Chapter 7 - Beautiful
I sat next to a massive gate, the entrance to an unforgiving and terrible place of pain that I did not want to recall. Sen’s Fortress was one of the few places I honestly hated. I could not help chuckling at the irony of taking refuge in such a place rather than the bonfire a hundred feet or so away. I did not want to be near Andre for the moment.
Orlai was perfectly fine aside from the ragged breathing, cold sweats, and near-death experience she’d been forced through. She’d fallen into a soft sleep for the moment. I had removed her armor, instead leaving only the rough leather pants and fur tunic to allow her what I hoped was a more restful nap. I chided myself for putting her through such an ordeal but quickly reconsidered. It was likely better she live through such an event now rather than later. Death was always a close companion in this world and to accept that meant one understood the cost of living in Lordran. With a tired sigh I pulled the black cloth over my face down, breathing in the raw air deeply, letting it fill me with its crisp bite and fresh taste. I exhaled, expecting dust to expunge itself from my mouth and nostrils in copious amounts. I did this several times, enjoying the privacy while I could before wrapping the cloth back around. No memories surfaced as to why I hid my face, in fact I could not remember the last time I’d seen my face, though I knew it was crucial to keep it hidden especially in the presence of Orlai. It was the face of an undead. I recalled the dilapidated skulls of the swordsmen from earlier, imagining Orlai’s reaction to my own face. Best to avoid that.
I bounced my greaves off the large slab of stone I sat on, looking over at Orlai lying lengthwise next to me. An odd energy began to build within me along with a slowly increasing sense of anxiety. I thought to put a name to the phenomenon, recalling words Orlai had used to describe me. Boredom, I was bored. How odd it was. I had always been marching, always moving, never stopping, yet here I sat solid as a stone knowing I would not move unless certain circumstances were met. Things had become so new, vivid and vibrant ever since Orlai appeared, she showed me so many things, taught me endless skills and spoke to me with a familiarity I did not even posses with myself. I could not imagine losing her. My mood darkened, I would not lose her nor would I even consider it.
I felt a dark existence crawl through the cracks of reality, breaking through time and space, something unwelcomed and unwanted broke into my world.
I shook Orlai awake roughly, drawing my sword and shield. I could hear the high-pitched moan of a portal in the distance, “Wake up,” I hissed urgently, “Wake up!” I had forgotten the greatest threat in this world, the Dark Spirits, ghosts of red smoke that assaulted the keepers of undead worlds hungering for their souls. I myself had stooped to their level once and felt no malice towards those that attacked me in the past but now things were different. Orlai snorted loudly as she woke,
“What?! What, what is it, what?!” She blurted looking around densely,
“Hide,” I growled, “You must hide.” Orlai shook her head, not seeing any immediate threats,
“It’s fine, there’s no-” I seized her, glaring into her jade eyes,
"Hide.” I snarled. She nodded slowly,
“Alright, if you say so.” I pressed a silver coin into her hand,
“Break.” I nodded to the coin, Orlai raising an eyebrow,
"BREAK!" I roared, covering my mouth instantly, eyes wide with shock. What an intense emotion, I felt the need to apologize. Orlai stepped back with a perplexed expression,
“Ok, damn.” She muttered. The coin bent easily and she vanished, replaced by a small box,
“Stay.” I ordered the box and turned to the bell-tower of Andre’s smithy. My breath was strained, muscles tense, if I had a heartbeat it would be be hammering. I walked to the center of the walkway, looking behind me into the Fortress, then back again at the bell-tower. Which direction would he come from? I caught a glimpse of red in the bell-tower. Rolling my shoulders I raised my shield, bracing.
A massive man stepped into the door, raising his arms from his sides and parallel to the ground as if to ask, “Well, what is it?” He wore Giant’s Armor and the Mask of the Father, a massive two-handed sword I knew fondly as Zweihander slung over his shoulder, a Giant Dad. The scourge of Dark Spirits, one who had only a single, simple strategy.
To charge headlong into battle, shouldering through whatever punishment was dealt to them, and skewer their enemy. My stomach sank further when I saw the five black spheres that hovered above his head, dark magic. I had never discovered the origins or learned the use of such deadly magics but I had battled against it and found out the hard way how effective it was. Glaring at the Spirit I nearly spat from disgust. I hated magic, such things as arcane bolts or massive spells that could not be dodged or evaded, such things blight upon the art of combat. What point was there in killing your opponent without properly testing your own strength against theirs? To fight with blades and the like filled me with overwhelming joy and ecstasy, the high of battle. I placed my shield upon my back, its usefulness voided by the magic, instead hooking the ivory talisman on my belt for my divine abilities and a few other special surprises. If he wanted to play dirty, we would play dirty.
