Chapter 1: Nightly Sun
Seath the Scaleless is a traitor, and he lives alone in search for peace and sleep. Maybe there's someone, out there, willing to help him through his predicament. But he hardly believes it.
Prompt #01: Sleep
Definition: n. 2, State of silence or of immobility
Characters: Seath the Scaleless, Dark Sun Gwyndolin
Setting: Dark Souls I, post dragon slaughter, Age of Fire
Length: 2.297 words
Trigger Warning: hinted suicidal thoughts, strong self hate, PTSD
“No I can't help myself, no I can't help myself, no, no, no
Caught up in the rhythm of it
Maybe I'm looking for something I can't have”
(Justin Timberlake & Chris Stapleton, Say Something)
There are the good moments, when you can turn everything off at least for a while, transport yourself for a time you wish lasted forever in a place different from where you are. They’re rearer than Twinkling Titanite, but when you find one you’re happy at least a bit.
And then there are the nights when your teeth clench until your jaws are in pain, the fingers twitch, your horrid insect wings that made all the other dragon belch in laughter vibrate like the string of a bow, and you stay awake asking yourself why.
The worst thing is that you already know why. Because you’re you, because you did what you did, because you’re an abomination and a traitor and it would have been better had you never come out of your egg. Accept it, you tell yourself, turn forward: seems so easy, in words.
And you stay there, alone, thinking, don’t move, don’t move, because you know you’re scared, you can’t escape, you can’t even imagine your repugnant white face reflected on some mirror without screaming your blind wrath into the sky, as the shrapnel get stuck in those gross gooey appendages you have instead of proper paws.
Why were you even born, Seath?
A characteristic of Seath – one of the many he loathes – is thinking after having acted. The reason he hates it is the same why he deeply despises all of himself. Except his own body – that body he can’t see but he know oh so well, that slippery neck, those paws as white as death, the tender smooth back, nothing to compare to the scales of actual dragons: that one he hated from the moment he was born, his skin still sticky of the yolk of his egg.
Seath had been impulsive when he had flown to Lord Gwyn and his allies, when he had accepted castle and dukedom – instead of shutting himself off into some monastery to expiate, you know you must, Seath, even though a million cycles wouldn’t be enough to atone for what you’ve done –. when he had received Gwynevere’s letter saying yes, this evening, and sleepless nights had followed the impulsive days.
Seath hates them too – he doubts there’s even something in himself he doesn’t hate.
Gwynevere had told him of her family, that night. She had skipped over the part about Lord Gwyn – he knew that old geezer way too well – and the one about her older brother, exiled months beforehand for a probably important reason, yet irrelevant for the paledrake.
Then she had said Gwyndolin, and Seath had lit up.
-I want to meet your brother.- an impulsive gesture, just for variation. But Seath ponders more and more frequently to just not think of it anymore. If all you do, starting from your coming into the world, results in a disaster that keeps you awake at night, it’s just worth it to stop reflecting and just do as you please.
-He wouldn’t like you.- Gwynevere had said, not even looking at him.
Nothing strange there, Seath had thought. -Maybe I’d like him.-
Gwynevere had sighed, the tinkling of her golden bracelets followed by the rustle of the silk comforters. What she had seen in him to give herself to him, Seath will never understand.
-You wouldn’t like it either.-
Another sigh. -Gwyndolin knows what they want.-
And you don’t, was hinted: so painfully true Seath hadn’t dared to get angry. Not in front of her: he had knocked down a bookshelf in a fit the moment he had been left alone.
You’re as repugnant on the inside as you are on the outside, Seath the Scaleless.
Of that Gwyndolin, he hadn’t heard further – then Gwynevere had become pregnant, and had given birth to that thing, and Seath had spent nights on end just turning on himself, praying for the ceiling of his lair to break upon itself and crumble on him and fix everything effortlessly.
Then, one day, silence fragments into a muffled sound of steps. Seath lets go of the tome he was holding – may the Channelers get it in his stead – and stretches his neck towards the source of the sound.
-Who’s there? I advise you: you may never leave.-
-Then I intend not to enter.- A slim, haughty voice, with a firm tone. He doesn’t recognize it. -Com’st thou to me, Scaleless. I intend to talk.-
Seath chuckles. -Who, or what are you?-
Silence, then another laughter answer his. -I am Gwyndolin, child of Lord Gwyn. I await thee. Come forth, I love not to being left in waiting.-
Seath stretches his neck. Gwyndolin: coming back into his life like a corpse from the bottom of a lake, with the voice of a youth and the slow, regular steps of a perfect prince. Curiosity overtakes scorn, and Seath obeys their call, head and neck slipping through the door and stopping where the drake’s nostrils feel a pungent smell.
He prepares himself for a shriek and the sound of rushed steps: instead, Gwyndolin’s voice is as gentle as that of a nurse. -The miniatures were right. Thou’rt colossal.-
-Aren’t you scared of me?-
-I am the child of Lord Gwyn. I fear nothing in the world.-
Seath moans. That’s why they can stare at him: they’re fearless. Evidently even his dragon brethren feared something, as his mere sight elicited the mockery of a convict to the gallows. But Gwyndolin has divine blood, and not even a horror like him is enough to scare them.
Or is there more? Scientific curiosity itches under the drake’s gross pale skin. If Gwyndolin knows what they want – so has Gwynevere said, and he likes to think she wouldn’t lie at him, daydreams are the only ones he can afford – they haven’t come to him simply searching for the duke palace.
-What is it that you want?-
The sound of a sudden step, the rustling of fabric. -What I want? Art thou treating me like a trader of sort?-
-Nobody comes here unless they want something. I’d be greatly naive if I believed this to be a friendly visit.-
-And yet.- Gwyndolin’s voice is as placid as that of a maester, -’tis exactly for thee, that I am here.-
Seath stretches his flabby paws. The right hits something solid, a wooden bump at his back announces the destruction of another piece of furniture. Not the first, nor the last time it happens. But someone looking for him is indeed a new thing, and it doesn’t sound pleasant.
-Do you not have a business to settle?-
Seath reflects, his head pulsating like underneath hammer strikes. It’s hard to think when you don’t sleep at night.
But damn: what can I do if I can’t?
Maybe this is what you’re missing, Seath the Traitor. Not paws, not legs, not peace self love – that was what Gwynevere said, she treated you with kindness and you humiliated her by giving her a crossbreed bastard, you ruin everything you touch and you know it – but sleep. Maybe, all you wish is to be able to curl up where you are, in the dark, without hearing the screams of your kind falling from the sky like meteors – the ones you betrayed, you know it, Seath, because you’ll never forget it, not even if you lived a thousand times for a thousand years more – every accursed time you try to sleep.
Maybe, Seath, you’re simply out of sleep.
-I have come to encounter Priscilla.- Gwyndolin says.
The crossbreed bastard, I was just thinking of her. -Then you told the truth.- Seath shakes himself up and grins.-You fear nothing in the world.-
-Thine sarcasm striketh me not, Scaleless. A sweet girl she is, of intelligence and kindness immense. She deserveth to know her real father.-
And it’s then that Seath wants to squish them – damn their father and all of their family, some things aren’t to be said. He raises his hand above where he knows the young deity is, fingers rigid to gide their shaking.
-Why dost thou refuse thine good deeds?- From the way the youth’s voice comes to him, they have raised their head. Seath is perplexed: not even a rustle of hair.
-What can you ever know of goodness, child?- Seath retreats his hand and searches for Gwyndolin’s chin with it. It feels as tiny as a grain of millet, even compared to his fingernail. He could actually scratch them – what would you say then, little faint-voiced Gwyndolin? Would you go around pronouncing the name of the only abomination worse than himself?
-Should I fear what is different? Thou knowest nothing of me.-
He hears Gwyndolin sitting down cross-legged, the hiss of two ephebic hands fixing up a foliage of silky hair. -I fear thee not, as I fear not Priscilla. She is safe at Ariamis, beloved and cherished as a queen; not much more than a child, but possesses already a refined language, noble posture and great mastery in the art of duel. And yet,- another rustle of fabric announces him that Gwyndolin has crossed their arms as well -she misses something still.-
She’s my daughter indeed, Seath thinks with bitterness. He’s almost brought to laughter at the idea of Gwyndolin asking him to be a good dad. Abominations enjoy the company of other abominations, after all, and nothing excludes the voice of a child from bringing good sleep. This is why I want to see my daughter at all: for her to help me sleep. I’m spineless as I am scaleless.
-It’s good,- he murmurs unconvinced -for her not to know.-
Gwyndolin shrugs in between the ringing of jewelry.
-It’s good for her not to know.- he repeats louder. His paws slam themselves on the floor behind his back with the sound of a thousand war drums.
Gwyndolin gasps. There they run, the dragon thinks, and slams his paws harder. But the youth speaks and their tone stays cold.
-Stop this raucous now, Seath. Hush.-
Seath lifts his head backwards, his long neck turned in a circle that feels like a noose. -Hush? I haven’t known silence for months, child.-
-For thou knowest not where to find it.-
Something walks on Seath’s snout. The dragon opens his mouth to bite it, then he recognizes it. A hand as tiny as a brick, soft and cold, skin as smooth as the page of a book.
-Do you know what it means, Gwyndolin?-
-Feeling nothing, thou meanst?-
He mumbles a noise of approval, his repugnant scaleless skin tensing under the silky touch of the youth’s fingers. He wishes he could see them: Channelers talk about them as a jewel in the shape of a person, skin as smooth as marble, lips as soft as the petals of a camellia. They wear a tunic so white they themselves look like pure light, and their sun-shaped headgear glistens like the aster itself.
-Seeing nothing, not being anywhere. Having no body, nor skin or name.- Feeling complete, perfect, leaving behind your own limits and difference. That much Gwyndolin can understand, can’t they?
Some things are born to be admired, others to be hidden away and forgotten – like that strong knight that had attempted to kill him, he remembers him so well, sometimes he sees him burning and crying in between the dragons and when his armor devolves into butterflies of ash he staggers awake roaring into the nothingness - others are born to be looked at, but mocked, a target to absorb all the rot that even non-different ones have inside.
What Seath wonders is if, and how, one can change the sense of their existence.
-I know it well.- Gwyndolin whispers.
-You always know everything, it seems.-
He laughs, but Gwyndolin doesn’t join him.
-I know, for I have learned. Art thou not seeking knowledge as well, Seath?-
No, I’m seeking sleep. But he hisses a yes.
-In the end, thou shalt then learn what I have learned: all are missing something. Feel not special for it. Priscilla is there, awaiting thee.-
Seath stretches his paws. -As if I was naive enough to believe you’ve entered Ariamis. It’s forbidden, even the mice of the Depths know it.-
Gwyndolin strokes him again, and this time Seath doesn’t retreat.
-I have ways of my own. And thou shalt trust me.-
He chuckles. -Why though, fool of a child?-
Gwyndolin’s hand staggers back for a moment, then stretches again on his snout, and it’s cool and soft and you wish it never left.
-For we understand each other. We both are not as we should be, we both cannot rest.-
A faint laugh escapes the throat of the young deity, their hand gliding on the drake’s snout. He likes imagining them as pale as he is, with his same too-thin arms and his same eyes that aren’t there. Maybe Gwyndolin is closer to him than any of his dragon siblings has ever been – because they dared to come close and talk to them and see a reflection of themselves beyond that repugnant misshapen body.
In their coldness, Gwyndolin is as sweet as how Seath thinks dreams are; they have his same craving of something, but unlike Seath they have already obtained a piece of what they want along the way. Maybe, the paledrake hopes (yes, he hopes, he’s turning into a complete idiot and he’s not even thinking about it) there’s hope for him too. A sun to shine at night just for him, lighting up the dreams he hopes to have.
Lack of noise, lack of movement. The desire burns on Seath’s skin, an eternal and unsatisfied wanting of something that loudly requests to be compensated. Gwyndolin’s hand was cold, like liniment, and their caress so similar to Gwynevere’s it had given him a brief choke.
Tonight, he knows, the sun will shine during his night. If he manages to sleep, he prays to dream of something else. Not the shrieking and weeping of his kind being exterminated by lightning, their scales burned by the flames of the Witches, their mouth blackened by the Gravelord’s miasma: but Gwyndolin’s face smiling at him, as beautiful and haughty as the sun that gave them their name, guiding him away from the darkness that fills his head.
Chapter 2: Irreversible
The Knights of Berenike are the bravest, strongest and mightiest of all lands. This is what Blackiron Tarkus tells himself each night, trapped in the basements of the Duke's Archives and feeling more broken everyday by his mysterious captors. A gentle, brave witch is captured alongside him, and all they have is each other.
Starring Chaske Spencer (Blackiron Tarkus/Manscorpion Tark) and Gong Li (Najkalia/Scorpioness Najka)
Prompt #02: Addiction
Definition: N. 2. Inability to do without a person (psychological a.) or the incoercible need of a medication or substance: pharmacological a.; part., the condition of the toxic.
Characters: Manscorpion Tark/Blackiron Tarkus, Scorpioness Najka
Setting: Pre-Dark Souls I, Seath the Scaleless’ experiments
Length: 3.301 words.
Trigger Warnings: major character death, blood, mention of torture, mental insanity, arachnids, lime
"Maybe I’ve been always destined to end up in this place, yeah
I don't mean to come off selfish, but I want it all"
(The Weeknd ft. Lana del Rey, Prisoner)
The first thing he sees is the grey: coarse, ferrous, plated in mold stains. He’s laying on something hard and uncomfortable, arms slumped next to his body. What’s happening? Where am I? Everything hurts – his eyes, even. He shuts them again, shuddering in feverish chills.
Remember, he tells himself. You must remember. There was a painting, yes, tall enough to cover an entire wall. A white-cloaked figure and a blade that…
He reopens his eyes and screams. There, in the lower side of his back – why though, if the knife came from the front – and it burns like a piece of coal jammed in his flesh to the bone. No, deeper, within the bones: all his flesh sizzles and boils under his skin, and the bone marrow, and the muscles, at every breath, stronger yet stronger.
Tarkus’ voice chokes in his throat, as scorching tears trace on his cheeks. -Poison.- he whispers. -No, no. Help me…-
-That isn’t poison. Hold still.- A woman’s voice he doesn’t recognize. Tarkus sobs, feeling his back cracking at every breath. Two hands clench around his and hold them with caring violence. Tarkus clenches his eyes shut, letting the tears flow warm and thick.
-Get it off me.- he moans, to not even he knows who.
-Nothing to get off there. Breathe, now. I’ll try to soothe it.-
Tarkus gurgles a yes as soft fingers caress his face. He carefully opens his eyes, but sunlights whips his face. He screams again.
-Shh.- the voice orders. -You mustn’t scream. He’s blind, but he can hear us.-
Tarkus’cheeks feel like burning embers, his hands tighten against the clothes he’s wearing. Where’s my armor? The other’s hands meet on his stomach, as light as a dove’s wings, and a new warmth pulsates inside Tarkus’ flesh. A nice warmth, like a tisane. He breathes out, reclining his back.
-A miracle.- he whispers. This time it’s easy to open his eyes, and the blurry surroundingd of the room he’s in focus more at every blink. There’s a door of metallic bars and three grey stone walls. A face framed by straight black hair, furrowed brow, stares at him questioningly.
-Soothing Sunlight.- the woman smiles faintly. -But don’t agitate yourself. After the blow you suffered, you need to hold still.-
Tarkus nods. What blow, he wants to scream, but even opening his mouth is a shower of dagger stabs to the back. The painting room was huge and he was walking on the ceiling pillars, a step every five seconds. He had almost sworn at the Gods whe he had seen them. The armors of Berenike Knights aren’t made for acrobatics. Then there were the white cloaked people, close your eyes Tarkus, you see them, they were everywhere, like pigeons hanging from the rafters. He had killed one with a stomach blow, another with a sword stab between the knees. Then he had turned around to check his footing, just a damn second, and he had turned back to the front right on time to see the blade of the knife piercing through the cuirasse – how did it do that, in the name of Gwyn, how did it ever do that? – and stagger one step backwards.
He had seen the joists of the ceiling from under, moving further and further away. Then a blow as hard as a thousand hammers, and then nothing.
He reopens his eyes, huffing. The woman’s heart-shaped face shows a contrary expression.
-Do you have a name?-
Tarkus’s teeth chatter. He doesn’t feel like talking, he doesn’t even know if there’s still a voice of sorts in his chest. He murmurs a shaky “you?”, his tounge quivering in between the incisors.
The woman shrugs, a hand running through her opaque hair.
-My name is Najkalia.-
Najkalia is here: Najkalia is a handmaiden to Princess Gwynevere, who has studied magical arts in Vinheim and defeated Princess Dusk herself at a duel during a tournament. Najkalia knows miracles and welded a mace she called Stinger. She has black hair, always so dirty that grease sticks to her falanges whenever she combs them with those ever thinner fingers. When she’s sad she tightens her lips to the point of making them vanish in the middle of her face. She does it ever more often, now, and with those eyes, always red, her face looks like the mask of a theatre performer.
Yet Najkalia doesn’t laugh – neither does Tarkus, and he thinks none of them will hear the other’s laughter for long. There have been nights, the first ones, in which he tried to comfort himself by thinking of Berenike. I would train behind the chapel, in between the laurel bushes. Whenever I’d hear the bell ring, I’d put my sword away and watch the procession pass by – and the worshippers would salute me and wish me good luck, for the Berenike Knights are the strongest among all kingdoms and so I would have been. I’m as strong as iron itself, and I shall face whatever happens to me as it befits me.
And like a worthy Berenike Knight he prepares to die, clenched teeth and fists tightened to the point of whitening as Channelers – so they’re called, Najkalia says, – lead them through the corridors, tied up and hooded.
Then the hood is ripped off his head, and he sees the paledrake, milky skin glistening at the light of the torches like a coat of tears, and dishonors all the order with a scream that makes Najkalia jump.
She doesn’t scream, he thinks as they tie him up to the chair. She’s brave, deserving of a worthy death.
But none of them dies, not that day, nor the following. Needles pierce through their skins, poisons and broths are forced down their throats. Tarkus wails and cries and asks why, Najkalia kicks and hisses that they shall pay, but death doesn’t come, and every day they look into each other’s eyes with a sigh.
The first time they do it, she proposes it. They lay at opposite sides of their cell, each crying on their own. Tarkus hates crying, for he’s not used to it, and one doesn’t join the Berenike Knights to expand their knowledge, even less in a prison such as that one. Berenike Knights are born to strain: they train to develop shoulders as wide as shields and arms as robust as logs, wear armors and swing greatswords that another knight would barely be able to lift. But even black iron bends under the embrace of fire, and Tarkus muffles his sobs in his rough dry hands, quivering like a child.
He then hears the iron of the bars shaking. He turns around, and he sees Najkalia clinging to it to get up. Her legs tremble at every step, a string of blood drips from between her legs and stains the rag that covers her. A tear dangles from her chin. She kneels next to him and strokes his cheeks.
-If it doesn’t hurt, would you like to? I care not about pregnancies.-
Tarkus nods. A hint of a smile draws on Najkalia’s lips, a crescent moon watching over him in that accursed place; she takes off her tunic and tosses it behind her shoulders. Her breasts are covered in bruises, Tarkus’ hands can barely cover them. When he’s also free of his rags, Najkalia sits on his legs and sobs in his shoulder.
-We have nothing else.- she whispers. Tarkus holds her to his chest – that’s how a Berenike Knight worthy of their name is to behave with a comrade in distress – and sobs louder.
They both sob, kissing each other on the lips and the necks, pushing and panting one against the other. Najkalia hugs him and scratches his back with broke, blackened nails. She feels warmer and softer at every thrust, as tears fall on her face and wet his shoulders. And Tarkus sobs ever louder, as he knows one of them will be alone one day, in that cellar under the Duke’s Archives, and he’s not sure he wants to be the one anymore.
Then Najkalia comes in between his arms, a moan as gentle as a rustle of sand, and all the cell vanishes, in a single and fundamental moment of bliss.
The second time, he’s the one coming forward. Najkalia lies on her back in her bunk, staring at the ceiling, hair drawing arabesques around her face. Dry hair, clenched lips.
-Did it feel good, last night?-
Najkalia mumbles a yes, arms tightened around her chest. Tarkus sits at her side and places his palm on her shoulder, stroking it with all the grace a Berenike Knight has ever been capable of.
-Would you want to try again?-
And so they go on, any evening in which they feel like doing it. Sometimes Najkalia says no, staring at the floor with ever redder and emptier eyes, and Tarkus nods and sits by her side without saying anything. Sometimes it’s him that turns back, – when his arms hurt too much, when his head is spinning, when his back hurts so much sometimes he ’s afraid to start choking. But Najkalia stays, and holds his hand staring at him in silence – and with gloomy eyes he can’t even send her away, as he can’t even conceive a reality in which she doesn’t exist. He searches for her whenever they put him back into the cell, even when he’s so hurt he prays any God that can hear him to make him faint, and when he can’t see her he feels tears pushing from under his tired eyes, they try to come out, they come out.
