[Let's Play] Dark Souls 2 - Day 19: Hell+++



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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Go for it. It's not as bad as you might think.

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    SavantSavant Simply Barbaric Registered User regular
    I don't know why ecco spoilered it, but as he said there were more wheel skeletons spawned in the original version of the game. I'm thinking 4. And yes they did ruin days.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I suppose I did get lucky then by just taking them as they came and not bothering with any particular order.

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    ecco the dolphinecco the dolphin Registered User regular
    Savant wrote: »
    I don't know why ecco spoilered it, but as he said there were more wheel skeletons spawned in the original version of the game. I'm thinking 4. And yes they did ruin days.

    Best times were when your summons would decide that, "Yes, each of us taking on one Skeleton Lord is a great idea!"

    Challenge level, UP! Instead of 3 boss monsters to manage, now you end up with 12 mobs trying to swarm you. kekekekeke

    Penny Arcade Developers at PADev.net.
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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    Savant wrote: »
    I don't know why ecco spoilered it, but as he said there were more wheel skeletons spawned in the original version of the game. I'm thinking 4. And yes they did ruin days.

    They nerfed the wheels and heavily increased the sword and board amount.
    After all those sword and boards I was super worried about the wheels. Figured I was going to get like twelve or some shit.
    There were two.
    I was vaguely disappointed by this.

    (PSN: Morninglord) (Steam: Morninglord) (WiiU: Morninglord22) I like to record and toss up a lot of random gaming videos here.
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    cj iwakuracj iwakura The Rhythm Regent Bears The Name FreedomRegistered User regular
    For a moment I was somehow worried you missed Creighton.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I know the spelling is different, as is the character, but I couldn't help but think of this:


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    AistanAistan Tiny Bat Registered User regular
    Just have Robert Llewellyn play every character in the next Dark Souls.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I'd buy that.

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    Fleur de AlysFleur de Alys Biohacker Registered User regular
    I used summons for the Lords, and yeah they'd happily charge after whatever Lord they felt like. So I took on more of a management role, focused on cleaning up their messes instead of taking on a Lord by myself too.

    This worked. My summons got themselves killed, but not before the fight was much more manageable.

    This was the original version with the extra wheel skeletons. I was lucky in that we got rid of that Lord first (while I still had summons around to take hits for me).

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
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    Some_tall_guySome_tall_guy Registered User regular
    Hey Page, how ya doin?

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    cj iwakuracj iwakura The Rhythm Regent Bears The Name FreedomRegistered User regular
    He was active on 8/30, so hopefully he's okay.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Hey everyone. Quick update. Not a real update--yet--but I'm letting you know I'm still alive, and sorry about disappearing so suddenly.

    After the funeral I was in a pretty bad place for a while, and right when I thought I was ready to go again, there was another death in the family. I got stuck in a bad rut after that, and there was some heinous writer's block going on. And then it was near the end of the season, and work picked up.

    But that's mostly over. I've managed to get some things out of my system, and I'm nearly ready to start up this Let's Play thing again. I want to finish the last update from my notes before the new year, and then start playing again.

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    Some_tall_guySome_tall_guy Registered User regular
    Sorry for your losses Page, but I'm glad to know that you're still around!

    I hope your Christmas shapes up as best it can.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Thanks. I think it'll do. Just looking forward to next year and hoping it's different.

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Day 14
    A moment to catch my breath and get my bearings.

    I am underneath a waterfall, at the back of the keep that runs parallel to the woods of Huntsman's Copse. Underneath my feet is a carpet of old, broken bones, some of which belong to the Skeleton Lords and their minions. They're all dead. Again . . . again. It's not complicated, but it is life in Drangleic.


    At the back of the room is a hallway, and after a sharp turn I'm back outside.


    What I find is a raised bridge and a switch. The sound of the rushing waterfall is beginning to fade. I pull the switch, the bridge drops into place.


    Even as I cross the bridge, I realize that I'm leaving the Copse and likely headed to another area. What of the large coliseum across the keep's broken bridge? It looks big from the outside, but it might be optional, or another path altogether. I still have it in mind as my next destination, but, what, am I not going to see the other side before doubling back? Of course I am, so I cross, and start up a path into the grey mountain.

    But imagine my consternation when, after only a few steps into this new path, which curves up and right between steep rock faces, I hear the grinding and thud of something heavy and metal. Already knowing what I'll see, I turn back and find that the bridge has raised itself. No switch is in sight, and there also seems to be an invisible wall blocking me from getting any closer.


    Not quite an invisible wall, but odd clipping with the rocks on the left side of the path. With some jumping, and by hugging the right wall, I'm able to get around it. Still not getting me up to the bridge, though. I can't go back that way.

    So I turn and start up the path once more. On the way, I pass an old skeleton huddled in a shallow corner, hands covering its face. Yeah, we've all had one of those days.


    At the crest is a ladder leading down. Continuing the established trend, as soon as I get onto it, I fall down. It's broken, and though I can swing a hammer that's bigger than I am, lifting my arms above my shoulders to pull myself onto a broken ladder is out of the question. I am now double stuck.


    Another moment of stock-taking. No trees in sight, and I've been steadily moving up into the mountains. I'm out of the Copse for sure, and with no immediate way back to a bonfire, aside from a homeward bone. Fortunately, I have 4 flask charges left from the boss fight, which is not so bad, and a few lifegems in my pocket. I know I'm morel likely to encounter a bonfire than something that can kill me, but it doesn't pay to be incautious.

    I pop an effigy, then heal up with a lifegem.

    Huntsman's Copse's moonless night has given way by now to a sickly mid-morning. The mood is set by a kind of pallor coming from sunlight filtered through the thick, smoggy haze that covers the sky out here. I soon pass an abandoned wagon, more skeletons, all centred around a shallow pool of green slime. The wind starts to rise, and thunder cracks out from somewhere ahead. Nowhere yet have I found such evidence of the land itself being poisoned by Drangleic's doom.



    There was a man writhing on the wet, leafy ground outside the tent, a spear still stuck through his chest. He was one of the Lord's Hollowed wranglers, fresh from the day's Undead hunt. They'd called the Priest to deal with an emergency, but he wasn't sure what he could do to help this man, even as he bent down to get a closer look at the wound. Was that the Lord's spear?

    "Not him," said the runner who had led the Priest from the keep. "Inside."

    The tent was large enough for most of the Lord's personal entourage to sit or stand in comfortably at the same time, and was where they gathered for meals before and after the hunts. Nothing like that was going on now. Instead, at a large table near the centre of the tent, a crowd of men were struggling to hold someone down as flat as they could.

    His ears filled with the men's cursing, the Priest smelled fear and lingering death. A dark smear on the ground ran from the entrance to the table over to the table, which was slick with the same black blood. The Priest approached, only to recoil as he saw who the men were holding down.

    Fighting and snapping wildly at any limbs that came close was a Hollowed young man dressed in old, worn clothes with faded patterns. They must have been something to look at, once, and expensive. It still wore its harness, and the chain lead clanked against the table whenever the Hollowed thrashed its head. As the Priest closed, the Hollowed turned its Soulless dead eyes on him and redoubled its efforts to get away from the wranglers.

    "What is this?" asked the Priest.

    "The Lord's hound," said the runner from behind the Priest. He wasn't about to get any closer than he had to, even with a dozen men pressing down on the Hollowed. "You need to get to work."

    All the Bone Lords had their hounds. Hollowed that they whipped into submission and used to ferret out the Undead hiding in the forest. That was the macabre reality of the hunts, and why the Priest did not take part. But Hollowed were not in short supply, and when one died, finding a replacement was as simple as grabbing another Undead from the stocks and torturing him or her until the madness set in permanently. Undead were already less than human, even in the Church's eyes. The Priest had made his personal protests against such barbarism, but the only response was laughter, if anyone bothered to acknowledge him at all. Never had the Priest worked miracles on a Hollowed, nor had anyone asked him to.

    What made this one so special?

    "Turn him over," said the Priest.

    After some struggling, they managed it. The wound ran the length of the Hollowed's back, from shoulder blade to hip, and was deep enough that the Priest could see white bone in places. It continued to growl and snap as the Priest bent down for a closer look. Other hounds he had been around were not so anxious, as they were regularly beaten, to the point where they cowered away from ordinary humans. This one also had its teeth, which were the first things the torturers went for, along with fingernails.

    "Can you save it?" asked the runner.

    The answer turned out to be no, though the Priest did try. There was already too much blood lost by the time he'd arrived. After a final burst of strength, in which it managed to leave a deep scratch on the face of one man, and to bite off a couple of fingers from another, the Hollowed fell at the Priests feet. It curled into a ball and did not move again.

    Outside the tent, the wrangler was dead, and the spear was gone. The Priest did not see the Lord anywhere that day.

    Harvest Valley

    Past the slime and I find an unarmed, human woman, sitting alone and cradling a skull. In the background is an enormous tower, covered in windmills, but also broken by age and disaster. Crows circle, and more thunder breaks. It's the epicentre of whatever environmental catastrophe went down--is still ongoing. The sky above the tower looks fit to burst. And all I can think is, where's the bonfire?


    At the edge of the nearest cliff, I'm able to survey the land before the tower. A puss-coloured fog covers the ground, and if the colour wasn't an obvious enough sign of danger, the heavy scattering of loot corpses is.


    Almost-human creatures crawl through the mist, and a giant stands at attention with a rider on its back. It's a scene that makes me ask again, where is the bonfire?

    I turn to the woman. She is Chloanne, an orestone trader. The smith's lost daughter? She tells me that she wanders Drangleic looking for rare ores, and doesn't remember much else. As long as she's willing to trade, her fuzzy memory is her own business.


    Unfortunately, she must have spent most of her search parked on rocks, because she's not impressing me with her inventory. Less than a dozen minor titanite shards, a bonfire ascetic, and a couple of spells. One of those is a hex that is basically Corpse Explosion, one of the best spells in any video game, ever, which is nice. I buy the lot, spending about 30,000 Souls. As a thank you, she hands over a twinkling titanite.

    Chloanna warns me of the poison mists before I leave her be, and also that she's done all she can here, and wants to head back to Majula. Hopefully she'll pick up some new wares on the way.

    Having unburdened myself of a good chunk of my carried Souls, I'm feeling like I can tempt fate a little, so I head down to get a closer look at the mists.


    They look thicker from here than they did from above, and I get cold feet. Not that I wanted to go much further, but I could have dipped a toe. Might there be a special item needed to cross the trenches? Probably not. And where is that bonfire?

    I back up, returning to the pool of green slime near the abandoned wagon. The skeleton splayed over its surface, as if death came from trying to drink, was already clue enough, but now that I've seen the green mists I'm sure this will poison me. Still, there's something on the other side. I can see the entrance to a cave.


    I wade through, and the slime coats me up to my thighs, staying on my legs once I'm on the other side. I roll a few times, an old Monster Hunter trick, to loosen the poison coating, and only once it's gone does my poison bar start to tick down. At least it didn't fill far enough to actually poison me. Does the rolling trick work? I take another dip in the slime, and time how long it takes for the poison to wear off without rolling. It's the same, so that doesn't work. Still, it was worth a try.


    I rest at the bonfire. I am at the Poison Pool in Harvest Valley, which appears between Huntsman's Copse and the Shrouded Woods. So where does that coliseum fit in?


    From what I've seen of the place, it's the wind that Harvest Valley, or the tower in it, is harvesting. Or, more accurately, the wind's energy. For what? I'm a little curious, but no doubt its not to give the kingdom of Drangleic a reliable supply of bread and pastries. And if it is, that had better be some tasty bread to make up for clouds of flesh-melting toxic gas.

    But that's for another time.

    I warp to Majula. Chloanna is now resting outside the blacksmith's workshop.

    Naturally, she doesn't have a single new item for sale, but she does have more to talk about. She claims the blacksmith, who she is sure is Hollowed, looks like her father. Like Maughlin, they are from Volgen. For his part, Lenigrast is content having his daughter within eyesight, whether she'll talk to him or not. I talk to her again, but get nothing else out of her. The least she could do is lend me some of her supposed expertise on orestones and give me a few clues about what they do. But, no. I'm on my own there. C'est la Drangleic.


    She is now playing with a skeletal foot. As you do.

    I burn my sublime bone dust at the bonfire, raising my flask to +4, and give the Estus shard to the Emerald Herald, which means 9 charges. Not a bad haul.


    Looking to spend the rest of my Souls, I see Maughlin and buy more pieces of Alya's armour set, then some Royal Guard armour with what I have left. I figure I should get what I can from him before he goes completely nuts.

    I visit the cartographer next.


    He claims to also be from Mirrah, and claims that he's recently seen a man notorious for being a murderer back in his hometown. There's not much of a description beyond that, but what he does give me matches Creighton, the guy I met in Hunstman's Copse. A murderer on the hunt for Pate, the supposed lying, backstabbing thief. I'll wait to see how that plays out, but so far Chreighton has been a slightly rude to me, while Pate was either leading me into a trap, or warning me of one. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt there, since he gave me an item. What I wonder about most is which one of them will hand over this ring I keep hearing about.

    I offer up my Awestones. I want to hit the next level of devotion, see what I get, and possibly experiment with another Covenant, if only to see what makes the Company of Champions special. I've figured out that I can't summon help, and that I can collect Awestones to raise my rank, but there must be more to it than that.

    Warping back to Huntsman's Copse, I fight my way to the rope bridge between the keep and the coliseum. I'm finally ready to cross it and see what's on the other side. On the way, I recover some prisoner's tatters. Light armour with no defence, but it raises item find rates.


    My plan is to cross the bridge, see what the next area is, then decide where I want to go. Will it survive first contact with the enemy?


    "What do you see when you look at me?" asked the Bone Lord.

    The Priest considered the question. They stood on the bridge between the keep and the sadistic coliseum. It was near midnight, and dark as only a moonless night could be. Below, in the forest, short lines of torches moved in long loops like flightless firebugs. The Lord's men checking on the Undead prisoners in preparation for the morning's hunt. It was only the Lord's personal summon that had the Priest out here, as it was late in the year and he'd begun to feel the night's chill more keenly. He wanted to be back in his tiny room with a candle and a book.

    "Another man waiting for his turn at the gallows," said the Priest.

    The Lord turned toward him, but his face was only an impression under the deep shadows of his hood, and impossible to read. "You surprise me, Priest. Where are your words of comfort and inspiration?"

    "Only a fool blunts his blade against armour he cannot pierce."

    "Aphorisms, then?" said the Lord with a snort. "May I have a verse as well? Anything to save you from having to think your own thoughts."

    His own thoughts. Countless years of received wisdom. All the words in every tome he'd read, or could read. The lectures and sermons. The life he'd lived. The Priest could not recall the last time sleep had come easily or without interruption. His own thoughts were so petty under all that weight. If a man could solve these problems, then surely one would have.

    "I could not save him," said the Priest at last. "I am sorry."

    The Lord turned back to watch the lights. "It's not over yet."

    It's never over, thought the Priest, so long as there is worse to come.

    Undead Purgatory


    The Hollowed I saw hanging from the bridge take their sweet time getting up, and don't do much once they have. I knock them down and keep moving.

    What I find on the other side is the red spirit of a heavy knight guarding a big fog gate. Not what I expected, but that's not saying much.


    He is slow, but strong enough to be dangerous. After taking a hit, I land a backstab and try to use the knockdown time to chug from my flask. It doesn't work out well, as he jumps to his feet much quicker than expected and smashes me into the ground, killing me. Oops.

    After using another effigy, I do take him out, though it's more trouble than it should have been, and more than it's worth. He gives over a paltry amount of Souls and no items.


    For my next feat, I get myself killed jumping for a loot corpse on a ledge near the bridge. The red spirit is gone when I come back, which is something.


    The corpse holds a Fireseed.

    I walk up to the fog gate. It's every kind of suspicious. Is this whole thing a boss fight, or only the first area? I use my magic weapon buff before going through.


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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Day 14 continued.
    Executioner's Chariot

    If a question asked has both a good answer and a bad one, it's nearly guaranteed that that asking it about Drangleic will net you the one you don't want. What I mean to say is that, yes, it's a boss fight. Of course it's a boss fight.

    A cut-scene plays. A skeleton pulls a switch, which opens a gate. Ghastly zombified horses charge through the opening, pulling a big Skeleton Lord on a chariot. Long spikes fixed to the wheel axles look perfect for cutting down anyone unlucky enough to be standing in the way. Which, in this case, is me.

    When the cut-scene ends, I'm standing in a long, curved hall. A loot corpse is directly ahead, and I can hear the charging beat of hoofs approaching. It's instantly apparent that the space between the walls is narrow enough to only fit the chariot and its spikes. I'm going to be run over if I don't do something right now


    Skeletons begin to pop up at me as I look around for some place to get cover. I can see the chariot coming. It's too late. So I do what I can, and brace for impact.


    Somehow, I survive, but with only a sliver of health. The chariot crushed the skeletons as well, but not do death. I can still hear the horses, stomping around for another pass. I retreat, trying to get space from the skeletons so I can heal. Maybe I can roll past the blades, if I hug the wall?

    I fall into a pit cut across the length of the track and die. Great.

    Back for more, and I go forward instead of back. I find small alcoves to duck into when the chariot passes--rolling doesn't work, and neither does blocking--but it's not helping me keep the skeletons off my back.


