Chapter 43 - The Rising Dark
Doll squeaked. Yawning loudly she scrubbed her eyes and pushed herself up from the lukewarm metal of father’s chestplate. The trees swayed in a strong wind, leaves murmuring as they shuddered, birdsong halting momentarily. Dolled looked up, shadows and rays of sun dancing across Father’s smiling face,
“Good morning.” He rumbled, “Did you sleep well?” She stretched with another yawn,
“I guess.” Father rubbed her head gently with a gauntlet. Doll, surprised by how good it felt, pressed against the gauntlet as bubbling warmth rose within her heart,
“What might that mean?” He asked with a level of amused concern in his voice. Doll grinned mischievously,
“Guess!” She blurted, tail twitching excitedly. Father shrugged wordlessly and Doll deflated in disappointment, “That’s not a guess!” She whined, “Afraid to say something weird?” He nodded. Doll, not wanting to toy with him too much, let it drop. Instead she held up her hands expectantly, “Well it doesn’t matter, let’s get moving!” Father, muddy brown eyes twinkling, stood with a grunt. Doll craned her neck back as the gigantic man got to his feet.
Standing four or five times her height the gigantic form of Father loomed overhead. Armor scorched black and engraved with paragraphs of runes, plates shaped to points and gauntlets mimicking terrible claws, he appeared to be more villain than hero. Doll knew that was part of what made him, him though. Father wasn’t Father if he wasn’t a little scary, and besides, it made him seem all the kinder when he wasn’t being the Chosen Undead.
Reaching down and taking Doll by the waist Father smoothly lifted her up onto his shoulders. Wind threw her short silver hair about and the forest shrank in size. Tree branches that once hung miles above were now just out of reach, roots little more than speed-bumps and lumps, compared to the massive barriers they were to her. Doll could see between the trunks more clearly now, distant details once hidden by shrubbery and vegetation displayed plain as day. Sat upon Father’s shoulders the world opened up before the small girl’s sparkling eyes. Filled with wonder and awe Doll shook with excitement, hoping she would grow up to be as big as Father and see the world like him. Hugging his head, chin resting in his short, messy hair, Doll settled in for the march.
“Chosen?” She chirped as Father walked. He grunted in question, “Do you ever get scared?” Her eyes watched a group of bramble men as they carefully picked their way through a patch of blooming flowers, “I know you’re a warrior who’s seen it all, killing gods, demons, lots of really scary stuff, but were you ever afraid?”
“Yes.” Father answered without hesitation,
“Why? What made you afraid?” His neck tensed, jaw grating, “You don’t have to answer I was just curious!” Doll blurted quickly, “I don’t-” He raised a hand, silencing her,
“Losing what I cared about.” Doll blinked several times processing Father’s words,
“What you care about?” She repeated, curiosity swelling, “Like what?” He hummed thoughtfully,
“The undead and others that I have met, those that I trust…” He trailed off.
“Keep going,” Doll pouted pulling at his hair, “don’t stop!” Strangely hesitant now Father sighed,
“Those that I love.” Doll twitched,
“Who…” She muttered, “Who do you love?” She knew his answer but a slight hope burned in her heart that she was wrong,
“Orlai.” Father murmured the name as if it was a prayer. Doll bit back her anger, smothering its fires. Orlai was the greatest lie Father had received from the gods but now was not yet time for Doll to explain. Father did not trust her yet. If Doll told Father everything he would abandon or kill her, which was why she called him Chosen instead of Father. She needed to be patient, “Priscilla.” Completely taken by surprise, having thought Father had finished speaking, Doll shivered in elated silence. He had loved Mother! He had cared for her! He- “Gwynevere.” She stared at the top of his head, “Rhea.” What? “Laurentius.” Who? “Ilyena. Andre.” He stopped walking, head drooping forward as he recited names. Father’s voice quivered, shoulders slouching and knees bending, “Crestfallen, Oscar, Sieglinde, Beatrice…” His grip on Doll’s ankles tightened ever so slightly, strength returning to his voice, “Siegmeyer.” Head rising, shoulder squaring, Father spoke with pride and loyalty she had never expected from him, “Solaire.” A peculiar whine echoed in the distance.
Father threw Doll off his shoulders and caught her in his arms, moving so fast she hadn’t the time to react. Holding her close he hunkered low in the shadows of a large tree,
“Wh-” Doll began but he pressed a talon to her lips. Eyes black as night and cold as winter glared at her, stony face carved from marble in a dark grimace; Father shook his head slowly,
“Quiet.” He hissed. Artorias’ Greatsword slid from its sheath and he straightened, eyes scanning the forest. Doll looked at him in question. Father glanced at her, “An invasion.” He growled. Not understanding the small girl watched the forest, nervous from Father’s jarring shift in mood. She tried to perceive what he did but only heard the soft sounds of wind and singing birds, nothing to be afraid of. Never taking his eyes off the trees Father gestured for Doll to get away, “Stay out of sight.” He murmured, “It’s not sa-” A gigantic blast of bright blue energy tore through the trees ahead and barreled towards them. A claw seized Doll, hurling her out of the blast’s path as Father screamed, “RUN!” Doll cried out as she sailed through the air, bouncing off a root and tumbling over to the other side onto hard dirt. A storm of blue-white energy roared overhead, lumberjacking through the forest and trees with a cacophony of falling trunks and moaning wood. Scrambling before she missed anything Doll looked over the root she hid behind just as Father charged.
