It was bound to happen eventually.
Today was the first day in which I made no real forward progress. Not only that, but I found the architects of my misfortune to be both unlikely and appropriate. After all the progress I’d made against solid opponents, both living and Undead, it was the phantom limbs of a bunch of ghosts that ended up barring my path.
I realize that, in keeping a diary at all, I’m running into fairly big problem: I have no way to tell time in Lordran. The sun never moves. The moon only seems to exist in order to watch over the places the sun won’t reach. I count my days according to my accomplishments, and how tired I feel at the end of them, because that’s the only way I can be sure anything has happened, for what is time without action? There are long stretches when I feel like the only mind wandering this land, the only observer, the only instigator. What happened before I arrived? What happens when I leave? If a Hollowed stumbles in a dark cave, and I’m not there to hear it, does it lose any HP?
These musings feel like distractions. Am I reflexively trying to forget about Darkroot Garden? Are there still parts of me that wish I’d done differently? I sense it in the back of my mind, like the echo of a whisper, the fear that remains after my descent into the primitive fury. Not fear of what I faced, but fear of what I’m capable of doing, when pushed. I tell myself that everyone in Lordran does what they must, but I can’t shake the impression that I was the invader. After all, what did I accomplish? It’s not as if I solved anything, not even the simple truths behind the rumours about what lay at the heart of Darkroot Garden. I can’t think like that, though. I have to believe that everything I do is in service of an ultimate purpose, even one that I’m not yet aware of, or I may as well give up, and sit around with my head in my hands like everyone else I meet. I could spend my time gazing into the bonfire, admiring it only for its lack of structure and form, the way the flames move with thoughtless freedom, and wish I were somewhere else.
But I have no reason to give up yet. I gain distance with every step I take in Lordran, both from where I was when I arrived, and from my limited perspective as a lone Undead wanderer. I remind myself that there is a prophecy. No part of my arrival in Lordran was accidental; no action I take is for my survival alone. Otherwise, I may as well have stayed at the Undead Asylum.
Somewhere in Lordran there is an answer. It may be an answer to a question I’ve yet to ask, and it may be an answer that I am not given, but must take. Regardless, an answer is something, and a goal I can keep working toward.
Right now, though, the only answer I need is to the question of what to do with the 45000 Souls burning a hole in my pocket.
I visit Andre, the smith. I buy a pike, supposedly the longest-ranged melee weapon in the game. I’m hoping it will do more damage than my regular spear +5, and serve as a placeholder until I find something better. The pike itself is heavy, and longer than my spears, but I grow suspicious of its claims after a few test thrusts. I go down the stairs from the smith, into the huge space that must have once been the main area of worship in this old church. There are large pieces of stone and rock all over, and I use them as both markers and targets. After some experimenting, I confirm my suspicious: though the pike’s normal attacks do have more range than a spear’s normal attacks, the pike’s heavy attack, instead of being a powerful, extended lunge, like the spear’s heavy attacks, is short-ranged and slow, owing to a long couching animation. This means that the pike’s heavy attacks actually have less range than a spear’s heavy attacks. I consider the implications of this, but since I mostly use normal attacks anyway, the pike would still be an improvement over my spear.
I return to the bonfire and spend what Souls I can on levelling up. A point into vitality, because it feels like I should have a bit more HP; a point into endurance, because the more stamina I have, the more normal attacks I can spam; and, a point into dexterity, because it gives a better damage bonus than strength. I really want to commit to spears, but it’s tough to do so when I have no idea where the next upgrade will be coming from. In my last fights, I found myself using my club again It worked, but the club only benefits from strength. Still, it already does plenty of damage, so I should be able to get away with using weapons I want to for a while, as long as I have my club as backup.
I spend the Souls I have left on upgrading my pike to +5.
After that, I leave the old church’s bonfire, heading back toward the new, and corrupted, church. I kill a few Undead out there, then enter the new church through a side entrance. Immediately in front of me are a pair of confessionals, one closed, one open. I’d seen them before, and there wasn’t anything in them, so I left them alone. Now, though, they just look suspicious. I enter the open confessional, and step on a concealed switch. The metal gate closes behind me, and I’m plunging downward. The confessional is an elevator? It stops, the gate opens, and I step out into the Firelink Shrine. I realize that I’m standing in one of the openings I’d fallen through on my first day here, where I found the chests full of clerical trinkets, and stumbled into that terrible graveyard.
I had been prepared to wander around Undead Burg for a while, looking for a new place to go, but now that I’m back at Firelink, I can head down to New Londo and see if the smith there will take my Sorcerer’s Ember. The guy at the bonfire seems to agree, and he’s the most enthusiastic he’s ever been when he tells me I should check out the New Londo Ruins. Lautrec , the gold knight, tells me that he’d really like to kill Patches, the weaselly rogue who dumped me into the bottom of the Catacombs so long ago. I wouldn’t stand in his way if he tried.
