A new day begins to feel like a new beginning. Having ended the previous day by carving my initials into the corpse of the biggest monster I could find, I find my wanderlust renewed, as I desire new vistas, new challenges, and new answers. Those are impulses that I feel a need to smother; I’ve gone far enough by wandering from place to place, and it’s time to settle down and get some real work done.
It’s become clear to me that every time I turn a corner in Lordran I am presented with at least 2 new paths. This exponential growth in options is not something I can sustain because, while I can definitely feel the steady footfalls of my journey toward my ultimate goal–whatever that may be–in every new enemy I take down, it’s a path of winding, drunken momentum, so that I am always moving in a general direction that feels like forward, but still taking as many detours as possible. What I mean, is that it’s time to get organized.
I consider my options again, all the places I’ve been, all the places I’ve yet to be, and realize that there is no need to look any further than where I am for territory that needs definitive conquering. Yesterday I killed the hydra, and I established a beachhead within this evil garden. Today I make the march toward its capital, set up my siege engines, and hammer away at it till it’s mine.
So, it’s decided, I’m headed back into the Darkroot Garden, and I’m leaving until I’ve done whatever I need to do in there, under the watching eye of the pale moon.
I make my daily evaluation of my gear and stats. It’s something I like to do after a major event, like a boss fight, a trip to a bonfire, or at least clearing an area, rather than stopping every 5 minutes just because I found something new while adventuring. I’ve played plenty of Diablo, so I know how easy it is to spend 70% of my time in a dungeon just looking at stat comparisons. These days, the killing comes first, and once I’ve sorted that, I can take a look at what I’ve gained from it.
During my fight with the hydra, when I was hurriedly swapping around pieces of armour in the middle of a lake, I slapped on whatever gear I needed to in order to get my equip load down. I wasn’t worried about taking any hits then, as long as I was fast enough, so stats were secondary. In the same way, I put on whatever I had that improved my defence and poise, regardless of weight, when I was getting ready to march on the beast. What I’m wearing now is not what I was wearing before the fight, and I’ve recently acquired plenty of new gear.
After some sorting of my inventory, some careful watching of my weight limits against the overall stats of the equipment I have (Why can’t I see a direct comparison between 2 pieces of equipment? Is this 2001?), and studious reading of item descriptions, I settle on a new load-out.
Seems that one of the shields I picked up recently, I think it was on a dead body near the last Black Knight I killed, has a special property that recharges my stamina at a faster rate. I’m all for that, so I make the adjustments I need to keep my weight down while I carry it around.
Next, I spend what Souls I can on another point in strength.
I now have enough strength to use my zweihander. The only problem with that is that I no longer have much desire to use my zweihander; I’ve gradually fallen for my winged spear, and that’s not just because I upgraded it to +5 and it was my most damaging weapon. Swinging around the zweihander–and the Black Knight Axe, which I can now use with if I hold it with both hands–reveals restrictive movesets that are just way too slow.
I’ve played Monster Hunter, and for most of my time with that series I was a Long Sword user. I’m used to slow weapons. I can pick my spots. That sort of thing works just fine against bosses, who give me ample opportunity to wait for an opening. But against regular enemies, especially groups of them, I would rather be proactive than reactive. Besides that, the weapons in Monster Hunter have more options for attacks than the ones in Dark Souls seem to.
The strength of the spear is its simplicity, and its speed, along with pretty good range. Sure, it may not have the horizontal range of these large bladed weapons, but it has great use as an interrupt tool. I can reliably harass enemies with it, poking at them until their guards drop, finding openings every time they raise a hand to me. The damage isn’t significant, but it’s enough.
After some consideration, and a bit of field testing against the crystal monsters, I switch back to my spear. It’s lighter as well. Though it was amusing to kill those lumbering, jagged lumps in 2 hits with the Black Knight Axe, I realize that my weapon choices are going to depend as much on their animations and attack patterns as they are on stats. For example, though the Black Knight Axe does more than double the damage of my next highest damaging weapon, and can kill the crystal monsters in 1 hit with a heavy attack, said heavy attack is so ponderously slow that I would need to have a much, much higher poise stat (and defence in general) to get it out reliably, otherwise I would be interrupted or killed. Maybe for a boss fight–but even then, it will have more HP and damage than I do, so it’s not sensible to trade hits. Even though it’s an axe, I wouldn’t want to use it against the local plant life, as it has a tendency to fight back.
