Now that the Dark Souls 3 hype is building, I thought it would be a good time to hit all of you with a cool fan theory about the Dark Souls universe. My theory about the Dark Souls universe. Before we begin though, there needs to be a disclaimer of sorts: Dark Souls is a type of game that is intentionally vague and allows the player to create their own story with the evidence provided. Your story won’t be like that of anyone else, and it probably shouldn’t be. However, by sharing these stories, we help each other get more out of our own experiences. Just keep that in mind as you read on.
The short version of the theory I submit to you today is that Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne are all set on a single timeline, in the same world. So, you know, spoilers ahead.
Spoiler Dog 2.0 says “Continue at your own risk.”
This article will be a long series of observations, so, for now, I want to focus on two major points: First, the Old One is a Great One, as seen in Bloodborne. Second, Demon’s Souls bad ending is the event that sets up the Dark Souls franchise.
The Old One
In Demon’s Souls we learn of The Old One, a powerful demon that rests below the Nexus of Souls and has been reawakened by King Allant. Coincidentally, this demon shares quite a lot with the Great Ones. For starters, The Old One is worshiped as a god by those on the lowly human plane. This is hinted at by Sage Freke, and finally revealed by examining the Talisman of Beasts.
Another tie to the Great Ones is that all magic in Demon’s Souls comes from The Old One. Sage Freke and the Monumental both have conversations that reveal Soul Arts are tied directly to The Old One. The only way to fix the growing scourge of the Deep Fog is to lull The Old One to sleep and seal it away for good, but that also means there can be no more Soul Arts, a prospect that leads to Sage Freke’s reversal of opinion. When he realizes that you are close to sealing The Old One away, he instead entreats you to kill those that could put a stop to the “heightened state of reality” that allows people to use magic.
In Bloodborne, the Great Ones are the source of all commonly used magics. In fact, the humans of this age can only use magic by tweezing it from the artifacts tied to the Great Ones, or ascending into grotesque new forms as seen with Rom, the Vacuous Spider or any of the tentacle monsters among the Choir’s ranks. There are others that can use a different type of magic, but let’s save that for another time and focus on ascendancy.
In Demon’s Souls, someone who imbibes in souls and thirsts for power may ascend into demonhood. This is shown by Alfred, Knight of the Tower, Metas, Knight of the Lance, and Longbow Oolan, who became The Tower Knight, The Penetrator, and Phalanx respectively. There’s also the Old Monk, a religious figure that got too close to his god, and was transformed into a demon to fulfill his desires.
Interestingly, the Old Monk’s followers have become psycheflayers, which look like mini-Cthulhu, that patrol Tower of Latria. Of course, latria is a theological term for adoration or worship towards a deity, and the spire and presence of bells should immediately remind players of Bloodborne and the Choir, The sea of blood and giant beating heart may also evoke memories of the Nightmare.
From Software usually draws from Lovecraftian horrors for their monsters. The Old One itself may be a take on Shub-Niggurath. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar: Shub-Niggurath has been previously depicted as:
- A deity that comes from the sea.
- Imprisoned beneath a shrine and worshiped by humans and former-humans.
- Covered in a forest of dead trees.
- Granting power to its believers by helping them to ascend to new forms.
- One of the Great Old Ones,
- One of the gods that was friendly to humanity.
The Great Old Ones were deities that once ruled the world but fell into a death-like sleep, only to be imprisoned beneath the earth, the sea, or in other dimensions and worshiped by those deranged due to their proximity. These are also the rules the Great Ones of Bloodborne seem to follow, but more on that later.
Compare those points to The Old One of Demon’s Souls:
- Awoke from a deep slumber to start the events of Demon’s Souls
- Imprisoned beneath the Nexus and worshiped by the church.
- Comes to shore from the sea when summoned.
- Covered in dead trees and branches.
- Bathing in the power of its activated souls can allow humans to become demons.
- Allant believes it’s saving people from fear and suffering by stealing sanity and life.
Hopefully that’s enough to get you to accept that The Old One is of the same tier or pantheon as Bloodborne’s Great Ones, as it has to be accepted going forward in order to link Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne into one cohesive narrative.
Dark Souls takes place in post-apocalyptic Boletaria
In the Demon’s Souls bad end, the Slayer of Demons is lured by the call of The Old One and murders the Maiden in Black. Then, Deep Fog consumes the entire world, allowing the demons to gather the souls of every human being, ending all human life. What happened to all of those souls? The demons were bringing the souls to The Old One.
