The last installment of the Diaries left Steerpike the Dashing Sorcerer a little glum, O readers. One of my oldest friends had vanished, very possibly by flinging himself into a boiling magma lake. Another died because of my own terrible sword discipline; I accidentally struck him down even as he tried to step between me and a Chaos-eating hose-beast. I also appear to have misplaced his daughter, which means she’s almost certainly dead as well. All that is the injury.
As for the insult? I’m now all but certain that my most powerful and knowledgeable snake-dog thing ally, Kingseeker Frampt, has been manipulating me this whole time. I only hope that the ends to which he has influenced my actions have some honor attached to them, because it’s far too late to turn from this path.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,170-1,171
Of course there’s no proof. But once I finally allowed myself to stop and think about some of the conversations I’ve had with Frampt, then placed those conversations alongside other things I’ve heard and learned during my time in Lordran, I see incompatibilities. And Frampt is a Chatty Cathy – it’s actually hard to shut him up – so it’s not likely to be simple reticence.
The shortsighted view is that Dark Souls doesn’t have much of a story, because that story is not ladled out to you like it is in most games. However, just because Dark Souls doesn’t make learning the whole history easy doesn’t mean that whole history isn’t there. You just have to look, and you have to be willing to draw certain conclusions of your own. It’s especially important to scrutinize the text on loading screens and inventory items, and to look at your surroundings. It’s not flavor and it’s not decoration, it’s the immense secret history of Lordran.
It makes more sense when you consider the game’s pedigree. In a recent EDGE interview, director Hidetaka Miyazaki mentioned that when he was young he loved reading western fantasy novels. And he noted that given his age and (presumably) limited facility with the language, he only ever knew for sure about half of what was going on. There was, he said, something very alluring about being in the dark, about having to draw your own conclusions and solve the puzzle of a story from a disparate, possibly incomplete selection of pieces.
Miyazaki’s experiences influence much of the Souls games’ design logic. The entire multiplayer system was conceived when Miyazaki drove into a ditch during a Tokyo snowstorm, when he and other motorists struggled to help each other back onto the road but weren’t able to communicate much due to the conditions. It follows that his childhood love of western fantasy, and his childhood inability to understand everything he was reading, would feed so significantly into the Dark Souls fiction.
I decided to walk back to Firelink rather than warping there. I needed to think, and I wasn’t sure how I’d react upon seeing Frampt. So I made my lonely way out of Lost Izalith and up through the Demon Ruins, across the Blighttown swamp and finally to the surface, under the lead-colored clouds that loom endlessly over the Valley of the Drakes. My plan had been to mull over everything I’d experienced and try to invent some sort of strategy, but no matter how I tried to discipline my thoughts during that sad trudge, again and again my mind returned to one question: how did it come to this?
A doomed world, a dying Age, dwindling light and encroaching darkness. So little matters in Lordran. What few people there are care about sunlight (almost none to be found); fire (embers are all that remain); and souls (plenty of those, but the cost is high). How did it come to this?
I am the Chosen Undead – so named by Kingseeker Frampt. He expects me to unseat Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, who fell into darkness. But for what? Will killing Gwyn and ascending to his throne bring back the Age of Fire? Neither Frampt nor anyone else has said that it would. How did it come to this?
What about Gwyn’s children? He had three. Why aren’t they fighting for the throne? Princess Gwynevere left this world long ago; she’s married to some Fire God and doesn’t seem to care about Lordran any more. What I met in Anor Londo is just an illusion, created by her younger brother. Darksun Gwyndolin is one nasty master of puppets, and in a way I think I’m lucky I never met him. The paintings on the walls of the Anor Londo palace tell the story of a very messed up, unhappy family, and his behind the scenes machinations prove that Gwyndolin is far from disinterested in Lordran’s fate.
Then there’s the eldest. No one knows who he is, and theories abound. Gwyn’s eldest son was a god of War, but he got fired, and… then what? A lot of speculation about his identity, but even if he is who the online community thinks he is, I don’t see him riding back to save the day.
How did it come to this?
Frampt didn’t say anything when I got back, just the usual greeting. Then he took me down to Firelink Altar where I placed the third Lord’s Soul in the Lordvessel. Thing’s burning pretty brightly now. Only one left.
To my knowledge Frampt has never outright lied to me. But he has left some things out, omissions such as the revelation that when it comes to giant snake-dog things, he’s not the only game in town. Kingseeker Frampt isn’t the Primordial Serpent, he’s a Primordial Serpent, and there’s at least one other who it might have been worth my time to meet.
Darkstalker Kaathe is his name, and I missed my chance with him because I was in such a haste to do what Kingseeker Frampt asked of me. Interestingly, where I’m going now is where Darkstalker Kaathe would have made his lair. Despite the sinister name, I’ve reason to believe that Kaathe may have been a worthy ally. Now all I know is that he and Frampt despise each other, and since Kaathe thinks I’ve thrown my lot in with the Kingseeker (which I guess I kind of have), he wants nothing to do with me.
Ah well, I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m on this path. Way, way, way too late to change things now. One way or another, it’s time to end this.