And doing battle with the Garden’s plants is what I’m about to do. But first, I find a new monster, an orange version of the crystal monsters I’ve been fighting in Darkroot Basin. It’s standing at the back of the hollowed out cavern in the lake, next to the waterfall. It wasn’t there before, either, after I killed the hydra. It would seem that Dark Souls is the type of game where new enemies replace old ones, or at least don’t show up until certain conditions have been fulfilled. Not that unusual for an RPG. I remember now that Black Knight at the bottom of the Catacombs; did it only appear after I’d killed all of the necromancers? I fell into the room it was eventually standing in before I’d cleared the last tombs and didn’t see it there, so it’s possible.
It feels appropriate to take this beast down with my Black Knight Axe, though, truth be told, I am also too slow to outrun it in the water, so I have to fight it with what I’m holding. With how much damage I’m doing, the fight is not difficult. The orange crystal has more health than the blue ones, but still falls after a few chops.
I’m surprised when, upon death, this new monster doesn’t drop any sort of item for me, but instead drops a woman at my feet. Was she inside it? Did it eat her or something?
She identifies herself as Dusk, tells me she comes from an ancient land of powerful magic, and offers to tell me a powerful secret, if I’d like. Well, I don’t see any reason to deny myself power, or secrets, so I agree. She’s delighted, and says she’ll give me the information right away, then says she has to return to her own time and disappears. As far as I can tell, I have gained nothing from the encounter. Oh well; I guess I’ll see her again, eventually. She said something about helping me with her signature, but, honestly, the way she spoke was annoying, which I guess is standard for people from old-timey lands of magic, but it made it hard for me to pay attention to her. Why can’t people who go out of their way to tell me they’re in a hurry and don’t have much time to talk put a little more effort into being plainspoken and direct?
I climb the ladder next to the waterfall, the roar of the water in my ears all the way. If there’s anything up there waiting for me, there is no way I’ll be able to hear it coming.
Thankfully, I’m safe. I get to the top and find it empty, with only a wooden bridge leading to the other side of the river.
I cross the bridge, carefully step around a narrow ledge under another bridge (I do not want to fall into this river; the way it’s rushing is sure to drag me to the bottom, over the waterfall, and deposit me as a bloody, broken mess at bottom.), this one taller, and made of stone, and find another ladder that gets me to the top of the small river valley. I am in Darkroot Garden again. In front of me is the stone bridge, crossing again to the other side of the river, where I see nothing but dark forest. There is another path on this side of the bridge, leading away from the lake, and up, to another section of shrouded forest, trees like obstacles, like everywhere I look something is being hidden, or just hiding, from me.
I have to start somewhere, so I enter the forest on this side of the bridge. Almost immediately, I am ambushed by triffids, vines slashing at me from the dark. With my spear I am able to keep them in check: I can move in on them and jab at their bodies quickly enough to prevent them from attacking at all. After clearing a few out, I decide the best method for covering unknown terrain like this is to define the edges of the space I’m in, so I continue along the side of the forest, until I come to the cliff overlooking the lake.
It seems empty now, like something is missing. I can imagine what it would have been like approaching from this angle, peering over the edge, and seeing the entirety of the hydra’s writhing mass below. Would it have seen me? Would it have hurled its jets of water up here? Would I have had the nerve to drop down the ladder and charge across open water at its 7 heads?
As I kill the triffids, I find clumps of moss, both red and purple. I examine them. They are supposed to be used to prevent status effects (red for bleeding, purple for poison) from taking hold. I realize then that there is a big difference between being about to bleed, and bleeding. I remember the skeletons would often hit me and I would get a bleeding warning, but the little yellow status bar emptied quickly. Then I remember that a single hit from the Dung Hulks in the Valley of the Drakes filled my bar with purple, and took forever to run down. Sometimes the giant rats in the sewers would sink their teeth into me, but only once, and, like the skeleton’s bleed attacks, the bar emptied quickly. So, status effect must be inflicted completely in order to take hold. But I wonder how much use items that only lower my chance of being effected by an eventual, cumulative status effect could be. It seems to me that in the time it would take for me to use such an item, the status effect bar would probably have almost emptied. Just backing off from an opponent for a little bit accomplishes that. On top of that, using the item would make me even more vulnerable to the follow-up attacks that would cause the status effect. Then I see that the moss clumps also double as antidotes. So, still useful.