    They gang up on me, break my guard and drain my stamina, and I die again.

    I'm beginning to work the fight out, though. I can't hit the chariot, not yet. That much is clear. This is a puzzle fight, and my goal is not to attack the chariot, but to get down this hallway.


    Fight the skeletons, get into the alcove, then come out to finish them off once the chariot passes. Only, they don't stay dead. I kill them again, dodging the chariot, and press onward. I loot a Fading Soul from a nearby corpse, and then see light shining out from an alcove ahead and on my left. A necromancer, casting the raise dead spell on the skeletons.


    Space is tight, and skeletons are club work. I don't have time to apply my buffs, but I do have the time to invade the necromancer's personal space and put an end to her. Wait for the chariot to pass, finish the skeletons off for good. Keep moving.

    Another corpse, another alcove. Now there are skeleton archers pecking away at me. I turn to raise my shield, with my back in the alcove. The archer is directly across from me. Maybe it was the pivot that did it, or the shield's hurtbox. Either way, I'm out too far, and the chariot crushes me. Now that I'm Hollowed, I don't have enough health to survive a direct hit, and I die.

    One of the guards on the way to the bridge drops a bloody whip. Lower damage gain than a normal whip, but it has bleed damage. All useless when fighting skeletons.

    Now that I've got it figured out, I take it slow and steady. I use an effigy as well, to shore my health up. Each set of alcoves comes with another necromancer and stronger skeletons. Archers, then the armored fighters. I don't have enough time, or stamina, to kill every skeleton and still make it to an alcove. But if I leave them alone, they will rush in there with me and kill me without the chariot's help. So I thump them just enough to get them off my back, sprint to the necromancer, kill her, and make sure to clean up before getting to the next set. All while avoiding the chariot.

    Soon, I have rounded the top of what must be an oval-shaped track. There's a fog gate ahead, and a switch.


    I wait for the chariot to pass, then pull the switch. The same gate that opened in the cut-scene closes, barring the chariot's path. This is it.

    darksoulsii-2015-06-16-01-28-57-79.jpgThe chariot hits the gate without slowing, smashing through in a heap of clattering bones and metal. Thrown clear, the rider disappears, and I'm fighting the horses. That's a surprise, but I roll with it.darksoulsii-2015-06-16-00-50-41-04.jpg

    Things are going well. What I thought was two horses is really a single horse with two heads, so it's not like I'm worried about getting attacked from behind. It has a charge that's unblockable, but not too damaging, and otherwise stomps and kicks predictably. I think I've got it in the bag, which is always when it turns pear-shaped.

    With little warning, both heads are belching a thick, black fog at me. Without the time or space to dodge effectively, I raise my shield. The dark breath eats through my guard, and within moments, I'm dead.


    I go through the process again. One of the necromancers drops a black mask, which informing me that they're all women. It takes a couple more tries to get back to the chariot, now that I'm Hollowed again. I die while retreating from the skeletons early on, and once while hiding in an alcove with no enemies around. Must have been an arrow I didn't see coming.

    For the sake of science, I try using my magic shield buff instead of my weapon buff. It doesn't last nearly as long, but it helps when I'm cowering in an alcove and the skeletons are beating on me. I take down the necromancers, pull the switch, wait for the chariot, and, now that I'm prepared, do battle with the demonic horse, paying particular attention to breath attacks.

    This time, it dies.


    "Victory Achieved"

    I gain 19,000 Souls and another Skeleton Lord's Soul. Nice enough, I suppose.

    Walking through the now-dead-for-good hall, I come across the Skeleton Lord's mangled body. Poor guy didn't stand a chance.


    I've come full circle, to the other side of the pit I died in the first time. I loot a corpse there.


    The fog gate near the switch has dissipated, showing stairs leading up.


    At the top is a shorter hall with a bonfire. Glittering dust motes fill the air, and a strange little man stands in a cage of candles near the far wall.


    Opposite him are a collection of statues. The Skeleton Lords, in heavy robes and carrying a scythe in one hand and scales in the other. Ostentatious maybe, but I can't fault them for living their dreams right to the end.


    I speak with the little guy. He asks if I have a lust for blood, and won't talk further unless I tell him yes. What's the harm in looking? Or denying all the death I cause? It's another Covenant, so when he asks me to give myself over to Nahr Alma, then if I'd like to join the Brotherhood of Blood, I back out. Likely a PvP thing, anyway. But he did manage to get me yelling about bathing in pools of fresh blood, so I'm not about to forget him.


    After resting at the bonfire, I look around some more. I can't find any other paths, so there's nothing else to do here. Unless the little guy is guarding something, in which case it will have to wait. Too bad, because I wanted to see those big weapons up close.

    Before leaving, I walk around the edge of the stairs and loot cracked red eye orbs from a corpse. Already have a million of those.


    Back to Majula, where I spend my Souls, upgrading the club to +6. I could go for +7, but that would cost me a titanite chunk, and I only need one more of those to upgrade my spear. Without a ready source, I have to ration them. The rest of my Souls go to Maughlin, buying more armour. If I clean him out, what will he do?

    Which is where I'm stopping today. Truth is, most of it is carryover from yesterday anyway, and I have to think about where I'm going next.


    When the Priest next saw the Bone Lord, he was not alone.

    A woman, bent over with age and wearing a long, black robe, sat next to him at his breakfast table. The Priest had taken to eating alone, but was curious about the new arrivals after the previous night's commotion. Now that he saw who it was, the curiosity turned into a cold rage at the pit of his stomach.

    "This is your solution?" he demanded, interrupting the Lord before he could say a word. "Consorting with death itself?"

    The old necromancer began to cackle softly. The Lord spoke. "There are aspects of death that are beyond your petty Gods, preacher. Do not presume so much after you have failed so completely yourself."

    The rage softened, collapsing in on itself as the Preacher realized that he was already on the outside. "You do not know what you are getting into, my Lord. Necromancy is--."

    "It is our only link to the true death," said the old woman. Her voice was the sound of a rusty hinge, and made him shiver involuntarily. "And to true power."

    "Will you sit here and tell me again of prayer and a good heart?" asked the Lord. "After I have lost everything I might pray for, and the only reasons I had to be good? I do not need to be told once more that I cannot change the past, or that it is not my fault." The Lord's plate crashed to the floor as he raised an accusing finger at the Priest. "I do not care anymore."

    "Then what do you hope to accomplish by selling your Soul to the darkness?" asked the Priest.


    The look on the Lord's face then etched itself into the Priest's memory until his own death. He saw eyes that had plumbed the depths of despair and found no bottom, and the madness that had inspired. "I wish you luck, then."

    He left the keep that afternoon. He might have stood by while the Lord worked his dark arts. He'd seen enough evil in that place already. But when the Lord spoke to him after breakfast, tried again to explain himself without the crone at his side, the Priest realized that it was only out of pity. Now he was the lost Soul that needed comfort and preaching. That was more than he could bear.

    "Which of us has truly lost hope?" asked the Lord, and the Priest could not answer.

    But worse than that, he could not say for certain that hope was something worth having anymore.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Well, that's the last of the notes. All caught up, which means I'm back to playing. It was a long time coming, and still late. I slept in, what can I say?

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Finished my first play session in, what, months? That was interesting, dealing with that rust. Still, it worked out, and I had fun bumbling around for a couple of hours. Notes all done.

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    cj iwakuracj iwakura The Rhythm Regent Bears The Name FreedomRegistered User regular
    The Creighton/Pate tale was probably my favorite thing in DS2, amidst all the half-baked NPCs(and there are dozens of them).

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    They seem like a cheery pair of lads, so I'm anticipating the next step.

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Day 15
    Anyone who read my play through of the first Dark Souls game should have noticed that I'm fine with doing that in gaming as well. I want to throw myself in at the deep end, and for a trial by fire to force me into adapting and learning. Because, like I said, I'm lazy, and will try to get through doing as little work or thinking as possible. That one level or boss that forces me to sit down and spend hours testing and probing the mechanics is not a wall. It's a hill, and from its peak I'll be able to build momentum that will see me through to the next challenge.

    Most recently, I was playing Lightning Returns. with only an hour or so in the first Final Fantasy XIII game, and none at all in the second, the build up to that battle system and its mechanics were a mystery to me. Staggering monsters, juggling ATB gauges between the different costumes, the timing on blocks, it was all completely new to me. So I put the game on Normal mode--the highest difficulty available from the start--found the nearest 3-Star optional boss in the first city, and hammered away at it until I learned how to effectively juggle my ATB gauges, how to get staggers, and what to do when they happen. I learned the game by making mistakes and building on them. Having a clue is more fun to me than the first section of the game, which I spent hitting buttons more or less at random to kill off the tutorial-level fodder tossed my way.

    So, when the time came for me to sit down and play Dark Souls 2 for the first time in, what, almost 4 months? Wow. Anyway, when I was standing in Majula feeling lost and stiff, as I kept hitting the parry button when I meant to guard, the 2-hand-mode button when I wanted to open the menu (thanks, Lightning Returns), I thought back to the loose threads and open paths before me. I needed something that would make me sore the next day, so that I knew I'd been working.

    The Gutter

    And here I am, standing in the pitch darkness of the Gutter, the slimy underground cavern that I nearly fractured my ankles finding. Why the Gutter? Because it's the bonfire warp point that's last on my list, behind Harvest Valley, Brighstone Cove Tseldora, and the Grave of Saints, which are my other main avenues of unexplored territory.


    I am at the central bonfire location. It's my only option, since I missed the first bonfire, the one closer to the entrance, while bumbling through the dark the first time. Problem is, I'm a little lost at first. I tell a lie: I am a lot lost. It's dark down here! I didn't exactly know what I was trying to do last time, and that was when I was in the moment. Months later, with all context removed and all potential landmarks obscured, I know neither where I came from, nor where I'm trying to go.

    Half a minute of slow-panning and walking in circles later and I've recalled the broad strokes. I came from above and from the opposite direction of the structure I'm standing on. While the other bonfire is above me, unless I can find a ladder it will have to wait till I come through the Grave of Saints. I'm headed further into the cavern, and down toward the ground, wherever that may be.

    The bonfire is on a corner of a wide ledge jutting out of what is likely the central structure in the cavern, given the name. It's a mess of old planks and boards stuck together with spit and bad vibes, and it's also, I soon discover, where I am stuck.

    A wall stands between me and the inside of the structure. I can see at least one fog gate inside, and ladders, but I can't get to them.


    I've neither souls nor Humanity to lose. Time to take a look around and see what I can see.

    Three strides later, and I'm almost poisoned by a gob of green goo. It's one of the little oblong statues that are the real litter in the Gutter. I'd forgotten about them.

    The ledge only runs along the front edge of the structure, with no doors or ladders at the far corner to give me a way through. All I can do is jump the short gap to the next structure over, which I am certain is the direction I came from on the way down.


    Over the thumping organic beat that pulses ceaselessly in the Gutter, and the fainter whisper of wind, I hear the snuffling and snarling of something big on the other side of the gap. One of those dog creatures, and now I can just make out a shadow against the dark, patrolling back and forth. Other movement. A Hollowed with the dog. Time to find out how thick the rust is.


    The fight goes as well as I expected it to. Which is to say that I made a stupid mistake--overreaching with my attacks and running out of stamina--and get chomped by the wrinkly mutt because I couldn't defend myself. Yes, I died. You might be asking what kind of self-esteem I possess if I start fights expecting to lose them. Can I plead the 5th even if I'm not in the United States?

    After pulling my guts out through my groin, the dog dives over the ledge. Suicidal, but still took the time to get rid of the vermin. That's man's best friend for you.

    And the warmup begins. To my credit, I soon figure out the basics. Between getting myself poisoned and intense flashbacks of the dog's Mr. Fantastic-like sweeping paw attacks that seem to hit me even when I'm behind it, it's a sink or swim scenario. Not in the deep end, but it forces me to find the bottom with my feet, so that's something. Next time, the dog dies.

    My scouting trip isn't getting me much else, though. This building is as much a dead end as the one with the bonfire. As I look around, there's a crashing sound nearby, from further in. Right, the Hollowed with the sword. It has smashed through the ceiling. After taking it down with a quick stab through the spine, my target cursor jumps up, revealing a dark and translucent moth hiding on the wall.


    One magic missile later, it's dead, and I pick up a wilted dusk herb. The commotion is drawing other enemies, and more Hollowed fall through the ceiling. I take down one covered in bandages, then one carrying a torch. I wait, making sure nothing else is coming, and then finish my look around.

    Thorough examination of the second structure confirms my initial fears. I'm stuck at this level. To get here, I fell through the ceiling as the Hollowed did, but have no means of climbing back up.

    I do find some better views of the continued layout of the cavern. Standing on this side, I can see the fog gate near the bonfire connects to a bridge headed back into the darkness.


    As I've explained before, nothing confounds me like an obvious environmental puzzle. I'm too busy overthinking what I look at to notice what should be plain to see, and it takes that special kind of obliviousness to get stuck like this. Here I am, with a bonfire that has access to a pair of rickety platforms and nothing else. Seems like a cruel joke, right? In the second building, I see there's another platform on the other side of the wall. Standing on the roof, if I'd jumped down on that side instead of falling through, I could keep going. Is this bonfire a trap?

    Only, it can't be. It makes no sense to put a bonfire in a closed cul-de-sac. A classic dead-end, maybe, but not a bonfire. Not a save spot and warp point. I know I can keep going, and, if you've played the game before, so do you.

    Watch in cringing horror as my warped mind flails uselessly for the simplest of solutions.

    Unable to go up, or, apparently, forward, I look down. I find four main points of interest.

    Standing at the edge of the second building, I can see a fog gate somewhere below. Near the ground?


    In the same spot, which is the corner closest to the bonfire's building, I can see the dark outline of a lower ledge. It's possible that I could make the jump, and from this distance the fall doesn't look far enough to kill me.


    Similarly, the bonfire platform splits half-way across, sloping down far enough to show another platform that is definitely within striking distance.


    Finally, standing at the edge of the bonfire and looking straight down reveals the gleam of an item far below. Also the ground? This is a fall I'm sure I won't survive.


    Meanwhile, I've been wandering back and forth past one of those distinctive pieces of stick art. I'd seen them all over the place on the way down here, and thought they were odd, but that's about it. Now, though.


    I've been at this for a while now. It's common design to give the player a side path that overlooks their eventual goal without giving direct access. A teaser of sorts. Sight-lines to what might be the ground below, and at least three different fog gates and an item. That would qualify. But it would also mean there's a way through. There has to be. Even so, the feeling of being stuck is growing as the minutes pass.

    I run through a basic checklist. Step one is to bash everything. The walls are so flimsy looking, and I hit everything with my club, then roll around on the ground for a bit, hoping to smash a hole somewhere. All I manage is looking like an idiot.

    My first leap of faith is from the second building, aiming for the platform below the bonfire. I roll over the ledge, but miss the mark and plummet to my death. Fair enough. I try again, getting a good running jump this time.

    It works, and then it doesn't work. I make the jump, landing squarely in the middle of the lower platform. And die anyway, though I am certain it wasn't the distance that did the job. Seems I've found a part of the map I am not supposed to go. Which is the first clue.

    For clarity, I try jumping at the other lower platform. This one is even closer. I'm dead before I land. Definitely a dead zone.

    Progress of a sort with my last jump. Rolling off the platform near the bonfire and aiming for the item below, I connect with solid ground. Hard. Too hard. Even with all my fall damage reduction gear, there's no I'll survive that. It's a small path cut into the cavern wall, and it ramps away from the loot corpse, down in the direction of the lower fog gate. There is something below, I only need to find the way down.

    After killing the torch-carrying Hollowed again, I have an idea. At the bonfire, I light my torch and carry it to that little pile of sticks, confirming what should have been obvious from the start. It's a sconce.


    After lighting it, and the one in the second building, I carry the torch around. Maybe its light will show me something I've been overlooking? I have a better view of the area past the fog gate, but nothing else jumps out at me.


    Now all I can think about are all the sconces I passed on the way down here without realizing what they were. Of course, I didn't have access to a fire at the time, either, but what if I'd taken the correct path from the start and found the higher bonfire? I could have a trail of them by now, dotting the cavern and showing the way. So desperate was I in that moment, that I thought maybe I needed to light the sconces to open up the way through. Sure, I'd been lighting them all over the place in other areas, and nothing happened so far. Except for that one spirit that appeared in Things Betwixt. Was that a trick as well?

    I have sudden visions of the entire Gutter up in flames. It's nothing but old kindling piled up in the dark, and I certainly wouldn't miss the place. If only. If only. But swinging the torch at nearby walls accomplishes exactly nothing. I even try to light a line of old candles on the floor of the second building. No joy.

    I'm at the point of giving up. Nowhere to jump to, and all those unlit sconces. Maybe I should head to the Grave of Saints and start again from the top. Chalk this one up to my ineptitude and take a different path, fall the right way.

    And then it happens.


    I break a hole in the wall near the bonfire, giving me a way inside. I would swear on my favourite shoes that I'd hit that very spot already, at least with the torch, but there you go. All that fuss and worry, all that jumping and dropping of prism stones, all the elaborate plans and mental mapping of sconces, when all I had to do was whack a part of the wall that looked as flimsy as any other bit.