Najkalia is here and Tarkus waits for her, for even a fully trained Berenike Knight as hard as black iron has the right to beautiful things and she is, she's so beautiful she looks as if she had been put there by mistake, and he feels like a monster whenever he thinks of how awful it would be if she suddenly never came back. She would have probably ended up in a merrier place than that. But Najkalia is here and he wants her. He reassures himself during thrusts by thinking that she wants him just as intensely, and if he can give back to her a minimal part of what she gives him every day he must, as he – and he’ll always repeat it, because one mustn’t forget who they are – is a Berenike Knight and his honor equals his strength.
One day, as they strap him to the chair alongside Najkalia, he sees some scorpions twitching inside a glass jar, small paws tapping against the walls of their diminutive prison at the beating of his heart.
When Tark sees Najka he doesn’t know who she is, but he already knows he loves her. She has iron black hair – what am I even saying, iron is grey, whoever even heard of black iron? – and aquamarine skin. And she gives him a faint smile, low eyes, cheeks reddening, and lends him her hand with the politeness of a dame.
-What’s your name? You’re like me. I’ve never seen you.-
She blinks, and she’s so pretty as she does it you want to look at her eternally until your pupils burn. -Tark. My name is Tark. Just Tark.- It doesn’t feel right as a name, but it’s all that he remembers. Whenever he pronounces it he hesitates staring at his pincers, just enough time to pronounce five more syllables that aren’t there. But what are they?, he asks himself everytime without being able to answer. Najka doesn’t know it, so he decides not to think about it. It’s about her, that he’s concerned. He likes her and wants her to like him. And when some months later Najka lends him a tiny smooth hand and asks him how he’s feeling about marriage, Tark hugs her so abruptly he smashes one of her paws with his pincer.
The Paledrake is odd and not very talkative, but he’s nice to them, he lets them roam free around the Duke’s palace alongside their kind, and he tells the Channelers not to bother them or else. The Paledrake has no eyes to shed tears from, but he’s always sad even when he’s laughing. At night he screams and shrieks with cries that sound like the wails of a baby. Tark and Najka embrace each other and exchange stares full of pity. It must be ugly, Tark thinks, when you’re in the need for something and don’t even know what it is. He doesn’t get it, however: he needs nothing, he has Najka and she’s all he could ask for.
When the Paledrake dies they hold a vigil to his unmoving body, side by side, and Tark’s stomach is as heavy as all the palace’s stones. He holds Najka tight, thanking he doesn’t even know who for getting them close to each other.
Najka is there: Najka is a scorpion-creature just like him, who knows magical arts for some reason she can’t remember and defeats on her own ten guards rushing in after a terrified peasant had seen them walking around. Najka knows miracles too and welds a mace she has called Stinger. She has black hair, and the stands cover the naked breasts Tark wants to touch for eternity, but he waits for her to say yes because he loves her, and when you love someone you have to make them feel good. They live in hiding in a wood, next to a town filled with spiders. Sometimes one like them passes along their road and talks to them in the language of the scorpions, that they understand, but they don’t feel as their own – they salute them with the proper etiquette, but they waste no time for conversation. They’re not Najka, so he’s not interested. Najka is there, Tark thinks, and I’ll always be there as long as she is. When they have to be separated, to go hunting or explore places they don’t know in search of a place where two like them can stay on their own, Tark hates every second of it. Najka is there and she’ll always be there.
Najka is there for all the time, and Tark knows her as well as himself. When she’s sad she tightens her lips to the point of making them vanish in the middle of her face. One day she’s so sad that gesture deforms all her face, and Tark almost jumps backwards, because it looks like the face of a corpse.
-My love..- He tries to embrace her, but Najka pushes him backwards and jams her fingernails into his shoulder. -Don’t touch me, no. I can’t take it. I don’t want to be like this. I don’t know what I am.-
-You’re Najka.- Tark answers. -You’re Najka and you’re beautiful. I love you. Let me help you.-
He sees a globe of blue taking shape behind his beloved’s shoulder and he thinks no, it can’t be. Light blinds him, his face and chest burn as if dripping lava was being poured on him.
-Let me go!- Najka roars. -Let go or I’ll kill you.- Drool drips off her mouth, her eyes look like two balls of red and white fire. -Don’t touch me. I don’t want you to touch me, I don’t want anything. None of this.-
Then Tark sees the blade of Stinger next to his face, and his breath chokes. -Najka.- he whispers. -My beloved, please.-
He hates the way his voice breaks as he’s speaking. His forearms parry Stinger’s blow, his teeth clench in pain. -Najka, stop it. My love.-
-Go away! I’ll kill you, I swear I will.-
Blinded by tears, Tark vanishes into the ground. He can hear Najka’s mace hitting his stinger, and it hurts more than it should.
A warrior can be scared, and repeating to himself that Najka has gone insane and is going to suffer eternally if someone doesn’t put an end to it makes Tark’s whole body quiver like a tower shook by the wind. He knows he’ll kill her, that it’ll be as painful and necessary as a rotten tooth being ripped from the mouth. And he knows when he’ll kill her: tomorrow – an eternal and misty tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll kill her, he thinks as he lays into the terrain to sleep. He muffles a sob in his arms and wails through clenched teeth for the back pain. That’s weird, he thinks, the sword went into the shoulder, but the pain is low. Tomorrow I’ll kill her and then I’ll try to figure what this is.
The next day he repeats it, and the following as well: his litany to put himself to sleep. Tomorrow I’ll kill her, tomorrow I’ll kill her, tomorrow I’ll kill her. It’s the best thing for them both, she’s suffering too much now and those who truly love someone don’t leave them to suffer alone. Until they truly love them, and so Tark brings his hands to his face and sobs into them, faintly, certain that no one can hear him, and even if someone did they certainly wouldn’t stop for him.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, for every new day with Najka alive – even if she’s not next to him, even if she hates him, even if she’s not completely insane – is still a better day then what it’d be without her. Tomorrow, tomorrow. He even wants to see her cry, because having a crying Najka next to himself is still having Najka next to himself, and she deserves to be consoled. He needs her like an armor, he needs to think her, imagine her, guard her inside the shards of his imagination where those short arachnid paws look like feathered wings. Tomorrow I’ll kill her, tomorrow I’ll kill her. How much am I willing to sacrifice for her? More or less than what she has done for me?
What she did and when he doesn’t remember, but he knows it happened, and he craves that memory like a droplet of water in the middle of the desert. Tomorrow I’ll think about it. Tomorrow I’ll kill her.
When tomorrow finally arrives, Tark isn’t ready. Even closing his eyes he sees it there, in front of him, as strong as the wail of a torture victim, as bright as a pyre. The person he told to kill her has kept their promise – they had talked to him, how did they ever understand him, how? – and had jumped on Najka’s scorpion back and had tightened their legs around her side like one would do to a horse, and had pulled out a knife, and a spark of silver had drawn in the air behind Najka’s back; and she had screamed, but not the way she did when they always fought. It was the cry of someone who knows it’ll be the last one.
It was fast, Tark thinks. Quick, merciful, fair. Najka is free, she isn’t suffering anymore, she isn’t crying anymore. But why can’t he ever get away from her?
Even her face isn’t there anymore. After a single day her aquamarine skin had started to wrinkle, and the hair had stopped shining and looked dirty and only and less out of place on her than he’d have expected. He dug a pit with his hands and his stinger, big enough for Najka to sleep comfortably and turn around if she feels like it. The ground with which he had covered her had mixed itself up with his tears.
He stares at the rectangle of crumpled up ground, shaking, clenching his teeth, repeating himself his favorite little word: tomorrow.
Najka is there: she’ll always be there, in his best memories, in the wet recesses left on his cheeks by tears, in his fingernails, dirty of the ground that covers her. Najka is there and maybe Tark can get over that too. She’s there, if she’s there nothing else is needed. As long as she keeps being there.
Tomorrow I’ll leave, he thinks. Tomorrow I’ll leave, I’ll leave her to rest in peace as she deserves. But tomorrow always comes the next day, and Tark stays awaiting, staring at the lump of dirt where Najka sleeps. When he had decided to kill her he had forgotten to think of how much it would have hurt.
But a Berenike Knight, it is known, isn’t made to think. What’s a Berenike?, Tark asks himself. Maybe Najka knew it. If it’s a new place we could have tried to go there; maybe it’s just a land made for us strange creatures, where the mad loneliness of our creator wouldn’t have tarnished her.
He sighs, staring at his beloved grave and muttering those so funny and unknown syllables. They tell him something, but he has nothing more in mind about it. He’ll wait for it to come into his mind. There’s time to do it. Tomorrow, he’ll leave.
Chapter 3: The Long Night
Princess Filianore, daughter of Lord Gwyn, is about to fulfill her destiny and give herself to seemingly eternal slumber, for the sake of man. Although her loyal handmaiden Shira is there with her all the way through, she feels as if she has unfinished business left back at Lordran. But before the walls of the Ringed City can take her in, a familiar face comes back for a final farewell.
Starring Laura Prepon (Princess Filianore), Chris Hemsworth (Finias, the Nameless King) and Taylor Schilling (Shira).
Prompt #03: Wandering
Definition: N.1,The frequent moving from a place to another without an itinerary or pre-established programs: in their foreign w. they have met an infinity of people; fig. intellectual restlessness or fantastical evasion
Characters: Princess Filianore, Nameless King
Setting: Pre-Dark Souls I, kingdom of Lord Gwyn
Length: 3.627 words.
"What do you expect from me?
What am I not giving you?
What could I do for you to make me OK in your eyes?"
(P!nk, My Vietnam)
Gwyndolin cries thick and copious tears as she holds onto Filianore’s chest. At ten years of age, she looks half, and the mucus dripping from her nose doesn’t blend well with the gold necklaces adorning her neck and the fine silks of her white tunic.
-I will tell Father not to send thee.- the child grumbles.-I will stamp my feet. I will hold my breath.-
-Thou shan’t do any of such things.- Filianore whispers. -Thou shalt instead be proper and strong. Gwynevere will always be at thine side. And as I dream of thee, it will be as if I never departed.-
-Promise us, thou will dream of us.- Gwyndolin sobs. -Thou must.-
-Each and every night, child dear.-
Gwynevere has reddened eyes and a thin nose. Clumps of hair escape from her do, and her hands quiver as she moves them away.
-Our brother first, and now thee as well. I cannot bear it, sister dear.- Gwynevere wipes her eyes with the back of her right hand and grabs Filianore’s wrists pushing her nails into the silk. -It would be fairer if I was to go. I am the eldest.-
-’Tis because thou art the eldest that I must go, and thou knowst it.- I’m not the heir to the throne. I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what I like. Than why not just do nothing? If what she’s forced to do has a purpose, it could happen that the name Filianore in Gwyn’s family tree isn’t just a waste of ink. At that thought, maybe, her tears would have been sweeter. -Takest care of Gwyndolin. A good girl she is, and she shall be a great goddess.-
The little girl holds onto her sister’s skirt, sobbing into it. -I swear it.- Gwynevere whispers, face fierce despite her damp eyes.
-Farewell, sisters dear. Be strong. In the end, siblings have to leave. ‘Tis just the way it works.-
-Is it true, what thou hast told Gwyndolin?- Gwynevere holds her little sister’s hand. -Will thou see us in thy dreams?
-As true as mine name is Filianore.-
Shira awaits at the entrance, spear already set on her back. -Come forth, Princess Filianore. The travel shan’t be long, but we must not be late.-
Gwyn and Fina’s faces are cold, but their eyes glisten of choked tears as they say their farewell to their daughter. And then forward, forward, not looking back nor knowing what I will find. Filianore walks a few steps ahead of the handmaiden and torments her ringed fingers.
-Thou’rt very brave.- Shira whispers. -Few would dare to do what thou’rt to do.-
-’Tis a merit. I am to have time to think of it.- Filianore takes off her index ring and spins it between her fingers. -Someone had to. At the end of the day, ’tis just like any other purpose.-
The faces of the people she hadn’t said goodbye too crown in front of her eyes. Stubborn Lady Ciaran of platinum hair, Sir Artorias, who saluted her with “sweet lady mine”, Sir Ornstein, who had gifted her the silver crown she’d always wear, vivacious Sir Gough and even grotesque Smough. The sweet skull-faced Gravelord and the gentle Witch of Izalith with her daughters. Queelag and Queelan, with whom she had feasted many times; Ivana, who had defeated Ornstein in person during a spear tournament; Grana, the soft-handed pyromancer of garnet hair; and Isalia and Quelana and Galana, and Quelay, the cursed boy with skin sore of lava. She herself had given away one of her bracelets, to helps his sisters in forging that special ring.
And my brother. My brother Finias, the exiled. Father would be well disappointed at knowing I’m thinking of him, but after all how dares he request anymore of me?
-Princess!- Shira gasps and lifts the point of her cross-shaped spear to the skies. -Beware, a dragon!-
A shadow covers the sun, wings that look as big as whole plains stretching above them. Filianore staggers, stepping on the tip of her tunic. The creature’s wings flap slowly and Filianore is surprised at their silence. The creature loops and dives. It’s aiming at us, Filianore thinks, but she doesn’t run even as Shira tugs at her sleeve. She sees it flying lower and lower, in yet tighter circles – a dragon of indigo feathers, with the beak of a bird of prey, a neck as thick as a column, a slender and stringlike body – and shudders.
-Shira, there is a rider. Let us not run. I want to talk.-
-Princess, ’tis dangerous.-
So what? Can’t I enjoy my last dangerous act? The creature lands with a thud, raising a cloud of dried dirt as tall as Filianore herself. The princess brings her hands to her ears, expecting a loud cry, but the dragon is silent. The man on his shoulder places a hand on his scales. The dragon reclines its neck and holds still on the ground.
Filianore blinks. The man has arms as thick as those of a statue and long white hair straight up his head like the tips of a flame; his face is covered by a brown scarf, and he holds a spear as thick as the trunk of a cherry tree inside his fist.
-Drop!- Shira growls. The man opens his hand and lets his weapon fall to the ground with a metallic sound. He lowers his scarf from his face and Filianore emits a surprised gasp.
-Brother. How did you make it here?-
-What’s going on, Filianore?- Finias leaps off the dragon’s back and lands on his feet on the ground. Shira leans on the front, weapon embraced. -Stay away from the Princess. I fear not to kill you.-
-Drop the spear, Shira.- Filianore orders. -’Tis my brother. And you too, brother dear. Hurt her not.-
-She shouldn’t have seen me. If Father comes to know…- Finias hisses.
-She won’t tell anyone. Loyal, she is.- Shira lowers the tip of the spear without letting it go. -Drop it, Shira. I order you. Nothing will happen to us.-
The brash clank of Shira’s spear against the ground sounds in the silence. Finias holds one hand into the other: they’re so callous they look covered by iron gauntlets.
-Our father went too far on this, Filianore. He can’t force you to a fate like this.- Finias tightens his fists and grits his teeth. -You haven’t done anything. It’s not fair.-
-Few things are. One learns quickly, being a princess and not a wanderer.-
Finias holds her hand and lends her his arm. Shira loudly grinds her teeth.
-I won’t accept it, sister dear. Get on. Come with me. I’ll carry you to safety. They thought I wouldn’t have come to know, but rumors spread.-
-Let go!- Filianore rips her arm out of her brother’s grasp. -What do you think you’re doing? Keep me hidden like a war trophy?-
-I don’t know.- Finias sighs. -We’ll run away. Your guard can come with. We’ll protect you. We’ll see the world.-
Filianore feels her cheeks redden. A person of royal blood shouldn’t react in such an emotional way, but trepidation makes her quiver. See the world and its wonders. Fight and travel and ride on the back of a dragon – a real dragon, rarer than diamonds. Father and Mother would never find out. Shira will be with me, maybe we’ll even see Gwynevere and Gwyndolin again.
She takes one step forward, but she doesn’t dare to move beyond. She tightens her fists around her tunic. It’ll be hard, but if there’s one thing Filianore hates is giving up. She has sworn, she has chosen. I’m a princess, not a wanderer, and such I’ll remain. -No, brother. I insist I don’t want to.-
Finias’ eyes beam of fire. -The choice is yours. At least I can say my farewells.- The youth’s voice breaks. The dragon emits a seemingly painful wail. -At least let me take you there. King of Storms is docile, and the Pygmies have no decree against me.
Filianore tenses at the word “decree”. -Father and Mother won’t find out?-
-I swear it, sister mine. This will be the last time I ride through these skies.- Finias leans his hand on King of Storm’s side. -I won’t come back until your torment will be over.-
-You’re so melodramatic.-
Filianore turns to the handmaiden. -Do you want to ride on a dragon’s back, Shira?-
The warrior nods with clenched lips and picks up her spear. She climbs the dragon’s side like a tree and sits on the top, arms crossed. Filianore takes her hand and places her feet on the scales. They emit a pleasant warmth, like faded coal. She sits next to Shira, legs folded on her chest. My dress will get all stained. But the feathers are soft, and their warmth gives a cozy feeling.
Finias picks up his spear from the ground. He leaps to the beast’s neck and tightens his legs around its neck. King of Storms rises a meter, then two, wings flapping like capes being shook by a tempest, clouds of beige sand brush the dry terrain. Shira wails and grabs hold of the beast’s feathers. Filianore protects her eyes from the sand with her hands. The road is now a uniform line of colorless brown and blurred outlines, and looks as thin as a finger. Filianore sharply lifts her gaze to the dragon’s neck.
-Are you alright?- Finias asks. Shira grunts a yes. Filianore lifts her thumb.
-Then onward we go.- The vivacity in the prince’s voice sounds forced. -To the Ringed City.-
Filianore grabs Shira’s hand and removes her hair from her face. -Where have you found this dragon?- she screams.
-King of Storms?- Finias strokes the beast’s back. -There’s a place, far away, where dragons still thrive. Real dragons, not bloated salamanders like Seath. They have taken me in as one of their own. King of Storms is my favorite. I can’t tell you anymore.-
-Our sisters have missed you greatly. They have never forgotten you.-
Finias huffs. -They should have. Now my destiny doesn’t coincide anymore with theirs.-
Neither does mine, Filianore thinks. She suddenly feels tears pushing against her eyelids, a strong bony hands grabbing her throat. When the first sob makes itself heard she prays for Shira not to have noticed. The handmaiden turns her head to her just in time to see the first tear fall.
-It’s the wind.- she whispers. Shira takes her hand, stroking her palm with her coarse fingers. It’d be much, much simpler if I had her by my side in my eternal sleep. She closes her eyes to let tears flow, and when she reopens them Finias has turned around, and stares at her from above the scarf.
-You’re scared, Filianore.-
How could I not be? -It’ll pass.- She gulps, holding yet tighter to Shira.
-It’s not fair for you to be remembered like this. We still have time to run away.-
Filianore shakes her head. -We can’t, that’s all. It’s not fair. Towards the Pygmies, towards our parents and our sisters. Knowing of me living as a wanderer, unfairly.-
-As if what they’re putting you through was any fairer.- Finias roars. -I may be a wanderer, as you say, but at least I can move around.-
Filianore opens her mouth to answer him, but only sobs escape her lips. -I’m sorry.- she babbles. Shira holds her hand tighter, damp eyes. -I meant not to offend you.-
-You haven’t.- Finias sweetly says. He slides down the dragon’s back with the grace of a circus performer and lends her his hand. Filianore raises her free one. -I wish I could do more.-
-It’s alright. Truly. It wasn’t necessary to…-
Finias holds her hand, caresses it with his callous fingers – next to hers, so smooth, they look as if they belong to another species. Filianore wipes her eyes.
-You haven’t lost me, like our sisters didn’t. I’ll search for you. I’ll dream you. Wherever you will be.-
-Wherever I will be.- Even from under the scarf, Filianore can see him giggle. -You know what it’s like with we wanderers. You never know where we are.-
But his eyes turn sweeter. -Maybe you’re right, though. When you are what I am, wandering is the most dignified solution. I don’t know where I’m going, but it’s better than remembering where I came from.-
-It does take courage.- Shira admits, holding Filianore’s hand tighter. The princess moves one hair away from her mouth. -What matters is your wellbeing, brother. You will be able to see me whenever you want to.-
Finias nods. -You’re a princess, not a wanderer. And yet, I’d give the world to have you with me.- He raises his head over King of Storm’s neck and stretches his finger in front of himself. -The Ringed City is down there. You still have time to run away.-
Filianore tightens her teeth, holds onto her dress and Shira’s hand: she can’t afford to cry, not now. -No, Finias. I beg of you. Land.-
The brown walls of the Ringed City look like open jaws that await Filianore to devour her. King of Storms spirals down, the wind whips Filianore’s face and rips the remaining tears off her eyes. Shira grunts. The dragon bumps onto the ground, and Finias leaps off its neck tossing his spear to his feet. Shira jumps off right afterwards, waving herself with her hands.