While I’m working on clearing the forest, moving back and forth along its width to make sure I don’t miss anything between the trees, I find myself being fired up. Arrows, from a ridge up ahead. I hear the soft clanking of armoured footsteps on the mossy ground. They’re coming from my left. I raise my shield and back away from the archer. I see the form of an armoured knight coming at me from the forest, not one of the Black Knights I’m used to, though. This one is shorter, more my size, and is translucent, like a ghost. He has a shield and a large bastard sword. I wonder if I can even hit him. I jab at his upraised shield with my spear, and it glances off. So, he may be ghostly, but he’s not a true ghost. I can kill him. But not while also taking fire from the archer. I keep backing away, until the archer stops firing at me. When I reach a certain distance, the ghost knight retreats back into the forest. I move at a right angle from the archer’s position, still wanting to fight the knight, but hoping to find it in a clearing, away from his support.
Instead, I run into a mob of triffids. They burst from the ground near a dead body, still clutching a shiny item to its chest. I am overwhelmed: 3 of them attack me at once, breaking my guard. I try to back away, but come up against a rock. They break my guard again, and deadly vines whip at me, lashing my chest, solid blows that crack my ribs under my light armour. I lose my footing and fall to the ground gasping in pain, then die.
I return, recover my body, and this time I isolate the triffids so that I can take them down alone or in pairs. I loot the body they were guarding, and find a set of eastern armour. It’s the strongest armour I’ve found so far, but also the heaviest. It didn’t seem to do the guy who was wearing it much good, and I prefer my mobility and shield to taking hits and hoping my armour will save me. I don’t wear any of it.
I find the ghost knight again, and rope him back to a safe distance from the archer. I catch glimpses of another form circling around on my right. It’s brown. I hear the sound of magic. I think I see a shield. A sorcerer? A cleric? It doesn’t approach.
I test myself against the ghost knight. He is fast, and switches often between his shield and a 2-handed grip on his sword. I’m finding his patterns hard to read: every time I think he’s vulnerable, he pulls out another attack. Am I being baited? Or is it just that this is a player-character type enemy without the constraints of stamina? I find the randomness of his attacks a little frustrating. They remind me of fighting the skeletons in the Catacombs, and how most of their attacks had huge windups, but every now and then they would use a quick back and forth slash that did massive damage and was nearly impossible to react to. A skeleton that fought normally was easy to watch and predict, but the ones that randomly decided to be dangerous were usually the ones that killed me. Eventually, I read one of his rolls as an opportunity to close in, and try to close in. He gets up suddenly, and I impale myself on his blade, and die.
I’m not at all pleased with this result, especially after I return to the forest to recover my body and get munched to death by one of the triffids that gets close and latches onto my face. I consider the route I’m taking: out of the cave in the bottom of the Darkroot Basin, through the crystal monsters, across the lake, up the waterfall, across a bridge, another ladder, another walk to get to the forest. There has to be a better way. I also see that my spear is nearing critical durability again. I decide that I’ll head back to the Undead Parish bonfire, restock, and then enter the Darkroot Garden from there. That has to be faster.
Back at the bonfire, I speak to Andre, the blacksmith. He tells me that I’m standing near Sen’s Fortress and Darkroot Garden. Sen’s Fortress the large stone structure with the closed gate. Andre even names “Sir Onion,” which must be the guy in the weird armour moping about on the stairs, waiting for the gate to be opened. He tells me that there are rumours of a divine smith inside Darkroot, which sounds good to me (And also that, “those who get stuck in the Catacombs seek him for divine weapons.” Could he be at all related to the sound of a hammer I heard at the bottom of the Catacombs?), and that beyond Sen’s Fortress is Anor Lando, which, if I recall, is where Gwyndolin, the last living god, lives.
I enter Darkroot Garden again, this from the top, exiting the old church through the chamber where I killed the Titanite Demon. I follow the path to where I saw the white light earlier, since that seems to be the same general direction as the forest I’d just been fighting through. On my way, I get a better look at whatever is the owner of those huge, glossy wings.
A giant butterfly? Am I going to have to kill a giant butterfly? Maybe it will be friendly.
I go through the white light. The woods are just as dark here as everywhere else. I can see, by the light of the moon, a body laying on the ground in front of me. A very big body. A very big, armoured body.
Is it alive, or dead? Is it an enemy? I approach. When I get close enough, the body sits up, then stands. It’s a giant knight, with an equally giant swords. It is not friendly.
I get behind it and start working with my spear. The giant raises his hands into the air. A shimmering light radiates outward, enveloping me. Wary, I try to back away. I’m suddenly slowed. I try to roll, but only stumble. The giant attacks me. I manage to block in time, and then retaliate. My attacks are no slower than they should be, even while my legs feel sluggish and uncertain. I think I know what’s happening, and after I kill the giant I confirm it. Way back in the catacombs, when I finally killed the last necromancer, the one I had so much trouble getting to, I found a spell. It was a miracle, and required 18 faith to cast, so I didn’t ever think I’d be using it, but I read the description anyway.
