Bern looked down from the watchtower overlooking Havel's fortress. The crescent moon lit up the forest below him, but only slightly. The lack of light available did not bother him though. He had seen this view at daytime, and it was, in his opinion, not much to look at. Just a forest. Ocassionaly the grass of this particular forest was being trampled by horrifying Hollows. This, in Bern's mind, was quite unusual. He had spent almost a week keeping an eye on this forest from the walls of the fortress, and he had seen no less than twenty-six Hollows, an alarmingly large amount in his opinion. It was a forest in Lordran. This fact as well, made it different from other forests in Bern's mind, since it was the only part of Lordran he had actually been in, even if it only was for a few minutes, of which he had spent the majority searching the bodies of said Hollows. But apart from those things it was just a forest. Trees. Grass. Birds. Trees. Trees. Just a forest.
Bern sighed. No, guard duty was most certainly not what he had expected when he joined the army. He had not expected to be so far from his home either. Sure, a bit of marching was expected. But Lordran? No, this was not what he had in mind when he joined the army. He joined the army of Thorolund for one simple reason: to protect his home.
Bern was a simple man. If anyone were to ask him about his worldview (not that anyone cared about his opinion, a thing he had long ago noticed about the army) he would say that the world was a simple place. It was filled with simple people, and everyone had simple, understandable reasons for doing whatever it is they did. Bern, for example, was born in a family of farmers. So naturally he became a farmer. The life of a farmer was easy enough. As long as the Gods granted them nice weather, they continued sawing and harvesting, harvesting and sawing. Sometimes they sold what they harvested to people, who bought it for the simple reason they were too rich and busy to farm themself. But most of the time, Bern used what he harvested to feed his family. Not a very adventurus life, but a happy life.
Sometimes bad things happened. Mainly in other, distant places, but still. Wars, plagues, assassinations, bandits. The accursed Darksign. Bern and his family had heard of these things, sometimes at the market, sometimes from distant travellers. Children being kidnapped by sorcerers. Kings raising taxes. Bandits burning down villages. People turning undead, undead turning Hollow, Hollows overrunning entire towns. These things worried Bern, but rarely for long. He was simply to busy.
One day, the bad news had been coming from closer than normal. People were running past Bern's farm, running away. The Darksign had touched the neighboring village. Dussins of Hollows were moving towards Bern's farm, towards his home and his family. He did what any man would have done. He hid his family inside, barricaded the doors, and grabbed the only weapon he has: his scythe. He cut down the mindless undead that threatened his home. But bern was no warrior back then, and he soon found himself cornered by the horrible creatures that used to be men. This could have been the end for Bern, but luck smiled upon him. The undead horrors were defeated, not with the rusted blade of an old scythe, but with holy weapons swung by powerful hands, and with the great miracles of the Gods. Three Cleric knights of Allfather Loyd, sent by the church to destroy the abominations, had saved Bern and his family. That day Bern realized what he had to do to protect his home. He asked the knights to join the army, and they welcomed him with open arms. Joining the ranks of Thorolund was easy. A simple oath, a promise to stay true to the Way of White. A covenant with the Gods. And when Bern said he was not a great believer in the Gods, the knights simply smiled. Faith was not necessary for serving the Gods. Loyalty was enough, at least for the low-ranking soldiers. Bern had a new purpose now, but at the same time it was the same as always. Protect your home. Protect your family. Join the army.
Yes, join the army. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Now however, Bern wondered if standing here really benefitted anyone. Was he really helping anyone at all by being here right now? Was anyone of them actually making a difference in the world?
On the other hand, Bern thought to himself, maybe they did do something good. Perhaps the Hollows yesterday would have crossed the river and killed someone innocent if they had not been banished back to whatever Bonfire spawned them? Perhaps someone important, someone vital to the world, would one day cross this river into Lordran on some Holy mission, thanks to Bern and his companions? Perhaps they would eventually capture some wicked criminal, and thus be making the world better? Bern did not know what outcome, good or bad, their mission would have, but he knew he was not the kind of man who abandoned his commitments. He had made a promise to the army, and to himself, and deep down he knew he would honor his promise. No matter how stupid that seemed at the moment.
