Dark Souls 2 Diaries – Day 09

Majula

So here I am, finally in the pit.

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The lion cape and Silvercat ring stack, which was good enough to make it down to the top platform,  but that’s only the first step. I loot the nearby corpse, picking up a Radiant Lifegem, then drink a flask charge to heal up before attempting the next drop. I land safely next to a body slumped against wall of the shaft and loot a Pharros lockstone. That’s two dead people in as many jumps, and each is a morbid marker of potential progress, or the lack of it.

I drop down to another platform pressed up against the shaft wall. From here I see two separate ways I could proceed. Almost directly below me is a slab of tan stone, the entrance to some sort of artificial cave or tunnel that runs away from the pit. On the other side of the shaft from the cave is another wooden platform with a loot corpse and a ladder. Each drop is significant, further even than my fall from ground level to the first platform. I should be sensible and safe about this.

 

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I bend down to drop a prism stone near the mouth of the cave. I bend over too far. Even as I let the prism stone go, I’m falling. I hit the cave entrance face first. I don’t survive.

A second later the prism stone lands next to my lifeless body and lets out a shriek. Thanks for that.

I still have a full health bar when I respawn, so I can try again. I make the first jump, then the next few, and I’m in the same place as before. This time I find a more sensible place to land, and leap down to a platform with another loot corpse, from which I take a few clumps of poison moss.

 

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From there I am able to hop down to the cave entrance.

Grave of Saints

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Inside the cave is a new area. And, fortunately, a new bonfire. I have found Harval’s Resting Place. The entrance to the Grave of Saints is carved to resemble the skull of a huge rat. It’s an amusing coincidence, considering the last area I plowed through. From somewhere inside drifts the faint sound of chuckling, a low titter that is nothing like the laughter of a normal person hearing a joke they like.

I could keep going here, but there’s more to the pit. I rest at the bonfire, then walk back to the mouth of the cave.

 

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Any notion that I’ve acquired a new foothold that I can use to make progress is soon dispelled. Getting across the shaft from here, to the platform with the ladder, is impossible. Some jerk put a bunch of wooden poles in the middle of the pit right in the exact spot that prevents me from jumping across. If I want to keep going down I’ll have to do it from the top of the pit.

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Which, honestly, is more incentive to get to the bottom of this. So I use the bonfire to warp back to Majula, then drop down from the top, taking a different series of falls so that I land on the platform near the ladder. I climb the ladder to the top and find solid stone doors blocking the way. Strange, crude symbols and patterns cover them, likely a sign to those in the know about what’s on the other side. When I try to interact I’m told the doors are locked.

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To keep going I’ll need to jump back across the pit and land on a narrow wooden platform. Even though the game is obviously designed for that to happen, I psych myself out and predict a forced roll when I land, as there is a lot of horizontal distance to cover. When my feet hit the platform I try to preempt a possible fatal roll forward by immediately rolling in a different direction. Which leads to me falling into the pit and dying anyway. At least I can be pretty sure it doesn’t bottom out in Doors of Pharros.

Now I’m at less than my maximum health, but none of the falls I took brought me so close to death that I don’t think I can try again. This time I don’t flinch and land safely on the small platform, next to a loot corpse. I pick up a Ring of the Evil Eye +1. An improved version of a ring that wasn’t worth using before. Perhaps this restores enough HP to be worth wearing?

 

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From there I can drop down once more. I land on another rocky outcrop, next to a body holding a homeward bone. An unsubtle”turn back now” sign if I’ve ever seen one, but I’m not about to back out before seeing what I’m up against.

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I’m at the entrance to a man-made underground passage now, with high stone walls and everything. I put my armour back on. I move cautiously at first, rounding a corner with my shield ready. There is no title card telling me that I’ve found a new area, and no bonfire in sight. Instead, I find some wide stairs curving further down.

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At the bottom of the stairs is a broken rope bridge hanging over a wide, circular room. On the other side of the bridge are torches flanking a chest, while on this side, near enough to hear, is a crystal lizard.

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I pull out my club and walk toward the crystal lizard. As expected, it flees, dropping off the bridge and out of sight. Even with how much of a pain in the ass it will be to get back here for the crystal lizard to respawn, I’m not stupid enough to take a flying leap into the unknown for a few chunks of ore that I probably can’t even use. I let it go.

