A Moonlit Night - talkingblueberry (2024)

Chapter 1: First Impressions

Summary:

A journey begins.

Chapter Text

Meditation.

That is what I do when I am not sure what to think. The Greater Will has always called to me since I came to the Lands Between. As of now, I have two Great Runes, that of Godrick the Grafted and Queen Rennala of the Full Moon. I have access to the Altus Plateau and the Erdtree Capital, though heading through Caelid would likely be better in the long run. On my way to Caelid, I seem to have gotten lost in a misty forest full of very large bears and a collection of old ruins.

In my meditation, I am seeing what the Will sees as a good next step. I believe that it is pleased by my decision to travel to Caelid, although there are other reasons I am heading to the wastes of the Crimson Rot. The Capital has a strong sense of finality that is intimidating. If I go there I might miss something or lose the chance to backtrack to Caelid. As I sit, consumed in my holy stupor, a loud howling echoes through the woods. I look quickly and fail to see any wolves around and assume they might be somewhere farther off out of sight. A memory emerges of a merchant telling me of a wolf that howls in the Mistwood. While I didn’t know where the Mistwood was exactly, I could assume that the misty collection of trees I found myself in was in fact the aforementioned Mistwood. The directions given to me by that merchant were to go to the source of the howling and snap. After the snap, a behemoth jumped from above and landed in front of me without so much as a sound. I could sense the powerful presence of the Greater Will within this looming creature.

“And who might you be?” A deep voice greets me through the mist and darkness of the surrounding area.

“Saki.” I am filled with a sense of hesitant mistrust. The Lands Between is dangerous and those living during the time of the shattering must be careful. The wolf creature stilled and sized me up with a keen glance and vibrant purple eyes.

“Who sent you, and why have you come to disturb my howling with that barbaric summons?” He seemed offended by the use of the snap to call him down from the high tower. That is what the merchant said to do, right? He continued slightly agitated, “By the shock in your expression, I assume that I was not the one you had intended to meet. That merchant has a way of leaving out key information. I do not mean to seem angry, it is only that I have asked Kale, but he won’t stop sending the stream of Tarnished he comes across my way.”

“So you are aware I am Tarnished?”

“Yes, While there are not many of you that I have come across, I have learned a small difference in scent all Tarnished share, that of gifted life and a stranger not from this land.” He lets that bit of information float in the air, silently moving through my own head. “Anyhow, I am Blaidd, the Half-Wolf. Kale and I had set up that signal to try and send able fighters my way. You see, I am in need of some assistance, Tarnished Saki.”

I have never been addressed with this much formality. It makes me uncomfortable, but I assume that this Half-Wolf is from some royalty, I mean his cloak and chest ornamentation seem to be quite regal. “What is it you need?”

“I require aid in searching for a man I have been ordered to hunt for he has gone mad and turned traitor to my Lady.” I nod, imploring him to continue with the information. “He is said to be within the limits of Limgrave but I have not had any luck catching a scent. I am able to give an ample reward to any that aid in this hunt.” Again, the wolf waits with the last bit of incentive in the air waiting for me to respond.

“I’ll see what I can find, Half-Wolf Blaidd.” With that, the wolf bows slightly and jumps off to somewhere deep within the mist. It seems I have a job to do before heading to Caelid.

In my numbing search for the elusive target, I have maybe investigated each patch of grass in Limgrave three times over. To pass some time doing anything but searching further, I decide to visit a nearby evergaol. I have never been to one before due to my fear of the rock snake things that surround it. As I kneeled to touch the center, the world faded to an eerie purple and a golden summon sign looms in the corner. I feel the same burning that I had for Blaidd and rush over to summon him. The figure emerges from the ground and greets me in that familiar deep voice.

“It seems my bounty has been found, a prisoner awaiting execution. Before this battle begins I feel I owe you some more information before we kill this beast. He was not always a beast. Through his simple mind, he was misguided and began to attack my Lady. He, Darriwil, was exiled for recompense, but it seems to have done him no good. Let this battle be swift and painless.” Blaidd crouches down and approaches the split in the earth on the opposite side of the Evergaol.

From a crack, a slim, beastly knight emerges on all fours carrying long curved swords, sure to cause bleeding and some other unsightly wounds. Both the half-wolf and the beast knight lower in a ready position. For my own sake, I was not ready for the ferocity this battle would entail. They both charge, swords clashing in a great show of flying sparks. Darriwil, wielding two different swords, is the more agile of the combatants and got in a quick hit after the clash, stabbing Blaidd in the gap between the chest plate and the thigh guards. It seemed deep. I know my incantations are slightly less effective on non-Tarnished, but I want to help in any way I can. Darriwil is fast, much too fast for my incantations if I was alone, but Blaidd is able to split his attention and let me complete my incantations uninterrupted. A flow of golden threads spread from my seal and lit the Evergaol in a gentle, golden glow. A perk of energy took Blaidd up to his feet and encouraged him to land a few nice blows onto Darriwil. The damage to the beast knight was split between the blows of Blaidd’s greatsword and the flames of my fire incantations. Blaidd goes to deliver the final blow, but Darriwil is able to counter and deliver a deep cut across Blaidd, splitting his chestplate. The half-wolf fell onto his back as the beast knight loomed over, ready to end the one who disturbed his peaceful isolation. Running behind Darriwil, I charge an incantation causing the beast to turn and receive a powerful burn, melting the front of the helm, and revealing a phantasmic face underneath. The beast collapses as the purple of the Evergaol recedes into the center of the stone platform. Relieved that the battle was over, I fall to the ground. Suddenly, I realize that Blaidd is still lying on the ground bleeding and I rush over. Expending the rest of the energy I had, I cast another set of golden threads to hopefully stabilize Blaidd. Pressing my seal to the half-wolf, I feel the breathing steady and saw his eyes peel open. He notices me and rises to his feet slowly, staggering slightly.

“Well fought. I would not have lived without your help. I had promised a reward so, here you are.” Blaidd hands me a large smithing stone and I quickly pocket it.

“Are you alright? That was a deep hit.”

“I am fine. Those incantations you are so keen on using have worked well. All I need is time to rest.” Blaidd looks down and sees the frankly unrepairable plate. “And a new set of armor. I hate to ask you to help again, but as a Tarnished you can travel much faster than I. If you ever find yourself at the northern edge of Liurnia, there is a large smith who seems out of place beyond a set of ruins. Tell him I sent you and he’ll know what to do.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, again.” Saying this, Blaidd rises slowly to his feet and starts to unbuckle the trashed plate. Underneath, surprisingly, were no open wounds, only the pale redness of newly healed skin standing out against gray fur caked with dried and fresh blood. As the plate hit the ground I had a fuller view of the person I had just helped in battle. A towering figure, covered in both thick gray fur and even thicker muscles procured from years of service and combat. Beyond the physical form, Blaidd had a golden aura that felt pleasant to be in and a sense of safety that only came from the peaceful grounds of Roundtable Hold or Rennala’s Royal Library. Deeper within myself there was a burning, a draw towards this half-wolf to understand this blessing that emanates from him so strongly. I bowed and parted ways with him once more as the evergaol spit us out. I suppose it's time to head to northern Liurnia.

Chapter 2: Princess of Rebellion

Summary:

Meeting the princess behind this madness and other members of hers.

Chapter Text

Upon arriving at the northern end of Liurnia, I spotted a patch of ruins known as Kingsrealm, and after claiming the Sight of Grace, went to explore. To sum up my experience in these ruins, it was a stumbling collection between teleporting aristocrat mages and armed glintstone traps that had the uncanny knack of finding their way directly under my feet. Also, throw in some packs of wild wolves relishing the opportunity to chase around someone so inept in the art of running away. Near the back of the ruins, a false wall was cleared by my continued stumbling and I happened upon a giant sitting at an anvil who seemed to be reading a book. He seemed to be wearing a veil of mirrors, so how he was able to read through them was a mystery to me.

“Greetings great smith. I believe I was sent to you by Blaidd the Half-Wolf.”

An uncharacteristically gentle voice emanates from this hulking form. “To you as well. Sent by Lord Blaidd. I am the giant smith Iji. Is he in need of repairs again?”

“We had just finished a hunt and he was hit by one named Darriwil. Blaidd lives and is well but is in need of a new set of plate.”

“A strike must be supremely powerful to break my armor. Who is it that is aiding Lord Blaidd so selflessly?”

“Saki, though I would not consider my aid to be quite so selfless.”

“Don’t be so modest, Lord Saki. Even if Lord Blaidd had given you a reward, I know he still appreciated the help even if he won’t say it aloud.” The manner of address is still discomforting for me, although Iji does sound sincere with the respect the title merits. “Well, I’ll get started on a new plate set for Lord Blaidd. Thank you, on behalf of him and myself.” The luminescent strikes of a hammer echo from the anvil as Iji began the process of forging a new armor plate suited for a hulking half-wolf like Blaidd.

“What is up there on the hill?” I ask.

The tinking continues through his words, “That is the manor owned by the Carian Royal Family, who both Lord Blaidd and myself used to serve dutifully. That was before… all you need to know, Lord Saki, is to avoid that manor. A magic trap was set to enthrall the attackers within the grounds of the manor so the family could flee. It is still in effect. Mad knights roaming every bit of ground and horrific magical abominations cling to its walls. I won’t try to stop you, I know your type, the adventuring Tarnished. There are many artifacts in the manor, abandoned by the family in their flight, that many are still seeking to take for themselves.” A small pause made it seem like Iji was going to say more, but the moment passed and the tinking continued.

“How did you know I was Tarnished?”

“You, and I mean this in the kindest way possible Lord Saki, give off an air of indecision and misdirection. You were given life for a single purpose that you do not want and it leaves you adrift in a dangerous world. You lack meaning since your purpose and desire do not align.” I was not expecting that amount of truth to be thrown into my face. Yes, I did not want to be Elden Lord but I did not appreciate being called meaningless no matter how true it is. As a Tarnished through and through, I decided to go against Iji’s advice out of spite and march up to the manor as I ought to. After a hail of arrows, I made my way into the manor gardens, weaving around traps and what I could only describe as the unholy monstrosity that seemed like it would be good at piano.

The stairs of the inner courtyard lead up past a group of pages and an armored troll. I had no idea trolls could use magic, but here one was skewering me with a blade of glintstone energy. A grand pool surrounded by chairs greeted me beyond that mess. The last surviving pages backed off and could not cross the threshold into this other courtyard. This can only mean one thing, a great enemy lurks somewhere within this pool intent on stopping my progress through this manor. I stepped into the pool to find that it was indeed filled with a small layer of water. As my foot landed in the water, the otherworldly sound of a summoning came from the center of the pool. The towering figure of a knight on horseback landed on the ground and a name flashed into my mind. Royal Knight Loretta. I am assuming that this is the final Carian knight, summoned as a final line of defense. Beyond this pool must be the treasures of the manor.

The knight prepares a phalanx of floating blades around their head and dances in the water. I think that the best response is the use of my few lightning incantations that I have. All alone, I dance around the swipes and spells of this great knight, responding in kind with spears of lightning and honed bolts from the sky. Each strike that lands sends a ripple of crackling energy through the shallow pool of water making my legs tingle in response. Strangely, I can see parts of the spirit start to become less solid. One jump and the horse’s hoof fades out, causing it to stumble and the knight to misfire a spell high into the cloudy sky. A final jump and a strike straight through the spirit caused the horse to fall and fade out entirely, leaving the knight to dematerialize silently from their feet. An armored hand reaches up to me from across the pool either in anger or beckoning. A splash and sparkle of magic energy signal the end of the battle. The pool seems to fade, losing its reflections and becoming flat as a new Sight of Grace appears in its center.

I now find myself on a plateau behind the manor and in the view of great towers in the distance. My adventuring instinct leads me to approach the tallest of the collection sneaking past the dragon that stalks the misty ruins. Stepping onto the tower, it was messy and seemed to be abandoned. At the top of the tower lay a pale blue doll. This figure seemed similar to a witch that I had met earlier. I was startled as it sparked to life and began to speak.

“Who goeth there? Show thyself and kneel before me.” The voice was light but domineering in its energy and threat of power that was not evident in the puppet’s appearance.

I walk out into the open with my hands raised, “Greetings, I am Saki.”

“Yes, I see the wretched blessing of the Two Fingers deep within thy fibers. The Greater Will flows strong. What ist thou intent for invading mine tower?”

“I am here on my own accord. I was simply exploring the manor.”

“Well, one wishes to keep familial relics where they are, lest the family begat its material as a gift to thou. Refrain from looting and the grounds are open at thou own peril. Withstanding my distaste for the Will, mine eye sees great power deep within. Hark these words Tarnished, I extend a rare invitation for thou to join the service of Lunar Princess Ranni.”

“I have a feeling that our alliance will be unsteady if you do hate the Greater Will, so I must say that I do not think I would be of much help.”

“Yes, understandable. Pay no mind to that. If thou believes this so, leave this tower for gold is not its complement.” I bow to exit and head back down the tower. On the ground floor, I see the spirit apparitions of Blaidd, Iji, and another that I am yet unfamiliar with. Seeing Blaidd, the burning flares up. I walk over and extend a hand, it passes through his form. I feel a powerful and distant connection to another mind.

“Yes, Lady Ranni?” Blaidd’s voice is quick to attention.

“This is not Ranni. It’s Saki.”

“Oh, Saki. Have you met Lady Ranni? This is how she usually communicates with me when I am out.” A spike of disappointment is mixed within Blaidd’s voice.

“Yes, I am currently at the base of her tower standing in front of a spirit version of you, Iji, and another I am unfamiliar with. Are you better from Darriwil? I was able to meet Iji and get him started on another piece of armor. Sadly, I believe Ranni already dislikes me.”

“Lady Ranni does not appreciate the Greater Will or their vassals and with you being both Tarnished and a prophet, it is a double package of distaste. I am doing quite better and am now at a fireside in southern Liurnia. I am glad Lord Iji was willing to help me again. I've asked for much and done little in return.” A pause of contemplation is accompanied with an audible sigh. “The other spirit there should be ‘Preceptor’ Seluvis. Has Lady Ranni asked you to aid in her path?” There was a lilt of annoyance in the uttering of Seluvis’s title.

“She had, though I declined.”

“I implore that you consider helping her, she is looking to live independently from the Greater Will. She hopes to change her nature to ensure her will is hers alone. The nature that she is of the Greater Will, child of a god, and the Will has a stranglehold on her life, part of it anyway. She, as of now, parted with her physical form and is now living within that doll, but must still free her spirit. I am sure that she has an idea to let you help her without drawing power from her enemy. I suggest you speak with Iji and see what his input is on the situation.”

“Thank you, Blaidd.” I draw my hand away, feeling empty now that the warmth of Blaidd’s blessing drained away. I approach the spirit of Iji and do the same to him saying that this is not Ranni and all.

The giant answers, “Ah, Saki, seems you have made it through the manor unscathed and met with Lady Ranni. Have you already spoken with Lord Blaidd?”

“Yes, he had told me of Ranni’s path and to ask you for some advice. Blaidd wants me to help but suggests that I find a way to draw power for my incantations that does not involve the Greater Will.”

There is a thoughtful silence before Iji speaks, “Ranni. Lady Ranni, is cunning in her way to avoid the Greater Will. Ask her. If you are genuine in your offer to aid in her path, then she will be willing to help you in this predicament.”

“Thank you, Iji. Before I leave, how is Blaidd’s new armor coming along?”

“Oh, I was able to finish the final touches as you were trudging through the rest of the manor. It is ready for whenever Blaidd arrives.” I leave and walk to Blaidd’s spirit to say Iji has his new armor ready at the base of the manor. Ranni is waiting for me at the top of the tower again.

“Saki, hast thou considered mine proposition?”

“I would like to know more of this path you speak of.”

“Mine path. I shall explain what that means in more detail. It is a reference to a rebellion against the Greater Will. I was begotten a ‘blessing’ through the Greater Will and yearned for mine independence for a long time. Through the use of the Rune of Death, I was able to separate from mine physical form and inhabit this doll as a representation. Where I am now, I must use an artifact from an ancient city to complete mine separation. As for Blaidd and Iji, they both served me while the Caria Family was still in power and even after their fall. For thou, I only request that thee aid Blaidd in exploring the Lands Between in search for the ancient city.”

“I would like to help you, but ask that I be given the ability to separate myself from the Greater Will as well.” This caused Ranni to pause and show surprise as much as a doll’s face could.

“As far as creating a new power for thine incantations, I have an idea. Being Tarnished, however, that is a bond that cannot be broken without removing its life-giving properties.”

“I see. If he is part of your rebellion, why does Blaidd have a strong blessing from the Will within him?”

“He has a blessing similar to thyself. Blaidd was a gift from the Will, my shadow, and his life is too tightly entwined with the Greater Will for its presence to be completely removed. As far as thine incantations, bring the seal to my mother, Queen Rennala. I can feel the power of the Rune of Rebirth, so it seems my illusionary spell to defend her hath failed. Tell me, how fareth the Queen.”

“She sits peacefully in her royal library holding a golden egg.” An air of concern falls from the doll’s tensed shoulders.

“Radagon’s parting gift, yes. Bring the seal to her, she can channel her power into it in some process I am not familiar with, removing the dependence on the Two Fingers for power. After doing so and fully committing thyself to my cause, join Lord Blaidd in the search for the eternal, ancient city of Nokron.” With that, I bowed to the doll of Ranni and exited the tower. I have not been inside Raya Lucaria since obtaining Rennala’s rune and am curious to see how she is now doing.

Chapter 3: Displaced Royalty

Summary:

Meeting the queen of the full moon and becoming a true part of the lunar princess's party.

Chapter Text

Raya Lucaria, school of glintstone sorceries, home of the legendary Queen of the Full Moon, Rennala. Now though, Rennala is alone in her library, holding the golden egg she was gifted. I approach, basking in the familiar environment of peace and warmth that permeates through this library, Roundtable Keep, and Blaidd the Half-Wolf.

“Have you come interested in rebirth?” Her voice is weak and uninterested, fully focused on the egg resting in her arms.

“No, Queen Rennala. I have come asking for your help. Lady Ranni has sent me in the hopes that your highness would be able to separate my power from that of the Greater Will.”