The Spirit charged and I snatched my talisman, hurling a bolt of lightning down range, my foe easily rolling under the bolt. I felt a pang of irritation. Havel’s ring, that Mask, and a hefty amount of endurance were keeping him light on his feet. I put my gauntlets together, white light shining between them, and hurled a sphere of force at him which was also evaded with ease. He was too close to safely cast again. I quickly replaced the talisman on my belt and sprinted headlong into him, watching those black spheres closely.
With a low roar the five spheres suddenly separated into many, pairs of white eyes appearing at the center of each, fixating on me as they closed in. I ducked beneath his blade and dived past, gasping as several of the spheres ate into my side, rest exploding harmlessly against the floor. Coming to my feet I snatched my talisman and it glowed brightly as I channeled the power of the Grave Lord through it, punching into the stone. A forest of blades sprung up around me, knocking him high into the air in a spray of blood. I sneered, quickly taking a swig of my Estus Flask before pushing the advantage. He stood, too slow to react before I slammed Artorias’ Greatsword into him with an overhand swing, knocking him off balance and cutting deeply into his armor. I heaved, Artorias’ Greatsword slicing up, maintaining his staggered stance and throwing more blood into the air. I gasped for air, arms unable to continue the devastation, and reached for my shield as his blade closed in for vengeance. The great sword collided with the shield in a shower of sparks and with a colossal push I parried the weapon, throwing him backwards arms flailing. I stepped into him, slamming my blade home and twisting, listening to the Spirit gag painfully through his mask as he fell to his knees, form already dissipating. I kicked him off the blade of my sword, swinging it up to rest on my shoulder when the fist of a god slammed into my back with an eruption of pain throwing me to the ground. I gasped, frozen by shock,
“What…?” I managed struggling to push myself to my knees. I turned and found myself staring down the point of a Dragonslayer Greatbow and arrow wielded by a half-naked man in nothing but a loincloth and a top-hat with a laughing mask hiding his face. So there were two Invaders. The arrow shredded my armor and punched through my chest, leaving a gaping hole, ricocheting off the floor to skid across the room. I stared up at this second Spirit unable to breathe or move, all of my strength concentrated on just staying up as he knocked the third arrow, that damn mask laughing at my helplessness. I closed my eyes praying Orlai stayed hidden,
“GET OFF HIM YOU BASTARD!” My eyes flew open and I watched in awe as a box, in a puff of smoke, became a screaming Orlai, her broadsword poised to strike. She impaled the half-naked man from behind, blood gushing out from the backstab, and he cried out in surprise, top-hat falling to roll dramatically across the stone. Orlai slammed an elbow into the back of his head, yanking the sword out viciously in an arcing trail of blood. The Invader fell to the stone, vanishing. I could not help the smile that crossed my lips. There were two of us too. I fell forward and into the arms of Orlai, “Hey,” She cried out, “Hey stay with me!” Panic flashed in her eyes, “Hey!” She grunted as my full weight leaned on her and she struggled to hold me up, “It’s just a flesh wound,” Orlai growled, “Use your magic! Come on stay with me you bastard, look at me!” Her jade gems glared into my eyes beneath the brim of the hood. Tears brimmed beneath those green gems, “Dammit! Dammit! Don’t you dare leave me you ass!” She lowered me to the stone, straining to set me down gently I watched in amusement as the veins in her neck bulged from the effort. She pulled a cloth and several vials from a satchel at her waist, “Since you can’t, I’m going to heal you,” She stated, “Alright? So keep your eyes on me, stay focused ok? Eyes on me.” She ordered, looking directly into my eyes. I shook my head,
“Estus.” I coughed blood into the black cloth,
“Stop talking,” She leaned over me, hands setting to work and I pushed her away weakly,
“Estus.” I whispered unable to give my voice strength,
“Stop.” She chided, calmly grabbing my gauntlet and dabbing the wound with her cloth at the same time, “I was an apothecary as well as a mage, I’ve seen worse.” I had trouble believing she’d seen worse from the look in her eyes, “You’re going to be fine, it’s just a minor puncture wound.” She was lying, why was she lying? I knew I had been shot did she think I was a fool? What point was there in telling me I wasn’t going to die when I, technically, was? I didn’t want to die though, unsure if Orlai would still be present if I did. What if she was gone when I came looking for her? What if something happened? Sure I’d rested at the Bonfire in the belltower that I could see even from my position on the ground but the possibility existed. My vision was losing color, a pool of blood swelling around my body as I felt my life ebbing. I struggled to move, reaching weakly for my pack and fumbling with the latch, barely managing to flick it open. She reached over me, grabbing my gauntlet, “Stop moving, it’ll get worse.” I glared up at her, feeble breath catching.
