Dark Souls: The Princess and I

Chapter 32 - Memories and Bravery

The first thing that changed was the air.

First it had been crisp, cold mountain that reminded you, you were alive. Firelink was a place of rest, respite, bravery, and preparation for hardships to come. It soothed your pains and readied you for their return. It’s aura was soft and welcoming but strong and impenetrable. You could be in Firelink and never fear for your life.

New Londo was the exact opposite. Entering the lift chamber it was so obvious even fool wouldn’t dare step foot into the room. Heavy and thick the atmosphere was pungent death, wet rotting flesh, a disgusting assault of awful stench. It was a repellent, a warning to what awaited within. Laurentius stopped at the door as I walked in while Ilyena balked mid-step,

“GODS!” Ilyena yelped, smothering her nose, “What in Astora’s name is that?!” I bit my lip from her talk of gods. Laurentius gagged and began dry heaving,

“I can’t-” He managed between heaves, “What is that?” I watched them stagger and stumble, Laurentius leaning heavily on the door frame while Ilyena tried to flatten her nose as far into her face as possible,

“New Londo.” I coughed vocal cords aching from the speech earlier. The smell didn’t bother me, not yet. Laurentius, still slumped against the door frame shook his head, eyes watering,

“How can you stand it?!” The pyromancer gasped as he wrapped a thick cloth around his face before quickly tearing it off seconds later to vomit into an urn against the wall. Ilyena glared defiantly at him,

“Come pyromancer,” She strained, “How is your endurance so frail?” Lips pale, face turning green and body rigid, I noticed her inching towards an urn, “Unlike you I-” She leapt to the urn and emptied her stomach.

I crossed my arms patiently and enjoyed their comedy. This would be the last time for a long while anything would be so light-hearted. The stench would be much worse at the source and there were things far deadlier than smells in New Londo. After several minutes the two managed to pull themselves together, each equipped with a thick cloth that covered their noses and mouths,

“Well Madam knight,” Laurentius grunted, usual cheer gone, “Enjoying your tour of Lordran?” Ilyena didn’t answer but her eyes shot daggers. Stepping onto the platform I pressed down on a large circular button at its center. With the clang of metal and grinding gears the lift released suddenly, gravity vanishing for an instant, before catching on its rails. Ilyena and Laurentius both clapped hands over their wrapped mouths making sickening groans as the lift ferried us down into the depths.

New Londo might be a different experience if these two kept it up.

Voices whispered to me of journeys past. Dark voices.

I ignored them, listening instead to the grating of machinery and rushing wind that did little to assuade the rising stink. Still the whispers persisted, poking and prodding with their words of fear and anxiety. I gritted my teeth, focusing on the two undead at either side of me. I was not alone, not anymore.

Black ooze swelled from the walls of the lift as we descended.

Huge mythological beings clad in great robes of shimmering ivory that spread from their chests in long blades of silver in all directions. Expressions calm their beautifully sculpted faces, eyes glowing pure white, were a stark contrast to their otherworldly bodies. Upon their brows large horns protruded in varying sizes and lengths made from similar substance as the copious ivory blades they wore. Carrying cruel and massive weapons made from some strange material that gave off purplish energies, blades seeming to twist and warp, long curtains of silky white hair drifted about their faces on wind unfelt.

Silhouetted by the perfect dark of the Abyss these phantoms of legend floated suspended by nothing in nothing. I stood alone, level with them on an invisible floor. Things whispered in the dark, pulled at my mind and tainting my soul. The phantoms raised their jagged blades as one.

The Four Kings.

I twitched, Laurentius and Ilyena swallowed by the encroaching Black. I was alone in the darkness, cold sweat beading on my forehead as the voices hissed.

Four swords of terrifying creation sliced through the Abyss inches from me. Whenever I was too slow the Black Knight Shield would be forced to take their blows. When each swing connected with the my bulwark of steel time ceased, awareness of my own being banished to the far reaches of logic, sense, and reason. Only the King’s blade and I remained in a struggle of desperate survival.