“Ah, joining my daughter’s rebellion, are you? A noble cause, breaking from the control of the Two Fingers. If it is the incantation you wish to break from, I can do that, but I am sure Ranni has told you what being Tarnished means regarding your ties to the Greater Will.” Without a noticeable change in her voice, she somehow sounded disappointed for me.

“Yes, I am only looking to change the source of my incantations.”

“Very well. Hand me your sacred seal.” The silver symbol slips into her empty hand and Rennala inspects it closely, turning it over as it begins to glow a pale blue. “Please, avert your eyes. The light of the Full Moon can be blinding to some.” The Queen raises and the room is now bathed in a bright pale light. I turn quickly and hear the wind of a tempest swell around me. Books fly off the shelves as the turmoil peaks and begins to die down. The room calms to still air. “Now open your eyes. Observe the newly granted power of the Full Moon.”

The seal was handed over, now though it does not resemble the Two Fingers at all but has taken the shape of a glintstone orb. Threads of pale blue energy move from the gem and fill the room. The power drawn is fundamentally different, with a refreshing coolness of the Full Moon rather than the golden warmth of the Greater Will. The incantations are now blue as well and are full of the flowing astral energies of glintstone and the Full Moon. Amazing, unlike anything I have ever seen in my time here in the Lands Between. I bow and take my leave from the library, leaving Rennala to her egg.

I decide to head back to Iji to see if Blaidd was able to pick up his new armor, and to let Blaidd know that Ranni told me to join him on his quest to find the city of Nokron. Arriving at the foot of Caria Manor, Iji was at his anvil, though the half-wolf was nowhere to be seen.

“Greetings Lord Saki. If you are looking for Lord Blaidd, he grabbed his new armor and went to wash up after his trek across Liurnia. There is a small pond north of here. You should be able to find him there.”

“Oh, thank you Iji.” How Iji knew I was there for Blaidd I am unsure. I head north, expecting to see Blaidd again and see how he has healed in the time between now and Darriwil. Along a trail, a pile of armor, a large fur cloak, and a greatsword lie on the ground, certainly Blaidd’s. Within the ring of trees is a clear pond and a large figure moving in the center. Blaidd stands up, facing away from me. His back is covered in wet gray fur, water up to his waist meaning the pond itself is pretty deep. Blaidd turns and I see the full view of his scar. A wide pale gash across a furry muscled form. I gawk slightly as Blaidd’s blessing resonates within me once more. A twig snaps under my foot and Blaidd looks directly at me.

“Oh, Lord Saki, I did not expect you to visit me so soon. I’ve been walking through Liurnia for a while and was covered in a little too much mud for my liking.” The water around him is slightly murky, likely due to the large amount of dirt clinging to his fur. “Thank you for talking to Iji, my armor was ready right when I arrived. Though since you are here, could you help me dry off. My fur is not keen on water and you would be a huge help.”

“Oh, well…” I fluster as this hulking pile of fur and muscle is asking me to help dry him off. The burning is wild in my stomach as Blaidd looks on expectantly. “...are you sure?” The words are weak coming from my mouth. “Seems a bit intimate for someone you only met a short while ago.”

“I understand, though I had expected our shared battle had made us closer. I won’t force you to do anything you are uncomfortable with, Lord Saki, for you are a dear battle companion,” Blaidd’s voice carries some air of disappointment, though it is hidden with a sincere tone of understanding and acceptance.

“No,” I say forcefully, “I want to, but I just hesitated since it felt so sudden.” I try to be more gentle with the rest of that response. I did not mean to sound so demanding.

“Perfect.” Blaidd emerges from the pond, slowly walking towards the bank, his armor, and me. Out of respect, I quickly turned away to prevent any noticeably lingering gazes. A series of splashing, clanging, and rustling of cloth. “You can turn, I was able to put on my undergarments, though the rest of me is still wet.” I turn and see the back of Blaidd sitting on a log. He hands me a brush. “Use this to help the fur dry evenly.” With the brush and my glintstone seal in my hands, a changing series of brushing and cooling from the energy of the seal sped up the process. The half-wolf straightened up in his seat in response and began to breathe deeper. He continued to dry his front and eventually took the brush as well. After some further brushing, Blaidd donned the rest of his armor, wearing a look of calm contempt. “So, you seem to have met Lady Ranni. How did it go? Did you end up joining her path?”

“Well, she suggested that I separate from the Greater Will using the wisdom of her mother, Queen Rennala. After a small ritual, a glintstone was formed to replace my seal so I now draw power from the Full Moon for my incantations. Although my nature, as well as yours, is too closely dependent on the Will to be separated completely. After doing that, she instructed me to follow you on the search for Nokron.”

“Wonderful news. I am aware that my life depends on the power of the Will so I cannot follow my Lady’s will to its fullest extent, unfortunately. Before continuing our search, we should visit Lady Ranni once more. There is a gift she has yet to bestow upon you as one of her true, loyal servants. Follow me, and thank you for your help, back there.” He says this rather sheepishly.

Blaidd led me through the back ways of the Caria Manor to bring me safely to Ranni’s Rise and the puppet within sitting on her pile of books. The puppet stirs and lifts its head,

“Lord Blaidd, my loyal shadow. I welcome thou in a most joyous company. And another. Is that to be Saki? Show me, what hast my mother done?” I hand my glintstone seal to the puppet and a woody hand grasps and inspects it. “Marvelous. A feat of intelligence and cunning that I myself am unable to achieve. To ingratiate thou as a member of my rebellion, I gift this ring.” Another wooden hand extends out to me with a small silver and white ring. “Upon use, thou will have a link to myself and all those who have such a ring. Now, go in search of the city of Nokron. I must sleep now, for this form is tiring. With the ring, all shall know when I rouse, so wait not in fear, but in joyous expectation.” The puppet goes quiet and still. Blaidd turns and silently ushers me out of the tower and back down to the base of the manor near Iji. He lets Iji know that I am now part of Ranni’s service and that we are on our way to the Mistwood in search of Nokron. The giant bids us a silent farewell and returns to his large book.

The travel through Liurnia and Limgrave to the Mistwood was uneventful other than the way Blaidd can somehow communicate with the large bears of the Mistwood. At the river well, Blaidd gives a light nod and we head in, down the very long, very awkward elevator. At the base, the Siofra river has been reduced to ruins and is only populated with half-alive corpses. After some half-hearted exploration, Blaidd concludes that this won’t lead to Nokron and that this was, in fact, a dead-end. The ancient city sits just above us, but with no way to scale the towering stonework, it seems another approach will be necessary. We decide to contact Seluvis, the Preceptor, to see if he knows anything about Nokron using the rings Ranni has given out. Seluvis is not entirely sure what to do either and suggests talking to another scholar expelled from Raya Lucaria he knows by the name of Sellen. I happen to have already met Sellen after defeating a mad pumpkin giant, so we head there after leaving the river well.

Sellen seems to greet us in her normal way. “A prophet and his beast, what is your business here?”

Blaidd answers before I can speak. “We are here on the advice of Preceptor Seluvis, a scholar serving Lady Ranni of Caria, daughter of Queen Rennala of the Full Moon. He told us that you would know how to access the eternal city of Nokron. And I am no beast.” Blaidd seems to be somewhat offended by the way Sellen addressed him, but Sellen has no change of tone.

“This Seluvis knows well. Why, though, is Ranni looking for Nokron? In my studies, it seems to be sealed up for a reason.” Sellen is tight lipped as always with the contents of her research.

“It is that power Lady Ranni seeks, to divest herself of the Greater Will and live freely.”

Sellen laughs lightly. “As I suspected of a Lady of Caria. The power is said to be strong enough to cut and hew the Greater Will directly.” Sellen changes her posture and adapts her lecturing voice, the same voice I was subjected to her attempts to fruitlessly teach me sorcery. “To break the seal over Nokron, a great power must be released onto the Lands Between. I suspect that releasing the stasis of General Radahn will let the power of the stars flow freely. Ranni, being a Lunar Witch, is tied closely to the moon, and by extension the stars. I am not sure what might happen, but upon his defeat, such great power is destined to be released in Limgrave to break the seal over Nokron, allowing the stars to continue their motion.”

Blaidd considers what Sellen has said and looks apprehensive. He comes to a conclusion, “We must participate in the General’s Grand Festival. Thank you for your time, Sellen.”

“Good day to you both, tell Ranni to give the Greater Will a rough time. To live free is to live true.” Sellen flourishes the seal of House Caria.

Chapter 4: Blight of Flesh and Earth Alike

Summary:

Travelling through Caelid, the pair comes under a bit of trouble.

Chapter Text

Passing the Mistwood, Blaidd and I head east to access the beginning of the Caelid Highway that leads to the castle of General Radahn, Redmane Castle. Crossing onto the red earth of Caelid had a sense of unnatural beauty. Like there is a curse across the entirety of the region, sapping away the life of its inhabitants and turning it all into a slop of red awful. The blessing of the Greater Will seems to be protecting both Blaidd and myself from the rot for now. I am willing to assume that the rot is weak against the power of the Will, but likely not completely neutralized.

On the border of the ruins of a town lies a ghost, frozen in a position of pleading to the power that is to stop the encroachment of the rot. How it invades and destroys anyone and everything, changing the earth itself into its home.

After beginning our trek on the highway, not much happened other than dodging fights and avoiding the more concentrated areas Rot. Each creature seems to be capable of passing on its Rot due to its open sores and visible buds of disease. A palm reader awaits us in the middle of the ruins of a large, smoldering wall, waiting to deliver a prophecy.

“Are you one for festivals? To the south, a grand festival to make the stars turn. Dare you enter the heart of the Scarlet Wastes?” The voice is weak and raspy, characteristic of the palm readers I have encountered before. This one seemed to be more of a showman, directing us to the nearest place of entertainment, either performative or participatory I cannot say.

Blaidd responds, “Yes, we are looking to join the festival to challenge the Great General.” It seems to be participatory.

“New fighters come to seek glory or to change the world itself. May the stars be with you in your travels. Speak to the coordinator in the grand castle to receive admission.” The voice is difficult to pin between surprise or knowing damnation to either the Rot or Radahn. “Head south along the highway and you shall find the front gates of the castle to the right of the first fork and across a stone bridge.”

As we walk away from the palm reader, Blaidd describes, in more detail, what the festival is. “It is said that General Radahn has been infected with the Scarlet Rot as a last stand in the war between Radahn and Malenia, Blade of Miquella. The most recent of the demigod conflicts. The rot has taken over his entire being, his realm as well. It has driven him to madness, forcing him to endlessly wander the wastes of eastern Caelid looking for his next meal. The bodies of the fallen, both friend and foe, eaten to quell his unending hunger. The festival was created to enact two conditions; send a constant stream of warriors to the starving General to contain him to the wastes, or one day the General is felled by the warriors and the stars, along with the rest of Caelid and the Redmane realm, can be freed. It is really a double positive for whatever happens, a worthy vanquisher or a worthy sacrifice.

“What we must do now is head to Radahn’s fortress, Redmane Castle, in southern Caelid, join the carnival, and hope that the retinue of aspiring warriors is apt for the task.” Blaidd pushed that last line with an air of detached ambivalence since it was truly out of our control what might happen or who would appear. Continuing on the highway, more consistently running into infected foes, I can sense the blessing in Blaidd getting weaker as the force of the Rot becomes overwhelming. The scent of decay and sweat sat over the entirety of the sandy sprawl.

A roar, more a gurgling mess of a hiss, echoes through the air and a small pale dragon leaps and glides ungraciously, but swiftly towards Blaidd. He dodges too late and gets a slash along the shoulder, falling to the ground from the force. A sling of blue fire erupts from my seal, sending the dragon to the ground, writhing in pain and eventually retreating. Blaidd rises and inspected the wound, likely already infected. He assures me that he has survived the Rot before, but may need to rest as it takes its course before entering the castle.

Before the bridge, which turns out to be broken, we set camp in a low area to hide from the monsters roaming around along the highway. A small fire and some water is used to make a meal, mainly to hold Blaidd through the Rot since Tarnished rarely have to eat. The light stew is finished and is served in a bowl to Blaidd. He sips quietly, the whole affair made more awkward since he is the only one eating. I wanted to ensure that there would be enough for him so I refrained from eating a portion of the limited stew.

Blaidd rises to excuse himself, places the bowl down, and promptly collapses onto the ground. I rush over and see what is wrong, but Blaidd is already unconscious. I turn him onto his back and check him over. He has already removed his cloak, though the bandage of his shoulder is clearly a non-blood shade of red, a sign of the Rot. His body is hot to the touch, apparently half-wolves can get fevers. I work to move him into a bed roll and start unbuckling his new chest plate. Blaidd then snaps awake into a dreary state of alertness.

“What happened? Why is it so hot? Saki, why am I laying down?” The voice is tired and panicked, something I have not heard from Blaidd before. He attempts to get up again but strains against his own weight.

“You collapsed and seem to be running a fever from the Rot.” I go to prevent him from getting up but the Rot is strong enough to keep him prone.

“Can you help get this armor off, it’s like a kiln.” Blaidd can barely move his arms, let alone take off his armor. The arm and shoulder guards are gently removed, revealing the festering wound deep in Blaidd’s one shoulder. I had a thought to cauterize it, though it would do more harm with him in this state of fever delirium. The plate then had to come off. The buckles and straps along the sides shifted with the weak breath of the half-wolf. As the plate was lifted away, the wolf began to shiver and huddle inwards. I attempted to make Blaidd as comfortable as one can be lying on the ground in Caelid. I helped Blaidd down another bowl of stew slowly before he started to drift to a more gentle sleep than before, still shivering and breathing laboriously.

“If you’d like, I can use one of my incantations to lighten the fever? To make sleeping easier?” At first Blaidd protested quietly, adamant about having gone through this before, He eventually relented when the chattering of his own teeth threatened to drive him mad, much like Radahn. I placed the seal on his bare chest and moved his paws onto it. Both pairs of hands rest on his slowing breath and cooling form as the blue threads weave around and into the infected wolf. Blaidd slips into a peaceful sleep, lying still within the warmth of the bedroll. While he was asleep, I decided to dress the wound properly, disinfecting it and stopping the bleeding before wrapping it in a clean bandage. The night carried on quietly as I tended to the fire, unable to stop imagining what might happen when we face General Radahn. Will there be enough participants? Will we survive? Will we end up as just another sacrifice for the mad general?

Across from the fire, a stir, a shuffle, a light groan. Blaidd is writhing in his bedroll, seeming to be in pain. He is snarling, clenching his eyes shut, either in the throws of a nightmare or stuck asleep dealing with the agonizing pain of the wound and infection. I sit beside him and, if he were awake he would surely kill me for this, start to slowly pet his head while moving the seal around him, easing any pains or chills he may be facing. His body stills and his face relaxes into a neutral, perhaps even happy expression. I am about to get up when a large arm wraps around behind me, tugging me into Blaidd and pinning me there against his chest. At first, I am surprised, thinking something fell on top of me, but when I try to move the arm tightens. The other arm crosses and firmly secures me in the tightest bear hug I have ever experienced. Now I am trapped in the arms of a half-wolf surely more than double my size. The blessing of the Greater Will within Blaidd is overpowering in its warmth, the coma that hits after a large meal, the feeling of climbing into a warm bed after a long day. Even after all of the stress of the day and against my own nature as a Tarnished, I cannot help but fall asleep. The world falls away gently, in a way I have never seen before.

Chapter 5: The Starscourge's Stasis

Summary:

The great battle of the general's festival.

Chapter Text

The world snaps into view suddenly, the bright morning sun is blinding and the red glow of the earth is disorienting. The fire, a cold pile of ash under a small cauldron of old stew, sits still. I try to move, but I cannot. My arms are pinned to my sides and my legs are not touching the ground. A small growl grows from underneath me and I look up, seeing the semi-awake face of Blaidd, nose nearly touching my forehead and breath blowing down onto my face.

“Mmm…Saki, how long have I been asleep? Did we miss the festival?” This groggy question was then followed by a jump and a sudden but gentle push to place me back onto the ground beside the bedroll. “Oh my, Saki, sorry, sorry. Did I do that all night?” The sudden release allows the feeling to return to my arms, making me all more aware of the new emptiness within myself. Perhaps not completely new, but more exaggerated from the withdrawal of Blaidd’s embrace.

“I think so. I think you were having a nightmare. After I set another incantation to ease your sleep you swept me you. I think I even fell asleep, somehow.”

“Well, thank you for watching over me. Still, I apologize for doing that. I do remember having a nightmare. One of the…¨ Blaidd stared at the floor, having a look of someone remembering something long forgotten, either purposefully or not. “Nevermind, I am sure you don’t care to listen to the dreams of an ill man.” He goes to stand and places his armor back on along with his cloak. “The cut seems to have healed and all signs of the Rot have subsided. Whatever you did last night has worked better than anything I could have done. I owe you, again.” Blaidd seems irritated by the amount of favors he is mentally racking up from me and what he may do to repay them.

“Oh, just be more careful next time. We can’t always depend on my incantations to save us every time something happens. They should be a last resort, not a dependence.” Blaidd nods sagely and continues to pack up the rest of the camp. “And I wouldn’t mind listening to your dream if it eased your mind.”

Blaidd looks stunned at my response. “Oh, well then I will regale you with the tale another time. We have a festival to attend.”

We are now standing in front of the impassable bridge. Far off in the distance is our target, Redmane Castle. It could have been a difficult crossing, but a waygate allowed us to warp directly into the castle grounds. Within, there is only one warrior I had seen before, Alexander Iron Fist, the Warrior Pot. A feeling of dread washes over me, this does not seem like enough participants. This is where our journey ends, in the maw of an infected, mad general. Perhaps it is early enough to leave and wait for the next festival. Blaidd, on the other hand, walks up to the festival master calmly and asks when the festival may commence.

“Ah, Lord Blaidd, only Lord Alexander is the one actively waiting, though we have a ready collection spread across the wastes.” The festival master is strangely jovial, speaking brightly in contrast to the grim environment of the ruined castle. The master turns to me, “A new face here in Redmane. Are you looking to participate in the Grand Festival as well?” Blaidd turns, face carrying a small bit of hope or expectation.

“I guess I am.” My voice is uncertain, neither of them noticed or seemed to care and started to usher me across the castle grounds towards another waygate.

“When within the wastes, there is a selection of signs of those who wish to aid you. All you need to do is touch them and they will come to fight by your side,” instructs the festival master. Blaidd glances at me, frozen with apprehension.

