Maughlin is beginning to crack. I find him lounging in his workshop, and when I speak to him he barely recognizes me. All he can talk about now is how rich he’s becoming, how the customers are flocking in droves. With how out of it he’s been lately, I’m not sure he could tell the difference between my frequent visits and a bunch of random Undead who just happened to look a lot like I do. I haven’t even changed my armour that much recently, but if I were it could be something out of a mediocre sketch comedy, if only he were giving out discounts to first time customers or something.
His mind fractures, damage at the edge of memory spreading like cracks on an icy pond, so that he’s no longer able to fit the pieces together quite the way they’re meant to be. What he’s doing in Drangleic, and where he’d go if he managed to leave, he no longer knows.
On the plus side, he’s got some new gear for sale. He now carries Alva’s set, light armour worn by a fairy tale knight who found redemption with the help of a witch who had once been a rival. It’s expensive, especially now that I’ve spent most of my Souls, so I can only afford the leggings.
By contrast, Saulden is bordering on his own version of giddy when I talk to him. His head still hangs low, and he talks in the tones of someone who just had their bike stolen, but he admits that the happy little family of NPCs I’ve gathered brings a measure of comfort.
To my surprise, he hands me a Soul Vessel. This is becoming a conundrum. I’d been content with none before I knew what they were, intrigued by the possibilities when I found one, satisfied that I had more than enough when I found a second, and now I have a third. Two in a single run through the game seems like more than enough. I doubt I’ll get much use out of so many, but it gives me options, I suppose.
Where to next? Before tackling the Lost Bastille, I’d figured I could take an area I skipped, then an area further ahead, and keep alternating. The plan was to go into the Grave of Saints next, or finish the Gutter, then double back for Huntsman’s Copse. But with how long Lost Bastille took to clear, and with the Old One I found there, it might be better if I reversed that order.
Before deciding, I want to check something. I pop an effigy, then head to the Shaded Ruins in the Shrouded Woods. I run to the cave full of basilisks and drop down into the hole there.
The old man in the wheelchair is gone. A compounded puzzle because I didn’t think I got anything out of him, and because how the hell did he roll himself out of a cave I have to BASE jump into? I suppose he got himself into the cave to begin with. Maybe it has something to do with the stone pedestal? Anyway, I’d hoped he could clue me in a bit more about the dark magic stuff now that I’ve removed my dunce cap. Because chances are that other prick is still ignoring me.
I kill a few basilisks on my way to the locked door, which is still locked. One of them drops a poison stone, an ore for adding poison buildup to a weapon. Likely it’s strong against some bosses and in certain PvP situations, but I’m not going to get much use from it.
The locked door is an interesting problem. I’ve been through this area, killed the boss and the big, headless miniboss. I’ve also done the relatively obscure task of helping out the giant man-scorpion. Not a whiff of a key anywhere in that, and it would be going against the grain to have a key for a locked door hidden away in a different area. Chances are it has something to do with the statues I’ve yet to unfreeze, with the one guarding the treasure chest being an especially likely candidate. But I’m once again fresh out of branches of Yore, so it will have to wait.
I return to the bonfire, but before leaving I blast the nearby orange moth with a great heavy soul arrow (You know what? I’m not typing that out every time. They’re just soul arrows, because I’m unlikely to ever use a different one.). It dies, and I jump down to pick up the item it dropped, scoring myself a wilted dusk herb.
I rest at the bonfire and confirm that the moth doesn’t respawn. They’re hanging loot-bags.
In the end, I decide on Huntsman’s Copse. I want to see what’s up with that big, walled fortress, and the strange structures inside. Besides, my main reason for going to the Grave of Saints is to find an easier way to the crystal lizard I missed on my way down to the Gutter, and I don’t have much use for the extra titanite yet.
I make the detour to talk to the guy staring at the cave wall. He’s still mumbling about darkness, and still doesn’t want to talk to me. You know what? His loss. I would make an excellent corrupted disciple.
I’m a few paces into the cave before the first skinny Hollowed comes at me, waving an old sword over his head. A couple of stabs to get rid of him, and then a couple more to take down another Hollowed. A few more points of damage and I could take them down with a single light stab, but I don’t mind the extra effort of a heavier lunging attack.
The cave opens up so that I’m standing on one end of a natural bridge. I can see a torch moving back and forth in the darkness ahead, and hear growling sounds bouncing off the walls.
When I step into the cave, past strange mushrooms growing out of the walls, I hear a soft tingling sound, and look up as a cloud of green dust begins to fall.
It’s coming from an orange moth. Seems they’re not all docile. As I pass underneath, the green dust falls again. My poison bar starts to fill as the green dust touches my skin. That’s enough of that. I sprint through. After taking down the Hollowed with the torch, I turn back and blast the moth with a soul arrow. Nice to have a ranged attack for once. The moth drops an item that falls out of sight, and as I look over the edge to see where it lands, I find there are more moths below me.
I blast the nearest moth. The item it drops lands on one of the big mushrooms growing out of the cave’s walls, which look thick enough to support my weight. Since I can see that the first moth dropped its item on the cave floor far below, and there’s also another torch guy down there, it’s likely that I’ll be looking for a way down soon enough.
But first I check the exit at the far end of the cave. After passing another pathetic Hollowed crawling away from the drab light at the end of the tunnel, I’m outside again.
I find myself standing underneath the rope bridge that runs the length of the chasm between the mainland and the big fortress.
The Hollowed in these parts seem to be a particularly acrobatic strain of Soul-sucking zombie. Wherever I look, I find them hanging from walls, from the bridge itself, even, as if they’re waiting for their spotter to show up and count pull-ups.
If I want to get to the bridge, I’ll have to go through a ruined keep that sits atop the cave.
I put on the Silvercat ring and head back into the cave. A splash of green dust coming from underneath me tells me, roughly, where some of the moths are, but looking over the edge shows that I can’t get the right angle to target the nearest of them. If I could make it to the wall, to one of the mushrooms there, I’d have proper line of sight.