Which is for the best. Underneath the bridge, far enough down that I’m sure the fall will hurt, is a floor of old, packed mud and dirt sloping up against the walls around a puddle of dirty, still water connecting exits leading in opposite directions. There are a couple of old skeletons lying in the mud, loot corpses left over from unfortunates that must have been stuck down there and unwilling to go on. And I think I see why. Colour draws my attention toward one of the doorways, where I can see a humanoid thing standing watch over the room, as if waiting for prey to land where it can attack. Parts of its torso is glowing with what looks a lot like flame from up here.

 

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I jump across the broken part of the bridge and open the chest. Inside is an Ash Knuckle Ring, which raises petrification resistance. I’ve yet to encounter anything that petrified me that wouldn’t also kill me first, but I suppose it’s nice to have just in case.

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A narrow ledge nearby, the last remnants of the stone floor that fell apart so long ago that even the bridge someone built to replace is has fallen into disrepair, has a loot corpse clinging precariously to it. I could jump for it, but I doubt I’d make it, and even if I could cover the distance there’s no way I would land without rolling right off again.

Above the broken rope bridge is an intact stone bridge, and from that position I’d be able to get to the loot corpse. But how do I get up there? I keep tracking up, and see dozens of torches lighting up a hole in the ceiling. Some wide stone platforms jut out like crooked teeth, and above them I can see the corner of another doorway. Looks like I’d have to come down from somewhere above. The Grave of Saints, I assume.

 

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Well, I can’t get back out from where I came in, and I’m already Hollowed, and only carrying 3700 Souls. May as well see what else I can see.

Which is always where it starts. I tell myself I’ll just sneak a look, but I rarely manage to limit myself to just that. A lot of that is the Dark Souls mechanic of leaving a bloodstain behind upon death. It has little to do with the Souls I might recover, not usually. Souls are something I barely keep track of, and if I had my way I’d get less of them than I do, because I run out of things to do with them and eventually have to level up, making me feel like I’m getting ahead of myself. Am I too strong? And am I investing in stats before getting a fuller idea of what I might want in the long run? One of those is definitely true.

It’s not the Souls, but the bloodstain itself. It compels me to keep coming back, because if I don’t I feel like I’ve given something up to the game, surrendered something. If I died and that was it, I wouldn’t be pulled so hard into throwing myself into such precarious positions over and over again. I have to fold early to get out, and once I’ve left the bloodstain I’ve committed.

Which is what happens here.

I fling myself at the body on the narrow ledge. I’m going down anyway, and may as well give it a shot. As I thought, I don’t even come close to getting to the loot. Instead, I land in the mud, taking some damage since I’d removed the Silvercat ring.

The jangling of a metal chain, and movement. I turn in time to see the flaming guy I’d spotted from the bridge bearing down on me. Tattered, dirty rags cover his legs, while his torso is bare and has the blotchy pallor of any other Hollowed. What sets him apart is the fire burning in his chest. A crude blade is practically bandaged to his left hand, and that’s what I’m watching as he nears. I raise my shield, thinking I won’t have time to back away and heal from the fall before he’s on me.

The Hollowed flops to the ground at my feet and explodes in a ball of fire.

I die.

 

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My health is still just high enough to survive the falls, so I do it all over again. Being honest, I’m not sure having to burn an effigy would have stopped me, but not having to is more than enough reason to try again.

I try throwing some knives at the crystal lizard, and miss. So I throw a firebomb, which manages to clip it and send it hurtling off the bridge again. Just to be absolutely certain, I walk up the stairs, save and exit, then reload the game. It doesn’t come back.

I keep the Silvercat ring on this time when I leap down into the mud. With full health I figure I should have a better chance of surviving the bomber. When it gets close I try to run and time a roll, but the explosion catches me anyway, and I’m dead.

This time I make it down by the barest margin, surviving the first fall into the pit with a sliver of health. I land a meaty 2-handed club swing on the crystal lizard, doing a lot of damage, and then my fingers fail me and I follow it up with a guard break, which does nothing to the little bastard and he escapes again.

There are 3 of the exploding guys waiting when I land in the mud. I have proven to myself that blocking doesn’t work, and neither does trying to dodge the explosion. Not to say that it’s impossible to roll away, but that the effort involved is more than my time is worth, especially with the way the water slows me down and makes it even harder to outrun the Hollowed. That covers the flight options, and I’m not about to freeze, so I’m only left with fighting back. When the first of the exploding Hollowed charges at me I simply stab it in the face with my spear, careful to time the thrust so that I keep potential explosions as far away as possible.

