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fulldamage avatar 11:26 PM on 01.10.2012  (server time)
Dark Souls - A Little Bit of Faith

Itís when the silence sets in. Thatís how you know theyíre coming for you.

The world of Lordran is always quiet to begin with. Other than the hum of wind, the occasional crackling of a distant bonfire, and the quiet mutterings and growls of those few strange creatures that still cling to life in these vast abandoned ruins, there is precious little sound. But when even these few noises die down to a muted hush, so quiet you can hear your own heartbeat, it means only one thing. An invader wandering the cold Abyss between worlds has gained a foothold in your world. That invader is coming to kill you. You can always hear it, as long as you listen.

The second thing you hear will be the unmistakable sound of that spirit gaining coherence in your world, spawning into full reality nearby. It may only a be few seconds, or nearly a minute, but itís barely enough time to prepare.

And then I hear the spawning sound. A message banner rolls across the bottom of the screen. ďSpirit of Vengeance Manitoba87 has invaded.Ē

There are many types of invaders that can make their way into your world. This type, Spirits of Vengeance, belong to the Darkmoon Covenant - the karmic police of Lordran. When I was a much younger spectre, 20 or 30 soul levels ago, I belonged to the covenant of Forest Protectors. I wandered for many moonless nights in Darkroot Garden, hunting down intruders for their souls and the materials needed to forge my weapons. Many of them, as they fell, indicted me - wrote my name into the pages of the book of Sin, so that warriors of the Darkmoon might find me later and exact their vengeance. And I deserve it, of course. We all sin, and we all bear the cost. But so long as I am armed, and at full health, I refuse to die. The souls Iíve collected are my only means of getting stronger, my only means of escaping from this forsaken place. They will take them from me by putting the business end of a length of steel through me - or not at all.

My heart is pounding. Has been since the silence fell.

Iím on the third floor of the Library in the Dukeís Archives. Itís a precarious situation. Iíve never been this far into the Archives before. Invaders may be escaped by rushing into the boss area at the worldís end, but I donít know where that is, nor how far away. I donít know where the enemy is coming from. And Iím full of souls, tens of thousands of them gained from slaughtering my way out of Seath the Scalelessís gruesome prison tower. Souls that will end up in a bloodstain on the floor, in the middle of an armed mob of shamans and crystal warriors, if I am not careful. I stop moving, so that the clank of my plate-armored footstep canít give me away. I slot in my remaining Estus potions of healing, click through my few offensive options. I lurk in the shadows on the catwalk, and wait.

And then I see him from over the lip of the railing, scurrying across the bottom floor silently. Invading spectres make no sound.

My hands are shaking now.

I have one small advantage - control of the arena. There is only one way to get up to my level - via a rotating staircase that connects the second and third levels of catwalks. He can make it up to the second level, but he canít get up here unless I turn the staircase for him. But thereís no other way for me to get out. So I must face him. It still takes me several minutes to build up the courage.

None of us want to die. Not again.

I take a breath, and walk out onto the staircase, audible and clearly visible now. At the staircaseís midpoint landing is the lever that will rotate it 180 degrees, connecting it to the second level catwalk on the roomís opposite side. I pull the lever, and wait.

As expected, he is there at the foot of the staircase when it completes its rotation. An energy pattern of coldly flickering cobalt blue light in the shape of a man.

We stand there, regarding each other for at least five seconds. It would not have surprised me to see a tumbleweed roll past. This is a test of the opponentís character. Hungry, thuggish, inexperienced souls will come charging in immediately. When enough time has passed to established that neither of us is that type of warrior, then we bow simultaneously - he with a courtly sweep of the arm, me with a formal, from-the-waist eastern bow.

Then, just like in any samurai movie youíve seen, we charge.

He has a one-handed sword. I hold a Crescent Axe, a long-handled headsmanís blade. It is not a popular weapon, but it has better reach than any other axe, and delivers damage commensurate with the strength of my Faith. As we draw near, just before Iím inside the reach of his sword, I drop the axe and palm my talisman - the symbol of that faith. And as he draws back to swing, I take a knee and pray.

