Darkness veils the sight and dulls the senses. His tongue feels swollen, his mouth dry as he drifts listlessly in fugue. His eyes open, but its only to the ruddy reds and sickly greenish colors.
There is a figure...the glint of armor.
Saber he rasps or tries to.
Then he feels himself lifted and falls back into darkness.
She's not sure how long she's lying there.
Time's passage is...unknowable in this place...trapped as it is in eternal gloom.
She just knows that she feels like she's just been drowned in a sewer.
She's probably not that far from the truth.
She's been heaving since she came to, puking out greenish water and putrid black bile that had flooded her mouth and nose in the whitewash flood.
She cries with disgust and revulsion even as she breathes in more of the filth.
I want to go home
The thought has never hit her harder than it does right now.
She wants to go home. And the thought is enough to bring the sting of tears that she doesn't let fall.
She doesn't know where Saber is, she doesn't know where Shirou is. She doesn't know where she is...
She just wants to go home.
She snifs, and the sound is pathetic to her
Pick yourself up...
She bites her lip but doesn't move.
Pick yourself up...you're a Tohsaka...stop acting like a useless little girl. Pick yourself up and make your own way home if you really wanna go back.
Her arms find the strength to lift her. Her legs follow their example.
She sees lights in the distance and begins to slog her way through the swamp to reach them.
She hopes, Shirou and Saber will head the same way.
The muck is thick, more mud than water, heavier than wet sand. It drags her down and she stumbles often, the stench of dead water, moving again assails her nose and makes her gag and feel her stomach clench with nausea all over again even though she has no more food to throw up.
She steps forward, and instantly there is a sharp agonizing lance of pain that drills up her leg through her ankle.
She screams, jumping back and clutching at her now limping leg as she hobbles onto a patch of dry land.
She picks her leg up, out of the muck and is horrified to find a jellyfish like creature coiled around her limb. She glances around her, finding a rusted sword laying in the grime.
She quickly picks it up and stabs the thing careful not to cut herself. She hears it give a screech as its stingers draw out of her flesh with a gut churning shick sound before it slithers back into the swampy mud.
She grits her teeth...and tries to stand after a moment. Using the rusted sword to keep the weight off her leg.
The voice is distant, a shout. Rin recognizes it instantly regardless and feels a profound up-swell of relief as she turns, looking over her shoulder, watching as Saber jumped from land to land in this swampy archipelago like skipping across stones, covering the distance between them in a fraction of the time it would have taken her to do the same.
She lets herself fall back and rest a bit as the blond reaches her side.
"Are you alright?" Saber asks, as she kneels.
Rin smiles. And it seems a fragile thing.
"How do I look?" She asks in jest, knowing the answer even as she looks at Saber.
Normally the servant was gorgeous, even as stiff and reserved as she held herself. Now her careful bun was nearly undone, her face was caked with streaks of mud and grime, her clothes were filthy. Only those fierce eyes shined without the lack of weariness that only a Servant, and moreso, a servant so disciplined, could muster.
Rin knew she looked even worse.
Saber's face actually showed some sadness, in answer.
The green eyed woman looked around. "I was hoping I'd find Shirou with you."
Rin's worry spiked at that.
He opens his eyes and the face that greets him eases his concern.
"Saber." He breathes.
But then...he looks closer
Its not Saber.
Her eyes are blue, and she's dressed in white.
Her face though...her face is...so similar.
With the weight of the whole world bearing down over her shoulders.
And he has to ask. "Who are you?"
Her smile is fragile. Thin as gossamer. She smiles only for his comfort. "My name is Astraea. We thought you to be someone else..."
'We?' He wonders
He moves to stand and feels the ground is warm and...wet?
He gasps in horror as he pulls his hand up, finding it drenched with rich, fresh blood.
He tries to rise to his feet, but his strength abandons him, the light-headedness of too little blood in his veins sending him into a dizzy vertigo. He leans this way, then the other way before falling into his knees in a swamp of viscera.
His eyes find her legs.
The blood trails up flowing up to coil around her limbs where she sits. Like gnarled roots holding her in place, flowing out of her as it holds her still. From her shins down to her ankles her dress was drenched with red.
He looks up, finding her face, and the smile is gone, leaving only a deep sadness.
He opens his mouth to speak, to scream, and an armored hand clamps down over his shoulder.
The grip isbrutally painful.
With a single tug, he's pulled up, onto his feet before he's thrown with the force of a catapult, back into a solid mass.
