Dark Souls 2 Diaries – Day 12

I have two things I want to do today. The first is rebuilding my character, the second is finding a way up to those loot corpses in the Lost Bastille.

I had planned on taking a day off at some point to play around with the Soul Vessel. I’d expected that to happen much later in the game, likely around the half-way point, after I’d recovered the souls of the Old Ones. But now I have 2 Soul Vessels and an already inflated character level, so I may as well.

Actually, my character level being too high is an assumption on my part. I finished Prepare to Die, DLC included, at level 85, which was a self-imposed limit. Truth is, I could have finished it at a lower level, and probably would have if I hadn’t decided to use a weapon that required 50 strength. I know I’ve been doing Dark Souls 2 in the wrong order, and that’s bumped me up somewhat, but the fact is that I did go through each of those areas with the levels and gear I had, and came out stronger on the other side. I never once felt the need to grind in either game, but I also can’t help the feeling that I’m doing it anyway, through the process of dying and recovering my body. Even now, after clearing my first major checkpoint, I’m sitting on enough Souls for 17 more levels. I’d then be level 76 before I’ve seen the second Old One. And that would be if it were the very next boss I faced. For all I know, there’s another 17 level’s worth of Souls before I get there.

This may seem like a lot of hemming and hawing about what is ultimately inconsequential, and that’s likely the case, but I’m trying to put myself back on a proper road. The trouble with playing well–not to say that I’m accomplishing anything of great note in that department–is that it ends up being its own, self-perpetuating, reward. The better I play, the fewer effigies I spend, and the more Souls I end up with in my account at the end of the day, not to mention all the extra loot.

Majula

I’m bordering on 124,000 Souls right now. And, as I’ve already said, I don’t want to throw them at more levels before I have to. I need something else to sink them into, but the trouble is that I’ve already run through the inventory of the vendors here, buying up anything I needed and then a few extras just because.

Not to say there aren’t more items I could pick up, now that a second look is necessary. I speak to Melentia, and, after browsing for a bit, I decide to buy a pair of caestus. They’re cheap and not going to set me in any significant way, but I’ve never used the fist weapons much and I’m curious to try them out. I punched a few things when I first arrived in Things Betwixt, and it seemed more involved than what was available in the first game.

It’s while screwing around with the caestus, which are essentially leather boxing gloves with embedded metal studs, I make a discovery. There’s an additional weapon stance. I get it the first time with a caestus equipped in my main hand and a bare fist in the other. When I hold down the button that would normally cause me to adopt a 2-handed stance, I instead raise my arms slightly. From then on, every attack I make with my offhand becomes a two-fist combo.

Actually, that’s an exaggeration. It’s only my normal light attack combo and heavy attack that change. The light attacks become one-two combinations of hooks and uppercuts, while the heavy attack is now a series of spinning haymakers and backfists.  The other attacks–running, rolling, jumping–remain the same.

I spend a few minutes experimenting. The game seems to group weapons into a hierarchy based on their categories. Fist weapons are at the bottom, with bare hands only counting as an offhand weapon when I have something like a caestus equipped. Above that is daggers, then normal swords, then katanas, then clubs and axes, which seem to be interchangeable, and finally spears.

The weapon higher on the totem pole becomes the dominant in the pair, no matter which hand it’s held in. This is what determines the extra moves from the dual-wielding stance. For example, 2 daggers will get me quick double-slashes for light attacks, and a strange vertical inverted-scissor slash that may also serve is a reversal or parry, because it’s otherwise slow and awkward. But if I hold a dagger and a sword, then I get the sword’s moves, which involve slashing with both weapons at once. A sword and a club and those double slashes become double bashes, and so on.

Not all weapons are compatible. The fists only work with fists, and the others seem grouped into slashing or striking, with some being a part of both groups. Clubs and axes can pair with swords, but not daggers. Katanas pair with at least swords and daggers, and share moves with both, but I only have a single katana on hand so I can’t experiment much with them. Spears work with swords and daggers, but not clubs or axes, which makes sense since the spear’s dual-wielding attacks are all stabs.

 

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I can’t get anything bigger than a long sword or basic club or axe to work in the dual wielding stance. Maybe there’s a weight limit, but I think there’s a stat component as well. For example, I can pair my basic club with a morningstar, and with other weak clubs and axes, but it won’t work with the craftsman’s hammer, which is obviously a 1-handed weapon, but which also has higher stat requirements than every other 1-handed club or axe I have. It needs 20 strength, while I only have 22. Holding a weapon in 2-hands lowers the stat requirements, so it would be fitting that dual-wielding raised stat requirements.

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Though I haven’t tested it in the field, I assume the advantage of this stance is doubling potential damage, but it comes at a steep price. No more blocking at all, and no parrying, either. Considering that 2-handed weapons can block and also parry, though slowly, that’s not insignificant. Still, there would be many scenarios where the advantages would far outweigh what’s lost. Dark Souls souls is often a game of hit or be hit, and with enough damage many fights are a matter of getting that first attack in. The thing is, for the same potential stat cost I could just use a much, much bigger 2-handed weapon. My attacks would be slower, but I’d have more range and potentially more poise damage without sacrificing as much defence.

So I’ve learned something new, which is nice, but I’ve still got Souls of offload.

I visit the other NPCs, starting with Maughlin the Armourer. I buy the sets that I haven’t found pieces of already, which are the standard soldier armour and the set of infantry gear. I don’t bother with the Falconer’s stuff, since I know I’ll be fighting them again and I’ve already picked up a few pieces. I also can’t bring myself to buy any of his shields, as they’ll never be of any use to me.

 

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There’s no gift in exchange for my patronage, so I leave. I offer some awestones up to the Victor’s Stone. I’ve lost track of how many that is now, but I must be getting close to 20. The few I donate aren’t enough to reach the next level of devotion.

I speak to the priestess in the underground passage. Nothing new there. Same for mopey Saulden and cheery Rosabeth. Should I be buying upgrades for my pyromancy flame? Will an upgraded flame be a trigger for an NPC down the line, even if I never use pyromancy? Likely, but in that case, which do I upgrade, the normal one or the dark one? I’ll have to think about that some more.

