In his dreams the traveller relived the one night of his life that he wished he could forget.
The ride through the forest. The coach. The robbery. The man with the sword. Resistance. Arguments. Blades being drawn. Shouting. Yelling. Screaming.
Those details were always the same. The nightmare only really began when he started running. He could hear his pursuer crashing through the brush, getting closer. He knew he couldn’t escape.
Hours spent hiding in a tree like a rodent. Below, the man stalked the forest looking for another kill.
The traveller had heard about Hollowed, but he had never seen one. The change had been sudden and complete; one minute the man had been cowed by the traveller’s crossbow, he had returned to the coach to bring out his valuables. The next minute the man was shivering with feral rage. He hadn’t even been hurt, but something inside had broken, and he had let go of his Humanity. He killed everyone, and the crossbow was no longer any sort of deterrent. The traveller threatened, and then finally took the shot. His hands were shaking, and the bolt went wide. That’s when he started running. He didn’t know where he was going, but as long as it was away from those screams it was the right direction.
The nightmare always ended when the Hollowed finally looked up.
The traveller knew he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again. He considered talking to Sen, who was always awake, but that would only be trading the nightmare of the past with the waking nightmare of the present.
He put his boots on anyway and left his room. The old church was lit only by the faint light of the moon, and for once the city was silent. The citizens had lost the safety of numbers in the streets and most had decided that they were better off boarding up their windows and hiding in the dark. It wouldn’t be long now till that fresh horror dulled and more of them slipped into the Hollow void.
The traveller sat in the shrine of the old church, back against the wall, the moonlight casting a glow over the statue of the mother and child. He had seen the Hollowed eyes of a mother on the street, hands clutching the empty air against her chest as if she could hold onto the past, onto the baby that had been taken, dead, from her arms. Sen was now paying the soldiers to bring him such pitiful cases; he chained them up in the cages along with the already Hollowed, claiming that he wanted to find out what knowledge was retained when someone lost the last of their Humanity. The traveller thought that Sen–.
He heard a sound on his left, coming from the open church doorway: small, covert footsteps. The soft padding of bare feet against the hard stone.
The little girl stepped through the doorway into the shrine. Her hair was the colour of dirty snow.
She turned her head and looked right at him in the dark. The traveller saw the shadow of a smile. “Hello,” she said.
He knew better than to ask her what she was doing out of bed. “Hello,” he answered.
She sat down next to him to silently watch the statue. After a while, she fell asleep.
When dawn’s fingers began to tickle his eyes, the traveller came to. He should bring the girl back to her room.
He stood up and looked down at her. Her face was smooth and peaceful the way that only children can manage. Any feelings of well-being he felt were soon replaced by compounding horror as his eyes adjusted to the new light.
She was covered from foot to neck in blood. For the first moment he thought it might be hers, but she was in no pain, and there were no marks on her otherwise. Then there was the little knife held loosely in her right hand, also stained with red. Had she gone Hollowed? As far as he knew, the Hollowed did not sleep.
Her dress was tattered and torn, and he could see that in places her skin was covered in short, fine fur, and around her neck were tiny scales. She was not Hollowed, but she was not human, either. The traveller left her alone and returned to his room. Thankfully, he had arrived here with nothing, so he had little packing to do.
Painted World of Ariamis
I am standing on the rope bridge. On the bridge inside the painting. Which is surprising, sure, but I’m just as surprised that it’s so cold here. The painting is not in black and white, it’s just a painting of snow and darkness.
I remember the doll I picked up at the Undead Asylum, how it mentioned that the owner had been drawn into a painting.
I cross the rope bridge and start climbing a snow-covered hill. Almost immediately, I find a bunch of dead bodies impaled and frozen onto metal spikes. Not a great way to attract tourists, but that’s probably not much of an issue here.
I climb up the hill, past snow-dusted evergreens, past more frozen, spiked bodies, groups of crows and lonely torches. At the top I find a broken-down keep.
I pass through the open entrance and am immediately attacked by Hollowed, who are noticeably stronger than those that I have fought before. They’re still half-naked, skinny losers, though, and they go down without much of a fight.
