The bonfire flickered in the middle of the devastated battle arena. Kane gazed into it in silence as he had been doing for several hours up to this point.
Despite his natural aptitude for the sword and newly trained body that was gifted to him when he woke up in this world, Kane was still an average civilian mentally. The life or death battle he had with Iudex Gundyr seemed to scar the young man's mind greatly. The troubled young man closed his eyes in painful contempt at the memory of battling the humongous black monstrosity.
There was no sense of victory or accomplishment like what he felt when he beat the boss in the game. Only relief that he survived the encounter and sense of dread remembering what awaited him further down the line.
This was not a game or a fantasy dream of a drunk gamer. This place, this world, those things… They were all real. He understood that fact more than ever when his spine broke into pieces and his body got torn apart.
He looked up at the sky with a despaired gaze. His eyes trembling at the sight of snow-white clouds.
"What am I going to do? Just who… Just who the hell brought me here…? Is this some kind of joke to you? Do you feel entertained seeing me suffer like this?! Do you hear me!? Answer me, dammit!"
His scream echoed through the whole mountain, but alas not a soul gave him an answer.
"Khuk..!" He slammed his fist against the concrete in a desperate attempt to ease his troubled mind, but to no avail.
"This was just an opening boss. There are things even worse out there… That beast on the bridge… Pontiff, Aldrich… Demon prince… Why? Why Should I suffer through them? Why am I even here? This isn't my world. I don't belong here and This… This…" He looked down at his armored hands in despair.
"Is this even my own body…?" Kane grasped his helmet and threw it down on the ground along with his gauntlets. His naked pale fingers softly touched his face as he closed his eyes with a tremble. He could feel a rough beard growing along his sharp jawline.
Sharp noose, rough skin, and long bangs of dark brown hair.
"Just whose face is this…?" Even the face he wore was not his own. He slumped forward towards the flame, Anguish eating him from within.
It took him some time to collect and ready himself up to move forward. Something within him Urged Kane to keep moving, so Kane complied. Not that he had much of a choice.
He inspected the decapitated Gundyr. His heart ached in sympathy. The man who was meant to link the flame, only to wake to the world without one and be cursed to become sheath to the Coiled Sword. It was a shame to see his life end like this.
Kane touched the now deformed hard armor on his limp body. He probably wouldn't be wearing this set for a while, but it would be handy to have it in the future, and besides, Kane glanced at the decapitated head in the distance… Gundyr didn't need it anymore.
It took some time to dig a 2-meter sized hole with a decent depth in the ground, but he managed nevertheless. Kane looted the damaged armor off and buried Gundry's dead body. He took out a cheap-looking sword he looted from one of the hollows and dug it into the ground.
"I don't know much about the afterlife, especially with me somehow coming to this world, but… If there is one that doesn't throw people from one world to another, I hope you find your rest there… " Kane silently prayed in front of the grave, saying his final goodbyes to the warrior.
With Gundyr dead, now he would be able to open the gates, but Kane wanted to do something else before that.
It was time to visit a certain Lizard.
The hollows he had slain on his way out seemed to disintegrate into ashes after some time, seeing how numerous ashes-filled cloaks occupied the places where corpses were laid before. They didn't "respawned "whenever he rested at the bonfire as Kane was used to seeing in the game. It seemed once the Hollow was killed, without souls and humanity it would just disintegrate.
The water in the flooded passage in between rocks was high enough to reach his chest, so he carefully chose his steps on the way up. After the death battle he went through with Gundyr, the giant lizard didn't look as troublesome as it did before, so Kane wanted to kill it for the sake of getting some extra souls and the material to upgrade his gear.
After Pus of man manhandled him like a last week's used ragdoll, Kane desperately wanted to rise his "health bar" to be able to be more durable and take more hits without his bones and flesh snapping and tearing every at every attack…
Kane saw the lizard sleeping at the end of the wide field, once he finally got out of the water. As if smelling him, the mutated Lizard stirred in its sleep and opened its eyes. The pair of yellow eyes instantly found Kane's. It let out a soft warring hiss as it stood up on all four of its legs. Kane didn't waste time and charged at the thing.