Next I visit the cat. Her chatter about the Old Ones has some context now. I had no idea what these “great Souls” would be like before finally meeting one. They could have been random beings that stumbled into a bit of power. But I think the Lost Sinner is more than that. I think her place in the Lost Bastille must also be more than coincidence. I went through that place expecting to find the jailer, the Lord who was responsible for locking away so many, and also for leaving them to die. What I found was just another prisoner, one that had locked herself away to atone for her many sins.

And those aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It’s not a stretch to imagine that someone who was responsible for so much misery might have reserved that final cell for herself.

That’s proof of nothing, but there’s every chance that coincidence is the closest I’ll ever get to evidence. It’s a hypothesis, but it’s the best I have so far.

My next stop is the mansion. When I arrive in the map room something has changed. There’s a new flame burning on the floor.

 

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This new flame is around the coast from the fortress to the north, which would put it well out of sight. Since I can’t place No-Man’s Wharf on the map, it’s not clear what I’m looking at. Unless I take this as a map of Drangleic before the major disasters. That could make Heide the spot between the Forest of Fallen Giants and the Lost Bastille. And would mean that this map, which is already lacking in detail, is also unreliable.

I’m also not much closer to figuring out where the flames come from. Could be because I lit the primal bonfire, but in that case what about the first flame? I lit nothing in the old fortress. I’ll have to return there eventually, so maybe I’ll find the answers then.

I warp to McDuff’s workshop in the Lost Bastille. He tells me that as a reward for walking with the flame, whatever that’s supposed to mean, I should have a titanite slab. I have more of those things now than I have titanite chunks needed to get a weapon to a level where I can use a slab. Which qualifies as the Drangleic equivalent of a first world problem.

 

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One of the dogs outside runs in to attack me. After clubbing it to death, I figure I this is a fine time to try out  this dual-wielding thing. I climb the stairs toward the first pyromancer, a club in one hand and a spiky morningstar in the other.

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There’s an explosive barrel up there, laying on its side. He doesn’t kick it at me or anything, but I see now how what blew open the wall next to the bonfire.

The fight goes well. I don’t get a good look at my damage numbers, but they seem high enough to make fighting like this viable. It would also take some practice. The next pyromancer hits an explosive barrel, sending us both flying, and I’m unsure how to recover once I’ve lost the initiative. There’s not enough space to roll around him, and before I can back away I get myself killed. I recover my body and all my Souls, but it would be sensible to get rid of them before I try to relearn the game.

My next stop is Things Betwixt, where I talk to the old Firekeeper and hand over a Soul Vessel.

 

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The Soul Vessel isn’t consumed until I actually make changes, which is nice.

I’m allowing the game to push me in a direction I wouldn’t have taken otherwise. Designing an elaborate build is impractical with my limitations, and that’s not much of an imposition. I tend to be a lazy character builder at the best of times, and in this type of game I favour practicality. I’d happily keep the stats I have already and continue to add damage so I could stab and club my way through the rest of the game. Using magic, depending on buffs and that sort of thing, just doesn’t appeal to me as pragmatic enough.

Which isn’t to say I’m against it. I had hoped to wait until I had access to more of the infusion ores before redistributing my stats, and my plan then is the same as it is now, to build up my intelligence enough to use a few spells. If I was also able to modify my spear and club to do magic damage, with my intelligence amplifying it, so much the better. As it is, I only have access to lightning damage, which would be a faith build.

 

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I’m taken to a screen much like the level-up screen, but now I have all my levels back, putting every stat back at 6. That gives me 58 levels to work with, and I’ll add another when I’m done to hit an even level 60.

The first thing I do is test some of the stats. I can bump any of them up nearly 60 levels on this screen and see what they do to my numbers.

Adaptability is first. The initial point above 6 does nothing, but afterwards all stats are raised in 4-level groups, with agility ignoring the first point. At level 38, when agility is at 110, it stops rising, so that when adaptability is level 60 agility is only 112. That’s heavy diminishing returns, but it also makes me question the stat’s usefulness all over again.

Here’s the thing. I’m at least a quarter of the way into the game, and I’ve seen plenty of content. All while my adaptability has been a pathetic 8, and my agility has only been a few points above the base of 87. It hasn’t made a difference to me. Not to say it wouldn’t make a difference, but, as I said, I’m being practical here. If I dump everything I have into adaptability, my agility will rise 20 odd points. That seems like a terrible return on my investment. It might not be, but the important thing is that lacking agility hasn’t been a problem at all. Those 20 points might translate into a few extra frames of invulnerability during rolls, and there are certainly times when I roll through attacks, especially big slam attacks, that somehow hit me anyway. I can work around that.

In Diablo 2 I learned about animation breakpoints as they relate to stats. While not every game works the same way Diablo 2 does, the ones with stat gains tend to operate on the same principles. Breakpoints are all about animation frames. Based on how fast the game ran, players worked out exact attack speeds, which they use to min/max gear and stat choices. If a bow with a base attack speed of 0 can attack once every 7 frames, the question becomes how and when a player can shave those frames away. With +50 increased attack speed they might hit 6 frames per attack, and at +100 they hit 5 frames per attack, and so on, but with diminishing returns and to a hard limit.

What it means for a player designing a build is that every bit of increased attack speed before and after a breakpoint is a waste. There is no difference between the firing speed of a character with +50 increased attack speed and +99 increased attack speed. If the player can’t make the next breakpoint, it’s all for nothing.

I suspect that agility works the same way. It’s not as if every point will mean an extra frame of invulnerability. That wouldn’t make any sense. It might be another 5 points is another frame of invulnerability, and then 10, and then 12, and then 17. I have no idea. And I’d be throwing levels down the drain if I don’t do thorough testing.

And, like I said, it’s not a problem, and I’m trying to be practical.

