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 weaponize the cold 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. Looking at his overall physiology, 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 unwanted, but this world was far too small for the young Sulyvahn. According to the descriptions of his two 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 there specifically. Instead, he may have been aware of Yorshka going off to meet her elder brother and tracked them down. If so, then he was probably 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 didn’t approach 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 level 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 catalyst, 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 specifically.

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 can 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 with its reliance on faith? 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, or he has a personal attachment to this “useless” item. This combined with its intelligence requirement unlike the Tin Darkmoon Catalyst 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 coming from an Irithyllian aristocrat or Lothric royal, especially when the intended recipient was Gwyndolin specifically — he is the only sorcerer of the order, and it was clearly modeled after the one depicted in statues if not his staff from DS1. But for a young sorcerer far from home and lacking in skill and resources, such a crude gift is feasible. Before he had any power, Sulyvahn hoped of securing the favor of those who did, and he succeeded considering that the “Allfather” still holds such a staff. Of course, Gwyndolin is now being devoured by Dark, his traditionally white attire blackened with the gold eroded, so the developers may have simply repurposed a weapon designed as the product of soul transposition.

But even if details to the staff, or lack thereof, are irrelevant, Sulyvahn is still the best candidate for donor. 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. True enough, the shabby interior is stripped bare of any furnishings. And 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 — the god certainly didn’t mind having this person as his immediate neighbor. This lines up perfectly with Sulyvahn’s late arrival to the Boreal Valley and ingratiation with the chief god, only to vacate the residence once he became Pontiff.

On top of all that, this deserted house leads directly to Irithyll Dungeon and the Profaned Capital below. How odd that we must pass through this manor to reach the local dungeon, 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 homeland of a Lord of Cinder’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. This doesn’t mean that Irithyll had nothing down there whilst he was still just a young sorcerer.

The dungeon’s lower levels repurpose a 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 sewer centipedes lurking in the city’s stream and sewage system; the kanji for “sewer” is actually “sewage”, (汚水) literally “dirty water”, leaving no doubt that this swamp is where it all drained out. A corpse at the entrance to this drain carries a pickaxe, indicating mining activity around that location. 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 he was more than likely 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. Considering it is directly adjacent to the cathedral, Gwyndolin had 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 worker. 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 right 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 its unquenchable flame underground in the outskirts of Irithyll, an unquenchable ambition was probably 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.

Erected in the first building we enter from Irithyll Dungeon are a number of wooden platforms navigated with ladders. These makeshift renovations continue up to the church where local sorcerers’ handiwork can be found. Laying everywhere in-between is a sloppy mess of unused ladders and platforms. Furnishing the original “camp” are tables, barrels, and bookshelves with plenty of reading material. And lying 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 and similarly seedy folk were surreptitiously hired to set all this up so that Sulyvahn could study on-site, exploring the church and pouring over references as he researched the peculiar flame. From the riches scattered about camp, we can infer that Gilligan and friends’ pay was to be the treasure abandoned in the ruins. But his cadaver plus surrounding dendrification 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 autonomous clone whose illusory body can freely overlap with his own — certainly unconventional 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, with Sulyvahn in-game casting sorcery with a more purple hue. 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.

Mandate of Heaven

After suddenly falling ill, Gwyndolin gave command of the Blades of the Darkmoon to Yorshka, sharing both the covenant rings and “secret ceremony” of Darkmoon Blade so that she could award them to accomplished knights. This choice seems to have been predicated on the girl’s long observation of the god performing the job himself. The holy woman doesn’t actually understand the meaning of the tale of Gwyndolin’s vengeance, and she inducts us into the covenant by reciting his same speech from 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. Yorshka is simply playacting her brother without knowing the history behind his behavior or what their work entails, not that she needs to in this administrative role. Otherwise, she is someone whom he can reliably trust. And going by the chairs and items in her church, the Darkmoon Knights moved their whole base of operation to make things easier on her end.