Without any Hollowed around, it becomes increasingly obvious that there’s something big in the cave, stomping around at the bottom. My eyes begin to adjust, and I can see the shadowed shape of what appears to be a giant basilisk.
Either that, or it’s an optical illusion and the thing is floating around just below me.
I drop toward the nearest mushroom and miss completely. I keep falling until I land on another mushroom near the cave floor. The landing painful, but the Silvercat ring saves my precious ankles.
It was no illusion. I’m near the bottom of the cave, and there’s an enormous basilisk waiting for me in a the shallow puddle that covers the floor.
Before I can think of applying my great magic weapon buff, I’m leaping from my perch to do battle with the thing. In my defence, it was standing close and had the look in those bugged-out eyes that told me it was about to spew cursing breath.
I hit the ground splashing, and take down the Hollowed with the torch. No point in leaving that for later when I can get him out of the way with minimal effort. I then turn to face the basilisk.
The water is slowing me down, but the basilisk isn’t fast enough to make up the difference. By itself, it’s not dangerous. The real danger is the endless cloud of green dust that’s pelting my skin. I’m paying for all the moths I missed. Within seconds, my poison bar is full, and my health bar begins to rapidly drain. I keep my head. I can’t remember if I have poison moss in my hotbar, and instead of wasting the time and mental energy needed to find out, I wait for the first opening and chug a flask charge. It takes a couple of them to outlast the poison, but I also find some spots I can stand to avoid the poison.
The basilisk clomps around, swings its tail back and forth, and occasionally swipes a claw at me, all avoidable without much effort. I keep clear of the cursing breath and stab away. Before long, it’s dead.
In the aftermath, silence drains the cave of further menace, and I take some time to catch me breath and look around as the last of the poison runs through my system. I stand on a mound of dirt next to a chest, and there are plenty of loot corpses in the water.
I fire soul arrows at the moths within striking distance, then pick up the loot. The moths have dropped poison moss for me, instead of the twilight herbs I’d expected. A different strain, perhaps? These ones are overtly hostile, so maybe they also respawn. I pick up 3 large titanite shards from what I think is a body, but I can’t be sure with the water and the lack of light.
Inside the chest is Ricard’s rapier. It requires 25 dexterity to use, but at least has an A scaling in that stat. I don’t have much interest in rapiers and estocs, as they’re a lot like slower spears with worse range. This one has a unique heavy attack string, a flurry of quick stabs, but even that is of questionable use since the weapon also has the lowest poise damage I’ve seen so far.
At the far end of of the cave is a strange door. It doesn’t have a prompt telling me to open it, and doesn’t respond to attacks, but it still slides away when I press the action button.
A short tunnel later and I’m in a chamber holding a few discarded metal cages. One of them is hanging from a chain, so I’ve found the way out of the cave.
I loot a corpse for an Undead Soul and approach the open cage. I can hear faint movement coming from somewhere above, presumably wherever the cage will take me to. When I near the edge I find a Hollowed hanging over the void.
I give him props for dedication, because I don’t imagine many come through this way, but I’m not sure what his plan is. And he doesn’t seem to have any more of an idea than I do, because I walk right past and step into the cage without him moving a finger.
I’m carried up and out of the cave to where it must connect with the keep guarding the bridge.
That was a long way to go for a few scraps of poison moss. I think there’s something I missed back in the cave.
At the top of some stairs is another of the hidden doors. They’re obvious from this side, but it makes me wonder if I’ve been missing potential secret passages. I’ve been attacking walls now and then, but I don’t often use the action button unless prompted. I’ll have to keep a lookout in the future.
When the door slides away, I step into a large, dark room. I’m on a ledge above the main floor, and a Hollowed with a bow stands at the top of the stairs nearby. The shadows barely hide another Hollowed below clutching a pair of long daggers, and I can see others hanging from ledges. Because of course they are.
Looks like I’ve found the back door again. Across from where I stand is an open doorway giving me a glimpse of ashen sky. If I’d come in through that door, I’d have the archer firing at me while I navigated the dark spaces between and battled whatever Hollowed lurk below.
I walk toward the archer. His back is to me, but, before I can get close enough for an execution, he begins to turn. I jab at him with my spear. He doesn’t die, so I jab again.
It was a bad idea from the start. The first jab sends the archer stumbling off the ledge, out of reach. I was so close, because of my attempted backstab, that the momentum of my attacks sends me stumbling after him. As I fall, I see there’s a large, round pit in the middle of the floor.
Please have a bottom, because I’m slipping.
What is it with Drangleic and its obsession with pits, anyway? And why do I have to fall into every one of them I find?
There is no bottom.
In the books, the great and heroic clerics pressed themselves into endless battle with the Undead scourge, a mace in one hand and their faith in the other. Sacrificing themselves to hold back an unstoppable tide, these legendary figures embodied the best of humanity, and towered over mortals to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the gods themselves. In word and art both, their final battles were epics passed down through generations, venerated for a savage beauty, for representing the passion of the human Soul.
The Undead and Hollowed in those tales were rampaging monsters, beasts of cold rage that a mere man could not hope to stand against. Thus, the Church was the essence of mankind, its light in the darkness, and its hope for the future. Orated by one of the priests, a poem might move a congregation to tears, or to fearful shuddering and a sleepless night. Children would play priests and Undead, chasing each other around with sticks and talismans of twig and twine. Those that had dreams loftier than merchant or mercenary, soldier or even palace guard, aspired to join one of the Church’s sects that armed men for battle. It had been a ceremonial position, one meant to venerate the past, to uphold a tradition, to keep vigilance.
Then, the Curse reappeared.
But the battles had not been glorious.
It had rained for two days, with blowing winds driving the fat droplets in waves against the keep’s walls. Even in his small room, with the single window overlooking the forest, the Priest had been unable to avoid the damp. He’d taken to hanging his single spare robe up against the opening, and had managed to save his few books and papers from the deluge.
