In the Age of Ancients the world was unformed, shrouded by fog. A land of grey crags, arching trees and everlasting dragons. Then there was Fire and with Fire came Disparity. Heat and cold, life and death, and of course… Light and Dark.
Then, from the Dark they came and found the souls of Lords within the flame. Nito, the First of the Dead. The Witch of Izalith and her daughters of Chaos. Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight, with his faithful knights. And the Furtive Pygmy, so easily forgotten.
With the strength of Lords, they challenged the dragons. Gwyn’s mighty bolts peeled apart their stone scales. The witches weaved great firestorms. Nito unleashed a miasma of death and disease, and Seath the Scaleless betrayed his own and the dragons were no more.
Thus began the Age of Fire. But soon, the flames will fade and only Dark will remain. Even now, there are only embers and man sees not light, but only endless nights, and amongst the living are seen carriers of the accursed Darksign.
Yes, indeed, the Darksign brands the Undead. And in this land, the Undead. And in this land, the Undead are corralled and led to the north, where they are locked away, to await the end of the world.
… This is your fate.
In the beginning, there was only void, only dark. Unaware, unconscious, asleep. Then there was a light, and sound; my eyes opened and I breathed. My breath, soft and gentle, thinner as the high, cold air, as insubstantial as the spirit the faiths said it held, yet so alive as I saw something faint and white and red through my closed eyes. A word, in a sense, a sound that represented my very existence. I drew in in return, grateful, desperate to fill my empty lungs.
There were sounds above me; sharp, precise scraping, a slam of something softer on a hard, grating and shaking with the force of the impact. A grunt, and then a rhythm of sounds, one then another, moving quickly and growing louder and thus closer. A guttural bellow sounded, vibrating the air, further away then the approaching sound of racing foosteps covered in metal. With each moment, my senses returned, awakening me, and enlivening each thought and feeling and sensation.
Slowly, I opened my eyes; I was greeted with the vision of a room in darkness, the bangs of my hair dangling in front of the sight. Red-grey stone bricks formed flat walls, frost and moss and grime giving them texture while leaving the cobbled floor bare save several broken wooden boxes and bits of leather. Rusted doors-iron?-lay closed in the gateway, thick and straight bars crossing vertically and crossed horizontally; the sort of door that like marked a dungeon cell. The most striking, the most drawing feature, though, was the single shaft of clear light, falling grace from heaven above through a gap in the ceiling some thirty feet at least above. Amid the dank and cold dark-nay, even without the disparity, the light appeared as holy, a gift from Heaven, a beacon in the misery and dark. I gazed softly, my wits beginning to edge back into my mind and soul.
Something changed, then; it took me a moment to realize it was the quiet. The footsteps had stopped. Then, a grating noise-above, near the entrance to the shaft above. I slowly lifted my head, as though it were the first uncertain movement in my entire life-unknowing that, in a sense, it was. A moment later, something fell through the shaft, falling fast-and a mass of of pink purple wrapped in brown crashed upon the ground. It was in the shape a of a body, save the horrible wrinkling and disfiguration. I looked upwards again, quickly; a warrior garbed in beautiful, shining armor of steel and blue cloth and gold filigree and bits of leather-a design famous to the most elite knights of Astora- gazed at me, hand on knee as he looked downward. Without a word, he stood upright, turned and walked away. Uncertain, I rose myself, standing, and waited a moment to see if he returned. When he did not, I looked to what must surely be a corpse now sharing my cell. Something tied the ragged brown cloth adorning it glinted in the light. I walked forward and shifted the pile over; and, indeed, it was a corpse.
