Author's Note: Originally posted to my tumblr account. Decided it might as well be shared here too. Enjoy.


Time is distorted in Lordran. Among other things.

The curse of the undead, the Dark Sign, changed the way life, and death, worked. The living now had to fear undying as much as they did death and the dead need only fear losing themselves though their mortal form remained a broken effigy of what it once was. The use of the white soapstones allowed the phantoms of countless worlds and different times to interact. Brave heroes and legends of time long past fought alongside aspiring young champions and enterprising scoundrels of the present and the future. Life and death, time and ages, it all becomes convoluted in Lordran.

It was only a matter of time before it all coalesced and something weird happened. In this case, the various phantoms and denzins found it amazingly easier to interact with each other. The ethereal barriers that separated them had grown far more thin.

That was how the Phantom of Saint Leeroy became the barkeep at a makeshift counter overlooking Firelink Shrine. The whole operation, managed by that shifty undead merchant down in the burg and supplied by the one who contented herself to forage moss. Estus and all manner of fermented moss types, it was all there watched, served and guarded by the shadowy form of Leeroy whom the merchant decided could double as both the barkeep and the bouncer. It was the only reason the holy relic Grant sat there by the side of the counter.

Stranger things have happened, no doubt.

Leeroy picked up another ancient, dusty tankard. The patrons of FIrelink bar were not choosey. For the undead, it was far more important to experience the things which were so familiar, to act out old fond memories than for everything to be in place. And so Leeroy watched the phantoms and undead come and go, some familiar and others new but easily forgotten as they never returned.

The usuals quickly formed and left only to be replaced by more. Looking up, he spotted the first of four very familiar phantoms. This one had an orange golden glow and sported an assortment of various pieces of heavy armor while carrying a massive Zweihander. To those that knew him, he was Saul, a Warrior of Sunlight. Sallying up to the bar, he placed a glowing token orb of souls which Leeroy pocketed and then passed him a glowing tankard of estus.

The next phantom to arrive glowed a dark azure and wore a long coat and his head was obscured by a hood and bandana drawn over the lower half of his face. The pardoner's rapier hung on his side alongside a catalyst and buckler. Monty the Darkmoon Blade always seemed to be weary with the world and he seemed to carry this weight as took the stool next to Saul.

"Hello, Saul." Monty greeted wearily as he exchanged some souls for a tankard of estus.

"Hello, Monty. Praise the Sun!" Saul replied, trying to sound enthusiastic and almost pulling it off.

"Bad day?"

"Yes."

"Same here."

"What happened to you, bro?" Saul inquired through his closed face helmet.

"Desiree happened." Monty grumbled.

"Her again?"

"I don't want to talk about it. Do you want to talk about your day?" the Darkmoon Blade deflected as he took a sip from his drink.

"Got summoned a couple times, just in time to watch my summoner die from an invader. Another time I arrived just to be told that my summoner had challenged the boss while I was all the way in the back of the run. Why do people not wait for their summons? I ran as fast as I could just in time to watch their face get bashed in. I can't do any jolly cooperation if my summoner doesn't jolly well cooperate with me!"

"Were you able to get any humanity?"

"There was one time I showed up and did all the work while the summoner ran around screaming in panic."

"Want to guess how much humanity I got making the guilty pay the price?"

"How many?"

"None!" Monty hollered angrily. The two looked over to see Leeroy jab his finger downward irritably as a silent scold to keep it down.

The two turned around in time to watch another phantom arrive. Glowing a crimson red, a woman carrying a long katana and encased in the armor of a silver knight sauntered up to the bar and smirked at her peers.

"Hello, boys." she greeted.

"Hi, Desiree. Praise the sun!" Saul replied.

"Hello, Monty." she snickered, noticing the man had not responded to her greeting.

Monty grumbled a greeting.

"Sore spot? I admire your dedication today. Don't worry. One day, you might be able to give me a scratch."

"My blue orb kept sending me to you. I can't help who I get sent to and I was having a bad day!" Monty protested.

"Bad day? More like a bad streak. The only reason I feel guilty is because I got more humanity from you than from the other saps I actually invade. You kept interrupting my invasions."

