Dark Souls Diaries – Day 22

Here is what I know about the DLC: it is called Artorias of the Abyss.

Here is what I do with that information: I wander aimlessly through Darkroot Garden and Darkroot Basin, hoping in vain that I will find something new and interesting that will lead me to this content.

I find nothing new in Darkroot Garden except for a bonfire hidden behind a wall next to the door I opened with the Crest of Artorias way back when. I move on, running down the steep cliff path to Darkroot Basin, where I do find something I hadn’t seen before. There’s a summoning sign at the edge of the lake where I killed the hydra. I activate it, and after a moment Dusk, the woman I rescued from the golden crystal golem in the nearby cave, appears.

dusk 1

She tells me of Oolacile, her ancient city that was consumed by flames, but not much more than that. She also offers to sell me some magic, which I take to be unique to her time and place. They are utility spells: creating light sources, manipulating light to hide weapons or become more difficult to see, things like that. Even if I did happen to be interested, the lowliest of her spells has a minimum intelligence requirement of 14, while I still only have 12 to my name. It’s almost unfortunate, as magical flashlight would be pretty useful for Tomb of the Giants. At least she can teach me a proper bowing gesture.

As I leave, she hits me with what I expect to be a standard farewell from Oolacile: “May the flames guide thee.” Which seems like a particularly ironic sentiment from someone who admits that the place of her birth ended up as a large ashtray. The people of this world do love their sacred fire, though.

Having exhausted all of my options for the moment, and any desire to search for more, I decide it’s time to move on. First, though, I’m going to make preparations for my intended end-game weapon (and really, it’s long past time that I started thinking about my end game gear). I figure that the demon machete I picked up in Demon Ruins is the closest I have to shape and weight to the Dragon Greatsword, so I upgrade it to +10 and start using it. Already, I see the problem I’m going to have: I do not have the weight capacity to use such a heavy shield as the Greatshield of Artorias, plus such a heavy weapon as an ultra greatsword, plus any armour that is made of something heavier than boiled animal hides. Something has to go, and for me, right now, that something is all of my armour. I take off my black steel plate and replace it with a light witch’s cloak. I no longer have any poise, so I’ll need to depend even more on blocking if I want to stay on my feet.

Before leaving Darkroot Basin for good, I find a body in the back of the cave, and from it I recover Dusk’s ornate dress and crown. The clothing is light and otherwise unremarkable, but the crown says that it enhances all magic damage, both given and received (yet still also has magical defence included). What’s particularly odd about that, to me, is that Dusk doesn’t seem to use offensive spells, so what good is an item that makes them do more damage?

cave body

I suppose that means that she eventually died? I’m still not quite sure where I’m actually summoning her from, since she isn’t a phantom, and she shouldn’t be back in her time–she was imprisoned in the crystal golem after her city fell, which must essentially be magical stasis. Must just be another case of uncertain, intertwining time streams, courtesy of Great Lord Gwyn.

I spend a bit of time experimenting with my new weapon setup. Even without the weight considerations, a heavy weapon coupled with a heavy greatshield doesn’t work very well. I mean, it’s functional, but it doesn’t take advantage of the greatshield’s strong deflection. An attack bounces away, but swinging the sword in retaliation takes so long that I’m not really using that window created.

From my perspective, the ideals setups would either be a heavy shield and a light, fast weapon that can really take advantage of the counter-attack opportunities, or a heavy weapon with a lot of poise and defence from armour, and a lighter shield as a backup. A greatshield and a spear would be the most efficient combination, and if I could do it over again, I would probably have done that (though, it would also make the game easier, so maybe it’s best that I didn’t). With little stamina drain for blocking, I would be able to poke away with a spear whenever there was even a slight opening. The damage would not come in sudden, leaden bursts, but instead as a steady stream. Conversely, the heavy weapon depends much more on larger openings for damage, so it must hit hard where it counts. That is why greater poise is required, because inevitably blows will be traded. That’s more of a Monster Hunter’s style of play, so it’s not as if I’ve never done it before.

For the time being, though, I’m still testing this out. I’ll make my ultimate choice about my setup once I can finally use my Dragon Greatsword.

I warp to Anor Londo’s gateway bonfire. Even though the flame is long since dead, I can still use it as an anchor point, which is well enough, but I hope that I find something more permanent once I enter the Archives.

Ornstein

Gough and Ornstein, who had spent their lives hunting great dragons, were not as accustomed to doing what they saw as dirty work. Ornestein especially, though he was the nominal leader of their group, was no replacement for Gwyn, or the former God of War, and he had no desire to be. More often than not, he could be found in the company of the barbaric Smough, who was once Gwyn’s favoured executioner, but, in a land that no longer knew law, was now only another brute with too much free time. They would fight demons when necessary, but preferred to slaughter the Undead and Hollowed. They kept great tallies of how many they killed. “I would rather fight peasants than freaks,” Ornstein would lament. “And demons don’t taste nearly as good,” added Smough.

Without Gwyn, or the other gods, Lordran changed. The demons and Hollowed were not opponents, they were enemies. They did not contest land, battle for resources, or fight with any real purpose. They were a blight, and existed only to ruin. There was no subterfuge, could be no intimidation. The only acceptable response was brute force, and the only end would be total annihilation.

Ornstein was all for that. As far as he was concerned, the humans were the source of the Undead and they should have been pulled out by their roots long ago.

It was his anger, running through him in fierce, bodily jolts, that finally ended the covenant of the Four Knights. Their final gathering was one of desperation.

“Every day the demons and the Hollowed grow in number. We must act!” he bellowed, fists clenched. Smough, as ever, was in the shadowy corner of the room, using his great hammer as a seat.