In time for the weather clearing, the rain abating even as the sky remained milky with clouds blowing in from the east, the latest latest batch of Undead, carried cramped, enclosed carts, came to a stop inside the keep’s walls. The Priest watched from his regular perch, a raised stone near the cliff edge, his back to oblivion, his feet on the solidest ground available, as the Lord’s burly men forced the Undead into the muddy courtyard.
Bound together hand to foot with knotted rope, the Undead stumbled into the sucking mud in tight gangs. These were typical specimens, malnourished, dressed in rags, ready to flinch at the first sign of threat, or even of someone noticing them. Their bodies showed countless bruises, gained during capture and on the road.
These Undead were the problem. They broke the narrative, which broke the Church’s back. Undead were not a menace to be conquered, they were the meaning of the Curse. The best and the brightest the Church had to offer, carrying the standards of the faithful into battle, clad in armour forged with generations of skill, with weapons as beautiful and ornate as those from the legends, had marched off to do battle with the foe, to show that the Church was holding the front lines. But they had not found an enemy army to conquer, a band of demons to slay.
The Priest, who had travelled Drangleic to proselytize, to administer to the faithful, before the Curse hit its peak. He had not been there for the first battles, but had seen the aftermath. Entire towns and villages raised, bodies piled high. It was the eve of victory, until the cold light of morning showed everyone that nothing had changed.
It was a war without sides, a war that everyone lost, and it had been the death of faith.
During his time in the seminary, the Priest had learned preaching as a trade, had studied under respected masters so that he could bring their teachings to faraway lands. He was to be a beacon in the dark, a guiding light to lead people to the right path. The ignorant, the criminal, those untouched by reason or civilization, were his intended audience. The Priest had prepared himself for rejection, for hate, even. But the most daunting challenges his youthful imagination had set before him could not compare to what he was reduced to now.
The Priest began to recite words he had memorized, an ode to an old god of sunlight, as if it might summon a crack in the clouds. With rough hands, the guards began to strip the Undead, pulling away their rags to find anything they might have kept hidden underneath.
The Priest was murmuring his words over the growing crowd of wide-eyed, nearly naked Undead, when sudden screams interrupted him. Occasionally, a guard would spy something that they wanted. A particularly stubborn or wily Undead could sometimes keep a personal keepsake hidden under their rags–a smudged note on coarse, brown paper that the owner wouldn’t even be able to read, a crude doll, various personal talismans–away from their captors and the others pressed into the wagons with them, but the guards weren’t daunted by the filth or the smells. A guard had wrestled one of the newly stripped Undead to the ground, pressing it down with a heavy knee on its chest. A hand thrust out, toward the Undead’s mouth, and there was burst of colour, a crimson splash against the brown mud. For a moment, the Priest thought the Undead must have bitten a finger off, but the slant of the guard’s face showed nothing like pain. After a few seconds of gargled protest, the Undead wrenched its head away. It didn’t scream after that–what was the point when nobody listened? The Undead began to curl inward, drawing its legs close to its chest as it clutched at its bleeding mouth with grubby hands. The guard was sucking the blood away from his own fingers, then held something up so his comrades could see. From a distance, the Priest could only make out a small object of dull yellow, and when the other guards began to guffaw and point, he realized the Undead had lost a tooth, but only one that had turned that colour from neglect and decay, not because it was gold. When the guard realized this as well, he threw the tooth away, drove his knee down as he stood, and began to kick the sobbing Undead in the ribs while cursing loudly.
The rain had meant no hunts. Once the weather finally broke, there had been runners sent into the forest to check on the prison huts. Those that made it back had grim reports of Hollowed carnage. Further hunts required fresh meat. The hounds had little interest in those who had already given up, on those who had finally lost it all. One by one, the Undead had their ropes removed by the largest of the wranglers. As they rubbed at freed wrists, the Undead were then whipped into the processing line. The ones with nothing to hide shuffled away to their final groupings, waiting for the guards to take them into the forest. Gruff voices barked at them, always addressing them as a whole, as if the Undead were a singular entity with many bodies.
The sound of more whips, a series of staccato snaps pregnant with menace, cut through the air. The line of Undead began to move again, and the Priest returned to his mumbling. The Undead generally ignored him, though a few of the closest stared with round, vacant eyes. When the Church’s greatest effort had hit with all the force of a falling leaf, it was a public shaming that was impossible to live down, and the politicians and academics seized the opportunity to take the reigns. Desperation mounted with every year that passed, the Curse never abating, and a plan that once seemed barbaric or insane became more attractive when barbarism and insanity was the norm.
Needs must when the Flame flickers.
Even after the exodus, there were traditions that some still held. The Priest was not leading any hunts, but a hunt still required a priest. What happened here, in this forest, was no true Undead hunt, though. The Lords mocked him with this. He could endure those tight-skinned grins from his supposed betters, and the empty gazes of his irrevocably damned parishioners. It was the hunts that truly cut.
Another commotion interrupted his revere. One of the Undead gangs was shouting and struggling, seemingly against itself. The Priest felt the words dry up in his mouth as the Undead nearby turned to watch.
There was a Hollowed amongst the tied up Undead. Men on either side were straining against their bindings to keep out of the beast’s reach, while the tall, balding Hollowed rolled neck and snarled, the centre of a tug of war. A woman from the same cart was calling out for her father, one arm covering her bare chest, the other thrust out toward the struggle. Another Undead, a younger version of the Hollowed man, was standing over her protectively, a hand pressed against a bloody gash in his forearm.
Other guards were closing in. One pressed a man catcher at the Hollowed, knocking it to the ground and holding it in place while another guard hacked at the knots. Once free, the Undead backed away as far as they could. The Priest’s right hand flexed against the grip of the mace that hung at his side, but he needn’t have worried. A second man catcher was enough to keep the Hollowed under control so it could be lead away. The Undead gave the guards a wide berth as they pushed their captive toward the keep and those rooms in the basement that never saw a drop of sunlight.
