Sulyvahn


Preface


When I had originally written my analysis of Irithyll, Pontiff Sulyvahn made up for more than half of the topic. Despite the Boreal Valley’s long and fascinating history, one character has since dominated the entire culture. Tyrants are nothing new to fiction, and villainous popes are a dime a dozen in Japanese fantasy. But combine the two and place them in a setting like Dark Souls? That does create something a little more novel, certainly like nothing else seen in the series since maybe Gwyn. And through the story of Sulyvahn, we can get an even greater glimpse at many of the beloved characters from the original Dark Souls, (DS1) even if that means their stories must end in tragedy.


Fiery Youth


Born in Ariandel, Sulyvahn derived a few spells from the painting world’s frigid cold during his youth — telling us that the future Pontiff was bright, studious, and curious about the world around him from an early age. The fact that one of these spells is Frozen Weapon implies that the sorcerer wielded a sword, which has remained his weapon of choice to this day. Perhaps learning the blade was required for the world that Sulyvahn was born into, littered with wolves and Hollows. But whatever the reason for him preferring blades over staffs, the young man most certainly learned how to employ the cold as a weapon through the lens of sorcery. And one can imagine this prospective sorcerer exploring every nook and cranny of the frigid mountains and poring over every book in the corvian village’s library to expand his knowledge, jotting down all his findings for us to later come across after he left them behind.

Some have suggested that Sulyvahn is the child of one of Ariandel’s tree women, who can be seen crying all by her lonesome in front of a corpse carrying his Snap Freeze spell. Cut dialogue confirms plans for a crying mother to assume us responsible for her missing child. However, there is no evidence that this dialogue belonged to this particular tree woman. And while the mother refers to her child as “he” in English, the Japanese script only uses the gender neutral “you” (貴方) until her death throes, where she instead uses the feminine “you”. (貴女) Unless Sulyvahn is erroneously named, it is impossible for him to be this child. Based on the look of his arms, legs, and head, the sorcerer is just an ordinary human born within the past half-century or so — if being born within a painting can be considered ordinary.

Where have you gone, my dear child… The outside will be cold, will be cold… Where have you gone… I’m here, my dear child. It’ll be cold. Your place to belong is nowhere. Because you’re my dear child after all. So, please, come home.

Please return her! Return her! Where have you hidden her! My dear child! I won’t forgive you! You thief!

Ariandel is a haven for the detested, but this world was far too small for the young Sulyvahn. According to the descriptions of both his spells, the painting was a home for him to cast aside rather than embrace like the other residents, reason being that he was born there and thus still hadn’t experienced loss — a stark contrast to most others who migrated there after losing their place to belong in the outside world. Sulyvahn couldn’t empathize with the detested forlorn choosing to confine themselves to a tiny land when his thirst for knowledge yearned to know the world outside. What sights was he missing? What other kinds of sorcery could he create? What better future was awaiting him? It was time that he abandon his boring home and find out.

It was this thirst for knowledge which eventually brought Sulyvahn to the Boreal Valley. Homesickness is unlikely to be what attracted him to such a cold land; if anything, it would be Irithyll’s weaponization of the cold as seen with Outrider Knight weapons, something which could advance his knowledge of cold sorcery. Another possibility is that he was aware that Yorshka had gone off to meet her elder brother and tracked them down. If so, he may have been more interested in the brother over her. Gwyndolin was a powerful sorcerer leading the pantheon of the largest religion in the outside world — someone a young sorcerer like Sulyvahn might idolize. This explains why the backwater academic approached the Boreal Valley rather than the neighboring Lothric with its Grand Archives or distant Vinheim with its Dragon School. If he could somehow get in Gwyndolin’s good graces, then his sorcery would surely reach new heights.

On the upper floor of Irithyll’s cathedral is a mimic containing the Golden Ritual Spear. This “staff spear” (杖槍) is as exactly as the name suggests, both a physical weapon and a sorcery catalyst. Furthermore, sorceries cast with the staff scale with faith rather than intelligence, making it both look and function like the Tin Darkmoon Catalyst that Gwyndolin wielded in DS1. Indeed, we see “Gwyndolin” wielding this very staff spear, so the Darkmoon deity did replace his previous staff with a newer version, even keeping a spare. And yet, the weapon’s description claims that it was “donated” to the Darkmoon Knights before Sulyvahn became Pontiff. This is odd for two reasons. For one, it implies that a third party unaffiliated with the Knights — including their divine captain — had provided the staff spear to them rather than them crafting it in-house. For another, it makes a point of the weapon predating Sulyvahn’s rise to power.

Staff spear said to have been donated to the Darkmoon Knights before Sulyvahn had become Pontiff.

It is both a sorcery staff and a weapon, and turns faith into attack power and provisions for sorcery.

While this does imply that there were no knights to receive such a gift after Sulyvahn became Pontiff, this is an odd point to make when the weapon has been stored in the cathedral. If Sulyvahn had purged the knights, why not also throw away their spear, especially when the staff relies on faith rather than reason? This is not a tool that a sorcerer would normally utilize, yet he nonetheless keeps it safely locked away within a security chest in the building where he currently operates. Either he fears someone discovering it, which is incredibly unlikely given the circumstances, or he has a personal attachment to this “useless” item. This combined with its specific period of origin leads to but one conclusion: Sulyvahn was the creator and donator of this staff spear, back when he was still a young sorcerer; he won’t throw it away even now because it is something he made, a show of his skill.

Just examine the weapon’s quality. Despite taking clear inspiration from Gwyndolin’s original staff, the metalwork looks plain, uneven, and misshapen compared to the smooth lines, precise symmetry and ornate details of the original. One can plainly see which was expertly crafted by a professional artisan and which was cobbled together by a rank amateur. It is difficult to imagine this quality of gift coming from an Irithyllian aristocrat or Lothric royal, especially when the intended recipient was Gwyndolin specifically — he is the only member of the order to use a sorcery staff, and it was clearly modeled after the ones depicted in statues if not his staff from DS1. But for a young sorcerer far from home and lacking in smithing skill and resources, such a crude gift is feasible. Before he had any power, Sulyvahn had hoped of securing the favor of those who did, and he evidently succeeded considering that the Allfather used the staff from that point onward.

Had he not been in Gwyndolin’s good graces, Sulyvahn probably wouldn’t have been permitted to even live in Irithyll. With no obvious divine blood coursing through his veins, there was no reason to welcome the young foreigner into the country of nobility, much less as their equal. And yet, he practically lived like one. The Distant Manor is more accurately the “Abandoned House on the Outskirts of Town”, (街はずれの廃屋) emphasizing both its peculiar location and presently vacant status. Unlike other Irithyllian manors, this one is built below the city’s stone foundations, specifically on the stream where their sewage water flows in. An Irithyllian aristocrat is unlikely to live in such abysmal real estate, so who else had lived there only to ultimately move out before our arrival? Sulyvahn.

The only reason to build a home in this location is that the main city had already been built and filled with residents, leaving no more room in the existing layout. As a result, the infrastructure would need to be extended out in order to accommodate an additional person. But because this resident wasn’t a blue blood like them, his home could be built physically below them to prevent any impression that they shared equal standing. At the same time, the house’s similar size and quality to the aristocratic manors demonstrates Gwyndolin’s respect for the owner. This lines up perfectly with Sulyvahn’s late arrival to the Boreal Valley and ingratiation with the chief god, only vacating the residence once he became Pontiff.

On top of all that, this deserted house leads directly to Irithyll Dungeon and the Profaned Capital below it. How odd that we must pass through this manor to reach the local dungeon. It is almost as if it was set up in the owner’s own backyard. Furthermore, the prison’s layout and architecture suggests that it was deliberately built on top of the ruins of the Profaned Capital, meaning that it didn’t predate the ruined city’s drift to Lothric. And since the jailer set confirms that they were only recruited by Sulyvahn after he became Pontiff, it couldn’t have been established before his rise to power either. That said, this doesn’t mean that Irithyll had nothing down there whilst he was still just a young sorcerer.

The dungeon’s lower levels repurpose an underground sewer line that would have normally dumped its contents into the ravine below. Indeed, right next door in the Profaned Capital is a toxic swamp filled with the same “sewage centipedes” (汚水ムカデ) lurking in the clean water stream leading into the city sewers; the Japanese terminology literally means “dirty water”, leaving no doubt that there is where it had all drained out — not unlike DS1’s similarly poisonous swamp. A corpse at the entrance to this drain carries a pickaxe, indicating that there has been mining activity around there. And with no obvious minerals worth extracting down there, we can only assume that the excavation was hollowing out the area for construction. Taken together, and the city seemed to have been expanding its sewer system prior to the dungeon’s construction, hence why we find a lift to this zone as soon as we enter.

If Sulyvahn had a construction project underway right out back behind his home, then it is more likely for him to have been tasked with overseeing it from the outset. We can see a wide river of gross — and assuredly smelly — sewage draining out from the city and over the cliffs the Boreal Valley sits upon. This would normally be unremarkable, but it is directly adjacent to the cathedral, giving Gwyndolin every incentive to reroute the system. And if a young sorcerer desperate to study under him was willing to stoop to such dirty work to earn his keep, who was the god king to refuse? Sulyvahn would gain his own dwelling and a chance to prove himself, and Gwyndolin would gain a servile and industrious servant. If nothing else, Sulyvahn personally overseeing subterranean construction he started behind his secluded manor explains why he “discovered” the Profaned Capital.

