Soul of Lords
Fitz' Thoughts 4-6
We woke up the next morning after a relatively peaceful night. We made preparations; I looked over my equipment as the other two began their prayers. Vanetia supplicated as I’ve seen many of her order do before her while Drakka seemed to pray, not with her words but with her body. It had a different kind of focus to it; the movements were tranquil and slow, but with the possibility of violence beneath the surface. It suited her.
We made our way back up towards the courtyard and in through the gate using the key we got from the Carimese soldier. On the other side was a large cliff face, Drakka walked out to the edge and broke off the final talon of the relic, and we waited. For some time nothing happened, and then an enormous raven landed in front of Drakka. She followed the man’s instructions and told the raven of her sins. I wondered what happened to her in that foreign land of hers. What could have changed someone so gentle in to who she is now. Much as I suspected it wasn’t anything good. She too has seen real combat, real war and she lost much because of it. The raven looked at her and silently made way for her.
Next Vanetia made her way towards the bird. She seemed hesitant but eventually told the bird of how she cut ties with her family to join the church. It was a strange confession but oddly suitable from what I’ve seen of her. There is no doubt that she is a capable fighter and there is no way she could have learnt to fight like that by only shooting practice targets, but she doesn’t seem to be aware or even understand some concepts the way Astorians do. Still, I can understand the pain associated with cutting ties and shaming ones family and it seems the raven did as well as it made room for her.
Finally it was my turn.
Where was I supposed to start? Even as I walked up towards it, I desperately tried to come up with a way to convey what I had done with words. When I finally reached the bird, I looked in to the thing’s eyes and said the only thing I could think of which would encapsulate it all. “I’ve survived”. I wasn’t sure if it would understand me, but I looked into the bird’s eyes, and I remembered. The family I’ve shamed. The men and women I’ve killed on the battlefield, and their cries for mercy. The friends and companions I’ve abandoned to get myself and others away. The people I’ve killed due to anger, commanders not fit for their command…I’ve carved my place in this world through the death and misfortune of countless others.
But I’ve survived.
The raven fixed me with it’s never blinking stare for what seemed an eternity, but I got the impression that it saw and understood far more than one might expect. Eventually it made way for me as well and I joined the others. Vanetia seemed somewhat confused by my confession but I could clearly tell that Drakka understood, at least in part. There was a strange sense of comfort in that. But we had no time to talk amongst ourselves as the raven scooped us up in its talons and flew away.
I am no poet or bard so I will spare you trying to describe what I saw, what I felt flying so high above the ground, watching the enormous world spread out beneath us. After the initial shock and awe had worn off I began thinking more clearly, focusing on memorizing important landmarks, potential paths back should we be able to return from Lordran. We flew for hours, landscapes whipping past underneath us. Finally I glimpsed Lordran, the city, but before I had time to take it all in, the raven unceremoniously dropped us off and flew away to an enormous nest close by.
As soon as we hit the ground, Drakka turned on Vanetia, accusing her of lying to the raven and jeopardizing the journey. That disappointing her family could barely be considered a sin and that it’s impossible that she could have gotten where she has without sinning. She must have been keeping that in the whole way here. It was odd seeing her so angry, but she seemed genuinely hurt by her. Vanetia on her part seemed confused. She said she hadn’t lied, that cutting off with her family was her greatest sin and that she never killed anyone who wasn’t evil.
Drakka seemed appalled by this but before the argument could go on, they were interrupted by a voice not far away. At the opposite side of the clearing that we landed on sat a man sharpening his blade. He was clearly undead but had his mind intact, for the most part at least. He had been sharpening his blade until only part of it remained. Perhaps there was some correlation between the blade and his mind. He wasn’t hostile but not necessarily friendly either, Vanetia finally managed to get some answers from him. We are to find two bells, one up high within something called the Undead Parish and the other down below.
We moved onwards and the others soon picked up their argument. I agree with Drakka about the absurdity of justifying ones actions simply by naming the other side evil. Good and evil rarely has much sway on the battlefield from my experience, there are merely people doing what they can to survive. Still I saw no reason to join the argument. I am in no position to judge others for what they may or may not have done, but they seemed to need to work it out so I let them.