    But I did it, and that's what counts, right?

    Walls loosely divide the inside of the structure into three directions. Left is a ladder headed down.


    Ahead is an open space dotted with more ladders, all going down, and the fog gate. To the right is a short hall that that runs to the corner of the building before turning inward.


    Since it's the only direction that isn't entirely obvious, I turn right. I turn again at the corner, finding myself next to more ladders. I can see a shadow between them. A Hollowed, bending down. Is it harmless, like some of the others? I'm squinting at the dark, but can't see any weapons.

    I turn away, then spin back around in time to put my shield between my face and the Hollowed's black blade. The weapon is enchanted with dark magic, and takes a chunk of my health through my guard. I kill the Hollowed, then another that's coming at me from behind, squashing it with a critical blow from my club. One of them drops an item, but it slips through the cracks in the floor before I can grab it.

    Nothing attacks, so I look around the rest of this level. Besides the fog gate, there are at least half a dozen ladders in total, scattered at random, and all heading straight down. From trapped to spoiled for choice in under a minute.

    Some broken jars drop dung pies. Throw to poison an enemy, or ingest them for some good times. Lovely stuff. Standing next to the fog gate, I see one of the bandage-wrapped exploding Hollowed on the other side of the wall. It grumbles and rattles its chains. Not a boss fight, then.


    Figuring I can leave that for the moment, I pick a ladder at random and climb down. It takes me to a mid-sized platform on which a Hollowed languishes next to an unlit sconce. I drop down and kill it, then try to get my bearings.


    It's a classic backtracking maze. All the ladders are inside the structure, but they lead to different platforms. There are items to jump for, and ladders that descend further still. Getting through is a matter of working out the connections and doubling back until I reach the bottom. Simple enough.

    First, I climb back to the top. A skinny Hollowed follows me up, so I kill it. I light my torch. I have well over 2 hours of fuel for it, so I'm fine with being inefficient, as long as I can light some beacons and cheer this place up a bit.

    I try another ladder, and see another unlit sconce below, but no enemies.


    I haven't quite worked all the stupid out of my system. The ladder I picked is broken at the bottom, stranding me. I didn't even light my torch first.

    Another ladder going down is the only option I have. I can see the ground, at last. A Hollowed nearby holds a torch above its head, and another near the cavern wall is looking mighty suspicious. I say that, but, honestly, if you met a beef-jerky looking zombie at the bottom of a lightless garbage pit, would you go for a handshake or a kick in the junk? After all the close calls I've had lately, I'm not about to hesitate. Frankly, if you don't want to be clubbed or stabbed, choose a classier place in which to loiter.


    There are a few of those thumping heart-shaped jars as well, near the torch-less Hollowed. The two enemies far enough apart that flanking is a danger, but I have it worked out in my mind. I drop from the ladder early and turn on the suspicious Hollowed first. Before I can get within spitting distance, it has a sword out. See? It's not paranoia when they actually do want to kill you.

    I kill it in time to turn toward the torch. Only, it's not alone. There are two more Hollowed coming from that direction, and another bursts out of the nearest heart-jar. I dodge away, evading the torch and two of the slashing sword, but the last one nicks me, and I die in a single hit. I know I'm only at three-quarters health, thanks to the Ring of Binding, and that hit I took off my shield was hefty, but I still didn't except that. I'll have to be more careful and take into account that any single hit will end me. Not going to waste any Humanity on this, either.

    But I have a goal now. I can start working at it, and get the juices flowing.

    I take my torch down the same ladder, lighting the sconce after dropping down. As I land on the platform, something growls and explodes above me, shooting flames across the inside of the structure. So that's happening, too. The Hollowed are dropping poisoned throwing knives when I kill them.

    Down to the ground. I kill the lone Hollowed first, again. As the heart-jar explodes, as if birthing the things, I pull out my spear and back myself away. For all I know, I'm about to fall into a hole. That's a risk you take when fighting in the dark.


    Once I have the Hollowed lined up, I lash out. With limited space and stamina, I have to consider my priorities. I stab through the two Hollowed with swords, taking a hit from the torch as a trade. That's fine. Fire is not as dangerous as whatever powers their blades, and I couldn't get them all at once. Seconds later, it's over, and I've won. I stand still, listening for footsteps. Soon, another Hollowed rushes from the shadows, and dies. Listen again. Nothing.

    I explore the ground level. Besides ladders going back up, I find a jar holding 20 lifegems, and another holding a Dark Fog hex and a torch.


    The central structure is built over an open cave, and it's not that big. Have I found only a nook, and not the real bottom? At the far wall is a row of heart-jars, thumping away. Is that a hole? I break them. Each explodes with the sound of shattering stone.


    Craning my neck at the edge of the hole in the wall, I see a patch of deeper dark below. I know I've been tricked before, but this is a little more obvious. Still, it's a fall and not a ladder. If I survive, I'll still be stuck down there.


    Back to the top, where I use a ladder in the corner nearest the fog gate to drop down to a chest.


    The great club differs from the large club I already own by being slightly heavier, having a little higher base damage, but worse strength gain. Otherwise, they're the same, having an identical movelist. And the large club is white instead of the wooden brown of the great club. All this is academic to me, because I'm a dozen points of strength away from being able to use either weapon.


    Up and down, lighting sconces and grabbing items. After picking up some rotten pine resin, I'm forced into a jump toward a lower platform. Which I miss, ending up as a crater on the bottom of the cavern. On the way to recovering my corpse, using a different ladder for the sake of variety, I run into the exploding Hollowed, only recognizing what it is and what it's about to do at the last possible moment. I start a backstab, and it blows up in my face. Somehow, he dies and I take no damage. Must have started the backstab's invulnerability frames in time to save myself. Or it was a dud. Another Hollowed tries to finish the job, and has similar luck.

    This new route gets me to the ground on the opposite side from the torch Hollowed. I'm able to avoid fighting all the Hollowed at once, and recover my body. Soon, I'm back at the hole in the wall. I've picked up everything on the way down, and it's a pain going down the ladders over and over. I'm already here, so I may as well check this out. I still have the bonfire at the top if I want to go for the fog gate instead.

    My mind made up, I'm still going to take basic precautions. After breaking apart the heart-jars, I drop a prism stone over the edge. It lands safely.


    Though I can't see them both at once, turning left or right shows that near the prism stone's light is the glow of a loot corpse. This is what I saw and fell onto from the bonfire.

    On goes the cat's ring, and down I go.


    I'm next to an unlit sconce, the prism stone, and a corpse holding a Branch of Yore. That's a nice find if nothing else comes of this. The ground slopes down toward another fog gate.

    A few steps later, and I notice a row of sinister, green glowing spots against the cavern's wall. Eyes? I slow down.


    A few more steps and the distant heartbeat is coming at me from below. The source of the glowing eyes reveals itself as a row of the little poison-spitting statues, all infused with the well-known alchemical formula of purest Green.


    They don't spit at me, but I smash them anyway. The heartbeat stops.

    Now I'm outside the fog gate.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited January 2016
    Day 15 continued

    I don't sense a boss on the other side, and don't think to use my magic weapon buff before holding my breath and stepping through.

    Black Gulch


    Despite the name, Black Gulch is like a bright room compared to the area I'm coming from. As it's not a boss fight, I look for the nearest bonfire, which I find tucked into a small cave in the wall to my left.


    Once rested, I go out and get a better look at the place. A little voice in the back of my mind is reminding me of what I've left unfinished, but I ignore it.

    Ahead, the cavern opens up and levels out. There are dark pools of what I hope is only water, spaced suspiciously, and flanked by steady, if uneven, rows of the poison-spitting statues. And the whole thing looks like someone blew his nose all over it.


    The green is everywhere, filling the place with a malicious light. Not a natural ore, as it wouldn't be all over the statues. A creeping algae, perhaps, or a magical blight? I'll assume it's whichever of those is worse.

    That's all background. In the foreground are the rows of statues. I can't take two steps without one of them spitting poison at me from either side, making the dozen or so metres to the puddles tedious work. I get there by working my way along the left side, bashing every statues I can reach, until I'm close enough to confirm that I'm looking at a bunch of round puddles. My nostrils fill with the unmistakable smell of an ambush. What does an ambush smell like? Like old sweat and bad intentions. What does that smell like? Use your imagination.

    Oh, and I can also see something moving under the surface.


    I'm already forced to the wall because of the statues, and I'd really like to be free of them before getting too close to whatever lurks under my feet. Passing a break in the wall, I become poisoned, and use some moss to cure it. Keep it cool. Smash statues. Getting closer to the water.

    Methodical will only take you so far when you're slightly clueless and all kinds of rusty. It gets me nearly past the puddles, and then things get kind of crazy.

    Without warning, a giant, black worm erupts from the wall, blocking my passage. At the same time, there's a splash behind me as something leaps from the nearest puddle. It's a nasty creature, looking like a clawed, black hand with concentric rows of spiky teeth on its palm. I back away from the worm, around the puddles, trying to get some space. The row of statues on the right side, still intact, opens fire, and then there's another of the hand-monsters.


    Once I've blocked a couple of their sideways punches, things have calmed down. I poke out with my spear. The hand-monsters have a decent amount of health, but low poise. I press in, staggering each in turn and finishing them quickly and easily. One drops a large titanite shard, which is nice.

    Now, the rest of the statues, and the worm. Some good news: it can't move from its hole.


    Some bad news as well. Another one of Thing's inbred cousins is hiding in one of the puddles. Must have missed it in my scrambling retreat. But it doesn't miss me, and before I know what's happening, it has my by the head, its long limbs gripping me while the teeth chew through my skull. Two bites and I'm out. Not a dignified death, but what can you do?

    As soon as I leave the bonfire, an invasion message pops up on my screen. That creep Forlorn is back for another round.


    I see him far away, past the worm. He's swinging wildly at some jars. Once they're properly broken, he charge at me. I want to grab my corpse, but that would mean running the gauntlet of poison-spitting statues and arousing the hand-monsters. All I can do is stand on the narrow ledge near the bonfire and wait, because I have nowhere else to fight.

    I whip out my magic wand and wave it around to buff my spear. In a completely non-sexual way, mind.


    Forlorn opens with a guard break, pushing me close to the edge and getting a good slash in before I recover. More out of self preservation than tactical cheese, I circle around and land a backstab. A quick flask charge while he gets to his feet, and we're back at it. If not for the fresh oblivion at my back, the fight would be simple, and I'm still doing well. A few pokes and another backstab, Forlorn is nearly dead. But he's pushed me around, away from the bonfire, and the poison statues are spitting at me. I take a slash, but he's so close to death, and I think I can finish him off. Except, I'm poisoned. I'd forgotten how fast it works, how dangerous it is when I don't have a full health bar. I falter mid-thrust, and fall to the ground, dead. Nuts.

    Not that I lost anything of value. A couple thousand Souls at most, which is water off my duck-like back by now.

    Forlorn doesn't appear again when I respawn.

    Maybe 7 doses of poison-curing moss left. I need to be more careful. Even as I'm thinking this, I get slammed by so many gobs of poison that I stagger back.

    Once I've cleared the statues, I approach the puddles once more. The hand-monsters aren't so bad now that I know they're coming. It's only that burst from the surface, where they try to grab me, that's dangerous, and that is easily dodged. With heavy 2-handed spear attacks, I can kill them each in two solid hits.

    The worm pokes its head out again. It's guarding a loot corpse, something that fell out of the broken jars. Why there are jars down here is anyone's guess, but loot is loot.

    A row of statues on a ridge overlooking the puddles has been spitting this whole time, and I can't reach them from down here.


    I go back to the opening in the wall, looking for a way up. No luck. All I find is a chest, and inside is a Great Magic Weapon spell.


    All those awestones I've donated, not to mention completely reworking my character to accommodate my Covenant's special spell, and it's not even unique. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little cheated.

    I grab a shotel, too. This little curved sword does damage through shields with its heavy attacks. Still not a fan of the overly fancy curved sword fighting styles, so a few testing swings are all it'll ever get.


    The worm is surprisingly meek. It's frozen in place while I stab it to death, which is fine by me, because I'm still dodging poison shots from the statues behind me. I loot the corpse, finding an Undead Soul, a torch, and a Scraps of Life hex. Supposed to bring things back from the dead, but I don't know what that means. Summons skeletons or zombies, maybe? Whatever it is, it's got bad mojo all over it, like the other hexes I've found. You don't kill an entire village over someone waving a hand over their pet rabbit to wake it from a coma.

    Another worm appears, bursting from the wall with deliberate force. Trying to knock me off the ledge? This one fights back, but isn't any more dangerous than the last guy. The best it can manage is a headbutt to the side, but if I stay near the wall it can't reach me at all.


    Past that, the cavern opens up even more, sloping gently down toward a shadowed crevice. More puddles, and the bones of something large and long dead against the wall. A few jars sit like peanut butter in the mousetrap, tempting me to get close to the puddles with the gleam of an item.

    Before I can spring that trap, another invasion message. Not Forlorn coming for his rematch, but some chump called Woodland Child Gully.


    He throws his hands in the air. A taunt? Figures a guy with a name that lame would be a jerk. I use the moment to apply my weapon buff.

    I lead him back to the previous area, not wanting to risk any puddle-based surprises. And it gives me a chance to size him up. Despite the stupid name, he looks ready to fight. Shirtless, but carrying a big, nasty looking sword, and an even bigger shield. Something tells me that I don't want to get hit.


    He whiffs a big guard break, and I start forward, only to run into his sword after he cancels into a vicious horizontal slash. I'm staggered long enough that his next swing finishes the job. Hate to say I told me so.

    My body isn't too far away from the bonfire, and I try running past the statues, testing the feasibility of skipping some of it. Doesn't work. I'm poisoned well before I can recover my souls, and have to retreat to the bonfire to cleanse myself. When I come back out, the few statues I smashed are still in pieces, which is useful. At least for the first section, if I get myself poisoned I can run back to the bonfire and save myself healing items without losing progress.

    I manage to get smacked by one of the hand-monsters as well. Would you guess that, like everything else down here, that little love tap nearly puts me in the grave? Of course it does. And I like it. I may be out of my depth--literally--but that's what I came here for.

    On that note, I get exactly what I wanted from Gully. A fight tailored to exploit my weaknesses and force me to shake off the rest of the rust. Though he's not wearing any armour, he still has enough poise that I can't interrupt him with my pointy stick. Any trade will go in his favour, and stagger me long enough for him to follow it up with a killing blow. I can't break through his shield, either, and he's not about to let me circle around and get an easy backstab. This puts me on the defensive, because he might attack once, or twice, or even three times in a row, and if I guess wrong, I'm dead. Trying to wear him out is useless, even with my magic shield buff. He'll break my guard in three attacks or less, if he doesn't land a guard break first.

    This goes on for a few more deaths. I always fight him at the first set of puddles, so I can recover my corpse each time. The hand-monsters are dropping the occasional titanite chunk, while the worms drop poison ores and a couple of awestones. If not for that feeling of grinding when I don't like to, I'm in my element.

    Then, Forlorn pops up again, coming up at me from the same spot after I respawn. I make a desperate dash down to the puddles and grab my corpse. Somehow, I'm not poisoned, but I do arouse one of the hand-monsters. I sprint back to the ledge outside the bonfire and watch as the invader runs through the same poison statues that have been pestering me. Though he gets hit a dozen times, he doesn't become poisoned. And now I have both him and the hand-monster to deal with.


    I take them both down anyway, without any trouble. Poke, poke, poke, backstab. I can feel it starting to click.


    I work my way down to the other invader, and Gully shows himself again.

    Though it was the only way it could happen--any mistake is instant death--I'm still a little surprised that I take the fight perfectly. My momentary worry that I'd have to stop being dumb and figure out the parry timings is dispelled when I realize that I've worked out all the spacing. He attacks, I'm just out of reach, and I poke him in the face. In and out before he can respond, quick stabs whenever there's an opening. And suddenly he's almost dead, and suddenly he's staggered. I take the spear in the hands and use my heavy attack, a lunging double-thrust that finishes him before he can attack again.


    He gives up a bunch of souls and an awestone. I'm also able to snag the item in the broken jar, which turns out to be a radiant Lifegem. Nice to have, because I've been using Lifegems in place of my precious moss to outlast any poison I'm inflicted with.

    Along the left wall of the cavern is tunnel opening, and I think again that I'll be able to make my way up to the ledge with the little statues. But it's only another chest, this one holding a Divine Blessing. Cures poison, so it feels appropriate.


    The bones are from some ancient, long dead drake or dragon. What could it have been doing all the way down here?


    I've been using the spear to break statues. It has more reach than the club and lets me smash a bunch at a time. Problem is, the spear is delicate. It's down to ~20 durability, which is less than half of its maximum. The club is down to about 40. I hope there's not too much more of this.

    Another hand-monster jumps out of a puddle. I pull my club out, and it launches itself at me like a rocket-punch. That's new. I get behind it and swing till it disappears.


    At the edge of the second area, way back against the far wall, is a small ledge. I can see a narrow tunnel blocked by a petrified Undead. Isn't that handy?


    I look at my other option, which is a large fog gate that is giving me all kinds of boss vibes.