What follows is not the expected bang, but a whimper. It crumples around the spear tip, then falls to the ground and expires without further danger. Then the next one comes, and I do the same to it, and then the last comes and I stab it as well. Which leaves me standing alone in the mud.

 

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I loot the old skeletons. One holds 3 homeward bones, the other has a greater healing spell.

I check down the passage opposite the one the exploding guys attacked me from. There is a familiar knight standing in there.

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Having to fight him in the water adds some extra awkwardness, but it doesn’t stop me from getting behind him and putting my spear through his chest. After he dies I find the chest he was guarding. It’s made from metal and looks sturdy enough. I give it a single poke with my spear, figuring that every chest I’ve seen so far, even the wooden ones, could survive a couple of hits, and at this point I’m not taking chances of getting my torso chewed off by another mimic.

The chest is still a chest after I jab it, so I open it up and take out a sublime bone dust. A good find that almost makes this worth the trouble by itself. I think after using this a flask charge will be a full heal.

 

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I slosh slowly down the other passage, and that’s only partially because of the water dragging on me. There are bends in the tunnel, and each of them is an opportunity for something to jump out and charbroil my face. I peak around a corner, but there are no enemies. Instead, I see a crude wooden platform and the top of a ladder peaking up over it.

When I get closer I see that the tunnel opens up into another large pit, this one more artificial, that sinks yet deeper underground. The platform I saw is just the top of more crude scaffolding erected to allow access to the bottom of the pit. I say access to the bottom, because I soon find out that getting down there is easy enough, but some effort has been put into making it impossible to get back up again.

 

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Which is first made obvious when, after waiting and watching to confirm that there are no enemies lurking below, I climb down onto the ladder and end up with my feet dangling over thin air. If I want to continue, I will have to leg go and fall. It’s not so far that I risk injury, but it’s plenty far enough to keep the ladder out of my reach once I’ve landed.

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Of course I let go.

There is a body nearby holding an effigy, and plenty more ladders to allow further descent. I take them one by one, always alert for movement, but there is nothing else alive, or partially alive, in here with me. I grab a Radiant Lifegem from another corpse, and then I’m near the ground. Another one-way ladder, and I’m feeling lucky, so I pop the effigy I just found. Chances are most things I run into down here will kill me regardless of my maximum health, but I like to think the risk of losing my humanity keeps me on my toes.

Underneath the scaffolding is another chest, this one made of wood, but it’s just as sturdy as the last one and does nothing when I poke it. Inside is a Token of Spite, an online item used in PvP Covenants.

 

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Another tunnel leads away from the scaffolding. I hope I have finally found where I’m going.

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It’s been so quiet for so long, but when I enter the tunnel I start to hear something. A low, bubbling sound coming from somewhere ahead. The tunnel slopes gently to the right and downward, because at this point why not? The slight curve soon reveals something other than more stone walls or rickety wooden scaffolding.

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I can see where it opens up again, and also some oblong lumps of stone that I know and recognize.

A few more steps and the lights go out. The shapes are drowned in shadow, and the bubbling sound is overwhelmed by a steady bass thump like a giant heartbeat.

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At first I think I’ve found the reason I’ve got over an hour’s worth of torches, but if that were the case then where is my source of flame? I slip on the Ring of Whispers. A moan joins in with the heartbeat. Whatever is over there is not friendly.

The Gutter

I run back to the scaffolding. There is no other exit, no hidden path that I can find leading to a secret bonfire. There’s also no way back up. I’m going forward, and I might be doing it blind.

I walk to the mouth of the narrow tunnel and stop when I’ve neared the little lumps of stone. My vision isn’t nearly as impaired as I thought it would be. A wall of solid darkness begins a few paces in front of me, but I carry my own light radius that allows me to see my immediate surroundings. I can only make out vague, black shapes otherwise, but I have the impression of a massive cavern laid out before me. The little lumps of stone were familiar because I have seen them before, more than once. They are the same as the carved figures piled up back in Majula, at the top of the pit. I have no idea whether they were being brought down or had been brought up, but I do know what they are.

Torches in the distance help with perspective and depth for a space that I can’t actually see. They are far away from me and stand out like perimeter beacons. What I have found is not another simple pit full of old ladders and bits of wood. This place is the destination at the end of that journey.

 

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Nearer the foreground I can see the faint silhouette of a crude wooden building, and the laboured breathing and the lazy grumbling of Hollowed has joined in with the heartbeats and watery bubbling sounds. I start walking forward. A wooden platform ahead angles away into the dark. Or maybe it’s the flat roof of another makeshift building. I could probably jump to it. I need a closer look.