Their argument was once again interrupted by another curious person. Petrus of Thorolund he called himself, he said he and his companions had been there a few months and he was waiting for them to get back from an expedition. His vestments were different from the ones worn now a days and the priests would have told us had they sent another expedition so recently, who knows how long he had had been waiting there.
We quickly moved on but before the argument could start up again, we were attacked. Former warriors turned hollow faced us and attacked. Drakka instantly moved forward to protect Vanetia who she had just been fighting with. She hefted one of the hollows over a cliff and I took care of another while Vanetia focused on archers up above.
That’s when he came towards us. A soldier with little left of his mind beyond the rage and thirst for battle. He began focusing on me, perhaps he recognized something in me. Looking at his frothing face was like starring in to a twisted mirror of what I’ve always feared lurked within me. I felt myself losing control; I got angry, impatient, I needed to take him out quickly. I hacked away at him, but I swung too hard and buried part of my sword in the mountain wall, burying it there. The hollow survived, gleeful mockery on his face even as my sword was buried inside him. I pulled harder and harder to get my sword free to finally end him. Finally the sword slipped out, but in my anger I lost control of it and it sliced in to Vanetia instead. I went cold as I came back to my senses. The wound was deep, it almost took her arm. I was stunned for a second as her wound knitted itself back together and she finally ended the soldiers mad cackling with an arrow to the head.
I made a hurried apology and went to finish off the stragglers. We finished them off quickly enough, but I could tell my mistake cost me Vanetia’s trust. What she sees is now an orc who might attack her at any second. It is unfortunate but understandable and there’s little to be done about it. She is probably right to keep an eye on me.
We continued silently, the meeting with that hollow so soon after the encounter with the raven shocked me more than I would have expected, and once again my lack of control put my companions in danger.
We made our way forward through an abandoned and worn down part of what I assume was part of the outer city as we encounter yet another hollow. It sees as and charges at us but is swept up by a large winged reptilian creature that flies off with him.
If we are to continue forward we will need to find a way to either deal with it or avoid it completely. As it stands I don’t really know how, but we move forward doing what we can to survive.
We decided to head downwards in the hope of avoiding the dragon, or whatever that winged beast was. Fighting that thing unless we absolutely have to would be foolish and the path above would leave us too exposed, both to it and potential archers. So we made our way down to the relative safety of the lower layer’s alleyways.
The strange layout of the city made it difficult to navigate, but Drakka seemed to be able to keep track of where to go. We had to make several detours though, fighting within a city you don’t know is never easy, and though the city’s narrow alleyways protected us against the dragon, they would have also been ideal for ambushes. So we moved carefully and silently. Vanetia in particular went deathly quiet after seeing the dragon. It must have struck a chord in her somehow, making her scared and on edge. That was good. She often allow herself to get distracted, but for once she seemed focused, very much aware of the danger.
Our path eventually ended in a small plaza and we had to go up again, and as we did, we saw a small squad of 10 or so hollows moving behind us. They didn’t see us so we continued forwards. But we didn’t get very far before hearing the sound of battle. Drakka thought there might be someone fighting the hollows and rushed to help and me and Vanetia followed.
I wanted to argue against it, explain the folly of it. But I didn’t need to. What we saw were hollows waging war against each other. I didn’t know they did that, but perhaps they ended up fighting one another in lack of anyone living. It was a small battle, but with both sides barricading themselves against the other. The disappointment was clear on Drakka’s face but there wasn’t any time to worry about that.
A battle like that would likely draw more hollows to it and we could easily get swarmed where we were. I laid down a plan to take out key opponents to clear a path to the archers and then to safer, less open ground. I gave my orders and we attacked.
They say that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and once again it held true. We all took care of our designated targets, taking them by surprise. But Drakka got tangled up with more hollows and Vanetia remained where she was. I killed one of the hollows attacking Drakka and she took care of several more. I hadn’t gotten a good look at her fighting style before, but after seeing her break the neck of one of the hollows with her elbow in front of me, I think I understood it better. I could see how she survived that war she spoke of.
