Clinging to lofty dreams in this dying world…more’s the pity (The Shrine Handmaid)
History degrades and truth fades into legend and myth. In the world of Dark Souls, these myths are weaponized, becoming the miracles that empower the masses. One such miracle, Caressing Tears, recounts the many deaths of the Goddess Caitha as told by Morne the Apostle and heals listeners of poison, bleed, and frost. The people and very interestingly the creatures (namely the Corvians and Ghru) who tell these stories, and in some cases cling to, are only romanticised versions of the truth. Legends are merely idealized versions of truths that are largely forgotten but nonetheless have left powerful marks. Inspired by these epics, individuals carry the torches of these legends and chase the dreams spawned by these myths.
The Corvians, for instance, are an example of what happens to a people who cling to these dreams and legends. Potentially, removed from the Painted World of Ariamis by Pontiff Sulyvahn, scattered to the four winds, they established a tribal culture that places their Storytellers at the head of their units. These Storytellers recount the cross-breed Priscilla while simultaneously venerating the Goddess Velka. However, as the Ashen One finds them across the world, they are downtrodden and starving; their feathers mangy. Their dreams are just that. Dreams.
In the world of Dark Souls chasing a dream is a foolish thing indeed.
The Abyss Watchers: Keepers of the Cause
The poor wretched souls… Be they lord or legend, the curse shows no mercy. What a sham. (Hawkwood)
Artorias is a powerful name in the Dark Souls universe. Even amongst the fanbase, the name carries incredible weight. In Dark Souls I, Artorias is enshrined as the Abysswalker, one of the Knights of Lord Gwyn himself and contemporary of Hawkeye Gough and Ciaran. In his legend, Artorias braved the Void to rescue Princess Dusk and stop the encroachment of the Dark upon Oolacile. His is a name that comes up time and again as the Chosen Undead makes their own pilgrimage through Lordran. The Legend of Artorias has already been established and the Knight has already become larger than life, a myth.
The Chosen Undead learns the truth buried by that myth.
In truth, Artorias wasn’t the man of unshakeable will that the Wolf Ring of Dark Souls I and his legend describes. Artorias was consumed by the Abyss and destroyed by it; his left arm and sword cursed by the very thing he sought to stop. In a final act of desperation, Artorias sacrificed his great-shield to protect his companion, Sif. In the end, Artorias failed. The Knight known as the Abysswalker was not the man the legends made him out to be. In fact, it is the Chosen Undead who, pulled through time by the influence of Manus, traverses the Abyss and saves the Princess. Despite the fact that it is the Chosen Undead who defeats Manus and rescues Dusk, there is no one left to report the truth: Gough remains ‘imprisoned,’ Ciaran stays behind to mourn Artorias’ passing, and the Chosen Undead returns to their correct time. In the end, it is Artorias who is given the credit and it is Artorias where the legend of the first Abysswalker springs around.
It is a legend that rallies a caravan of Undead, that as Hawkwood tells us are desperate to believe that they are somehow special. Inspired by the myths surrounding Artorias, the Undead Legion of Farron becomes the heirs to Artorias’ legacy and swear to contain the Abyss as the Abysswalker is said to have done.
Over time, the movement twists and becomes a militaristic cult. Drawing on the myths and legends surrounding the Chosen Undead and the gathering of corrupted, in the minds of the Abyss Watchers, Lord Souls: possibly Nito, the Witch of Izalith, and the Four Kings (all of whom had something to do with the Abyss). Ceremonies for Admission are created and undergone by symbolically snuffing them out. There is even a version of transubstantiation within the Legion as they partake of a eucharist of the Wolf’s Blood which links the Legion together and forges them into a family.
By the time of the events of Dark Souls III, the Legion is characterized by its cultish zeal. Hawkwood tells us that “the Legion will bury a kingdom at the first sign of exposure.1” And indeed, the masses have grown afraid of their would-be protectors, the distinctive helmet of the Legion is in their minds a ‘sinster omen’ rather than a symbol of protection (Undead Legion Helm). Furthermore, in their twisted devotion, they ridiculed Hawkwood until he abandoned them for his insistence on fighting with a shield rather than with their specialized parrying dagger. They, as one, become Lords of Cinder to make themselves stronger and see their success as a mandate; their duty sanctified by the First Flame. In their enthusiasm to embody the tenets they perceive in Artorias, the Legion lost sight of themselves.