I nearly leap out of my skin when a glob of green gunk slaps into my back, almost filling my poison bar. I look around, but there are no enemies apparent. Did I trigger a trap? I back away into the tunnel to allow my poison bar to empty. Nothing attacks me. I walk out again, this time with the camera facing toward the tunnel and the little stone figures.

One of them spits another blob of poison at me. Before it hits me, I drop down into the darkness and land on the roof below.

 

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The roof is angling down toward total darkness, and from where I can stand there are holes rotted through it. When I stand near the edge I can see a fog gate somewhere below, and more dark outlines of platforms and wooden towers. What I’m standing on is essentially a big box, and there is no way off it except to keep falling. I drop through a nearby hole and climb up to the far end of the box, where there is some solid ground.

A Hollowed appears, a wiry little grey person that looks every bit the part of someone who has not seen daylight or a decent meal in generations. I stab the Hollowed, and one of the little stone statues spits a wad of poison at me.

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It misses, but seeing it there gives me an idea. If I’m going to be running into a lot of these things, it’s only fair that I should be able to defend myself. I pull out my club and take a swing at the statue. It breaks. Which is good, but now I can’t get back over the lip of the building, so I’m stuck out here.

I stumble around until I’ve found the edge of the cliff. The walls in this place are slimy with running water, and when I get close enough to the edge to shine some light on a nearby pillar I realize that this place is called the Gutter because it must literally be where people threw their trash. The entire thing is a pile of old junk that has been fused together by time, mud, and probably much less pleasant waste.

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I look around till I find another place to drop down. Another Hollowed is waiting where I land, but he’s not hostile.  He is prancing around a small bone idol that rests on a short stone pedestal.

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When I take a step forward for a better look at the bones, the Hollowed lunges at me, trying to grab onto me. I put my spear through his back. An item drops, then slips through the wide cracks in the wooden floor before I can snatch it.

My attention is then attracted to the familiar glow of a bonfire. It’s not that far away, either, just down some wooden steps and across a couple of roofs. A new area, a new bonfire. Makes sense.

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I turn and take a step toward the stairs. My foot finds a rotten board, and it’s too late for me to shift my weight. I’m going through. I’m falling down.

I land inside a small, open room, near the item the last Hollowed had dropped. I register a cobbled together living space. Old, overturned furniture, thin strips of cloth bedding that may as well be carpets, and a whole bunch of angry Hollowed that weren’t expecting guests and object to me dropping in on them.

 

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I do what I have to do, and when all the Hollowed have stopped moving I loot the item. It’s a prisoner’s waistcloth, which says that the Hollowed here were prisoners, obviously, but if that’s the case–and I don’t disbelieve it, because who would live down here by choice? If that’s the case, then who built this?

A narrow balcony runs along the outside of the room, and I’m looking for a place to get back up and finding none. Then I look for a place to keep going down, but don’t have much luck with that until a nearby Hollowed holds up a torch as if calling me in for a landing. I’ll have to jump for it.

 

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I land near him and put him down before he can cause me any trouble. He was waiting in the middle of a ring of the little bone idols. Do they worship death down here? Is this some sort of Hollowed religion? I mean, for a bunch of half-zombies who can’t die, it might make sense that they’d be hoping and praying for that final release, but it’s all too organized to make sense. I’m starting to wonder if there’s something new to being Hollowed in Drangleic.

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And here I am, standing well below the bonfire and moving consistently in the opposite direction of my goal. I take stock. After nearly breaking my body getting down here I am down to 3 flask charges, though I have a few Lifegems in my pocket for emergencies. I’m not Hollowed, so I have all my health to work with, and so far the opposition has been a few listless Undead wearing little more than rags. Still, they can hurt me if I made a mistake, and in the dark anything might be waiting.

I first encountered attrition as a formal game mechanic when I began collecting and playing the late and lamented Star Wars CCG made by Decipher. It was an interesting rule that forced even the player who won a battle to potentially take losses, to better simulate how real battles play out. Nobody gets through unscathed.

Attrition was a big part of video game RPGs at the time, as most of them took inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons and dungeon crawls. From Final Fantasy to Baldur’s Gate, attrition was essential for game balance and pacing, but, unfortunately, most of them did not do it well.

The idea is that the player is in a dungeon and trying to get to the bottom of it. Every enemy they take down may not be a big challenge by itself, but they will cost them some resources to beat. The player has to keep running that gauntlet until they’ve found the boss or the way out. All the while they are managing dwindling mana pools and potion stocks.

