Chapter 36 - Hollow
“Greetings Undead Warrior,” Kaathe hissed, “I am the Primordial Serpent Darkstalker Kaathe.” He waited a moment, as if expecting me to respond. When I remained silent he continued with a slight hint of irritation, “I can guide thee, and illuminate the truth. Undead Warrior, conqueror of the Four Kings, is this not your wish? To know the truth of men, and the Undead?” I nodded, “A wise choice, Undead warrior.” Kaathe declared smugly, “Prove you must, that the truth becomes you. Seek Anor Londo and claim Gwyn’s heirloom, the Lordvessel. Now go, Undead warrior. Show the world that the truth becomes you.” I blinked,
“Lordvessel?” Kaathe bobbed his head, meaty flaps on his upper lip swinging to and fro,
“Aye, you know of it yes?”
“Bring it to me, Undead Warrior, then we shall talk.”
“No,” I countered, “Now.” I had already placed it on the Altar, already acquired it, I met his terms. Going to retrieve it now was a waste of time. I had not gone through so much to do a snake’s pointless bidding. Besides two souls were in it, Seath and the Bed of Chaos. I had never tried to remove the Lordvessel after placing it, much less when containing souls, and going to find out what happened if I did would be wasted effort. Kaathe and I were both here, he would tell me.
Taken aback the serpent hesitated,
“Only proof of your strength will assuade me to offer you truth.” He said slowly, “Surely you do not think I, Darkstalker Kaathe, will so easily bequeath such things to thee? More than simple faith and a show of strength are required.” The Abyss rumbled, Kaathe snapping up to look around, “What is this?” He muttered,
“Darkstalker Kaathe,” I said regarding him, voice cold and emotionless , “Now.” Kaathe bared his teeth,
“Arrogance! You dare order me?! I am-”
“Enough.” I cut in. I held no perception of how or why but the Abyss quivered, bent, surrendered. Odd. “Now.” Kaathe’s eyes bulged and darted about
“How can this be?!” He shivered, “You are undead are you not?! Only-” He cut off. After a long moment his head bowed, “I yield, this proof enough.”
“Speak.” I ordered and crossed my arms.
“Hmm…. You are astonishing. The truth I shall share without sentiment.” He cleared his throat, “After the advent of fire, the ancient lords found the three souls. But your progenitor found a fourth, unique soul. The Dark Soul. Your ancestor claimed the Dark Soul and waited for Fire to subside. And soon, the flames did fade, and only Dark remained. Thus began the age of men, the Age of Dark.
Lord Gwyn trembled at the Dark. Clinging to his Age of Fire, and in dire fear of humans, and the Dark Lord who would one day be born amongst them, Lord Gwyn resisted the course of nature. By sacrificing himself to link the fire, and commanding his children to shepherd the humans, Gwyn has blurred your past, to prevent the birth of the Dark Lord.
I am the primordial serpent. I seek to right the wrongs of the past to discover our true Lord. But the other serpent, Frampt, lost his sense, and befriended Lord Gwyn. Undead warrior, we stand at the crossroad. Only I know the truth. You must destroy the fading Lord Gwyn, who has coddled Fire and resisted nature, and become the Fourth Lord, so that you may usher in the Age of Dark!” Kaathe roared triumphantly, “Chosen Undead,” Kaathe rumbled, “I am a Primordial Serpent, your guide in this great duty. Will you take up the mantle of Dark Lord?” He leaned in, “What say you, my Lord?” Why had I started all this in the first place? I could not remember.
A ship sailed from port, I standing alone upon a barren dock watching it go. The ship carried everything I resented, everything I believed was nothing more than weight. Free of my baggage, thought and emotions I so greatly feared, memories and duties I believed to be chains, I realized what I had lost. Me. Standing in the Abyss before the serpent I had no answer, no purpose. I felt… Hollow. No voices whispered to me, no persuasions I did not understand forcing me along, the congress of my mind and heart silent. In the grand expanse I had become, overwhelming and all-powerful, I was alone. Terrible beast and wrending memories, goals, volition, will, humanity, everything, all gone. None joined me in my mind, crowding its walls or tainting its thoughts. What I felt, nothing, was me. What I thought, nothing, was me.
You are nothing.
I was nothing. I was alone. What if this was my new purpose then? What if I was now the Dark Lord? I could not remember. A purpose though, I desperately needed a purpose,
“What say you?” Kaathe repeated expectantly.
“Yes.” I whispered,
“Very well, once the vessel is filled with souls, the gate to Gwyn shall open. Seek Gravelord Nito, the Witch of Izalith, and the traitor Seath the Scaleless. Fill this vessel with their souls. Then, the gate will open… so that you may kill Gwyn.” Kill Gravelord Nito, a purpose I knew well. But it was much better to have purpose than none at all. I nodded and walked over to the Bonfire. I would need to return to Firelink, I hadn’t gone down into the Undead Catacombs yet. I reached into the flames and pulled myself through time and space.
