And there’s Gilligan, sitting next to the hole like he owns it. Of all the people I’ve met in Drangleic, he’s annoying me the most. And it’s not completely his fault, though he’s not helping himself with his poor attitude.
He has ladders. Plenty of ladders. Ladders for days. But I’ll have to pay. No, wait–not pay. He doesn’t sell ladders. He sells ladder replicas–don’t even hint that he would stoop so low that he’d sell an actual ladder. He’s a laddersmith, after all, why should he be doing that? Discounting that he’s not actually selling any replicas anymore, no matter what he keeps saying, he is willing to accept “donations,” and I suppose that if, in the end, he happens to shove a ladder into the hole after each donation, well, that’s just a thing that happened.
The way he acts, I have to wonder if who he’s hiding from is the tax man.
A few minutes of talking to him, and I think it’s just because he’s kind of an asshat.
Anyway, I can donate 500, 3500, or 12,000 Souls. Three different ladders, presumably. I start with 500. “You just don’t get it,” he tells me, but puts the ladder down anyway.
He’s right. I don’t get it.
Not sure what I was expecting, but I know I’d hoped for more than that. The thing goes down maybe a metre and a half, so there’s still a potentially lethal fall down to the top platform, and no way back up. What happened to taking pride in your work?
I’m still hopeful, so I move on to the 5000 Souls options. Instead of improving the first ladder, he drops a second one into the pit, this one going all the way down to a lower platform.
Finally, I buy–excuse me, “donate”–12,000 Souls for the third ladder.
This one goes all the way down to an even lower platform. After all that, he tells me he “gets such a warm feeling inside when he has the chance to help others.” I can’t help reading some sarcasm into that.
With all his ladders deployed, Gilligan gives me a Melu scimitar. Is that where he’s from? It’s slightly more damaging than a normal scimitar, heavier, and fancy looking. Maybe it has better range?
After that, he has little left to offer. He mentions a grave of an old saint somewhere below, and a rat king. The Rat King? Does the Grave of Saints count as one of his warrens?
I check the ladders before moving on. The second goes down to the stone door that I cannot open, and the last takes me close to the Grave of Saints entrance. I’m halfway down, wanting to look, when I remember that I already have that bonfire activated, and can move on.
Back in the sunlight, I decide that I’ll stick with the Company of Champions. I’ve seen the summoning signs and the random NPCs they have to offer. That was disappointing. Moreover, the Company of Champions is the only covenant I’ve found so far that I can progress in without the need for other players. I like the idea of tougher enemies, too, even if there’s an unlimited supply.
My next stop is Straid’s cell in the Bastille. Mytha’s Soul doesn’t trade for the trident she carried, but for a boring old poisonous dagger. The Covetous Demon gets a bone scythe, with its description strongly hinting at a sordid little love triangle going on between him, the Queen, and whoever she was after.
While there, I figure I’ll take a tentative step toward my next items. I trade for the chariot lance and the Dragonrider’s greatshield. With these and the gargoyle’s spear, I could convert to a potentially stronger strength build. I choose the Dragonrider’s shield over the Pursuer’s because it’s lighter, is only worse against petrification and curses–and how often will I run into those?–and has the same base stability. That’s still a strength requirement of 35, and 30 for the lance, but that’s something I might work toward.
Maybe it’s because I’ve already purchased all the Forlorn armour, or maybe it’s because I’ve killed the Forlorn so many times, but Straid now sells the Greatsword of the Forlorn. The King (of Drangleic, I assume, but I’m more confused about who was king of what and when and where with each passing day) had an older brother named Aldia who tried to beat the curse. The Forlorn are connected to Aldia, somehow. When I buy the sword, Strain gives me a complete set of his black robes. Light cloth that’s highly resistant to magic damage. The hood also boosts casting speed.
The Greatsword of the Forlorn has some neat glowing stripes, almost like scratches, that didn’t come across well in the Forlorn’s phantom state.
However, it needs 10 faith to equip properly, so I can’t use it.
The chariot lance is a big, heavy lance, and not a spear. The name should have been a clue. That’s a problem, because I really don’t like the look of the gargoyle spear, and was hoping the chariot lance could replace it. It may seem weird to be making this sort of choice based on aesthetics alone. Especially for me, as someone who cares little about cosmetics in games. Yet, the biggest difference between a dexterity build for the winged spear and a strength build for the gargoyle spear may only be how they look. The move lists are the same, and the damage is similar, or seems that way without knowing how the gargoyle spear upgrades, so what else can I use to make my choice?
The chariot lance is not an alternative. It’s a short, slow lance with added bleed damage, thanks to the big barbs sprouting from the hilt.
Might have to hold off on the new build, or modify it. Playing with a lance requires different tactics compared to a quick spear.
Next stop, McDuff’s workshop. This time, I pay close attention to my damage numbers before changing anything. I attack the dogs outside with my dark-infused winged spear+10, and light attacks deal around 210-240 damage. I have no idea what they’re weak or resistant to, but it’ll serve as some sort of baseline.
On my stats page, I have 386 damage for the spear, 256 for my club+6. I still don’t understand how the club is getting more bonus damage than my spear when I have more dexterity than strength, but there’s no getting around that.
