Out of all of Dark Souls III‘s (DS3) additions, the Abyss Watchers of Farron are perhaps the most mundane, which may play a role in their popularity. There is something cool yet heartfelt about a legion of warriors that seek to emulate one of the more popular characters from the original Dark Souls. (DS1) It doesn’t hurt that they are a trying first Lord of Cinder boss fight for many a player, earning them respect even in defeat. But there is so much more to the story of Farron than a callback to a beloved character. There is a real sense of history and culture that elevates them from just copycats to be true successors who built upon what came before in their own unique way. Even as that legacy degraded, we see it continue to develop through a perhaps once in a lifetime scenario never quite experienced before in the series. And it is these nuances that make it worth scratching beneath the surface of an all too well-known tragedy.
Land of the Wolf
The Abyss Watchers naturally originate with the Abysswalker Artorias, who is described as having been the first of their kind. Indeed, Artorias spent the latter parts of his life hunting the forces of Dark in any of its forms, whether they be the fallen knights or mad monsters, so he can certainly be considered the first to keep vigil. But as DS1 had revealed in its Artorias of the Abyss DLC, the knight had been corrupted by the Abyss before meeting his eventual end. The description for his equipment mentions that he left behind a “mission” and “wolf blood” in his wake, which became the beginning of the Undead Legion of Farron. “Farron” refers to the homeland of this army troop, notable for only the forest it is situated in: the forests of Ooacile.
Greatsword of the owner of the wolf blood of Farron, a knight who was corrupted by the Dark of the Abyss.
The wolf knight was the first Abyss Watcher, and this sword too demonstrates great power against Dark servants.
Many of the same items found in Darkroot Garden or Basin in DS1 can also be acquired at Farron, including the Nameless Knight set, the Grass Crest Shield, Oolacilian golems’ Stone Greatshield, and the characteristic hat and bow of Pharis the Forest Hunter. We can even come across the staff originally wielded by Beatrice, a witched encountered in Darkroot Garden at the earliest. Moreover, the forest is where we can mainly find gold pine resin. The description of this golden-glowing turpentine builds on past implications that it derives from the mushroom men native to Oolacile, and bodies of these very mushrooms lay within Farron Keep.
Very unusual pine resin that emits golden light. Those which are masses are rare even among them.
Temporarily enhances right-hand weapon with lightning.
No one knows its recipe now. It is also said to be the tree resin of a mushroom of some kind.
One particular mushroom found in cave resembles Elizabeth from DS1’s DLC. Among the small pots indicative of human activity sits an adjacent chest containing the dress clothes that Dusk wore in DS1; prostrated directly before the mushroom, a human corpse. Given that Elizabeth partly raised the Oolacilian princess, these bodies dwelling in a cave are most likely theirs. Dusk’s crown lies beneath a tree some ways away, one which has the same white bark as those used to craft Oolacilian sorcery staves. The description for the common white branch implies this tree to be one of three that eventually sprouted from Dusk’s first staff. We find the other two trees at the Cathedral of the Deep and Undead Settlement, so the entire forest stretching from these areas and everywhere in-between cover the same ground as the woods in and surrounding Oolacile, part of which were the royalty’s garden where we had last seen both the princess and her mushroom wet nurse. In short, Farron is founded atop the ruined nation, and thereby on or around the grave of Artorias.
Countless Undead warriors had attempted to visit the grave in DS1’s era, only to be cut down by a band of thieves or the ashen-colored great wolf Sif. That is, until the wolf was slain. Sif’s death wouldn’t stem preexisting trends, so we can only assume that many more Undead entered the forest — Undead who lacked strength or purpose, who no longer had homes or families to return to. So, it comes as no surprise that Farron has been a land of drifters from its inception. Where else are Undead vagabonds to go after the Chosen Undead linked the First Flame? That was the whole reason that they were brought to Lordran and set up to live at the Undead Burg, the reason that the firelinking system had been established. With the mission fulfilled and the firelinking tradition carried on in the far north, the only reason to come to the Black Forest was either wandering in by pure happenstance or deliberately heading for the grave. No matter the deterrent, the vagrancy most likely never ended.
