The First Light of Morning


In the eternal sunset of Anor Londo, the only way to tell time was by the toll of Sen's Bell.

Ancient as the fortress that carried the name of Lordran's architect, the mechanical bell was kept oiled and maintained by a rotation of Silver Knights, each of whom was handpicked by Sir Ornstein the Dragonslayer, Lord Commander of the Knights of Gwyn, King of Sunlight and Vanquisher of the Dark.

Every morning, noon, afternoon, and midnight, it tolled four times, marking six hours passing.

Time, the endless millstone, rolled ever on, yet in Anor Londo, the sun never moved.

She had never seen it move; every time she left her vigil – always briefly – to gaze upon the sky and taste air upon her withered tongue, not a twitch of the golden orb had she ever seen. Verily, there might be one among the Knights or Painting Guardians who would remember how the stars might gleam over the eternal city of Gwyn… but, since taking up her duty as Fire Keeper, she had never seen it.

By the count of days – who few in Anor Londo kept, lest they dance with madness – nearly a thousand years had passed, since she became Fire Keeper.

She could barely remember her name: Meredith.

She only remembered because Their Grace, Gwyndolin the Dark Sun, greeted her with the name each time she made her yearly vigil to the Tomb of Gwyn, to give thanks and pay respects, and to bask in Her Lady's presence.

That was the only reason she knew it'd been nearly a thousand years: because every year, without fail, those who were sworn to Lady Gwyndolin would make pilgrimage to Her.

There was that, and the fact that the castle blacksmith, a giant, had been keeping track of how many times the bell had tolled.

Everyone in and around the Sunlight Palace knew this, because the castle blacksmith would holler what time of day it was; someone, in turn, would once have kept track.

That was until Ornstein commanded him to only declare morning and evening. For, in a land of eternal sunlight, being reminded of the immense passage of time so frequently was quickly driving some Knights mad.

Nearly a thousand years after Gwyn, King of Cinder, sacrificed himself to prolong the Age of Fire.

The Chosen Undead had yet to appear; merely powerful men and women, challenging the gauntlet laid out by the decaying Kingdom of Lordran, ever appeared before her. They all departed in the end, embittered and defeated by Anor Londo's denizens; like as not, these failed heroes either explored Lordran until they found purpose, became Hollow… or far, far worse.

So it was for nearly a thousand years, so the Fire Keeper expected for the next millennium.

For in the eternal sun of Anor Londo, little ever changed.

A few hundred heartbeats after noon, nearly a thousand years into what Meredith felt should be called "The Age of Twilight", the Fire flickered in Meredith's eyes.

A heartbeat after, a young woman appeared next to the bonfire.

If Meredith had blinked, there would be no difference; from one moment to the next, without the slightest flick of ash-

The thin girl, hair black as a Black Knight's mail and wearing naught but tattered rags, shivered horribly.

Meredith blinked. She… didn't understand.

A raspy series of gasps came from the pale-skinned person, who appeared out of thin air.

No one had approached the bonfire; thus, what had just occurred before her eyes was, simply put, impossible.

The next sound was a sob.

This wasn't what made the Fire Keeper of Anor Londo flinch; no, that was the sheer pain, horror and self-loathing contained in that one pitiful sound.

Meredith was at her side in another eyeblink; kneeling, she cupped the woman's face. Her mouth was wide, facial features very homely, body thin if powerfully built, but those features were contorted in… some indescribable emotion. The tears were a dead giveaway as to their mood, so the Fire Keeper latched onto that.

"Hush, shush," she said softly to the weeping, strange girl, wiping a few tears away and stroking her face, glad there was leather instead of mail, "You are safe now. No harm shall come to you here."

The howl of existential agony that followed her promise was… exquisite.

Meredith could think of nothing else she could say, so she simply held the young woman as she wailed and screamed and wept like nothing the Fire Keeper had seen before, as though the entire world had ended, as though she had been forced to watch all she cherished laid to waste and burned to ashes…

And while she held her, the nameless, weeping girl that eventually fell asleep in her arms… the Fire Keeper couldn't help but wonder what all the tears were for.