Adaptability also raises resistances, and the returns for that are just as uncertain. Tripling my bleed resistance would be nice, on paper, but if I block and avoid attacks, as I’ve been doing already, those extra stats are superfluous.

If I want to use spells, then the first thing I need is attunement. Here are more examples of something like breakpoints. At 10 points I gain my first spell slot. At 13 points I gain a second, then a third at 16, and a fourth at 20. After that it slows down, so by 40 points I’m only at 7 spell slots. Going past 30 points, which is 6 spell slots, seems like the highest amount worth investing in, and only if I have a use for every slot. I have only 1 spell I’m interested in casting, and it takes up a single slot. The most I could possibly invest would be 20 points, and even that would depend on finding other spells I wanted to use. I waver between 13 points or 16 points. The ultimate decision will come down to how many stats I have to spare.

Vitality also slows down at 30 points, dropping from 1.5 equip load per point to 1. At level 50 it drops down to .5 per level. I have 27 points already, making it my highest stat, but by now that feels like too much. I was trying to keep below 50% equip load while still wearing some heavier armour, but I’ve found I can nudge up against 70% without the weight  becoming a noticeable problem, and I could always wear something lighter if I had to.

I need a minimum of 18 intelligence to use my great magic weapon spell, and 20 to use the least demanding of the staves I’ve found. I also assume I need a minimum amount of intelligence to attract the services of the basic sorcery NPC. Even if I could get away with 18 intelligence, 20 seems like a more likely number for him to notice me. The downside is that I suspect he will sell me a staff that needs much less than 20 intelligence to use.

There’s no avoiding that 20 intelligence for now, so I commit to it, even though I also suspect it will have no bearing on my buff spell.

The club needs 12 strength, the winged spear needs 18 dexterity, and the Drangleic shield is 16 strength. If I take the minimum stats for those, lower my vitality, shave away some adaptability, and commit to the 20 intelligence, I’m still a bit over-budget. A few more adjustments and I end up with this:

 

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I take the biggest hit in equip load, but that’s a loss I can walk away from without regrets. I warp back to Majula and level up once, so that I’m at 60, and put the extra point into vitality.

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With only 16 points in strength, I am no longer able to dual-wield many weapons, the club included. My hunch that it requires extra stats to do that was correct. Playing around more with that stance will have to wait till later.

The Herald is lounging on a rock when I arrive in Majula, and stands hastily when I approach her, as if she feels guilty for resting. I’m not in a hurry. After levelling up, I use the Estus shard I found yesterday. I now have 8 flask charges in total.

I buy another club. The morningstar required 15 strength, while clubs only need 12, and I have 16. That’s still not enough to duel-wield them. Is it 1.5x the basic stat requirements? That would mean 18 strength. I’ll have to try that if I ever need to level strength again. I could raise it a point or two at a time till I find the right number.

At the bonfire I attune my spells. Besides the great magic weapon buff, I can use one of the many soul arrow spells I’ve picked up. I hope buff spells work with infused and magical weapons, otherwise I’ll have to rework my build again. When I stand up, I have attuned great magic weapon and great soul arrow.

Before going to No-Man’s Wharf, I can’t help but test my fears about the spells and staves. It’s worse than I’d thought.

I’m a full 30 intelligence short of the requirements to use the Staff of Wisdom, yet that doesn’t stop me from casting spells with it. They take a little longer to come out, and the soul arrows I fire are a bit weaker, but they still get cast. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that using the Staff of Wisdom to cast great magic weapon places the exact same buff as when I use my Bone Staff. The extra damage is the same, and it lasts just as long.

Disappointed, but only mildly so, I warp to No-Man’s Wharf and run to the end of the docks.

I speak to Cahillion again, and this time he tells me that he can sense the power within me, and that I am now his student.

 

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I know what I’ll see before I do it, but it’s too late to stop now. After his arrogant introductions, a menu opens. I open his vendor interface, and the first thing I see is a basic sorcerer’s staff that requires 10 intelligence. It strikes me as doubly obvious in hindsight, since a new sorcerer character starting the game wouldn’t have 20 intelligence, and would still need a staff to cast their spells. I buy it out of some weak sense of obligation.

He has other things for sale. There’s a Clear Bluestone Ring for shorter spell casting, and I already have the Clear Bluestone Ring +1. There’s a quartz ring for added magic defence, and a bunch of twilight and amber herbs to restore spell charges. He also has a simpleton’s spice, which is the sorcery version of skeptic’s spice. It allows learning a spell at 1 intelligence lower than the spell normally requires. I wonder if they stack?

All  his spells are less than 20 intelligence, including the normal magic weapon spell and heavy great soul arrow–the latest in a string of increasingly awkwardly named missile attacks.

I buy the rings, the simpleton’s spice, and the great heavy soul arrow spell.

Carhillion’s dialogue starts with instructions for basic magic use. It amounts to telling me that intelligence is required to use spells, and that it also increases their power. He can reinforce my pyromancy flame as well. It must be quite common for sorcerers to dabble in other disciplines. As I leave, he tells me that he’ll see me again in Majula.

I could run over to the Gyrm vendor to sell off excess gear, but I already have more Souls than I know what to do with, so I return to Majula.

 

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Rosabeth is obliviously cheerful when I arrive, telling me without a hint of self-awareness that she’s found her long-lost teacher. A task that’s easy even for her now that he’s sitting next to her. Her dialogue expands as she gives more hints about where they came from, about how Carhillion thinks that academies are terrible places to learn magic. There’s two ways to take that. Either it’s because he’s an asshole, and the academies were constricting him with petty things like “rules” and “ethics,” or its his peers that are the assholes, and they had no time for anyone with the nerve to want to study instead of playing power games. Only time will tell which type of crazy Carhillion turns out to be.

How do I keep this going? If I buy out Carhillion’s inventory, will he leave in search of more power? I purchase everything he has, including all his consumables and every spell I don’t already have a copy of in my inventory. He’s not ready to take off yet, but his dialogue expands.