Death cooed, voices rumbling, hate spewing, revenge swelling, intense emotions of passion and desire emanated from the King. They scoured my mind with horrible wounds seeking to obliterate my very soul and banish whatever sense remained. Pressing down with the strength of Truth itself the King crushed me into a tiny speck. But somehow, using a willpower and dedication I never fully understood, I threw the weapon aside in a burst of sparks with the black shield every single time.

Alone, I resisted.

My breath caught, chest tightening, body tensing, the voices of the Abyss screamed. They grew louder with each cycle, stronger with each banishing of the kings. I could not see.

But no defense is impregnable, no will unbreakable. One strike from the Kings would almost always kill. No matter my endurance, my will, my strength or my desperation the lethality of those blades was absolute. If I was lucky when those swords wounded me it was glancing and even then it was agony. Flaming ice split my body and mind as, somehow, insanity greater than any man could ever achieve invaded my mind when their blades touched flesh.

Dying to them, however, was far worse.

Struggling against memories once sealed behind great mental walls now broken and shattered I shook from the effort of standing. I would not be brought to my knees by simple thought. Illusions danced across my eyes but what I felt… what I felt was nightmarish truth.

Dying in the Abyss; the greatest incentive to defeat the Kings else face eternal damnation. Farthest from the Bonfires and deepest in the Dark you were alone. No light found its way to the Abyss, no salvation was so lost or so daring that it by some impossible chance found its way down to the depths of perfect despair. If you died in the Abyss, you found your way back out. No Bonfire could reach so deep and no magic or miracles could take you so far.

You become lost in the infinite labyrinth and may never leave until its denizens have fully entertained themselves with your pitiful soul. Even with the restoration of my memory something keeps me from fully recalling everything I saw there, everything I did.

The Dark grew within me like a parasite.

I jumped at the bang of the lift’s stop mechanism latching. A stout arched doorway in front of me gave way to shadowed, half-submerged crumbling buildings and ruined walkways. A great cave ceiling reached overhead, the only light a large break in the stone several kilometers above. The soft whispering of flowing water barely drowned out ghostly voices and grunts. A large lake flooded the cave, only the tallest of buildings breaking its surface, and despite the sound of flowing water a surface so stagnant it mimicked a clouded mirror. The water itself was black and murky. Even from the distant raised position of the lift’s interior I could see things inside those depths that chilled my already icy bones.

Eyes closing I exhaled, momentarily expelling the overwhelming stench of wet rotting flesh, then slowly let the awful air back in breathing the taint it carried. This was the last time I would ever be forced to venture down here, the last time I would ever battle the ghosts, wraiths, and other unspeakable abominations that called this watery hell home. If I did nothing but focus on fears long past and soon to come I would never be able to banish them for good. Action would decide this, not thought.

I grasped Artorias’ Greatsword, drawing it from its sheath and resting the blade on my shoulder. Even in the dead gloom of the cave it glowed softly. In its light the stench became less potent, darkness receding back a foot or two. I concentrated on the weapon feeling its familiar weight. A soft whine sang from its steel chasing out some of the vermin that festered in my mind.

Action. The sword said wordlessly, Action.

Inhale, Action.

Exhale, Action.

Inhale, Action!

Exhale, ACTION!

Eyes opening I sucked in a breath and stepped out of the lift onto damp stone, air hissing out through my teeth.

Condensation formed on my armor and greatsword, beads of rank water growing on the metal. Each breath was a battle, needles stabbing my lungs as violent scents eviscerated my sinuses. Weight pressed down on my shoulders and strained to hold me prisoner, each action requiring more effort than needed. My body and equipment grew heavier, mind fogging I felt tired, sluggish. I was drowning. While one could call Lordran a place of beauty and wonder, this was a massive boil on its divine, stinking, wrinkled ass.

And suddenly everything turned on its heel. Literally in fact. I turned around, a sudden smile twixt my lips.