The wind is knocked out of him, and he's horrified when something he quickly recognizes as the decomposing arm of a human flops down onto his chest.
He shoves it off him, stumbling free before he turns to see that he'd been thrown against a mound of corpses. Easily three times as tall as a man.
A macabre, monumental cairn.
Flies buzzed angrily, hovering over the carcasses as fat maggots squirmed within eye sockets, open orifices and now eternally grinning mouths.
He swallows down the bile.
He hears the sound of footsteps sloshing through water, and he raises his head to find the armored knight marching towards him, an impossiblymassive weapon of bandied steel gripped with unnatural ease in his hand. The weapon could easily be twice the weight of a grown man.
And he was holding it aloft as though it was a simple mace.
He moved to stand and swayed again with his dizziness, struggling to focus on channeling his Prana as weakness dragged down his limbs as his heart pounded beneath his ribs struggling to pump an amount of blood he simply did not have right now.
The knight stops, looking slightly over his shoulder at her, the woman in white. He tosses another look at the panting Shirou before he turns, marching to her side and sitting down across from her the weapon resting at his feet.
Shirou stands frozen in an ocean of blood.
It was a scene reminiscent of the Ivory tower, where Shirou had been in Saber's place as the servant carried Rin on her back through the swamp.
Though that time it had been out of Rin's insistent demands as opposed to her now being in a very sorry state and this just being faster with Saber's greater strength and endurance.
Even so, every step sent a sharp spike of pain across Rin's chest as it jostled her broken rib.
She didn't know why.
"Did I ever tell you that Shirou carried me too?"
Rin's voice was soft, almost faint as Saber shifted her grip on the young woman's hips, changing where she rested on her back. "No." She answers. "You didn't"
"It was when you were sick." Rin said and Saber was about to remind her that Servant's don't get sick when she remembered the time that she'd been knocked flat after taking in the Soul of the Silver Demon.
Most likely that's what Rin was referring to.
"He threatened to drop me ya know?." Rin giggled. "I was teasing him though."
Saber didn't know Rin to babble much. Tease and use dry sarcasm, yes but needless prattle wasn't exactly in Thosaka's list of personality traits.
She tried to toss a look over her shoulder only to find Rin's hair in the way. "Are you alright Tohsakah?"
That made her worry.
Rin had too much pride to admit difficulty half the time.
If she was complaining now...
Saber made her way closer to one of the few spots of dry land on this swamp.
When she got there, she slid Rin off her back to get a look at her.
Blue veins lined her face, black stains spread across the sclera of her eyes, a blue purple tinge to her lips, she could now hear a thinness to the Magus' breathing.
The worry immediately crossed her face. "Oh no."
"Not...feelin' so good." Rin smiled bitterly.
"Why didn't you say something earlier?" The Servant demanded.
"What...would it change?" Her teeth was simply a bone white to already white skin. "Can't really stop it Saber."
She was right of course.
Not for the first time did Saber find she could admire Rin's sense of pragmatism.
"Its...the demon." Rin said with a groan. "Or the swamp."
Saber looked down at her feet to the brackish, black liquid.
"What makes you think that?"
"Demon's still alive." She shrugged. "And I nearly drowned...swallowed some of the water...might have been poisonous."
Saber's grim face grew severe.
After a moment of silence, she spoke again. "We have to kill the demons...get you back to the Nexus.
Rin gave a snort of laughter. "The maiden." She concluded. "She'll kick us out at this rate.
Saber was about to speak when she recognized the joke. Nodding, she picked her up and moved a little faster through the swamp towards the mass of lights in the distance where she hoped the next demon could be found along with Shirou.
She didn't want to think about the likelihoods of tracking down the leech creature that was probably still very much alive a thousand little leeches swimming through the swamp.
It took Shirou some time to gather up his nerve and approach the pair again. And he'd only done so when he realized that the only way out of this gorge was a beaten path that began not three feet from where the knight, Garl, sat. Before he got very close, meandering through the shin deep pools of blood Garl turned his head, looking at him.
"Do not approach. Or I will kill you." How it was a voice so soft spoken could carry through the howls of the wind, rain and cascades of black water he would never know but somehow the knight mannaged.
Shirou swallowed. He could try to make a break for it, but quite frankly he had no idea just how well he could keep up any sprint if Garl tried to chase him. Having lost so much blood, it was very possible he might just pass out mid run.