When she woke, the young woman was listless and unresponsive. The Fire Keeper brought her food regardless.

The girl wasn't Undead; she was not possessed of a Darksign. Thus, she could not be the Chosen Undead.

The possibility she was an accomplished Sorcerer crossed Meredith's mind, but that was discarded too; the girl's upper body was littered with scars both old and recent, save the right arm, which was oddly pristine if one ignored the broken fingers, bruises, and small cuts.

This the Fire Keeper saw while dressing her in a fine tunic and skirt; the rags, those were burnt, and took a strangely long time to become ash.

Much like how silk might behave.

Of far more concern to Meredith was how the girl had no old scars below the ribs.

Bruises, burns, scrapes, and shallow lacerations abounded.

Meredith was well-trained in combat; she needed to be, to protect Anor Londo's bonfire from the madmen who would see it extinguished. And the Fire was in her; indeed, few even among the Silver Knights could match her battle prowess.

To wit, she knew the pain of a prolonged engagement, and between how long the girl slept for – about fifteen hours – combined with the sheer number of injuries…

It was as if she'd fought an entire army by herself.

Meredith dressed her injuries as best as she was able.

When the girl didn't pick up the bowl of stew, she sighed and tried to make her hold it; in doing so, she saw the girl's face.

Her stare was that of the lone survivor; she had seen that gaze before. Those who held it rarely lasted.

Carefully, Meredith arranged the girl so she was sitting against the wall.

Then she fed the catatonic warrior; her mouth opened and closed, and she could chew on her own.

The Fire Keeper counted this as a blessing from Gwyn.

"I know not what you have seen, but know you have my deepest sympathies," Meredith said when the bowl was empty. Putting a hand on her cheek, she asked, "I understand if you don't want to talk, but please, if you can hear me, blink once."

She blinked, dark brown eyes slowly moving to look at a spot over the Fire Keeper's shoulder; there was nothing but the Duke's Archives that way.

Regardless, the Fire Keeper smiled underneath her helmet, "Then I greet thee, oh nameless mystery woman who appeared by my bonfire, and I welcome thee to Anor Londo, the Holy City of Sunlight, and seat of the Great Lord Gwyn, King of Sunlight, who near on a millennium ago sacrificed himself to ensure the Light would not go out."

The silent, still woman's thin lips curved down, and her head tilted slightly.

Chuckling, Meredith sat next to her, "So you know nothing of Gwyn; truly, I cannot decide if that is good or bad," she sighed, "Well, as you haven't vanished and clearly aren't a hallucination brought on by boredom, I shall try expl-… no, there is too much. I shall summarize the world's history as briefly as possible. Any more and you may fall asleep during the telling.

"So… eons ago, in the Age of Ancients, the world was shrouded by fog, a land of grey crags, archtrees, and everlasting dragons…"




"Fire Keeper! Attend!"

Meredith huffed, annoyed that the Silver Knights were calling at midnight… but she had also expected them long before.

It had been several months since Khepri – it was the only word the girl ever spoke, at the request for a name from the Fire Keeper – arrived in Anor Londo; which not only meant months of Meredith explaining the Kingdom of Lordran to her, but also of smuggling food back to the bonfire.

On the bright side, the girl was more animated lately, and even opened her mouth as thought to speak a few times yesterday; nothing came of it, however.

Stepping outside, the Fire Keeper found four Silver Knights of Gwyn keeping a respectful distance; one was wearing a black cape, which meant Ornstein was worried enough to send a Captain.

How touching.

"I am before you. What does the Dragonslayer want?"

"To know where the extra rations are going," the Captain replied.

Well, she hadn't been planning on keeping Khepri a secret forever, "About two months and three weeks past, a young woman appeared out of nowhere next to my bonfire. The rations are to feed her, for the curse of the Darksign doesn't touch her."

They asked for proof.


And it was then that Khepri said her next word, having climbed the steps of the bonfire nook. She was looking at each Knight in a way that left the Fire Keeper unsettled; it was as though she saw nothing more or less than targets, or that she was a wolf and the Knights were helpless sheep.

