Soul of Lords
Drakka's Thoughts 7-9
The Meditations of Drakka
They were called the Knights of Balder. I don’t think they can be called that any longer. They are empty, but not like the others, not mindless but… heartless, moving like machines. We’ve walked right into their trap. Before we even know what’s happened they’ve surrounded us, pouring from the windows – more assassins than knights.
One of them stabs, and Fitz drops his sword. He recoils, grasping his hand; I don’t know, but I think it’s bleeding. Their precision is uncanny. I try to attack them, try to hold them off with my hands, and I’m rewarded for the effort with a blade to the stomach – but it’s okay. I can handle it. Their weapons are small, they want me to bleed to death but I don’t. I will not suffer a slow death and neither will they. Jawbone. Neck. Spine. I bring my full force to bear, and they break like dolls.
I’m fast, but not fast enough. A blade flicks out, I think it’s meant for me but it isn’t. Blood bursts from Vanetia’s throat, and I fear that she will die – but Lord Gwynn protects her, his healing light enveloping her as she staggers backwards with a hand on her neck, fighting to survive. For a moment I’m alone. The enemies surround me, there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide and for a moment I actually think they will kill me.
Then Fitz takes off their heads. The heartless killers are no more, but they weren’t alone in the Parish, there are others, huge men with iron armor, unable to move quickly, unable to come after us but blocking our way. Blood rushing, adrenaline surging through my body, I make a mistake. Impatient. Mo Zi warned me not to be impatient.
I rush into the room, attacking the knights. I try to grab one but he’s surprisingly nimble for such a large man, his iron hammer slamming down into the ground – inches from crushing my body like grain. Iron covers him everywhere. There’s nothing to attack. My fists ring out on his helmet, but the assault is all but pointless; all I can do is distract them, as the others move in for the kill. And they kill. I’m inches from being clipped by Fitz’s sword as it cuts through an ironclad neck, separating head from body.
As suddenly as it began, the fight is over. Vanetia’s got blood on her breast, her newly washed tunic stained crimson, but the wound on her neck is gone – not a sign of the slash that almost killed her. Fitz is okay. I am, too, despite the cuts. And so, with his usual efficiency, Fitz inspects the bodies.
He finds something on the headless stump – a filthy old amulet, stained with blood but radiating power. I know it because Zedecus mentioned them; they’re bearskin tokens, made by the orcs in the Southern Swamps. I think. Fitz doesn’t want it, he tries to give it away, but I tell him, as it is, that it resonates with orc blood and that it will protect him. He grudgingly wears it, even though I know he distrusts both orcs and magic.
The other knight has a similar token. I give it to Vanetia, because it might protect her too, who knows? I could have use for it myself, I suppose – but it would only strengthen my body, not my soul. The amulet of Gwynn around my neck is far too precious to replace. It’s selfish and vain, but secretly that’s what I think; that if I die here I would like to die and not come back. An orc token won’t help with that, I don’t think.
We move the corpses out of the way, disarm them. It’s better to make them as harmless as possible. It’s only now that I’m noticing what a beautiful place this is, with its balconies, large windows, incense burners and a great stone slab of an altar… and a desiccated body lies upon it. It’s a woman. The fire-keeper Liandra. Andrei mentioned her, she used to guard this place but then she died. I guess she must have died for good. There’s a magical jewel at her brow, inlaid in gold and silver, and she wears robes like mine only prettier, because they’ve only suffered the rot of death and not the rips and tears of battle. It’s odd, but there’s something beautiful about her stillness, about her death. If we could, we’d have to wake her… but she’s beyond anything I can do. I try to ignite the fire that she kept, but there’s nothing but a flicker.
I mention there is magic in the jewel, almost casually. Fitz suggests I take it. I would protest, but then he says that we need all the help that we can get and I know that it is true. And this time there’s no killing, only stealing, from a woman who is sleeping or maybe dead, and dead forever. So I take the golden headband and, conscious of my blasphemy, put it on my head. Impersonating a high priestess. If this were Astora, I’d be whipped or worse, but it isn’t and I’m not. Instead I’m filled with holy vision, and I suppose that Gwynn must approve because I see the world more clearly. And yet still all I can think about is that I’m wearing gold.
