Chapter 33 - Escape
Sitting crossed legged dressed in simple small cloths Orlai glared at the far wall of her bedroom, a glorified prison. She had not yet seen Mother, Father occasionally visiting but working up a stink whenever Orlai mentioned Mother. He never did like Mother, and vice versa, plus neither of them liked Orlai-er-Astra. She flat out hated them.
Several days had passed since her sentencing to the room and first encounter with Father. Memories from this Astra girl were much clearer now but of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. The Game still went on without interruption.
Mother and Father had allowed Orlai to leave twice, under guard to ensure her “safety,” and explore the legendary city of gods. Dressed in a simple white gown she had walked the silver and gold streets of myth. Thousands of men, women, and strange humanoids clogged the streets while great beasts sailed overhead weaving between massive skyscrapers. Orlai could not help momentarily forgetting herself as she witnessed such things wandering the wondrous city and indulging her curiosities. How long had such a jewel existed, what history did it hold, what secrets? Was this the true world, Lordran just a separate domain these who called themselves gods created? Or was it the other way around, this a haven made by gods and Lordran the original? If only Orlai could leave the city or stop at one of the great libraries to at least find answers but none would let her in. No one had really spoken to her or answered any questions besides, just stared and gaped.
Orlai stalked over to her tall bedroom window, open to the air and looking out over the city. She never would have guessed such a place existed, the people she met and things she saw boggled the mind. “The Chosen Flame” cheered all as Orlai had walked flanked by two angelic guards in golden plate armor wielding spears of fire. Orlai could hardly believe, if there was some small truth to what Father said, so many heroes, scholars, and geniuses of legend would sing her praises. She had overheard them excitedly whispering many things Father had told her about the prophecy and her fate. The city and its people glowed brightly with the fire of life beneath the never setting sun. Completely different from the land of death she had left behind.
She grew distant, no longer seeing the city, chin resting on the sill as memories began to play,
The Daughter of Flame turned, feet hovering just above the stone bridge, and flew smoothly back to the corpse of the man in black. Quieting her fires she landed heavily onto the bridge, kneeling over him, “Chosen.” She whispered, leaning down to ever so carefully scoop him up into her arms, “Chosen.” The man did not answer, “Chosen, please.” Her voice quivered, golden tears of Estus creeping down her cheeks to land upon his body harmlessly, trickling off to the stone below, “You are not a gear,” She gingerly laid a hand over his face face hiding the burn marks. His remaining eye stared past her to the sky beyond, “You are a man.” Rage pricked the Goddess, one that knew no bounds as she looked down at the broken body of the one she held so dear, “You were supposed to be mine.” Eyes turning to the sky the Goddess scowled, “But they took you,” Sword reappearing in her hand she gently set the man down, hands folded over the hole in his chest, “So I’ll take them.” The Goddess snarled, and in an explosion of flame, vanished.
Her chest ached despite the fact the man still lived Orlai had watched him die, powerless to stop it. She shook her head, pushing such melancholy aside. No time for that nonsense.
It still made no sense how she had become a goddess, not that it mattered at the moment considering she’d been unable to change back since. What mattered was getting away. Regardless of the beauty and wonder in this city her thoughts always drifted back to him. He was calling to her, screaming, she could feel it, the anguish and pain. Muddy brown eyes deep wells of emotion that drew her into their endless depths looked up to the sky, searching desperately for her. They pleaded for her return. Slamming a fist on the window sill Orlai ground her teeth. Crushing the sadness beneath frustration and anger she focused.
Denied an anonymous escape now, her face as recognizable as the King and Queen themselves thanks to her mindless excursions, she had run out of ideas. The guard was rock solid and she had never met anyone outside the servants that attended to her, a scarce few silent men and women. They all seemed off somehow, hollow but not undead more empty and wooden. Never speaking or looking her in the eye they mutely performed their duties and fulfilled her requests, those that were found reasonable at least.