A rush of movement, and the Priest looked up in time to see the half-naked young woman bearing down on him, arms pumping in a full sprint, with no effort spared to conserve her remaining modesty. His hand was already on his weapon, but he hesitated. The desperate bellows of her brother echoed in the Priest’s ears, imploring someone to stop her. But, as his eyes locked with hers, the Priest knew it would serve no purpose. Less than a second, and no words, passed between them, but she told him everything it was possible for her to tell. She had made a choice, something Undead were not supposed to be able to do, and he knew he had to respect that.
No guard chased her. None ever did, when an Undead made a run for it. Why bother? There was nowhere for them to go except into the forest, which is where they were already headed. Truth was, the ropes were there for the Hollowed, not the Undead. Truth was, most of the Undead who arrived here knew what they were in for. The hunts were not a secret.
The girl pushed past him, and he turned to watch her go. The Priest had thought maybe it was the stupid ones who took this way out, the ones who broke free without a plan, and realized quickly that the gates were shut tight, that the forest was full of things, and of people, that would be looking for them. But he realized now, after seeing the eerie calm in the girl’s eyes, that it was the smart ones, the ones who realized they were on the brink, the ones who somehow held a scrap of humanity, that made this choice. They took the only real way out they had.
The Priest raised his arms and began another prayer. The girl never screamed as she fell from the cliff, and there was no sound of her hitting bottom. What did she find there, beyond the darkness of death? Peace, he hoped. Or nothing. The sounds of sobbing from somewhere behind him, and then a guard shouted, “Where is your Miracle for that?”
There were none left, thought the Priest. No Miracle that could save humanity from itself, not anymore. Because, when they lived in a world where even the Undead couldn’t cope, what chance did the rest of them have?
I respawn at the bonfire on the wrong side of the cave, and when I enter it again I find the moths are all back. But they’re not dropping anything especially interesting, so I don’t feel I need to go out of my way to kill them. The big basilisk is also stomping around the cave floor again, incentive for avoiding going straight through and trying to recover my Souls.
Except, there’s another loot corpse in the cave, on a strip of rock that runs underneath the one I’m standing on, parallel so that I can’t drop directly to it.
I look around until I find a likely path, then leap from mushroom to mushroom I’ve reached the corpse, blasting a few moths that get in the way as I go. I pick up a monastery charm and an Undead soul. More poison cures.
A tunnel takes me back outside, to a spot underneath the rope bridge, an endless drop between me and the edge of a dead forest. There’s something visible in the distance, but I’m otherwise on a dead end cliff. Likely I’ve found another side passage, and will be coming back through here in the future.
With nowhere else to go, I have to drop back to the bottom of the cave and do battle with the basilisk. This time I take out the moths and buff my spear before landing a plunging attack on the torch carrier. After the basilisk is gone I collect the loot and find another pile of large titanite shards. Is one of the enemies here dropping them?
I use the cage elevator to get back to the ground floor of the keep, where I’m able to recover my body.
I attack the archer the same as last time, and he falls off the stairs the same as last time, but I don’t dive after him. Instead, I wait at the top of the stairs. I have the high ground, so it’s silly to chase when I’m uncertain about what’s down there. Hollowed come up the stairs at me, first the ragged thief with the blades, then a couple of skinny, sword-swinging prisoners.
Once I’ve taken care of them, I look over the edge to see what happened to the archer. He’s standing still over a loot corpse, bow ready, but with nothing to shoot at. This new ranged attacker AI is something else.
Down the stairs and I take care of him. I’m not even surprised when I notice a couple of Hollowed hanging in the pit. At this point they’re basically an infestation of large vermin.
The loot corpse holds a Lifegem and an Undead Soul, and the archer drops a pair of rogue gauntlets, telling me the obvious about the armed Hollowed here being bandits and thieves. The nearest Hollowed pulls himself out of the pit, dies.
There’s an unlit sconce by the wall behind me. I take a mental note as I walk around the pit toward another loot corpse in the corner of the room. As I come close enough to the outer wall to get a good look at it, I notice yet more Hollowed hanging from the ledge running above the room.
The corpse coughs up a bandit’s knife, a weapon I already own. There are distinct recesses in the outer wall, but no interaction is possible. Tunnels that were never built, perhaps, or doors to the outside? I walk back around the pit, causing the other Hollowed to jump up at me, though the two hanging above don’t seem to care about what I’m up to. I suppose it does take a one-track mind to become a living tapestry, and maybe they’re only got eyes for what’s above them.
At the top of the stairs, I find a ladder up to the keep’s roof.
A couple of the rogues jump me, one with a club meant to batter my shield away. They hop around enough, swinging with odd spinning attacks that could make them dangerous in numbers, given their speed. If I’m not careful, they could even get behind me. But I kill these ones just fine.
I’m near the rope bridge, but on the wrong side of a low wall. Crouching on the wall, as if waiting for an ambush, is a sinister figure wearing a spiked helmet and holding a coiled whip that bleeds dark energy. The quality of Hollowed hiding spots is plummeting by the minute. I leave him alone, though. I could probably tag him with a Soul Arrow, but it seems cruel to deny the guy his pounce. He’s probably been holding that pose for years, if not decades.
At the edge of the roof I find another Hollowed waiting in ambush, in another terrible hiding spot. Not to say he couldn’t get the jump on someone walking below him, but it’s a problem when the place you pick to get an unsuspecting kill is just as likely to get you killed without suspecting it.
Pride goes before the fall, metaphorically or literally. I’m so assured in my preemptive victory that I don’t bother to account for not getting the first hit in, or even landing properly. As a result, I slide over the thief, stabbing my spear out so that I’m carried across the Hollowed’s head and right off the roof. I hit the ground–some stairs–below, without taking too much damage, and the thief lands behind me. I turn and finish him off, then pick up the flame butterfly he dropped.