“Might as well get this over with.” Blaidd then bids a small goodbye, waiting for me to summon him on the other side of the waygate. This does make the most sense with me being a Tarnished, though it pains me to wonder of the parties that lack a Tarnished to summon phantoms, forcing the warriors to fight in the flesh.

The red sands of the wastes slowly come into view as I exit the other side of the waygate. The moving red sands form dunes in response to the winds rolling or the ruins. Large spear-like arrows litter the sands, sticking up from piles of ancient corpses. Some are baring the standards of armies long forgotten to the maw of the mad general. Around these mounds, small specks of light float up from the ground culminating in signatures of various warriors inhabiting the Lands Between. What are they doing now, knowing that they could be pulled into this hellish battle at any moment? Are they comforted by the lack of mortal danger as a phantom? Does it diminish the accomplishments of battle without the risk of death or injury? I guess none of that is my problem at the moment. Now I have one role, lead these phantoms in their battle against the scourge of stars.

The amount of these signs is comforting and lends me more confidence in the possible success of this upcoming battle. Across the sands, a bestial roar rips through the quiet desolation as Radahn hops and gallops on his comparatively tiny horse. I run around the sands on the back of Torrent, touching the signs and allowing the spectral forms to rise from the ground. Once Radahn started to charge us, a horde of ready warriors crowded around waiting for the first attacks. Radahn unleashes a combo of gravity spells and slashes with his large dual swords sending bodies flying, either from dodging to the side or having the attack land, sending them a far distance away into the sands. The first to fall is Patches, the thief. His spear snapped, a hard hit to his great shield sent him rolling into golden dust. A changing volley of strikes between Alexander and Blaidd destabilizes the horse causing Radahn to occasionally tumble to his knee. Ranged spells were slung from the finger maiden and me, constantly shifting Radahn’s attention around the wastes. A wide sweeping arc from Radahn sent Alexander, Blaidd, and the other sword wielders tumbling. All but Blaidd and Alexander crumble to golden dust, buying the maiden and me enough time to send high power spells directly into Readahn. The ground shakes and Radahn leaps into the air. Those remaining in the sands gather in anticipation: Blaidd, Alexander, the finger maiden, and myself.

The sky brightens with the approach of what seems to be a meteor. It is heading right for us, causing the group to separate and hopefully dodge the impact. Radahn hits the ground and sends flames and sand into the air. As the dust settles, everyone seems to be unaffected by the impact. Radahn strikes the ground and four large builders rise to either side of his head, levitated by the purple gravity magic surgeon from his body. He whirls towards me and swoops wide, sending the boulders in a staggered volley. Torrent appears beneath me and carries me quickly away from the charging Radahn. A yell from behind echoes followed by a deep thud. Radahn has fallen from his horse with Blaidd standing behind him sword in hand. Beside Blaidd, the finger maiden is in deep prayer, sending a golden aura over both Blaidd and Alexander, reinvigorating them. I wheel around and begin to pressure the now felled Radahn with volleys of flame and lightning from the back of Torrent. The two greatswords slam into the ground, sending a wave of gravitational energy around Radahn causing all of us to stumble, knocking the finder maiden out of her concentration. Radahn rises and quickly turns, keeping all of us remaining fighters in front of him. The swords slice at the ground and send waves of purple magic speeding towards us. Blaidd and Alexander charge through the waves, dodging and tanking respectively. Each is approaching Radahn at similar speeds, but Radahn is not moving in response, continuing to send waves of magic rippling through the ground. Through a gap in the approaching waves, I see that there is no horse under Radahn, his legs are just lodged into the sand to keep him upright. As the forward pair reaches Radahn, he returns to swing his swords normally. The finger maiden and I approach and prepare. She begins to pray beside me, sending overwhelming waves of energy through my body and into my orb, causing it to glow a bright bluish gold. I raise the orb above me and willing the building energy to strike Radahn. He sees the pair of magic uses charging an attack and raises his sword in defense. A bolt of blue lightning trails across the space between Radahn and the glintstone orb, piercing through his swords and into the exposed portion of his helmet, singing parts of the general’s face. The tips of both swords shatter as Radahn’s head is shot back. The hulking form hits the sans and begins to dissipate into the air, both Blaidd and Alexander are standing frozen, staring back at me. Even through the distance, I can see Blaidd’s expression of fear. Beside me, a stumble from the finger maiden, she is staring off behind me pointing to the sky. I turn and look up to the sky. The stars. They are moving, really fast, trailing celestial light through the sky and turning the night sky into one brighter than the day.

The ground rumbles through the blinding shine of the shifting sky. As the light fades, the wastes are now totally empty except me and the discarded remnants of previous battles. A string of light grows from beside a Sight of Grace. It sends me back to the shore of Redmane Castle just before the waygate. Before I have fully recovered from the stretching feeling, something lifts me off my feet. A warmth spreads into me and burns my chest. A familiar voice trails into my ear.

“Saki! That was amazing. How did you even do that? That does not matter. The stars are free and the General has been laid to rest in his own battlefield.” The celebratory tone of his voice dies down as he continues to hold me up.

“Can you put me down, Blaidd?” I say, slightly strained against the embrace.

“Yes, sorry. Victory in battle makes me act rashly and a battle of this size is only more powerful.” Blaidd places me down, taking away that same burning sensation and leaving my chest cold.

“There is no need to apologize. I appreciate the gesture…and the warmth.” I say slightly quieter.

“Hm?”

“Nothing. You are just very warm.”

“Oh, well if it too much I–”

“No, it’s nice. You are nice. To be around, I mean.” From behind Blaidd, a rhythmic thudding can be heard quietly shifting around under his cloak. He turns away and utters a quiet thank you. He begins to respond but we are interrupted by something at the same time.

A tingling runs through my head as a small voice interrupts my thoughts. “It seems thou hast freed my stars from the grip of my mad kin. This loss is dear and necessary. I am eternally grateful for thou labor. Join Blaidd, as thou art now, and proceed to my mother. She shall gift upon thee a new minor power. I fear my slumber is growing and I am to unintentionally abandon thou in thy time of need. Receive this gift and continue thine search for the eternal city of Nokron.” The presence clears and Blaidd meets my eyes. We nod and continue to Liurnia for a meeting with Rennala.

Chapter 6: Under the Full Moon

Summary:

Relaxation between a battle and royal audience.

Chapter Text

While on the outskirts of Liurnia, Blaidd and I decide to camp and rest before heading into a royal audience. It is mutually decided that reporting fresh from battle would be uncouth. We both agree that it is best that we clean a bit first and attempt to get the residual stains of blood and red sand out of our clothes and armor. A clearing near a small lake is repurposed into our campsite with Blaidd searching for fire wood while I am left to prepare some food for Blaidd. I do enjoy cooking. At least I think so, since that stew I made for Blaidd in Caelid was the only time I remember actually cooking, but I have this feeling that I used to cook before I was Tarnished.

To be in a time before the shattering, to be in a time of peace. In that time I might not have met Blaidd though I am unsure how much of a positive that is yet. He is still a servant to Ranni after all. How am I to know of his true intentions beyond the orders from Ranni? He is a being of the Greater Will just as much, if not more than I. If Ranni does end up ascending and leaving this plane of existence, what will become of Blaidd? Can he exist outside of the Will’s influence? What kind of person would he be without Ranni, without the Will? What would he think of me? A Tarnished that forsook their purpose and is doomed to wander the Lands Between until someone more powerful than I takes the throne as Elden Lord.

As this doubt forms in my head, a large pile of wood falls beside, startling me from my concentration. “It seems that this forest is full of wood just begging to be burned.” The wood in the pile does seem to be exceptionally dry.

“Can you speak to the trees now?”

“No, but I am an expert in body language, and those sticks are doing a perfect impression of dry tinder.” Blaidd picks up a stick and starts to march it around while doing a tiny voice saying “burn me.”

Initially this does confuse me. Blaidd really has not tried to be funny before. However strange this might be, I still enjoy a bit of lightheartedness in this mess of crises we are stuck in. I can’t help but chuckle a bit and begin arranging the “perfect tinder” into a smaller pile for a cooking fire. While Blaidd was out, I managed to find some fresh herbs around the clearing as well as some meat that never seems to spoil. I had bought it from one of the merchants before I even met Blaidd and yet it still looks fresh as ever. I plop the meat into a small cooking pot to sear it before adding water, the fresh herbs, and other plants that I had found in this clearing to give the stew more body and more complex flavor. After everything was added, the pot needed to sit and finish cooking for about another hour so I sat down across from Blaidd to keep an eye on the stew and fire. Blaidd stares at the pot as it simmers above the fire.

“You know you don’t need to do this for me, I can find food on my own.”

“I enjoy making it, and I am assuming that anything that you would ‘find’ would not be as filling or palatable as this stew.” Blaidd seems somewhat offended at this slight and goes to defend himself and stammers out a partial response about how he is the best in a pinch.

After his little protest, he gets up and heads for the small pond to clean before settling in for a meal. As he removes his armor, I shuffle around to turn my back to him while still looking at the fire. Some more shuffling and gentle clangs of metal go by before the sloshing of water and a sigh of contempt cuts the silence. The sounds of splashing and scrubbing begin at a lazy speed, hopefully the water is refreshing and not too cold. I yell over my shoulder to Blaidd and ask how the water is. He responds that it is still somehow warm and deeper than he had expected with the water being up to his chest.

“You know, it is quite spacious. We could save some time and help each other look our best for the Queen.” While he does have a point in saving time and using the water while it is warm, it still seems like a lot for me. I respond that I am fine waiting until he is finished and that the stew needs to be stirred occasionally to prevent it from burning. Blaidd seems to accept that answer and goes back to washing himself. The sounds begin to die out and I assume that he might just be floating there, enjoying the deep, calm water. However, a presence begins to grow behind me and a claw lands on my shoulder, tapping lightly.

“Would you mind helping me dry off again? Whatever you did last time worked really well and I want my fur to be as nice as can be.” Blaidd holds out a brush with a linen tied around his waist. I agree to leave my stew and join him in front of a fallen tree that he uses as a seat.

With brush and seal in hand, I begin to do what I did last time, brushing out the fur and running my seal over it to speed up drying. This was oddly calming. The slow repetitive motions mixed with the quiet darkness of the clearing is the first sense of serenity we had since Caelid. I can tell Blaidd is relaxed as well with his slow breathing and his snout pointed towards the stars. He seems to be contemplating something or just shutting his mind off and enjoying the raw stillness that the stars can provide. His fur is mostly dry, so I set down the brush and just continue to massage Blaidd’s shoulders and neck. He begins to lean back a bit into my chest. Even when sitting, Blaidd’s head still reaches my shoulders with his snout up and resting next to my face.

This the closest I have been to Blaidd without being wrapped up in one of his tight embraces. His warmth radiates out from his soft fur and melts into my chest and arms. I can feel his blessing moving through me, into the deepest parts of my being, filling each space I thought was empty with warmth and pillowy support. A being of the Will can’t be this soft, this warm. This must be Blaidd in as close to pure form as possible. Might he be this gentle outside of battle, under the moon, in a clearing with a Tarnished, with me.

A new warmth, in my face, blossoms out and settles in my cheeks. This is new, I have never felt heat from my own body. I want to get closer to Blaidd. I lean into him as he sits on the fallen tree. I feel him lean back into me and rest his head on my shoulder. Our faces are right next to each other. His breathing continues and I lean into his ear, speaking in the softest voice I can muster.

“Blaidd, I just wanted to say that I am happy that we met and that we can go on this adventure together, no matter how perilous. You are the first friend that I have had in this wretched world that hasn’t betrayed me or turned mad, if I can call you a friend. Companion in Arms, perhaps? Serving Ranni is really the only reason we have for being here.” I pause and attempt to carefully choose my next words, the burning in me is reaching a height I had not experienced before. “I wanted to see if you wouldn’t mind continuing this, um, companionship after our service to Ranni has concluded.”

The air feels tense and the silence Blaidd leaves feels like an answer in and of itself. He does not move though, or really changes how he breathes as if he is going to respond. At that moment a long snore erupts from this half-wolf, rumbling me, the log, and the entire clearing. It seems that my request has fallen on deaf ears. Damn, I really thought I nailed that word choice and all that anxiety and panic was for nothing. No big deal, I can try again later. I just need to get Blaidd down on the ground to sleep so he does not fall over off the log. Before I do that though, he is so serene and quiet, leaning against me. I instinctually wrap my arms around his neck and squeeze him into me. I feel a swishing movement around my legs and look down to see that his tail is wagging. I had never seen him do this before, but I guess I had assumed he was able to, being part wolf. He is exceptionally warm and soft. His coat is so inviting and comforting and freshly cleaned with just a hint of that natural...

Anyway, I pull away and begin to move him to his bedroll. I guess the stew will have to wait until morning. Breakfast stew, how appetizing. Thankfully I am not the one eating it and I doubt Blaidd will care that much not having had dinner. I put out the remaining embers of the fire and lay in my own bedroll next to Blaidd. A cold breeze begins to cut through the clearing, and I take out my seal and use it to warm up my bedroll, but it does not have enough heat to really cut through the chill. We don’t have any extra blankets with us because Liurnia is not usually this cold. I’ll have to deal with this discomfort anyway, I doubt the chill will remain for that long.

The chill has only gotten worse, and I can feel my brain being rattled by my chattering teeth. Hopefully this cacophony of suffering does not wake Blaidd. He was so peaceful on the log, and I would hate to interrupt that. Suddenly, something pulls me backwards away from the ashes of the fire. A swath of warmth settles over top of me and a grumbly voice flows into my ear.

“Your chattering is awfully loud. I hope this will warm you enough to get some sleep.” Blaidd sounds calm with his arm wrapped around me, pulling me into his chest. I feel frozen, not in the cold way but in the cannot move way. I was not expecting this, though that does not mean I do not want it. I am still unable to speak and resort to just resting my hands on his much larger hand. This feels different than the hug he gave me while in the midst of the rot or after the battle with Radahn. There is less panic or excitement and more purpose, like he wants to just hold me. It is new. It is nice.

“Thanks.”

All I can mutter is thanks? I feel like I am burning up and I can’t tell if it is either the embarrassment, Blaidd’s heat, or just his residual blessed energy. Why is this so confusing? Why do I feel so scared? He is the one who swept me up. He wants this. I want this, but why can’t I accept the fact that he means this much to me? He is a Shadow and I am just a Tarnished. This relationship shouldn’t have been possible but here it is. Two unlikely beings of the Greater Will sharing a bedroll under the stars while out on an adventure for their common master...Lady? Whatever Ranni is to Blaidd and Iji. A draft washes past my ear. Blaidd’s calm breath is warm against the dark cold of the night sky. He has effortlessly returned to sleep after scooping me into him.

His steady breath distracts me from my racing thoughts and produces a slow rhythm to pay attention to. I try to match it and find my mind begins to go blank. I am able to think more clearly now. Even if this pairing is impossible, I can still enjoy it while it lasts. Even if Blaidd does not want me the same way I want him, it does not mean I won’t find more happiness in the future despite how messy the world is now. In what way do I want Blaidd, though? That is something to be addressed later. Just because I feel scared does not mean that what I am doing is wrong. The racing questions disappear and leave my mind empty as the veil of sleep overtakes my warm body.

Chapter 7: A New Path Opens

Summary:

Discovering a long lost city and it hidden treasure.

Chapter Text

A burning sensation grows in my eyes and discomfort builds in my head. My eyes force themselves open to see a blinding array of orange and white light. I move my hand to block the sun and find it restrained underneath something...someone. I am still lying with Blaidd. The now cold pile of ashes sits there just like in Caelid. This time however, a calmer voice greets me this morning.

“Finally awake, are we? It took the daylight star staring you in the face to stir you from sleep.” With every word a rush of air passes my ear, heated by Blaidd. That burning sensation from the night before has returned, now even stronger. I can tell now that this burning is a direct result of Blaidd’s existence and proximity to me. What is this burning and how do I communicate that to him without driving him away or sounding strange? We have killed monsters together, faced off against terrifying odds and won, but I have never felt as scared as I do right now of what this half-wolf thinks of me. “You seem uncomfortable? Am I holding you too tightly?” Blaidd begins to pull his arm away and I instinctively pull it back to me, squeezing it into my chest. “Oh, ok. Why do you look so nervous though?” Blaidd’s voice trails off as though he had been distracted by something. Is he realizing something. I can’t see his face and can only assume that the expression is of either confusion or disgust. Or both. Why would he have any feelings for a Tarnished like me. I was not made to live a fulfilling life. I was made to compete with my fellow Tarnished to become Elden Lord or go mad trying. I have done neither and seem to be approaching neither, so what does that mean for me as a Tarnished. Have I failed to serve my purpose? If I do fail, will some ill will befall me and punish me for exploiting my inherent immortality within the Guidance of Grace? Will this failure interrupt any kind of life I could build with Blaidd? Will I go mad and hurt people without my control?

At that moment, something presses into the top of my head and stays there. It pulls away and that same calm voice rumbles out. “If you have something to tell me, don’t feel like I will judge you. You are very important to me, and I do consider you a friend. If I made you feel as though you had to hide something about yourself for my sake, I apologize, sincerely.” A short pause and a breath is caught in his throat as if he were to start saying something and stop. He continued. “I would not mind continuing our companionship after our service has concluded.” The phrasing of his response seems familiar. As if...

I whip my head around to look Blaidd in the face. “You were awake for that whole thing last night and you said nothing!”

“I was half asleep. I heard what you said, I just couldn’t respond. And the fact that you carried me all the way to my bedroll was just impressive. Much stronger than I had expected, you are.” Blaidd wraps his arms around me and rolls over onto his back with me facing him on his chest. Now I feel comfortable, resting my head on his chest on purpose this time. We lay together like this under the morning sun for a small while before Blaidd breaks the silence. “We ought to head to Queen Rennala.” I nod at him, and we begin to pack up the camp and head off in the direction of Raya Lucaria.

Once inside the great school I struggle to guide Blaidd through the winding halls and danger infested courtyards without causing him to get hurt. To his credit, he is much sneakier than I would have imagined for a being of such size. Past the danger and to the elevator, Blaidd stands idly as the elevator slowly ascends to the library chamber. This awkward silence is filled when Blaidd decides to pull me towards him and rub his paw on my back. It still feels a bit surprising to be this affectionate, but it is a nice change of pace in this world of crisis. I return the favor by wrapping my own arm around his waist which is the highest spot on him I can reach without straining. In this pose, the silence is more bearable and even comforting. A nice bit of serenity before our audience with Rennala.

