Chapter 3 - Nightmare
Colors and lights darted across her vision. A great white shining city empty of people, high upon a mountain that became dead catacombs deep below the earth filled with walking corpses. A single flame burned in a furious maelstrom that filled the world with vibrant life and bright light. Thousands of years and hundreds of thousands of faces burned away as the dark encroached upon the dying flame, its bearer withering beneath the infinite passing of time as it weathered him until only ashes and a single cinder remained; Chosen Undead.
Find the Chosen Undead, whispered the rickety voice of an old man, Stop the Darkness from consuming our lands. A dark figure entered her view cradling a small candle flame in cruelly shaped black claws. Soft light from the candle lit a hollow face, its dead black eyes piercing through Orlai. The figure vanished, replaced by a decaying corpse that went up in a burst of flame, ashes wafting through the air, falling gently upon dunes of ash around her. Trees and flowers sprouted along with towering cities, laughing people, and vibrant forests; a lush land. Find The Chosen Undead.
“Princess,” Growled a harsh voice. Orlai’s eyes shot open, cold sweat beading on her forehead, body stiff and clammy she looked up at the man clad in black steel kneeling over her. It was still night, pitch-black she could barely make out the man in the darkness. His dead eyes watched without emotion, claw-like gauntlet carefully cradling one of her hands in it’s frozen talons. A flare of light flickered through his black eyes at her awakening. Orlai groaned, head split in two by a fantastic headache.
“What, what is it?” She grumbled struggling to sit up.
The man quickly reached out and put a gauntlet on her back, pulling her up tenderly, “Nightmare,” He coughed, voice straining, “Screaming.” Orlai pressed her head against the cold, lifeless metal of his chest. The chill soothed her headache, senses returning. Her throat and lips were dry and cracked, she needed water. A terrible taste had worked its way into her mouth and her stomach gurgled, pleading for sustenance. Her body felt like lead, sore, cold, lead.
“Thank you,” She grunted after a moment, “But I’m fine.” She pushed against him lightly and he withdrew himself, black gaze still fixed on her. Orlai stood, stretching as a chorus of cracks sang out from her body. They were still in the forest when night had fallen, the man still marching, but Orlai could not keep up with his stamina, insisting they rest. He’d looked confused but complied, sitting down on the spot to stand watch. Now she was awake but didn’t feel much of the sleep she’d just had.
“How long was I out?” She massaged her temples. He shrugged indifferently, “Alright,” She sighed, “Thanks for the honest answer.” Orlai looked around, trying to squint through the darkness, and listened to the soft sounds of the forest, “Why didn’t you light a fire?” She asked, turning to the man. He shook his head.
“Dangerous.” A creature screamed in the distance, echoing off the trees and sending a chill down her spine. He raised a meaningful eyebrow at her beneath his hood.
“Really,” She snapped, “I thought that was just a lonely widdle puppy looking for its mommy.” Orlai rolled her shoulders, motioning for the man to stand, “Well?” She asked, “I’m up and ready to go, aren’t we gonna start marching?” Those black eyes studied her, had she imagined that light?
“Yes.” He agreed standing up, “Stay close.” And, turning to march, murmured, “Be silent.” Orlai tensed, following after begrudgingly. He turned back to her after a few seconds, “Please be silent.” He corrected, head bowing to her respectfully.
“Now that,” Orlai said approvingly, “Is more like it.”
The two of them marched steadily through the remainder of the night, Orlai watching the trees slowly pass, fear scratching at her kept at bay by the presence of the man in black. Things called out to each other in the forest, some sounding human some not, shapes and forms that darted between the trees she’d only seen in nightmares.