At least that’s the theory. In reality, most games gave the players as many healing potions as they could ever need, and most players learned quickly to save their mana for the boss fights. This turned dungeon crawling into a slog of mashing attack commands and chugging potions, and changed random encounters from a resource tax on dawdlers to annoying chores.

But I always liked the spirit of those ideas. I’m having the most fun when the game is pressing me to make decisions about what to do based on what I have and where it can get me.

Which is me saying that getting stuck in the Gutter, with access to the bonfire denied, having to flail around in the darkness for purchase, is a situation that I don’t mind at all. And I still have homeward bones as a get out of jail card.

 

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In the meantime I’m still looking for a way up, and I find a ladder. At the top is a cave. I hold my shield up as I take slow steps inside, straining my eyes to see something in the shadowed interior. I make out the outlines of little statues, and find that the place is full of them.

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I start breaking the statues, always with attention on my peripheral vision, waiting for something else to attack. I smash most of them and find the back of the cave, where there is another pair of those carved stone doors like the ones I found back in the Majula pit.

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I get close enough to confirm that they’re locked, and also too see a blob of poison come shooting out from the crack between them. There’s nothing else to do in the cave, so I leave.

Back down the ladder, in the ring of bone idols, and the only way to continue is crossing a bridge in the direction of a fog gate.

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Every step I take, I’m getting further from that bonfire.

There is a neat, square hole in the floor. I can hear chains rattling, and on a rope bridge hanging between me and the fog gate I catch movement, the shape of a Hollowed running wildly. As I watch, he tumbles over the edge, and I gain 340 Souls. That sound gone, I can hear heavy breathing over the omnipresent heartbeat thumps. There is a Hollowed animal down here, lurking somewhere. Probably a dog. Humans will take them anywhere.

I peer down through the hole, but I can’t see anything. Not that there’s nothing to see, but more that if there is, I can’t make it out from up here. There’s nothing to target, though, and that’s about all I’ll get for assurances in this place.

I drop down. Nothing attacks. I’m in another room, more bits of old wood that have been crudely slapped together to create a tower. I’m always worried that when I put a foot down it will slip through a gap, or a board will break. That’s the reason I’m stuck here in the first place, my progress hanging by a thread while I stumble through the black in hopes that I’ll find a way back to the bonfire.

A doorway leads outside, and I cross to the next building. Clay jars that look an awful lot like human hearts clog the space inside. The pounding heartbeats are getting stronger the closer I get.

 

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There is also something inside the room that is moving, and it’s not another starved Hollowed.

I use the spear’s range to stab at the nearest heart jar. It breaks apart, letting out an eruption of orange stuff that I’m pretty sure I don’t want to get on me. I break apart a couple of normal jars on the ledge outside the room and find a body.

 

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The rotten pine resin is a temporary dark magic buff for melee weapons, and the dark pyromancy flame is something I didn’t expect to find anywhere, but that makes some sense now that I have. Why shouldn’t pyromancy have a dark side? The most interesting thing about it is how it draws strength from becoming Hollowed, and would presumably become stronger up to the point where I’m down to 50% of my total health. What utter insanity would give someone the idea to use something like this, to skirt oblivion in the pursuit of power? Unless being Hollowed isn’t quite the spiritual black hole it’s made out to be. It’s an idea that has far-reaching implications, and I’m still in serious doubt that it’s at all true, despite the evidence I find.

Once I’ve stabbed a few more of the hearts, I come face to ugly face what is waiting for me in the darkness. An oversized pit bull turns toward me, dead, beady eyes promising a grisly death.

 

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It paws toward me, slowly at first, and snaps at me with ragged jaws. Its entire body looks like the skin was turned inside out, open sores and general decay that belies that vicious, Hollowed strength. I lead it back across the bridge to the empty room I’d fallen into. I’m still not sure about those heart jars, and I don’t want to risk running into one during the fight.

The dog manages to hit me once when I get ahead of myself trying to stab its side and run out of stamina. It is a lot of damage, enough that I couldn’t take another and survive. I kill it quickly, and I’m gratified when the Evil Eye +1 ring restores a sizable chunk of health. Still not enough to make up for what I lost, and it’s doubtful it ever will, but I could see some situations where it would be worth wearing.

I use a Lifegem to heal, knowing that my flask charges are precious and should be kept for emergencies. I return and break all of the heart jars. The heartbeats fade into the background, but don’t become completely silent.