The elevator reaches its peak and reveals the large door to the library and the Queen of the Full Moon, Rennala. The library is as quiet as ever with Rennala lying still holding her golden egg with the utmost care. Upon hearing us enter, Rennala greets us with:

“Greetings servants of Lunar Princess Ranni, my lovely daughter. How can I help in this time of need? For it is need that brings any to my library. Never mind that though, Lord Blaidd, Lord Saki, what is needed?” Rennala seems to have more energy than the last time I had seen her, but her attention is always shifting between her egg and her guests.

Blaidd answers first and kneels with reverence and respect. “Queen Rennala, Lady Ranni has sent us to fetch a power from you that she thinks will become necessary in the future.”

Rennala thinks for a small moment and an expression of worry contorts her face. “So, my feeling was correct after all. Ranni’s plan is progressing faster than she had anticipated. Hand me your rings that Ranni had given you to communicate with her mind.” Both Blaidd and I remove our rings and place them into Rennala’s waiting hand. She closes a fist around them, and a pale glow begins to emanate between her fingers. Her hand opens and the rings begin to float and spin around each other. The spinning reaches a peak, and the rings begin to settle back into her hand with a new band of glowing energy etched around their outer surface. They land softly back in Rennala’s hand, and she reaches out her arm. “These rings have been mended with a power that Ranni gifted to me before… They now gift the wearer to sparingly communicate with Ranni while she slumbers. Keep in mind I said sparingly. Ranni slumbers for a reason and it is best not to disturb her. Now go. I expect that my daughter has a grand mission for you now that the stars have been liberated. Her destiny may yet be achievable.” That last part was mainly said to herself as she once again changes her attention to her golden egg. Without a proper goodbye, Blaidd ushered me out of the library sensing that this was the end of our audience with the Queen.

As we walk out of the great hall, a familiar voice enters my head and speaks softly. “It seems that thou hast received my gift. Lords of mine, come to me again for I have a new mission now that my dear brother has been slain.” There was a slight inflection when mentioning her brother which is either distaste or true grief, either of which I am unsure for Ranni’s emotions are not easy to read. Blaidd looks down at me with a sense of renewed energy and purpose.

I follow Blaidd out of Raya Lucaria and through the flooded flatlands that surround it. I am now learning the trails that Blaidd uses to stay out of trouble. It is longer than I would have expected with us arriving at Iji’s anvil before the sun sets. Blaidd assures me that was his intention since according to him, traversing Caria Manor is much easier in the dark of night.

We approach the gates of the manor, the rain of magical arrows still falling from their long obsolete defenses on the now empty fields of the once great manor. Blaidd takes me by the shoulder and mimes a shushing motion followed by a thumbs up and what I can only guess to be his version of a smile, but to be honest, it more represents a grimace or the face made after finding mold on a loaf of bread that was already bitten into. The point got across though, be quiet and things will turn out fine. Again a small wave compelled me to follow close behind. Within the courtyard stood the familiar monstrous hands standing idly, waiting to wrap around and crush something. Sticking to the walls and back passages I had not noticed before, Blaidd effortlessly flows through the manor without alert. Through the back gate and onto the plateau, now into Ranni’s rise. In this familiar tower, Blaidd finally relaxes and stands fully upright, stretching and twisting to relieve the pressure of his stealthy crouch.

Ascending the stairs in the night offered a gentle blue glow from outside as the moonlight flooded in, almost too brightly since it was only a half moon this night. Ranni’s chamber was radiant as ever with the cool colors of moon and ice. She addresses us calmly.

“My loyal knights and servants, lords of Caria Manor, I beseech thee to hear these words carefully, for much has revealed itself in the past day. I now stand at a point in my life where my greatest wishes are to soon come true if all is to be successful. Lord Blaidd, be aware that upon completion of my goal, I will no longer be thy lady nor thy commander. Thou art free for and from thyself, from me, from the Greater Will. However, my departure will not go uncontested. The Will seeks to destroy me and all those on this plateau. This includes Lord Blaidd, and now Lord Saki as well. Be aware of any mad shadows that may prey in the darkness waiting to carry out a vile form of justice. Or more accurately revenge. Take this, my lords.”

From beneath her icy cloak, Ranni produces a small pendant in the shape of an eye with a small jewel centered on its pupil.

“This,” she continued, “is a scrying amulet. It will alert its wearer to the presence of those touched by the Greater Will. With Lord Saki being Tarnished and Lord Blaidd being my Shadow, the amulet would be set on either of thou, so I have taken the time to tune out thy energies from this amulet. The process is time consuming so I only have this one. Protect it dearly, for it is the only way thou can predict the attack of that vengeful corrupted shadow, the vile mirror image of Lord Blaidd. With this new protection, return to the fields south of the Mistwood in search of the crater made by the fallen star. That is the path we now seek, That is the path to the Eternal City of Nokron.

“Within this sunken metropolis, seek a dagger by the name of the Finger Slayer Blade. Such a weapon it is, for it cast the city and its denizens beneath the earth to foolishly gaze upon the false stars. A mockery to their past as masters of the celestial realms. Return this blade to this tower and we shall be free.” There was some tenseness at the end of her small speech. Perhaps she is finally becoming impatient in the face of her long awaited severance. The hat of the doll tipped forward in a small bow and Blaidd led me out of the tower into a new journey.

Chapter 8: Heaven's Crumble

Summary:

Delivery of a blade and its implications.

Chapter Text

Before entering the Mistwood, Blaidd stopped me by sticking out an arm. He is on edge even before we get to the crater we are to find.

“Something is off. These woods always felt welcoming, at least to me. Now I feel as though entering would be a grave insult. Perhaps the stars carried more than the fate of Lady Ranni.” This was said in a hush to warn me and himself of the new dangers we are to face in this long sealed city. From what Ranni had told us before leaving her tower, the city had performed some great crime against the Greater Will. It is this very crime we now seek, so it stands to reason that the criminals, be that as it may, defend the very object that has cursed them. Whether their fate has any predictions on the fate of our mission is yet to be seen. Nonetheless, our job is to get the blade and return to the tower. Just another step on Ranni’s own journey the Blaidd is ready to carry out.

In my own mind I fail to realize the large and brand new crater just outside of the bounds of the Mistwood. It is a vast and open chasm, boasting large floating boulders that are likely remnants of Radahn’s gravity magic. The bottom cannot be seen from the top for the chasm curves slightly back towards Fort Haight. I begin to walk the perimeter of the chasm searching for a point of safe entry and Blaidd does the same in the opposite direction. We meet on the other side and conclude that the only way down is to jump on the various floating boulders to prevent a fall from such a great height that neither me nor the half-wolf could survive. Blaidd wastes no time, he picks me up in one arm and begins to scale down the floating boulders, one great leap after the other. This feels like the first time this has happened to me, being carried like a child. Granted, I could probably have not done this without Blaidd, but the least he could do was ask. We reach the bottom and Blaidd plants me down on the ground with a remaining glance of concern. Apparently my discomfort and surprise of being delivered to the bottom of the chasm was on full display.

“You could have warned me that I was about to be treated like a satchel.”

“Not so much a satchel. More akin to my precious cargo.”

“Cargo?” I snapped back.

Precious cargo.” Blaidd stressed.

Even if I am his precious cargo, it would still be nice to be warned before being picked up. The compliment, if it could be considered that, did not go unnoticed. The small punch I gave Blaidd did not go unnoticed either.

Other than that, we reached the stone ruins of some city and assumed we found our mark. Nokron, the eternally damned city. Now to find the reason it was damned and steal it. I sure hope Ranni knows what to do with it lest all of Caria Manor gets sent underground to join its other celestial comrades. We eventually come upon a large stone entrance to an abandoned courtyard. All within were still including the star mimicking crystal like specks on the upper limits of the great cavern. Beyond the courtyard lay a great bridge connecting the courtyard to a great hall with a gate blocked by thick fog. A new boss stands in our way and Blaidd glances down, both of us recognizing and preparing ourselves for another battle.

Through the gate, the hall was empty save for a small pool of reflective, metallic liquid. As Blaidd and I moved closer, the pool began to shift and move by itself. We came to a stop immediately and witnessed the pool bend and expand into two great masses. First they grew into large spheres with one larger than the other. The spheres were so reflective, the entire hall could be seen on their warped surfaces. Suddenly, the spheres became matte, and shrunk in on themselves, collapsing into humanoid forms. The larger of the two compressed into a towering wolvish figure opposite of Blaidd and the smaller compressed into the figure of a human, myself, staring at me blankly without any remarkable features save for the metallic gray of the now matte material. Both Blaidd and I staggered in confusion, though neither of the beings seemed to move in for an attack. Blaidd drew his sword and, in sync, the metallic wolf did the same, mirroring Blaidd perfectly. Blaidd went in for a strike and it was parried effortlessly by the metal wolf.

“What is going on here?” Blaidd asked with some anger. He had not seen anything like this before. “Fight us! Don’t just stand there.” Blaidd called out to the metal figures, though they did not move or react to his words. Although the metallic wolf's mouth did seem to mime the words Blaidd had said, no sound could be heard coming from the figure’s mouth.

During this exchange, I was having a time gesturing and moving to see how my copy would interact. As far as I am able to tell, they can mimic any physical motion as well as magic, for the metal figure opposite me had also prepared a flame when I set mine alight. A thought pops into my head and I drop my arms, My legs carry me forward towards the metal figure until I am within arms reach.

“Don’t touch them, we don’t know what they are made of.” Disregarding Blaidd’s advice, I reached out my hand and touched the metal figure before me. It was cold and malleable, able to be easily dented when pressed. I push my arm harder into the metal and eventually our hands fuse into one. Blaidd begins to hurry over but I raise my hand for him to stop, causing the metal wolf to sprint closer and suddenly stop in perfect time with Blaidd. My hand went further into the figure's arm and I could feel that this was what the figure wanted. Even without readable facial expressions outside of my own to mirror, I could sense that this was making the metallic being happy.

With some more effort, our chests meet and instantly fuse, causing a bright flash of silver light. The cool feeling of the metal soon washes over my entire body forcing me to stumble back. As the light dissipates, I regain my footing and look ahead of me. My metallic copy had disappeared. I look over to Blaidd and see the shocked expression with his mouth agape and legs stuck in place. The metal wolf was copying this as well, though the lack of facial definition failed at truly expressing the feeling beyond an open mouth. Blaidd slowly raises his paw and points to what I can only assume is my right hand because as I look down, there is a slowly morphing silver patch on the back of my hand. Eventually, it settles into the shape of a tear drop just as reflective as the pool once was. It seems I have a permanent mirror now in the back of my hand.

As the initial shock of this merging settles, it seems that this union was the metal figures intent from the beginning. Blaidd seems to get this idea though he is hesitant to touch the wolf in front of him. I approach Blaidd and lift his paw to the metal wolf, though my success is limited since I can barely reach Blaidd’s elbow. Regardless of this, Blaidd is encouraged by my nudge and his paw meets that of the metal wolf. The process happens faster than before with the light being slightly dimmer overall. Again, Blaidd stumbles and is left with a silver tear shape on the back of his paw. The fog gates dissipate, signaling the conquest of the boss. Even without its death, this seems to be an adequate way of dealing with the mimic metal. However, what this may mean for the future, I am unsure. Past the hall, there is another bridge leading across a valley with a great city to the left and the river basin to the right.

“The dagger should be in that city. If the people here made it, they are likely to protect it or hold it in reverence.” Blaidd says this while pointing out the old city’s center. “We will need to cross the bridge and enter the city from its neighboring cliffside.” His paw raises and points to a cliff that meets the upper rooves of the building. A jump from that height should not be difficult, especially with Blaidd.

Crossing the bridge was uneventful, bringing the city into better view. The fine stone buildings have stood the test of time and are finely complimented by the purple hue of the false stars hanging above. At the bridge’s end, a ruble path opens up the top of the cliffs sprawling into great plains with a large path leading into a larger building at the crest of the hill. We must ignore that now for our target is with this sunken city. Blaidd leads me to the cliff’s edge and we find the tallest roof closest to the cliff we are now on. Blaidd was the first to leap down and after recovering from the drop, he turned and lifted his arms toward me gesturing to join him on the roof. I leap down as well and Blaidd catches me and gently puts me down onto the roof.

“Precious cargo.” Blaidd says again, this time accompanied by a hand on my shoulder pulling me into him. I respond by leaning against him, feeling his warmth through his armor. After this short pause for calm, we continue our way down the roofs and onto the street level. This area is more densely populated with stumbling bodies. Some carry weapons, but most are unphased from our arrival and continue their wandering around the stone streets. We find a large open gate with multiple pools of the same mimic metal in front of a large monument, or perhaps it is the tomb of the stone figure sitting atop. Steadily walking through the courtyard yielded no response from the pools this time, perhaps the tear marks are shielding us from the pools. Inside the large monument is a single chest in front of the opposite wall. Inside this chest is a curved blade with a wicked handle. With only its look, it portrays a great power with a darkness seeping out of its sharp edge.

“That seems to be our bounty.”

“It looks horrible. Who is going to carry it?”

“I can.” Blaidd offers. He reaches out to grab the blade but is burned by its touch and pulls back. From within his cloak, he pulls a strip of cloth and gingerly wraps it around the blade and handle. Its power to harm the Greater Will is evident in the smoking burn on Blaidd’s fingertips. I take his paw in mine and press my seal into his palm. The cool light glows out as threads of energy wrap around Blaidd’s fingers and push back the burns until the dark soot is gone, returning his paw to normal.

“Thank you. Perhaps I thought too quickly to grab an ancient weapon made to smite gods. Let us return to Lady Ranni with this and we might finally-”

A large roar interrupts Blaidd and forces us to turn around towards the open gate of the monument. Out past the threshold a giant can be seen, the likely source of the roar. Beside them stands a beast knight, the figure similar to the mad Darriwil crouching low to the ground while hauling a large curved blade. Disturbing the blade may have caused some type of alarm to set these pools into motion. We approach the open doorway to face the monsters and as we ready ourselves, a great flash of silver light bursts out of both Blaidd and me. Suddenly, both of the metallic copies are standing in front of us in combat ready stances. As we take our first steps out of the doorway, the mimics step forward into a charge facing the giant and the mad knight. My figure leads me to face the beastly knight while Blaidd is led to the giant, both the host and mimic agreeing that this was likely the best choice. We fought in perfect unison with the mimics slowly learning how to compliment our attacks rather than just copying our movements. They are learning to work with us outside of plain mimicry.

With the aid of our own mimics, the giant and mad knight melt back into a puddle and seep into the ground sinking out of view. At the ceasing of hostilities, our metal figures dissipate and return to their homes on the backs of our hands. Now the tear shape is much duller than before, lacking the potent reflectiveness of the metal.

“Let us leave now before we discover any other beings who wish to impede our escape.” Blaidd says this as we make our way back through the grand gate, up the roofs of the great city, and back to the cliffside we had just descended. Other than the two mimics before the monument, none of the other inhabitants seem to have changed behavior and were continuing their routine of wandering the town aimlessly.

For our escape out of the sunken city, Blaidd mentioned that along the river basin there were two lifts that connected with the surface so as long as we find a way down to the basin we can leave. We scouted around the other edges of the cliff we were on and found a hole in the floor of the bridge leading away from the cliff out into the basin. It was in a much worse state than the rest of the city with entire sections of the bridge missing or fallen into the shallow water below. Slowly, we made our way down the ruined structure and touched down in the waters of the Siofra River. Blaidd led me to a stone lift at one end of the river, and upon reaching the top, we discovered that we are now back in the center of the Mistwood. All that is needed now is to return the blade to Ranni at the top of the great tower..

“Blaidd,” I ask as we begin our return to Ranni’s tower, “what were you going to say before we were interrupted by that giant?”

“To return the blade to Lady Ranni?”

“No, you were about to say something after that, but we were interrupted by the giant’s roar.”

“Right.” Blaidd seemed slightly uncomfortable about saying this more clearly. “I was only hoping that after this we may be finally done with this. Lady Ranni has been working for this for a very long time, and I am hoping, now with you to aid her along with the defeat of General Radahn, that this long mission may reach a conclusion.” Blaidd seems to lose all of his energy when he is talking. The exertion and exhaustion of fighting for one’s freedom had taken its toll on this wolf. “However, I am unsure what may happen to Lady Ranni. I know she said she will be gone, but I have been in her service for as long as I can remember. What am I to do without her?”

“I am no expert in your history with Ranni, but I am sure she had thought about this problem before. When we return the dagger, we can ask what she expects will happen when this is all over.” Blaidd glanced back and forth between me and the forest around us contemplating a response. All he could muster was a nod. Blaidd still seems uneasy with this response, but he agrees that it would be best if we were to ask this of Ranni.

Chapter 9: A Rebel's Roots

Summary:

Why should one break from the fore-comers?

Chapter Text

Ranni’s tower is still as ever with the pale blue light from the moon filtering in through the viewports along the stairs and into a grand chamber. There on a podium sat the dollish figure of Ranni. Upon our entrance, Ranni’s hat lifts up slowly to greet us.

“Thou return in triumph. I can sense the weapon hidden within thy garments. Now, pass it to me and this may yet end.” Blaidd hands the wrapped blade to me and I present it to Ranni. Her wooden hands reach and take the blade, slowly unwrapping it to reveal its accursed form. “Yes. The hidden weapon of the eternal city of Nokron. Now I shall be free uncontested.” Ranni stops and lifts her look to us. “Now for thee, there is one last goal in which I require assistance.”

“About that, the end of this journey we are working towards. What will become of Blaidd?” I glance back to Blaidd and see him still and quiet with a flat expression.

“Lord Blaidd. Thou shall be aware of the nature of thy existence. Thou were made by the Will to serve me, as a gift and companion. Without me, thou must find the strength to learn a new way of life. Without a Lady, thou art not a Lord. Free of the title, thou will not be expected to serve or do anything outside of one’s own desires.”

“Yes, my lady.” Blaidd said flatly.

“Perhaps this will be a good place to start for this is my final order. Beyond this moment I will no longer be thy Lady and thou will be a Lord no longer. Retrieve from my original form the Mark of the Curse of Death at the top of the grand study hall to the east of Raya Lucaria. With the mark, return here and I can guide thee further, not as a lady of the Carian Royal Family, but as a fellow being in need.”

