Disclaimer: Dark Souls and its cast are the intellectual property of From Software.
"I brought dinner!"
Quelana emerged from her reverie, and looked up. That girl was approaching. Nemeta had recently earned herself a place as Quelana's apprentice – her first in over two centuries – and now she was striding across the swamp water towards her. From forty paces away, the girl waved at her mistress, and Quelana noted that she was not alone; she was walking hand-in-hand with one of those peculiar Mushroom Children.
Quelana did not return the wave, nor the greeting; she simply sat and watched as Nemeta and her diminutive companion stomped through the water, closing the distance between them.
"Mistress, this is Fungo," Nemeta said. "Fungo, this is my teacher, Quelana."
"Fungo?" said Quelana, swirling the name around in her mouth. She didn't like the taste. "The Mushroom Folk do not give one another names."
"I know. I decided that Fungo here deserved a name, considering that we're soon to eat him for our supper."
Poor Fungo comprehended nothing of what was said. He peered distrustfully at Quelana, all the while gripping Nemeta's hand with absolute, unconditional, unyielding, unquestioning trust.
Quelana appraised the boy for a moment, and then returned her gaze to Nemeta. "I dine alone," she stated, simply.
Nemeta groaned with slightly more theatre than Quelana cared for. "I fought my way through a gigantic, convoluted privy to be here, Mistress! And then I went to the trouble of climbing inside a bloody tree to capture dinner for ourselves! The polite thing to do would be to indulge me!"
Quelena sighed deeply. "Such stupid lengths you go to, to test my patience. Very well. We'll dine together. I sincerely hope that the meal does not consist entirely of burnt mushroom. Does it?"
Nemeta unfurled a cloth, revealing a half-loaf of bread – a delicacy, in Lordran. "Alright," said Quelana. "I'm impressed." She had also brought a vessel of wine that she had liberated from the cellars beneath the palace at Anor Londo, and a large hunk of rat meat. The Mistress and her apprentice set to work, fashioning a cooking fire from stones and lengths of metal.
Eventually, young Fungo realized that the nice young witch lady that had lured him from his home with a warm, beguiling smile did not, in fact, have entirely the best intentions towards him. He attempted to escape through the mire, pitter-pattering across the water on his pathetic, stumpy legs. Nemeta laughed and giggled, and then downed the boy with a well-placed projectile.
"It breaks my heart to see you take such sadistic pleasure in playing with your food," Quelana said later, wrapping a chunk of rat meat in bread. "I'm serious! There are so many ways to lose yourself to the flames. This...hunger for bloodshed and carnage – you must take care that it does not consume you!"
"It was just a little Mushroom Person," she replied, shoveling a lump of charred Boy into her mouth. "If I ever express an interest in cannibalism, then you should be concerned."
From an early age, Nemeta's parents ingrained in their daughter the importance of making a good first impression. Always look your best, they taught her. You'll never know when an opportunity for social advancement springs itself upon you.
Unfortunately, the first time Nemeta descended to the bottom of Blighttown, and began making her way across the water, she did not realize that she was making a very poor first impression upon her soon-to-be teacher.
Hunched in a concealed corner, far from the attentions of passersby, Quelana watched with mounting, horrified fascination as this newcomer, clad in silken robes, strode blithely through the mud, flinging fireballs and arcs of lightning at any creature that happened to block her path.
I've seen some blithering fools pass this way, she thought to herself, but never have they been so eager to make their stupidity so obvious.Look at this silly little girl! Is she dressed for a country fair, or a ball, perhaps? Don't stay out in the open, you fool! Keep to the shadows, stay hidden! No, you imbecile, do not confront the giants, you're about to get crushed by boulders!
Nemeta stamped bad-naturedly out of the marsh, and deposited herself gracelessly onto the ground at Quelana's side. Her greeting went thus: "Every time I come to see you, I get devoured by mosquitoes, submerged to my waist in noxious filth, and the visit always culminates in me lifting my skirt to find dozens of leeches clinging to my legs."
She was swaddled head-to-toe in thick robes, but Quelana had long ago mastered the art of communicating through deportment and demeanour, and now her deportment and demeanour communicated that she derived just the slightest morsel of enjoyment from her student's suffering. "Shows you're sincere about your studies, doesn't it, that you'd go to such lengths to see me?"