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Near the back of the room I find another bone idol, and a couple of Hollowed who jump up to defend it. My spear has lost almost half its durability, so I switch to my club to take care of them. It’s over within the space of a few heartbeats.

There is a ladder in the room, and when I climb it I find the floor above holds more heart jars.

 

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A pair of Hollowed come at me from the darkness. I kill them and pick up a couple of poisoned throwing knives. I then break the final heart jar, and the heartbeat sound stops.

Past another bone idol and up another ladder. When I reach the top the heartbeats start up all over again. So much for that. There are more heart jars here, and a fairly large collection of loot corpses in the far corner.

 

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It’s suspicious enough to make me extra cautious. A Hollowed nearby is busy worshipping his a bone idol, so I sneak up and use my club to get rid of him before he has a chance to turn on me. I use the spear to break the nearest heart jar, which reveals a ledge running along the outside of the room, and a row of the little poison-spitting statues out there, leaning against the wall. Are they facing in or out? I get close enough to see they are facing out, toward the darkness. A loot corpse flops out of a broken jar, and I pick up an Undead Soul. I can see the next building over, and the torch-carrying Hollowed that waits for me there, watching impassively as I go about my business.

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With the club I manage to break the statues from the inside, smashing at them through the thin, wooden wall. Best to do that now, while I’m safe. I then move to the pile of loot corpses and, after waiting to make sure nothing has sprung up to attack me, I begin to loot. The haul is much better than I expected, which was nothing more than a few faint Undead Souls. I get an effigy, twinkling titanite, a few smooth and silky stones, and even a branch of Yore. People will throw anything away.

So far progress has been relatively smooth, but I’m still antsy because the route I’m taking turns at random, jerking me toward and then away from the few landmarks that stand out in the pressing gloom of the cave. I’m worried because I still have no idea where I’m headed, but am becoming increasingly sure that it’s not back up to the bonfire. What if I missed my chance and end up stuck in a boss fight?

I circle the building from the outside. A statue I hadn’t seen spits a gob of poison in my face before I can break it, and when I’m approaching more statues the floor collapses beneath me, but this time I’m able to recover and keep from falling. I’m pretty sure that fall leads back down to the room I climbed out of to get here, and I’m trying to keep moving forward. I don’t need to take another jump into the unknown. I have to believe that where I’m headed already is the right direction, and stick to it.

So I leap down to the torch guy I saw earlier. I kill him, and he probably drops a torch, but the item slips away and falls out of sight. Another Hollowed runs at me, a small sword held high and wreathed in an aura of black energy. He dies before taking a swing.

I break a few more poison statues and come to a tight trio of bone idols next to a rope bridge. More torch wielding Hollowed mark buildings further on.

 

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I have to cross the bridge. It’s not the sort of thing I’d ever want to step on, even in bright daylight, but it’s the only way to go, so I have to assume it’s safe. A torch guy plunges to his death somewhere behind me.

A ladder waits on the other side of the bridge, leading up to a small wooden platform connected to the next building. I can see something big moving around inside there. I check around behind the ladder and eat a blob of poison. More statues. I break them down with my club.

 

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A group of Hollowed form a ring around another bone idol. I start toward them, ready for a fight, but find that they’re already dead, their lifeless bodies a final offering for their cult.

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At the top of the ladder is a skeleton (not the kind that attacks people), a poison statue, and a chest nestled in a little enclosure. I check the chest, then open it, taking out 3 black firebombs.

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Inside the next building is another pit bull. The space is so narrow that it’s constricting my actions while I trying to fight it. Somehow it swipes me with a claw while I’m circling, the attack coming out so fast that I don’t even see it till after I’ve taken the damage.

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I back away and use a flask charge. Two left.

I kill the pit bull without taking further damage, then investigate the building. More empty jars, more poison statues. The rattle of chains warns me of another sword-swinging Hollowed trying to attack, and I turn in time to take him down. But the poison statues finally get me, hitting me twice in quick succession and filling my poison bar.

I was stupid for not equipping the poison moss when I had the chance, and now, my health dropping rapidly, I don’t think I’ll have the time to open the menu and sort through my items to find it. I have to use a Radiant Lifegem and another flask charge to outlast the poison. I then open the menu and add poison moss to my hotbar.

One flask charge left.

After breaking the statues I’m confronted with yet another ladder.