 

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He tells me that he can sense darkness here, but I’m not sure if that’s meant to be Majula or Drangleic. He drops some hints about the history of sorcery, about how it originated from the “great pale being,” about how pyromancy flourishes in part because all sorcery that controlled fire was lost long ago. Maybe I need to get further along in the game before he does something else.

I talk to Rosabeth again and buy everything she has. Despite her claims that she wants to grow stronger on her own now, away from Carhillion, she’s not going anywhere, either. But I’ve managed to get rid of my Souls.

I warp to Hunstman’s Copse and talk to the guy in the cave. He’s still not interested in me. Not enough intelligence, or not enough darkness? Maybe I need to learn a hex first. The one I have, twisted barricade, needs 38 intelligence and 25 faith, so that’s not happening.

 

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The Lost Bastille

I have accomplished my first goal for the day, so I warp to the mess hall in the Bastille. The orange moth is still up in the rafters. Now I have a ranged attack, so I can see what it’s all about.

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I fire a soul arrow at it. The moth falls to the floor at my feet, dead, and drops a twilight herb. When I rest, it doesn’t respawn. That works for me.

I use the nearby ladder to climb down to the basement where I killed the Pursuer. There’s still a Pharros device there, and it’s my first attempt at gaining access to the top of the fortress.

I place my lockstone in the slot provided, and a face appears on the next wall.

 

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When I break it there is not a small room with a chest, or with some stairs up to the roof. In their place is a stone bridge crossing to another part of the fortress.

Belfry Luna

Looks like this will be more work than I bargained for.

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I open the wooden door and immediately know something is wrong. Not that I’m under attack, but that I’m in a place that was the scene for a terrible event. And this is the Lost Bastille, so that’s saying something.

Discarded helmets carpet the floor, small bodies line the walls, a pattern that holds while drawing my eyes to a nearby hole in the wall. There, the bodies are piled up high, as if they were stuffed into the gap. I’m not sure what to think about that.

 

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Next to the door is a little soldier sitting on a wooden chest. He’s still alive, and hasn’t attacked me. Maybe he can clue me in.

He sits up with a burst of manic energy and begins shouting about Undead. It’s hard to get much sense out of him, but I get some general ideas. He and the other small soldiers are living marionettes, created by the Princess to guard the bell tower. From Undead, I suppose. A Princess who creates magical guardians. The small soldiers are quite different from what I’ve encountered in the rest of the Bastille, but I can’t help but reinforce my theory about the Lost Sinner.

 

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The little guy never calms down, but after some barking and shouting he commands me to join his Covenant, the Bell Keepers. But I’m still committed to seeing the next level of the Company of Champions, so I pass. He yells some more, calling me a useless Undead, and making some threats. Whatever. It’s not like he and his buddies are doing a great job of it, from what I can see.

I catch glimpses of the room past the mound of bodies, but I can’t move them or climb past them. I suppose if I could it would be in poor taste. I’ll have to find another way around.

As I walk down the hall I expect any or all of the little bodies around me to hop up and attack, but they never do. I round a corner and come to some stairs near a window leading out of the other room. There’s definitely a way into there.

 

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The bell tower is eerily silent. As I climb the stairs, the only sounds are my own footsteps and the tattered banners flapping in the wind. No clicking and growling of something waiting to explode, but I’m certain I’ll be battling the munchkins soon enough.

It doesn’t take long. At the top of the stairs is a black spirit version of the small soldiers, holding an axe and a small shield. He sees me, and by the time I’ve reached the top of the stairs there’s an invasion message informing me that the Bell Keeper is coming to get me.

 

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The timing is strange, and when I kill the munchkin there is no followup message confirming that the Bell Keeper is now banished. But there aren’t any other munchkins coming after me, either.

Small as he may be, the little guy is tough. Which may partially be a consequence of my damage having dropped after changing my stats. Still, his poise is low and I can attack safely enough. Which is a good thing, because he lands a single axe blow against my shins and nearly kills me. Once he’s dead and I’ve confirmed that nothing else is about to attack, I loot a corpse nearby for a skeptic’s spice.

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I climb to the next floor, where there is another munchkin waiting. I block an attack and take a chunk of damage anyway. Magic damage? Their axes glow with dark energy, so there’s some sort of enchantment involved.

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The next is standing across the room, partially hidden by boxes, and is guarding a fog gate. As I approach he throws out a bomb, but it misses. The fog gate is blocked off by iron bars, and I don’t see a switch anywhere in the room.

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I confirm that there’s no getting through that way, but there is a ladder up to the roof. When I near the top, I can see a whole bunch of the little bastards milling around. At least 3 in my sight. As I pull myself up and take a stance facing them, as I think about the best way to proceed, something hits me from behind, and I die. The last thing I see before everything goes dark is that there was a red munchkin as well, and it’s the one that killed me. It must be the invading spirit. He spawned while I was 2 floors below, but I imagine these guys aren’t good with ladders.

While I’m fighting the first munchkin on my way back up, he knocks me through a hole in the floor, doing a bunch of damage. I heal and climb back up, and at the top he’s standing next to the hole with a bow in hand. He fires arrows as I run at him, and then falls through the hole himself. I dive after him and land a plunging attack, then finish the fight. By the time I’ve climbed the stairs again I get the invasion message. Good. I want my revenge.

On the next floor I kill the nearest munchkin, and then try to climb the ladder without catching the attention of the other. I’m half way up when arrows begin turning my back into a pincushion. I forgot the bow. I have to drop back down and kill him before getting to the roof.

Back to the roof, where I’m fiddling with the camera while trying to get a decent screenshot. I see a switch nearby. Good. The red guy is back, and I block a bomb, then I turn away because I’m not targeting anything, and get cut down from behind.

I’m in for a fight up there, and it looks like a good time to test out my great magic weapon spell. I apply it to my spear before climbing the first staircase. The damage boost is nothing to scoff at, though it’s not enough to alter my strategies in the fights.

On the roof for a third time, and I grab my body. I’m still not sure how many of the munchkins are up here with me, but I know my best chance is to fight them as a group, where I can keep my eyes on them and not get an axe through my spine.