Save, it was no ordinary corpse; the skin was taut and wrinkled as if mummified, strongly discolored with a pink-purple tint and empty eyes-empty and lifeless even the standard of a corpse. The irises of those sad eyes, left in an expression of despair in the soul’s last tortured moments, were a mix of red and black, corrupted. The mouth gaped open, as though crying in anguish. And now, my mind returned, I knew full well what fate the cursed man had been left to; Undeath, and even worse, becoming a Hollow, an Undead that had become overcome with despair and violence, damned to lose his sanity and attack anything he came across forever. And, then, too, I remembered why I must be in this place. Vivid, powerful, clear as the sight before me, the last moments I remembered crashed into me like a tidal wave, the water becoming light, the froth sparks and splinters and the roar or water the roar of war.
Steel rang on steel, mixing with the cries of men, explosions, shouts of rage and the casting of magic. Spears and halberds and swords broke, splintered, shattered and cut through steel and leather and flesh as arrows of wood and barbs of metal or ethereal soul energy pierced into soldiers and mercenaries and knights and horses, stepping or falling dead upon the soft, dense green grass. Beyond the battle itself lay the mountains and pass across the fields or the tall, grey-white city walls behind.
I am pushed towards the skirmish, the chaotic front-line where pikes and halberds clash as two walls of spikes, while those caught in-between draw swords and maces and shields. The cavalries clash, making to flank and route those unmounted while archers and sorcerers send missiles into the fray further back so as to not hit their own. Though an appointed knight, I lack a horse for it was slain and I had naught left in coin, leaving me left to join the title-less men-at-arms of the infantry. Spear hefted, sword and shield hanging from my back and belt as side-arms, I am pushed into the front as though the men behind me are a wave of the ocean. Several pikes from across the divide come near my face, and even with my training and talent, it is as much luck as skill and intelligence and deft maneuvering that I pass through those moments unscathed. I lunge my spear forward in response to another pikement left open; his scream fails and makes instead a gurgling noise, blood spewing out from his mouth and neck as the point pierces into his throat. He falters and falls and is soon trampled by the others.
Such as it is; I am fortunate, indeed, as several minutes pass and I am alive and even unharmed. I see a soldier, dressed in near full-plate rather than common mixture of chain and plate draw a miracle-casting talisman-and I recognize the white energy beginning to emanate from it. “HE’S USING FORCE!” I yell in warning to my comrades and allies-too late. The orb of kinetic energy explodes outward, carving out a clearing and knocking several men down, and those behind them scramble to take advantage or recover. I, though, wonder at the risk; it was not used to press an advantage, nor to create an important opening or defend one. Such a frivolous use was taught as folly to such knights to who used that magic; why, then? I glanced around, risking my attention to look beyond-and saw.
The commanders of our forces were being chased down by the opposing cavalry, the criers and defenders like mostly slain already. The spell was a distraction, a ruse to force the infantry’s attention and resources there so as to leave our commanders abandoned-and with them, my dear cleric Anna. And, apparently, it was working, as more of the enemy began to cast force miracles. I screamed to my allies, yet was drowned out in the noise of magic and screams of dying men. I clenched my jaw. That I was the only one who noticed was absurd-yet, apparently, the case.
I simultaneously cursed and blessed the events. Always had I been driven, whatever my low ambitions were, to some ‘other’, greater, purpose. I sought neither coin nor family nor lover nor title in the same way others did; such things, however wonderful they were, were not mine. Not what my soul ached for. I yearned for some action I could not name. Some men held a lover for a craft such that cost them all else; some mages were so consumed by their dedication to their magic that they lost or eschewed others and comfort altogether. I yearned for such a thing to love so, felt incomplete, not even alive without it. Yet, in my prayers, only once had some god or guiding spirit touched me in answer as to my calling; an infinite, absolute desire that I could not allow upon the world for my damnable empathy, integrity and compassion. Always since had I prayed I was wrong, or that it had lied, and I had some other destiny in place if only I found it, if only I waited… For as much as I feared for my commanders and Anna, my heart leaped as I wondered if I dared hope this the beginning of my purpose.