Or worse he could come across something a lot bigger and meaner than the knight.
"Who are you?" He found himself asking instead.
"Be silent." The man hissed.
"Garl." The woman's soft voice reached the both of them her blue eyes downcast, staring at the blood that pooled at her feet and spread out to mulch the ground across the gorge. "Its alright."
The Knight clenched his fists but said no more.
She looked back up, towards Shirou, that sombre gaze holding him still as he met it. "I am Astraea, and this is my knight, friend and protector, Garl Vinland.
Shirou nodded looking to see if he could find an adequate enough place to sit. With the adrenaline dying down the weariness was setting in.
In the end, he settled for leaning against one of the canyon walls. "How did I get here?"
"Garl brought you."
That...was definitely surprising. "Why?" From what he could tell, the Knight would sooner crush him beneath the weight of that impossibly heavy maul.
"I asked him to, believing you were someone else." She answered.
"Who did you think I was?"
She smiled and the eternal sadness that graced her features became even more profound. "It does not matter. I was mistaken."
"Do you know where my friends are?" He finally ventured.
"Yes. Your friends are on their way here. To try and kill me."
Shirou swallowed. "Are you...the archdemon?" He asked, seeking confirmation.
She didn't answer for a very long time, turning her eyes back down as, cupped in her hands, a warm golden light shined brightly, feeling like a soothing balm over his skin. Shirou felt himself relaxing slightly at its touch.
"I suppose...I am."
"You have no right to be here!" Garl suddenly snapped, a seething fury in his voice that brought Shirou back to full alertness. "You abandoned us long ago!"
"Garl." Astraea's calm voice once more seemed to reign the knight in. "Calm. He is not who you think him to be."
The knight's head twitched and jerked on his neck from one side to the other, grunts caged beneath clenched teeth and helm.
He had more than a passing suspicion that the man was most likely insane.
Confused and wary Shirou watched the two people sitting before him.
It couldn't be called a village so much as a ramshackle collection of rotting wood that formed a structure.
And while it was obvious this was not the safest of places, finding three of those 'bird men' dead as they walked in raised her curiosity.
They'd been cut by a sword.
"You think Shirou's been here?" Rin asked, sliding down Sabers back to get to her feet. Now with some hand holds and walls to lean on, she could walk without putting too much weight on her injured leg.
"We can hope." She answered, the weight of her own sword settling in her hand. "Stay behind me. We don't know what could be waiting for us."
Rin nodded grabbing onto a nearby wall as the world swayed around her.
Slowly they made their way through the dingy, finding more carcasses as they maneuvered through the winding passages and rotting structures.
As they found more dead, it was evident this couldn't have been Shirou. Though Saber had little doubt her Master, as he was now after having taken the souls of so many demons, could indeed kill them, he wouldn't be so merciless, especially to creatures that hadn't yet proven hostile towards them.
Another survivor then?
Perhaps. Every world they'd come across so far had its own. Boletaria had Biorr, Ostrava, and that lonesome girl they had managed to find that hid herself from everyone. Stonefang held Ed and Scirvir, The Ivory tower of Latria, Freke and Yurt, for whatever that man had been worth. And the Shadowlands were host to the three men that had been fleeing Berserker.
For this place to have them though...
Considering its sick, poisonous nature she couldn't immagine any human coming here of their own free volition or enduring it. They'd only been here a few hours and already she'd lost her master, her friend was poisoned and injured and they'd yet to slay a single demon.
As if to confirm her thoughts on the harshness of this land, Rin coughed behind her, hacking. And Saber turned to look in time to see her wipe the black stained spittle from her lower lip, blue veins made all the more apparent on her hand and face by her now paper white skin.
"Give me a second." The brunette demanded, breathing heavily.
Saber walked closer. "Do you need me to carry-"
"It'd be nice." She interrupted with a dry chuckle. "But no. I'll spoil myself." She laughed again.
Saber found her sense of humor rather...strange to say the very least.
It was some time before there was any movement at all in the gorge, and when it did come, it wasn't because of the three that rested at its base.
Others were coming.
The beaked men, with eyes of black marble and swollen, brackish tongues they shuffled into this place. One at a time, sometimes three, sometimes a dozen, but all were slowly gathering, lining up, like an audience filling a stadium. Shirou was reminded of congregations of religious groups as they each bowed. Prostrating themselves without order or coherence. He wasn't even sure if the groaning was an actual language or just...groaning.