That was what convinced me to carry on with the plan, leaving Drakka to fend against her attackers by herself while I went to take care of the archers. They fell easily enough but what seemed to be one side’s captain quickly charged at me to take their place.
As we fought I suddenly got hit with a heavy bolt. While we weren’t looking, hollow reinforcements arrived, these ones with mounted crossbows. They were up on a small tower, protected by a sheer drop beneath it, making it practically impossible to get up to from this side. I turned to yell at Vanetia to focus fire, but she had been surrounded and had problems enough of her own.
Then Drakka began moving. She disentangled herself from her opponent and leaped towards the tower and…disappeared. I imagined her falling and again rage filled me, I hacked away at my opponent to get him out of my way. I cleaved through him and moved to call out for Drakka.
And to my surprise, I got a response. The two hollows mounting the crossbows plummeted down beneath me as Drakka yelled from above, asking if I was ok. I relaxed, the rage made way for relief. I dropped my sword and fired and killed the last straggling hollow with my bow.
Vanetia got hurt quite badly; she quickly got surrounded and was fighting at a disadvantage throughout the fight. Drakka again leaped over the abyss to get to her, lifting her up and we ran before further reinforcements could arrive.
I barricaded us from the hollows as Drakka tended to our wounds. We continued forward eventually finding a door with markings on it, a shield and a bottle. Drakka knocked and the door opened. A decrepit man led us inside. He was clearly not only dead but practically hollow. Inside was a large room stocked with items. The man ran a shop inside Lordran. He spoke of dealing in souls and trading. I don’t know what he meant by souls but he did confirm what we suspected, the flask we found, the so called estus flask is quite valuable and important. He had several things for sale, oils, scrolls, weapons, things scavenged from others traveling through Lordran he said.
While looking at him, I had a strange sense of respect for the nasty little man. He had “survived”, for lack of a better term here for what seemed like decades if not centuries. His mind was clearly damaged beyond repair, laughing and talking with himself and the items around him, anything to keep himself together I suppose. Perhaps it served as an alternative to writing letters to old commanders. For countless years he must have desperately fought to survive, doing whatever he could to hang on.
That’s when I decided to kill him.
Or rather, had I been alone, I would have. The man was already dead, insane and likely turning hollow and he had things that might aid us. But I knew the others might not see it the same way I did, and they deserved to have their say. So we left the man without buying or selling anything. I ushered the others forward and when we were well out of earshot, I pointed out the possibility. Drakka could see my reasoning, but didn’t think his items were worth it. Vanetia was aghast by the very idea of it. The man was apparently not deemed evil by her god and was thus innocent and someone to be protected. Drakka clearly took offense and once again they began their argument from before.
They follow the same god, but it is clear that there are large differences in their beliefs , Drakka argued no one, god or man had the right to decide who lives or dies. While Vanetia countered with how fighting evil was a Paladin’s duty.
Once again, I had little to contribute to their theological debates. While I’ve never liked the idea of trying to justify killing, or somehow making it righteous, it’s not a soldier’s duty to question orders, it’s to carry them out. I imagine it is not much different for those serving Gwynn. The only real difference I suppose is that occasionally I’ve been forced to go against my commanders and their orders, though treasonous, it’s an option I have had. Paladins might not have that luxury. At any rate, The Lord of Lords might rule over The Heavens, Vanetia and perhaps even Thorolund, but he doesn’t rule over Astora and he doesn’t rule over me.
I suppose then that nothing really stopped me from going back to the man, we need every edge we can get in this place whether the others realize it or not. But I eventually decided against it, our trust in one another was wearing thin as it was, I couldn’t afford making it worse.
Thus I didn’t have much to say in their debate, but the fact that Vanetia was saying she could detect evil eventually made me curious. I asked her what it said about me. This unnerved her, but eventually she said couldn’t sense any evil but that I still frightened her.
I smiled at that, or at least I hope it was a smile and not just a snarl. Though I’m used to it by now, having comrades fear you is never pleasant. Still the fact that she didn’t sense any evil from me of all people while at the same time being frightened of me should perhaps have given her a sense of nuances, but no.