The Monumental claims it was feeding on the souls, but Sage Freke claims The Old One is merely a receptacle of power, housing all of the souls for something to claim. Seeing as Freke was knowledgeable on souls and that The Monumental simply lived through the first scourge and feared The Old One, I’m more willing to believe Freke’s theory, as mad as he seems at the end.
With that in mind, think of the opening to Dark Souls. There we learn of the First Flame, which is located beneath the ground and is the source of all souls in the world of Dark Souls. When the shambling husks encounter the First Flame, they become the gods and humans we’re familiar with and use this new found power to lay claim to the surface, a land of grey fog inhabited by the everlasting dragons.
Having accomplished its goal of collecting all human souls, The Old One returned to its slumber, deep below the Nexus, as the grey fog covered the world. Souls are like flame though, and when they were concentrated inside of a giant tinderbox, they set it alight. My claim is that the First Flame of Dark Souls is the desiccated body of The Old One after being set ablaze.
This not only fits amazingly well considering location and time, but explains where souls came from, why many believe the Dark is the natural state of man, how magic works, and why the husks that discovered the Lordsouls had knowledge of civilization and social order.
The support for this claim runs deeper than simple convenience of location and ease of explanation though. I’d like to bring to your attention magic in both games. The magic in Demon’s Souls is divided cleanly into Sorcery and Miracle, while Dark Souls you have Sorcery, Miracle and Pyromancy. This seems to indicate they have different magic systems, but that’s actually a red herring.
If you examine the Izalith Catalyst in Dark Souls you find that Flame Sorcery predated Pyromancy in the game’s history. Flame Sorcery, and the Pyromancy derived from it, was at one time just another brand of Sorcery, as it had been in Demon’s Souls. However, after the Witches of Izalith caused the disaster in Lost Izalith by trying to reignite the First Flame, Flame Sorcery fell out of favor, leading to those who practiced the art of Flame Sorcery to be shunned by the talented magicians. By the time of Dark Souls, so much time has passed that Flame Sorcery has reverted to a crude art practiced by swamp dwellers, modern Pyromancy.
In regards to the new lightning magic, it can be explained by the flexible nature of souls based magics, which are able to become whatever the wielder wishes, assuming they possess enough knowledge and mastery of soul arts. This ties into what we see in Demon’s Souls: When The Old One awakened and gave humans the ability to cast magic, Sorcery spread throughout the land first, then Miracles were “discovered again” according to Saint Urbain. In reality, the church delved into Sorcery, creating a bunch of spells all their own. They just called their Sorcery by the title of Miracle, branded magicians not in their fold as evil, and proceeded to manufacture a nonexistent difference in Miracles and Sorcery.
This can be seen by the Talisman of Beasts revealing the source of Miracles, the church’s god, to be the source of Sorcery, The Old One, and allows its wielder to cast both Sorcery and Miracles with it in hand. Furthermore, a demon soul in Demon’s Souls or a boss soul in Dark Souls can become a Sorcery or a Miracle depending on what the user wants it to be. Dark Souls also has a similar tie between the nature of Sorcery and Miracles hinted at by Velka’s Talisman, a talisman that uses Intelligence instead of Faith to cast miracles, and exposed by the very nature of Hexes in Dark Souls 2.
The Chaos Flame is The Old One reawakening.
As you likely know, when the First Flame began to fade, Gwynn was afraid. He didn’t want to lose all he had become and let society revert back to shambling corpses. At this time, the Witch of Izalith attempted to recreate the First Flame, only for it to take on a life of its own and become what they called the Chaos Flame. This corrupted flame gave rise to the Bed of Chaos, a giant burning tree monster that summons demons…Sounds familiar.
My theory is that the Lords of Anor Londo were ignorant to the true nature of the First Flame, and when they tried to recreate it to end their fears, they reawakened the will of The Old One. This lead to the distortion of time and space around Anor Londo, like in Boletaria before it, and brought about the Darksign, also like the Nexial Binding before it.
Once again, a chosen warrior would face a constant cycle of death and rebirth until his or her destiny is fulfilled. This destiny would lead to the deaths of the old lords, the gathering of many souls into one location, and the choice to of continuing the charade of life, or ending it altogether and returning mankind to its natural state before the corpses found the souls in the first place.
Now we’re ready to move on and look at the link between Dark Souls, especially Dark Souls 2, and Bloodborne.