Gough was first to respond, his deep, slow voice filling the space, briefly drawing attention away from Ornstein’s urgent fidgeting. “The situation requires more than spreading violence. What you demand is action without reason, which has never been our way.”

Ornstein looked at them each in turn. Artorias, the true knight. Ciaran, the final promise. Gough, the fading light. He realized that what Gough said was true, but only because of their weakness. They would not act because they had been given orders. That was the final frustration, because, while they chose not to, he was unable to.

Gwyn’s final orders, leaving him to guard Anor Londo with the Silver Knights, were the shackles that bound him. He was a captain without a true command: his desires did not supersede those last Lordly orders, and no Silver Knight would ever venture past those high walls for him.

Ornstein had charged into the jaws of death, taking down the mightiest of the Everlasting Dragons with no more than his spear and an unyielding desire to prove himself. That was what won him his command where many thought that Artorias was the more suitable choice. There was not a being in Lordran, past or present, who would have ever had a reason to call him out as a coward.

Not one, except for Ornstein himself, for try as he might, he was unable to disobey. That fear was Ornstein being the first of the Four Knights to see their end, both as a group and as individuals. He saw his death in a final, silent struggle. It would be a battle without glory, there would be no witnesses, no poems would be written, no stories would be told.

The others left, and Ornstein returned to his post. He set his back straight, held his spear firmly, and waited.

Duke’s Archives

I run through the empty, midnight streets of Anor Londo, through the temple with the statue holding the golden hammer, and up the hill. Finally, I get my first glimpse past where the yellow light had been. I see a long hall, each wall lined by statues holding flames, and at the far end is a large armoured boar, like the one I killed back in Undead Parish.

boar 1

This one seems to be a more complete model, with the armour covering more of its body. I can’t backstab it like I did the other one (maybe that’s also because I’m no longer using a spear?), and many of my attacks just bounce off its metal hide while doing minimal damage, except for a jumping attack I land that takes out a huge chunk of its life. Maybe it isn’t as armoured on its back, or maybe I just need to hit it hard enough to break the skin. Eventually, by leading it down the hall till it reaches the end of its leash and then smashing at its rear (and avoiding the donkey kicks it uses to defend itself), I kill it. I pick up another Fang Boar Helm, like the last one dropped.

The statues that line the hall depict a human (I figure its human, as it’s not nearly as big as the giants or gods that the other Anor Londo statues are based on) holding a single flame in their left hand. Traditionally, the left hand is the wrong hand, and the flame is the symbol of knowledge, not faith. Although, in Lordran things work differently, I still see it that way. This is a connection to sorcery, and not to faith-based worship of the old gods, which seems sacrilegious, but Seath is a dragon, and I wouldn’t put such brazen hypocrisy past him.

anor londo statue 1

I turn a corner, wander down another hall, and, as I near the next corner, I can hear the menacing grunts of another armoured boar. A little closer and I can see that he’s waiting for me around the bend. I draw it out and kill it with jumping attacks, though it still takes some work. The boar has very little to give away in body language, is fast enough to be dangerous if I miss a tell, and my armour is so light that I can’t risk being gored in order to trade a hit. With my heavy sword, I can only go for attacks when I’m sure it will be safe. After a bit of dancing around in the narrow space, it falls, and I can move on.

Past the boar is a room with a high, vaulted ceiling. There are bookstands and odd scientific-looking tools about, and also, blessedly, a bonfire.

duke bonfire 1

I rest there. Past it, up some stairs, I spot a switch, which I pull. It activates an elevator, which lifts me up higher into the Archives. When it reaches the top, I am attacked by something new: crystallized Hollowed holding crystal swords and crystal shields. Seems that instead of steam, or electricity, or even magitek, crystals are somehow the pinnacle of scientific advancement in Lordran.

crystal hollow 1

I briefly wonder whether it was the process of being crystallized that drove these Undead to turn Hollowed, or if they were only grabbed after they had completely lost their minds.

The room the elevator brought me up to is much the same as the one I just left. More book stands, more science junk. The atmosphere of a library persists, and is even enhanced, as I can see up the stairs ahead is an actual library, with bookshelves and everything.

dukes archive 1

Also up those stairs is an archer, and, to his left (my right) a single crystal golem. I prepare to charge the archer, but I find that the room past the elevator has a few more of the crystal soldiers waiting for me. I kill them, then go for the archer, who runs away, back into the library.

As I climb the stairs, I hear a familiar sound. Someone is readying magic missiles to blast me with. I can see into the library now, and there is another one of those floating sorcerers in there, who is alternating between magic missiles and dancing around like an idiot.

mage 1

Before entering the library, I decide to take down the crystal golem. I assume that, like the boars and the crystal soldiers, these golems were also created by Seath. Maybe it’s just his desire to figure out the power of the Everlasting Dragon scales that has the monster trying to graft things to other creatures rather than discover perpetual motion machines. I assume that also means that he’s the one who captured Princess Dusk and imprisoned her all those years ago.

As I close in on the crystal golem, I am attacked from behind by one of the soldiers, and it hurts! I can see the faint glow of a buff aura on him, which seems to  be the effect of the sorcerer’s dancing. I had noticed it before, the other times I had fought these guys, but back then the enemies they buffed weren’t very strong, or likely to hit me, so I didn’t notice the damage boost they had. Now, with my light armour, I know that I probably couldn’t survive two good hits from these buffed attacks. I do not survive the encounter when the crystal golem adds its brute strength.