I dropped, pressing myself flat against the ground as the trees sheared in two showering me with splinters and falling trunks shook the ground. For a moment I wondered at the destruction surrounding me. Shattered stumps and toppled trunks, cut sections smoking as they sizzling with arcane energies, this section of the forest had been thoroughly demolished; a grim reminder at how fragile peace and beauty actually were. Even with my maxed vitality I doubted I would survive a direct hit. Jumping up after the spell passed overhead I charged the direction it had come from, vaulting over the remains of the trees.
I spotted a female Dark Spirit twenty meters away, all trees before her obliterated and splintered. She wore a large hat and heavy robes, some sort of bent wooden staff in one hand and the Lifehunt Scythe in her other, hand with the staff beginning to rise. At this distance and already sprinting I wouldn’t be able to react in time after seeing the spell. On the bright side she wouldn’t be able to cast again if I dodged but nor would I be quick enough to land a hit, the Dark Spirit having ample time after casting to evade my greatsword or even attack with the Lifehunt Scythe. Her hand began to twirl the staff, arcane energies crackling.
What if she wasn’t casting an attack? What if she was expecting me to evade? If I was a filthy sorcerer it’s what I would do, playing chicken with a warrior. Placing the entirety of my faith in instincts honed by centuries of combat I maintained the charge. The spell blossomed as it finished and...
Five crystalline balls appeared over her head.
I planted my left foot and spun, whipping Artorias’ Greatsword around at full sprint. Blood splattered my face as the Dark Spirit was cleaved in half. Completing the spin I stood over the remains of the Dark Spirit and raised both of my arms, cocking my head slightly, in the customary disgrace against undignified foes of “Well, what is it?!” Completing the emote I glared down at her,
“Honorless scum.” I spat at the fading woman, “Begone with your skilless sorceries and disgusting disregard for the martial arts.” Shouldering Artorias’ Greatsword I turned my back after she vanished and looked about for Doll.
Father turned to face Doll with a scowl, hurrying over when he spotted her,
“Are you hurt?” He asked kneeling down as he sheathed Artorias’ Greatsword, muddy brown eyes glinting dully in the sunlight. Doll stifled a sigh of relief, thank goodness his eyes were brown again,
“No.” She murmured and grasped one of his claws, “Are you?” Father shook his head,
“Good,” Doll chirped with a nod, “then let’s keep going.” Father wordlessly scooped her up and placed her on his shoulders. He started walking a little faster than last time.
Chester ignored Doll and I, thankfully, as we stood in the great shadow of the coliseum before the fog door to Artorias. Doll worriedly glanced his way from time to time but did an excellent job of hiding it if she was afraid,
“What do you mean I have to wait here?” She whined, “I told you I’m here to help!” I patted her head doing my best to smile,
“This is something I do alone. It will be easier.” Doll’s face scrunched up with something that I assumed to be anger but it amused me too much for that to be true,
“So am I just going to stand here and wait?”
“It would be nice.”
“No!” Doll bared her fangs at me, “I won’t let you just walk into the mist and never come back!” She grabbed one of my claws and focused her golden eyes on mine, “I’m not letting you go again.” The growl that followed after her bold statement was almost intimidating. This little girl had no say over what I could or could not do and she of all things was not going to keep me.
“Stay here.” I ordered pointing next to the fog door, “I won’t be long and if I am wait for me at the Bonfire. Should Artorias kill me that is where I will reappear but I do not know how long it will take.” Doll opened her mouth to speak but I closed a claw over her lips, “I promise.” She still didn’t looked convinced. Shrugging, I’d done my best, I released the girl and stepped through the fog door drawing my sword and shield.
Artorias crouched in the center of the arena vomiting black smoke. Abyssal Greatsword over his shoulder and broken arm hanging limp his helm snapped up at my entry. I could feel eyes inside that helm watching me,
Blood. The voices again. I pushed them aside, focusing on my enemy. Concentrate.
Thought grew distant, reality a dream, body nothing more than a shell, my mind swelled as all faded until I was alone. Eyes sliding shut I focused. Concentrate. Thinking was dangerous, wasted effort, an invitation to die, thought was pointless in battle. In battle I found direction. In battle I found peace. In battle I found Truth. No remorse or hesitation, past or future, only the present.
In battle I lived. In battle I… I….
In battle I am King.
My eyes opened and words not my own burst forth,
"Artorias." Boomed a voice that could have been mine. The Wolf hesitated, helm fixated on me, guard down. Time bent, reality blurring, my heart twitched and the Dark roared over the voices that plagued it. My senses dulled, vision flashing, and for the slightest moment I held no perception of who, or what, I was. Power surged through my body limitless and impossible, voices obliterated by its current, fears consumed by its Truth, emotions lost within its absolution. Then, quick as it had gone, reality snapped back into place.
I stood before Artorias. Black smoke drifted from my armor and wrapped around my legs. Words resonated within my heart.
In battle I am King.
And heaved forward. Stomach kicking, throat trembling and flexing, I vomited onto the stones. Retching and coughing, tears pouring down my cheeks, I heaved again, bowels emptying themselves. Throat and mouth burning from stomach acid, bitter and sharp on my tongue, I looked up. Artorias loomed overhead, greatsword falling.
Fight. My greatsword met his in a shower of sparks. Win.
The ground began to shake.