"They are not threats, Khepri; the Knights simply want me to tell them about my feeding and sheltering you," to the Captain she added, "That is all there is to this: me, doing my job as Fire Keeper."

He scoffed, "And nevermind your other allegiance. What have you been telling her, that her eyes burn with unfriendliness toward us?"

"Hisss… tory," Khepri said slowly, ascending higher on the steps, closer to the sunlit courtyard, eyes fixed on the Knight-Captain; then, quick as lightning, they found Meredith's helm. "Threat-t-t-t… Keep…er?"

She watched those focused eyes lock with the Captain's again… and the Keeper felt she understood.

"No. They aren't threatening me," she looked at the Knight-Captain, "You are not here for such an act, yes?"

"Ha! Neither I nor my boys want to be on Ornstein's naughty list, least of all for harming Anor Londo's Fire Keeper. So, from where do you hail, young maiden, and how did you find our fair city?"

Khepri had walked fully into the courtyard, and was staring, enraptured, at the eternal sun of Anor Londo.

It was a long moment before she averted her eyes, met the Captain's gaze, and answered.

"Can't… remember… died."




She could remember dying.

She could remember fighting.

She could remember the stars.

She could remember the name Khepri.

She could remember the name ZION.

She could remember the battlefield on which she was born.

On which she lived.

On which they fought.

She could remember, near the end, using a power to predict something.

She could remember what the battle would be called.

Khepri remembered Gold Morning.

Everything else was… muddled. Mottled. Abstract.

Paint running down stained glass.


She remembered pain.

So much pain.

The woman in brass took much of it away.

The woman in brass said her name was Meredith.

Khepri liked Meredith.

Her voice was pleasant, even if her face wasn't.

The things she told Khepri were useful.

Important things.

Khepri didn't like how the armored men spoke to Meredith, who they called Fire Keeper.

Meredith the Fire Keeper thought they weren't a threat.

Meredith the Fire Keeper confirmed they weren't a threat after Khepri asked for clarification.

Satisfied, Khepri stopped evaluating the men for weaknesses and examined the unmoving sun.

The men, amused and at ease now, asked of her origins.

Khepri told the truth.

They, with Meredith, brought her to a pair of men clad in gold.

Khepri did not like gold, but the men were kind.

The corpulent one gave her an apple.

They led her to another room.

Within that room was a very large woman who spoke to Khepri.

When the talking was done, Khepri knew what she needed to do.

A Chosen One would come.

One who could not be killed, was inevitable.

What Khepri had seen, what she had heard, was enough reason to believe she wouldn't simply die again, even if killed.

A part of her that was very loud, if weakened by the war they waged, assured Khepri of the truth underlying this hypothesis.

Her mind was focused by the sunny woman.

Thus, Khepri would learn, train, and become proficient without the Swarm.

She would adapt, and then…

As Meredith, Ornstein, Smough and Gwynevere had given her, so she would bestow on the Chosen.

When the time came, Khepri would teach the Chosen Undead humility.




After her audience with Gwynevere, Khepri began doing something odd, to the Fire Keeper's eyes.

She began running.

From one side of the courtyard to the other, and back again, over and over; every five laps, Khepri would stop and begin doing other exercises. Pushing herself up with her arms, sitting up, and… other leg exercises that Meredith didn't feel should be done in a skirt.

The storage halls of Anor Londo were vast, if hard to reach by design; nonetheless, she found a few examples of leather, chain, and plate armor, including a silver and gold set emblazoned with suns and reliefs of battles against dragons.

Ornstein said that armor was commissioned by Gwyn for when Anor Londo had a castle steward; when she asked what happened to them, she had the distinct impression he was glaring at Smough, while the Executioner looked at least a little guilty.

She swore to not allow Khepri to fall to the Executioner's… habit.

But the young woman in question would only take the leather armor at first, when presented with it. Several days passed before she could articulate why to Meredith.

"Too… ornate. Heavy. Must… train to wear." Her eyes met Meredith's; in them blazed a fire unlike the Flame, yet no less intense. "I… must… earn… it."

