Chapter 8 - A Dangerous Place
Rain hammered the roof of the bell-tower drowning out the steady clang of Andre’s smithy, a cold draft swirling in from the outside. It had begun raining a short time after the encounter with the Invaders and Orlai did not believe I was fit for adventuring or training, especially in the rain, confining me to Andre’s bell-tower. My armor also needed repairs, coming out worse for wear after the Invaders nearly killed me. Orlai demanded I let Andre fix the armor rather than doing it myself to avoid straining my body. She was starting to annoy me with her treatment, as if I was a delicate flower to protect. Ever since she’d seen my face without the protective cloth and hood she had grown much closer to me, uncomfortably so. I enjoyed her companionship but she suddenly became very personal and intimate, a ridiculous change in her typically standoffish attitude.
Trying to stay as far from Andre as possible, not wanting to sour our relationship any further, I sat on the rotten wooden bench on the floor above the Bonfire, black gauntlets and greaves in a neat pile next to me while Andre repaired the chest piece two floors down. I was wrapped in a silk cloak and robes pulled from my bottomless box. I felt naked and vulnerable in the flimsy cloth. My black hood and mask were still wrapped around my face, giving me a slight level of comfort, but unfortunately that small comfort was banished when I remembered I was not the only one using the cloak.
Despite my vocal protests Orlai herself huddled beneath the cloak, cuddling up in my lap. She said it was for warmth even though my lifeless flesh did not need it, only capable of sapping the heat greedily from her. Orlai would not hear any of it, stubbornly snuggling up with me and resting her head upon my icy chest unchallenged.
My head fell back against the cold stone of the wall as her soothing warmth permeated my body. I sighed heavily,
“What?” Orlai asked from below. I didn’t respond, “Is something wrong?” Yes something was wrong, why were you suddenly in my lap? Why were you so personal? What had happened to the spitfire from before that had been replaced by this lamb? I quickly took back the “lamb” statement that was too much, more like a lioness that’d suddenly developed an alarming level of affection for a bear. Hands reached up to seize my head, “Hey,” She growled, “Tell me what the problem is, now.” Her jade eyes flared in anger, lips curled back in a snarl exposing bared teeth. That was more like it, I thought with a smile. She eyed me suspiciously, tugging at my hood, “Why don’t you take this stupid thing off anyway? I’ve seen your face already.” I shook my head, “Why not? Not like you’re ugly or anything, besides it gets on my nerves. It’s like you’re hiding behind that thing.” That was why I wore it. Did she think it was some sort of fashion statement? No, it had a purpose like everything else I carried. Except that pile of rubbish I’d picked up, I didn’t know why I carried it around. I felt the strange urge I might need it, as if there was the tiniest of chances a pile of rubbish would actually help somehow,
“I like it.” I muttered. What? That was completely beside the point, I wore it beca-
“Well I don’t.” Orlai grunted, “Take it off.” I shook my head,
“No.” She raised an eyebrow,
“Really?” I didn’t like the way she said that, “Why not, are you afraid of me?” My head nodded and I nearly screamed. Why admit it? Why tell her she made me uncomfortable when she did this? What had she seen in my face that did this to her? Had I been cursed? Did some sort of magic hover over me and bewitch those that saw my face? I felt as if I’d jumped off a cliff with no idea if I could fly, “You are?” She giggled, “You, the man in black, are afraid of me? Preposterous, and you believe this hood and cloth keeps you safe from my wrath?” She brought her face closer smiling playfully, jade eyes petrifying me, “What could possibly make your naïve mind think that?” Her hands pushed my hood back, exposing the upper half of my head. I screamed at my body held captive by her piercing gaze, desperately begging my limbs to move, “Why would you need to fear me?” Her breath, hot and sweet, drifted over me plucking at my hair as her fingers closed around the black cloth shielding my face, “I don’t fear you.” She chirped. I twitched, black cloth coming away in her hands, “There,” She cooed, “I see you.”
A maelstrom of emotion roared in my mind, thoughts caught up by violent winds, scattering my senses. What had come over her, why had she suddenly started coming after me like this, what was her motive, was she being manipulated? Was this not Orlai but an evil magician taking advantage of her to kill me?
I couldn’t think.
She smelled amazing, like a field of flowers, fiery hair blazing brightly even in the dark and dingy interior of the bell tower, touch of her hands light as snowflakes and softer than clouds, green eyes glistening, she was beautiful. The moment I’d seen her crying out for help in that damp and muddy forest I had changed. For better or worse though? So many new feelings and emotions surged through me, confusing and overwhelming yet amazing and fantastic, as if I ran through a dream. Yet I could not run from the truth that filled me with pain.
This be a dangerous place for love.
I would not lose her.
Andre’s words echoed through the storm in my mind followed by my own. I did not want to regret this feeling that gripped me when I saw her, screaming as those jade gems turned to dull glass clouded by gray fog, color fading from her vivid features and breath snatched by the skeletal claws of Death. If I lost her….
“Princess.” The word fell from my lips and hit her like a stone,
“Yes?” She asked, halting her advance, “What is it?” I held her in a steady grip, the paper-white skin of my rough hands combing through her silky curtains of flame to bring her face nearer to my own. The jade eyes began to close, shimmering brightly as her lips separated ever so slightly. Even in the darkness of the unlit room and faint light from outside shrouded by the thick veil of rain she burned bright and blinding. She was so close I could feel the ice melting in my chest, heart drumming steadily, blood flowing in a constant pulse, life flooding me like the torrential rain that roared outside. Her eyes locked upon mine, lips just a hair’s width from my own, hot breath mixing with the frozen air I exhaled. All I needed to do was….