I turned and broke into a run, moving as fast as my armor allowed, dodging magic and blades by a hairs-breadth as I made my suicidal run through the gulf between two the two armies. Several small scrapes and cuts I endured and pushed aside before I burst outward, racing to the ever-dwindling battle between cavalry and commander. A lone knight moved to stop me; surely by the grace of Heaven, I managed to knock him from his horse, though my spear broke in the process. I drew my arming sword as I grabbed at his horse and climbed atop before reigning in the hostile steed not used to me. I kicked my spurs into his flanks, sending him flying towards the commanders.
I was upon them quickly, thank the Gods. Surely I must have been chosen by the divine, for I slew one mounted cavalier after another, men of far greater skill and arms and armor than I, felling them with uncanny speed among the riders and tents. Binds I had not mastered won my conflicts, twisting my sword and shield around theirs, dodges as much desperate as calculated save me from magic as I carved my way through the ranks towards my leaders and I prayed a still-safe Anna. Soon I met the leader of the cavaliers, dismounted to attack his prey laid out upon the ground, and stayed his blade from meeting the flesh of our present General-and his men from pale, fair-haired Anna, thankfully as-yet unharmed in the tent beyond.
The battle was more ferocious than any I had ever witnessed; he cut into my leg, slipping past the armor. He stabbed near an inch into my chest when I lost a bind, only my berserk dedication moving me fast enough to remove the blade before it penetrated deeper. Wild, uncertain, he near toyed with me, and it was only my utmost savagery that kept me alive for the difference in our skill. So, I took a gamble-far more dangerous than the usual calculated gamble of combat. I pressed inward offensively with my shield, provoking a swing from his fine two-handed longsword-and I allowed it to strike, the force managing to cut even through my plate armor and pierce into a place I knew to be not necessarily mortal and I used my shield to lift the visor to his armet and sheathed my blade in his exposed face. I pushed him down, driving him as I thrust his life from his body, blood seeping from the both of us. I took by sword with two hands and ripped it outward in a savage pull before turning to look back to my General, and to Anna. I was blessed to see their faces in amazement and thanks before a pain like unto the Dark’s own malice pierced me from behind. I stumbled, forward, near paralyzed and shocked, somehow turning around. I looked upon the knight whose horse I had stolen, who I had left alive in my haste. He readied his sword again; I kicked his feet while desperately clinging to mine, and he fell, sending the blades all the way through both of breatsplates and chests, his burying in the ground beyond and mine kissing the sky, blood coming down it like rain in the sky. I took my last raspy breath and, as my heart failed, the world went cold and black.
I looked down at my chest, raised my hand to it; indeed, the split in my armor was still there. And I noticed my own flesh had taken on a purplish tint, and as I pulled up my shirt and armor, I saw a dark circle over my heart. The Darksign, the mark of the Undead. I had died and risen Undead, which also explained where I must be; the Astoran Northern Undead Asylum, located on a mountain dividing Astora from the cold wildlands, the utmost northeastern edge of the civilized world.
I buckled over, trembling. I was dead. I was Undead. I had lost my life, my friends and family, even Anna, even if that never would have gone anywhere. My entire world was lost, and now I was damned, born again in the dark, cursed to die again and again, dying in agony only to rise again and lose my sanity. Terror gripped me for the future, anguish and loss for the past, desolation and isolation for the present. My heart ached in my chest the apple in my throat swelled painfully. Even my flesh was torn and mummified, ugly and twisted. Acrid, salty tears streamed down my face as I sobbed aloud, anguish overcoming any attempt on my mind’s part at shame. Several minutes passed before I sat up noticed a small disk-shaped pendant hanging from my neck-my old keepsake, a declaration and reminder of who and what I was, as though it was my soul made manifest. I took it in my hands desperately, gratefully, and kissed it, blessing the one small part of me that I still had. I stood up, sniffling, and wondered at my situation rather than only wallowing in it again.