I have only dared briefly visit the Ruins of New Londo. It was a city once, a city of Men ruled by four Kings so wise that Gwyn, then the Lord of Sunlight, honored each with a piece of his own soul. But over time the Four Kings of Men fell out with the Gods, unleashing the fearsome Darkwraith Covenant, which stole and hoarded Humanity so it couldn’t be burned in the bonfires. In the end the Guild of Channelers determined that the Darkwraiths had to be stopped at any cost, because their existence threatened the Age of Fire – without Humanity to fuel them, the bonfires and the First Flame wouldn’t burn. So the Guild diverted the river and flooded New Londo, sacrificing every man, woman, and child in the city to contain the Darkwraiths. Hundreds of thousands drowned. Even today the New Londo Ruins are mostly submerged, and though the water holds the Covenant in check, the Darkwraiths and the Four Kings still linger there, deep beneath the black water.
As you can imagine, any place that took a beating like that is well and truly haunted. The spirits that populate this grim nightscape are so deadly that you can’t even harm them unless you’re cursed. And you shouldn’t take curses lightly – a curse halves your hit points until broken. Before the 1.05 patch, curses stacked, making them all the more awful.
Now, there’s an object called a Transient Curse for sale. These one-use items temporarily confer the effects of a curse, so you can fight the spirits in New Londo. But Transient Curses are expensive, and they’re a pain in the ass to use. Steerpike the Daring Sorcerer doesn’t do things halfway! No sir, after pausing to give Kingseeker Frampt a glare that said “I know what you’re up to, giant snake-dog thing,” (he didn’t seem impressed, or maybe he just thought I had gas – it is, after all, a lot to communicate with just a glare), I took myself off to the Depths and stood in front of one of those basilisks, the bug-eyed frog monsters whose toxic breath will curse you good and hard.
“Curse me, god dammit!”
“Stupid frog, curse me!”
“Last time I was here I couldn’t even look at you guys without getting cursed. Do you need a Gatorade or something?”
PUFF PUFF PUFF PUFF PUFF PUFF PUFF *wheeze* PUFF PUFF PUFF
“What are you, the runt of the basilisk family?”
PUFF! PUFF PUFF! PUFF PUFF PUFF!
“I’m on the clock here, little frog dude. Gotta go betray my own kind and keep the decadent Gods in power and all that shit. Yes, I know I was 14th level last time I met you and I’m 114th now, but honestly, I don’t even feel as though you’re try-”
YOU HAVE BEEN CURSED.
About time. Should’ve brought a book.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,172-1,214
I’m really glad I did the New Londo Ruins last. I’m not sure they’re actually harder than any of the other three locations with a Lord’s Soul – the Duke’s Archive, Lost Izalith, and the Tomb of the Giants all had their share of challenge – but it feels fitting. New Londo is a cold, dark, scary place. There is about it a sense of finality. After all, I’m standing (and, occasionally, treading water) in a city where almost a million people were willingly sacrificed to stop a terrible threat from growing. That thought provides a sense of scale to the Darkwraiths. Something that dangerous, something so apocalyptic that no cost was too great to stop it.
I mean think about it. What if, instead of, you know, war, we’d just put a huge-ass wall around Germany in 1939, slung a bunch of hoses over it, and turned them on? Nope, the threat of the Third Reich was bad, but not bad enough to flood Germany.
That’s how bad the Darkwraiths were, though.
How did it come to this?
The ghosts that haunt the New Londo Ruins are no joke either. They come straight through the walls at you, no warning, and true enough, your blade just goes straight through ’em unless you’ve got a curse going on.
There’s no bonfire here. That makes sense I guess, because the city’s kind of under water, and also because the Darkwraiths were expressly trying to get the fires to go out. But it means a long run back from Firelink each time I die, and I died a lot. Fall in the water? Die! Swarmed by ghosts? Die! Fall off a tower? Die!
I have half my hit points, there’s no convenient bonfire, and as I slowly pick my way through the Ruins, it occurs to me that I’ve been wet from the knees down for at least 50% of this fucking game. My feet have been soaked in Ash Lake, in the Depths sewers, in the Blighttown swamp, in the Darkroot pool, in the snow banks of Ariamis’s Painted World, in much of the Undead Asylum (bad plumbing), in the basement of Sen’s Fortress, in the Catacomb cisterns, and now in the New Londo Ruins. Plus, I don’t think the Silver Knight Armor I’m wearing was really designed to keep your feet dry. It’s basically riveted metal, right? Hardly a seamless weld. I bet if I took my boots and socks off, my toenails would come with them. And my feet would be all pruney and maggot-colored.
I am going to have the mother of all jungle rot when I get through this. If I do defeat Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, and if I do ascend to his throne, my first royal act will be to get my feet looked at.
While thinking about my feet I ran into a friendly sort of fellow named Cursebreaker Ingward. He’s a Channeler, one of the guys who drowned the city all those years ago, and part of his job is to keep an eye on stuff and make sure the Four Kings stay down below where they belong. Ingward has a trembling old-man voice that makes me think he’s going to drop dead at any moment. So I’m glad he didn’t spend much time in chatter. After he heard my plan he handed over the Key to the Seal and gave me instructions on how to de-flood the city, then bade me good luck.