Mother and Father believed Astra had escaped before by her own devices. Orlai knew the truth being Astra’s only friend, Sunam, had sent her to Lordran seemingly without rhyme or reason. Pacing along the edges of her room she combed Astra’s memories for Sunam. An older man who always wore thick, baggy, hooded robes. He always spoke in a low, hushed tone, and Astra trusted him implicitly. Everything else seemed foggy. Orlai rubbed her temples, unable to recall anything else.
In fact, how did she know she was Orlai? Wasn’t she Astra? Astra was, apparently, her original personality but even now Orlai felt as if Astra was distant or not even present almost as if the woman was just a vessel meant to provide her with memories and information. Such a thing was impossible of course, but it still seemed strange. Logic would dictate Orlai should be having an identity crisis.
“Dammit.” She growled, pacing faster and shaking her head violently, “Focus.” If she found this Suman she may be able to escape, as well as find answers, but how with no idea to where he was or how to find him again? Impossible. Stopping, she realized she hadn’t exercised at all in the last several days. Orlai scowled, best not to let her body lose the edge she’d work so hard to forge. She dropped to the ground beginning several sets of pushups and crunches. She jogged circles, broke off a chair leg and tried to practice the forms he had taught her. The training was lack-luster without the weight of her armor, she flowed easily between moves, the chair leg lighter than a feather, and without a shield it was nearly impossible to properly recite the forms. No challenge or improvement could be had without something resisting, something trying to drag her down. But it was something, she told herself.
For several hours she tried to train, servants coming and going. Orlai caught glimpses of gigantic men outside when the doors opened. If ever she had imagined what heroes looked like, it would be them. Silver and gold armor inscribed with paragraphs of characters she could not read and weapons that glowed. They seemed the epitome of divine will. Her room had always been in the most guarded section of the palace for security purposes, doubling as an excellent means to keep her under watch, and the men outside proved that. She would have tried climbing out the window, down the side of the wall, and into the lower floors to the barracks but bars over the windows and patrolling angels prevented such a daring method. There was also the simple fact that night never fell in this land, thick curtains hung on either side of her window allowing one to create artificial night. Sweat dripped down her face and off her nose, muscles finally beginning to tingle from the constant exercise.
Above all, however, the flames she had wielded against the Angel and undead on Lordran would not burn no matter how much she focused. Why had she become a great and powerful Goddess of fire to shrink back into her former self? If she was such a divine and invincible hero, born to destroy the Dark, why in the hell was she so damn powerless? It may have had something to do with the sword and shield the man in black gave her. She’d felt invincible with them in hand, a force to be reckoned with. Orlai exhaled, thudding to the floor with a grunt she lay flat against the cool stone.
Still nothing came up. Growling at the beautifully painted ceiling Orlai closed her eyes. There had to be something, anything. She was no longer a helpless princess or worthless maid who blithely followed what she was told but a heroic knight who faced down demons and undead alike. No prison was inescapable, no foe invincible. Surrender was unacceptable.
It is not the weapons that make the warrior. It is the warrior that makes the weapons.
Orlai groaned, what if a warrior was without weapons? Alone and caught in this gilded cage she rotted away. She missed Lordran. It was no vacation or honeymoon but it gave you life, in an odd way. Death and ruin around every corner adrenaline constantly surged through hot-blooded veins as she grew into a weapon. Kill or be killed, simple as that. Each day fresh and new, each step cautious and slow, each victory a euphoric release. Lordran held a fascinating mystery to it, despite the horrors that infested it, secrets and wonders of its own hidden deep beneath the rot and ruin. But here, in this utopia, Orlai doubted she would find such rare stimulation. She sighed, banging a fist against the floor.
The room shuddered.
Orlai’s eyes flew open, sitting up. Silence. Had she imagined it?