“Yes, my lady.” Blaidd responds again.

“No, Blaidd. Just Ranni from this point on. Without the Will, without my lineage, we are no more different than two stones in the same stream.”

“Yes, Ranni.” Blaidd stumbled on that response but finally settled without the use of official titles.

“Thank thou both for persevering through what may seem to be unrelated tasks. I promise once this is done, thee shall be free from both me and the Greater Will’s grasp. Now go to the study hall and bring this.” From beneath her cloak, Ranni reached out and revealed a statue of a woman with a pedestal on both the top and bottom. “Use this to reveal the secrets of the hall and reach the divine tower at the end of its great bridge.” We all bow as I take the statue and move out of the tower.

Blaidd sighs as we reach the bottom of the tower and visibly relaxes. “I was afraid it might come to that. I’ll need to learn how to live for myself, for Ranni’s sake and mine.” He says this more to himself so I do not feel the need to ask further. To try and take his mind off of this new change, I ask about where we are going now.

“Have you ever been to the study hall Ranni was talking about?” I try to keep a light tone to keep the mood up.

“Not recently, though before Ranni,” there was another slight pause before he stated her plain name with some exasperation, “had begun this whole rebellion, she would visit its library often to try and find new avenues of magic. She was very close to her mother, Queen Rennala, and she, being the headmaster of Raya Lucaria and Head of the Carian Royal Family, encouraged Ranni’s interest in magic.”

“Did you accompany her to the library?”

“Usually, yes. In some circ*mstances I was busy or Ranni wanted some time alone, but whenever we went together I was always fond of the more fictional stories rather than Ranni’s academia. She would be reading a text about the history of glintstone crafts and uses while I would be reading a collection of tales from people long ago forgotten. Though their stories live on in such libraries.”

“You like reading?

“Yes I do. Regardless of my appearance of a shadow and a knight, I still do enjoy the less violent things in this land.”

“Could you tell me one of these stories?”

“Perhaps another time. When time is less pressing.” Blaidd seemed slightly embarrassed by this though not all together against the idea. Over the time we were talking we have now reached the study hall. It is a large tower sprawling up beside a large cliff with a bridge stretching out into the ocean to the supposed Divine Tower of Liurnia. At the base of the tower is a small door that allows access from the outside to the ground floor, foyer-like room. Beyond the entrance is the main hall. On every wall are shelves packed with books with each book having a different color and size lending to the disordered look of the entire hall. The sound of crashing crystals echoes through the hall with sharp, magic projectiles raining down. Up the stairs before us is what seems to be mage sending off spells in our general direction.

Blaidd draws his large sword and I ready myself for a ranged battle by casting a defensive incantation on Blaidd and myself. We advanced together and saw the mage slowly retreating and keeping space between us. Suddenly, ghostly figures appear between us and the mage and charge toward us. Blaidd deals with them quickly as I charge up a Frenzied Bolt to hit the mage. As the ghostly forms dissipate into a thin dust, my bolt speeds through the cloud, leaving a trail behind it. The bolt finds its mark and hits the shoulder of the mage, interrupting the next spell. Surprised, the mage regains their footing and begins to disappear, sinking into the floor and dematerializing. Farther up the stairs, the rain of crystal shards continues as the mage reappears. We charge further up the stairs and the same pattern continues with the ghosts, the bolt, and the portal away to the further stairs. This time around however, a large bow forms around the mage’s staff and grows to immense size. The bow looses and sends out a bright bolt of magical energy right into Blaidd forcing him back down the stairs. A cloud of darkness rolls out of my seal and covers the stairs in inky puffs of dust. I slink up the stairs slowly, hoping the darkness spreads enough to cover Blaidd, and prepare a spell. As the darkness falls I raise my fist to the sky and send a bolt of lightning down onto the mage causing them to fall to the ground, dropping their staff. Blaidd runs up behind me as we both approach the mage. Blaidd kicks away the staff and I raise my glowing seal to the mage. Fire builds in the space between me and the mage as a hand reaches up from the ground.

“Stop this, please. It is clear that you can take what you want. I won’t stop you.” The mage’s voice is weak as they continue to shuffle towards me.

“We are not here to take anything, we only need passage to the divine tower across the bridge.” Blaidd speaks clearly.

“Then let me warn you. A fanatic. A cruel being has taken refuge on the bridge and will kill all those that attempt to cross. Be weary of its black flame, for it eats away at the flesh unlike any I have seen before. It was created to kill gods.” The mage is clawing at my legs. Their sleeves fall down their arms, revealing dark wounds that seem to be moving on their own. I lower my seal and look closer at the mage’s arm.

“Thank you, now be still.” I raise my seal, sending the blue healing threads into their damaged form. It seems this fight was a lot for them, for they soon fall unconscious with a steady breath. We move the mage to a nearby wall and allow them to sleep.

At the top of the great hall lies a pedestal in the center of a large wooden platform. The statue Ranni granted us fits perfectly into the pedestal and causes the entire hall to shift and rumble. The platform begins to move and rotate, making the room flip to reveal a large door with its bottom at what was once the ceiling. Through the grand door is the bridge leading to the divine tower which is even taller than the study hall and is situated in the middle of the ocean on a tall foundation of stone.

The bridge is now empty save for the wild birds that have perched on this high peak to rest and seek further prey. Blaidd and I continue along the bridge slowly, weary of the warning given to us. Flame trails erupted from the doors of the divine tower and ran the length of the bridge, stopping at us and swirling around. As the flame fades, a large mound of flesh appeared wielding a longsword similar to a rapier of some kind. Despite the large size of this being, its weapon suggests an agileness required to wield a thrusting weapon. This contradiction is unsettling to me. The mound raises its weapon and begins to lunge. Blaidd reacts and steps forward to parry. Behind him, I prepare flame, for the being before us seems to use flesh and only flesh as armor. I release a sling of flame that hits the midsection of the mound and sizzles, leaving a dark spot of soot and charred skin. The mound bounces back and in its hand, a dark flame appears to grow and is thrust into the ground, sending out several trails of this same dark fire. Blaidd and I stepped out of the way, though this evasive action allowed the mound to get in a surprise attack on Blaidd. It was blocked, though Blaidd stumbled back as a reaction and was left open to the mound’s blade.

Quickly, I sent a rock sling into the mound’s sword arm, causing it to lurch and preventing a thrust into Blaidd’s exposed neck. The mound turned towards me and was interrupted by a large blade being plunged into the center of its spherical body. The large rapier dropped from the hand of flesh and clattered on the ground. The flesh began to fade and fall to ash, consumed by the dark flames that it wielded, as Blaidd pushed it off his blade onto the cold stone of the divine tower bridge. Beyond the corpse is the great gate of the Divine Tower of Liurnia.

The gate opens slowly and independently at the slightest touch, revealing a grand stone lift surrounded by walls that seem to sparkle like the stars in the night. The lift leads to a stairway leading upwards along the outer wall of the tower. At its top lie an abandoned, dried-out corpse of a woman with preserved, bright red hair. This must be Ranni’s human form.

“Such a dark night that was. Poorest Godwyn, to suffer at her hands.” Blaidd was deeply moved by this sight and stepped back. It was not fear in his face, but the grips of sadness and possibly regret.

“What happened here?”

Chapter 10: Shadow of Gold

Summary:

To be free at a cost worth the blood of the captor.

Chapter Text

“This is the old form of Ranni before what is known as the Night of Black Knives. On that night, Godwyn, a member of the Golden Order, was chosen by Ranni to join her in sharing the Rune of Death. Godwyn was condemned to die in spirit alone and allow Ranni to abandon the form that was given to her. The form blessed by the Greater Will and rife with chains made of gold. It is that control in which Ranni wishes to be free.” Blaidd says this reminiscing a past I am not aware of.

“So what does she want us to take from this exactly?”

“I expect that she requires the rune in which she carved herself.” As he says this, Blaidd kneels down and begins to scan around the ashen flesh. From this he pulls a fully formed metallic crescent with spikes coming out of a center channel. When the rune was removed, the entire body began to crumble into a pile of fine ash mixing with the sand beneath. This causes an expression of fear to spill onto Blaidd’s face. The wolf reaches to the ash but stops before he could touch it. He gently places his paw onto the pile and lets it sink into the ash. I cannot hear his breathing and his entire body is still save the twitching of his ears. Blaidd closes his paw around the ash and clenches onto a fistful of the powder. He tosses the metallic rune towards me and lets his head sink towards the pile on the ground. He takes a sharp inhale and lets out a shaky breath along with the shuddering of his upper body. I step towards him and place a hand onto his shoulder, ignoring the rune resting on the stone ground. Wet spots have fallen onto the pile before him mixing with the ash. After a moment, Blaidd releases his clutch on the ash and lets it fall, rejoining the rest. Blaidd rises from the ground and quickly turns to the stairs, returning to the great lift. I am atop the tower with naught but the wind, the rune, and drifting ash.

On the lift, Blaidd stands facing away from me. Under the cloak, it is difficult to see what he is doing. His ears are still twitching slightly. They respond to the sound of my boots landing on the stone of the lift causing Blaidd to tense. I walk up beside him gazing out into the tinkling stone walls.

“Blaidd?” His face turns away from me. “Are you okay?” Blaidd straightens his posture and pulls the sides of his cloak inward.

“I am now. I apologize for making you see me like this.”

“You don’t need to apologize. I wasn’t expecting it to do that either.” Blaidd turns towards me in a rage.

“IT? That is–” Blaidd pauses and steps back from me, lowering his hands. “That is Ranni. Was Ranni. That was how I knew, how I met her. I didn’t expect that either, but it wasn’t just the…dust. I was there when it happened. I was–” his breath caught in his throat as he turned away again. “I saw her die.” At this, Blaidd fell to his knees. “I saw her etch the mark into her very flesh under the light of the stars, much like these.

“A long time ago, Ranni had begun to seek for more niche knowledge in the recesses of the great study hall. Tomes and scrolls covered in dust since the time before even the emergence of the Greater Will. It was in these words that she discovered the existence of the city of Nokron and the Finger Slayer Blade. It was there she found the location of the Rune of Death and the heretical practice of splitting Runes. She shared some of this information with me, only pieces, and not in any order that would have made sense then. She began hosting a company of assassins outside of my knowledge trained in the art of etching half the Death Rune.

“One night, she bade me join her for another visit to the study hall. She said, ‘the divine tower is joined to this hall by a grand bridge. Would you like to see it for yourself?’ I said that I had seen enough from the shore to know what it was like. ‘No,’ she responded, ‘one must see it from the top to understand its beauty and splendor. Come, I know the way.’ I followed, as she expected, all the way to the top. Across the bridge, up the lift. Along the way, she began to tell me of a spell she wanted to test while the moon was out and I was with her.

“At the top of the tower lay a large blue doll covered in bright, pale blue robes. I have seen robes much like these in books from the study hall. Tales of a witch that could control the ice and frost of the mountains. A figure that can only be seen in the darkest of nights. When the moon is gone from the sky and the night threatens to swallow anyone whole. It was a figure much like this that had been sketched in journals and stories by peoples living in the coldest reaches of the Lands Between. I had always thought it to be superstition. A fearful creature made by the minds of those stuck inside during the deepest frosts.

“Now though, that figure is very real. Ranni approached the center. ‘Here at the top of the divine tower I will make great change for you to witness it. Under the light of the dark moon, allow me to show you greatness.’ Ranni pulled a blade from her own robes and rolled up a sleeve. She gingerly placed the tip of the blade into her flesh and dragged it across. I go to reach out and stop her. ‘Stop. This is part of the spell. I must perform this rite while under this moon.’ A stream of blood fell from her arm and dripped into the sand below her. She lifted the blade from her arm and the wound began to glow gray light. She lifted her arm to the sky and presented the wound to the stars. Threads rose up from the wound and fizzled out. From the wound, Ranni’s skin began to fade as well. Ashen cracks spread from her arm across her body. Even her robes begin to fade and crack away from her still living body. The gray spread up her neck and across her face. Her hair seemed untouched as her head rests upon the sand. The cracks eventually stopped spreading. Now her body lays still on the small mound of sand, alone and petrified by some magic that was beyond my understanding.

“I went to the mound of sand. Had I just watched my Lady sacrifice herself for some spell and done nothing to stop her? From beside me, a wooden clanking echoed around the tower’s peak. From the robes a familiar yet changed voice reaches my ears. ‘Be still Lord Blaidd. This was a spell to transfer mine soul to another vessel. Thy recognize this form. From stories of a snow witch from the mountains. It was a pity that thou never got to meet, but trust me that the knowledge I have gained will serve to protect us both. This is the first step on mine path to freedom. Allow me to guide thee in the way of the snow witch against the Greater Will.’ The doll rose from the ground and reached out a wood hand to me. I took her hand and now I am here. This happened before the shattering, before the world fell to ruin. She only waited until after that catastrophe to tell me who bore the other half of the Death Rune. She has never explained why it was Godfrey and I fear to question her.”

“Why not ask her about it?”

“She gets defensive if I bring up anything about the Night of Black Knives. Refuses to answer any questions. She gets as close to threatening as she can knowing that she couldn;t bring herself to kill me. I see no point in pushing, not this late into her journey.”

I believe that there is some way to get this answer, but pushing now would be pointless if what Blaidd says is true.

Chapter 11: Moving Shadows

Summary:

A hunter must hunt, sink into its mark.

Chapter Text

Now equipped with the Death Rune, we return again to Ranni’s tower. This time however, the pale glow of the moon is absent from the stairs and Ranni’s chamber is missing its owner. In place of her pile of books lies a waygate, a portal to another place carved out of stone. Both Blaidd and I are confused by this.

“Was this left by Ranni?” I ask vaguely.

“Well, since it is in her chamber, it was likely her who put it here. Perhaps this is the next step.” Blaidd places a paw on my shoulder and reaches out to touch the waygate. The familiar feeling of stretching and moving outside of my body consumes me. Light returns to my eyes in a limited amount. Beside me the sound of retching can be heard though it feels distant. As my senses fully return to me, it seems we are now inside of a dark tunnel with a shallow river running through its lower points.

“Careful with the waygate, Blaidd. Keep thy eyes closed and breath steady. This feeling will pass.” A small, echoey voice rings through the cave. I turn and see that Blaidd is indeed on the ground and breathing raggedly. I kneel down and place a hand on his back as his breathing steadies. He takes in a deep breath causing his chest to fully expand and strain the buckles of his armor. Then a deep sigh escapes from his mouth as his entire body sags down further, relaxing from the assuredly unpleasant experience he just had. Blaidd rises off his hands and onto his knees causing us to be exactly eye to eye. Slightly embarrassed about what had just happened, he quickly averts his eyes.

“Thank you, Saki.”

“I am glad thou have recovered. Seek me on the bank of this river in a vessel much like the previous.” That voice is more familiar now causing both Blaidd and I to glance over to its source. On the edge of the flowing water sits a small blue doll in robes very similar to Ranni’s. We approach the doll and it speaks again. “I see thou has found my rune and followed my gate. In this river well is the final path. At its end is my truest form at present. For now, I wish to ascend to the stars. With this smaller vessel, I shall be able to better assist thee in reaching this new end, if thou shall wish to follow me one last time.”

Blaidd lifts the mini version of Ranni and places her on his shoulder. “We are with you until the end. May you finally be free.” Blaidd looks down at me expectantly and I return a nod.

“My deepest gratitude. Beyond us lies another of the sunken cities, Nokstella, in which underneath is the only physical access point to the Moonlight Altar, the large plateau in the south of Liurnia. My true form is hidden on this altar.” With this new instruction, Blaidd encourages stealth through this cave to hasten our progress.

In the first chamber there are rows of tall stone columns likely part of a kind of grand entryway. At one end of the room is a large figure clinging to the wall. The figure has a head with large mandible-like structures moving back and forth, waiting to crush something between them. Its body contains multiple pairs of legs all ending in a claw. Lining its back are two pairs of large translucent wings moving idly and letting off a slight glow. At its end is a long tail constructed of small spherical structures, each unique in color and size. Now this creature is still, waiting for something to pass through its chamber. On Blaidd’s shoulder, Ranni speaks up.

“Blaidd. Raise me into the air and I will cover this cavern with a thick fog. Thou art immune to it but Saki must cast a defensive incantation due to its icy nature. Once the way ahead is obscured, continue straight to the opening to the right.” Blaidd took the mini Ranni and raised her above his head. In response, the mini Ranni lifted her doll arms and a frost quickly set in. I casted the protective incantation against magic and felt the frost quickly recede from my own body. The shallow water in front of us froze and a thick frosty mist started to build from the ground up as the water froze solid. “Go now with the frost.” Blaidd and I moved as one into the frost with the frozen river firmly supporting us. As we kept moving the creature supposedly remained still since there was no sound of movement or magic.

“Follow this ice below to a dam up ahead past the beast.” The iced over water made a clear path along the ground of the cavern. Past the great beast there was indeed a small dam regulating the flow of the water deeper into the caver. At its base lay another pool of water deep enough to jump into without injuring oneself. Blaidd took the jump before Ranni could say anything and landed with a splash. From behind us a great rumbling emanated as the air around us began to vibrate with some unknown energy. Suddenly, a rushing flurry of stones flew through the still thick fog and collided with the surrounding rocks. Before I could be hit by one of the stones, I too made the jump into the pool at the base of the dam.

At the bottom. Blaidd waited with Ranni once again on his shoulder ringing out his now wet cloak. Again Ranni began to speak. “Now that we are past that, the path ahead should be much less eventful. Follow the river until we reach a lift leading down into Nokstella’s waterfall basin. There, the path to the Lake of Rot shall lie open.” We began to make our way down the river again, staying on one bank since the current was now strong enough that we had to fight against it to not be carried away. Many bridges stretch the river above us, linking the buildings of the city to one another in the same shady stone appearance as Nokron. Eventually, the lift to the basin was found, much smaller than what I was expecting, but large enough to admit both Blaidd and myself with some extra room. At the base of the lift was a basin of calm water with multiple falls coming in from both sides of the basin. It seems to be draining water from all over Nokstella. At the opposite side of the cavern there is another passage draining the basin into another chamber that is out of sight. Through this passage a darker, more densely built room houses another lift.