Apparently, my last act had won me enough honor that they left me fully garbed rather than take the valuable items, even if I was Undead. Yet where was my shield? It was missing, and my sword was more a ruin than a blade now, barely more than a damaged hilt. I supposes it like mattered little, though; my fate now was, ultimately, little different from the poor man who lay at my feet.
That thought reminded me of the glint, and I bent down and took it in my hand-a key. The warrior above had dropped down to me, a man in a dungeon cell, a corpse with a key. It like opened the cell gate which was presumably locked. I took it and put it to the lock and, indeed, the mechanism turned, allowing me to push the door open. I stepped out into a dimly lit hall, several idle hollows slumping on the walls near the precious few torches.
I pulled what remained of my sword and grimaced as I neared them. I knew too well what a Hollow was. An Undead who had lost their sanity, one said nothing, would be docile one moment and kill you the next. They were dangerous, and it was the endless waves of them that were bringing the world to near an apocalypse as masses and waves of them attacked and destroyed entire countries from within. Mighty Balder and Berenike both were near destroyed for them. I knew what necessity demanded I do. I raised my sword handle high, the several-inch remainder of the blade glaring menacingly down at the man who stared at me sadly, innocently, as uncomprehending as though he were still a young child, sad and gentle and seeking, begging me.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, fresh tears near spilling from my face again. I took the short splinter in both hands and hacked into the man’s neck. He screamed, put his hands up to shield himself and grab the blade as black and red blood splattered out, screaming as though he was my own child, asking me to stop. I drew the blade back and swung again, pushing my body into him, forcing him down to the ground. He wailed as I pulled back and swung again, this time crushing into his skull with the pommel. The wailing died down to a moaning whisper before even that faded. Spittle drooled from his broken jaw, tears dripping down his face and all mixing with the mess of brains and mucus and blood, and the soul-collecting crystal tied to my belt drew in the silver-white wisp that was his soul, forever trapping and enslaving it to used in the casting of magic or empowering of tools, denied freedom even in death. I turned and held myself up by my hands and wretched save that there was nothing to, leaving it empty and dry, like coughing sandpaper as tears streamed down my face and I held back a wail to match his own. Yet I was not finished. I did so again with the second and the third Hollow past the stone steps in the pool of water beyond. My heart felt near bursting, twisting in agony. I pressed on, forcing myself to not dwell on it any more than absolutely necessary, and came across a ladder.
Not thinking clearly, I ascended it without forethought, coming into an entrance to a courtyard of sparse grass walled off by walls grey brick, crumbled rubble scattered across the ground and small set of steps leading up to set of double-doors, yellow wood painted in faded bright colorful designs. In the center lay a mound of ash, a sword with a twisted blade stuck into it. A linked bonfire, a safe haven from Hollows-yet also where the rose from each time they died. A mysterious, sacred place, held in the highest respect by the Church. Yet, only a few embers lay around it, the flame itself extinguished. I approached it and put my cold hands near the heat. Blessed Heaven above, the heat, even as my hands ached they were enlivened again. So, too, could I feel the magic in it, calling, spreading seeking, out… and a strange knowing. It spoke to me of lighting, of sparks and embers and fire, of extending my hand outward and connecting with its very source and bringing life into it. And, for my confused and desperate state, I heeded. I lifted my open hand to the pile above it, palm up and raising it, as though drawing the fire up with it. I felt the essence of the fire be invoked, stirred, connect to me, spring alive.
A spark alighted. It grew, turning from a speck into a wisp of orange and blue and yellow and red. It grew to nearly a foot high, a tiny, dancing font of fire. My heart near leaped with joy and gratitude, feeling and sensing the Fire and the life behind it as though it were surely another living being, its tiny flame granting some small respite in the cold, if beautiful, clear-white light. I rested there several minutes, feeling it invigorate and rest me, and, for a few moments, I was gratefully lost in the flame, able to pretend that I had not just murdered innocent men who begged for mercy in cold blood, that I had lost my entire world, or the likely even worse fate for me yet to come.