It isn’t a surprise then that when the Legion came home and looked at themselves, they only saw Abyss tainted monsters in one another. The very thing they swore to contain and to combat revealed itself as a war of attrition they could never win. The Undead Legion were themselves infected because the truth of the matter is, the legend of the Abysswalker is just that, Legend. No one gets so close to the Abyss and comes out unscathed no matter how strong they think their will and devotion are. In the end, when the Bell of Awakening roused them from their slumber they became locked in a never ending orgy of violence, killing one another over and over again and turning their home, built as a fortress to contain High Lord Wolnir and Carthus, into nothing more than a mausoleum; a monument to a dead dream.
When the Ashen One encounters the Abyss Watchers, the Abyss’ influence is strong; enough so to attract the remaining Darkwraiths to the area. The Undead Legion are rising over and over again due to the Bell of Awakening that is audible in the score and are forced to relive the horror of having to kill their infected brethren, themselves, and your character for getting too close. Defeating them proves to be a mercy, their dream to do good was long subverted and in the end destroyed them.
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. Fredrick Nitzche (Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146)
Yorshka: the Accidental Knight
She knows not what the curse may be; / Therefore she weaveth steadily, / Therefore no other care hath she, / The Lady of Shalott. — Lord Alfred Tennyson (The Lady of Shallot, 1832)
Yorhska carries on the dream of her ‘brother,’ the Dark Sun Gwyndolin, whose own dream to honor his Father’s legacy led to his destruction at the hands of Aldrich. This pale, slip of a girl with thin, short arms and a Dragon’s tail, is not a knight. Knights are steeped in violence, blood, and revenge which Yorshka’s virginal appearance belays. If she is attacked by the Ashen One, Yorshka doesn’t fight back. By her own admission she knows, “not much of anything,2” not even her real name. This is reinforced by the Darkmoon Blade miracle she gives to devoted members of the covenant. It tells us that their miracles and legends are “tales of revenge” and ones that Yorshka recites simply as an act of remembrance of Gwyndolin, lacking “knowledge of its meaning.”
Yoshka’s devotion to her ‘brother,’ and possibly her rescuer, runs deeply. Not only did Gwyndolin give her a chime to soothe her loneliness, but he also gave her a name and possibly a purpose (Yorska’s Chime). So, with his disappearance, unaware because of her own imprisonment that the false Pontiff Sulyvahn has taken him to be devoured by Aldrich, she clings to the dream of her ‘brother,’ embodied by his covenant, like it is a life-raft in an uncertain sea. Despite the fact that she is an innocent, childlike creature, Yorshka inherits the mantle of Knight Captain in tribute to Gwyndolin.
Despite her faults and her utter lack of preparation for the role of Knight Captain, unaware of the Curse that rages the world outside of her tower, she carries on her ‘brother’s’ dream. Much like the Lady of Shallott of Tennyson’s poem, when the Ashen One arrives, Yorshka’s life is turned upside down.
She only knows the words of the Oath she speaks but is unaware of what it truly means. However, for her, it is more than that. It gives Yorhska purpose and a strand of power in what would otherwise be a powerless situation upon her tower with no clear way in our out.
Still, Yorshka’s tragedy is she is as imprisoned to someone else’s dream as Gywndolin was imprisoned by the expectations of his Family. She does not seem to be seeking her own way out, though there have been would-be rescuers in the past — the remnants of Painted World Guardians who’ve attempted litter the floorboards of the interior of the tower. She is seemingly content to continue to proverbially weave the tapestry of a dream that isn’t hers, for the ‘brother’ she’ll never see again; ultimately unable to truly fulfill that dream in anything other than in the superficial sense. Her inability and her lack of knowledge on how to truly fulfill the meaning of her ‘brother’s’ dream, to free herself and to take revenge on her ‘brother’s killers,’ damns her to a mental prison just as she is imprisoned in her tower.
Yorshka entrusts a Dream that was never hers to begin with and created by legends she doesn’t understand, to the Ashen One instead, consciously or not as her Lancelot.
Anri: Seeker of Nobility
For the children I knew, bless their souls. We all have our reasons, don’t we?
(Author’s Note: Due to the possibility of Anri being of either sex, dependent on the player character’s, Anri will be referred to with a ‘gender-neutral she.’ The original decision to use ‘they’ only resulted in syntax confusion.)
