The bell rings out over the Burg, its solemn peal echoing through the long corridors of gray stone, amplifying its volume until no creature above or below ground could possibly have ignored it. The noise falls down into the forest, where it mingles with the birdsong and the rustling of leaves in the breeze.
“Come now, we’re going to be late,” Mother chides me, snapping her fingers above my head. I groan, blinking sleep from my eyes. The Church bell is the waking siren for all residents of the Burg, an unfriendly reminder from our King and our Gods that a new day has dawned. My back aches from long hours of hard labor, and very little sleep on the hard cobblestone floor.
It’s dark in our house. Very little light makes its way down into the Lower Burg, and candles are reasonably expensive to acquire. A little stub of wax burns on the table, casting flickering light around the room, and throwing dark shadows into the corners of our house. I could probably reach out both arms and touch the opposite walls, but it’s a roof over our heads and a thick door that keeps out the feral dogs that have started breeding down near the sewers.
I push myself off the straw mat. Our daily clothes are typically rough cotton, smeared with grime and sweat, but for Church service, we have special clothes, neatly pressed and folded in the one small cabinet we possess. I wrap myself in a dark robe, the material falling down over me and dusting the floor; Mother adds a hood that respectfully covers her hair.
We eat quickly, nothing more than the usual porridge, cold and doing little to fill the near-constant gnawing of hunger in my stomach. Ever since Father died, things have been tight, and although I work most day and night for the blacksmith, it’s still not enough to pay the exorbitant taxes that seem to double every month. For a while, I took to stealing scraps of food from the castle’s kitchens, but a few of the butchers caught me stealing meat one day, and chased me out of there. They say the butchers wear sacks to keep the smell of rotting meat from their nostrils, but secretly I think they’re hiding their faces. Either way, they sent shivers down my spine, and ever since they’ve kept dogs guarding the entrance.
We emerge into the old street. There are families with small, sickly children; beggars and merchants shuffling along with a limp; old men and women now too frail to be of any use to the King. They are all dressed in the same robes, neat and clean, a stark contrast against their haggard faces and ambling gait.
The bell rings out again overhead, two sharp peals that remind us to move along faster. The road slopes upwards, the cobblestones loose underfoot. Torches burn on either side of the dark alleyway, and I can’t help but feel something is watching me from the shadows. Mother leans on me as we ascend the staircase, the steps cracked and uneven.
We step into the sunlight, bright and warm. The heat does little to ease the damp chill in my bones, but the touch of actual light on my face gives me more energy. We cross the bridge, and head under the iron portcullis into the Parish.
The Church ceiling seems so high that it might be the sky, pillars and statues carved with lifelike detail from marble and stone. The solemn guards, with their angled shields and shortswords, stand at attention, never once acknowledging the peasants as they file into the holy building.
We take our places on the pews, keeping our heads down as the priest stands before the lectern. His name is Oswald, and he guides us through the familiar sermon, asking the Goddess Velka to absolve us of our sins. What sins those are, I’m not sure. Is it our fault that we were born to poor families, forced to live down in the grime and the filth of the Lower Burg?
I throw a quick look around; there is no nobility here. No doubt our taxes – fleeced from our pathetic incomes – paid for this new church, while the old one across the bridge sits crumbling into ruin, surrounded by the trees. I’ve heard rumors of dark things stirring in the Forest; they say that something destroyed the old church, and that the Guard drove it back into the Basin.
We pray to Velka, begging her to grant us clemency. We pray to keep sin from our bodies and our minds, but these words are just that. Does anybody here really believe the prayers? I doubt it. But anybody who refuses to say the words or to turn up at Church, is quickly found and taken away. When I was younger, I used to venture deeper into the castle, and those who went further than me say there are places, down in the dark – cells and cages where people are locked away, left to become mere shells of their former self.