"One day I'll get you."

"How many times did he invade you?" Saul asked curiously.

"Ten." Desiree answered smugly.

"And you lost all ten?" the Warrior of the Sun looked at Monty with both surprise and pity.

"I almost had her once." Monty growled.

"Don't feel bad that you don't get any humanity in your line of work, Monty. At this rate, you don't even get any souls." the Darkwraith taunted as Leeroy pushed her a cup of bubbling estus.

The last spirit to arrive to finish the quartet was one wearing raggedy clothes and hood, armed with a great ax and with a glowing orb of fire in his off hand. Grinning hysterically, Freddy the Forest Hunter sat down and ordered a tankard of purple moss beer.

"I can't believe you can drink that stuff, brother." Saul frowned in disgust as he eyed the vile looking violet brew.

"I am a pyromancer! I must be one with nature!"

"...You burnt down half the trees that one time I invaded a guilty spirit in the forest as you were fighting him." Monty retorted skeptically.

"And you nearly set the toxic lake on fire down in Blighttown." Desiree added.

"It's all the same!" Freddy shouted giddily, downing the brew in one swig and then ordering another. Leeroy motioned for him to keep it down and then fetched his order but decided he was going to keep a particular eye on Freddy today.

Leeroy kept an ear on the conversation as he polished another tankard and watched the various phantoms and spirits fade in and out of view. At one point he saw the four knights of Gwyn on the day that Artorias introduced his newest companion, a wolf pup. Hawkeye Gough nodded with approval as he stuck a long, serpentine hand carved pipe through one of the vents on his helmet and began to puff on it. He was the only one giving his approval. Ornstein clearly was opposed to the idea judging from his face palm but apparently the dragonslayer was of the opinion that when the abyss walker insists on keeping a pet, one simply cannot forbid him to. Ciaran was mostly infuriated because the pup first peed on her boot then started chewing on the hem of her skirt. Leeroy felt himself smile under his helmet just as the apparition faded away. The four in front of him were still talking, bickering and bantering with gusto.

Leeroy had seen this countless times in the years his spirit sat in the catacombs. The journey the undead must venture is treacherous and long. Sometimes it is easier to etch a living in the land of the ancient lords than to see the end of the mission. Given enough time an undead can exist almost comfortably in a line of work just as these four had found. Like so many of the others here at Firelink it is easier to live in a state of denial, keeping busy with whatever they found to occupy themselves than to see their mission through to the end. And was that for the best? Who knew how long anyone had until they went hollow? The curse was not always consistent in how it fell its victims. It had a pattern but not a formula. Leeroy had watched it often enough.

Another day passed and Leeroy handed off the profits to a vagrant to skitter off to the merchant down in the burg. The lazy bastard couldn't be bothered to leave his spot but still demanded on time payments. As the vagrant disappeared, Leeroy saw a momentary appearance of Gravelord Nito one the day the he, Gwyn, the Witch of Izalith and Seath triumphed over the dragons. A stray puff of flame from the Witch caught on the gravelord's tattered, midnight robes. It quickly turned Nito into a raging fireball. And that explained the amazing lack of torches in the Catacombs from that day forward.

The four phantoms showed up again. Apparently, it had been another big day for them all considering how animated the discussion was. It was all centered around Freddy who was the center of their ire.

"Brothers! This is most vexing! I hear enough stories on your exploits but never would have I thought my first encounter with all of you at once would be such a disaster!" Saul complained loudly, arms permanently fixed in the posture famous for his order though now it was done in anger. "And all I was doing was trying to protect my summon!"

"And all I wanted was to take his humanity!" Desiree whined.

"Speak for yourself! His name was in the Book of the Guilty and his sin still is not paid for!" Monty snapped.

"Guys, it was really fun when you all centered around that guy and I blew you all up with a fire tempest. I looted so much stuff from you all it was amazing! My best kill yet! I love you guys!" Freddy giggled, his balled fists shaking with glee.

"Freddy!" the others protested.