For several seconds Laurentius and Ilyena stood stock-still like stone statues, each fixed with intense expressions of focused concentration. Laurentius succumbed first, eyes rolling back into his head he fell to the side. Skull cracking against the stones so hard even I flinched as he crumpled into a pile. Ilyena stared straight ahead jaw locked, eyes aflame and defiant. She stood strong for several seconds before the fires died and her eyes glazed over. Amazingly, despite being unconscious, she remained standing.

Grinning behind the black cloth I looked over the two undead, mirth bubbling up from my chest. In a humorous purge I barked several coughing laughs, expelling New Londo’s rotting death from my lungs. Even the fog in my mind cleared. New Londo’s influence returned of course but, surprisingly, with a much weaker presence.

Sheathing Artorias’ Greatsword and scooping the two up I threw each over a shoulder. The effect of the weapon paled in comparison to the personality and proximity of the undead I carried. Not just because I was touching them, a rarity in itself, but what they made me feel. Admittedly superiority was the first due to my tolerance of New Londo’s adverse climate though I also couldn’t recall my own first time battling its effects. Aside from that I was braver, stronger, better, the sensation different than what I felt for Orlai but… but equal? That didn’t seem right. These two undead appeared to have quite the effect on me.

Shaking myself and ignoring such confusing thoughts I marched around the outside of the lift, carefully descending a curved flight of stairs out onto a small outcrop of ancient stone brick walls and arches. Cheer quickly deteriorating I was reminded of my grim situation.

Hollowed undead moaned loudly in broken, unintelligible, wordless phrases that mimicked prayer around the outcrop. Others were sprawled motionless on the ground, jaws agape and black sockets staring blindly at the ceiling miles above. Several bashed their bald heads of flaking flesh against the remnants of stone walls or sat dumbly staring at nothing. One, however, lounged calmly on the edge of the cliff at a break in the ruined walls looking out over the lake and buildings. Skull resting in a frail hand the hollowed undead seemed oblivious to those around it, much like its companions, but in a more intelligent and knowing way. It seemed to be intentionally ignorant. This wasn’t my first time noticing the particular hollowed undead, it had always been there, I had only just then given the matter thought.

Head cocking thoughtfully I looked down the path to enter New Londo. Hefting the unconscious bodies of Laurentius and Ilyena I figured it would be best to wait for them to wake up before traveling into New Londo. I wasn’t going to get anywhere carrying them and I wasn’t going to just leave them. I gently set down Laurentius and Ilyena within reach and joined the single hollowed undead.

It didn’t give any indication of noticing my presence, staring out at the lake blankly. I watched the thing, studying it for any hint of sentient life. What was it thinking, feeling? Was it even truly living? Did it possess a will or self of any kind, or was it an empty vessel? Eyes black sockets a small red pinprick of light residing in each they did not truly see from what I could tell. It was as if the undead was simply soulless decoration, purpose nothing more than to portray the hopelessness of the undead curse and utter depravity of New Londo. I wondered if this undead had come to terms with the curse, succumbing to its insanity and allowing it to take hold. Maybe that explained its peaceful and indifferent disposition? Why only it lounged while the others screamed in ragged voices praying and banging against the stone or stared at nothing in their numb hopelessness?

I carefully placed a gauntlet on its shoulder, almost expecting the corpse to crumble at my touch. Instead it held fast, still looking out at the unsettling water without a care in the world. I followed its eyeless gaze to a church, the tallest structure of those I could see, Ingward the sorcerer’s post. I could not see the old man from the ledge but knew he stood watch over the city from the structure’s roof. I still needed the key to the seal from him and would need to speak with the sorcerer to attain it. Why was this undead so focused on that church? I hadn’t the faintest idea.

Releasing the hollowed one I sighed, already accustomed to the thick and stinking air.

Laurentius stirred.

His skull felt like it had just been spilt in half by Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, himself.