Drakka asked Vanetia as well, and of course she didn’t read anything from her either. Drakka used that as evidence of the things uselessness, claiming to be a murderer and worse. It saddened me to hear her talk like that, the Drakka I knew as a child was undeniably a force for Good, that I’m sure of, and I think she is still. But war has clearly hurt her.
Just as coming here has hurt her.
We didn’t speak much after that, but eventually we began moving forward until we arrived at a large bridge. Crossing it would leave us completely out in the open for the dragon. As Drakka silently tended to Vanetia’s wounds, I suggested running in three files, one after the other.
That way if the dragon went after us, it should only be able to at most take one of us. I ran first, being the loudest of us, I figured I would be able to draw its attention, then came Vanetia and Drakka followed last.
They say that no plan survives contact with the enemy, but this one didn’t even last that long.
I began running but had only gotten a few feet when crossbow bolts began raining on me from behind. A couple of hollows had taken up position above us. We were exposed while on the bridge so I ignored them and kept running, but then a knight appeared on the other side. His very presence stopped me in my tracks. He was dangerous; somehow I knew that even with him standing still across the bridge. There wasn’t time to worry about potential threats like the dragon, all our attention shifted towards him. Drakka stepped up close to me and apparently drew something on my armour. I suddenly felt more secure, confident that I could stand against the knight. I was wrong.
The man leapt, closing the distance between us in an instant and swung his sword down on us. The blade crashed in to my side with the force of a battering ram, and I could feel my ribs cracking. Not even the demon we fought back at the asylum had as much strength behind its blows. The blade got Drakka as well and even with the training she mentioned, I could tell that it nearly went right through her. And I could tell that the next strike probably would.
I was sent on this mission knowing that my life was sold for a good reason, I know how important those reinforcements are to us. And I’ve also come to learn how important this mission is, so I decided long ago that even if it is unlikely, I would do what I could to see this mission succeed. So I told the others to keep running.
I began hacking away on the knight, slamming my sword in to him repeatedly, hoping to buy enough time for the others to cross the bridge. Drakka began to move, at first I thought she followed my orders, but instead she merely moved to heal me. Me, despite having her midriff sliced open. Vanetia didn’t move either. I was about to yell at them, try and make them understand, but then, Vanetia fired her bow. Three arrows sank in to him, their light burning through the armour. It almost brought him down, almost.
Instead he swept in between us, slashing in to all three of us. It was an impressive Feat, but lacked the same weight and power of his first attack, which meant that somehow we all survived. His swing also left him off balance, so I unceremoniously cut his arms off. Or I would have if he had arms, after my final strike hit; the empty armour fell apart on itself. Necromancy the others called it.
We didn’t waste time examining it more closely, instead we made for the other side after Vanetia took care of the hollow crossbowmen. Drakka brought the black greatsword the armour dropped and we made it to the other side. Apparently we fought not just any knight, but what remained of one of Lordran’s Silver Knights, the legendary soldiers that many kingdoms have tried and failed to mimic. Drakka claimed that the sword might carry with it power here, so suggested we take it with us.
While the two clergy women performed their healing, I went over the battle in my head again. It was clear that I had been wrong, that by ignoring my order they had not only saved my life but made sure to kill the knight. But at the same time it could very well have gone differently, had the knight simply focused on one of us, that person would have died. We survived because of luck more so than anything else. I am no commander, I never have been and the others have no need to obey my orders, but their refusal to make sacrifices to prioritize their own survival is likely going to get them killed. I have no death wish, nor am I planning on dying, but I am expendable.
Unlike Vanetia, I have no delusions of my own self-worth, I know that I am good with a sword, very good even, but that is all I’m good at, it’s all I’ve needed to be good at. Here in Lordran we will need more than that to stay alive and they should know that.
After catching our breath we continued over the next bridge, using the same formation as previously. This time there were no problem, but Drakka noticed a man on the roof of the building up ahead. She took point, snuck up and immobilized him. He wasn’t hollow so she quickly let go of him. He called himself Solaire of Astora. A kinsman then. Apparently he was up there to look at the sun. He barely even seemed to care that there was a dragon close by. He was damaged as well then.