But eventually the killing stopped, and some Undead drifters formed the Undead Legion as part of a deal with the Old Wolf of Farron. Such an arrangement can be confirmed by the “old” medal bearing a wolf crest, which serves as proof of a pact with it. While it is now handed out to the Watchdogs of Farron, it predates them and thus had to have been made by the legion to represent their own pact with the wolf. Said wolf can be found in a chamber built into the Lothric bridge within the fort’s walls. Not only does this imply that Farron Keep was built after the bridge was constructed, it also ties the wolf to Artorias. Directly behind the beast stands a grave clearly modeled on the knight’s headstone from DS1. The fact that the wolf lays before this monument shows where its loyalties lie. Like Sif, this old wolf respects Artorias in death, perhaps even protecting the grave after the ashen wolf’s demise. Some have thus suggested that it is Sif, but the great wolf was a mandatory boss in DS1 and thus can’t still be alive. So, who is it?
The Old Wolf is likely Sif’s descendant, perhaps even child. It isn’t unfeasible for the great wolf to have started a family in the centuries since Oolacilie’s destruction — presumably living in parts of the forest left unexplored in DS1. And with Sif’s death, at least one descendant might carry on the mantle of grave warden. There is no denying that both are giant grey wolves, and some have even inferred that the land is named after the Old Wolf; “Farron” derives from the Old French ferrant, meaning “iron-grey”, much like its fur color. But the most compelling evidence for their relation are the properties of the old beast’s blood itself. The souls of those who partook wolf blood are also the soul of the blood’s owner. One might immediately assume this to just be the Old Wolf, the only one of its kind in the area for the bloodrinkers to acquire it from. However, the same phrase is used in clear reference to Artorias.
Soul of the Wolf Blood. One of the atypical souls tinged with power.
Can either use to acquire a vast amount of souls or extract its power via molding.
The soul of the Watchers who shared wolf blood is also the soul of the wolf blood’s owner.
If the Old Wolf is Sif, then why not refer to Artorias as the master of the wolf instead of its blood? And if the owner is just the Old Wolf, then why use the exact same description for Artorias? Because the Old Wolf’s blood contains the soul of Artorias as well. Blood is a medium for the soul — literal lifeblood — and fragments of one’s soul are passed onto progeny. Even before our modern understanding of genetics, blood has often been seen as not just yours but your forebearers’ as well, so the idea of our blood bearing the soul of us and our ancestors isn’t that odd. At the same time, souls can be fragmented and shared with others while retaining their properties, though we tend to break down souls into their most base form before incorporating them into our level ups. But the fragment that the Old Wolf possesses couldn’t have been taken from the knight’s corpse since its blood’s soul shows no signs of Abyssal corruption. Therefore, it must be a fragment of Artorias’ soul given to Sif much earlier in his life.
Artorias and Sif were close friends and comrades in arms, and the wolf had even inherited the knight’s holy sword and fighting style. We were also able to use Sif’s soul to forge some of Artorias’ equipment in DS1, which could be justified on account of the wolf’s direct experience with the knight’s arms during their time together. However, Sif’s soul partially being Artorias’ soul only adds to this notion. If the wolf wanted to train to fight like the holy knight, then bearing a fragment of his same power would definitely help. We have already seen the effects of the living absorbing the unfiltered power of unique souls with Ornstein and Smough in DS1, either one gaining the qualities of the other. Sif’s skills can thus be attributed in part to bearing a sizable chunk of Artorias’ essence. And if the Old Wolf of Farron can’t be Sif, then it must at least be a blood relative of Sif — someone who would inherit the souls of both the Great Grey Wolf and the Abysswalker.