There was a shadow, moving above us, during the fight. I didn’t see it clearly, but I know there’s someone there. Perhaps another foe. We should move, no point in waiting. There are no foes. As we move upstairs, we find a man in a cage, an undead man with no weapons, we let him out and he’s grateful, then he leaves. He says that the gargoyle that guards the bell killed him, and that his soul might soon erode, and that he fears dying again and will not come with us. I feel sad for him. He says he’ll take some weapons from the dead knights downstairs, and try to reach Firelink Shrine. I hope he makes it.
There are some old books in the parish, which we gather. Then we hurry on upstairs, to the final stretch across the roof. There’s no way to reach the bell tower from inside. Gargoyles, small ones, line the sides of the building. A big one guards the tower. We’re about to step out but then the white stone begins to glow and I feel Solaire’s presence. He’s drawing near, like he said he might, and something inside me reacts and I close my eyes and think of warmth and sunlight and his smile and the way he smells and suddenly he stands before us. Translucent, like he was made of light and darkness, but still here. It seems he cannot speak. He smiles, though, and draws his sword, and I know that he will help us.
We head out onto the roof. The gargoyle cracks and groans as it comes to life. It’s big, bigger than Fitz, almost as big as the demon in the Asylum, and it’s armed with a long halberd. Orange flames flicker from its mouth. It dives like a bird and strikes like a bolt of lightning, but Fitz is strong and keeps standing, his sword bashing right back between the thick stone horns. I know I cannot fight something like this, and so I stay behind, and pray.
Solaire and Fitz spread out, to distract it. It’s a good plan and I move a little closer, trying to help out. It’s fast, but not so fast I cannot dodge it. I hope. Then the air fills with light and death and Vanetia is shooting it and hurting it, and it opens its mouth and screams with unholy fire before it leaps to attack her. I can’t move fast enough to keep up. Vanetia shields her face with her hand, engulfed in fire, and for a moment she’s blinded. The giant wicked halberd comes down like a hammer and she crumples like kindling. Diagnosis: Broken spine, broken shoulder, broken pelvis, lungs collapsed, severe bleeding, death within seconds. Only a miracle can save her. So I move.
I’m fast, faster than I’ve ever been before but I don’t know if it’s fast enough. Leaping over the creature’s tail, I land between it and Vanetia and I ignore the monster as it raises its weapon to crush me like it crushed her but there’s no time. I touch her forehead and for the sake of her life I channel all I have. Her limbs straighten. She opens her eyes. She speaks, says something though I don’t know what, but if she’s talking she can breathe. That means she’ll live.
Then I turn around and the axe comes down. I could dodge it, but if I do, it’ll split Vanetia open where she lies. I don’t have a choice. I raise my arms and I make myself iron and I stop the halberd cold. Vanetia spits blood and grabs her bow. I feel my body screaming. What I just did is impossible. A moment later, flames engulf us once again, there’s a second gargoyle spitting fire, and it’s coming right for us.
Vanetia’s on her feet. Fitz charges at the monster that stands above me, and – almost without caring – it slams its weapon into his armor and I hear loud cracking. Diagnosis: Broken bones, internal bleeding, possibly cardiac arrest. He is still moving, but it might just be momentum. Solaire takes the second hit, steps in the way of the finishing blow, catches it with his shield. It looks painful. There’s another golden arrow, the gargoyle roars and staggers backwards before dying, and I rush towards Fitz and I perform another miracle.
The second gargoyle moves and in panic – on instinct – I run but I don’t dodge aside, I run away and it sweeps towards me and knocks me off the roof. It comes with me, down on the ground, and to my surprise – so do the others. They rain from the rooftop, Vanetia slowly, gracefully – the others plummeting like rocks. The gargoyle charges, straight into the hail of golden light from Vanetia’s bow, and then it smashes apart under Fitz’s sword. I stagger to my feet, crying out to Gwynn, and there is light, and warmth, and we are all, somehow, alive.
Vanetia wanted to hug me. Now she’s on the ground, my foot at her throat. I… misunderstood. I’m still afraid, off-balance, impatient. Impatience is dangerous. I let her up. We embrace. She is thankful because I saved her life, and I suppose that is as it should be. But I don’t know what to say to her.
Fitz finds words where I don’t. He says it is good she found strength to stand. He says she’s overcome her fears. I think she understands, she says something about believing in herself even without Gwynn’s light, and for a moment a thought flickers in my mind, that maybe she’s changing and maybe she understands now, but I don’t know if it’s true. Almost dying isn’t as great a teacher as it should be. I know this myself.
I am still impatient.