    After a moment's thought, I decide to use the Branch of Yore I picked up. It will save me the trouble of having to come down here again and deal with these little poison-spitting lumps of [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]. Yes. It will save me from that.

    The Undead unfreezes and does its usual moaning. Once I've put it out of everyone's misery, I check out the tunnel.

    Inside is a low cave. At the far end are some jars, and in the middle is a bonfire. Convenient, and it tells me there's definitely a boss through that fog gate. I break open the jars and find a Pharros' Lockstone, so even better.


    I light the bonfire, then, after some hesitation, rest. The invaders are gone, so it's only a few puddles between me and the fog gate, and I could use the repairs.

    The bonfire cave ends in a short drop overlooking the area before the fog gate. Perfect.


    As it turns out, a little too perfect.

    I land between poison statues and roll out of the way. As I'm turning to break them, the unexpected happens. I'm being invaded again. Of course I'm being invaded again.


    I thought it was something odd at the time. Maybe I'd made the game angry. But looking at the screenshots, Victor and Gully are different people who happen to have the same stupid title and use the same weapons and armour. Anyway, now I have this guy on me as well as the hand-monsters, and I've yet to break any of the poison-spitting statues. It's every type of mess.


    All I can think to do is book it for the little cave and the bonfire, so that I can regroup. But I take some poison in the ribs, and it slows me down enough for Victor and his buddies to catch up. Dead.

    Seemingly a tricky situation, but I have Victor's number the same as his brother's. I respawn at the second bonfire, walk to the hole in the wall, picture the fight in my mind. Once I have my strategy visualized, I buff my weapon and jump down.

    I break the nearest couple of statues, then run for the back corner, the area near the bonfire's entrance. It's got the fewest statues and the most open space, with only a single hand-monster. In the moments it takes Victor to spawn and get to me, I take down the monster, giving me a relatively safe arena for the battle.


    The same tactics as the last fight, but with less space. Poke, poke, poke. He lands a single hit, but my luck returns and he's out of gas to follow it up. Moments later:


    In my best Arnie voice, I say, "Who's the victor now, Victor?"

    Not really, but you get the point.

    I gain some souls and another awestone.


    Now I stand outside the fog gate. I can hear moaning and the clank of iron. The heartbeat is louder than it has ever been. What am I getting myself into?

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    Day 15 continued
    The Rotten

    One of the bigger problems the Undead have in Drangleic seems to be permanence. And I don't mean the lack of it. When all you can hope for is the potential waking nightmare of becoming Hollowed, treading carefully is important. Because when the rest of your life is a potential synonym for eternity, mistakes add up.

    The Rotten is a good case in point.

    A cut-scene plays. In the middle of a fiery pit evoking that particular hot place, is a beast which is more than the sum of its parts. Its wriggling, screaming parts. The Rotten is a construct of human parts--whole humans as parts--a mound of bodies melted together in the form of a lumbering beast. It's not pretty, and it's not happy, and it's not happy to see me.


    At first, it has its back to me. I see it slowly and awkwardly try to put together one of the little statues. When that doesn't work, it turns on me, a sword the size of a horse held in one hand, while any part of it that has a mouth cries out in pain. Think about them, all stuck together for so many years. Gods willing, the madness set in long ago, but you know what they say about Hell being other people, with or without the pools of fire.

    The Rotten glides . . . squirms? Crawls? Moves surprisingly fast. Not that it's about to win a footrace, but we're confined its lair, and it has a lot of range with that cleaver. Before I have time to think of an approach, it's on me, chopping down twice, big swings that eat through my stamina and have me reeling. It doesn't follow that up, so we keep circling.


    By now, my weapon buff has worn out. Did the cut-scene count against its duration? I make a stab, fall short. Have to get closer. The Rotten slashes sideways, then drops the hammer on me, breaking my guard. Unlike last time, it has a followup attack, a third overhand bash that drives me into the ground, killing me.

    Keep in mind that three invaders have jumped in a row now, two of them in the area before the fog gate. And, for all the attention I paid to attack patterns, ranges, and damage, I did not notice at the time that Gully and Victor were different people. Every time I entered the area, someone jumped me, and, after respawning, I was sure it would happen again.

    I have over 50,000 souls lying on the ground in the boss arena, and I'm far more concerned with picking them up and getting the boss than with taking on yet another invader, especially one that can kill me in a single combo. I wasn't about to wait for that to happen.

    I use an effigy as much free up a ring slot than to fill out my health bar. Then I swap the Ring of Binding out for my Lingering Dragoncrest Ring to increase the duration of my weapon buff. I apply the buff before dropping down from the bonfire, and run straight for the fog gate, wanting to make it before an invasive spirit has fully formed. In my haste, I am poisoned, but I still make it through the fog gate. I can see my souls nearby.

    Here's a pro tip: Standing in fire hurts. Even the split second of contact I make with the flames is enough to compound the poison damage I'm taking. No time to heal, and the Rotten breathing down my neck. Keep going. Almost there.

    I collapse and die on top of the souls, without recovering them.

    It stings, but only for a moment. Effectively, I was grinding anyway, and 50,000 is no great loss.


    Running for the fog gate again, I manage to swing around far enough to avoid any poison. The next fight goes well. I have the range down, so I'm landing consistent damage. I keep to the beast's left, forcing it to use its slow fist pound instead of the faster, and further reaching, cleaver. I take damage a few times, putting my foot in a pool of fire, ,r misjudging the range of a slash, but the Rotten is slow enough that I can sprint to the opposite end of the area and chug from my flask before it catches up.


    When I think I have it, the Rotten raises its weapon above its head, summoning dark energy before slamming it into the ground. My shield is up and my stamina is full, but I die anyway.

    A couple of runs now and no invader yet. I slow down, mashing the statues to avoid the poison. I wait long enough to be sure no more invasions are coming, then pop another effigy and buff my weapon at the fog gate before stepping through.

    This time, prepared, I have no trouble. I keep to the side and stab relentlessly, healing after any small amount of damage lest I get hit by another potential one-shot attack. Once, he belches acid, but it's slow and obvious, and not going to hit.


    When it drops low, I move closer and get more aggressive. I get the kill as the Rotten is raising its arm to let loose another wave of darkness.

    "Greater Soul Embraced"


    Another surprise. I also gain 47,000 souls and the Soul of the Rotten. Some sort of demigod that rose from the discarded and abandoned dregs that inhabit the Gutter. And now I have another Greater Soul, which I did not expect to to find down here. These people must have been mighty lonely and hopeless to accumulate so much power.

    I've been passing an item near the wall, surrounded by a moat of flames. Now I have a chance to go for it. For safety, I use a Lifegem before crossing, letting its healing effect partially counter-act that I'm being roasted alive.


    I recover a Fireseed.

    At the back of the Rotten's lair is a dark tunnel.


    After a few steps, it breaks off into a small room with a chest.


    The tunnel turns, then opens into a green cavern. Thin pillars surround some sort of monument, and there's a primal bonfire.


    Up close, I can see there are words scribbled on the four monoliths, and that artfully designed, but long-broken, snake statues enclose what looks an awful lot like an old birdbath. Or maybe it's a scyring pool or something more mystical and mysterious. I'm no archeologist.


    I read from the four slabs of stone, then try to put the verses together.

    "The city of the Sunken King sleeps, as does the dragon within;

    Forbidden is the path to the ancient King's domain;

    Trespassers will face adversity befitting a monarch;

    With water dry, the path amiss, woeful temptation is dismissed."

    None of it rhymes or anything, so that's the best I've got.

    It really was an age of decadence if they spent all that time and effort to drag stones into the place so they could put up what amounts to an overelaborate and cryptic "Do Not Enter" sign. Does that last line even make sense? And what exactly is "adversity befitting a monarch?" Whoever wrote this must have had a strange view of royalty and feudal systems if they thought kings and queens garnered more suffering than the common folk, or maybe this isn't the dire warning it seems to be.

    After all the trouble I had getting down here, it will take more than some nerd's liner notes to turn me away. I kneel before the birdbath and find myself warping to another location.

    I'm standing in a cave. Roots cover the ceiling and stretch down the walls. In the middle of the space are what looks like sixteen graves encircling a fire. Four tall monuments of stone form corners outside the circle, and at the far end of the cave is a big, black door.


    I walk down the stairs and find a message on the ground.


    Which means precisely nothing without context. What sign? This one? Is someone channelling a message from far away that says, "I'm channelling this message from far away?" Is that a feat in itself? They could at least sign their name to it to get the credit. This is like leaving a message in someone's inbox telling them that you're leaving a message.

    Not that I expected sensible answers to questions I wasn't even asking yet. Or answers at all. I move on.


    The door is locked tight, obviously. Have I found the way to a final boss? With only two Greater Souls, I'm not getting any further. I look at the design on the door for other clues. What am I seeing? A flying ram? Some dudes kickboxing? A terrible map? All I recognize is the sunny face in the middle of the door.

    I look around a bit more. I can light my torch at the fire, and there's nothing behind the stairs. Without anything else to do, I leave.

    Back in the cavern, I use the primal bonfire and find myself back in Majula.


    Besides a single line of dialogue, nobody seems to care that I've recovered two Greater Souls.

    I climb to the Victor's Stone and give up my awestones. After 4 more, I hit the next rank.


    This time, my reward is something more tangible than a spell I could have found anyway. (Not bitter.) I get the First Dragon Ring, which once belonged to a famous knight of Drangleic. It buffs stamina, health, and equip load, but I'm pretty sure that putting it on means I can never take it off again. The numbers aren't spectacular, about 30 odd HP, 4 stamina, and a little under 4 equip load, but it's probably percentage-based and will improve as I level. May as well put it in my floating 4th ring slot, since I worked so hard getting it.

    Back to the map room, and there's another flame. I only have two Greater Souls and two primal bonfires. The other flame is in the Forest of Fallen Giants, where there is also a closed metal door and large portions of the fortress that I was unable to access the first time through.


    Chloanne drops some hints about Drangleic once having a different name, long ago. Considering that every other NPC I've met has told me the same thing, I think I get what they're selling.

    With the titanite I picked up from the hand-monsters, I have everything I need to upgrade my winged spear to +10. Which I do. In the first Dark Souls I didn't max out any weapons, and this time I already have two titanite slabs. I'm also more confident about my weapon selection, and need something to spend my souls on while all the merchants here are out of stock.

    I have a plain winged spear on hand, so I can make comparisons. At +10, the base damage has doubled, and a few upgrades back the dexterity scaling improved from B to A, which translates to 14 extra damage with the 18 points I have in that stat. Not a whole lot, but more damage is more damage.

    I warp to McDuff's workshop in the Bastille. The winged spear disappeared from my upgrade list once it hit +10, so all I can do with it now is add some elemental ores for extra flavour. Too bad all I only have poison, lightning, and darkness ores on hand. What I'd really like is fire or magic, to which benefit from the points I've put into intelligence. Poison is right out, as it seems only useful for PvP and boss fights, and lightning, while potentially strong, gains damage from wisdom. That leaves darkness, which is strengthened by my lowest magic-related stat . . . which is also wisdom, with only 6 points.

    No danger in testing things out. I have plenty of palestones to remove infusions, and I know I can simply overwrite them anyway, should I find a better option. I decide to go with darkness, to complete the emo theme.

    I test my new weapon on the dogs outside the workshop. The effect is on the subtle side for visuals, but it sure is loud. The dogs die easily, but I feel silly for not testing the vanilla +10 winged spear first to get a comparison. Considering I'm mostly dealing with Hollowed and demonic beasts, how many of the things I fight are weak to this element anyway?

    Back to Majula, where I dump all my twinkling titanite into the Drangleic shield, raising it to +4 and from 59 to 63 stability. Not like I was saving that titanite for anything special anyway, and I'm not nearly strong enough to use a heavier shield.

    Next, I visit Straid in the Bastille to see what he'll give me for my new boss Souls. Though the Skeleton Lord Souls have the same name and description, the one I got from the chariot makes different equipment. The first is a shield with a crossbow built into it, allowing for blocking and attacking at the same time. Doesn't seem practical, especially for the high strength requirement and buckler-level stability. There's also a chariot lance, another strength-scaling spear with higher stat prerequisites than the gargoyle spear, but some bleed damage added. I buy the chest armour and leggings of the Forlorn from him, completing my set, before returning to Majula.

    Despite my best efforts, I have Souls left over. So I take them to the Emerald Herald and bow down to receive my levels. I'd balanced them so carefully to use the equipment and spells I wanted, and I'm a bit lost with where to go next. If only I had a different ore for my weapon, I could start investing in intelligence. Maybe strength for a stronger shield? That would mean more equip load, too. And also finding one. The infusion reduced the dexterity scaling on the spear to a B as well, so more dexterity won't be as beneficial as it might have been. After some thinking, I decide to put my 3 points there anyway. After all, I have at least one more respec on hand, if I really need it.


    After that, I'm done. It was a full day, and I accomplished more than I expected to. Completely by accident, but it still counts. I'm satisfied that most of the rust is gone, and now I can start looking for the other Greater Souls in earnest.

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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    edited January 2016
    The dragon ring does not work like the ring of favor and protection. It will not break.
    This was such a colossal mistake on your part I had to tell you, because there's no way you would figure that out on your own if you were too afraid to wear it. Wear the ring.

    Morninglord on
    (PSN: Morninglord) (Steam: Morninglord) (WiiU: Morninglord22) I like to record and toss up a lot of random gaming videos here.
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I did it put it on, if it wasn't clear. And there was a message when you take off the ring of favour anyway. If the last dragon ring was going to break, the same thing should happen, so there's no real danger.

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    MorninglordMorninglord I'm tired of being Batman, so today I'll be Owl.Registered User regular
    Page- wrote: »
    I did it put it on, if it wasn't clear. And there was a message when you take off the ring of favour anyway. If the last dragon ring was going to break, the same thing should happen, so there's no real danger.

    Oh, well then. Yeah I thought you hadn't put it on.

    (PSN: Morninglord) (Steam: Morninglord) (WiiU: Morninglord22) I like to record and toss up a lot of random gaming videos here.
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    BrodyBrody The Watch The First ShoreRegistered User regular
    I'm really glad to have your lets play to read again.

    Thanks for the effort you put in to these.

    "I will write your name in the ruin of them. I will paint you across history in the color of their blood."

    The Monster Baru Cormorant - Seth Dickinson

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular

    Effort is the right word, too--it's plenty of work--but it's easy and stress-free at the same time. I have fun. Nice to know you're enjoying it as well.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    All that's left is the editing, so some sort of update tomorrow.

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    Day 16
    It's always a good idea to start the day with purpose. Maybe I've forgotten where I'm going, and never knew how I was getting there, but that doesn't mean I have to lack goals.

    My horoscope tells me that I shouldn't be afraid to try something new. And that my Soul is fading, caught in an endless spiral of loss that feeds on my growing self-doubt until I take that final tumble from the path and fall forever toward the static void, lose my mind, and spend eternity as a slave to an insatiable, indefinable hunger. Recent issues of the Drangleic Times have been real downers, let me tell you.

    Onward and upwards, I say. As long as I have souls in my pocket and air to breath, the end of the world may as well be ancient history, so to speak.

    Something new, though. What can it be? Maybe some help with this feeling of constant isolation. I know, I'll get myself a hobby. That's how you meet new people.

    Convenient, then, that I've hit the next level of devotion in the Company of Champions. I have my First Dragon Ring jammed firmly on my finger, and, still somewhat sour about finding another copy of the spell I worked so hard to have exclusive access to, I'm ready to move on. At last, I can see what it's like on the other side.

    First things first. I have a bit of upkeep to attend to. I warp to Things Betwixt to visit the nest and trade my items.


    I have a smooth and silky stone, and a couple of petrified somethings. The kind of trinkets that whatever hangs out here seems to love. What I'm missing is the memory for how this is supposed to work. I open the menu and discard the smooth and silky stone. It disappears, and I get nothing. Oh right. I open the menu again and leave--which is completely different from discarding--the petrified somethings. I receive a twinkling titanite and a petrified dragon bone in return.

    Which reminds me that there's been a paucity dragon-kin so far. Aside from that drake I killed--without getting its tail--in Heide, all I've seen are bones. Are there still dragon weapons? The petrified dragon bones are for equipment made from boss souls, and twinkling titanite is for unique gear, while regular titanite works for everything else. That I haven't found special ores specifically for dragon weapons suggests they may not exist in the same way. I did find the Dragon Tooth club, and it uses twinkling titanite for upgrades, but I didn't get it from a dragon. And I've cut tails from bosses and gained nothing for it.

    When--I know it has to be when, not if--I run into my next real dragon, I'll try to find out.

    Anyway, that's it for chores today. Now, to do what I've been avoiding, which is choosing another covenant.

    The first step is reviewing my options. The little fellow in Undead Purgatory, the Rat King, the munchkin in the Belfry Luna, the mopey guy in Majula. The standoffish knight in the Cathedral of Blue, he had one, I'm sure. How to best get to him? Then, I remember Licia, the used miracle salesperson hiding in the sewers between Majula and Heide. Haven't seen her in a while.

    She has nothing new for sale, but a new angle in her hard sell patter. Do I want to know about the First Flame? Oh, sure, she knows all about that, and she'd love to tell me. Only, I'm not yet enlightened enough to understand. If I would just buy a few more things, then, maybe, I'd be ready.