These stairs are above the cave’s exit. If I’d gone through this way the first time, I’d have walked into more than one trap. Checking the extra paths I find has been saving me some trouble.
Since I’d already cleared out the ambush inside the keep, I walk in through the front door. At least now I can take care of the skinny bastards hanging over the pit.
Once they’re good and dead, I approach a wooden door at the far end of the ledge. As I reach for the handle, a sword bursts through the thin frame, sending splinters flying as it catches me in the gut. There’s a thief waiting on the other side.
I kill him, reflecting on how that’s a proper ambush spot, and then kill another club thief waiting in the short corridor on the other side of the door.
This puts me on a narrow ledge running around a massive support pillar for a fallen bridge to the walled fortress, a bridge that was long ago replaced replaced with the rope bridge swaying above me.
I kill an unarmed Hollowed, then turn a corner so that I’m standing directly under the rope bridge. More dangling Hollowed legs.
There’s a body below, on another of the collapsed support beams. If I jumped for it then I’d have to jump down again, which would put me back at the middle exit out of the cave, the one that seemed like a dead end earlier.
In the corner is another loot corpse. As I get close, I hear a whoosh of movement, and then feel the impact of a club to my face. There was a thief waiting around the corner for me to approach. Again, that’s how you ambush someone. Not that it does him much good, because I take his hit and he’s unable to take my return stab. I pick up a cracked red eye orb from the corpse.
A ladder descends to the forest, a stretch of naked trees scratching at the grey sky with thin branches. I can see Hollowed thieves and a few moths mixed in with regular Hollowed. I decide to leave it until I’ve finished with the keep.
I take a leap at the body below, miss it, and hit the ground in a roll that carries me off the broken pillar and to my death. Oops.
I use the front entrance into the keep this time, then drop down and run up the stairs at the archer. An arrow pings off my shield and does some poison buildup, but I’m able to clear the room without further trouble. Up to the roof, and I hop down to the loot corpse I missed last time, picking up some poison moss and a lifegem.
I make it back to my body. After recovering it, I try the jump again. I still miss, but roll to a safe landing on the pillar below the loot corpse, instead of to my death. Which is when I see the bonfire directly below the spot I’d just been standing. What’s that about looking before you leap?
I have to go through the cave again, including the big basilisk (More large titanite shards, and I’m still not sure where they’re coming from.), then all the way back up and around. I take the ladder down to the bonfire and see there’s a tree I can kick over, giving me a convenient shortcut to the cave’s main exit.
After resting at the bonfire, I try several more times for the loot corpse. I finally reach it almost by mistake when I drop down to the ledge just above it, and somehow manage to slide across the gap. Not sure how I did it, but it worked, and that’s what counts. I pick up a Pharros lockstone and a token of fidelity, so it was worth the effort. The token of fidelity is an online coop reward item, but it might also help with some NPC interactions.
I’ve done what I can in the keep, and I can see bodies on ledges above. If I want to reach that rope bridge, it looks like I’ll have to get through the forest.
I commit an effigy before continuing.
As I take down the first group of Hollowed, which includes a guy waving a torch in my face, I begin to notice someone watching me.
A tall man covered in dirty rags and stained bandages stands on a ridge above. In his hands is a long man catcher, and on his head is the same spiky helmet I saw on the guy with the whip.
I don’t throw Soul Arrows at this guy, either, but for a different reason. I want to save them for the moths hanging out in the trees.
While looting a nearby corpse holding an Undead Soul and an orange burr (temporary fire defence), I get a sideways look at the small bridge that spans the two sections of the forest. I’m not even surprised by what I see.
When I reach the crest of the bridge, I see there’s something big and ugly headed in my direction. It’s a large fellow with the look of a butcher, wearing a patchwork of spiky armour, and swinging a pair of sickles.
He has enormous strength, so that his attacks do damage even through my shield, as well as bleed buildup. He’s also wily enough to keep me from getting behind him, and has the poise required to stop me from causing a flinch with my regular attacks. But he’s still slow, still has openings. I stab when I can, and soon he goes down, dropping nothing.
As for the Hollowed hanging off the bridge, there’s one on each side, and neither of them budge when I cross between them. Maybe they heard what happened to the big guy and decided to lay low.
Once I’ve taken out another torch carrier, all while being dusted with poison, I turn and blast a moth out of a nearby tree, rewarding me with a poison moss.
To the left is a relatively flat area that circles around back toward the keep, on the right the ground slopes gently up before making a break toward the sky and peaking in wide, flat cliffs. I decide to head right first, which is more likely to lead me back to the keep, or at least the guy I saw watching me when I entered the forest.
It’s not long before I come to a squat stone hut, its entrance blocked by a crude gate of rusty old bars. Inside is a shining knight standing over a treasure chest and a loot corpse.
These bars aren’t going to move, with or without a key, but there’s a tunnel into the wall of the cliff. I can see where it comes out, but that’s too high up for me to reach. A thief stands on top of the hut, staring intently at the wall. I’ll have to find a way in from above.
I cross another bridge to reach the guy with the man catcher. He’s more agile than the big one with the sickles, but has more range and hits just as hard.
A Hollowed joins in the battle, swinging a little sword around while running at me, forcing me back across the bridge to heal. I do take them both down soon after. The one with the man catcher has low enough poise that I can get some hits in, which helps.
From there, I climb up a path running above the forest. Another man catcher attacks, and this one goes down to a backstab. As I walk toward a loot corpse he’d been guarding, a skeleton jumps up at me. A sign of things to come, unfortunately.
The corpse holds a notched whip, which causes bleed buildup. Standing there, I get a better view of my destination, rounded walls enclosing what looks like an arsenal of giant weapons.
