Chapter 44 - To Think
My body jarred from blocking Artorias’ strike, ground trembling in fear beneath my boots. Spitting out a bitter glob of bile I glared up at the Wolf Knight and into the darkness of his helm, struggling to keep both hands on my greatsword. Black smoke curled from both his armor and mine, terrible power coursing through each of our veins. He pressed down, superior size and strength causing my knees to buckle.
I would not yield. I had to survive.
Newfound strength manifesting within my body that I had no comprehension or understanding of, I held Artorias back in our deadlocked swords, if only just. Filled with the very darkness that had tainted the Abysswalker and turned him to madness I challenged the legendary hero come to life. It seemed awfully convenient for the Dark to offer its boon at such an opportune time but now was not the time for thought and consideration.
This was a battle.
Twisting the flat of my blade to meet his I turned Artorias’ abyssal sword aside and crashing to the stone. Slithering smoothly under his guard I pierced his midsection with a stab. At such close proximity the full force of his reeking aura and taint brought itself to bear.
Hot breath of the foulest origin suffocated me as Artorias exhaled, hairs on my neck standing up. Air slimy on my skin and throat I gagged, each breath going down like a fat pill. A disgusting black substance swelled around my blade so revolting and horrid I wondered for a quick instant if it would cause my nose to burst into flame. Wrenching the greatsword free I danced away. Refusing to let me escape unscathed Artorias swung wildly, abyssal great sword screaming through the air. Caught on the back step I could do nothing but raise my shield. The abyssal sword and its owner cared little for the worthless plate of engraved metal scorched by the world’s flame that protected me. For all the glorious legends and unbelievable myths around the black shield it was nothing more than flimsy tin foil in the face of Artorias.
Stars exploded across my vision and the world blurred as gravity vanished. The stone floor flipped and spun in an impressive display of acrobatic finesse before crashing down upon me. Grunting, I rolled to my feet standing against Artorias once more. My limbs trembled, breath ragged, muscles protesting such abuse, body crying out for rest. I pushed all aside. I was undead, such sensations false and human, distractions of false life seeking to drag me down. Still they persisted,
“Do not think.” I gasped, fighting the mortal limitations lurking at the core of my being. I may be immortal but the inner-workings of my mind disagreed. Artorias leapt forward, sword darting about with dizzying speed my eyes unable to follow and dulled mind confused. Fueled by instinct I charged forward, taking advantage of my small size, and threw myself under him avoiding the assault entirely. Artorias hopped away before I could land a retaliatory strike.
“Why don’t you think?” I blinked, hesitating a moment. Artorias, sensing a break in my concentration, roared. My shield-arm snapped up. The strike launched me, flipping end-over-end, across the arena. Disoriented and stunned I crashed to the ground, bouncing before coming to a stop. I stared up at the shining blue sky, wispy white clouds frozen in time, sun too low to see hiding somewhere just over the east end of the coliseum. I heard nothing aside from dull ringing. “Think.” Squeaked the unfamiliar voice. I began to sit up, Artorias falling from the sky above, greatsword held high and unseen gaze fixed upon me. We both moved as if through water, less than half speed. Jerking myself to the right and rolling across the stones, movements maddeningly slow, the world snapped back to speed. Sound exploded in my eardrums as Artorias’ abyssal sword pulverized the stone and I tumbled away. I gulped air, sweat slicking my skin, and picked myself up. Rushing forward I attached the Black Knight shield to my back, two-handing Artorias’ Greatsword. I roared ferociously and dragged the blade down the Wolf Knight’s side carving out a fountain of black ichor. Wound deep and grievous, running the whole length of his back I grinned triumphantly, victory close enough to taste. One more good hit and this fight was over. “Over for who?”
The world stopped in a still-frame.
