Last time, on Aether’s Adventures in Barely Hanging On, we got sucked into a painting with no way out and very limited supplies, and had a hard time. Seriously, we’re starting this episode at the same bonfire we started the last one at. We’ve made no real progress. However! We’ve gained some knowledge, about our enemies, the area, and our tactics! And as G.I. Joe taught me, knowledge is power. So this time, now that our muscles are all full of knowledge, we’re going to put it to good use! We’re going to steamroll our enemies with knowledge! We shall make sure that every single strike has all the knowledge we’re able to muster behind it! We’re ready to give all our enemies a nice blast of knowledge! Right to the face!
Basically, what was really holding us back last time were the engorged zombies and the toxic explosion they go through when you kill them. After playing with my equipment for a while, I found myself a good way around that status effect: using a lightning spear, which allows me to attack while keeping my guard up, and a spider shield, which can block poison entirely. In this game you can have two pieces of gear equipped to each hand and switch between them as you see fit, so I’ve still got my pyromancy and my Black Knight Sword at the ready, in case I fight an enemy far enough away or strong enough to need either of those, but for the most part, it’s the shield/spear combo that’s going to be carrying me through this area.
And carry me through it does. Now, both the shield and weapon I’m using now are far less effective than my standard gear, even after I’ve upgraded them with what titanite I had on me. The spear is weaker, taking me longer to kill, while the shield’s a lot smaller than my usual and can’t negate damage entirely. Still, the combination makes me pretty much immune to the engorged zombies toxicity, which is really what’s been sending me back to the bonfire repeatedly. I take more damage than I used to, but I still breeze through the area much quicker than I had been before.
Now that I don’t have to worry about my enemies so much, I can explore some areas I completely missed before! For example, the rafters in one of the larger buildings I passed through on my way to the tower. This guy seen here has usually either completely missed me or dropped in on me while I was slaying his fellows on previous runs. Now that I’m climbing up to the rafters, he seems at a bit of a loss as to what to do. I make that decision for him. He can burn and die. There’s not a whole lot else going on in the rafters, although I do find an Egg Vermifuge. This is a sour-tasting, fuzzy chestnut that will purge any parasitic eggs that have been laid in my body. I sincerely hope I never have to use this. I take it anyway, because as my adventures in Ariamis have been demonstrating, only a fool goes unprepared. Besides, you can never tell what people are doing to my body all those many times I spend dead.
The rafters also lead me to a window with a ladder heading downwards, overlooking the fortress wall. I descend, and travel along the wall until I find a stairway descending into yet another room. Inside, I find a few more enemies to kill, and a chest containing a set of Painting Guardian clothes. You remember those guys in white that I killed by the bundle outside of this painting? The outfit they were wearing. I briefly ponder slipping it on myself and seeing if I can sneak by them, but I drop the idea quickly. As any woman who’s seen me would probably tell you endlessly, I’m really beefy. The waif-like Painting Guardians would probably be able to tell I don’t belong in a heartbeat. They’re probably all hollow anyways, and they seem to be able to tell who’s lost their mind already. Interesting fact in the description of these clothes, though. These guardians are charged with protecting the paintings of Ariamis, meaning there’s either more than one entrance to this world, or that Ariamis is the artist and has created several different worlds. Also, hollow or no, nobody remembers why they’re supposed to be guarding the paintings anyways. They just do it, probably because there’s nothing better to do in Lordran if you’re not the Best Chosen One.
I make my way back to the beaten path, heading towards the tower that’s been my stopping point thus far. Now, I want to take a break here to show off something. I’ve killed these engorged zombies dozens of times before. You know this, you read the last post. But have you ever seen anyone burn so beautifully as this? Seriously, just look at that! Exquisite! I am an artist, and flame is my medium!
Anyways, back at the tower, we go through our usual song and dance. First step, lure the crow demon out and engage him. He doesn’t have a whole lot of moves, and only one really dangerous one. Now that I know his tells he’s not much danger. He goes down after a few hits. He leaves behind a blood-stained, shrunken human ear. A Souvenir of Reprisal, it’s supposed to be proof that someone who has sinned against the gods have gotten their supposedly just desserts. It’s a human ear, though, obviously not from this demon.
With the crow demon out of the way, it’s time to slay the dragon! Just like last time, I begin my march down the bridge, and the undead dragon charges me. From there, the fight unfold much like last time, although I’m playing a lot more defensively and keeping a better eye on him now. He only has two attacks, one where he vomits toxic sludge at me, and another where he tries to stomp on me. By paying attention, and staying out of the way when my stamina runs low, I’m easily able to avoid both. I simply swipe at whatever body parts are available until I run out of breath or he starts to move, then stay out of the way as he attacks before pressing forward once again.