Blade of the Darkmoon, what a wonderful achievement. The Captain has a duty to award knights who have made considerable contributions. Please, accept it. It really is something suitable for you.

Blade of the Darkmoon, what a magnificent achievement. Captain of the Knights Yorshka shall specially award you. This is a secret ceremony of the Darkmoon that I inherited from my elder brother for that. Please, accept it. It really is something suitable for you.

All of this demonstrates the severity of Gwyndolin’s sickness. While still able to delegate the tasks, he fully expected that he wouldn’t be able to perform them himself for a prolonged period. The question is, what afflicted him so? While Gwyndolin was no doubt less robust than the rest of his family, he has never been portrayed as particularly sickly. One might be forgiven for suspecting foul play, since Sulyvahn then had the Darkmoon deity confined to the abandoned cathedral, which could only be in reaction to this sudden — and convenient — state of weakness. Many fans conflate this act with Aldrich devouring Gwyndolin due to the description of Sulyvahn’s soul, but the Japanese text quite clearly states that the god 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 young 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. 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, Sulyvahn’s Pontiff title is more literally “King of Laws” or “Doctrines”, (法王) but the significance of the term goes much deeper than his decision to don a king’s crown. The sorcerer had in effect declared himself to be the leader of the Way of White acting on behalf of its Allfather, thereby the theocratic ruler of Irithyll. By hiding away the top god from the public, Sulyvahn could act as his mouthpiece, construing a narrative conducive to his new position: “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 until he recovers.” 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 — cut content confirming plans for a 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, she was isolated, and for good reason. What if Yorshka 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, the entire coup might fall apart. And what was Sulyvahn to do when Gwyndolin eventually recovered? The Silver Knights patrolling the perimeter of the abandoned cathedral served the royalty. What stopped the god from learning what had transpired and contesting Sulyvahn’s claims with their help? Yorshka was his answer.

Fans have commonly taken Aldrich dreaming of a “pale girl in hiding” to mean that he had discovered Sulyvahn 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, hidden from others, 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 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 rebellion, 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. Even Aldrich’s dream indicates that Gwyndolin’s dying thoughts were of his sister, a testament to his love. The prisoner was the perfect hostage. Yorshka was likely given a similar ultimatum to prevent any loud protests from atop her tower. Dragon crossbreeds seem to not require sustenance, as 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 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 “her” 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 the agenda was purging dissident elements, the Blades of the Darkmoon topping the list. Yorshka tells us that the covenant lost its knights long ago, implicitly 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. And unlike the Silver Knights, they were an order of the shadows, assassins striking behind the public eye. A Silver Knight might bow his head to Sulyvahn for honor and fealty without hearing his King firsthand, but could he really expect the same from a Darkmoon Blade? Would they truly not suspect something 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 Knightess from DS1 — evidently killed whilst searching for her master at his old residence. Sirris also 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. 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 others had survived the initial purge and returned to the church of their captain, likely to show that they still honored 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. 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 the purge, he most likely pinned Yorshka’s “death” on the knights, claiming that they had killed their commander in defiance of their god’s will; she is grossly inexperienced, and again, no questions.

Another casualty of the purge was the painting guardians. While making our way down Yorshka’s tower, corpses with the painting guardian set or curved sword are 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 their maternal relation. 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 likely 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 the first prisoner placed in the dungeon’s 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 cruelty as the others of his kind under the Pontiff. Two paths designed for humans connect different levels of the cell to up top. There, the jailers use butcher knives, dissection hooks, and wooden mallets to prepare the cows carcasses dropped down chutes for the inmate to eat — windows right above for the crossbowmen to make sure he did. All things considered, this prison system was efficiently designed to periodically check in on the giant and quickly climb down into his cell in case of an emergency, including cleanup based on the dung pies these specific jailers carry.