    Pull the other one, lady, it's got an entire brass band on.

    So I do it the hard way, warping to the Tower of Flame bonfire and fighting my way to the Cathedral of Blue. I'll admit, there's a certain amount of pleasure in walking straight through what was once a complicated song and dance. Especially when I get to this prick, and finish him with a single stab through his black heart.


    When I get to him, Targray is much more chatty than I remember. He announces that I have proof and can now join his Order. What proof? I'm not sure, but I assume it's the token of fidelity I grabbed on my way through Huntsman's Copse.


    When I back out of joining, still wanting to see the other options, he goes right back to being a jerk.


    On the way to his balcony, I noticed a side passage off the boss room. Was that there before? I can't remember seeing it, because if I had, I surely would have found the bonfire at the bottom of the stairs.


    By now, I doubt you need further evidence that the little gremlins in my mind take a particular pleasure in making me miss the obvious. Believe me, if a stray bonfire that I didn't even need was all I missed, I'd count myself lucky.

    On the way out, I drop by the guy staring at the cave wall near Huntsman's Copse, but he's still not talking to me.

    Looking again at my options, I think, why not try them all?


    Brotherhood of Blood

    My first stop, for no other reason than I'm sure it will be the least relevant to me. I drop in on the little fellow, who I find out is named Gren. Soft spoken as he is, especially compared to the other recruiters, he's got a disconcerting fixation on blood.


    I expected a PvP focus, and that seems to be what I get. Gren hands over a Crest of Blood ring, and talks of tokens of spite. His words and the ring's description give a clear enough picture. Earn tokens in PvP, trade them for cracked red eye orbs to invade other worlds. Rinse and repeat, and presumably one of those resources, or a reward from the invasions, will level up the covenant ranks.

    Gren also sells a few items, including a great scythe, which is a dexterity-based polearm, and a full set of the Skeleton Lord's armour. It looks flimsy, but the description says it has high dark resistance. I'm once again flummoxed by the lack of an equipment comparison option in the shop menu, so I don't know how it stacks up to what I have on. He also sells hexing urns, a bomb that does dark damage. Before I leave, he takes the time to complain about those goody-goody Blue Sentinels.


    Blue Sentinels

    Back to Targray. After berating me for straying from the path of the righteousness and exceedingly boring, he grants me entrance into the Blue Sentinels.


    He is more direct about what the Blue Sentinels are all about. As a Knight of Blue--which is totally not lame title, and isn't getting lamer the more he says it--it's my job to protect the Apostles of Blue from nasty invaders out to give them wedgies and steal their lunch money. Which I assume means guarding the Way of Blue from the likes of the Brotherhood of Blood. I get a Guardian's Seal ring, which will summon me automatically if some poor Apostle is in danger. By doing this, I'll probably earn more tokens of fidelity to rank up with. All meaningless while I'm offline.

    He also sells a few items. Basic weapons that I have no interest in, and some consumables that include a boltstone to add lighting damage to a weapon. Already have those. Miracles as well, one of which fires lightning randomly. Finally, he teaches me the "duel bow" gesture.

    Bell Keepers


    It takes some concentration to remember the way to the Belfry, and once I'm there, all I have is this munchkin cackling at me. I join anyway, and get another ring. This is also a PvP covenant, one centred around a single location. While wearing the ring, any invasion of the Belfry will summon me to protect the princess's precious noisemaker. Why? Beats me. This guy says they've been ringing it for years anyway, so why does he care so much about strangers doing it? Seems selfish, but I'm not going to say that to his face. He also reveals that there's another bell somewhere else that belongs to the prince. He doesn't sell anything, so I leave.

    Rat King


    The Rat King gives me the same speech as the bell guard, more or less, but with less manic tittering and more pomposity. He hands over a ring, and says that, as his servant, it will summon me to protect the rat's burrows from invaders. Which must mean the Doors of Pharros. He tells me of the lockstones, and the traps in Pharros, and that I should use them against invaders. That explains why there are so many around. I give him the rat rail I earned from the boss, but no result. I'll need more than that to rank up. He also sells a few items, the most interesting being jars of acid that wreck the durability of the target's equipment. Nasty.

    More than a minute of this noble rat nonsense is too much, and I have to leave.


    All my options checked, I decide to go with the Brotherhood of Blood. I can't defend anyone else from invaders, so the other covenants would get me nowhere, but maybe NPC dark spirits count for something blood related. Worth a shot, because I know Forlorn is going to show up again soon enough. It will give me a chance to see what I've been missing in the Company of Champions. Maybe I'll even see a summoning sign.

    Where to next? I can wait on the Grave of Saints, since I'll have to come back that way eventually to access the birdbath. Might as well skip back a few steps. Brightstone Cove or Harvest Valley? Of the two, I'm most curious about the cove, but Harvest Valley is an earlier area. I should do it now, before it's too late.

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    Day 16 continued.
    Harvest Valley


    What will I find up there?

    That's getting ahead of myself. There are still those trenches to get through.

    I've been around a bit by now, seen some of what Drangleic has to offer. Sunny seaside desolation, old forests full of ugly, moaning trees and backstabbing phantoms. Dank garbage pits that haven't known the light of day, ever, and all the ruins in between. For the first time, I'm thinking, "Why am I doing this?" Might be that I've seen too many episodes of Blackadder Goes Forth, but something about the trenches and the gas is rubbing me the wrong way today.

    But, I've made up my mind, and I'll have to do it eventually. Something this big and obvious can't be optional.

    I walk down and poke around the lowest point of high ground, a wide rock ledge that puts me near eye level with the giant and whatever rides on its back. A skeleton hops up and attacks me.


    This is why we can't get along. I'm just passing through, and every other pile of bones holds some personal grudge because I happen to still have ligaments and a tongue. Sure, I can taste things, but which of us is better at Twister? It's about priorities, and that's what they don't get.

    On a brighter note, the dark damage on my spear might be helping? The skeleton dies in a couple of hits, but it's been so long since I last stabbed a skeleton that I can't make a good comparison.

    The skeleton drops a titanite shard, and a nearby corpse holds a lifegem. Really, a lot of nearby corpses are likely to hold a lot of lifegems. I need a strategy for grabbing all this loot.


    The ground slopes down into the mist. I'm getting close enough to the giant that I can see how it's controlled. A bag over its head, so it's blind, directed by the guy in the basket. Can't be that dangerous, then. Maybe I can sneak past. More worrying is the number of bone piles I can see. How many of them will attack me?


    Can't put this off any longer. I hold my breath and step into the gas. A test, to see what I'm up against.

    My poison bar starts filling. Quickly, but not so fast that I shouldn't be able to make it from one piece of high ground to the next. With a heavy jangling of chains, the giant turns in my direction. I step back into the fresh(er) air and exhale. The giant stops moving. My poison bar doesn't, and is still climbing for about a second after I've left the gas. Not enough to poison me, but I have to wait longer before I can try again.

    I stab the giant. It throws out a clumsy overhand slap, blindly swatting at the pain. No danger there, as I have reach on it, and it's slow anyway. Then, a giant ball of dark energy flies toward me. I get my shield up in time, but it hurts. It's not the giant I have to worry about at all, but the master. Every time his mount attacks, he fires off another projectile.


    Even when I'm up the ramp again, he's still firing. One of the crawling Hollowed has followed me. A single stab to get rid of it, and I dive back into the gas and circle behind the giant. The energy attacks give this enemy more reach, but it still has to shoot them in the direction the giant is facing, which simplifies things. I take it down, but end up poisoned. Back up the ramp, where I use a lifegem to counter the health loss, then a bottle charge to heal. The rider died along with the giant, so that's trouble halved.

    Another of the creepy-crawlers is after my ankles, so I stab it, and miss. Stab again, miss again. It's like that, is it? I pull out my club and do it properly.

    With the major opposition out of the way, I'm free to loot. None of the bones nearby have moved, either. Now that I'm not focused on enemies, I can hear the sound of someone drinking. I know I've heard it before. It can't be. Cant it?


    With only seconds of leeway, grabbing all the loot is an arduous endeavour. At some point, I do find a skeleton willing to fight, and I kill it near the ramp. I'm picking up a lot of titanite, and one of the crawlers dropped a bleed stone. Is that why Chloanne was hanging out here? Maybe this place is some sort of titanite refinery. On the way to the furthest items, there's no avoiding becoming poisoned. A couple more skeletons, and I'm done.

    My haul includes titanite shards and chunks, torches, poisoned throwing knives, and smooth and silky stones. Not bad. Certainly worth a few bottle charges and a sore throat.


    The next section is aboveground. A small valley before the tower. But there's also more in the gas, a tunnel through it that leads to a loot corpse.


    Once more into the breach.

    I find safe ground on the other side, gain it in time to avoid becoming poisoned. Another skeleton, another beat down. I do not have patience for that right now.


    A loot corpse overlooks a gas pit with more bodies at the bottom, the flesh long since melted away.


    Something is beginning to seep in, no pun intended. (That's a lie. The pun is always intended.) All the loot I've grabbed, it's all from people who couldn't survive the gas. Was it an accident that flooded this place? Or did they wander down here in their misery? The corpses near the entrance--or exit, depending on circumstance--was that the final exodus? And here. All those skeletons, the flesh eaten away by the corrosive gas, while this single corpse sits on the ledge above. The one that almost made it, only to collapse into a choking heap, his final moments of life full of pain, hacking coughs, blood. Or was he the one who couldn't help, and who couldn't leave, with the only way out also filled with poisonous gas. Sitting there, looking down at his friends until he, too, expired.

    Of course, the real question is why is there a ramp leading down to corpses without loot? I take a look, and see there's another opening in the wall. How far down does this go?


    Not too far. It's only a small nook, deep enough to hide a chest. The time it takes to open the thing and grab what's inside is more then enough for the poison to overtake me, but I make it out with a fireseed and divine blessing, so it's worth the extra flask charge.

    In here, the gulping sound is louder than ever. Through a small hole, I find another room, and inside is good old Gavlan, the monosyllabic gyrm I met in No-man's Wharf. I knew it sounded familiar. He's standing next to a wooden chest.


    He has nothing new to say or to sell, but I can still trade items, and I suppose this location is marginally more convenient than his pirate hideout. I sell of my duplicate weapons and armour, earning about 7,000 souls. Not bad. Inside the chest is a single raw stone.

    Back up to the valley. Ramps, ledges, and ladders. A couple of Hollowed ladies holding what looks like fans, or maybe wands?


    Two more steps and the nearest of them starts launching waves of fireballs. Not far enough to hit me yet, but it's something to look forward to. I run up the ramp on my right and climb a ladder.


    At the top is a corpse holding 10 hexing orbs. Looking down from here, I can see nearly-naked Hollowed bowing down, as if worshipping the pyromancers. I drop back down, wait for an opening, then dash toward the nearest of the fireball throwers. I have to double-back up a ramp to reach her, and a fireball from above hits me in the side, doing a lot of damage, but without staggering me. I'm close enough to start attacking, and there's an explosion somewhere behind me. I don't wait to find out what other tricks might be up her sleeve. A couple of stabs and she's down. A single Hollowed stumbles toward me and dies as well.


    Once I've collected myself, I take a run at the next ladder and climb to the other pyromancer's perch. She blows a fireball like a kiss, and it floats lazily toward me, hangs in the air, then explodes as I reach the top of the ladder. Somehow, I take no damage, but she has another one ready, and this one I take on my shield.


    That's enough of that. I poke her to death, then the Hollowed that get up to, well, not exactly rush to her aid. It's more of a hobble. And they're too late to help her, or themselves. The pyromancer drops a wilted dusk herb and a dragon charm, a consumable that cures poison as well as healing.

    I pull a switch, opening the way through.


    Back on the ground, I can hear the unmistakable tinkling of a crystal lizard. Sure enough, I can see one in the next area, and as I get close I can also see it's not alone.


    I duck down a side path and find a bonfire surrounded by old pots. A good thing, too, because there's no way I can kill three crystal lizards without forcing respawns. I casually roll through the pots, only to find myself covered head to toe in poisonous green gunk. I have to rest immediately to refresh myself.


    According to the bonfire, I'm in "The Mines," which lends a lot of support to my hypothesis about the tower's purpose.

    Back outside, I take my first run at the crystal lizards. Each of them escapes into deep holes in the ground that are full of the green gas. I do not follow. They flee directly away from the direction I approach, so I should be able to manipulate them into missing the pits. On my second try, I get the right angle to force one into a wall, then I smash it with my club. It only takes a single hit, which is good.


    I'm on my way back so I can use the bonfire to reset the others, when I stumble into one of the holes. The situation does not look good, as you can see for yourself.


    I don't panic. I have plenty of flask charges, and there has to be a way out. But am I even moving? I'm walking, but I can't see where I'm going. For all I know, I'm just rubbing my face into the nearest wall. I keep moving in a direction I hope is forward, turning slightly as I go, until I spot the glow of items ahead. That's something. I drink from my flask and run toward them.


    By the time I reach the loot corpses, I'm back outside. There are giants nearby, but I'm not close enough to attract their limited attentions. This is the area I saw before, the next trench that branches off from where the crystal lizards hang out, and looks like the final barrier between me and the tower. I'm able to find my way back to the bonfire, and soon I take down the other two crystal lizards. Like the first, each drops a titanite shard, a large titanite shard, and a palestone.

    From here, the path splits. Right is the other trench, and the tower. Left heads away from them both, a side path that eventually loops back to the loot corpse overlooking this area.


    Besides the hole I've already fallen into, there are two more. One has a ladder, the other does not.


    I try the ladder, getting far enough down for a good whiff, and to see pieces of wood poking up. I can also hear suspiciously bony footsteps. I climb back out.


    I take the path on the left first, because I love a good mystery, and I need to get to that loot corpse.

    I pass over a small pile of rocks and come to a left turn at a flimsy-looking wooden wall. I can see a giant through the crooked boards.


    I take the left turn. It's a ledge overlooking a metal chest and a ladder down to another poison pit. This must connect to the other ladder. If I drop down here, I'll have to find it, and the skeletons, to get out again.


    I go back to the wooden wall. Can I break it? I smack it with my club. Nothing. I'm ready to dive into the poison when I hear the giant turning. It must have heard me knocking. A massive fist swings in my direction, splintering the wall and opening the way through.


    The magic blast knocks me back a pace, but my shield saves me. There's no space here, and I can't keep taking those shots. I get close and squeeze behind the giant, where there's an open area. I start stabbing away, then take a slap that nearly kills me. I'd used all my stamina, thinking the final attack would finish it. My luck holds out, and the next attack does kill it. I heal.

    There is another wooden wall here, and this time I see items behind it and no giant. I smack it and throw a firebomb. No joy.


    I hop down to the chest and loot a poison stone and a few rotten pine resins. Then down the ladder. I can see an item ahead, so I walk toward it and pick up an Undead Soul.


    After that, I can't see anything. A skeleton is coming, and I hold my shield up, using the block to find it and kill it. I heal and keep moving, until I find a ladder. I climb out.

    Not to the crystal lizard's area, but to the same metal chest. Must have been turned around by the skeleton. I jump into the pit and try again. This time, I find the right ladder, and I run back to the bonfire to replenish my flask and to test something.

    As I'd hoped, the giant has respawned, but the first wall has not. Will it work? It's worth a shot.


    I run toward the giant, getting close enough for it to notice me, then I slip past. It takes some corralling, but I get my back pressed to the second wall and wait for it to close in.


    The giant throws a first at my head. I roll to the side. The second wall bursts apart. Success.


    I've been taking magic blasts off my shield while trying to get the giant into position, but I buffed my weapon before the fight began, so as soon as the wall is down, so is it.

    Past the broken wall is dead end with a few loot corpses. I pick up a torch, an Undead Soul, a smooth and silky stone, a lifegem, and an old knight's greatshield and pike. What was one of those big old things doing all the way out here? Not a whole lot, it seems. Like the other old knight equipment, these have tragically low durability, and the greatshield requires 28 strength while having only 65 stability. That's about as low as I've seen for that class of shield, and I don't think its relatively high status resistances make up for that. The pike actually looks pretty good, with decent base damage, an A dexterity gain, and fast moves, even if they're a halberd set and a spear's. But, again, only 20 durability is an issue.

    On the way back, I pass a new opening in the wall. I'm sure it's new. I know I didn't see it on my way to the giant, but I don't have a screenshot to verify it wasn't there. After finding the bonfire in the Cathedral of Blue, I'm not above distrusting my own eyes and memory, but this time I am certain it just opened up.


    And I certainly didn't hear the guy with the sickles last time, like I hear him now, turning in my direction as I pass.

    I think to myself, "What's the worst that could happen?" as I take a step toward the new area. It's only a guy with some oversized farming tools. I've killed plenty of his type already.

    Did I say "a guy?" Let me correct that. There are two of them. Then three. Then four. That's more than I bargained for, but it seems I'm stuck with them. My step forward dropped me over short ledge, and god forbid I lift my knees. In moments, they're all over me like I'm the last dish of bacon at the brunch buffet.


    It's not all bad. Narrow as this passage is, I can't get by them, but they can't get by each other, either. The nearest of them chops at me with his sickles, once, twice, taking big chunks of my stamina away, and I'm stumbling back. There's some minor bleed buildup, but I'm otherwise unharmed, because the guy behind him is too far away to hit me with his slashes.