Like with the others, I quickly grew weary of talking to him. Speaking with these people who are merely remnants of what they once were only serves as a reminder of what might well await us when we die. A slow decay of the mind, then the body, until all that was once you turns hollow. The others seemed to enjoy his company however and chatted away with him about suns and radiance and I don’t know what else. I remained silent and kept watch. Eventually I had to move things along, and tried to get as much information from him as possible, and to be fair he had much to say. He gave us several key warnings. He told us about the Parish, and that the bell was being guarded by gargoyles up on the parish roof. He also gave Vanetia a stone he claimed could summon him. He said that the end of the Age of Fire has caused time to falter within Lordran and that has made it possible to somehow shift between planes. It might be more of his mad ramblings, but it would explain why everyone we have met has had such different views on time.
As we turned to leave, he slowly vanished before our eyes, perhaps further strengthening his claim about there being different planes. I know too little about it to really understand it, but I don’t think we really need to. But it does give us another reason to not stray too far away from each other.
We made our way to the final bridge, it was guarded by a small group of hollows. They had put up minor barricades similar to the ones we encountered previously, but they didn’t seem particularly ready for combat. I marked out targets, and then we struck, hard. It went well, the hollows didn’t put up much of a fight, but just as we began pressing our assault, the wind picked up and we heard a loud intake of breath and then the bridge was turned in to an inferno.
The Dragon had finally made its appearance and sprayed fire along its path. The hollows’ dry bodies were turned to ash, while me and Vanetia got away with severe burns. Drakka meanwhile managed to avoid it somehow. The dragon landed heavily on the building on the other side, waiting. We might have been able to dash in under it before it attacked again, had it not been for Vanetia. I told the others to head for the stairs, leading by example. Again, they didn’t listen.
Vanetia moved, yes, but too slowly. So instead of going in to safety, Drakka took it upon herself to draw the beast’s attention from Vanetia. It was foolish. Again she thought too much on protecting others. It’s true that she might have had a better chance of avoiding its attacks, but attacking it only served to draw its attention on our group and making it angry. The dragon lunged at her but she somehow avoided it, and it did buy Vanetia enough time to head down the stairs while I stayed behind to see if Drakka needed help, she didn’t and dragged me with her down the stairs.
For a moment I thought we were safe, but then the dragon sent another jet of fire down the stairs. We didn’t get caught in the fire this time but the heat itself was almost as bad, I turned to run and there on the floor was Vanetia, clutching herself while weeping to herself. She didn’t move, she merely sat there, weeping. All the while the dragon readied itself to make another attack.
Drakka didn’t waste any time talking with her, she merely picked her up and continued running. She flailed around, still panicking. I yelled something at her, and she seemed to quiet down at least as I tried to push them both forward. We moved under a narrow path beneath the bridge. The Dragon breathed more fire towards us, but great support pillars protected us. Finally we made another dash, Drakka somehow cleared the narrow ledges with ease, despite carrying Vanetia.
Safety, or something close enough to it. The dragon roared above us as it lost track of us and flied back to its perch on top of the bridge. I was tired, my armour hot and heavy on me. But we continued moving, silently.
I didn’t register much of our surroundings I merely focused on looking ahead and moving forwards, always forwards, one step at a time. That’s the only option we have. It’s either that, or… I looked over at Vanetia again, and again I felt my anger return.
We finally found a house with a small basement where we made camp. Drakka summoned light with her magic and we rested. There, when we were finally safe and could rest, fear and tiredness made way for anger. I turned to Vanetia, I yelled and lectured her, foolish I know, given the circumstance, but as you know, I despise people like her.
I didn’t care about her being afraid, of course she was afraid, any sane person would be. I didn’t even really care that she put us all in danger, despite what especially Drakka did for her. What angered me and what still angers me is that she gave up.
I would even had understood if she had run away to save herself. That would have at least meant that she had taken action. (That and we would have caught up with her soon afterwards regardless) It’s the fact that she accepted what the world, the gods or the situation had dealt her and didn’t even try to fight back. Instead, she simply sat down and gave up.