Tranquil Walk of Peace. A spell that slows movement, but not attacks. Used for escaping, it says, but clearly it can also serve a purpose in combat. When I fight the next giant I find, I make sure to back away when it casts the spell. I think I’ve dodged it, but when I charge in again I am slowed anyway. Apparently it’s just an area of effect, and not a targeted debuff.
I kill that giant knight, then two more, and a bunch of triffids. I find a dead body and recover a set of elite knight armour. I decide that maybe it’s time to see how the slowpokes do it for a while, and put on the heavier armour.
In a small nook I find a partizan, which is another spear, with stats comparable to my winged spear, but with a slashing heavy attack. When I pick it up, looting a body lying under a tree, I am attacked and poisoned by a weird lizard that seems to be a pair of snakes attached to 4 legs and a tail. It offends me, and I kill it. I decide against using the partizan, as I think the winged spear’s heavy thrust attack feels more reliable than the slow horizontal slash of the partizan.
I continue moving, now checking every tree for more snakes things. I find only one more, after I’ve killed all the giants. The snake is hiding on the bark of a thick tree, thinking I can’t see it. I walk up and jab it in the back, then kill it when it falls to the ground. I don’t like those things at all.
I find the final giant sleeping in the entrance to a crumbling stone building. I get a look at the structure, but have trouble figuring out exactly what it is. A bridge? A wall? A fortress outpost? I can see a ridge running along the rock wall above me. I’m sure there are some items up there. I need to find the way up. I need to enter these ruins.
Inside the building I find stairs winding their way up. Stairs that are a little too big, I think. Stairs that giants would use?
I climb to the top, where the roof has long since caved in, and I find myself in the open night air. Across from me is the butterfly. Friend or foe? It has a beauty that would normally suggest benign intent, but I’ve encountered few things in Lordran that didn’t try to kill me. None of them had much in the way of aesthetic appeal, outside of a naked symmetry and the strange, magnetic attraction that power and death can have, but that’s no reason to let my guard down.
At the top of the stairs is a doorway of white light. I step through.
And the butterfly tries to kill me.
As soon as the light clears, I see the boss’s name at the bottom of my screen. The butterfly floats down from the sky, hovering out of reach from my spear. It starts bombarding me with glowing green balls of energy.
What do I do? I wait, patiently, dodging its attacks. I wait, because I have hunted butterflies before, in my youth, and I know that eventually they come down to rest their wings. I wait, and my patience is rewarded. The giant butterfly latches onto the side of the bridge, and I stab at it with my spear, until it glows with the buildup of more green energy, and I back away before it explodes. After waiting some more, I get another chance to attack, and the third time it comes down for a rest I make one final stab with my spear. It falls away from the bridge, and dies.
I gain Soul of the Moonlight Butterfly, and a Humanity.
The Butterfly Soul says I can either gain a large number of Souls (how large?), or create a unique weapon. What weapon will it be? How do I create it? Do I need the divine smith?
There’s nothing else for me to do there, standing alone on the bridge, having killed the only thing of beauty I’ve seen in Lordran. I move on.
At the other end of the bridge is another tower, more stairs. I climb, up and up, until I reach the top. There, I find the frozen form of the smith, huddled over as if in eternal prayer. Who, or what, did this? Was it the Moonlight Butterfly? I came all this way to see the smith, and if I can’t talk to him, then at least I can take what he’s left behind. I find a Watchtower Basement Key (The Watchtower is in Undead Burg, but where? It says there is a hero gone Hollow locked away there. Is that Havel?), and a Divine Ember.
I then slip down the stairs, falling all the way to the bottom, and die.
When I talk to Andre, he asks if he can have the Divine Ember, saying that it will improve his flame so that he can produce Divine weapons. I had thought it was a one time use item, something I could use to make a single Divine weapon, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. When I give him the Divine Ember, the Modify Equipment menu becomes available, but the requirement to upgrade my winged spear is a Green Titanite Shard, not the Divine Ember itself. This is a better result than I’d hoped for.
Now, though, I have to recover my body, and those 18000 Souls. I make my way back, giving the sleeping giants a wide berth, and recover my Souls. Now, though, I’m concerned with the ridges below the bridge. I know there are items down there, but I can’t find a place to jump down. My pathetic little hops are not enough to get me over the bridge’s short stone guide walls. I run around for a bit, but make no progress.