New Londo Ruins
I take the stone elevator back down into the darkness. After my time in Darkroot, it doesn’t feel quite as foreboding down here as it used to. I talk to the smith, and he practically begs me to give him the Ember, so I do.
From here, I have 2 or 3 choices. I can go to the Valley of Drakes and enter the cave I found there, or explore the valley itself, or I can try the flooded ruins of New Londo, and test myself against the ghosts.
As I stand on the old street outside New Londo, the wretched Undead all around moaning softly to themselves, I find that the cavern and the ruins I’m looking at now are not the same as the cavern and ruins I saw the first time I came down here. I feel as if I’ve grown somehow, almost physically, and this vast space, hidden by gloom and shadow, no longer feels quite so vast, or so hidden. The eyes I look through now have seen things, and the thought of a few ghosts isn’t as intimidating as it used to be. Besides that, I’ve got no Humanity, and very few Souls, so it’s not like I’m risking much. I can take a peek, at least.
As I cross the narrow wooden bridges that span the distance between the few rooftops in New Londo that poke above the water, I see something that I had not seen before: to my right, in a small island left over by a crumbled building, is an item.
I wonder how I’m supposed to get there. There’s nothing above it that I can fall from, and it’s too far a distance to jump.
Now, though, is the time for experimenting. I am entering New Londo, and I only have 2 curses in my inventory. I have no idea how the curses work. How long do they last? How debilitating are they? Where can I get more? I figure I may as well try my supposedly Divine winged spear, specially forged to slay Undead. I equip it, and attack the first ghost that appears. Nothing happens, the spear pokes through the ghost’s ethereal body without hurting it, leaving behind only a faint, shifting trail as it passes. It was worth a shot, but I have to keep in mind that in Lordran there is a difference between Undead and things that have died and come back to haunt the land. Undead around here are not the same as skeletons, zombies, and ghosts.
Next, I want to determine exactly how many ghosts I have to deal with. I think my best course of action is to scout out the opposition before committing my limited resources.
I run across the wooden bridge, into the ruins of New Londo. Two ghosts appear. I break to my right. I’m in shallow water here, and I don’t know how much safe space I have before I find the deep end. I check between two crumbling old walls, and see that they are the edge of the roof. Any further, and I fall to my death. The two ghosts are still behind me. I run toward a set of stone stairs leading further up and into New Londo. In the corner of the roof, I see a body in one of those clay jars. I risk my lead on the two ghosts, and break the jar. The body flops out, splashing face-first into the water. I loot it, and find 2 more curses.
I take the stairs going up. When I reach the top of the first set, I look back, to see if I’m still being followed. I am.
I keep climbing.
I’m on a small roof now, well above the waterline. On my right, a ghost pops out of the roof. Ahead of me is a stone bridge, spanning the distance between this roof and the entrance to another building. I run toward the bridge. I ghost starts to form in front of me, blocking my path. I go around it, and cross the bridge.
In the other building, I’m in a small, tight room. I feel cramped. Ghosts are popping out all around me. I see a short passage on my left, but it’s too late to turn that way: a ghost is blocking my path. Have to keep moving forward. On my right are open windows overlooking a huge, empty room, now half-filled with the cold waters of the flood. I can’t get through those windows, so there must be stairs going down. The doorway in front of me is partially blocked by a ghost’s body. I roll away, forcing the ghost to give up its position if it wants to hurt me. All around are flailing, ice-sharp limbs. I hear the ghosts hissing at me. Through the door. Right or left? I turn right. It’s a dead end. The ghosts close in on me, stabbing through my armour as if it wasn’t there. I raise my shield, but it does me no good. They tear out chunks of my life, and I have no option for escape. I die.
One of the last things I saw before I died was a familiar white light. The white light of a doorway. It was down in the chamber below the room I died in. The actual last thing I saw was that if I’d turned left instead of right I would have found the stairs I was looking for.
On my way back through the outskirts of New Londo, I take the time to kill any of the Undead who come within range of my pike. What else am I going to do with them? Besides, aren’t I supposed to be the saviour of Undead? These chumps should count themselves lucky that I let their meagre Souls contribute to my cause.
Now that I’ve seen my goal, and I’ve doubled my curses, I decide I can use one of them to fight my way to the white light..
I stand on the wooden bridge again, and I pull a curse item out of my satchel. I kneel down and use it.
Nothing happens. I gain no curse debuff, not on my HUD, nor in my status menu. There is no noticeable change to my appearance, at least not one that I can see through my armour.
I enter New Londo anyway, and I stab at the first ghost I see. I stab once, twice, three times. It dies. So, the curse works. But, how long does it last? Hopefully, long enough to get me where I’m going.
I move through New Londo again, this time killing every ghost as it appears. I recover my body. I look through the windows at the vast chamber below. What was it, before the flood? The city’s main hall, where they held public meetings? Or maybe a place for performances? It’s difficult to tell, when most of it is still under water. There are a few clay pots up here, and I break them, just to be sure. I find nothing.
