Chapter 39 - Voices of the Past
Walking through the low ceiling tunnel, tree roots reaching down to pull at my hair, I allowed myself to think. The last thing I remembered was fighting the Four Kings and being caught by one of their grapples followed by nothing but agonizing pain until I found myself in that clearing with the girl, or doll, whatever she was. Had I died? If so was this the Abyss I so greatly feared? I could never fully recall what happened if I fell to the Four Kings and assumed it was for my own good, appearing at the last Bonfire I’d rested at feeling as if I’d just been dragged over a bed of hot coals and jagged knives and if that was an after effect what sort of horrors had I actually experienced?
The scant few things that did surface made me shiver; Cold sharper than any mountain, voices madder than even I, truth so jarring entire worlds broke beneath its weight, death certain and unending. Yet this place I came to might just as easily have nothing to do with the Four Kings or Abyss; only thing for certain being that voice in the Dark was absolutely involved with bringing me here. In fact it had called me “son.” Why? A trick to confuse or actual truth? Adding to the mystery the voice sounded familiar, and not the way most things did; dark forbidden secrets sealed deep within my mind, but more recent. This cycle in fact.
I froze. Just before Orlai and I traveled to the Undead Asylum when I first began to seek Truth something Dark had spoken to me in the shadows of Firelink Altar, prodding me towards travelling to Priscilla and her Painted World. That same Dark had called me “son,” talking about “the Game,” calling Orlai “Child of Fire,” and ordering me to kill her. The voice then had felt much more evil though, sinister, hungry, in contrast to the queer simplistic honesty of the more recent. Were they the same or different, and why kill Orlai? I knew she was a god and contradicted my pledge to kill them all when it came to her, but why specifically did the Dark want her dead? Why did it explicitly tell me to end her? Maybe she was special, Child of Fire a sort of unique title specifying something more I knew nothing of? Growling in frustration at my blinding ignorance I resumed marching,
“Action,” I murmured, “Action.”
A light at the end of the tunnel caused voices to whisper as I left the shadows. Shaking my head I shut them out, focusing. Thinking was dangerous. I stepped outside of the passage and into a dilapidated, overgrown hall. Eerie statues covered in moss occupied a crescent moon of seats around a central platform. Roofless, walls crumbling, the ancient building gave me the impression of significance, that it was once a sight to behold.
Suddenly black smoke burst forth from behind and consumed me in a raging torrent of screams. Falling through darkness hands seized and hurled me smashing through a barrier with the sound of shattering glass onto a marble floor,
"Bear witness, Dark One.” A quiet voice hissed amongst the fading screams.
A grand gathering hall, soft whispers echoing under a loud, clear voice. People sat on bleachers in a crescent around a central platform where a single figure stood speaking. Tall walls rose overhead uniting in a raised dome, arches along the walls and outside around a flowering garden allowing golden sunlight to paint the pale marble interior,
“...It is with this in mind that I plead to those present, refrain from heeding the Serpent’s words!” The speaker cried. She wore a cream-white embroidered dress, dark blonde hair braided in a long cord that reached down to her waist, bangs combed neatly to either side of her carefully sculpted face. A strange headdress of two crooked feathery wings protruded from behind her bangs. “Without careful consideration this deed may be the undoing of all Oolacile has strived to accomplish!” I recognized the woman, a nostalgic air about her.
“Danger be a close cousin to us all!” Said one in the crowd, “Certainly we are all aware of this already?” I turned away from the woman to those chattering in the stands. I could not make out their features, fuzzy phantoms of white mist,
“All too well, gave my own arm already!” Sparse laughter and chuckles,
“Why halt just before our next milestone?” Shouts of agreement,
“Imagine the tales they’ll tell of us!” Cheers shook the room. What was I seeing? A vision of sorts obviously but without context it held no meaning or importance. And why couldn’t I see the people in the stands but the woman perfectly clear? Standing slowly I looked back at her as if seeing her again would answer my questions. At my movement she glanced at me momentarily, as if I just appeared, then back to the crowd. Lips parting to speak she halted, head jerking back to me.
Our eyes met.
Thin eyebrows rising in surprise, lips parting to speak, the woman recognized me while I did not her. Initially I saw her clinging to frantic hope when suddenly, upon finding me in their sight, the woman’s Amber eyes flashed, becoming a firestorm of courage. High cheekbones, sloping cheeks, full lips, soft chin and jaw, not a speck of makeup or unnatural enhancements giving assistance to her natural beauty. The hall and ghostly audience fell away, the woman and I fixed upon one another,
“Artorias?” She asked.
And it was gone.
The grand structure nothing more than a brief delusion, a weak and sputtering Bonfire smoldered in the center of the hall where the woman stood. Eyes squeezing shut and claws tightly grasping my skull for a single instant chaos ran rampant in my utterly insane mind.