I respawn at the bonfire below, which is a relief. I take the elevator back up and quickly kill everything in that room, including the crystal golem which drops a broken pendant directly into my inventory. I then charge into the library, cut down the sorcerer, clear out a few more soldiers, and the archers that were camped out on the stairs leading further up. I hope these books are insured, or at least that Seath has already read them, because his lackeys have no problem smashing into everything in the room as they desperately try to kill me.

Underneath the stairs at the back of the library is a body. I pick up a Brave Warrior’s Soul.

duke body 1

With that done, I take a moment to examine the broken pendant. It’s not a ring, nor is it any sort of armour. Instead, it shows up in my key items category, like, well, keys, and other items that unlock things: the doll that sucked me into the Painted World of Ariamis, the Crest of Artorias, which opened the way to Sif and the grave he guarded. Most of the pendent’s description is nonsense, stating that it simultaneously has a sense of great magical power emanating from it, but also that nobody from this time can sense the great magical power emanating from it. The important bit is that the vine holding the broken stone apparently comes from Oolacile. “Reverence and nostalgia.” Seems like ancient Oolacile to me, and there’s only one person I know that would be able to tell me more about what this pendant is for.

I decide that my adventures in the Duke’s Archives can be put on hold for the moment. And that’s probably for the best, because things start to get weird as I leave: I walk down the stairs toward the elevator that will take me down to the bonfire, and a boss health bar belonging to Dark Sun Gwyndolin pops up.

gwyndolin bar

I warp to Undead Parish and make the cliff descent down to Darkroot Basin. Dusk’s summoning sign is gone. Which, because of video game logic, I decide is actually an indication of progress.

I run through the lake, to the cave where I first found Dusk. In the back, near the dead body, I can see a dark smudge against the general gloom.

darkroot portal 1

I get closer. It looks like a magical portal.

darkroot portal 2

I examine the dark smudge. A cutscene plays, and before I can get close enough to touch it, a giant hand appears from the other side, grabs me around the head, and pulls me through.

Gough

She spoke with Gough, the Hawkeye, who could reliably be found working on his arrows, or a bow, often in the company of the giant blacksmith. Gough was someone who would listen to her. She told him how she felt, and he nodded, showing that he had already known.

“Artorias is a soldier. More than either of us, and even more than Ornstein. He will do what he is told is right. His life is battles and missions, not the time between them.”

“I know,” she said, hanging her head.

What purpose would it serve, to tell him how she felt? Was there even a scenario where it worked out for either of them?

More than the other Four Knights, Gough was a man of respect and deliberation. As a giant, he lived a life of hardship. His race was as ancient and proud as any other, but lacked either the proliferation of the humans, or the inherent dignity (some might call it arrogance) of the gods and demigods. A giant was a being of brutal strength, and that is how everyone saw them. It was only Gwyn who saw fit to recognize Gough as a knight, to award him command of his archers. Gough would never forget the honours of the Great Lord.

However, that was the past. Gough felt that he may end up being a permanent fixture in a yesterday that few ever truly lived, a man of nostalgia and past glory.

“There will be no end to this,” lamented Gough. She knew he was right. In a real war, there was always a point where one side or the other broke, where the battles ended. Even dragons had their limits. Demons did not break, and Hollowed did not surrender.

Gough was the first of them to leave Anor Londo, moving down to Oolacile, the City of Lights. He had never lived so close to so many humans, and he found it fascinating. He explained it to Artorias, who had come to the city on some private business of his own.

“Giants, gods, the survivors of Lord Gwyn’s great war, we outlive ourselves. These humans are not like that. You and I, we are relics of a different age, while the humans are each the results of the age they live in.”

As was his custom, Artorias was silent.

Gough picked up a branch–in truth, it was nearly a log–and started to whittle. He found a need to keep his hands busy these days, even without reason to keep using his bow. “We all desire to build upon our foundations. Was that not why we joined Gwyn to begin with? But it has been so long that we forget where we started. Or, we can only remember where we started. Do you see?

“We are knights. We fight dragons and wage war for the honour of our fellows and the needs of our Lord. That is what we have always been. Only, there are no more dragons to fight, and no more Lord to serve. What does that make us, then? Think of poor Ornstein, who still only sees what he can reach with his spear. To outlive your purpose is a fate no human has to struggle against, and I find that I envy that.”

“Is that what you do here? Envy humans?”

“No,” said Gough, so absorbed in his crafting and his pondering that he did not catch the harshness of his companion’s tone. “I will seek my own peace here. Perhaps there is a way for us to move on with our lives, to find some sort of . . . enlightenment.” A wry grin. Artorias didn’t seem to get his joke.

Gough placed the completed carving on the ground. A crude wooden blade. He still found that shape coming naturally to him, as if his hands only knew how to form weapons. He would train himself out of that habit.

Sif stood up, took a few cautions steps forward, and grasped hilt of the wooden blade in his mouth, shaking his head back and forth to work it into a more comfortable grip.

Sanctuary Garden

I regain my senses. I am standing next to a bonfire, which I light. I’m in a cave, roots all around.

sanctuary bonfire

Underneath a tree, though I can see sunlight streaming in from nearby. Looks like the only way out is up. I follow the narrow cave till I find a doorway of white light.

sanctuary white light 1

Sanctuary Guardian

On the other side of the light is a fairly big, but nicely shallow, pond. Water deep enough to splash through, but not to inhibit my movement. There is also a large manticore, and it’s a pretty typical representation of its (Westernized) type: a lion’s head, horns, wings, hoofed hindquarters, and a scorpion’s tail.

sanctuary gaurdian 1

For the most part, it flies around the area and spits lightning at me, which isn’t a big deal, as it’s easy enough to avoid and no that dangerous when it hits. I work my way in and wait for an opportunity.