    There's a slight comfort that comes with resigning oneself to fate. If I am going to die here, I may as well make the best of it. I can't block forever, either. I poke with my spear, but I'm so far into the rocks at my back that my weapon pings off them, deflected, but not before doing some damage to the nearest of the sickle bros. It's a big stamina drain, though, and when he attacks again, he knocks my shield aside and the blades bite into me.


    If I'm already dead, what have I got to lose? I took significant damage, but this is also an opening. So I pull out my Estus flask and, somehow, I get a big swig down and my shield up again before the next attack hits. I start stabbing again. Each time, my weapon knocks into the stones behind me and sends me stumbling, but I still hit the my enemy. And, soon enough, he dies. Then the next one dies.


    And the next one dies. I've managed a natural 20, and this is working out in my favour.

    I have a bit more space now, but I'm running low on health again. I take a full hit from the last of them, but my armour saves me. Still can't make it past, and I don't want to risk another bottle charge, not when he's so close.

    In for a penny, in for a pound. I grab my spear with both hands and strike out with my heaviest attack. He dies. I'm alive. I celebrate with another flask charge.


    This must be the way to the body on the ledge.

    I step out into an open space lined with rows of boarded up holes. Sudden flashbacks to ruins full of imprisoned ghouls about to jump out and chew my face off. I look around. Two openings on the ground level, five more up top. Nothing moves, and I can see items behind the boards.


    The danger has passed, so I go about looting, knocking away the wood with my club. All the while, I can hear someone moaning and slapping stone nearby.

    Besides the green blossoms, I find simpleton's spice, skeptic's spice, lifegems, various types of titanite shards, an Undead Soul, and a single Hollowed that wasn't convinced by the fight I just won that I'm not to be messed with.


    A passage on the second level branches at a T-junction. On my left is the single Hollowed slapping endlessly at the wall, as if it stole something and he wants it back. This one has the good sense, or lack of all sense, to not attack me when I get close. But better safe than sorry, so it dies as well.


    I take the right path, and find the body on the ledge.


    To the left are some crude stairs descending to a big old pit of green gas.


    No ladder, so sound, no items in sight. Hmm. It was a bit of a pain getting here, so is this worth it? On the other hand, it was a bit of a pain getting here, so do I want to backtrack to get here again if it's something important?

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    edited January 2016
    Day 16 continued.
    And that, dear reader, is how I acquired my very own look before you leap story.

    As much as I'd like to pretend what follows never happened, it very much did. It happened vividly and in real-time. I swear I could actually see the karma reaching down to slap me across the face. Suffice it to say that, after dying in the pit, I did not have the same sort of easy luck getting past that gang of sickle-wielding degenerates. It was silly to attempt the same tactic. Which means I didn't recover my body. I could have left it at that, but I didn't. I went straight back and murdered every last one of them. Am I not allowed a little spite?

    Finally, in a vain attempt to teach myself an actual lesson, I drop a prism stone in the pit. It lets out a wholly redundant scream. Thanks.

    At least now I can move on, after confirming that the last gas hole is connected to the one that opens up in the final trench.

    Which is where I'm headed anyway. Though I lost all my souls, I use an effigy. Being human gives me a little something to worry about.

    It's filled with more giants, and not three paces in I've got fireballs raining down on me.


    I crane my neck. Wherever they're coming from is too high up in the tower for me to see. I'll have to deal with it.

    Timing a gap in the fireballs, I scurry along the right wall until I come to a bridge. A big, green fellow with an even bigger hammer is standing guard there, and he's not about to let me across without a fight.


    A couple pokes and a backstab later, I'm moving again, still tracing the outer wall. I want to see the entire length of the trench before diving in.

    At the end of the trench, the path turns left and goes straight into the tower's lower levels. I can see a room full of jars. A storage area, for what? I mean, jars, obviously, but who needs that much poison? As I get closer, a headless ninja leaps down and starts tossing poisoned knives at me.


    A few stabs and its dead. I peek my head around the corner to see what's inside the building. Another of the hammer-carrying toughs starts stomping in my direction, breaking jars as he goes. As I expected, they are filled with poison, and within moments so is the ghoul.


    I back up a bit, and it dies before it can catch me.

    Another hammer ghoul stands at the top of a ladder, surrounded by more jars. To reach him, I'll have to smash a few of the jars myself. The spear has range, so I should be safe enough.


    I still splash myself a bit, but not enough to become poisoned.


    At the top of the ladder, before I can think of how best to get around the jars, a fireball explodes behind me. I turn and see another hammer ghoul waiting in the next room.


    A pyromancer must be above him, out of sight, and I don't fancy taking on both of these guys at the same time, not if I'm to be the meat in their hammer sandwich. Luckily, the one behind the jars hasn't noticed me. I can leave him for now. Somewhere, something dies, and I gain some souls.

    I pass over the threshold.

    Earthen Peak

    More fireballs, so whatever died wasn't the pyromancer. I take down the hammer ghoul as fast as I can, not wanting to stand in the open any longer than necessary. I spot the real problem on a ledge above.


    I'm charging up the stairs when a cloud of green gas gets in the way. I slow down. Something in a little nook ahead. Closer now, I can see--and hear--the big, black mushroom waiting inside.


    Pass it at a dead run, then another on the landing above. The pyromancer is in sight. She blows one of her kisses at me. I feel the air being sucked away, then the intense heat of the explosion. Would you believe that it hurts, a lot? I'm lying on my back, pushing hard to get to my feet. She stands there, watching me. I stand and kill her, then heal. I need to watch for that homing projectile when I'm getting close.

    Besides the mushrooms, this place is mostly more poison jars. And a fog gate.


    The lowest section of the basement is flooded. No doubt the water is as poisonous as the gas.


    Not yet ready for a fog gate, I backtrack, dropping down on the mushroom guarding the stairs. It's also guarding a corpse holding a skeptic's spice, and the one on the landing drops a lifegem.

    Back to the ugly brute with the hammer. I break the jars between us, getting myself poisoned in the process. Once that's worn off, I put my shield away and get close enough to land two big stabs, then a little one to finish it off. He didn't even get a chance to turn around.


    The way outside cleared, I figure I should finish that off before continuing.

    I'm standing at the other side of the bridge, looking down on the trench and the giants. To my right, the path hugs the wall, dipping underneath the massive windmill and eventually turning out of sight.


    I follow that path. It turns into a tunnel, a long, wide space carved into the stone. I can't help but feel anxious.


    I make it to the end without issue, and turn into another cave. A ray of sunlight shines through an opening in the ceiling, bathing a broken statue in warm, yellow tones. Only here, in all of Harvest Valley, do I find any signs of life, of green isn't the sickly colour of the gas. It's comforting.


    I kneel in the sun. A menu appears, telling me that I can join the Heirs of the Sun covenant and earn sunlight medals. More coop, I assume. I learn the "praise the sun" gesture and leave without joining.

    Back in the trench, and I have an urge to do something I've never really done before. I pull out my wand and start blasting the giants with magic missiles. I should have been doing this from the start. Turning on me, the riders try to return fire, but I'm too high up for them to hit. They die in three shots each, and I take out one of the crawlers as a bonus.


    I still take damage from the fireballs falling on my head, but now the trench itself is cleared out.


    It makes the most sense to start from the far end, the place nearest the entrance into Earthen Peak and furthest from the ramp down into the gas. Most of the loot is concentrated there, and it will save me running back and forth. Besides that stuff there's only another tunnel near where I found the Alter of Sunlight.


    I drop down to the loot corpses from above. It's a little circle, like they died during seance. A dragon charm, washing pole, titanite shards. A skeleton jumps up, gets knocked down. A crawler approaches, gets squished. Running back, loot a chameleon spell. Some sort of partial invisibility buff, and I have enough intelligence to use it. Through the tunnel, which is blessedly shallow. A final loot corpse with an effigy and a large titanite shard. All done.


    First, I rest at the bonfire. Best to be prepared before moving on.

    When I return to the bridge, I get a pleasant surprise. Forlorn is back.


    Some days, it feels like he's the only one who really cares.

    He appears on the other side of the bridge. The hammer ghoul is after me as well, so I sprint to the end of the trench and come around to attack Forlorn from behind. This is a weaker version than I'm used to, and my first backstab nearly kills him. I want to finish him as he stands, but that hammer ghoul is relentless. I hightail it for the safety of the crystal lizard area.


    Forlorn is the first to arrive, and the first to die. The hammer ghoul is next. I gain a bunch of souls and an effigy, but nothing for my covenant, and I'm wearing the ring and everything. Oh well.

    Back inside. The headless rogue jumps me again, which I did not expect. The hammer guy in the room full of poison jars makes it through without getting himself poisoned, since they're all still broken from last time. That's progress, of a sort. This time I take the bottom path, heading to the water. Another rogue jumps me in there. It must have been what died last time.

    This should have been a clue.


    I could explore more down here, but the fireballs never stop. So I go up the ladder, through the hammer guy, up the stairs, through the mushrooms, and murder the pyromancer--this time without getting blown up in the process. One of the hammer ghouls drops a smooth and silky stone. Those bird things are going to be happy to see me.

    I look around a bit. I find an alcove with poison jars lining the wall. A single Hollowed sits there, staring at them like they're going to tell him where he left his keys. And I'm staring at him just as dumbly when another of the headless rogues jumps me. All I hear is swift movement on my right. By the time I've turned, it's already pouncing. I dodge and put my spear through its back. Close one.


    A doorway opens into another small room. I can see black mushrooms inside, and they're crawling toward me. Because making gross noises and farting poison weren't enough. Call me weird, but I don't want anything to do with mobile mushrooms.


    Thankfully, I'm the proud owner of the proverbial ten-foot pole. Sure, mine's not quite that long, but it does have a razor-sharp point at the end. One spear thrust each, and I don't have anymore mushrooms bothering me.

    They were guarding yet more poison jars, and a chest, which I open.

    A white cloud appears, and I roll away, figuring it's a poison gas. As it dissipates, a crossbow appears and starts firing in all directions. I get hit in the back once before I get my shield up. Inside the chest is only a single torch. Leave it to overzealous fungi to be guarding something so useless.


    I wonder if I can jump down to the mushroom on the level below? If the lower water passage leads up to there, might save me some time and effort to do it in reverse.


    I step back, get a running start, and leap toward the mushroom. I land with my spear extending, skewering it before it has a chance to react. Inside the room, I find boxes piled against the walls as if they're framing something. A button? I move closer.


    It's a bolt hole. Not a bolthole, but a hole for bolts. A trap, is what I mean. I turn and find the activation button on the ground nearby, between me and another of the sickle-carrying freaks.


    It sees me and lumbers in my direction. I wait. It steps on the button, but nothing happens. Too bad. I have to kill it on my own.

    Through the doorway. Footsteps from the right. Another headless rogue, stabbing down at me with its long claws. It keeps stabbing, without stopping. I return the gesture and we trade hits. I live, it does not.

    Avoiding the trap mechanism, I enter the next room, coming to an intersection. I stop short. Look right and see a loot corpse against the wall. Look right and see a headless rogue waiting for an ambush. I may not be smart, but I'm not so dumb I won't catch on eventually.


    I stab it before it can do anything. The corpse has a few titanite shards and an Undead Soul. At the end of the room is a chest, in which is a heavy crossbow+3 and a handful of heavy bolts. A ranged weapon that is on the heavy side (obviously), requires 20 strength to use, but has no attribute bonuses to worry about. I have my magic missiles, and that's good enough for me.


    I look around a bit more, but find nothing else, no connection to the water below. Seems I had to jump down here anyway.

    I hop down to the stairs below and enter the water. Yes, it's poisonous. I can see a loot corpse at the end of a long hall.


    As I run toward it, cursing the distance because I will certainly be poisoned before I can reach it. Then I pass an opening to my right. I duck inside, finding safe ground in a small room. From here, I might be able to get the loot and make it to safety again.

    I've also found a Pharros device and a familiar face.


    I strike up a conversation with Lucatiel. She begins apologizing. For what, I don't know. She thinks she's a burden. Considering we've not collaborated in any way, I can't see how.


    As recompense, she gives me a ring of steel protection+1. Even more physical defence. And of course I take it. The thing about paying damages is that it's for the well-being of the one making the payment as much as it is the one receiving it. It would be rude to refuse, whether I've earned it or not. Or have any idea what she's even talking about.

    Further conversation reveals more of her deteriorating state of mind, which might explain what just happened. She's losing more memories every day, and is most afraid of forgetting about her brother, who is the reason she came to Drangleic. He was a fencer, like her, but much stronger. And one day he simply disappeared. She's certain he's gone Hollowed by now, and I wonder if that's the case. If I find him--and I must--will he friend or foe? More to the point, will I finally find one of her summoning signs?

    I have spare Pharros' lockstones in my inventory, so I use one to activate the device here. The room lights up, and a face appears on the wall opposite.


    I knock the wall down and find a chest. Inside is a Poisonbite ring, which roughly doubles my current poison resistance by adding 150 to it, and an Undead Soul. I'm more than a little disturbed that I'm finding Undead Souls packed into treasure chests and not only on corpses laying where they died. Something about that doesn't sit right. Are people crawling into chests and becoming locked in or something?

    I test the Poisonbite ring by putting it on while I run for the corpse at the end of the hall. It seems to slow the bar a bit, but I still get myself poisoned before I can make it back. I pick up a pair of repair powders.


    What happens next might seem very obvious and eleven flavours of dumb, especially after the recent business with the poison pit. Hear me out. Why would I think to drop a prism stone in water? It makes no sense. But making sense and staying alive don't always go together. When I'm standing on the stairs, ready to go through the basement of poison jars, climb the ladder, and head through the fog gate, I have a sudden urge to explore the rest of the water. It's opaque, and deep enough that a loot corpse wouldn't be visible till I was standing on it.

    So I drop off the side, into the corner of the room.

    And die.

    It's about now that I finally peg to the headless rogue having died down here. How else could it have?

    When I said I'll learn eventually, the operative word is "eventually."

    While recovering my corpse, I pick up a manikin shield from one of the headless rogues. These things are constructs created by the Queen. Is the Queen the same as the Princess who made the munchkin army in the Belfry Luna, or is creating deadly automatons something all Drangleic noblewomen do in their spare time? I'll admit, if I lived in a place like that, I don't think I'd have time for crocheting, either. Will I be meeting this queen soon?

    With no more obvious ways for me to throw my life away, there's othing left but the fog gate.


    Covetous Demon

    To say I'm caught unawares isn't an understatement, it's merely accurate. If I'd expected a boss fight, I would have buffed my weapon, and hunted for a summoning sign.

    But a boss fight is what I have.


    So here I am, stuck in a big, circular room with Jabba the Hutt's angry, rebellious half-brother. The thing starts crawling in my direction. Slowly, but it's coming. What should I do? Break for the nearby stairs?

    Once close enough, it tries to headbutt me. I step to the side, and it misses. I stab it a couple of times, doing good damage. I wait. What will it do? It must have something hidden under its folds. Another little headbutt, another miss. I stab again.


    This repeats, and before long the thing is nearly dead, and it still hasn't done anything. So I two-hand my spear and put end the fight.

    "Victory Achieved"


    I know I'm over-levelled and over-equipped, but I can't see that fight being difficult if all I had was a piece of driftwood and a rusty butter knife.

    I gain a Soul of a Covetous Demon and 13,000 souls. That ugly mound of flesh was once a man who loved without reciprocation. Before I arrived, all it did was stress eat and pack on pounds of resentment. Poor guy must have been rejected pretty hard to turn into that.

    With the boss dead, I can hear the background noise of the room. Hollowed are quietly grumbling somewhere nearby. The stairs I thought to run for are impassible, so I busy myself trying to find the source of the sounds.


    I look up and see flaming jars hanging from chains. They're the major light sources in the room, and they are moving. I pull out my binoculars and confirm that heads are poking out the top of those jars. There are Hollowed in them, burning eternally. Surprisingly, they don't seem to mind much, as, aside from the occasional drab grunt, they're not doing much, and certainly not complaining or protesting.

    It takes some trail and error, but I manage to snipe the nearest hanging jar with a magic missile. Sure enough, a fresh Hollowed drops to the ground.


    I knock one more down before running out of ammo. Maybe they actually liked it in there, because neither are happy about being free. I have to kill them.

    Time to move on.

    A short passage leads me to some stairs, which in turn lead me to a bonfire.


    I'm now all the way inside the tower now, and I suspect I'll be climbing it next. I have to be right about something, "eventually."

    I didn't see a summoning sign, while human or Hollowed, and didn't notice anything different with this new covenant. Maybe I should try another? I'll see what tomorrow brings.

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    Got delayed, but it's still technically tomorrow.

    Next update on the way!

    Competitive Gaming and Writing Blog Updated in October: "Song (and Story) of the Day"
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    edited January 2016
    Day 17
    The thing about being lost, is that it only matters when you've some place to be and a reason to be there. Stuck in the desert without fuel or water? That's a problem. A 5-year-old kid can't find his father in the mall? Also a problem. A 45 year-old can't find his father in the mall? Still a problem, but for different reasons.

    Otherwise--and at the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie--becoming lost is an opportunity to find something that you might not even know you're looking for.

