This week, Dark Souls 2 will launch its first DLC episode, "The Crown of the Sunken King," which is going to be followed by two more episodes in August and September. As of right now, it seems like that might be it for the Dark Souls universe, at least for a while. I do believe there will be a third Dark Souls game, because they've set themselves up for a very obvious way to end the trilogy, but with Bloodborne on the horizon (and seemingly set in a universe distinct from Demon's Souls or Dark Souls), it could very well be the last we see of this universe for quite a while.
While I love the lore of the Dark Souls universe, and I think the second game did great things to expand upon it, there are also some gaps in its extensive story which I hope to see the DLC start to fill in. I hesitate to use the word "answers" because that's not really how the Souls series operates its story. The Souls series tends to set up questions, and then provide the player (and the community) the means to answer those questions for themselves.
As of right now, though, there are a few sticking points which raise interesting questions... And then don't answer any of them, or even provide the player information to speculate on, really. Now, I will say some of the unanswered questions (like "exactly what happens in the ending") don't necessarily need clarification, at least not until a third game in the series. The points I'm going to focus on here are ones which don't even really provide any lore, or not enough to create theories which feel valid to me. I'm not necessarily asking for clarification, just more bits and pieces to help fill in the tremendous jigsaw puzzle that is the Dark Souls universe.
I'm going to be talking very specifically not only about Dark Souls 2's story, but about what little we know of the DLC packages coming in the future, so needless to say, this article will contain spoilers.
4. What is the Shrine of Winter?
For roughly two thirds of the game, your goal in Dark Souls 2 is to collect the souls of four "great ones" (I've written about what's so special about these individuals before), who are found at the end of four paths the player can follow from Majula.
Once you've collected these four great souls, and lit four "primal bonfires" (see also: what is a "primal bonfire"?), the door to an area known as the Shrine of Winter unlocks, allowing you to pass through it, onto Drangleic Castle.
The shrine is a very old stone structure. Stone tablets with faded etchings on them which appear to tell of how the world was once ruled by eternal dragons, hang from the walls.
At the center of the shrine sits a bowl, which immediately reminds me of the lordvessel, surrounded by three snake-like sculptures. Also notable, is that the heads of these serpents are broken off.
Who built this shrine? What is its purpose? Why is it located near Drangleic Castle? What are those serpents? What's up with those stone tablets? How old is the shrine? All of these questions and more are completely ignored, as you run through the shrine to go punch Vendrick in the face (you think).
The serpents, of course, make me think of Frampt and Kaathe, the Primordial Serpents from the first game. The Primordial Serpents were said to be "incomplete dragons," and don't seem to hold much regard for their winged cousins. The two noteworthy Serpents we meet in the first game, Frampt and Kaathe, essentially directed the player toward the game's two endings, Link the Fire, or Dark Lord. Frampt was a serpent who had renounced his brothers, and had become friends with Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight.
The other serpents, as Kaathe (who was hidden, and only appeared if you did a bit of sequence breaking, killing the Four Kings before placing the Lordvessel) however told the player of his ancestor, the Furtive Pygmy. Oh, yeah, and by the way, Kaathe (or at least, some Primordial Serpent) was responsible for much of what happened in Oolacile, I.E. the denizens therein torturing a "primeval human" (commonly believed by the Dark Souls community to be the Furtive Pygmy) until he transformed into Manus, Hands of Fa— Sorry, "Father of the Abyss." The explosion of humanity that occurred when Manus went nuts may, in fact, have been the cause of the undead plague, or at least jumpstarted the plague, and the events of the first game and whole series.
That said, whether the serpents are supposed to be the same Primordial Serpents from the first game or something else is unknown, because... So is pretty much everything about the Shrine of Winter. You get the great souls, and have passed the first of the tests Vendrick left behind in order to guard the Ashen Mist Heart. It's interesting that the Shrine of Winter was one of the barriers Vendrick used, because I don't believe it was a creation of his.
You see, one of the few things we do know about the upcoming DLC is how you'll enter it— Through a new shrine which looks almost exactly like the Shrine of Winter, except this one is found by the Primal Bonfire in Black Gulch.
If you'll allow me to speculate for a moment, I'd also be willing to bet the that second DLC, "Crown of the Old Iron King" will be found by the Primal Bonfire just after the fight with, well, the Old Iron King. Furthermore, the final installment, "Crown of the Ivory King" has exactly one promotional still out right now.
Gee, that looks a bit, what's the word, wintry, doesn't it? I'm willing to bet that the Shrine of Winter is going to be our entrance to whatever area of the world (or time period?) the Ivory Kingdom is found in.