"Have you ever been to Firelink?" asked Nemeta. "It's not by any means a thriving, teeming centre of culture, but we do have a little bit of a community established, now. We have a pair of magicians, and a priestess, and a healer, and a couple of merchants, also. We even have a great big serpent which gobbles up all of our rubbish! You may find you like it there, if you bothered to visit. Or perhaps you simply prefer living in the basin of a sewer."
"Blighttown has its attractions," said Quelana. "Besides, if I did go above, I'd have to endure your babbling every moment of the day, wouldn't I? At least when you fight your way down here, you've earned the right to pester me."
Several months ago, Nemeta murdered Quelana's sister, Quelaag.
In Quelana's imagination, when Nemeta struck the killing blow, Quelaag was overcome with a feeling of euphoria and release, untold centuries of suffering and misery dissipating and scattering on the wind. All the malice and hatred melted from her face, and as the light fled from her eyes, Quelaag perished at last with a peaceful smile.
One night, Quelana described this scene to her pupil. Nemeta liked this image better than the one that existed in her memory, and decided that this was how she would remember it, also.
One day, Nemeta looked at Quelana askance, and asked: "Are you as pretty as your sisters?"
"As pretty as Quelaag? Well, given that she's presently being picked apart by maggots, at the moment I imagine I'm rather prettier."
It would have suited Quelana greatly if Nemeta responded with her customary sarcasm and cheek. Instead, she opted for the much more tiresome strategy of sincerity and earnestness. "Your mother must have been a very beautiful woman," she said.
Quelana considered this. "All beautiful things wither and crumble away," she said, at last. "Or they are twisted and warped, and become horrifying."
The swamp buzzed and hummed, and then Nemeta spoke again. "Can I see your face?"
Quelana was silent for a moment, and when she finally spoke, Nemeta knew that she had been trying to think of a way to alter the course of the conversation. "What if I show you my face, and you see that I bear no resemblance to my sisters at all? What if I've only been claiming to be a Daughter of Izalith? Perhaps I'm not Lost Quelana at all." She gave a mock gasp. "I'm an impostor!"
Nemeta stared at her, and then shrugged. "Your face must be truly hideous, then," she said. "I suppose all the humidity here can't be good for the skin."
Quelana inclined her head. "That's it," she said.
Quelana knew that Nemeta was from Vinheim. She knew that her young student was twenty years old when she had been afflicted with the Darksign. She knew that Nemeta came from a wealthy family, and surmised that her father – a merchant – had probably spoiled her rotten.
Quelana knew that Nemeta's favourite food was cheesecake, and that she would fight ten dragons at once, if she could only have some now. Quelana knew that Nemeta had two brothers, and that she dearly hoped that they had avoided her fate. Quelana knew that Nemeta kept a small ornamental mirror in her robe pocket, and no matter what terrible demons and spirits were arrayed against her, she always made sure that she was presentable.
Nemeta wandered all over Lordran, and never once realized that she was being followed every step of the way by a host of insects. A legion of flies, mosquitoes, wasps, cockroaches, spiders and moths shadowed her everywhere she went, and she never perceived their presence.
One afternoon, Nemeta told Sieglinde: "Your father reminds me of my uncle. It used to infuriate me, how he'd treat me as though I was a helpless girl, but he meant well."
The insects were listening.
Another time, Nemeta and Rhea climbed to the top of Firelink, and watched the sun disappear beneath the battlements. "Oh, what a pretty little doll you have!" the young maiden exclaimed.
"It's quite ragged and worn," Nemeta replied. "I found it in the old asylum." Her face darkened. "I used to have an entire family of dolls, at home. They all had beautiful faces and lovely dresses."
The insects were listening, again.
In Darkroot Forest, Solaire demonstrated to Nemeta the correct method of skinning a rabbit. "Father never allowed me to go on hunts with my brothers," she remarked. "Now I have to hunt every single day." She worked the rabbit's pelt from the meat, watched as she did so by thousands of eyes.