Another narrow path curves back toward the keep, placing me in a narrow valley lined with spindly pillars, each topped by a waiting Hollowed holding either a man catcher or a whip. They come down at me in ones and twos.
After clearing them, I’m back at the keep’s outer wall, underneath the guy I’d seen waiting with his coiled whip on the roof. He leaps down. And lands on my spear.
I’m at the rope bridge, finally, and could cross it to find out what’s inside those walls.
But I don’t. Instead, I turn back to the forest. I’m intrigued by the stone huts, and by what I think is a raised bridge that leads deeper into the bluff.
I come across another of the huts. Inside are a couple of sad Hollowed and a loot corpse. They must be holding cells of some sort, which fits with the big guys holding whips and man catchers, but I’m not sure what they’re doing out in the forest. The body holds a morning star and an Undead Soul.
I follow along the edge of the forest until I find another of the big butchers with the sickles standing watch over a loot corpse. Before fighting him, I buff my weapon. I still can’t make him stagger, and nearly die, but I get the kill and loot an aromatic ooze from the corpse.
A few steps further, toward the flat centre of the forest, and an invasion message appears. Another Forlorn is coming for me. I don’t have time to apply another buff, as I can see him materializing steps away from where I’m standing.
This one requires a bit more planning. His poise is higher than the others I’ve fought, so I’m unable to stagger him with my spear. On the plus side, I’m getting used to the guard break animations, and I’m able to roll past them to get some hits in. As the Forlorn is shieldless, I can expend most of my stamina against his guard and manage to break his stamina before becoming completely vulnerable. It costs me another flask charge, but I take the Forlorn down, gaining some Souls and an awestone.
I blast the moth out of a nearby tree, then loot a Lifegem from a corpse at its base.
With that, I’ve covered the forest floor. I climb back up the ridge to gain access to the upper parts of the cliff, taking a fork away from the rope bridge. I’m above the stone hut with the knight, and looking for the way to drop down, when a Hollowed jumps out at me from the direction of the metal drawbridge. He’s an especially skinny specimen, and fast, but he doesn’t attack me.
With absurdly exaggerated little steps, his legs a blur of motion, he blows past me and bolts into the forest. I figure he must be leading me toward an ambush, but I give chase anyway. He heads down the cliff, to the parts of the forest I’d already cleared, and keeps on running until I have him cornered, at which point he waits for me to get close, and then takes off again in another direction. Eventually I catch and kill the Hollowed, and pick up cracked red eye orb. Weird.
More moths in trees, some that are so high up I can’t target them with my spell. But they’re not dropping poison on me, so it’s a forced truce. In a corner of the forest I find a thief and his faithful zombie dog. Killing them gives me another flame butterfly.
The drawbridge is raised, inaccessible.
Looking around, I find a nearby hut with a switch inside. A thief standing on the roof, and I realize there’s a hole for it to drop through. That must be the way in to the knight’s hut as well.
He doesn’t actually come after me until after I’ve pulled the switch. When he drops through the hole in the ceiling I’m prepared, and I spear him before he gets a chance to attack. Then another thief appears, running in through the open doorway, and there’s one more on his tail. I get rid of them all, but not before a warning message flashes, telling me that my winged spear is nearly broken. Looks like it’s club time.
The bridge is now ready for crossing.
But I’ve got a date with a shinny knight, so I turn back and find the right spot on the cliff to drop down to the hut’s roof.
I line myself up, then land a plunging attack on the knight, sending it sprawling. I finish the job with my club before it can stand, which gives me access to the chest.
I loot the hut. Inside the chest is a sublime bone dust, while the loot corpses hold green blossoms, poison moss, and a Soul Spear spell, which demands 40 intelligence and has only 2 charges. The tunnel into the cliff gets me back outside, and I make my way back to the bridge.
Discarded metal cages litter the other side, their chains laying like severed tendons on the ground. A pile of bodies burns in the distance, near a stone bridge.
Looking around, I find another stone hut, this one with a locked iron door. Inside is a man, dressed in greys, resting between a pair of old skeletons, and also a bonfire. Next to the hut is an entrance into another cave.
The cave, or the bridge? I take a peak over the bridge and find a thief, which I quickly club into the ground.
A cave seems like a more likely spot to find a key, so I enter it next. Once inside, I hear a familiar distant laughing. There’s a curse jar against the wall to my right, near an unlit sconce and a loot corpse. Before I can make my move, a pile of bones leaps up and attacks me.
So I bash the skeleton. And it crumbles to the ground.
I don’t get any Souls.
There’s a sound, a magical rush that reminds me of a summoning, and the skeleton begins to glow.
The bones reform, and it comes after me again. I knock it down, and still no Souls. I knew this would happen eventually.
The lag time between each of the skeleton’s resurrections isn’t uniform, and the sounds are coming from deeper in the cave. A necromancer of some sort is bringing it back to life.
I roll through the curse jar, silencing it, and loot a the corpse for a magic mace. Hmm. I wait, my new mace in my hands, for the skeleton to hop back up, then bash it again. It falls, then comes right back. So that doesn’t work anymore, which makes putting that weapon right there a bit of a sick joke. I put the mace away.
Using the few seconds I have before the skeleton is back up, I run deeper into the cave. After rounding a corner and plowing through another skeleton, this one with a pair of swords, I run into one with a bow. It’s standing near a pillar of stone and another sconce, as well as a second curse jar. When I get near, it pulls out a sword and shield. I don’t have time for that, so I pounce and knock it down immediately.
I round the pillar, and find one more skeleton, but also the ugly little hunchback that’s been keeping them alive. Before there’s a chance for another necromantic resurrection spell, I apply my club to her beak nose. Once she dies, all the skeleton’s Souls are drawn to me at once.
Having dealt with the most immediate danger, I’m able to take a better look around the cave. I find a skeleton with a rapier guarding a narrow tunnel leading back outside, and past where the necromancer stood is a thick, and quite locked, iron gate. The cave extends further on the other side, and I can see a little crystal lizard waiting. I’ll need to find another switch to open the gate.