Filianore slides down the feathered wing. Her feet caress the sand, as coarse as raw fabric. She looks at her brother and feels a new sob rising up her throat.
-Please stay just a bit more, brother. Please. I want to embrace you one last time.-
Finias steps closer, in silence, and holds her to his chest. He wears a leather cuirasse, plastered in round iron plaques, and Filianore prays whoever could hear her for some of that strength to seep into her flesh and make her capable to suffer through what awaits her. His thick, rough hands caress her back – they’re as warm as the scales of his dragon, and seem just as solid. It’ll be a marvelous dream.
-I wish you every luck, sister. I won’t forget you.-
-Neither will I. And I swear to visit you in my dreams alongside Gwynevere and Gwyndolin.-
The warrior climbs back atop the back of his dragon. His ash white hair wave like the fronds of a tree, his big callous hands lean onto the fiend’s warm scales like next to a restoring bonfire. I saw him one last time without knowing if it’ll be the last.
He winces, raising his eyes above the scarf. -Sister?-
-Thanks for coming back.-
Finias stays silence. He stretches his hand towards her and brings it back to himself, clenched into a fist. He shuts his eyes and holds onto the dragon, shrinking into his scarf.
Filianore doesn’t look at King of Storms rising from the ground and vanishing beyond the clouds. Her hands tremble, her eyes are clouded and she knows it’s not the sand’s fault.
-Shira.- she whispers. The warriors drops her spear and rushes to her with open arms. -Weep not, Princess. I am here. I always shall be.-
Filianore holds her tight, faintly breathing. She must be brave and do what she must – brave as a princess and not as a wanderer, suffer through it and not running away – it doesn’t matter how much it will hurts.
She holds the handmaiden’s hand tight as they walk along the sandy road. Fly, brother mine. Run away, you who can. She sniffs and caresses her gown. She raises her eyes to the skies, begging for someone – Finias, of course, but Gwyndolin or Gwynevere or anyone else as well – to remember her.
If being a wanderer means not knowing where you’re going, then me and my brother have more in common than what Father would want us to. A little payback to silence the grudge burning somewhere within herself. Soon, there won’t even be any room for that. She’ll be on her own with the King’s Decree, the Pygmies – and Argo and Halflight and her dear Shira – and her dreams, the only light to warm her for a maybe infinite fime.
She looks Shira in the eyes, eyes that look like slices of sky mounted into the purest glass, eyes she wants to dream of, takes a deep breath and knocks at the door of the Pygmy King’s palace.
When Filianore wakes up, she knows she’s hollow. Her white tunic is spotted with holes, her skin has the reddish tint of cedar wood and is as wrinkly as tree bark. She shakes the shattered eggshell off herself and slides down the klin like a little girl.
She takes one step, staring right at her front. Many Ages have passed, the Gods have been forgotten. Gwyndolin and Gwynevere are dead – one devoured alive by a cannibalistic abomination, the other having stabbed herself not to suffer a similar fate. Great Londo is ruled by my young niece. Her father, an old dragon consumed by madness, and two of my sister’s bastard daughters are assisting her. Five, six, seven steps. No, now it’s Anor Londo. Anor after Filianore. A nice gift from Father, albeit a bit late. Eight, nine, ten steps. I wonder if that girl could want to get to know her aunt. She only confides to her relatives, to the Fire Keeper and to a knightess that’s loyal to her. I happily leave her the throne, but I still want to see her. I hope to please her, even if I’m not Gwyndolin. The stairs are smooth under her feet, and even the grains of sand scratching her skin are a beneficial caress. Filianore tosses her hair behind her shoulders and smiles as she stretches.
I did my duty. Now I have a world to see and a home to look for. And I already know where to start.
A figure stands firm in the middle of the empty room. She holds a spear in her hand, a wizened and grey corpse impaled onto its tip, but Filianore wants to clap her hands the moment she sees her. -Shira! Shira dearest!-
-Princess!- The knightess’ face turns chalk pale. She falls to her knees, hands leant forward and the Pygmy impaled to her spear wailing like a crow. -Princess Filianore, thou’rt awake? Whatever has occurred? Art thou alright?-
-Never felt better.- Filianore holds the handmaiden’s hand. -It’s alright, Shira. I’m free, we’re free. I’ve already spoken to Judicator Argo. Let’s run away, come with me. Fight for me until I myself have learned how.-
-But the Pygmy…-Shira trembles, and it feels completely wrong for Filianore. She puts her hands to her hips and pouts her lips. She can finally act like a princess, and it’s so great it makes her want to dance. -We’ll bring the accursed Pygmy with ourselves. It won’t be the weirdest thing Amor Londo has ever seen. Let’s go, Shira. Let’s find our own home.-
Shira blinks, trembling hands. -A home; dost thou mean…?-
-Remember when we flew on dragon’s back, Shira mine?- Filianore holds her hands onto Shira’s, they’re as hard as steel, the hands of a woman of arms, how I wish my own were like this. -When I promised my brother I’d have seen in my dreams? We can go wherever I want, you see?-
Shira’s lips quiver, her fingers vibrate clenched onto one another. She has a tonic body, muscular arms, hair of a beautiful grain blonde. Filianore doesn’t want to rush it, I haven’t seen a woman for so long, it’s probably self-suggestion. And yet, once Shira undoes her ponytail and kneels at her feet brushing the sand with the strands, she looks even more beautiful than the Sun itself.
-Travel with me, Shira. There’s a whole world beyond the Ringed City waiting to be seen.-
Shira’s eyes shine of tears. Filianore holds onto the handmaiden’s arm. -Go call everyone. Quick, quick. Let this city eat itself up.-
Shira runs as of her own life depended on it, the Mad Pygmy crying and wailing as she shakes her spear in the rush of the race. Filianore sits cross-legged, erect back. It’s nice to know new relatives, but there’s an old one she can’t wait to see again. He’s no longer the lone wanderer of the family, now. A sudden warmth fills her chest, like a spoonful of soup. Filianore squeaks of trepidation.
Are you awake, sister dear? His voice went scratchier, but she recognizes his lit up tone.
Filianore conjoins her hands. Yes, beloved Finias. Anor Londo awaits us.
A sigh. Gwyndolin and Gwynevere…
Filianore stands up, admiring the white lit stained glass.
I know, brother mine. We’ll have time to mourn them at the proper time. The joy of embracing you again overtakes the grief for our lost family. I can’t wait to get to know our nieces.
The Mother of a covenant and two Crossbreed dragons. Three, counting that bony blue abomination Gwynevere has married. A delight, for me. Where have I been all this time?
You were searching for a home, dear brother. That’s all. So was I.
A failed research indeed. Not even now that Father and Mother are no longer there I dared going back to Londo. It wouldn’t feel fair, you see?
Nobody says we have to stay. We can just bring our salutations to our niece and abdicate in her favour. Since none of us wants to rule, all three of us will be content.
And then? Finias’ voice trembles. Where will we go afterwards?
Filianore twirls on the sand and watches the tips of her gown lift in the rush.
I don’t know. And she smiles.
Chapter 4: Chains Of Blue
Sometimes, even the biggest bond between lovers can save them from what fate has decided for them. Gwynevere, Queen of Lothric, cherishes and adores her husband Oceiros. But something is eating up at the king's mind, and not even the great love they feels for one another is enough for him to open up.
Starring MyAnna Buring (Gwynevere, Queen of Lothric), Jeremy Irons (Oceiros, the Consumed King) and Ciara Renee (Kendra, Dancer of the Boreal Valley).
Prompt #04: Captivity
Definition: N.1, State of forced segregation in a secluded place, with deprivation of freedom of movement; reclusion. Condition of isolation from the social life of the community.
Characters: Gwynevere, Queen of Lothric, Oceiros, the Consumed King
Setting: Pre-Dark Souls III, childhood of the Twin Princes/conquest of Anor Londo
Length: 3.982 words.
Trigger Warning: blood, brief instance of smut, graphic depiction of suicide, reference to past sexual assault
Semi-Sequel to Uti Et Frui, it’s advised to read it beforehand to understand some of the events depicted in here.
"Just when I felt like giving up on us
You turned around and gave me one last touch
That made everything feel better
And even then my eyes got wetter"
(Rihanna, California King Bed)
One of the few things Gwynevere would have always, always thanked her mother and father was their rebuke of arranged marriages. Filianore’s loss had been doubly desperate for Gwyn, a kick onto his honor as well as a dagger stab for his paternal love, and Gwynevere had always tried to stay on his side in the days that followed the loss of her beloved sister. The evening of the departure, Gwyndolin – little girl Gwyndolin, who still feared the world – had ran off to her room, clear eyes filled with tears.
-You’re not leaving as well, are you?- she had whispered, face buried onto her chest.
-Of course not.- Gwynevere had smiled. -Father won’t ever do what he has done with Filianore. The person I’ll marry, I and only I will choose it.-
And it was exactly that that hadn’t worked with Flann. And it had been then that Gwynevere had promised herself to never do anything, anything, just to follow the desires of a dead person.
She had kept it in mind well, as the handmaidens were braiding her hair for the wedding with the King of Lothric. He had nothing of Flann’s fire. And yet, when he had held her hands on the altar and had whispered to her “I wish to take you as my bride in the name of Lothric” – the formula included a “and the Gods”, but a king could afford to be extravagant – Gwynevere had felt an immense, beneficial warmth like that of a thousand braziers.
Lothric and Lorian had come that exact evening. She had had plenty of men and women, but few had managed to give her the frenetic, incandescent joy she had felt within Oceiros’ hands. She had felt free, free enough to scream. And when, concluded those tremendous eight hours, she had embraced her second born into her arms, she had believed her freedom would have never ended.
It’s not Oceiros’ fault, Gwynevere thinks. But neither hers: she doesn't want to know how did Lothric and Lorian become so difficult. One would tell that the heirs of a house known for the creation of perfect heirs would have proven themselves more willing to follow that cause. A perfect heir, and a perfect Lord of Cinders: and Lothric would have been that, it doesn’t matter how. And yet, Lothric remained as thin as a convict, and the blue inside her husband’s eyes seemed to dampen ever more every day.
Then – Gwynevere grits her teeth – that Gertrude had come in with her angel chitter. It sure was unpleasant to see her cry and scream mute inside her cage. On the other hand, a good queen must eventually learn not to stick onto trivialities. She hadn’t told Oceiros about her fate – as if he could have cared after her, after what she had done to her. Better, then: one less chain for him.
They sit side by side in Oceiros’ Garden, silent, and Gwynevere stares at him with an unsettling feeling in her chest. Her husband, glossy loose hair, a platinum belt the size of a plate tightened around his waist, sea blue brocade tunic with silver dragon heads embroidered on, and the veins on his hands as inflated as a serpent’s neck. She had to prod him for days just to get him out of the castle again.
-What are we even doing? We look like two lost souls.- he grunts, ripping Gwynevere away from her thoughts.
-I want you to breathe, my love.- she answers placidly. -You’re as pale as a captive.-
-I’ve always been like that.-
It’s true, but that’s not the point. -Let me be the one who notices things, alright?- Gwynevere strokes his coarse cheek with her index finger. How long has it been since he last shaved?
-You look sad, in recent times. Overtaken by something you don’t tell me about.-
-Nothing new.- Oceiros mumbles.
-It is new indeed, if you don’t even leave the castle anymore. You’re not locked in a cellar, my love. You can go wherever you please.You are the king.-
-I’m fine inside. I can keep an eye on Lothric and Lorian. Out there, it’ also full of accursed deacons, always going around for blessings and other idiocies of their kind.-
-There are no deacons in here.- Gwynevere shrugs coyly. -They never enter your garden.-
-They would. What do they care anyway? I’m but the king, my words are worthless next to theirs.-
Gwynevere smiles sadly. There was a time in which she loved the way his eyes widened whenever he was irritated. Now she’s tired and fed up of that stare. She sees it everywhere, even in their bedchamber, and it makes her as sad as winter.
That’s enough, now. The time has come to try it all. She rises from the bench and pushes him to stand up as well, stare at her face, head up, back straight. The posture of the king he is and must be.
-Osi, little fool you are.- She holds his hand, giving it a squeeze. As bony as their child’s, and that’s no good. So cold, too…
-Look at me. You are the King of Lothric. You are flawless. You don’t even fear the gods.- His eyes light up, and Gwynevere knows she’s speaking right. -And as long as I’m here, I’ll allow no one to overtake you. Neither to snatch our children away from us.-
-What is it wasn’t enough?- Oceiros blinks. -What if on our own we were no match for those cassocked roaches?-
-Then, we’ll sin them off.-
Oceiros covers his mouth with his hand, chuckling. Gwynevere pulls him to her chest and kisses him on the lips – those are soft, still, and for the moment it’s enough.
Something nimble and thin flies at Gwynevere’s side. Oceiros’ eyes block open and he slips off her hold, spins to the side, falls on the ground facedown, hands leaned in front of himself, vermilion blood splattering on the stones. A brown rod bursts straight out of his right shoulder, a wisp of black feathers at the tip. The king’s crown rolls on the grass in chilling silence.
Gwynevere turns around, rigid, and sees a dash of grey fabric vanishing behind the garden wall.-Guards!- she roars. She pulls out the little dagger hidden in her greave and holds onto the grip. -Assassination! Guards, quick!-
Oceiros leans on his left side, teeth so tense it wouldn’t be weird if they all shattered at that very moment. Gwynevere falls to her knees and searches for his hands with her left, dagger still drawn and ready to strike.
-I’m here.- The king’s skinny hands hold onto hers in a trembling clamp. -It’s alright. That was nothing. You will be alright.-
-It’s poison, get it off me!- he pants. Gwynevere stares yet again at the feathers on the arrow, as black as burnt-off coals. She places the dagger on the stones, blade aimed outwards. She pales looking at the steel tip bursting out of the flesh and the ripped tunic, just a nail of distance from the wooden rod. She wraps her hand in a chunk of her skirt, grabs the rod, pulls, and Oceiros shrieks scratchily. Blood sprays on Gwynevere’s face, red circles on her chest and warm drips on the face.
She tosses the bloodied arrow behind herself, crosses her legs so that Oceiros can lean his head onto them. She places her hands on her husband’s chest and invokes a Bountiful Sunlight. She clenches her eyelids as the familiar golden glimmer rises from the ground, enfolding them both. Oceiros coughs out more blood, and his shaky hands grip at something under the palms. A healthy-looking pink blush glistens on his sweaty cheeks. -Ah.-
-Shh, my love. Fret not. I’m here, Osi. You’re alright.- Gwynevere whispers.
-We got them!- a voice screams from behind the wall, and Gwynevere feels a weight fly off her stomach. -Carry them here, now.-
-Gwynevere.- Oceiros moans. Gwynevere faintly smiles, stroking those bizarre blue hair of his. Something else shines of blue on his hand. Gwynevere squints: a ring with an ice-blue gem sculpted in the shape of a shield, as flat and thin as a coin. She doesn’t recognize the stone, but she knows she’s already seen it somewhere.
Thunderous steps close by: two Lothric knights carry the accursed assassin by the shoulder. Their face is covered by a Thrall Hood, they wear a light cuirasse and leather breeches covered in scratches. A third Lothric Knight holds a Compound Bow and a quiver filled with arrows, five of which with a fletching of black feathers.
-Attempted regicide.- Gwynevere roars. -Tie them up at once, and check that they have no other weapons on. Tomorrow, they’ll be executed.-
-No.- Oceiros pants. Gwynevere gasps so much she almost drops him. -My beloved, what is it?-
-No execution. Too- he huffs -fast. They will pay. They must.-
A stream of blood drips from his mouth and forms a spot on the tiles. Gwynevere holds his hands again and calls upon a second Bountiful Sunlight.
-Carry His Majesty to his rooms this instant, have him be tended at with all cares.-
The Knight holding the bow and one of the two holding the assassin grab Oceiros from under his armpits and lead him back out of the garden. A stain of blood the size of a palm spreads on his back. Gwynevere sits on the pavement, hands at her lap. Seen like this, her husband looks like a captive being carried to his cell.
-Just as it will come to you.- she whispers the assassin. They’ve ruined everything, and just for that she wants to kill them with her bare hands.
Oceiros doesn’t show up for dinner either. Why do you do this to me, my sweet love? Why do you leave me alone between our children and that one? Sulyvahn wears a tunic of white linen and two rings at the fingers, with stones as big as nuts. She doesn’t recognize them, but she remembers well the homily from the previous evening on how the worthy person of faith gives up material goods and isn’t attracted by the vagaries of jewelry.
After giving him her salutations she rushes to their bedroom and her beloved as if there was a fire at her heels. She slams the doors as she enters. Oceiros lifts his head off the pillow. Sweat pearls his cheeks, his azure hair are spread around his head. It looks like a halo, Gwynevere thinks, and she’s on the verge of cracking up at the thought of the rage fit her atheist of a husband would have if he was to notice.
-You scared me.- he mumbles. -You never came back. I feared the accursed Pontiff had stopped you along the way.-
-To do me what?- Gwynevere steps forward and sits at her husband’s side in his cell. A thick white bandage is wrapped around his shoulder and glistens in his ever paler skin.
-I don’t know.- Oceiros grabs at her hands in a rush and pulls himself up, sitting. -Something. That man is slick, sly. Always sticking at the children like a leach. I can’t stand it.-
Gwynevere strokes the smooth back of his hand. It’s almost bizarre to see, free from his leather gloves. She brings the hand to her mouth, kisses it once and holds it to herself.
-They were to be our heirs. Perfect heirs.- Oceiros punches the duvet. -But no, no. He had to come in and take them from us.-
Oceiros’ eyes look purple at the light of the candle, and for the first time Gwynevere sees all the grey hair in his eyebrows. He has sagging cheeks, pale lips, circles as thick as a finger under his eyes. He looks drained – consumed, one could say. Even the blue hair – the rarest color in all of Lordran, sign of a perfect heir that only Lothric can provide – look faded.
-I’m losing, can’t you see?-
Gwynevere shakes her head no. I can’t lie to him, he doesn’t deserve it. -You are right, you can’t. You had so many, but they’re all that I have.-
Gwynevere’s eyes light up. -Osi, you’re a genius!-
-Listen to me.- Gwynevere stands up and crosses her arms. -We know that, if Lothric and Lorian were to betray us, we’d have another. Two, three, as many as you’d want. But if even that wasn’t to work- Gwynevere waits, watching curiosity glimmer in those huge, ever more sunken and forsaken eyes. -We’d use someone else.-
-I understand what you mean.- Oceiros frantically nods. Gwynevere smiles: few would take the news of having bastards so well. But such is Oceiros: he’d give an arm for Lothric and an arm of Lothric for the lineage. She can’t malign him for it, as she knows she’d go even further. In that case, however, it’s much more feasible to legitimize one of her numerous children of the past rather than cut off any more pieces of their son. -Yes, Gwynevere. Oh, yes. For you, for us, for the lineage, I’d legitimize a thousand bastard.-
-Don’t exaggerate now. I haven’t had that many.- Gwynevere tosses her head backwards and laughs. -The Mother of Rebirth? What about her? Gifted girl, she was.-
-Cleric?- Oceiros’ lips twitch. -I want no more clerics in between our feet.-
-Then not her. How about my first bastard? Priscilla, of Ariamis.-
-The child of the mighty Seath himself?- Oceiros’ eyes glisten like those of a child. -Yes, damn it all! As strong as he was. She’d be great in our hands!-
-Oh, yes!- Gwynevere stretches her neck and kisses him so strongly she fears to hurt him. But Oceiros holds on to her tunic and holds her close. -I love you.- she moans. She kisses him again, stronger this time.
-If you do…- Oceiros removes his lips from hers, panting, holding onto her hands. Gwynevere shivers, feeling that accursed ring against her skin. -If you do love me, find a way to rid ourselves of him.-
Gwynevere smiles:-I would even if I loathed you.-
She kisses him again, and when they separate they stay breathless for ever longer seconds, looking at one another, hands as tight as the rings of a chain. On his pale chest, the blue hair have the delicate glimmer of calm sea.
-Let’s try, now.- he whispers. -Let us have another child. Keep the accursed Pontiff up all night.-
Gwynevere has to keep herself from leaping on him. -Your shoulder.-
-Damn it. Let’s have a child, Gwynevere. Our thirdborn. Nothing can harm me as long as I wear this ring.-
That ring again, Gwynevere mentally sighs. It’s a ball-and-chain at his foot. But that’s not the time to think of it. She throws herself at his neck as Oceiros undoes her dress from behind her neck. Silk slips on her chest, a chill caresses her bare skin. She lets Oceiros kiss her lips again, softly biting his. He holds her breasts in his hands and kisses her chest, nipples, neck. Gwynevere caresses his naked shoulders, bandage and all. After another kiss, she sneaks her hands under his trousers and climbs to the groin.