The description for the Profaned Greatsword explicitly states that the sorcerer found the city and its equally sinful fire, even noting its location in the “outskirts” of Irithyll just like the Distant Manor’s name. Clearly, the man had reason to be down there when the sewer infrastructure just so happened to reach these ruins. And upon first contact with a fire that wouldn’t go out, the Japanese text asserts that a similarly unquenchable “ambition” was lit in the young Sulyvahn’s heart. The allusion is clear: seeing the Profaned Flame lit a figurative fire within him, driving him to strive for new heights. Whatever loyalty that he might have had in Gwyndolin up until that point was destined to be squelched in that instant. After all, an everlasting flame was exactly what the gods desired, yet its origin was everything that they feared.

Sword held in Pontiff Sulyvahn’s left hand. It is a ceremonial blade that takes the name of the Fire of Sin.

Long ago, when he found the Capital of Sin and the unquenchable flame underground in the outskirts of Irithyll, an unquenchable ambition was likely also lit in the heart of the young sorcerer Sulyvahn.

Consider the purpose to the firelinking ritual. Countless have been sacrificed in the hopes of preserving the First Flame, from which the gods derive their power and thus base their authority over mankind. Humans as a whole believe this system necessary out of ignorance about undeath, the Dark, and their own history. If the gods were able to not just extend the life of the First Flame but make it immortal, then there would no longer be a need for firelinking. The Age of Fire would be eternal, the gods would no longer fear an Age of Dark arriving to topple their regime, and the Undead curse might finally come to an end. Sulyvahn might have seen his position in Irithyll soon shoot up as a result of finding this everlasting fire. However, that notion would have been tempered by the actual nature of the flame. After just one good look at the Profaned Coal, Andre recognizes it to be close to the Abyss. Surely a sorcerer like Sulyvahn would notice this very fact and be curious about studying it further, and that he did.

When we first enter the Profaned Capital, we find a number of shoddy wooden platforms erected in the building closest to Irithyll Dungeon. These makeshift renovations continue up to the city church where the royal court sorcerers’ handiwork can be found. Laying everywhere in-between are a sloppy mess of ladders and unused platforms. Furnishing the original “room” are tables, barrels, and bookshelves with plenty of reading material. And lying there dead on the floor is Gilligan. Dark Souls II‘s infamous ladder seller had been busy building a workspace and paths into the source of the Profaned Flame, and not just for him if the number of chairs there is any indication. More than likely, The Undead was hired to set all this up so that Sulyvahn could study on-site, exploring the church and pouring over books for reference as he researched the city’s most peculiar flame. From the riches scattered around camp, we can infer that Gilligan’s pay was to be the treasure abandoned in the ruins, but his cadaver suggests that the young sorcerer ultimately reneged on their deal — to be fair, it was a poor job typical of Gilligan.

Once his research into the Profaned Flame was done, Sulyvahn most likely saw no further use for serving under Gwyndolin. By broadening his magical horizons to beyond the god, the young sorcerer had proved the Darkmoon faith to be a limiter on learning all the world’s mysteries. Why blindly obey a teacher you find wanting? Sulyvahn had always aspired for greater things, and one of the spells that the Pontiff casts is an illusory shade with total autonomy — certainly an unconventional trait for your typical sorcery. Indeed, the description for the Greatsword of Judgment notes its magic power to be a darker blue than the Darkmoon and a reflection of Sulyvahn’s true nature; this is best illustrated by concept art portraying streaks of dark blue intermingled among the standard blue magic. If the Darkmoon is a sliver of light away from the Dark, then Sulyvahn’s magic dangerously straddles the line.

Sword held in Pontiff Sulyvahn’s left hand. It is a ceremonial blade that takes the name of the moon’s judgment, but its magic power is closer to sorcery than the moon.

A blue darker than a dark moon is probably the true nature of the sorcerer Sulyvahn.

Battle art is “Stance of Judgment”. The blade is tinged with dark magic power via a stance.


Holy Coup


Sulyvahn made his move when Gwyndolin suddenly fell ill. The Allfather delegated command of the Blades of the Darkmoon to Yorshka, seemingly because she had long observed her older brother performing the job himself. Yorshka can teach us Darkmoon Blade by reciting the miracle text despite not actually understanding her brother’s tale of vengeance, having memorized the words simply to feel closer to him. This is reinforced by the way she inducts us into the covenant, reciting the same speech that Gwyndolin spoke to new covenant members in DS1 nearly word-for-word — even referring to Gwyn and Gwynevere as her “father” and “sister” despite bearing no actual relation to them by blood. It is obvious that Yorshka is merely playacting her brother without learning the history behind his behavior, not that she needs to in this administrative role.

Miracle of those who have devoted themselves to the Darkmoon covenant.

Enhances right-hand weapon with the power of the Darkmoon’s light.

A miracle of the Darkmoon, that is, a story of revenge. But Knight Captain Yorshka doesn’t understand the meaning and probably recites her elder brother’s story simply for traces of him.

If only a blade knows the meaning of revenge, good.

Nonetheless, Gwyndolin considered Yorshka’s experience to be sufficient. The Darkmoon Ring is clearly the Darkmoon Blade Covenant Ring from DS1. However, it has been given a new effect since the events of that game, functioning similar to the Darkmoon Seance Ring from DS1 but with more potency. This makes sense considering that the god no longer needed a means to summon Blades for emergencies — namely someone disrupting his illusion of Gwynevere — though what irony in not having this ability for the current circumstances. More to the point, this “secret treasure” was explicitly given to Yorshka by Gwyndolin for the express purpose of awarding it to the most accomplished knight of the order. The god fully expected that he wouldn’t be able to perform these duties himself for a prolonged period of time, but was still conscious enough to willingly hand over the tasks to his sister. Not only does this speak volumes of the god’s trust in her, but it also highlights the severity of his illness. What could have happened to afflict Gwyndolin so?

Darkmoon Ring (left) compared to Darkmoon Seance Ring (right)

Blade of the Darkmoon, what a wonderful achievement. Knight Captain Yorshka shall specially award you. This is a secret treasure of the Darkmoon that I inherited from my elder brother for that reason. Please, accept it. It really does suit you.

While Gwyndolin was no doubt less robust than the rest of his family, he has never been portrayed as being particularly sickly. And given the convenience of his sudden illness, fans may be forgiven for suspecting foul play. For instance, Sulyvahn then had the Darkmoon deity confined to the abandoned cathedral, presumably in reaction to the god’s sudden state of weakness. Many fans have conflated this act with Aldrich devouring Gwyndolin due to the description of Sulyvahn’s soul, but the Japanese description quite clearly states that Gwyndolin was confined and then ultimately offered up, leaving a window of time between the two events. Aldrich was not yet a factor when Sulyvahn decided to put Irithyll’s leader effectively under house arrest. Rather, the sorcerer had another motive in mind for isolating the deity from the rest of the city.

Soul of Pontiff Sulyvahn. One of the atypical souls tinged with power.

Can either use to acquire a vast amount of souls or extract its power via molding.

It is said that Pontiff Sulyvahn of Irithyll confined the Chief God of the former royal family to the abandoned church and ultimately offered him to the God-Eater.

According to Yorshka, Sulyvahn used the illness to presume himself Pontiff. Fans often ignore the deeper implications of this event. Pontiff of what? The role of the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church is to be God’s representative, the leader of the church on earth, and thus the ultimate authority on church doctrine. Indeed, the particular term used for the Pontiff title is more literally “King of Laws” or “Doctrines”, (法王) but the significance of the statement goes much deeper. The sorcerer had in effect declared himself to be the leader of the Way of White acting on behalf of its Allfather, Gwyndolin. This fact is reinforced by Sulyvahn’s subsequent authority over Way of White clergymen like Aldrich and McDonnel, revealing his coup d’état to not have just been aimed at Irithyll’s government but the faith itself. By hiding away the top god from the public, Sulyvahn could act as his mouthpiece. From there, it would be easy to construe a narrative conducive to him: “Due to his poor health, the Allfather has retired to his old home to rest easier, delegating his duties over church and state to me.” Gwyndolin did do something similar with Yorshka, so it isn’t an unfathomable decision, at least.

Of course, Yorshka clarifies that his declaration coincided with him taking her prisoner atop the tower of her own church. While she references a device once leading back down the tower — cut content confirming plans for a switch-activated lift earlier in development — it has apparently been completely removed, leaving only dangerous drops across wooden beams and platforms in its place. Much like her brother, Yorshka was isolated, and for good reason. What if the girl asked to see him? She was the one given command of the Darkmoon Knights in her brother’s absence, not Sulyvahn. If she had discovered the plot and mobilized against him first, the entire coup might fall apart. And more importantly, she was the perfect hostage. What was Sulyvahn to do when Gwyndolin eventually recovered? The Silver Knights patrolling the perimeter of the abandoned cathedral served the royalty. With them still following his will, institutions established by the chief god only guaranteed their obedience up to a certain point. What stopped the god from learning what had transpired and contesting Sulyvahn’s claims? Yorshka was Sulyvahn’s answer.