Alarmed by its preys' sudden approach, the huge Crystal lizard suddenly stood up on its 2 back legs, showing just how enormously tall it was compared to regular human size. Kane didn't stop his advance, he knew that Attack by heart and so, just as the lizard was about to slam onto the ground, Kane jumped high in the air avoiding the crystal spikes erupting from the ground, and slammed the tip of his sword into the things head. The crystal armor deflected the incoming attack, saving the lizard from the fatal wound, but as the blade slipped, it went past the thing's eye leaving the huge gashing wound behind.
Surprised and hurt by the sudden blindness in its left eye, the lizard shrieked and savagely started clawing at Knight with its massive crystalized talons. Kane dodged several swings and used the small gap time in between attacks to thrust his blade into the lizard's mouth.
Lizard gasped as the blade stabbed it through the throat. With one power full swing, Kane took his blade out of the monster's mouth, tearing its face muscles in the process. The lizard shrieked in pain again, unable to close its hanging jaw with shredded face muscles.
Maybe somewhere deep down in its instinct-driven mind the lizard understood it couldn't win this fight, so in desperation, it tried to get away from the knight by slamming down its huge tail onto him and using the time Knight dodged and tried to get up to rolling away.
"Damn it!" Kane cursed inwardly as he dodged the heavy swing from the damn thing's tail and chased after the rolling walking treasure of material.
"Those scales will be mine one way or another, you bastard! Get back here!"
If the lizard did hear him, his shouts were drowned out by its instincts constantly screaming at it to run away. It crawled up on the huge bolder and tried to get away through the Untended Graves, but Kane had something else in mind. Just as the lizard jumped down, Kane lunged at it in midair and slammed the back of his sword in its skull with the force that followed it down to the ground.
Being slammed face flat into the ground from that height must have given the poor thing conclusion because it laid there on the ground unmoving and whimpering. If someone with a calm heart and healthy mindset saw the thing right now, they would probably take pity on it, but Kane was too far gone into the " kill or be killed " instinct to care. He swiftly slammed his blade into its throat and with a simple swing, tore its throat out.
For several minutes it choked on its blood as It desperately tried to breathe, soon it stopped struggling, and finally, the light left its eyes.
Kane tiredly wiped the blood off his blade and stared at the unmoving corpse. Some part of him felt bad at what he had done, but he quickly brushed those thoughts aside and raised his blade again. The sooner he would start skinning the materials of the lizard, the sooner he would finish…
Surprisingly the gates were still locked.
"Ghh!Ghmm! Come on!"
Kane pushed the gates with all of his strength with a rasped voice, but the doors stubbornly remained closed.
"Fuck! What the hell!"
It should be open after killing Gundyr, but for some reason, it was still locked. Kane started inspecting the gates, trying to find anything that could help or explain his unexpected predicament.
"What is this?"
His eyes stopped at a small hole in the center of the gates. He kneeled down to take a look inside. The inside of the "keyhole "was weirdly shaped. He couldn't imagine what kind of blizzard key would be needed to fit it in here. the way the thing was shaped inside reminded him of Coiled…Sword…
His eyes widened suddenly. He reached into his box and took out the coiled sword and aimed its tip at the entrance of the keyhole. The broken rusted misshaped sword smooth slid into the keyhole. then there was a loud click of some inner gears working.
Kane put the sword back into the box and stared expectedly at the gates. Slowly he pushed, and the gates moved. He stared at the open gates in surprise.
"That…Was not how it worked in the game. The player could open the thing after killing the boss right away. There were no key wholes there… Or am I tripping?"
The way to fire link shrine was open at least, so that was all that mattered right?
The small journey to the shrine was more eventful than one would expect. Unlike in the game, the moment Kane walked up on the hill, all the hollows that were in the area magically become aware of his presence and charge at him like a wave of rabid dogs.
"Shit! Stop! Not at once! NOT AT ONCE!"
It was troublesome, but in the end, he managed to somehow slay his way through them.
Finally, at last, He reached the Shrine. One place that he would call home in this wrenched place. The gates opened with the loud tremble as he pushed through them. Everything looked exactly as it was depicted in the game. The hallways, the interior, the thrones, the loud hammer banging noise in a distance… And her.
In a distance, he could see her, the fire keeper. She was looking down into the coiled swordless bonfire in silence, lost in her thoughts. The pale round face with soft lips, eyes covered by her mask. Neatly knotted blonde hair in a long ponytail, the dark dress…. She looked, just as beautiful as he imagined her to be in real life.