I see the scorpion tail, and I know it can attack with that thing. After my encounter with the Stray Demon back in the Undead Asylum, I have decided that the real criteria for whether or not an enemy’s tail can be cut is not whether or not it has a tail, but whether or not it uses that tail as a weapon. All the dragons bosses attacked with their tails, and so did the gargoyles, while the Stray Demon did not. I confirm this by waiting for it to take a swipe at me with the scorpion tail, and after it does, I move in and chop it off as soon as it drops low enough to be hit. It breaks, and I pick up Guardian Tail Whip (does poison damage).

After that, the fight is straightforward till victory. I have a close call when I circle around behind it for an attack, only to be kicked hard in the face. It has another attack that is not dangerous, but is at least neat: it will flap its wings, which drains all of my stamina, and then try to rush forward for a free attack while I can’t block. Fortunately, there is still time for a minimum amount of stamina to recharge, which allows me to safely roll to the side.

Soon, the boss is dead. I’m much happier with the performance of the big sword in a boss fight compared to dealing with regular enemies. The big bosses provide plenty of opportunities to land solid, meaty hits, which is nice.

Overall, even though the boss was not difficult, it already shows a large improvement over the bosses I’ve found in the regular game. While most of those bosses only have 3 or 4 attacks, making them not very dynamic or interesting to fight once those patterns have been learned, the Sanctuary Guardian had more different attacks than the last 3 or 4 bosses I killed combined, so at least there was variety. Hopefully the other DLC bosses are the same.

I get 30000 Souls, 1 Humanity, and a Guardian Soul, which tells me that this monster hangs around here in order to prevent the spread of the Abyss. I guess it thinks that people are going to show up and try to take the Abyss out with them? Seems to me that it would be better off fighting whatever creatures are coming out of the Abyss. But you know, whatever: who am I to question the decisions of an ancient, demonic beast?

There is an entrance to a tunnel here. I can hear wildlife, mostly toads and owls. I look into the sky and see that it is actually approaching twilight here, wherever I am. Appropriate?

sanctuary 1

I make my way through the narrow tunnel, then up and back out to open air.

Oolacile Sanctuary

A small rock garden full of statues of humanoid shapes, but without even the traces of distinct features. Is that meant to represent Humanity? There is also a bonfire, as there should always be after a boss fight.

oolacile sanctuary 1

I rest at the bonfire, then walk over to the large mushroom leaning against one of the walls. It doesn’t attack, and I can talk to it.

elizabeth 1

I talk to the mushroom, who tells me that her name is Elizabeth, and that, since I’ve already rescued Princess Dusk once, could I do it again? Apparently this time she’s been kidnapped by a primordial human. A Princess being dragged into the darkness by a caveman? Why not. I’m only briefly left to wonder about how Elizabeth knows about my rescue of Dusk in what she tells me is the future. It seems that Dusk travels back and forth through time whenever I summon her, but I don’t understand why, really, since I rescued her in my time. I suppose the crystal golem I killed was not really a form of stasis, but instead a means of cheating time? After I killed it she must have been returned all the way back to the time where she was first imprisoned, or even earlier.

And that’s about all of the mental energy I’m prepared to spend on that. Magic is one thing, and time travel is another, and both have as their central rule that rules don’t really matter. I can deal with each on their own, but combining the two is a bit much.

Anyway, Artorias tried to save Dusk, but has apparently failed. As it may likely be the entire reason I’ve been brought to this place, I agree to help the mushroom rescue her princess. Honestly, the only thing that could make this situation better would be for me to end up rescuing another mushroom from this Abyssal beast instead of Dusk.

I leave the sanctuary through a squat stone doorway. There is a bridge crossing over a running stream, and on the other side is a forest. This geography feels familiar.

sanctuary bridge

Royal Wood

On the other side of the bridge I realize why it’s familiar. This is actually Darkroot Garden by daylight, which would mean that the sanctuary and bonfire I just left are where the grave of Artorias is in my time, which is the last time travelling confirmation I need.

While I’m thinking on this, a couple of fork-swinging scarecrows rush down the ridge at me. They have a funny way of falling on their faces while trying to stab. I squash them with my sword.

scarecrows 1

They are soon followed by a hulking stone giant, a guardian like the ones I killed in Darkroot Garden, but armed with a huge stone axe instead of a sword and shield.

stone giant 1

It is also considerably tougher than those older stone giants (I know that because I was just running around in Darkroot Garden, and those guys die in 1 hit now). The guardian slams his axe into the ground, grunts with effort, and then rips it away, showering the area with dirt and stone. I avoid all of that easily enough, and then smash it with my sword. It drops a twinkling titanite.

I climb to the top of the ridge, where I can see the forest. This is where I killed the wandering mushrooms in Darkroot Garden.

royal wood 1

I move through the trees, killing more scarecrows as they come. There are still those glowing plants that look just like items until I’m close enough to confirm that they aren’t. It’s annoying, but that’s life. I travel along the edge of the cliff, toward where I fought those big hedgecats. May as well define the borders and see if they’re the same in this time.

There are no cats there, just a pretty meadow full of flowers and things that want to kill me.

royal wood 2

I guess if Dusk, being the Princess of Oolacile, isn’t around to control these guardian beasts I’ll have to clear them all out myself. I kill more scarecrows and another stone giant. On a body I find Guardian Leggings, which are much the same as the Stone Leggings I found in Darkroot Garden, but with higher magic defence and lower fire defence. Either way, they’re way too heavy for me to wear now.