She catches a glimpse of Oceiros’ eyes, lighting up of what looks like fear. The king screams as if another arrow had struck him, and pushes her off him with his open palms.
Gwynevere shoves her hair off her face and stares at him in terror. His arms are crossed at the groin, his back hunched over, his eyes blocked open and stunned.
-My love, what was that?-
-If you love me, never do this again.-
-I always did it, I thought you enjoyed it.-
-Never do this again. I beg you. I meant not to hurt you, but don’t do this no more.-
At “no more”, his voice cracks. When Gwynevere, turning around the bed, reaches his side, she sees the tears damping his cheeks. The loose hair fall onto the shoulders, the sunken eyes look like windows to the Abyss. He looks even paler and more emaciated than before.
Gwynevere sits by his side and runs her arm around his waist, but without ever touching him. It’s only when Oceiros nods yes that she holds him to herself. He quivers feverishly. What’s with him? In the name of Lordran, what’s come over him?
-What’s consuming you, my love?-
Oceiros sobs as she places her lips upon his temples.
-I’ll kill that Sulyvahn.- he grunts through his teeth. -I’ll kill him, squish him, burn him.-
It’s only this, that’s tormenting him so? They were back to the start, spitting dolorous rage on that miserable man of the church. Briefest jailbreak ever recorded. Gwynevere strokes his damp cheek.
-Tell me what has come over you.-
The king shrinks into his shoulders, covering his face with his hands. -I cannot tell.-
-Let me help you. I’m your wife.- And I loathe that preacher as much as you do.
-If you truly want to help me.- Oceiros furiously wipes his eyes. -Make so that the wretched cleric dies. I want him dead, now, in the worst of ways. If he comes any close to my Lothric and Lorian, I…-
-And die he shall.- Gwynevere places her index on his mouth. -Him, and whoever dares defend him. This town is ours, not his. And he shall pay.-
She embraces him, cradling him, covering the back of his head and his neck in kisses, stroking his hair. For that evening, the third child will have to wait. But if Osi doesn’t free himself from his mental prison as fast as possible, we could lose the first and second as well.
-Swear it?- he sobs.
Gwynevere sighs, feels his embrace tighten.
Silver Knights await her in the dungeons, but Gwynevere has required to be left alone. She grabs hold of a Divine Blessing and pours its content in the ring tray to the last drop. She fills it with water from the basin by the bed, placing it back on her desk.
We were right at not trusting Sulyvahn, she thinks with gritted teeth. Priestesses, Deacons and Boreal Soldiers cloaked in azure invade the courtyard of Anor Londo like a swarm of locusts, the cries seem to seep from the depth of earth itself. She tosses two golden bracelets and a pink diamond pendant to the bottom of her sack. She’d give all she has to embrace Ocelotte one last time. But it’s best for the girl to stay where she is, protected by the firm hands of Gwyndolin and the Silver Knights. Not being able to fight frustrates her, but she can’t think of what would happen to the kingdom if they were to catch her. She hears thuds at the door, and holds her sack close to her chest. She eyes the golden greave at her right ankle.
Better a dead queen than a bargaining chip queen. If he can’t have me, Sulyvahn the Usurper will have my daughter, and she will be more of a queen than I ever could be.
When the Dancer kicks down the door, and two Irithyll Priestesses swarm into the room brandishing their sabers, Gwynevere sits at her vanity, arms crossed.
-Your Majesty.- Kendra’s voice is as thin and soft as the silks that cloak her. -Thou must follow us, now. Orders from the Pontiff.- Who else could it have been? Gwynevere shrugs. -What did you do to mine brother and to the Lady Rosaria?-
And my daughter, my dear little Ocelotte. She had Osi to know that the child had been stillborn – child, not boy or girl, the least he knew at that point the better – and her heart tightened whenever she thought back at the moment of the announcement. He had run into the corridor, slamming the door behind his back, roaring “don’t touch me, you wretched slave” in a tone that dripped of tears when a servant had dared grab him for a moment. He had probably locked himself back into that damned Archives, sticking who-knows-what to his skin and screaming the same old rhymes about dragons that kept the whole palace awake every night.
At Anor Londo, at home, she would have found a way to get Osi back. And then, she had thought to give herself courage, Sulyvahn and his lackeys better watch their backs. In the meantime, she had made herself into Osi’s jailer. Worthy mate of a Consumed King.
-I want not thee to be hurt, My Lady.- Kendra whispers. -But we shall resort to less courteous means, lest thou dost not obey at this very moment.-
-Nobody imprisoneth the Queen of Lothric and goeth unpunished for it.- Gwynevere roars. -I demand to know about mine brother.-
-The Darkmoon Deity and the Mother of Rebirth await in the dungeons, chained as proxy. Thine other sister, the crossbreed child, hast met them in their cells, and shall soon be escorted to her rooms. The Pontiff shall ensure that.-
At the word “sister”, Gwynevere wants to weep of joy. Live, my Ocelotte. You’ll be the lone survivor, I can feel this. And when the time has come, Sulyvahn and his wormy Deacons will kiss your feet. She almost wants to laugh: it’s like hearing Oceiros again. At that thought, a new chill shakes her. Lothric and Loirian would never sink to parricide. She clenches her teeth. -Mine husband? What of him?-
-No more questions. Now, thou cometh with us.- The Dancer turns to the Priestesses at her back. -Seize her at once.-
Now, Gwynevere thinks. She draws the dagger from her greave and pushes the blade towards her stomach with both hands.
For a moment, Kendra and the Priestesses are gone. Gwyn, father mine, protect me if you can. It’s as if a wolf has just bitten her womb: the burning, slippery pain of a thousand childbirths at once. She opens her mouth in pain as she presses the blade with all her might. Her knees knock against the floor, tears push on her eyelids. A dense puddle widens under her and it’s beautiful, soft, warm. She lays on her back, letting go of the dagger. She sees the Dancer’s feet and ankles stumbling away from her.
-That Blessing. Give it to me. She is not to die!-
One of the three leans towards the bedside table and grabs something from the deck. Calves and knees appear from above the ankles. The Dancer pushes two fingers on her nose and holds her chin in her hand, pulling it downwards. Her skin is burning cold, Gwynevere’s jaw pulsates in her hold. She emits a wail and catches a glimpse of the liquid dripping in her mouth.
She smiles. I knew it, you will notice it. She closes her eyes and lets what’s to happen happen, praying Gwyn and Fina and Lloyd and Nito and Caitha and even Velka that Gwyndolin, Rosaria, Lothric, Lorian and Ocelotte – and who knows how many others she has filled every land of – resist till the end, glorious and proud as they deserve. Kendra is pushing on her shoulder, calling for help. She meant no harm, in the end. It wasn’t her fault. Sulyvahn ruins good people wherever he goes.
In the midst of blurry faces she sees him, and in his cerulean eyes shines a sweetness she believed long forgotten.
-Osi.- she whispers.
Oceiros will never dare to do what she has done, Oceiros is too stubborn and not lucid enough to think of death, and the thought rips one last, weak smile off Gwynevere’s lips. Avenge me if you can. I love you.
Darkness clouds her, her flesh feels limp, a taste as bitter as poison fills her mouth. A dragon roars, a scream that sounds like a sob, and that is the last sound.
Chapter 5: Sweet Poison
Surviving in Blighttown is hard enough, but Queelag, Daughter of the Witch of Izalith, is determined to do what she can to ensure survival for herself and her beloved sister Queelan. In spite of anyone they come across – too bad Queelan has other plans.
Starring Tiffany (Chaos Witch Queelag), Hyuna (Fair Lady Queelan) and Paolo Roldan (Chaos Servant Eingyi)
Prompt #05: Water
Definition: N.1, Chemical compound of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, colorless, odorless, tasteless; main constituent of living organism. Spread of water.
Characters: Chaos Witch Queelag, Fair Lady/Queelan
Setting: Pre-Dark Souls I, post-Bed Of Chaos disaster.
Length: 3.357 words.
Trigger Warning: body horror, disease, epidemic, minor character death
“The prettiest crowd that you had ever seen
Ribbons in our hair and our eyes gleamed mean
A freshmen generation of degenerate beauty queens
And you know something?
They were the only friends I ever had”
(Lana del Rey, This Is What Makes Us Girls)”
The water of Blighttown is green – Queelag’s least favorite color. The witch turns her mouth as she submerges the pitcher into the slippery slime. She can’t even avert her eyes: it’s green wherever she turns, including the ceiling. She picks up the algae-covered jar and covers her nose with her free hand. She scampers out of the swampy water one moment before the poison can take its effect.
A brushing sound at her right makes her jump. A skinny woman leaps out of a cane thicket on her fours, drooling like a rabid dog. She’s completely naked, and her milky skin is spotted in lumpy, black blisters. The biggest, the size of a medallion, completely covers her left eyebrow. The woman is hairless, and when she screams it sounds like the cry of a vulture.
-Help! Help me!- she exclaims. A blister the size of a nail bounces under her mouth as she speaks. A whitish hand, nailless fingers, unfolds in her direction.
-At me, witch!- she screams. -Help! There’s lots of us!-
-I know, I know.- Queelag mumbles. She draws her Furysword from the mud and holds it with the right. The jar held to the chest inundates her nose with fumes that reek of death. Queelag holds her breath as she pushes the blade of the Furysword into the woman’s uncovered neck. The blood drips vermillion and streams into the waters of the swamp. Queelag’s eyes follow its snake-like descent. A sigh of relief escapes the witch’s lips. It’s so nice to finally see a different color in between all that green. Even the jar in which she carries the water is made of green terracotta. This one, though, I have deserved. Queelan hadn’t been happy when she had killed those pilgrims to get it. She had held the hand of the last one standing, faintly apologizing.
-It’s better for them, believe me.- Queelag had said.-This place is a morgue.-
Queelag’s little arachnid paws produce a soft noise as the sink into the mud, like a blade cutting through a cushion. Her eyelids feel heavier at every step. Queelag tugs at her hair to stay vigil. It’s that accursed poison, I’m sure.
Her arms are sticky, her hair stringy, her neck greasy to the touch. She’d give anything for a real bath. The swamp water reeks so much it makes her feel like throwing up, but there’s nothing else for the moment. She and Queelan will have to wait for long before washing up. They’ll have to let the mud drop to the bottom of the jar, separate them, and boil the water to purify it. She’d better drink as much as possible before Queelan gets another insane charity idea.
A pale, scrawny man lays curled up at the gate of their cavern, completely naked except the duvet wrapped around his private parts. He has a blister the size of a plum on the neck and some on his hands, but his stare is lucid enough to spare him the sword, at the moment.
-You must be the sister of the Fair Lady.- he exclaims, removing his filthy hair off his face. -If she’s a quarter as beautiful as you are, she truly must be the angelic creature they all talk about.-
-I am not here to be mocked, sir.- Queelag grunts. -Who’s this Fair Lady? Inside there only resides my sister Queelan, and I won’t allow you to cause her any pain.-
The man’s eyes light up. He stretches his neck, and Queelag takes a better look at the blister inflating his skin next to the left scapula. It’s wide and flat, not unlike a bruise, and the color is also closer to grey than pewter. It doesn’t look like those on the lady at the swamp, or the other disgusting infected ones she’d come across in her explorations. Many, too many to count, she has killed herself. The first ones, she would bury, digging holes with her paws in spots that didn’t deserve to be marked on a map. Now she abandons corpses wherever, adding plague to the plague. She lays them in the mud facedown, for she doesn’t want their putrefied faces to follow her to their home. As for now, the only face allowed into her dreams is Queelan’s – skin like moon, blonde and yet more opaque hair, and those big, clear, chestnut eyes, whose sweetness is a drop of honey in a pie soaked in poison.
-Queelan?- the man wipes the drool off his mouth. -Is this the sweet name of our savior? So, if you meet her, bring Lady Queelan our salutations.-
A suspicion, as terrible as death itself, sneaks through Queelag’s mouth. She hastily pick up the Furysword and slithers into the crevice that leads to their cavern, pushing away the annoying guest with the weapon’s rod. Her heart beats to hard it leaves her breathless.
-Queelan!- she screams. A man appears from the darkness, wrapped in a ragged tunic, and almost bumps on her. Queelag smacks him with the flat side of her weapon and rushes over him. -Queelan! Sister! What are you doing?-
Another man, a couple of women wrapped in brown mantles, a boy about twelve of age, as thin as a puppet. He throws himself to the side of the tunnel when Queelag comes at him, with unexpected agility. He turns his stare to the witch’s: he has olive skin and eyes so black they make the blisters that cover his naked chest look pale. And yet he smiles, as if he was just given a new toy. Quelay?, Queelag thinks staggering back. She shakes her head and pants through the corridor. He can’t be Quelay: he’s gone like all of her sisters, he will never be back, no point in looking for his face and his eyes elsewhere. She remembers him, the newest him, the man, sobbing with a deep voice that wasn’t his: but that wasn’t a human voice either, it sounded like the grumble of a bull, and had those fiery eyes that looked as if they were spreading all over his face as lava dripped all over it.
Quelay is gone, Galana lays lifeless in our old city, Grana and Quelana have ran off, and I don’t even dare to think of what has happened to Isalia, Ivana and Mother. Queelag’s family is now only comprised of one sister, and pretending otherwise will only hurt more.
-Queelan!- she exclaims. She places the jar against the entrance wall and rushes into her sister’s room stepping over six or seven more afflicted people. -What are these doing here? What’s going on?-
Queelan emits a high-pitched cry, hands covering her face. -Don’t scream like so, sister dear. I beg of you. I have a strong headache.-
Queelag moves back. -I apologize.- She lowers her voice, moving closer to her. She catches a glimpse of the afflicted ones at the entrance staggering back to the entrance. A bald man, as paled as a duvet, sits cross-legged in front of Queelan. His tiny eyes light up when he sees her coming close. She stretches a pocked hand in her direction.
-It’s you, then? The sister of which the Fair Lady always talks about?-
-I know of no Fair Lady.- Queelag holds herself from yelling at the last moment, but her tone is harsh. -Who are you? What are you doing here?-
-Oh, you haven’t been informed?- The man lifts himself on naked, shaky legs, badly covered by the short breeches. -We’re all very grateful at your dear sister. She healed us all, see.-
Queelag studies that pale palm, following with her eyes the constellation of bruises. She rapidly stares at Queelan, her dazzled eyes, feverishly reddened cheeks, and lips, diaphanous as well, but striped in red in the cracks. Queelag jumps back, terrorized.
-Tell me it’s not true.- she screams above the thumping of her heart.
-Queelag, please.- Queelan peeps, a voice that sounds as if it’s leaving a shell of stone. -Tone it down.-
-Tell me it’s not true.- Queelag repeats in a quieter town. Queelan’s cheeks flash of pink – a color that doesn’t fit her. She looks like a painting restored by an unskilled hand. -You drank that, Queelan! Why?-
-They needed that.- the other pants, .’Tis nothing, sister dear. I just wanted to heal those poor people in need.-
Queelag’s hands shake. She lets go of her sister and moves backwards again, chills vibrating on her bare skin. She feels like vomiting. -No.- she murmurs. -No, please. No.-
-Queelag? Are you still there?-
She forces herself to nod, short of breath and blocked eyes. The bald man moves to the wall, hands conjoined. Queelag pushes him away with her paw. -Who are you? Who are these?-
-Simply sick people.- Queelan murmurs. -They needed help. Don’t get angry at me, Queelag. Nothing will harm me.-
Queelag shakes her hand like a phrenetic. -It will harm you!- she exclaims. -Have you seen what those are reduced to? You don’t have to end up like this! You can’t do this to me.-
-Don’t call them “those”. They’re innocents. Victims. Why can’t I help them?- Queelan tightens her fists, so thin her bones look as if they’re about to pierce through her skin. -Nothing will harm me, I swear it on out house at Izalith.-
At those words, Queelag grabs two strands of her hair. She throws herself at her sister, grabbing her wrists again, rattling them. The bald man moves backwards, covering his eyes. The trembling cries and the rushed steps of the other patients sound behind her back.
-Have you seen, or not, what has happened to our sisters!- Queelan bars her eyes, breathing out. -Have you seen what they have ended up as? It’s only the two of us now!-
Queelan moves back, humid and vacuous eyes. -Look at yourself, sister! You’re poisoning yourself!- She turns back to the door, waving the Furysword around. -All of you, leave!- she screams at the already empty door. -Begone! This is no hospital!-
-No!- Queelan’s voice is a faint sigh. -Please, Queelag! Don’t…-
A cough chokes her words. Queelag turn back to her just in time to receive a black spit to the face. She shuts her eyes, she wipes her face with her naked arm. What looks like a string of ink drips from her mouth, shining in the candor of her face like a cut on a sheet of paper.
-Sit.- Queelag manages to whisper. Her sister’s hold tightens around her wrists, but doesn’t manage to hurt her still. Queelan nods, lowering herself slowly. Queelag turns at the wall.
-You!- the bald man gasps. -Are you talking to me, My Lady?-
-Do you have a name?-
-You can call me Eingyi, My Lady.- The man rubs his purulent hands on one another. -The relatives of the Fair Lady are Lords of mine themselves. Allow me to serve you. Queelag, if I’m not mistaken.-
-Quiet now, and go get that water down there.-
Eingyi crawls to the cave’s entrance. His soles are bleeding: he must have walked barefoot for long. For a moment, Queelag feels pity for him. Then Eingyi comes back, and gives her the jar with shaky and sweaty hands.
-Here, My Lady. With all the deference.-
-Shut your mouth.-
Queelag’s spider jaws spits a fireball the size of the head of a mace on the ground. A puddle of lava spreads on the ground. Eingyi jumps back with a choked cry. Run, now. Run off in fear, Queelag prays, but there are no gods to hear her in Blighttown. The little man sits back down cross-legged, eyes fixed on the pale Queelan.
-You speak our tongue, Lady Queelag?-
-It appears you don’t speak mine, as I have just told you to shut up.-
Queelag raises her eyes above Eingyi’s ugly emaciated face. Queelan’s eyes are ajar, lips stained of that filth she has swallowed. She’s so pale, she looks as if she’s about to vanish.
Mother mine, if you can hear me: leave me Queelan at least, or I’ll die.
A huff escapes her sister’s lips. Her hands tremble, tight around her bare breasts.
Queelag holds the jar full of water above the puddle of lava and feverishly stares at the surface, caressed by a twister of bubbles.
-Yes, Queelan is my oldest sister. I’m the youngest, besides our little brother Quelay.- We found him sobbing in a puddle of his own lava. -It was my sister Galana who took care of him at first.-
-More Fair Ladies, out there?-
It’s unbelievable how thin and penetrating the blows of boredom are. Had Queelan known, a few minutes earlier, that she’d end up having small talk with Eingyi, she’d have flailed herself with her own Furysword. Queelan lays asleep, lips deeply washed and wiped with a rip of the little man’s trousers, the warm fumes coming from the jar full of water that make her nostrils sweetly vibrate. Even in her sleep, she’s as pretty as a rose, but Queelag can’t look at her. She feels like choking whenever she turns around.
-There was seven of us.- she tells Eingyi. -Queelan’s but one year older than me. The eldest, she was named Isalia.-
She had hair like amber and eyes that looked like shards of steel. She could destroy a living, full force dragon with one blow of her pyromancy. Two dragons too, had she wanted to. At least, that’s what she tells Eingyi, and the surprised expression on the little man almost makes her laugh.
-’Tis all true, My Lady?- he asks, eyes twinkling like Titanite.
-As true as me and you.- the witch answers crossing her fingers behind her back.
Eingyi leans his back at the wall. He turns to Queelan: Queelag quickly shuts her eyes. -The secondborn, Ivana…-
Eingyi turns to her. -Tell me of her, I beg of you.-
There’s something liberating, cathartic even, in telling lies to that irritating midget. He quivers and smiles more and more as she tells Eingyi of the eagle Ivana had impaled with her spear at a mile of distance, of the hundred mercenaries Galana she defeated with an arrow in her foot, of the horde of wild lions Grana had tamed with her pyromancies, and of the fearsome guild of sorcerers of Melfia whom Quelana had been able, first and only in the world, to steal the talisman source of their power from. Even Quelay, sad little beast he is, obtains an act of heroism, and Eingyi opens his mouth agape as she tells him of the boulder her little brother has lifted up with one hand, rescuing a child trapped underneath.
All as false as a coin made of tin, truly: Eingyi’s dazed expression, those tiny rat eyes that glisten of seemingly authentic emotion, is enough to cancel all regrets.
-The Fair Lady has hinted the presence of sisters,- he murmurs with haughtiness in his voice, -but never could I have ever imagined they’d be capable of such noble gestures.-
The little man’s forcefully aulic language rips a grimace out of Queelag’s mouth.
