Stephen King’s novella collection Full Dark, No Stars could – kindly – be dismissed with a casual ‘not his best work.’ But there’s one in there, briefer than the others, called Fair Extension.
Dave Streeter runs into Satan on a lonely Maine road and they get to talking. An offer is made, an honest to God deal with the Devil. I’m sure you know how those work. But Lucifer’s not really what you expect.
“…if you think I’m going to show up two decades or so down the line and to collect your soul in my moldy old pocketbook, you’d better think again,” sneers the Devil. “The souls of humans have become poor and transparent things.”
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,103-1,114
Here’s how meetings go at From Software:
“Okay, we need a new boss. This is one of the last, so let’s make it scary.”
“A giant centipede!”
“A giant centipede that’s on fire!”
“A giant centipede that’s on fire and has centipedes for arms and centipedes for eyestalks and a centipede for a tail! A big-ass on fire heap of centipede! That can swallow you whole! And splashes lava at you!”
“That’s how we do it, people. Lunch?”
Hello, I’m the Centipede Demon:
The encounter takes place in the bowels of the Demon Ruins, a pounding, desperate hellscape lit ruddy orange by magma. This is the kind of place you would never willingly go.
Centipede Demon clambers down from its perch and lurches toward you, knee-deep in and un-bothered by the boiling furnace of lava around it. You’re confined to a pathetic sliver of land no wider than a park bench, facing an immensity ready, willing, and able to clean your clock. One wrong move and you’re wading in the molten slaw, and in case you had any doubts in your mind about the kind of game Dark Souls is, it’s the kind that’s very generous with massive burn damage from lava. Oh sure, put on your sad little Red Stoneplate Ring. Cast your puny little Flame Protection spell. We’ll see how they hold up against the lake of fire and the creature that happily bathes in it.
The irony being that when Centipede Demon does go down, it drops the Orange Charred Ring, an artifact that nearly – but not quite – eliminates lava damage. Suddenly the lake of fire isn’t so bad, and that’s good, because you’re about to spend quite some time hip-deep in magma, and it’ll be one of those situations where you can’t pay attention to the magma because you’re kind of paying attention to something else, something that’s trying to eat your face.
I can only imagine the heat here. With Centipede Demon out of the way I could just see the spires of Lost Izalith, the first city, in the far distance. Half drowned in lava, the city was lost to the Chaos a thousand years ago, when the Witch of Izalith tried to use Soul Magic to link a bonfire. It annihilated her, corrupted her daughters, and devoured the first city. Now the Chaos is all that dwells there, and it holds the Lord’s Soul that once belonged to the Witch.
Right! The heat. I can only imagine the heat here. I crossed along a tiny spit of rock, mere feet from the molten lake. I’d put on the Orange Charred Ring, but despite its promised protection I was still afraid to get too close to that bubbling, searing cauldron. I mean it’s charred, after all. How well can it work? I imagine myself in the game. I’m too close to quit, I think. Forget the heat. Ignore it. We’re too close to quit. Just keep walking.
The Demon Ruins rumble, distant rock cracks and groans. The fiery rivers are bad enough, but you can hear the sound of ten thousand liquefied mountains pressing, straining, heaving against the basalt, desperate to crash though and consume. We’re too close to give up now. Around the corner. Watch your step. A little fur- a campfire!
And that’s when things started to really go south for me.
If you’ve played Dark Souls you know the unique feeling you get when you spot a campfire. A campfire means everything. Solace. Safety. Healing. Respite. Sometimes, there are already people sitting there, and sometimes, they’re friends.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I’d seen the knight Solaire of Astora, but it’s been a while. My staunchest ally, my first friend in Lordran. Time and again he’d answered my summons to face down this demon or that one. We’d laughed together at other campfires. I don’t really know who Solaire is, or his objective – he seemed to be on some sort of quest of his own, the details of which he never outlined. But in the end Lordran breaks everyone. The man I found at the Izalith campfire bore little resemblance to my friend.
Solaire didn’t seem to remember me; didn’t even appear to recall who he was. He was unaware of his surroundings, sobbing about something he’d lost, or maybe something he’d been trying to find, but he couldn’t say what it was. His distress, his hopelessness, was painful. How could I help him when his mind was so gone he couldn’t explain what he needed?