There is a front gate here, but it’s locked up tight.
I climb some stairs onto the wall above the locked gate. There are more Hollowed up here, some with swords, some with bows, and some of a type that I’ve never seen before, with huge, weird growths all over their torsos. I kill one and it pops like a pimple, spewing poisonous bile all over me. It’s not enough for my poison meter to fill up, but it’s close. Another of the mutated Hollowed throws fireballs at me, and even with my Black Knight Shield’s high fire resistance I still take too much damage to keep blocking them, but they’re easy enough to avoid.
Inside one of the smaller buildings I find a pair of large, white rats, but like most of the rats I’ve found they would rather run away than fight.
At the top of another building I am attacked by a pair of half-man, half-crow jerks. I kill one, then another hops onto my shoulders and starts pecking at my eyes, but I throw it off and kill it as well. They drop souvenirs of reprisal, which are supposed to be the dried-out ears of the guilty, but I’m not sure what they’re actual use will be. On a nearby corpse I find a dried finger, which is just as mysterious.
From the top of a tower I can see that the rest of the keep is absolutely full up with the crow men hanging out on top of roofs, and the other buildings of the keep are infested with Hollowed. This place is much bigger on the inside than it looked from the bottom of the hill.
I’m wondering where the bonfire is.
I kill more of the mutated Hollowed, now keeping a healthy distance so that I can roll away when they die and avoid the poison.
I find a body hanging over the central courtyard. I can’t reach the item its holding, so I cut the rope and it drops down. There is a statue in the middle of that space, a mother clutching a child. The statue itself is surrounded by a base of odd, pinkish blobs. I wonder if they’re part of the statue or not.
On another dead body, the body of a lone man hiding in the rafters, I find an egg vermifuge, an item that removes parasitic eggs from the body. It mentions egg-bearers, saying that they make a choice to serve the Flame of Chaos. I wonder if that’s a reference to the mutated, fire-throwing Hollowed around here, or the tragic cripples hanging around near the Demon Ruins. The Demon Ruins seems more plausible, since that’s where I found the Chaos Flame ember. Either way, it seems like an unpleasant fate.
In a chest I find a set of painting guardian’s robes, the gear worn by the guys in white I had to get through to enter the painting. Is this a prison, or a refuge, and if it’s a refuge then why paint it to look so dreary? Unless the occupants were able to change it over time. In that case, what did it look like before it went to hell?
I find my way into the biggest tower in the keep, and while climbing some narrow, spiralling stairs I am attacked by more crow men. While stabbing at one of them, we both fall over the edge, and we land at a heap on the cold stone floor far below, dead. You’d think that a guy who is 30% wings could have flapped his way to safety, but nope.
I respawn back at the rope bridge, and this time when I climb to the top of the hill I notice that there’s a bonfire outside the entrance to the keep. Somehow, I missed it the first time.
I spend a Humanity to reverse my Hollowing, then return to the tower to pick up my body. I fight my way up the stairs again, this time without falling. All of the crow men who get in my way end up at the bottom of the tower, as cold and dead as the keep itself. At the top of the stairs I find another body holding a Red Sign Soapstone, which is an online item and therefore useless to me.
From up here I can see everything, including what’s ahead. It looks like I’ll be running into another zombified dragon.
I descend to the bottom of the tower where, along with all of the dead crow men, I find two doors. One is large and locked, the other is of the white light variety.
I take some other stairs, just looking for the way back out of the tower, and find myself on the bridge across from the dragon. It seems like the kind of enemy that would be guarding something pivotal, and I have plenty more of the keep to explore. I want to leave it for later, but the dragon is having none of that. It charges across the bridge at me, till it’s pressed itself as far forward as it can manage. I take cover behind a small wall.
I wait there for a bit, seeing what it will do, waiting for it to reveal its weaknesses. It has toxic breath like the dead dragon in the Valley of Drakes, but unlike that dragon’s breath, this stuff actually hurts. It’s too much damage to be able to stand in long enough to attack the dragon head-on. I need another, less direct, approach. I wait for the dragon to upchuck at my hiding spot, run down to where its claw is clutching at the edge of the bridge, and stab at it a few times, then run back to the wall before it can turn its head and breath down on me. With that figured out, the fight is easy. I go low, aiming for its claw, then when it turns to that spot I go high and attack its head. After a bit of that, the dragon is dead.