Kane was never lucky when it came to the opposite sex. Girls of his age rarely showed him any attention and when they did, it was usually to copy his homework. In short, Kane was inexperienced with the opposite sex in any shape or form in general, so seeing this beautiful woman who could make models back in his world pale in comparison, stirred his 19-year-old soul inside this battle-hardened rough body.
He took the stairs, almost jumping out of his armor when his footsteps loudly echoed thought out the shrine. The hammering noise inside the shrine stopped. The fire keeper's gaze quickly found him. At this point, probably every resident of the building knew of the new presence.
Kane shifted awkwardly as he slowly came down to the center of the shrine. The fire keeper's surprised face quickly morphed into a welcoming smile that warmed his soul from inside. Her lips parted, she was about to say something until another voice chimed in, echoing inside the shrine.
"Ahhh, another one, roused from the sleep of death?"
Whatever warm feeling he had inside quickly disappeared when he saw the tiredly sitting form of another man in the distance. Kane's eyes narrowed at the man.
The fellow Unkindled, the crestfallen, The deserter…
One who would challenge him to death battle for dragon stoles in the future. Kane eyed the man cautiously.
"What is your story then, I wonder? A righteous hero, who burnt to ashes before reaching the flame? Or Another wrenched undead, killed in the pitiful attempt to find a reason for existing in this rotten world? Well, you're not alone. We Unkindled are worthless. Can't even die right, it seems..."
His dialogue was a bit different from the game, but the content behind the words was the same. He was still a depressed asshole.
"Sir Hawkwood, Please…"
Firekeeper tried to softly interrupt Hawkwood. The crestfallen simply looked at her and gave out an empty self-mocking laugh.
"Ah, yes, Forgive me, Firekeeper. You must be twitching in delight at the prospect of brainwashing yet another pitiful fool. Well, don't mind me, go on then…"
Firekeeper looked a bit hurt by Hawkwood's words. The atmosphere quickly settled in awkwardness, at least for Kane. So, he tried his best to resolve it…
'Was that question? That should not have been a question! Why did I say that like a question!?'
…By using his none existing social skills.
The fire keeper's gaze returned to him, along with her soft smile.
"I greet thou as well, Unkindled One. Welcome to the bonfire. I am a Fire Keeper. I tend to the flame, and tend to thee." She said softly as she softly bowed. The last part echoed into Kane's mind for a while before he quickly shook his head without Fire Keeper noticing. She then looked back at the imposing empty thrones that overlooked the whole area.
"The Lords have left their thrones and must be delivered to them. To this end, I am at thy side."
Kane blinked, he kind of knew the lore, but he was still curious about some somethings.
"Right, Soooo, I gotta try and get those 'Lords' back to their thrones, right?"
The fire Keeper was inwardly little taken back by the way Kane spoke, but she nevertheless nodded her head.
"Right, uhh... Sorry, I was just wondering, why did they leave those thrones in the first place? Don't they also want to save the world?"
It's been a while since Kane played the game, so he wanted to fully understand and remember the lore behind this whole thing.
The mask covered the better half of her face, so Kane wasn't exactly sure what kind of expression she was making, but seeing how her gaze slowly went back to the swordless bonfire, she must have been lost in her thoughts once again.
"The lords suffered greatly on their journey to link the first flame. They left their thrones for reasons only they know. With them unwilling, unkindled ones are our only hope of linking the first flame. T's the duty that has brought thee here, to the time and place vastly different from thy own. "
Well, she didn't tell him anything he already didn't know.
'I guess I will find out about some stuff on my way to them… hopefully'
Kane has been silent for a little while as he collected his thoughts, but Firekeeper mistook the silence for him being distraught. So, with sadness, she apologized to him.
"I am sorry this has happened to thee."
"Hmm? No, wait, what you are apologizing for?"
"Thou must have journeyed through thy own struggle. To be declined of fitting reward and instead brought back to struggle all over again…"
She looked down.
"It is… Cruel."
Kane smiled warmly at her behind his helmet, not that she could see it…. That was a bad pun.
"No, you got nothing to apologize for. This is beyond your or mine control. It is what it is…"
Kane sighed. He switched his weight from one leg to another.