-Our sisters, they were grand.-
-Undoubtedly so.- Eingyi stretches his arms. -The spear welder, for example. She must have been worthy of Gwyn’s army, she did. Imagine the might that spear toss must have had. And the guild of sorcerers, oh my…-
What sorcerers? The ones I made up, maybe? You truly are an ingenue if you believe I’d allow you to get in contact with what my family truly was. You’re not worth it, you don’t deserve it: even less, you deserve Queelan. You’re a spit in a bucket of pure water.
Those aren’t the stories the daughters of Izalith deserve: being reduced to faceless golems welding spears, swords and spells doesn’t fit with what they actually were. Queelag shuts her eyes, leaves Eingyi’s chatter to fade away. To those hundred mercenaries, Galana would have offered assistance and food without even asking where they were from. Ivana had defeated a Lion, true, but she’d never dare to attack an eagle. Isalia had fought dragons, but she loved painting all the same, and she had given Quelay, for the boy’s first birthday in their family, a two-and-a-half feet tall painting portraying the great Kalameet, working on it for almost six months. Grana could be emotive, but she never attacked unprovoked, and one stare from Isalia or Mother was enough to stop her.
And Quelana… Queelag shakes her hear, a bitter smile on dry lips. That girl would burst in tears of regret even at stealing cookies. And it had happened, once. Even Queelan had laughed it off.
She comes closer, quietly, to where the sister lays limp. Her skin is bitter green, like a cabbage rotted in the sun, and her once golden hair have gone dirty white. They fall around her head like tow – the veil of a penitent, that my sister doesn’t deserve to wear.
She strokes her cheek, warm, pulsating of blood. Even with the care given to her, she’ll never be the same again. She’s always been like that: the only one in Lordran whose stubbornness rivaled that of Sir Artorias. She could have repeated it every day, hour by hour, week by week, to not even dare to drink that revolting black puss: Queelan would have done it anyway, because so she wanted to. But stubbornness fits badly with a kind soul, and Queelan, as she is, seems to be losing chunks of herself at every breath.
-What of the Fair Lady?- Eingyi asks, making her jump. -What noble gestures has the Fair Lady performed?-
-Great ones indeed.- Queelag murmurs without turning around. She holds her sister’s hand and rubs it between her own. -She performed acts that made our sister’s pale. She’s the kindest, strongest and bravest. So brave to sacrifice herself for a whole swamp of accursed people.-
Eingyi retreats to the wall, staring at his own feet. Having embarrassed him makes Queelag feel proud: an underground cave doesn’t fill itself in venomous puss.
Eingyi’s eyes lift yet again. -Look now, Lady Queelag. The Fair Lady.-
A huff leaves Queelan’s mouth, as delicate as a feather falling on silk. Queelag turns around in a trample of tiny paws.
-Queelan! You’re awake!-
-Oh?- The girl raises her face. Queelag scampers backwards. Her face is frail, the enunciation slow. She comes closer, slowly, stroking her face.
-Worry not. I’m fine.- Queelan strokes the air, as if to sculpt illusory clay. Queelag rushes to grab them, and they’re so scorching they make her think of Quelay.
-Swear it to me?- Queelag whispers. -You don’t say it just to make me happy?-
-It didn’t hurt. It was sweet. Like Ivana’s cupcakes. Remember those? The ones with apple confiture.-
-Yes.- Queelag babbles. She keeps her voice low, so Queelan doesn’t hear her sob, and from the way she smiles she can tell with relief she didn’t smile. -The honey ones were delicious too. I hope the sisters and Quelay are fine, wherever they are,-
Queelan smiles. She’s one year older than her, but her lips are small and puffy like a child’s. -Are you thirsty? It’s hot in here. You can ask Eingyi to give you some water, Queelag.-
The Furysword slips off Queelag’s hands and tinkles against the rocks. Queelan is a greenish stain behind a wall of tears: all Queelag distinguishes are two agape, empty eyes, that feel as if they’re digging within her skin.
-Have I said something wrong? Queelag? Are you still there?-
Queelag hugs her sister, shivering at the sickly boiling of her skin, and praying whoever could hear her that the horrid drink rotting in her sister’s stomach is sweeter than her own tears.
-You haven’t told me of yourself.- Eingyi says that evening. -Have you not performed any heroics, like your sisters?-
Queelag shakes her head. -I do have one to perform now, thought, and I swear on our great Izalith, that I will comply.-
The first humanity is placed by Queelan’s shaky arms; Queelag and Eingyi share a smile.
Chapter 6: The Rot Within You
Ornstein, the valiant Dragonslayer of Anor Londo, loved his fellow knight Artorias more than life itself, and now that he's dead he feels as if there's nothing worthy left in the world itself. His new partner, crass and cannibalistic Executioner Smough, is of no consolation. Until the day Ornstein decides that the choking pain within him is too much to take.
Starring Donald Glover (Dragonslayer Ornstein), Dave Batista (Executioner Smough) and Luhan (Knight Artorias).
Prompt #06: Breathing
Definition: N.1, Process through which the gas exchange between the organism and the environment is realized; performing the process of breathing; breathing air in and out; living.
Characters: Dragonslayer Ornstein, Executioner Smough
Setting: Pre-Dark Souls I, Post-Death of Artorias
Length: 3.652 words.
Trigger Warning: attempted suicide, drowning, hinted depression, mention of cannibalism, mention of choking and suffocation
"Saw all of the saints lock up the gates
I could not enter
Walked into the flames, called out your name
But there was no answer"
(Adam Lambert, Ghost Town)
Among the many he had given him, it was three kisses that Ornstein remembered the most.
There was the first one, underneath one of the staircases in the royal palace. Artorias’ armor was as polished as a mirror, and the short black hair glistened in sweat. Ornstein hadn’t been surprised at the salty flavor of his mouth, but he had remained breathless as the Wolf Knight’s arms had wrapped around him. Chiseled, longer than his own, but as soft as feather cushions as they held him.
He had pushed himself away from him, panting, staring right in those eyes of his, black enough to devour all the light nearby – at least, such was as he saw them, and he feels even more breathless as he thinks back at them at night.
The second had been just as salty, but of tears. Artorias clenched his teeth, showing his jaws like an actual wolf, and tears dripped slow and copious on the duvets of Ornstein’s bed.
-It wasn’t your fault.- Ornstein had held his hands – hands that shook, hands that didn’t fit him • and had felt a choking regret at every blink on those big red eyes. -Havel did it all on his own. You have no part in what happened.-
He had feared to choke, again, when Artorias threw his hands at his neck. Next to him, Ornstein had always felt like a pygmy: not that it mattered anything, as long as the man he loved was willing to sink down to reach hi,.
-I should have interceded for him. Have you any idea where Lord Gwyn has locked him? One goes insane for much less. I stayed quiet, like a coward. He carried me to safety when we fought Meraxes Diamondscales at the Ash Lake, you know? You should have seen him: he broke one of her legs with his Dragon Tooth, and carried me off on his shoulders as she tried trampling over him. What a fool I have been, in that battle.-
-You told me about it.- Ornstein had stroked the back of Artorias’ hands. -Was she not the one you tried to kill by leaping atop her head?-
Artorias had nodded, a sad smile on his rouge lips. -She unseated me, and I knocked my head on a rock. What had come onto me?-
Him and his pride. Ornstein had pulled him to himself and kissed him, slowly, a faint snap of lips in the silence of the room, only broken before by Artorias’ sobbing. It was the first time he had taken the initiative, and sometimes he saw it again whenever he closed his eyes, as soft and polite as any true night, whispering “I love you” with that ever confident voice.
The third kiss, the one he remembered the better, the one that most of all tasted of salt, had been their farewell.
He’s tired, Ornstein. Whenever he looks at himself in the mirror and sees the bloodied eyes shining in between his brown cheeks, the untangled curls of his dark beard, his opaque skin, he doesn’t even feel indignant anymore. Artorias had kissed all of that too – his curls had been softer and his eyes brighter, and the Wolf Knight had kissed him there so many times they’d get confused with one another.
He puts his helm on: that too needs a good polish, and the rest of the armor too. He drags himself out of his bedroom, staring at the ground through the holes on the helm. As for now, he knows all those damned corridors by heart, and the marbles of the floors, and the figures that the light coming through the windows traces on the golden walls. He sighs, as he listens to the slow echo of his lonely steps. Two Silver Knights pass him by. -General.- they scream in unison. Ornstein barely lifts his head, lowering his stare again as they leave.
It’ll be fine, he tells himself. He walks with an empty stare, ever lower eyes, and he feels like choking at every step he takes. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.
-Ornstein! Hey!- Sounds behind his back. The knight jumps seeing Executioner Smough leaning against the wall, the head of his Greathammer reclined on the floor. He wears a brown nightgown, torn and stained of scarlet in many spots. Even with his mouth shut, the smell of wine still pinches Ornstein’s nose.
-What is it?- he asks brusquely.
-What a face!- Smough exclaims. -Your chin is scraping at the floor. What have you been doing yesterday?-
-Business of mine.- Ornstein turns his back at him and walks at a faster pace down the corridor. Getting out, that’s all it takes. And then it’ll all fix itself, and he will be able to go back to breathing with Artorias’ mouth in front of his. He walks even faster, but Smough is tailing up behind him and every step makes the floor rumble. Making his head spin even more than before. Curse the day Gwyn assigned me this yokel as a partner. A part of him wants to think of it as a small act of kindness by the Lord of Cinders, to chase away the memory of Artorias better, but Ornstein doesn’t like deluding himself.
-Have you fallen out of bed, Ornstein?- Smough crosses his arms on the chest. -You’re more bitter than a Basilisk.-
-I said it’s all business of mine. Leave me be, Smough. Leave me.-
Ornstein slips through a door and slams it behind his back. He hears Smough’s deep breaths behind the wood – a pork with asthma, nothing to compare with Artorias’ gentle huffs as they made love. He’s not following him, though. For once, the Executioner is worth a purpose.
It’ll be fine, Ornstein repeats, and he keeps repeating it until the gentle crush of the waters of the Petite Londo Ruins caresses his hair, curling them up even more than they were before. He takes a deep breath. Soon, it’ll all be over.
Artorias. Gorgeous as a dream, strong as a legend, but tremendously real when he had loved him. Ornstein wears the complete Lion Knight armor, but the gold barely shines, opaque of the dust that has poured on it in days of no care. Even the feline eyes carved on the helm look sad, and the mane flat, as he admires his view on the lake imagining two strong, long arms wrapped around his shoulders, two soft lips on his, and a warm strong voice whispering how much he loves him.
Artorias. Ornstein takes one step forward, observing enraptured the circles on the water around his ankles. One more step, some more too, and soon the surface strokes at his throat, and water drips through the holes in the metal, and it’s so cold it leave shim out of breath.
He walks further, and further more, and the silver surface looks miles far off, and the water gets darker and pours through the helm’s eye holes. Something slippery and fast runs under his thighs. Ornstein jumps. stumbling backwards. A fish, nothing more than an accursed fish. He lays on his back on the lake bed, pressure squishing his head with the force of a giant, waiting for the water to swallow him whole.
Artorias. Alabaster face, dark gently curved eyes, onyx black hair, so straight and finely cut they looked like a second helm. The sobs choke Ornstein and fill his mouth and esophagus with water. His lungs burn, his throat itches, his eyelids het heavier and heavier. He shudders and throbs in his metal prison.
The surface muds and pulsates, frantic waves battle one another away from his eyes. A storm is coming, he distractedly thinks. A colossal, rounded shadow, cloaks the sun and widens on his motionless body. For a moment, the Dragonslayer relaxes: the time has come. It’ll all be fine, it’ll be fast and it will stop hurting and Artorias will be there to console him.
The shadow widens and moves, alive. With the little breath he has left, Ornstein can barely lift his neck to see two arms the size of snake tails lowering to the spot he lays upon, wrap around his hips, lift him up like a corpse. A wide, soft chest pressed against his cheek. Ornstein turns to the surface and sees a huge fist smashing something small and white to dust.
When the darkness fades away, Ornstein lays upon the unmistakable marble floor, trapped between a column and Smough’s back – even on his knees, that man is the size of an Armored Boar – as the last tears escape his eyes and mix with the residual water on his cheeks.
-What for, Ornstein?-
The Dragonslayer leans upon the column – or at least, a column it should be. His sight is so blurred that Smough, in his soaking dirty white shorts, stuck to his chest, seems to vanish against the wall. But when the Executioner rips his helm off his head and turns his face to his own, clenching his cheeks in his palms, Ornstein sees nothing else.
-What for, Ornstein? Tell me why!-. Smough repeats. Ornstein grabs his wrists and pushes them off his face. -Why did you do it? Do you want to make all this mess even more complicated?-
Ornstein blinks, crawling and retreating to the wall. The Main Hall of the royal palace of Anor Londo, in which he had entered so many times – with the man he loved still.
-So?- Smough repeats. -Ornstein? Have fish eaten your tongue?-
-I-I can’t.- is all he manages to say. He turns his eyes away from the other, following the light patters in the slots on the columns.
Smough crosses his arms.-What can’t you?-
-I can’t. I can’t take it. I want him back, he must come back.-
-You want Artorias to come back to you. I want to be come a knight.- Smough shrugs and stands up. -Not always do we obtain what we want.-
For a moment, Ornstein really feels breathless. He lifts his eyes from the ground, the reflection of the high sun through the glass stabbing at his eyes. And yet it’s beautiful, a thousand times more than living locked away in an Abyss that knows no light. He stands up hastily and throws himself at Smough, pummeling his chest in fists, blinded by tears.
-Shut up! Shut up!- His throat burns, his ears bleep at every violent sniff. -What do you know? You can’t love! You love no one! You can’t talk! You have no right!-
He rips his tears off his face and sees Smough immobile, arms slumped to the hips, a bored expression on a face way too high above his fists. His knees buckle, the room spins like a torture wheel. Ornstein sobs in his palms, raucous, fingers clawing at his face and hair.
He could rip them off, one by one, until there’s nothing but blood left on his bald cranium. He could claw away at his own face, eyes and teeth and tongue. Let the sun of Anor Londo burn his bare muscle and take away at least some of his pain. Useless face, that of his, now that there’s no Artorias left to kiss him.
And yet, his fingers tremble too much for that too. Sobs are relentless, choking.
Ornstein lets himself fall on the stone, frantically murmuring Artorias’ name, holding himself in a cold, incomplete embrace. Tears drip in his mouth and burn like gall. And it’s with that taste in his mouth, as burning and terrible as their last kiss, that Ornstein falls into a disjointed slumber.
The first thing he notices, opening his eyes, is the shadow. Wide, round, with a thin extremity to the tip. It looms upon him like a blanket. The second thing is his armor, gracelessly tossed in a corner of the room – his own room, he realizes with astonishment – the lion head helm hanging from a spear and looking like a decapitated head.
When Ornstein raises his eyes, eyes still pained, Smough is sitting cross-legged on the ground, like in a high tea ceremony, scratching dirt off his huge hammer. Ornstein stretches his numb back and curls up on his pillow. He wears a nightgown that smells clean, and Smough is there, in front of him, undeniable.
-You stayed there?- is all that comes out of him.
-Was I to go anywhere?-
Ornstein rubs his fingers on his temples. He has a strong headache, water pressure didn’t do him good. He moans, coughs, blinks.
The Executioner’s prominent belly is held by a belt with a gold buckle, and the reflection of twilight through the window leans on Smough’s round cheeks, painting the dark skin of his shaved cheeks a yellow blaze. Ornstein rubs at his eyes, disoriented. The sun was high when he had gone to the lake. -How long have I slept, Smough?-
-Bah. Hours, probably. ’Tis good too, this morning you had bags under your eyes that would make Nito jealous.-
He guffaws, but Ornstein doesn’t want to join. He crosses his arms, forcing intimidation on himself. -Have you been following me?-
-Someone has to keep an eye on you knights. You end up doing this kind of foolishness.-
Ornstein clenches his fists, a sharp stab of pain pierces through his skull. -That wasn’t foolishness.- he produces uncertainly. Smough covers his mouth with his enormous hand and cackles.
-No foolishness, ay? You truly believe Artorias would jump out of the abyss with open arms and scream “Hey, Ornstein, a little bird has told me that you drowned yourself me. You have made the miracle, and here I am”?-
Ornstein frantically shakes his head, quivering. Smough gives a sideway glance. -Before leaving, has Artorias told you to end it if he failed?-
Another shake of the head, another crooked smile. Ornstein has always hated Smough’s helm, with that flat and grotesque face, but at that moment, he’d give his precious Leo Ring to have that in front of himself instead of his comrade’s tiny dark eyes. He wants to lock himself into his armor, seal his eyes with wax like it has happened to Gough, choke away trapped inside his own iron: but he knows that Artorias would chase him there as well, and that harmonious face, those eyes as black as the same Abyss that has stolen him away, those just as black hair he has kissed and stroked who knows how much, will be an endless nightmare of lost beauty.
-Whatever else you want to ask of me, the answer will always be no.- he murmurs, eyes fixed to the ground. The colossal shadow of the Executioner moves to his side, his enormous body squishes the lump of blankets.
-So, you fool of a knight, what were you even expecting to obtain?-
-I don’t know!- Ornstein feels himself falling off, and instinctively he throws himself at Smough. The colossus’ belly shakes as his shoulder bumps onto it, and the thud rips another groan off him.
-I can’t do it, Smough. I see him wherever. I have no hunger, no desire to sleep. I hear his voice, his shadow follows me wherever I go. I can’t. I just wanted it to stop.-
He opens his eyes as he realizes he’s hugging Smough, cheek smushed on his rough white shirt. He turns back to the ground: he doesn’t want to be mocked. Not all warriors of Lord Gwyn have the sweetness and grace of Artorias – even less Smough. As if comparing any random fool blocking my path would do me any good. When the Sun has set, no candle can replace it.
-Smough?- he murmurs.
-Do you think I’m pathetic?-
Smough retreats from his hold, widening his arms. -Pathetic? You? You’ll become sure, asking questions of this type.-
Ornstein shrugs. He keeps looking downward, tormenting his fingers.
-I loved him.- is all he can say.
-I know-. Smough opens his palms. -There’s no brick in this damned castle that hasn’t seen your make-outs at least one time.-
Ornstein sniffs. As if Cannibal Smough would be in any way interested in his lost beloved. He’s amoral, Smough, and it was exactly that to attract Gwyn: not enough to make him into a knight like him and Artorias, but valid enough to have a purpose in his battle lines. Gwyn had always had a special talent in finding a purpose for anyone, even an abomination like Seath and skinny, delicate Gwyndolin. He had given one to Artorias, the same that had taken him away from him, but Ornstein didn’t have the force to hate him anymore.
When he turns back to Smough, he notices he stares back, and those piggly eyes look cautious, fixated on him with the care of a hard-working guardian.
-Breathe, Ornstein.- he whispers.
-Breathe. Listen to me. Let out some of that rot that fills you whole.-
Ornstein instinctively opens his hands, feeling like an idiot. He’s not Artorias, he’s not someone that feels love, he will never grab them. And yet Smough does, and his fingers are tender against his wrists. The Dragonslayer’s wrist, by comparison, looks as thin as the shaft of an arrow. Whatever is going on?
He stares at the other’s face, blinking, studying the wide nose and round face and the amber cheeks that appear traced with a compass. And breathe he does, a breath out at every further blink. Artorias mine, what am I to do? What would you wish me to do?
Under the panic, he looks at the Executioner. -You know what it is? Losing one you love?-
Smough leans to him. -I don’t love, you yourself have said it. I appreciate. Need nothing else. And you know what I’d really, really appreciate?-
His teeth are clenched, his eyes wide. With those puffy cheeks of his, he looks like an ugly child. Ornstein shakes his head no, forcing himself to think. Why does it hurt so much? He has nothing of him. He’s Executioner Smough, the man that feeds on the bones of his enemies. He looks like Artorias like a rat looks like a dragon.
Smough stares at him, pupils like ember. -I’d appreciate the only one I have left in this boring desert of a city not to leave me alone to twiddle my thumbs.-
Ornstein tightens his teeth yet more and breathes in and out again, eyes deep into Smough’s.
-I know it hurts. Believe me, nobody recognizes pain more than I do. I too would give I don’t know what to have that poor madman back. But you can’t keep that pain within forever, Ornstein. Shameful, from your part. You gotta spit it out.-
So tremendously weird. Ornstein barely retreats. -Spit it?-
-Like vomit: two fingers in the throat, some gag attempt, and it’s all out. Or else,you can curl up and hold onto your belly until we’re both skeletons. But I don’t feline spending eternity listening to your whimpers, so I’ll rip it all off you, like it or not.-
-Keep calm. I do want to.- Ornstein forces a smile on. Smough’s hand is still into his, and he holds it: soft it is, but not as delicate as Artorias’. A novelty that, he prays, could make for a source of pleasure.