Fans have commonly taken the description of Aldrich dreaming of a “pale girl in hiding” to mean that the god-eater discovered Sulyvahn to be hiding Yorshka from him, but this couldn’t be more off-base. The description for Lifehunt Scythe does affirm that he dreamed of a white maiden while slowly eating Gwyndolin, but the clarification that she had been hidden away in secret isn’t necessarily referring to the content of the dream — rather, it is so that we might deduce the identity of this maiden. Aldrich’s dream is a product of the memories etched in Gwyndolin’s soul, hence only seeing it while devouring the god. So who would be described as a girl colored white, secretly hidden away, known to Gwyndolin, and inheriting Priscilla’s unique Lifehunt powers? Yorshka, of course. But Sulyvahn wasn’t hiding her from a man who only cropped up long after her imprisonment, but the elder brother who had been caged around the same time. Confined where he was, Gwyndolin had no way of knowing where Sulyvahn had held his half-sister captive.

Miracle of Eldritch, who became God-Eater.

Steals enemy HP with an illusory scythe.

Eldritch saw a dream while slowly eating the God of the Darkmoon. A dream of a white maiden, who had been secretly hidden away.

This is your standard hostage situation. Sulyvahn likely warned Gwyndolin against making any attempts to resist. If there was any sign of the god acting contrary to the Pontiff’s wishes, his sister’s life was forfeit. The Darkmoon deity was forced to choose between her life and his pride as the god most high; the former won out. With no evidence of the god ever rebelling against Sulyvahn and plentiful evidence to him genuinely adoring his half-sibling, holding Yorshka hostage was assuredly checkmate. Even Aldrich’s dream indicates that Gwyndolin’s dying thoughts were of his sister, a testament to his love for her. Yorshka was in all likelihood given a similar ultimatum to prevent any loud protests from atop her tower. Since dragon crossbreeds seem to not require sustenance, the girl has had no visitors and so never even noticed the invisible bridge to her tower from the Anor Londo ruins. Sulyvahn had most likely prepared this secret pathway in advance should the need arise, but no one else was to know her current status or location, and the Pontiff made sure that there were no questions.

Straight down the nave from the Church of Yorshka’s front entrance is not an altar, but what appears to be a stone coffin. The pomp of the candelabrum flanking either side reinforce this notion, as does the corpse bowing directly before the box. This cadaver carries one of the ears Darkmoon Blades take from their victims, suggesting that the individual in question is one such blade. Who would this knight be bringing this souvenir to except his captain, who uses those proofs of kills to track an individual’s rank in the covenant? In short, this church dedicated to the holy woman of the Allfather doubles as her tomb, much like how the remains of Roman Catholic Saints are commonly buried at churches. Sulyvahn seems to have publicly declared Yorshka dead and interred the “crossbreed” at the very place where she is held captive. Having someone so close to Gwyndolin simply disappear so soon after taking power would have roused too much suspicion. This way, the populace have a “body” to confirm and mourn to, and it has apparently worked if the fooled Darkmoon knight is any indication.

Next on Sulyvahn’s agenda was the purge of any dissident elements — standard fare for a coup — and topping off that list were the Blades of the Darkmoon. Yorshka tells us that the covenant lost its knights long ago, presumably concurrent with her imprisonment. There were many reasons to dismantle Gwyndolin’s covenant. For one, they were knights loyal to the Darkmoon deity and his sister as their new captain. Like the Silver Knights, their loyalty to the divine institutions only went so far as their leader’s support for them. And unlike the Silver Knights, they were an order of the shadows, assassins striking behind the public eye. The Silver Knights might bow their heads to Sulyvahn for honor and fealty without hearing their King firsthand, but could he really expect the same from a Darkmoon Blade? Would they truly not suspect the odd circumstances and investigate? Would they actually ignore their creed to eliminate the gods’ enemies when found? Sulyvahn didn’t want to take the chance, at least. At the Darkmoon Tomb, we find a corpse wearing the brass armor of the Darkmoon Knight who served as a Fire Keeper in DS1 — evidently killed in the purge, possibly whilst searching for her master at his old residence.

Sirris calls herself a former servant, one of the few survivors of an order that was systematically exterminated. She wasn’t the only one who escaped the massacre, at least. Aside from the corpse kneeling to Yorshka’s coffin, another lays in a dark corner holding the order’s roster of knights. It would seem that a few other knights had survived the initial purge and only died later after returning to the church of their captain, likely to show that they remained faithful to the covenant. However, their current state confirms that Sirris is right to remain outside the city gates. The Blades aren’t welcome in Sulyvahn’s church, hence him locking the Golden Ritual Spear in a mimic. And considering that she is Undead, even Sirris may not have survived so much as been lucky enough to reawaken from death and escape. As to the Pontiff’s justification for all this, he most likely pinned Yorshka’s “death” on the covenant, claiming that they had betrayed and killed their commander in defiance of their god’s will; she is grossly inexperienced, and again, no questions.

Another casualty of the purge seems to be the painting guardians. While making our way down the Church of Yorshka tower, corpses carrying the painting guardian set or curved sword can be found among the rafters. From this, we can surmise that a failed attempt was made to rescue or at least connect Yorshka with the outside world, with their otherwise absence from Irithyll implicating them as another subject of Sulyvahn’s wrath. Like the Darkmoon Knights, the guardians were servants of Gwyndolin specifically, as well as arguably Yorshka by relation to both him and their mother. While this failed action on their part suggests that some did survive, most of the guardians still stationed in Irithyll were likely eliminated for the same reasons as the Blades of the Darkmoon. Any other rebellious factions probably met the same fate. But even if not outright exterminated, they are sure to have suffered greatly during this period.

While Anor Londo’s giant slaves were never particularly well-treated, their lives in Irithyll have taken a turn for the worse. The giants have been stripped of all their previous attire from DS1 save their helmets, leaving only a tattered cloth to cover themselves. Layered over that are heavy chains and shackles, one such chain hanging a lantern to presumably help them work through the night. Their actual bodies are significantly more gaunt, likely malnourished; the skin is cracked and scabbed, with signs of lacerations without proper medical care. The worst is below the knees, where various metal stakes have been jabbed through the legs, hole marks indicating periodic removal and repositioning to uninjured areas. This is nothing less than barbaric tactics to keep these slaves — who we can likely credit for the city’s actual construction — submissive and continuously working. And if the dung pies they can provide are any indication, they aren’t even allowed to clean up after themselves. This tortuous treatment can be dated back to the start of Sulyvahn’s reign in Irithyll thanks to the giant of the dungeon.

The giant was Irithyll Dungeon’s first prisoner located at its oldest prison on its lowest level before the human-sized cells were built at his feet. Given the dungeon’s aforementioned overlap with the sewers, this cell was clearly established during a major change in administration, diverting resources from city planning to incarceration. And low and behold, this giant has suffered the same treatment as the others of his kind under Pontiff Sulyvahn. This is especially odd since one normally wouldn’t imprison a slave after already inflicting such cruel punishments. He must have been quite the rebellious worker for an entirely new facility to then be set up just for him. And such rebellion implies unrest among the whole of the slaves, enough for the Pontiff to feel it necessary to torture them for good measure and then put the rowdiest in solitary confinement. Perhaps this one slave’s behavior was even the purpose behind making an example of them all. Either way, he definitely didn’t make things easy for them.

In a chamber leading out of the giant’s cell is a mimic containing Dragonslayer Lightning Arrows. This room is part of a pathway connecting the giant’s cell to the upper level. The jailers there apparently use butcher knives, dissection hooks, and wooden mallets to prepare the cow carcasses that they would drop down chutes for the inmate to eat — windows right above for the crossbowmen to make sure he did. All in all, this system was efficiently designed so that the jailers could periodically check in on the giant and quickly climb down to his cell in case of an emergency, including cleanup based on the dunge pies these specific jailers carry. So why have a mimic storing giant iron spear-like arrows imbued with a power used to hunt dragons along the way? Most likely, they were confiscated from the oversized prisoner and swiftly tucked away nearby in a security chest, reaffirming the giant’s aggressive defiance even while in solitary confinement — in case his response to us disturbing his sleep wasn’t a clue.

Curiously, these spears and a human corpse carrying lightning bolts higher up connect this giant to the giant blacksmith who made them. Said blacksmith is the only giant to have not been subjected to the same barbaric treatment as the rest of his brethren, probably due to his unique position forging equipment for the gods. He was allowed to continue working from the abandoned cathedral until death, so the giant prisoner may have been his apprentice or otherwise close associate. Either way, none of the slaves’ behavior seems to have reflected poorly on the smith, though he too probably felt the pressure of Sulyvahn’s crackdown — keeping his imprisoned friend alive might have been conditioned on his continued cooperation with the regime, much like Gwyndolin and Yorshka’s situation. Indeed, when offered the Giant’s Coal, Andre immediately discerns that its owner is dead, having fully expected such. However, the blacksmith’s corpse is still fresh given that he lays atop the recent corruption brought by Aldrich and his minions, events which Andre certainly can’t already know about. Thus, his morbid assumption must be rooted in much older circumstances.