The man had said she was having a nightmare, so he woke her, but what about this place wasn’t a nightmare? A forest filled with beasts and creatures that seemed as if they’d crawled out from hell itself to haunt the mortal plane with their existence. Was she going to wake up from this too, back in her tiny quarters that were little more than a broom closet in the castle and then have to face that nightmare as well? She couldn’t decide whether or not she wanted to wake up from this, unsure which of the two was worse. She peered at the man, exotic great sword slung across his back and black shield inscribed with characters foreign to her, much like his extravagant armor. Then there was his mysterious hooded face, why was he so desperate to wear that black cloth and hood? What was he hiding? He’d said he didn’t know his own name and at first Orlai found that stupid and foolish but now she questioned if he was affected by something more than foolishness?
Orlai soldiered on through the night, blindly following the man in black steel.
The trek through the forest finished without a hitch. Orlai stayed quiet for most of it, out of fear I assumed, but she performed admirably.
Not long after morning we walked through a large gate once locked, that now stood open, its doors carved with the scene of a forest and the head of a wolf. I’d procured the key from a blacksmith when making the journey out, as I had done many times before. This was not the first time I had been through the forest, I practically lived in it for weeks at a time. I still did not understand why I suddenly remembered this detail, and paid it no consequence. Nothing about it affected what I needed to accomplish. A short distance from the carved gates burned a single bonfire, hidden behind a crumbling stone wall next to a cliff. Its flame was massive, reaching above the black weapon’s warped hilt several feet. I’d had plenty of time to properly kindle the majority of the bonfires.
“What is that?” Orlai asked, staring at the flames. The astral fire glowed luminescent in her bright green eyes of jade.
She looked at me in surprise,“You answered me!” I ignored her, seating myself before the astral flames, soothing calm washing over me as a small power prickled in my body a moment before dissipating. I reached into my pack and pulled out a bottle filled with liquid sunlight, “What,” Orlai whispered, fixated on the bottle, “Is that?” I glanced at her, popping the cork out and sweeping it through the fire, leaving a ripple in its wake that quickly filled in.
“Estus.” I answered with a cough, raising the flask meaningfully. I thumbed the cork back in, returning it to my pack.
“What does it do?” Orlai asked, leaning toward the Bonfire and reaching a hand out. I caught her hand with my gauntlet and she jumped, glaring at me, “Why not? You touched it.” I hesitated trying to find the words.
“Not,” I paused, “Not safe.” She glared.
“But you just put your hand in it and stuck it in some bottle. What, are you gonna drink it?” My head swayed side to side uneasily,
She threw her hands up, “Then what’s so bad about me touching it?!” She shouted. I raised a gauntlet, rolling it about as if cranking the gears of my mind, pointing between us.
“Different.” I coughed vocal cords unused to this level of conversation. Orlai sucked her teeth.
“That’s a solid argument coming from you.” She said shaking her head, “But sure, I guess I’ll just dumbly do what you say pretending like I actually matter to you.” She stood, patting her dented armor off, “Let me know when you actually want to include me in your adventure rather than just follow you around as comic relief.” She turned on her heel, walking past the stone wall and giving it a frustrated kick. I mused at the limp she suddenly developed. A dusty groan croaked in my throat and I rested my chin on a gauntlet, watching her growl and rant to herself just outside the wall, pacing back and forth favoring one of her legs.
I wished I could speak to her with my thoughts and feelings rather than verbally. It was so hard to convey meanings through words and sentences and put them together in a coherent order. I turned, gazing into the slowly twisting flames of the Bonfire as a particularly loud burst of chatter from Orlai echoed off the wall. She needed to learn we weren’t alone in Lordran. If she wasn’t careful the entire world was going to come down on us screaming for blood. Despite her faults and alien nature I was growing accustomed to Orlai but not in a tolerable manner, like a parent does a child, I liked her. It seemed wrong considering how difficult she’d been at first, and still was, yet now… She was useless, unable to fight or keep up with me, the Princess did nothing but slow me down. So why did I feel the need to protect her, now more than before? I growled to myself, searching for an answer to clear the confusion that plagued me and coughed, throat sore and vocals aching.
Silence answered me.