Ilyena gripped the broadsword Nameless had given her, blade partially unsheathed and glinting in the sunlight. This simple broadsword had cut down foes greater and more terrifying than she dared dream of, and this weapon knew it. Nothing about the weapon seemed overly impressive yet an imposing aura hovered over it, a great strength contained just beneath the surface. Ilyena drew the sword, Laurentius looking up from his seat under the tree at Firelink Shrine. She stood, practicing her forms with the broadsword,
“Bored?” Laurentius asked and she twitched missing a step,
“I suppose so pyromancer.” Ilyena said, voice strained, “One would naturally grow anxious while their Lord is out fighting.” Laurentius looked down, hood hiding his eyes as Ilyena danced about the Shrine in careful choreography,
“Are we really able to help?” He murmured after a time. Ilyena froze at hearing her own thoughts echoed and spun to face him,
“Of course we are able to help.” Ilyena snarled slashing the broadsword through the air, “I am his Knight and you are… you.” She avoided insulting him, Nameless would be upset if he returned and found Laurentius dead or badly injured. Yet despite her denial the pyromancer had a point. Ilyena had never seen anything like the horrors of New Londo. It was all she and Laurentius could do to just keep up with Nameless. The city weighed on both of them heavily even now, taint and darkness still present in mind. How had Nameless gone on all this time alone?
“Right.” Laurentius sighed, “But aren’t we just slowing him down? We both went down there and it’s like…” He trailed off,
“It’s like we left something there.” Ilyena finished for him. He didn’t answer. She looked at the Bonfire, watching its astral flames. Did her Bonfire in Anor Londo still burn? Did it really need her to exist? She hadn’t checked since she’d left with Nameless. Was she really just an ornament, a pawn, one intruding on fate? Was her presence, her existence, nothing more than a lie to convince Nameless? What was her destiny, her goal, her desire? At the moment her only meaningful reason to live was Nameless, the one who liberated her and revealed the truth. However upon discovering the truth Ilyena realized how pointless she was. Of course she remembered fragments of her past, brothers, family, all part of a noble house of knights and warriors, but none of that mattered now that she was undead. She had no purpose. Her grip tightened on the broadsword Nameless had given to her, closing her eyes and recalling the words of the god that had visited her in dreams.
“Can you guess who holds real truth?” Reaching out a cruel gauntlet of black steel with one finger pointing towards her his voice echoed endlessly. Ilyena could not move, paralyzed by the gaze of two bright lights that fizzled in the abyss beneath his hood and the dark aura that swirled about them. Piercing through her like javelins, drilling deep into the consciousness she called her own, his eyes knew no bounds. Searing her with white light no lie or illusion could escape being burned away leaving only truth. Ten feet tall the giant man clad in armor of midnight loomed over her, curtains of ripped black cloth draped over his broad shoulders and back blowing in a wind she could not feel, “It is you.”
Ilyena’s eyes opened. Nameless was her truth, everything had been lies and illusions until he came. that was all that mattered. With this new volition Ilyena resumed her forms.
She did not notice the Raven diving down overhead.
Orlai screamed when the Raven’s claws suddenly opened, throwing her down to the ground with a crash. She groaned, sitting up, and found herself in Firelink Shrine. To her right under the tree she and Chosen had slept under together was man in ragged robes who watched her curiously beneath his hood. To her left a woman in leather armor, hair bound back in a ponytail, stared in obvious surprise. Orlai fixated on what this woman held, a simple broadsword that was once her own,
“Where,” Orlai grasped the handle of her own sword, “did you get that?” She asked dangerously. The woman did not hesitate, eyes narrowing as she studied Orlai,
“You are a knight as well are you not?” The woman retorted, “First let us exchange names. I am Ilyena, Knight of Nameless.” Orlai cocked an eyebrow, who the hell was Nameless? Pretty pompous name who called themselves nameless, was it supposed to be an ironic joke?
“My name’s Orlai.” She grunted, “Now where did you get that sword?”
“I received it from my lord Nameless, do you know of him then?” Ilyena’s expression was calm and calculating, Orlai unable to read anything on her. The man in the robes sat under his tree and watched,
“Depends, this Nameless guy wear black armor and carry a gigantic blue greatsword?” It was at that moment Orlai wondered if Fate had a sense of humor. In a flurry of ash and cinders, a man in armor burned black appeared at the Bonfire. A hood and mask hid his face, a blue steel greatsword slung over his shoulder and inscribed black shield on his arm, “Chosen!” Orlai cried, taking a step towards him when he looked up, their eyes meeting.
Once his eyes had been muddy brown, soft and caring yet dangerous and sharp. They were so deep she would lose herself in them, falling through their infinite depth and wisdom, solace and safety welcoming her unconditionally. Whenever she imagined his eyes in the short time she’d been away they would calm and remind her of what she was doing and why. Those eyes were gone.
A pair of empty black pits stared at her. Looking deep within the dark pools Orlai felt something within the abyss of those eyes, hidden from view, that ate at him like maggots. A soulless husk stood before her, a man that should have died long ago, a walking corpse forced to dance by strings unseen. He held no true awareness of those around him, as if they were nothing more than ghosts or illusions. This was not the man she loved.
Shaking her head violently Orlai scolded herself for thinking such a thing, “Chosen!” She called, hurrying up to him arms wide, “I’ve missed you so much!” He walked past her without so much as a glance. Orlai stood there, rock-solid and unmoving, Ilyena and the man watching her,
“I suppose you don’t know him then.” Ilyena grunted as she followed after Chosen. The other man got up from under the tree, smiled awkwardly at her, and hurried to join Chosen and Ilyena as they walked out of Firelink Shrine. Orlai could not move even if she wanted to, stunned. What? What had happened? Was she mistaken? His hood, mask, sword, armor, everything was him except… except for those eyes. She turned slowly, body stiff, watching Chosen’s back as he left her. It was him, it had to be. But who was this Ilyena and other man? No undead ever followed him, but two? What had happened in the short time Orlai had been gone, a mere five days or so?
What had happened to her Chosen Undead?