I recover a dragon scale, and on the bridge I find a warrior’s Soul and the Bloodcrest Shield, which has mediocre defences, but boosts poison and curse resistance.
The far end of the bridge is blocked off by something strange. My first thought is that there is somehow another dragon back there.
I get closer, but still can’t tell what it is, though it doesn’t attack me.
I climb back to the top of the tower stairs, where I think I’ll be able to get a better look at whatever it is, but even up there it’s just an oddly shaped lump.
I stab it a few times, and I get some nice, meaty sounds, but there’s no life bar and no damage numbers, not even anything I can target. I leave it alone.
Next, I go through the doorway of white light. On the other side is the main courtyard and the statue.
Before I can get any closer, the pink pincushion at the statue’s base comes alive, separating into individual fleshy blobs armed with spears and shields. It’s an ugly, mutated phalanx, but they’re stupid enough to break the most important rule of being a phalanx by losing formation so they can slime their way across the snow at me.
Their shields are tough, and occasionally they chuck javelins at me, but soon enough I’ve cleared most of them away.
After I kill the rest I’m alone in the courtyard except for the crows and the statue.
There is a small graveyard here, with more of the Hollowed on spikes. Who are the graves for, I wonder, and were they already here before this started? I find a Humanity in the body I cut down earlier.
While exploring the rest of the courtyard I start to find strange crates. Boxes big enough to hold a person, if they were crammed in right. Every one of them is empty. Were they where the infection started? Did something go wrong and they were trapped in the painting, only to end up infecting others with whatever this mutation is? I’ve never seen Hollowed like these anywhere else in Lordran. The question is, are the graves for those who were infected, or for those who wouldn’t turn?
There is an open building next to the statue, with rows of benches and a raised lectern. When the final pleas for order and sanity were made, this would be where they came from. Did the last sane man in the keep stand up there and tell the people there to leave whatever was locked away in those boxes alone, or did the first insane man tell them to pry the bars apart and set loose what was trapped inside?
There is a door behind the lectern, but it’s locked.
I push open some doors and find myself back near the bonfire. I’ve found the shortcut. A Hollowed holding a torch drops down onto me, and after I kill it I look up and see that there are more of them hanging on the walls, just like they did in Undead Burg. I guess that’s just something they like to do.
There is a part of the courtyard that widens out toward a cliff. Out there, past the buildings and walls, are more graves and more boxes, and more spiked corpses. I hear a sound like chanting as I walk to the edge of the cliff. Suddenly, a message comes onto my screen: Xanthous King Jeremiah is invading.
I turn around and see a red spirit with a big, weird hat and a spiked whip. He starts throwing fire around, so I take cover behind one of the boxes.
Once I’ve seen what he can do, I run out of cover and kill him. I gain 30000 Souls, a Humanity, and a notched whip, which is a lot like a normal whip except that it causes bleed damage.
I search through the rest of the graveyard and find an Acid Surge spell, which is a pyromancy magic that degrades weapons and armour, like the acid attacks of the worms int the Demon Ruins. I can’t see the use of it outside of trying to be a dick in PvP, so it’s of little use to me.
I find my way up to where the Hollowed I saw earlier were hanging from, and after killing them and cutting down another body I have nearly 90000 Souls and 4 Humanity, but I’m down to my last 2 flask charges. I return to the bonfire to rest, and spend my Souls on 2 points in strength and 1 point in endurance. I’m still going for 36 strength, as that seems to be the next major number for using some of the heavier weapons I’ve found.
Back at the statue the phalanx has respawned. They give out 500 Souls each, and are pretty easy to kill. I could see that they would be an excellent way of farming Souls, but I have no interest in doing that, so I ignore them. I run past and up some stairs, through a building, and find a ladder leading down into the ground. How much more is there to this keep?