She claimed it was because she has trouble sensing Gwynn here, that she can’t count on him to aid her here. Again I get angry. I’ve seen her fight, she has seen us fight. If she can’t draw strength from her god then she should do so from us, or at least herself. But no.
I was tired and I most likely didn’t explain myself the way I should have. Drakka broke up the conversation and we moved on to tending to our wounds. She stripped down and washed herself with the water she brought. The signs of war were there, just like I knew they would be. Some worse than I thought. Two new ones forming an x across her midriff shined pink as well.
Eventually I realized where I was looking and readjusted my gaze. Even though we are old friends and soldiers of sorts, she is also a woman, and might not like being studied like that.
I let the women clean themselves in peace. Instead I readied myself for my own undressing, one notably less pleasant. Drakka helped me pull the armour off; it seems the armour got even hotter than I thought. A heavy smell of burnt flesh escaped as we removed the pieces of metal welded to my skin. After it’s finished she healed me, but no sooner did she touch me before she flinched back. Understandable perhaps, but unusual coming from Drakka.
She and Vanetia took care of the final wounds and then we went to bed. Drakka took first watch as she used her magic to restore her clothes. Vanetia and I laid ourselves down on the floor with our backs against each other. She still seemed worried, probably more so since I yelled at her so I tried to explain I had no intention of hurting her, and that she could relax. I didn’t wait to see if it worked but fell asleep almost immediately.
I dreamt about standing still. My sword was heavy and nothing I did could get me to lift it. No rage or willpower could change it. It didn’t stop me from trying, but it was hard. Just as things were getting too heavy to bear, Drakka stirred me from my sleep.
It was my turn to take watch. But instead of going to sleep, she wanted to talk about Vanetia. She was clearly worried about her. She understood the danger as well, people who break down on the battlefield doesn’t only forfeit their own lives, but usually many of their comrades too. Drakka has seen it as well and she is worried that we can’t trust her on this mission.
I tried to explain it the best I could, that even if she might be unreliable at times, she has also been critical to our survival several times over by now. It doesn’t matter if she’s always reliable or not, the Lords know I’m not. What is important is that she’s useful. We have nothing but ourselves to truly aid us here, and we need every bit of help, every advantage we can get. That means that Vanetia might not be my friend, she might not be family but out here she is far more important than either of those. And it means that I will fight for her survival even if she won’t.
Drakka still seemed worried; she had had a problem with her for some time. I asked her to try and not hold her to her own standards, neither moral nor religious but instead merely measure her by her merits as a soldier. Vanetia can be a good soldier, a great one even, but she needs experience and she needs discipline. And so does Drakka.
We spoke about her going against orders. She said she appreciated me taking command, but that she couldn’t merely abandon Vanetia. I explained that it’s that compassion I’m worried about, that she needs to think more about herself. I wanted to thank her, both of them for not abandoning me to the knight despite my orders, but the words got stuck in my throat, instead I made her promise to at least try and follow orders from now on. On the condition that I don’t hate myself for making them she said. We’ll see if we’re able to live up to our agreement.
Eventually she went to sleep and the night continued without incident. The next morning the others were able to speak normally with each other, again they were able to speak about senseless things like hair treatment and jewelry, even here, even after all that has happened. I was relieved, the tear between them wasn’t as bad as I thought, they could still draw comfort from one another.
While the others performed their prayers, I took the opportunity to try out the knight’s sword. It was larger and heavier than my own, but somehow perfectly balanced. It gave off a strange feeling of untapped potential while swinging it in the air. Almost as if the blade itself wanted to dig in to something.
We made our way to a blacksmith Solaire mentioned that was close to the parish. It was manned by another undead. This one, however seemed to be almost unaffected by his condition and was able to explain a lot of about the parish and our situation. It was good talking to him, it was good talking to someone who is still whole. I showed him the black greatsword and asked him about it. He was clearly interested in it, he said it was most likely made to fight off demons, but couldn’t say much else. He asked to study if for a time, in exchange for a discount on his wares. We bartered with him for a time and gained some supplies while Vanetia commissioned him to repair the Carimese blade.
After leaving him, we continued forward, towards the Parish.