Leeroy had to smile, at least under his helmet he did.. There were good days in Lordran, or at least the moments where even the undead a small respite of happiness. Even the hollows could enjoy the warmth of the sun on their leathered skin but such joy could only be short lived in this land of the undead. It was just the nature of things. Sometimes the exhilaration of the adventure and enduring the hardships, the triumphs over them, was enough to distract anyone from the tragedy happening around them and buried under their feet, lost to the ages but not to the soapstones they used.

Their reminder came soon enough.

Leeroy noticed it when Desiree was the first to show, which was rather uncharacteristic for her. Her long black locks, despite being braided and tied around her head, still seemed disheveled and out of place. Without a word she walked up to the bar, sat on a stool and demanded the largest flask of the strongest estus he had. Leeroy parted his arms to ask what it was but Desiree did not answer and Leeroy had no choice but to honor her request when she produced the right amount of souls. She started drinking through it rather quickly but like Leeroy, she remained silent.

Monty came next. His arms shot up in bewilderment as he spotted her. Desiree's attentions remained fixed on the glowing bottle in front of her.

"There you are! Where have you been? I've been using my orb like a Warrior of Sunlight praises and I never once found you." Monty complained as he stepped up next to her. Desiree raised a hand and cut off whatever else he was going to say when it covered his mouth through his hood.

"We have more important things to talk about, something bad happened today." Desiree hissed. As if on cue, Saul and Freddy also arrived.

"Desiree, I feel that you are troubled. How can there be jolly cooperation if there is no joy?" Saul asked in all of his usual enthusiasm. Freddy at least had the sense to not go on one of his usual exultations of pyromancy.

"I was in New Londo today when I saw the warrior who would sit here at the shrine. Haven't you all noticed he isn't here?"

"Come to think of it, he is missing from his usual spout." Monty noted, finger and thumb on his chin. "Why would that lout be visiting New Londo?"

"Because he went hollow." Desiree hissed furtively.

The others stared at her in shock.

"Hollow? He went hollow?" Saul blathered.

"Well...that can't happen to us, right?" Freddy squeaked.

"But we're undead too! We all have the Dark Sign, and so did he." Desiree protested.

"Brother," Saul turned to Monty as if having an inspired thought. "You are the smart one and the researcher among us. What theories do you have on this?"

"Hmmm. From what I've heard, the rumors and observations, the pattern that emerges is that those who give up and despair, who lose everything, eventually lose themselves and go hollow. It is the depressed and despairing who are most vulnerable to the final curse of the Dark Sign." Monty explained.

"Well, there you have it. We'll just have to continue in jolly cooperation and we shall have nothing to fear of this curse." Saul nodded enthusiastically. Desiree continued drinking from her bottle until she could find the bottom. They didn't speak much that night leaving Leeroy to his polishing and his meandering memories.

For awhile, things continued on as they always had done. Souls find ways to keep themselves preoccupied. Leeroy watched the phantasms of Gough continue to whittle away at the carved trinkets he did so well alongside Ciaran who decided to give it a try. She ended up demolishing the whole thing but she did carve up her fingers while a faded aura of Quelaag scratched another grotesque tickmark onto a stone in her lair, marking another poor fool who gave up his humanity.

As for the four phantoms at his bar, they were up to different hijinks. Monty looked over at Saul who was heavily drinking from his tankard of estus.

"What did you do today?"

"Brother," Saul started with a winded breath and a raised finger. "I have successfully found no less than 52 different hazards that a brother must avoid while down in the toxic swamp of Blighttown."

"52? I'm not sure whether to expect that to have been lower or higher." Monty murmured thoughtfully, recollecting the hazards he had to negotiate when punishing the guilty there. "Did you find any new ones I may not have known about?"

"That's the thing!" Saul complained loudly. "At one point, it seemed like all of Blighttown got really bright! And then it went really black and the next thing I knew, I was dead and sent back to my own time. No one would summon me back there anymore after that!"
"That's...odd...I'll give it a few days before I go back down there." Monty murmured.

"What about you, brother?" Saul inquired curiously.

"Reorganized my spell collection, practiced a bit with my rapier, counted all the books in the Duke's archives, tried to read what I could. Crystal script is hard on the eyes." Monty sighed before placing his fingers on the cold estus drink he ordered. "And it chews up your fingers."