 

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The stumpy jerks can’t overrun me even while I’m walking backwards, which is why they have the bows. I circle around the outside of the roof, keeping my shield up, and gradually gather a pack of the things. That way I can keep track of them. The problem, at first, is that whenever they start to lag behind they pull out their bows and start firing arrows in groups, which limits my openings.

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After coming full circle and bumping up against the switch, I start fighting from the cover of corners. I back around them, out of sight of the archers, and get in a couple of stabs against whichever munchkin catches up first. It’s not long before my great magic weapon buff has worn off, which slows an already slow process down, but I can consistently gain the space to take a flask charge, so I’m relatively safe.

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They die one by one. When the red Bell Keeper dies, I get the expected invader banished message and pick up an awestone.

With the roof cleared, I’m able to loot a chest and a corpse before pulling the switch. The chest has a couple of Radiant Lifegems and twilight herbs, while the body holds another skeptic’s spice. You can’t always count on the chest to have the more valuable loot.

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When the switch has been pulled, the tower rings with the peel of a bell. I don’t know why that surprised me. It’s a bell tower, after all.

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I’m somewhat less surprised by what the game is setting me up for. Pulling the switch meant facing the steeple at the other end of this building. That’s where I’m headed. I know that for sure while I hear the mechanical sounds of the bars lifting away from the fog gate below.

Between me and the other spire is a roof with a whole bunch of gargoyle statues.

 

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Now I know what I saw flapping around the fort. Thinking about it more, they flew off in the direction of the Belfry.

I stand before the fog gate. I’m down to my final flask charge, and a single great magic weapon spell cast. I should go back to the bonfire, but I won’t. I’m going to die here, and it’s in a spot that I can easily recover my body. I’ll walk onto the roof knowing I’m throwing the rest of this life away, but hopefully I can get an idea of what I’m truly up against, which will help me plan for a victory.

It may seem defeatist on the surface, but I’m counting on the fact that I’ll be able to beat this boss fight and recover my corpse.

 

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Belfry Gargoyles

What I expected:

The first gargoyle statue coming alive, followed by another soon after. Each is swinging an ornate spear, and will often fly through the air before attacking.

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What I didn’t expect:

The metallic composition of the gargoyles. They are not beasts trained to take up perches, nor are they stone carvings brought the life. Each stab with my spear rings out with a heavy clink. They are smaller than I thought they’d be as well. But the real surprise is when the 3rd gargoyle comes to life.

What I learn:

At around half health they’ll start breathing fire. It hurts. A lot.

I use my final flask charge to keep going, and I manage to take one of them down. And then I know I’m in this for the long haul. After the first kill I haven’t reduced the total boss health bar by a third, or a quarter. I’m running the entire gauntlet, and most of these gargoyles will attack me at some point. I also learn, with my death, that they have the range to attack me through each other, so that even if I think it’s safe to stab the nearest gargoyle while the others are behind it, I’m still likely to take a hit.

 

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One of the munchkins drops a bell keeper’s bow. This is where I learn they’re marionettes brought to life by their precious Princess. Still nothing certain, but I’d need a bag of flour to thicken the plot any further. Another drops a bell keeper shield, which gives me the same information. It’s an odd little thing, with low stats except for its magic resistance. It also seems to do magic damage.

I try a few different tactics. My first thought is that the next gargoyle coming to life is a timing thing, and I try to rush the fight. It’s not long before I’m fighting 4 gargoyles at once. The next gargoyle spawns once the boss health bar has hit a certain amount, time on the clock makes no difference. So I try concentrating on a single gargoyle at a time. That backfires when it becomes obvious that I trigger the next gargoyle before the first one has is dead. I still end up fighting at least 3 at a time. There’s no avoiding that, and I can’t turn it into a damage race because I simply lack the damage to win it.

 

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The great magic weapon buff helps, but I have to find space to reapply it during the fight. The first couple of times I mess it up. Once I forget to switch the staff back to my shield, and you can guess how that worked out. Another time I manage to drop 2 of the gargoyles low, and they then blanket the roof with fire. I block a wave, then another, yet it’s still coming. As reliable as the Drangleic shield is most of the time, it’s not good against fire damage.

Individually, the gargoyles are not that dangerous. They have basic stab and slash combos that are easy to avoid, and they’ll breath fire, but that’s also easy to get away from provided I’m not being boxed in by other gargoyles. The first of their dangerous attacks is a quick retreating slash that comes without any warning or telegraphing animation. Its damage is lower than the other attacks, but that’s still more than enough to kill me if I’m not careful, or if I’m already low. The second is a flying attack that they use to leap behind me for a vicious stab that puts me on my face if it hits. Its less the attack itself that causes trouble as it is the effect it has on my positioning. Either I’m targeting the gargoyle that uses the move, in which case my camera is jerked up and around, and my back is then turned toward the rest of the gargoyles, or one of them does it from out of sight and I never see it coming.

There are 6 gargoyles in total. I begin to combine strategies.

 

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I concentrate my damage on the nearest gargoyle, but accept that I can’t finish it off before it gets away and another spawns. Once it drops low enough to start breathing fire, it’s less mobile and aggressive, so the other gargoyles will get in the way. So I switch targets to whichever is the closest now. I use the space on the roof to keep them on the same side, circling while I wait for gaps that allow me to heal or reapply my buff.

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By the time I’m fighting the final gargoyle, I’ve used all my flask charges and have started to dip into my reserve of Lifegems. There was no avoiding taking trades here and there, but it works. The final gargoyle is down.

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“Victory Achieved”

I gain 25,000 Souls and a Belfry Gargoyle Soul.

While I’m basking in the victory, tabbed out to take some notes, I nearly get myself killed. One of those stupid munchkins is in the roof doorway, firing arrows at me.

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I get him before he gets me. After that, I look around the roof. I find a body holding a Soul of a Proud Knight, and carefully investigate the few gargoyles that haven’t moved yet. They’re all missing their heads. Sabotage, or were they never alive in the first place?

