Chapter 41 - Open
The Goddess clutched a barbed sword in her talons, metal so hot it glowed white. The Bonfire, without its sword and subject to Her raw self, raged out of control in a wildfire that consumed all of Firelink. The flames roared with a fury mimicking Her own, turning all they touched to ash and cinder. Stone melted, trees vanishing, all things obliterated by berserk rage. As the world succumbed the Goddess grew stronger, fires feeding off of the burning tinder. An ancient dam shattered loosing a fantastic flood of annihilation. Unbelievable power flushed Her body and lifted Her above the destructive current ravaging the world below. Rising upon wings of flame the Goddess, for a split second, wondered if it wasn’t rage She felt.
The moment passed.
Turning, the Goddess looked over white mountains and hollow ruins of a once glorious city. An ancient tree comparable in size to the palace of Anor Londo itself reached overhead to the bright blue sky above, roots beginning to smolder from Her presence. Feeling nothing but passionate emotion the Goddess did nothing, unable to think, caught in some sort of libido, needing a catalyst to propel her forward. She hung suspended in mid-air overlooking the world as if searching for something,
“Orlai.” The Goddess spun. Armor scorched black, face obscured by a black cloth and hood that resisted the blaze, extravagant engraved plate armor, Chosen met Her gaze. Muddy brown eyes glinting like polished stones, greatsword of legend upon his back crafted from shimmering blue steel, Chosen strode fearlessly through the flames to Her. Head cocked, his enveloped Her in beautiful love, “Orlai.” His voice sounded like dry wood scraped over sandpaper, grating and unpleasant, but it didn’t matter to the Goddess. It was his voice. Rising from his side the man in black reached out a single black, claw-like gauntlet, talons opening in welcome, “Orlai.” She took the claw without hesitation and fell against him, firestorm calming. “I am here.” His voice rumbled deeply, resonating within her, “Peace.” She nuzzled the frigid metal of his chest, snuggling closer to him, “Peace.” She slid beneath the glassy surface of a calm lake of ice water, drifting within its deathly quiet depths of serenity, calmed by his cool breath of ice and body of glacial steel. The Goddess’ breath slowed. Crawling deeper and deeper into the bastion offered, She hid within his impervious embrace pushing away the world outside and its frightful nightmares. She was safe with him, safe within his walls, his arms. The Chosen Undead would keep them away, he would protect her, he-
“Take what is due.” Hissed a voice of terrible Dark. A slick blade tainted black slammed into her stomach, “Blood.” Gagging in shock, fires vanishing, Orlai looked up into abyssal eyes that smiled murderously down at her. Blood poured from the mortal wound, painting his arm vibrant crimson, “Once again shall the roles be changed.”
Sunlight. Morning? I’d fought Artorias just as night fell, why was it morning? A knife of pain dug through my chest as I remembered what the Abyss had done to the Knight. Was that what Gwyndolin saw when I killed him? Was that what I had become? I shivered. Now I would need to defeat the very demons I once succumbed to. It all seemed too convenient really, planned, but I was in no frame of mind to question. I felt so hollow. If I just lay here…. No. Win, keep moving, I couldn’t lose my way now after so much. Artorias was waiting.
I blinked away tears growing aware of my surroundings. I had returned to the Bonfire.
I put a gauntlet to my forehead and groaned, body heavy, some sort of weight pressing down on me. I felt wonderfully warm. Crediting the Bonfire humming next to me I sat up and something thudded to the ground with a surprised squeak. Looking down my eyes widened in disbelief. A small girl no more than ten or so looked up at me with golden eyes. A tiny pair of developing horns poked out from her forehead beneath white hair trimmed just above her shoulders. She wore a thin white dress over her petite body of snowy skin, a short furry tail curled up on the dirt. I was getting irritated at how often I was finding Priscilla look-a-likes of late.