Soon enough, I was stirred again by noise. Rumblings, vibrations, faint calls from who-knows-what. I looked up and observed the door; it was the only exit save the way I came and another rusty metal gate that was surely locked. Resigned, I rose and approached the door, thinking more of what lay beyond than observing the marvelous, detailed and textured wood and faded images painted on it. I placed my hands on each door and pushed inward.
The room beyond was far larger than the courtyard; a rectangular room of the same sort of stones and walls with square support beams lining near the edges. Vases near as tall as a man littered the floor which was some hundred by three or four hundred feet long and even more tall. With only one window besides the many cracks high up, the room was not especially well lit, though neither was it dark. I walked forward, wondering at the majesty of the room and whether it had always been an asylum. Once near in the middle of the room, I stopped, hearing a noise from the shadowed ceiling. I looked up-and a colossal mass of blue-grey and beige fell at the far end.
Then the thing moved. Nearly fifteen feet wide and thirty tall, with a wide base and narrow hips, yet thin legs and chest of lumpy flesh of folds of fat mixed with enormous muscle, the beast bore a face of nightmares. Tall as a large man, a huge, gaping mouth of human-like teeth save for the massive, razored canines and bizarre gums lifted and lowered to expose the red gums beneath, tiny red eyes lay beneath its beige skull-cap like top, a mass of tines and antlers jutting from its head and back and small bat-like wings. In its hands it bore a hafted bludgeon of what might be wood some five feet thick at its wider end. It stared at me, hate it its demonic red glaring eyes before it loosed an unintelligible, guttural growl. I gaped, my mouth hung wide in shock at the sight as it hefted its weapon over its shoulder. I barely managed to even roll onto the ground to avoid the swing that swept over the ground like the arc of a scythe. It pass through one of the support beams, breaking it, unfazed, as though the stone impeded as little as a reed.
I turned to run back-only to see the door closing of its own accord. Even over the beast’s garbled noise and foosteps toward me, I hear the clock click. I turned, panic rising in me. Monsters such as these were the stuff of myth, not something a knight only a year past knighting and years only two and twenty of age faced down and conquered. I held only a broken blade; and even were I fully armed and mounted in the best of equipment, how was I to best this? Combat was not merely hacking away as those uninitiated into it so often thought; it was made of binds and throws, attacking while defending, severing and piercing vitals. Yet what weapon that I could wield could sever this beast’s tendons, cleave it’s skull or pierce into its heart? To ask a man to face this down was madness.
Yet madness called, and it did not wait. The beast was upon me again, and it swung. I rolled desperately underneath, thinking myself safe for a few seconds. I found myself wrong as it turned the bludgeon around at the apex and swung a second time, connecting with my back and sending me flying into the wall some thirty feet away.
Armor crumpled and bones snapped as I collapsed into the floor; how many I knew not. I could not even really feel the injuries, so much my body numbed them. Surely a gift, for I had seen men go mad after much less damage than what now caused my femur to jut out from my clothes. Even so, I felt the strings of madness pull at me, my own terror begging me to lose myself to insanity so as to relinquish the fear and pain. Yet I would rather bare this than being Hollow, and clung to myself as desperately as a man to a rock in the sea amidst a raging cyclone.
Another step. I raised my head, my right eye seeing more red than clear as it brought its club straight down on me, collapsing my form into a stinking mess of broken steel and leather and bones and blood.
My eyes snapped open, my mind racing in panic at the oncoming mace. Yet, when I looked up, there was a sky of clouds and blue air, not a dark ceiling or a demon swinging a tree at me. For a moment, I thought I must have dreampt the entire ordeal. Dare I think so? Was it possible-or was even possible that even being Undead, too, was only a vision? That I was still in that field in my home of Astora, lying there battered and injured near to the point of death yet somehow not, surrounded by allies and comrades and friends? Or that I had, at least, died and passed, moved on to Heaven? Everything was silent. I was terrified to move even my eyes, afraid of what I would see. Yet, minutes passed, and I knew I must move. Eventually, I lowered my gaze to observe myself and what lay about me.
