Chapter 40 - Wolf of the Abyss
A great darkness loomed overhead and swallowed the bright blue sky, plunging the world into abyssal night despite the brilliant sun shining overhead. Ilyena had never seen so much blood before. She stared up at the Demon, eyes wide and jaw agape as it tore Laurentius asunder. Blood and flesh rained down painting her crimson, pyromancer screaming as he died. What remained of his body twitched in the Demon’s claws. Complete terror clapped Ilyena in iron chains, watching as the poor pyromancer was brutalized by a monstrosity once called Nameless. Ragged billowing robes of abyssal black, two blazing spheres of white glaring down at her from within its shadowed cowl, a massive scythe clutched in one claw, the embodiment of Death, laughter boomed from the Demon,
“Yes!” The Demon cackled, “Duty fulfilled, pledge served, the Nameless come for what is due!” Laurentius’ head dropped to the grass in front of Ilyena, dead eyes wide and jaw unhinged in a silent scream. Blood oozed from the stump of his throat. Ilyena jumped, scrambling away from the head. A pitch black claw of obsidian talons flashed through the air and seized Ilyena by the neck, lifting her into the air gagging, “Minion of the False Sun.” Ilyena cried out as slithering things burrowed painfully into into her neck, “Worthless Watcher of the Hollow City.” She vomited black ooze, “Meddle in events far beyond your ken will you?” Voices roared in her mind, dark emotions rampaging, chaos all-consuming, worms wriggled beneath her skin, feasting upon her flesh, spreading throughout her body.
“Someone.” Ilyena whispered, begging for rescue.
It hurt so much.
“Please.” She reached out blindly for something, someone, anything to grab. She needed to hold something, an anchor to the world she’d been taken from. Lost in the absolute darkness and agony she knew she was alone, knew none would reach back, knew that she was already dead. Perhaps this was fate? Ilyena denied the gods, following one who strove to kill them, cursing them. If she had dared to curse gods then surely this was divine punishment for her heresy. Death closed around her, Ilyena still reaching out.
Nameless had betrayed them in his mad quest to kill the gods. This was retribution.
Heretic or no Iyena had followed what she believed. Not what a god told her or duty demanded, she made the decision herself and would not regret it. It made her laugh actually, that the man who brought her salvation and a new start would also end her. She could not bring herself to hate him, to hate Nameless. He had given her something the gods never did.
Hollow and empty, suspended in death, Ilyena guarded Anor Londo a cursed abomination and outcast. She ran from her lost home and life, Carim, fearing what she had become, undead. Hiding within a cumbersome and painful set of brass plate armor Ilyena strove to forget what the curse took from her. Until she met him.
He gave her hope, something tangible to hold and see, to believe in. Restoring her body and mind he nurtured what little humanity Ilyena retained, allowing her to live a new life. If this was the end of the life she now held, however short, she would meet it head on and without remorse. She had been given a second chance when so many countless others hadn’t. Ilyena accepted this. A hand grasped her own and pulled. Ilyena’s eyes shot open, staring into a pair of crystal blue eyes. A woman with golden hair bound back in a bun wearing a dingy brown dress dragged Ilyena free. She hugged Ilyena close,
“Sister,” The woman whispered into Ilyena’s ear, “It is you.” Ilyena drew back slightly, looking up in awe at her older sister,
“Anastacia?” She murmured in disbelief. Tears brimming in her eyes Anastacia smiled down at Ilyena,
“I have waited,” her voice was deathly quiet, “so long for this moment.” The Dark softened, Abyss fading to shadow, “But there is no time, another to whom we have pledged our services is in need.” A cold wind blew, Anastacia looking off into the shadow,
“Another?” Ilyena asked, “Who?” Anastacia looked back at Ilyena with a twinkle in her eye,
“Our Nameless Undead.”
I stood at the foot of the coliseum staring at a fog door and sighed tiredly. My body ached, armor scratched and dented, Dragon and Artorias’ Greatswords both badly worn with use. Estus Flask nearly empty, miracles depleted, mind weary from concentration, I looked up at the starry night sky.
Two days and nights I spent in the forest, which I learned was called the Royal Wood, fighting, dying, and learning. Two days I fought for my sanity battling enemies both real and unreal. Two days I once again felt the anxiety and fear I had so long ago of walking an unknown land.
The first day was a bloody blur. My violent reaction to the vision of Princess Dusk spurred me to barrel into battle without rhyme or reason. At first I tried to exercise caution, restraint, attacking only as a last resort, focusing on reconnaissance. I devolved quickly, charging headlong into foes and smashing through the forest on instinct and brute strength. I died often, both thanks to overwhelming odds and my own ignorant stupidity. I stopped counting how many souls and Humanity vanished into oblivion but, lost and generally wounded, I made little progress.