Again the room shook Orlai beginning to hear the clash of metal. She ran to the window and looked out over the palace. Black smoke rose from the streets several kilometers below, the low roar of combat echoing off tall marble and gold skyscrapers of the palace. She could not believe her eyes, shining figures in plate mail rode winged beasts flitting in and out between buildings, chased by fiery angels. Explosions shook the room and knocked combatants from the sky, bolts of light streaking through the streets incinerating both angels and beasts as they fought. Even from so high she could feel the concussive force of the blasts, the sizzle of energy. Was it a war? She couldn’t see any obviously evil beasts or any other such apparent giveaways, only legends fighting legends. A civil war? Orlai shook her head in disbelief, scrutinizing the warring factions but unable to recognize any other than the angels whom were of the palace royal guard. They all seemed as divine as anything else in this city of legend.
It didn’t matter.
Orlai threw a leg over the window sill, irritated as butterflies fluttered in her stomach making her hesitate. A golden opportunity to run had presented itself on a silver platter and she was taking it, no matter how insane. There would not be such a perfect or ridiculous distraction, Gods killing Gods the last reason she’s expect to use. Well, almost the last. Looking down, teeth gritting together loudly, she gripped the sill knuckles white. It would be a long fall down if something went wrong. No, it wouldn’t be a long fall because she wouldn’t be falling in the first place. If anything she should be laughing at the bastards killing each other while she used their idiocy to run off to freedom.
Air hissing through clenched teeth Orlai released one hand lowering a bare foot, toes stretching out searching for a ledge. Finding one she descended slowly, glancing down between her legs. Streaks of light still flashed below as Orlai carefully made her way to the next level of barred windows. Looking in through the glass she saw racks of weapons and armor of all shapes, sizes, and designs in a room empty of people, door closed. Not daring to risk trying to tear off the bars and get at the goods within Orlai every so carefully moved to the next level. Unable to breathe during terrifying the transition, much less in the way of hand-holds this time, she found it filled with gold-trimmed chests. Looking down, several more floors between her and the unbarred windows, she swallowed. A gust of wind suddenly buffeted her, Orlai yelping in surprise. Pressing against the bars she squeezed her eyes shut whimpering. Just one slip. Orlai snarled, ashamed, and craned back her head shouting defiance to the sky in an attempt to inspire herself. She would not give in here.
A solid beam of energy shot from below carving past her and up the wall, dust and debris pelting her. Wall shaking the top of the bars Orlai clung to broke off, whining as they bent out and away from the wall under Orlai’s weight. Gasping she clutched to the bars for dear life as she drifted, hanging in the open air. Terror glued her hands to the metal bars, a burning sensation pricking her palms. No time to be afraid.
Orlai pried the fingers of her right hand off the bars and swung her feet, aiming to get a toe or five onto a nearby ledge. Several swings later, left hand informing her of how little grip it had remaining, she managed to grab the ledge, holding on with the toes of her bare feet. Grunting with effort she tried to shift her weight and move onto the ledge but her foot slipped and she swung back. Fingers screaming for respite, sweat slicking on the bar she held, arm tearing in half, she looked down and cursed gravity. Only seconds of grip remaining, she fixated on the several floors of barred windows below. At this point she didn’t have much of a choice. With a prayer on her lips Orlai let go of the bar.
Time slowed to a crawl, as if she moved through water. Limbs sluggish as they reacted to the commands of her brain, gravity a far-off memory, she reached out. Falling past the first two floor Orlai’s fingers bounced off the third, hand numb from the impact she spun backwards past another two floors. If a fall killed Orlai, after everything that had happened, she was going to have a few strong words with death. Throwing out a her left hand desperately she nearly laughed as it closed around cold steel. Then gravity tried to rip her arm off, shoulder popping loudly as it dislocated. Swallowing air, tears welling, she seized the bar with her other hand, screaming from the electrifying pain. Left arm falling limp, she a large ledge almost four meters in width ran directly beneath the window. Paradise.