Meredith, interested in what would become of this regimen, recommended running the full gauntlet through Anor Londo, from the bonfire, through the Cathedral of Sunlight, and up through the Palace's apartments. Khepri agreed that it would be a good challenge.

That was how they found out she could command the beasts set to guard Anor Londo against intruders, the gargoyles and the lightning demons.

Meredith was patient, however, and the Knights didn't ask questions of Khepri. Any mention of her past brought back the distant stare, and she would throw herself into training all the more intensely.

One day, Meredith knew; one day, the young woman would feel at ease enough to tell her of the lands from which she hailed, and why they haunted her much as Lordran's dark places troubled the dreams of the brave.




The time had come for her to select a weapon.

Her body was as strong as it could be, without invasive measures.

The idea was anathema to her; she wished to become strong on her own merit, and she had become strong indeed.

The lion knight, Ornstein, took her to the armory at her request for a worthy weapon.

He was polite, sure of step and voice, and commanded the respect of all, whether reverent or grudging.

She was glad he didn't bring the corpulent one with them.

She no longer trusted Smough, after the stories the Painting Guardians told her.

She respected his battle prowess still.

And the apples were most welcome (he kept a small orchard in one of the Palace's many courtyards).

But she no longer trusted him fully.

The chain was accentuated with the plate mail.

A halberd of crystal, beautiful and deadly, was presented to her.

Ornstein sparred with her briefly, enough to conclude she had no idea what she was doing.

He called a Knight who also chose a halberd as his weapon. The Knight was tasked with her training.

Khepri asked Ornstein why he could not train her.

"You would only learn how to be beaten, unlearned in the craft as thou art. I will not squander thine potential by crushing thy spirit unduly."

She thought on his words for a moment before replying.

"You speak wisdom, great Knight of Gwyn… but t'would require a much stronger hand than yours to break mine resolve."

She thanked him for the halberd and the shining plate mail, and departed.




More than a decade had passed since the moment Khepri appeared in her little corner of Anor Londo.

A decade of swearing while training, of sweat and frustrated tears, as the strange young woman endeavored to become a master of the halberd in record time; the time seemed both an eyeblink and a slow crawl through mud.

In that time, Meredith watched as Khepri grew from a young woman into a lady true; how she spoke to all the denizens of Anor Londo, learning their stories one by one; as she became skilled enough in combat to duel three Silver Knights at once and win.

As the source of her strange ability, to command beasts with but a thought, was slowly yet surely brought into the light.

Near the bonfire, Khepri confided some of her past in Meredith, near ten years after she appeared weeping and delirious at the Fire Keeper's feet.

Of powers appearing in people, exchanged for peace of mind.

Of the source, a monster more terrible than the darkest whispers of the Abyss.

Of all others, self-serving in the face of annihilation, believing they would survive the slaughter.

…and of the mantle she took upon herself, to prevent that slaughter.

Khepri told the Fire Keeper of the Golden Morning, a battle which sundered the very heavens, and wept with self-loathing and grief for the perceived sin she committed.

Removing her helmet, Meredith took Khepri's face in her hands, dried her tears and met her eyes, and spoke her mind.

"Gwynevere was right to guide you. Ornstein was right to trust you. Gwyn would be proud to house you. I am proud to know you, Khepri, Light of Morning, for I believe now, hearing this burden you have shouldered... no Lord true or Chosen Undead can compare to your sacrifice, and I am truly grateful to the Flame, for being entrusted with raising you up once more."

"But I caused so much pain." Khepri argued. "After so much, can I be entrusted with power again?"

"You saved us all with your power. Pain lessens with time and grief. These scars, too, shall heal. And I say, with certainty, that our purpose is founded on our choice in the present."

They sat in together in comfort as the bells tolled the midnight hours, Khepri in the arms of the one who housed her, and Meredith, who felt warmth in her Undead heart for the first time in an Age.




The Bells of Awakening had been rung.

Sen's Fortress was conquered.

Meredith watched him, the one who endeavored to fulfill the prophecy, depart and return ad nauseam.

There was a stretch of time where he didn't return, and he brought news of a painted world in the Cathedral.