“That wasn’t very nice.” The girl mumbled rubbing a bruised knee. I stared,
“Priscilla?” I muttered in awe, “Who are you?” Puffing out her cheeks the girl glared at me,
“No, I’m the Peculiar Doll dummy.” I twitched, almost reaching for my greatsword. The last I’d seen of the “Doll” she had spoken uncomfortably ill of Priscilla and sang disturbing lies I refused to recall. But the last one claiming to be the doll had no horns or tail. Eyeing this newcomer suspiciously I dug through my bottomless box and, to my amazement, could not find the doll. I looked back at the girl,
“How?” I managed. She smiled hopping up,
“It’s a secret!” I nearly punched her. “And I always keep secrets, just like Priscilla taught me!” I watched the supposed Doll dance around the Bonfire, orange flames reflecting in her gold eyes, “But isn’t it great? You were so lonely and afraid but now you have me!” She smiled through the astral flames at me, “You don’t need to be alone anymore! I’ll help!” I didn’t know what to think.
Every bone in my body screamed this was a trap, an illusion or ruse, and that I should kill this “Doll” immediately. Never take good fortune at face value, always question if another motive could be present. Yet the doll was gone from the box and… a thought occurred to me. Shuffling through the box again I couldn’t find Priscilla’s soul either. Looking back at the Doll, who sat cross-legged at my side watching me curiously I wondered if this actually might be an honest accident? I had never killed Priscilla before and taken her soul so it wasn’t out of the question that the doll might be able to absorb it and become… whatever was with me now. At the same time I found myself wanting to believe that this girl was in fact the Peculiar Doll and Priscilla’s soul. Such hope might have made my heart beat faster if I wasn’t dead.
“What is your name?” I asked slowly,
“Dunno. You can call me Doll. Or Peculiar. I dunno.” She grinned, pearly white fangs glinting in the sun, “I’m just happy to talk to you. It’s not very fun being a doll.” She put a hand on my armored thigh, eyes sparkling in wonder, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” The girl seemed fascinated, “Is everyone this cold?” I winced and looked away,
“No. They are warm, living. I am cold, lifeless.”
“But you are alive.” She stated in such a matter-of-fact way I couldn’t meet her gaze, “Don’t you know? Besides, you’re the first person I’ve touched. This ‘five senses’ thing is new to me. I used to be so numb.” She wiggled her fingers and toes, “It’s like a dream.” I stood abruptly, uncomfortable with the turn this conversation was taking. Reversing Hollowing and restoring my Humanity I left the Bonfire. “I’ve been exploring ever since I got here you know.” She continued, so entranced with herself and not realizing I’d gone, “I never knew there was so much to-” I heard her gasp. “Where are you going?!” Doll called, “Chosen?!” She ran after me, onto the bridge, and jumped in front of me throwing out her arms, “Halt criminal scum!” She declared angrily. I raised an eyebrow and glared up at me defiantly. Not wanting a small girl crushed beneath a golem’s stone greataxe on my conscience I confronted her,
“Why are you following me?” I growled threateningly, attempting to scare her off,
“Why are you so grumpy?” She blurted innocent as can be, not even a flinch,
“I’m…” I hesitated, taken aback after such a simple question, “I don’t want to see you killed.” Doll grinned,
“That’s all?” Sauntering up to my side her pale hands took one of my claws. She tugged towards the Royal Wood, “You’re safe with me, there’s nothing to be scared about!” Disregarding my amusement at such a claim I resisted,
“There are things in the forest that will kill you.” I warned, “I cannot protect you. Go back where you came from.” Doll laughed, silver hair fluttering in the breeze and reflecting the sun,
“I don’t think I’ll fit in your box!” She threw my arm about, prancing this way and that as she chattered, “The Forest and everyone else won’t hurt me, or you if I show them who you are!” My eyes narrowed in suspicion,
“Haven’t you wondered why everything tries to kill you?” I shook my head, “I’ll show you!” She pulled more strongly with several high-pitched grunts, “I’ll help!” She said between pulls. I remained stalwart, looking up at the forest apprehensively. “C’mon!” Doll pleaded, “Trust me!” I looked down the girl. Trust her? Some child claiming to be the Peculiar Doll from the Undead Asylum, nothing more than a key item? What consequences could trusting her, or not trusting her, have? Either way nothing significant certainly. I might die, as well as she, but I was immortal. Why did I even care if she died? I didn’t trust her therefore her life had no meaning to me.
You already killed Priscilla once.
I snarled angrily, Doll raising her eyebrows but without fear. Listening to this girl wouldn’t redeem me, but neither would letting her die. I stepped forward and Doll gave life to wonderful laughter. Straining, urging me to go faster, she lead me across the bridge. I halted at the edge of the forest, Doll squeaking in surprise as I roughly jerked her to a stop.