Desiree showed up next. She had found a new outfit and a new weapon. Long robes, a nearly closed hood and a massive scythe was really appropriate with her line of work.

"Hello again. I understand you better now, Monty. Being extra light on your feet is really helpful." the Darkwraith purred as she sat next to him. He raised an eyebrow at her.

"Somehow, I don't believe you decided to imitate the grim reaper just to be light on your feet." Monty replied skeptically.

"It's also very intimidating for the poor, unexpecting souls I invade. I'm trying to find as different outfits that make the poor schmucks quake." Desiree grinned wickedly.

"And then what will you do after that?" Saul asked.

"Find how many different outfits lull them into a false sense of bewilderment."

Freddy arrived bringing in great billowing clouds of smoke and yet despite being covered head to toe in a thick layer of soot, not to mention his clothes were probably a total loss, the man wore a wide, clean, white smile. Without a word, he sat on the bar. He didn't even make an order, simply content to sit there while his eyes' bright, unrelenting glare showed he had gazed upon glory and now he could die in peace.

"...Fred?" Desiree started, clearly concerned.

"Are you well, brother?" Saul asked loudly.

"I am more than well. I have finally done it!" Freddy declared, still in euphoria.

"What did you do?" Monty inquired curiously.

"I…" Freddy started off dramatically before taking a breath and letting out a giggle. "I...ignited the whole toxic swamp."

Silence reigned among the group for a moment before they came to their senses. "Wait, the whole swamp?" Monty cried.

Freddy giggled and nodded.

"The whole thing? Blighttown and all?" Desiree breathed in bewilderment.

"I'm sure it will burn out eventually. It's really smoky down there, though."Freddy shrugged.

"Not cool, brother. Not cool." Saul grumbled and without another word, he left the table and marched off to fade away to his own world.

"You'd think he'd be the most happy." Freddy said in shock. "He's always praising the sun and I ignited a pretty big fireball. With the way he's acting you'd think I had cheated him out of a Sunlight medal or two."

Leeroy shrugged. As far as he was concerned he was just a crusader phantom offering to help and challenge those who wandered into the catacombs while also moonlighting as a bartender at Firelink. But he had watched a great many things. It was only human to distract oneself so to hide from the growing darkness encroaching on all sides. Finding covenants to serve in, collections to complete, personal feats to accomplish, they all worked well enough to stave off and idle the time away before the Dark Sign exacted it's final hollowing and a soul was extracted of all its humanity. And yet, these four phantoms, like so many others, learned to build vermillion walls to feel safe in despite the storm clouds overhead. It was so uplifting and sad to watch.

Freddy and Saul teamed up and killed the red drake guarding the walkway above the Undead Burg. Monty went to Oolacile brought some interesting trinkets for everyone though he kept the magics to himself. Desiree invaded a world with two phantoms guarding their summoner and fell all three without even being touched. And yes, ugly things still happened but they found ways to overcome it through one way or another.

"I am worried about my patron, brothers." Saul declared one day at the bar.

"Patron?" Monty asked, wanting clarification.

"Knight Solaire, a most jovial fellow and hero among men."

"What's wrong with him?" the Darkmoon blade inquired, sipping some more estus.

"He seems to have become more morose. He is searching for his own sun and he has not been able to find it. But I have been following his path! He has done so much to help me so I figure that I will be a brother to him and help him on his journey to find his own sun."

"That's the spirit, Saul."

"I'm just as worried about Laurentius. He went off down into Blighttown and I haven't seen him since." Freddy admitted.

"I'm sure, he'll show soon." Monty replied, confident in his reassurances. After all, Big Hat Logan returned to him.

"You don't sound worried at all about anything, brother." Saul observed.

"I'm actually worried as to why Desiree hasn't showed up yet." Monty admitted.

The sound of a phantom arriving gathered their attention and they looked over to see Desiree, as confident as always sauntering up to them. She was carrying another item in addition to her usual assortment of things. She handed it to Monty as she sat at the bar and ordered a drink from Leeroy.

