What is Hell? Is it other people? Is it where good intentions lead? Is it the place where the cool guys end up?
Hell is many things to many people, but for me it is a big, fat, demon-infested, waste of time.
I’m sitting at a bonfire. Above me is the lair of the late Demon Witch Quelaag and a bell that opened the passage into Sen’s Fortress. Blighttown is also up there, and so is a dragon I would love to kill. There are a million things I could–and probably should–be doing right now. Not to mention that when a game plays a cutscene of a gate being opened half way across the world, I get a pretty good idea that I’m supposed to be headed in that direction.
However, I have made my mind up. I’m not getting turned around anymore. I want to finish what I start, and Sen’s Fortress has been closed up for long enough that I’m pretty sure it’s not going anywhere.
I leave the bonfire. I walk past the poor egg-bearers. Most of them keep their heads down, so focused on their ow misery that they don’t notice me. A few crawl after me, but not very far. I ignore all of them. My eyes are only for the world I’ve entered, a world of hot stone and raw magma.
How big is this place? How long will it take for me to explore it, so that I can return to my real tasks.
I stand at the edge of an earthen ramp. It runs a lazy spiral down into a lake of molten rock, and ends abruptly there. I don’t see anything down there, so it’s an odd sort of dead end. But, then again, everywhere I go lately is an odd sort of dead-end.
In the distance, mostly hidden behind a tower of baked dirt, I see what looks like tentacles waving around. Really big tentacles, orange with heat. That looks like a likely place to go.
I follow the sloping path. On my left the cavern opens up. I can see roots poking through the hard clay above. They grow them big in Lordran. Below, a vast metal disc. Below, in front of, above–it’s too big. The scale of it throws off the senses, so that the longer I look, the closer it seems. It’s as if my mind won’t admit the engineering required. Who? How? Why? It’s so big that it has a horizon. Is it an anchor for what is above? Or, as all the roots around suggest, a giant ornamental plant pot.
I turn away. Thinking about all the places I might have to go is getting me nowhere. I need to concentrate on where I actually am.
I can hear the hum of power in this place, vast and geological. I find a bridge. While crossing, I look down at the depths below. These Demon Ruins, are they ruins of temples built for demons, or by demons?
At the bottom of the bridge is an artificial platform. Large and circular, with a raised spot in the middle. The entire thing looks a little too purposeful. I turn back and see that the bridge is actually a covered trough, elevated on the other side so that something could be poured down. A mould? A demonic paddling pool?
There is a doorway of light here as well.
I pass through.
I have encountered no enemies so far. I travel distance only for the sake of it, as if to reestablish scale after looking at the disc. Demon ruins should be big, after all.
I arrive at the pillar of packed earth I saw before. The path forks here, into a ledge near the lake of magma, and a small valley. Either branch leads to the same place: the tentacles.
I’m close enough now to see the form of them. They are not really tentacles at all, but long, segmented limbs. There is an exoskeleton, the suggestion of a giant invertebrate–a huge crab that had been flipped onto its back, with its legs twitching in the air.
I walk toward the thing, across ground empty of everything but heat cracks. It’s definitely alive. I walk right up to it. It doesn’t attack, doesn’t even notice me.
I am close enough now to see more than just the limbs. I see what they are attached to: a demon the size of a building. Though it faces my direction, there is no suggestion of sight from its scattering of glowing eyes. There is a haze about it, like energy being drawn away from the demon. It stands still in the lake of flowing rock, mouth half open, curved downward.
I would swear it was in pain. I see the demon’s body is not normal, if any demon can be described as normal. Its horns droop. They look as if they are half melted. It even has the hunched posture of a victim. Not at all the sort of behaviour I’d expect from a giant lava monster.
There is definitely something wrong here. More wrong than the demon itself. Something bad happened in this place. Whatever that is, whatever those limbs belong to, it is not the demon itself. It’s some sort of parasite.
The monster won’t react to my presence, and I can’t get close enough to hit it, even with my pike. Maybe I’ll just leave it alone, count myself lucky. It’s not every day a person has the chance to walk right up to a huge demon and then walk away without a scratch.
But I have this voice in my head. Most of the time it stays quiet, but there are times when it speaks up. It whispers to me when I am in situations that have elements of risk, but not necessarily danger. I spend a lot of time at heights, on roofs and ladders. This voice speaks to me then. It tells me that maybe I should, you know, just go for it. Why not jump? Not for any other reason than it’s something to do. It makes no sense, unless I actually have a secret death wish.