This time, the dragon falls without doing much damage. He was barely even a challenge the second time around. He leaves behind a dragon scale, which will allow me to upgrade dragon equipment. I also find a Bloodshield behind him, a solid piece of gear that might be worth replacing my current shield with, should I bother to upgrade it.
Turns out that when the dragon charged me, well, only half of him actually did anything. All of him from the waist down is still waiting at the end of the bridge. It does nothing as I approach. I’m able to stand it upright, hitting the legs with a leaping attack, but all that’s behind it is the broken remains of the bridge. I could drop down to the bridge below for a shortcut of some sort, but I decide against it. There’s no telling where that will end up, and the fall’s going to hurt.
With that done, I make my way into the tower. There are a few crow demons waiting for me on the stairs. I knock them off and engage them at the floor of the tower, where I’ve got more room to maneuver. There, they pose no less challenge than the one I faced outside. The floor of the tower has the entrance I came through, a fog gate, and a locked doorway that probably leads to the bridge I could have dropped into from behind the zombie dragon.
I ignore both of those, and climb the staircase. Turns out, the staircase extends higher than the remains of the tower do. At the top of what structure is left, I find a corpse with this Red Sign Soapstone on it, which allows me to challenge other players to a fight. There’s a lot of PVP items here in the Painted World, I’ve found. I wonder why that is. You can also see a crow demon at rest, here. He either never notices me, or saw what happened to his brethren and wants no part of me. Either way, we leave each other in peace.
There’s nowhere else for me to go right now, so I head on through the fog gate. This is the view I catch on the other side; a bunch of amorphous undead beings in a phalanx formation surrounding a statue. As I approach, they break formation and advance towards me. They’re slow, but there sure are a lot of them. I retreat from a few hurled spears back into the safety of the tower. Their advance stops at the entryway, as they’re seemingly unable to crest the staircase and make it inside. I take advantage of this and press my attack from a position just inside the tower, where they’re unable to surround me. Their defenses are strong, however. Their large shields cover them well, even when it looks like there’s an opening. And much like the phalanxes of old, striking one opponent leave me open for those beside them. I take a few out, but it wears me down. Any sort of attack is risky with their group tactics. For each hit that connects, there are more that ring harmlessly off a shield and opens me up to another’s spear. They are utilizing their numbers well. Eventually, I get hit with a spear that puts me in critical danger. Seriously, I think I had like 2 hit points left. I retreat all the way back to the bonfire, and rest up.
The second time around, I start by flinging fire at them. It works well for the few seconds I’m able to catch them unawares, but I have to duck inside again once they regroup and the spears start flying. From there, it’s the same strategy as last time, but I try to be a bit smarter about it. I keep moving, get more picky about my moments to strike, and use the areas they can’t reach in order to rest up when my arm gets tired. I’m able to take down a lot more of them this time around. I kill most of them, in fact. As their numbers dwindle, I start getting more aggressive. They’re big, and their phalanx tactics are overwhelming, but they’re also slow. As more and more of them drop, I start slipping in and out of the holes in their defenses, hitting them in the broad areas to their sides where their shields can’t reach.
I’m almost done with them before I finally slip up. I push forward through a gap that ends up being a lot better defended than I estimate. With the phalanx surrounding me, I can’t defend against all their attacks, and I fall.
I press towards them a third time. I’ve got something in mind, now. Most of the time, their strikes only land because they attack while I lower my shield to strike out on my own. Well, we spend most of last update working up towards a method in which I can attack without lowering my guard, right? So I match their shield and spear tactics with my own. And it works wonderfully. I swing my swords wide, meaning that it’s really easy for any zombie to catch on its shield and bat my strike away. A spear, though? In and out, hitting one precise point. It’s a lot easier to slip past their large shields. I can keep my shield up at all times too, and a great many blows break upon that rather than piercing through my beautiful body. The only real weakness here is that keeping your guard up really slows the speed at which you recover stamina, but I can just duck behind a column, where no one can hit me, to catch my breath. It’s a little slower to kill them, but I get through it much more safely. I’m able to slowly thin their numbers to the point where I’m able to press through and make it behind them.