The infusion menu is more bad news. My magic stones are not actual magic damage, but look like they’re a physical damage gain split with the base stat and intelligence. And all the numbers are worse. What I wanted was a faithstone. A faithstone would give me an even B/B split for dexterity and intelligence gains with physical and magic damage. What the magic stone gives me is a D/C gain for dexterity and intelligence–worse across the board–while returning the spear to its 240 base damage and adding nothing else.
I do the infusion anyway, to see if there’s something more to it than what appears in the stats. From what I can tell, there isn’t. My total damage ends up dropping.
Here’s how it broke down.
Dark-infused winged spear+10
168 physical damage + 32 dexterity bonus + 168 dark damage + 18 faith bonus = 386 total damage.
Enchanted winged spear+10
240 physical damage + 63 dexterity and intelligence bonus = 303 total damage.
Which is even more pathetic when I look at the bonus damage on my naked winged spear with only a B dexterity gain and see 61. I remove the enchantment from my winged spear+10 and end up with 318 total damage, so the magic stone infusion was a net loss in damage. I must be missing something here. Maybe it’s for pure intelligence characters using physical damage weapons that have terrible or non-existent strength and dexterity scaling? Maybe it’s for wands?
Whatever it is, it’s a problem for me. I was banking on my magic stones buffing my damage output, and don’t have another ore for dark-damage infusion. I do have a few boltstones, though, and even if my faith is a mere 6, the lightning damage bumps my total back up to 384. That will have to do. Maybe I’ll get lucky and run into a dragon.
Then, I visit the nest in Things Betwixt. I drop my smooth and silky stones and receive a petrified dragonbone, cracked red eye orb, an Undead Soul, a divine blessing, a titanite shard, and a titanite slab. A good haul.
On a whim, I go down to the Firekeeper’s house. I’ve this urge to see old places again, now that I know about opening secret doorways. Nothing inside, but when I go outside, I see a gap in the rocks near the waterfall. It’s camouflaged by some bushes, but I’m sure it wasn’t there at the start of the game.
I push through the bushes. A muddy slope, and broad, three-toed footprints. This definitely wasn’t there when I started the game.
I follow the footprints to the top of the hill. Loud grunts replace the sound of rushing water, and I can see one of those giant hippo-clops monsters hunched down over something on the ground.
Weapon buffed and held in both hands, I attack, opening with a heavy thrust. It does a lot of damage, but the giant spins around faster than I’d thought possible, snarls, starts clawing at me. The hands smack against my shield, but my stamina doesn’t last long. One attack makes it through, and then the thing is turning, coming down like a falling tree.
I didn’t think it would be so aggressive, but I recover in time to get a couple of stabs in before it can stand, and then to finish it off after it attacks again.
I pick a ring up from where it died.
The Stone Ring is another of Shieldless Lothian’s items. While the other added poise, this one has a much more interesting effect. It causes more poise damage with attacks. Is it a flat value or a percentage? Either way, it could be useful with my weapons, as they aren’t strong in that regard. I put it on, but the poise damage isn’t updated on my stat screens. I guess I’ll never know for sure.
The monster was guarding a corpse that holds a single gold pine resin, a consumable that adds temporary lightning damage to a weapon. Redundant now, but loot is loot.
I follow the path to a bridge crossing the shallow stream that feeds the waterfall. Over a ledge and I’m back at the Firekeeper’s house.
I run down to the starting area, but find nothing else new. It still makes me wonder. Between hidden doors, and new paths opening up behind me, how much have I missed? Once I’ve found all the Great Souls, I’ll have to do a thorough search of the old areas on my way to the second half of the game.
As tempting as the Grave of Saints may be, with or without the ladders, I’ve made up my mind to go after those last two Great Souls. I’ve already been through the gutter and found the one down there, which clears the pit. The other was in the Bastille, which is at the end of the road beginning from Heide. Logically, the other Great Souls will be at the end of the other roads. Hunstman’s Copse, Harvest Valley, Earthen Peak, Iron Keep, and beyond is one, another is through the Shrouded Woods and Brightstone Cove.
If only to avoid messing with the NPC interactions too much, I’ll tackle them in order.
The heat is like a haunting, a lingering malice from before the cataclysm that ended this kingdom. The river of fire, the heavy clouds in the red sky, like ash in a furnace. It’s all evocative, a landscape that’s a snapshot of how the end can come to anyone, at any time.
It’s fitting, too. By today end, the Iron Keep will be as close as I’ve come to Hell here in Drangleic.
The same katana-swinging knight attacks me on the bridge.
Once he’s dead, I look around. There’s a break in the ground above a path made from giant slabs of flaming rock. I could jump down to them, and there’s loot at the end of that rainbow, but after the experience I had with the fire near the bonfire, I know it’s certain death. Either I need a lot more health and fire resistance, or I’m looking for an item or contraption that will dampen the flames and allow me to survive them.
The thick pillars holding up the arched entrance to the keep are another ominous sight. Iron statues of stern men, all wrapped in heavy chains held in place with swords. What level of desperation have you reached when that makes sense. I doubt it’s intended to stop bandits from carrying them away at night. Were they afraid of the iron itself?
There are stairs past the arch that descend to the red river. The gates at the bottom firmly shut. Not surprising, because it’s not like I’m going for a swim down there. What is surprising is the invasion that occurs while I’m looking around, with Fencer Sharron appearing so suddenly and so near that I’m knocked back. A defence against telefraging, I suppose.
