The Stranger in the Dark

I'm bleeding.

I don't want to look down, but I can feel my blood trickling out between my fingers, clutched as they are around what may be my bane wound. My back is rested awkwardly against the cold stone wall behind me, and the only sound I can hear is the swishing of the heavy metal blades swinging back and forth, suspended from the roof above. I've managed to make it past them, and even now, they continue their monotonous dance, deadly traps, taunting you, daring you to try to make it past them. They are in plain sight. They don't need to be hidden, because they are just as deadly either way. I've made it this far, but I've paid a heavy price for my progress. I am practically at Death's door, and every healing remedy I had has been spent sustaining me for my trudge through this hideous place, this Sen's Fortress.

Sen's Fortress.

I'd curse you to Hell; if I was convinced you aren't actually a deep, festering circle of it. It's been a while since I've heard the hideous hissing of the snake-headed guards who protect you from intruders like me. It's been longer still since I saw the last of the bonfires, the only safe havens that exist in this awful place. I set out in search of another one, hoping that I'd find one in here, but so far I've found naught but pain and misery. And though I'd like to push forward, I'm not sure I have the strength to do so any longer. Maybe I'll just stay here and wait to expire, cold and unremembered, punishment for whatever unforgiveable sins have banished me to this place. It almost seems preferable to venturing further into the darkness ahead. I slump down further, and my eyes begin to close.

No sooner are they shut, then they open widely in terror. I look around, my heart suddenly pumping three times as hard, and my senses alert to pick up the slightest sight, sound or smell.

My world has been invaded. Another filthy wretch, much like me, probably driven to madness or desperation by the things he's seen and done, has forced his way into this world, with the intention of taking from me what little I have, to further his own futile attempts at making his way through this maze, to find the next bonfire, or even the promised land of Anor Londo, said to lie somewhere beyond this dreary ruin. It's happened before, and the bastards always get what they came for. They are always better equipped, better prepared or more skilled than I am. Why would this time be any different? Maybe I should just surrender, let him have what he came for, and allow him to end my misery without a fight.

My eyes dart back and forth frantically. I have no idea where he'll be coming from, but I know he's headed this way. And then he appears. A solitary knight comes into view, an angry red hue outlining his silhouette across the bridge, as he disappears and re-appears behind the swinging blades between us. He starts walking towards me, with heavy, slow and yet deadly determined steps. This bastard is out for blood, and even the minute amount that I have left will sate his thirst.

A grim determination comes over me. If I'm going down to this invader, I'm going down swinging. With fresh strength, I stumble to my feet and raise my giant shield in front of me. It covers me from the bridge of my nose to the bottom of my calves, but it won't do me much good once I'm too exhausted to lift it, which will probably be his tactic; he will throw blow after blow at my shield, until my arm gets too tired to hold it, and then he will murder me to death. As I look around for anything in the area that can possibly turn this encounter in my favour, I suddenly realize that he will have to pass through the blades. Not too difficult in itself. All he has to do is wait for it to pass, and then shimmy past it before it comes back again. But an armed and angry opponent on the other side might make this more challenging than he had hoped for. I stop a yard in front of the final blade, and I wait.

He doesn't look like he's in much of a hurry, as he saunters past the first blade, and then the second and third. Only one left between us now. He stops in front of it, and just looks at me, and all I can do is imagine the evil, smug look in his eyes underneath his helmet. Slowly, he lifts his hand and my entire body tenses up, every muscle straining to make use of the little strength I have left.

He's waving at me...

Why is he waving at me?!

This man is sicker than I could have imagined. Not content with coming into my world to kill me, he actually means to taunt me first. Does his cruelty know no boundaries? That's it! Just for that, I'm taking him to hell with me. As the blade between us once again swings by, he closes the final gap between us, and slips past it. Just as he stops in front of me again, I muster all my strength into my legs, and I kick him full on in the stomach, making him stumble and take a step backwards, just as the blade returns. I let out a roar of triumph as the invader gets struck, and falls off the bridge in a spray of blood.

I did it! I can't believe I did it! I killed him.

As I rest my hands on my knees to catch my breath however, I get a glimpse of something moving down in the darkness below. Sweet, merciful God, he is not dead! He survived the both the blade and the fall, and now's he's coming for me again. There is nothing for it now. I have to move; try to somehow find the next bonfire before he gets his revenge. Panic is gripping at me as I rush up the stairs leading deeper into the fortress. I'm running as fast as my legs will carry me, all caution thrown to the wind. All that matters now is speed and luck.