Defeated, I start my way back to the bonfire. On the way, I notice that one of the godamn trees is making a run for it! I put a stop to that, killing it with my spear. I gain some Souls, but nothing else, and it didn’t try to attack me, either. Weird.
I follow where I think it was coming from, or going to, and find another path, leading out of this section of the Garden, and down. A weird red lizard jumps at me, and tries to lick me. I kill it with my spear.
I have over 20000 Souls now, so I return to Andre. I’ve got a Crest to buy.
According to the Ember’s description, Divine weapons are used for Undead hunting. I can see how that relates to the Catacombs, but the question is whether they’re just more damage to the Undead (isn’t most of what I’m fighting Undead, anyway?), or do they actually have special properties. Would those skeletons have stayed dead longer if I had a Divine weapon?
The upgrade itself doesn’t improve the weapon in any way, except for adding magic damage, which still looks like an overall improvement to its total damage. I decide that I’ll need to test the process eventually, so why not now, while I have the required Titanite? I upgrade my winged spear to a Divine Winged Spear. It now gains additional damage from my faith stat. Still looks the same, though.
I buy the Crest of Artorias.
I use my Twin Humanities to reverse my Hollowing, and Kindle this bonfire. I’m going to be coming here plenty while I work my way through Darkroot, and it also links directly to Sen’s Fortress and Undead Burg. It’s as much a nexus as the Firelink Shrine, so it makes sense to invest my Humanity into making the flame stronger.
I return to the Garden and am immediately disappointed when I find my winged spear now does less damage than it did before. I thought the extra magic damage would be added on top of my normal thrusting damage, increasing all the damage I do. Maybe triffids just don’t feel magic damage?
I get to the magically sealed door and use my Crest. It opens.
I am mildly disappointed again when I realize that this is just the shortcut I was looking for to get back to the ghost knight. He’s standing right there, at the bottom of these stairs. I go down, and now I am prepared for his bullshit. I attack only when I see real openings, I use my kick to break his guard when he defends, I punish his big swings with critical back attacks. Soon enough, he is dead at my feet.
Close by, I see another figure, dressed in brown robes. Is this the magic user I heard before? He’s my next target.
When he sees me coming for him, he starts pelting me with magic missiles. I get close enough to start attacking, but I get jumped by another ghost fighter, with a dagger and a buckler. I back off, trying to lead the ghostly rogue away from the magical bombardment, but can’t get enough distance. I am sandwiched between magic bolts and slashing blades, and I die, becoming Hollowed once more.
Humanity is easy come, easy go in Lordran.
This time, I play the cat, instead of the mouse. I dart in between the trees, keeping out of the way of the magic missiles, then move in for quick spear attacks, before fading away again to recover my stamina. The ghostly rogue shows up again, but mostly just stands around, so I ignore him and concentrate on taking down the wizard. Eventually, like everyone else, he falls to my spear. Then, I turn on the rogue, and he dies as well.
Next up are duo, a rotund little fighter with an axe, and a cleric with a mace and shield. I struggle against the both of them, as they take turns wearing down my defences with their attacks, and when I parry the fighter’s obvious axe blows and come close to killing him, the cleric uses a healing spell to return them both to full health. Eventually, the cleric breaks my guard, and the fighter cuts me down with his axe.
When I return to recover my body and have my rematch, the wizard and rogue are back, though the clanking knight with the sword is still gone. I bypass them, recover my Souls, and go about isolating the individual elements of this unit. First, is the fighter, who is the easiest of the lot. I use my range against him, thrusting deep into his body every time he misses with his axe. Next is the cleric, who ultimately throws himself off a cliff when he cannot find the space needed to use his healing spell. After that, the wizard, and the rogue.
Then I remember there was an archer. I find her, and also find that the knight is still alive. I kill him, again relying on my spear’s superior range to punish missed attacks. I have a little trouble with the archer, when she switches to a large, round shield that deflects my spear thrusts with ease, but eventually I find a way to throw her off a nearby cliff. They’re all dead, but I’m out of healing items. I also have 30000 Souls. I return to the bonfire.
I decide that if I’m going to use spears, I may as well invest in spear stats, so I get endurance and dexterity. My hope now is that I will find another spear to replace my winged spear; there has to be a better one eventually. If I don’t find one soon, though, I may have to start upgrading a regular spear. I wish one of the Black Knights had dropped a Black Knight Spear, like the Black Knight Axe.