I take the tunnel back outside. I’m standing near a flat bridge of short planks, and a thief on the other side rushes in to attack me.
While fighting the thief, I’m pelted with arrows coming from somewhere to my right. Once I’ve dealt with the thief, I step outside, crossing the bridge so I can get a better look at the area.
I’m at the bottom of a valley. Wind rushes through the narrow space, an effect that is felt all the more keenly when the only places to stand are cramped ledges.
The keep is poking back up in the distance, and I see a loot corpse on a ledge somewhere above. Arrows continue to come at me, with the archer standing at a bend in the path.
I run toward the archer. As I close in, I can hear a waterfall, can see the spray of water coming from near the keep. The archer stands at the mouth of another stone hut, and once he’s dead I take a peek inside, only to find another archer crouched and ready.
The setup is too obvious, and I know he’s got company. Sure enough, as soon as I step foot inside the hut, a club swings at me from my left. I dodge back, kill the club thief, then the archer, then a couple of useless Hollowed lounging around. May as well, since they’re free health recharges while I’m wearing the Evil Eye ring. A loot corpse holds a pair of flame butterflies.
I keep moving toward the keep and the waterfall. Around the corner and I begin taking missile fire from across the valley. Not wooden arrows, but magical bolts being fired off by another necromancer squatting over a loot corpse in the section of cave on the other side of that closed gate. Another thief attacks, and dies.
I turn back around and run in the other direction. As enticing as it is to tackle a waterfall, the reason I came this way was to find the key that will open that hut and grant me access to the bonfire inside. The further I go in a single direction, the less likely it feels like I’ll accomplish that goal, and the higher the probability that I’ll get myself killed.
Past the bridge out of the cave, the path splits again, and I kill another archer. The path bends around in the direction of the bonfire hut, with more thieves in the way. To the right, the path ramps up through a crack in the valley walls, heading in the direction of a loot corpse. I can hear wolves howling.
I take down the archer, and a sword thief that was hiding nearby. A skinny Hollowed takes off, back toward the way I’d come and then out of sight. Another runner, and probably not worth the chase.
I start up toward the loot corpse. Half way there and I get another invasion message. Merciless Roenna is coming for me.
She’s not right next to me, so I have the time to buff my spear. Soon, she appears at the top of the path, coming at me with a big scythe and a helmet of frozen tentacles.
We begin our dance. Her heavy attacks melt through my guard, building up bleed damage, and walls press in so close that I can’t swing my club properly in response. After bouncing my weapon off the stone a few times, I back away. The ledge in the valley is just as precarious, but at least I’ll be able to fight back. With some space acquired, I’m able to take a flask charge, then turn and face my enemy before she can cut me down from behind. I nearly knock her over the edge, but she recovers quickly and presses the attack again, forcing me to take her down the old fashioned way. That is, with repeated club blows to the head. Soon, she’s dead, and I gain a couple thousand Souls and an awestone. But I’m also down to my final 2 flask charges.
There’s a corpse at the top, resting in the middle of a small clearing that overlooks the valley. I pick up an Undead Lockaway Key, which tells me that the forest was once the staging ground for Undead hunts, which explaining the huts full of listless Hollowed, and all the guys with whips and man catchers.
I backtrack through the cave. At the entrance, I run into the skinny Hollowed that took off earlier, and chase it around in a big loop through the valley until I manage to kill it and pick up a Lifegem from the corpse.
The key opens up the hut with the bonfire. The grey knight is still there, and willing to talk. He tells me that he’s called Creighton, and is from Mirrah. Seems most of the people I meet lately have a connection to that place.
He’s got a bit of a temper, and immediately begins growling about “that bastard,” the one who screwed him over, and how he tried to set a trap for his enemy and failed. The bastard in question is Pate, the guy I met while going through the Forest of Fallen Giants. Pate mentioned that he’d been travelling with someone else, someone who got himself trapped, and also talked about a ring. Creighton also tells me about the ring, but makes no claim to owning it. He teaches me the fist pump gesture, and that’s all he has to offer me aside from more vengeful fuming.
I light the bonfire, but don’t rest. I use it to ignite my torch, which I carry into the cave to light the sconces inside. That done, I’m feeling frisky, and decide to take a chance on continuing without the bonfire. I go back to the valley and run to the waterfall. I find an entrance into the keep, a fog gate, but it’s blocked off by fallen rocks.
To keep going, I’ll have to walk directly underneath the roaring water.
Underneath the waterfall are some stairs to another big fog gate, this one within reach.
I smell a boss fight, so I keep moving. The path hugs the valley wall until I’m at an entrance into the other half of the cave.
Of course there are more skeletons, there to guard the necromancer. I kill the first that comes at me, and another hops up to take its place. Fire arrows from a skeleton deeper in the cave make the fight trickier, but not unmanageable. I do what I can, then sprint forward before their boss can put them back together. I find the necromancer in a little hole in the wall, and kill her quickly.
That done, I spin around in time to defend myself as the skeletons, having recovered from their rest, pile in after me. Once they’re good and dead, I loot corpses, starting with the one the necromancer had been guarding.
The titanite lizard is next, I can see the bend in the cave that should lead to the closed gate, and I can hear the tingling magical sound. I tab out to take notes, feeling safe even though my health is low.
But I’m not safe. I hear bony footsteps, and before I can tab back into the game and react, there’s another skeleton attacking me, and I’m dead. I was sure I got them all. I should have been more careful.
The situation is not as bad as it might seem. I’d been under the assumption that a bonfire had to be both lit and rested at before becoming the last waypoint, and was prepared to trek all the way through the forest again, but I respawn in the hut at the cave’s front entrance. Creighton is gone, which I expected, but that hardly matters. I learned something new, which is what dying is for, right?
All the skeletons are back, but the necromancers aren’t, which is more good news. I fight my way through the cave, recover my body, and kill the crystal lizard on my first attempt.