This is the most blatant, talked about a link to Bloodborne that Dark Souls has, so I have to mention it, however briefly.
Chester admits to coming from the very distant future, supporting my positioning of Bloodborne at the end of the timeline, and is quite obviously a Hunter: His fighting style involves Hunter evasion skills, using a crossbow in place of a gun, and a penchant for making one bleed. None of these are the most interesting things about him though.
That honor goes to the fact that Chester has no humanity despite clearly being a (somewhat) sane human being. This brings me to…
Dark Souls 2 as the story of humans ultimately rejecting souls
Why yes, you do spend the entire game gathering souls in order to avoid hollowing and to find a cure for the curse of the undead, but the addition of Duke Aldia as an NPC sheds new light this quest. Throughout Scholar of the First Sin, the new Chosen Undead will encounter Aldia and he will offer information that he and Vendrick gleaned from peering into the soul and the nature of hollows.
He implies that he learned that life itself was a lie, and call the undead curse that leads to hollowing a “supposed curse.” This was exciting because it lined up neatly with my personal theory that the cast of Dark Souls are just reanimated corpses of the soul-starved husks left behind after Boletaria fell. All who learned this truth would become angry, like Aldia, or disheartened, like Vendrick.
The most important thing Aldia has to say comes when he is defeated at the Throne of Want:
I lost everything, but remained here, patiently.
The throne will certainly receive you.
But the question remains…
What do you want, truly?
Light? Dark? Or something else entirely…
This could mean that this chosen undead doesn’t have to participate in the endless cycle of souls. There is an escape, and Marvellous Chester has inadvertently shown us it can work. Humans simply have to reject souls and find a new medium through which to maintain their more desirable form, and that medium has been around since Demon’s Souls: Blood.
Like souls, blood also contains memories, evidenced by the knowledge of another person’s last moments being viewable through their blood stains. It has powers not as well studied as those of the brilliant, alluring soul. We see a change in this thanks to Dark Souls 2’s Drakeblood Knights, a sect that worships the blood of dragons:
To the Drakeblood Knights, fresh dragon blood
was sacrosanct. They believed that by obtaining it,
they could achieve a true understanding of life,
transcending their own banal existence.
The update to Scholar of the First Sin finally spills the secrets on the Archdrake sect and reveals them to be the survivors of the Drakeblood Knights, the group that destroyed the Sanctum City of Shulva in an attempt to pursue sacred blood. They establish a church and amass innumerable sins in search of salvation from the curse. If my theory endures, then these were the people who sought escape from the soul cycle by using blood as a medium. Coincidentally, the Agape Ring was added in the same update, which promotes abstinence from souls, by absorbing them before the wearer can obtain them, as a means of maintaining an enduring self.
During the events of Dark Souls 2 we encounter Aldia, Scholar of the First Sin, a man that learned the true nature of the soul and sought to cast off the yoke of life’s charade in the soul cycle, a group of knights that worshiped blood in pursuit of a higher state of being, a church that came into power and believed in blood as a means to evolution, and mankind’s first attempt to abstain from souls via the Agape Ring. Dark Souls 2 truly is about rejecting souls.
Oh, Aldia is another burning tree monster by the way. I’m just saying, there may be a pattern there.
Bloodborne’s Pthumerians and Dark Souls
Deep below the surface of Bloodborne, locked away in the optional chalice dungeons, are interesting bits of lore that imply a connection between Dark Souls and Bloodborne through a missing link civilization: The Pthumerians. People believe they were a superhuman race of humanoids that benefited from exchanges with the Great Ones they discovered.
My theory is that these ancient Pthumerians are descendants of a group either directly related to, or branching from, the Archdrake Sect of Lindelt and their worship of blood as a way to elevate themselves beyond the banal existence of humans trapped in the soul cycle. Fortunately, there’s a bit of evidence to support this claim, and I’m going to present it in reverse chronological order.
…We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood. Our eyes are yet to open… —Master Willem
Those are Master Willem’s thoughts on the use of the Old Blood, blood of Great Ones distributed by the Healing Church of Yharnam. If we simply replace blood with the word soul, we have a description of the events of all prior Souls games. The important part here is that Willem believes that humanity is made men by the Old Blood. In retrospect, Willem was an incredibly smart man.