I can see this item, on the ridge, under the bridge where I killed the Moonlight Butterfly, but I can’t yet reach it.
The path I’m on, through the Undead bandits, leads in the opposite direction of where I want to go. The only other path I’ve found leads down, where I found the red lizard. Sometimes, as 14-year-old kids writing their first bad poetry like to say, you must go down to go up. I take the path leading down, deeper into the black forest. I kill the red lizard, then find another walking tree. I kill it as well. Was it the same tree as before? I don’t think so. But it still did nothing to harm me. Is there any reason for me to kill these things, besides the free Souls?
In that deeper section of the forest I find another sleeping giant, and a whole bunch of red lizards. When the giant slows me, and the lizards all lick me at once, I am killed. When I return, I no longer see the walking tree. Are there more of them hidden in the forest? Do I get something special if I kill them all? I kill the lizards first this time, drawing them out of the still pond water they’re hiding under, then I kill the giant.
I find a crumbled stone gate, and behind it is a muddy cave, sloping gently upward.
At the top is another giant, who I kill easily by being much shorter than he is, and also standing on the slope below him. He can’t even reach me with his attacks, but my spear has more than enough range to find the openings in his armour and bleed him dry.
I follow the path to its end, and finally get to the body I’d seen from the Butterfly’s bridge. I loot it, and a Wolf Ring. It nearly doubles my poise stat, which is great. I take off my Blue Tearstone Ring and replace it with my new prize. The description says this ring belonged to Artorias, the Abysswalker, who is also supposedly who is sealed behind the door I spent 20000 Souls to unlock. Is this body Artorias? Have I been ripped off? Even if I have, there has to be something back there, and I’ll find it.
Instead of walking all the way back, through the cave and the forest, I think I can just jump the small space between this ledge and the ledge below, where I come from the Undead Parish. I back up, get a some speed built up, and launch myself across. I make it, no worse for wear. Now the only place left to go is through that door, to find out the truth about this supposed Abysswalker.
All of the bandits, both Undead and ghostly, are there again. I imagine what it’s like for them now, with me in the Garden. They stand about, just far enough away from each other that they can see the next member in the chain. They are spaced like this so they can watch the most ground, but is it because they are guarding the way through, or guarding themselves? This forest is no longer the domain of a few lumbering suits of armour and a bunch of uppity weeds; it is now the stalking grounds of a deadly predator.
I find myself relishing the hunt now. I have picked these fools apart, I have learned everything I need to know about them so that I can end their lives with ease, whenever I choose to. I take them down in their pairings: the flesh and blood sorcerer with his silent, ghostly bodyguard. The little fighter, quaint now, with his axe and his oversized shield. He is the weakest link, the biggest liability. The cleric watches over him, rousing herself to heal his wounds again and again. How long has she been looking after him? I imagine their relationship being deeper than the one between mercenaries. He is dead weight, and should have been dropped long ago, but she stays with him. Siblings? Lovers? They are the only pair that both have flesh. Does she feel it, in her heart, when I knock his clumsy axe swings away and push my spear deep into his belly? When I kick his useless corpse away? I know she feels it when I do the same to her. I can see it in her eyes, as they dilate for the final time. Do they remember any of this when they crash back into life? Is this their own version of Hell, to have the tables turned on them, to have a silent killer rush them from the dark trees, and to know that if they fall, they will eventually rise, only to fall again? I imagine them huddling a little closer in the night, in the dark. They may have been the deaths of many who passed through here, searching for the Abysswalker, but all of those were victims. I am no victim.
Past the axe fighter is another stone doorway, watched over by the pale moon. I take a moment to stare at that moon, that celestial object, so far removed from me, from this place, from my Undeath. Does it watch my progress? Does it see me as I work my way through the creatures that depend on it for their darkness?
Through the doorway I find another ruined stone building, a bridge, and a very odd looking cat sitting in a window.
I speak to the cat. It tells me that the grave of the Abysswalker is rumour, a lie, a trap, and that I should turn back. It asks me if I will. I tell it that I will not turn back. Even if the Abysswalker is a lie, there is something back there. There’s no way those bandits killed everyone who came searching for the Abysswalker. They made it through, and stood where I stand now. They kept going, and they found something else. Besides that, a cat should know all about the power of curiosity.
The cat is angered by my answer. It hisses at me and tells me to leave it alone. Fine, it talked dumb anyway. Maybe I’ll just keep making my decisions based on whether or not the person asking me can speak like a person I might actually ever want to talk with.
I cross the bridge and find more stone steps. Another section of the garden, thick with trees.