Bern once again looked down at the fortress. A dark silhouette was moving on one of the stone walls. The woman who had been assigned for guard duty with him was changing her post. Bern's eyes followed Elion until she disappeared into the darkness. Now there walked someone who had not joined the army to protect anyone but herself. A woman who did not follow her orders out of duty or faith, but because of greed. Of that Bern was certain.
As Elion's feet silently walked over the stones of Havel's fortress , she felt as she was being watched. She did not look around to confirm this feeling, however. She did not need to. Years as a thief had taught her to trust her intuition and her intellect, and right now they both told her that the watcher could be none other than private Bern. The fact that he was watching her did not bother her much, but his mistrust for her would surely become a problem eventually. When your profession is theft and treachery, people assume that you'll betray them. If her travels had taught her one thing, it was this: no one trusts a thief. And being a foreigner as well rarely improves matters.
Elion was born in Vinheilm, a fact that almost always surprised and confused her various asosiates. Vinheilm was known for magic and knowledge, not for criminals. But there was nothing strange about Elions choice of profession, nor her current employment for the Thorolund army. Just like everything else in the world, once put into perspective, it all made perfect sense.
As the daughter of a common servant, Elion,s father sent his young daughter to live and work at the Vilheilm dragon school as a maid. The servants and maids of the school were expected to perform the menial tasks unfit for the teachers and students, such as dusting, cooking and cleaning. But the life of a common housemaid was boring, and Elion soon developed an interest in the whispers between students, the rivalries between teachers, and the gossip between servants. Her friends told her to mind her own business and to perform the duties appointed to her. But the secrets of the Dragon school were to exiting for the young child to ignore, and she spent increasingly amounts of time eavesdropping and spying. She listened to silent conversations while dusting bookshelves in libraries, she read letters in teachers desks when cleaning their rooms, and she looked trough the keyholes of locked classrooms. Over the months, she learned about secret classes held in hidden rooms, forbidden books about hineus subjects, and of dark deeds ordered by the leadership of the school. And it never occurred to her to use this information. It was all a game to her, a way to pass the time.
But her fun ended abrubtly, as a patroling nightwatch discovered Elion sneaking around a forbidden floor. After the school's interogators learned how she had spent her time as a maid, the young girl became imprisoned. The leaders of Vinheilm accused her father for treason and conspiracy, and disregarded all claims on the contrary by both father and daughter. Elion did not know if her father eventually confessed to the accusations, or if the wise men of vinheilm came up to the conclusion themselves. She only knew that he was imprisoned and that she was released, believed to be a mere pawn. Without a home or money, and avoided by her former friends among the servants, the girl became a beggar on the streets of Vinheilm.
Thinking back at those days, Elion was surprised she had survived the first week on the street. Every day had been a battle to find food. Every night a struggle to find warmth. But she survived, and more. She learned. She learned how to tell the difference between people who might give a her few coins or a bit of food, and people who would kick her. She learned that rats meant food, and that food meant rats. She learned that food vendors were too busy bartering to notice a girl taking an apple or two. She learned were the wealthy had their pouches, and that few people were willing to chase her into the darker alleys. She learned how to observe, hide, steal, and run. She learned...
"Hello?" Elion snapped out of her thoughts. That was not Bern's voice. She crouched down. There were no torches illuminating her. She would prefer to remain unseen until the identity of the caller was known.
"Hello?" the voice called again. "Is anyone there?". It came from across the river. Elion peered into the forest, but saw no one. Doing her best to keep out of sight, she sneaked towards the watchtower. This could very well be a trick of some kind, and she did not feel safe to reveal herself without someone she trusted to back her up. But Bern would have to do.
"Bern! Bern! Over here!" The whisper caught Bern by surprise, and he flung around to discover Elion, who had just appeared on the top of the stairs leading to the watchtower.