"I found this catalyst but I have no use for it. You can have it." she explained, feeling generous. Monty grasped the magic implement and started to examine it more closely.

"I sense a powerful soul in it. It seems to respond more to faith though, than magic, which is strange indeed. Wait...how did you get this catalyst?" Monty demanded, eyes narrowing.

"Just a little exploring, that's all." Desiree lied with a smirk.

"...Did you happen to visit the tomb of Lord Gwyn?"

"I might have. And I had to kill someone in the way."

"Oh, Desiree...why did you do that?" the Darkmoon hissed, brows now contorted into deep concern and pity.

"Why?" the Darkwraith asked.

"...You will soon see." Monty replied cryptically and abruptly left his seat to leave. Leeroy shot his arms out to the side in annoyance. Monty had forgotten to pay.

"I shall be a brother!" Saul declared enthusiastically and paid Leeroy. The paladin accepted the souls and gave a bow of thanks.

The next day they were left to their own adventures and what madness they were. Saul raised his arms in praise to the sun. He and Solaire had just slayed a great centipede demon and what a glorious kill it was. Solaire sat moping at the next bonfire. Saul was tempted to be put down by this by he realized that when he had always despaired and felt weak, Solaire had been there to cheer his spirits and inspire him to victory, often rushing headlong into the thickest of the fighting with no regard to his own safety, his only thought to be a Warrior of the Sun, to engage in jolly cooperation and bring victory for his brother. If Solaire had helped him through his darkest times, he too could help Solaire. He just needed to help the eccentric knight only a little further. Solaire was getting close to his own sun. Saul knew it.

Meanwhile, Freddy searching for Laurentius again in the depths of Blighttown before finding himself wandering into Queelag's domain. Feeling the need to blow off some steam, or vent some pent up pyromania, he wandered past the bell and into the alcove where he proceeded to cast every pyromancy he knew. He almost didn't notice a wall open when a stray flame hit it and revealed its secrets. He never would have noticed had he not exhausted his pyromancy and, needing to rest, he instinctively started moving towards a familiar source of fire. He stumbled over a talking mound, there were stranger things in Lordran, you start to become desensitized to these things, and sat down by the bonfire.

As he felt the immolating energies return to him, Freddy looked over and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw an enormous spider. The he noticed the half naked woman, or at least her abdomen and torso, jutting from the top of the arachnid's head. Memories started to flood back as well as the realization that both spider and woman looked sickly indeed. However, his senses did not lie...he could feel a very strong pyromancy indeed. If Queelag was one of the daughters of Izalith and he had learned so much from Quelana then perhaps this sister could also teach him something?

Freddy smiled. He was sure he could find a way or two to gather those wayward sprites of humanity.

Most of Blighttown was still extra crispy from his earlier experiment. Truth be told, he wondered if the lack of hostilities had more to do with the choking black smoke which was as thick as magma rather than the actual depletion of enemies. It didn't matter, Blighttown was not his objective, he had to go further up.

Freddy climbed up the ladder and to the gloomy and soaking Depths. Gazing at his surroundings, he remembered how much of a nuisance this place was, at least before he knew of the actively Blighttown would try to kill the tourist who passed through there. But while the Depths was filled with basilisks who would turn a man to stone, there were still rats who gathered the sprites of humanity, possibly through the consumption of carrion but he was never sure. What mattered was that he was here to do some pest control.

Charred basilisks were simply collateral damage.

Elsewhere, Desiree finally understood Monty's cryptic warning and she certainly had come to regret her previous actions. The constant stream of Darkmoon Blades prevented her from conducting her own invasions and even worse, other Darkwraith had come to gather her own humanity, her own alignment of no bearing to them. All humanity must return to the abyss, no matter the source. Fighting off one or two at a time was challenging enough, even fun at times but as she was force to kite more and more of them and as their numbers increased, so did her desperation. Trying to find a safe corner, she fled the empty temple to the revolving spires below. Turning around, she saw a duo of Darkmoon Blades approaching and further up the steps, the crimson outline of a fellow Darkwraith also in search of stray humanity. Gritting her teeth, Desiree drew her katana and scythe and went out to meet them. A parry here, a dodge there, a backstab with the scythe, another parry, a riposte, her stamina was gone and yet she could sense the red aura behind her. This was it.