So, while I’m standing in front of this demon, wondering where I should go next, and what’s around the next corner, the voice in my head tells me that I should, you know, just go for it. Go for what?
“Throw something at it. You know you want to, and what’s the worse that could happen?”
I have a few throwing knives that I picked up somewhere. It’s unlikely that I will ever use them. I can target the demon. No, there’s no reason not to throw a knife at it.
There is no possible downside to this course of action.
The knife hits the demon with a meaty thunk. In an instant it goes from lulled stupor to raging action. It lurches around to face me, and the limbs go rigid, extending to their full range. They come crashing down at me. I roll away, and take a swing at them with my sword. I connect, and do damage. Next, it swings the limbs horizontally. I try to block, but can’t. I get swept aside, and nearly die. I get to my feet, and read the timing of its next attack wrong, dodging too early. The limbs crash down on me like the trunks of falling trees, crushing my body into the ground. I die.
I return and pick up my body. The monster is docile again. I think about whether or not it’s worth it for me to go another round. I only have 4 throwing knives left, after all.
On the other hand, 4 knives is 4 chances.
I throw another knife. This time, I stay further away, and when I take a hit I run back along the edge of the cliff, thinking I’m far enough away to use a healing spell. As I’m kneeling down to cast, the demon starts hobbling in my direction. The way it moves is odd, which, I realize, comes down to it having no arms. There are only suggestive lumps and the angles of its shoulders, as if it were wearing a straight jacket made of hardened flesh.
I’m not getting through this fight like that. I can’t block any of its attacks, either. They go right through my shield. Fine then, we’ll go blow-for-blow, as long as I have my extra Estus flasks. I put my shield away and clutch my sword in both hands. When it swings at me, I roll away. Sometimes I take the hit, sometimes I don’t. When I do, I come close to death, but not close enough to stop me. I swing at it, then chug from my flask.
This is the grim math of death. This is a battle of pain and attrition, and another test of wills.
When the battle ends, I am still standing, as I always am. As I always will be. Whatever that thing was, it may have conquered a demon, a being with more power than I’ll ever have, but not me. I am unbroken.
I would spit at its body as it falls away, but my mouth is dry. I have run through all of my extra Estus flasks, so from here on I’m down to 5 charges.
The lake of magma below begins to drain and harden. Looks like I’ve opened up a new path.
I get 30000 Souls and a Humanity.
There is an alter back here, past where the demon had been standing. I find a dead woman, and from her corpse I take a full set of gold-hemmed robes, which have exceptional fire and poison resistance. They will come in handy.
This paints the outlines of a strange, disturbing picture. These clothes, once worn by Quelana, who was the mother of pyromancy and a powerful witch. The demon and the parasite; was this a sacrifice made in an effort to gain control of the beast? If so, it didn’t work very well.
Just call me the Time Janitor of Lordran, here to clean up every mess these idiots have created over the years.
I put on the gold-hemmed robes. Even their physical defence stats are pretty good, though they are light and lack poise. Still, if I’m going to be walking through a lake of fire, and the swamp above, they should serve. I know their fire resistance is strong, because I can walk around this place with bare feet.
I return to the bonfire and spend my Souls. More strength and endurance.
I consider kindling this bonfire and going after the Fire Keeper’s Soul, but I think that can wait till after I’m done here.
I take the ramp down, the one that used to lead into the middle of the magma lake. There are still puddles of the stuff around here, but enough of it has hardened to make passage possible.
I find a dead body, loot a proud knight’s Soul. Did he come before the demon above, or after? There is a path leading further down, deeper into the ruins. A tall demon with a skull head and a pair of long bone swords stands guard. It swings wildly with the swords, and occasionally attacks with both blades at once, which I realize–through pain–makes the attack unblockable. I’ll have to be wary of that, as I’m running into a lot more enemies lately that bypass my shield.
I kill it, but before I take that path there is the matter of a rather large group of Taurus Demons standing around in the empty lake. Were they always down here, under the magma, or did they only show up when the lake went dry? If so, they shouldn’t have bothered, because I can see the twinkle of items behind them, and it will take a lot more than a dozen giant brutes with tree-trunk axes to stop me from getting what I want.