 

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I hear anxious movement above me, chains and rope. I climb the ladder, pausing a moment at the top to make sure it’s safe, then standing at the top. Dancing fire tells me that a trio of Hollowed holding torches have noticed me.

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I watch as they all jump down to the chest I’d just looted, then run across to the ladder I’d just climbed.

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And then I smash each with my club as they reach the top. For every sign that Hollowed have a little bit of intelligence left over, there are the stupid things they keep doing.

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One drops a torch, and another drops an item that become lost to me when it falls through a crack and lands on a wooden beam half way down the ladder.

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Another rope bridge. I’m really worried now. I long ago stopped moving toward the bonfire, and I’m getting ever closer to that fog gate.

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A Hollowed comes at me swinging a sword, and I bumble my defence. It gets a good slash in before I knock it down, and I retreat back across the rope bridge, wary of another attacker. Though the attack was enough to drop me to about half health, I can’t justify using my final flask charge. I crush another Radiant Lifegem and wait for my health to recharge before crossing the bridge again.

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It’s a good thing I did, too, because I miss the signs of another collapsing floor and find myself standing frozen in place on top of a clay jar. A pit bull is close enough to almost touch, but it’s facing away and must be deaf, because it doesn’t notice me yet.

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After recovering my nerve, I fight it, keeping close so that I don’t trigger any more potential threats. It lands another surprise claw swipe, and I’m starting to get annoyed by how they hit before the animation even starts. This forces me to use my final flask charge, but I do kill it. Inside one of the broken jars is a body holding a couple more black firebombs.

More signs of basic civilization. Across the room, near some stained rugs and a limp, lootless corpse, are some old candles and a few chunks of hanging meat. One of the pieces must be a hog, but the rest I’m not so sure about, but I am sure that I’d be better off keeping it that way.

 

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I have to jump across to the next building, and there is a line of statues waiting for me when I land.

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I’m poisoned again, but this time I have my moss ready and I cure myself before taking too much damage. I break all the statues with my club, which drops its durability down to about a quarter of a bar. I can nearly see the ground from here, and another fog gate.

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I turn a corner outside the building, and find a pleasant surprise for once.

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I light the bonfire. It seems almost like a waste now, after clearing so much of the area. All those guys respawning. Still, I shouldn’t have to do most of it again. The only reason I ended up there was because I was trying to get to the first bonfire, and between there and here isn’t a whole lot that needs doing again.

But where do I go from here? A prism stone tells me that, though I can see the ground below, it’s much too far to survive a fall. I end up resting at the bonfire and finding out that I’ve found the Central Gutter. Makes sense.

I’ve had my fill for now. I just wanted a peek, and, as usual, I bit off more than I wanted to chew. I warp back to Majula and burn my sublime bone dust. I have Estus flasks +3 now.

Shrouded Woods

Another branch of Yore, another statue removed from my path here. I’m not interested in being cursed again on my way down to Tark’s lair, so I leap across the broken bridge near the last bonfire.

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I use the branch of Yore on the lion warrior statue. The beastman is freed from the curse and falls to his knees. I can’t target him. Maybe he’s found a reason to not hate humans now?

Nope. He pulls an axe and a shield straight out of his ass and forces me to kill him.

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I can see the inside of the big building now, and it looks like I’ve found Vengarl’s body.

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When I enter the building, Vengarl’s body pulls out a pair of massive machete-like swords and starts slashing wildly. The body is huge as well, nearly twice as tall as me. The idea of Vengarl’s normal-sized human head perched on those giant shoulders is almost comical.

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It must have grown after his death, and since his death wasn’t natural or normal, I’m not that surprised. Maybe he became fodder for the same sort of experiments that created Tark.

The body’s attacks are relentless and build minor bleed damage when I block. It’s fast for its size, but still easy enough to dodge, and easier still to fight once I figure out I can backstab it.

 

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It has a lot of health, so the fight is still exhausting. A single mistake and I’m cut down instantly, but on my next attempt I play safe enough to remove all danger, and after a while the body dies.

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I recover the full set of Vengarl’s armour. A nearby corpse holds a torch. His armour tells me that even Forrosa’s Lion Knights considered Vengarl to be a brutal maniac. The Lion Knights who are not the Lion Clan warriors I’ve been fighting, because why not be as confusing as possible? The armour is good in most ways that matter, with high defence and poise even for its weight. I put the chest piece on.

A statue blocks the other exit from the building, and I can see sand around it and hear the familiar sounds of Tark’s footsteps. There were two ways into this building, and I took the back entrance. Which saves me a branch of Yore in the long run.