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 in the first cell 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. The fact that a larger dungeon was built up from there implies that the Pontiff foresaw jailing many more in his immediate future, and that he did; practically every cell is lined with human bones inside, countless who failed to survive the decades after.

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 thinnest veneer of being Gwyndolin’s go-between, the citizens had no choice but to accept his legitimacy. Of course, it is impossible for the sorcerer to commit this coup by himself. It is one thing to declare your authority, another to enforce it. Sulyvahn must have had help, help that was unlikely to follow his command on just his word. In other words, there was a clandestine faction within the government, cultivated by Sulyvahn in the interim between discovering the Profaned Flame and committing the coup — his rise to power was a thoroughly planned operation, with many co-conspirators.

Unholy of Holies

If Gwyndolin kept a private order of knights, Sulyvahn would too. The Pontiff Knights were designated by their golden crown, conferred as proof of reporting to him directly. The knighting ceremony certainly wasn’t their only interaction. Their weapons are enchanted with cold magic, which the wielder can draw out to have the blade inflict frostbite. The description for rime-blue moss clumps make a point of such cold weaponry’s rarity and mostly Irithyll origin, and these Frost skills are similar to Sulyvahn’s old Frozen Weapon spell; this implies that he taught them sorcery to create, or at least make full use of, the weaponry. Indeed, the curved sword in particular requires intelligence to wield, seemingly because the knights incorporate the principles behind Soul Greatsword to the cold magic — magically extending their blades on top of the power-up. And with the curved sword being their most common armament, personal training from Sulyvahn is guaranteed. If the Pontiff could trust anyone to carry out his will and report to him when needed, it would be his own pupils.

Crown of the Pontiff knights, cold ghosts of Irithyll.

The gold crown is proof of reporting directly to Sulyvahn. For once they were the Pontiff’s watchful eyes, and then his blades.

But even if the knights all had access to him whenever, there still needed to be a chain of command. Wielding a unique weapon while patrolling the cathedral’s entrance betrays one Pontiff Knight as a lieutenant. That the weapon is a great scythe with a bleeding effect only adds to the impression — someone of Sulyvahn’s background would equate it with authority. The fact that the sickle requires faith instead of intelligence likewise fits with a most loyal servant’s constant station at the cathedral. The Pontiff could trust this knight to act as his mediator for day-to-day operations, dealing with holy men and knights then consolidating the reports. But one man stationed at headquarters can’t also manage the troops out in the field.

For that reason, the Pontiff Knights were generally led by Fire Witches. Making femininity the face of his new order is obvious promotion of Sulyvahn’s loyalty to Irithyll’s principles. In keeping with this, the witches all came from the ranks of its holy knights, meaning that the grunts under their command might have consisted of their male counterparts. Regardless, the female paladins were the ones provided with the Profaned Flame. The Immolation Tinder is a sorcery staff shoddily constructed by welding together sheets of metal at one end, designed so that the everlasting fire doesn’t spread down the shaft similar to a torch. Sulyvahn evidently trained the women the same as the men, only the specific weapon these pupils wielded was as important as their gender — and not just for the citizenry.

This association of fire with Irithyll’s paladins 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 through the city streets, an affinity whose sinful irony isn’t lost on the Immolation Tinder’s description. The knights 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.

Helmet of the witches who raise up the Fire of Sin, gold ghosts of Irithyll.

It is said that the witches who led the Pontiff Knights were originally conferred as holy knights, but they were enthralled by the Fire of Sin before long.

With the holy knights swayed by his newfound power, the new Pontiff could have them use it against his enemies. The term kakei (火刑) used for both the fire witches and their weapon refers specifically to execution by fire, normally 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 who might question Sulyvahn’s narrative would be punished with death. Of course, this also implies that the Pontiff Knights acted with impunity, which only invites corruption. The militant arm of the church wasn’t alone either.

Fire of Sin raised up by the 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”. Makes the flame it is clad in crawl across the land and condemn the target to the stake.