I take the spiralling stairs down. A ghost comes out of the ceiling at me. I attack it with my pike, but nothing happens. The curse must have run out. I run back up the stairs, but the ghost follows me through the floor. I jump down the stairs again, back down to the lower level. Ahead of me, at the edge of the crumbling walkway, is loot body. I run to it and recover a parrying dagger. Another ghost comes out of the wall at me. I run back, then turn left, passing underneath the balcony room, then around that corner, to the doorway of white light.
I only have 3 more curses, and if they run out so quickly then I’ll need to gather as many ghosts up as I can, and fight them all at once. At least that’s what all my time playing Pac-Man has taught me.
Through the door, and up some more stone steps. I’m on a narrow, elevated walking path of some sort, defined on each side by thin stone pillars. The path is so narrow that I can’t imagine it being used for regular foot traffic. Was this a path exclusive to the elites of New Londo, allowing them to move around above the heads of the average citizens, to get where they wanted to go without having to interact with the plebs? Or maybe it was more practical, a means for access to the upper levels of buildings in case of floods. But why build a city in a place that would be prone to flooding in the first place?
I am momentarily free from ghostly pursuit, so I use another curse. I go back down the stairs and kill the two ghosts that had been chasing me. I return to the elevated path and kill another ghost that’s floating about. I see a ladder leading down, underneath the pillared paths. I kick it down, then slide to the bottom, where I weave between the tall stone arches, getting perilously close to the deadly water every time I edge around them, the stones only barely wide enough for me to place my feet next to each other. Good thing the water levels down here have been fairly consistent all these years, so that the stone is nice and dry. If it was slippery with old algae it would be way too unsafe to risk. In between the arches, nestled into the little spaces like old statues, or stranded cats, are a couple of ghosts. I kill them. After killing the second one, I get stuck against a corner, then fall into the water. I sink to the bottom. I am dead.
I am down to 2 curses. I’ve made progress, first by finding out where the ghosts are, and then by finding how to kill them. Two more long strides further into the unknown, where I can shine my light. Maybe I only need 2 more curses. Could be that each ghost I kill while cursed is a ghost I never have to see again. That would make things simpler.
Of course, the ghosts are back. Every single one of them is haunting the same spot as last time. Oh well.
I rethink my situation. I spent 2 curses to get to where I did last time, and granted I died before the 2nd curse ran out, but that’s still about a curse and a half just to recover my body, and I have no idea how much further I need to go. I had hoped that passing through the white light would have been the end of the ghosts, but it wasn’t. And I’m still in my exploring phase, so there’s every chance I’ll die again without a ghost being involved, or spend so much time looking around that my curses will run out, halting my progress again.
I decide that I need to do more scouting before I commit my even more limited resources to another battle. I need to have a better idea of my ultimate objective.
I run past the ghosts again, all the way to the elevated walkway. I don’t even bother to claim my body. I keep running. I hear the ghosts snick-snicking their jagged limbs against the stones around me as I run. I take a small breather to drink from my Estus flask, and then run some more.
On the other side of the elevated walkway is another set of stairs, leading back down, and into another building. I enter. There are clay pots in this small room. Ghosts come out of the walls from every angle, smashing the pots in their desperation to get at me. Do they sense my warmth? I see a door. I go through, and find something new: another ghost, in the middle of this room, clutching a tiny ghost baby in her hands. When she sees me, she screams, as if I’m the one around here who doesn’t belong. Ghosts start piling in from every direction. I die.
Have I found the answer to my ghost problem? Is that momma ghost an instigator, or maybe like the necromancers back in the Catacombs? I decide to spend another curse in an attempt to kill it.
It does not go well. I get back to the building, and there are no ghosts around, so I use my 2nd last curse. I enter the building, slowly. No ghosts yet. I charge into the room with the momma ghost, hoping to kill it before reinforcements arrive. Suddenly, there are ghosts everywhere. There are too many for me to defend myself against, and no escape available. The momma ghost starts to back away from me. I turn around, propping my shield up between me and the bulk of the attacking ghosts. They smash through my defences, and bowl into me, cutting deeply. I die.
I have only a single curse left.
On my way out of Firelink, I notice that the golden knight is gone. That’s odd. Wonder where he went?
I return to the building with the momma ghost. Reluctantly, I pull out my final curse, and use it. I enter the building, and find the momma ghost.
The momma ghost sees me, and screams, which is expected. I attack it. I do no damage. What happened? Did the scream somehow uncurse me? That makes no sense. Maybe it double-cursed me, which undid the curse I had? Like in Mortal Kombat when Sub-Zero tries to freeze an already frozen target. But I can still block when the ghosts come for me. Not that it does me much good, and I die anyway.
Well, now what?
Is my expedition into the ruins of New Londo over? Does it end like that, with a sudden, leaden, thud? With the kind of anticlimactic mystery that will haunt me with a subtlety that no ghost could ever manage?
No, I decide. The only one who gets to write the twist endings around here is me, and the only twist I write is the no-twist twist, where the hero wins anyway.