Belfry Luna

Inside the steeple at the other end of the roof are some stairs. I climb to the bottom and drop to a chest holding a Southern Ritual Ring. It raises the total number of spell slots by 1, and comes from a land called Aldia. Aldia was known for recovering these types of ancient artifacts, until something went wrong. Which always happens.

I can’t get back up the stairs, but I can see a bonfire ahead, out on the wall.

 

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I rest. I’m at the upper ramparts, and the Belfry Luna counts as a separate area from the rest of the Lost Bastille. Which should have been obvious from the start. I pop an effigy before moving on. I’m back outside, so maybe now I can get to the parts of the fortress I missed last time.

Besides the bonfire, the only notable feature of this broken section of wall is a ladder down to a small courtyard.

The theme for today is ladders that try to kill me. As soon as I step onto this one I know I’m in for another adventure. There are 7 zombie dogs waiting at the bottom. Maybe I’ve stumbled into the local kennel.

 

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I start my descent, each rung a rusted step on my road to a snarling personal hell. But what else can I do? It’s not long before the dogs notice me and begin to pile up at the bottom of the ladder.

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I wait for a good spot. No, that’s far too optimistic. I wait for a spot that isn’t certain death, and then I let go of the ladder.

What really adds that extra level of charm to Drangleic is the little touches. That attention to detail that assures any visitor that if they’re ever naive enough to think that they’ve seen how bad it is, and have decided to go ahead anyway, that it can always get worse. The instant my feet touch the ground, as I dive desperately away from the slavering jaws of a half-dozen Undead beasts, an invasion message flashes on the screen.

 

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A real winner that goes by Vorgel the Sinner has decided now is a good time to jump me. Even with the great magic weapon buff, my spear isn’t killing the dogs in a single hit. I’m stabbing away as quickly as I can while trying to keep my head above water. I don’t know where Vorgel is coming from, but I do know I need to clear most of these dogs out before he gets to me.

Seconds pass in stop-motion beats measured out by my spear thrusts and the leaping dogs. I have no time to think about what I’m doing at any level higher than basic, animal instinct, but I’m not without my own cunning. By the time Vogal is in sight I’ve managed to clear out most of the dogs, all while backing toward the stairs at the far end of the yard.

 

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Vogal comes equipped a lot like I am. He carries a kite shield and a long spear, and has the remaining dogs on his side. By some miracle (It’s the Ring of the Evil Eye +1, finally pulling some weight.), I make it to the stairs almost unhurt.

I’ve gained the upper hand, now let’s see what I can do to chop it off.

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There are only 2 dogs left. They come as a pair, with Vogal in tow. That’s what I was hoping for. I get a good stab in on one of them, then drop off the ledge to gain space before they have a chance to overwhelm me. One of the dogs follows, so I stab it, getting the kill. Which is when Vogal lands on my with a plunging attack, driving me into the ground and nearly killing me.

Fortunately, all the dogs are dead now. I climb to my feet and dodge back up the stairs, giving me enough time to switch to my Estus flask and heal. Vogal follows me to the top, and we begin our dance.

 

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As I’m circling, Vogal swings his arms, a move that I realize is a guard break only after I’m stumbling back and he’s landing a free stab. My poise is high enough that he only gets the single hit, and I continue to circle, hoping for a backstab.

It doesn’t work. He swings his spear in arcs, and eventually lands another guard break, forcing me to give up. That’s not going to work, but I still have advantages. My poise is higher, and I find that I can keep him off me by pressing the attack. I unload my stamina bar, then back away so it can recover and I can heal.

I’m standing back at the top of the stairs, with Vogal below. We lock eyes. It’s come down to this.

We each pull out an Estus flask and take a swig.

 

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With that out of the way, the fight can resume.

What are my options? I can’t reliably backstab him, and I’m not about to test drive my parrying skills after ignoring that option for so long. I can keep him staggered, but I’ll run out of stamina eventually.

Oh, right. I have my buff.

I pull out my bone staff and cast a magical glow over my spear. Vogal charges the stairs, and when he’s in range I lunge with my heavy attacks. That’s what I needed. I gauge huge chunks from his health bar, and he begins to back away.

I’m not about to give him a chance to recover. I close in, and one more stab does the job.

 

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I gain 1150 Souls, and an item that goes by too fast for me to see, but I’m pretty sure it’s an awestone.

There are a couple of loot corpses in the yard. One holds an enchanted falchion. Now I can see what this modifier does. It has a magic damage bonus, derived from intelligence, but does no magic damage. It doesn’t allow me to cast spells, either, even in the offhand slot. Not quite sure what to make of it.

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The other body has a petrified something, a brightbug, and a dragon tooth. The dragon tooth, which is familiar, is a massive club that also raises fire and magic resistance by 50 points each while equipped. The old knight hammer is the only weapon I have that beats it for poise damage, but that’s a near thing, and its physical damage is still much better.  My great magic weapon spell can also buff both it and the falchion. Good to know.

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After checking around the yard and finding no other exits, I warp back to Majula and speak with the Emerald Herald. I open the level-up screen and raise my intelligence with the enchanted falchion equipped. The sword’s physical damage rises slightly, but even with the drastically reduced strength and dexterity bonuses enchanting causes, those stats are still more beneficial. It’s something, but I don’t see the end goal. It would be very expensive, stat-wise, to get decent damage like this, and would it really be any better than going with normal magic damage, or even fire or darkness? Whatever the case, it’s of no use to me. I close the level-up screen without spending any Souls.

The Belrfy Luna was an interesting diversion, but not what I was looking for. And there’s the issue of that room the munchkin corpses kept me out of, and how to get into it before I move on. I warp to the mess hall bonfire and take the front entrance into the Belfry, then climb up to the second floor. It should have been more obvious at the time, but I’m too languid about finding alternate routes. Anyway, there’s a hole in the floor I can use to drop down into the room from above.