A courtyard. Grey stone brick walls. Rubble littered across the ground, with a painted yellow wooden door, a hole with a descending ladder, a locked iron door, and a bonfire with a twisted sword sticking out from it. I, myself, was covered in grossly damaged armor, bore only a near blade-less sword, a soul-collecting crystal upon my belt and my keepsake pendant. I was in the Northern Undead Asylum, risen again at the linked bonfire. Desolation lay upon my soul again like morning dew upon grass. A single tear fell from my eye as I sat up, thankfully healed from the mortal wounds as best an Undead can.
I knew there was only forward to go, else stay here and go Hollow. I must face that behemoth, or find a way past it. I ascended the few steps and pushed open the door again.
This time, more observant, I noticed a marking of glaring orange on the floor, glowing even. It was close to the center. I approached it and came close the marking, which looked like glowing chalk. It was a message in Astoran. “Get Away!” It somehow seemed to point to the left; I followed it with my eyes and spotted a doorway. To my right, a mighty crash bore down into the ground. I bolted.
The beast bellowed in frustration as I passed through the door only fit for a man’s size, not a massive demon, besides that an iron gate fell shut as I passed through. Strange, these doors, as if they were enchanted as traps. Mayhaps they were. Beyond, in the narrow hallway, a few steps forward lie another small stair, with another dying bonfire near it’s base and water in the lowered floor next to it.
I approached the bonfire and felt its essence stirring like the one before. Now familiar with it, I repeated the lighting practice, and soon had the second bonfire lit with a small flame. I rested at it for a spell, letting my shattered nerves relax. Soon, though, progress and hope demanded that I press on. There was a few steps to an elevated part of the perimeter floor leading outside, the clear-white light indicating there was a window or no ceiling beyond. I moved to the entrance.
A long, thin passageway with no ceiling lay beyond. In the distance was a hollow awaiting-with a bow. Upon seeing me, it knocked an arrow and loosed, I darted behind the wall, listening as the missile bounced harmlessly off stone. I glanced out again and noticed another room to the left. I quickly ducked inside as another arrow darted past. Inside, amid the dark enclosure of stone and twisted bars and scrap lay my shield, a kite shield coated in steel and a tower design painted across it. Gratitude and hope surged through me as I lifted it and strapped it to my left arm as I had before. Now safe from the projectiles, I left the enclosure and returned to the hallway and began running towards the Hollow, my upraised shield blocking his arrows easily as I crossed the floor of dirt, grass, moss and loose stone.
As I drew near, the Hollow fled into the passageway to the left. Near where he stood, though, on the ground lay an arming sword not too dissimilar from what mine had once been. I raced for it and picked it up, feeling almost prepared for the first time since arriving there. Always, always I had preferred swords to spears, nevermind that swords were a side-arm. And now, too, I was not forced to rely on a near-useless weapon. Assured and filled with confidence now, I approached entered the dark hallway and ascended the steep grade. The Hollow was caught between me and a strange gate of a thick fog-like substance; a mage’s door, one that marked a clear boundary between two places. It turned and began firing at me in desperation. I charged and brought my sword across his neck, slicing through the bow upraised in defense. Even so hostile, though, his sad and desolate gurglings haunted me. I quickly moved through the door, pressing through the thick, impeding material. The ethereal sensation chilled me.
I thus entered a thinner, smaller second floor overlooking the courtyard with the first bonfire. Across from the hallway was a small gap in a wall-a window-where I could make out the distinctive close helmet of the warrior who had dropped the corpse into my cage. I walked over and peered through the small opening as best I could; it’s height, though, allowed me to see only his helm, and the rest of the room was too dark to make out.