Around the back side of the stairs, tucked away underneath the bridge, I find a chest. Inside is a set of stone knight armour. I look at it. It’s modelled after the armour the giants I’ve been killing wear, only sized for an average human. It is very heavy, but also has nearly double the defence of any other armour I own.
It looks like I’ve finally found what is inevitably in any magical Japanese forest: walking fungus. I hear their footsteps all around, and see them waddling in and out from behind trees.
I get close to one of them. It’s stuck between a pair of trees, wedged into the narrow space between them as it tries to keep walking in a direction it can’t go. Mushrooms have never been known for the size of their brains. I kill it. It does not fight back. When it dies, I hear the call of a bird. That’s weird. Coincidence? I kill another mushroom. The same bird sound.
That makes me wary. I decide to leave the mushrooms alone for now. They’re not doing anything to me, and they’re not worth many Souls, either.
In the centre of this forest, I find a shallow pond, water mottled and green with the reflections of the moonlit canopy. Rooted in the pond are a pair of massive mushrooms. There is a chest in between them. If the little ones aren’t hostile, I can be sure that the big ones will be. They have long, spongy arms. When I get close, one of them turns on me, fixing me with its eyeless gaze. It comes at me, fists swinging with ponderous strength. I take a glancing blow off my shield and am nearly knocked senseless. For the rest of the fight, I keep a healthy distance and jab at its tough hide with my spear.
The damage I do is slight, though, thanks to my Divine winged spear, so when I fight the second giant mushroom I switch to the Black Knight Axe. I do a lot more damage now, but have too much trouble judging the distance of my attacks. Eventually, I miss a swing and take a punch on the chin. It does not go well, even now that I’ve put on a couple of pieces of the stone armour. Suddenly glass-jawed, I fall to the ground and die.
I return, and try the axe again, but it’s just too unwieldy. I kill them both with my spear, then open the chest. The prize I claim is another Ember, this one Enchanted instead of Divine. This one will allow me to make magic weapons, like the Divine Ember did, but with intelligence used to enhance the damage instead of faith. Well, my faith and intelligence are both only 12, so it wouldn’t make much of a difference either way.
I follow the edge of the cliff along the forest, walking a path that parallels the edge of the forest where I fought the bandits. I reach a sudden drop down to a clearing. There is a bridge down there. I realize that I’ve come full circle, and that bridge is the one that spans the river that feeds the waterfall.
I hear a growl. My eyes scan across the open space below me, and lock onto a large animal. A cat? It’s prowling around down there, but I’m not quite ready to fight it.
I search the rest of the forest, and find another long stone bridge that leads to another closed doorway, like the one I used the Crest on. There is no magic seal on this door though, but would there have been if I hadn’t used the Crest already?
I feel that I have finally found my goal. I’ve found the deepest, and darkest, secret in this deep, dark forest. I cross the bridge and open the door.
Inside I find some of my answers. At the top of a small rise is a large burial mound. All around are the discarded weapons of those who came before me, the ones that made it past the bandits, and the giants, and the triffids, and the mushrooms. Stuck into the ground in front of the central grave marker is a huge sword. I approach.
A cutscene starts playing. I touch the hilt of the great sword. I can feel the power there. Suddenly, a huge grey wolf jumps into the graveyard. He grabs the hilt of the sword with his teeth and pulls it from the ground. He leaps away, shaking his head back and forth to demonstrate that he is perfectly capable of using a human blade.
As soon as the cutscene ends, the wolf is rushing me.
Great Grey Wolf Sif
He slashes at me with the sword. I block the attack, losing most of my stamina, and then I lose myself underneath his great bulk. I try to stab at him with my spear, but I’m doing so little damage. A few pathetic pokes, and the wolf jumps away. It charges me again, and I block again. I try to stab, but fall short. It spins in full circles. The first time the blade impacts my shield, it nearly breaks my arm. I have no more strength to hold my defences up, and the second spin cuts me down. I die.
On the way back to recover my body, while stabbing at a triffid next to a cliff edge, I lunge a little too far, and fall after it, nosediving into the hard ground below. I die. I’ve lost nearly 30000 Souls.
I take a moment to catch my breath and work out a plan. I talk to Andre, who tells me that he can’t use my Enchanted Ember. Maybe the smith in New Londo can? I’m so distracted by thoughts about a new plan, that I walk away from Andre before he’s done talking. “Oi,” he shouts at me. I return, and he tells me he was just worried that I’d gone Hollow on him.