The golden knight is back, but has nothing new to say. He’s not really a concern right now.
Somewhere in New Londo there has to be another body with some more curses, and I’ll find it.
It doesn’t even take that long: while trying to get to the elevated walkways, I find the door blocked by a ghost. So I keep going, and turn a corner in the large town hall that I hadn’t seen before. There’s another momma ghost, hovering over a dead body. I run up to her, and while she screams at me, I loot the corpse. I gain 2 more curses. I run outside, to the top of the walkway. Out there, I am relatively safe, and I use a curse.
I return to the hall, and I kill every ghost inside, starting with the momma ghost.
I go back outside, then down the metal ladder. I kill the ghosts under the walkway, and search the area, hoping to find more curses. But there is nothing down there at all, which is very odd. Why have a ladder down to an area if there’s no reason to go down there?
I look down, into the water covering New Londo, and see the faint impression of the streets below. I see a body, limbs splayed out like a grotesque starfish, resting on some stairs.
I think about what I see there, and the town hall, and the ghosts that come up at me from the water. I imagine New Londo, built underground, built near enough water that a flood was possible. Was it an accident? Was it sabotage? Planned or not, there exists the possibility that the water could be drained. Surely this entire city wasn’t built underground, with the only entrance being a single elevator down from the Firelink Shrine. No, a shrine is a place that people from New Londo might choose to visit, might bring their dead for burial. Undead Burg is up there as well, but I don’t believe that I’ve found the main entrance into New Londo.
I take the elevated walkway to the other building, and this time, when the ghosts start to come for me, I run out of the building and back up the stairs. Ghosts can move through walls, so there’s no reason I should fight them in a place where they get that advantage. I drag them out into the open, where they’re just as vulnerable as I am. I kill a large group of them, and when I see no more are on the way, I return to the building and go after the momma ghost.
Unfortunately, it has other ideas. I screams again, and then lifts its little ghost baby, clutching it at arm’s length, and starts shooting a stream of lightning at me. I block the attack, but can’t get away before it wears down my guard, and then my life. I die.
Last curse again.
Do I even bother returning to that building, or killing that momma ghost? I’ve been in there a few times now, and I didn’t see anything. Killing the momma ghost doesn’t stop the other ghosts, either. I decide to check elsewhere for now.
The stairs running down the side of that 2nd building have broken away just below the entrance into the momma ghost’s floor. After a gap, the stairs continue downward, then, at the top of a narrow tower, there is a body with another item. More curses?
I back up far enough to get a running start, then leap across the broken steps. I land at the bottom of the stairs, rolling. Ghosts start coming for me, up from the water, and out of the walls. I run to the item. It’s not a curse. It’s a Green Titanite Shard.
I look around. In front of me are more stairs, going around the back of building, and eventually leading to a ledge built into the side of the city’s outer wall. I can see another body in the corner at the top of the next flight of stairs. I run toward it. Ghosts attack me through the building’s stone walls. I loot the corpse. It’s only another Undead Soul. I have to keep running. I make it to the ledge, where the path splits. On my right is elevated, open space. It does not seem safe. On my left is the entrance to a tower, where I can see winding stairs. I go left.
This is another elevator room, though the elevator itself is deep under the floodwater. The ghosts don’t seem to have followed me here. I take the time to look around. At the top of the tower is a balcony. I find a body with a composite bow and some arrows. I step onto the ledge and realize that I’m looking down into the Valley of Drakes. I can see where I came down from the Darkroot Basin, and below me is the bridge and the small gang of blue drakes that I saw before.
I remember the gate I saw when I was down there. That means that directly below me is the way out to the Valley of Drakes. I go back down the stairs. There is a switch for the elevator, but it doesn’t work. Probably won’t work until I get rid of the water. I see a metal gate, and behind it is a huge wheel.
I see it in my mind: turning the wheel, which would open the huge floodgate, spilling the water below out into the Valley of Drakes, washing over the stupid lizards, drowning them even as it tumbles them over the cliff.
But the gate between me and the wheel is locked.
I have to find the key.
I leave the tower. I take the stairs to the upper ledge. There is a body at the far end of the ledge, where the wall turns. I run to it, but find only a single Humanity.
From up here I see that I can drop down to the roof of the building with the momma ghost. Before I do, though, I also realize that I’m not alone down here. On the top of the building is the figure, form made indistinct by a heavy robe, but it still looks human. Friend or foe?
I drop down from the ledge, and as soon as my feet touch the roof of the building a ghosts materializes in front of me. There is another item corpse on this roof, at the far corner. I run past the ghost, and pick up the item. It’s a Rare Ring of Sacrifice. No time to see what it does; the ghosts are coming for me. I run around the roof. There are openings where I can fall through into the building’s interior. I round another corner, still fleeing from the ghosts. I’ve seen every part of this roof now, and there’s nothing else to pick up. I drop through the nearest opening. I land in a crash, as clay pots break under my feet. I’m still being chased by the ghosts, and there are more joining them. I have to keep going. I run into another room, then turn a corner. There is a loot body in front of me, propped up against a ragged hole in the stone wall. I pick up the item. Another Undead Soul. Where are the curses? I drop through the hole in the wall, landing near the bottom of some stairs. Up or down? The ghosts are coming from above, so I’m going down. All I see are empty corridors. All I hear are ghosts who want to kill me. I turn corners. I’m totally lost now. Finally, I see a door, leading out. I exit the building.
