Training Montage

Nak returned to the misty forest. His head swirled with the humbling of the Capra Demon and the thrill of the Moonlight Butterfly, but he knew he had to quell them and focus on one thing: souls.

His encounter with the Capra Demon, however brief and brutal, gave him much to think on at the bonfire. He knew he couldn’t simply reply to its ferocity in kind: if there was one thing he had learned in this cursed land, it was that monsters larger than himself had the right of way. He had to evade the demon’s assault and then reply in time to dodge again.

Griggs of Vinheim offered a solution: Magic Weapon, a sorcery that could help Nak better exploit what few openings he had. Andrei offered another: better weapons and armor through titanite. And, in the back of his head, Nak was always aware of the final solution: more training.

All of these solutions required more souls than Nak had. So he stood up from the bonfire and stepped down the stairs to the forest before the Grave of Sir Artorias. It was time to grind.

The Depths

Nak pulled his sword out of the ground and wiped his brow. It was funny how the deceased demons would vanish forever, and yet he still needed to clean the blood off of his sword and armor.

After a short time of rest, Nak sheathed his bastard sword, belted on his armor, and marched off to the Depths, key in hand.

For the entirety of the short time Nak spent in the depths, he was filled with a sense of foreboding. Maybe it was claustrophobia: unlike in the Burg, Parish, and Darkroot Garden, there was no open sky above his head here, only stone walls and ceiling close overhead, glistening with slime. Maybe it was the alienness of the creatures down here: Nak was well acquainted with withered hollow, undead knights, and demons by now, but the poisonous rats, caustic slimes, and freakish basilisks put him on edge. Maybe it was the loneliness. Firelink shrine was home, where Griggs, Petrus, and the dour man were resting, and it was so very far away.

What Nak didn’t know was that his unease was just a portent for things to come.

He passed through the last fog gate and saw a body crumpled up against a wall far on the other side of the wide, open chamber, wearing the very same style of armor Nak began this journey with. He found that concerning.

As if on cue, the floor began to rumble. Nak was unsurprised—when does the floor not rumble when heralding the arrival of the top of the food chain in these places?—but his nonchalance was washed away when a putrescent dragon crawled up from the deepest of the depths. The dragon’s torso was grotesquely wide, and it seemed as though its mottled flesh had rotted away to expose its ribcage. The individual ribs bowed and flexed, and that’s when Nak realized that they were teeth. This dragon had a gaping, fifteen-foot-by-forty-foot maw in its chest, and it intended to eat him with it.

Nak nearly died of fright. He ran.

The fog wall kept him pinned in the lair with the monstrosity, but Nak could still run at full tilt to avoid the toothy death that came crashing to the floor. He ran, however, into the dragon’s lashing tail. Nak died.

Nak had long decided that undeath, far from a curse, was a blessing. It was to be expected that Nak’s first exposure to hideous murdermonsters like the Gaping Dragon would end in his death. All the better to determine the monster’s habits and learn when best to thrust, and when better to block. So Nak stood up and charged back into the dragon’s domain.

He died a few more times, but learned quickly that the dragon was desperate to envelope him in its horrid thorax, and that when it missed, it needed to crawl over to and up a wall so that its body would be vertical again. Its single-minded quest to reach the wall gave Nak ample opportunity to hack at its tail with the heaviest weapon he carried—his trusty bastard sword.

Nak held the key to Blighttown in his hand as the foul-smelling creature faded from Lordran. He had heard of this place, Blighttown, and he knew it meant climbing even further from the comforting sun and Firelink Shrine. Beyond that, it was a place of stench, darkness, and, well, blight. The thought did not sit well with him.

And yet Blighttown was about to defy even Nak’s expectations.

Beware of Hope

What Nak expected was a long and horrible trudge through poisonous foes, deaths beyond deaths, and possibly the end if he were to go hollow. What Nak got was far worse: hope.

Nak’s descent into Blighttown was measured, controlled, and uneventful. He battled the poisonous fatties, he cut his way through the twisted inhabitants, and he even managed to avoid (for the most part) the toxic blow-darters who lay in ambush. He even had time to muse on how appropriate the name for the place was: so far as he could tell, Blighttown was literally a teetering shantytown built on top of the plague, all drenched in inky darkness.

For a while, Nak died more times after missteps off the treacherous wooden walkways into the abyss than he did by the hands of his mutant foes. Those missteps were frustrating, but his progress was steady and confidence high.

Then he reached the bottom.