-Now listen to me: wash your face, wipe off the snot and put on your armor.- Smough shakes his index like a wet nurse. -Later on I’ll ask the kitchen servants to make something strong for the two of us. I know what it is you need.-
-How do you know that?- Ornstein mumbles.
-If there’s a thing nobody beats me at, it’s craving things. I have a record I intend to keep, and that I won’t let you grab. You’re bursting of rot, my boy. May Nito snatch me if I don’t rip it off you.-
Smough stands up, his long round shadow getting yet thinner at every step further away from the window. He walks backwards and keeps looking at him.
Ornstein leans his feet on the floor and stretches himself up with seemingly titanic struggle. It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine. -Artorias won’t ever come back.- he gravely proclaims, throat itching as he pronounces his name. -I want to accept it. I must.- He turns to Smough and to the door. -Can I accept it?-
-What do I know? I have nothing to do with this, you decide.- He stretches himself, arms scraping the ceiling. -Thank me not, Dragonslayer. I’m not that person. You made me sad, all and all. Come on now, we’ll have some fun. We’ll have fun, throw some fists. Here’s a decent way to homage your pretty wolf.-
-I won’t miss.-
Ornstein watches his partner leave, sweaty brown hands tight around his nightgown. Yes, it was indeed him who changed his clothes. He wants to be ashamed, but he has no intention of hurting himself further. He runs a hand through his hair, enjoying himself the softness of his natural curls. Artorias had always loved them: he had always loved everything of him, till the last piece. From that moment onward, he’d have taken more care of them.
The next day, Smough will forget that unique act of kindness. He’ll vanish under the hollow eyes of his cuirasse, drowned out by the stomping of his feet and the rumble of his greathammer. Ornstein doesn’t need to see into the future to know it: they just won’t speak of it, nor try to think back of it.
But it’s to the living, and he knows it, to keep the memories.
Ornstein leans from the balcony and sighs, the caress of dusk stroking him as tender as Artorias’ hands. Soon it’ll be nighttime, and a new dawn will come afterwards. The time has come for him to learn to look at it on his own.
Chapter 7: Sisters Of Snow
The rule of Amar, Ivory King of Eleum Loyce, is surrounded by love – the love his people feel for him, the love he gives to his proud beasts, and most of all the one that comes from Alsanna, his sweet and devoted spouse. And when times of loss come, and even he can't face them directly, it's the spouse herself that holds everything under control.
Starring Lee Yo Won (Alsanna, the Silent Oracle), Adama Dosso (Amar, the Ivory King), and Nell Tipton (Cleric Jarene/White Covetous Demoness).
Prompt #07: Cure
Definition: N.2, The work performed by the medic or another person to heal a sick person
Characters: Alsanna, the Silent Oracle, Ivory King
Setting: Pre-Dark Souls II, Kingdom of the Ivory King
Length: 3.721 words.
Trigger Warning: blood, hinted at description of labour and childbirth
“'Cause we're the masters of our own fate
We're the captains of our own souls
So there's no need for us to hesitate
We're all alone, let's take control”
(Lana del Rey ft. The Weeknd, Lust For Life)
-Aren’t they gorgeous, my beloved?-
King Amar has hands so white they almost vanish on the snow-covered armrest of the throne. His nails are wide and flat, as smooth as a slab of ice when Alsanna strokes his fingers, one by one. Despite the temperature, Amar’s skin is warm. She instinctively holds herself tighter to him.
A Loyce Knight tosses a piece of ham the size of a shield into the air. Alsanna sees a pink parabole lowering itself slowly towards the open jaws of the beasts. Krios leaps first, followed by Sennar and Ovanis. Aava follows his siblings, races jamming his claws into the frozen terrain, throws himself forward. He rushes over them in one leap, throwing both Krios and Sennar face first into the dust. In the first days, Alsanna would jump whenever she saw the beats wrestling against one another, tremble for the roars and scratches and the frantic dance of the paws throwing snow and white dust about: now she remains silent, smiling like a child in front of a jester show, as Aava bites on the slab of ham and rips it into slices like a rag.
The applause rises, subdued at first, roaring when Amar himself joins in the clapping. Alsanna applauds with him, hair swinging in the snowy breeze. Aava stretches his head to his owner and bends his shoulders. He looks as if he’s bowing, and he’s so beautiful you’d want to sculpt him.
-Now, now, Aava.- Amar proclaims. -You’re beautiful and strong, but your siblings also need to eat. Remember Innis is about to give birth: time for you to become a proper father.-
The smile fades off Alsanna’s face, and her held around Amar’s diamond hand loosens. She hopes he haven’t noticed, but a part of her knows hope is a naivety she’s not afforded.
Amar accompanies her through the throne room and has a Loyce Knight give him his helm. Alsanna’s eyes are fixed on his fingers – strong, and yet so soft at the same time – as he buckles it. She doesn’t get it, and she’s sure she never will. Amar is handsome: eyes as green as fern leaves, who color of a warm yellow that feels like honey next to the pupil. His lips are big, soft, a blush tone that looks painted: but they’re real, as real as she and him are, and Alsanna loves to wrap hers around them when she kisses him. His hair and beard, thick and curly, are copper, and they shine like authentic metal next to his shell-white skin.
-We’re not all so, in my family.- he often proudly proclaims. -Father, General Achman, was as brown as the wood of those walls. Mother, General Nakadria, was yet darker: she had shades of bronze on her skin, and soft curls even grey.-
Amar is albino, alabaster skin shining against the amber hair and beard. The people of Eleum Loyce don’t know it: Amar never takes off his helm, when he shows off to his people.
-I understand not why you do so.- she whispers. -You’re handsome, my beloved.-
She wonders what her sisters would think at hearing her pronounce those words. When they had visited Nashandra, some months ago, they had seen her next to a pale, corpulent man, with long brown hair bound in many tiny braids. He was not particularly pretty, and Nashandra’s eyes were as cold as the Eleum Loyce snow as she kissed him.
She had become so beautiful, her sister: blonde hair, pony nose, thin lips and rosy cheeks. And yet, Amar had remained impassive. He had kissed her hand politely, that much so, when the man that accompanied her – as much a king as Amar, but not quite as charming – asked her her name and praised with researched words the raven of her hair.
Nashandra wouldn’t get it, and neither would Elana and Nadalia. Of the latter, she knows nothing either, and she tries to think not of Elana: Nashandra had spoken of her, when they had met each other. It had been the one time when her smile had trembled.
-I’ve sent my ward Velstadt to find her.- She had held her hands, eyes blocked open as if some of Alsanna’s own fear had gotten stuck on her. -I will give news of her, I swear.-
Alsanna hadn’t been surprised, not even when Nashandra’s mouth had tensed back into that fake smile at her husband’s arrival. She understood that much, and she was as grateful as life itself.
We’re four chunks of the same creature: we take care of one another.
Amar’s beasts roar as he passes them by. Aava stretches his neck and lets the king stroke his big snout.
-We’re taking a stroll to town. Rise now, my friend.-
The five beasts are strong all the same, but Aava had always been his favorite. It’s not hard to see why: none of the other four has such magnificent fur. Even white, at the light of Eleum Loyce, acquires different shades. Krios’ fur is a grayish white, like snow that has been stepped on; Ovanis’ is yellowish, dotted in black circular spots that Alsanna never liked. They feel like eyes, following her wherever she is. I have enough fear on my own: I need not to feel watched whenever I move.
Not even Sennar, tiny, soft-shaped, with bleach light brown fur, she likes that much. It’s Innis, her favorite: as black as obsidian, as soft as a lover’s skin, with a deep slow roar that made her heart tremble whenever she hears it. The beasts barely raises its head, grotesquely inflated belly stretched on the floor. Alsanna catches a glimpse of something moving around under her fur: something tiny, and very lively.
-Innis looks weird, my beloved. It feels to me as if the moment is about to come.-
Alsanna climbs atop Aava’s back and holds her ankles tight around the soft warm fur. A Loyce Knight hands her a blue wool cape, hemmed in candid fur. Fox, of course: she’d never ride on Aava’s back wearing the skin of a distant relative of his. She has no idea how the beast would react. She’s way too close to her purpose to die in such a foolish way. If there’s an underworld, my sisters would laugh at me endlessly.
Amar climbs in front of her as she tightens the sapphire buckle of her cape. -The court medics speak of two twins: her belly has widened greatly.- He lowers his shoulders: he’s smiling, Alsanna knows it even if she can’t see it.
-We should think of names, now.-
It takes her a moment to realize Amar is talking about Aava and Innis’ puppies. -Shouldn’t we let the parents choose?-
A blissful warmth fills Alsanna’s body as Amar chuckles. -Who knows, they could be of more skill than us.-
He delicately holds her, like one would do to a winter flower. Alsanna shuts her eyes: her stomach is crumbling upon itself, and she doesn’t like it.
Not unlike a snowflake, Amar has many facets to himself: he’s as tall as a rising deer and tender of features, but he dances with all the grace of a dove. Alsanna steps in time at his side, hands tight to his own, eyes fixed into the helm’s empty ones.
The cymbals tremble, the lutes vibrate, and the voice of Jester Thomas sounds screechy and bright.
-I sing of Lud and Zallen, warrior queens of Mirrah, born twins from a fallen queen.-
Amar’s hands hold onto Alsanna’s thighs, spinning her into the air. Her legs pop off her skirt for a moment, and the fresh wind strokes her ripping a cry of pleasure off her.
-I sing of the sister queens, Lud and Zallen, who climbed over the walls of Jugo as fierce as tigers.-
Now Alsanna’s feet are back on the ground, and Amar’s hand holds onto hers, delicate despite the iron glove. Sisters: Alsanna sighs, hoping he doesn’t notice her.
Amar is an only child, and he loves hearing Alsanna narrate about her sisters: it’s weird, for her, as there’s not much to say. We’re the remains of a mad Pygmy King, ruined by naive people and a corruptor Serpent. I am his fear, and I fulfill my nature whenever I’m with you, and despite it all I can’t be far away from you.
And yet, sisterhood was the one thing that had managed to shake onto Nashandra’s soul: whatever had happened to Elana, down in the Sanctum City, must have been tremendous enough to light a small beacon within the damp eyes of the Slave to Desire.
Thomas’ tiny, piggly eyes shine behind his mask as he sings, open hand leaning in front of herself.
-And poison clawed onto Lud’s arm, it clawed at her with serpent teeth.
Flames burnt on Zallen’s rapier, and the queen poured a sister’s tears.
And Lud the Fierce was healed,
And though deprived of shield
Although with one arm less, she fought still without a smear.-
Alsanna feels Amar’s arm holding onto her, and she quivers as she comes closers to him. Not many kings would tribute such respect to the queen of an enemy city – but Amar isn’t many, and even if she only met one, Alsanna knows her sister’s kings aren’t worthy of him.
Along the way back, Aava is restless. He faintly bucks at every step, roars and grunts for nothing, shakes beneath them as if he had just been tamed. Alsanna doesn’t hold onto his fur just for fear to be unseated: ending up face-first into the snow would be obnoxious enough without the memories of the first time. That was more than fear: it was pure, blind terror, and all she saw was the white, and there weren’t Nashandra and Elana and Alsanna to tell her that she could and would have rose up. There were Aava’s far-off eyes shining like blue flames through the storm, and Amar’s warm vice asking who are you, My Lady. And it was then that Alsanna had feared, more than ever, to not be able to make it.
Not even after so long, Aava still didn’t seem to like her.
-He’s startled, my love.- Amar explains. -The moment is coming, he feels it.-
Alsanna shakes, holding tight at her cape. She likes Innis alright, but giving birth to puppies isn’t something she likes imagining. Whenever she closes her eyes, she sees chunks of Innis taking the shape of tiny hers, each one a feeling she had felt at her supposed death – a tiny feline Alsanna trembling and meowing calling for a help that doesn’t come at her.
And when the towers of the Eleum Loyce castle appear from beneath the clouds, Alsanna sighs and exhales and Aava’s fur feels as soft as Amar’s face. If only one could cure fear: but nobody can, and Nadalia may not be the only one among them unable to fulfill the will of he who has made them.
Alsanna’s padded boots barely touch the ground, that Aava races to the castle’s staircase. Amar opens his hand towards the runaway beast. He turns to her. -Something happened, Alsanna.-
And when Amar’s voice shakes, Alsanna too feels herself crumble. She holds tightly at her partner’s hand and forces herself to speak clearly.
-Now, now, my beloved. Let’s go. Innis cannot wait.-
At the entrance of the palace Krios, Ovanis and Sennar slowly step towards them, bowing heads, shaking paws. It almost feels wrong to see sadness and loss in beasts such as them. The far away, fatigued roars in the background come from Innis: Alsanna can recognize them well, and this is now how it should be. They should be Amar’s own protectors – and hers too, as long as they want to, which she’s not always certain about: this time, however, it’s Amar himself to stand tall as their rampart. Whatever’s happening, here?
Innis is a glistening black mass curled up in the corner of the room, tail slumped on the stones, strained and tired roars making the windows and Alsanna’s heart tremble. On the beast’s side kneels a chubby figure, cloaked in a grayish cassock, chalk hair tied in a ponytail behind her head.
-What’s happening now, Jarene?-. Amar runs at her, his helm trembling at every step. The cleric turns around, shaking her head. -They’re coming out at the same time. The cubs.-
Blood seeps under the belly of the beast stretched on the floor. Alsanna feels about to faint: yet she stays awake, and has no Amar to lean onto.
-I am sorry for the floor.- Jarene babbles. -Her waters opened here, there was no way to move her.-
-I care not about the stones, they can be washed.- Amar murmurs. -I wish…-
Innis roars, a sound so loud it lifts Alsanna and Jarene’s hair. She has never heard anything, either beast or man, producing such a noise. It’d terrorize a dragon. Father, help.
-She is in pain.- Amar’s voice is stentorian. -Do something to stop it.-
-There’s nothing to be done.- Jarene pants. -If I put her to sleep, she’d never wake up.-
Amar raises his face to the ceiling. -Innis.- he murmurs. Alsanna sees him turn around and walk off, slowly, and vanish through the door. Krios roars, and it sounds sad.
She has no air, the room spins, some Loyce Knights stare at her wordlessly. He is gone. Alsanna moves to the wall and leans upon it. Help, Father, help. Amar, the Ivory King, has given up a battle: nothing is the way it should be, and Innis is dying of childbirth, and Aava is watching – he doesn’t like her, she knows it all too well, and Amar is not there with there. Help, Father, do something, cure her, please, cure her.
So absurd, so wrong. She really is praying at the Father of the Abyss for a dying tiger. She has done some foolish things, Alsanna, because when you are afraid, when you yourself are fear, it’s destined to happen at some point, but that one is above them all.
If only Amar was there: but he has ran off, and she does not dare to run after him. Again, fear is in charge. And it’ll always be, no point in fooling oneself. At least, Innis will die brave.
She turns back to the room, in the corner the furthest possible away from Innis and Jarene: the corner where Aava has curled up into, his head under his paws. She wants to tell him she's sorry, but she can’t step forward. Aava is so huge, even in pain. Even Ovanis, by his side, merely looks like a very large kitten. She watches Krios and Sennar walking towards him, purring, laying down next to their eldest brother.
Alsanna takes her hands to her mouth. Has she really thought it? Brother?
She suddenly feels incredibly stupid – and one moment later it all feels clear, suddenly, like a band-aid being ripped from a wound. It may hurt, but it’s needed for the healing.
Amar has left the room, and how could she blame him for it? It’s the beasts themselves, his siblings: she can finally see it, and wants to applaude at herself like Nashandra, Elana and Nadalia would do.
She turns back to Jarene, kneeling at Innis’ side, motionless. The cleric too has noticed her; when she turns her head, strands of hair escaped from the ponytail are stuck to her forehead, and she tries to free herself by bobbing her head from one side to the other.
-Leave it, I’ll handle it.- Alsanna moves her hands atop the cleric’s forehead and frees her face from the chunks of loose hair. Jarene sighs in relief.-My thanks. You are close to His Majesty. Tell me what to do, please. He trusts you, does he not?-
A reinvigorating speech if there ever was one: reminds her she’s close to the Ivory King, that she herself has a power and something may be done. -Leave her awake.- she says. Her voice trembles a bit, but Jarene nods, gritting her teeth.
-She will be in pain, are you aware?-
-Matters not. As long as she lives. Can anything be done for the cubs, too?-
-Maybe.- Jarene pants. -A prayer, maybe… His Majesty deserves no pains.-
Alsanna looks at Innis’ half-open eyes, a purple that looks as if it’s pulsating of its own energy. Father had eyes like those– but they were red, glowing of the same fear that fills her. The difference was that fear was not alone: and neither is Innis, with her siblings and Amar and maybe her too.
She wants to be there. It’s fair.
Fear vibrates within her like a flame struggling in the breeze, she feels her fingers quivering and her legs losing blood within their veins. But nothing’s born for nothing after all. Desire pushes one to improve their conditions, wrath to fight for what we see as important, solitude to search for the help and company of others. What about fear? Fear nourishes courage, like oil does to a flame.
She looks at Innis’ eyes, lilac, magnificent, and convinces herself that sometimes, to work, a cure must sting a bit.
The cleric looks at her with eyes beaming with trust. Alsanna kneels by her side.
-Let us pray together. Each their own God: Innis deserves it. His Majesty deserves it.-
Amar, his name is Amar. Alsanna shuts her eyes, Innis’ raspy breath shaking her hair. Fear nourishes courage. Here I am, Father. I’m afraid and solitary and yearning and wrathful, just like you once were: but I know of love, and of gratitude, and of sisterhood. Cure this beast, if you can, and watch over her brood: or if you cannot, grant me your willpower, to sweeten the pain of my lifetime mate.
Tears run down her cheeks, and she tastes their saltiness to the brim. A hand places itself on her shoulder: even without turning around, she already knows who that is.
-Thank you.- Amar says. -Thank you, Alsanna.- His voice cracks under his helm, but the hold if his hand is strong and familiar. And she too, a bit at least, feels cured.
Jarene folds the bloodied gloves and smiles, her soft cheeks all reddened. Her hair have fallen back on her forehead, and again Alsanna fixes them, smiling. Amar kneels next to Innis and strokes her forehead fatherly. The cubs, curled up under her belly, feed themselves greedy and meowing.
-I do not know how to thank you, My Lady.- Amar turns back and fits his helm straight atop his head. -You saved all three of them. And I am regretful too for having left you alone: emotions took over me. It won’t happen again.-
-Worry not, Your Majesty.- Jarene smiles. -The Queen has assisted me just as worthily.-
Amar holds onto Alsanna’s wrist.-Thank you, again. You’ve been so brave.- And she blushes, but still holds onto Amar’s own hand.-
-Innis had an internal wound, but I managed to heal it. It can happen, with twins.-
Amar nods. -Ask me something, anything, and I’ll grant it to you.-
Jarene kneels: her white cassock has a lilac hem, a pretty addition. Her voice trembles as she speaks.
-I want to fight for you, Your Majesty. Allow me to train for you. I ask of nothing more.-
An out of shape cleric, not very young: doesn’t seem suited as a Loyce knight. But Amar is kind, and way too happy: he’ll accept, Alsanna knows it well. In the past, he had done far more thoughtless things.
-Then so it is.- Amar proclaims. -Rise, Lady Jarene. Tomorrow, we’ll proceed with the ring ceremony.-
-You need rest.- Alsanna says. -You already know where to move, My Lady?-
-Yes, Your Graces. Again, I do not know how to thank you. I wish you all the luck.-
Jarene runs off, sandals snapping on the marble. Amar turns his helm towards Alsanna.
They’re as big as cats, and both as black as their own mother. Their eyes are half-open, and they move slowly, drowsily, but a red beam of life shines in the thin space between their eyelids.
-Twin girls: my compliments, Innis.- The tiger raises his head, and fatigue and gratitude shine in her violet eyes.
-Twin girls, like the queens of Mirrah.-
Amar turns around at Alsanna’s words. -The warrior queens, Lud and Zallen?-
Alsanna nods: no, fear will no longer overtake her. Amar is there, his hands still shaking from the tension, and he deserves respect.
-They could be their names. What do you think, my love? Lud and Zallen?-
-Lud and Zallen.- Amar repeats. He raises his head, and she can see him beaming even with the helm on. -I love those. Thank you, Alsanna. It’s a great idea. Lud and Zallen, Aava, my friend. What do you think?-
Aava licks Amar’s hand; he looks at Alsanna, motionless and pretty. Who knows if Knight Artorias, who came to kill my father centuries ago, had such a bond with his great grey wolf Sif. But Artorias is dead, now, and so is her father: Amar is however living, breathing, there and happy.