“Hail,” I called out tentatively, unsure of what to make of him-and wondering what he made of me. He gave no response save a weak beckoning motion with his arm.
I frowned and walked around the corner, hoping to find a doorway inside. Yet, while there were a large staircase going up and another down, no opening marked the wall. Noting the descending staircase like led to the iron-gated door and the bonfire and thus presented no progress, I chose to explore the upper.
An unfamiliar noise began at heavily shadowed top of the stairs. I peered confusedly for a moment, awaiting what made the sound. A moment later, a sphere of metal four feet in diameter rolled down and slammed my side, knocking the wind from me as I fell back. It crashed into-and through-the wall behind me. After standing back up, I peered inside the dank room with old rainwater pooling inside where must surely be the room the warrior was inside. My glance inside confirmed. Yet first, the stairs, to make sure nothing else attacked me from behind.
I ascended and was met with the sight of another hollow bearing a broken sword. It charged me; I thrust my shield forward, displacing the attack and knocking him off-balance. Then I riposted, swiping my sword-edge down his throat. Praise the gods, the nature of the wound largely muffled his desperate bleeting.
I returned to the knight in the water-filled room, a single shaft of light falling at his feet like had been in my cell. His armor was and bent in many places now and blood seeped down the steel, his beautiful armor ruined like beyond repair. I did not wish to imagine what the flesh beneath looked like. This time, he moved his head to look at me; his weariness was palpable.
“…Oh, you… You’re no Hollow, eh?” he said weakly. “… Thank goodness… I’m done for, I’m afraid… I’ll die soon, then lose my sanity-” the man began coughing and hacking; I could only assume it was blood.
“…I wish to ask something of you… you and I, we’re both Undead… Hear me out, will you?”
I knelt beside him and lifted my visor. “Certainly,” I said, hoping to provide whatever comfort I could. No one should have to go through this, and certainly not alone. As always, perhaps my greatest weakness as a knight was my soft, caring, empathic heart.
“Regrettably, I have failed in my mission,” he said, nodding. “But perhaps you can keep the torch lit… There is an old saying in my family… Thou who art Undead, art chosen. In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land of Ancient Lords. When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the Undead thou shalt know.”
“Well, now you know,” he said, finished with the recitation. “And I can die with hope in my heart…”
“Oh, one more thing… here, take this,”the blue and silver warrior said, drawing a flask of green glass filled with a liquid orange and glowing like fire. He takes my hand palm-up and places it inside. “… An Estus Flask, an Undead favourite,” his breathing growing more ragged. I knew Estus well. To drink of the liquid, taken from a linked fire, would heal an Undead’s wounds in a matter of moments. This gift was near as valuable as a horse.
“…Oh, and this,” he said, also presenting me with a bronze key, barely whispering the sentence. “Now I must bid farewell. I would hate to harm you after death… So, go now… and thank you…”
I had further questions, yet as I opened my mouth, he lifted his hand in refusal, and I must obey. It was his dying wish, merely to be left alone so as to bring no harm. I, of all, people, must respect that. I swallowed the growing lump in my throat, and made for the exit. Loneliness set in again as I crossed the threshold and ascended the stairs again. A few more tears fell as I heard him give his last few haggard, raspy breaths and pass on. A moment later, silver-white energy pooled into my crystal, the damnable thing.
I took the key to the iron door at the end; it fit it like a glove and made a clicking sound as I turned it. Past it was a thin, ten-foot long passageway out onto another open-air balcony, save with walls only three feet high instead of towering overhead. I passed through and noticed it continued around the left corner. I rounded the edge and was confronted with three hollows, two wielding broken swords and the third another bow. I ducked behind the wall as the sword-bearing ones charged and the archer knocked an arrow.