A switch nearby opens up the gate. After lighting another sconce from the bonfire, I jump across a gap to a loot corpse and pick up an effigy, along with 40 lacerating arrows, and a few prism stones.
Through a series of moronic events that I can’t even recount here (Imagine Buster Keaton’s Dark Souls Adventures, but with less elegance.), I manage to get myself killed, then cursed, then killed again. I don’t lose my Souls, but when I’m finally back at the big fog gate, my maximum health is not what it could have been.
I put on the lingering dragoncrest ring and apply my magic weapon buff. I’m ready to see what’s on the other side.
Bones. The answer is bones.
This room, once a space that was large, empty, and flat, is now a study in the grim topography of the remains of countless necromantic rituals. Steep slopes of bodies piled against the walls, flesh long since decomposed in the damp air, obscure the edges and corners of the room, while the pillars have been turned into sacrificial pyres, their flames burning eternally. The floor is a series of shallow puddles, the water leaking in through the ceiling to pool in the spaces between the mounds. Even the furniture, nothing more than a few tall thrones, is made from human femurs and tibiae lashed together.
The trio of Skeleton Lords descend from those thrones in columns of unnatural flame, and move menacingly in my direction. Each Lord is dressed in a thick ceremonial robe, grey scales over age-tattered cloth, their rotted torsos leaving nothing but an exposed spine between shoulders and hips. Their eye sockets glow a bright red underneath thin crowns, and despite the grins plastered permanently on their faces, I don’t think they’re happy to see me.
It takes only a second to drink all that in. A foreboding sight, sure, nothing I haven’t been preparing for. Where there’s skeletons, there’s bound to be jerks trying to make more of them.
So I stab the nearest of the Skeleton Lords. The spear slides right through it, and makes me wish I’d buffed my club instead, but the Skeleton Lord takes some damage, and shows me that they have a combined health bar, like the gargoyles.
One of the Lords carries a scythe, the next a bone staff, and the last a primitive spear draped in human skulls, because why not? The difference the weapons make in how they fight is less clear, as they all stalk slowly after me while tossing out fireballs. Once this starts, I duck behind the nearest pillar, where at least I’m only facing down a pair of them.
I nearly get one of them down, but they push me out of cover, and I make the poor decision to flask in the open, hoping I’ll be fast enough to avoid the next volley of fireballs. Which I mostly do, taking a hit in the face but healing through it. That resilience only carries me so far, though, and I’m not so tough when it comes to a scythe slashing through me, or the spear following it up. So, I’m dead, but I’ve seen that I can kill the Lords easily enough.
The next fight goes much better. I bring the club in, and bash the first Lord into a paste before any of them have much chance to react. It dies in a burst of fire, and way before I’ve removed a third of the boss health bar-it’s closer to a quarter. I wait for another Lord to appear, or for the one I killed to be revived. Neither of those things happen. Instead, a the Lord’s corpse births a whole bunch of little skeletons, so that within a handful of seconds at least a dozen of them are spoiling for a fight with person who killed their daddy.
Once the skeletons have put themselves together, clicked their skulls onto their backbones, and made sure their jaws are on straight, they begin chasing me. It takes some time, but by dodging around the pillars and keeping away from the fireballs, I’m able to get the space I need to whittle the skeletons away. Each that falls takes with it another small piece of the overall boss health bar, so that killing them all makes it a full third. The skeletons are unorganized, and the Lords are still keeping up their horror movie pace, so I can charge to the furthest pillar whenever I need to heal.
I’m even able to reapply my buff safely, before moving on to finish the next Lord.
When he dies, the same explosion of flaming bones happens. But this time the skeletons that spawn aren’t the cuddly type I’m used to. These ones are beefier, with bigger weapons and actual armour.
They don’t stagger as well as the naked ones, and it’s not long before I’ve taken some bad hits and need to retreat. The pursuit is relentless, and I’m soon cornered and killed.
Which is fine. I made enough progress to form new plans.
I find another moth resting above the fog gate, and when I blast it, I get a Riadiant Lifegem. More loot baggery.
For this next fight, I put on my Evil Eye +1 ring instead of the lingering dragoncrest ring. The extra buff time is nice enough, but I’m not having trouble applying another one when they run out, and the extra health for killing the skeletal minions will be a big help, I think.
The first Lord is down, and I’m finding the ring isn’t quite the panacea I’d hoped for. Still, it does make a difference, and I’m able to smash all he skeletons and then move on to the next Lord.
The next group of skeletons isn’t much of a problem now that I’m prepared for them. They have different moves and longer combos than I’m used to, but nothing I can’t adjust for.
One Lord to go, and I have him backed against a wall.
As I move in for the kill, I’m wondering which skeletons he’s going to spawn. A giant skeleton maybe? Or a skeleton beast?
The answer is, as always, worse than I thought it could be. I know whatever it is, there will be fewer of them than there were of the armoured skeletons, which were fewer than the unarmoured skeletons. There’s only a small chunk of boss health left after the Lord falls.
A pair of skeleton wheels appear, which has the potential to ruin my day. Potential that I’ve worked toward mitigating by reapplying my weapon buff while the final Lord was dying, even though it hadn’t run out yet. Still, if they get started, in this wide space, I’ll be in trouble. So I’m not going to let that happen.
I charge in immediately, club swinging. The first wheel skeleton falls before it has a chance to start spinning, the other zooms past me. I turn, dodge away from its return trip, then club it when it stops to get its bearings.
I gain 15,000 Souls and a Skeleton Lord’s Soul. One of the armoured skeletons also dropped an effigy.
The Iron King gave the Skeleton Lords the task of hunting the Undead, and it seems they took that to the grave and beyond.
Though I’m still curious about what’s on the other side of that rope bridge, and what’s around the corner in the keep, through the now-open fog gate, I’ve had my fill of this place for the day.