The amulet around Blaidd’s neck begins to flash a bright yellow color illuminating a large portion of the chamber. Slightly outside of its brightness, a tall dark form looms in a corner. Ranni speaks quickly in an uneasy whisper.

“It is the shade, it has found us. Ready thyself for battle, for this is out to kill each of us if it can.” Blaidd draws his sword and Ranni’s small figure lifts her arms, sending out a harsh wave of ice and wind towards the figure. The shade dashes out of the way before the ice can reach it and crouches down. I cast a protective incantation on all of us before prepping a flame to compliment Ranni’s ice. The shade dashes towards Blaidd and Ranni swinging its sword leaving a trail of gold and dark red threads that dissipate quickly. The swing is blocked and the shade is struck with a spike of ice and is sent back. As the shade recovers, a flame collides with its back and forces it to flinch and spin around facing me. It dashes forward and swings down with its blade engulfed in a more malicious golden-red color. I dodge the blow but it ends with a small concussive blast that sends me into the wall of the cavern. Another shard of ice hits the shade as Blaidd charges and slashes down its back making the shade fall. The water around the shade began to freeze around the shade. I rise from the ground and join Blaidd and Ranni looking intently down at the now frozen shade. The ice continues to constrict around the shade as Ranni begins to mutter something barely audible.

“Return from whence thy came and never return, for the Lunar Princess Ranni is to be free.” The ice continues to constrict around the shade and causes its dark red face to noiselessly contort in pain. It shares the same face as Blaidd, its maw opening widely craving to scream out, to displace its suffering. A harsh snap echoes through the cavern as the shade jolts harshly releasing a small puff of gold threads. The shade begins to melt away into the cavern leaving behind a dense cloud of gold and red that begins to swirl. Before anyone could react, the cloud rushes around the cavern and into Blaidd. The cloud forces its way into Blaidd causing him to fall to his knees gasping for air. Ranni tumbles to the ground off Blaidd’s shoulder. I rush over to him and try to settle his coughing. His breathing begins to settle and Ranni places a small wooden hand onto the side of his face.

“I should have seen this coming. The Greater Will is desperate to keep its subjects and will stop at nothing. By failing to kill us, it will force one of us to kill the rest. That cloud was the source of a curse put upon thee. Blaidd. It will slowly drive its victim mad and force them into a violent fervor, making the victim a mad shade, killing everyone around them.” At this both Blaidd and I share a worried look. “I cannot treat this here in this condition. Blaidd, make haste to Caria Manor. In my chamber is an artifact in the form of a clear glass orb that will absorb the curse. Find it and focus thou hatred and anger that feels unnatural into the orb and thy will be free from its grasp.”

“Is that the only thing that can work? The manor is a far journey from here.” I respond full of worry.

“The other way is to remove the curse using the power of my ascension, but I fear that we will not get to that end before Blaidd completely loses control. The artifact is also not a permanent solution for the curse is likely too powerful to be contained that simply. If Blaidd gets the artifact quickly while Saki and I continue on the path to the Moonlight Altar, we should be able to get to the cure in the borrowed time granted by the artifact.”

The situation is dire, but Ranni’s plan might work. Even if it doesn’t, there is not much else I can do. Blaidd looks over to me and I can see a swirling presence behind his eyes as well as the worry and hints of fear. We both stand and embrace each other, the first time we had done this in what feels like a long time, though it certainly wasn’t. We communicate our fears in the clutching grasps of our hands and claws wanting not to separate even in the most dire of situations. Blaidd pulls away and hands me mini Ranni to continue our end of the quest as Blaidd turns around and begins walking back the way we came.

“Be safe, and stay whole, both of you. I will return with the orb.” Blaidd’s voice is weak.

“To reach the surface from here, return along the path we hath laid. At the chamber just before where we began, turn right and follow the cave to a lift. This will take thou just north of the Study Hall. From there I trust thou to make it back to my tower in one piece.” Blaidd nods in understanding and continues out of the cavern. “We must push forward for Blaidd’s sake. It will not be easy, but it is necessary.” Ranni gently says this trying to steady my heart but it does little to quiet the worry that is already nagging at the edge of my mind.

Chapter 12: Consorts Best Left Be

Summary:

Rings are meant to be worn by someone worthy.

Chapter Text

At the edge of the now calm cavern lies a large metal key with the arms of the Carian royal family. Ranni speaks up in response.

“How did this find its way here? We must return to Raya Lucaria, my mother’s great library, for it houses a treasure meant to be held by a Carian princess. It is the final piece to mine ascension, and without it we may not have access to the Moonlight Altar. Return to the previous chamber to the abandoned Sight of Grace, though I cannot see it I know it is there. Use it to get to the library for thou art Tarnished and may use the grace openly still. There is a chest tucked away in a corner, my mother should be able to guide thee, and inside lies the treasure we search for.”

Back in the previous chamber there is a site of grace that I had not noticed. I appear in the grand library without any of the stretching feeling from the waygate and Rannala is still idle in the center with her large golden egg. She is distracted and does not notice me coming into the hall so I begin to look around for the chest. At the base of a large bookshelf lies a chest indeed. The key fits into the keyhole perfectly and the lid slowly opens as the key is turned revealing the large empty space of a pillow with a singular ornate ring in the center. It is finely crafted out of a silver-like metal and filamental accents surrounding a large dark gem reminiscent of the dark moon. I grab the ring and begin to inspect it closer. Its central gem reflects the ambient light of the library off of its perfectly smooth outer surface. The gem's finish makes it seem as though it is the pupil of a great eye, a lacquer of reflective radiance stretched over a pit of absorbing darkness. I hardly expect the ring to blink at me. The ring itself is small, much too small to fit on any of my fingers. If Ranni’s doll form is any way to gauge her true size, then this ring should be a perfect fit.

“Lord Saki, do not pretend as if I am not here.” A gentle voice echoed through the hall causing me to turn around. Rennala was still not looking at me, though she was absolutely aware of my presence. “Ranni has finally found that poor key and she sends you to get it for her. She has found a consort, but won’t even see her own mother to tell her?”

“Consort?”

“Yes,” Rannala continues, “that ring is to be worn by a Carian princess that finds an able consort. It used to be mine before Radagon left. I put it in the chest and banished the key out of anger, but it seems Ranni has found it nonetheless. Who are they, if you know?”

“Ranni has no consort. She intends to use this ring to ascend to the stars.”

“Ascension? That was her end. If not a consort, what happened to make Ranni rush a thing like ascension?” Rennala asked this with perhaps the only bit of true worry I had ever heard from her.

“Blaidd was cursed by a shade sent by the Greater Will, or at the very least that is what I understood from Ranni’s panic.”

“What is Lord Blaidd doing now?”

“Ranni sent him to look for an artifact in her tower that can seal away the curse temporarily while Ranni and I work to her ascension.” Rennala enters deep thought with her eyes moving back and forth weighing her own ideas against the decisions of Ranni.

“With the speed of those curses, this may be the only thing that will work in time. If you are the one to make her ascend,” a small pause, “then may it be done quickly. Before you go, show me your hand. I see you have made a new friend.” I reach out my right hand and Rennala takes it closely, staring intently into the silver drop. She places a hand on it and forces the metal figure out of me causing me to lurch back. The mimic is now in front of me looking at Rennala with a blank stare. Rennala slowly brings another hand down onto the mimic's head causing it to glow a bright white and sending a rushing feeling up my arm through the rest of my body. She removes her hands and I can now feel what the mimic is thinking, though it is not much. The string of thoughts are simple, single word desires.

“Now you may effectively communicate while apart. A mimic always does best when they can work reliably with their mirror.” I look directly at the mimic and I can get a deeper feeling of what they feel and see as though it is another me, which it is. We reach out and touch hands causing the mimic to flash back into me settling on the back of my hand once more. “Go now, every second is precious for Lord Blaidd to live.”

“Wait. Who was God–”

“No time for questions. Lord Blaidd’s life is at stake and only time will tell.”

I do a quick bow to Rennala and return to the grace to make it back to mini Ranni in the river basin. In my hand the ring shimmers in the reflective light of the river basin matching the dancing waves of the flow channels. The small Ranni looks up while seated on the ground.

“Thou hast returned with the ring I suppose. Its power is nauseating. Let us be off to the Lake of Rot.” I lift the Ranni doll up onto my shoulder, mimicking the way Blaidd carried her around. Surprisingly, the doll feels hollow and unnaturally light with a slight icy chill to the touch. Beyond the chamber that held the shade is a lift that leads down further into the cavern. At the base of the lift, a small plot of dirt lies motionless before a sea of flowing, breathing fluid of bright red. The liquid almost seems to glow, filling the cavern with an eerie red light that hurts to look at for too long. The entire cavern is full of the familiar stench of the Scarlet Rot causing me to startle and begin to cough. Ranni speaks up again.

“Steady thy breathing and lift me once more. I will attempt to freeze the rot to allow our passage across.” I take the doll into both hands and lift her above my head causing a harsh chill to surround us. While in contact with Ranni I feel immune to the ice though it still feels as though my hands are freezing solid and my feet are going numb. As I begin to walk forward, the ice crystals form and settle in the dirt of the bank. A crack comes from the flowing rot essence as the red becomes darker and more muted, eventually coming to a stop. Gentle, white ice crystals form on the surface of the rot forcing it into solid stable ground allowing us safe crossing through the lake.

Chapter 13: A Cursed Veil

Summary:

Spectres and haunting visions that may seem as real as oneself.

Chapter Text

We embrace and pull away, forcing me to leave the only warmth I have known for a long time. Saki and Ranni bid me farewell and safe journeys and all that can be expected when one is about to go on a small adventure alone, with a curse no less. I leave the cavern and return to the water basin.

Not much is noticeably different with this new curse. I am in full control of my body and feel no hindrance to my strength or movement. I can see fine and all my other senses seem to be working normally. Either this curse is less than what Ranni fears, which is highly unlikely, or it takes time for the curse to come into full effect, time that I am slowly wasting while standing here contemplating the nature of this curse. Regardless of this pondering, I must return to Ranni’s tower with all haste.

The path of ice made by Ranni through this cavern still remains with only small portions of the frost beginning to melt. Fog still remains quite thick, dissipating out into the neighboring caverns and connecting caves. If memory serves, I should be able to find the cave Ranni mentioned through this fog while still avoiding the sentinel mounted on the cavern’s wall. The ground of the cavern remains frozen making the ground much easier to walk on. Following the right wall, it eventually ends with a cave leading up against flowing water. Perhaps there is yet more water flowing through this cavern and if so, how far does this river stretch?

Up through the cave, a lift is built into the wall of a smaller chamber with its pedestal resting at the bottom. Stepping onto the button caused the lift to move and begin moving upwards. The lift quickly entered an enclosed room with a small wooden door. Through the door, the sun poured into the stone room, filling it with warmth and a gentle amber glow. Off in the distance stands the great silhouette of the Study Hall. Standing directly before the lift chamber is a large sentinel with a great bow watching over the expanse of flat land before the lift. I sneak up to the sentinel and slashed down on the back of its feet causing it to collapse. Before it could regain its footing, I ran south to the highlands before the Study Hall. Beyond is an established fire cult camp, a group I am familiar with in Liurnia so I am able to quickly move around them to the edge of the plateau, a series of smaller cliffs and ledges allowed me to get down to the lake level in a mess of dense trees. Landing on the water's surface, it splashed lightly and echoed against the trees.

Looking out into the trees reveals a dense fog has set in across the shallow water settling into the stale air of the trees. The fog becomes suffocating and denser than any natural fog could be. As if the fog is becoming denser than the water below it. It feels like I am swimming though I am able to breathe normally. The fog becomes completely silent and begins to swirl around me, clearing out in a small circle centered on a collapsed figure before me. Their breathing is shallow and labored, wracking the body with shaking and shivering. I kneel down to try and tend to them and they rolled onto their back revealing their front.

Before me lies Saki, caked in old blood from multiple puncture wounds around the neck. I reach my arm around his back and pull him into me urging him to speak, to live on. His eyes part, landing on me and relaxing, drawing in a slow breath. The chest expands and sinks into me, remaining still and quickly growing cold. From deeper in the fog another harsh cry echoes against the water and trees. The scream is cut short with a loud crunching sound as though a tree was shattered by some great force. I am compelled to try and find the source of this sound but the body of Saki weighs me down in an unnatural way. While his cold form lies in my arms I cannot move from this spot and must watch in idle fear as a tall shadow form walks through the boundary of the fog holding a large white and blue hat splattered with mud and shards of wood. The shadow’s great eyes light from a distance radiating a bright crimson shine piercing into me. The hat is discarded to the shallow water and sinks into itself. The shadow lowers to a crouch and the deep growl emanates from it. A splash and rush of air as the shadow charges and collides with me pushing into the ground. I am still unable to move as the shadow leans down, its fine features become visible. A long snout full of unnaturally long, thin teeth and eyes full of this malicious shade of crimson. Its great paws pin me to the ground and its maw slowly lowers to my neck sinking its teeth into the most sensitive part of one’s body. Pain radiates out, the pressure from the bite cutting off any scream or sound I could muster.

Chapter 14: Solitude of the Night is Better Mine Alone

Summary:

Darkness can separate those in need from those that can help.

Chapter Text

With the surface of the Lake of Rot now frozen solid, the only hazard in crossing it seems to be slipping while holding the miniature Ranni above my head. While not heavy, the small doll seems fragile and is difficult to hold due to the large robes. Each step is accompanied by the whining crunch and squish of ice and frozen rot goop underneath us. I have no idea how deep the lake might be but I am sure that I do not want to fall through the thin layer of ice separating us from the pulsing physical embodiment of rot and decay.

“Steady thine step. As we are both at risk of plunging into this wretched slop, know that thou is safe whilst I am in thine arms. Trust the safety of mine frost. Trust the safety of the Dark Moon, for she is above and over all. Watching above and over all.” Ranni’s voice is steady as always, but it waivers in the small silences between thoughts. The monotonous crunch of the ice continues uninterrupted with the conjured frost growing across the rest of the lake. Suddenly, there is a rumble under the frozen layer of rot and a large crack spread across it behind us. Another impact deepens the crack and throws fine bits of ice into the air. One last burst sends chunks of ice into the air and a large figure emerges from the ice. The debris settles and reveals the great form of a dragon.

“Don’t look behind. Run forward and I will cover us with fog. Go to the drainage channel and we shall be safe from the lake and its denizens.” A sudden quiet falls over the entire cavern. A loud roar pushes me forward and starts my fleeing speed, barreling towards the channel that Ranni had specified. My foot falls onto the flat stone of the channel and a dense fog moves from behind. Another roar rings through the empty space as a bright stream of light runs through the channel burning the stone and sending gravel into the air. The stream of energy creates a scent of burning flesh, the stone walls seem as though they are bleeding. The roaring dies out with an irritated gruff and a large splash.

Fog still lingers in the channel, reducing visibility to barely in front of one's face if not for Ranni carving a path. Deeper into the channel, the rot continues to flow from beneath the frozen layer and leads to a sharp cliff with a small waygate sitting alone on the edge. Through the waygate a deep cavern reveals itself with a large fog wall obscuring the rest of the cavern.

“Beyond this gate sealed by fog lies an abomination born of the void. A being similar to the one responsible for the fall of Nokron. Further yet is the lift to the Moonlight Altar. Within the chamber I am limited in my abilities due to the fierce presence of the being interrupting my connection to this smaller form. This shall be the last battle thy must face for me.” A small lull. “Before continuing let us check on Blaidd and see if he got to the tower yet.”

The doll joins her hands and lowers her head and I can hear her voice in my head.

“Blaidd, where is thou at present? What progress hast thou made to the tower?” The message echoes alone in my mind for a short while as we both wait for a response.

“Not quite there yet. I have only just made it to the entrance of Caria Manor but should reach the tower soon. I can feel the curse growing, slowly, but still noticeable.”

“Saki and I are about to enter an area where we will be unable to communicate for a small while. Thou shall wait in the tower with the artifact until contacted once more. The tower itself should also aid in the containment of the curse.”

“I will stay in the tower.” Some resignation is hidden in Blaidd’s tone. “Be safe, both of you.”

The echoey presence within my mind dissipates and leaves me truly alone again. This thought is interrupted by Ranni’s voice.

“Saki, before we enter this chamber, lower me to thine eyes and allow me to transfer a slew of power.” I grab Ranni from my shoulders and hold her small form before me. Below the hat is a small doll face colored in pale blue with simple black eyes, no mouth and a gently shaped jaw. When my eyes meet Ranni’s, they flash a bright blue light causing me to squint. A wave of cold vastness moves through my body and settles in my chest.

“With this, thine inclination to magic will be modified with the power of the Dark Moon and the Stars Above to better deal with what is beyond this gate. After the battle is over, make sure to retrieve me from here before taking the lift so as to not hamper thine movement. Steel thyself for the visage of the beast yonder. It is not easy to stomach.” I place the mini Ranni against the wall and approach the fog wall. The fog recedes from my outstretched hand and allows me to enter the new chamber.

Within, a bright purple collage of specks and streaks sprawls against the upper limits of the chamber giving the entire space a gentle purple glow. On the opposite side, a large being similar to the other sentinels in the cave behind us but much larger. Large pincer-like mandibles sprout out from a humanoid face with a large blue iris inside. Its body is formed of smaller bits brightly colored as if they were pulled from the splatter above. The tail curls upwards and is ended with fluorescent rings surrounding a center body swaying gently as the beast waits to tear apart all who try to pass.

The fog closes behind me and seals me into the beast’s chamber. Its large head shifts and its eye centers on me. It rises into a ready position and begins to stalk over to me waiting for a first move, impatiently clicking its mandibles together. I continue to walk into the chamber to gain space between me and the wall behind. A deeper purple glow grows around the beast and a deep rumbling reverberates through the chamber. Large stones begin to circle the head of the beast and are flung into me. I go to dodge but my arm moves on its own and sends out a bright beam of energy into the rain of boulders causing them to crumble into fine dust. The blue skin on my hand recedes and dissipates as the energy of the blast settles.