“I can’t fight with you holding my hand.” I grunted,
“Well I’m not letting go, you’ll just run away!” I opened my mouth to protest but she interrupted, watchful eyes on me, “I’m not stupid you know. I know you don’t trust me.” My jaw clenched in irritation. Sheathing Artorias’ Greatsword on my back and hitching the Black Knight Shield over the sword I knelt,
“Get on. It will be easier to keep you safe if you’re up here.”
“I can ride on your shoulders?!” She shouted in a jovial outburst. I nodded. Giggling madly Doll climbed none too carefully up my arm, using my hair as a painful handhold, and pulled herself up. Swinging her legs around she pushed my hood back, ignoring my protests at removing it, and settled in. “Alright!” She yelled throwing an arm out to point at the trees ahead, “March!” Putting aside my annoyance I straightened. Careful not to sway and risk throwing her off I grabbed both of her ankles for insurance,
“Quiet.” I growled in response to her shouting. “More will attack, and sooner otherwise.” Doll leaned forward hugging my head tightly,
“I said to trust me!” Short curtains of silver hair hung over my vision as Doll shoved her face into mine, “I will help!” She snapped. Skeptical, I shrugged and moved cautiously into the forest. Doll hummed, rocking back and forth with little care for my asking her not to. The forest felt much less imposing that it did the last I’d walked through it, its hidden eyes turned elsewhere. I hadn’t even spotted any golems or bramble men. A sudden movement at ground level snatched my attention and I tensed, preparing for a fight. A single colorful bird, worm pinched in its beak, studied me with a beady black eye before flitting away through the trees. I sighed in shame,
“What is it?” Doll asked resting her chin on my head,
“This is wrong.” I grunted, “Too quiet.”
“Quiet?” She giggled, “How is this quiet?” I frowned, peering around at the forest, and strained my ears,
“I don’t hear anything.”
“That’s because you aren’t listening.” I turned my head, looking up at her in question. Doll sighed in exasperation, “Maybe if you came out of your shell and stopped looking so hard, seeing only what you expect, or want, to see,” she gestured widely with a small, pale hand, “you’ll find what you’re missing.” I blinked and looked ahead. What I expected to see? I knew this forest was deadly. I’d been killed plenty by the inhabitants. I expected to fight and that was a fact. What else was there? It was quiet, nothing but us, yet Doll said otherwise? Was she lying or naive? She didn’t seem like it and the little girl was not at all stupid. I sensed a similar wisdom not unlike Priscilla about her, but Priscilla had admittedly tried to kill me. The thought left a bitter taste in my mouth.
I stepped over a larger-than-normal root, wary of any branches above that might hit Doll. If this wasn’t a ploy by gods or some other party, Doll simply trying to mislead and confuse me with her words, what did she mean? “You aren’t listening.” I repeated the phrase in my head several times as if it was a puzzle to be solved. What hints had she given? She spoke of my shell, of course that was how I remained sane. I was inside and everything else was outside. Did Doll suggest I leave? The shell, or walls, fortress, had been broken only one time I could remember: when I killed Gwyndolin and Gwynevere. That experience brought to light many things I kept hidden under lock and key for my own sanity. I doubted Doll meant in mind though, she was speaking in terms of sense. I stopped, head suddenly jerking up when an idea popped. Doll yelped, scrambling not to fall off and seizing my hair but I already held firm to her ankles,
“I’m not listening.” I muttered to myself.
“Chosen?” Doll pressed against me, hanging over my vision again, golden eyes fixed upon my own. I expected to find enemies and was only aware of enemies. I met her gaze, eyes clear pools of gold without darkness or taint and full of clear intention. She honestly wanted to help. Grudgingly, I began to entertain the idea. It would be alright to loosen up, if only for a moment, and give Doll’s advice a quick go. I let my mind relax and body loosen. The gates of the fortress opened gradually.