In a one on one fight, they don’t seem any stronger than the Taurus Demon I killed on the battlements above Undead Burg. As with that one, their most dangerous attacks are those that can knock me into hazards, like the magma pools. I can draw them out into a safe area and take them down. After a couple, I am killed by a casual swing of a great axe that sends me into the fire. When I respawn I see that the ones I’ve already killed haven’t returned. That makes it easy.
It only takes about 5 slashes with my sword to kill them, and before long I have cleared the area of all demons. One of them drops a Demon’s Greataxe, which requires a whopping 46 strength to use. Something to aim for, maybe?
The first body I find is on a small ridge above a magma puddle.
I figure that with my fire resistance the game must think I can make it, so I run at the body. I still take large chunks of damage every second I’m in the magma. I can’t make it over the hump, and I burn to death.
I return, pick up my body, which is outside of the magma, and this time I get a running start, hop over most of the magma, and just keep rolling until I get onto the safety of the rock. I nearly die anyway, but it’s good enough. All of that, and I only get another proud knight’s Soul.
The next body is even more daunting: it lays in the middle of the largest pool of magma. How it hasn’t burnt up is a mystery for the ages, but not one I’m interested in solving. The real mystery, for me, is how I’m supposed to get at it. Running to it is not a real option; the distance is too great. I will surely die before I reach it. Eventually I decide that there is no realistic way to get to the item and still get out safely. By now the game knows that I know I will respawn every time I die, so why not put in a few death traps? It’s a bit silly (what if I wasn’t Hollowed?), I think, but them’s the breaks.
I run, then jump as far as I can. I survive just long enough to get my hands on the item, then go up in a puff of smoke.
I claim a Chaos Flame Ember. More weapon upgrades, but this time for fire weapons, instead of magic damage weapons. I return and pick up my body, which is once again safe and outside of the magma itself. I can still smell my own charred flesh, which is not pleasant.
Time to move on. I kill the skull-headed demon. I am again annoyed by the way this game treats invulnerability frames: I can hack at the demon a few times, which will make it flinch, and that seems like a perfect opportunity to press my advantage, but it isn’t. Even though the demon is standing upright and totally open, if I swing my sword at it while it is staggered, my blade will go right through without doing damage. Now I have whiffed an attack, and my opponent has recovered, so all the advantage I gained has been thrown away. In fact, now I’m the one who is trying to recover from a disadvantaged position. This costs me a life, and another mistake costs me my accumulated Souls when I fall off a cliff.
Still, that’s no reason to quit. I kill the demon again, and now I can move on.
Below is a large temple built into the face of rock. There is a huge entrance blocked by a yellow light. I figure that’s my destination. Even with the oversized architecture of this place, which still throws off distances, I think that it’s not too far away. That’s a relief.
I’m following a ridge leading down onto a tiered structure directly opposite the temple. Like everything else here, it’s all flat stones, straight pillars, and simple arches. As I approach the top level, I hear a sound from below. The smashing of stone, and a low, organic rumble. I look down, and see something moving around where there had been only empty space a moment ago. Some sort of demonic worm has thrust its body through the stone wall in anticipation of my arrival. Maybe it can hear the vibration of my footfalls, recognizing them as something different from the heavy steps of demons. Does the thought of fresh human arouse it so much? Too bad, because the only thing I’ll be feeding it is the warm, demon-bloodied steel of my blade.
First, though I must fight my way through a bunch of the sword-wielding skull demons. I can see 4 of them, grouped in pairs. If they want to fight me two at a time that’s their business, but they should know it won’t improve their odds.
I cut through the first pair.
Then the next two, and a lone straggler that was hiding behind a pillar. From here I can get a better look at the worm below. I see what it is guarding, and it’s more than a dead body: there is a bonfire down there.
One of the weird, lumpy statues detaches itself from its pedestal and floats up at me as I’m taking the stairs down to the worm and the bonfire. It gets close and starts breathing fire, because of course it breathes fire. There is very little chance that it would ever hit me, though, as slow as it is. I smash it to bits.
I find another knight’s Soul. Seems this was a popular place for knights. I wonder how many more quests I am taking up with my trek through this ancient evil. How many of the demons I slay were sworn enemies? Or were these knights searching for something? I’ll find that, as well.
