The Gutter


Preface


The Gutter is perhaps the most visually appealing iteration of FromSoftware’s infamous trash levels, largely because it is divorced from the traditional swamp aesthetic. Despite inheriting almost all of the themes and motifs from past levels of its ilk, omitting their most recognizable aspect helps alleviate the repetition. That said, a more creative aesthetic doesn’t add to the substance of the area, and the Gutter is hardly notable even if memorable. If not for the addition of the Crown of the Sunken King DLC, the significance of the Gutter and the intrinsically related Black Gulch would be a hollow retread of Blighttown from the original Dark Souls. (DS1) With it, there is at least a phantom of relevance.


Drangleic’s Dump


The Gutter is a literal “trash bottom” (クズ底) at the base of the Pit where every “abominable” thing was thrown away. Flowing down most the cavern walls is a thick lather of filth, with three towers of trash having piled up to the ceiling in the part of the area we enter from. All of this indicates that this opening area is situated directly beneath the Pit, making the cavern the place where everything ultimately flows into from the shaft. And while this in all likelihood consisted of rainwater, grass, and leaves on most days, much was evidently stuff people had thrown away. According to Gilligan, this unsavory refuse ranged from things that had died to things that Drangleic simply didn’t want anything to do with, and we can see that the towers of trash include furniture as well as human and cow remains. By throwing it down a hole at the edge of the land, they could put it all out of sight, out of mind. This was especially true when public knowledge about owning this garbage would be inconvenient to say the least.

Key that was found at the Trash Bottom. Elaborately designed, but where the key is used is unknown.

Every abominable thing was thrown away in Maduula’s Trash Bottom. As a result, it became a settlement of chaos and pollution.

Abominable, or imawashii, (忌まわしい) is otherwise only used to describe the arts which produced the Primal Knights. It is no surprise then to see that a large proportion of what was dumped into the Gutter is linked to Aldia’s experiments. In particular, we find rupture Hollows, swollen dogs, and a queen corrosive bug down there — all confirmed products or subjects of the man’s studies in the Dark Souls II Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide. It would seem that once any of these specimens had outlived their usefulness at the researcher’s manor, they were promptly brought to Majula and cast into the Pit. They weren’t alone, either.

Among the items to be found down the Pit, there are a collection of sorceries and pyromancies, the Witchtree Branch sorcery staff, and the tattered cloth set worn by pyromancers. All of this implies that a number of magic casters also ended up down there, and they weren’t all just your standard spellcaster either, as there is also the Dark Pyromancy Flame that scales with one’s hollowing and numbers of hexes. At least some of these magic practitioners had dabbled into the Dark arts, and they are happy to learn. Corpses and chests down there also hide both Evil Eye Rings and the equally sinister Wicked Eye Greatshield, equipment that absorbs life from defeated enemies. The armor of the Darkwraiths endowed with that same Dark lifedraining power has been safely secured within a Gutter mimic. In short, a great number of magic casters of all three major schools had also found their way to the bottom of the Pit.

There are several possibilities as to why. For one, they may be some of Aldia’s acolytes who also outlived their usefulness in his experiments or were condemned for their role in those atrocities while outside the manor later down the line. Some among them may also be victims or refugees of Vendrick’s persecution of sorcerers, thrown down for their magical arts if not leaping down there to escape pursuit themselves. After all, the Gutter is also where we can find countless Hollows and acquire the Bandit Greataxe, so the Pit has likely been used all throughout Majula’s history to throw out local criminals or Undead with no involvement by the two royal brothers. The vast majority of Hollows encountered in the Gutter are rather generic, and so it was probably both a dumping ground and refuge for a wide variety of lawbreakers, outcasts, and undesirables. Anyone rejected by the world ended up there, and it wasn’t an easy life.

The Gutter is a massive cave complex leading into Black Gulch, a large canyon seemingly named for its walls laden with black flamestone and deadly drops into the depths of the earth. Various item descriptions still consider the canyon to be part of the Gutter’s territory, however, and said caverns are home to giant millipedes known as razorback nightcrawlers, or “hole bugs”. (穴蟲) These subterranean burrowers evolved naturally according to the Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide, which is consistent with DS1’s giant bugs encountered in the underground ruins of Izalith — insects and other creepy crawlies do thrive underground. Even so, they are just as dangerous as the artificial creatures roaming around with them. The placement of Scraps of Life on a corpse near the mouth of one such insect plus the fact that the bugs themselves can drop Dead Again suggest that they have gobbled up the seedy residents intruding upon their territory.