And almost fall into the water. I stop myself at the last second. I’m standing on a tiny artificial peninsula. There is body to loot. I pick up a Cursebite Ring. I’ve come to the end of my run. The ghosts surround me, and the only other place I can go is over the edge, into the water where I’ll die anyway.
After I respawn, I decide to run the course one more time, just to be sure. I follow the same general route, take mostly the same turns, and end up at the same dead end. There’s nowhere else to go unless I kill the ghosts, including the momma ghost.
I run laps around the top of the building, circling the roof over and over, under the watching eyes of the robed figure.
Once I’m sure I’ve attracted the attention of every ghost in the vicinity, including the momma ghost, I use my final curse. I draw every single ghost out, and I stab them through with my pike. While fighting, I notice that the ghosts have a pretty small hurtboxes (the area of their bodies that can be hit), and realize that the reason I’d thought I’d lost my curse last time I fought the momma ghost was simply because I was hitting it in the wrong spots. If a ghost floats a few extra centimetres above me then my pike will pass right through it, doing no damage. In fact, because the angle of my heavy thrusts is so low, they can’t even hit the ghosts at all.
I destroy every ghost flying around the top of the building, then drop down inside and explore the rest. I find 3 more ghosts hiding in the walls near the bottom, where I’d died before. I kill them, and the last one leaves behind 2 more curses. That’s nice.
I take a moment to examine some of my loot. The Rare Ring of Sacrifice is just like my Ring of Sacrifice, in that it will break when I die, but let me keep my Souls and Humanity, except that it will also remove any curses I’m suffering from. The Cursebite Ring just adds additional curse resistance. Neither are what I need right now, when all I want to do is figure out how to be cursed longer, so I can keep fighting the ghosts.
I search the building, but find no other items. There is no key in here. I then look for a way onto the roof where the robed figure is standing.
In the room where the momma ghost was, I hear my feet crunching over scattered human bones. Besides the guy in the robe, and the few dead bodies around–which were probably left by adventurers–these bones are the only sign that New Londo was once occupied. What was this building, and what specifically went on in this room? Is this where the last people in New Londo gathered, after the flood? Were they stranded here, or just unwilling to leave? Was it a family? Is that why I find the momma ghost haunting it? Were their lasts days spent huddled in the dark, hearing the rushing water, and then not hearing the water at all when it had calmed? Did they then hear the moans the citizens who had died under the water, as they abandoned their waterlogged corpses and began their endless haunting? In their last hours, before the cold or their hunger, or maybe even their thirst (would they have tried to drink that water?) killed them, what were their thoughts? Fear. Sorrow. Acceptance. Regret? Are these bones the last remains of more innocent victims, or an indication that everyone gets what they deserve in the end?
At the back of this room is a large fireplace, and I find a ladder climbing to the roof.
I step off, onto the roof with the robed figure.
I approach slowly, cautiously. This doesn’t seem like a boss fight, but I’m still not sure about the danger. Whoever this was, they’ve been watching me fight, and be killed by, the ghosts around New Londo since I got here. He’d better have some answers.
He calls himself Ingmar, and turns out to be quite pleasant. He offers to sell me more curses. I buy a few, so that I’m no longer in any danger of running low. He then explains to me the history of New Londo, and I begin to see the problem I’m having.
He says that he is the Guardian of the Seal, and that he watches over the Four Kings and the Darkwraiths. The Darkwraiths were somehow birthed in New Londo, and were such a terrible force that the entire city had to be destroyed in order to stop them. That explains the flood, and that it wasn’t an accident. I can see from up here that my idea about the floodgate to the Valley of Drakes was sound.
The gate was shut, tighter than ever before, and New Londo was flooded. I assume that was after it had already been magically sealed. The flooding must be the secondary line of defence, to stop others from even getting to the magical seals. I can imagine the people who left their bones in the room below. Might they have been not just the last ones alive in New Londo, but also the ones who had to do what needed to be done? Perhaps they weren’t stranded at all, but chose to end their own lives, bringing the secrets of New Londo to their graves. Maybe they still haunt this place not only because of the influence of the Darkwraiths, but also because they still have something they’re trying to protect. The wooden bridges leading back into the city could have been built much later.
My problem is that Ingmar is the Guardian of the Seal, and though he seems like a nice guy, I doubt he’d be willing to help me if I told him the only thing I have to do in New Londo is reverse the flood, and probably break open very seals he is guardianing. It’s a moot point right now, anyway, since I have no key with which to open the locked gate. Maybe the only reason he’s being friendly is because he knows I’m no threat.