She’s holding a pair of short swords, each with some special effect. Strong offence, but her armour is light, and I think I have the fight won, possibly with thanks to the Stone Ring and its extra stagger power. I’m keeping her back, getting good damage, when she quickly rolls forward, out of my jab chain, and comes up swinging at my face. I don’t survive.
For the rematch, I make sure to apply my magic weapon buff to the winged spear and take off the Stone Ring. I want to see if I can notice a difference.
And I do. Not only can I no longer stagger the katana knight with my light attacks, but Sharron is even more aggressive than last time. Her swords are firing off energy blasts, and she’s rolling through my hits without a care. I die again.
Lessons learned. I use another effigy, put the Stone Ring back on, buff my spear, and fight properly.
Even with the extra poise damage, I can’t count on consistently staggering her. She will keep trying to roll forward and catch me off guard, but I’m ready for that now. I cancel my jabs early and have my shield up when she attacks. Soon, she’s dead. I gain a few Souls and an awestone.
Time to enter the keep itself.
I’ve seen this black iron door before.
Of course the first thing I see after pushing the doors open is fire. A near-constant burst of flame coming from a statue of a bull’s head at the far side of the lobby, blocking access to a shiny loot corpse.
Fire traps. Exactly what I was hoping for.
When I step inside, a katana knight rushes down the stairs next to the fire statue. I circle around, thinking I might land a plunging attack on it. And then he’s got a friend with him, and things get hairy.
Each on his own is not dangerous, but together they can take turns hammering on my shield, building that bleed bar. I keep circling up the stairs, making them chase me so I can get a hit in and drop down before they have a chance to flank. They die before my bleed bar fills completely.
I approach the statue. It is a bull, or maybe an ox? Since the prime difference between the two is whether the animal has been castrated or not, seeing only a head isn’t a clear indication either way. Not that it’s important. What matters is the fire, which comes in long bursts, the gap between them short enough that it may as well not exist. There’s no way to grab that item without getting burnt, and I’m not eagre to find out if it’s more or less damaging than the flaming stones. For once, some patience. I’ll look for a way to disarm it first.
Moving on, there are the stairs next to the statue, which must lead back outside.
To the right of the entrance is a corridor leading to a corner of the keep lit by tall windows. I imagine the place might have been pleasant before all the light shining through was a reminder of fiery death.
May as well finish this floor off before going up. I take the hall, passing another set of steeply ascending stairs on the way. From the windows, I can see a massive bull statue. Bull? Ox? Minotaur? Is it still a statue of a mermaid if it only shows the torso?
Philosophy aside, the thing is certainly intimidating. More so when I see a path to it, and more loot corpses out there. Wherever I go, that statue is likely my destination. And anyone who hangs out in a place like that was likely a bit of an aggressive jerk before finding out that he built his castle on an active volcano.
Other than the view, it’s peaceful here, and quiet. Nothing else attacks me, and I find a familiar face looking up at me from a nearby wall.
Not that I’ve met Magerold before, but he’s wearing the same monocle and cap that I’ve had on all game. He sits cross-legged against the wall, and is unremarkable except for being in such an inhospitable place.
With his sacks and chests, he’s set up a little shop. One sale are complete sets of jester’s and bandits gear, and the usual collection of miscellaneous consumables that includes an effigy and a branch of Yore. I buy those, and the jester hat. Magerold claims we have similar tastes. Alright then. The hat has the same item-finding effect as the monocle, but with higher defence stats. It’s also a bit heavier than I can afford right now, and would need a few upgrades to match my +6 monocle.
(Every piece of the jester’s motley has a special effect. The cap has item find, the vest nullifies critical hits, the pants lower falling damage, and the gloves increase Souls dropped from enemies.)
Aside from items, he also provides an incense service. I can finally use all the skeptic’s and simpleton’s spices I’ve collected and lower the stat requirements for spells.
I try it out on a hex, the dark orb spell, which has the lowest requirements of those I’ve found. I mistakenly use simpleton’s spice to lower the intelligence, instead of skeptic’s spice for faith, but I still learn that there’s a limit to how many can be applied to a spell. Here, it’s 2 in total. With only 6 faith, it still wouldn’t give me access to a hex.
There’s also a third option for an item I don’t have. And, for some reason, pyromancy spells show up in the incense menu, even though they have neither intelligence nor faith requirements. Putting two and two together, I’m guessing there is a very rare item that can add extra charges to a spell. Could be wrong, but that’s what makes the most sense.
When I’m done buying, he gives me a covetous gold serpent ring+1, for even more item find. We chat for a bit, and he tells me about the knight with the blue sword, saying that he thinks it’s a fake. A fake what? Sure, glowing blue swords are neat and all, but I get the impression it’s supposed to be something special. If he’s close by, maybe I can ask Benhart about it. However, if it really is a fake, and Benhart doesn’t know . . . that’s the sort of thing that gets someone killed.
Magerold also tells me a bit about the Iron Keep. Built in this spot to harvest the abundant iron ore, but somehow so heavy that it sank into the ground and triggered this flaming, lava-filled apocalypse. How iron sinks into iron is a mystery to both of us, but that’s the story. He also tells of a shrine to the ancient dragons somewhere on the eastern edge of Drangleic. I’d like to see that, but which direction is east?