Like a trained machine I seized fear, anxiety, and confusion, slamming them behind impervious walls built stone-by-stone from unbreakable willpower. Wrestling thought and imagination into obedience I crushed them between unforgiving talons, clapping each in chains of reason. Taking note of the vision and the hard fact that it had happened, archiving the event and emotions associated with it, I sealed all away for later consideration. Nothing would delay or confuse, nothing would trick or turn, nothing would stop me, not so suddenly and not without explanation. I had no way of knowing what was truth and what was an illusion. Lost in a land I knew nothing about and desperate to return to those I knew needed me this was not the time to break down. I would never give in and never lose my way.
No matter what.
“Action,” I chanted, “Action.” Taking several breaths I composed myself.
I had a job to do.
Opening my eyes and releasing my skull, entrenched in the fortress of my mind, I willed my body of ash and bone to move. Descending the ruined steps I walked up to the Bonfire, focus on the task at hand. Never had I seen a Bonfire so neglected and unkempt, used to the overwhelming flames that blossomed from those I had kindled past their normal limit. Procuring my empty Estus Flask I swept it through the tiny astral flame, barely filling the bottle. I shrugged and knelt, extending a clawed gauntlet to kindle the Bonfire with the humanity I offered. In a burst of fire the flames swelled several times their original size, now much more reminiscent of the Bonfires in Lordran. I swiped the Estus flask through again, filling it completely this time. Nodding in satisfaction I placed the flask in my pack and looked up.
A giant mushroom poked out of one of the walls. After staring for several seconds I rubbed my eyes, making sure I wasn’t seeing things again, and confirmed it was in fact an oversized mushroom. I walked up to the mushroom cautiously as it was very reminiscent of those that walked Darkroot Garden and had enough strength to suplex trees. Looking it up and down the massive fungus swayed back and forth, a number of smaller mushrooms running either side of the wall next to the oversized one. Children? My claw twitched, talons itching to touch the monstrosity. Looking around quickly to ensure no one was watching I leaned in and gently tapped it, eyebrows rising as its porous flesh gave. Intrigued now I poked more roughly, breaking through its skin,
“Goodness!” The mushroom cried. I jumped, startled, falling on my rear end with a loud thud of metal and jostling armor, “Brute!” It snapped in the voice of an elderly woman and a pair of angry eyes popped open to glare at me, “Doth thou have no manners?! Who bothers this weary soul during such trying ti-” The mushroom cut off, white eyes widening as they studied me. “Thy scent is very human. Be thee the savior of Princess Dusk?” I blinked several times. It was talking. “Thine aura is precisely as she described.” She said in surprise, tone polite, “I thank thee deeply, for rescuing Her Highness.” What had she said? Her Highness? Princess Dusk? My mind sparked.
A woman had fallen from a gigantic golden crystal humanoid I defeated at one point on my way to defeat Seath the scaleless. How she ended up inside I didn’t care to ask. After thanking me she introduced herself as Princess Dusk and mentioned being from a time far in the past. As if that wasn’t strange enough this Princess Dusk I’d met resembled the exact same woman I saw in the vision moments ago. “But Princess Dusk is here no longer… snatched away by that horrifying primeval human.” The mushroom continued. Half-listening I dusted myself off, grunting as I stood, “And so I must ask…” The mushroom sighed and I snapped up. The way she said that made me feel uneasy, “Couldst thou once more play the savior?” Not even an hour into this place and someone was already trying to get me to do their dirty work. Although the fact that a mushroom was asking a favor amused me far too much to say no. Jokes aside it would be beneficial to find this Princess as she might have a way to return to Lordran since that was where I’d first met her. And if she didn’t know, I would need to find who sent her forward in the first place. I nodded. “Thank you.” The mushroom exclaimed in relief, “I am Elizabeth,” she bowed, “guardian of this sanctuary. Something of a Godmother to Princess Dusk. I shall assist thee, to my utmost. For I am one with the sorceries of Oolacile.” That last part gave me pause. What did she mean by “one with the sorceries?” And assist me? She was a talking mushroom growing out of a wall. Shrugging to myself I turned on my heel and walked out of the hall through an opening at the other end, “I shall pray for thy safety!” Elizabeth called after me.
I stepped onto an aged stone bridge that reached over a massive ravine between the ruins behind me and a dense forest ahead. I could almost see the great gates to Artorias’ Grave where I battled Sif in my mind’s eye. Eyeing the landscape I recognized many similarities between it and Darkroot Forest but this area had much more energy and life to it. Flowers blossomed in patches among bright green blades of soft grass, birds sang and flitted about, air hardly stagnant and suffocating.