The beast rages at my survival and rushes towards me. My arm rises again and a burst of dense foggy frost rises up from the wet ground as I move to the side. Another scream and the beast flies up out of the fog. A new set of boulders rises up and slings out. They fly wide and crash into the wall behind me. My arms fly up into the air causing a harsh row of sharp ice shards to grow from the ground. The ice flies through the air and hits the small orbs throughout the body of the creature causing a more panicked shriek. It jumps again into a circular portal, disappearing into the streaky skies and reappearing to my side with its large pincers open. My arm shoots up and a blast of frost hits the eye causing a great ice cube to form around its head preventing the beast from closing its jaws. The momentum of the charge causes the beast to glide over me which exposes its underbelly. My arms move again and a shower of icicles and energy beams of varying sizes spew forth and blend into a single beam causing the body to split in two sending another muffled shriek into the ice. The body falls to the ground and dissipates into fine mist leaving the cavern empty and still. The fog gate I came in from falls with the opposite one revealing a golden weave over fog of a subtle hue of blue.

I move to the previous chamber to fetch Ranni. Ranni’s doll remains against the wall of the smaller chamber. I lift the doll and its eyes flash another bright blue light and a great power is sapped from my body as the doll reanimates.

“Go to the opposite gate and present the ring.” This was said very quickly and conveyed a feeling of true urgency. I raced across the larger chamber and presented the small ring to the gate causing it to fall and reveal a small stone lift. The lift is slow and continues on much longer than anticipated. Ranni breaks the silence.

“Now that the beast is dead and the Moonlight Altar lies open, let us check on Blaidd and see how quickly we need to move across the plateau.” Ranni lowers her head again and I feel her presence in my head calling for Blaidd. No response.

Chapter 15: A Fate Worse Than Undeath

Summary:

Is there something such as that?

Chapter Text

The water lining the ground of the small forest is cold and unwelcoming. The shock of the cold jolts me awake and up onto my feet. No dark shadow or fog is to be seen, and I am yet still breathing, lacking the fatal wounds I thought I would have suffered at the hands of that beast. Nonetheless I stand here alive and with a mission; reach Ranni’s tower, find the artifact, return to Saki and Ranni. This should not be difficult, but this new curse is warping my perception and I can only assume that its control over me is only going to get stronger over time. I mustn't dawdle.

The rest of the way across the great lake is empty and uneventful, almost too convenient after the amount of trouble that inanimate fog caused. On the distant shore of the lake lie the ruins and the hidden gate to Caria Manor, and by extension the tower. My usual path through the ruins brings me right in front of Iji who is sitting with a large book in his even larger hands.

“Lord Blaidd. What has brought you back here? Are you in need of a repair?” The book sags down as the giant’s attention is shifted to me.

“No Iji. Or at least not in any way you would be able to help with. I need to get to Ranni’s tower and find an artifact to stall this curse within me.” I can see small reflections of my own face in Iji’s collection of mirrors. Hundreds of small wolfmen berating me for my recklessness. From their unmoving glares and stagnant maws spills thousands of words all spelling out my failings as a shadow and my eventual destruction at the hands of this curse.

“I see. If it is what I think it is, this may help.” Iji pulls out a small stone and hands it down to me. The stone is glowing with a gentle purple light “This is a seedling of an Evergaol. Throw is beneath any creature and they will become trapped in a stone Evergaol, locked in from the outside. If the artifact should fail, I am sure Lady Ranni will find some way to break this curse even if it means leaving this realm. Though leaving this realm is her ultimate goal, I am sure she would not pass up the opportunity to aid her loyal shadow.”

“Yes, I am sure. As if you have been traveling with us all this time, Iji.”

“Who says I have not?” At this, Iji’s mirror helm glimmers and shows scenes from all over the Lands Between. Settling with some shock, I set the small stone into a pocket that is easy to access. A tickling in my mind creeps up from my back and delivers a familiar voice. Ranni speaks into my mind and asks the progress of my journey. Outside the gates of Caria Manor, she informs me to stay in the tower until further notice. The tower itself apparently has some warding effects against the Greater Will.

My normal path through the manor works as always and leads me to the towers residing over the dragon meandering around the plateau. Without her presence, Ranni’s tower is much dimmer, lacking the characteristic pale blue light of the moon. The lower floor is still and the stairs leading up to her chamber feel cold and barren without them here with me. This is the first time I have been in her tower completely alone and it feels as if I am trespassing.

No, Ranni sent me here for a reason.

I begin to search around the chamber and finally get a feeling of how disorganized Ranni is. There are books littered all over the floor and only a clear path between her podium and the chamber entrance. While searching through a stack of books, a gentle golden flow began to bleed out from behind a different stack. I go to investigate and find a small crystal orb glowing faintly with golden threads swirling inside. I grab the orb and a rush of energy moves from my paw into the orb filling it with golden light. The longer I hold it the more corrupted the light becomes showing streaks of deep shadowy red blending with the flow of golden light. Eventually the power transference feels run through and I set the orb down. The farther I am from the orb, the stronger a pull there is to it keeping me within a short distance. If I try to push this small boundary, the corrupted golden light begins to seep out of the orb heading straight for my body. It seems that I must keep this orb within arms reach or else the curse will just reenter.

I attempt to find a comfortable spot in the midst of books strewn about on the floor. If I must wait here, I might as well get comfortable. I need to be ready to run back to wherever Ranni and Saki end up at. The walls of the tower are cold and silent. The stones on the inner wall of this chamber are finely cut and smoothed. Each brick seems to have been cut for this exact purpose. Sitting on the bricks beneath them and supporting the bricks that are set above them. All of them coming together to form a thing greater than themselves. To serve a purpose for being greater than themselves. From the roughest boulders to the finest of granites, these stones are made outside of their control and their fates are decided without their input. While stones can’t give their thoughts to the masons and miners that work with them, what if they could? Would the workers listen to them? Or would they think their concerts are not worthy of their attention? What would a tower be if the very stone wished it not to?

From behind me a book falls from a pile and thuds on the floor. It has opened through the fall and landed pages down. I pick it up to ensure that none of the pages are folded irregularly. I smooth out the pages and close the book to return it to its stack. The cover is familiar to me. It is a collection of stories from the people of Nokron before its damnation. I have seen this exact copy on the shelves of the great study hall. I have shown many of these stories to Ranni, but I am sure she had read them much before I ever became her shadow.

A strange feeling crosses my mind. Or more accurately, a lack of feeling. My mind goes completely blank and numb. It feels as though all connections to the outer world have fallen away. Through the windows of the tower the sky seems unchanged and the day is still bright. Even without her voice in my head, Ranni has always held a presence in my mind. This is the first time that this presence has left or been taken out. What could have happened to her, to Saki? This can’t be an influence of the curse. It’s in the orb contained in a swirl of red and gold. Something has happened beyond Ranni’s control.

With orb and stone in tow, I leave the tower to head back to find Ranni and Saki somewhere on or before the Moonlight Altar. Outside has become unusually dark for this time of day. Above the towers a swirling cloud of darkness begins to coalesce and send fast, whipping winds around the cliffs. A crackle, and then a spark jumps out of the clouds and strikes one of the towers, leaving a scorched mark on the stones. I look to the orb and see an exact mirror of the storm within the orb. Perhaps this is another trick of the curse, but that first strike was very much real. I try to quicken my pace to the lift back down to Ainsel River, avoiding the lake and its large pools of shallow water.

The storm continues to follow me, keeping pace and throwing bolts of lightning at an ever nearing distance. I cross the ravine between the manor and the Bellum Highway, allowing me to avoid the lake. However, with this I will have to cross through the village corrupted by the Frenzied Flame. To my surprise however, the inhabitants of this village do not seem to give me much mind and allow me to pass uncontested. They seem more interested in the storm moving overhead and the occasional strikes coming down. I avoided the minor Erdtree, leaving its avatar alone. On the path back down to the lift, the strikes eventually stopped, leaving the sound of only the wind rushing around me, keeping the storm above swirling menacingly. The clouds stop and the wind dies in a moment now leaving only silence and unease. A small pop rings through the clouds right before a bright concentrated beam of light falls from the sky and strikes leaving the ground around me scorched, but I am unharmed. There is a subtle crack from my pocket and I pull out the orb now with a noticeable crack on its surface. The golden light bleeds through it slowly, but eventually shatters the orb entirely.

Chapter 16: Golden Tyranny

Summary:

Gold is beautiful.

Chapter Text

The ride up the lift is silent as both Ranni and I await for Blaidd’s response long past the point we know he should have said something. By the time we reach the top of the lift, Ranni speaks again in my mind.

“Blaidd, please respond if you are able. We hath reached the Altar and are fastly approaching the cathedral. Hang on, for you will soon be safe.” Ranni settles and speaks normally again. “It seems we are nearly out of time. Head up that trail to the cathedral. The dragon shall ignore us for I am known here as a disciple of the Moon. At the back of the cathedral thy will find a cave. Descend it and this truth shall be revealed.”

The large gem dragon lies still on the path to the cathedral, breathing large heaving breaths that move the field of grass before it. The great eyes of the dragon open and look over to Ranni while clearly ignoring me. The dragon sighs deeply and returns to its rest, barely moving in response to our presence. We make our way around the dragon and up to the cathedral. Its large silhouette is interrupted only by the hazy blue fog that hangs around the entire plateau. Its spire reaches high above the back of the sleep dragon with the inside overrun with new plant growth, a testament to the time that has passed since this cathedral was used properly. Past the ruined pews and near the back wall lies a large hole leading under the cathedral. Ranni speaks up.

“Before our descent into this darkness, let thou remember that what was done was necessary in the face of the tyranny placed upon mine own family. Though I am not the only one to attempt an escape, it seems that I am also not the only one turned into a new kind of monster by this effort. My dearest brothers turned into something else, a scourge and a serpent, part of a larger intended price of disobedience. What thou sees is true, for this has been my hiding place for some time. Now let us finish this wretched journey.”

With that said, I descend into the darkness and jump from ledge to ledge, eventually making my way down to flat ground. At the opposite end of the caver a shallow pool of what seems to be blood collects at the feet of a thin blue figure lounging on part of a bloodied object. With how large it is I am hesitant to say it was once a living being that Ranni had slain, for it is full of lacerations and fresh blood pouring out of possibly ancient wounds, The doll goes limp and the blue figure before me rises its head in a small greeting.

“Greetings, Saki.” The voice is weak and evident of one who has been near death for a long time. “Fear not, for what I now sit upon was once an emissary of the Greater Will. It is a living corpse of the Two Fingers, or just one of them more precisely. Our final step is my ascension out of this world through the power of that small, silver ring thou hast found in my mother’s chamber. Bring it here and place it upon my finger, allow yourself to be, symbolically at least, my consort, for a short while.” The figure reaches out a hand and leans forward. I approach and take out the ring with the dark, opalescent gem. I kneel to present the supposed gift to Ranni and place the ring onto her awaiting finger. She pulls her hand back and looks at the ring.

“It has been a long time since I ever thought this day would come. My time here is not long, so listen closely for I fear Blaidd is in danger. He is in an evergaol.” A wave of confusion passes over her face. Her body begins to fade into bright blue threads and move up out of the cavern. “Go to the Church of Vows, the fine turtle dog should have seen what happened.” Ranni’s voice is growing fainter and fainter. “Go, save Blaidd, for my actions have cursed him. Let him live as free as he never was before. He must now be his own. Be there in his time of need, for he–” Ranni’s voice fades past recognition and is replaced by the sound of rushing wind.

In her place, a single thin dart remains sporting a winding design of blue, white, and gold. Perhaps this is for me to take. When I pick it up, a jolt of energy runs up my arm and a vision fills my head. The dart in my hand and a large shadow in front of me with bright red eyes. The dart flies out of my hand without being thrown and into the shade, making it stumble and fall to the ground causing the darkness to dissipate. The vision clears and I am back in the dark cavern.

That must have been Ranni’s final piece of guidance, given through an eerie vision of the death of a beast and a mystic dart, the one I now hold in my own hands. This is the thing that will save Blaidd.

I make my way out of the river well and up the trails of Liurnia to the small Church of Vows. Around the outer lands of the church, fields of scorch marks litter the grass and turn the once peaceful field into a discerning omen with an acrid smell of ash. Leading up to the church, there was one of the large stone evergaols placed in the middle of the field surrounded by burnt grass and what seems to be broken glass. Inside, the large reptilian clergyman lays idle in the rear part of the church near a large pool of shallow water. His voice is gentle and deep.

“Good day to you child, have you come seeking shelter from the passing storm.” The clouds above are dark and moving quickly, but the church itself seems to have been untouched by the supposed storm. Not a single scorch mark stains the inner grounds of the church even though its roof has long since collapsed under its own neglect. “Stay as long as you need.” The large being hardly moves as he speaks.

I came closer. “Not particularly, I was hoping you could tell what happened here recently with all the scorch marks outside.”

“Oh yes. Not too long ago a storm began to brew outside and move quickly past this church. The strikes came down regularly and approached the church but stopped suddenly after a large crash and what sounded like earth shifting. I could feel the presence of gravity magics in the air and after that it all stopped. All that remains now are the clouds and the scorched bits of earth.”

“Has there always been an evergaol outside of this church?”

“No. Why would there be? This is the Church of Vows. Not a place of exile for criminals.” There is a small pause. “Is there one now, with all the gravity magic it seems a plausible explanation.”

“Yes there is.”

“Rest assured that there absolutely was not an evergaol anywhere near this church. I would not have stood for such a thing sullying these holy grounds.” With the large turtle dog in a huff, I nod in understanding and make my way over to the evergaol outside. Deeper within the seal of the stone I hear the distant echoes of a pained howl. I press a hand to the seal and am pulled inside the purple hue of the containment cell.

Chapter 17: The Price of Freedom

Summary:

What could one give up in a time of greatest need?

Chapter Text

As the shards of glass fall from my open hands, quick threads of malevolent golden energy snake around me and tighten. They pull on my body and begin to flood my head with fog. I struggle against the threads but their force seems to be unending. I take the evergaol seedstone out and throw it to the ground as the threads push their way into my head. A burst of purple energy fills the air and a platform of stone is formed from the earth with a bright seal in its center. The world around me fades to hues of purple and I feel a stasis effect fall over me. The threads stop moving, but so do I. Everything is moving slowly as if I were submerged in a thick, colorless slime. My head clears as well, allowing me to clearly see where I am. Just outside a stone church that seems to be in ruins. A ring of burnt grass around me outside of the evergaols platform.

The threads of the curse begin to move slowly across my body. I can feel movement slithering beneath my armor, weaving a tighter and tighter matrix around me. I am unsure if the threads are actually doing anything without the discomfort that has come to identify these threads and their efforts to control me. I cannot understand what they are attempting to do. All I can do is wait here in the stasis of the evergaol.

The weave is growing steadily, slowly covering me in a tight layer of the threads glowing with the golden red of broken promises and betrayal. The weave sneaks its way out of my collar and up to the rest of my head. It loops around my maw and locks it in place. Out of the corner of my eye I see movement. Someone walked past and entered the church. The weave grows more, covering one of my eyes and coming close to fully enclosing me in its grasp. The figure leaves the church and begins approaching, straight to the evergaol. It is Saki. I need to warn him. I try to scream out for him, but the weave has sealed over a majority of my maw and my eyes are now being closed over. My last thought is my hope for a quick death before Saki gets hurt, and a howl escapes from a maw that is no longer mine.

The breeze flows over the stone of the evergaol and picks up the settled ash into a whirlwind of acrid dust. The stone is steady beneath my shoes. The seal is glowing a deep purple and hums with a deep underweave of magic energy. My hand lowers to the seal. I feel the twisting and stretching feeling of being pulled into the evergaol as the world around me falls to the purple glow. Within the gaol, the sound of ragged breath echoes through the ethereal space. I approach the tear in the earth and can feel the presence of Blaidd within, but a deeply corrupted and malicious air seeps out from the edges. A figure forms out of the tear, revealing the shape of Blaidd wrapped in a bright red-gold shine. As soon as he hits the ground though, the gold dissipates and Blaidd’s body sags and goes quiet. He raises his head and his eyes are glowing in the same gold marked with wisps of crimson rolling out of his eyes and mouth. The being in the shape of Blaidd lowers and draws a sword. This is no way that Blaidd began a fight. A force outside of his body is pushing and pulling his body giving the appearance of a puppet.

I retrieve the dart and hold it out in front of me. It spins and centers itself on the shade, flying from my palm. The shade twists and pulls its blade up, deflecting the dart and sending it to the side. It returns to my hand and is quite warm. It seems that this will not be as easy as I thought it would be.

The shade regains its low position, staring up from the ground much like Darriwil had in that shared battle that seemed so long ago. How long have we known each other for it all to end in this, Blaidd? I trust in Ranni that she knows this magic, this curse, and how it may be broken. My own ability, however, is yet to prove itself, for the dart is apparently not the automatic weapon the vision presented it as. I take my glintstone seal and ready myself for a fight that neither of us want, no matter how corrupted his mind may be. I know that he would never want to hurt me. His aura, his presence, his pull on me remains powerful and strong enough to put this fight from my mind and replace it with images of times past. Gentler times that seem to evaporate within his own mind at the hand of this wretched curse. Strike true, small friend.

A veil of darkness pools out of my seal and fills the evergaol. The eyes of the beast shine as brightly as before, just as I had hoped. A weight leaves my body as I command my mimic to begin to walk to the other side of the evergaol, shuffling along the stone to draw the shade’s attention. The glowing eyes drift to the side, following the mimic. I raise the dart in my hand and allow it to fly to the shade. A sound of shuffling cloth and popping bones precede a gentle clink, and the dart returns to my hands once more, ever warmer, nearly hot to the touch.

The darkness dissipates, revealing the shade prowling over a puddle of metallic liquid that is slowly sinking into the grooves of the stone. The shade has not turned around from the puddle and seems to be completely still. Without a sound, I raise the dart once more, sending it into the back of the shade. This time only the sword moves.

Suddenly, a metallic paw bursts from the writhing shadows and catches the blade before it can intercept the dart. A bright glow of gold and pale blue light emanates from the back of the shade as the dart begins to slowly bore a hole into the outer shadow. The metallic paw then fuses with the blade and forces it to the ground. Silently, the light of the dart grows to envelope the entire shade. It shoots up to a standing position and beneath it is a metallic wolf holding the great sword to the floor, looking up to the shade and over to the gently flowing puddle of metallic liquid beside him. The shade gasped and let out a last horrendous shriek before the light faded, and then forced itself outwards across the evergaol, blasting me into the magical barrier.