In other words, Andre had fled from Irithyll during Sulyvahn’s coup, hence both his current presence in Lothric and continued concern for his giant friend’s safety. We can thus be certain that the barbaric treatment of Irithyll’s giants originated with the violence proceeding the Pontiff’s self-appointment. Andre proves that at least some chose to flee rather than remain in the city during this tumultuous change in administration, but how many actually managed to escape the Pontiff’s grasp is probably as few as the number that escaped his purge. Cages hanging from a hole to above ground suggest that Sulyvahn soon had humans to lock away, tormenting these new prisoners with the threat of being dropped into the pen of an irate giant. In fact, the fact that a larger dungeon was later built implies that the Pontiff foresaw jailing many more in his immediate future — such as a sorcerer wearing the long outdated uniform of the Vinheim Dragon School, undoubtedly an DS1-era Undead from who had moved into Anor Londo and later Irithyll just like Andre.

Once all the rebels were jailed, killed, or forced to submit, Sulyvahn’s takeover was complete. He had successfully inserted himself into the existing Way of White hierarchy. Who was to question his decisions when it was the will of the Allfather? So long as Sulyvahn maintained the slightest illusion of being Gwyndolin’s go-between, the citizens had no choice but to accept his legitimacy and authority. Of course, it is highly unlikely that the sorcerer committed this coup by himself. It is one thing to declare your authority, another to enforce it. Simply put, Sulyvahn must have had help, help that was unlikely to follow his command on just his word. Therefore, it is extremely likely that members of the groups described below were part of a clandestine faction within the Irithyllian government complicit in the coup, cultivated by Sulyvahn in the interim between discovering the Profaned Flame and kickstarting his takeover — his rise to power was a thoroughly planned operation with many co-conspirators.


Unholy of Holies


If Gwyndolin kept his own private order of knights, Sulyvahn would too. The Pontiff Knights were designated by the golden crown worn atop their heads, a hat conferred by Sulyvahn as proof that they served him directly. Still, there was a chain of command among them, as they were led by flame witches. These women were all previously Irithyllian holy knights, so it is possible that the male holy knights constituted the regular members of the Pontiff’s new order. Nonetheless, the female paladins were the ones provided with the Profaned Flame, albeit in an unconventional manner. The Immolation Tinder is a sorcery staff shoddily constructed by welding together sheets of metal at one end, designed seemingly so that the everlasting flame doesn’t spread down the shaft — similar to a torch. This shows that Sulyvahn shared that unholy flame with holy knights and taught them how to wield it through sorcery, though why this power was granted only to women isn’t obvious; perhaps the learned sorcerer wanted to echo the witches of Izalith from the history books.

This association of fire with Irithyll’s holy knights predates the Pontiff, but their use of it says much about their collaboration with Sulyvahn. What better way to entice holy warriors to your cause than to give them access to the fire they so revere, specifically one that never goes out? Would they not drool at the thought of actually wielding such a fantastical flame previously existing only in their wildest dreams? Apparently yes, as the witches gladly hoist up the fire while leading processions patrolling the city streets. Furthermore, the description for the Immolation Tinder affirms their affinity for it, noting the irony of holy knights being quickly captivated by a fire of sin. They were so enthralled by the Pontiff’s gift that they were willing to use sorcery, a practice frowned upon in holy circles. But if their chief god was a sorcerer, why not them? In many ways, Gwyndolin’s idiosyncrasies created openings for Sulyvahn to exploit.

But with these holy knights swayed by this power, the new Pontiff could have them use it to exterminate his enemies. The term kakei (火刑) used for the fire witches’ weapon and themselves refers specifically to execution by fire, namely burning at the stake. The Pontiff Knights were to act as his ever-observing eyes and then his blades, a secret police dedicated to rooting out the slightest hint of treachery from within. This organization would have been quite useful for the initial purge of dissidents during the coup, but their continued existence proves that the Pontiff ruled more like a dictator than a man of the cloth. Anyone that might question Sulyvahn’s narrative or his title’s legitimacy were likely punished with death. Of course, this also implies that the Pontiff Knights had impunity. Who was to question the judgment of a holy knight that an otherwise law-abiding citizen was secretly a heretic plotting against the state? What stopped them from arresting, torturing, and executing innocents at their whimsy? Corruption is endemic to any institution, but it would certainly find no resistance among the Pontiff’s knights.

Fire of Sin hoisted up by witches, cold ghosts of Irithyll.

It is both a sorcery staff and a weapon, always clad in fire, and never burns out.

Battle Art is “Stake”. The flame that it is clad in crawls across the land and condemns the target to the stake.

The militant arm of the church wasn’t alone. Although ordained as holy men, every clergyman from Irithyll that we learn about practices sorcery. This reliance on reasoning over faith is highly unusual for the Way of White as the description for Caitha’s Chime duly reminds us, and it too can be directly linked to Sulyvahn. The Greatsword of Judgment appropriately represents the judgment of the moon, but the description notes it to be closer to sorcery than the heavenly body. This on its face is extraneous. Of course the moon’s power would be expressed through the lens of an established school of magic. This is true with the Moonlight Greatsword as much as any other weapon drawing on certain elemental powers. But, this is in context of the Darkmoon’s association with vengeance and thus justice, which has normally been expressed via miracles and faith rather than sorcery. Moreover, the sorcery’s aforementioned dark blue hue being darker than the Darkmoon implies that it derives very little of its power from the lunar body. If the Pontiff’s true nature is that of a sorcerer masquerading as a holy man of the moon, then is it really a surprise that such hypocrisy spread to his underlings?

Consider the image that the church in Irithyll has for itself. Statues of a cleric hunched over with arms outstretched as if to help those beneath him are predictable for an institution dedicated to helping the less fortunate. But while approaching the cathedral from the main street, this cleric is holding something in one hand. On the church’s left it is a staff, likely representing ecclesiastical authority similar to the Archdeacon’s Great Staff used at the Cathedral of the Deep. On the church’s right is a torch, likely representing the power of fire that it reveres. The symbolism is clear. In the Kabbalah, the right hand signifies blessings and righteousness while the left hand signifies royal authority and justice. Likewise, the Roman god Jupiter was commonly portrayed with an orb in his right hand and a scepter in his left. We can thus derive similar intentions behind these two cleric statues, with the holy nature of fire being associated with the right and the moral authority of the gods being associated with the left. Sulyvahn is keenly aware of this and so holds the Profaned Greatsword in his right hand while grasping the Greatsword of Judgment in his left.

Why is this significant? Because despite the propaganda, the Pontiff wields the power of an unholy fire and moon, closer to the Dark than any magic traditionally employed by the church. Whether Sulyvahn set up these statues to legitimize his position or merely appropriated their significance to feign authenticity, surely at least the most high-ranking clergy would notice the truth behind the powers that he possessed. And yet, the statues portray not the Pontiff in some self-aggrandizing display but the typical cleric. Did Sulyvahn just want to be indistinguishable from the clergy, or did the clergy want to be indistinguishable from Sulyvahn? In other words, the Irithyllian church hierarchy knew of Sulyvahn’s deficiencies and either willfully ignored them or embraced them in a similar manner, as a corpse with the Magic Clutch Ring near the cathedral indicates. The Pontiff’s knowledge enticed them away from their faith, and if he wanted total control of the Way of White, he would need obedient subordinates; corrupting the church was a matter of course. If Sulyvahn is a heretic, then they would all be heretics together.


Lowest of Low


With his power base secure, Sulyvahn’s pursued his interests. Enslaving humans is redundant when giants have served that role for eons, yet such slaves litter Irithyll, meaning that the practice likely only began under Sulyvahn. These slaves are all Hollows, so it may have originally been an attempt to control Undead populations after the purge. If those you kill just become immortal, might as well put that eternity of theirs to good use. The Pontiff certainly can’t be enslaving its existing Undead populace considering those who remained free or were instead imprisoned before their deaths. As to their purpose, they all seem to have been subject to Dark experiments. The slaves’ eyes glow white while black smoke emanates from their long, frazzled hair, and they are also notably resistant to the Dark. Likewise, a Dark Stoneplate Ring can be found off a corpse near one group of slaves, implying one slave’s desire to protect against it.

Dark experimentation would definitely explain the peculiar invisibility that they exhibit. At a distance, most slaves are invisible save for their white eyes and black smoke, making them vaguely resemble living humanity from afar. Their full bodies become visible when approached, so this power is seemingly innate. This is supported by them no longer radiating black smoke upon death, tying this power to their very lives. That said, they can apparently make themselves completely invisible at will, with no indication of their location. This is impossible to accomplish with light magic since total invisibility would mean eradicating one’s existence, but it may be possible with the spatial-bending properties associated with the Dark — making one indistinguishable from the surroundings is characteristic of darkness, after all.