Why did the Old Wolf decide to deal with Undead when Sif had assumed bad faith from any visitor regardless of background? Perhaps the old wolf did carry on the same policy of exterminating any intruder at first, but circumstances have certainly changed in the centuries or millennia since. The forest is currently located to the right of the Anor Londo cathedral when the Black Forest was situated to its left. This can be attributed to the lands themselves drifting and stagnating, but it reminds us that this region is no longer Lordran. The actual grave of Artorias is nowhere to be found, perhaps ending up in Drangleic along with his corrupted blade and parts of the forest as Dark Souls II (DS2) indicated. Likewise, the surviving Oolacilian ruins have since been buried or weathered to nothing. Lothric built a highway directly through it, unconcerned with the land’s history. While the availability of his corrupted set points to his grave being dug up at some point, Artorias seems to largely exist only in legend now. The Old Wolf’s concern may not have been respecting his passing, but ensuring the immortality of his legacy.
Forged by the Blood
The Undead Legion was a brigade comprised of warriors that all swore to share the wolf’s blood, likely with the same intent as Sif. By ingesting the blood and incorporating it into their own being, these Undead inherited the power to fight at a similar level to Artorias. The Farron Ring’s description points out that they needed a beyond ordinary sword technique that the wolf blood provided. This quick and aggressive fighting style resembles wolf hunts, which brings to mind both the Old Wolf and the “wolf” knight. Even the standard greatsword the troop employs shares the same basic design as Artorias’ holy sword. These Undead were clearly trying to emulate the Abysswalker specifically, a reverence that can be seen at the core of the legion’s hierarchy and ethos.
As mentioned earlier, the Old Wolf has taken residence in a chamber incorporated into the Lothric bridge, high above the rest of Farron Keep’s architecture. This is appropriate considering that its blood is the source of their power and also implies certain adoration and respect for its authority. No particular Undead is mentioned as founding the troop, so the wolf itself might serve as the legion’s ringleader, similar to the white cat Alvina forming and leading the aformentioned band of thieves. Erecting the replica headstone in that room give the notion further credence. Both the grave and the wolf “protecting” the grave like its ancestor before it are closely linked to Artorias, so both are enshrined there. Moreover, using his tombstone as a symbol betrays the legion’s specific motive for revering the wolf knight. They wanted his power in order to carry on his mission of hunting the Abyss wherever it can be found and in whatever form it took until death finally took them.
The Undead Legion also went by the name Abyss Watchers, and their mission was to shadily probe for signs of the Dark and battle the grotesque monsters it often created. Hawkwood relates that the troop would even bury a whole country to eliminate this threat. It was for this reason that they needed power that the average Undead didn’t possess, and even then their dedication included awareness about the fate of their mission. The description for Artorias’ set notes that legion members “see their own final moments” in his corrupted armor. Unlike the era where Artorias was exclusively regarded as an unfailing hero in DS1, the Legion knows that the knight had failed his last Abyss hunting. Though the true reasons are likely lost to history thanks to the propaganda, they nonetheless recognized his cause of death and built a monument to his passing regardless, celebrating the knight’s dedication to his duty and hoping to emulate even his demise.
Helmet of a knight who was corrupted by the Dark of the Abyss. The ultramarine tassel is drenched and will never dry.
The knight ultimately fell and left behind a mission and wolf blood once. That was the beginning of the Undead Troop of Farron, and the Watchers see their own final moments in that armor.
… The Undead Troop of Farron is a brigade of Undead. Swear on wolf’s blood, watch for the Abyss, and bury even a whole country if there are signs of it… that sort of bunch.
Consider the mentality of these Undead: they are all unholy monsters destined to succumb to madness as the Dark consumes them, much like Artorias. For them, hollowing is not a question of if, but when. Most Undead either fall to the level of the crestfallen, losing the will to do anything but passively await their fate, or resolve not to lose heart and find a purpose to justify their continued abominable existence. The Legion, however, embrace a more vindictive brand of fatalism. If they are to be consumed by the Dark, so be it. But they will be sure to take the Dark with them, as much as they can muster. They shall battle the Dark until they themselves are corrupted and need be slain. This is the wish of active agents to their inevitable fate, mirroring Artorias’ actions up until his own death. Of course, this veneration is still rooted in existential crisis. Hawkwood alludes to the troop wanting to be “special” like all purpose-seeking Undead. Their supreme dedication to hunting the Dark isn’t much different from Undead striving to be firelinking heroes.
