhat as she frowned,
“Then why?” She questioned, “Why did you cure me? Free me?” Honestly, I hadn’t the slightest clue. Everything had just happened, as if I’d been thrown into a driverless cart blasting down empty streets to crash witlessly here in a pile of broken wood and bruised limbs. Though it seemed familiar,
“It felt right.” I blurted. Blinking, Ilyena stared dubiously at me. Slowly, sitting back and resting Estoc on her lap, palms pressed to the marble floor, she studied me. I could almost hear the gears cranking in her skull, expression calculating,
“Is that so?” She replied, obviously suspicious from the way she asked, “The only reason for your kindness was based on emotion?” I didn’t bother with an answer, glowering into the flame instead, any more conversation pointless. More important matters came to mind.
I’d killed Gwyndolin.
Child of Dark.
Alone in a void of abyssal black shivers a single skeletal corpse, twisted hands hiding its face behind bony skin pulled tight over a thin layer of flesh. I stand a short distance away in my full equipment watching the corpse curiously. The frail thing is sobbing. Compelled by a mind of ancient origin I reach out to the sobbing corpse, grasping its shoulder. The corpse dissolves to ash, a wind unfelt by me blowing the gray clouds through the steel claws of my gauntlet,
Greetings Undead Warrior, Hisses a voice of sly intention, I am the Primordial Serpent Darkstalker Kaathe, I cannot see the speaker, I can guide thee, and illuminate the truth. Truth? I feel a powerful urge compelling me to heed this voice, Undead Warrior, conquer the Four Kings, and I will show you the truth. Is this not your wish? I reply with a single nod, You wish to know the truth of men, and the Undead? Again I nod. Conquer the Four Kings, Undead Warrior, only then will truth be given.
The Primordial Serpent’s words echoed once again. Snorting humorlessly I marveled at my failure. I’d managed to accomplish my goal of killing Gwyndolin somehow without any help but my own, and yet still nothing came of it. Hysterical,
“Are you laughing at me?” Ilyena snapped as I laughed. Sighing, in annoyance or frustration I couldn’t say, I answered,
“No. My stupidity.”
“Stupidity?” She whispered, as if the word was a curse she would be punished for, “What could you have done?” I made the mistake of meeting her eyes,
“Orlai.” The word fell from my lips like a clumsy squire dropping his sword in the middle of a sparring match. Lost in those eyes of sapphire I was at her mercy,
“Orlai?” Ilyena asked with a sudden smirk, “A woman? It has been too long since I’ve heard of a man’s troubles in love.” She chuckled, “I did not think you to know of such things in this land.”
“I didn’t.” Ilyena cocked an eyebrow,
“A first love then? How interesting.” Anger sparked and heat pulsed in icy veins,
“Careful, Knight,” I snapped in a low voice, “You speak out of turn.” Ilyena recoiled, as if slapped, head bowed in shame,
“I am sorry my lord, it has been long since I last attended any sort of court. My manners are lacking.” She murmured in a soulless voice of submissive respect. A dagger of guilt sliced through me,
“No, you didn’t…” I trailed off with a sigh, “It’s fine.” She did not move, head down and crouched with palms on her thighs as if waiting for a headsman. Clenching frustrated fists I turned to face her, “Darkmoon,” She did not move, “Look at me.”
“I will not, my lord, I have sinned and beg for redemption.” The Darkmoon answered hollowly,
“Don’t call me that.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Why?” The Darkmoon looked up, “I have made my pledge as your Knight. It has always been-” Suddenly realizing her mistake she looked back down, tensing, “I am yours.” Resisting the urge to punch the overzealous knight I could not fathom such blind loyalty. Were all those of Lordran so willing to follow so long as you showed power greater than their own once or twice? Was it so easy to become a hero or was this woman simply delusional?
“You gain freedom, and decide to throw it away so quickly?” I growled, “Why are you so desperate to follow me?” She did not hesitate,
“Because it is right.” My mind went blank,
“It is right, my lo- Nameless. When I see you I… I must follow. You are destined for many things I can feel it. I only wish to witness them and do a duty I know demands my attention.” Her head fell lower, “This I must do, with or without your acceptance. It is my duty as a Knight and as an undead.”
Never had an undead asked to follow me. Never had someone offered to help so earnestly, or desperately. It tickled something. Something I did not expect,
“Alright.” Ilyena shot up to her feet. Hand twitching to my greatsword I nearly drew steel,
“Do you swear it?!” She shouted suddenly. Eyes aflame and face hard she glared fearlessly, “Swear you will allow me to act as your second!” I nodded quickly,
“Not good enough!” She thrust Estoc out on the palms of her hands and knelt, “Swear!” She ordered. Taken-aback I cautiously took the weapon. Light as a feather the sword was so perfectly balanced it melded perfectly with me, becoming an extension of my own arm. Tall and thin the blade itself reflected the faint light of the Bonfire clearly,
“I swear.” I said awkwardly,
“What do you swear?” She demanded and I shook my head searching for the words,
“Lady Darkling, I swear to allow you to follow me.” My throat ached as I stifled a cough,
“And I, Ilyena Darkling of the Darkmoon Knights do swear to never leave your side.” She replied without breaking flow, “When the night is darkest I shall be the torch in your hand. When the day is strongest I will still wait for the shadow to strike and meet it with my blade. When all is lost and death upon us my life will be yours to spend. I will never lose hope, Nameless Knight of Ash, so long I stand with you.” I blinked, impressed despite myself, “Now, sir,” The Darkmoon stood, reaching for Estoc, “What are your orders?” Handing her the sword she sheathed it while watching me expectantly, “You must have some plan?”
Regarding the Darkmoon, her hair of dark brown bound in a ponytail and eyes sharp, I wondered what coincidence brought her to me. Was this the gods again? Would she too be taken, or betray me? Simple and sturdy leather armor scratched and dinged from battle, the Knight was no stranger to combat. We would need to spar. Glancing down at the ring still gripped firmly in my gauntlet I returned it to the bottomless box, Ilyena watching closely,
“New Londo,” I answered, “To kill the Four Kings.”
“The Four Kings?” Ilyena whispered, “But the Knight Artorias….” Her head shook, “Were they not destroyed long ago?” I shrugged,
“Supposedly,” Grasping her hand I reached for the Bonfire, “But no.” It would seem that Orlai was going to need to wait a while before I had the chance to find her. How long was it going to take? Days? Weeks? Months? Years...? At the very least I’d found a companion and regardless of my better judgement found comfort in the Darkmoon, though I would face the Kings alone.
I pulled us through time and reality, appearing in Firelink Shrine.