I’m in the basement. Shafts of light break through the sagging stone ceiling, showing me that there are items in there, though I can be just as sure that they won’t be free.
I take a few steps deeper. A skeleton roller comes at me from the darkness. I take it off my shield, then kill it when it hits the wall.
I get greedy. I’m certain that there are more rollers in there, but I imagine that I can either get to the items, or draw them all out and kill them at once. Four of them attack me at once, so that my guard is broken and I am killed instantly.
I return, pick up my corpse, and kill all of the rollers. I find a switch on one of the pillars.
I use it. A cutscene plays, showing that the statue in the courtyard above is rotating. It turns to face the closed door in the tower, which then opens.
I go back to the bonfire and reverse my Hollowing.
In the graveyard near the statue I find a well with a ladder.
At the bottom is a maze of rough caves. I find more skeleton rollers, which I kill, and some false walls. I get a brief scare when I break through one of them and find the basement on the other side, along with a pair of skeleton rollers, but I manage to kill them without too much issue. Other false walls reveal lone skeleton rollers, and a body with the Annex Key. That must unlock the door behind the lectern. There are stairs leading up into a small building, and inside is a lone mutated Hollowed, and when I kill it I find a Fire Surge spell, which is more pyromancy. This one has 80 uses as well, which is the most I’ve ever seen from a single spell by far. Must be some sort of flamethrower.
At the top of the well I find that the phalanx have crawled over to wait for me. I kill a couple to open up space, then run around the rest. I use the Annex Key to open the door behind the lectern. Inside that building I find a body from which I loot a set of black clerics robes, which are worn by confessors for the goddess Velma, like the man standing around at the top of the Undead Parish church. There is also a Vow of Silence spell, which prevents spell casting, and is probably also primarily for PvP.
In an open space at the rear I find the huddled, petrified form of a blacksmith, and from him I take a Dark Ember after killing some crow men.
I can now make occult weapons, which I assume is an alternate or improved upgrade path from divine weapons. They are supposed to be great for killing gods.
I then find a Velka’s rapier, which does magic damage and has a high intelligence damage gain. In an alternate reality it would look very attractive.
I’ve been through the keep from top to bottom now, so the only place left to go is through the door the statue opened up.
Past it is a long, covered bridge.
I walk its length, fighting past more Hollowed archers, and a small gang of Hollowed fighters who pounce on me from behind. Finally, there is a big armoured knight, much like the knights I’ve fought before, but this one has a sword instead of a mace. That doesn’t help him be any more dangerous than the others, though, and he dies a simple death.
At the end of the bridge is a doorway of white light.
I cross through. I’m in an open, circular space defined by stone arches. As with everywhere else in the painting, the ground is covered with a thin layer of snow. A chorus starts up, and directly in front of me is a very tall woman clutching a huge scythe in her hands. She has white hair and a body covered with silvery fur, or maybe it’s just a really fuzzy dress.
She tells me that I don’t belong here, which is true, and that I should leave. Is this it? She has a short, furry tail. “This land is peaceful,” she says, “it’s inhabitants kind.” I can’t get back through the white light, so the only way out is to go past the woman and take the exit she wants me to leave by.
I don’t know what to do. I use a Homeward Bone and warp back to the bonfire.
The traveller had paid off every soldier he found, but short of crawling through the sewers, there was no way to get out of the city except going through the main gate or over the wall. If rumours were to believed then the sewers were locked up as well. The best he could get from the soldiers is that they were as eager to leave as he was, but none of them were able to open the gate anymore.
So the traveller didn’t get very far. He traded the quiet menace of the old church for the crowded noise of the new church. Listening to the monks chanting day and night was still easier, he decided, than trying to sleep under the same roof as Sen and the girl.
He was in more regular contact with the regular folk still trying to live in the city, which gained him some additional context. Many of them claimed that Sen was not Sen’s real name, or that he had been the one to build the Fortress, or even that the serpents that prowled between the traps truly answered to him. Some claimed he had been there since the beginning, others that he had been missing for weeks or months. Worse were the missing children and pets, and the sinister comings and goings of the little girl. She was mistrusted almost as much as her supposed Uncle was, and everyone denied that they had any familial relationship.