Crying out painfully, in one final effort she threw herself onto the ledge crashing down to the marble. Gasping, tears pouring down her face and sweat gushing from every pore Orlai rolled over, grabbed the dislocated limb, and snapped it into place with a blood-curdling scream. Heart hammering away and adrenaline pumping she went limp. Several minutes passed of her enjoying the cool marble on her cheek. Once again she cheated death. Wait until he heard about this. A new surge of courage and energy urging her on Orlai got to her feet, gingerly cradling her injured arm, and looked triumphantly out over the city streets.
The smoke hid most of the action but she could spot silver knights on great winged beasts battling angels, bright flashes of light blooming here and there. Father, she recalled, had stated it was taboo for God to kill God, what had broken that ideal? Whatever, one hell of a war was brewing and she didn’t care why. If the Gods wanted to kill each other let em but they needed to keep it to themselves. Glaring up at the great tear the beam had left in the wall Orlai sucked her teeth in irritation.
She leaned heavily against the marble wall. Exhaling and rolling her left shoulder, sharp needles jabbing her, Orlai looked back at the large tear. Why break in when he could just enter through a convenient door? If she broke a window with her bare fist it would probably start bleeding and she didn’t have any bandages on hand aside from her shirt and that wasn’t coming off. So, rather than risk injury and shame, Orlai decided to make the death-defying climb up three floors of a sheer face down one arm.
Using her left arm as little as possible Orlai picked her way carefully up to the gap. Fortunately nothing exploded during the trip, much to her relief, but dammit did her everything hurt. Pulling herself up into the bottom of the collapsed wall she climbed into an average-sized room. Dusting herself off and wiping the copious amounts of sweat from her brow she spit over the edge for good measure before looking around.
Unable to believe her luck Orlai knelt down, smiling brightly. She picked up a set of shining silver armor, almost an exact copy of the man in black’s own armor aside from the color and cape on its back. Hugging it tightly she could almost feel him. It was the very silver knight set he gave her, she was sure of it. If it was here then-
The palace shook. Orlai quickly donned the armor, looking about for her sword and shield but scoffed angrily when she found neither. Snatching up a golden kite shield, wincing as she hooked her arm through it, and a silver longsword Orlai pressed her ear to the door, hearing nothing. She tried to open it but found no handle. Somewhat bewildered she stepped back and threw her right shoulder against it with a loud grunt. Stoutly resisting the door stood strong. Turning to the hole she’d entered from Orlai sighed. The room next door was just a storage closet that probably had much more lax security she had seen buckets, brooms, and cabinets through the window on her way into this room. The problem was getting over to the closet.
Leaning over the edge she peered down at the street, war still going strong. Climbing would be a completely different story with her armor, shield, and sword. Before she’d been wearing nothing but a shirt and underwear, a much more convenient and flexible outfit than a hundred or so pounds of steel. Yet, despite its drawbacks, she refused to abandon the precious suit, the weapons were tempting to ditch but odds were she wouldn’t be getting out without a fight. Rolling her shoulders, wincing from her left, Orlai put a hand to the broken wall, peeking around the outside at the target window. She sucked in a breath and, pinching the wall between her legs, planted a boot on the thin ledge that ran beneath her destination.
Kicking off with her left leg she hopped outside, tettering for several nail-biting seconds, before thudding flat against the wall in a jangle of metal. There was significantly less wiggle room here than the one she’d jumped to below and the shield was not helping with balance. Shimmying along the wall she smashed the window with her right gauntlet and, basically, fell inside crashing into several buckets. Sucking air through her teeth, left shoulder protesting such abuse, she got to her feet and stumbled to the door which had a handle to her relief. Even better, it opened.
Dingy and dark a dungeon-like hallway of crumbling stone welcomed her. Frowning, Orlai looked back at the utility closet, same as it had been before, an artwork of marble and wooden furniture compared to the condition of the hallway before her. Through the window she could still see the city. Turning back to the open door she cocked an eyebrow. Was this door a portal? It was almost a completely different structure inside it even smelled different, like rotten wood and mold.
Do not think, act.
Orlai nodded. Drawing the longword she latched the shield on her back and stepped inside.
“I’m on the way Chosen.” She whispered.
The door slammed shut behind her.