Evidently, Sulyvahn wanted guinea pigs for experimenting with the Dark, and the slaves were the perfect subjects. Their use wasn’t limited to Dark magic either. Some use crude staffs to perform sorcery, including a unique spell that shrouds beings in the power of cold so that their attacks inflict frostbite. This is similar to a cold spell used by the Pontiff Knights to conjure magic extensions to their blades, as if combining the Pontiff’s Frozen Weapon spell with the principles behind Soul Greatsword. Others were conscripted as “slave soldiers” (奴隷兵) and armed with claymores enchanted with magic they can unleash, though the ones we collect off their corpses are completely ordinary. These slaves are always helping patrol the streets or oversee other thralls and hounds, so they were probably armed to suit the task — it possibly even doubled as a means for Sulyvahn to test his new works, even on the slaves.

The blue bug pellets are a secret medicine that the slaves make, meaning that they are unlikely to be developed for the sake of the general populace. Rather, these magic-resistance pills are ingested by the slaves themselves. Coming in contact with their vomit burns our bodies blue the exact same as when attacked by sorcery. Regardless of whether their regurgitation is an intentional attack or a convenient bodily impulse, the fact magic power is in their stomach acid indicates that they are the ones consuming the magically-charged moon bugs. In short, the slaves medicate themselves in anticipation of magic attacks. Moreover, the evidence of ingestion is only seen with the physically-disabled slaves. They have clearly undergone very harsh treatment to have lost both their legs below the knee. They are more than likely being abused by their sorcerer overlords, if not for experiments than certainly for punishments or entertainment. This is why the medicine is made secretly — so that their victimizers don’t realize that they are suffering less.

Of course, the subhuman treatment of Irithyllian slaves isn’t limited to the physically debilitated. Their clothes are meager rags that barely cover the essentials along with heavy chains that weigh down their arms, hardly suitable dress for working outside in the snow. And although it is likely a side effect of their Hollow status, they are all emaciated, not to mention severely malnourished. One of the items derived from the Excrement-Covered Ashes are blue bug pellets, implying the ashen remains to have been one such slave. Another item that this slave carried was Blooming Purple Moss Clumps, which cures even deadly poisons. This is appropriate since the ashes are found in the sewers beneath Gwyndolin’s manor, sewers which can become a breeding ground for all manner of poisons. The slave intentionally came there prepared for such an outcome. Why? Just look at the excrement clutched tightly in his ashen hand. While the English description dramatizes it, the original nonetheless makes clear that the owner “loved” what he held.

Filthy ashen remains covered in excrement. The handmaid of the ritual place will have new items to offer, right?

They were surely loved.

The slave was so desperate for sustenance that he was happy to salvage what little nutrients he could from the aristocrats’ waste. His body is left in a closet with a destroyed gates in a sewer full of deadly wildlife — proof of the risks he took for such pitiful and ultimately fatal results. Lest we forget the drink, the description for blood gems notes that the slaves slurp them up, meaning that they are so desperate for hydration and vigor that they will lap up blood for their iron — to be fair, it may very well be theirs. Because this titanite is infused with actual blood and found solely in the Boreal Valley, one must ponder how it came to be. Blood gems are used to create lacerating or “blood” weapons designed to cause heavy bleeding from wounds. This life-ripping power has historically been linked to the Dark — a fact reinforced by the Profaned Coal forging dark, blood, and Hollow weapons with the Profaned Flame. Perhaps these gems were artificially created using the slaves’ blood in another magical experiment, like those previously attempted in Melfia?

But the cruelest example of the slaves’ mistreatment is Yorshka’s Spear. Due to the eponymous crossbreed’s “death”, her church has become all but abandoned. The building is in dire need of repair and renovation — the stonework broken in various areas, and the unkempt yard slowly overgrowing into the entrances. It is no surprise to find the slaves use it for storage. Many statues and bags of dirt are haphazardly dumped inside by either doorway, as if lazily tossed inside to shelter from the elements until needed. This type of menial labor fits the duties of a slave, and we encounter more resting in a manor being used to store the fancy furniture seen in Gwyndolin’s home; given its direct link to the cathedral, the Pontiff probably sequestered the building and repurposed it as storage for assets confiscated from his aristocratic subjects. But as they dropped off their leftover materials, they came across the treasure donated to the Church of Yorshka, a spear bearing her name which they began to secretly pray to.

Object of worship that the slaves of Irithyll secretly pray to. One of the treasures donated to the Yorshka church. Sleep magic dwells in it.

It is a weapon that seems to combine a spear with a hammer, and both stabs with the spear and blows with the hammer are possible.

Battle Art is “Hypnosis”. Offer up this spear with a prayer and temporarily gain the effect to whittle away at the enemy’s FP.

The reason that they are so taken with the weapon is because it is imbued with sleep magic. By lifting up the spear along with a prayer, one can draw out this magic temporarily and whittle away at the target’s focus, effectively draining their mental energy until they fall asleep. This is why the weapon skill is dubbed yuumin, (誘眠) literally “Sleep Induce” and the same term used for hypnotic drugs. Considering that the slaves secretly make medicine to lessen their pain from sorcery, they likely hide their idolatry for similar reasons, implying that they are worked hard without rest and punished if caught sleeping on the job. This explains why we find the spear in a chest in a dark basement connected to the church graveyard. Based on the many, mostly disabled, slaves and various chairs and tables found there, it is most likely a slave quarters for those unable or unwilling to work, where they can rest unseen by their masters. But despite their reverence for the spear, was it really a sign of someone’s mercy?

As stated earlier, Yorshka’s Spear was “donated” to the Church of Yorshka, the same term used in the description for Golden Ritual Spear. What third party donates a spear to an abandoned church frequented only by slaves trying to save time lugging around heavy objects? More importantly, what good Samaritan gives slaves respite in the form of a weapon? The spear induces sleep through physically harming the target. Surely if the donor intended to help the slaves, a less violent means would be markedly more beneficial to their health. Instead, this so-called treasure combines both a spear and a hammer, giving them options on how to harm each other in order to acquire their anticipated shut-eye. This is needless cruelty playing on the desperation of these poor men who have simply come to expect suffering in every part of life. Even sleep magic itself is highly suspect. The power glows a purple color similar to various dark miracles, with sleep itself being closely associated with darkness and death.

All of this suggests that the person who donated Yorshka’s Spear is the same person who donated the Golden Ritual Spear, namely Sulyvahn. Perhaps the Pontiff wanted to distract the slaves so that they wouldn’t notice Yorshka imprisoned above, perhaps he hoped to test the sleep magic as part of a new experiment, or perhaps he simply wanted to play a cruel prank. Whatever the case, it makes the most sense for the Pontiff to have created the spear and planted it for the slaves to find. Much like the Golden Ritual Spear, Yorshka’s Spear combines two different weapons in one that relies on the user’s faith. And unlike the staff-spear, this hammer-spear has the quality craftsmanship that Sulyvahn could only afford as Pontiff. Finally, it would be all too fitting for a faux holy man like him to make a mockery of the slaves’ faith. All in all, Irithyll’s lowest caste barely hangs on under the boot of truly unrelenting masters.


Pontifex Vult


The Undead slaves demonstrate Sulyvahn’s penchant for researching magic, especially of the Dark variety — none of it humane. Aside from the Profaned Flame, blood gems, and sleep magic, he is fond of creating “black eyes” for the Outrider Knights. While “outrider” gives the impression that they act as escorts, the original Japanese is “foreign campaign”, (外征) hence they are only seen in the event of warring outside the country. Due to Irithyll’s religious and political importance, foreign wars in the region would be exceedingly rare, making them less an official chivalric order and more an occasionally-rallied army. For that same reason, their armored forms appear almost exclusively outside Irithyll’s borders. Sulyvahn on the other hand wears a necklace of these inlaid gems resembling eyeballs, fitting given his name’s derivation from the Gaelic term for “black eye”. And yet, it is the knights sent on foreign campaigns that receive these orbs as gifts. Their power is undeniable, but the black color isn’t the only shady aspect to these magical items’ composition.

Straight sword given to foreign campaign knights of the Cold Valley. Weapon clad in cold air and inflicts frostbite.

The foreign campaign knights will all end up becoming beasts someday. For the black eyes of Pontiff Sulyvahn constantly work them up.

Looking into the ring induces the gazer to become severely high-strung and thus fight to the death like a cornered animal. This results in the warrior degenerating into a mad beast, not just behaviorally but physically as well. Sulyvahn’s beasts are giant monstrosities inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Hounds of Tindalos based on their internal name “Tindalos”. (ティンダロス) But if we force them into a vulnerable position, the beasts lay on their backs with their hands clasped together shivering, as if praying for mercy like a frightened person. Were these beasts once human? If so, then they are most likely the end product of using the black eyes. The Pontiff’s Right and Left Eye rings are both described as mashou, (魔性) meaning “devilish” or having qualities of losing one’s humanity. Likewise, the descriptions for the knights’ weapons acknowledge that they all end up becoming beasts due to the black eyes’ effect on their excitability; the additional description for the Outrider Knight set makes this highly unlikely to be metaphorical.

Devilish ring that Pontiff Sulyvahn gave the knights. Recovers HP as attacks continue in succession.