As if that wasn’t horrifying enough, both areas also have giant black worms known as “black eaters”. (黒喰い) True to their name, the predators lie in ambush within black tar pits, where they then leap out and latch onto prey with their fingerlike appendages before absolutely eviscerating them with their toothy maws. Their evolution seems to be a unique adaptation to this particular environment, too. We can see a dragon skeleton embedded in the rockface of Black Gulch. And considering that tar pits are typically derived from crude oil, it appears that the Gutter’s endemic life had evolved suit a fossil-rich environment which has existed since the early Age of Fire. The only comparable locale is the large cave deep beneath Tseldora, where memories in the dragon’s remains reveal that they had perished during the gods’ dragon hunts. Therefore, we can reasonably infer that the tar is a byproduct of remains that have been buried underground there since events predating even DS1. And given that, the crystallization of these flammable black substances over time are probably what create the black flamestone native to the canyon.

But combustible fossil fuels are the least of anyone’s worries. Black Gulch is absolutely covered in luminescent moss, presumably the same green moss used to make the Poison Moss commonly found down the Pit. These moss balls contain weak toxins that counteract existing poison within the body as a detoxifying agent. Whether the poisons they carry are naturally produced by it or absorbed from the environment, it is a disturbing trend for these caverns. Due to the Pit’s nature, all manner of filth, sewage, and pollution flows down into the Gutter. The result of this endless accumulation of waste at the bottom becoming home to a variety of harmful substances and a breeding ground for disease. No one would want to live in such grime, but the existence of Rotten Pine Resin down there proves that those forced to reside in the Gutter do so every day. As the turpentine’s name implies, anyone down there has been thrown out by the world and left to rot.


Rotten Society


Some among the proverbial garbage sought to find a way above ground and began scaling the rock walls with whatever they had. Both the Black Flamestone Dagger and Parma show signs of a basic dagger and crimson parma getting stuck on the canyon’s black crystals and being forced out with the stone still attached. Unsurprisingly, not a single one of these attempts succeeded, resulting in all of them dying with a deep grudge for the surface that trapped them down there. These resentful rotting corpses became the basis for the Rotten: an amalgamation of the various bodies squirming around the deepest part of the Gutter. It is very much the embodiment of the rot amassed in this trashbed, their souls’ shared ill will coalescing into a singular soul as part of a curse the same as their bodies. Because of this curse, the Rotten is as much a collection of individuals as it is the sum of its parts, a hive mind consciousness united by hatred and thereby seamlessly moving its composite body as one. And at the core of this massive ball of spite is Nito.

Dagger with black crystal attached to it. Thing that was found at the Black Canyon which is within the depths of the Trash Bottom. Heavier than the standard dagger, but the sharp crystal possesses more cutting ability than ordinary edged tools.

There were some among those thrown out into the Trash Bottom who sought the path to above ground and began to crawl out. But it is said that not a single one came back and that they perished while deeply resentful.

Shalquoir notes that the one we seek at the bottom of the earth has been there since so long ago that he has already become completely “rotten” in reference to the boss. However, her similar wordplays when referencing other bosses possessed by the Old Ones indicates that the cat is referring specifically to Nito, whose soul is acquired after killing the Rotten on NG+. The god of death has always been associated with decay and preferred to reside in darkness below the earth, so it is no surprise that his soul has found its way into these caves and would be attracted to the rotten flesh that showed up after him. Likewise, the old dead one had his own reasons to resent the surface world, especially after meeting his own demise at the hands of the living from above ground in DS1. Shalquior’s dialogue hence hints at Nito’s soul being responsible for collecting the various persons making up the Rotten. His will is the glue uniting all of their grudges into one being, an entity that he likely serves as the dominant conscious of.

There is a big hole here. At the bottom of the hole are rats, so insolent. But the one you seek is further below them. He has been at the bottom of the earth since long ago, and is there even now. He has already become completely “rotten”. Heheheh…

Although this combination of the dead have been reanimated differently from the skeletons which adorned Nito’s old form, there are still benefits to their union. Because their bodies are only loosely bound together to appear like a singular being, the Rotten has no qualms sheathing its massive blade within its actual body. Nonetheless, they seem to still want to maintain a humanoid shape and have used chains and cages to help shape their grotesque form. And since each individual body remains distinct while also bending and crawling as needed, they are able to maintain this structure with no loss of speed or mobility, unlike the mountain of corpses from New Londo in DS1. The Rotten thus behaves like it is a singular body in almost every way, from how it attacks with its “arms” to how it “sees” with its “head” to how it coughs up the local tar from its “mouth”. As the one body sticking out of its left “shoulder” demonstrates by its movements, the will of the main conscious is shared to them all and so they act accordingly, though it is doubtful that this level of synergy would be possible if not for the ineffable deity’s great power behind it.