When they don’t have me penned in, the phalanx just falls apart. I’m able to separate the rest, and without the support of the group as a whole, it’s all to easy to pick them off one by one. I’m a lot faster than they are, and it’s a simple matter to just duck their attacks and slip in to their unguarded sides.
The area behind strikes an odd dichotomy. It’s a graveyard, a place where the dead are interred to be honored and remembers. It’s also a place where the dead are hoisted onto pikes to be displayed to all, perhaps one of the most dishonorable ways to treat a corpse. What exactly went on here?
Here’s the statue the phalanx was guarding. This must be important somehow. There’s nothing I can do with it now, however. I continue exploring the area and pick up a bit of treasure, such as some humanity, a ring that allows me to keep my souls and humanity when I die once, stuff like that. I also open some double doors on the other side of the graveyard, which unlocks a shortcut to the bonfire. Sweet! I needed that!
Back at the bonfire, a couple other players have been leaving messages. Remarking on the challenge, demonstrating their despair, stuff like that. Seems some people have been having trouble. I’m feeling good about my progress, and I try to pass that on to the other players. Using my soapstone, I write a single word on the ground: ‘Hope’. I don’t know if this will mean anything to anybody else, but I hope it well help them push through with me.
I find this well in the corner of the graveyard, and climb down. Luckily, it seems to have been drained long before. I find a message at the bottom, telling me to watch out for something to the right. I just barely get my shield up as something crashes into me. A spiky wooden wheel with a skeleton inside of it. It keeps grinding up against me until I can’t keep my shield up any longer, then cuts through me before finally running out of steam. Once it does, I cut it down in a single swing, but still, that’s troubling. It was able to completely overwhelm my defenses, largely because I was still using the Spider Shield. I knew it’s greater defense against poison would have its price, but I didn’t think any enemy here would be able to break through it so completely.
I press on, following a short path at the bottom of the well before coming upon this engorged zombie. It doesn’t seem to notice I’m here, so in one fell swoop I dash in and kill it with a single thrust of my spear. It’s only then that I start to think about it. That zombie, it was… weeping. It was distressed. Meaning that it had some sort of sense of self remaining. That zombie must not have gone hollow yet. It still had its sanity. Yet I didn’t even think before killing it. That has to say something about me. Maybe I’m closer to going hollow than I realized. The zombie was holding a book detailing the pyromancy, fire surge. Troubled, I take it with me. Something must be wrong with me. I thought I was better than that.
In one of the buildings to the side of the graveyard, I climb a staircase then descend a ladder, which leaves me in this dank basement. Visibility is limited, here. I don’t like this. Slowly, I advance.
Something hurtles out of the dark towards me. Another skeleton wheel. I catch it on my shield, then adjust my stance so I’m pushed out of the way with minimal damage. The wheel flies by and slams into the wall, where I slice through it. I do the same with the next wheel to fly out of the shadows. And the one after that. A third one connects with me while I’m cutting down the one right before it, however. It grinds through my remaining life before I can get myself out of the way.
I make my way down there again, this time exchanging my Spider Shield for the much more solid Knight’s Shield. With this, I’m able to block a wheel and hold it back while taking no damage whatsoever, although it does leave my arm numb like nobody’s business. I’m also prepared for the one skeleton wheel that directly follows another, and am able to maneuver them both into the same corner. One swing of my sword, and they both go down. Now able to explore the area safely, I collect the souls that are laying around, find a handle, and turn it.
Turning the handle causes the statue above to twist around, facing towards the tower. As her gaze settles upon it, the previously locked door at the tower’s base opens, revealing the bridge behind.
I explore a few more areas before heading onward, although there isn’t much left of note. Just an old meeting area and some landing leading to a drop off. I kill a bunch more of the basic zombies and find a bit of treasure. The only thing worth writing about is that I get a new pyromancy, Acid Surge, which destroys my opponent’s weapons and armor. I’m not sure if this has any use for npc opponents, but I’ll give it a try sometime and see.
I go back to the bonfire to rest up, then return. This, of course, causes the phalanx to respawn, because if things were easy, I wouldn’t be playing Dark Souls. This does give me the chance to check out my new Fire Surge pyromancy. It lets out a short-range jet of flame, doing small but constant damage to any enemies caught in it. Not horribly powerful, but it might be a good tool to mix up tossing fireballs around. In any case, the phalanx falls easily enough, now that I know how to handle them. I find it really admirable, how that happens so often in Dark Souls. Enemies are really difficult the first time you fight them, yet their difficulty drops dramatically as soon as you, the player, learn to deal. It’s a system that really rewards player growth.