To the traveller, each mystery was a hot coal burning through his head. After he’d exhausted every avenue of possible escape, what else did he have?
He returned to the old church. Sen was not there. His room was empty of everything but his old bed. The girl was missing as well, and the traveller wondered if he was going crazy. He put his hand on the sword at his belt and went to the fortress. The snakemen were still around, and the Hollowed still rattled in their hanging cages, but there were fewer statues than he remembered. The traps had been disabled while nobody was running the maze, and the snakemen seemed to recognize him, so he climbed through the fortress to the room with the stone pedestal. Great gears were turning, making a terrible racket, but the statues were all gone. No sign of Sen or the girl, either.
He next tried to go out to the top of the fortress, but there his way was barred by a pair of burly snakemen. The traveller did not dare try to force his way through.
He left the fortress having found neither Sen nor the girl, but he had found the statues. They were piled as high as a house on the roof of the fortress, and a group of snakemen were stripping them of their armour, discarding the wooden inner husks and tossing the metal scraps into large smelting pots.
Painted World of Ariamis
I was still curious about the thing behind the dragon on the bridge. I return to it, and this time I smash it with my club. To my great surprise, it stands up, and I see that it’s just the dragon’s hind legs. Somehow it had pulled itself apart and dragged its front end across the bridge, leaving its legs and tail behind.
I walk between its legs and realize that I’m standing above the bridge leading to the exit. I drop down and go through the white light again.
I don’t know what to think about this woman at first. She must be the one who was drawn into the painting (is that a pun?), which would make her an abomination. She’s clearly not human, as humans lack both tails and fur, but knowing what she isn’t doesn’t help me figure out what she is.
What of her asking me to leave peacefully, or for that matter, her declaration that she lives in a world of peace herself. Either she’s been in here so long that her perceptions have been seriously warped, or she was warped to begin with. Plus, she’s standing next to the exit with a big weapon in her hands.
I’m getting a boss fight out of this.
So I attack her. She tells me that she was expecting it to happen, then she disappears in a flurry of snow.
My first thought is that she has taken flight, escaped into the open sky above. I wait for her to return.
Moments later, I am hit out of nowhere. She didn’t fly away; she became invisible. I stand back up and raise my shield. I am attacked again. Where is she? I look down, and in the snow I can see her footprints.
I am attacked again, and even through my shield I take enough damage that I am killed.
If I have to fight something invisible then I’m going to need weapon less precise than a spear. I equip my Black Knight Sword. My first instinct is to aim my attacks directly at the footprints, after having blocked or evaded the incoming attacks, but that is not very successful: I find that she must move forward with every swing of her scythe, so if I aim at where I expect her to be then she has left that spot.
Instead, I just walk in circles around the room, mostly aiming at the footsteps. I bump into her, that way I know exactly where she is, so I turn around and take a swing or two, hear the impact, see the blood, and then back off. I still take some hits, and there is always the danger of her using an unblockable attack, but she moves around so slowly that I always have time to run away and heal.
Walk, bump, slash, retreat. I use all of my healing spells. I know I’m hitting her, but I don’t know how much damage I’m doing. Will I run out of healing before she runs out of HP? If so, then I may have to kindle the bonfire just so I can take more flask charges.
A couple more slashes and she becomes visible, showing her health bar and that it’s down to its final third. I use all of my flask charges, and it’s a near thing, but she reappears again, then disappears and I bump into her, slash twice, and she dies.
I get the Soul of Priscilla, Twin Humanities, and 30000 Souls.
On the short bridge past the boss area I find a body, and from it I take a set of Xanthous Armour, which is the ugly yellow stuff that Jeremiah was wearing. It has good defence for how light it is, but, like the other light armours I’ve found, it lacks for poise.
I walk to the edge. A cutscene plays. I look over into the darkness, then I jump into the void.
I find myself back in Anor Londo, standing outside of the painting. All around are the white-robed guardians. I use a Homeward Bone to warp back to the Anor Londo bonfire.