Cursed Undead still want to believe they’re special. How pitiful. Eheh… Heheh heh heh…
The brigade’s hero complex plays out in its rituals. Enlistees were required to undergo a trial. They would individually traverse the fortress to reach different altars and extinguish a flame connected to a signal tower that could be seen by most anyone in Farron. Each altar had a corresponding bowl installed before the doors leading to the wolf blood, which would automatically light when the altar’s flame was extinguished. When all the bowls were lit, the doors would open. This peculiar ceremony is clearly modeled after the firelinking mission from DS1. Each altar bears a relief resembling Gravelord Nito, the Witches of Izalith, or the Four Kings. Extinguishing the flames represents their demise, with the fire lit in the corresponding bowls signifying the transfer of a Lord Soul’s power to the Lordvessel that opened the doors to the Kiln of the First Flame. The Legion has prospective recruits reenact the first Undead sacrifice to preserving the Age of Fire, which parallels their own sacrifice combating the Dark threatening it. They too think of themselves as heroes and hope to highlight such valor through imitation, perhaps even aware that it was the Chosen Undead who completed Artorias’ legend in his place.
They have a unique trial for enlistment. Within the fortress, open the doors to the wolf’s blood by extinguishing the flames of three altars.
Substituting for the Kiln stands a mausoleum, countless weapons and armor flanking the path preceding it — presumably a symbol for the many who came before and had already made the ultimate sacrifice as well as a callback to the similar weapons of fallen visitors to Artorias’ grave. In the mausoleum, recruits would drink from a blood-filled goblet at the altar at the far back and formally join the brigade. With the Catacombs of Carthus below their feet, these initiates had their example of the destruction that the Dark would cause if left unchecked as they took up their cup. If they didn’t already know why the Legion shared this power in order to end the Dark, this building honoring the dead served as a reminder.
Once they acquired the power to meet the demands, the recruits underwent the training regiment, learning how to fight like a wolf. With a greatsword in one hand and a small dagger shaped like a wolf’s claws in the other, they had no room for shields, hence why a deserter like Hawkwood taking up a shield represents his broken heart. Anyone truly dedicated to their mission would work to be as fast and unflinching with a blade as Artorias, giving no quarter to the monsters of the Abyss that would overpower them otherwise. This instilled a philosophy of practicality to the Undead Legion’s way of life. Their weapons were forged with heavy gems that took advantage of the greater strength the wolf blood had imbued them with. The Farron Ring supported these new powers by limiting how much focus their unique battle arts drained them of. The local weeds were picked to improve their stamina so they could swing these heavy swords as they pleased. And messages were written in blood on the local swordgrass rather than with ink and parchment. Anything that could improve efficiency, they did.
One might think this initiation process is too open-ended, but it is unlikely that every willing Undead was immediately accepted into the Legion. Hawkwood’s cut dialogue indicates that a medal was needed to enter the fortress at an earlier point in development, likely the same crest that became the Watchdogs of Farron’s covenant item. We also see various parties affiliated with Farron but evidently not members of the Abyss Watchers. Both points suggest that there had been some form of screening process before an individual could undertake the trial to enlist. For instance, some may have needed to first serve as part of the Farron Followers.
Despite the simplicity of the English name, the Japanese text actually calls them yuuki, (幽鬼) which typically refers to spirits of the dead. This rather morbid name was likely inspired by the fact that the Followers seem to appear out of nowhere like revenants to perform an equally appropriate task. When one of the Legion were consumed by the Abyss, these revenants discreetly came upon the warrior as a group to hunt him. With their tall, lean physique and vacant eye sockets, it would almost look like the dead were ready to ferry you off to the great beyond, and a sendoff it most certainly was.