The insects left their quarry, and swarmed down the great gorge that hew Lordran in half. They flew down past the Valley of Drakes, into the bowels of Blighttown, and there they gathered and buzzed around their Mistress, the Daughter of Izalith.
Quelana listened, and hungrily devoured every secret, every detail, every triviality regarding Nemeta that her servants could find.
"How long has it been since you had a lover?" said Nemeta.
"That's a bit more familiar than I'm comfortable with," answered Quelana. "You are my apprentice, you know. Show some respect."
Nemeta cocked her head. "A long, long time ago, then. I shouldn't be surprised – you're likely covered in boils and eczema. Hence the robes. Serves you right for living in a swamp. Oh, and if you don't want to invite speculation about your romantic endeavours – or the lack thereof – you shouldn't live in a fetid wilderness where most of the population are mutated grotesques."
"You are an insolent one, aren't you?"
"Insolent? You think me disrespectful? It's not as though you cut the most authoritative figure, is it? A word of advice..."
"I did not ask your advice, child."
"...if you wish people to be in awe of you, it's probably best not to wander around barefoot in a pile of rags as though you were a vagrant."
"Hmmm. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that an empty-headed little chit who traipses around grimy, sodden dungeons in extravagantly-embroidered robes is so superficial. But what I fail to understand, my young student, is why you go to such trouble to visit this vagrant, again and again. Is it your intention to learn pyromancy, or simply to shower me with abuse?"
"Abuse? Mistress, as the only individual in this entire swamp capable of sarcasm, I imagined you'd be grateful to share the company of a fellow snark."
More than anything else, Quelana wished to hear Nemeta speak about her.
How truly pathetic my life has become, she thought. That girl is obsessed with fine clothes, and pretty baubles, and fleeting comforts, and I...I am obsessed with her opinion. I am the Mother of Pyromancy, a Daughter of the Witch of Izalith, and now...I am in the thrall of a fool. I bid my servants to eavesdrop upon her, and I hope and hope – no, I pray – that she will think to mention me for just a few sentences.
Curse my heart for quickening every time I sense her drawing near.
One day, the pyromancer Laurentius happened to catch a glimpse of Nemeta's flame – rather, the flame that Nemeta and Quelana shared together. When it seemed that Nemeta's powers could increase no further, Quelana had decided to meld her own flame with that of her apprentice, and now their souls would forever be entwined.
Laurentius' eyes widened in astonishment; Nemeta's flame blazed with an intensity he had never thought possible. "Why, what spectacular pyromancy," he breathed. "Tell me about it. I've never seen anything like it."
Nemeta shrugged. "I suppose I'm just an innately gifted pyromancer."
Laurentius stared at her in disbelief, and then snorted. "That you are, my friend. That you are."
I'm her secret, thought Quelana, far below in Blighttown. Does she wish to keep me all to herself?
When the fires burned particularly well, Nemeta's eyes would come alive with a wanton, shameless hunger, and one day Quelana realized, with no small amount of horror, that she would do anything to tempt that expression from her. It was a startling, unnerving revelation, indeed: Quelana discovered that she was desperate to impress this young girl, to capture her imagination, to enchant her, to bewitch and enthrall her, and so it was that the Daughter of Izalith began to embark upon ever more ridiculous and awe-inspiring displays of pyromancy.
Above, in the massive pillars that rose through the heart of Blighttown; higher still, in the skeletal ruins of Firelink Shrine; further yet, on the forsaken rooftops of Anor Londo; furthest of all, from the zenith of Seath's Tower, the Undead of Lordran peered down, and saw constellations of flame leaping and dancing, burning and blazing, in the murky depths of the chasm.
Quelana summoned the flames, bending them to her will, forcing them to obey her whims, shaping them in any way she desired...all to entertain an impertinent little child. More than once, Quelana wondered if Nemeta was a trick played upon her by the Flames of Chaos. She would chase this girl's approval, orchestrating more and more spectacular demonstrations of destruction and power, never realizing until too late that she had gone to far, that she had allowed herself to drift too close to the fires, and that oblivion had her in its grasp.
Nemeta sat cross-legged, eyes wide, mouth agape, squealing and laughing and clapping with glee, urging her Mistress on to increasingly absurd feats, and Quelana allowed herself a private smile.
How like a child she could be.