Each sense returned slowly, a cave ceiling, moans and voices, cold flesh, the overwhelming stench of wet, meaty, stinking death. If Laurentius had known New Londo sported such a particular scent about it he’d have punched the Chosen and laughed. A stab of guilt made him instantly regret the complaint.

No one had ever given him the time of day before, much less a smile or conversation. Pyromancers were often scorned and looked down upon due to their familiarity with the Flame. Laurentius didn’t know whether it was out of jealousy or just because it didn’t require the intelligence and scholastic prowess magic needed. Or was it perhaps because people feared pyromancy, believing only Gwyn and the gods should have the power to manipulate fire?

The Chosen-er, Nameless-had never shown any fear towards Laurentius or, honestly, ever paid him any mind aside from the one time he’d saved Laurentius from those awful butchers. Plus some odd conversations here and there but Laurentius had only really gotten yes or no answers out of him though they still counted to him. It was more than what most people said back anyways. Nameless had told him of the Chaos flame too. After that everything went horribly dark and the woman of Flame rescued him. Strange but no reason to pay it any mind. Thinking too hard about strange things was the road to a good old fashioned hollowing and Laurentius was going to have none of that. Crestfallen already succumbed to that.

The pyromancer’s eyes refocused on the high cave ceiling, hollowed undead wearing decaying rags making themselves busy with whatever it was they were doing, and the broad back of Nameless in full plate.

Of everything, the greatsword forged of blue steel caught Laurentius’ full attention. In the dark gloom it shimmered and glowed like he had never seen before in the sunlight of Firelink Shrine. The blade glinted proudly, showcasing intricate etchings up and down the flat of its razor sharp blade. The near-black navy blue hilt shaped into a wide upwards facing V as gilded as the blade itself, golden veins spider webbing them. Several gems were set within the hilt and blade but the sapphire glittering on its hilt demanded Laurentius’ attention over all the others. While the rest of the sword glowed it was dark. Laurentius feared the sapphire yet could not tear his eyes away from the gem.

Nameless turned slightly, breaking his weapon’s hold on Laurentius. One of his brown eyes studied Laurentius beneath the black cowl. The man gave a slight nod to the pyromancer and turned back to a water-logged city, black cowl again hiding his face. Laurentius sat up cautiously,

“Nameless,” He muttered, worriedly looking around, “Where are we?” Nameless didn’t answer immediately. Looking out over the lake Laurentius still couldn’t see his face. What was the Chosen looking at? Squinting through the gloomy haze at the ruined city Laurentius couldn’t make out anything of note,

“New Londo.” Nameless answered, Laurentius barely able to hear him,

“The last thing I remember is the lift.” Laurentius growled, furiously rubbing his throbbing forehead with a hand. Nameless nodded,

“Carried you.”

“Carried me?” The pyromancer grunted in surprise, “What happened?” The Chosen didn’t answer. Shrugging, Laurentius stood and eyed the hollowed ones and their insane antics. He clenched a fist, flame sputtering from between his fingers. Laurentius the pyromancy on a low burn just in case one of the insane undead tried something. A black gauntlet grasped his arm with the flame and Laurentius looked up into the Chosen’s eyes,

“Stop.” He ordered sharply, muddy eyes flashing a warning. Taken aback, Laurentius let the flames die and glanced around warily,

“Are you sure?” The pyromancer hissed, “What if they decide to make us a sacrifice to their version of the gods or something?” Nameless stared at him flatly until Laurentius began to feel a bit silly. Nameless sat back down after a moment to resume watching the lake. Laurentius suddenly noticed he was sitting with a hollowed one that was sprawled lazily on its side, hand propping up its head, it too looked out at the lake. Blinking, Laurentius could not find words to question the Chosen Undead’s actions, “What?” He managed,

“Pyromancer,” Laurentius jumped. The knight Ilyena glared at him climbing shakily to her feet. Nameless and the hollowed one ignored her, “What’s going on?” She grumbled to no one in particular. Laurentius shrugged and Nameless stood smoothly,

“Waiting,” He murmured with a nod to Laurentius and Ilyena, “No longer.”

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