The Followers coordinated as small war parties, often encircling their targets with shields and spears to safely stab at them from all sides before finally hurling the lightweight javelins into them all at once. Again this demonstrates Farron’s sense of practicality, quickly and efficiently putting down the corrupted. The reason that this job may have been a prerequisite for some prospective legionnaires is that a large curved sword was among the Followers’ arsenal, utilizing the same heavy metal and chain-attack fighting style as an Abyss Watcher’s greatsword. It is quite possible for the Followers and their duty to have helped train warriors worthy of partaking the wolf blood and joining the Legion. It also gave them lots of experience in the field, though not of the exact same nature.
Despite hunting those consumed by the Abyss, the description for their curved swords admits that their technique has human-slaying in mind. In other words, these hunts were conducted on those doomed to become monsters but still maintained their sanity. The corrupted were fully aware when these “ghosts” rained down upon them with their blades. This might seem barbaric, but it is only practical. If the Followers waited until the warrior was completely consumed, their behavior would be far less predictable and could cause undue damage to others — for a gameplay analogy, it is killing the helpless Undead before it becomes a Pus of Man; best to bring down the hammer suddenly and swiftly to minimize the risks, and suffering. The Followers’ acts were treated as a fitting funeral for the Watcher whose life and duty had finally ended. As promised, their final moments mirrored that of Artorias: put down by another after having been sullied by the Dark they hunted to the very end. Whether they would welcome the Followers with open arms or fear their imminent end, these ghosts assured this fate.
Lightweight spear utilized by the Revenants of Farron. Balance is adjusted so it can be thrown.
The Revenants are in effect war parties, encircling foes, holding up shields while jabbing their lances, and throwing them all at once. In order to hold a fitting memorial service for the warriors who had finished their duty in their final moments.
Despite this so-called send-off, their bodies were not simply left to rot where they were slain, but dragged back to the fortress to receive a proper burial. The descriptions of various items related to the Watchdogs of Farron reference them protecting the warriors’ rest and being rewarded by their spirits. This only makes sense if the warriors were laid to rest on the fortress grounds which they defend. While there certainly aren’t any conventional tombstones to be seen, we find countless wooden constructs both within the fort itself and just outside its walls that we can infer to be grave markers. The curved, and often pointed, plank of wood ornamenting these wooden post reinforces this notion. While this wooden curve’s orientation seems to be random, it heavily resembles a thin crescent moon, which is notable due to the symbol’s association with the Darkmoon.
In the New World, moonlight was linked to exorcising evil, which can be traced back to the promulgation of the Darkmoon Knights’ culture from Heide and beyond. This “evil” typically referred to persons or creatures that relied on Dark powers such as red eye orbs, hexes, or like-minded magic, which weren’t uncommon foes of the Darkmoon Knights and their estranged Blue Sentinel brothers. And this culture has since rejoined with the Old World if the Way of Blue’s presence in-game is any indication. Ignoring that, the rise of Irithyll and its predominant moon culture might have propped up the same concepts in this region all on its own. In short, there is ample reason to believe that Farron would be familiar with the moon’s anti-Dark overtones. While there is no explicitly religious bent to the Abyss Watchers, there is no denying that their behavior is in-line with faithful worshipers of the Anor Londo gods either. Indeed, their graves being decorated with the symbol of the Darkmoon may have been intended to signify their deaths helping cleanse their bodies of the evil that had corrupted them if not signify their role in exorcising the corruption itself.
Even assuming that the Followers were the ones tasked with dragging back their comrades bodies after they were slain, they probably weren’t responsible for the actual burial. We see various Undead on the fortress ground dressed in civilian clothes and lacking proper weapons, implying that it was in fact staffed by more than just able-bodied warriors. Moreover, their presence indicates that there were originally three kinds of personnel at the fortress, two of which served in a combat role while the third filled in the gap for other necessary jobs — custodians, cooks, craftsmen, engineers, builders, gravediggers, lookouts.