We do not have time to linger. Solaire has faded, he isn’t with us anymore, and the bell must be rung. So we hurry up the stairs again, out on the roof, and Fitz carves apart the dead gargoyle with his sword as best he can. It might rise again. Who knows?
The bell bears a heavy inscription, that seems meant to make us abandon hope – but we have no hope to abandon, I don’t think, we’re just doing this because we have to. Too exhausted for emotions. Vanetia takes the chain, and pulls, and the bell rings out into the silence. There is no magic. It isn’t necessary. Sonorous metal echoes through the undead burg, and over the land, and through the sky, and it feels very good to have done something even if we still don’t know why. But the bell was to be rung, and now it is.
We pull ourselves down into the parish again. Lautrec, the Carimese knight we freed, said there was a shortcut to Firelink Shrine downstairs. I long there and I want to go there, but the path isn’t safe. I realize that. Fitz realizes it too. He says that we should barricade ourselves in the fire-keeper’s room, and so we do. Fitz says me and Vanetia should take the bed, I suppose because we’re women and he feels it would be proper; I don’t question his decision, though in some small way I don’t like it. Fitz is much warmer.
I jump up on the bed. Something hard is under the pillow. I take it out and almost drop it.
It’s an agony knife, gleaming black on the dusty sheets. It isn’t active but it hurts to touch it; my body feels the memory of pain, and recoils. The others ask me what it is. I suppose they have seen my reaction, and I control my breathing and try to block out the pain and the shame and the terror as I unroll my sleeve and show them the scar. Well, one of the scars. There are others.
I tell them what it is. A Khitai torture device. I tell them I’ve seen them first hand. I don’t tell them what it feels like. Fitz asks me if I can use it, and for the first time since I’ve met him, I want to lie but I don’t. I know how they work. Fitz asks me – doesn’t tell me, but asks me – if I could keep it. It might serve as a weapon. Silently, I wrap the thing up. My skin is creeping. It remembers. It will always remember.
I don’t say much more this night. Vanetia combs my hair and I help wash her clothes. Fitz reads aloud from the records in the bookshelf. I listen but I don’t remember. Then we sleep, rather restlessly. Fitz and me keep watch. We leave Vanetia alone, she almost died, so she needs to recover. It feels good to have her next to me, her skin is soft and unblemished and has probably never known the touch of an agony knife.
Morning comes abruptly.
We pack up our things and get moving, downstairs to the elevator. Fitz uses the corpse of a knight to test it, and it holds, so we climb aboard and ride it downwards. A winding path across the mountains, beneath the city, greets us. It takes a long while to walk but we are not attacked, and the sun is radiant, and there’s even grass and plants here. I’m suddenly happy – no, not suddenly, but so slowly I almost didn’t notice it. It sneaks up on you how beautiful the world can be, almost like it dresses up when you’re not looking and then you turn around and it’s bright and green and smiling.
A very forgettable climb down a cliff takes us back to Firelink Shrine. We find that we’re not the only ones to return, there are others. They are friends of Petrus. One of them has died, he’s gone… not hollow, but emptier? Dead-er? I don’t know what to call it. I ask if I can help, but they don’t trust us or at least one of them doesn’t. So we walk away in search of warmth and water. Petrus walks with us. There’s a strange smell of ocean at the water source, but no salt in it. Petrus doesn’t know where it comes from, and neither do I. It’s very strange. We talk for a while but he is very gloomy and nothing I say can cheer him up.
Vanetia and Fitz go in search of the fire-keeper, and I go with them. It seems right we should introduce ourselves, but it turns out we can’t. She’s gone mad, or something like it, and sits behind bars in a cave beneath the fire. She doesn’t reply. Lautrec is with her, or outside her cage rather, and he says her tongue was cut out long ago. He doesn’t know why.
Lautrec says he owes us. He gives us three bottles of something that cures poisons. He’s very tired, I think. He says he will give us valuable information in exchange for a piece of a soul. I don’t know what he means, but I would like to help him because it seems like he’s in pain. Fitz stops me. He says we don’t know what it will do to us. Vanetia, though, steps forward and reaches out a hand, and something bright and alive flows out of her and into him and his pain stops, or at least it recedes. He un-hollows.
He says the piece of her soul will grow back by itself, because she’s alive. He tells us a great many things about what it’s like to be undead, and he also says there are ways to reach the other bell. The strange shopkeep might now. The one with Julia. But there’s another path, through the graveyard.
We resolve to do more research, and rest a little more, before we venture out.