The Ashen Mist Heart is literally a “core of ash fog” (灰の霧の核) which has taken that peculiar shape — in other words, a dense mass of fog not unlike the mist seen in the opening cinematic for the original Dark Souls. (DS1) It should come as no surprise then that it is an “art” conjured through the “mysteries” of the Ancient Dragon. The power of fog is as old as the progenitor dragon race itself. And although it was originally a giant, it has nonetheless become a member of this race in body with all the qualities that come with it. When we actually greet it, the dragon immediately notes that the “stagnation” begins to move as result of the change we introduced through our presence. Here it was enjoying unchanging eternity when we disturb it, which the beast accepts as an inescapable rule of life. And as the creature of stone points out, life’s nature to seek is the reason for our visit. Us creatures of flesh and blood pursue an answer within the fog, and the dragon provides. With this clump of power it possessed, we are able to peek at the memories of the dead, and much more.
Thing with the shape of an ash fog that was given by an archdragon.
Can peek at the memories of those that perished. It is an art caused by the mysteries of the archdragon.
The stagnation begins to move… changes again, hm…? It cannot be escaped… if seeking is the rule of life… But, for this reason… you seek an answer within the fog, hm?
When we approach certain giant “corpses” at the Forest of Fallen Giants — namely Jeigh, Orro, and Vammar — we are able to dive into their memories. Our bodies fade like fog as we “enter” their bodies like walking through a doorway. But strangely enough, these memories don’t have us follow the individual they belong to. Rather, we appear in random parts of the coastal fortress that the forest has since overtaken, specifically during the final clash between Drangleic and the giants’ army. From there, we can explore various events no singular person had seen in their entirety for a limited time. We can promptly exit by interacting with certain giant corpses after we collect their souls, but these aren’t the memory-bearers in question — each body is in entirely different locations from where the corresponding corpse has taken root in the present day. Rather, this gameplay mechanic betrays the fact that we can interact with elements of this memory.
Enemies will attack us and can be slain in turn, Drummond will react to our random appearance and leave a summon sign for us should we converse with him, and Benhart can be met with full knowledge of our past interactions and offer to help as another summon. But most telling of all, we can battle and defeat the Giant Lord. According to the description of the Last Giant’s soul, the giant king was defeated by an “unknown hero” before being sealed away beneath the fortress. This is an obvious reference to his defeat by our hands in the memory, explaining why the fallen king has such a violent reaction to seeing us when he has remained dormant in apparently trifling restraints for so long. We aren’t just peeking at someone else’s memories, we are traveling through time and space. This is consistent with the memory of the archdragon that we enter from the remains buried deep underground.
Soul of the surviving giant that was bound to the Forest of Giants underground.
It is said that the chief of the giants that tried to trample the kingdom underfoot was felled by an unknown hero. The chief was tethered to the fortress underground and sealed away, but it was after anything and everything was completely destroyed.
The special soul this giant possesses is used to acquire a vast amount of souls or create a great power.
After entering the memory, we appear before seemingly the same carcass, only now lying upon the disheveled rocky terrain. Sunlight shines down from behind the body thanks to the destruction of the surrounding archtrees, giving every indication of the Lower World seen in DS1 during or shortly after the Lords’ dragon hunts — indeed, one of the ancient dragons who gave the Lords difficulty slaying as a collective would possess a soul equal to that of lesser kings, as illustrated by their shared menu graphic. But before we can do anything of significance in this era, we return to the cave beneath Tseldora after robbing the deceased dragon of its soul, thereby guaranteeing it become the cadaver we use to turn back the clock in the first place. We are creating closed time loop scenarios similar to how our foray through time is handled in DS1’s Artorias of the Abyss DLC. This plot thread is likely a carryover of ideas from an earlier version of the game’s main plot, the details of which remain in the game files as cut dialogue.
In this earlier draft of the script, our goal was to collect two treasures needed to activate the “pendulum of time” that an academic named Velderrick (ベルデリック) had been researching at Drangleic Castle. With it, the man would go back to before King Vendrick disappeared and giants destroyed his kingdom. In our case, we would revisit old areas and meet new incarnations of previous characters like Shanalotte as a child. This plotline’s influence upon the final game is palpable.
If I cross over to the past with the pendulum, I can possibly even call on his Majesty, whom I don’t know the whereabouts of, and get back to the castle now.
In that case, how does the Ashen Mist Heart make our time travel possible? Aren’t we just interacting with residual memories? Yes and no. Memories are of course reproductions of the various people, places, things, and events we have experienced. Even if these recollections are perfect reconstructions, they still aren’t the genuine article — they exist only in our soul’s mind. But what if one used fog’s dominion over the nonexistent, conceptual, and imaginary to blur the lines between reproduction and reality? By bridging the boundaries between real and imaginary, we manifest the conceptual into reality similar to the principles behind miracles. The result is the subject’s limited perception of an event becoming a narrow portal to the broader period he or she is remembering in its entirety. This is what allows us to take part in events that the subject wasn’t present or conscious for. However, this spatial-temporal bridge can only be sustained so long as the fog continues to blur these boundaries, and the limited power we possess causes the mist that we use to quickly “thin” and force us back to our proper timespace.
While this explains the cause of our time travel, the same cannot be said for Benhart. Before we can encounter him at the battle on the shore, the warrior of Jugo will be found loitering around the ruined fortress in the present day. That being case, it is possible that the overlapping of worlds just so happened to stagnate his time-space in the present with the one we explore in the past, making his appearance there simply an incredible coincidence. Alternatively, he too has has received a core of ash fog from the Ancient Dragon. After all, the beast implies that we are not the first to have disturbed its static eternity, and we can encounter Benhart at Drangleic Castle before Nashandra directs us to the Dragon Shrine and later the Forest of Fallen Giants. Perhaps it is the warrior’s whimsy, or perhaps it is fate like he himself muses. Either way it is possible for him to be following a similar path to ours, leading to him meeting with the Ancient Dragon and diving into the giants’ memories with his own core around the same time. We should just be grateful for the help.
Go to the forest. To the land where those ugly giants rest. Retrace their adrift thoughts with the sign of that dragon.