    Or it's a big old waste of time. Mileage varies.

    As is the case for today's adventure in the "Doin' it Wrong in Drangleic" series. But wait for it, this kind of stupid requires building up some steam to achieve.

    Earthen Peak


    I'm inside the tower now, fully. I can hear the giant gears at work, feel the pressure of the stone like a weight.

    Leaving the bonfire brings me to the open guts of the structure. Below, the poisonous water. In most other directions is that grinding metal. I'm still a bit lower than the first floor, where two rows of arched columns support bridges spanning the length of the place. At their ends, I glimpse pale sky.


    Seems I'll be dealing with more of the headless automatons. I'd be more worried, except the lack of eyes seems to be severely inhibiting their ability to choose hiding spots. Actually, even if this one can't see, you think it might notice the draft.


    Taking the stairs on my left, I find what I'll call the first floor. It's level with the bridges, and is the lowest point above the basement.

    On the way up, something metal whizzes by my head and sticks into the wall. Another rogue manikin drops down and starts wailing on my shield, while I can hear the sound of a hammer ghoul stomping at me from somewhere nearby. I kill them both, and find myself in a long room with a switch on one side and a hanging bowl of poison on the other.



    Something is waiting for me across the bridge. It's not too big, but I don't fancy fighting on that narrow space.


    I smash a few poison jars and recover a radiant lifegem from a corpse against the far wall. Then I try the switch. The chains holding the hanging bowl retract into the ceiling. Nothing else happens. I'd already smashed the jar, so maybe that's integral to whatever the switch does? I return to the bonfire and exit to the main menu before reloading, to ensure that everything respawns.

    Only, what I end up with is a jumble of debris hanging in the air like a modern art piece.


    Perhaps it symbolizes the broken promises of the Gods, or the futility of dreams without a future. Perhaps I've been alone with my own mind for too long.

    I try again, this time warping to Majula and back, and the bowl is in one piece. I pull the switch a few times, but all it does it raise or lower the chains, with no other effect.


    If only that was all the time I wasted today, I'd count it as a small victory.

    I step out onto the bridge. An arrow sparks off a nearby gear, and I turn to see that the other bridge, its access blocked off from this side by a wall of solid brick, has a pair of archer manikins standing guard.


    Their aim is improving, and though the arrows fall harmlessly away from my shield, they are building poison. I can't reach them from this side, so all I can do is move forward.

    Of course, that means the guy waiting on the other side has noticed me. He takes off at a run, and I have to meet him halfway to keep the gear between me and the archers.


    He opens with an overhead shield smash, which misses, but the ferocity of the assault is intimidating when I have so little space in which to manoeuvre. He follows up with his magically enchanted spear, the tip glowing with energy. But I know how this works. The attack clangs off my shield, the spear deflects wildly, and I have my opening. A few stabs, step back to avoid another shield attack, and I've won the right to cross the bridge.

    I step into another long room, this one open to the wind. More jars, and more manikin rogues waiting to pounce.


    They're nice enough to get in line so I can kill them at the same time, but during the fight I heard a throwing knife hit something fragile. Sure enough, there's another hanging bowl of poison, suspended by more chains, and it's broken. Does the switch control them both? I can't fathom a purpose for it otherwise, and can't fathom a true purpose for the chains and bowls beyond that.


    The rogues were guarding a ladder to the floor above, but I'm more concerned with the archers on the second bridge. This side isn't blocked off, so I can rid myself of one annoyance before moving on.


    I kill the first archer by running it through while it tries to pull out some melee weapons, but the bridge is out, and I can't get to the other one. Looking at it from here, I can't help feeling this is all the result of laziness. Someone looked at the broken bridge and decided that it would be less work to brick up the doorway--the equivalent of an "Out of Order" sign--than to fix it. And then they didn't even bother to finish that job.


    No point in standing around while my poison bar fills, so I take my wand out and blast the second archer with magic missiles until it stops moving. Now I'm looking at the gap.


    It's suspiciously large, and I can see that chest below, on my left. It's the one with the manikin hiding behind it. There is an item on the other half of the bridge. Do I want to suicide across this yet? I think I'll look around first, because I can see ledges above that might make this saner.

    I go back and pull the switch, but it doesn't do anything to the second set of hanging chains.

    Besides the ladder up to the next floor, there's a passage curving inward at the far end of the second room. With dropping down to the bridge's loot corpse still on my mind, I decide to go up.

    At the top I find another of the veiled spear warriors, standing near a hole in the wall. Outside, the biggest of the windmills turns slowly.


    This one isn't as immediately aggressive as last, but I kill him anyway. He drops a silverblack spear, which has low physical damage but inbuilt dark damage. That means it comes with faith and intelligence requirements, which I don't quite meet. The move-sethas some heavy sweeping attacks that I could do without, and I already have dark damage spear that I'm trying not to regret, so this isn't helping. The spear names these guys the Grave Wardens, who guard the Undead Crypt, whatever and wherever that is. I wonder what they're doing over here.

    Nothing else here except a fog gate and stairs leading up.


    Keeping track of paths not taken is important, and I prefer to eliminate the obvious before opening new ones. So I take the stairs.

    On the way up, more manikins attack, throwing knives. I kill one, but the other takes off. I chase, but by the time I reach the top, it's gone, likely safe behind the metal gate that just slammed shut.


    After looting firebombs from a nearby corpse, I take the opportunity to look over the ledge at what's behind the fog gate. Surprise, surprise, it's a bonfire.


    On the wall is a ladder up to the next floor. I trigger an arrow trap as I walk toward it, getting hit once before I can move out of the way. They're coming from the far wall, and moving closer, I find a loot corpse holding a manakin mask. As if to punctuate that oddity, another manakin rogue drops down behind me, missing head and all, and drops its claw when I kill it. Why is there a mask when they don't even have heads? The item itself sheds some light on that. The Queen, after bringing all the manakins to life to be her servants and companions, tore all their heads off. As you do. So the question is, was the decapitation ritual specifically for the manakins, or are the manakins the only minions that survived it?

    Oh, and the claws have some bleed buildup on them.

    Since I'm already there, I drop down on the bonfire, light it, rest.


    Through the fog gate, where I stab the grave warden hard enough to knock him off the ledge. The two manikins that I'd forgotten were there get their licks in, stabbing me what seems like dozen times before I can fend them off.

    Standing at the bonfire, I had a good view of what was below, and it reminded me that I should be as systematic as my scattered thoughts will allow or I'm sure to forget something. There's another side passage below, so I climb down the ladder to check it out.

    The first thing I find is another switch in the wall.


    This one controls the second set of chains. I pull it, raising them into the ceiling. Nothing happens. I cross the bridge and pull the other switch, raising those chains as well. Nothing happens.

    Putting that aside, I turn the corner and descend some stairs. I'm on the ledge I saw when I first entered the tower proper, with the chest and the oh-so-stealthy manakin. The manakin doesn't even wait for me to get close before jumping out.


    I get a pike from the chest. Longer reach than the winged spear, but much, much slower, and lower damage. It's also heavier. I can't see it being worth the trade. For the most part, enemies against whom that extra range would be a real asset would be tough enough to charge right through pokes from a pike. It's something I struggled with for a while with spears in general. They are not able to consistently keep enemies out, as you might expect, but are primarily zoning tools, which means that speed is as important as range. If it doesn't come with significantly better poise damage, mobility is more important than that extra reach.

    That done, I'm ready to keep climbing. At the top of the ladder above the bonfire, I am confronted by another pair of manakin rogues.


    One of them drops manakin gloves. It says something about the Queen's poison bosom, and by now I'm certain that I'll be meeting her in the near future. While I'm thinking about how much fun that will be, an arrow hits me. Another manakin is taking shots from across a long strip of murky, definitely poisonous water. The item in the middle as bait feels like overkill, but what's royalty without excess?


    As I'm making ready for a charge, yet another manakin attacks, coming from behind me. After dealing with it, I'm not waiting around for something else to interrupt me. I sprint across the water, stabbing the manakin through. At the same time, a fireball explodes on my right. I turn and find a pyromancer standing on the other side of a slowly-spinning fan.


    I zap her with my wand, and she drops an item. Tricky. It doesn't look like there's enough space to squeeze around the fan, so how am I to get over there? I grab the loot corpse in the water, getting a flame butterfly. It doesn't look like a far drop to whatever is under the spinning blades, and maybe they're not actually blades? I mean, they are angled like blades, but that's how fans work. Could I possibly, if I step carefully, ride one around to the other side?


    The answer is, of course, no. I lose over half my health when I touch the fan blade, then fall to the ground below. That's not so far that I take more damage, but of course there's a manakin down there waiting for me to present my juicy kidneys for stabbing. I kill it and then heal up.


    To get out, I have to smash a couple of poison jars and fall to a lower level. Soon, I'm standing next to a ladder with a long, straight corridor stretching out ahead. Where am I in relation to where I've been? I'm not sure. All I can do is keep going.


    I drop down the ladder. A couple a manakins pop out, knives fly, all that stuff. Once they're dead, I notice that I'm standing on a wooden platform--the first wooden floor I've seen in this place--with thick chains at the corners. An elevator of some sort.


    My first thought is about the hanging chains below and those switches. Have I lowered this platform, or raised it? As it is, I can reach a doorway in the far wall.

    Then I'm back outside. Stacks of boxes like a bad 90s action television show. Is this manakin stronger than the others, or am I losing it?


    A single Hollowed sits on the wrong side of the flimsy barricade. I imagine him stacking all the boxes, taking his smoke break, looking down on the gas-filled trenches below, and giving that eternal shrug.


    The manakin was guarding a switch, which opens a metal gate. I've circled back around to above the bonfire.


    Back to the elevator, where I find the switch that activates it. So much for my latest theory about the hanging bowls.

    I pull the switch, and, with a shaky, shuddering start, the floor rises into the ceiling. I'm wily about this stuff now. I'm still standing at the switch. There's no way I'm getting on something like that without seeing all the ways it'll kill me first.

    The true floor is revealed, and there's an item--a loot corpse--laying in the frog there. Yes, that's a terrible way to die, but consider this: I got to use "frog" in a sentence. Sure, it doesn't quite work, but do you know how long I've wanted to do that?


    I don't go for the item. It is literally evidence that this elevator can squish someone to death. Even if I had the option to lay down and avoid the immediate death--and, for all I know, that's what this guy did--how long before someone shows up to raise the elevator? "Punctual" or "active" or "curious" are not words I would use to describe Dragnleic's current population.

    Soon, the elevator is dropping back into place. Playing it over in my mind, there's more than enough time to get to the body and out again, but, with it back down, I can see there's another level up there. So when I pull the switch again, I jump on and let it carry me up.

    I find a chest at the top, and not any sort of Mission: Impossible-style death scene. It stops before pressing into the ceiling.


    Seeing as Lucy calls herself a fencer, I expected a shield from her homeland to be a flimsy little buckler, but this thing is a decent medium shield. Lighter than my Drangleic shield, and with less stability and physical defence, but good against dark damage. I mean, when I say decent, it's not like I'd use it, but I that only makes me a snob.

    From here, I can see the spinning blades. Which reminds me of the pyromancer I killed and the item she dropped. I leap down, rolling with the damage, and take the other passage out of the elevator room, as it's headed in the right direction.

    Some stairs take me where I want to go, once I've dealt with another grave warden. I can see the loot, but more fireballs fly toward me. On my left is another pyromancer, guarding a chest.


    I kill her, and think that I'm getting a handle on the different sorts of fireballs they have. I get a wilted dusk herb, then a dragon charm from the old corpse, and finally loot the chest. Another arrow trap, and I avoid it. I get a Pharros' lockstone, and I'm starting to feel pretty good about how this is going.

    Adapting a phrase, pride comes before a fail. Or, the more I have to lose, the dumber the way in which I lose it will be. But that's for later.

    Back down, and a turn leads me to another gap that I don't want to try jumping. A rogue attacks, dies.


    Below, I can see a ledge and a doorway. This might be above the second bridge. I find some stairs to a room where I meet a familiar face. It's Pate, and he's got another trap to warn me about.


    Apparently there's treasure nearby, and getting to it is a fool's errand. I came at this kind of backwards, so I have no idea what he means, which direction the treasure is supposed to be. There's a door in the corner, which is locked, so maybe that's it?

    I get back to the ledge above, where I can see that same door from the other side.

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    Day 17 continued.

    I open it and chat with Pate. He's still talking about the devious trap, so that wasn't it.

    From here, I can see the loot corpse on the second bridge. Might even be able to jump to it. Is that what he's talking about? I'm considering that when it hits me.


    So, I'm looking down at the loot, thinking about the best angle to land there without rolling over the edge, and I'm also thinking of the next step. That next step is most important. Once I'm down there, how do I get back? I mean, I could potentially drop from above, but then what? There's still that gap to clear, and the only thing below is the water, which will surely kill me. Am I expected to use a howeward bone? I don't think so.

    I've never denied that I'm slow with environmental puzzles, but even I'm surprised that it took this long to see the obvious. Must be the lingering rust. Yeah, that's the ticket.

    Because the only logical means of escape is the very jump I was trying to avoid. And if I can jump back across, that necessarily means that I can jump across in the first place. The bridge is level, so the jump is the same in either direction. Even I can connect those dots.

    But that's for later. Right now, I'm looking for this deadly trap and the treasure behind it. At the other end of the ledge is a doorway, and inside is a small, dark room with a single metal chest.


    I approach with a proper amount of respect. Nothing happens. No manikins pop out, no arrow trap starts firing. Maybe the treasure is the trap. I stab the chest, something I'd been doing regularly anyway. It's not a mimic. So I open it, ready to dodge away from arrows or poison gas. Still nothing. I pick up a greater heavy soul arrow spell, which is the exact spell I've already been using for the last week and a half. Is this really it?

    On the way back, nothing attacks me, either. But Pate is still super impressed that I managed to survive that epic trip down the hall and back.


    So impressed is good old Pate, that he'll even let me keep the treasure that I don't really want. After that, he mentions that he's heard someone is out to get him. For his sake, I have to believe that Pate isn't as utterly gormless as he seems, and has something up his sleeves.

    I'm near the bonfire, so I decide to take some risks. I head over to the elevator and grab the corpse underneath, netting myself a divine blessing and a Soul of a Proud Knight.

    Was he too proud to scream before it ended?

    I head down to the second bridge and prepare myself for the jump.


    And I make it, rolling to my feet after clearing the gap with nothing to spare.


    Now I only have to do the same to make it back. No problem.

    Once I've respawned at the bonfire, I realize my mistake. I think. I hope. Because now I have nearly 40,000 Souls on the other side of the bridge, and if I can't make the jump, they're gone. And if I can't make the jump back, they're also gone.


    This time, I look the jump over carefully. The gap is smallest on the left side, so I swerve in that direction, and clear it. Left side, which is now my right, on the way back. Make it again. See? No problem. Why am I sweating? Because it's hot in here. You know, because of all those fans.

    To reward myself, I use the effigy and rest again at the bonfire.

    Trying to remember which paths are left. I climb the ladder above the bonfire and take the stairs at the opposite end of the tower from where I found Pate's treasure. I soon find myself in a hall clogged to the stone gills with poison jars of all sizes and descriptions.


    When I come out on the other side, something explodes, and then there's an actual ninja--with a head and everything--in my face.


    A fireball hits me in the back, nearly killing me, and the ninja is pounding on my shield. My guard breaks, and I need to get away before another fireball hits. A pyromancer on my right, somewhere. Can't risk looking. Which way do I go? I can see what's on my left, and it's a grave warden, or maybe two. My mental countdown tells me that it's time for another fireball, so I turn to face it. I'm dead anyway, so I should see what I'm up against.

    The last thing I see is the pyromancer standing at the top of some nearby stairs, and the fireballs as they explode against my shield. I have neither the health nor the stamina to take another hit like that, even without the ninja trying to tickle my spinal cord with his blades. Dead again. Humanity, I barely knew you.

    While making my way back, I get a manakin top. Another piece of light armour, and I'm nearing the complete set.

    I recover my corpse, take another fireball in the side. I back away, into Poison Jar Alley, so that I can avoid the blasts. The ninja is all over me, and the pots, so it's not long before he's poisoned. All I have to do is wait it out.


    But it doesn't go peacefully, and soon the poison is all over me as well. Already low on health, I try to pull out my flask. We die together, collapsing into each other's limp arms.

    On the next attempt, I get the ninja's attention--he likes to hang from the ceiling in there--and move way, way back. All the way to the other end of the hall, where even the most dedicated fireball can't find me. The ninja poisons himself and charges. Right into my spear.

    I'm out of the hallway like I'm already on fire, storming the pyromancer's battlements so that I can show her how I truly feel. (If I told you that I've read a romance novel before--purely out of bored curiosity, would you believe me now?)


    She waves her little fan in my face, and stab her in the throat. I win. It's simple when you do it properly.

    A pool of thick, green water dominates the rest of this floor. A pair of grave wardens stand watch over it, and look like they're also guarding a tunnel.


    I gingerly dip a toe. Poison. The nearest grave warden starts moving in my direction, wading through what is evidently some deep water, all without becoming poisoned himself.