"It's just… I don't think I am the right guy for this… I am not talking about other Unkindled ones; I am talking about me. I…I just…"
The battle with Gundyr almost broke him. how can he, can anyone expect him to battle all those beings... Those gods and monsters… all by himself?
Kane shook his head.
"This is too much for me… I am not fit to overcome this… I… Me, being this unkindled one is a mistake…."
He was just a hard-working awkward kid who was suddenly thrust into this world out of nowhere. What the hell…
"It is alright to have doubt in thyself. Everyone does, at one point in their lives. Oftentimes, it is people with self-doubt and personal struggle that are capable of wondrous things. Even if everyone and even thyself doubt thy own strength, I will always be here to believe in thou."
Firekeeper smiled reassuringly at him. Kane's heart trembled. It was the first time somebody said those words to him. She might not know exactly what he was going through, but she still tried to ease his mind with her words… And that smile of her was enough to charge him up for another Iudex Gundyr fight.
"Haha, thank you... That, I needed that."
Firekeeper nodded with a smile on her face. Kane glanced at the empty bonfire and took out the coiled sword from his box.
"So, what do I do now? Do I plug this thing in here?"
Firekeeper looked surprised at the sight of the coiled sword.
"Ah, you found it. Does this mean you have…?"
"Fought Gundyr? Yeah… I got this from him. "
'Some 'Battle' that was…'
She nodded understandingly and gestured towards the empty bonfire.
"Produce the coiled sword at the bonfire. The mark of ash will guide thee to the land of the Lords. To Lothric, where the homes of the Lords converge."
Kane nodded and slowly put the tip of the sword into the bonfire.
" ! "
Suddenly he could feel something hot surging from inside him into the sword and before he knew it, the bonfire light up in flames. Kane took a step back and looked at the bonfire in surprise.
"The bonfire has been linked, Congratulations Ashen one."
"Yeah, It's just… It felt kind of weird."
"Unkindled are warriors of the past, brought back as a last resort by the first flame. In that sense, some part of them is always connected to it. The coiled sword simply drew that power from thou to sustain its own linking."
"Ashen one, I sense many Sovereign less souls moving unbound within you."
Kane's eyes widened. He completely forgot about souls he farmed on his way here.
"Ah, yeah, I did kill a lot of Hollows on my way…"
"Ashen one, to be Unkindled is to be a vessel for souls. Sovereign less souls will become thy strength. I will show thee how if thou wish to do so as well"
"Yeah, I would like that."
"Very well. Then touch the darkness within me. Take nourishment from these sovereigns less souls."
She reached her hand out to him. Kane instinctively got on his knee and grasped her hand with his own.
"Let these souls, withdrawn from their vessels, Manifestations of disparity Elucidated by fire, Burrow deep within me, retreating to a darkness beyond the reach of flame, let them assume a new master, inhabiting ash, casting themselves upon new forms…"
She kept on softly whispering the spell as Kane felt her enter his mind.
It was a weird feeling to feel somebody's presence in your mind. Besides her, he could also feel the presence of the souls he absorbed before. He could feel her gathering those souls in one place and then waiting for something.
'Oh, she must be waiting for me. Alright, focus…'
He sent his desire to strengthen his Vigor and strength. It seemed, Firekeeper understood it and as the souls started moving, he could feel himself becoming stronger and more…durable? It felt weird. Pleasant, but really weird.
The process was finished soon enough and Kane got up from kneeling on the ground.
"How do you feel Ashen one?"
"I… I actually feel great! Thanks a lot!"
"It is my duty to serve thee with the best of my abilities."
God, she was so humble.
"Thy journey thus far must have been tiring. Take a rest before thou travel to Lothric, Ashen one."
He liked the sound of that.
"I will do that."
He went to the staircase next to her to sit down and rest.
"Oh, and by the way, It's Kane."
" ? "
"The Name. My name is Kane."
The Firekeeper smile and nodded her head again.
"I will keep that in mind, Sir Kane."
"J-Just Kane. "Sir Kane "makes me feel like a noble Knight, which…"
He pointed at his dirty Armor
"…Is the last thing I look like, right now."
"Yes, Indeed. Kane, it is then."
Kane laughed and Firekeeper softly chuckled with him. Their voices echoed through the whole shrine. Andre, Ludleth, and Shrine Handmaid wore a soft smile on their face at the two's friendly banter.