Now that I have more curses, I clear out the rest of New Londo, just in case I’ve missed something. I eventually find a narrow bridge across the water that gets me to the item I saw when I first entered the city. It’s another Firekeeper Soul.
One of the ghosts I kill drops a Jagged Ghost Blade, which I can use to kill ghosts even when I’m not cursed. It’s not very practical, though. It has short range, and I still wouldn’t be able to defend myself, since I need to be cursed in order to use my shield against ghosts.
Finally, I also figure out how to tell when a curse runs out. Previously, I’d been relying on just checking the curse item in my inventory. I couldn’t use it again while I was still cursed, so as soon as it stopped being greyed-out I knew that I was no longer cursed. Now I see that there is actually a subtle glowing mist effect. The problem is that I was wearing the Wolf Ring, which already has a glow effect. So, when I cursed myself I was just replacing faint one glow with another, and in the dim light of New Londo, while I was being chased around by gangs of ghosts like I was a member of Mystery Incorporated, I didn’t notice the change.
I have exhausted my options in New Londo. I even think I figured out the purpose of the ladder I kicked down, since there was no item at the bottom, and the water around was too deep to fall into. It was a shortcut I could use to get back out of New Londo in a hurry, bypassing the main hall by just jumping across a short gap to the flooded roof and the wooden bridges that lead back to the elevator.
Reluctantly, I leave New Londo. I wonder where else I can go. I want to find the key, or at least some way to open to floodgate. Then, I consider the other side of the gate, in the Valley of Drakes. Maybe there’s something down there. Can’t hurt to check.
Valley of Drakes
This time, instead of heading into the cave, I edge along the cliffs, in the direction of the drakes. I cross the tiny plank bridge, then find a long rope bridge.
On the other side I find the huge, gnarled corpse of a black dragon. Nestled between it’s head and front claws are a pair of dead bodies, each with an item to loot.
I have never seen a more obvious trap in my life.
Sure enough, as soon as I grab the items, the dragon bursts into life. It pushes itself up with its claws, and spewing gushing waves of toxic bile over me. Literally toxic, too, since standing in it for too long causes a toxic debuff, which rapidly drains my HP. Fortunately, all the time I spent in the Darkroot Garden has me well equipped to deal with poisons, and I have the correct moss on hand to cure myself.
The black dragon clings both to the edge of the cliff, and its very life, with a tight, but unsustainable, grip. In this precarious position it can manage little in the way off offence, and is unable to chase me around. I see that there is a small ridge running along the cliff here, and I could climb it and probably jump past the dragon and keep going. I have already picked up the items, so why bother with the danger?
I bother because any chance to kill a dragon is a chance I will take. This beast is not a challenge, nor is it a threat. It is an abomination that needs to be destroyed. I’d previously thought that the only good dragon was a dead dragon, but apparently even that isn’t enough.
I watch it for a bit, and try to fight it. Hitting it in the head is difficult, so I aim for its claws. When I get close, it tries to swipe at me. I block the swipe, but take a huge amount of damage anyway. I retreat back around the cliff, where it can’t reach me, and use my prayers to heal back up. I try fighting it again. It swipes at me again, and I block. I take just as much damage as last time. Apparently, those attacks cannot be blocked.
I heal again, and then decide that if we’re going to go blow for blow, I’m going to use the best weapon I have for that. I pull out my club and hold it in both hands. No point in using a shield if I won’t do anything.
I find a place near its right claw where I can get out of range when it tries to puke on me, then take a flying swing at it, then back off again. Eventually, it dies. It’s satisfying. I guess I really am going to kill every other dragon or drake in Lordran before I can get to the one I want. I remember the feelings I had, how I wanted to kill it so badly. I don’t want to kill it any less now, but at the time killing that dragon was the only goal I had. I have other goals now, and I know that dragon will always be there. Someday soon I will get my revenge.
I check my loot. I have Astora’s Straight Sword, which appears to be a normal long sword that has been imbued with magic, like a Divine weapon. I have little interest in using it, and couldn’t do it very well if I wanted to, as it has an intelligence requirement of 14. I also find a Dragon Crest Shield, which has low magic defence, but high defence against fire. It’s nice and all, but I already have the Black Knight Shield, which has even better fire defence, and better stats in general, even if it weighs a little more.
I continue down the valley. I can see my destination from up here. A huge, empty space, enclosed between sheer rock walls. I feel the wind being channelled through, can hear it as angry rushing in my ears. I don’t look down. I have eyes only for the drakes in between me and where I’m going.
Further along, I am forced to face off against a drake in the confined space of the cliff itself. I switch to my Black Knight Shield, as it has better resistance against the lighting blasts these drakes shoot out. Eventually, I put the drake down, after finally breaking through its thick scales. The most dangerous part of the fight turns out to be unintentional, as I am in constant danger of being swept off the cliff by the drake’s tail every time it spins around to face me.