I leave Magerold alone. Hopefully he’ll move on, maybe showing up in Majula. If not, I can always come back and keep buying until he does.
I take the nearest set of stairs. I find a knight looking down at the lobby with a bow held ready. Why didn’t he shoot at me? Not that I’m complaining. I creep up far enough to check the corners, making sure nobody else is going to jump out, then kill the knight before he can turn to face me. Honour is a thing, yes, but not when it comes to mindless, Soul-munching zombies.
He drops an Alonne knight’s leggings. These are the troops who served the Old Iron King. Is he the one who spurned Mytha? I guess this is his castle, anyway. The corpse in the window holds a Pharros’ lockstone. That must mean there’s a Pharros’ device somewhere in the keep, and maybe it will disable the fire. Or give me a chance to look for a hidden door.
In fact, I have a chance to test out my new secret-door-finding abilities right away. The wall to the right of the stairs is a dead-end that looks all kinds of suspicious. But instead of smacking it with my club, I walk over and interact. The stones slide away and I gain access to another room.
Inside are a bolt-throwing ballista and a loot corpse. Maybe this guy couldn’t figure out how to open these secret doors, either. I grab a bunch of fire arrows from the corpse and examine the ballista.
Why have a projectile weapon in a small room, facing a stone wall? Realistically, for no reason at all. But game logic tells me there’s a reason for everything. I examine the wall directly in the ballista’s line of sight. Sure enough, it opens up, showing me the back of another Alonne knight.
So I mount the ballista and fire it.
The bolt hits him in the back, but doesn’t kill him. He’s knocked to the floor below, left with half health. And it doesn’t seem to bother him at all, as he just stands there, staring straight ahead.
I go through the door and stab him in the back of the head, then finish him off as he comes up the stairs toward me. Another knight rushes in through the door on the right, and also dies.
Looking around, I find I’ve taken the long way round to the top of the stairs in the lobby. Nothing in here to disable the fire below, so I’m heading outside.
It’s a central courtyard of some sort, built around a huge furnace. An elevated platform, likely a bridge, crosses over the molten ore below. And everywhere I look, more knights.
It looks like I’ll have to cross the bridge to get to a fog gate on the other side. How? It’s hanging a few metres in the air, too high to reach from down here.
An arrow the size of my leg hits me in the chest, taking a chunk out of my health bar. I retreat, and after adjusting my eyes for dangerous movement, I notice the archer knight pacing the bridge, bow in hand. Even better.
Back outside and moving toward the bridge. A trio of knights come at me, one after the other, while the archer keeps taking shots at my side.
I have to fight carefully, trying to keep the buttresses as a shield against the archer, and nearly die anyway.
When I make it to the bridge, I confirm that it’s unreachable.
Looking around, I see a switch below.
Yet somehow not straightforward. After a few steps, another archer starts sniping at me. These arrows are even bigger, and this archer has larger armour, with distinct bulges at the shoulders. Like the one on the bridge, he’s out of reach.
To get to his perch, I need to climb a ladder. And since getting onto a ladder from anywhere but the bottom is as impossible in video games as lifting one’s knees high enough to step over a log, I’d have to drop down to a lower level first.
One step at a time. The switch, and then the archer.
Again, easier said than done. I get down the stairs to the switch, but it takes a couple of runs to pull it without being interrupted by an arrow.
This side of the bridge lowers into place. The way is open.
Back up the stairs to storm the bridge, and I’m nearly there when an arrow–let’s be honest, it’s more like a javelin–hits me in the back. I lose half my health, but heal and keep going.
Before I can get to the archer, I have to get through his guard. That means backing to the buttresses again. Once that knight is down, I finally get the archer. And a message telling me that my winged spear is about to break.
I switch to my club and go after the second archer. I can already see that I’ve only lowered half of the bridge, and I’ll have to find another switch to complete the job. Which, from what I can see, will mean jumping down on the other side. So I’ll make sure I’ve finished this half, first.
I hop down to the platform giving access to the ladder. A corpse resting in the corner holds a Soul of a Proud Knight and a repair powder. Prescient, or convenient? I don’t think it’s dumb luck. I also don’t choose to use it yet. I think I will enjoy clubbing that archer to death.
I hit him a couple times, but he falls into the lava before I can land the finishing blow. Works for me.
A chest nearby holds a Life Ring+1 and twinkling titanite.
A whopping +70 HP. Even for me, someone who has only 6 vigor, that’s not worth using.
Maybe I can get to the other side without a leap of faith from the bridge? I go down the stairs to the switch, where there’s a metal door to the central furnace. The place is so choked with fire that I can see it bleeding through the walls, but I open it anyway.
Yeah, that’s not happening.
I stand at the end of the bridge. A ledge runs along this wall, from the fog gate on my left to the keep on my right. At each end stands one of the big archers.
A tricky situation, for sure, but I think I can manage it. Go after the guy on the left first, as he’s closer. If I’m fast, I can kill him before the first arrow hits, and I’ll have plenty of space to dodge and heal if necessary before going after the second archer.
I cast my great magic weapon spell on the club and drop down.
Things are already going wrong before I land.