Chances of getting more lore on this:
Well, I mean, the DLC isn't out yet, and we already know significantly more about the Shrine of Winter than we did when the game launched. I'd say it's at least a given that we'll find something more out about the shrine, and it's two siblings, even if some of the things I mentioned above aren't expanded upon.
3. What's up with Heide?
I've written about Heide, and some of the unanswered questions there, before, but learning more about the DLC has actually changed some of my opinions. In my last article about the upcoming DLC, I speculated that you would enter the sunken kingdom through the flooded tunnels found beneath Heide's Tower of Flame, due to similar color schemes and the Old Knights' armor looking like it might fit in with the mesoamerican theme the first DLC seems to be visiting.
Hoo boy, that sure wasn't right, was it? Like I said above, we know for sure where the Sunken Kingdom entrance is now, and it's most definitely not underneath Heide.
Heide's Tower of Flame remains my favorite area in the first game, but the strangest thing about it is that there's a ton of unanswered questions about it, despite remarkably little lore.
Still, a lot of questions remain, and I'm not sure the information is even there to really speculate on them right now. Why is Heide sunken? Why is Ornstein (or someone pretending to be Ornstein) there? Is it the land Gwynevere and the flame god Flann settled after leaving Anor Londo in the first game? Why do you find hollowed Knights of Heide nearly everywhere but actually inside of Heide? What's up with the Old Knights? What's with those giant Horus statues at the entrance? You get the idea.
Chances of getting more lore on this:
Unfortunately, knowing that the Sunken Kingdom is entered through Black Gulch rather than Heide's make me think that they're going to leave this as it is.
There does remain the chance that the Sunken Kingdom, geographically, is beneath Heide, especially since the DLC entrance is all the way down the pit, but it seems like a bit of a long shot at this point, at least to me.
2. What's up with Black Gulch?
A lot of people list Black Gulch as their favorite area from Dark Souls 2, and I can see why. Despite being the shortest area in the whole game, it's got a very unique aesthetic to it, with glowing moss covering everything, and providing the only source of light.
Now, personally, I don't have a ton of love for the area, if only because seriously, screw those statues.
They're like a respawning version of the dart blowers from Blighttown. Except there's A THOUSAND OF THEM!
The area also houses one of the game's more creative, albeit easy, bosses, The Rotten. Unfortunately, in the base game, the only real lore that exists for this area is "The Rotten is down here. Also, remember when we said 'The Last Giant'? Reports of their extinction have been greatly exaggerated."
This led to a lot of speculation on just what Black Gulch was, why those giants were there, what the statues were, why there were progressively more statues the further down the pit you went, whether that meant The Rotten was Pharros, and so on and so forth, most of which remained wild speculation simply because there wasn't much lore on this place to begin with.
Chances of getting more lore on this:
I would hope I've said the words "Black Gulch" in this article enough times that you'd get the idea that it's probably going to get some more lore by now.
Yeah, needless to say, we're getting more lore for this place. It seems extremely likely, now, that this place is either a part of the Sunken Kingdom, or very near to where the kingdom sunk to. I'd even be willing to bet that the glowing moss you see in the area originated in the Sunken Kingdom, considering it can be seen in the trailer.
Oh yeah, and those statues? Those are back too.
And this time they're being carried by some sort of lizard. "Dark Souls 2: Revenge of the Crystal Lizards."
Actually, in my opinion, just the fact that those statues are there have some huge lore implications. Were the statues built by Pharos? If so, then is Pharros not in fact The Rotten, but somewhere in the Sunken Kingdom? Laddersmith Gilligan speculates in the game that the statues might be the remnants of some ancient religion, which would certainly make sense if they are found in the Sunken Kingdom, but if that's the case, how did they make it all the way up to the gutter, and furthermore, the Doors of Pharros? I don't know, but considering they represent one of the biggest question marks in the game, I'm excited to see them show up again.
1. What's up with Ornifex?
There's one mystery in Dark Souls 2 which is not necessarily the biggest, or the most relevant to the overall story, but which is certainly the strangest, and probably the only one that's actually now two games in the making.
It all revolves around Weaponsmith Ornifex.
In case you didn't find Weaponsmith Ornifex, or haven't played the game to the point where she can be found yet (she's somewhat hidden, and I can see how one would miss her), she is, as her name says, a weaponsmith. More specifically, she's one of two characters in the game to whom you can exchange the souls of bosses for powerful weapons, the other being Straid, who was trapped in stone for so long he watched at least one cycle unfold, possibly more.