“You need to think.” The small voice chirped, almost in warning, “Mayhap you might see more?” I blinked. Artorias was in a crouched wind up. He planned for me to attack him, right arm tucked away and abyssal greatsword out of sight, poised to cleave me in two. Animal or no he had predicted I would take any opportunity to deal damage if it appeared. I had been so focused on the present, on surviving, that I had been led by the nose into the simplest of traps. In battle the goal was not to survive, but to win. I had failed. Artorias’ Greatsword moved to block, unaffected by the stoppage of time. The instant the divine weapon rose into place a mountain struck fast as lightning.
Reality quaked, awareness narrowed to only the black sword and its mythic owner, five senses fusing together in a tunnel-like vision of the fallen knight Artorias. Trapped beneath Artorias’ blade I struggled like a rabbit in the claws of an eagle, guard weakening. My smaller Artorias Greatsword shimmered in the darkness exuded by Artorias’ Abyssal Greatsword, blue gem in my weapons pommel filled with a storm of light, his obsidian black, “Think.” I blinked.
Artorias was a beast, mindless and starved, hunting for prey. He fought with a modicum of intelligence and cunning but relied heavily upon his superior size, strength, and speed. At first glance victory looked to be a far off dream conjured up by the stupid and blind but, if I watched closely, letting him attack and attack, the Wolf Knight fell into a pattern of repetition. Exploitable repetition. “More.” Deeper, I had to go deeper.
Darkness in my heart and voices that had whispered for centuries silent, emotions intense and clear, awareness of the world wide and serene. A cool breeze passed over beads of sweat dripping down my cheeks from muscles overheating in the thick of battle. I heard my wheezing breath, fast and short, body hot from exertion. So many minor distractions and unimportant details that piled together into a din of useless noise. Why? Why did I only feel them now?
The Four Kings. Ever since defeating them I felt something had been missing, a great weight numbing my body and suffocating my mind now gone. What was that weight?
Walls fell open.
Dear, sweet Child…
Ignorance is your curse, your salvation, protecting you from the great evil sealed within so many millenniums ago; Dark Soul in your breast and its absolute power never meant return to the world. In this, you have failed. The Dark soul has escaped but its influence, vestiges of bastardized power, remain yours. Time is of the essence Child, your Duty not yet done.
A sudden whirlwind of black smoke roared to life, consuming both Artorias and the undead he hungered to kill. As the smoke thickened, Artorias losing sight of his quarry, the knight noticed two bright points of light. The blue steel greatsword began to push back until the two stood on equal terms.
The whirlwind vanished in a sudden huff and Artorias, for the slightest second in his animalistic rage, hesitated.
The undead, clad in armor of midnight, glared at Artorias. Size somehow on par with Artorias himself, paralyzing gaze fixed upon the Wolf Knight, the undead now stood as his equal. Eyes burning white hot beneath a tattered hood and long cloth falling across the back of his obsidian armor in ragged curtains caught by wind unfelt. The familiar greatsword of shimmering blue steel had swelled in size as well, rivaling Artorias’ own Abyss Greatsword,
“You have fallen far into the Dark, servant of the Abyss.” The undead boomed, “You think yourself invincible, lavishing within its taint!” The undead shoved Artorias back, “But in the Dark,” Black tentacles seized Artorias’ ankles, “I am King.” Throwing the knight like a ragdoll the tentacles whipped him through the air and crashing against the wall. Vomiting black liquid, the Artorias’ head snapped up, unseen eyes fixed upon the blade lodged within his chest. Agony split Artorias in half and he screamed as terrible black claws seized him, dragging him down into oblivion. The knight fell silent, two halves collapsing either side of the undead’s massive blade. After a pause, examining his handiwork, the undead knelt down claw gently scooping up a black orb of dripping ooze from Artorias’ fading corpse. Staring at the orb held in his claw the undead hung his hooded head in sorrow and rumbled, “Forgive me.”
I drifted on the glassy surface of an infinite expanse of water, blue sky reflected so perfectly in the natural mirror I could not tell where sky ended and horizon began. Head and body mostly submerged but buoyant enough to keep me afloat, the eerie silence of the water deadened my ears, sleep weighing upon my eyelids. I blinked.