 

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I find a chest with a blue tearstone ring. Increases defence when the wearer’s health is low. Outside of the some fringe cases, utterly useless. That was a long way for something I didn’t need, ditto for the skeptic’s spice I find on a body near the exit.

The Lost Bastille

My next destination is Sinner’s Rise. I cross the bridge back to the fortress, and climb up to the cell with the petrified NPC.

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I produce my branch of Yore and free him. A man wearing dark robes and a silver mask is standing before me once the dust clears.

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Despite the menacing appearance, he’s chatty enough, and almost friendly, though there’s an undercurrent of danger in his words. He calls himself Straid, and claims to be a wandering sorcerer. Have I found my dark magician? My introduction to the world of hexes?

He claims that I’m weak, but not so weak he can’t teach me. I’ll take it. A menu opens, and I flip to his spells. Sure enough, he’s got a bunch of hexes for sale.

He’s also got the hood and gauntlets of a Forlorn. So, the one that’s been stalking me is not someone stalking me at all. Or maybe it is. According to the item descriptions, the Forlorn are wandering spirits that invade worlds in search of a home. Looks like nobody told them about catching flies with honey, but that’s not my problem. I buy the armour.

He’s also selling some rings. The first is a Ring of Knowledge, the intelligence-boosting counterpart to my Ring of Prayer. There’s also a lingering dragoncrest ring, which increases buff timers. The final ring is an Agape ring, which absorbs Souls before they can be collected by the wearer. That’s something I like.

Some of his spells look useful as well, particularly the great magic shield spell, a buff for shields that increases blocking power and only requires 18 intelligence. He has pyromancy spells of his own invention, and the hexes. Of the hexes, only one is within reach of my stats. Dark orb requires only 12 intelligence and 10 faith, and I could swing that if I really had to.

I buy the strong magic shield spell and can no longer afford the Ring of Knowledge, so I buy the other 2 rings and the dark orb hex. I test the lingering dragoncrest ring. It increases my great magic weapon buff duration by 30% or so, which is nice enough that I might use it against bosses.

Straid seems to be stuck in time. He talks of these lands as if he’d never seen them, and claims to have no idea what Drangleic is. I piece together some information from items on hand. He claims to be Straid from a land called Olaphis, that he was imprisoned long ago. Olaphis was a former kingdom of sorcery that predates Drangleic, and likely occupied the same lands. Olaphis is also where my Staff of Wisdom comes from, and it’s not long before Straid pulls out a staff that looks a lot like it.

This talk of life, death, and rebirth is familiar. It’s what the cat in Majula talked about, and what the Emerald Herald hints at as well.

After learning a new mocking gesture from him, I check out another option in his menu. It’s for trading, and at first I think it must be a way to sell items for Souls, but when I select the option I find all the items on display are new to me. I check them out, and realize I’ve found the way to trade boss Souls for weapons and spells.

None of them are within my stat range now, spells included, but they give me some more information. I also see that Straid trades some Souls for more more than one type of item. It will take multiple playthroughs to get collect them all.

The Flexile Sentries had command of ships and and orders to toss Undead into the seas, as if that would stop the curse. Some washed ashore to the south and taught the people there magic. Did they not have magic before? Did the boat in No-Man’s Wharf limp into the only available port in a storm, or was it another pirate conquest?

The Pursuer’s sword and shield are available, and tell me more about how he hunts down Undead. Still not sure whether there’s meant to be more than one of them.

The Dragonriders helped to conquer the lands of Drangleic, wrestling them away from whoever occupied them at the time. There are 3 different items to trade that Soul for, a halberd, a shield, and an ornate dual-bladed sword. I get the impression I haven’t seen the last of those guys.

After some consideration, and with few Souls left in my pocket, I trade for the giant stone axe, made from the the Last Giant’s Soul, and the gargoyle bident, made from the gargoyle’s Soul. The axe is essentially the same as the dragon tooth, but with less damage, more weight, and no extra resistances, and all for only 5 less strength to equip. The gargoyle bident, a goofy name for a spear with twin prongs, is basically a spear for strength characters. It has the exact same moveset as my winged spear and the Heide spear, but is heavier and has an A scaling in strength instead of dexterity. That might be useful. I could trade my dexterity for strength and maybe get my hands on a heavier shield.

 

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It takes some doing, but I’m able to slip past Straid so I can light the bonfire. I warp to Majula and look around, but he’s not there, not even in the mansion library. I warp back to his cell and don’t see him, so I warp to McDuff’s workshop and confirm that the boss weapons require petrified dragon bones to upgrade, and can be infused. I only have 4 petrified dragon bones, so a switch to the gargoyle bident now, if it were even feasible, would drop my damage even more.

I find Straid standing outside his cell, in the room with all the potentially explosive bandaged things. He doesn’t seem to care, and they’ve been docile so far, but I can’t help killing most of them when I pass. They bother me.

Back in Majula and I check with the NPCs again. Maughlin the Armourer finally has something going on. He’s invested in new stock, and is almost cheerful, talking about all the new customers he has now and all the cash he’s raking in. Still not sure where he’s going with that, but whatever floats his boat. He tells me that if I run into the warrior with the big, blue sword I should tell him that Maughlin will buy his weapon for a good price. Good luck with that.

He’s got a set of elite knight armour, and some mint condition royal soldier armour that’s much better than the crap I’ve been picking off the corpses of Hollowed. He also sells the mask and clothing worn by the Lost Sinner. The mask raises equip load, while the handcuffs raise pyromancy power. If only she’d made use of some pyromancy while fighting she might have been a real threat.

I use my last Souls to buy the Lost Sinner’s mask and skirt, and elite knight gauntlets. The mask is so heavy that the tiny bit of extra equip load it grants isn’t even enough to offset its weight. So much for that. I’ve grown attached to my monocle anyway, and it would have taken a big equip load bonus for me to take it off.

Back to the Bastille, where I being to wander around looking for things I may have missed. Mainly I’m looking for things to blow up. I’ve avoided many of the explosive barrels, but chances are at least one of them will open up a wall for me.