She heard the sound of flesh and fabric tearing; but felt no pain or impact. Looking over, she saw the Darkwraith had the end of a blade growing out of his chest. There was a twist and the dark shade slumped and dissolved. Desiree looked up and saw the familiar coat and hood of Monty standing over her.

"Why did you kill him?" she asked breathlessly.

"The same reason I killed all the others here," Monty shrugged. "I noticed their names in the Book of the Guilty."

"My name is in there too, you know." Desiree murmured, steeling herself for a killing blow, wondering if she should fight back, dodge or accept it. The two then looked up to see more of the crimson and azure shades approaching from utop the steps.

"I can save your entry for another time. Quick, run to the spire and activate the lever. We have to make it look like I'm chasing you. Do it!"

Once the lever was pulled and the two were out of sight of the others, Desiree jammed her scythe into the mechanism. From there it was just a matter of waiting for them to either give up and activate their black crystals. This took awhile but it left the two plenty of time to talk.

"Well...this has been a surprisingly splendid afternoon." Desiree giggled once she felt herself able to use one of those little bones that would bring her back to a bonfire.

"Tell anyone this happened and I will deny everything." Monty warned.

"I promise. Though you've always been so determined to take my ear. What changed?"

"We're all guilty of something." Monty shrugged casually, looking off into the distance. "I started out as a thief, you know. I know what guilt really is. Besides, it didn't seem right to take advantage of you being in a really bad situation."

"So...private duel?" Desiree offered cheekily, hand on the hilt of her katana. Monty snickered.

"Some other day. I think I've made enough of the guilty pay their prices today. Don't wait too long. More blades may soon come." and with that, the Darkmoon Blade gave her a bow and activated his black crystal.

That afternoon, Leeroy was not sure what to make of this new set of developments. He hadn't even bothered to clean the tankards because the shock still had not worn off yet and he was not about to break a perfectly good glass. Chairs and tables could reanimate but breaking glasses was just inconceivable, undead or no.

He wasn't sure of what to make of the fact that Desiree and Monty were holding hands and she was practically snuggled up next to him at the bar. He shot his hands to his sides as if to demand what was all this was. The two were too focused with each others to notice him. He tried waving. No response. Leeroy looked skyward and shook his head. He was certain stranger things had happened.

The new couple at least had the decency to tone it down when Freddy showed up. The pyromancer was nervously drumming his fingertips together as he sat down at the bar. Unsure of how to proceed, Monty cleared his throat and tried to make conversation with his distracted friend.

"Did you learn something new today?" the Darkmoon Blade asked awkwardly, his glass of estus that Leeroy had deposited in front of him still untouched.

"Hm? Yes, learned a new pyromancy. Whatever." Freddy muttered distractedly, still in thought. Desiree and Monty exchanged concerned glances.

"Freddy, are you all right?" Desiree asked.

"Hm? Yes, sure. I just…"

"Yes?"
"I need to find more humanity! There has got to be a better way to collect it." the pyromancer growled.

"You could always become a Darkwraith." Desiree shrugged.

"What's with this newfound interest in finding humanity?" Monty inquired, curious as to what suddenly surpassed his friend's interest in fire.

"Its for...the Fair Lady." Freddy admitted sheepishly.

"The Fair Lady?" Desiree asked, not knowing. Monty simply nodded.

"I'll show you how to got to Oolacile tomorrow. You'll find a spot where humanity is easily gathered. And gathers."

The three looked over to see that Saul had arrived. He had gathered a new look in their absence. This immediately quizzical looks from them. Saul meanwhile dragged his Zweihander sadly along the ground and shuffled up to the bar before slumping forward onto the desk. Leeroy, already knowing where this was going, slide a bubbling tankard of estus to the Warrior of Sunlight.

"Something wrong?" Monty asked cautiously though very bewildered.

Saul sniffled in response. His new armor consisted of a white tabard with the icon of a brilliant yellow and orange sun on its center, a closed helmet with a feather stuck to its side while he carried a large round shield that shared the same icon as the tabard.