Some dreams are far more than the sum of their parts. On the surface, Anri’s dream is to get revenge against Aldrich and Sulyvahn for the abuse she suffered alongside Hoarce. However, Anri’s true dream is to aspire to a lost nobility of a country long gone. She only knows the stories of lost Astora and its heros, heroes the player-base of the franchise knows well: Solaire and Andre most of all. It is these legends that gave the child Anri hope and it is this hope that perhaps drew Hoarce to her side.
Anri, however, discovers that the biggest enemy to her dream is herself. She doubts her own strength, doubts that perhaps began with her inability to wield the Astora Greatsword that the Ashen One finds left behind in the cemetery preceding the Cathedral of the Deep. Unfortunately, Anri only sees one type of ‘strength’ as valid and continually compares herself with the brutish but loyal Hoarce, who killed and stripped the armor of the Executioner at the Cathedral and took it as his own. Anri didn’t realize her own strength and did not think herself as strong. Or worthy enough of the homeland she adopted.
Hoarce becomes a life-line and Anri lacks conviction in herself and believes herself unable to face her duty alone. Repeatedly, Anri makes mention of her own weakness: in the catacombs after losing Hoarce, in Irithyll, and finally with her summoning of the Ashen One to help her defeat Aldrich. Each instance reveals a deep seated insecurity of her own strength and when Aldrich is finally defeated, in the main quest-line branch, Anri is left with little to keep her going.
Her insecurities then come to a head in this story branch, and after leaving the Astora Straight Sword with someone she believes more worthy of it, she returns to something familiar: the Cathedral of the Deep or Hoarce’s gravesite. Convinced of her own weakness, having needed help from the Ashen One and further convinced she does not deserve the homeland she adopted, Anri finally falls Hollow.
Anri’s dream of nobility, of aspiring to the stories and legends of a land of Heroes, crushes her with her own expectations. It proves to be too much against her belief of her inferiority when compared with her best friend and protector, and the Ashen One.
It is this inferiority that was potentially exploited by Londor in the Lord of Hollows branch of the quest-line.
When the Ashen One first encounters Yoel of Londor, Yoel promises added strength to assist in the Ashen One’s undertaking. And, after a fashion, Yoel tells the truth: the Ashen One does gain strength. However, no one gets a free lunch and the cost of this added strength is the Dark Sigil added to your soul. It stands to reason, that the Pilgrim that follows Anri, the very same that the Ashen One encounters late in the questline, preyed upon Anri’s insecurities and offered Anri the same deal which she accepted. Of course the promise of strength would entice Anri even if Anri might not have completely understood what they were signing up for: being manipulated towards Londor’s own ends.
Either way, it is Anri’s own unrealistic hopes and her constant comparing herself to not only Hoarce but also the Ashen One and the larger than life legends of Astora that ends their pursuit of her dream. It either destroys her will and causes her to go Hollow or opens herself up to be preyed upon in much the same way she was by Aldrich.
Anri forgot that her Nobility was within herself all along.
Oceiros: The Consumed King
Ignorant slaves, how quickly you forget.
Like the the Abyss Watchers, the Undead Royal Line of Lothric seek purpose and want to believe themselves special; that somehow their royal blood set themselves apart and above others. This turns out to be a dangerous dream, fraught with madness and guilt. In a deft touch of commentary by Miyazaki and his writing team, and referenced by Hawkwood the Deserter, there is no difference between Lord and Commoner in the Undead Curse. There is nothing that sets one apart from another. However, the royals, lacking the wit that Greirat references early on in the game, had a dream to prove their superiority and to create a worthy heir and Lord of Cinder.
This belief that their royal blood sets them apart, crossed the line into obsession. It led the Royal Family to unspeakable experimentation and misguided and unmentionable attempts at eugenics, resulting in the twins Lothric and Lorian and the Heavenly Daughter, Gertrude. No one embodies this obsession more than Oceiros, king of Lothric in name only, and confined to his Garden.
With the weight of years bearing down on him and with the fading of the fire, Oceiros chased his dream of harnessing his royal blood for something special to the point of madness and desperation. After the twisted eugenic experimentations on his own family “proved to be impossible,” his fascination with Dragons lead him to the heretics of the Grand Archives, who were worshipping Seath the Paledrake and are themselve inheritors of Seath’s mad dream of immortality.