The first problem is that there’s another knight, one that I didn’t see from the bridge because he’s standing directly under it. Which means I land on his lap. While I’m trying to deal with him, the first arrow hits. Somehow, I take the knight down fast enough to be moving when the next arrows are on the way, giving me the chance to heal before charging the nearest archer. Another arrow hits me in the back, but I kill the archer, spin around, and start moving on my last enemy.
I dodge an arrow, giving me the time to use another flask charge. I think I have victory in my grasp, when, of course, it gets worse.
Knights are dropping from the sky, appearing from nowhere to flank the archer. Well, not nowhere, but I didn’t see them coming. And it’s a real problem.
Before I can do anything, they’re on me, backing me into a corner with aggressive sword chops. I’m looking for a way out, trying to find a way around them before my stamina is gone. An arrow hits me while I’m swinging my club, staggering me long enough for the knights to finish me.
How do I deal with my spear’s durability loss? I want to have it available for when things get tougher. So I start with my club, and put on the Evil Eye+1 ring as well, to get some health after each kill and maybe save me a couple flask charges.
I’m about to enter the keep again, when I get another invasion message.
Armorer Dennis appears outside the entrance to the keep, on the opposite side from where Sharron first showed herself. A knight is chasing me as well, and I head back over the bridge. Dennis starts throwing magic around, filling the space with swirling blue-white energy while the knight chops at my shield. That doesn’t last long, as his leash pulls him back to the keep, and I get a flask charge in me before Dennis closes in for his turn. I stab, but cannot stagger him, and he repeatedly guard breaks me in return. I die, forfeiting the 17, 000 Souls I had on my corpse. Feels a little bad in the moment, but that’s a drop in the ocean compared to what’s coming.
With the Stone Ring reequipped, and my buff applied to the spear, I return for my rematch with Dennis.
Now I’m able to repeatedly stagger him, and the fight is soon over, with me as the victor. I gain a couple thousand Souls and an awestone.
The bridge is still down, so that’s good. After enduring the parade of knights, I’m back to where I died last time. Before jumping down, I look for alternate routes. Standing in the middle of the bridge, I see where the reinforcement knights came from, the roof of an extension built out of the front end of the keep. There’s also a Pharros’ device up there.
Maybe it disables the fire statue?
I also see a loot corpse on a pillar supporting one of the flying buttresses near the high end of the bridge.
I jump down and pick up an Undead Soul and red leech troches. Temporary bleed resistance.
From there, I can see the other switch.
I hop down again, kill a knight, and pull the switch while under fire from the archer above. The bridge lowers the rest of the way.
Knights are dropping down on me from above. I have little space for movement, and they back me into a wall. I fight back as best I can, nearly killing one, but they end up shoving me over the edge, into the lava. Not my proudest death, but I made progress, so it’s not a total loss.
I battle back to the bridge and jump down to recover my corpse. I’m ready when the knight drops from above, and kill him, too.
Then I do something stupid. There’s another metal door into the furnace down here, and I decide to open it. I know it will unleash the pent-up flames, and I can hear the archer knocking an arrow above me. But I do it anyway. The process feels agonizingly slow, and as soon as the animation ends, I spin around with my shield up. The arrow hits and spins away without doing damage, but the impact pushes me back. Back into the fire. I do manage to roll away and heal, but it’s a near thing.
How to get back up? I jump to some nearby stairs. At the bottom is another path of flaming stones, so that’s out.
At the top is the furnace, and a big, metal wheel. Another door?
Now I can jump back down and go through the door I opened.
A body in the corner holds a pair of titanite shards and a petrified dragon bone. Besides that, the place is empty. Sure, there’s the grating in the floor, and the big smelting pot hanging overhead, but what does that do for me?
From here, I can use the other door to get back to the bridge, or take this ladder. Where does it lead?
To a narrow bridge guarded by one of the big knights, one without a bow, but with his hand resting dangerously on his sword.
If I want to fight this guy, I’ll have to deal with that archer first, otherwise a stray arrow, even one that I block, will knock me off to my death.
But I can do that after I’ve checked the other side of the bridge. This guy is guarding another ladder, possibly the next area. It can wait.
I cross the bridge and charge the archer on the left, near the fog gate. My spear does little damage and doesn’t flinch him at all. He pulls out a long katana crackling with energy and nearly cuts me in half. I survive that, but not the knight rushing to stab me in the back. See what I mean about honour?
The problem I’m having, and will continue to have, is that their bulky armour is particularly effective against stabbing attacks, and they don’t seem that bothered by lightning. If I can’t stagger the knights, especially the big ones, I’m in trouble.
I make sure to drag all the knights across the bridge. The last two, the ones that keep killing me, appear to have a short leash, so I can get free attacks when they turn back for the bridge.
The first archer goes down before it can pull a sword. The second has more time, and manages a brutal slash that pierces my shield, doing significant bleed damage.
It fights with a familiar katana style–Iaido, I think, which I only know from Soulcalibur. I’m not that much of a nerd. Sudden strikes followed by long recovery periods that allow for plenty of club time.
Once they’re all dead, I look for a way up to the Pharros’ device. All I find is a nearby staircase that I’ll have to jump for.
That’s another potential death, so it can wait till after I’ve checked out the bridge behind the furnace.
This knight has no bow, but I’m well aware of how his sword works. I wait for him to make the first move, then start swinging my club. We back away from each other, then attack again. One more club swing, and it’s over.