It takes some time, but I do find something. Next to the courtyard with the big well, in the dark building connected to the room with the statues and the Pharros device, an explosive barrel opens a hole in the back wall. I find a corpse inside holding Archdrake robes and an Archdrake shield.

 

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The robes are fine, if heavy, and the shield is pretty good as well. Light, and with passable resistances and stability. Before moving on, I put on the Agape ring. No sense in grinding while I’m at this.

After scouring the entire fortress from top to bottom, I finally find a way to where I’m trying to go. And it’s not a part of the fortress.

The thing of it is, though, it doesn’t feel right.

I’m no stranger to secrets embedded in level design. I played and beat all the Metriod games without guides, and found a lot of the secret items while doing so. I remember lazy Sunday afternoons running back and forth through connected screens looking for that angle that will allow me to super jump into a power-up. I remember laying bombs absolutely everywhere, and studying the game’s attract mode for clues and new moves–no guides, remember, so that was all I had. It’s that sort of experience that caused me to invest my remaining Souls into firebombs that I threw at every wall in the fortress between me and my goal. Nothing happened.

It was only while standing above the bridge, near the Sinner’s Rise bonfire, that I saw a way through.

 

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It’s underneath the bridge, and with my binoculars I can see stairs to the left that come up from inside the fortress. Except, there’s nothing in the fortress leading outside from anywhere in that direction.

I think back to when I first arrived in the Lost Bastille. After talking to the mysteriously masked Lucatiel of Mirrah I walked outside the tower, then used a break in the wall to access a ladder.

From up here it looks like the only way I’m getting to where I need to go is by doing the same thing. I have to get across the bridge while balancing on the parapet.

Once I see it, the setup is obvious. And I’m fine with it. What I’m less fine with is the wacky way in which I’m made to go about doing it. Frankly, it feels like I’m cheating, and not in a good way. Even when I know what I’m supposed to do, I still have to attempt the jump a dozen times before I clear the wall. If I jump to early then I don’t get enough vertical distance to make it over, and if I jump too late then the game won’t even let me jump at all.

As if to emphasize the point, the first time I make it over, confirming that it’s even possible, I immediately fall to my death. Even when I miss and don’t fall to my death, the drop to the bridge below hurts. I put on the Silvercat ring and keep trying, and through perseverance I make it to the top.

I understand designing a level to have secret, or not very obvious, paths, but I shouldn’t be fighting the controls to do what I’m supposed to be doing. I imagine many people who think they see the way across give up anyway, just because the game makes it so difficult to get on the parapet.

 

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I made sure to kill the pyromancer below before trying to cross. Once I’m on the bridge, running toward the other end, I’m not quite sure what my next move is. I settle on leaping forward, slapping my face against the wall next to the bridge, then sliding to the level below.

I’m standing within reach of the crossbowman who had given me so much trouble before. I’ve finally made it.

 

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My first move is to check out the stairs I’d seen from the other side of the bridge. I get close enough to confirm that there’s a doorway there, but it’s packed full of stone and cement. I take a shot at it with my spear, and throw a firebomb. Nothing happens. Looks like I found the right way after all.

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It’s only then that I realize I’ve been hearing a sound that has the hair on the back of my neck standing on end. I turn just in time to be impaled by the Pursuer’s sword. Cursed, and then dead. Like I said, Drangleic is all about kicking you in the nuts while you’re watching the buzzards circle.

When I respawn I do some experimenting with my buff spells and find, to my dismay, that I’m not going to be able to use them both. Even if I equip the Staff of Wisdom in my other hand, it won’t work. I can use the staff in my offhand to buff the weapon in my main hand, but I then have to switch that weapon to a staff so I can buff my shield. When I switch back to the weapon, the buff is gone. The same happens to the shield if I buff it first. It’s one or the other. For now I’ll stick with the damage. I have enough experience blocking and dodging Pursuer attacks.

After a dozen more attempts, I manage to get back on the bridge. I make the jump to the lower level and quickly apply my great magic weapon buff. I back away and allow the Pursuer to spawn.

 

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The battle is tense, and takes a while when my buff wears off and I’m doing very little damage. I do come out ahead, which is what matters, and gain 5000 Souls and a twinking titanite.

Next, I walk over and kill the crossbowman and do the murdering I’ve been longing for. A body nearby holds a Bracing Knuckle Ring, which slows durability loss for gear when equipped. Interesting, but not that practical.

 

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I then jump a gap to a piece of wrecked wall and loot another corpse for some torches and a flaming butterfly.

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I’m standing there, looking at the wall, and thinking about that final body above McDuff’s workshop. Could I make it there from here? It’s only around the corner.

A flaming crossbow bolt hits me in the back. One of the crossbowmen below has caught my scent, and I can’t stand in the open, eyes glazed in thought.

 

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Once I’ve calmed my nerves with a flask charge, I jump back across. It seems unlikely, but after what I just went through I’m not discounting anything. I drop onto the narrow ledge running along the top of the wall and run sideways, facing into the wall so that I don’t fall off. I round the corner and it’s a straight line to the loot corpse.

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The final corpse holds a Soul of a Brave Warrior and a golden wing shield. Another odd shield, with low physical defence, but with the ability to parry spells like the cleric parma. It also does magic damage, like the bell keeper shield. I should probably try these magic deflecting shields out at some point.

I drop down on the pyromancer below, missing a plunging attack. He swings at me and hits the exploding barrel, adding injury to insult. I’ve had enough, so I roll down the stairs and rest at the bonfire before I can get myself killed again.

Back in Majula, I offer up my 2 awestones. Nothing happens. Oh well.

Maybe it’s a case of the anticipation always being better than the real thing, but I feel like finding those bodies somehow wasn’t worth what I went through to get them. And not only because what I found is worthless to me. At least I know now to never discount a potential path to hidden loot, no matter how absurd it may seem, and how many times I fail to jump over an ankle-high barrier.

That’s enough for now. Tomorrow I have to decide where I’m headed next.

 

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