There is a small cave in the mountain. Inside is a body. I pick up a Humanity. How long has it been here? Did this man crawl into this cave to hide from the drakes? Or did he die here long ago, and the drake was just trying to get to him. It seems more likely that he was hiding, otherwise why not leave? I imagine him huddled in there, just far enough away that the drake couldn’t reach him. Maybe he hoped to wait it out, thinking that the drake would eventually leave him alone. Only, when the drake realized it couldn’t reach its prey with its jaws, it would have opened its mouth and breathed out those long, crackling blasts of lightning. There would be no escape in that narrow cave. How long did his body lay there, twitching with electrically charged muscle spasms, even after the man had died? Maybe the drake only stopped, only realized his prey was dead, when the last echo of the man’s screams had left the valley for good.
I move on.
I reach the bottom of the cliff path, where I came down from Darkroot Basin. I begin fighting the drake there, but it hops into the air and flies off the cliff. A second later, it drops into the endless space below, and dies.
I’m close enough to Darkroot Basin now that it makes more sense to use that bonfire instead of the Firelink Shrine. I take my Souls up the elevator, and in the safety of the cave above I purchase a point of dexterity. Need that spear damage.
I descend once more into the Valley of Drakes, and I do battle with the first drake. It jumps off the cliff again. Maybe word of my dragon killing has been spreading?
Onto the bridge now. I draw the next drake out, and after a lot of work, I kill it. As with the drake on the narrow cliff, I am in constant danger of being swept into the void below. It’s uncomfortable. Now there are only the 3 drakes on the other side to worry about. I loot the body on the bridge and pick up a set of brigand armour, which is light, but offers little in the way of defence or poise, and a spider shield, which has an enchantment against poison.
Standing next to the loot body, I attract the attention of the nearest drake. It moves toward me. I back up. This looks great. If I can draw them out one by one, I should have no trouble getting through.
However, the drake will only follow me so far. I have to fight it on the bridge, and, as I knew would happen eventually, it spins around and knocks me into the void with its tail. Dragons suck even when they’re not trying.
I’ve got places to be, so I’m not interested in the time it will take to kill 5 drakes, especially if I constantly have to worry about being knocked off a bridge. I’m not even there for them.
I kill the first drake again, then run across the bridge, past the drake there, and through the 3 on the other side. I get to the massive gate separating the Valley of Drakes from the lake’s worth of water in New Londo. Of course I can’t open it, but it was worth a shot. The drakes around me are starting to spew lightning in my direction. I turn and run along the nearest wall. There has to be something else here. I round the corner and see it: there’s a rope ladder going up the old stone tower. I grab onto the bottom rung and climb for my life. I pull my legs up just in time to keep from being electrocuted.
At the top of the tower I am handed fresh hope, only to immediately have it leap from my arms like an angry cat.
There is a dead body with an item, but also a prominent metal fixture. Maybe this is another switch to operate the gate. But, no; it’s only an anchor for the rope bridge. I loot the body. I find a Red Tearstone Ring. Raises attack power when my HP is low. Meh.
Below me, the drakes cry their frustration, and hop about in their anger, shooting lighting in random directions. Too bad they don’t seem to be able to hurt each other. After a while, they settle down again, though one stays at the bottom of the rope ladder, apparently aware that I can’t fly. I can see the shimmer of the dim light of the valley against the puddles of water where the drakes stand. It’s right outside the floodgate, as if, after all of these years, rust and wear has caused the smallest of cracks to let out drops of water. Maybe this is like a watering hole for drakes. They come here to lap up the water as it trickles out. Do they prefer this over other sources because it still carries the taste of the dead and all of their misery?
It’s not as if I needed more proof, but I think this is the final confirmation of the obstacle in my way, and how I should be dealing with it. My problem is still that I need a key. You wouldn’t think it would be much of an issue, since I have plenty of good metal I could be using to pry rusted old iron away from old stone, but I guess in Lordran they built things to last.
I slide down the ladder, landing on the drake’s head. It grumbles and stumbles back. I don’t bother to do anything but run. I get all the way back to the entrance into New Londo, and then pause. There’s still that cave. If I’m looking for a key to a gate in New Londo, and the key isn’t actually in New Londo, it seems logical that I’d head over to the neighbour’s place and ask them if they have a copy. The drakes didn’t, but maybe those dung hulks do.
I enter the cave, and remember how I was once so intimidated by the monsters inside, and the damage they did. Now I’m the one with the big club, not that I’ll need it.
Even back then, when I was a weakling, the dung hulks were a threat that was more potential than practical, but now that I am not as weak, they are nothing. I walk over them with ease, pausing only as long as it takes to push my pike through each of them.
Past the dung hulks is the entrance to Blighttown. Crude structures of wood are built directly into the side of, what, the cave? No, it’s more than that. I step into open air, but not open air like the cavern of New Londo. This is fresher. I see massive roots poking down, like stalactites. I look out and realize that I must be standing underneath Lordran itself, at the top of a weird town built against the island. Who would build this, and why?