That black eye works up those who gaze into it and induces them to fight to the death, eventually debasing the knights into mad, beast-like warriors. Thus, the Pontiff is said to have only given these on the occasion of a foreign campaign.

As referenced previously, the armor set can only be acquired after we have visited Irithyll and encountered Sulyvahn’s beasts. And according to its Japanese description, these knights don’t end up just becoming “guards” due to their beast-like state, but “watchdogs” specifically. This is the very same function that Sulyvahn’s beasts serve in Irithyll, tying the image of beast-like warriors with dog-like beasts. Indeed, this imagery is alluded to from our very first encounter with them. Emma references Vordt as a “watchdog” of the Boreal Valley, and we can see that he has long hair-like growths seeping out from beneath his armor. The black eye has definitely transformed Vordt physically, and the same is true for the Dancer. Her black eye too ultimately turned her into a “beast” with even her armor fusing to become part of her body. Even their enormous size as bosses can be attributed to this phenomenon.

Armor of foreign campaign knights of Irithyll. It’s thinly clad in cold.

They who are said to have been given the Pontiff’s eyes become beast-like lunatic warriors without exception. And they then end up becoming watchdogs.

While passing through Irithyll’s main street, we see afterimages of the Outrider Knights heading out of the city, presumably another instance of timespaces overlapping like the “spirits” of players. These include the Dancer alongside another generic knight, most likely Vordt — although portrayed with a unique model as a boss, he was allegedly always by her side. Both figures are portrayed as much smaller than their boss incarnations, so the size difference is likely another side effect of their transformation into giant, hairy beasts. It is because of this transformation that the Pontiff only gives them to knights sent on a foreign campaign. The Dancer was “exiled” as one such knight, so they weren’t expected to come back, at least not as people; they fight with all they have only to be repurposed as watchdogs. In fact, Sulyvahn already having several such beasts indicates that there have been multiple campaigns during his regime

Even ignoring their black color, there are several reasons to believe that Dark magic is involved in the Pontiff’s eyes’ creation. While increasing one’s attack power with each successive strike fits the animalistic nature they induce, the HP recovery when continuously attacking with the Pontiff’s Left Eye is typically exhibited by the Dark. Sulyvahn’s beasts are also incredibly weak to lightning despite their ability to breathe it; this isn’t unusual for Dark creatures. And though the standard Outrider Knight relies solely on the power of cold, the two knights clearly at the most advanced stage of transformation both employ Dark magic — Vordt and the Dancer each entering through portals made of a black, viscous fluid, a common manifestation of the Abyss. The Dancer also conjures a black fog to shut the doors of her boss room before entering. Such powers are similar to the dark grey fog which the first beast warps in from on the city bridge. Once again, the Pontiff has used his own minions as test subjects for his experiments into Dark magic, perhaps without even telling the Outrider Knights what they will become for relying on the devilish power that he has gifted them to win their campaigns.

One of these victims seems to be Lautrec. When we kill one beast in the city reservoir, we acquire the Ring of Favor given to those who have received the affection of the goddess Fina. This implies the beast to be one of her lovers, but there is no evidence of any gods besides the royalty being present in Irithyll. Moreover, killing the beast adds the favor set to the shrine handmaid’s wares, associating the creature with the Embraced knight in particular. Lautrec had received the goddess’ favor, so he was very likely another Undead from DS1 who moved into Anor Londo and later Irithyll. Given his single-minded obsession with Fina and motive for even coming to Lordran, he likely served as a knight there in the delusional belief that his goddess would one day return home and continue their romance — Sulyvahn used that belief to have him undergo a horrid transformation.

Even more horrifying are Irithyllian hounds. They behave the same as ordinary dogs, but their human skulls for heads prove them to be anything but. They are also weak to holy weapons and extremely resistant to the Dark, implying that it was involved in their creation. Additionally, they feast on corpses, implying that their digestive system is still functional — in other words, that they aren’t just reanimated. The Pontiff most likely combined corpse parts from different creatures before bringing the resulting Frankenstein abomination to life via dark souls, subsequently employing them as hunting dogs under the slaves’ care. As to what they hunt, we can see some hounds chowing down on a corpse carrying a rusted gold coin in an alley, another carrying a kukri favored by thieves close by — petty criminals best hope that they don’t recognize anyone’s head on those necks.

Sulyvahn has clearly held a deep fascination with the Dark, but he didn’t fall to the Dark. Despite his dabbling, his soul looks no different than that of other generic bosses. Likewise, he is equally weak to both lightning and the Dark; his strongest resistance, general magic. Similarly, the Pontiff Knights, Fire Witches, and Outrider Knights are all weakest to the Dark — the first two being most resistant to lightning and fire while the last bearing slightly lower lightning resistance due to their full-body armor. These are all traits more consistent with Way of White warrior clerics than any Dark agents. The fact that FromSoftware considered but ultimately cut the ability for the Pontiff Knights to enhance their weapons with the Dark only reinforces that notion. The one exception is the lone scythe-wielding knight guarding the entrance to the cathedral. Assuming this technically unique enemy wasn’t simply overlooked by the developers, he may be a rank officer, which would explain the unique weapon and close proximity to his master. In that case, he might well have been awarded Dark knowledge as a member of the Pontiff’s inner circle, only using it whilst out of sight from the public.

In short, Sulyvahn’s Dark dabbling corrupted the church in Irithyll but didn’t change it into a dark church; even if thinly-veiled hypocrites, they were still Way of White clergymen. Rather, the Pontiff’s fascination with the Dark is part of his broader captivation with the natural world. He was a sorcery polymath, dedicated to understanding all kinds of magical arts, beings, and phenomena. While the Profaned Flame certainly opened his eyes to forbidden Dark magic, its appeal to him can be easily ascribed to it being a school of magic largely ignored by the wider world thanks to the gods’ deep-seated orthodoxy. Why shouldn’t he explore a magic foreign to even Vinheim’s Dragon School? On the flip side, why should he limit himself to just one of many branches of sorcery? This is illustrated by his various specimens that bear no relation to the Dark, including the aforementioned Undead sorcerers of Vinheim, one of the lycanthropes that prowl Farron, and the pale-skinned wretches.

The latter in particular are more accurately dubbed the narisokonai (なりそこない) or “failed-to-be”, the same term used throughout the series to describe those that fail to become dragons. Indeed, the anatomy of these scaleless creatures greatly nonetheless resembles that of archdragons. At the same time, their ugly forms scarily resemble humans, indicating them to be failed attempts at artificially turning man into dragon. This is reflected in their weapons: their own warped tailbones excised from their bodies with excruciating shrieks and whittled down into sharp edges. According to the weapons’ description, they believe that these pathetic excuses for tailbones are proof of their dragonhood. Fair enough. These bones are covered in the same thread material used for Gwynevere’s cut dragon talisman from DS1, and there is no denying that they contain an archdragon’s power.

Warped dagger held in value by the failed-to-be, prisoners of the underground prison of Irithyll. 

It is whittled down from their meager tailbone, and they believe it to be the mark of a dragon.

Thus, the failed-to-be whittle away at themselves, and their agonized voices in the dungeon never cease.

Much like the dragon weapons of past games, these weapons’ skills unleash the raw, colorless might of draconic power — albeit no more than vestiges, nowhere near the level of bona fide archdragons. But, fools that they are, these failures cling to the fantasy. The jailers keep simple gems on hand because the wretches are fond of them, as their Japanese description makes clear. This is because the power of this magic-infused titanite very slowly restores one’s focus on top of adding magic power to weapons enhanced with it. It is through focusing that the wretches can draw out the dragons’ power from their tailbones, so they think that they can prove their authenticity if they can continually restore their focus more consistently. This is why their Japanese text claims that we will gain a fool’s courage using simple weapons. Naturally, this doesn’t change the fact they can only use their draconic power by mutilating themselves and wielding it as a separate tool. But Pontiff Sulyvahn seems to have still found a use for keeping these failed experiments alive.

Precious stone said to be transmuted bond stone. It is said that the failed-to-be are attached to them.

Use in weapon transmutation enhancement and make fool weapons.

Fool weapons have magic attack power and very slowly recover FP. You will probably gain the courage to become a fool.

The Pale Pine Resin that wretches possess is a faintly-glowing substance imbued with magic power. However, the description acknowledges that the blood mixed in implies it to not actually be turpentine — in other words, it is a substance extracted from the pale failures. The fact that they have magical body fluids is no surprise. Their pale skin brings to mind Seath, whose form was also a result of his magical moonlight affinity. Sulyvahn wasn’t just trying to create any archdragon but a Seath-breed of archdragon, the failures of which could still be farmed for useful magical byproducts. Aside from the resin, wretches also occasionally drop titanite scales, and a mimic near a large cell full of the creatures contains more — proof that the jailers taking care to quickly secure these valuable items from the prisoners they harvest them from. Being rock, it is feasible for titanite to be involved in the draconification process, thereby producing titanite scales when interacting with the wretches’ souls just like with crystal lizards.