This cursed monster’s inception marks a turning point for the Gutter’s denizens. The description for its boss soul relates that the all-accepting rot became a “holy land” (聖地)  for those thrown away by the world. The double meaning is obvious. The metaphorical trash decided to embrace the filth, poison and rot of their new home, making it a sacred refuge for those hoping for some salvation. At the same time, a personification of decay welcomed new guests to its subterranean lair, more than happy to add resentful souls to its being. The Gutter received any person or thing no matter their appearance, background, or disposition, with the Rotten as their unofficial ruler. Perhaps this development was motivated in part by Nito’s past as god of decay and king of the dead, but the Rotten’s power ultimately made it the unequivocal head honcho. The only reason I call him the unofficial ruler is because this adoration of the rot resulted in a literally and figuratively rotten society living in total anarchy.

Soul of the Rotten that continues to squirm in the innermost part of the Trash Bottom.

The rot which accepts all became a holy land for those that were thrown away from the world.

The special soul this rot possesses is used to acquire a vast amount of souls or create a great power.

The main settlement of the Gutter consists of ramshackle buildings and makeshift bridges rising above the filthy bedrock that they are built upon, similar to DS1’s Blighttown. The shoddy wooden planks were likely scavenged from the trash piles that accumulated over the years, and the same can be said for the clay pots, blankets, sacks, metal cages, and other amenities decorating their humble abodes. The residents have made use of anything and everything that has been abandoned down there with them. This includes the surviving ruins of Heide. It is incredibly unlikely for the destitute denizens of the Gutter to be responsible for the elaborate stonework of the doors found at the Pit and dark caves, not to mention the equally intricate metalwork of the key locking them. However, they would be perfectly capable of uncovering the key and repurposing these places as storage rooms and the like; the hexers among them would certainly have taken interest in the entrance to the Dark Chasm of Old behind one. All of this emphasizes the scarcity of the Gutter, how little there is for them to even survive.

While we see some homes keep sacks of fruit and hanging bodies of pigs or maybe dogs that have presumably fall down the Pit, it is doubtful that this mana from heaven comes down more than once in a blue moon. What are they to eat then in the meantime? Are they to risk their lives hunting the dangerous creatures lurking in the earth? For some, no. They instead elect to prey on far easier targets. Melinda, or Marida, (マリダ) can invade while we traverse the Gutter. Between this, the rags she wears, the greataxe she wields, the dingy location she is encountered in, and her name plus pseudonym as the Butcher, she is an obvious callback to Maneater Mildred — a DS1 dark spirit was also a “meat cutter” (肉断ち) of the human variety. And as the Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide relays, the endless struggle to survive has driven some to consume the flesh of their fellow denizens of these barren caves. Even the Rotten wields a giant butcher knife that alludes to its original revolting use by cannibals like Mildred and Melinda in its description.

There are no authorities to stop them. Everyone in the Gutter is free to do as they please there. One’s neighbor may be a friend one day and a foe the next — anything to live another day. As the Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide affirms, two senior giant soldiers who survived the war with Drangleic reside in a hidden cave down the side of the gulch. This is reinforced by the chest behind them, which contains a Ring of Giants. Though the item text describes a Forossan hero, this particular ring has evidently been crafted by an actual giant. These two — three if you have summoned a friend — had apparently decided to escape Drangleic’s armies by hiding out at the bottom of the Pit. And based on the Forgotten Key acquired upon their demise, they have been eating the Gutter’s inhabitants. In fact, the hanging cages we can use to head back up to the top of the canyon suggests that said residents have regularly offered human sacrifices to placate the giants. Perhaps these offerings are some of the many Hollows lurking in the Gutter, but it nonetheless demonstrates the lengths that these wretched souls will go to save their own skins.