Between Princess Dusk being from the past, Elizabeth thanking me for saving the Princess, and the overwhelming resemblance of this place I was convinced I’d traveled backwards in time. So this is how Darkroot Forest looked before the Dark came? I almost regretted denouncing my duty to Link the Flame. Ferociously squashing the emotion I scolded myself. This was part of the cycle too, none of this had ever changed in the endless centuries otherwise the future would as well. Even if there were discrepancies the flame always died out and I always died to restart it. At the same time, cycle or no, I had never seen the precursors of Lordran. I grew hungry to discover the secrets of this world.
Hefting Artorias’ Greatsword I crossed the bridge and climbed a short slope into the treeline. Standing at the edge of the forest without any path or real direction I figured walking straight in wasn’t a terrible idea. Without much thought or consideration I entered the completely unaware of the mythic monsters and forgotten foes that awaited me.
They did not take long to appear.
I slammed into a tree trunk, wood splintering beneath me, and gagged painfully. Struggling to keep my shield up, arm numb from staving off several blows from the three gigantic golems carrying boulder-like axes I squinted through blood at my advancing enemies. The ground trembled beneath their footsteps, massive weapons nigh-unstoppable when in motion and deceptively fast. One-handing Artorias’ Greatsword wasn’t working, these primitive golems much too resilient for slashing attacks and too powerful for my shield to do any good. Besides, it was bad for the blade to cut through stone and I doubted the Black Knight shield enjoyed being abused so. Leaping several steps back I sheathed Artorias’ Greatsword, latched my shield, and reached into the bottomless box ignoring the stab of pain in my left arm. Finding my chosen weapon I withdrew a massive slab of bone with a handle, the Dragon Greatsword; procured by slicing off the tail of the Stone Dragon that resided deep below the earth. Heaving the oversized and ridiculous weapon over my shoulder as the golems closed in I took several deep breaths.
It had been a very long time since I’d last used the Dragon Greatsword.
The first golem rumbled as it swung at me and I rolled behind it. Lurching haphazardly I threw the weighty Dragon Greatsword around in a horizontal cut, pulverizing a large chunk of the golem’s torso and causing it to stumble. I tumbled away, wounded golem doubling over. It’s allies gave chase whipping their gigantic weapons about and demolishing the forest, tree trunks flying through the air. The very air and ground shook with their fury.
I have fought things far worse than death, but at that moment, trees bowling over and massive explosions of earth as the golems rampaged towards me, I decided to cut my losses. There was no point in fighting enemies I could go around, especially when outnumbered.
Spinning around and shouldering the Dragon Greatsword I sprinted through the trees in the opposite direction. Hammering through the forest at full speed I risked a glance over my shoulder, golems wreaking havoc behind me but falling steadily behind. Looking ahead I barely had enough time to slide beneath an outstretched rake. Sadly I wasn’t clairvoyant and had no way of seeing another rake as it pierced my back. Grunting in surprise the unseen holder of the jerked me up into the air, pulling me up and around in a vertical half-circle crashing back to the ground, pushing the rake’s teeth deeper into my flesh. Looking up I found a humanoid mess of roots and vegetation standing over me, rake pinning me to the ground grasped in its twisted hands. It wore bright yellow wrappings of cloth over its shoulders and waist, no human features aside from the basic shape of its body. As if on cue the earth rattled violently and a large shadow fell on the bramble men and I, cast by one of the golems I’d thought to have outrun. Rocky joints creaking it raised the massive axe over its head. I struggled against the rake, rusty teeth scratching at my innards, but the bramble man held strong. The axe fell,
“Shit.” I spat.
Dying as an undead was never a pleasant experience.
Groaning, I sat up next to the Bonfire. Hallowed now my body felt weak and frail, on the verge of snapping in two from the weight of my equipment. Fog drifted through my mind and dulled my senses, mouth tasting of ash and soot. I looked around at the ruined interior of the hall I’d left. Reaching into my back for a Humanity I crushed it ruthlessly between the talons of my gauntlet. Facing the Bonfire I knelt, offering a Humanity to the Bonfire, and reversed my Hollowing. Standing I rolling my shoulders.
Couldn’t remember the last time I’d died.
I’d need to play it safe now, no more walking around aimlessly or lazy combat. On top of losing my souls and humanity I had actually been killed. I had been killed! Killed! Cracking a grin I jogged across the bridge into the forest tingling with a mix of excitement and anger trying to recall where exactly wandered to. Losing the Humanity and souls if I died again was not a vital issue, but such a mistake would destroy my pride as a warrior.
Jogging through the forest I had been prepared to fight through heaven and hell to reach Orlai and the others when I left to fight the Four Kings, but I hadn’t expected to enjoy it.
I enjoyed the challenge. I loved the challenge. The challenge gave me life. I needed to return to the others. I had to return to the others. I would return to the others. The gods would die. The gods must die. The gods will die.
Screaming to drown out the voices in my head I threw myself against the inhabitants of Lordan’s past.