Sulyvahn has also taken an interest in the golden sorceries of Oolacile. One cell contains the corpses of xanthous scholars. Considering their unfortunate location, their deaths by torture are all but guaranteed. But it is likely thanks to them that Sulyvahn has learned about the Oolacile’s white trees. A giant slave has been posted atop the church tower of the Undead Settlement where he shoots at anyone approaching the three surviving white trees in the surrounding forest. His identical appearance to the other giants and use of Gough’s Greatbow from DS1 confirms that he is from Irithyll, and he will remain true to his task until eventually dying of presumably atrociously poor health. The only reason to go that far is because he was ordered to protect the trees by Sulyvahn. These white trees are closely linked to Oolacilian sorcery and so the Pontiff would naturally want to preserve them for future study. Transplanting the specimens to Irithyll risks damage, so leaving them where they are and defending them in the meantime was the safest play.

From all of this, we can safely conclude that the Pontiff was dabbling in many different fields, not just the Dark. It is true that he sprouts Dark wings mid-battle, an affinity best illustrated in concept art. However, this metamorphosis is more than likely a reaction by his humanity. The wings take the form of two sprawling tree branches, and we can observe roots and branches already growing over his face and beneath his clothes at the waistline from the start of the boss battle. This implies it to be just another example of human dendrofication, Sulyvahn’s humanity bursting forth in a manner similar to the pus of man. And because they sprout from only his dark soul, his boss soul remains unaffected, maintaining the standard yellow-and-white hue thanks to his balanced interests in a diverse array of magical fields. The Pontiff is no fallen man, merely an ordinary sorcerer unlucky enough to suffer from the world’s stagnation just as an unkindled invades his territory — although it also doubles as an incredibly convenient power up for a man on the back foot.


Proper Framing


To be thinly-veiled hypocrites requires a veil to hide behind. Complementing the aforesaid symbolism behind the Pontiff’s swords and cleric statues in the cathedral plaza are the dozens of Silver Knight squire effigies lining it. Though sure to drum up recruitment, that isn’t their primary role. The Silver Doll is a miniature statue of this figure with an added crescent moon hanging behind the boy’s head. It is a device that Pontiff Sulyvahn gave to valued residents so that they can cross the magic barrier he erected when they returned from a journey, emitting a voice that continuously reminds them that Irithyll is their home to come back to. These statues aren’t just Silver Knight propaganda, but a reminder of the chivalric values which the order upholds: loyalty to god, king, and country.

Small silver doll made into the shape of a young squire.

It is said that Pontiff Sulyvahn gave these to those he valued in Irithyll of the Cold Valley, the old illusory capital. As a key to cross the barrier when they one day returned.

If you listen, you can hear a voice. “No matter where you go, Irithyll is the origin of the moon. No matter where you are, it is most certainly your homeland to return to.”

Consider the Pontiff’s position. No matter how convincing his claim to the title or how secretive his purging of threats, it is impossible for citizens to not notice the violence and entertain doubts about the dramatic shift in the church’s policies. Sulyvahn needed to promote solidarity among his subjects on top of cowing the rowdier elements into line. And what better way to encourage good behavior from the citizenry than pointing to the group that most respects the institutions and readily accepts his rule? Thus, he had these squire statues commissioned to convey a message to his citizens: “Will you take up the values you claim to honor as one of the faithful?” It subtly pressures them into an oath of loyalty, and the silver doll reminds the good citizen that these expectations persist even when he or she has physically escaped Big Brother’s gaze. You are and forever will be a servant to Sulyvahn, never to question and always to obey.

Of course, the statues in the cathedral square are one piece of a larger layout. From the main street, we pass statues of faithful worshipers bowing their heads in prayer. Through the archway ahead, we enter the well-lit plaza uniquely cast in warm colors. To the sides are random arrangements of squire statues around empty stone stands. Directly before our eyes and up the staircase is an ornate elevated platform, two statues of Gwynevere looming overhead from behind with the same worshiper statues at their flanks. And towering behind it all is the city cathedral. Clearly, this plaza embodied something else entirely before Sulyvahn changed it to fit a new narrative. Statues clearly once sat on each stand, but the imagery was removed and sloppily covered over with an excessive amount of new propaganda. And the elevated platform up the stairs leaves an obvious negative space for taking center stage in the layout. What filled this negative space, and why did Sulyvahn want it removed?

There are two corpse items of note in this plaza: the Ring of the Sun’s First Born situated on the actual platform, and a lightning gem laying in front of it. This combined with the uniquely warm lighting of the square brings to mind the sun, so the central platform probably originally supported a statue related to sunlight. The firstborn’s ring was originally found by the Darkmoon Tomb’s statue of Gwyn in DS1, so its new location may be hinting that a similar statue existed here. Gwyn was the Lord of Sunlight, and the hypothetical statue’s placement in the center would convey his importance to the pantheon as first king of the gods, from which Irithyll’s royals derived their legitimacy as his descendants. Gwyndolin also deeply respected Gwyn, so it only makes sense for the new Allfather to honor the original chief god like so, unlike his predecessor. Likewise, removing his and related statues from the plaza fits Sulyvahn’s aims. Like Lloyd, the Pontiff could downplay the Great King without jeopardizing the latest Allfather’s status, shifting focus onto the present regime rather than a dead hero. In other words, this makeover reinforced Gwyndolin’s rank and thereby Sulyvahn’s own.

As the cherry on top, Sulyvahn appointed Gwynevere’s daughter to be a dancer and gifted her twin blades for those duties. Considering that her graceful fighting style is explicitly reminiscent of dancing, the royal may have never actually wielded a sword before that. So, why give her these swords for mere dancing? Because accepting them meant vowing to become the Pontiff’s personal dancer. The medial was expected to swear to the job like a knight swearing oaths to her lord — coercion masked as willing subordination. Consider the optics: royalty, divinity even, voluntarily lowering herself to be someone’s entertainment. That is something that only the head of the royalty could impel. Moreover, the blades she wields while performing represent the ceremonial swords held by Sulyvahn except in opposite hands. In essence, a royal recognizes the Pontiff’s spiritual and regal authority as a mirror reflection of them, coming from the most high.

All of this propaganda exists to portray Sulyvahn as the unquestionably legitimate representative of Allfather Gwyndolin. The pope wouldn’t be able to radically change church doctrine — core elements like the sanctity of fire are too well ingrained; okaying the open practice of the Dark arts or similar heresies would dispel any image of legitimacy. But, he would be able to rule with an iron fist, imprisoning or executing “apostates” that didn’t recognize his authority and abusing his power to its limit — what other ceremonies would he need swords representing his dominion for? And the tyrant has neglected his domain in the meantime. Flowers, vines, and weeds have overgrown into the streets between the stones and across the walls, some even blocking entrance to a few evidently, and rather ominously, vacant houses. Even Gwyndolin’s manor has suffered the same doorway overgrowth as the Church of Yorshka. Despite the Silver Knights’ belief that the royalty still reign, no royal has actually lived at the manor for some time, all of them confined elsewhere or having left to be the Pontiff’s servant.

While Yorshka rings her brother’s gift bell to assuage her loneliness, Sulyvahn’s tyranny has made life miserable for every other Irithyllian. This is why traits indicative of divine heritage is considered an ill omen. The Boreal Valley’s policy for identifying and collecting divine blood has continued, but no one wants to be an aristocrat under the watchful eyes of the Pontiff. This would also imply that rumors of Sulyvahn’s terror has reached beyond the valley — those cows fed to the giant prisoner have to be coming from somewhere, and a merchant might readily question what his cattle are being used for. In this way, trade has probably leaked rumors of every aspect of Irithyll’s current administration, none likely to inspire someone to move there of their own volition.

But even so, the Kingdom of Lothric under King Oceiros continued to maintain good relations with its legendary neighbor in spite of Sulyvahn’s coup. Its currency can be found circulating within Irithyll, evidence of continued trade. Greirat’s Boreal Valley expedition comes back with items related to Lothric knights and scholars, evidence of diplomatic visits. And finally, Lothric warriors can be seen meditating toward Archdragon Peak from a terrace at Irithyll Dungeon, evidence of trust — enough for Sulyvahn to permit them regular passage past his most horrifying secrets. These continued friendly interactions between neighboring countries are unsurprising.

Even if the entire world recognized the narrative coming from Irithyll for what it was, Gwyndolin was still Sulyvahn’s hostage. What good would deposing the pretender do if the chief god lost his life in the process? This insulated the Pontiff from foreign intervention. But the other nations’ inaction highlights another revelation: Sulyvahn’s takeover didn’t change much in the grand scheme of things. Sure, his church was a corrupt administration, but it still ostensibly upheld the tenants of the Way of White. To remain in power, it was in Sulyvahn’s best interest to perpetuate the existing system — crucial to it being the continued survival of the First Flame. It was thus in everyone’s shared interest to preserve the Age of Fire. They all just needed to play along, truth be damned. And that was checkmate. A human had orchestrated the greatest coup in history, for the first time ever outwitting the very gods.