I can hear a distinct crackling sound here, like a fire. Not a bonfire, as it lacks that soothing tone. This is danger. These odd pylons that line the bridge. What are they? In hindsight, it’s obvious they’re chimneys, but at the time I mistook the smoke coming from them for something more ethereal. I smack one with a club, and it explodes into a jet of flame.
I don’t want to get any closer to that than I have to. I loot the corpse at the far end of the bridge, picking up an old radiant lifegem and a green blossom. Then it’s time to climb the ladder.
Another open space, another metal bridge with knights guarding it. Once I’ve confirmed I’m not under attack, I climb all the way up. To the right, coming from the direction of the fog gate below, is a thick metal door. Of course it’s locked.
I walk to the doorway and crane my neck as far as I can without attracting the knights attention. If I go out there, will I take fire from more archers? Thankfully, no. So I do go out there, and I murder the knight. I can see another big, metalic thing at the far end of the bridge. It’s one of those hammer-swinging armoured turtles I met in the coastal fortress inside the Forest of Fallen Giants.
It doesn’t attack me, but instead turns and runs as soon as I engage the knight, disappearing through a doorway.
This is another big pit full of flowing hot iron. With the knight dead, I cross the bridge, and find the reason the armoured turtle booked it. There’s a gap, short enough that I could jump it easily, but still too much for it to cross. So where did it go?
Not far enough. When I jump across, it comes stomping back around the corner, hammer raised.
There’s no getting around it like this, and my shield is ineffective. One second it’s swinging down at me, the next I’m kissing the hot metal of the bridge. I try to recover, but I can’t turn and jump fast enough, and have little space to move or roll. The next swing kills me.
I have a sneaking suspicious now that there’s a bonfire behind that locked door.
Coming back, one of the knights drops a blacksteel katana. One of the lowest base damages I’ve seen on a weapon, but it has slightly better durability than the other katanas I’ve found and a solid A dexterity gain. The Iron King was an eccentric that hired a foreign swordsman to train his knights to fight with these strange blades.
When I exit the first section of the keep, another invasion message appears. It’s Forlorn again. But there’s also that parade of knights, one of which gets a hit on me. I have to fight a retreat all the way to the main entrance before I have the invader alone.
An attack slips past my guard when I have Forlorn nearly beat. I die again, losing the 40,000 Souls I left on the upper bridge.
Another drop in the ocean.
I wonder if there’s a special criteria for the Forlorn showing up. He, she, they, or it has appeared in most areas I’ve been through, at some point. Multiple deaths, maybe? It would be neat if Forlorn mostly showed up after a large number of Souls are on the ground, but that doesn’t seem to fit the trends. Whatever it is, I hope I get a rematch today.
When I say the 40,000 is a drop in the ocean, I mean that I hardly feel the effects of losing that amount when I’m gaining so many without going out of my way. By the time I’ve made it to the fog gate again, I’m already back at 48,000.
I had to swap out the Stone Ring again for the Ring of Binding, and fighting the knights without the extra poise damage is a bit of a pain. They hurt when they hit, and do tick damage with the bleed buildup on the swords. But I suspect there’s something dangerous through the fog gate, so I pop an effigy and put the Stone Ring back on before stepping through.
I’m locked in with a 3-metre tall hunk of iron and fury, a horned metal demon with a sword big enough that it could be its own boss fight. When I enter, it comes to life, the fire in its chest igniting, burning like a Soul. Slowly, joints clanking and grinding, it faces me, turning a blank, eyeless face in my direction. Maybe it can’t see me, in a conventional sense, but it knows I’m there. And it knows it needs to kill me.
And so begins my dance with a personal demon.
At first, it doesn’t seem so bad. I can block the sword swings without taking damage, take a few stabs when I see its back. I’m playing cautiously, as is my nature in a first encounter. My attacks do very little damage, which I expected. I’ve brought a toothpick to a sword fight, and jabbing a hunk of metal is never an effective strategy. Against armour, I should have a club. But as long as it can’t hurt me, I’ll be fine.
The demon leaps high into the air, stabs its sword into the ground. An opportunity. I 2-hand the spear and start in, hoping to get some good damage done.
A slight flexing of the shoulders is the only warning I get before a shockwave erupts from the blade. I’m on my back, wondering where all my health has gone, but I force myself to stand, to drink from my flask. I recover before the demon does, and start poking again.
A few jabs later, and the demon pauses. The flame in its chest grows, gaining strength.
This is more than intimidation. When I get close enough for another stab, the intense heat starts to drain my health. And that’s not the worst of it.
After I’ve done a bit more damage, the demon stabs itself with the sword, pushing the blade through the fire. It then pulls out a sword of fire. And now the real problem. I can’t block that. The added fire damage cuts quarters and thirds from my health bar, and I can barely keep up with flask charges.
Soon, my bottle is dry, and I’m scrolling desperately through my items for a lifegem. Will the fire die out? Another series of slashes, and I’m dead.
The next fight goes better. I buff my spear before entering, attack viciously while it charges its flames, again when it lights the sword up. I still make a mistake, attacking during the shockwave, and die, but I had it around half health, which is encouraging.