A golden city nestled among clouds, buildings taller than any I had ever seen reaching over gigantic white walls that encircled it. Set within the walls was a great gate forged from precious metals barring entry, doors inscribed with paragraphs upon paragraphs of words and runes I could not read. The right door depicted a warrior carrying a sword and shield swathed in sunlight, onlookers of all kinds watching from behind from dragons to men, odd humanoids possessing beastly traits, and others I could not rightfully describe. They watched the warrior with awe and wonder, completely taken by such glory and heroism. Rays of sun reached out from the warrior and over the onlookers, blessing them with light. The left door, however, was blank, a bare slab of gold ruining the beauty of its twin. Seeing them next to each other reminded me of a painting only half-done, still a sketch and waiting for the life brought by color and perspective. I touched the blank door, black claw scratching its surface, and blinked.
Thick darkness, phantom light revealing several feet of gray stone. Stalactites hung from the ceiling, stalagmites reaching up to touch their cousins and unite but most stopped short. Air stagnant and heavy I looked up at a massive, hulking creature shrouded by the darkness. Ferocious crescents of wide, antler-like horns sprouted from either side of its head, bright red glowing eyes dotting both. Left arm a thick mass of dark writhing hair and right a cruelly-shape bone weapon the monster loomed over top of me, lipless mouth opening,
“We are waiting.” It gurgled. I blinked.
Bodies. Thousands upon thousands of bodies, tattered banners jabbed into the ground, carrion birds circling overhead. Death assaulted my nostrils and stung my eyes as thunderclouds rumbled above, strong winds scattering the circling birds. I staggered somewhat when the wind hit me, hood knocked back and unstable footing shifting as my boots slipped on blood, gore, and limbs. I raised a claw against the wailing gales and lighting struck in the distance, thunder booming a second or two later. Feet digging down among the corpses I hunched, leaning into the wind, and lightning flashed again revealing a silhouette within the clouds. Ear-splitting and violent a fantastic roar drowned out the wind and thunder. Breaking from the clouds in an explosion of white fog a giant dragon burst forth, maw opening to roar again. Struggling against the storm’s gales I watched the dragon climb into the sky and throw its wings out to either side, hovering as it scanned the battlefield.
It found me immediately.
Wings folding in and body tilting down the dragon dived. Drawing Artorias’ Greatsword I took a shaky step, shouldering through the wind and wishing for better ground. Passing overhead the dragon’s jaws opened, breathing a column of fire. Reaching down I quickly lifted a body and tucked under it, scrabbling deeper into the corpses below. Heat blossomed across my back accompanied by the stench of burning flesh. Surfacing from the corpse pile, doing my best ignored the smell, I snapped to the dragon. Arcing back for a second pass the beast banked to the side, scales glistening in the light of a setting sun. Sheathing Artorias’ Greatsword I procured the Dragonslayer Greatbow from my bottomless box. Jabbing the stabilizer spike into the bodies underfoot I reach back and pulled a massive arrow twice the length of my arm from a pouch normally too small to carry such an arrow. I assumed it used similar tricks as my bottomless box. Notching the arrow, I exhaled taking aim as the dragon leveled out. I fired, shot streaking towards its mark with blinding speed and punch through the dragon’s chest with a fountain of blood. Crying out in pain the dragon fell, crashing among the dead several seconds later. I sighed, shoulders drooping in relief when thunder pealed again. Turning back to the clouds a knot formed in my stomach.
An entire flight of dragons flew out of the clouds in numbers too great to reliably count. Swallowing, I smoothly loaded another arrow, exhaled, and fired, one of the front-most dragons falling. The others closed in dropping so low to the ground their claws skipped across bodies with puffs of exploding innards. My third shot missed, dragons easily swaying to the side before it reached them.