The city was cleansing itself with steel and death.
The people could take the silence no longer. Every day without hope was a day closer to becoming Hollowed, and the wait had exhausted them.
That night they stormed the parish and attacked the new church. The few soldiers left fell to the crushing mob, or joined them. A few went Hollowed. They were held down while others bashed their heads in with rocks.
The monks never stopped their chanting, and were mostly left alone. The attackers filled their hands with any weapons they could find, and when those were all taken, they broke apart the furniture and used old chair and table legs as clubs. In their wake they left more Hollowed, who in turn attacked the monks. The mob did not stop.
The traveller joined them as they charged across to the new church. They went from room to room, smashing anything less solid than the stone walls. The little girl’s room was still empty–maybe emptier than it had been before–but Sen’s room was full of his clothes and papers again. All of them were piled into the middle of the floor and set alight.
They stormed the fortress. The snakemen were swarmed and tossed into the pits. The traveller rushed ahead, knowing that the traps were being activated ahead of them. A burly man was just behind him, and when they turned a corner and bumped into one of the massive serpents, the traveller was knocked flat, while the other man’s bulk collided with the solid wall of scaled muscle, knocking them off the stone bridge and into one of the swinging blades. They fell apart in four bloody pieces.
Undead were stopping to thrust blades into the hanging cages.
The traveller did not stop. Every hesitation was another potentially activated trap. He dodged past the guards, and managed to stop them from unchaining most of the blades as they turned to chase him.
He stumbled out to the top of the fortress into elemental chaos. In an instant, he was soaked to the bone, and when lightning flashed overhead his eyes were drawn to the blurry vision of perfect, white Anor Londo above. The black clouds split against the invisible walls of the city like waves against the shore, and up there the sun was still shining.
The traveller found the man who called himself Sen standing on a bridge that crossed from the fortress the city of the gods.
Sen turned to him with a sneer on his lips. “You again,” he shouted over a peal of thunder.
The traveller stepped forward, sword drawn. Sen drew back from him, but did not run. “Where is the girl?” demanded the traveller.
“The girl? Her?” Sen was suddenly angry. “She is gone. They took her.” Sen raised his head to the sky. “She was never here.”
The next flash of light revealed something at the traveller’s feet. He bent and picked it up. It was a crude wooden doll.
“Do you know why a centaur is impossible?” Sen asked him.
“Yes,” said the traveller.
Sen nodded and wiped water from his eyes and face. “Then you know why I do this. The life of an Undead is meaningless if Humanity perishes before the physical body.”
Before the traveller could ask what it was, exactly, that Sen was doing, another bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. They were no longer alone on the bridge; more Undead had followed the traveller, and they were in the process of overwhelming the last of the snakemen, clubbing and stabbing at them before pushing the bodies into the forest below.
Behind Sen was a strange pile of metal, and shadowy outlines of slight four-armed reptilian sorcerers. The lightning bolt hit nearby, crashing into the metal with a blinding flash. Even before his vision had cleared, the traveller heard the grinding, clanking sounds of metal on metal. The pile of metal was growing.
No, not growing; the pile of metal was standing up.
Sen began to cackle. “The Iron Golem–made from the very statues they have used to intimidate us into submission for all these years–will open my way into that city of hypocrisy, and I will pull the very walls down from within if that’s what it takes to find my answers.”
The Undead were a single creature, a solid purpose delivered with a hundred flailing limbs. Those that were not yet Hollowed were still too far gone to hold themselves back. They pushed past the traveller and pulled Sen to the ground. Even as he screamed and disappeared under their weight, Sen had his eyes fixed on the traveller, on the doll he held.
The sting of the rain, the searing lightning, the boom of thunder. The golem was on its feet, axe in hand. A powerful swing swept Undead from the bridge, sending them hurtling over the edge like human debris. The cries of the dying, the pounding of feet, the bridge shaking under the golem’s weight. The falling axe. The sword in the traveller’s hand. The doll.
The last thing he saw, in a final, blurred flash of lightning, was, he thought, a figure standing alone on the walls of Anor Londo.