"What's happening?" He questioned aloud, hoping for an answer but not expecting one He was startled when he felt something latch onto his leg.
He jumped in his skin, looking down.
There is no word to describe what he felt at the utter...revulsion.
It was a baby.
The red of wet, blood drenched muscle gleamed in the place of skin and flesh. Pointed teeth could be seen, lining a mouth with no gums, half rotted eyeballs stared up at him as the thing cooed
He didn't even kick it.
To startle, to jerk in fear, to defend ones self from something frightening was a natural human response.
But in the face of this...abomination something so unnatural that his mind could scarcely comprehend it his brain couldn't even think of a response any response.
He was frozen.
To be paralyzed with terror was not so much as to be afraid, he realized
Its to be afraid and your mind and body simply shutting down. Not knowing what they could possibly do.
It was only distantly that he recognized those clenched teeth, signified a snarl, not a smile.
And as it opened its mouth to rip a chunk out of his leg it was only Astraea's voice that stopped it. He did not have even had the presence of mind to move even then.
The aberration cooed again before pushing off, swimming/crawling away in shin deep blood.
"This place." He heard Astraea speak. "Is a place for the lost...and the wretched..."
He looked towards her, and her blue eyes were focused, intent on the healing light glowing between her hands.
"They come to me-" She said "-because I give them hope."
She held that light close.
It was when they found the fog door, that they found the source of the dead bodies.
Bleeding, slumped by a wall with four more of the beaked men left like a trail to her, was a woman in gold armor. A helmet, winged, sat at her side, pale blond hair, like straw was matted down to her forehead with grime, blood and sweat. A curious sword was in her hand.
"Who are you?"
Despite her injury, her voice was strong, firm; Saber could have recognized herself in the tenor.
When Rin stumbled into view, the gold armored woman turned her eyes towards the brunette.
"Not a resident I see." She commented. "The poison's gone and gotten to you then?"
Saber raised an eyebrow. "You say that as though this is normal. If such you must know of a cure!"
The woman shook her head. "No cure...besides magic."
"Tried mine." Rin stepped forward, standing next to Saber, wheezing breaths giving way to hacking coughs. "Never was very good at healing."
"Well...its slow. You'll have time to say a prayer" She said before shrugging. Evidently giving up on comfort.
There was a moment of silence.
"Do you come for the demons?" The woman asked before gesturing to the Fog gate. "Through here of course. If you can clear the way...I'll be all the more grateful." She pulled her other hand, the one not resting on her sword, away to reveal broken piece of jagged, rusty metal lodged into her side. "Don't think I'd fare very well as I am."
"Who are you? Why are you here?" Saber asked.
"My name is Selene Vinland." The woman answered. "I've returned to this land to find, and kill a man named Garl Vinland."
Shirou saw the Knight turn his head ever so slightly where he sat, only the smallest of clicks of his armor indicating he'd moved at all
"They've arrived." He hissed.
She looked behind her, staring at Rin.
Wheezing, sickly, weakened.
"Stay here." She demanded. "You're in no condition."
Rin looked back at her, and for a moment Saber feared the magus' stubborn streak would take over. She threw a small smile at the Servants way though.
"Just...don't tell Shirou I was out of the lining before even trying to go for the score." She demanded.
Saber raised an eyebrow.
She would never understand Rin's sense of humor.
She turned and marched through the door.
Saber was not surprised, as she stepped through the fog, to find a Demon waiting for her.
Nor for that matter was she wholly surprised at its appearance. It was a Golem of refuse, towering over her, but still only half the size of the Tower Knight.
She was surprised however, at the fact that beside it, she saw a gathering of slithering, wriggling leeches come together to form the mass of a humanoid upper torso.
Both beasts growled and gurgled, massive, club like fists smashing apart wood in a display of fury as Saber stepped forward, down the rotting ramps of wood, weapon in hand.
She was glad she'd convinced Rin to stay out of this one.
Whelp here you go. Next chapter is gonna be rather interesting. As players know, Astraea is one of the most memorable bosses in Dem. Souls. Not by any difficulty but by how great the voice actress' performance was. Especially when *Spoiler alert* You kill Garl. The contempt in her voice is palpable. I actually felt ashamed by my victory. Even though Garl had crushed me under Grant like an annoying fly quite a few times by then.
So, seeing as how its one of the, if not the mos memorable boss of those who beat the game, I hope to do it justice and make this fight special in the next chap.
Hope you all enjoyed R&R.