We offer another prayer, to the Old Man, to bless our drinks and food, to provide us with medicine and to keep us healthy. The bell rings once more, and the sermon is over. Oswald departs from the lectern and makes his way up the staircase. I turn, looking up to the high balcony, and see two figures, clad in thick silk robes. One man, with a gray beard, and a younger woman by his side. I know him, if only from the stories passed down by my father and his father before him; our Knight King who rules this land, although I doubt he built the Burg. My father told me the castle and the Parish were here long before Man ever set foot in Lordran.
As we file out of the Parish, a sudden roar cuts through the air, a hideous beastly sound from out of the pages of legend. At first I think it might be feral dogs, but when the Guards leap forward from the church, I realize it’s much worse. The sun is rising across the horizon, bright and almost incandescent, and there, flying out of the very heart of the great fiery ball, is a creature unlike anything I have seen before; but I know what it is.
Its body is red like the fires of hell, and it bristles with spines and spikes; its tail is shaped like a deadly sword, and it unleashes another bellowing roar as it flies closer to the Burg. I seize my mother by the arm and drag her away, heading straight for the first place I can think of – the old church. I almost trip on the long robes, my heart hammering in my chest. I hear the twang of bows and the shouts of men, the clash of steel, and above all else, the terrified screams of those about to lose their lives.
I throw a glance over my shoulder and see the wyvern unleash a torrent of fire, sweeping across the stones and engulfing soldier and peasant alike; people I have known and grown up with, turned to ash in a moment. Tears sting my eyes, but fear keeps me going; soldiers pass us, heading towards the wyvern, while I half-lead, half-drag Mother towards the old ruined building.
The new church shakes dangerously, stones and tiles tumbling down and cracking apart. I see the wyvern, its massive claws tearing into the roof, its jaws the size of our house. A soldier hangs limply in the beast’s mouth, and as I watch, the creature smashes the soldier against the side of the belltower. The wyvern’s eyes snap around and lock onto me, and my stomach drops.
I make a mad dash across the bridge, but it’s too late. I hear arrows twanging up towards the wyvern, but the monster launches off the roof, roaring at the sun, talons curling down towards us. Mother is wrenched away from me; I scream out and try to grab her, but her hand slips from my grasp, and the wyvern takes her away. I see her face, terrified and pale, then she’s gone.
I collapse to the ground, shocked and grief-stricken. I cry out to the Gods, howling at the ones we pray to, who are unable to help when we need them most. I hear the wyvern screech in the distance and see it circling high above the Old Bridge, spewing fire down over all those who oppose it. I am consumed by anger and grief, and I stumble to my feet, seizing a sword from the closest soldier – it’s a massive weapon, and I can barely hold it. It is a claymore, perhaps even smithed by my master, and I grasp it with both hands.
I step over the charred corpses of the soldiers who had died trying to defend the Parish. I do not know where the King has gone, but he has abandoned us, just like the Gods abandoned us. I follow the last few soldiers, all clad with simple steel armor with pointed shields; they see my sword and offer a simple nod. We know what is coming, but what more can a man ask for, than to die defending his home?
The wyvern takes flight and lands on the far end of the bridge, near the Lookout that faces the sun. We emerge through the Altar, standing under the portcullis, our weapons at the ready. The wyvern bellows to the sky, flicking its sword-tail around, and opens its mouth, revealing endless rows of sharp teeth, ivory stained with blood.
The blood of our brothers, our mothers, our friends.
One of the soldiers – a captain of some sort – raises a horn to his lip and blows a single note, ghostly and sorrowful. Then with a tremendous roar, the soldiers and I charge forward, weapons held high, the sun in our eyes and our home at our back. I throw one look downwards to the Lower Burg, then fix my eyes ahead, on the enemy. I heft my claymore back, hoping to scratch just one scale off the beast that has murdered my mother and threatened my home.
The last thing I see is the flames, the fires of hell itself, birthed from the stomach of this ancient beast.
And the final thought that runs through my mind, is my Mother’s words, soft and gentle now, lamenting the life that has been stolen away from us.
“Come now. We’re going to be late.”
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