I fight the wolf again. My damage is just too low, I think. I die again. Do I need to grind now? Have I finally hit the wall? I need another weapon. I have a spear that I could upgrade, but not enough Souls to buy the Titanite needed. However, I do have a whole bunch of Undead Souls in my inventory, so I burn a few to purchase the materials needed for make a spear +5.
With this new weapon, I return to the forest. But before testing it against the wolf, I take a detour and fight the large cat I saw prowling the lower part of the mushroom forest. I get close enough to see it’s bristled fur, and when it sees me it rolls itself into a tight ball and flings itself at me. I decide to call it a hedgecat. I’m fighting it, stabbing it in the nose with my new spear, when I realize that I’m not in a duel: I hear twin hisses, and two more cats appear. That’s a little much, so I retreat to the treeline. They can’t fit through, which is why they didn’t come after me while I was walking with the mushrooms. I decide that I will make my stand there, and I fight the 3 great cats. Their growls and hisses echo off the rocks around us, the only other sounds in the night besides the clank of my armour and the impact of my spear against soft, muscled flesh. In the end, I stand, and they do not, but I’m out of healing. I return to the bonfire and consider my options. I have about 9000 Souls, which is no longer even enough to level up a single stat.
In the modify equipment menu, there’s an option to revert a Divine weapon back to being a regular weapon. I could have just done that with my winged spear, though I’d have lost the Titanite I used in the process. I consider that: I can buy unlimited regular Titanite as long as I have Souls, so making a +5 weapon is not an issue. But I needed a special Green Titanite to make my Divine weapon, and I don’t know when I’ll get more of those, or how many there will be. I decide to leave my winged spear as it is for now.
Then I realize that, while 9000 Souls is not enough for me to level up, it’s enough for me to make another +5 weapon.
I talk to Andre, and I upgrade the most reliable weapon I’ve ever owned: my club.
I spend one more life doing nothing but watching the wolf. I figure out the ranges of his attacks, I figure out when he is vulnerable, and, when I finally cuts me down, I know that I have won.
I put away my spear, and I take up my club once more. I put on heavier armour, enough to keep me from dying after one slash of the wolf’s sword, but still not enough to survive a full barrage.
I can feel myself readying for the battle as I approach the wolf again. The club feels good in my hands. I smash the triffids in my path, breaking them apart with a single 1-handed smash attack. I descend on the bandits, no longer a patient predator, now a savage one.
I have literally fought my way up from the bottom of the Darkroot Garden. I am now the apex predator, and that wolf is about to find out what that means.
We clash again, for the final time. A human, Undead, grasping desperately for Humanity, and a wolf that has forgotten what it’s like to fight with tooth and claw. The battle is tough, and it’s bloody, but I do not back down. I match the wolf’s every growl, every teeth-baring raised lip. He has me beat in range, he has me beat in damage, he has me beat in strength, but he will never match my will. I lock my eyes with his, and I never flinch. I let him exhaust himself from swinging the blade around. I wait for the openings, and I drive my club into his face with both hands every time he makes a mistake.
There, under the light of the pale moon, I find the beast within, and use it to slay the beast without.
Eventually, the damage I’m doing sets in, and the great beast slows, stumbles, limps, swings the sword in smaller, weaker arcs. I have no mercy left in me. I leap at the wolf, club in both hands. “Remember this,” I whisper, but I cannot tell if it’s meant for the wolf, for the moon, or for myself.
I stand up. The adrenaline’s rush is passing. I feel the ache of my shield arm, used to deflect so many attacks that would have killed me. I make a conscious effort to loosen the white-knuckled grip I have on my club. My hand is stiff and sore from the pressure. In victory, I am human again. The battle is won, and it’s time for me to leave this place.
I get the Soul of Sif, which is like the Butterfly Soul, the Covenant of Artorias, which is a ring that will let me. “traverse the abyss,” whatever that means. Behind the grave marker is another body, and I recover a Hornet Ring, which boosts critical damage. I also gain 40000 Souls.
I think it’s time to return to the bonfire. I put on armour that’s a little lighter, and I walk back the way I’d come, with nothing to stand in my way.
I entered the Darkroot Garden looking for answers, and I leave with more questions. Who was the real liar, the cat, or the Crest? Whose grave did I really find? Whose body was that, that had Artorias’ ring? His first ring, from when he was still a true knight. And he was a man who carried the Wolf Ring. What made that wolf take up his sword?
I decide that, after I’ve swept it all away, none of that matters very much. What matters is that I alone return from the night.
And the real question is, as always, who is next?