Every step I take is done with the acute knowledge of exactly what I’m standing on, and where it’s located. Nothing is solid enough for my tastes. Every gap in the floorboards is a sign of poor workmanship that calls the integrity of the entire structure into question. I keep moving, with my eyes fixed at steady, solid points ahead. I can see some vases and bodies. I find one that is holding a key.
A key to New Londo.
It seems that I’ve run into a dead end. I look over the short wall in front of me and see . . . something. There is an organic growth on the wall, at least the size of a man. A trio of feelers stick out of one end. I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at, but I am sure that I don’t like it very much.
I find a ladder leading down, to another wooden platform with too many holes. There is a bug down there, the size of a large dog. It shoots fire at me. I kill it.
I’ve had my fill of this place. I have a key, and I’m leaving.
New Londo Ruins
There is this idea in loot-based action-RPGs like Diablo that, even if players are pretty sure about the items they’ve found, there is still a special thrill involved in the unwrapping, or identifying, as the case may be. I enjoy surprises, even silly ones. Nobody in my family feels the same way, which makes birthdays a bit of a pain. My sister will just tell me what she’s getting me as a gift, long before she gives it to me. I don’t really care what I get, and never have, but I’d like it to be a surprise. I like surprising others as well, but they treat their own gifts with even less care than mine, and will ask me what I’m getting them before I’ve even decided. Sad to say, but I’ve mostly capitulated, and I often just get them what they ask for, even when I’d much rather spend the time to get something interesting, something that will surprise them. I learned that lesson when I spent days looking for a cool bag for my sister, only to have her say she liked it, and then never, ever use it. Maybe it didn’t match anything in her wardrobe, but I got it because I thought it was neat. So, yeah, I like to surprise people, but I’m kind of clueless. These days, I’ve found my own compromise, by combining my gift giving with my love for another nearly forgotten time waster, the mixtape (or mix CD). So, I’ll give someone the gift they were expecting, but also give them a mix CD (with crappy hand-drawn custom art and everything). A couple of years back I gave everyone in my family a double mix CD of important song and albums from the last decade. I spent the best part of an afternoon and most of a night working on all the custom art, carefully folding and tearing paper so it would fit into the jewel cases, and then writing out the track lists in my terrible, left-handed scrawl, which always cramps my hand up. I’m pretty sure nobody listened to any of the CDs. I don’t regret a moment of it.
Oh, right. The key. What I mean to say, is that I’m pretty stupid when it comes to surprises. It’s a double-edged sword, since I’m easily able to avoid spoilers (which is how I’m managing to play Dark Souls blind to begin with). I am able to just not look at things that I probably should be looking at, and it can be great when the surprise is good, but it’s often just a big waste of time. So, instead of looking at the key in my inventory and finding out what it was for, I just decided that a New Londo key had to be the exact key I wanted, even if it was sitting in a barrel at the edge of a town full of weird creepy-crawlies, and I exerted absolutely no effort to acquire it.
I went all the way through New Londo again, cursing myself and killing the ghosts, just so I could get to the locked gate and be told that it was still locked. Only then did I look at the Schrodinger’s key. It opened the entrance between Valley of Drakes and New Londo. Perfect.
I start to think about all that I’ve seen today, and put the pieces together in my mind. I realize that my use of the Master Key has altered my perception of how certain areas in the game intersect. I think I can see the expected sequence now. Undead Burg, then into Darkroot Garden, where I found the key that opened to door back into Undead Burg, where I killed Havel. From Darkroot Basin into Valley of Drakes. That makes more sense: if I’d entered through that route to begin with, I would have actually seen the drakes the valley was named for, instead of the dung hulks, and I’d have had the items needed to cleanse myself of the black dragon’s toxic breath attacks. I would also have seen the massive floodgate keeping New Londo under water. Then, up the valley. I’d fight the black dragon. I’d enter Blighttown, and I’d find the key that unlocked my way into New Londo, where I would be able to get to the Firelink Shrine. If I went to New Londo then, I might have already known that my goal was to open the floodgate. Maybe I’d have gone through Blighttown first, though, and maybe I’d have the key I needed. That kind of makes sense. Even if I went to New Londo first, I’d still know about Blighttown, and that still seems like the most logical place to go if I want to find a key needed in the next area.
I sigh inwardly. Nothing in Lordran is ever direct. If it was, I might have killed that dragon already, or not ended up in the Catacombs, and I could be taking a nap somewhere instead of chasing phantom keys through god knows what.
I return to the Firelink Shrine. The golden knight is gone. The jerk at the bonfire has nothing to say. I just want to close my eyes and pretend I spent today doing something useful. I want to close my eyes and pretend that I’ll spend tomorrow eating ice cream and reading a good book. But I know the truth: tomorrow I’ll be wading hip-deep through giant bugs, and, if I’m really lucky, I’ll then get to take a long, lonely walk through empty streets of a city that died just to keep me out.