Colors, sensations, sounds, vibrant and numerous. A soft breeze on my face, smell of flowers, beautiful living green, twigs crunching beneath my boots, birdsong, rays of golden sun piercing the canopy; a cacophony of life and sound. Taken completely off guard by the sudden sensual overdose I froze from the shock. “Chosen?” Doll asked again. Dress against the back of my neck, thin legs clamped under my arms and around my neck, soft body against me, hands gripping my forehead, the girl peered at me from above. She smelled sweet,
“I am listening.” I answered. Doll grinned, raising an inquisitive eyebrow,
“What do you hear?” I frowned. A single word came to mind,
“Life.” Doll sat back, heels bouncing on my chest,
“I just meant the birds are noisy but that too.” She said with an indifferent shrug. I blinked. That was it? She was talking about the birds? I smiled to myself, amused at my paranoia and her endearing simplicity. Unless she was still leading me on? I flushed that line of thought. We just needed to get through the forest and… and then what? Fight Artorias? What-
Suddenly Doll jerked violently to the side causing me to stumble. I turned my head to scold her but the words died in my mouth. Looking as if she hadn’t a care in the world, Doll gripped an outcrop on the gigantic stone thigh of a golem I had somehow missed. It loomed overhead, shadow encompassing Doll and I, greataxe on its shoulder. Shocked by both my own lack of awareness and her suicidal actions I stood stunned, witlessly staring up at the golem,
“Good morning.” Doll said in greeting. The golem rumbled, head bowing to us, “Yes! I’m Doll and this is Nameless!” She chirped and leaned close to whisper in my ear, “I think he’ll lose it if i call you ‘Chosen’ so your nickname will have to do.” I stared at her,
“Lose it?” I mumbled looking between the golem, who studied us indifferently, and Doll,
“You’re kind of a big deal you know, what with being the hope of Lordran and most legendary of heroes.” I blinked,
“Yup.” She glanced at the golem and flashed a smile. The golem rumbled again, “Ok!” Doll waved, “And you too!” Giving a slight bow the golem trudged away through the forest. Still recovering I shook my head in amazement,
“What did you do?” I asked incredulously. Doll resumed bouncing her heels against my chest, now also playing with my hair,
“Aren’t we supposed to be marching?” She pointed out. I heeded her and began walking but continued to question,
“Yes, now what did you do?”
“I removed the illusion on you.” Doll stated tugging at strands of my hair, “You know the people and creatures in Lordran really aren’t all that bad. It’s just the gods trying to make it all seem so awful since they need you to Link the Flame.” A group of bramble men dutifully tending to a large patch of sunburst yellow flowers waved to us as we walked past, “They’re not all insane.” Doll waved happily and, feeling somewhat silly, waved as well,
“They worship the Gods and Flame.” I sneered, “I am the Dark Soul carrier, pure evil to them. All Dark must be destroyed in their twisted eyes.”
“Well,” Doll sighed, “I know. I’ve traveled with you a lot, being a wooden doll and all, and you used to look a lot scarier than you do now.”
“Scarier?” I ducked to avoid hitting Doll on a low-hanging branch and kept an eye out for others ahead, “What do you mean?” She grabbed my cheeks, kneading them with her soft hands,
“Why do you want to know? You’re not Him anymore.”
“Him?” I asked voice garbled,
“A bad man, but it wasn’t, isn’t, your fault. It was all you knew, your nature.” Her voice grew sad, “It was never your fault.” Her touch became gentle, “It’s probably why you’re so scared to remember.” My mind quivered suddenly. I stopped, eyes glossing over, strange sensations coming over me, “Chosen?” Doll sounded so far away. Willpower lax and mind already unfocused something rose from the deep.
The gate was open.
Why had I left it open?
White clouds, warm breeze swirling through short hair, bright blue sky stretching over a mortal world far below, shimmering palace of golden sunlight huddled high in the clouds.
Throne atop a high staircase, countless heroes and heroines joined by great beasts of legend and wise deities possessing knowledge greater than any. An everlasting king sat upon the throne above those assembled in the greatest of halls, legends and gods commonplace under its gigantic ceiling. The king spoke of truth and the subjects whom he gave his soul called forth lies spoken by his greatest heroes. Rebellion.
Vitality pulsed, warm blood flowing through toned muscles of mortal flesh. A voice spoke, plain and clear, "Traitor." Blood spewed forth and icy immortality took hold, frozen in time as death delayed its price indefinitely.