The second day proved much more successful. Scouting the forest in chunks I discovered several lifts, all inactive, along its outer edges. The only foes of note were the Scarecrow men, as I had taken to calling them, and the massive golems. They populated the forest thickly and patrolled in calculated routes. After a few mistakes and accidental skirmishes I’d mostly gotten the idea of their attack patterns and general movements. Confident, I began venturing deeper avoiding any unnecessary fights where I spotted a large coliseum from a cliff. Carefully progressing farther into the forest I gradually activated the lifts one by one until, now, I stood before the coliseum studying that fog door. I wanted to see what was behind it but, at the same time, feared the moment I stepped through the fog. Already pushed to my limits simply reaching this point surely an even greater challenge waited inside that would grind me down to my very bones and break me. Yet I yearned for such a thing, shuddering at the thought of being utterly destroyed by an enemy truly stronger than I. But it would have to wait. I was tired.
Sighing again I hefted Artorias’ Greatsword and looked around. To my left another lift inset within the cliff face and to my right a bridge to an outcrop that ran up the side of the cliff. I spotted another door at the end of the outcrop but what caught my attention was the figure lounging against the cliff wall.
Soft candle light illuminated him from the ground up in an ominous manner, dark clothing melding with the dark as day became night. He wore a heavy black trench coat, tall top hat and a mask painted white carved with a massive smile. The mask and hat seemed familiar somehow. Curious I turned right and crossed the bridge. As I drew closer however, my curiosity switched violently to caution.
Blood, pungent and sharp, metallic scent curling around my nose. Instinctively I reached for my pack, grabbing a black cloth, and wrapped it around my nose and mouth. My hood and mask had been off the entire time. Quickly pulling another cloth out, tucking it into the collar of the Black Knight armor and tugging it over my head I righted the blunder. How could I have not realized sooner? Scent of blood dulled somewhat I crossed the last few steps of the bridge stopping in front of the masked man. The impending night hid any of his more undercurrent features aside from the obvious, but I did not need to see much in order to gauge him. Exuding an aura soaked in bloodlust and arrogance standing within his reach was something my instincts demanded I refrain from doing. At a casual glance he merely appeared to be resting. Arms loosely crossed, shoulders slouched, hardly on alert and looking for a but I did not ignore my gut. Upper half of the smiling hask hidden by the wide brim of his top hat I couldn’t see his eyes. My grip tightened on Artorias’ Greatsword when he suddenly shifted. Humming thoughtfully the man spoke,
“Oh, let me guess.... Snatched by a shadowy limb and dragged to the past?” The question was slow and biting, words laden with arrogance and ulterior motives. His voice reminded me of Darkstalker Kaathe and half expected a forked tongue to flick out from the small slot he spoke from. I shook my head, “Oh, well, my mistake….” He said dismissively before continuing, “But we are both travellers. We ought to help one another out.” Frowning behind my own mask I scrutinized the strange man,
“Who are you?” I asked deliberately,
“Marvellous Chester they call me, what is it you need?”
“Do you know what’s in there?” I pointed a black talon at the coliseum. Chester raised his head and our eyes met.
This was not a man. Gaping jaws lined with rows upon rows of jagged teeth hungering for the tang of blood and tearing of flesh studied me. Devouring me upon sight his eyes were those of a mindless, starving beast barely contained,
“That old ruin?” Chester chuckled darkly, “I wouldn’t know. More importantly have you happened across Knight Artorias?” I froze. “You know the legendary Abysswalker, from the old tales then?” He asked. I could not answer, stunned. Artorias was here? In this time? Why was he in old Lordran, what was going to happen here? Was… was this when he traveled to defeat the Four Kings? The thought set light to a blaze of emotions in my chest, “…Well, if you haven’t,” I blinked, returning to Chester, “it’s just as well… He’s a colourless sort, if you ask me.” Chester cackled as if he’d made some sort of joke and lowered his head, eyes hidden beneath his hat. I stared at the coliseum.
I wanted to run, sprint, find the Abysswalker. I had so many questions, so many wonders and fantasies. If I met the Knight himself I…. I shook my head roughly and dispelled such childish thoughts. I needed to return to the Bonfire first, walking up the outcrop to the door I’d spotted earlier. Entering I was pleasantly surprised to find another lift. Taking it up and stepping out I stood once again in the upper forest, bridge to the Bonfire with Elizabeth in sight. Night nearly fallen a loud chorus of insects sang drowning out most other sounds in the forest. Impatient, I broke a homeward bone in two teleporting to the Bonfire. Quickly resting and filling my Estus flask I jogged back over the bridge, through the forest, dodged several packs of enemies, and back down the lift returning to the coliseum. Walking past Chester without saying a word I marched to the structure and up to the tall fog door. I felt anxious, this only the second greater enemy I had fought in Lordran’s past, and did not know what I would be facing. Perhaps a gigantic golem similar to those in the forest, or a massive living tree tended by Scarecrow Men? Taking a deep breath I stepped through the fog.
A revolting humanoid creature crouched in the center of the arena, arms elongated and skeletal, head a porous bloated sphere covered in bulging eyes. The thing squawked and shook itself threateningly at my entry. Was this it? Had the fog door been just a barrier signifying a new area rather than a boss encounter? Just starting to turn back and check if the fog door vanished for confirmation the creature looked up.