"Say, isn't that the same armor that Solaire wore?" Freddy commented. Saul slammed his head into the counter and sobbed a few times.

"He found his sun in Lost Izalith. And I had to make sure that it was there that his journey was done." He said no more after that and would not answer any more questions. That night passed on in somber silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

"Maybe we should all go to Oolacile." Desiree suggested after a long period of uncomfortable silence. The agreement was unanimous.

The next day, Desiree sat resting under a tree just outside Artorias' antechamber leading into Oolacile proper. She had just gotten back from another invasion and decided a break was in need. Looking over, she saw Monty appear in a puff of blue mist.

"Got back from another invasion?" she greeted with a smile.

"Yes, you?"

"Yes. Did you get another Giantdad?"

"Yep. You?"

"Of course."

"Parry and riposte?"

"Parry and riposte." she nodded contently.

Saul arrived in an equally dramatic explosion of orange smoke. The two were shocked to find the Warrior of Sunlight dragging himself along the ground, coughing and gagging as he hauled himself up to them and then collapsed for a moment.

"Got summoned to fight Kalameet?" Monty asked curiously.

"Yes!" Saul heaved with a cough.

"...Went bad?"

"Yes! I'm a Warrior of the Sun, not a dragonslayer."

Freddy came dashing by from the nearby building, clearly laden down with the swirling white, black auras of humanity sprites he had collected. That was the first time his friends noticed that he seemed a little more gaunt and dazed than usual.

"Brother, are you well? You seem worse off than me." Saul questioned as he tried to force himself up and ended up just collapsing on the ground again.

"No time to talk, must get these to the Fair Lady." he muttered before disappearing off.

"I'm becoming more and more worried about that boy." Desiree murmured from her seat in the shade of the gently swaying tree.

"We all need something to keep us going, lest we go hollow." Monty shrugged.

"Right, but what if in turn it makes us go hollow?" Saul posed, finally deciding to just roll over and gaze into the sky like his late patron did.

"That's...that is...quite a theory. But is it true? I don't know." Monty muttered to himself.

"You should know. You're the sorcerer here." Desiree retorted, smirking as she folded her arms in front of her chest.

"...Maybe? I don't know. That would put a new light of Master Logan's...no, no, that's not possible." Monty grumbled, a little too assertively before sitting down next to Desiree. The three remained there for some time letting the gentle breeze and the eddies of time drift away as the warmth of the sun rained on their skin. It took some time to realize that Freddy never returned.

In fact, Freddy didn't return nor did he show up at the bar the next day or the day after. For the three friends, denial soon turned into concern and concern into a biting desperation. After four days, it was decided an expedition was needed and they ventured down through the murky Depths and through the sludge of Blighttown before they made their way into the eerie chambers of Quelaag's domain. They didn't find Freddy in the gloomy chamber of the Fair Lady and the egg burdened attendant was no help, refusing to talk of anything that didn't concern his mistress.

What was more vexing was scrawlings all over the floor and walls of the chamber. Etched in an unsteady hand was a single, simple line. "Why won't she get better?" It was screamed from every line, from every corner, scratched again and again and again over and over.

"Brothers, does this flame seem familiar?" Saul called attention to a particular clump of flame clinging to the edge of the bonfire before the Firekeeper. Using his greatsword as a firepoker, he pushed the glowing orb from the rest of the fire and yet somehow, the ember kept its form. The three knelt down to better examine it and realized that it was Freddy's flame, the source of his pyromancy abilities. Gazing into the flame, they started to see his memories, or at least his most recent ones, in a distorted, disorganized fashion this his eyes. They saw the repeated trips into the Abyss, the constant farming of humanity sprites. They saw the many long gazes at the Fair Lady and then the welling and distorting of the images.

"He was crying." Desiree finally realized, the epiphany hitting her.

"But why was he sad? The Fair Lady is still alive." Saul pointed out.

"She's not dead...but she's not better." Monty murmured, looking at the scrawls around them. "He despaired. He couldn't beat the slow but steady creep of mortality."