One day, he departed for the Palace and did not return.

Two hundred years had passed since that fateful day, where the embers of her heart were kindled.

Now, Meredith the Fire Keeper felt them touched with dread... and hope.




"Go, friend! Get the gates!" Solaire turned to meet the two advancing Giant Guardians, "I shall hold them!"

He took the respite for what it was, and dashed for the lever; it was slow to open, but open it did- revealing two more Guardians advancing from the other side.

"Damnit," he hissed, readying his longsword in a two-handed grip; sharing a glance with Solaire, he knew the next fight might be hopeless, but t'would not be the end for him. A bonfire was near, and-


The sound of a pommel striking stone echoed through the Palace's hall; on cue, the Guardians stopped cold and turned, as one, toward the fog at the top of the stairs.

"Guardians, stand down," an approaching figure, bearing a commanding woman's voice, descended the stairs.

As one, the Guardians bowed… and seemed to melt into the shadow of the pillars.

He glanced at Solaire- and did a double-take: the Warrior of Sunlight was shaking, seeming to quail at the advancing knightess.

He examined her: armor of silver and gold, emblazoned with suns and moons; in one hand was a scaled-down version of the halberds used by the Guardians; from her shining plate, moths and colorful butterflies suddenly flew as she arrived at the stair's foot, the rustling of many wings accompanying the shiver of chain rubbing against armor.

"Thou hast toiled long and hard, Chosen Undead," she spake, only her mouth visible amidst the plumed helm she wore; it reminded him of an eagle, with an eye-slit across the beak, "The Lordvessel is nearly in your grasp."

He readied his shield and gritted his teeth; many foes he had faced since leaving the Asylum, but this one… felt different.

Mayhap it was the set of her shoulders, or the sureness of her stride; perhaps it was how the massive weapon she carried didn't seem to hinder her, or was it the firm line of her thin lips.

She raised her left hand, and swept it downward; in the distance, he heard the sound of a fire going out.

"Yet in the future, I will have you use the front door like a civilized person."

She was not like the others, the demons and golems and armored Hollows he had faced.

Leveling the halberd's tip at him – fast – she spoke again, in hard challenge, "Chosen Undead, I am Dame Khepri, the First Light of Morning, leader of the Guardians of Anor Londo.

"You wish to hold the Lordvessel, and succeed Lord Gwyn? Your path goes through me."

With another shared glance with Solaire to steel each other's resolve, he squared his shoulders and charged at the knightess with his fellow Warrior beside him.

She destroyed them so swiftly, he could hardly believe it.

Solaire was swatted aside like an annoying gnat, and then it was his turn; he wasn't sure if it was the halberd or the pillar he crashed into that did him in.

Either way, he still woke up next to a bonfire.

The first bonfire he found, after arriving in the sunlit city.

"So you finally met her." The Fire Keeper chuckled lowly, "Rejoice, then, seeker of destiny: you will find less hardship approaching the Palace from now on."

He restored his Humanity, and asked what she meant.

With a sigh, she elucidated in a tone bordering on boredom, "Just as I said: your opponent is the leader of all Anor Londo's Guardians, save the Silver Knights of Gwyn; yet even they shall stand down at her order, and order them to stand down she shall, for she takes no pleasure in fighting the exhausted. You may walk from this fire to the Palace's gates unmolested, but know this: even with the handicap you now enjoy, all others who stood where you now stand have failed to best her."

"They have not my resolve," he declared, and departed with her quiet chuckles at his back.

True to her word, the Guardians and beasts of the city stood to the side at his approach; as a test, he attacked one of the lightning demons to see how it reacted.

Getting mobbed and tossed off a ledge to plummet to his death far below was… not as bad as the deaths he suffered in Blighttown, but little could match up to that hellish place.

Regardless, he refrained from attacking the beasts of the city after that humiliating defeat, and went straight to Khepri… who promptly swatted him around the hall like a ball of some sort.

He tried a few other weapons he'd acquired over his mission. She didn't seem to notice.

He tried other strategies, only to find trying to parry her got his arms cut off.