 

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There are a bunch of other statues in the Shrouded Woods, and most of them seem to be blocking nothing important, making them optional. I’m now certain there will be a place to farm branches of Yore just like Pharros lockstones. Just as I’m certain Pharros lockstones are likely tied to the Rat King’s Covenant and probably involve online play. Likely they’re a PvP reward of some sort.

I run over to Vengarl’s head. Once I’m sure none of the ghost rogues have followed, I talk to him.

 

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He tells me that he sensed his body dying, and that now he will fight by my side. I wanted a cool sword, but I’ll settle for a summon that I can’t even use.

I’m not feeling up to more exploring today. I warp to Things Betwixt to trade my smooth stones. Before going to the nest I drop in on the old Fire Keepers. Their maid tells me I did a good job in the forest, though not which one, and hands over a handmaid’s ladle.

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It’s a serving spoon that I could use as a club. It also does almost no damage and has no stat scaling. Maybe it’s one of those easter egg weapons that becomes super strong when maxed out?

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I’m reminded that I have a bunch of Souls I should spend, so I warp back to Majula and speak to the Emerald Herald. I take 2 points in strength, which allows me to use the grand lance.

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I then talk to the smith and upgrade my club to +4 and my winged spear to +5. Things aren’t dying as quickly as I’d like, and this is the best I can manage with what I have. The smith gives me a blacksmith’s hammer as loyalty reward. It’s not worth using.

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I go back to Things Betwixt and climb up to the nest. I drop a small smooth stone and get a Lifegem in return. I then drop the bigger ones. The first one gets me a darknight stone, which will convert a weapon to do darkness damage, and presumably help with self-harm and applying black eyeliner.

I hand the rest over one at a time and get random items in return. A boltstone, for lighting damage weapons, a couple of mundane stones, a titanite shard, crimson water (restores health and spell charges), a Proud Knight’s Soul, and Channeler’s Trident. I make a mental note to never use a smooth and silky stone again.

The trident is the most interesting reward. It has a decent movelist, and its heavy 2-handed attack is a weird dance that gives a temporary attack damage buff at the cost of a bunch of durability. I wonder what other Dark Souls 1 weapons I might find, though I’m aware that I didn’t really use most of them. I’d be more interested in finding something like an Eagle Shield. The damage buff is nice, but not significant enough to be worthwhile for how much it costs, though I don’t have access to any magical buffs and anything can help. I’m also pretty sure that it had an intelligence requirement in the first game, which it no longer has. I might keep it in my pocket to give me an initial boost during boss fights. I’m still a fan of the trident’s basic heavy and running attacks, which are a stab that hits multiple times when the tines spin around. I may upgrade this down the line, since it only requires basic titanite.

 

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I try the coffin by the water again, this time wearing various rings to see if there’s any effect, but nothing noticeable happens. So I go back to Majula and give over my 4 awestones to the Victor’s Stone. It’s not enough to reach the next level.

That’s all I have to do here. I’m thinking tomorrow calls for a radical shift in direction.

In retrospect, my trek through the first part of the Gutter was a lot more bark than bite, the pit bulls notwithstanding. It’s possible to look back with disappointment, but I don’t.

What attrition does, along with limited resources, is build tension, and tension is something that doesn’t exist in the past. It’s about the future, about anticipation, and dealing with it in the present. Though the challenges I faced in the Gutter weren’t enough to kill me, though I fought only a few handfuls of enemies in total and few of them were dangerous, the circumstances still made it exciting, and that’s something even Dark Souls can fail at. Because, as I said, tension is part of the future.

It has to loom over a player, and then swoop in now and then to remind them that they are mortal. It was only a perfect storm of circumstances that put me where I was, with what I had, and a lot of that was because I didn’t die, because the journey wasn’t as unsafe as it seemed, as it could have been.

Had I died, the tension would have been gone. Everything up to the point of recovering my body would be a known quantity, and it’s likely I’d avoid many of the literal pitfalls that set me back. Assuming it’s possible, I could have made it to the first bonfire, and might have found a completely different route from there, or at least could have recharged my flask charges. Struggling through the dark with a full stock of healing items, and some knowledge of what’s ahead, makes for a different experience.

For me, single-player games live and die on those moments, and it’s the main reason I almost always limit myself when I play. I need that feeling that my back is against a wall, or that there’s at least a wall somewhere behind me, and if that means I need to gimp myself, then I’ll do it.

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