“Stop.” I spoke the word as if vomiting. I was not living. The warmth I felt was not my own, beating heart I felt a false hope, emotion in that false hope fragile and easily broken by outside forces, body a lifeless shell kept animated by unseen strings. I was a puppet that danced to an ancient consciousness that’d learned, by trial and error, the lesson that all things could be lost to the cruel mistress of time and the reaper’s blade. I turned away, hands dropping to the bench. I knew she’d leave me regardless of whether I wanted it or not. It was better to push her away now than feel an agony worse than any weapon’s blow. I was undead, an immortal corpse of ash, and she was a living human, a mortal existence brimming with the fire of life. There was a reason the living sent the undead away to be corralled and contained. I shook my head dejectedly,
“No.” Orlai snarled, seizing me roughly, “You stop.” The Princess’s lips closed around mine, a slimy slug that tasted of sugar forcing its way into my mouth. I slid down the wall, failing for a handhold, thudding to the bench with a loud creak. Orlai’s arms closed behind my head, soft form pressing closer than I ever would have dared imagine. Flames roared in my chest scattering the dark regrets and uncertainties that haunted the corners of my mind, an emotion I had once feared pumping my body with life and lifting a great weight I did not realize I carried from my shoulders. She pulled away,
“You need to brush more.” She spat to the side, wiping her mouth “That tasted like sewage and it was cold. You’re like an icebox.” Orlai leaned back down grinning, “But it felt really good.” She whispered into my ear, “I forgot how this felt.” I reached up, grasping her firmly in my colorless hands,
“I am Undead,” I stifled a cough, throat aching. She shook her head chuckling,
“So?” She asked raising an eyebrow and I shrugged in response, “Is that it, or is there more? Should I run to the hills?” I glared, head turning to the side, looking through the curtains of her flaming hair at the stairs almost wishing I saw Andre stomping up the stairs to whistle loudly,
“No.” I grunted. Her body dropped gradually to rest upon mine,
“Good,” She pulled my face back to her, “enjoy yourself some hm?”
She kissed me several times and I kissed her back a couple and we cuddled. The whole experience was a blur after the initial part. I barely remember anything, aside from her. She was very nice. The hammering had stopped.
With a deadly growl I extracted myself from beneath the Princess, standing up,
“Andre.” I glared down at the stairs across from the bench. After a long minute loud stomping shook the floor beneath us for several long seconds before Andre appeared at the top of stairs,
“Ahoy lad, just finished with ye armor here a few seconds ago,” He raised my chest piece, “Thought I’d drop it here, ol’Andre doesn’t try to bother nobody after all.” His eyes flashed approvingly,
“You were,” I grunted, “listening.”
“You wot?” Andre asked, head cocked to the side in confusion, “Just walked up from me smithy I did, ain’t no shenanigans from ol’Andre I assure ye.” Orlai laughed musically behind me,
“He’s just shy Andre, I’m sorry if our little scene disturbed you.” I jerked around to the Princess, spreading my hands in disbelief and pointing at Andre,
“He,” I coughed, “He watched!” The Princess shrugged,
“So? Let him.” Andre and I stared at her,
“By me beard lad,” He rumbled, stroking the luscious bush of white on his chin, “Ye got quite the catch indeed.” He waved a hand, walking back down the stairs, “Ol’Andre knows when he be a nuisance, just be quiet about it eh?”
“ANDRE!” I roared after him bending over in a fit of coughing, the Princess cackled, holding our guts we both keeled over,
“Oh, let him joke!” She wiped a tear from her eye as I coughed my lungs out, the brightest smile I’d ever seen shining on her face, its light reducing even the beauty of Gwynevere, Princess of Sunlight, to a soft glow in its grand radiance. I shook myself, grumbling, and shrugged off the upper part of my robe wishing to be encased once again by the hard shell of my armor, “Wait!” The Princess cried, and I looked up at her blazing red cheeks as she stared at me through her fingers, “I-I’m still here.” She stammered.
Stiff with shame I slipped back into the robes carefully picking up the armor and marching downstairs, standing at the final step staring down at my feet. I smashed the rotted wood of the railing with a bare fist, furious embarrassment raging in me.
Orlai watched the man in black stomp down the stairs with the image of him halfway out of those robes, glossy white skin of his scarred and muscled chest exposed for the entire world to see, firmly fixed in her mind. She cackled again, nearly falling off the bench, unable to believe her circumstances. Thrown from a world she hated into one that terrified her, the last thing she had expected to find in this god-forsaken land called Lordran was him. Hopping off the bench she began re-equipping her armor and buckled the broadsword to her waist. She felt like knocking some heads.
The man in black marched back up the stairs several minutes later, hood pulled over his head, black cloth secured over his face, and body clad in black steel. Orlai grinned at him, urging him along as she hopped out into the downpour. He followed her silently. A new spring in her step, Orlai strode proudly towards the dark shadow of the church unaffected by the rain and carried by the light clouds of bliss that floated in her heart, faithful knight of black steel tromping astride her.
I watched Orlai practically skip through the rain, dark regret resurfacing in my chest. Her warmth fading, dead flesh returning to its cold and unfeeling state, emotions that once ravaged and seduced me drifted. In the council of my conscience and doubt I wondered, had I made a mistake? This was the right decision wasn’t it? I prayed to whatever gods would listen to help me keep her safe, I could not lose her. I would not lost her.