Although ordained as holy men, every known clergyman from Irithyll practices sorcery. This reliance on reasoning over faith is highly unusual for the Way of White, 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, like the Moonlight Greatsword. 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 it to derive very little of its power from the lunar body. If the Pontiff’s true nature is a sorcerer masquerading as a Darkmoon cleric, then is it really a surprise that such hypocrisy spread to his underlings?

Consider the Irithyll church’s image for itself. Statues of a cleric hunched over with arms outstretched as if helping those beneath him are consistent with the institution’s culture of charity. 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, representing ecclesiastical authority like the Archdeacon’s Great Staff; on its right, a torch, representing revered fire. 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 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. They are all Hollows, so it may have originally been Sulyvahn’s attempt to control Undead populations after the purge — if you can’t kill the dissidents, might as well put that eternity of theirs to good use. The Pontiff certainly wasn’t enslaving the existing Undead populace. Shiva seemingly died to the Silver Knights guarding Anor Londo in an attempt to raid the royal smithy of its legendary weapons. A sorcerer imprisoned in the dungeon likewise wears the long outdated uniform to the Vinheim Dragon School, the sign of another Undead who has lived in Gwyndolin’s city since the events of DS1. Sulyvahn never considered these troublemakers for enslavement, so undeath wasn’t the sole criteria. As to their purpose, they have all have been subject to Dark experimentation.

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 their peculiar powers. At a distance, most slaves are invisible save for their white eyes and black smoke, making them vaguely resemble living humanity. Their full bodies become visible upon approach while the smoke stops radiating upon death, so that power seems innate to their living being. That said, they can will themselves completely invisible. This is impossible to accomplish with light magic without eradicating one’s existence, leaving only the spatial-bending properties of the Dark — to be indistinguishable from the surroundings is characteristic of darkness, after all.

Ring of square stone known as the mark of a knight.

The dark purple one is given to Undead knights and boosts dark cut rate.

Evidently, the slaves were the perfect subjects for Sulyvahn’s experiments. Their use wasn’t limited to Dark magic either. Some wield crude sorcery catalysts to shroud allies in cold air so that their attacks inflict frostbite; again, similar in principle to Frozen Weapon. Others were conscripted as “slave soldiers” (奴隷兵) and armed with enchanted claymores, whose magic they can unleash in an explosive blast — though the ones collected from their corpses are completely ordinary. These warriors in bondage 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, especially on the slaves.

The blue bug pellets are a secret medicine, meaning that the slaves probably aren’t making them for the general populace. Rather, they are the ones ingesting these magic-resistance pills. Coming in contact with their vomit burns us the same blue as when attacked by sorcery. Whether their regurgitation is intention or convenient bodily impulse, the magic power in the stomach acid most likely come from the magically-charged moon bugs. In short, the slaves medicate themselves in anticipation of magic attacks. Moreover, evidence of ingestion is only exhibited by the physically-disabled slaves. They have clearly undergone very harsh treatment to have lost both their legs below the knee. They thus must be abused by their sorcerer overlords. This is why the medicine is made secretly — so that their victimizers don’t realize that they are suffering less than assumed.

Of course, the subhuman treatment isn’t limited to the physically debilitated. Their clothes are meager rags barely covering the essentials, weighed down by heavy chains — hardly suitable for working outside in the snow. And even if Hollow, they are emaciated to the point of malnutrition. One of the items derived from the Excrement-Covered Ashes are blue bug pellets, implying that the remains belong to one such slave. The fact that the man is dead in a sewer closest, the gate destroyed, suggests that he met his end to the sewage centipedes infesting the waters. He only came prepared with Blooming Purple Moss Clumps, which can cure the toxic waste accumulating down there. Why even wade through it? Just look at what is clutched tightly in his hand, “loved” according to the Japanese description. The slave was so desperate for sustenance that he was happy to salvage what little nutrients he could from hazardous dung pies. He might not be alone either, as more cadavers with feces litter the sewer. If they were fed, it wasn’t enough.