The worm puts up a fierce fight, smashing at me with its body, but not a very good one. As it is immobile, I have every opportunity to frustrate it, to pick out openings. Occasionally it spits streams of acid, but not very far. I move away from that. Eventually, like every other demon, I kill it. I find another proud knight’s Soul, and I light the bonfire.
This is the final approach. Between me and the yellow light is only a single Taurus Demon. And a bunch of those floaters, but they hardly count.
Before I can even reach the bottom of the steps, the Taurus Demon charges me, and a worm demon pops out of the ground at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me to get close.
I fight the Taurus Demon in the close quarters of the temple steps. Here, it doesn’t stand a chance. I do too much damage, and it has nowhere to knock me into. It’s basically butchery.
Next, I take on the worm demon.
I have to take this one head-on, which is more of a challenge. I learn this immediately, as it lunges toward me as soon as I’m in range and grabs me with its pincers, then tries to make a snack of my head. I struggle free, but still lose a lot of HP. I heal up and then kill the worm before it can try that again. It drops a Red Titanite Chunk.
The way to the yellow light is open now, but I’m not ready for it yet. To the left of the stairs is a cliff path running down to another terrace. A Taurus Demon guards the way. There has to be something good over there.
I fight the Taurus Demon, but I get knocked off the cliff and die. When I respawn, I see that the Taurus Demon guarding the yellow light is back. Even the worm demon at the bottom of the stairs comes out again. To get to whatever is on that terrace I will need to kill at least 3 Taurus Demons in a row. It had better be worth it.
I kill the first one on the stairs, then the one that had killed me last time. There is one more standing at the end of the cliff path. This is the narrowest space yet, and any wrong move is liable to send me flying to my death. I draw it out carefully, wait for it to attack, then charge in for a running slash, then back away again before it can retaliate. After a few of these, it dies, and I make it onto the stone terrace.
I can see a chest at the far end. There is nothing between me and the treasure. That’s how I know I’m in the most danger.
I take cautious steps forward, until the inevitable happens: a worm demon crashes through the ceiling and blocks my path.
This is the worst one yet. It just hangs there, without moving. I try to get close, to force it into an action that will give me an opening, but it will not budge. I have to make the first move, and as soon as I raise my sword, it lunges at me and starts trying to swallow me. I get free, and eventually kill it.
Again, there is nothing between me and the chest. What will pop out this time? Another Taurus Demon? Another worm? A worm and a Taurus Demon? Maybe 2 worms?
It’s worse than all of that. As I get closer to the chest, the ceiling bursts outward, raining stone and earth down on me. When the dust clears I see that it is not 1 worm, or 2 worms, or even 3 worms. It is 4 worms, 2 in front, and 2 behind.
I get munched again, and struggle free. I try to heal up, but there are 3 worms lunging at me, trying to pull me apart. I am grabbed again, and I die.
So, it’s 3 Taurus Demons and 5 huge demon worms. I notice the absence of dead knights here. I guess none of them ever made it this far. Or they were swallowed whole by the worms.
I adjust my armour; these enemies are using physical attacks, so it’s sensible to wear something besides the gold-hemmed robes. I put on some heavier pieces, to get my physical defence and poise up, but keep the gold-hemmed skirt, as it’s pretty light and still offers good physical defence.
I fight through the Taurus Demons again, and the single worm. Nothing left but the last 4 worms.
This time when they come at me, I’m ready. I roll away, past the worms that come out behind me. Now I’m behind them, so at least I only have to fight the worms in pairs.
But at this angle I’m presented with a new problem: they are bent so far away from me that I can’t hit their bodies unless I get very close, at which point the worm will violently thrust its head at me, taking away more than half my HP.
There is no way I can do this with my sword; I need more range. I take out my pike. After some painful experimenting, I find that I have a much better chance of hitting the worm if I approach from an angle, and at least then it can’t smash into me with its head. But having to get so close, even with the pike, which does very little damage, means that I’m regularly bathed in acid. Though I block it, apparently that doesn’t matter, and the acid washes over all of my equipment. Soon, I get a message saying that my weapon is nearly broken. Frantically, I switch back and forth between the pike,my sword, and even my club, but the message is still there, and none of them are that low. Finally, I check through the rest of my gear, and realize that it’s my talisman that has been damaged. It’s down to 10 durability, though it only had 50 to start with. I consider going back to the bonfire for repairs, but if I do so then all the monster spawns will reset. I’m out of healing spells anyway. I’ll leave it for now.