The world is blurry as I open my eyes and look around, the purple of the evergaol walls is the first thing I see. Along with the large stone centerpiece, there is not much else in here except for some lumps along the ground. The sky is dark and full of stars and the fullest moon I have ever seen. It shines down into this small pocket of reality in a most gentle way. Without the blinding heat of the sun, I could almost sleep in a place like this. Almost.

Something grabs my legs and jars me awake as I panic and look around me. The metallic face of a wolf man greets me with a blank expression. I look past his head and see that there is a long streak of metal behind him and he is in fact missing a large portion of his body. He removes his hand and points to the center of the evergaol. He looks back and shows a face that is still empty, but his eyes translate a deep fear, that of death. In the center of the evergaol lay a large cloaked figure.

My legs carry me up to the figure, rolling him onto his back to reveal that this indeed is Blaidd. Serenely and quietly laying here free from the curse and the wretched eyes that glowed through even a magical darkness. Ranni was right, the dart worked and he is alive and back in control of himself. He deserves the rest. A hand lands on my arm and again I am met with the face of that metallic wolf.

“Can’t you see? It worked better than any of us could have expected. Why do you still show a face full of such fear? This is cause for a celebration. Once we find a way out of here. Also once Blaidd wakes up, which he does not have to, not if he doesn't want to. The curse must have been heavy on him.” I look back at Blaidd’s face, this face I have looked at so many times with so many expressions put upon it. What may it look like when he sees me again?

The metallic wolf melts into the ground, filling the grooves of stone without an image to mirror like that powerful half-wolf. Another puddle of metal slinks back up Saki’s leg without him noticing, for he was too absorbed looking into the sweet closed eyes of his wolf. A metallic arm grew from Saki’s side and hunted for the small orb of stone. Placing it in its palm, the arm raises it to the sky, bathed in the light of the full moon, and shatters it. The mimic hears a voice in its head. A voice full of gentle care and the desire to help.

“Come to me, my sweeting. Tell me, what do you need?”

Chapter 18: Duty's End

Summary:

Memories of a servant that is without a master.

Chapter Text

A dense weave of gold covers my eye and leaves me in a silent darkness. Nothing is moving. Even my own breath has stopped. Time moves though. I can sense the difference between now, and then, and what will be. All that will be is this void that stretches out before me into a space that seems both intimidatingly vast and suffocatingly small.

A force brushes against my face just enough to barely feel it. If there was anything else in here I might have missed this slight touch, but it is in a backdrop of nothing where all is noticed and feared. The touch makes me jump back. I can move freely even though I cannot see anything. There is not even a ground beneath me. I simply float. Another touch through my breastplate and yet another up my arm. What is happening outside? Did Saki come inside the evergaol? Has Ranni truly ascended to the stars?

The void shifts and begins to acquire a slight color. Rays of golden energy emanate from a point far in the distance. The point is approaching and soon envelopes me in its light. There is ground beneath me and light in my eyes. My knee is to the floor and my head is pointed down. Sound. A voice beckons me to look up and face her directly.

“Loyal shadow, gift from the Greater Will, thou willst obeyeth thy new master and lady.” A more viscous force jerks my head up to stare into the figure before me.

“I beseech thee to refrain from hurting such a fine tithe. Release him. Thou hast done thy duty and may leave as thou wish, lest thy presence draw mine ire.” Her voice is full of ice and the sound of closing doors follows. Her face relaxes and looks down at me, her bright red hair flowing over her shoulders and framing a soft and inviting smile. “It is a pleasure to finally meet thee, Blaidd the Half-Wolf.”

The warmth confuses me and all I can muster is a simple: “The pleasure is all mine, my lady.”

“I see they taught you well. Though that speech is not required in these halls. Rise, please, and speak plainly and honestly, for my next question is of much importance.” She pauses to allow me to rise to my full height. “What do you want, both in action and material, for you are my first and only subject, and I will not have you be displeased with my ruling.”

“I wish to serve thee, my lady, in all things as best I can.”

Ranni’s face sunk into a worried smile, more of pity rather than concern. “As is your want. Come. We have much to do.” She turned on her heels and led me deeper into the room. The light fades again and abandons me in the void. Sensations I have not felt in a long time are ripped from me as soon as they appear.

From another point, pale gray rays of light emanate from a point and swallow the void revealing a form withered and in rags atop a great tower. A weight lays on my shoulder and the same woman speaks once more.

“Bring it here, quickly. I can feel the rune spreading. It must have worked. Please, look away Blaidd. This may be difficult to watch.” A sound of drying and cracking earth echoed out from the center of the tower through the still air. Wood clinks together and another voice comes.

“It is over Lord Blaidd. A grand day for a grand step. It has truly begun has it not. Come before me and kneel. I have a gift I have been wanting to bestow unto thee for a long while.” I approach the large blue doll and kneel before her ephemeral face. The doll raises a hand. “As princess of House Caria, last surviving member of the stellar school, I dub thee, Blaidd, Lord of House Caria. Rise and join as part of my domain free from gold.” I rise and can see the joy painted across that wooden face that has slightly disturbed me for quite a while. “As part of this celebration, I ask one question of thee my lord. What dost thou want, in action and material?”

This question is less surprising now. She has asked me this occasionally and I have always answered the same way. Now with this behind us, I feel a new answer is needed. “I wish to free us from this world of suffering. Away from the gold and the strings.” At this, Ranni’s face sank and she took my paw.

“That is a wonderful wish indeed. Though I must inform thee that it is not entirely possible. As a being of the Greater Will, thy may not leave this plane without its power. Any separation from it would surely be thy end.” I ponder this new information and create a different answer once more.

“Then I wish for thine own freedom and thine allowance of me to be of service to thee until then, my lady.” Another softer smile graces her face.

“As thou wish. Thee shall be lord for just a while longer and will soon taste the freedom I will relish. Without me, though it pains me to say, is the only way for this to be.” I return a look of calm to Ranni’s eyes.

Though my face hides a deception I have been holding onto for much time. My existence only began to be tied to Ranni as her servant, her shadow no less. What is my purpose if not to serve her? What am I to do alone in this ruined world ruled by a power we are actively fighting against? I must find a new one to serve lest I go mad without order. This fear consumes me and makes this light fall back, deeper and deeper into the void. Without a ground beneath me it is almost as if I am falling for eternity. There is no wind to feel or ground to hit, but I can imagine the serene feeling of falling without control. Allowing the world to guide you with its own whims, without a clear goal or purpose. Perhaps ground will be found eventually and this cruel dance, this featureless freefall will soon end. May that day come soon and without warning.

Scent. A feeling not yet present in this void. Something warm and savory wafts through the void and pulls me into its world. Soft sizzling and bubbling fills the air. The scent of fresh arteria leaves weaves together the symphony of a healing stew, hearty enough to fill you for days with only a single bowl. Extreme fatigue rushes through my body and I am floored. Writhing on the ground with a pale red sky above me, a gentle hand lands on my head bringing a soothing coolness and a spoonful of stew to my lips. The delectable concoction pours into my mouth and fills the rest of my body with a soft soothing thought. A breath rises and releases a mound of pain from my chest as if I have not breathed in hours. A different voice calls to me.

“You seem to be improving at least. I want to trust your judgment, but the sight of you in this much suffering was too much to watch and do nothing about.” I try to respond but my mouth cannot move.

Your help is much appreciated. This is truly my first battle with the rot, but I did not want to scare you this early in our journey. I am sure I already have, but you handled it well.

More stew is tipped into my mouth and causes the rest of my body to go numb in its warmth.

“I’m sorry with how bare bones the sleeping mats are. I guess we will have to deal with that in the morning. I’ll ask you what you want. Maybe some feathers, fine down, silk cords. If only the General had more caravans running to his great castle.” This was meant as a joke but without a response it fell into an awkward silence.

What I want? In the morning, all I want is you. My eyes focus on the form sitting before the fire, tending to the slowing draining cauldron of stew. The ground I want to land on has a name. And it is Saki.

The world fades in the warmth of more stew and a warm embrace.

The void consumes the warmth and I am once again greeted by empty air and a freefall. When will this end? Is this my part of the curse? To live in this empty space of memories. Let the wind flow past my ears and rush into my eyes. Let the ground come to me so quickly I can hardly recognize its arrival. Let it swallow me and spit me out back into this void for this is where I must now belong.

An echo, not from the void, but from within my own head. A howl. Malicious and predatory. A new wave of light opens but fails to come closer. The world is violent, full of figures and threats, waiting to be put to the blade or the fang. The window is just out of reach, teasing me with the craving for blood and screams of pain. Darkness falls, though this is unnaturally dark. Shuffles echo from cold stone and reveal foolish prey. One click of the heel and they fall beneath me. The hot stream pours into my maw and fills me with the desire for more. The darkness falls and reveals my quarry. A face of fear and pain looks back from a background of painted stones. I know that face. He is no threat to you beast, leave him. A sharp twinge of hunger rings out. You may have your fill later, but we must now stop this. We need help. He needs help.

The void responds with another silent twinge of pain making the window hazy. Release him and step back. We need to find help. Another wave of pain hits my back. The window shifts up and reveals the full moon. Piercing and all knowing. Its light shines into the deepest points of the void and pries its way into this empty space. I didn't mean to. I didn’t want this to happen. The darkness, the shuffling, I lost control, you need to believe me. The moon’s presence commanded silence and posed a single question.

“What do you want?”

“I want him back. Please.”

The moon's light grows and consumes the void, blinding me with its radiance. A cold ground rises from beneath me and warmth seeps into my back. Hands clutch tightly at my chest and moisture runs down the side of my face.

Chapter 19: A Moonlit Night

Summary:

A story comes to an end.

Chapter Text

Shards of blue stone fall onto Blaidd’s face. My only reaction is to gently wipe them off. This sereneness must be preserved, even if it is fleeting in the form it takes now. I know the dart has…hurt Blaidd, but I am numb as of now. It takes a moment for my mind to fully absorb what just happened. My wolf is gone now because of me. Is this not better than living in the throws of that wretched curse? Did he want this to happen? Is there a way I can fix this?

The shining moonlight glows brighter and fully highlights the details of Blaidd’s face. This is the closest I have been to him and it is the first time I have gotten such a close look at his features. A snout worn and scarred from a life of service and battle. Marred with pink slashes that will never go away and constantly must remind him of a past mistake, a failed dodge or deflect. That same snout that makes such a joyous sound everytime it moves. The timbre of his voice resonates in my memories and whispers kind words to me. Though he is not moving, it is as if he is saying them to me now. His eyes, now shut with the weight of mortality. Eyes as purple as the gravity stones found across the Lands Between. Eyes that landed on me and sent a heat throughout my body while also pulling me in further. The eyes that crinkle slightly in a friendly greeting and portray undivided attention to your every word.

I find my hand moving to grab his and lifting up between us. These paws with claws as large as my whole finger, Able to cut and slash at a myriad of adversaries without so much as chipping. Also a paw that is soft and powerful enough to carry someone without strain or to convey the deepest of gratitudes. A strength that can nearly break a rib as well as fill a heart with the warmth of flame and the sweetness of honey.

He is gone now, like his lady, from this plane and in a place lacking in suffering and wretched curses. May he be happy in this new existence far from me, free from the weight of what happened here tonight.

I drift closer to this face that I have held dear for so long. In both hands the weight of his head is lifted to my own and we sit there for a small while. Willing all the happiness and levity I can force across the small space between us.

The moonlight fades. His face falls back into a smattering of shadow and fur.

“Dear children, tell me what has occurred to cause such suffering.” Queen Rennala sits there in the middle of the library looking at me. I can’t find any words, even if I could I can’t get my mouth to move. The Queen’s face drops as her eyes land on Blaidd. “I know all I need. Be patient. This may take a bit.”

Rennala lifts her hand and Blaidd begins to rise off of the ground. Layers of his armor are slowly taken off to reveal the dart lodged in his back. There is a dark splattering around the dart that is sinking into its twisting form. My mimic comes in from the corner of my vision and lowers himself before Rennala and lifts his own hands up to her.

“I honor thy desire, for thee are in pain much as thy master. Give thyself to rebirth and become the seed for the germination of thy wish.” Rennala places a hand in the mimics. Its metallic form begins to flow around her arm and rise above her. The dart is slowly removed from Blaidd’s back and is replaced by a small stream of the metallic liquid. Threads of metal weave their way around Blaidd and sink into his being, patching wounds and renewing the life that has left him. He flashes dimly with white light and begins to sink down again. I move to catch his head in my lap. I can hear him breathing. He is breathing again. Slowly, but he is moving again.

“Give it time my sweeting, rebirth is draining and recovery is slow. Trust in my process and know that he will wake.”

Those words spark a new feeling within me. Hope. Hope for a future with this wolf who now lays in my arms. He is not gone, but here, right here with me. I can only manage to hold him closer. This whole situation is almost too much, but for him I would weather any storm to see him again. A sharp inhale and I am met with those same purple eyes I have been wanting to see.

My eyes open again and I am finally out of the void. A dim rotunda is a backdrop to a face covered in tears and joy. Their eyes are red and their hands are clutching desperately at me. The first thing that hits me is the scent. That familiar scent of a familiar face that is full of warmth and welcome company. Then my eyes finally focus on the face before me. A face full of beauty and pain washed clean with tears. Our eyes meet.

I have landed. Without warning, the ground has appeared beneath me and caught me from my unending free fall. There is no void here. Only the warmth and acceptance of an embrace. My eyes become blurry as Saki places his head onto mine. Right now, all I want is to be here with you.

Chapter 20: Epilogue

Summary:

A well earned rest.

Chapter Text

It has been about a month since Blaidd and I returned to Raya Lucaria. Queen Rennala ended up giving us a fine suite in the upper floors of the school, far from the chaos of the ruined courtyards and parlors below. Everyday has been filled with gentle sunrises and warm bed linens. Having a bed makes every sleeping mat from before seem like a granite slab. Blaidd has slowly been recovering from the ordeal and is making quick progress. It only took him about a week to walk securely on his own and by now he is back to training. Though this training is more abstract than I had expected. There is no focus on combat or strength, but on balance. He spends hours slowly shifting into different poses while atop a short pole in the small garden we have off one of the wings on our floor. As far as our mimics, Rennala says they are gone for good, with one sinking into the earth outside the Church of Vows and the other transformed into Blaidd’s new life force. Rest assured, Blaidd is himself. The mimic only surrendered their life to give Blaidd back to me, or maybe to us. I was never sure how much they were able to mirror our own personalities.

On this day, a glorious day, I sit in the small kitchen preparing another stew for us to share. Despite the repetition of stew for our meals, Blaidd seems to never get tired of it. I do swap around the ingredients, but he never seems to want anything other than a stew. I am not complaining though, I enjoy making them. Much of the idle time simmering is spent talking to each other. In the past month, Blaidd has told me many of the stories from his past with Ranni and his experience as a shadow. He has never really felt like anything other than a servant, but Ranni and I were special to him. We asked. Now he is answering, even without the question, consistently eyeing the one thing he now truly wants, me.

“Stop, you’ll make me blush.” I cover my face with my hands and roll away from Blaidd, chuckling slightly at my predictable reactions to his effortless teasing.

“Oh, I promise I’ll stop. As soon as you admit it.”

“You know I can’t.”

“No. I want to hear, and see, you say it.” Blaidd’s paw turns me around to face him and he pulls my hands away from my face, cupping it in his. “Please.” Puppy dog eyes, seriously.

“Fine.” I glance away and back again. “I am warmer than the sun and the light of your day.” Blaidd wears the widest smile I have seen so far and leans closer to me. A small peck lands on my forehead.

“As you are, and as you shall be, my love.” Blaidd pulls me into his chest and holds me there as the scent of freshly made stew wafts through the small room, pulling us from our bed and beginning the rest of our lives. Without gold. Without pain. Without fear.

Chapter 21: Bonus Chapter: Letter from Rennala

Summary:

A welcome gift to a new life.

Chapter Text

Found in the bed of the Lords’ chamber, Raya Lucaria Academy, Liurnia. Upon the outside of the envelope lay a wax seal bearing the pattern of House Caria.

Dearest Lords,

Allow me to be the first to apologize for the story I am about to tell. I wish to answer a question that was posed to me in the haste panic of a curse. I was unable to answer fully out of concern for short time and wish to reconcile this lack of clarity on my daughter’s behalf. As she will soon no longer be with us, I feel that it is right to have an open discussion about the night that started this entire journey.

You may know this as the Night of Black Knives, the night that marks the first death of a demigod. Common knowledge shows that a group of assassins, Black Knife assassins, snuck into the lodging of Godwyn the Golden and slew him under the light of the moon and stars. While usually this would not be possible for average implements of harm, these assassins were gifted with wares enchanted with a dark power. Imbued with the power of the Rune of Death, these assassins held down Godfrey and carved a piece of the rune into his flesh. On its own, this half would be powerless. However, unbeknownst to all in the capital of Leyndel, another half of the rune was being carved into the flesh of another demigod. You know her as Lady Ranni. The Golden Order, ruling over the capital and the Erdtree, found the body of Godwyn and laid him to rest. His body refused to rest however and grew to intertwine with the roots of the Erdtree.

Godwyn himself was a truly honorable member of the Golden Order. Generous and merciful, wielding the blessing of the Erdtree to help all of those he could. His ability to trust would be his downfall, however. Ranni was able to find his lodgings within the capital through multiple visits with Godwyn as her guide. She was able to install a way into the capital and his chamber unimpeded by the great stone walls. I am still unsure of how Ranni was able to get hold of a legion of Black Knives. Perhaps she trained them herself in secret.

After the shattering, many believed that the coming of the undead, those that live in death, was a result of the disruptive event. However, Ranni found a way to banish the undead from both the academy and Caria Manor. She mentioned something about roots sprouting from the ground marked with horrid faces. One day I found such a sprout in the middle of the academy’s great courtyard. Ranni came to inspect it and uproot it. Upon seeing the root, she wept silently. Ice froze around the roots and it was lifted into the air. With a wave of her hand, the root shattered and was sent up into the air over the walls and into wider Liurnia.

As the ice settled elsewhere, she told me of the story of Black Knives, of Godwyn, which I have relayed unto you. May you make more sense of this event than I.

Warmest welcome and best wishes,

Queen Rennala of the Full Moon

Lady of House Caria

Headmistress of the Raya Lucaria Academy of Glintstone Sorcery

A Moonlit Night - talkingblueberry (2024)
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