He kept going at her, trying to find a pattern to her strikes, so he could take advantage of every opening she left.

But she left no openings for him to find. Using different weapons only resulted in a slightly changed stance on her part. She seemed to see his attacks before he fully committed to them. Magic against her either failed outright or was dodged with a celerity no mere mortal could duplicate.

Over and over again, he was killed by this tall, slim woman who was as a bitter cold mountain before him: insurmountable, unyielding, tireless, and certain.

Yet in the face of this challenge, he did not waver. Failure, surrender, these were foreign concepts to him.

The only way was forward.

To glory, and Flame.




It took him some time before learning to bow before approaching her for another go.

She was pleased with his progress; each time, he tried things a little differently.

Sometimes he would dent or gouge her armor; he would be repaid in kind, with interest of course.

Slowly, inevitably, he made it further and further, wearing her down more and more with each attempt.

She only sometimes allowed him to use the Flask; the scream of rage after the hundredth time she shot a lightning bolt at him, to stop his drinking… it was satisfying to her.

He'd already cut her plume off during that exchange, so a little turnabout was just fair play.

Petty? Perhaps, but she entertained herself when and how she could.

But his resolve was unshakable, just like her own.

He was inevitable, the true heir to Lord Gwyn.

One day, she would be slain; and on that day, Meredith would bequeath a Darksign upon her, rendering her Undead, a true eternal.

There was a risk, Khepri knew this, as the Chosen Undead entered the hall once more; the risk of becoming Hollow, for her, was a very real and tangible threat.

…but she would face it.

Because, in the new life she had found, she was not alone.

Meredith would be beside her.

Until the Flame died out.




His sword pierced her chest.

Wreathing his body in flame was the secret; she used her moths to predict his moves. Without them, the battle was… not much easier, but manageable enough for him to discover a path to success.

How she adapted to not having her moths nearly made him lose hope, as she became if anything more brutal, but he persevered, through thunder and death. And in the end, it all paid off.

After countless deaths, victory was his.

Gasping, her halberd clattering to the ground, she gripped him, preventing him from withdrawing his blade.

"Well done… Chosen Undead," her bloodied lips turned up in a smile, "But I ask thee: is thine victory for yourself, or the lives ye shall save or damn with your next actions?"

Quick as a viper, she drove a hidden dagger into his heart.

"You shall have much time to ruminate on the answer, yet it shall be an answer I will not hear," he staggered away from her, the sword still skewering her body; as he fell on his arse, she gurgled and finished, "My place… is at her side. No longer will I stand in thy path, Chosen Undead, seeker of Gwyn; yet know also that the beasts and Guardians of this place shall hunt thee once more, once we are departed. Seek ye… the Tomb of Gwyn, and his last-born child; in them, you will find further guidance. Fare you well."

Everything went dark, and when his eyes opened once more, the bonfire was quenched.

The Fire Keeper was gone from the wall she'd been propping up.

Stepping outside, nothing had changed… except that the Guardians who'd stood in the alcoves on either side of the courtyard were slowly but steadily advancing on him. All of them, all at once.

"…oh, hell." The Chosen Undead muttered before running for the elevator; when she said hunt thee, he didn't think Khepri was being literal!

One thing was for certain, though: never would he ever assume he was the strongest out of hand. Instead, he would ensure he was strong enough before tackling the next challenge.

First, however, he had to outrun the angry garrison of Anor Londo.




"My, he can run when the situation calls for it," Meredith chuckled under her breath; glancing at the former Commander of the Guardians, she stated, "You did not have to torment him so."

"He kicked me in the crotch, whilst wearing boots alike what Bishop Havel wore. If anything, I've been immeasurably kind to him," she grumbled, voice no longer as full and lively; a happily-made sacrifice, for an eternity at her side.

"No regrets?" the Fire Keeper took the hand of Morning's Light, and was given a small smile that burned brighter than the morning Anor Londo would never see.

"None… now, let us away; I wish to see what the lower rings of Lordran hold."

Turning away from the City of Sunlight, Meredith joined the other woman in descending a hidden staircase on the outer walls.

Away from their endless duty, and into their future.


The End