But I only have a single charge left on my Estus flask, and I’m not sure that’s enough to take down 4 worms. I think again about returning to the bonfire, thinking that if I lose my body here there is a good chance that I won’t be able to recover it.
No filthy goddamn worms, even giant demonic ones, are going to get me to back down.
I get to work with my pike. Again I am bothered by how its range is less than it should be; the tip is obviously hitting the worm’s belly, but not doing damage. Maybe it isn’t just the pike, maybe it’s also the worm, and the way it’s bent is warping its hurtbox. I find a wider angle to attack from, and have better results, even if I have to worry about the other worm attacking me as well. Finally, the first worm dies.
While it is falling away, the other worm spews acid at me. I have to block it, and my talisman breaks. I unequip it. I am sure it’s just the acid that it is doing this, as my talismans have never lost any durability before, no matter how many other attacks I block.
I stab at the worm, always from an angle. It spews acid, it jerks its body back and forth, but I stay safe. It dies.
Only 2 worms left, but I have to take them from the front.
Stupid as I am, I walk straight at the first one, and I get munched on. I get free, use my last Estus charge. I am running out of room for mistakes.
These worms are like the one I fought at the other end of the terrace: they will not move unless I attack, or get so close that they’re sure they can hit me.
I walk up, I wait. It does nothing. I wait some more. It does nothing. I wait some more. It does nothing. I poke at it with my pike.
It grabs me and tries to eat me.
I free myself, but now I have no more heals at all. Any hit I take now will kill me.
I attack from an angle again. This is only possible because one of the worms is slightly further ahead in the passage than the other. Because I’m not directly in front of the worm, it is forced to use its slower, more obvious area attacks. It can either slowly turn its body in a circle while spewing acid, or shake its body back and forth a few times. Finally, my pike’s range works out, and I find a distance I can attack from, while also dodging its attacks. I stab at it, over and over again, until it gives up on life and tumbles to the ground, dead.
I could probably run past the last worm and grab the loot from the chest, but I’m not going to. I will not give them that satisfaction. I will finish what I’ve started.
I have the measure of these creatures now, and in single combat I am confident I will come out ahead, even with no HP to spare. With so much free space, I am able to find the perfect range and angle so that I can attack it without it even being able to fight back. I take my time, working it over with satisfyingly chunky stabs into its face. I do little damage with each attack, but eventually it adds up. The final worm falls from the ceiling flops abo at my feet, and dies.
I open the chest. I find a Large Flame Ember. More upgrades for fire weapons. I had better be able to use these, and they had better make something good.
I return to the bonfire. It’s a good thing I bought a repair kit before coming down here. I fix all of the damage the acid has done to me gear, and I’m relieved that my broken talisman didn’t fall apart and disappear, but just went down to 0 durability. This is also the first time I’ve repaired any of my armour, as I usually switch to new pieces before they’re in any danger. It’s expensive!
I have enough Souls left over to purchase another point in strength.
I go down the stairs and kill the lone skull-headed demon who was standing over a body. Its last kill, I presume. I find a brave knight’s Soul. Did every knight on Lordran pass through this place at some point?
There is nothing left but the doorway of yellow light.
I walk up to it.
“Sealed by the Great Lord’s power.”
And that is what Hell is. It is a slog through a small army of demons, it is getting sprayed with acid and having my head chewed on by overgrown creepy-crawlies, it is being knocked into rivers of flowing magma, it is getting slapped around by a parasite so evil that it preys on demons, it is wading knee deep into certain, fiery death for the chance to pick up items I can’t even use, it is the endless blows my shield blocks from towering, club-swinging brutes, and it is the words, “Sealed by the Great Lord’s power,” when I get to the end.
Who is the Great Lord? A Great Lord, especially one with the power to seal off passages through demonic lairs, is most likely a god. I know of only one god in Lordran, and it is in Anor Londo, the land beyond Sen’s Fortress.
I should really learn how to take a hint.
I climb back up to the bonfire outside of Quelaag’s Domain, and stop. Where do I go next? Directly to Sen’s Fortress? Maybe I should finally clear Blighttown, or go after the murderer. Which one of those can I actually accomplish without being deflected again?
That will have to wait for tomorrow. I just want to curl into a ball, get lost in the soft prayers of the wretches around me, and forget today ever happened while I selfishly think about the only beings around here who have it worse than I do.