Indeed, some of these civilian workers may have even staffed the smaller, secondary fort that we pass through on our way to the Keep proper. This “Halfway Fortress” (道半ばの砦) shares the same architecture as the other Farron buildings and seems to have once served as a checkpoint for persons and goods entering or leaving Farron, hence why the civilian Undead are only found beyond it — a border outpost, in other words. We can see another similar building past this fort, but it is nowhere within the actual Farron ruins. Considering that the Halfway Fortress itself is oriented incorrectly from the same Undead Settlement view, the second outpost is probably an erroneously-placed duplicate on FromSoftware‘s part. Regardless, this single checkpoint was most likely Farron’s weakest link, and maybe its only weak link.
The main citadel is a massive, stone-walled enclosure, everything within this perimeter kept at a significantly lower elevation than without — perhaps to keep the facilities hidden behind the walls. The surviving ruins imply that towering buildings once stood within the Keep, so there was more than just facilities for the enlistment ritual. Based on the presence of forging flames beyond the walls, these installations included smithies and likely even barracks and other housing. Viaducts seem to have facilitated travel between various parts of the Keep, though such elevated highways were probably built to span the forest. The trees inside the fortress walls — including Dusk’s white tree — are similar in size to the ones outside of them, so the forest has always been there. Perhaps the Old Wolf didn’t want the Undead to tear down its home, but they ultimately built around the forest rather than through it. Otherwise, this citadel was Lothric city on a smaller scale, a fortified behemoth.
While Farron may have been built upon the fantasies of deadbeat Undead, their level of organization and dedication to their principles is nothing short of well-grounded. And this pragmatism served well in the Abyss Watchers’ survival and even success. It also made them incredibly unpopular. The Watchers’ distinctive helmet shape was regarded by the general public as a terrible omen, likely because it meant both the existence of the Dark in the area and that you might end up as collateral damage. Recall Hawkwood’s claim that the Legion would be willing to bury an entire country in the name of eliminating the Dark. This doesn’t require that the whole country be practitioners of Dark magic, only that it be necessary to ensure their total destruction. Thus, if there is a risk of the corruption leaking out into neighboring countries, it is only practical to burn the one country — innocents and all — to save the theoretical countless more that would otherwise be victimized.
Apparel of the Abyss Watchers, the Undead Troop of Farron.
They were Undead warriors who swore to share a wolf’s blood, probed for signs of the Abyss in the dark, and continually battled grotesques.
It is said that this pointed steel helmet in particular is the symbol of the Undead Troop and was shirked by the public as a sinister portent.
This would naturally not be appealing to the masses who could feasibly be one of those sacrificed for the greater good. And the Legion would need only have gone to such extremes once for the mere rumor to earn the public’s apprehension and suspicion whenever they were spotted nearby. Whether it be an entire country, a small village, or a single household, unnecessary casualties tend to be looked down upon. At the same time, it is difficult to attribute wanton cruelty to their actions. Was it not Undead who were subject to mass persecution and genocide due to the very real threat of hollowing? The legion exists because its Undead have nowhere else to go except to the very evil that they are characterized as. And instead of embracing it, they choose to fight it with their every ounce of their being. If excising any Undead who could potentially Hollow at some point is justified, excising any human who might be afflicted with the corruption of the Abyss in the foreseeable future is equally so. But perhaps the real question is not whether both solutions are just, but if either is.
A Sagacious Decision
Though uncompromising in their mission, they weren’t as inflexible in their membership. Somewhere down the line, Farron Keep worked out a deal with one of the Crystal Sages residing at Lothric’s Grand Archives. Andre implies that this wasn’t a highly publicized event, so it was likely just a personal arrangement between the two parties rather than a contract or treaty worked out with Lothric — though it likely had at least tactic approval from the royal government. Farron lies at the foot of Lothric’s High Wall and has a direct route onto the main highway cutting through the Keep, so the two must have been on friendly terms for the kingdom to permit its location. Moreover, losing one of the sorcerers fraternizing with its scholars wouldn’t go unnoticed; it caused Lothric no apparent concern. Rather, Farron had to accommodate the whims of their new recruit.