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

They were surely loved.

Lest we forget the drink, the slaves also slurp up blood gems — to be fair, the blood may well be theirs. Given this titanite is infused with actual blood and found solely in the Boreal Valley, one must ponder how it came to be. The gems are used to create “blood” weapons designed to cause heavy bleeding from lacerations. This life-ripping power has historically been linked to the Dark — a fact reinforced by the Profaned Coal forging dark, Hollow, and blood weapons. Perhaps these gems were artificially created using the slaves in another magical experiment, like those previously attempted in Melfia? Regardless, Hollows do hunger for souls, whatever their source. Two upturned graves lie in the Church of Yorshka cemetery. Two fading souls likewise hide on corpses on the far end of that boneyard, making them unlikely to be the dead dug up. Rather, these were more likely soul-starved Hollows. And we can be sure that these grave robbers were specifically slaves, who do haunt this place, from the graveyard’s location.

Due to the eponymous girl’s “death”, her church has become all but abandoned. The building is in dire need of repair and renovation — stonework broken in various parts, 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 by either doorway, as if lazily tossed inside for 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 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 they are so taken with the weapon is because it is imbued with sleep magic. By lifting the spear with a prayer, one can draw out this power to whittle away at the target’s focus, effectively draining their mental energy until they knock out. This is why its skill is literally “Sleep Induce”, (誘眠) the same term used for hypnotic drugs. Considering their reasons for concocting blue bug pellets, the slaves likely hide their idolatry for similar reasons. Being worked without rest and punished if caught sleeping on the job explains why the spear is stored away in a dark basement connected to the church graveyard. Based on the many, mostly disabled, slaves and various tables with chairs, this is the quarters for those wishing unwilling to work, where they can briefly 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” just like the 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? It induces sleep through physically harming the target. Surely if the donor intended to aid, a less violent means would be markedly more beneficial to their health. Instead, this “treasure” combines both a spear and a hammer, giving them options on how to harm each other to get some much needed shut-eye. This is needless cruelty playing on the desperation of poor men who have simply come to expect suffering in every part of life. Even sleep magic itself is highly suspect. The power glows purple 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 the faux holy man to make a mockery of the slaves’ faith. And this was just “one” of such donated treasures — little experiments. 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 also fond of creating “black eyes” for the Outrider Knights. While “outrider” gives the impression of escorts, the term is actually “foreign campaign”, (外征) hence they are only seen outside the country. This makes them less an official chivalric order and more an army conscripted before war. 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 out to invade who receive these orbs as gifts. Their power is undeniable, but the black color isn’t the only shady aspect to these magic tools.

The rings’ gem seems to tap into something primal in those who gaze into it, making them severely high-strung and thereby go berserk. This is expressed by the rings stimulating the wearer’s life or offensive power from attacking continuously, as if body and soul are invigorated by the intense life-or-death struggle. In other words, the “mad warrior” (狂戦士) is compelled to desperately fight like a cornered animal acting only on instinct. It comes as no surprise then that the black eyes’ magic results in the berserker degenerating into one, not just behaviorally but physically. Sulyvahn’s beasts are giant monstrosities inspired by the Hounds of Tindalos as evidenced by their internal name of “Tindalos”. (ティンダロス) But if forced into a vulnerable position, these “hounds” simply lay on their backs, shivering hands clasped together like a frightened person praying for mercy. In short, the beasts were probably once human, specifically Outrider Knights.

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

Its black eye gets those who gaze into it worked up, induces them to fight to the death, and will eventually reduce knights to beast-like berserkers. Thus, the Pontiff is said to have only given these on the occasion of a foreign campaign.

Straight sword that has been given to foreign campaign knights of the Cold Valley. The weapon is clad in chill and inflicts frostbite.