I arrive at the bridge that crosses the river the feeds Darkroot Basin in my time. On the other side is the forest where I fought those bandits. As I get close to the bridge, there is a burst of movement from my right. A dragon the colour of dark obsidian leaps onto the bridge, stares me down with a single glowing red eye, and then flies away, toward the basin. I was not expecting that.

royal dragon 1

I am energized. I had counted on another encounter with the Abyss, and whatever uglies it was producing in this time, and I’m even resigned to princess rescuing, but the chance to murder another dragon! That is more than I could have hoped for.

I do not cross the bridge yet. Instead, I retreat back up to the woods above and fight my way to the pond where I found the Enchanted Ember. There are groups of scarecrows and guardians working in tandem here, so that every time one of them sees me, 2 scarecrows and 1 guardian peel off from the pack to attack me. It’s interesting, and a big improvement over normal enemy AI, which is very easy to pull and pick off. The scarecrows are flimsy enough that they’re not very dangerous, even in pairs, and I can kill them before the guardians become an issue. After clearing them all out, I pick up a couple more twinkling titanite from the giants, and the scarecrows drop coloured moss, just like the triffids in Darkroot Garden (do the scarecrows become more plant-like over time?).

royal wood 3

I’m finding adjusting to this heavy weapon’s moveset a little awkward. For whatever reason, the jumping attack (forward+heavy) is both its fastest and most damaging option, on top of having the most range. Against enemies that I can’t stagger with a normal slash, it’s pretty much the only attack worth using. Unfortunately, because of the jump required before the attack, it’s not always easy to land on enemies that get close.

Chrono Trigger-style, there is a chest in the pond here just as there will be in the future.

royal wood chest 1

I open it and find a blue titanite slab, which I suppose allows me to upgrade a magical or divine weapon to its maximum level. As soon as I’ve got that in my pocket, I am attacked by another guardian and scarecrow combo, which I kill, and I pick up yet another twinkling titanite.

I arrive at the edge of the forest. There is a building here, a ruin even in this time. In the future it housed the bridge to the other side of the forest, and was where that damned cat hung out, but there is no bridge this time, only an elevator that hasn’t been activated.

royal elevator 1

Outside, I see something new. In the distance are a pair of large, round towers, which definitely aren’t around in my time, and don’t even look like anything I’ve seen (they remind me most of the tower in the Painted World of Ariamis). Even now, they’re in ruins, which tells me that I’ve still arrived after Oolacile has fallen. Dark Souls is not a game of witnessed prosperity.

With no bridge to cross here, it seems like I would have been forced to move down into the meadow and run into the black dragon. Makes sense to deny me the expected crossing point in order to funnel me toward such an encounter.

Before leaving, I find a body on the stairs in the crumbling building, and from it I pick up a pair of Guardian Gauntlets.

I look down into the ravine. There is no raging river here, only a trickling stream. Is there a dam somewhere, or has the water just not had the time to start gushing? There are also some weird looking holes in the cliff. Probably the influence of the Abyss somewhere below.

royal river 1

That’s when I realize that I’ve got 56k Soul on hand and I don’t know where the next bonfire will be. I run back to the Sanctuary and put a point into strength.

bonfire 1

With the twinkling titanite I’ve picked up, I’m also able to upgrade my gargoyle helm to +5, which is nice. Finally, something is complete.

That extra point in strength is just enough to allow me to kill the scarecrows in a single slash now, which helps when I have to backtrack through the forest again to get to the bridge.

I cross the bridge, and I can hear a guardian stomping around somewhere nearby. It drops down in front of me, and I smash it. I can see there is at least 1 more guardian walking around up there, and a body draped over the cliff.

There is no ladder leading down to the river in this time, though I can see that there are items down in the ravine, so I’ll be down there eventually. I follow the cliff path up to the other side of the forest. I hear a familiar sound, and rush forward expectantly. I see a crystal lizard. I chase it, and nearly fall into a bottomless hole that wasn’t there in my time. I smash the lizard and pick up a twinkling titiante and a demon titanite.

The hole–really, holes–have a deeper darkness about them. I can see wisps of purplish fog, I can hear the rumbling of thunder, menacing and strong.

royal hole 1

In order to proceed, I will have to drop down here, and I won’t be able to get back without climbing to the cliff above and dropping back down. After a bit of searching for another way, and finding none, I take the plunge and fall to the ground around the hole.

The ground here is marked by what I assume is the taint of the Abyss. Blotchy and acidic, it spreads from around the hole and out. There are also chunks of obsidian sprouting from the dirt here and there, little mounds of black stone like glass statues.

royal abyss

There is a scarecrow down there, armed with a large pair of pruning shears, scissors with blades long and sharp enough to remove a head as easily as they might remove an old branch. This scarecrow has adopted the annoying tactic of waiting for me to attack, and then jabbing me in the face. My poise is low enough that my slow swings are interrupted, and its weapon also does bleed damage. I step back, gaining some distance, and then slash it in half before it can close in again. I kick the body into the Abyss.

scissors scarecrow 1

From here, the path branches. Right, toward those towers I saw, and left, toward the cliff that overlooks the basin and the waterfall. I figure there will be more to do with those towers, so the left must be a side path. I head that way. I have to jump over a small crack in the ground, and on the other side I find only a few more scarecrows and the lumbering guardian I saw on the cliff earlier. I kill them all, and then find a body overlooking the basin, from which I recover 8 Gough’s great arrows. They’re like the Dragonslayer arrows I’ve found, which were also used by this Gough fellow, but these do slightly more damage.

I look down into the basin. No hydra, no crystal golems, and no shortcut into Undead Burg–perhaps no Undead Burg at all–and, though I can’t see it from this angle, probably no cave leading down to New Londo. Still, there are items down there.