Flashing through the air a massive knight slammed to the arena floor driving a massive black greatsword into the creature’s chest pinning it to the ground. The knight drew the weapon out slowly and then pushed deeper in, black greatsword digging into its victim with the sound of snapping bones. The mottled was greatsword gray and black, steel eroded by some unknown power, armor colorless and subdued. Left arm hanging limp and useless, a thick stinking odor exuded from him. Stagnant dark hung about, suffocating and unrelenting. The knight, two or three times my own size, sagged tiredly, burdened by a weight I could not see. His helm rose to look at me. Inside its shadowy depths I saw him.
Once, this knight had been beautiful.
Glinting silver armor engraved in ivory runes and elaborate etchings, rich blue cloth carefully wrapped around the elegant steel plates decorated with similar patterns, he carried himself with grace and determination. All who saw him were gripped by awe and wonder, this man somehow humble yet absolute as if his very existence was a gift from the gods yet he himself remained untainted by their arrogant immortality. A knight who dominated myths and legends, whose wolf sigil and deeds could be recounted word-for-word by even the youngest of wide-eyed children, whose ideals I looked to for guidance, support, a knight I called Hero without hesitation. One of Gwyn’s Four Knights, a holy warrior of unbendable will, unmatched skill with the greatsword, original owner of the very blade I carried, traverser of the Abyss, savior of New Londo and master of the Wolf Sif:
Sir Knight Artorias, Abysswalker.
Some slight understanding glinted in the Knight’s helm when our gazes met and for a brief instant I thought he was going to say something. I stepped forward, excitement sparking in my chest, when he suddenly looked down.
Black smoke burst from the stones under his feet.
I looked upon the last truth in which I so fervently believed. Knight Artorias, the final bright and shining truth that remained against the sinister lies of Lordran. The single, lonely hope that always remained strong and true no matter my hardships or mistakes. Artorias had lived, performing heroics only I could dream of, a hero above and beyond my own strength. I aspired to his image, worshipped him, following his example that I might deliver myself from the curse. In his guidance I found hope.
Consumed by black smoke Artorias screamed and the smoke exploded outward buffeting me. Stumbling back I barely kept my footing. Artorias crouched like an animal, abyssal black greatsword slung over his right shoulder, left arm hanging limp, black smoke belching from his armor. Voices whispered.
“Blood.” I knew these voices. “Take what you deserve.” They had spoken to me when I killed each Gwynever and Gwyndolin. “Blood.” They did not come from my mind but another. “We demand blood.” They were not speaking to me. “WOLF OF THE ABYSS!” Artorias jerked, head snapping to me. “BLOOD!” Whipping his sword through the air Artorias threw the body of the slain creature at me and roared, “WE DEMAND BLOOD!” Leaping through the air, abyssal greatsword raised, black smoke pouring from him and voices screaming, Artorias succumbed to the Abyss.
Something in my soul died.
A mountain hit the shield I raised instinctively and Artorias’ blow fired me tumbling across the arena. I rose without thought or emotion, Artorias already coming. Far away I could feel rending agony and sorrow but such things were not important now. Empty and unfeeling I sank into deep concentration focusing entirely on the enemy. The black smoke curled about me, licking at my masked face and drifting up from the floor to pull playfully at my ankles. As Artorias moved droplets of cold black sludge spattered me from beneath his armor. His movements were twitchy and erratic though retaining an undertone of deadly grace. Spinning through the air Artorias struck again.
I ducked and lunged with Artorias’ own greatsword. Through the steel claws of the gauntlet scorched black holding the divine greatsword I felt emotions similar to those I pushed aside. Its true master carried a blade akin to it in origin only, terrible hungry darkness gnawing at the light of the divine greatsword from its horrid twin. This was betrayal, but whose? The blade harmed its true master by demand of its current, yet its true master had become the very evil it had been created to destroy. Who then was at fault? Its true master for falling to temptation, its own for not serving its master, or its current master for accepting the challenge? Would this righteous greatsword rebel against its fallen master, a hero sung through the ages, or yield and allow his image to be tainted by his own hands? There was only one option.
Biting through Artorias’ armor the divine greatsword rent steel and rotten flesh, piercing the Dark consuming the Knight. Regret festered in the divine greatsword and attracted to my own. I pressed on, following through, and rolled away. Artorias flowed after me in pursuit greatsword nearly invisible, fainting too many directions to follow. I danced about, Black Knight shield trembling as it braced for the coming blow I forced calm serenity, fighting against desperation. Where would he hit next? Black liquid flew, color masked by the night. What was that smell?
Gasping in surprise, not even seeing the initial strike, the tainted greatsword cut diagonally up my side and under my guard. Body jerking as the blade entered and exited leaving a bleeding wound speckled with small wriggling black creatures I could not react to such a blindside. Despite my stalwart poise and solid will I stumbled, shield dropping several inches.
It was all the Wolf needed.