The Gutter


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.

Kingdom’s Dump

The Gutter is the bottom of the Pit where every “abominable” thing in Majula was trashed. Flowing down most the cavern walls is a thick lather of filth, with three towers of trash piling to the ceiling in the area we enter from. All of this indicates that this opening section is situated directly beneath the Pit, making the cavern the place 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 Madula’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 likewise outlived their usefulness or were condemned for their part in the experiments. Some among them may also be victims of Vendrick’s persecution of sorcerers, thrown down for their magical arts if not leaping in 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 banish local criminals or Undead with neither of the two royal brothers’ involvement. The vast majority of Hollows in the Gutter are 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, 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 from the trash bottom all the way to the deep bottom is home to corrosive insects and giant “hole bugs”. (穴蟲) These long burrowers evolved naturally according to the Guide, which is consistent with DS1’s giant bugs encountered in the subterranean 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 bugs themselves carrying Dead Again suggest that they have gobbled up the seedy Gutter 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 particular to this environment, too. After all, a dragon skeleton is embedded in the rock face of Black Gulch, whereas tar pits are typically derived from crude oil. It thus appears that the Gutter’s endemic life evolved to suit a fossil-rich environment which has existed since the early Age of Fire. Therefore, we can infer that the tar is a byproduct of remains that have been buried underground 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 poison moss commonly found down the Pit. Whether the poison is a natural byproduct or absorbed from the environment, it is a disturbing trend for these caverns. By nature of the Pit, 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 shared ill will coalescing into a singular hive mind. Because of this curse of resentment, the Rotten is as much a collection of individuals as it is the sum of its parts, each in this consciousness united by hatred seamlessly moving as one. And at the core of this massive ball of spite is Nito.

Dagger with black crystal attached. Thing that was found at Black Gulch 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 with other bosses possessed by the Old Ones indicates that the cat is referring specifically to Nito. The Gravelord has always been associated with decay and preferred to reside in darkness below the earth, so it is no surprise that his soul 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 Chosen Undead in DS1. Shalquoir’s dialogue hence hints at the god to all necromancers being responsible for collecting the various persons making up the Rotten. His will is the glue uniting all of their grudges, possessing the resulting entity.

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 itself or shuffling bodies around to reconstitute lost limbs. Nonetheless, it still wants to maintain humanoid shape, so has used chains and cages to maintain this grotesque form. And since the individual bodies are all acting in concert, the boss behaves as such, 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 from its gestures, the driving will is shared for them to act accordingly, though it is doubtful that this level of synergy would be possible if not for the ineffable Lord’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 body. The Gutter received any person or thing no matter their appearance, background, or disposition, with the Rotten as their unofficial ruler. The Rotten’s power ultimately made it the unequivocal head honcho, its rule unofficial only because such adoration of the rot resulted in a — both 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 all-accepting rot became a holy land for those who 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 stone and metalwork of the doors found throughout the Pit and Gutter. 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, it is doubtful that this mana from heaven comes down the Pit 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) invade in the Gutter. Between this, the rags she wears, the greataxe she wields, and her name as the Butcher, she is an obvious callback to Maneater Mildred — the DS1 invader was also a “meat cutter” (肉断ち) of the human variety. And as the 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 Guide affirms, senior giant soldiers who survived the war with Drangleic reside in a hidden cave down the side of the gulch. The chest behind them containing a Ring of Giants reinforces this; though the description mentions a Forossan hero, this particular ring was evidently crafted by an actual giant. The survivors 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.

These miscreants aren’t grateful for this newfound freedom, of course, any more than the Rotten providing them their haven. When we first climb down the shoddy platforms and ladders from the Grave of Saints to the Gutter, we come across a chest at the bottom. Inside? A token of spite. If given the opportunity, most would probably gladly return to the sunshine. The ones who actually prefer it down in the deep, dark caverns are the worst scum among them, the strong who victimize everyone else. They don’t want to be trapped with those people. But if they ever did climb their way out of the Gutter, it would not be without some payback to the society who banished them there in the first place. As far as the denizens are concerned, no good comes from the surface, even if that isn’t entirely true.