Walking along the cliff, I spy a body  in the distance, and start walking toward it. I nearly fall through another hole in the ground, which was neatly disguised by the angle of the ridge. I stop myself at the last moment.

royal body 1

I jump over the gap and pick up a Guardian Helm. I can hear a constant, metallic snipping sound coming from somewhere nearby. The chattering of familiar tools, and the action is smooth enough to tell me that all of the blades are plenty sharp.

In a nearby crevice I find a scarecrow and a body holding an Elizabeth’s Mushroom, which is supposed to greatly restore HP for a limited time. The language in the description is muddy, but I assume that it will duplicate a regeneration-type spell, providing constant healing for the duration.

I find a place to drop down, crossing back over the gaps in the ground, and continue on toward the towers.

I can hear the click of more shears nearby. I’m coming up on another section of forest. On a small rise, I kill a couple of pitchfork scarecrows and recover a Brave Warrior’s Soul from a body. I also see that I could have dropped down from here and it would have avoided any need to make a risky jump over bottomless holes. Oh well.

The scarecrows in the forest here are using their pruning shears for actual pruning, and that’s what I’ve been hearing. Nice to see that they have a day jobs when they’re not bothering me.

royal gardeners 1

I’m able to walk past them without disturbing their work. I can see that they’re carrying little watering cans as well, which is cute. At the edge of the cliff I can see a city below, which I assume is Oolacile.

oolacile 1

It doesn’t look that bad from here, and certainly isn’t on fire or anything, though I’m probably too late for that.

There is a body at the edge of the cliff. I pick up a gold coin, and the scarecrows all attack, which is pretty terrible for me. I don’t think I can even use a gold coin now that Frampt is gone. Having 3 of them rush me with their shears is dangerous. They take turns snipping at me over and over again, which locks me in block stun, and any of them can interrupt my counter-attacks. I eventually make a mistake, and they kill me.

Back at the bonfire, where I speak to Elizabeth again. She tells me that she has recently met another time traveller, a man she describes as odious, and who wears a black hat and a long black coat. She’s pretty sure he’s still around, so I’ll meet him soon enough.

I reverse my Hollowing and then run back to recover my body. I skip past most of the scarecrows and guardians on the way, having no intention of fighting or farming them again. I get back to that section of the forest, and the scarecrows are already hostile. This time I do not hesitate, and I cut the first down, then figure out the best way to avoid their sudden snipping attacks is to circle around behind them, forcing them to turn before they can get me, and giving me the extra time I need to kill them before they can interrupt my attack. As I’m fighting them, I receive a random injection of 1000 Souls. I guess one of the guardians fell off a cliff while chasing me.

In the forest ahead are a group of 2 more scarecrows and 2 guardians. They all attack me at once, but I’ve got them all figured out. Both of the guardians drop twinkling titanite.

Past them is another crystal lizard, which 2 more twinkling titanite, and a pair of green titanite.

crystal lizard

I’ve come nearly full circle now, reaching the building on the other side of the cliff from the one that had the elevator I couldn’t use. This one also has an elevator, but it’s activated.

royal building

I find an Undead Soul in a body outside, then use the elevator (which has a smooth descent provided by still-strong magic). At the bottom I see that I am close to the base of the first of those big towers. There is a doorway of white light there, and I can see a bridge over the ravine on my right.

royal white light 1

It dawns on me that instead of torches, everything around here is lit by magical lamps, which coincides with light manipulating magic Dusk and Elizabeth sell.. That must be the lost magic that Oolacile was known for. Which makes their farewell about letting the flame guide them even stranger, for theirs was a society that had discovered a means of light without fire.

I run over to the edge of the forest, and I get a better look at the fate of Oolacile. Now I can see what the problem is: the entire city is slumped over, leaning heavily into the ground, as if it were hit by an earthquake, or its foundations had been sucked into the Abyss somewhere below.

oolacile 2

I cross the bridge over the ravine. I can hear a dog panting and running around below. On the other side, leaning against the mossy rock wall, is a man with a black hat and long black coat. That was faster than I thought it would be.

top hat

He also has an obnoxiously wide grin cemented on his face. Even before talking to him, I can tell that I don’t like him.

There is a deliberate. mocking, steadiness in his voice. He asks if I was also dragged to this time by a monstrous hand, and I see no reason to start lying just yet, so I tell him yes. He confirms that the same happened to him, and offers to sell me some items. Most of his wares are simple trinkets: throwing knives, types of moss, firebombs, various types of basic arrows and bolts. Nothing I need or want. Then I see that he’s also selling Humanity for 10k Souls apiece. I figure that he’s like that moss selling merchant in Undead Burg, so he’ll only have limited quantities of Humanity before he runs out. I buy as many as I can, which is only 2. He’s still got more, though. Could it be unlimited? Maybe I can get some to give to Kaathe, and maybe it will finally be enough that I get something in return.

He then asks me if I’ve met Artorias yet, and does the requisite creepy Undead laugh. He also asks me what the giant mushroom is having me do, followed by more creepy laughter. I move on.

Past him is another elevator room. This one is connected to the upper section of Royal Wood. It’s the one in the building that wasn’t active. I activate it, which gives me a shortcut to get back here from the bonfire without having to run through all of the forest again. Time to head into the light.

As I get closer, I see that it’s a large doorway of white light, which tells me that it leads to a boss fight.

Artorias

The last thing Gough ever said to him was meant as a warning. “Do not live for your death.” He had said something similar to Ornstein during their final meeting as Gwyn’s Four Knights, about how everyone chose to live in the past, the present, or the future. Ornstein had only mocked him: “We are not all so slow that we’re stuck in yesterday.”