Soiled Faith


On the topic of ritual sacrifice, it is no surprise that the desperate and needy latch onto faith to help cope with their dire situation, especially since this is their holy land. Chests found within the Gutter’s territory contain sacred items like the Great Lightning Spear text or a Divine Blessing. These may have simply been pillaged from the nearby Grave of Saints. The settlement has built up towers and platforms up the Pit in an apparent attempt to climb out, reaching the cleric graveyard where we come across “thrown away” and rupturing Hollows. We can also find a random skeleton there carrying the Whisper of Despair hex, a rather out of place spell for a graveyard of holy men. But, the repurposed Pit room stores not only Great Lightning Spear and Witchtree Branch, but a Witchtree Bellvine as well. This part of the same magic tree used to create the branch sorcery staff is commonly used by excommunicated clergymen in lieu of a traditional holy bell. Moreover, the Gutter chest that triggers Melinda’s invasion contains the Ring of Soul Protection created by a Lindelt clergyman.

There is no doubt that the Gutter was also home to Lindelt clergy who either turned to sorcery beforehand or ended up in the Pit after being barred from performing holy services. All that said, the religion that is flourished in the Gutter seems to be original. After throwing away anything they found distasteful, Drangleic would throw in stone dolls with them, a few of which we can see standing ready to be tossed in at the mouth of the Pit. It is clear that at least the Majulans practiced this, though Gilligan only guesses it to be done as part of a funeral ritual or some other “hick” custom, not necessarily “pagan” as his English dialogue states. Majula is a countryside village at the edge of the kingdom, so it is reasonable for them to develop peculiar local customs. In that case, carving and throwing away human-sized statues may have been their way to honor those condemned to die in their glorified trashbin, perhaps wishing to send them off with a merciful blessing even if only to ease their conscience. These dolls do look like hooded holy woman and have some writing etched at the base of the statue, reaffirming the religious significance of this memorial ritual.

Afterward, they apparently threw in the stone dolls with them as a funeral or something. Well, there’s probably some reason. Probably what you call a hick custom.

If its original meaning was to provide hope to the damned, it succeeded. These statues litter the Gutter and Black Gulch, countless set up around the crude homes or embedded into the cavern walls. We see a number of Hollows pay reverence to these idols, some of which have since broke and had their missing heads replaced with bones and flesh that we can burn for torchlight — someone has even arranged a few in an overtly ritual fashion. To give their continued survival motivation and meaning in such dire circumstances, the residents have adopted this holy symbol, a maternal figure to comfort them similar to the role played by the Fair Lady at Blighttown in DS1 and Maiden Astraea at the Valley of Defilement in Demon’s Souls. However, many of these idols spit poison, so one must question if this too has meaning. Because a fair number of the statues are completely ordinary, including those laying around Majula, they are likely traps installed by the subterranean inhabitants loitering in such toxicity. Is this merely to threaten trespassers like ourselves, or does it signify something more for everyone involved?

The reverence for the idols excludes the possibility of them simply seeing all of these signs of compassion from the surface world as disingenuous. And so, their poison must represent the rot. As mentioned earlier, it is the undiscriminating nature of the Gutter’s rot that makes it a holy land for the proverbial trash forced to live among it. No matter what happens to them down in those cold, dark caves, they can trust the rotten trash to be there for them — more so than anyone else down there or on the surface. It is decay that is their god and above ground that is their devil. That being the case, the residents recontextualized this religious imagery of Majula to embody the filth, pestilence, and toxins characterizing the Gutter. Even the Rotten itself holds these idols in high regard considering it becomes enraged after failing to put one broken statue back together when we first enter its lair. Both the cursed dead and the god at the heart of them glorify the icon as a symbol of decay, and maybe something more.

The description for the Puzzling Stone Sword found in Shulva notes that its materials are mined deep in the Gutter while the Dragon Talon’s description states that the entrance to the sunken kingdom is in the depths of Black Gulch. This suggests that the metropolis borders the Gutter’s territory in the deepest parts of the canyon, though we need to warp to the “deep bottom” of this trash bottom. The wildlife further supports this notion. The Cave of the Dead neighboring Shulva is home to the same hole bugs encountered in Black Gulch. Similarly, the acid bugs nesting in the ruins of Shulva can be found lurking within the Gutter in much fewer numbers. The two areas are thus close enough for crossover between their various inhabitants. Indeed, there is ample evidence of contact between the Gutter and the Sanctum City.

Sword with many segmented blades. Its blade separates with swinging force and kills by seemingly extending.