Soiled Faith

If this is their holy land, then it is no surprise that the desperate and needy latch onto faith to help cope with their dire situation. Some chests within Gutter 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, including to the tombs where we come across “thrown away” and rupturing Hollows; we can also find a random skeleton with a torch also holding the Whisper of Despair hex, a spell out of place in a graveyard of holy men. At the same time, 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, a chest in the Gutter 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 has flourished in the Gutter seems to be original. After throwing away anything they found distasteful, Drangleic would throw stone dolls in with them, a few standing ready to be tossed in when we first arrive in Majula. It is clear that at least the Majulans practiced this — though Gilligan only guesses it to be 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 such peculiar traditions. In that case, carving and throwing away human-sized statues may have been their way to honor those condemned to die in their glorified trash bin, sending them off with a merciful blessing. 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. The entity glorifies the icon as a symbol of decay, and maybe something more.

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 denizens 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 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 equipment is associated with witches while his soul sorceries include Focus Souls, which originates from Shulva.

There is no doubt that the Gutter has accessed the toxic ruins of Shulva 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 still residing there? 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 — even the Rotten’s dark shockwave is accompanied by a similar wail as when Nito unleashes his deathly aura. But if that is the case, then why do none of its attacks poison, which represented the Lord’s power of death in DS1? Perhaps the spawn of Dark taught it how to draw out that specific aspect. In fact, how convenient that the warp point to Shulva’s main entrance is set up in a cave just beyond the Rotten’s lair. And in the short passage between them is another 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 imply 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.

The boss’ reverence for the queen might even be love. The Rotten shares the same menu graphic for its boss soul as the various kings — and in one case, queen — encountered throughout the game. A particularly large and fiery soul reflects the great power of its regal owner, typically as a result of their heroic displays on the battlefield. At the same time, it is not at the same level of the Lords, whose faded power nonetheless still resembles a Lord Soul. Why then be possessed by a collection of corpses like the Rotten? Judging by the way individual bodies flail or react, they retain their individuality even as a hive mind, so the soul isn’t a result of their physical coalescing. This can’t be attributed to being a boss possessed by one of the Old Ones either, as one of the four, Freja, has the standard boss soul appropriate for a giant spider. Put simply, the soul at the core of the Rotten, controlling all the bodies, must be a single individual with power equivalent to a king though not a Lord. And with that criteria, there is one dead yet otherwise missing character who comes to mind: the Sunken King of Shulva.

Despite finding his crown in Sinh’s boss room, the king’s body is nowhere to be seen. This is odd when Yorgh’s corpse lies in the vicinity. The knight defeated the king there before they both died to the dragon’s poison, so where is the other corpse? Perhaps it was reclaimed by Elana to mourn her sovereign. But what if she refused to be a widow, especially after coming in contact with the soul of Nito? Whether coincidence or the Gravelord being drawn to the site of much death, his power would still tempt the child of Dark to dabble in necromancy. Yet her husband’s body was at ground zero for the poison blast, no doubt more infested than any. Without the perks of undeath, it would likely be too corroded to serve as his vessel in living death — by itself, at least. Concept art confirms that the Rotten was the upper half of a full “body” chained to a lab table at inception. In other words, the boss was imagined as someone’s artificial creation. And who would combine a bunch of dead and indignant bodies into something vaguely human except the apostle of wrath?

In short, Elana most likely used the powers of Dark and death to resurrect her husband after finding the souls of Nito and others cast into the Pit. His poisoned body lies at the heart of the Rotten, buried beneath all the others; perhaps it is the reason that the boss coughs up the tar of its lair. And whether or not the boss we face is missing a lower half, new bodies are still being grafted into the whole. Severing the left arm will net us a Pharros Lockstone, implying that the key was held by one of the bodies. And considering that Doors of Pharros have been installed in areas as recent as Drangleic Castle, there is a huge gap between Shulva’s destruction and at least the one body became part of the Rotten. Either Elana held onto her husband’s rotting corpse for quite a while, at which point it should already be a skeleton, or the Rotten has never stopped tinkering with its body, much like the Lord possessing him. The Gutter’s boss is constantly trying to be larger, stronger, more human. It all comports with the queen attempting to claw back some semblance of the man whose kingly soul first drew her to the deep bottom.

If so, then Elana’s experiment was a resounding success. The Sunken King has returned with seemingly full cognizance, though how much his fighting skill translates in that new body is another question. And like her, he is consumed by a grudge against the destroyers of his kingdom, cooperating with her desire for vengeance. Each new resentful cadaver added to the Rotten’s form is another soul, another curse, another step closer to finishing the preparations. The Sunken King may be a shadow of his former self wallowing in the gutter, but he can theoretically become more than he ever was in life. And if his beloved wishes he be the agent of her wrath, who is he to argue? After all, who were they to corrupt his wife? The surface deserves to suffer for ruining her as much as the reanimated monarch. A nasty pile of spite, a malicious poison to the world; in the end, he has become well and truly rotten.