In truth, Gough was probably the only one of them who wasn’t stuck in yesterday, yet he was also in no rush. Artorias knew he lived in a different age, but when he looked to the future he saw only uncertainty.

Artorias was a man who had never known uncertainty before. He was not only a soldier, but a soldier in the army of the Great Lord Gwyn. If it had ever been in him to question, he was never given an authority that could be questioned, and by the time of the fall of Izalith and the gods leaving Anor Londo, he was as set in his ways as anyone could be.

When Great Lord Gwyn left and never returned, Artorias felt it all at once. He lost his guiding star, and, for the first time in his life, he felt uncertainty. Without absolute conviction, he hesitated.

Artorias never had a proper home. He spent his time in travel, knowing that orders would find him when he was needed. He lived a life of ideals, but struggled to relate them to the people he met. Even Ornstein, who was closest to him in demeanour, was also someone who he despised. The humans he met were petty and demanding, so that he quickly grew tired of them, choosing to avoid their cities whenever possible.

Instead, he found company with animals. He met Sif on a particularly cold night while sleeping in a forest. He woke in the morning to find the pup had burrowed his way into Artorias’s cloak, struggling with its soft, dark folds until he had become completely entangled. As Artorias worked to get him loose, the chill in the air set the wolf’s fur on end, so that by the time the last bit of fabric had been unwrapped, the poor beast was shivering uncontrollably.

“Do you not have a family?” wondered Artorias. The wolf only looked at him with large, dark eyes, so Artorias gathered him up and carried him, along with the cloak. He could feel the wolf’s tail struggling to wag, beating gently against his chest as he held him. They wandered through the forest for a while, but Artorias saw no other wolves, nor did his hitchhiker give any indication that he senses others of his kind.

“I have to go,” Artorias said, preparing to set the animal down. “Oh, you’re asleep.”

The pup opened his eyes and licked his hand.

Eventually, he did put the wolf back down, and thereafter he had a friend who followed him wherever he went, but never made demands.

Ciaran would sometimes find him in his travels. Once, she would have brought him orders, but now there were few of those that needed relaying. She would walk with him for a while, hand resting on Sif’s neck, occasionally moving up high enough to scratch behind his ears. She would try to talk with him, but he rarely had anything to say. Still, he did not dislike her company, as brief as it was.

“There are rumours coming out of Oolacile. Something strange is happening there, that much is certain,” she told him one of the last times they met.

“I have heard this myself. Alvina speaks of the true darkness of human nature made manifest. I have made a vow to see this evil undone.”

She knew he was serious, and that made her worried. “Be careful,” she said.

Sif leapt away from them, ran to the top of a nearby hill, and howled at the full moon.

Knight Artorias

A cutscene plays. I see a strange creature with long limbs in the centre of a flat, empty arena. Suddenly, the hulking form of Knight Arotrias drops down on it, piercing the beast through with his sword. He gathers dark energy about himself, then tosses the body in my direction.

artorias 1

He holds his greatsword in one hand, with his other arm hanging limply at his side. His shield arm is broken, and his shield is gone. I assume that’s as a result, or even the cause, of his fall to the Abyss, which partially puts a lie to his legend, though I don’t think it’s that drastic, since Oolacile fell regardless, and he did die. I have to assume that I was not brought back here to save him, either, since he’s already been corrupted by the Abyss. That giant hand . . . this is not a matter of the good guys trying to turn back the clock to avert disasters, because those have already happened. I suspect the reason will end up being darker and more mundane.

I wait around for a bit, watching his attacks. There is a lot of spinning and jumping about, some of it reminding me strongly of Sif, the wolf that would eventually be guarding his tomb. After a while, I think I’ve got most of it figured out, so I try to go on the offensive. Artorias has thick skin, and some of my attacks just bounce off him. Must be his Wolf Ring. Stupidly, I try to trade hits with him, and then have to back away to heal. Then he does something I haven’t seen before, so I hesitate. He crouches down, I bring the flask to my lips, and he leaps into the air and stabs through me, just as he did with the monster in his introductory cutscene. I die.

I run through the forest to the elevator I just activated, and hit the button to bring it up. It arrives just as the scarecrows and guardians close in. I ride it down, and they do not follow. While standing on this side of the ravine, I see a body near the door I used to first enter this area. I cross the bridge and pick up an Undead Soul, and see that the body is placed at the top of a ramp leading down into the ravine itself. That will have to wait, though, as I’m in the middle of a boss fight.

I fight Arotrias again. I am able to defend myself adequately with my heavy greatshield, but it does not allow for my slow weapon to counter-attack effectively. Part way through the fight, Artorias holds his ground and starts to gather dark energy to himself, a classic anime tactic. I figure that’s an opportunity for me to heal, and his energy gathering ends in an explosion of magic. After that, he has a dark, purple aura, which seems to give him a damage boost, and a new attack where he tosses globs of corrosive goo. Eventually, I make another bad move, and I die again.