There are two major problems here. The first is the route from the bonfire to the fog gate, and the second is the demon’s flaming sword. Call it three problems with my lack of damage. Unless I’m landing big critical attacks, my lightning winged spear+10 is doing less than 100 damage with a heavy attack, and the demon has thousands of HP. My first thought is that this is will be a damage race, with my initial efforts based on that. Buff the spear, aggressive 2-hand attacks to do as much damage as I can before the fire comes out. But once it does, I’m stymied.
Getting to the boss is something I can work on, though. The patterns and enemies are consistent, if involved, and the only big stumbling block are the last two sword knights, the ones that jump down from the Pharros’ device and charge across the bridge together. The rest I can fight one at a time, and if I’m mindful of angles to avoid arrows, that’s all straightforward.
Still, it’s work every time. All told, it’s 13 sword knights, the archer in the keep, the archer on the bridge, and the two bigger archers on the other side. Seventeen enemies every time, for a total of 12,800 Souls. It’s not long before I’ve collected the complete armour sets, and the special helmet and armour from the bigger knights as well. Turns out, they’re captains. One even drops an Alonne Greatbow, a huge weapon that requires 20 strength and 25 dexterity so it can fire those heavy greatarrows. I also discover the reason for my spear’s unexpected degradation. The captains fire destructive arrows that damage equipment even when blocked.
Forlorn shows up again, and I have my chance to kill it.
Yes, I cheese out the AI by running up the stairs repeatedly, forcing it to follow so I can get free hits before dropping down to repeat the process. But, in fairness, they gang up on me, and I have that stack of Souls in the boss room. The kill gets me a few thousand Souls and an awestone.
Working out the route is tedious enough that I can understand why people would avoid the Company of Champions. But it gives me opportunities to learn, which are valuable. For example, I discover that the Stone Ring adds poise damage to spells, too. I figure this out with the method I use to take down the two captains without getting arrows in the back. By standing on their side of the bridge, but between the buttresses so they can’t see me, I force the one on the right to come running over to get a line of sight. Then I can zap him with my magic missiles, danger-free because it takes half a minute to knock those big arrows and fire. With the Stone Ring on, each magic missile staggers the captain. With it off, it takes two in a row.
I perfect the run as well as I can, timing each pull, switching from club to spear as the situation demands. But it all feels like work, because I make no progress beyond that. The Smelter Demon is where I break.
Slowly, I learn its patterns. A combo of two horizontal slashes followed by either a jumping stab or an overhead slam. The jumping stab leads into the shockwave attack. There’s also a lunging thrust, which is easy to avoid. This changes once the fire comes out. The radius of the shockwave multiplies, the overhead slam sends out a line of fire. For a while, I try using the magic shield buff spell, and it helps some. With it active, I can fully block the fire damage. But I’m on the defensive there, with fewer opportunities to counter-attack. My hope that the fire will run out is dashed when I spend a full minute running and dodging, with no result. And the shield buff doesn’t last very long, even if I look for chances to re-apply it.
I give up on that tactic, because it’s not addressing the core problem. Even if I could block all the fire damage, if I can’t hurt the Smelter Demon back, I’m not going to win.
Once, I go through my equipment, putting together as much fire defence as I can–and this includes the Alonne Captain’s armour. It’s not much, boosting me from 171 to 243. It also makes no discernible difference. A single overhead slam or shockwave burst will kill me regardless. Maybe not if I was human and had my full health bar, but I’m not confident that will help enough to waste more effigies.
If I could use the club, it might help. But that also means getting close enough to the demon that I’m taking constant fire damage. If I had a shield with better fire resistance, like my Watchdragon Parma, that might cut down on the fire damage. But that would mean taking more physical damage, so it’s a wash. As it is, without upgrades the club isn’t doing a whole lot of damage anyway. With upgrades, the club might serve, and would certainly do more damage than the spear. But all my Souls are tied up in the boss room.
At one point, I step too far across the bridge, take an arrow in the side from one of the captains, and fall into the fire, losing my full stack of Souls.
Without going back for upgrades, which I really don’t want to do, my options are avoidance or manning up. It was obvious right away that this boss is optional. If I kill it, I’ll get access to a bonfire and a shortcut through that locked door up behind the furnace. If I wanted to, I could keep going without that. But I don’t care about the bonfire. I care about killing this thing.
It takes a lot of work. Progress is incremental, but once I start to learn, it’s steady. Back to the magic weapon buffs, and no more blocking the fire sword. If I want to win, I’ll have to stop being so lazy and start dodging. Not aggressively–that’s pointless. Whether I block or dodge, I don’t have the stamina to support staying close to the demon while still getting to attack. So I abandon any notion of a damage race, and instead take it slow. I keep to the outside, circling to the demon’s right, where I can best avoid attacks. When I roll, it’s only to get away from the first hit in a series, putting distance that lets me avoid the rest. I go for counter-attacks while it’s recovering, as I gain the most bonus damage then.
All at once, it starts to click, and I realize I’m closer than I’ve ever been to winning. To give you some idea of how long this takes, even with the stack of Souls I lost, I’m over 100,000 the first time I nearly kill the demon.
I’ve reached a point where the only dangers are the shockwave and the overhead slam. The shockwave only because the range can be hard to judge, or I might be pressed against a wall with no room to get away. The slam attack because the timing to dodge it seems to change after the sword is on fire. I regularly roll away, only to get caught somehow without the attack seeming to actually hit. Consequence of low agility, perhaps? Over time, I work on that as well, tightening my timing by recognizing the animation early and staying further away.