Weaponsmith Ornifex can be found in the Shaded Woods, just before the fight with Scorpioness Najka. You unpetrify one of the lion warriors found there, and use a key which he drops to open a door which is hidden within a cave only accessible by falling into it from above, though the hole in the ceiling is hidden by grass, and wood planks.
Once you rescue her, she is grateful enough to give you the first item you want from her for free (you don't see Straid doing that, now do you? Ungrateful miser! Tell me I'm not good enough for your sorceries will you?!). She returns to her home in Brightstone Cove Tseldora, and will gladly make items for you there. She seems nice enough, quiet, perhaps a bit shy. Oh, and she looks like this.
Her house is creepily lit by a single candle, and filled to the brim with downright terrifying dolls one can only assume she crafted. Oh, and that house is found in Tseldora, otherwise known as "that place which is overrun by the horrifying headcrab zombies."
Now, on its own, this would just seem like some run-of-the-mill Dark Souls strange-ness. People have set up shop in dangerous areas all the time in the Souls universe. The Filthy Man in Demon's Souls actually had a shop in the middle of a horrible lava cave, surrounded by fire-bee-things. That's just bad business.
However, to understand why Ornifex is able to push the speculation train into overdrive without even having any real lore, we have to go back to the Painted World of Ariamis, in the first Dark Souls.
Ariamis was, quite literally, a painted world. It was a world which existed within a painting to provide a (terrifying) home for Crossbreed Priscilla, popular Dark Souls waifu, who a quick Google search just informed me there is just, just, so much porn of. Jeez.
Priscilla was a half-dragon half-something-humanoid child who was considered such an abomination (and threat) before the eyes of the gods of Anor Londo that they had her imprisoned within a painting. Players were able to enter this painting by using Priscilla's doll, which could be found by returning to the player's prison cell, which was itself difficult to find.
Once inside the painting, players were treated to one of the best sections of one of the best games ever made. The Painted World of Ariamis is hugely popular with fans of the series, deservedly so. It's an extremely well made area from a level design perspective (not to mention one of the better places for mid-game grinding), as well as just having a certain haunting beauty to it.
Truth be told, despite being one of the most memorable parts of a great game, Ariamis really amounts to basically a dumping ground for things the developers wanted to include, but couldn't find a place for.
You see, Ariamis was essentially a prototype for Dark Souls as a whole. Following Demon's Souls, the creators knew they wanted to make something similar, but also fresh, and so the very first thing that was created for Dark Souls, while the whole game was basically being imagined, was Ariamis. I've heard different reasons why they made Ariamis (supposedly pretty much to completion) before the rest of the game, something to do with engine changes, or just having to throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks, and I honestly don't know what's true and what's not, but eventually they realized that, despite having sunk a lot of work into creating a great zone, they really didn't have much of a place for it. As such, they hid it so well, it essentially became an incredible easter egg.
This also means that the zone was the perfect place to hide a lot of other concepts which were not to be, or references to Demon's Souls. Priscilla herself is actually the most famous of these. You see, there's been a lot of speculation and insinuation that Priscilla was originally to have a much, much greater role in Dark Souls than a mere optional boss encounter. Speculation and rumor have said that Priscilla may have, at one point, been a heroine of the game, much like the Maiden in Black in Demon's Souls, or the Emerald Herald in Dark Souls 2.
The phalanx enemies who can be found within the painted world are direct references to the phalanx enemies and boss from Demon's Souls, the first proper boss encountered in the game. The Xanthous set, ridiculous and disgusting as it is, seems to be a reference to the Old Monk, a boss of Demon's Souls, and the disgusting parasitic growth THING found in the tower beneath him.
At one point early in development, it seems, the world was even going to have a much more important role in the game, with Gravelord Nito, one of the four Lords, being fought beneath Priscilla's room.
However, because of the hidden nature of the area, the out of place items and creatures found within it, and the fact that it is called the "painted world" of Ariamis, I always thought that the world was to be taken as questionable canon. Priscilla exists within the universe of Dark Souls, sure, but I always thought that the creatures found within Ariamis, and the world itself, were to be taken as fiction within the Dark Souls world, animated by a magic which allowed Priscilla a place to call home.
Fans of Dark Souls have cried for more Ariamis time and time again, but I've never really been someone who's into that. It was a great level, but I assumed it to be nothing more than a painting brought to life, not a portal to a real place. There was heavy speculation when the first images of Dark Souls 2 were released that the Dragon Aerie was going to be the place the Painted World was based off of (because they both have rope bridges?), but I never bought into that, and as it is, it doesn't seem to be the case in game.