Oh, this is… there was something like this among the Undead Troop’s source flames? It’s said that one of the Crystal Elders lent their power to the Watchers of Farron, but it’s a true story, apparently.
There is one figure missing from the Legion’s symbolic reenactment of the Chosen Undead’s trials: Seath. No relief depicts the paledrake anywhere within the fortress walls. His absence is all the more apparent by the asymmetrical layout of the three torch bowls, as if there should be a fourth. This is rather atypical to the overall design of the Keep and serves to only emphasize that something is missing from this picture. Concept art for Seath’s relief can be seen alongside the others in the Dark Souls III: Design Works, and a fourth tower flame can be seen in the Keep at a distance from some areas. Evidently, all four bosses were intended to be included at an earlier point in development, so what happened? The answer is the Crystal Sage.
The Sages are inheritors of Logan’s research and worship of Seath. How would someone feel when they join a group and then see that they glorify the murder of their god? Outraged, to start. Therefore, the Undead Legion were probably forced to remove any representation of the white dragon from their recruitment ritual, hence his obvious absence. Farron clearly wanted the Crystal Sage’s cooperation, so appeasing his religious beliefs when they didn’t seriously interfere with their own practices isn’t a surprise, though it is unclear if Seath’s removal was a proactive decision on their part, a stipulation of their alliance, or the result of an actual quarrel with the wise sorcerer after he already moved in with them. As for the reason why the Legion allied with the Sage, one need only look at what he brought to the Keep.
As part of the deal, the elder started a magic academy for Undead — libraries, uniform, and all — designed to train novice “apprentices” (徒弟) into sorcerer “adherents” (徒弟) wearing their own big hats. The Keep even built new facilities to house these acolytes. This separation from the main citadel seems to be in part due to their “lonesome” behavior, which isn’t surprising for an assembly of academic-types collecting scrolls and books for research — though their material was at least initially borrowed from the sage based on the Grand Archives box that Orbeck has collected from the ruins. Despite this incredible independence, an acolyte would nonetheless be permitted to join the Undead Legion after becoming a full-fledged sorcerer. In short, the Keep gained a new source for membership, a magic-casting subdivision dedicated to training new Abyss Watchers. The fact that a student of the Crystal Sage would have undergone a trial requiring they symbolically kill the deity of their branch of magic only reinforces the need to remove the paledrake from the reenactment entirely. It wasn’t just one elder but an entire community under this religious umbrella.
And with the freedom to research on the Legion’s behalf, the Crystal Sage and his acolytes pioneered a bevy of new spells. In keeping with the Abyss Watcher’s pragmatic ethos, Farron sorcerers preferred practical sorceries that emphasized short cast times rather than just raw power. Like endlessly swinging a greatsword in quick succession, Soul Dart can be rapidly fired to give an opponent no room to counterattack. And rather than wield a heavy blade like their more robust brothers, the sorcerers could just momentarily conjure a greatsword on-demand for similar effects without reducing their own ability to move and react accordingly. Farron sorcerers could remain lightweight, agile, and just as deadly up close as they are at range. Speed was the name of the game, so much so that the Sage even fashioned magic rings for these sorcerer legionnaires to reduce the amount of time that they spent casting their sorceries even further. The Abyss Watchers added a new weapon to their arsenal, and the Sage was able to research a previously unexplored area of sorcery — win-win. That said, sorcery wasn’t the only focus of these acolytes’ studies.
The Crystal Sage brought his magical white source flame to the Legion, implying that he contributed crystal weapons to their arsenal. However, we can already acquire another such flame in the Keep, an unassuming flame similar to the ordinary forging embers from DS1 and likewise only used to forge mundane weapons like the Farron Greatsword. It is cradled in a vessel decorated with the image of a blossoming flower — a symbol of fire and the First Flame befitting the Abyss Watchers — so it no doubt helped forge their heavy arms. Therefore, the crystal weapons were exclusive to the legionnaire sorcerers, who drop gems used to reinforce such weapons.