"Bearer of the Dark Soul,” A woman, hair flaming red, eyes jade green and skin tanned a long scar scrawled across her beautiful face. In one hand she held a sword of sunlight covered in bubbling red blood evaporating from raging flames. Silver armor battered by war and combat, encasing a body I had grown to know well, she drew close, breath on my face. "Holder of hope.” A warm hand brushed my cheek. I felt the touch of metal, ice that gripped my body thawing ever so slightly. She smiled sadly. Eyes tortured by a sorrow even I did not dare to understand the woman’s expression was that of agonized futility; as if helplessly watching the end of the world. "Guardian of my Heart,” tears fell from the jade eyes and onto my cheeks crawling down my bare face as divine angels flew above battling beasts of black fire, "you must undo this terrible future.” Massive buildings of sunlight towered above silhouetted against a blue sky marred by thick plumes of black smoke billowing from mortal wounds. “Do you understand?” Blood ran through the streets in rivers and the chaos of war screamed overtop those of the dying and wronged. A single voice spoke to me,
“Kill the Ascendant,” It demanded, “take what is due.” Its will was absolute. Fighting through the agony rending my broken body I reached to the side and grasped a greatsword tainted abyssal black. Words fell from my lips,
“We are Nameless.” I swung at her throat.
“Chosen?” Doll’s voice sliced through the vision. Orlai. A dark emotion smoldered in my chest, hungry and lustful. Sudden birdsong and hushing leaves ruffled by the wind flooded over me as I found myself back in the Royal Wood. “Chosen?”
“I’m alright.” I grunted dismissively and took a step. Legs giving out I fell to my knees, Doll crying out in surprise as she was thrown forward off my shoulders. I caught her in my arms before she landed and dropped to the ground myself, curling around her protectively. Body numb and exhausted I lay immobile, Doll saying something. Darkness crept at the edges of my vision and I fought for consciousness. Had Doll done this? Was she going to-
“CHOSEN!” Clarity snapped back to the world like cracked whip. Doll cradled my head, tears streaking her face and dropping to my cheeks. Snot oozed from her little nose, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” She wailed, “I thought that if I was here when you started to-” I reached up and pressed a single talon to her lips,
“It’s fine.” I forced a smile, “I trust you.” Was that a lie? I wasn’t sure. Her wailing ceased and Doll hiccuped, wiping her face. I dropped my hand,
“Thanks.” She coughed, “Do you feel better?”
“Depends,” I snorted sarcastically, “mind or body?” Doll swallowed and sniffed, expression softening,
“I really am glad I’m not a doll anymore.”
“How did you change?” I asked trying to change the subject,
“Not sure.” Doll said thoughtfully, looking up at the forest canopy, “I was in your box, then lying next to you and couldn’t believe it.” Her lips parted into a grin, fangs flashing, “I still can’t believe it. A miracle almost.” I twitched, disgusted by the supposed joke. Body creaking I heaved forward and sat up. Nausea assaulted my stomach and the world spun. Growling ferociously I dug my claws into the ground, warring for control, “Chosen?” I shook my head, dispelling the negative effects, and grit my teeth. Pushing myself up, limbs protesting loudly, I stood shakily. I would not be beaten by these damn memories.
Doll pressed against my thigh and struggled to hold me up, squeaking in determination. Eyebrows rising I regarded the little girl. She glanced up through the white bangs of her hair, an impressive snarl on her face,
“I’ll help.” She growled in a strained tone, resuming her fight. My smile was no longer forced.
“My thanks little one.” Doll, inspired, redoubled her efforts. Watching the insignificant child fight so fervently, but ultimately in vain, I sincerely doubted she would be able to carry both I and my equipment. Much less keep me from falling though that wasn’t the point. Strength flooded me, spirit swelling in light of Doll’s own. I drew from her own willpower, standing straighter, shoulders squared and senses sharp as a fuzzy tickle toyed with my silent heart. I rested a black claw upon Doll’s head and she looked up at me, eyes wide. I ruffled her hair gently, taking care not to cut her with my talons.
“Chosen?” She asked slowly,
“Our march is delayed.” I said, still smiling, and reached down to grab her by the waist. Doll yelped, flailing as I lifted her up and onto my shoulders. She shifted and, after a second or two, let loose an excited squeal,
“Right!” She shouted and pointed ahead, “Forward march!” I obeyed, making sure not to jostle her too much. My grip tightened slightly on her ankles. I wasn’t alone anymore, if I failed another would pay the price as well. This other was living as well, warm and breathing. I would never forgive myself if I failed again. Fires of will burning anew the Doll and I made our way through the Royal Wood.
Artorias was waiting.