I kill the phalanx, then start making my way across the bridge. There are a few zombie archers here, and a number of zombies hiding out of sight or hanging off the edge of the bridge, to lay an ambush. They’re not strong, but their tactics do provide a bit of challenge, and altogether they’re able to take off half my healthbar before I reach the end. There’s another challenge waiting there, though.
Another Tower Knight. This feels like the first time we’ve fought in even combat. The first one, I got him stuck on some level geometry and shot him down. The second was a pitched battle, but was in close quarters and over really quickly before he got much of an offense in. This time, though…
Well, this is the first time I’ve gotten to really see what a Tower Knight is capable of. And it’s pretty significant. As you might expect, he’s really good with his shield. His blade, too, is swift and strong, and his size gives him some good reach. He doesn’t have any tricks or unique attacks, but his grasp of the fundamentals of combat make him a powerful foe. Several times, he’s able to power through my defense completely, knocking me flat through my shield and leaving me open to attack. In fact, he takes me to the absolute limit before I’m finally able to end his life. I was out of estus, and would have died in two more hits before I was finally able to find an opening and drain his healthbar. Still, as everyone expected, I came out on top. He may be good, but you don’t get to be the Best Chosen One by just being good. There was a fog gate at the end of the bridge behind him, presumably leading to the boss battle. I return to the bonfire to heal up before pressing onward.
He’s back again, after my bonfire visit, but I do a lot better the second time, only needing half my estus to bring him down. Then, with nothing left between me and the boss, I pass through the fog gate, bracing myself for the enemy that lies beyond.
There she is. My nerves are on edge, ready to react to any movement of hers. That movement never comes. She’s definitely ready for a fight, you can tell from her stance, the way she holds that weapon at the ready, but she doesn’t attack. We stare at each other for a good long while, both of us prepared for a strike the other never makes. My mind races, trying to figure out what her game is. Is she just waiting until I get closer? Does she have some plan that requires me to strike first? The possibilities keep roiling through my head, until finally my brain latches onto something. That peculiar doll, that allows me entry into this Painted World. It once belonged to “an abomination” that didn’t fit into my world. Could this be her? The more I think about it, the more likely it seems. That size, that otherworldly beauty, she doesn’t seem to be a normal human. Yet, according to the description on the doll, she would rather flee from her persecutors rather than fight. She’s probably not aggressive, at least, not when she doesn’t need to be. Slowly, hesitantly, I walk forwards. She remains in her ready stance, but does not move to attack.
I call out to her. I want to say something that assures her I’m friendly, that I’m not into a fight here. I need to demonstrate that I don’t consider her an abomination, that I’m not going to attack her just because of who she is. There’s only one thing I can think of that effectively covers both areas. I ask her out on a date.
She tells me that I can return home by jumping off the plank over the cliff behind her, but I’m not sure how honestly I should take that because she also says…
You know, I can’t claim to be the world’s expert on peace, but I don’t think that any land that seems to use corpses on pikes as art installations can ever call itself peace. And it’s inhabitants?! You mean the guys that have been trying to bleed and/or vomit on me ever since I came here?! Whether I belong or not, there’s nothing kind and peaceful about this place.
The thought of a fight is a tempting one. For one thing, she just told me to go jump off a cliff. Yes, I know she said it’d return me home, but take a look at that hair for a second. You see what I see? That’s right, silver hair. When was the last time someone with silver hair was completely trustworthy? Take a minute to think about anything you’ve seen or read. Young people with silver hair, pretty much always either villains or jerks, right? For another, well, I’ve fought through this Painted World for so long already. It seems kind of anticlimactic for me to just leave without a good fight.
Someday, I’m going to go hollow. With my strength, my power, and my skill, I will serve to make this dark age so much darker. On that day, nobody’s going to be safe, and relative innocents like this woman here will fall almost as soon as they cross my path. Until then, though, I’d rather not kill those who are just minding their own business.
Besides, I’m undead. If she’s lying about jumping off the cliff, I can always come back and punish her for it then.
So I simply pass her by. I walk to the end of the bridge behind her.
I have to tell you, it’s really good to be back! With that detour finished with, I can get back to Best Chosen One business. And now that I’ve got nothing more to do with the painting, you can all just let me go out without any sort of harassment. After all, it’s not like I’ve got any more interest in the painting you’re guarding, right guys?
Honestly, I think that’s the worst part of the undead curse. It instills such a sense of doom in everybody. Nobody values their own lives anymore.
Next time: Reality’s a better place.