"Hm? Oh, its you. Aren't you supposed to be guarding the river?" Bern asked, clearly unsure of why Elion would sneak up on him like this.
"That is why I'm here" Elion whispered. "I heard someone. A man. Outside."
"Outside?" Bern responded, still confused. "Who?"
"I did not ask, Bern. I thought it unwise to answer, in case it..."
Bern raised a hand. "Wait. There's a traveller on the other side of the river right now? And you did not tell him the fortress is inhabited? By the gods, girl! Are you mad? He's probably looking for shelter. He might have moved on by now!"
Bern ran past Elion down the stairs, out on the courtyard, and up the wall. Elion reluctantly followed.
"Where was it?" Bern asked her.
Elion pointed into the darkness. "That direction" she whispered. "But I think..."
Bern took a deep breath. "HELLO!" he bellowed. Silence.
Elion looked at Bern the way a fisherman looks at a child throwing rocks into the sea. "What are you doing? We can't..."
Bern filled his lungs once again. Elion covered her ears. "HELLOOOO!" For a few seconds nothing was heard, and then, the faint sound of twigs breaking. The shape of a man emerged from the forest. His appearance was hard to see in the faint moonlight, but his heavy breathing could be heard even across the river .
"Oh, thank you!" He panted. "Im...lost. I thought this fortress was... emty. I called... But no one..."
Bern glanced at Elion. "No one answered? Strange."
Elion ignored Bern's stare, and called to the man. "Do not thank us yet, traveller. Who are you? And why are you walking in these parts, far away from civilization? Running from something?".
The man shook his head violently. " No, not at all!. On the contrary... I'm looking for someone. I have been for a long time now. A relative. He was...travelling to Lordran. Have you seen him? I have something that belongs to him. I must give it to him."
Bern shook his head. "We have only been here a week. You are the first human we've encountered. But if it is Lordran you seek, we can help you. Wait over there! We'll lower the drawbridge for you!"
Bern turned away from the forest and stepped down from the wall. Elion ran pass him and blocked his way. " Do you intend to let a stranger into the fortress, a stranger you know nothing about I might add, without consulting your superior?"
Bern looked offended "Of course not! I'll wake her up first. Can't go around breaking chain of command and all that. Better listen to what my commander have to say about the matter first." He began walking towards the eastern tower. Before he opened the door, he turned to Elion. "Then I'll let him in."
Emin of Thorulund nervously looked at the large stone fortress in front of him. He did not know what frightened him the most, being lost in a vast forest at night, or being at the mercy of strangers.
"They have not shot at me yet" he thought. "Although, they could be bandits, waiting to ambush me inside. Not that I have anything to steal." He looked down at his clothes: the robe and hat of a Thorolund cleric, warm and durable, but hardly valuable. An old mace hung from his belt, along with a talisman. Perhaps he should have mentioned that he was a cleric? "No matter" he thought. "Lets just hope they'll let my stay for the night, and then point me in the right direction."
It seemed like a very long time, but eventually he heard the sound of machinery, and then the great drawbridge lowered itself. Emin briefly wondered if it was wise to walk into what very well could be a bandit-nest, but quickly decided that he it was just as foolish to attempt to continue journeying trough the forest without a clue were to go. He then stepped onto the bridge, and started to move towards the gate. Halfway to it, the gate opened, and a woman holding a torch became visible. Emin felt a chill. She did not exactly raise his confidence. The torch illuminated a woman in a black leather armor. A mask covered her lower face, and knifes and daggers glimmered in her belt. "Perhaps they are bandits after all?" Emin thought.
The woman pulled down her mask. "Come forward" she said.
Emin recognized the voice as the female who had questioned his errand here. As he came close enough for the fire to illuminate him, the woman's face showed the faint signs of surprise. She stepped aside, and gestured towards the gate.
"A cleric? Welcome then."
He entered the fortress.
Four armored warriors greeted him in the courtyard, all holding torches. Two of them wore knight armors, one seemingly more well-made than the other. Beside them stood a woman in common leather armor, and a large bearded man in a chain mail.