I’m that floating butterfly, I have that bee’s sting. In and out, back away from the slashes, poke for counter-attack damage against the lunges. Heal when the demon has the sword in the ground, recast the buff when it gathers flames.
When it starts to happen, I can feel it. The fight is going as close to perfect as possible, the demon is nearly dead and I’ve yet to use a flask charge in earnest, deciding to take a quick sip to top up some of the burn damage only because it was doing the shockwave and I couldn’t attack.a
A track and field coach once told me that I peter out before the finish line, which made me a poor sprinter, but maybe I’m built for marathons. I hold on, keeping my hands loose, willing myself to not over-commit with the finish line in sight.
I have to admit, there’s a bit of luck involved. It doesn’t use the slam attack. It’s stabbing and jumping, which is easy to dodge. I’m drinking from the flask at any sign of damage, waiting for only the surest openings. And I have it. I dash in and start stabbing. It’s going to die.
I gain 32,000 Souls and a Smelter Demon’s Soul. Adding everything together, I’m up over 150,000 on the day.
The Old Iron King lost his life to this demon, a hunk of iron made living with a Soul. Did the Iron King give it that Soul? Did he become the demon?
There are stairs at the back of the room.
I climb to the top and open a metal chest. Inside is a porcine shield and 5 flame butterflies. The shield is a novelty, a pig head made from leather and wood. Bad defences across the board, but I guess it looks weird enough to make up for that.
As expected, the next room has a bonfire and the metal door.
I have secured the “shortcut.”
I light the bonfire, but don’t rest. I still want to check out that Pharros’ device, and I may as well do it now, while everything out there is still dead.
My heart catches in my throat as I jump at a weird angle, smacking into the wall. I’m certain I’ll fall to my death, but somehow I slide to the edge of the stairs and roll to safety. A loot corpse there holds a petrified dragon bone.
Inside are only some stairs to a ladder, which takes me to the roof.
Inside the chest is a zweihander, the lightest ultra greatsword I’ve seen. I walk over and place a lockstone into the device. I’m ready to jump back, because the indentation there reminds me of the poison in Earthen Peak. If molten iron pours out of those eye-holes, I want to be anywhere but in the way.
It’s only water, though.
I hear a clank, and then nothing. What happened?
I look over the edge. Still only hot death below. I look at the flaming stones, and they’re still on fire.
Back to the fire-breathing statue in the lobby. It’s still breathing fire.
I go as far back as the first bonfire, and the stones out there are still on fire as well. So, what happened? Maybe it was something to do with the Smelter Demon? I go back and rest at the upper bonfire, then check through the door, to the bridge with the armoured turtle. Nothing new there, either.
Disappointed, I warp away. I go to Straid first, to see what the Smelter Demon’s Soul will make. It’s the sword it carried, a heavy ultra greatsword with added fire damage, requiring 40 strength. I buy the rest of Straid’s spells and the Ring of Intelligence before leaving, spending about 70,000 Souls. My trouble with the Smelter Demon convinced me that I had to start upgrading again, if only to save time, but that was before I won. Now I’m back to that feeling that I can conquer any problem, giving the time to learn how. It’s a vicious cycle.
Besides, I’m going to sell all that gear I collected and end up with even more Souls than I started with.
Except, I can’t, because Gavlan is MIA. I check his little cave down in Harvest Valley, and it’s empty.
I even check the place I first met him, the little building in the middle of No-Man’s Wharf. He’s not there, either.
Now what? I look around Majula, without any optimism, find nothing. Where will he pop up next? And what if I’ve already been there? Doors of Pharros maybe? Oh well.
Even if I don’t particularly want to level up anymore, there’s nothing much left to spend Souls on. I bow before the Emerald Harold and start thinking about where to put my levels. With the 80,000 Souls still in my pocket, I can get a full 12 levels. Should I start down that strength path?
No. I don’t want to abandon my current plan before I’ve had a chance to fully test it. I’ll hold out for a faintstone. I put 9 points into dexterity and 3 into intelligence. If I end up able to try a few more spells as well, I won’t complain.
I gain a whole +4 damage. Maybe next I can get the faith needed to use a hex. I don’t have enough Souls left over to upgrade the club, or the jester’s hat. I do go to McDuff’s and test a plain +10 winged spear to see if the bonus damage is any better. It still doesn’t compete with the added lightning damage, but I have another boltsone on hand and re-infuse the weapon.
The last thing I do is give up my awestones to the Victor’s Stone. That’s enough for today.
It’s been so long since I last saw the stat screen. I’d been content to stick with my level 60 build, worried that all the time I spent skipping ahead would trivialize the earlier areas. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case, for the most part. While I wasn’t pressed too hard, the last couple of areas were still challenging enough to be interesting. How much of that is thanks to lingering rust hardly matters.
More importantly, the Smelter Demon was tailor made to cause my as much trouble as possible. Optional or not, it’s good to know that sort of boss will get in my way. Would it have been half the challenge without the distance and enemies between the fog gate and the bonfire? Perhaps not, but I’ve made up my mind about the Company of Champions.
And if that was the optional mid-boss, how is the real boss of the Iron Keep going to treat me?