The two swordman rounded the corner, only to be met with my steel edge to their face. Each dropped in a heap, dead. There was naught time to grieve for them, though; there was still an archer to be had. I rounded the corner, my shield raised and blocked the arrow, sending it flying away. I charged and brought my blade down on his head; brains and blood splattered the small steps leading to an enormous fog gate to the left and my sword. The bow, this time left undamaged, fell to the ground. I took it up and hung across the straps on my back and took the few arrows he had left. Another entryway lay just past him. I entered and was immediately met with a much more formidable foe.
A Hollow garbed in armor, albeit damaged, and armed with an arming sword and kite shield rushed at me wildly. Too predictably, though; I shot my shield forward, displacing the sword while I bent over and put my own sword forward and slipped past his poor guard. My blade sunk deep into his chest and he screeched, dropped his sword and flailed in agony. I pulled my sword back out and detached his neck as mercy.
The danger averted, I observed the similar, dark, empty room. Only an iron gate lay in here; upon checking, it was locked, and the bronze key did not fit it. That left only the fog gate. I retraced my steps to it and stared at it; never had I seen one so large. I drew a deep breath, preparing, and pressed in, the mist resisting like a thick, strong wind. Upon pushing through, I stood on a small overhang, the demon gazing up at me spitefully below, unable to reach me.
My nerves on edge yet realizing I was safe, I laughed. The beast new better, and its wings began to flap, lifting it.
I stopped laughing. It began raising its bludgeon to bring it down onto me. Not this time.
Before it could ascend enough, I leaped from the platform, angling it so that all my weight now rested on my sword held in both hands. I crashed down onto the monster’s head, driving the blade deep inside. It’s guttural, weak voice screamed as I drew it out just before it shook, knocking me off. I landed on my feet, ready as it much more slowly lumbered its heavy beam to attack me.
I slipped under its next swing, skipping the attack off my shield like a stone off of water. I used the time the beast required to gain control of its weapon to hack at its ankle. It screamed again, faltering, and toppling over. I writhed on the floor, dark blood pooling on the ground. I made for its head and drove my sword into its jugular; its screams became wet and ever more garbled, blood spraying everywhere. It took three more breaths, each more desperate and ragged than the last before it gave out and did not draw again.
I stepped back and sat down, newly aware of my heart thudding and racing in my ears. I watched in confusion and fascination as the beast’s flesh began to dissolve into a glimmer, fading into the very air. A bright light and mass of energy fed into my crystal. It dawned on me just what I had just accomplished.
I slew it. That thing, that monster. Dear gods and Heaven above, I won. The world seemed surreal. That I had defeated that…
After I let the shock ease from my system, I turned towards a door underneath the overhang I had dropped from. I had not taken the time to look out at what lay there when I had been on the overhang; foolish. I should be more careful. For now, though, there was naught save to press on. I approached the door; it was locked. I pressed the bronze key in-it fit. I turned it and pushed the heavy doors open to be greeted by a what was once a stone path, now mostly buried under earth and grass and moss. As I exited, there were ruins of pillars and walls dotting the narrow trail. Each side was a cliff, the whole place only twenty to thirty feet wide save at the widest parts, and the whole trail went uphill.
I went along, observing, and looking out over to the mountain range further north, grey and blue capped with white and grey ice and mist. Wind howled below; thankfully, none scoured the path here. I passed what was once an archway. Ahead of me now, I saw a tangled mass of wood and branches and bits of hair a fur; a nest, large enough to hold several grown men. I approached it, wary of what would possibly make such a thing.
Upon arriving the crest of the hill, I saw inside the nest. Inside lay two green-blue eggs, each nearly three feet in length. I swallowed; then I heard flapping. I looked outward across the mountains, looking.
A black shape erupted upwards from below the cliff, cawing and spreading its wings. A crow, with a wingspan of thirty or forty feet, stared down at me, its talons reaching. Too slow was I to move; it grabbed at my arms, at my torso, lifted me, and carried away, across the icy mountains through the howling wind.
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