"Welcome to Havel's fortress" spoke a female voice from inside the finer armor. "I am Viria of Thorolund. I apologize for the delay. We are not used to travellers. Come, let us continue inside."
Emin's spirit rose. Countrymen! Perhaps he would not die tonight after all.
"So, what holy mission brings you to this land?" Viria asked. She sat on the chair opposite to Emin's, and Derius sat on her right side. Elion and Bern had been sent back to guard duty, and the remaining two soldiers were back in their dorm. Emin looked nervous, and took a long sip from his cup before answering.
"Well, it is not my mission that is holy, my lady. I left the monastery I live in to look for a relative of mine, who... Well, it's hard to explain." He took another sweep from the cup.
"Yes, your brother" Viria said. "Bern mentioned something about him. Could you please elaborate? Im afraid I can't just send you on your way, without knowing why you wish to enter Lordran."
Emin reached into his satchel, and took out a small bottle, glowing an orange glow. Viria's eyes widened.
"Estus? Are you an undead?"
Emin slowly shook his head. "No my lady. I am afraid it is the one I seek who have been cursed by the heinous sign. My younger brother, he...he changed a few months ago. The head clerics of the monastery ordered him to journey to Lordran. To seek Kindling, he said. I discovered this flask in his room. He must have forgotten it. You must understand. My brother is no warrior. He won't survive without it. It is my responsibility to find him. To aid him in his quest."
Viria nodded. "I understand. You have noble intentions, cleric. We can not help you much, but you may rest here tonight. Derius will take you too his room. Tomorrow you may continue into Lordran."
Derius looked up from his scrolls. "Hm? Did you say something?"
Emin sat on his bed on the other side of the room. Or rather, it was Derius bed, but tonight it belonged to Emin. Derius were to sleep in his chair tonight. That was, if he got any sleep at all. He doubted he would be able to close his eyes for long, with all the excitement tonight. A traveller, finally. And a fellow cleric too.
"Not a very bright cleric though." Derius thought. "Travelling to Lordran alone. At night. And with such a difficult mission. Finding a single undead in a land practically overflowing with them. Not to mention that the poor soul could be hollow already. Still, he may succeed, Gods willing."
"I was just thinking out loud" Emin said. "This temple. It is far more spectacular than the monastery I'm used too."
Derius nodded. "Havel himself oversaw the construction of these statues long ago. He was a dedicated follower to most of the Gods, even the lesser known ones."
Emin pointed at the statues of the various deities sculptured into the stone walls. "Flann, Gwyn, Mcloyf. And, uh, who is that?"
Derius raised an eybrow. "Lloyd!"
Emin blushed slightly. "Of course."
"Surely you must recognize the image of the Allfather? His face is on the gold coin!"
Emin's face became even redder. "Forgive me, I, uh, have not been a member of the cloth for long."
Derius returned his attention to his scrolls. "I see. For how long have you been a cleric, then?"
Emin counted on his fingers. "Oh, about half a year I think."
Derius looked up. "And you still embarked on such a riskful journey? Have you learned the art of Miracles?"
Emin smiled. "Yes. Yes I have. I know Heal, of course. And Force, but I have not yet used it in practise. Oh, and my brother taught me Seek Guidance just before he left, but it does not seem to be working for me. Do you know it?"
"I know OF it" Derius responded. "It is taught to those burdened by an Undead Mission. It shows messages from other worlds, other planes of time. It only works within Lordran, though. It is said time flows differently in the Land of Lords."
"Ah. So it could work now then? We are in Lordran after all."
Derius shrugged. "The very edge of it, yes. I guess there's no harm in trying. I would like to see this strange Miracle with my own eyes."
"Very well. Give me a moment."
Emin pulled out his talisman. He got up from the bed and walked to the center of the room. He stepped down on one knee and closed his eyes. His lips began to move, and then, a ripple seemed to emulate from him, and then vanish. Emin rose.
"Just like before. Nothing."