    When he dies, I gain a pair of warden cuffs. While I'm trying to look them over, I notice some bubbling coming from the water, and then a couple of crawlers have emerged to attack my precious ankles.


    That goes as well for them as can be expected. Meaning that I'm back to checking out my new item after a couple of stabs. The cuffs seem like standard medium armour, with low defence and no poise. I'll pass now, but I do feel like I should update my wardrobe soon.

    Back into the water, this time all the way. It comes up to my chest, and the other grave warden isn't budging. I get to the stairs and kill him, then, while the poison is running its course, I look down the tunnel at the ominous fog gate.


    Boss time? Feels like boss time.

    I glare at the water, trying to force it into revealing something, but if there are items down there it's too deep for me to see their shine.

    Leaving the fog gate alone for the moment, I go back through the water and up some stairs that lay between the water and the pyromancer's perch. I take a right and find another room full of poison jars. And those ugly black mushrooms.


    I've been rather down on them, but the truth is, I love mushrooms. They're one of my favourite foods for sure, but I like mushrooms in general. When I was a kid, my class spent a week at a cottage retreat, learning about farming, skiing, snowshoeing, and plenty of other wintry, outdoorsy activities. On one of the snowshoeing hikes, I found a big old fungus, the size of a brick, and brought it back. I kept that thing for a long time, gave it a name, called it a pet.

    Oh my God was I ever a nerd. I'm not even going to tell you what its name was, because it's somehow even nerdier than simply having a pet mushroom.

    Moving on, and pretending that never happened, while I appreciate a tasty, buttered shroom as much as the next person, I don't feel nearly as warm toward them when they're crawling across the cold floor and trying to kill me.

    I want to wait for them to get close, so that I don't have to risk the poison jars, but they're so slow. I become impatient, and start stabbing recklessly. It's not long before I'm poisoned, and at that point I just go with it. Can't get double poisoned, right?

    All the mushrooms dead, I pick up what they left behind. One drops a green blossom, for increased stamina regeneration. Another drops a lifegem. The room is still. There is a Pharros' device in the corner, and a chest in the middle of the room. I don't like it. Not one bit.

    I stab the chest from the side.

    Sure enough, it's a mimic. It lunges forward, an automatic response, but I'm not there. All it manages to chomp down on are some jars of poison, and now it's all green and glowing, losing health at a rapid rate.


    I'm not one to stand between a man, or a woman, or a monstrous, overgrown man- and woman-eating jewellery box and his or her or its destiny. So I back into the corner and watch it as it writhes and grunts, struggles and dies.

    There times when you stop, caught short by a circumstance out of your control. Days and nights in Drangleic, this is what you deal with. A creature like that, dying like that. It's the world I live in. No anger, no joy, no relief, no sated vengeance. Only a cold calculation of pain bypassed.

    As well, I realize how pointless my cautionary stabs at the chests I find has been. Before now, I stabbed them from the front. The way that mimic sprang forward, jaws swinging, teeth chomping. If I'd been standing in front of it when I stabbed, I'd likely have died anyway, if I couldn't roll in time.

    Something to consider. If a chest is positioned in such a way that it can only be approached from the front, it can't be a mimic. If it is, that's simply bad game design.

    I pick up what the mimic left behind.

    [img]https://vaguespeculations.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/darksoulsii-2016-01-10-04-47-10-56.jpg[.img] Another piece of the dark knight set. Slightly heavier than my Forlorn gauntlets, with lower physical defence and marginally higher magic defence, except against darkness, where, not surprisingly, the dark gauntlets excel. Or is it surprising? Seems like strange logic to me. Steeped in darkness as they were, shouldn't they be seeking defence against the opposite? Could be they didn't get along with each other, either. A corpse in the corner holds a single smooth and silky stone. I plug my recently acquired Pharros' lockstone into the device. No light, no opening to a secret stash of loot. Instead, the eyes start to cry that green, poisonous sewage water, forcing me back.[/img]darksoulsii-2016-01-10-04-49-04-82.jpg

    What's this about? Did I drain the water from the room below? That would be nice, but if there's no loot under there it's kind of a waste.

    Back to the hall, where I climb more stairs and end up overlooking the water. Not the area where the water used to be before I used the Pharros' device, but the same ugly, green, swampy, nasty, smelly, scummy water.


    What did the Pharros' device do? Drain poison from the boss room? And what's this ledge about? I can't push the jars over to hit where the grave wardens would be standing. Maybe I could splash them if they jars broke? Could I land a plunging attack from here?

    All that will have to wait. It's boss time. I think.


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    Day 17 continued.
    Mytha, the Baneful Queen

    I apply my weapon buff, remember my lingering dragoncrest ring to increase the duration, put that on, and then apply the buff again. Baby steps.

    Once through the fog, there is a scream, and splashing. The splashing is from me, as I'm knee-deep in that delightful poisonous swamp water. Did that Pharros' device cause this? Is it possible they could make things worse? I hadn't thought of that, but I like the idea that they're as much a trap as anything else, that after showing me a succession of secret loot rooms and alternate paths, the game would reverse that without warning. It's also possible that the water was even deeper before the device went to work, or that it has nothing to do with this at all.


    Even though I have water squishing in my boots, the scream isn't mine. It's coming from whatever Queen Mytha's warped ambitions created. I step forward, trying for the higher ground in the middle of the room. There, the water only comes up to my shins, so I can move a little easier, but I can't avoid becoming poisoned.

    There she is, snake-like, holding a long spear in one hand and her own head in the other. I guess the manakins weren't the only ones to suffer that fate. She starts throwing out volleys of magic missiles, which I take off my shield. I inch closer, in range for a couple of test stabs. The damage I do is reasonable enough. I'll be racing the poison, but I should have the resources to get to the finish line.

    My health is getting low now, and I'm debating whether to heal right here or try to gain some space first. Before I can decide, Mytha turns, squirming forward with a burst of speed, and wraps her tail around me. Then the squeezing begins, and I'm not strong enough to escape after all that poison. I die.

    After respawning, I fight my way to the ledge overlooking the entrance to Mytha's chambers. I break the poison jars, nothing happens. I look down and see the grave wardens standing guard below. There's an arch protecting them from above, so that was never going to work. So, like an idiot, I go for plan B, and drop down on them.

    There's a reason plan B is not plan A. The plunging attack misses, I take a lot of damage in the fall, and I'm a sitting duck for the grave wardens. Once they've had their fun beating on me, my limp body slips into the water. I like to say that anything is worth a try, but that wasn't worth the 40,000 Souls I paid.

    Back at square one, my thoughts are less about the boss than they are about what's missing. For example, I still haven't seen a summoning sign. Could it be that the Brotherhood of Blood is only for PvP? Now's as good a time as any to test things.

    I warp to the Cathedral of Blue and join the Blue Sentinels covenant. They have coop, so if there are summoning signs at all, I should be able to see them.

    On the way back to the boss, I have some luck. The pyromancer drops a magic stone. With it, I can infuse a weapon with magic damage, and finally get some use out of my intelligence stat. I also find a silverblack shield, from one of the grave wardens. A heavy medium shield with mediocre stability and physical resistance, but good numbers against magic.

    But that's all the luck I get. No summoning sign near the fog gate. The ledge, maybe? That would justify its existence. Nothing there, either. I think about it for a bit, wondering what I'm doing wrong, and realize that I should be human. Of course. So I use an effigy. Yet, still no summoning sign in either of those places.

    Remember all that nonsense about getting lost and finding things? About doing everything wrong? Here's where I start working on earning it.

    My mind is starting to wander further and further. What about that pyromancer that was throwing fireballs down at me while I crossed the trenches? She has to be up here in the tower, but I didn't see her. Outside the bonfire, I stand at the edge of the tower and look both ways, trying to find her. I don't, but I do see a loot corpse out there.


    It's somewhere below me, so I drop down the ladder, looking for the way outside.

    And finally find a summoning sign.


    It's right near the entrance to the area, which I didn't expect. Obviously. Because if I did, I'd have been looking here. I summon Devotee Scarlett, who is not the person I expected. Where are the NPCs I've been meeting?


    After her greeting dance, she pulls out a mace and a shield, and follows me around.

    There's another summoning sign on the upper floor, in roughly the same place. This one is for Bashful Ray, a rogue who shows up holding a dagger and, for some reason, a pair of binoculars.


    The lower ledge had no way outside, but the one up here does. I get past the shoddy railing and hug the edge going left. I don't see loot, but I do find another surprise. A portly man wearing heavy leathers is waiting, arms crossed, out in the middle of nowhere.


    Turns out there's a reason he's in such an odd, inaccessible place. He's a fugitive in hiding. Once he's calmed down, realizing that I'm not going to grass him to the filth, he tells me that he's--get this--a "laddersmith." You know, because making ladders is serious business, a trade passed down through the ages from the very Gods themselves.

    So, Gilligan here tells me that he'll sell me one of his ladders for 2000 Souls. He's seen the loot out there, too, and the ladder is the only way down to it. I've only got 1400 on me, so I take my little gang out and clear the way to the boss, then come back with the correct payment.

    A cut-scene plays, and Gilligan pulls a ladder out of thin air. Maybe that's what a laddersmith does, and if so, I can respect that. He drops it over the side of the tower, and now I have a way down.

    As I'm climbing down, it occurs to me this must be the way into the Majula pit. When that morose fellow near the monument said I needed a ladder, he wasn't talking straight out of his ass. I could have saved my poor ankles and knees a lot of wear if I'd waited.

    At the bottom of the ladder is the loot corpse. I also find a simpleton's spice out on the ledge.


    Climbing back up, I see another loot corpse hanging out over a jutting balcony on the upper floors. My instincts tell me this is where those fireballs were coming from, too.


    Gilligan sells a few items, including a ladder miniature that is supposedly completely ornamental. I don't have any use for a paperweight or doorstop, but I decide to buy it anyway. I burn a couple of my Undead Souls to raise the funds, then chat with Gilligan.

    He talks of a monster lady, someone who was once human, but uses poison to keep keep eternal beauty. She did this to attract the prince, who was in love with someone else. The princess? The same prince, or a different one? And Gilligan claims this was all before Drangleic, so why is the tower still here? And his castle is, as well? I don't get it, unless they took the same places over and gave them new names, but then why is the Queen still around?

    While this is going on, Bashful Ray announces that he's completed his mission, and disappears.

    As I leave, Gilligan says he doesn't want to die out here, in the middle of nowhere, and that he's heading out. To Majula, no doubt, so, yeah, I did all that base jumping for nothing.

    Wherever the last pyromancer is, it's in the opposite direction of the boss fight, and I'm worried that Scarlett will abandon me soon, as well. So we head up the stairs to the pool. As soon as we're in sight, she charges in, and I don't think she's immune to the poison.


    She does have a lot of HP, though, and I rush in to help her. Once the grave wardens are down, Scarlett pulls out some sort of flask or healing item, which is nice.

    I step through the fog gate, and Scarlett follows a moment later. Working together, we have no trouble at all with Mytha.


    Scarlett is useless for damage, but she provides enough distraction that I can pause for a flask shot whenever the poison is getting to me. And it does, a few times, even while I'm wearing the poisonbite ring.


    We stagger her a couple of times, and I get in plenty of extra shots when Mytha tries to grab Scarlett. Soon, the boss is dead.

    "Victory Achieved"

    With a wave, Scarlett disappears.


    I gain 15,000 Souls and a Soul of Mytha, the Baneful Queen. She poisoned herself to become beautiful, all for the "compelling madness known as love." Gag me with a spoon.

    As soon as the fog dissipates, I run for the stairs at the back of the room, finally getting clear of the poison. They lead me to an elevator.


    It carries me up through three separate strata. First open air, then brown mortar and stone, and finally black bricks.


    I get out. I'm not at the top of the tower, as I saw it from outside. The elevator seems to have carried me through a half-hidden mountain, and I guess that's why it was called the Earthen Peak and not the Tower of Wind or something. I'm walking out of a passage into heat, a sky of brutal reds. A bridge, a castle, a river of lava. Is this where the prince, or king or whatever, lived?

    Iron Keep


    On the way out, I pass between statues of proud griffons. There has to be a bonfire nearby. Stairs on either side of the bridge, and down the left is what I'm looking for. Everything down there is lava, or on fire. I see an item on the flaming stone, and instant I place a foot out there, I nearly die.


    That's not happening.

    Once I've rested, I test the bridge, where a knight attacks me with a katana.


    After killing it, I return to the bonfire and warp back to Earthen Peak. I'm going to get that last item if it takes the rest of my life.

    And now is when the stupid really begins.

    I'm looking for a way out to the final balcony. I search everywhere, spending an inordinate amount of time playing with those hanging chains, trying to get something to happen. Because, everywhere I look, I find no way out there. I do stumble upon a chest I left the first time, across the gap I didn't want to jump.


    I also find a stealthy butterfly out where I met Gilligan, and after a lot of experimenting with angles, I shoot it down, picking up a radiant lifegem.


    It might not seem it, but I got desperate. It seems so obvious, but I was throwing lives away diving into random pits. I climbed the gears, I ran around in the poisoned water outside the boss gate--and found a poison stone under there--anything that came to mind.


    At one point, something strange happens. I respawn at the bonfire, and the grave warden and manakins outside are gone. I rest, and they're still gone. I warp to Majula and back. Still gone. At first, it's only those first few enemies that are missing, but over time, more and more of them start to disappear. Not sure what to make of that yet.

    I must have spent as much time looking for the way out as I did getting through the entire tower, if not more. I look at it from every direction, but find nothing. The highest point I can get to is the ledge above the poisoned pool, but that's on the other side of the tower. From there I can see that there's nothing above the ledge, nowhere else to go. I even warp down to Harvest Valley, using the binoculars from where I met Chloanne to confirm that the ledge is there, the loot is on the ledge, and there's nothing above or adjacent to it.


    I stand in the trench underneath, and watch the fireballs, confirming that the pyromancer is there. While I'm down there, I run over and join the Heirs of the Sun. The ring I get slightly increases the effect of miracles, which is neat.


    I have it mapped out, and I know exactly where the doorway would be, if it existed. It's at the end of the narrow hall full of poison jars before the boss.


    All this time, enemies are disappearing, as if the rapture has come and I'm the last one to repent.

    I've stabbed this wall, bashed it, thrown bombs, kicked it, spit at it, called it names. Nothing. I've been up and down and around every inch of this place. Nothing.

    The only thing I haven't done is touch it. And, after every other possible avenue has been explored, and I just want to to finish the day, I get close and interact with the wall.

    There's no prompt, but it slides away, and I can see the balcony and the pyromancer on it, back turned.


    I kill her, then grab the loot.


    The spell quartz ring+1 is 80 magic defence, up from the 50 of the normal spell quartz ring. Not a great prize, but I'll take it.

    I have a terrible memory, especially my short-term memory. I have this nightmare scenario that hovers over me whenever I'm doing a repetitive task, where I'll be half-done and suddenly notice that I've been doing wrong, missing a step or whatever. And I can't remember when that started, so I have to go back to the start and check everything I've done.

    I'm reminded now of the way out of the cave underneath Huntsman's Copse. Opening that wall also required the use button, and didn't come with a prompt. In fact, the only walls that have broken with attacks are the ones highlighted by the Pharros' devices or flimsy pieces of wood. What if this is my nightmare scenario? How many secret passages have I missed? For that matter, when I was checking to make sure the Pharros' devices opened up treasure rooms that I couldn't access otherwise, I hit the walls to make sure they didn't fall apart before the face showed up. What if that was wrong, and I could have opened them with the use button?

    It's not that big of a deal, as I've found plenty of lockstones, but I could have saved a few more for the Doors of Pharros if that were the case. I'll have to keep testing. And, at some point, I'll have to go over suspicious walls and try interacting with them instead of attacking them.

    At last, I can go back to Majula and rest. But first I want to confirm something else. I rejoin the Company of Champions, then warp back to the tower. All the enemies that had disappeared are back.


    That's what sets it apart from the other covenants, aside from the lack of summoning signs. For the others, enemies stop respawning after a while. Whether it counts player deaths or how many times a player kills them, at some point the place will get cleared out. That could potentially limit grinding for Souls or items.

    I wonder? I join the Way of Blue, then warp back to the tower, and the enemies are gone again. So you can't use the Company of Champions to reset the spawns. Then I warp to Heide, where I know I've killed the enemies dozens of times, and died plenty. They're all still in place. So it only starts counting the deaths when I'm a member of a regular covenant.

    I try fighting something in Earthen Peak. Is it my imagination, or is it a bit tougher now that I'm in the Company of Champions?

    I'm honestly not sure how I feel about this now. On one the one hand, always having to fight through that gauntlet of enemies is going to be tougher than eventually clearing them out and having an open path to the boss or next area. Which I'm all for. On the other hand, continually running that gauntlet is essentially grinding. I kind of like the idea of there being a limited amount of Souls in the world.

    I have a lot to think about, but that's for tomorrow.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    I know it took forever. It's not for the reasons you might think. Started a creative writing class, and it's demanding a lot of my time and mental energy. Still, I want to get another update for the weekend.

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    Page-Page- Registered User regular
    Day 18
    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 right now. 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.

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    edited February 2016
    Day 18 continued.
    Iron Keep


    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.


    Simple enough.

    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?


    I spin the wheel. The flames inside die down, disappear.


    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.


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