War for Peace


After many years of peaceful collaboration with the other nations, Irithyll embarked on a foreign campaign into Lothric. Fans often interpret this event as an ambitious pope’s attempt to take the kingdom for himself. While that may be on his mind, the execution of this campaign and Sulyvahn’s aforementioned motivations betray his priorities. Recall the situation from his perspective. Irithyll’s neighbor and age-old ally has fallen into complete chaos. Though the country is the stage for the firelinking ritual, the acting ruler Prince Lothric ignores pleas to fulfill his born duty to become a Lord of Cinder, prompting Firelink Shrine to declare an emergency with the toll of its bell. The Age of Fire is dangerously close to ending along with the relevance of the church which Sulyvahn now leads. Of course he would try to get a handle on this situation. It undermines his power, and he can’t have that now, can he?

Soul of the Dancer. One of the atypical souls tinged with power.

Can either use to acquire a vast amount of souls or extract its power via molding.

It is said that Pontiff Sulyvahn gifted two swords and the appointment to be a dancer to a descendant of the former royal family and later exiled her as a foreign campaign knight.

The batwing demons escort Lothric envoys bearing a banner down to the Undead Settlement from the High Wall. These demons were previously servants of Anor Londo, and most likely continued to serve the royalty in Irithyll and later the human supposedly tasked with serving in their stead. Likewise, the banner bears a simplified version of the symbol featured on Anor Londo’s royal envoy flag. The fact that some of Lothric’s envoys began raising flags after the High Wall emerged — destroying the city’s link to the outside world — is an obvious attempt to reestablish contact. Why use this particular symbol unless it was still recognized for these situations? And what country would still recognize it except Anor Londo’s successor? Thus, the batwing demons must be answering the call on the Pontiff’s behalf.

These Lothric messengers naturally all bore a message to deliver, and the description for the Small Lothric Banner implies them to have been sent out with full knowledge that it was to be a one-way trip. What message does one deliver in this situation? An SOS. Who is expected to receive this SOS? Most likely the same people that you reach out to help facilitate the delivery. Therefore, the envoys were probably sent out to request the Pontiff’s aid with quelling Lothric’s civil war. Emma provides one of these banners for our journey, suggesting that she or another High Priestess was the one responsible for the SOS. In essence, it was a cry for help from one church to another. Sulyvahn had every incentive to get a grasp of the situation and so sent all available batwing demons to help, leaving none to be encountered in the Boreal Valley. And once informed of the circumstances, the Pontiff answered the call for aid by dispatching his own forces.

Small ring banner that Lothric messengers use.

If hoisted up outside of the large castle gate, carriers will come along.

After the High Wall was born and the path to the Undead Town was broken, some messengers hoisted up this flag. With a mission, and no means to return.

For this reason, the operations in this campaign focused on quarantining the region and restoring order rather than conquest, as Vordt and the Outrider Knight stationed at the Undead Settlement church exemplify. Both guard choke points leading out of Lothric, thereby preventing passage for anyone hoping to escape the capital. Emma is aware of Vordt’s role and thus decries the “watchdog” at the city gates. They weren’t alone either. After Greirat loots the Undead Settlement, he acquires items belonging to the Pontiff Knights. Some of Sulyvahn’s eyes were apparently dispatched along with his future beasts. By basing themselves in town, they could remain far from the action while still safeguarding the quarantine in case someone managed to breach Vordt’s defense, monitoring the situation and collecting information in the meantime. They were to ensure that the Pontiff’s will was faithfully enacted even as his army turned into beasts. And once the campaign was over, they would have given Sullyvahn their full report — plus a few new watchdogs.

Other Outrider Knights have gone to similar strategic points. One can be found at Lothric’s training grounds, in a basement storage littered with twinkling titanite. Considering that the largest concentration of this titanite is found at the Boreal Valley, it is probably artificially produced there like the blood and simple gems, assuming it isn’t just a natural byproduct of local titanite lizards. Either way, it was apparently a common commodity in trade between the two countries. This knowledge gives Irithyll’s forces every reason to secure the rare and powerful material before any of the other warring factions make use of it. Another wild knight has apparently been “trapped” behind an illusory wall in the Grand Archives, home to another faction aligned with the absentee Prince Lothric. And the Prince was very likely a target of the campaign.

Our encounter with the Dancer triggers in one of two ways. Either we are summoned there by the dying Emma after triggering the eclipse, or we kill the High Priestess beforehand. Assuming that her showing up earlier or later isn’t just a narrative convenience tailored to our choice, the Dancer must be constantly watching the High Priestess from the literal shadows. Indeed, Vordt is supposedly always by her side, and the main gate is just across from the castle church; it makes sense for her to be hanging around the area unseen. In that case, she has some reason for trying to stop us in either scenario. Emma is aware of Vordt’s post at the main gate and the means to leave the High Wall, yet has survived any potential encounter with the Outrider Knights. How is that possible when the church is the foremost building from the main gate and our only access point to Lothric Castle, at least in-game?

Surely, the knights would visit Emma upon their arrival. She is a top church official and Prince Lothric’s wet nurse. Wouldn’t she be a key witness for knights under orders from his Holiness to interrogate? But when we encounter her, she gladly points us in Vordt’s direction. This cannot be as their collaborator because she won’t inform us of the knight’s post without further prompting and doesn’t instruct us to show the banner to avoid unnecessary conflict. The order to escort envoys bearing the flag evidently hasn’t been rescinded, so the knight should grant us safe passage if we just show our credentials. In essence, Emma’s selective silence all but guarantees Vordt’s death by our hand while still taking full advantage of Irithyll’s aid to reach the Undead Settlement. Why exhibit such antagonism toward the Outrider Knights, whom her church called in?

Emma more than likely did begrudgingly agree to cooperate with Sulyvahn’s forces, but she is vehemently against their main objective: eliminating the crux of the city’s current chaos — Prince Lothric. So, she ostensibly plays along as these knights’ ally to avoid their bestial ire but misdirects us away from Lothric at the first opportunity, betraying them when they aren’t looking. If the woman is killed under these circumstances, then the Dancer considers her killer another violent threat in the chaos. But if Emma summons us first, then the Dancer realizes her goal is to have us negotiate with the enemy and retaliates against us both. This is the most reasonable course of action for any of the frenzy-addled knights to make under these conditions. Whether aware of our unkindled mission or not, they know that Prince Lothric must die. That is their mission.

One may notice the degree of agency that the Dancer has in these scenarios compared to other Outrider Knights. She is neither fighting on the front lines nor overtly guarding a checkpoint, suggesting that she is more of a commander than anything. Mediating between the two churches as Irithyll’s field officer would explain her proximity to Emma, and early promotional images and cut content reinforce this social approach — the Dancer would have originally been encountered in Lothric as a standard NPC rather than just a boss. That being the case, why has Sulyvahn delegated this task to her? For one, he may trust her as a close subordinate serving as his dancer for years. For another, she is a descendant of the royalty and thus an excellent representative for Irithyl — what better way to make the Lothric campaign look like a holy crusade of liberation from heretics? And finally, her propaganda role is probably obsolete now that Sulyvahn has long secured his grip over the Boreal Valley. Why not throw her at a problem where she would be of more use?

The notion that the Dancer is there representing the church in Irithyll explains why she only uses her flame sword for the first half of her boss battle. From a strategic standpoint, there is no benefit to holding back, especially when she proves most adept at fighting with both blades at once. But from a political perspective, there is. No one at Lothric would bat an eye at a knight of the Boreal Valley using the power of cold or a medial using the power of fire. But brandishing around a second blade imbued with dark sorcery — or at least something close to it — is a far riskier proposition, especially for the mediator. Thus, this knight captain is trying to keep up appearances by relying solely on her blade representing holy fire, only breaking the facade once we prove too difficult to slay without her pulling out her other sword from another Dark portal. She is truly a good dog, but Sulyvahn may have felt uncomfortable sending her so far beyond his grasp.

Despite being the only named Outrider Knight, Vordt’s only standout characteristic is his constant proximity to the Dancer. But there is no evidence of a prior relationship between the two, so we can only presume that this is a sign of either his personal affinity for the medial or orders from above. Of the two, the latter is more likely given the knight’s unassuming portrayal as a Boreal Valley watchdog. Unlike the others, Vordt has a uniquely strong soul comparable to that of the Dancer, making him the best candidate to contend with her should she act out of line. Therefore, the Pontiff may have ordered Vordt to keep a close eye on the royal in case she used this opportunity to somehow betray her tyrannical master while away from home, ready to kill and replace her if necessary.

If true, then no one under Sulyvahn’s control is ever truly freed of it, no matter the situation. And regardless of the circumstances, the intricate web of politics made every action the Pontiff took a clear and deliberate one. All of it is in service to a singular goal: growing and maintaining the sorcerer’s grip on power in every facet. Had matters gone as planned and Irithyll succeeded in restoring order to Lothric, Sulyvahn may well have exercised his authority as Pontiff to exert dominion over the neighboring kingdom. The Lothric royal family had fallen apart, so a new government would need to be created to maintain order. And if you can’t trust your allies to oversee the firelinking, you may as well do it yourself. A tyrant like Sulyvahn could have easily opted to rule the territory by martial law. But unfortunately for Sulyvahn, a new player to the game had other plans.