He made camp at a bonfire in a large sewer outlet at the very bottom of Blighttown. When he stepped back outside, he realized that there was no way forward but through the poisonous sludge. So he waded in, purple moss close at hand to treat the symptoms that resulted startlingly quickly from wading waist-deep in the horrible stuff. His eyes watered in the rising stench, trapped in his stuffy full helm.

He took the first opportunity to climb back onto the shanty wooden structures. As awful as they were, they were better than swimming in poison. Up he went, battling mutant bug-beasts and swatting at frustrating, overgrown, carnivorous mosquitoes. He mis-stepped, and died.

The next time, he made it to the jury-rigged mill-elevator operated by one of the fire-breathing dogs. Again, he slipped on his disembark and died.

The next time, he made it to the top of the elevator and up the ladders further, and he detoured into another sewer outlet. Three humanoid creatures armed with toxin blowdarts awaited him. For once, he was unable to avoid contracting the terrible toxin, and died, convulsing.

The next time, he dispatched the blowdart snipers, but climbed down onto the lower floor too hastily and was set alight by a swarm of fiery hounds.

After that, he had finally cleared the outlet, so he continued his journey upward, and out of Blighttown.

He climbed to the top of the last ladder and found… nothing. This platform was a dead end. Nak combed for hours, certain that he had missed something (he had; there was a cave entrance not far from here that would lead him out of Blighttown, but that was just as well since he had unfinished business in this distasteful place), until, finally, he dove off of the highest platform into the sludge, and died.

He sat at the bonfire for a bit, trying to assure himself that he was not yet hollow. The recent suicide attempt was merely born out of frustration and the understanding that it wasn’t really suicide… right? Nak was only sure that he had staved off insanity when he reached the rational and bitter conclusion that the second Bell of Awakening was down here somewhere, and he would have to push through the evil sludge to get to it.

Beware of Tears

The evil sludge brought him to Quelaag’s Domain.

It was a lump of tree limbs and spider silk rising out of the morass on the far end of Blighttown, a long wade guaranteed to result in swamp poisoning. Nak, in another moment of clarity, feared he would be forced to make this journey repeatedly. He would.

Past three dumb, hostile brutes with pet boulders (whom doubled as rather effective weapons), there was a tunnel through the webbed mass, into a cave, past three poor souls whose backs bulged with parasites (Nak only made the mistake of trying to put them out of their misery once: the parasites fought back, and fiercely. And if they were going to reappear every time he died, was he really helping?), and into the cavern lair of Chaos Witch Quelaag.

Quelaag resembled the most twisted, nightmarish centaur imaginable: the upper body of a comely young woman, and the lower body of a two-ton tarantula with demonic flames licking at the cracks in its carapace.

Quelaag smirked, and bared her fiery greatsword.

Nak sighed, and broke off running.

Like the Gaping Dragon, Nak ran furiously to avoid attacks and learn how Quelaag would telegraph her strikes with huge windups and obvious tells by the (sometimes lumbering, sometimes frighteningly quick) spider. Unlike the Gaping Dragon, this did not make the fight particularly easy. Nak died.

Nak plodded back through the sludge to face Quelaag again. Nak died again.

Each long trudge through the swamp was met with a fiery reprisal. Sometimes they came quick and summarily. Worse, sometimes the flames took Nak after a lengthy bout. Sometimes he was out of Est and Quelaag was barely standing on eight wobbly legs before Nak perished along with his hope.

A wise man once said in another realm that there cannot be true despair without hope. But neither can there be victory without hope. And victory cannot be sweetest without despair.

Nak was running out of purple moss to treat his poisonous fevers when he stepped into Quelaag’s lair for the last time (he later realized that this meant he had been killed by Quelaag nearly two dozen times). Finally, he dodged lava and fiery brand alike to visit death, which he was so versed in, upon the Chaos Witch. He had run completely out of Est in the waning moments of the battle, and his tattered pyromancer’s garb (which offered better fire protection than his elite knight’s armor) was drenched in sweat. But he trembled with adrenaline, knowing that the Witch, too, was on her last legs, and he waited with mounting anticipation for her to offer another opening. Finally, she did: in her arrogance, she thought to wash Nak in lava to banish him again, but this was the very move Nak had hoped for. Her spidery body strained with all of its energy to expel the lava, leaving none to avoid the bite of Nak’s blade.

Before long, Nak was pulling with all of his might to ring the second and final Bell of Awakening and truly begin his quest to end the curse of the undead.

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