The Valley of the Drakes is kind of a pass-through area. If you explore it sufficiently you’ll find that it’s a real lynchpin, a hub for this whole part of the world. From the Valley of the Drakes, you can get to Firelink Shrine, Blighttown, the New Londo Ruins, and Darkroot Garden. From those places you can get anywhere.
As its name implies the Valley is full of these little dragons called drakes – they’re pretty formidable, even at my level. They fly, breathe a variety of awfulness, and love attacking in groups of two or three. Most of my time in the Valley has been spent running away from them. I did notice, though, a HUGE wooden barrier built into the wall of a mountain. The first time I saw it I didn’t pay much attention to the steady trickle of water seeping out from underneath it and into the river a thousand feet below. But that was about to change.
With the Key to the Seal in my hand, I cut across the crumbling parapets and, with the toss of a lever, undid what the Guild of Channelers sacrificed so many to accomplish. Plagued as I am with doubts, this action is yet another on the pile of moves I may one day live to regret.
After a thousand years, the Darkwraiths are free.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,215-1,237
With the drowned city of New Londo now merely dripping, my journey took me into its forgotten depths. And sure enough, the Darkwraiths wasted little time in putting in an appearance.
Armed to the teeth, backed by spirits of the dead, and packing a satanic vacuum cleaner that literally sucks the precious Humanity straight from my body, members of the once-checked Darkwraith Covenant came out of the stonework with murder on their minds. And while I’m no pushover, these guys have had a lot of time to stew (literally) in their anger.
It was almost as if they knew my goal. The Darkwraiths came at me with a vengeance. They were all that stood between me and their nightmare masters, the Four Kings, each of whom holds a shard of the last Lord’s Soul.
The Kings themselves were locked deep below New Londo, in The Abyss. An endless black void, to visit The Abyss means instant death. Only one has ever entered it and survived: Artorias the Abysswalker, who died in Darkroot Garden. His tomb was guarded by Great Grey Wolf Sif, who savagely attacked all who tried to defile the place. But defile it I had, for Artorias owned a very special ring. The only one of its kind, it and only it will protect you in The Abyss. Enter without it on, or take it off while you’re there, and you die.
Sidebar: the Four Kings are men… and no (hu)men can survive in The Abyss. But they did, for a thousand years, by the sheer force of their titanic will. I’m not a king. I am just a man. I am just the same as anyone I know. (may Tim Rice forgive my liberation of some Jesus Christ Superstar lyrics)
Off, then, came the Cloranthy Ring, which had so industriously restored my stamina, and on went the Covenant of Artorias. Girding myself for the worst, I stepped into the blackness at the bottom of a spiral staircase and fell, fell, fell, into the shadowy lair of the Four Kings of New Londo.
I’d broken my curse by then, figuring that it would be wiser to attack with full hit points and simply avoid the spirits that lurked in the Ruins. Even so the battle wasn’t easy. As you might have surmised by their name, there are four Kings, and there’s just one of me. The Bell Gargoyle had a friend; Ornstein & Smough struck me as a pair that did everything together; and of course the Darkroot and Ash Lake Hydras each had more heads than should be allowed. But still, facing four of those demons at once was a staggering task. No one had left a summon sign nearby. Like so much else in Dark Souls, this was a victory I had to achieve on my own.
Dark Souls Diaries: Deaths 1,228-1,259
I returned, then, to the place where it all began so long ago. Not the Asylum, where I like so many others had been locked up for bearing the accursed Darksign on my flesh. It was to Firelink Shrine I went, and then to the Altar hidden beneath it.
When the last Lord’s Soul went into the vessel, the great stone seal opened, and at last I could see into the Kiln of the First Flame, where Fire came into the world in the Ancient Age, bringing disparity. How did it come to this?
My friend. My giant snake-dog thing. His work is done. His goal is nearly achieved. Frampt’s final words to me:
“I admit,” he said, “I am fond of you humans. May you enjoy serendipity. And may the Age of Fire perpetuate!”
Here at the end, Frampt, we understand one another. May the Age of Fire perpetuate. The gods brought down the titans in the Ancient Age, and now I… a man… I have done everything you asked to carry on their time. The Age of Dark, so feared by its forebears, is – was – also to have been the Age of Men. All I must do now is destroy Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, once the god of sunlight, who tried so hard to perpetuate his own age but fell into darkness in the attempt. Destroy Gwyn and link the First Flame, the fire that burns not logs or coal, but Humanity. Humans must burn so the gods can live.
Here at the end, maybe it’s best this way; outside of this game I live in an age of Humans, and we’re not such great shakes. I don’t know if the gods are that much better, but at the same time, maybe they deserve a second shot… after all, to be so thoroughly duped by the gods and their friends, maybe I owe them this. I’ll defeat your fallen god, and I’ll link your Flame.
Here at the end, we humans have never been anything but the pawns of the gods.
How did it come to this?
I .brought it to this.
And one last time, I die.
Tell Steerpike he did the right thing at firstname.lastname@example.org.