Naturally, my luck runs out about 2 seconds later, when I'm suddenly staring down the hallway at yet another damn snake guard. I hate these abominations with every fiber of my being. What evil could have spawned this horror, with the body of a man, and the head of a snake? I run at him with my mightiest battle cry echoing down the dead halls and hallways of Sen's Fortress, and I shove my gigantic halberd right through the monster's chest, and I gag at the sickly, terrifying gurgle he makes as he falls over dead. As I pull my weapon from his carcass however, I realize the fight wasn't won as smoothly as I thought. I drop to my knees as a fresh wound in my side, in the shape of the serrated edge of my slain opponent's sword, seeps another stream of what little blood is left in my body onto the ground in front of me.

This is the end.

There is no going further from here. This is where I die, and leave only a simple bloodstain behind. I can hear footsteps behind me. The invader has caught up with me already. It takes a few agonizing moments before he comes into view again, and walks casually into the room, not stopping until he is hovering menacingly above me. And then he just stands there, looking at me, like a serial killer, basking in the fear and embarrassment of his victim, before he sticks the knife in.

But the knife doesn't come. We simply look at each other for an eternity, before he suddenly does something that surprises down to the very core of my being. He holds out his hand to me. It takes me a moment for me to realize that he's actually offering to help me to my feet. Another small eternity passes before I dare to accept it, and with a firm yet careful jerk, he pulls me to my feet. We stand across from each other, and I am at a complete loss. What is this silent invader after?

Instead of running me through with the giant, intimidating sword he rests on his shoulder, he sets his feet apart, and bows his head deeply. Even though I'm still expecting to be cut down at any moment, I return the greeting. I don't want to be rude, after all. At least he has the decency to show me some respect before he kills me. I take some comfort in knowing that this man probably won't zip down his fly and relieve himself over my freshly deceased body once he's done his business. I adjust my posture and raise my shield again. I am ready to go. I am almost grateful that is appears that I shall be allowed to expire with a manner of dignity.

Of course, the surprises keep on coming. Instead of landing his killing blow, my mysterious guest turns around and runs through the doorway ahead of me, while I, my confusion now complete, stay right where I am. About thirty seconds later, the invader returns, stops in the doorway, and patiently waves me over. At this point, I almost want to stop and explain to him that there is no need to lead me into any kind of trap or ambush. He already has me, dead to rights. All he has to do is end it. Still, he seems quite insistent that I follow him, so I choose to oblige, not sure what's going on. If this is some kind of deranged game he's playing....

So the two of us venture deeper into the fortress, him in front showing the way, and me a few paces behind, expecting an ambush around every corner. But he doesn't lead me into one. Instead, he stops and points, every time we get to a trap, every time we run across a snake guard, making sure I can either avoid them or get the drop on them. He never steps in to fight himself, but he makes sure I'm prepared to deal with them myself. With his help, I make it past boulders rolling down stairs; past pressure plates which if activated would have fired poisoned spikes at me, half a dozen snake guards and even a treasure chest that tried to eat my face. (True story.) I follow him closely, and I find myself slowly starting to trust him. Down another hallway, up a flight of stairs, and suddenly the bright clear sunlight assaults my eyes. The light is overpowering, and the relief is overwhelming. We've made it to the top of the fortress. I can even see the walls of Anor Londo towering above me. The invader waves me on, and I continue to follow, too shell shocked to do anything else. He stops in front of a small hole in the stone fence, and looks at me for a moment, before he jumps off. I run over to the edge, to see that there is actually a ledge underneath.

And a bonfire! Safety at last!

I jump over the edge, and just barely avoid falling off the ledge below. I don't dare touch the bonfire itself, as I notice that he is again standing there looking at me, and I imagine those predator eyes sinking into me again. If he is really cruel, this is when he does me in. Has he really taken all this time to take me by the hand and lead me through the nightmare that is Sen's Fortress, only to sink the blade in, when salvation is within reach?

A deep, respectful bow answers my question. Then he straightens up, and walks away. For several minutes, I stand, waiting for him to return, but he never does. Something tells me I've seen the last of this shady Samaritan, who though he stood to gain nothing from it, helped me through the dark hellhole, even after I'd kicked him off a bridge. I'll never know who you are or why you did what you did, but thank you for restoring a sliver of my dwindling faith in humanity.

Praise the sun.

(This has been previously released on my stupid web-comic blog, but let's face it, no-one reads that.)

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