The foreign campaign knights will all end up becoming beasts someday. For Pontiff Sulyvahn’s black eyes constantly get them worked up.

As alluded to previously, the Outrider Knight set can only be acquired after we have visited Irithyll and encountered Sulyvahn’s beasts. And according to its Japanese description, these berserk knights don’t end up just becoming guards, but “watchdogs”. 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 hairs seeping out from beneath his armor. The black eye has definitely transformed the man 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 is clad in a faint chill.

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

And take heed. At the great castle gate is a watchdog. A damnable watchdog of the Cold Valley…

While passing through Irithyll’s main street, we see “spirits” of the Outrider Knights heading out of the city from the cathedral district, presumably another instance of timespaces overlapping like with other 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. Sulyvahn’s beasts are incredibly weak to lightning despite their ability to breathe it, which 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.

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 from the generic boss soul. Likewise, he is equally weak to both lightning and the Dark; his strongest resistance is, naturally, general magic. Similarly, the Pontiff Knights, Fire Witches, and Outrider Knights are all weakest to Dark and strongest to lightning and fire — the latter’s lightning resistance slightly lower due to their full-body armor. These traits are more consistent with warrior clerics than abyssal agents. The Pontiff Knights’ ability to enhance their weapons with the “Dark” only deals regular magic damage, and even this was cut. The one exception is for the lieutenant, whose hand conjures Dark while employing his scythe’s Frost skill. But we use the same skill without the additional Dark flourish. His doesn’t actually enhance the weapon either, so still having the animation is most likely an oversight by the developers.

In short, Sulyvahn’s 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 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 easily be ascribed to the school of magic going largely ignored thanks to the gods’ deep-seated orthodoxy. Why shouldn’t he explore such power? 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 sorcerer of Vinheim, a lycanthrope of Farron, an Estus Shard, 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 to describe those that fail to become dragons in Izalith and Shulva. Indeed, the anatomy of these scaleless creatures 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 sharpened 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. 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.

Battle art is “Power of a Dragon”. Fires the power of a dragon from the blade swung down as was the case with dragon weapons in time immemorial. But this power is no more than remnants.

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 how the blood mixed in implies it to not actually be turpentine — in other words, the substance is extracted from the pale failures visibly dripping such viscous white fluid. 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 trying to create just 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 of 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.

From all of this, we can conclude that the Pontiff dabbles 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 roots and branches are already growing over his face and beneath his clothes at the waistline from before the boss battle. This implies it to be just another example of human dendrification, 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 symbolism behind the Pontiff’s swords and cleric statues in the cathedral plaza are the dozens of Silver Knight squire effigies lining the square. 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 elimination of threats, it is impossible 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, 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 stairs is an 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’s main church. Clearly, this plaza embodied something else entirely before Sulyvahn changed it to fit a new narrative. Statues once sat on each stand, but the imagery was removed and sloppily covered with an excessive amount of fresh propaganda. Meanwhile, the elevated platform leaves an obvious negative space for taking center stage in the layout. What once filled this negative space, and why did Sulyvahn want it removed?

There are two items of note in this plaza: the Ring of the Sun’s First Born on the actual platform, and a lightning gem in front of it. Staring at the empty pedestal before going on patrol is a flame witch. This combined with the square’s uniquely warm lighting brings to mind the sun, thus the platform probably supported a relevant statue. The ring was originally found near the Darkmoon Tomb’s statue of Gwyn in DS1, so its new location may be hinting to a similar figure existing there. Gwyn was the Lord of Sunlight, and the hypothetical statue’s placement would convey his central importance from which Irithyll’s royals derived legitimacy as his descendants. Gwyndolin also deeply respected his father, so the new Allfather would honor the original king of the gods 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 and thereby Sulyvahn’s ranks.

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 and recites his vengeful tale to assuage her loneliness without him, 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.

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.