Thinking maybe whatever he sought was nearby, I spent about thirty minutes exploring the immediate surroundings, venturing as close to Lost Izalith as I dared, but no luck. When I returned to the campfire, Solaire of Astora was gone.
And in a trend that’s becoming depressingly common, I never saw him again.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,115-1,149
Something about Solaire’s fate really hung with me, gnawing in a way that’s hard to explain. Without him I’d never have made it this far. I really am nearly alone now.
Because here, the edge of the Chaos, is a place of harsh truths. And there’s something I’ve stubbornly ignored, and I find I can’t deceive myself about it any longer.
Kingseeker Frampt’s story doesn’t add up, and never did.
My old pal, my giant snake-dog thing, has maybe not been entirely honest with me, and to tell the truth the evidence has been there for a while. It’s just that I was so pleased to meet a friendly (if ugly) new face that for way too long I chose to disregard the fact that Frampt is not telling me everything, and what he is telling me may be… wordsmithed.
To understand, we have to go back to the very beginning.
Names are important. Frampt doesn’t call himself “Kingseeker” for fun. He fully intends for me to kill Gwyn, Lord of Cinder (née Sunlight) and assume his throne. Meanwhile, Gwyn’s transformation from Lord of Sunlight to Lord of Cinder wasn’t happenstance. His daughter Gwynevere is not referred to as “The Illusory Goddess” for nothing. His youngest child, Darksun Gwyndolin – who I’ve only heard talked about, and never met – was born a boy, raised as a girl, and founded the dreaded Blades of the Darkmoon Covenant to punish sinners. As for Gwyn’s eldest, well, there are a lot of theories about that one.
And then there’s the Furtive Pygmy, so easily forgotten. Whatever happened to that guy? That video up there says four beings rose in the darkness, and they found four Lord’s Souls. But only three of them participated in the war that brought down the Everlasting Dragons and ushered in the Age of Fire. Now the Age of Fire is ending, and if there’s one thing that everyone seems obsessed with doing, it’s keeping those fires lit. But doing it’s no picnic. The Witch of Izalith was consumed by the Chaos when she attempted Soul Magic to link the First Flame; Gwyn later “fell into darkness” when he did the same thing, though his effort was successful.
I toyed with going back to Firelink and pestering Frampt to see if I could get more information out of him. Admittedly that may have just been hesitation to approach Lost Izalith – the place appears to be protected by giant lava-dwelling kangaroo brontosauri, after all. In the end, though, I pressed on. If I had doubts, the time to air them is long past. We’re on this path now. We follow where it leads.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,150-1,157
Lost Izalith is not a pleasant spot.
Yeah, giant lava-dwelling kangaroo brontosauri. And that’s before you even get into the city proper. They’re just hanging out in the magma lake. They don’t respawn, but they’re huge, and very hard to kill, and there are a lot of them. Judging by messages and my own experience you probably could sneak among them, but one wrong move and the entire horde would be on you. And it’s hard to concentrate on sneaking with that constant pounding roar of the lava and the cracking, groaning rock. I feel like this whole place is going to come down on my head any second. Honestly? It might be best if it did.
Meanwhile, the city itself is predictably in ruins. Gnarled roots have cracked through nearly all the stonework, and the strange hose-beasts that lurk there make a creepy sound and emit this… corrosive aerosol that degrades my equipment. God damn this place sucks. I just want to wrap up and get the crap out of here, maybe go someplace cool. Lost Izalith, though, was not done spooning out nightmares.
To my complete astonishment, I discovered the knight Siegmeyer of Catarina deep in the city. Now, I’ve mentioned him before, but it’s necessary to reinforce the notion that Siegmeyer is unquestionably the most incompetent warrior I’ve ever encountered. He is sweet-natured, but he’s also fat and sleepy, and every time I’ve encountered him he’s needed my help. His equally kind daughter Sieglinde is up above searching for him, so the instant I saw his corpulent, metal-plated figure I raced over to announce that he must get his pudgy ass up to the sunlight right quick. Alas, Siegmeyer had other plans.