On my next attempt I am so eager to continue the fight that I forget to reverse my Hollowing before leaving the bonfire. Whent I realize that, it’s too late to turn back, but it’s not as if I have any help to summon, so it’s not that big of a loss. This time, I have him figured out. He fights less like a Dark Souls boss and more like a supercharged version of an NPC fighter, or an annoying fighting game AI. He likes to mix his strings, which is a big problem for me, because I am so slow that I can’t attack unless I’m certain I have an opening. For example, he has a spinning overhead slam attack. He can tack it on to the end of his regular strings, or he can do it alone, where he might do it twice in a row, or he might do it three times in a row. If he only does it twice, then he’s effectively cancelled it safely, because I can’t attack him after the 2nd slash for fear of the 3rd. That type of uncertainty completely changes the dynamic of the fight for me while I’m using a slow weapon. If I had something fast, like a spear, I wouldn’t care: I could take pokes every time he presented the smallest opening. Now, I have to adapt. I can’t depend on blocking at all, and, for the first time, I start to use rolling attacks. I put my shield away and dodge while hoping that he’ll be in range for the little stab I do when I get up from a roll. Often, I do not have the range or speed to hit him before he dodges away, but eventually he does die.

artorias 2

I get a Soul of Artorias, which is stained purple by the Abyss, and 50000 Souls. The Soul tells me that the legend of Artorias defeating the Abyss was not based on fact, but that after he fell a nameless hero stepped in and finished the job. I guess that’s me. All I can think about is, as a Darkwraith, when do I get all of that purple energy shit?

The ground here is scarred with that Abyssal darkness. It leads through a doorway, toward Oolacile.

abyss markings

Should I keep going, expecting to find a bonfire, or go back and explore the ravine? I go back every time, so I’m just going to ignore my instincts and keep going.

Through the open archway. On my right I can hear a magical hum. I can see messages on the ground, and a bunch of lit, blue bonfires. Unfortunately, this is just an online PvP arena, and it has no function for me.

arena 1

Past that, on a balcony in the open air, is a bonfire. I step out into Oolacile Township.

oolacile bonfire 1

I light it and rest. I can hear strange muttering and crying nearby, and in the distance, screams. Oolacile is not going to be a happy place.

I invest my Souls in another point of strength and reverse my Hollowing.

bonfire 2

This seems like a good place to end for now.

Ciaran

“When was the last time you were happy?”

Artorias had asked her that once, after a battle. She could have said that she was happy just then, happy to be there, with him, but she knew that he wasn’t really asking her, and that he already knew the answer.

“I don’t think I have ever been happy,” he told her.

“The way you fight, I’m not surprised,” joked Ornstein, his voice muffled by the elaborate helmet he wore.

At that time she was busy more often than not. The Lord’s Blades were Gwyn’s will in the dark of night, and his will was bent toward consolidating power, so there was always someone who needed a visit from her or one of her sisters. She was not a skilled negotiator, and didn’t need to be: Gwyn was the Great Lord, and the Great Lord did not bargain. Hers was a life of ultimatums, of capitulation or death.

Years passed. Life, such as it was, went on. For long stretches of those years one or both of them would be away, but when they met again she knew that neither of them had changed. Perhaps, nothing would ever change.

Then, as sudden as the snuffing of a candle, Gwyn was gone. After that, everything changed.

In her own heart, she was still a Lord’s Blade, and she had to believe that some day Gwyn would return, but out of all the Four Knights, she was the first to abandon her duties. Assassination for the Great Lord were one thing, but assassinations for his whelps was another thing altogether. After the utter failure of Gwyn’s firstborn son, she had little use for the rest of them.

She was already accustomed to greater autonomy than the others, which helped. She was able to disappear for lengths of time without any questions, and that is what she did. Now and then, she would find Gough, who was always willing to hear her thoughts, or Artorias, who never changed. Every time she found him, he was as closed off as he had always been, and eventually that became unbearable. She stopped looking for him as often, and instead spent time living amongst the humans, much like Gough did, but with greater success, as she was not a giant.

She experienced entire lifetimes, none of them her own. She witnessed youth and the blossoming of first loves, then the heartbreak that followed. She watched humans who grew old together, humans who grew apart over the span of years. She saw their bursts of vitality, of depression, of love and creation, of hate and destruction. They burned with the heat of a sun, and she envied every single one of them.

Artorias was not a man who had been made for love. He was made for devotion, for duty, and those were not the same. If he had been part of royalty, and her as well, they might have been paired off, and he would have stood by her side, but it would not have been for love.

She saw him one last time before he disappeared into Oolacile’s depths. The city was imploding in on itself, the people staggering through the streets in mobs of insane, violent rage. Every part of her knew that delving deeper was as dangerous a task as any of them had ever attempted. She implored him to be cautions, to follow his heart instead of his head. He could be a great hero, she knew, if he took the time to feel.

Artorias had promised her to obey, even saying that, though he was meant to rescue a princess, Ciaran was the true lady. She had actually blushed.

Days later, Alvina found her as she wandered restlessly through the forest, no longer able to stand Gough’s meditative calm in the face of imprisonment and the destruction all around.

“Do you have news?”

The cat mewed, and her heart sank lower than she thought it could.

“Artorias confronted the greatest evil of our time.” She spoke of the pact he had made with the darkness, of the battle he had entered against an unbeatable foe, of the sacrifice he had made.

She found him wandering Oolacile’s broken streets. He did not see her. He was mad with the dark power of Humanity. One arm broken, the other savaging any creature unfortunate to wander into his vision.

In her days living with humans, she had learned many of their stories, their fairy tales about heroic idealism. Their true hero would have made any sacrifice, and would have triumphed for it. Artorias was not that type of hero, and she cried, thinking that it had been on her insistence that he had tried to be one.

Down below, he turned to face the sound of her anguish. He lifted his head and saw her, and when he could not reach her, he went into a berserk rage.

Ciaran left him like that. She never saw him alive again. When he died, she recovered his tainted Soul, and kept it in her hands while she watched over his grave. Eventually, in her loneliness, she took his Soul into hers. After that, Sif avoided her, and she knew that part of the darkness had remained. She had given up her post, and she had thrown away her weapons, she had seen everyone she cared for leave her or die.

Out of all of the Four Knights, she had been the one most eager to live, but, when it came down to it, she also knew that her death was as close to true peace as she would ever know.

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