-Two girls.- he exhales. -Hold one, Alsanna. They’re so soft.-
Alsanna’s arms tremble, eyes almost painfully blocked open. Yet she takes the closer cub. The creature meows faintly from the mouth dripping in milk: tiny, soft, warm, alive.
Innis softly roars, Aava takes one step forward. Alsanna holds the newborn cub closer.
-Sit, Aava.- Amar sweetly orders. -Alsanna only wants to know them. She’s not taking them anywhere from you.-
Alsanna shakes her head no. She places the tiny feline on the ground, next to the mother’s paws. Was it Lud or Zallen, I just held?
They drag around on slow, short, clumsy paws. Amar moves backwards to let Aava pass.
-We’ll take care of you.- Alsanna says. -This is my oath.-
Amar holds her hand, holds it to himself. Aava licks Innis’ head, the cubs lean towards the tiger’s soft belly. Alsanna can feel their warmth in her open hand still.
And she looks at Amar, the face sculpted in the helm as impassible as ever, for he still hasn’t understood who she was talking about.
Chapter 8: Placated Screams
Aldrich, Devourer of Gods, has conquered Anor Londo, and is preparing himself for the feast of a lifetime. Rosaria, bastard daughter of the late Queen Gwynevere, is to be the first course. But a secret from the past comes up, and not even the sadistic Saint of the Deep can do anything against it.
Starring Sibel Kekilli (Rosaria, Mother of Rebirth), Richard Armitage (Pontiff Sulyvahn), Elly Jackson (Dark Sun Gwyndolin) and Faran Tahir (Archdeacon Klimt).
Prompt #08: Outburst
Definition: N.1, Manifesting with acts or words feelings or states of self previously repressed or controlled
Characters: Rosaria, Mother of Rebirth, Aldrich, Devourer of Gods
Setting: Pre-Dark Souls III, Conquer of Anor Londo
Length: 3.854 words.
Trigger Warning: blood, body horror, broken bones, eldritch horror, mentioned and described cannibalism, physical mutilation
“I can't hear you
No, I don't need even know you
Door shut, case closed”
Blood drips cold, there, where the days spent in chains have carved her skin, and leaves a ticklish sensation on the bare skin of her arms.
-Kneel!- Pontiff Sulyvahn orders, and Rosaria falls to her knees sweetly, as worthy of a princess of Anor Londo. By her side, Gwyndolin’s pale body looks like a withered flower, bent forward, stars of blood all over their white tunic, unkept hair under the sun-shaped crown. -Kneel to the Saint of the Deep!-
-Cut it off, Sulyvahn. I’m starving, feed me already! The one with the hammer was all fat and had no flavor.-
Aldrich’ voice sounds as if it's coming from a cavern at the bottom of the ocean – that same Ocean that, in his prophecies, will submerge the entire world; and Aldrich himself, shapeless, grey, translucent, so tall it barely has room to sit straight in the middle of the columns of the Princess’Anteroom, gurgles and churns like a cloak of water. Rosaria has to call upon all her bravery to look at him. If I keep staring I will get used to him, and that horrible Pontiff will have nothing to chew on. She has never been interested in the art of the duel – what purpose did it have, in Anor Londo? Much more convenient to leave others to fight for you – but in that moment she’d give an arm for a blade and the skill to use it.
-My sister is dead.- Gwyndolin pants, wiping blood off their mouth. My mother, my mother has stabbed herself: thinking only hurts more, and Rosaria has no intention of suffering unless necessary. -Yorshka is thy captive. Sir Smough is dead. What else cravest thou, now?-
Aldrich bobs his head – he has a head indeed, that looks sculpted in black wax and left melting in the sun of midday. His eyes are glassy balls, his smile a knife cut from which tens of overlaying squarest bulge, his hair as black and thick as the ropes of a whip. -All. We want it all. And if I want to, I will eat the whole city.-
-And so it is.- Sulyvahn adds. -I will fulfill my promise, Aldrich. Aren’t these two for you?-
For you? Rosaria glances at Gwyndolin, but the tween keeps their eyes on the creature without a blink.
-You promised me a six-course meal! Six!- The creature’s gigantic slimy hand clenches into a fist. -You’re a liar, Sulyvahn! Are you playing games with me? Where did the brown haired child go, for instance? What of the woman?-
-The child of dragons is mine.- the other mutters. -I have plans involving her, not concerning you or anyone else. As for Lady Gwynevere, she took her own life; unless you’re interested in her corpse, she’s of no use.-
-Plans, with the child?- A throaty guffaw makes the black jelly vibrate. -I should have known. It’s her father, you’ve always craved him, everybody knows it. That stupid crush of yours has softened you up.-
-Quiet!- Sulyvahn roars. -Don’t mention him, not in my presence.-
He thinks she’s stillborn, Gwynevere had said the evening she had brought her in. She was but a baby, back then, and she had enjoyed cradling her at least for a bit. Her father believes she’s dead: but she’s alive, and she’ll remain for long. Yorshka’s father – so they all call her, but her real name is another, and Rosaria knows it because she can eavesdrop – has gone insane a long time ago, but Rosaria would prefer that to having no father at all. It’s all like falling into a bottomless abyss, enough vertigo to suffocate even fear, and having nothing to cling to: Yorshka has the blue eyes of a king, and for that, she’ll live.
-I don’t want the dead one anyway. I can’t digest corpses.- Aldrich mumbles. -Alive, I want them alive. Do you really have nothing for me? Wasn’t there another bastard of Gwynevere? The other dragon girl, give me her.-
Sulyvahn staggers back. He seems to quiver, a moment that Rosaria savors like nectar.
-We don’t have her. And neither will you: learn to live with this certainty. Go yourself to the Painted World of Ariandel, if so you want to: you won’t ask this to me.-
-I’m hungry, Sulyvahn!- Aldrich thunders. -You’re a cheater, a liar! Give me someone, anyone.- The creature’s spheric, winded eyes stare around the room, the slimy body trembles and wavers. -Give me this one. Bastard, black hair. I want to eat her whole face up, Sulyvahn.-
All the air leaves Rosaria’s lung in one blow. Gwyndolin holds her right hand rightly, with fingers as tiny as a child’s.
The Pontiff opens his wings and glides towards her. Rosaria staggers back, tears clouding her vision: it’s as if the branches on Sulyvahn’s mask are wrapping around her own face, choking her, blinding her.
-Your Eminence, reflect upon this.- Rosaria whispers.
-Thou’rt a monster!- Gwyndolin roars. Bouts of cough bend them over, another bloodstain comes to join the previous ones. -Thou’rt killed my sister: staineth not her memory by stealing away her first daughter too!-
The Pontiff grabs onto Rosaria’s wrist and rips her away from Gwyndolin’s hold. He clenches his arms around her chest, her elbows smushed against her bust. -She’ll be alright. She’s yours, Aldrich. Taste her as you please.-
Rosaria pushes her talon on the Pontiff’s bare foot, but his hold gets stronger yet. Something snaps inside her chest, a spark of pain explodes within her chest. She emits a desperate cry as Sulyvahn flies off towards Aldrich’s head, lets her fall into his open hands: hot, sticky, viscous, and tears slip on the soft consistence and slide far away.She can’t even scream anymore.
-Fluffy.- Aldrich sighs. -Pretty, dark. What a sweet meal!-
Rosaria’s chest burns at every breath – something broke there, curse that Pontiff – and the slime wraps around her, boiling, heavy, reek of corpses from every square inch. She shuts her eyes and covers her ears. Aldrich’s churning, Gwyndolin’s cries, the flapping of Pontiff Sulyvahn’s wings, she soon can hear no more. Quickly, please. Be quick, I don’t want to, I don’t want to. Smough is dead, and her mother before him, and the chunks of her family lay as scattered and disconnected as shards of glass. She had had a child of her own, whom she had left to the Deacons by Farron for fostering, as her own mother Gwynevere had done to her – it wasn’t fair, it wouldn’t have been, some people can’t and shouldn’t be raising children, and pretending otherwise would only cause more pain. She tightens her eyes and clenches her fists, Aldrich’s hot breath shaking her hair and choking her.
She feels herself being dragged lower, and placed on the ground on some tiles. She opens her eyes: Aldrich stares at her, open hands, bulbous eyes open in bewilderment. The Pontiff lands behind her and grabs her by the hair, ripping a scream off her. It hurts so much.
-What are you waiting for, Aldrich? You don’t like her? You’ve eaten girls for years, what does this one have that sets her apart?-
Aldrich shakes his head, and Rosaria sees he’s terrified.
-Not this one, Pontiff. Not her.-
-She’s a bastard of that Gwynevere like them all.- Sulyvahn puffs. -She won’t ruin your palate.-
Aldrich trembles, like a dying man giving his last spasms.
-I won’t eat my own mother.-
Rosaria crawls backwards, chest burning, hair painfully strained in Sulyvahn’s granitic hold. She runs her eyes all over Sulyvahn’s massive form, the flabby folds of his flaccid grey body, the crooked cut-out smile on the huge round head, thick rigid hair tangled with the bones bursting from every corner of his form.
That thing is my son. She stays seated with open legs, trembling, craving Gwyndolin’s hand, or her mother’s, or anyone else’s, anyone who could tell her why. Her arms shake in chills and hold onto her pained chest. The Deacons, it must have been the Deacons. Buy how could she ever come to know…
-You are.- she can barely whisper, and the eyes on Sulyvahn’s neck feel like they’re cutting through her skull. -,the child I gave to the Deacons?-
The Pontiff lets go of her hair and walks around her, stopping only at her front. -Could it be? More bastards on this side of the family? And when would what you are saying have taken place?-
Rosaria forces herself into slow breathing. She’s a daughter of Gwynevere, and she’ll honor her as such. She has no unfinished business with her far gone mother – not more than Aldrich, were those horrendous words true, would have towards her – but the Sun is also far off, and yet it keeps all things of life together.
-Many years ago, Your Eminence.- The black stones at his neck make her heart shake, but they’re still a more pleasant sight than the being of black slime. -I remember Royce had blonde hair back then. I gave him two rings, so that he could provide to the child accordingly.-
-Describe me those rings.- Aldrich orders.
-A round ruby. And a- Rosaria gulps, she remembers so well, -an oval sapphire.-
Aldrich opens his round eyes agape and brings his hands to his face. -My rings! It’s her, it’s her, I felt her mind just right! I have a mother, Sulyvahn! I feel the thoughts of my future meals, and she thought of me!-
-The Devourer of Gods has a mother.- Sulyvahn’s hands tremble. -We noticed just in time.-
Aldrich’s shadow rises above them all – colossal, flabby, with a lipless smile – and Rosaria wonders if being devoured would be any sweeter than that.
-Then, what do I eat?- Aldrich howls. -I want to eat a God! Only one, damn it! What have I even come here for?-
The Pontiff walks towards Gwyndolin, and Rosaria feels herself fading again.
-No! Not them!- She stretches an arm forward, the broken rib quivers and burns under her breasts, if what he says is true I might as well try. -Don’t eat them, my child!- Words come out with titanic fatigue. -Child dearest, don’t! Let them go!-
-But I want them! I want to eat them. Let me take them, Sulyvahn!- Aldrich shakes his huge fists. -A God all for me. I bet they’re as sweet as honey!-
-Son of mine!-Rosaria staggers up, her rib screaming in her chest. -Don’t eat them. Please! Do it for me!-
Sulyvahn grabs her by the arm and tosses her back to the floor. Rosaria feels a stinger piercing through her chest from the inside as she slams against the tiles. Sulyvahn’s foot pushes against her back, soft and strong.
-All for you, Aldrich. The Dark Sun is here for you to be sated.-
Aldrich chuckles and claps, and the windows quiver like under the blow of iron maces. -Mine, mine! Take my mother away, I’ll talk to her later on.-
Sulyvahn raises his foot and flies off back to Gwyndolin. -No! Don't do this! Son, dearest son!- Two Deacons grab Rosaria by the shoulders and help her up; the broke rips knocks inside her chest like a needle, and she feels about to throw up. -Gwyndolin!- she cries. -I’m sorry, auncle. I’m sorry.-
Gwyndolin shakes their head no. They're smiling. -’Tis alright. I am not scared. I shall tell thine mother to take care.-
Pontiff Sulyvahn lands next to the Darkmoon, wings cloaking them like an additional set of jaws. The Deacons hold Rosaria tight, her chest burns, the door is closer and closer and the corridor behind it looks darker and more rotten than her son’s mouth. -My son! Dear child, please!-
Gwyndolin leans forward and spits on the floor.
-Sweet is the hand of Nito, Gravelord and First of the Dead.- -Yet cruel is his justice towards those who tamper with the order of things. Devoureth me, if so pleases thee: but thy words, shan’t be the last.-
-Let them go!- Rosaria struggles, but the hands of the Deacons are as strong as clamps. -Let them go! Curse you! Curse you all!-
The door slams behind her, but Gwyndolin’s tortured cries sound loud and clear.
That night, the moon doesn’t come up. It’s as if the sky itself has donned a mourning gown for the end of Anor Londo.
Rosaria follows the path of the constellations with her eyes while the twilight still reverberates; when the darkness falls, every star reminds her of the little bones bursting white and smooth on Aldrich’s flabby body. She turns back, and turns to the bed at the opposite corner. Her legs are so weak she has to slither like a snail. The pain is barely a nuisance: she can’t feel anything, not even tears. That’s better. She has to stay focused, she who at least can. A Bountiful Sunlight was enough to placate the pain of the ribs, but even that’s not enough to go further.
She lays down to sleep, but those whitish forms follow her even behind the walls. That thing is my son: he was a baby like all others, soft and wide-eyed, and she hadn’t given him away lightheartedly. Gwyndolin is in a better place, now; two of those stars could have been their eyes, sad and discontent, and still pained for her. Gwynevere, surely, is with them – and it’s now, more than ever, that Rosaria feels terror digging under her skin.
-What am I to do, Mother?- she whispers to the stones. -That thing is mine.-
She throws away her blankets and closes her eyes, letting the cold dampen what remains of her senses.
When Archdeacon Klimt knocks at the door of her cell, the day has long risen, and even the sun looks small and dry, as if Aldrich had been able to chew on it as well. The religious man bows to Rosaria as he lets her proceed in front of himself.
-Are you the mother of the Saint of the Deep? Allow me to display you my gratitude.-
-Display it in silence.- Rosaria answers. -What does that thing even want of me?-
-Now, now. It’s no way to speak to the blood of your own blood.- Klimt grabs her by the arm, and Rosaria retreats. -You are a lucky one, he has no intention to eat you.-
As if that was of any help. Rosaria is still cold: Anor Londo isn’t mean to be sunless, and Aldrich's sickly, fleshy heat has nothing of the splendor of the City of Gods that has sen her grow up. It’s all different, now: the kind of difference that hurts.
Aldrich smiles as she comes in: he ostentatiously rubs a hand on is belly, lipless mouth contorted in the familiar crooked grin. -Hello, Mother.- he says, and Rosaria wishes for a chance to squish him under her foot like one would do with a worm.
-You ate them.- she says. Klimt holds her by the wrist from behind: somehow, Aldrich isn’t the biggest of dangers.
-So what? That’s what I’m here for. They were so tasty, too.-
Rosaria shuts her eyes, reopens them, rubs her hand on her cold wrist. It hurts too much even for crying. -Why are you even doing this?-
Aldrich lowers his hand and curls op on himself like a larve. His head, round and flat, is the size of a lunch table, his eyes as big as jugs. He reclines his head on the floor, right in front of Rosaria; his thick dark hair brush the floor and scratch her feet.
Gwynevere, dearest mother, help me stand on my feet. And Gwynevere seems to hear her, because Rosaria doesn't avert her eyes from the horror she unwillingly created.
-Have you no ambition?- Aldrich asks. -I find out I have a mother, and she doesn’t understand anything. This is just not fair.-
Rosaria pushes her soles against the sandals, stretching her hand towards the fiend’s face. -I see you’re insane. It’s mostly sad, you being this way. What are you doing at all, Aldrich? Is there something you want to let out?-
-Everyone is so sensible, in this city. I’m happy and sated. What could there even be to let out?-
-You want to make me believe you kill in could blood, for pure pleasure?-
-I’m a good lad, I tell the truth. Can I have a cookie, now?-
What kind of beings could raise such a man? If man he can be called, and Rosaria isn’t very certain about it anymore. -At least reflect, dear child. I’m sure something can still be done to stop this slaughter. I want to know why. Why?-
Aldrich stares into the void with his hideous bulbous eyes, hands pressing again onto the stomach. Something – someone – gurgles behind the fingers, the flabby skin recomposing to form a face. Eyes agape, lips open in a voiceless scream. They could be anybody: another sweet, pleasant lie.
-I could make you content if you want to, Mother. I’m having an outburst alright. Want to know what it’s about?-
Rosaria takes a step backwards. She doesn’t like it, it’s not how it was supposed to go. She feels her skin trembling, shaken by a sense of danger. She stretches her back and stares into Aldrich’s ugly round eyes.
-Then tell me. What are you letting out with that cannibalism of yours?-
Aldrich opens his hands and conjoins his fingers, forming a stool of rotten flesh. Archdeacon Klimt lets go of her wrist, and Rosaria slowly walks towards the being she has created. She chills as the silk of her dress gets humid, sitting on the macabre bench. Aldrich is warm alright, but of a choking, festering warmth; soft, but a pillow too can be used to take someone’s life.
Aldrich raises her up to his face and watches her with a curious look. For a moment, those huge eyes do look like those of a child.
-Power, Mother.- he says. -Such is my outbursts: filling myself with pleasure. What I lack.-
-You were a powerful deacon.- Rosaria says. -Why go this route?-
-The world is bursting with powerful deacons. But one like me: a lack that deserved to be filled. A void. Can’t I let it out my own way?-
Aldrich’s belly pulsates again, and this time Rosaria knows it’s real. Gwyndolin: two hands pressing against the flabby walls that enclose them, eyes that move, look at her and know.
-Auncle.- Rosaria whispers. -Dearest, I’m right here.-
Other pairs of hands wrap around Gwyndolin’s, so tiny they make the youth’s look big. Two truly big, callous ones follow suite – my poor Smough, why are you there while I’m here? – and tens more, and army of prisoners twisting in a hell of blood and bone.
Rosaria holds onto the flesh not to fall down.
-I can hear them scream. Please, dearest son. Put me down.-
Aldrich raises her up, smiling of bliss. -Fear not. I can protect you from those.-
Rosaria holds her toes onto the sandals. -The Executioner was your father. Why was he not spared?-
-I didn’t notice it.- Aldrich answers, pouting two appendixes that look like lips. -It appears he didn’t think of me, and I did not hear him. You did good, at making yourself heard. Much more than him, and I’d never want an idiot as a father anyway. He ate them dead, see? What a wreck. I should have had him try one of the rings you gave me. I charmed them, you see: now the wearer can enjoy for a bit the screams of their meals. Nice, is it not?-
He cares for nothing and no one at all: he saved me out of a mere whim. She expects herself to faint, yell, tremble, but no such thing happens. She suddenly feels lighter, as if nothing in that accursed room had value anymore. The child did escape her womb, but that wasn’t Aldrich. And Rosaria smiles: the Devourer of Gods never was truly hers. Flesh comes from her, but Aldrich is the work of the Deacons. And as such, she can hate him with no regret.
-Maybe there’s the love of a son within you, my dear. Knowing nothing about what you are comes from me: oh, Aldrich. You don’t know how much it consoles me.-
Aldrich places her on the ground: Rosaria leaps down like a child jumping off a carriage and stares at the terror in that thing’s eyes with utmost joy.
-You know, mother? It appears to me you did understand something. So, will you let me have my outbursts?-
Rosaria stares down at him. The biggest weight has been lifted, and it’s not death.
-Who am I, to deny you a favor?-
The creature bends over and wraps his hands around her head. Come, come. I’m not running away this time. Now I know who you are.
Aldrich’s hands sneak into her mouth, thick, swollen. He wants to choke me, and she readily shuts her eyes. But the slime doesn’t dive down into her throat – it stops by the gag reflex, fills her cheeks, accumulates itself under her tongue. And it’s right there, where the tongue connects itself to the palate, that something burns – a flicker of painful, red heat.
Rosaria screams into the slime and watches it retreat and conjoin itself back with Aldrich’s mass. Something flat and red lays on the black flesh. Rosaria spits a mouthful of blood on the floor, choking upon it, panting in search of air. Her legs tremble, the floor tiles quiver and splash in red. But she looks back into his eyes, as his huge hands give the chopped-off tongue to Archdeacon Klimt, who wraps it into a white cloth and tucks it into a pocket on his alb. She stares at his child, an explosion of blood in her mouth, on her chin and all over her black silk dress – a stare that grabs onto her head with an iron fist, as if looking at him could destroy the horror he is in a single blow. As if two new tongues had bloomed into her eyes: tongue of iron too, ready to cut and pierce.