And the air erupts with the Wrath of the Gods.

My opponent is lightly armored. The force of the miracle scatters him to the foot of the stairs like leaves in the wind. And I make a mistake. In my nervousness, Iíve double-tapped the cast. Wrath erupts a second time, but it washes over my prone opponent harmlessly. Worse, it eats away a precious second of my time. As fast as I can, I heft the axe once more and bring it down in a brutal overhand chop, but itís too late. Heís recovered. Quick as a blink, he vaults to his feet, backflips twice, and goes sprinting down the catwalk in the other direction.

I run after him as fast as I can, but Iím in full paladin armor, bearing no charms or enchantments to lighten the load. He outpaces me easily. A smarter fighter than I would have pulled out a ranged weapon and fired at his back. This is my belated thought process as, barrelling down the hall, I see him turn back to face me with a halo of glowing spheres rising up around his head.

Crystal Soul Mass. Itís nothing to me. Charging forward still, I wait for the spheres to leave his orbit and come streaking towards me like small earthbound meteors. I dive forward in a roll, and they zip overhead, harmlessly. I have to think of them as harmless. Because if you stop, if you try to run, even if you just freeze and hold up your shield, then the first one will knock your shield aside, and the rest of them will rip you open and leave you broken on the floor.

Coming up from the roll, I leap forward to bring the axe overhead in a downward smash. He flinches aside just in time, but fails to get out of the way in time for my follow-up swing. I can hear the gasp through his teeth in the stillness of the Archives as my blade cuts through his armor once, twice. But again, Iíve been overeager. I barely caught him with the tip of my weapon; the third swing hits only air, and leaves me off balance. I have a moment to see him lean forward, to see the glimmer of a Pyromancerís Flame in his sword hand. And then the air around me combusts into a terrifying cloud of fire.

My faith protects me to some degree from direct magical damage -- but fire is an older, rawer form of magic. I try to swing the axe again, but the fire has ripped through my defense - I can only stagger, arms twisting in pain, withering in the deadly inferno as the air explodes again, and again.

With the last of my strength I throw myself into another roll, past him, tumbling until I can get clear. I have a second to myself, maybe less. Itís not enough, but in a haze of panic, I down a flask of Estus. My health bar, shrunk to a thumbnailís width, springs back to half-full.

A second later, and that Pyromancerís glove is at my back again, the air once more burning. But Iíve recovered just enough to take the hit without flinching. Pivoting, I level the axe into a wide horizontal sweep.

He sees it coming, and flips backwards, but his timing is off, and my range is good. I clip him as heís coming down on his feet. He panics, turns, and sprints a short distance before turning to regard me once again.

Weíre both torn up. At this mid-range distance, whoever flinches first loses. The sword re-appears in his hand. And just like in the samurai movies, it ends as it began. We charge.

Iím late on my swing; he gets clean past the axe. His sword tags me as he passes; the blade is enchanted with flame, and once again, I am burning. My health bar is a sliver.

Any second now, there will be a backstab. Iím wide open, and out of options. I donít think about alternatives; my fingers do the math for me. Reflexively, one last time, I drop the axe, take a knee, and pray for the air to fill with the sound of Godís Wrath.

Iím waiting for the backstab sound to happen. Waiting to see my avatar snap into that all-too-familiar shock animation as my opponentís weapon enters her back and explodes through her chest, lifting her clean off the ground in the process. Iíve already seen it as vividly as though it were real, when my ear finally registers the soft double-thump of my opponentís body hitting the ground knees-first, and the sighing whisper of his soul leaving this plane of existence.

Iím a scrub, when it comes to PvP. A humble vessel, who entreats greater powers to help him deal with the skilled, vicious, and deadly obstacles in his way, and hopes -- against all odds -- that somehow he will make it through each encounter alive. Hands still shaking, I had to put the controller down at that point, and reflect on what it is to have a little bit of Faith.

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