And then the flame showed him gazing as his own orb of fire. More memories and images became scattered and foggy. Looking at their friend's hands, they saw the sickly and putrid appearance it had. Each felt a lump form in their throats when they realized that Freddy had gone hollow.

The last images, though faded and fractured, was of them, all four of them. He last thought of his friends before, in desperation, he turned himself to the flames on the bonfire, perhaps hoping that whatever desperate sacrifice he was making would be one last offering to the Fair Lady.

Saul picked up Freddy's flame and clutched it in his hands. This too he would collect and keep. This too he would hold in memory of the fallen.

Things became darker and foggier after that. Leeroy watched what remained of the friends day in and day out at the bar. Little was said among them. This too he watched. Again and again it played out in Lordran. Souls could build their empires in the land of the ancient lords but like the kingdom Gwyn built they soon find that sustaining it soon turns to stoking an illusion, more dream than reality. Spirits could try to amass their collections but like a maddening scholar locked away in his archives, they find their collections soon overtake them and the answers they seek lead only to more questions while the grim realization hangs over their heads that in the end, what they truly seek will always elude them because it simply cannot be done. Great feats can be chased after but a tormented effigy beyond Lost Izalith stands in testament that sometimes they go far awry and once done the pain they unlock cannot be shut up easily. Besides, once they are done what is anyone left with but a cold and dying ember?

Leeroy watched. The longer one puts it off the more and more clear it becomes. Ignore the Darksign and the Darksign burns all the brighter. Fight it and it mocks you to show up again and again. Embrace it and in doing so all vestiges of humanity is lost. But even then, what does it matter? In the end, the fires will fade and only darkness will remain.

He could see it in the shades all around them. At the end of the day so many of them were simply afraid of the reality that all things must end. Fight it and deny it and you go mad. Embrace it too deeply and all becomes madness. Find a way to accept it when the times comes, make peace with it and maybe, just maybe, the fires of life can fade while keeping one's humanity. Such a pity it was that so many realized this too late. He could see it in the phantoms around him as the three sat sulking there at his bar. He watched the shade of Lord Gwyn gazing off into the horizon on his last journey with only his great sword as his friend. The aging man stares with regret in his eyes as only a father who has lost a son can. He saw the figure of Ciaran faithfully attending the grave of Artorias, her frame ever slowly becoming more and more stooped until one day her own fire gave out and she became one with the grave. He saw a forgotten son secluded at the tomb of his father, projecting an illusion if only to protect the name of his patriarch who was never there. He saw a weeping daughter over the body of a father she sought to protect and in her love she was forced to strike him down. He saw an apprentice chasing the approval of an absent minded sage too caught up in his books to see the value of the life in front of him. And here he saw three more sad spirits realizing that they could either go hollow and then the sacrifices of all the fallen who came before them would mean nothing. Or they could accept the fate that was put before all of them. In the end, sacrifice was demanded of all of them.

"...We have to finish this. We all know this ends at the Kiln of the First Flame. We've just been refusing to accept it." Monty finally sighed.

"But...you know that it's the end when we finish that." Desiree whispered, taking his hand.

"Indeed my brothers, but perhaps it is time we accepted that with bravery. It is either that or risk one day going hollow." Saul declared. He was trying to sound brave himself but his voice was ragged with emotion.

"If we're doing this, we must go together." Desiree said sadly.

"But of course! There can be no other way. Jolly cooperation to the very end!" Saul declared. "I even still have Fred's flame. He will go with us on this final journey."

"Are you all ready? It's about time we made peace with this." Monty asked quietly. There was a moment but the silence was enough. Leeroy watched as the three got up in one accord and left in the direction of the Kiln. The paladin waited until he was certain that they had indeed fulfilled their mission. Under his helmet, he smiled and polished a tankard. Soon, it was time to close up for the night and so he put everything back in its place. As he left, his eyes fell to the front of the bar where the four so often sat and talked. His head tilted in curiosity when he realized the four of them had left something before they left, one must have done it for Freddy in his stead. Scrawled along the front of his bar were four summoning signs.

Leeroy first shrugged and then decided to praise the sun.