But even so, the Kingdom of Lothric under King Oceiros has 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 passed through Irithyll Dungeon in order to meditate toward Archdragon Peak, evidence of trust. Sulyvahn permitted the god-fearing kingdom to see inside his city and some of his most horrifying secrets therein — yet none of this seems to have brought the two into conflict. However, these continued friendly interactions between neighboring countries are not all that surprising.

Even if the entire world recognized the narrative coming from Irithyll for the farce 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, 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 raised 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 raised this banner. 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 Sulyvahn 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 replete with twinkling titanite. Considering that the largest concentration of this stone is acquired at the Boreal Valley, produced naturally by the local titanite lizards or artificially by the Pontiff, this knight would recognize its value. Either way, he has every reason to secure the rare and powerful materials there before any of the other warring factions comes down to make use of them, setting up an ambush in preparation for just such a scenario. Another knight has apparently been “trapped” in a room within the Grand Archives. Looking at the scattered book piles and floorboards unique to the room, the berserker was led inside before an illusory wall was cast while he was distracted. With the doorway ahead leading only to a jump to certain death, his degenerated mind has simply raged wildly looking for a way out since. Why come there to begin with? Because the scholars are blocking the way to Prince Lothric. And the prince is definitely the primary target of the campaign.

The Dancer appears when we approach the church’s knight statue altar with the Basin of Vows, obtained from Emma after her death — either automatically dying after summoning us in response to slaying our third Lord of Cinder, or killed by us beforehand. Assuming that the boss showing up earlier or later isn’t just a narrative convenience tailored to our actions, she 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, the Dancer must have some reason for trying to stop us only then. Most likely, she is following up on the death of Emma.

As a top official in the church which called them in, Emma would be a key witness to debrief the Outrider Knights on the situation. Killing her would thus be killing a crucial supporter for their operation, not to mention signal our rebellion to the holy powers that be. This gives the Dancer every reason to consider us another threat to dispatch. But then what about when Emma is found severely bleeding out on the rug? Where is the Dancer to retaliate against her evidently recent killer? Nowhere, because, as the only other person present, she is the probable murderer. If so, then why betray her ally? Based on the timing, because the Dancer realizes that Emma’s goal is to have us fraternize with the enemy. She is expressly summoning us to “save” Prince Lothric, so the Outrider Knight retaliates against us both. This is the most reasonable course of action for any of the frenzy-addled knights to make under these conditions. Even if unaware of our unkindled mission, they know that Prince Lothric must die. That is their mission.

One might notice the degree of agency that the Dancer has in these scenarios. She is neither fighting on the front lines nor overtly guarding a checkpoint, suggesting more of a commander role. Mediating between the two churches as Irithyll’s field officer would explain her proximity to Emma, and leaked promotional images and cut content reinforce this social approach — the Dancer would have originally been encountered in Lothric as a standard friendly 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 Dancer acting as representative explains why she only uses her flame sword at first. 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 a second blade imbued with dark sorcery — or at least something close to it — is a far riskier proposition, especially for a 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 the other from another Dark portal. She is truly a good dog, but Sulyvahn still felt uncomfortable sending his purebred 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 with no evidence of the two sharing a prior relationship, we can only presume this 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. And unlike the others, Vordt has incredible mastery of the cold from a strong soul rivaling the Dancer, making him the best candidate to contend with her should she act out of line. Therefore, the Pontiff probably ordered him to keep a close eye on the royal in case she used this opportunity to somehow betray her master while away from home, ready to kill and replace her if necessary. And looking at their afterimages back home, he has been monitoring her ever since they left the cathedral with their orders. This may be why the Dancer does nothing when Emma puts us on a collision course with Vordt: she doesn’t want her master’s watchdog constantly breathing down her neck.

If nothing else, the situation with Vordt shows that no one put 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 the Pontiff’s every action a clear and deliberate one. All in service to a singular goal: growing and maintaining a 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.