Aldrich turns to the ceiling. Two light, tired eyes, seem to flash inside his putrid belly. Farewell, auncle Gwyndolin. Farewell, Sir Smough. Have a good rest.
-I let it out, Mother.- Aldrich says. -Are you content?-
Rosaria spits out more blood and nods her head yes. Archdeacon Klimt rushes to her, taking off his stole and handing it to her. As she wipes her face with it, blood seeping from her palate, into her throat and out of her mouth still, his eyes burst of reverence. As much a ruffian as them all: after all, licking feet is better than devouring whole bodies.
-You can go, now.- Aldrich proclaims. -You can’t stay here, so my friend Klimt will escort you to our old Cathedral. Maybe I could visit you too. Can’t deny myself some family time.-
I’ll wait for you, alright, Rosaria thinks, but I won’t be on my own.
Lord Gwyn, king of Great Londo, has indefinitely banished his firstborn son. As anger and grief churn within him, the Goddess of Sin herself meets him in his palace, with an unexpected request that may open up a way for him to deal with them.
Starring Mads Mikkelsen (Lord Gwyn),Eva Green (Velka, Goddess of Sin) and Caitlyn Stasey (young Gwynevere)
Prompt #09: Flame
Definition: N.1, Source of heat or light originated by the combustion of a solid, liquid or gaseous substance and constituted of incandescent gaseous masses.
Characters: Gwyn, Lord of Cinder; Velka, Goddess of Sin
Setting: Pre-Dark Souls I, Exile of the Nameless King
Length: 3.852 words.
Trigger Warning: detailed description of fire
“The ground beneath my feet's getting warmer
Lucifer is near
Holding on, but I'm getting weaker
Watch me disappear”
(Madonna, Devil Pray)
Someone knocks at the door: the fifth, in the last hour.
-My Lord?- a raucous voice calls. -Thou feelst alright?-
A Silver Knight, Gwyn knows it already without any need to check. They come like ants to an anthill, carefully calling his name. Their voices tremble, their tones are uncertain, and he hates it more than ever.
-I said plenty of times I wish to be left alone.- he says. -Why dost thou keep knocking?-
The clapping of clumsy steps, behind the door. I startled them, ’tis no good, but ’tis also not my fault if they can’t see how things are right now. -I beg for thine forgiveness. General Ornstein was worried about thine conditions, ’twas him who sent me.-
-If Ornstein wants to know of my conditions, he himself is to come tell me. Hast thou not a patrol post?-
It is indeed the proper time to get up. The tearful story of a king shutting himself off into his rooms, overtaken by grief: Great Londo deserves none of that. What’s done is done. An incision in stone can’t be mended, not even with the finest seals.
-I beg for forgiveness, My Lord.- the Knight repeats. A young recruit, probably: a more seasoned warrior would already know that I can’t stand being overwhelmed with apologies. Gwyn raises his head to the door.
-Thou’rt forgiven. Now begone, and tell that accursed Ornstein to send no one else.-
The steps move further from him, and a cold breeze barely moves Gwyn’s grey hair. The first colds are coming: the windows must be closed, and the chimneys filled with wood. The sun is bile-yellow ball, with trembling borders against a fiery orange sky, surrounded by clouds that look like brushstrokes of dark, greasy blood. The wind blows, the trees dance in the twilight, and a young man that looks like him advances further away from Anor Londo, without a home and without a name.
When he does open the door, a new Silver Knight awaits in posture against the corridor wall. Gwyn sighs. -I have told Ornstein that…-
-’Tis not General Ornstein that sends me.- the knight answers: or knightess, more aptly, young as well. -Lady Fina wishes to confer with thee as soon as possible.-
Gwyn shuts his eyes, opens them again, stares at the ephebic shape of the speaker.
-Tell mine wife that I cannot reach to her, nor to the girls. I need to reflect, on my own.-
The knightess tilts her head, scratching at its back under the silver helm. She has black hair, as wavy and flowing as Filianore’s. Wasn’t it for the voice, so different from the child’s deep-leaning tones, so out of key for her age, he’d not be surprised if it was her indeed, with an armor stolen from one of his men. He feels like a food for having had such a thought: the day isn’t suited for jokes.
-I see.- the girls says. -Even to a God, it can happen to sin, is it not? And ’tis indeed something to reflect upon.-
For a moment, the innocence of that response rips a tired smile off Gwyn’s lips. HIs eyes follow the girl’s shape, the hands covered by metallic gloves, and those hair as black as human pupils, glistening, sinuous. He leaps back, hand snapping to a belt from which no sword hangs.
Sin, she said: fool, fool, I should have noticed. -I have recognized you. Take off that helm, Velka. It makes no sense to proceed further with this pantomime.-
-I don’t know if I want to. You talk to me much more willingly with this on, or am I wrong?-
Her voice, as thin as the chirping of a blackbird, pierces through Gwyn’s eardrums like a needle. The ruler takes one step backwards, bracelets ringing at his wrists. -I do not feel like being mocked. Please, back off, or I won’t be as courteous at the next order.-
The goddess’ hands, white, as thin as the tips of a scythe, remove the helm off her head: a raven stream flows soft on a sharp face, where eyes so blue they look painted stare at him with familiar condescendence. Gwyn walks to her until he faces her, towering over her with his shoulders.
-I fear there’s no point in insisting.-
-You fear well.- Velka is calm, her violet lips form a barely hinted curve. -I expected better from you, Gwyn. I thought of you as more capable of judging people.-
Gwyn clenches his teeth: he already knows where she’s going. Finias, his name was Finias, but I too will forget it eventually. He was a vivacious child, with hair dappled with sun, a boy that held spears taller than himself, and a man strong enough to knock down a wyvern in a single cleave. Queen of Blood Meleys, she wad called, and when she fell dead, the chopped off arm of one of my knights dangled from her jaw. She was azure, like Velka’s eyes: the more he looks at her, the more Gwyn feels himself tremble.
He stretches his back, clenches his mouth shut: he will need a face of stone, like that he had when he condemned his child to eternal exile. Velka can’t be any worse than that.
-I know you. You want to ask me something.-
-Exactly.- Velka pulls her hair out of her amor and uncovers her ears. -Your firstborn gave me a beautiful idea.-
Gwyn hesitates, hand clenched into a fist. He doesn’t have his sword with him, but Velka is no warrior. Fina was – she welded those shotels like a pair of wings, and when she cut the throat of Bronze Fury Vermithor above Darkroot Forest, even that hotheaded Artorias knelt to her agility – but her sisters always preferred other skills. A warrior in Fina, a cleric in shy Caitha, and a scholar in Velka: the perfect dream of every family.
-What idea did that degenerate Fi… son of mine give you?-
Velka smiles with fake tenderness: -What if I too left Great Londo? Forever. Come on, Gwyn. Let’s think about it.-
She’s lying. She would. Sinners can be smart. And yet, Gwyn clings to that certainty like sailors do to nightly stars. -Why would you?-
-I don’t know- Velka folds her head to the side. -To change places, maybe. Find a place where my skills can be appreciated.-
-Such sublime skills indeed: deceit, whispering, pushing people to perdition.- Gwyn glances behind the petite goddess, along the corridor, towards the closed doors of the rooms of his three children.
-Better than having no skills whatsoever, is it not? Listen to me, Gwyn. I don’t like Great Londo anymore. I too want to leave. If a creature as delicate as my sister Caitha can travel up to Catarina, who keeps me from roaming the lands in search of fortune?-
-Then begone.- Gwyn says. -You’re not a child of mine, are you? You never obeyed a single one of my commands: why start now?-
Velka shrugs. -Because beforehand, I want to ask a favor of you.-
I knew it. Gwyn steps forward, his shoulders wide above the tiny Goddess of Skin. Velka shuts her eyes and reopens them: two glass pearls, opaque, so far from the sweetness of her nieces’. Gwynevere didn’t weep: not in front of me, at least. Motionless, clenched lips, still red eyes following the faraway flight of a swarm of Winged Demons. She held both her little sisters to herself, stroking Gwyndolin’s hair, wiping the tears off the face of Filianore, back as straight as the blade of a sword. Now she’s my firstborn.
-What is it you want then?- Gwyn grunts. -Jewelry? Knowledge? What else do you want?-
Velka laughs and shakes her head. -None of those, My Lord.- Gwyn takes a breath in: the foul mouth. -I only want to see the First Flame closely.-
Gwyn takes a step back and stares at the Goddess’ ivory face. Too little, way too little for Velka.
-You’ve never seen it? I refuse to believe it.- Only he was present at the moment of the lighting, accompanied by Gravelord Nito and the Witch Of Izalith; no Velka, as it should have been. What if she can turn invisibile? He shakes his head: he’d know it.
-I wasn’t there when you lit it, was I?-
-You probably sneaked into the room to see it.- He leans his arm on the wall and stretches the other towards the opposite side. -Impossible that you never did.-
-Possible indeed.- Velka rubs her hand on the back of her head, bends her arm sideways in a crooked smile. A woman’s body, but the mind of a girl: she sees playtime in everything. Fina is serious, glacial, thin eyes and expressionless lips; Caitha has light eyes, and a shaky deep voice, like a bellow. Velka is however always smiling, even when she shouldn’t: even more that day, when was it for Gwyn, every smile would be banished alongside his child.
Velka takes one step and stands on the tips of her feet to stare into his eyes.
-I’m terrified of that flame. I couldn’t ever watch it on my oen.-
-You, scared?- Gwyn shakes his head. -Would I believe it?-
Velka’s hair dance on her chest as her head shakes. -I knew you wouldn’t have believed me. You’re as hard as these marbles, Gwyn: it’s easier to tell Executioner Smough to let go of a jug of beer than to convince you that you’re in the wrong.-
-And it is more probable for Executioner Smough to refuse said beer,- Gwyn answers impassibly, -than for you, Velka, to be truthful about your words.-
Velka’s eyes lower, her hands hold onto one another. -It’s true, Gwyn. That flame terrifies me. I want to see it, but I can’t do it alone. Come on, bring me with you. Let’s watch it together: then, you’ll never see me again.-
She’s lying, I can tell; and yet Gwyn can’t talk to her. He stares into the Goddess’ blue eyes, searching for any tinge of lie there may be: if it even is there, he can’t find it. He will have to say no. This is how Velka’s requests are to be greeted.
Instead, Gwyn offers an open hand to the Goddess of Sin, and holds it tightly onto hers.
-Never: swear it, Velka.-
The goddess smiles, her white teeth glistening like chunks of gold.
-On my life itself.-
As he’d imagined, Velka is amused by the chains as well. She rattles them like a dancer’s ribbons, producing an irritating, off-key ringing.
-That’s it.- Gwyn orders, and he takes a sharp tug at the end he holds into his hands. -If you want to see the First Flame, give it the proper respect.-
-I doubt the First Flame will be offended.- Velka reprimands him. -You could ask it, maybe. Hey, Flame! My brother-in-law here says I’m disrespecting you. Rise once if I am, twice if I’m not.-
She stops and falls to her knees on the ash that covers the Kiln, overtaken by laughter.
-Get up.- Gwyn orders, pulling at the chain. -Did you not want to see it? Here it is. Feast your eyes.-
Velka advances on her knees until she’s behind him, and sticks her head out from behind his side.
-Magnificent.- she whispers. -Marvellous.-
The flames shine ample, as thin as silk. A shaky yellow heart pulsates in the center above the coals, surrounded by lithe orange spirals, rising three times taller than Gwyn himself. The white ash, as smooth as alabaster, produces a tender noise under the soles of their boots. The heat curls the Lord Of Cinder’s beard and caresses his face.
Velka stands up and takes one step forward, but two steps backwards right afterwards.
-Can I stay behind you? It still frightens me.-
Her voice is low, absurd to Gwyn’s ears. -Do as you please, but keep in mind that you can’t get away from here.- Silver Knights await outside the Kiln, but Gwyn has required them not to follow them inside. The less people Velka interacts with, the better it is.
-It was worth it.- the goddess proclaims. She picks a fistful of ash from the ground and blows it off her hand. -Did you do all this? You truly are a wonder.-
Gwyn would give all his rings to be able to enjoy himself the compliment. One day it’ll fade: I will have done it as well. Velka picks up more ash and forms a heap the size of her head. She looks like a child playing around in the sand.
-Can I roll in it? It’s so pleasant, and warm.-
-No, you can’t. What you’re doing itself is disrespectful.-
Velka pouts at him. Then she’s back at the ash, tossing it from hand to hand with a big smile. She’s still wearing that Silver Knight armor: an outsider’s eye would mistake her for a new recruit.
With black hair tangled on her back, she does look a bit like Filianore too. Gwyn sighs. Maybe she too, one day, will become a warrior. Gwynevere has the manners, diplomacy and charisma of a worthy princess, but she never showed any interest for things of arms; Gwyndolin is so skinny and short she can barely even hold onto a dagger. Filianore could be an excellent warrior, if only she practiced. The spear that belonged to his exiled son has left alongside him: I’ll have her made a special one, with the best steel in all of Lordran. As long as she hasn’t changed her mind the next day, deciding to be an archer instead.
-Have you ever brought your sons here?- Velka puffs more ash off and sits on her knees, staring at him with forcefully wide eyes.
-Only the first two.- Gwyn answers. Gwynevere had enjoyed it alright. She had respected it: no playing about in the snow like her aunt. She had offered a praise to the creator Flame and the Sun that watches over all lands, and had bowed both entering and leaving. So unlike her brother. I should have understood back then that he’d not have obeyed.
The Goddess of Sin frees her face from hair and sits cross-legged behind him.
-You miss him, admit it. Finias.-
Gwyn grabs onto the chains around Velka’s wrists and pushes her facedown into the ash. The Kiln blurs, and the First Flame looks like a crater open in a black sky.
-Don’t say his name. It’s forbidden. Nobody can pronounce it.- Velka raises her head: ash covers her face and hair, she looks like a corpse wrapped in a shroud. She wipes her face in her sleeve. She smiles, and she has ash in her teeth too.
My son doesn’t exist no more. I have three daughters, beautiful girls, and Gwynevere is the name of my eldest. Gwynevere the sweet, the courteous, who hadn’t cried at the departure of his exiled son: she’d have been an excellent queen. Filianore had thrown herself into the main square calling her brother’s name, and had come back kicking on Artorias’ shoulder, Gwyndolin had sobbed into Ornstein’s chest until she had fallen asleep; Gwynevere had red eyes, but no tear on her smooth face. And yet she loved him: she herself had given him the curved sword that had for long blessed his arms. I should reward her for that. I will give her bracelets, rings, whatever she may ask of me.
-I apologize, My Lord.- Velka grins. -I had forgotten it. You see, he hasn’t been exiled for long.-
-You will get used to it.- Gwyn grunts. -Like they all will.-
-And you? Have you gotten used to it?-
She’s only saying this to provoke me. She has seen the Flame, she’s content, may she just vanish forever. Gwyn shakes his head, and only afterwards does he realize Velka can see him. He curses himself.
-You’re too harsh on yourself.- Velka holds a chunk of hair in her fingers and rips off the attached ash. -He has made his decision. He has sinned against the law. You told him to leave. Such is the world. Or would you have preferred to be one of those lousy parents that excuse every iniquity their precious brats commit?- She pulls out her tongue. -Only because I’m Goddess of Sin, it doesn’t mean I enjoy all sins.-
Gwyn breathes in the warmth of the Flame. Make me strong. Hold me. And watch over my little girls. Velka twiddles the just cleaned chunk of hair around her finger and looks at him with her huge blue eyes.
-I should have kept more watchful eyes on him.- He pushes his heel into the ash, as if to squish some insect. -It must have been that Kaathe, whispering some fib into his ear.-
Something white and thin covers his eyes. He brings a hand to his face, appalled, and holds the chain into the others. She threw them. At me. The ashes of the First Flame are warm against his face, and they itch into his eyes like the old times of war. The scales of the dragons cracked like dead leaves in the snowy sky, their cries shook the trees and the water of the lakes. Many soldiers would stop in place to cover their ears: I wonder if my son too was scared of it all.
-Is there nothing serious, for you?- he yells at Velka.
Velka wipes her ash-covered palms on her thighs.
-Instinctive reaction, please understand. I hate those smily beasts. Let people sin in peace, stop whispering things in their ears. Do this, do that… wet nurse. Gwyn, do you really consider that Frampt a friend of yours?-
-He respects me.- Gwyn brusquely says. -He could teach you.-
-Maybe it’s I, that has something to teach you.-
Gwyn wants to laugh. -What could you ever teach me?-
Velka stands up and stretches her neck. A full-on child: what could she ever teach anyone?
-To stop crying over yourself and accept that sin exists, brother-in-law.-
Gwyn looks at Velka breathless, fingers sweating around the chain – and not because of the Flame. My son has left, he has betrayed us all, he deserved it: what am I so torn, as if he had died? The First Flame burns soft, as friendly as a lover’s arms; the fire of the dragons was destructive, uncontrollable, and the cries of the knights had tormented Gwyn’s dreams for an uncountable number of says, but that Flame was as constant and gentle as a piece of Sun, torn away and hidden into the belly of the Earth. Only a fool would refuse to protect it. If my son was a fool, it’s up to me to make sure my daughters don’t follow his accursed path.
And the Flame does burn, as beautiful as life itself, as Lord Gwyn leads Velka on the way out; a hand on the chain, the other around his arm. She’s so petite: as slippery as a worm, so difficult to stop.
-Go.- he orders. -If it’s banishment you want, I won’t keep you from it. But we won’t let you act unpunished: the eyes of Great Londo are never closed.-
-I won’t have wings of crowd saluting me.- she sighs with fake sadness.-I’m not a legendary warrior like your son was, I fear.-
-More warriors will come.- Gwyn answers. -My daughter Filianore shows affinity for the things of arms. Sir Ornstein and Sir Artorias weld the spear and sword with unpaired majesty.-
Velka laughs with her tongue out. -Was that a foul joke?-
Why do I keep talking to her? -Just begone already. But always watch your back. Your cult is no longer allowed in Lordran.- He will find a place for the Goddess’ statues: it won’t be the most shameful cancellation in the annals of Great Londo.
-I advise you, Gwyn: I will be angry if you don’t try to stop me.-
Velka steps forward, she turns back to him: she still has ash in her eyebrows and ears.
-Because what kind of sin is it, if it goes unpunished?-
Gwyn looks at her, confused. He’s silent as the chains are undone and Velka moves off in her too big armor, twirling in the white ash. The Silver Knights follow her some steps back. They’ll return to Great Londo with fulfilled duty: I’ll reward them, as they deserve.
Gwyn takes one last glance towards the Flame and he feels its heat filling his heart. He feels better: he’ll only have to be quiet about the reason.
Great Londo is kissed by dusk when Gwyn returns into his rooms and asks of his family. Lady Fina is in her room with her handmaidens and doesn’t want to be disturbed. -The girls, however, are in the living room.- And it’s there that Gwyn throws himself, barely even stopping to answer the soldiers’ salutes.
They sit side by side on the divan, stares lost in the flames’ dance; Gwynevere sits in the middle, and strokes Filianore’s hair with the right hand, while Gwyndolin, curled up in her lap, is sobbing still.
-Children.- Gwyn whispers. Filianore is the first to turn around and stand up, raising her tiny hands towards him. -Father. We were expecting thee not.-
-Father is here?- Gwyndolin moans, wiping her eyes. -He is angry at us still? Dost he want to banish us too, as he has done with Fin?-
Gwynevere squeezes her little sister’s shoulder. -We cannot call him by name, thou knowest it.-
Gwyn’s shoulders lower under his red chemise. She’ll be an amazing princess, somehow better than him. She won’t betray him, since will be able to recognize what’s best for all.
Filianore stands up, freeing he face from her mother’s black hair, walks towards him shaky steps of unripe grace. She lends him her hands, and Gwyn holds them.
-Mad, we are not.- she pronounces it. -We wish not to fight. We solely wish to understand. He was our older brother, we loved him well. Why hast thou banished him?-
Gwyn shakes his head. -Thou’rt good girls, I reckon thou shalt understand.-
Filianore takes one step back, Gwyn shuts his eyes.
-Understand what, Father?-
Gwyn walks towards the child, holding her wrist, and leads her to her sister’s side. He sits on the cough next to Gwynevere, relishing in her gentle smile, and embraces little Gwyndolin, letting her cry in his shoulder.
-A small ruler’s secret: far from pleasant, but of good effect. I shall explain it to thee, if thou wisheth so.-
The fire twirls in between the stones of the chimney, frantic, soft. Next to the First Flame, it looks like any common rock next to a diamond necklace, but the light it emanates isn't any less warm. Gwyn holds his youngest to his chest and breathes in the bitter taste of the fire. Out of the window, Winged Demons crowd atop the cornices, yellowed by twilight: they too, for that day, have performed their duty.