So what does any of this have to do with Ornifex?
Well, let's take a look at a certain enemy type encountered within Ariamis, and only within Ariamis.
Yep. These random enemies who have, really, no lore, have the same model as Ornifex. They were bloodthirsty guardians of Priscilla, she's a sweet ol' blacksmith with a doll fetish.
I've got nothing, you guys.
Until the exact moment I met Ornifex, I assumed the crow demons of Ariamis to be just another thing warped and created by a world which is a fiction within the story of Dark Souls. Perhaps meant to represent Velka, a goddess of judgement/justice with a crow theme (who sends the crow who rescues you from the undead asylum and takes you to Lordran in the first game). That seemed to fit, since the crow demons themselves dropped souvenirs of reprisal, which were used to level up the Blade of the Darkmoon Covenent, themed around bringing justice to other players who had been misbehaving. Plus, you know, crows. It's even been suggested that Velka might be the mother of Crossbreed Priscilla, with the most likely candidate for father being Seathe the Scaleless.
I don't think Velka being Priscilla's mother is very likely, I think the much more likely option is that Priscilla is Seathe's attempts to perform the same sort of experiments which Duke Aldia performs in the lore of Dark Souls 2, creating a half-human, half-dragon, with the maidens he had been sending his minions to kidnap throughout Lordran (that Channeler guy in the cathedral where you find the Belfry Gargoyles in the first game? Totally working for Seathe.), mostly because Priscilla doesn't seem to be half crow, or any part crow.
The crow demons are apparently real, though, and I have no idea what that means. Is Velka still around? Did they just leave the painting after Priscilla was killed by an especially heartless player character in the first Dark Souls? Perhaps, instead, they were always real, and Ariamis is a real place after all, just not the version of it we visit in the first game. Were the crow demons only hostile in the first game because they were constructs created to protect Priscilla, merely based off of the crow demon who actually existed? For that matter, although I'm referring to this land as Ariamis, was it actually called that, or is Ariamis a person who "painted" said world?
That doesn't even delve into the mysteries of Ornifex herself. Why is she nice, when the ones we encountered were all hostile? Why does she live in central spider-town, Tseldora? Did she live in Tseldora before the spider uprising, or just decide renting an apartment in Ravenholm seemed fun? Were the people of Tseldora just cool with a crow demon chilling in their town, smelting souls into weapons?
Furthermore, Crossbreed Priscilla and Shanalotte (the Emerald Herald) have a lot in common, could there be some sort of connection there? There's been rumors (however unfounded) that the Ivory Kingdom DLC will involve Duke Aldia, and his experiments on dragons and creating life eternal. Could Aldia have visited Ariamis' ruins, and gotten the idea to create Shanalotte from learning of Crossbreed Priscilla's existence so, so, so long ago? Is there a possibility that, canonically, the player brought Priscilla her doll back, and that allowed her (and others) to escape her prison?
Just by existing, Ornifex has raised a lot of questions in my opinion, despite having virtually no lore.
Chances on getting more lore on this:
Uggggh, talk to me when we've seen a proper trailer for the Ivory Kingdom?
Seriously though, I don't even know what to think on this one. On the one hand, a return to Ariamis or the real location the painting was based on would feel incredibly fanservice-ey, especially since it's one of the most requested locations for a return.
On the other hand, the Lost Crowns trilogy does seem to be built around the idea of visiting locations from previous cycles. Is there a possiblity that we could visit Ariamis as the final DLC area? That screenshot did look incredibly snowy, and the only snowy area I can think of from any of the Souls series is Ariamis. It's one of the most requested locations for a return, so if they were going to do something for fanservice, it would probably be either that, or just some sort of Solaire dance-party DLC.
So, really, I have no idea. They're keeping any information about the "Crown of the Ivory King" DLC incredibly tight lipped, again, we've only really seen one shot of it, enough to tell us "snow!" Is that suspicious? Well, maybe, but on the other hand, From has always been incredibly tight lipped about everything involved in these games.
I will say this much, if the Ivory Kingdom DLC doesn't wind up giving us any idea what Ornifex is, or what she's doing in Drangleic, then that means including her was possibly the biggest troll From Software could have put in the entire game. Seriously. Unfortunately, trolling lore fans seems like something it's entirely possible this series may do, so until September, I doubt we'll know for sure.
This article was originally posted to my website, Whereinirant.com.