Tears dribbled down the bridge of her nose and she wiped her face on a sleeve, leaving a damp streak of mucus and tears, expression fearless determination. She glared down at me and I saw a heroine who had the strength and will to accomplish anything if she set her mind to it, her eyes assuring me of my safety stout heartedly. I had misjudged this Princess.
“Estus,” My voice was deathly quiet and with one last effort I weakly reached into my pack, struggling against the weight of the armor, knocking the Flask onto the stone.
Orlai glanced at the man in black, he was still whispering about something though she couldn’t make out what. Returning to her work she looked down at a mortal wound, his right lung shredded, several arteries severed, all sorts of concussive internal damaged, and his ribcage had been pulverized. Death was a fact but Orlai still worked. She tried to stop the endless bleeding, sew the forever broken wound shut, and ease the agonizing pain she knew tore him apart, all in vain.
So this was it? She was a minor apothecary, working with the old man back in the castle, learning to heal people and cure disease or sickness, but when the time came for it to really matter it was something of this magnitude. Orlai cursed Fate, dubiously tending to the dead man she burned to save. She hiccupped a sarcastic laugh, realizing he was already dead before the wound. His flesh was cold and lifeless but his blood flowed as if pumped by a heartbeat. What was it that kept him alive? What was it that kept him at her side the last few days? What was it that made him tick? What… what could she do?
The sharp ringing of glass on stone made Orlai look up at a bottle filled to the cork with a golden liquid,
“ESTUS!” She shouted, seizing the bottle and ripping out the cork she yanked the cloth over the man’s face down, and looked for the first time upon his face.
Skin paper white and decorated with scars, lips pale of color but perfectly sculpted in thin delicate curves, high cheekbones framing his closed eyes with their excellent ridges accented by long thick eyelashes any woman would envy, chin curving gently in a gradual “U” as if crafted by a master sculptor, cheeks sloped delicately in soft grades and neck reminiscent of a thick unbreakable pillar of marble, Orlai could not help staring. This man was beautiful.
Shaking herself, Orlai reached down separating his lips with two fingers and tilted his head forward, pouring the golden liquid into his mouth and closing his solid jaw, gently setting his head down. She stared down at his wound, blood still coloring the stone, for several seconds.
In a bright glow flesh rebuilt itself and skin melted back together, and after a moment the man suddenly gasped jerking bolt upright, hood falling back, eyes wide with shock. She could not tear herself from his pale, colorless face so lovingly crafted from flawless white marble, scratched and scuffed from years of age and neglect, the scraggly mess of short black hair that sat upon his head fluttering in the breeze. He snatched the flask from her, gulping down another two mouthfuls, but the color did not return to his cheeks or bloodless lips. He panted, wiping his mouth, and plucked the cork off the ground, securing it in the flask which he then returned to his pack. The man turned to look at her.
Orlai stared at me, eyes glittering in a spectrum of colors I had never seen before, glowing with radiant light that warmed my face and eased the aches in my body. I smiled and her eyes widened, shimmering even more brightly. I raised an eyebrow and suddenly spotted the black cloth in her hands. Leaping to my feet I scrabbled for the black hood, pulling it far over my head as terror gripped me. What had she seen? Was I hollowed? What did I look like? I cursed myself for not carrying a mirror on hand at all times. A hand touched my bare cheek. I could not pull away.
Great sun blazing in my chest from the touch of skin softer than silk and hotter than Pyromancy, the hand pulled me gently. Turning my head I peered into grossly incandescent jade eyes. The Princess stared at me. Those grandiose jade eyes and her tender touch held me stronger than any curse, binding, grapple, or magic. Voices whispered to me as Orlai drew uncomfortably close, her eyes darting about, taking in every detail, blemish, and nuance of the face I’d kept hidden,
“Orlai.” I whispered and she blinked,
“SORRY!” She screamed, shoving me back roughly and spinning around, holding out the black cloth, “Here, I’m sorry. I didn’t see anything don’t worry.” I looked away abashedly, Orlai doing the same as color flushed her cheeks, and I snatched the black cloth wrapping it around my head and pulling the black hood overtop. We stood in awkward silence a moment, unable to look at each other,
“Thank you.” I coughed. She bobbed her head,
“Yep.” She chirped, “Anytime.” I looked around nervously, brain working frantically,
“Training?” I asked warily and Orlai marched towards the bell-tower, back stiff,
“Yeah,” She forced, “C’mon.” I plodded meekly after her.