“Child of the Soul.” With no time for a fourth I dropped the bow, drawing sword and shield. “You must rise once again.” The dragons disengaged their jaws as one and gave life to a terrifying firestorm, “Winds of war wail with ancient gall. They scream for vengeance, the death of all.” Bathed in flame I took a breath to scream but felt no pain. The fires billowed about me swirling and spinning until they narrowed into a solid halo of fire encircling me, “We beg for your help.” The halo condensed into a white-hot bar hovering before me, “Restore what has been lost.” The bar drifted towards me, lower half transforming into a hilt and handle, “We beg you Child, lest the flame become frost.” I looked up to the sky ignoring voices. My eyes saw past the past the battlefield and fiery sword, past the dragons and clouds, past the city of gods who I had once hungered to kill, focusing far, far away on something never meant to be part of Lordran.
“Child,” The hilted rod of fire tapped one of my claws, trying to press its hilt into my gauntlet, “Please.”
Doll sat cross-legged in front of the fog door staring at its broiling surface. Her tail bounced anxiously on the stone floor, fingers tugging her dress, clock ticking away at the back of her mind. It had been an entire minute since Father went to fight Artorias but there hadn’t been a single peep from the other side. Had he died? Was he back at the Bonfire? She would wait here either way, recalling many stories of heroes and heroines who had been separated by impatience. Often one party would begin searching for the other just after they arrived at the appointed meeting place, making for a story much longer than it needed to be. Doll would wait as she had already done for so long. Father always came back, death nothing more than a delay. He would come back. She repeated this several times, chanting over and over in hopes that it might return him faster. Her the sputtering flame of her hope burned against the oppressive dark in her mind.
The fog vanished.
Launching forward Doll sprinted blindly through the remnants of the fog into the center of the arena and screeched to a halt. Hood pulled overhead and hiding his face Father knelt hunched over in the center of the arena arms folded upwards and against his chest. Doll spotted a black, dripping orb held within his cruel claws. Running to him she stopped several steps away when she heard his grinding voice muttering. Doll hesitated, leaning forward and holding her breath in an attempt to listen,
“I’m sorry…” He whispered, “I am so sorry….” Worried, Doll stepped next to Father and put a hand on his shoulder plate,
“Chosen?” She asked carefully, “Are you alright?” Falling silent Father turned to her, eyes finding hers. Doll had seen his eyes take only two appearances; muddy brown and deep as oceans or jet black spheres darker than the Abyss itself. His irises retained the original brown color but orange pulses of light traced their features in random patterns, pupils resembling crystalline beads filled with black, billowing fog laced with white outlines. The spectacle was mesmerizing. He said nothing, regarding her with wondrous eyes and then turned back to the orb held gently in his claws. Doll’s nose curled, noticing an awful smell,
“I don’t know.” Father rumbled. She stifled a sigh of relief, his voice still the same, “Artorias is dead.” Doll raised her eyebrows, seeing no body when she looked around, only the orb in his hands,
“Is that him?” She inquired pointing at the orb. Father nodded,
“Yes.” He coughed painfully. Doll pressed against him and hugged his arm,
“Are you hurt?” He didn’t answer immediately, she unable to see his expression around the hood,
“I don’t know.” Placing Artorias’ Soul in his pack Father picked Doll up, lifting her into his arms. Doll, taken by surprise, head and hands against the frozen metal of his chest and feet dangling over the side of his arm. Holding her close Father’s head dropped down, eyes closed, forehead pressing against her own, “I am lost in this mind I think to call my own.” He grated. Doll frowned, pushing his hood back and cuddling his head,
“That’s why I’m here,” She said in assurance, “I’ll help you get through this.”
“Will you?” Growled an evil voice.
I looked up from Doll as a black fist of writhing hair slammed into me, knocking the girl from my grasp, and rolled to my feet,
“Father!” Doll screamed as the writhing hair seized her from a swirling black circle,
“Doll!” I roared, charging the portal and leaping blindly. Doll reached for me, screaming as she was dragged in, portal disappearing just before I passed through. I crashed to the ground. Jumping up I whipped Artorias’ Greatsword from its sheathe, “Where is she?!” I yelled. Several seconds of silence, “Speak!”
“Deeper,” The voice cooed mockingly, “We are waiting.”
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