The Madness of Oceiros, which is in itself reminiscent of George III of the United Kingdom, was not unnoticed. Even before his confinement Oceiros was rightly afraid of being assassinated and wore the Dragonscale Ring to protect himself from being stabbed in the back. Even after his confinement, more assassins braved the defiled bog only to never return.
When the Ashen One approaches Oceiros’ Garden, after fighting through knights wearing the Cathedral Set, the player can hear an alien mournful cry. When the Ashen One finally encounters the Consumed King himself, they are faced with the sight of the true extent of what the obsessive chasing of a Dream has done; he is twisted beyond recognition into a likeness of the scaleless Dragon. At first, it seems Oceiros turns to addresses the Ashen One, but as he speaks it becomes apparent that he isn’t, he assumes the Ashen One is someone else, possibly his son Prince Lothric who may be behind the assassination attempts, simultaneously revealing that the Consumed King may in fact be blind.
An infant cries in the distance.
He fears that you’ve come to take away Ocelotte, who Oceiros calls the “child of Dragons.” As an aside, the spelling of the name Ocelotte is interesting itself, as it is reminiscent of Shanalotte, another “child of Dragons.” Furthermore, in his delusion, the Consumed King calls Ocelotte “all that he has.” Immediately, the insane King rushes to protect Ocelotte — real or imagined — from you and cradles an unseen infant against his chest. But as the fight drags on, the former King throws off the last vestiges of his human intelligence — his staff and sorceries — and grows feral. In cut audio files, there is the sound of an infant being graphically murdered, smashed against the ground.
Whether Ocelotte is real or a hallucination, in the end, doesn’t matter. Oceiros’ mad quest to prove his blood superior and special, costs him everything: his kingdom, his sanity, his life, and his very humanity.
The Legacies left to us by the past create the dreams in the minds of the present. Yet, Dark Souls III asserts that because of incomplete knowledge or a lack of understanding, pinning your hopes on chasing those dreams is a fool’s errand. The act of chasing a legend instead of self-actualization, the game suggests, only leads to madness and crushing despair; the realities revealing themselves as far different than the legends suggest.
More’s the pity.
Special Thanks and Citations:
Special Thanks go to “AssaulterBob” for proof-reading.
- Dark Souls, Wikidot s.v. “Wolf Ring, Knight Artorias”(accessed June 4, 2016) http://darksouls.wikidot.com/wolf-ring ,http://darksouls.wikidot.com/knight-artorias
- Dark Souls III, Wikidot s.v. “Abyss Watchers, Anri of Astora, Caressing Tears, Cinders of a Lord Prince Lothric, Company Captain Yorshka, Darkmoon Blade, Dragonscale Ring, Hawkwood the Deserter, Hakwood’s Shield, Oceiros The Consumed King, Shrine Handmaid, Soul of the Blood of the Wolf, Soul of Consumed Oceiros, Storyteller’s Staff, Undead Legion Helm, Yorshka’s Chime” (accessed June 4, 2016; August 26–29, 2016) http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/abyss-watchers ,http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/anri-of-astora , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/caressing-tears , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/cinders-of-a-lord-prince-lothric , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/company-captain-yorshka , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/darkmoon-blade , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/dragonscale-ring ,http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/hawkwood-the-deserter , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/equipmentgroup:hawkwood-s-shield , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/oceiros-the-consumed-king , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/shrine-handmaid , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/soul-of-the-blood-of-the-wolf ,http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/soul-of-consumed-oceiros , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/equipmentgroup:storyteller-s-staff , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/undead-legion-helm , http://darksouls3.wikidot.com/equipmentgroup:yorshka-s-chime
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. 1886. Wikiquote, s.v. “Beyond Good and Evil.” Accessed August 26, 2016. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Beyond_Good_and_Evil
- Sir Fist. “DaS 3-Oceiros Infant sounds” YouTube video, Duration: 0:39 Posted: May 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6vCZdcp6hE (NSFW)
- Tennyson, Lord Alfred. The Lady of Shallott. 1832. Poetry Foundation. Accessed June 4, 2016), https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45359
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. s.v. “George III of the United Kingdom” (accessed August 26, 2016), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_III_of_the_United_Kingdom