He’d parked himself before a stone dropoff, where about thirty feet below I saw a watery sludge of waste and a number of gruesome, Chaos-loving hose-beasts similar to those I’d seen elsewhere in the city. “I will rush those dire fiends, and you can slip away in the confusion,” said Siegmeyer, “please, friend. I owe you much more than this.”
Don’t you fucking dare. I’m fine! I’m right here! Let’s just go-
Lacking in skill and alertness, but never in foolish bravery, Siegmeyer hurled himself into the pit. In an instant the hose-beasts were upon him, so naturally I followed. It was a manic swordfight. The hose-beasts took up half the screen, and Siegmeyer spent the entire time howling battle cries and laying about himself mercilessly. But when it was all over, he was dead.
It was friendly fire.
It was an accident! The hose-beasts were everywhere! Siegmeyer leapt into the pit before I had a chance to soften them up with arrows! I went in one second after he did, and we both fought gallantly, but I’m 99% sure that in the confusion I nicked him with my blade, and that’s what ended him.
I killed my friend. In my carelessness I murdered someone I cherished. I killed the man who’d thrown himself into a pit filled with Chaos monsters to save me, regardless of the fact that I needed no saving. One errant, wild swing from my sword brought down a proud if useless knight, a jolly fellow who’d always been here or there, whose appearance always brought a smile to my face. A man whose daughter had followed him into knighthood, who still searched above for her father.
In any other game this would precipitate an immediate reload, but Dark Souls doesn’t work that way. In Dark Souls, there is no going back, there are no savegames. Any and every incident is irreversible. The game quite literally saves every twelve seconds, overwriting what was previous. The instant the tip of my blade passed through Siegmeyer, it was impossible – as it would have been in life – to undo what I’d done.
Worse still, as always when something dies by my hand, its soul becomes mine. I can’t prevent this. Not only did I commit a shameful, reckless murder, killing one of my last friends in this world, I took the spirit that made him him. And mixed in with all the souls I’ve collected, it’s impossible to tell Siegmeyer’s from the others. They are my currency, my experience points, my everything. Other than sunlight and fire, nothing in Lordran is more precious than souls. Great, I have a few more.
I can’t speak to the quality of all human souls, but I feel as though mine has certainly become a poor and transparent thing.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,158-1,169
My hatred of Lost Izalith, already significant, burned hotter after Siegmeyer’s death. I felt improbably guilty and terrible, given that we’re dealing with a video game. Part of me raged that he should never have gone to such a nightmarish place, while the rest of me replied that he’d made it that far; that in fact he’d been doing fine until I swung my sword without looking.
I returned to Firelink and spent more than five hours scouring the rest of Lordran, looking for his daughter Sieglinde. From Anor Londo to Ash Lake I searched, feeling that I owed her at least the knowledge that her father was dead, and of my own culpability for the crime, accidental though it had been.
I never found her. In Lordran, that usually means the worst. Not only did I inadvertently kill one of my last friends, but I appear to have lost his daughter as well. The only creature that speaks to me kindly now is Kingseeker Frampt, who I increasingly believe is manipulating me for his own ends.
I can’t think about that now. Back to Lost Izalith.
The Bed of Chaos is the source of all the demons in Lordran, the physical manifestation of the Chaos that the Witch of Izalith tapped into when she tried to use Soul Magic to link the first flame. Presumably her effort was designed to prevent the end of the Age of Fire, which they saw coming even a thousand years ago, but it was more power than she could handle.
Part tree, part demon, the Bed of Chaos is more a puzzle than a fight. Its huge, sweeping attacks smash away parts of the floor, sending the flagstones tumbling into the blackness below where – presumably – the Chaos lurks. I fell in it more than a few times myself. The trick wasn’t combat prowess but exceptional timing, and once I’d figured out that part the Bed of Chaos was pretty easy to destroy. And in among its wreckage lay my third Lord’s Soul, but the find didn’t thrill me as much as the other two had. Victory, this time, came at greater cost than I care to contemplate.
And now the journey is almost over. Maybe it’s best that the world ends here.
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