What is used in the blade is tinged with what seems like strong magnetic power from the strange stone only mined deep within the Trash Bottom.

The key we need to enter Shulva is acquired from a corpse in the aforementioned storage room in the Pit. And as we progress through the city ruins as well as the Cave of the Dead, we find the Gutter’s stone statues, some still spitting poison or covered in the glowing moss of Black Gulch. Evidently, some of the Gutter’s residents have been to the city and left behind their idols. The Cave of the Dead is also home to Varg, whose Havel equipment can mostly be acquired from a corpse stuffed in a vase at the back of one of the Gutter’s storage rooms. This is the same room storing lots of trap idols — as if the residents had killed a Hollow like Varg and hid the body somewhere safe, presumably because they were unable to make proper use of such heavy equipment themselves. And after lighting idol torches set up in a ritual circle, we will be invaded by the Gutter Denizen. The man’s clothes and staff are characteristically employed by witches while the soul sorceries he casts include Focus Souls, which originates from Shulva.

There is no doubt that the Gutter has access to the toxic ruins of Shulva and made use of it to in some cases take back the treasures it keeps. But something is odd. The Gutter’s statues in the Cave of the Dead don’t spit poisonous material but petrifying substances. Neither do they bear glowing green moss but glowing red eyes. This isn’t the work of the Gutter, as a particularly large stone statue in one corner of the cave spews a cloud of petrifying gas upon our approach. This statue certainly seems to portray a robed holy woman in prayer, but its design is entirely different from the dolls flung into the Gutter and its size makes it unlikely to be something made or moved there by its meager inhabitants. In that case, it is an icon of Shulva, which begs the question as to who it depicts and why its effects have been passed onto the Gutter’s own statues. The holy women of the Sanctum City are its priestesses led by their Queen Elana in the worship of the stone-scaled archdragon Sinh. Is there a connection?

As noted earlier, the Gutter has explored the actual ruins of the sunken kingdom, with at least one resident in possession of a key to the main doors. And yet those doors have been explicitly shut from the inside. Who is left in this Hollow-infested ruin to do such a thing except for the Queen who still resides in it? Similarly, one can argue that the Rotten employs Dark magic because it bears the soul of Nito, whose own soul can become the basis for a hex. But if that is the case, then why do none of its attacks poison, which represented the god’s actual power of death in DS1? Alternatively, one can argue that they hint at the Rotten being cursed by dark souls like the pursuers or being partially comprised of hexers. But at that point, the same can be said of a spawn of Dark teaching them to it. In fact, how convenient that the warp point to Shulva’s main entrance is set up in a cave just behind the Rotten’s boss room where the monster could readily access it. And adjoining the narrow passage between them is another cavern with a chest containing three equally curious yet suitable items.

The first is a Petrified Something, three of which can be found in a chest in the Cave of the Dead where we encounter the petrifying statues. The second is a Simpleton’s Spice, which makes it easier to perform a given sorcery. And the last is a Skeptic’s Spice, which makes it easier to perform a given miracle. Taken together, these items might be implying that an alliance was formed between the sorcerer-filled Gutter and the priest-filled Shulva and more specifically between the Rotten and Elana. The Squalid Queen seeks vengeance on the surface for bringing about the destruction of her kingdom and forcing her to live in the corruption, stockpiling souls in preparation for this venture. Where are these souls and how shall they help her have revenge? Conversely, the Rotten exists due to a collective grudge against the surface and has been embraced as something holy even as platforms are built up the Pit. And hasn’t Elana too come to embody all that is corrupted, impure, or otherwise unclean?

All of these parallels suggest that the two parties are in league. The denizens of the Gutter provide the Queen an army of souls to assail the surface and the arts of the Sanctum City provide power to the powerless or power-hungry. And more importantly, Elana gives a tangible face to the idols they revere. She is the one projected onto the image of a holy maiden of the rot, all-loving mother of filth and decay. It is her image that the Rotten rages over being imperfect. With Elana, the perversion of Majula’s symbol of empathy is complete. Whether its spit defiles the body or turns it stone, the idol still represents a priestess corrupted by the dragon she revered. In that case, the platforms inching closer to the top of the Pit may not be attempts by those wishing to escape their sorry fate, but preparations for the day that they wreak havoc on the world that condemned them to it. Even now, the Rotten is bolstering its forces while awaiting this day, though the inherent disorganization of the Gutter may be the reason that it has taken so long for Elana to finally have her vengeance in the first place.