After Byrgenworth discovered the existence of the Great Ones in the labyrinth below the city, Willem was one of the earliest of Bloodborne’s humans to study them. He seemed to know his stuff as well, because, throughout Bloodborne, players discover that all of his theories and fears are proven valid and come to pass. Eyes on the inside were a key to greater insight, as seen by the umbilical cords and the rotted Brain of Mensis. There was a way to become something more without the use of the Old Blood, through Caryll Runes and insight. Laurence was making a horrible mistake in killing Kos and using the Old blood. Given his track record, I’m sure Willem was right, or at least had good reason to believe, in his claim that humans are made men by the Old Blood.
Willem may have made his claims based on the study of not just the Great Ones, but records of Pthumerian people’s interaction with them. If he studied the Pthumerian civilizations and discovered that Old Blood lead to their fall. it would explain why Willem outright feared the Old Blood and barred all of his followers from using it, despite never seeming to have used it first hand.
It is my belief that the Pthumerians were the first humanoid civilization to discover and worship the Great Ones. This is because the Pthumerians still had rituals predating the worship of blood, as seen by the description of the Bone Ash set worn by the Keepers of the Old Lords:
“Armor made of bone ash, worn by the oldest keepers. The keepers, who mind the slumbering Great Ones, gained eternal life, preserved in ashen form in a ceremony of flame that cremated body and soul”
“Now, their frail armor is white and sinewy, a window into an arcane lost art.”
“The long, pointed hat is a symbol of the old keepers and is considered evidence of their companionship, forged in a certain sin.”
There’s a lot to digest in this one set of armor. It makes sense that the Keepers would be undead from Dark Souls, as the ceremony and sin fit unbelievably well with the act of kindling the Flame, and the description of the gear itself hearkens back to when Gwynn became Lord of Cinder. Also please note that it specifically points out the old Keepers, not all Keepers. It helps establish a timeline for the change in the humanoid races.
The old Keepers and the Pthumerian Elders are all capable of pyromancy, a particularly special art in the Dark Souls era, and one that was slowly fading out after the horrifying incident with the Chaos Flame. The Bone Ash set even points out that it’s a “window into an arcane lost art” because pyromancy is lost to Bloodborne’s modern humans.
Here we see a Keeper using Pyromancy.
If we follow our three-point timeline of enemies a step further we come to Queen Yharnam. She’s a Pthumerian, but she doesn’t use pyromancy at all. Instead, she uses blood as her means of attack. We know little of Yharnam, but what we do know is that she’s one of the later Pthumerians, and had entered into a covenant with a Great One. She would be one who had unlocked the eldritch Truth.
Finally, we come to the Pthumerian Descendant, who by virtue of his title, is a descendant of the Pthumerians and further down our time line than the old Keepers and Pthumerian Elders. Coincidentally, no Pthumerian Descendants use pyromancy. If you want my theory as to why this is, we have to go back and talk about magic in all three series.
Pthumerian Elder using Pyromancy.
In Demon’s Souls, souls were given to man by God, but we later learn that this god is The Old One. If we apply Bloodborne’s rules and say that magic can only be used by channeling the power of Great Ones through a medium, and we view The Old One as one of the Great Ones, then we can view souls as the medium that allowed humans of that era to cast magic. In fact, it’s very well established that souls are a medium of power, are the source of magic, and come from a source outside of the humanoid’s natural body.
Now analyze these facts:
- Souls are not native to humans.
- Souls allowed humans to use magic.
- Pyromancy is a soul-based form of magic.
- In DS2: SotFS religious sects began to worship the blood of higher beings.
- In DS2: SotFS the idea of abstaining from souls to beat the curse came to exist.
- Only early Pthumerians participated in the fire rituals and used pyromancy.
- Later Pthumerians used blood magic and seemed unable to perform pyromancy.
- Bloodborne’s modern humans cannot use magic.
When we look at those facts, neatly arranged in chronological order, it appears to tell the story of why humans can no longer cast magic in Bloodborne. Humans gave up their souls and found a new source of life in blood, however, this exchange took from them the arts rooted in the soul, and that’s why we no longer see them use pyromancy, or any magic without artifacts in hand or having undergone a transformation.
Well there you have it, my theory on a unified timeline for Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne. What do you think? Does it sound right to you too, or have I just lost my marbles grasping at imaginary threads? To me, the most exciting part about Dark Souls 3 coming is trying to piece together its story from what we know and what we find in the game. Now that we have a Dark Souls 3 trailer pointing us to the end of the soul cycle, a missing age in my theory, I couldn’t possibly be more ecstatic.
Right or wrong, April 12 can’t get here fast enough.