Emin followed Derius gaze. Giant orange glowing letters had appeared on the floor in front of an empty pedestal. Carved in flaming letters, the message read:
PRAISE THE SUN!
"It works." Emin whispered. "It actually works. But what does it mean?"
Derius furrowed his brows. "I do not know."
They watched the mysterious message in silence. After a while it faded away, and the two clerics looked at each other. Emin put back his talisman in his pocket.
"Well, I know it works now. Perhaps the miracle will help me on my journey."
"Yes, I pray it will. Goodnight."
The company of guardians watched how the young cleric disappeared amongst Lordran's trees. They had advised him to walk towards the great walls in the distance, and then attempt to find some cave leading further into the mountains. None of them knew exactly were the entrance to the Catacombs was, but they all agreed that the way there must be possible by foot, and that it lay far away from Anor Londo.
Bern turned to the others. "Think he'll make it?"
Viria shook her head. "I'm not sure. Others have returned from the catacombs, true. But he is no Undead. If he falls down some dark pit, or if he encounters any Hollows, well..."
"And let's not forget what his goal is" Klerno said. "He does not look for Kindling, a task difficult enough on its own. He tracks someone who seeks it. His brother might be dead ten times over by now."
"That's all assuming he is who he claimed." Elion said. "Personally I think he might have hidden something. His story seemed a bit far-fetched"
"Of course you would think that" Bern muttered. "If it were up to you he'd still be walking around the woods, not knowing that anyone lived here."
"Indeed. Perhaps you too will learn to be cautious one day"
Viria sighed. "Enough, you two. We should all be proud of our work here today. We have assisted a traveller's journey into Lordran, and trough his efforts, an undead mission might be aided. Now, let us not dwell on HIS mission. We still have a long stay ahead of us. The sooner we return to routine, the better."
The company began moving their separate ways. And Bern looked at the forest below and thought that perhaps they did do something good, after all.
Emin jumped down the slope of the cliffs he had spent an hour climbing. He examined his new surroundings. A chasm stretched out in front of him, the remains of a broken stone bridge crossing it. He looked to his right. It seemed like there was a path leading around the chasm there, but he did not like the look of the stone figures he saw alongside it. He had heard tales of ancient traps rigged long ago by the worshippers of Nito. He looked to his left. The dark hole of a cave-like tunnel. He had no lantern with him, and he would prefer not to blindly feel his way past coffins and fragile skeletons.
"Oh my" he mumbled to himself. "Where to go now? I guess I could just wait here. Perhaps Emon will pass here on his way to the wherever the Rite of Kindling is. Or perhaps he's already found his way there, and is taking some other way back? For all I know he could be back in the monastery already. Oh Gods, I should never have left. I am utterly lost once again, and I doubt anyone will help...me?" He looked down at his talisman. "Hm. Maybe I could..."
Emin kneeled, and began to mumble the prayer of the Seek Guidance miracle. Again, golden ripples appeared around him. He rose and searched the ground. To his left, in front of the dark tunnel, an orange text said:
BE WARY OF A POWERFUL FOE
Emin began to feel desperate. He was no fighter. If something lured in the darkness in front of him, he would never see it coming. He looked around after another message. In front of him, right on the edge of the chasm, glowed another, its text highly visible in the darkness.
Emin slowly moved towards the very edge, and carefully peeked down. At first he saw only darkness. But then he thought... Did he not see something glowing down there? A white glow far below?
"Saint ahead?" he mumbled.
He had heard the tale of brave Paladin Leeroy, the first to seek Kindling so very long ago. He also remembered what Derius had told him, that the laws of time were different here. Perhaps... Perhaps this was a sign, a sign from the long dead hero? A clue to guide him on his quest? The chasm looked deep. Very deep. Could he survive the fall? What awaited him down there if he did?
Emin of Thorolund closed his eyes. He then took a deep breath...and took a step forward.
Author Note: Hello dear reader(s?) Adam here! So, there's chapter 3 of my very first fanfiction! Phew! If I'm making some kind of mistake with grammar or such that makes you leave big red handmarks on your forehead, please let me know!