Source flame for performing weapon transmutation enhancement.
A white magic flame that one of the Crystal Elders once brought to the Undead Troop.
Makes transmutation enhancement using three kinds of gems, Crystal, Blessing, and Deep, possible by handing it over to the blacksmith of the ritual place.
Precious stone said to be transmuted bond stone. Thing brought along with the Crystal Elder.
Used in weapon transmutation enhancement and makes crystal weapons.
Crystal weapons possess magic power attack power and have high scaling in terms of intelligence.
We are given some indication about the protocol for the forging itself. The Sage’s Coal is acquired from a unique building situated within the fortress walls. While it is relatively near the main entrance, it is on the opposite end of where we find the Farron Coal. Housing them in separate facilities segregates the creation of a warrior’s ordinary heavy greatsword from that of the sorcerer’s crystal blade. Limiting their creation to within the Keep also requires the prospective legionnaire to be a sufficient sorcerer capable of taking on the enlistment trial housed in the same citadel. There is no need for physical blades when only learning how to perform sorcery, so we don’t see acolytes wielding any crystal weapons at the academy — only generic swords and spears for presumably basic training. When they did receive their weapons, it would probably be something swift like the Sages’ crystal rapiers in keeping with the Abyss Watchers’ mentality.
On the other hand, the acolytes were responsible for crushing and rolling up insects into Black Bug Pellets. This became the troop’s household medicine due to these bugs boosting the ingestor’s resistance to the Dark. Their Ghru descendants continue to make it to this day, meaning that these bugs are probably native to the forest. It is possible for such bugs to have evolved in response to the Dark in Oolacile, developing an innate resistance to it. Alternatively, the insects are spawns of the Abyss that were harvested and experimented upon to create just these sorts of medicines, but this seems incredibly unlikely in light of the Abyss Watchers presence there.
The Crystal Sage and his acolytes contributed a great deal to the cause even if the Sage himself didn’t actually care for the Legion’s mission. His only overt concerns are the research of new sorceries, the spreading of Logan’s teachings, and the cultivation of new talent from among these Undead. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of Heysel, the daughter of the acolytes’ leader. Not only does this confirm a hierarchy among Farron’s sorcerers beyond the Sage, it implies that the residents weren’t necessarily celibate volunteers. The existence of the Ghrus certainly requires acolytes to have taken the time to procreate. There are very few instances of Undead indulging in sexual activity due to the inherent danger of raising a normal child with the threat of hollowing always looming overhead. But, every occurrence tends to be under the auspices of a stable if not flourishing Undead civilization, which matches up with the level of organization that the Keep exhibits. These Undead lived in an environment where hollowing wasn’t an ever-present concern and thus could afford to raise a family — even pet dogs with, naturally, grey fur.
One of the sorceries superior to “Farron Short Arrow”. Continuously fires soul short arrows.
It is said that it was something a Crystal Elder personally developed and entrusted to the acolyte leader. As a sorcery for his daughter, Hazel.
From what we can infer about the acolyte leader — who I will presume male absent any reference to the character’s sex — he was a capable enough sorcerer to ascend the ranks and thus be in frequent contact with the Crystal Sage. He also had the potential to pass on what magical talents that he had to his progeny, especially intelligence. These factors resulted in him siring an especially gifted child whom came to the Sage’s attention. And whether due to her parent’s prodding or the elder’s own initiative, Heysel was provided a unique education at Farron’s little academy. The description for the Sage’s Scroll notes that the Sage refined the spells contained within for a “special talent”. Due to the English descriptions for the actual sorceries — Great Farron Dart and Farron Hail — many assume that the Sage refined sorceries that Heysel originally created, but they the scroll quite explicitly lists the sage’s sorceries, and the spells’ Japanese descriptions plainly words it as the acolyte leader being entrusted with them so that they could then become his daughter’s arts.
An Elder’s scrolls. Sorceries of a Crystal Elder are jotted down in them.
Can learn the Elder’s sorceries by giving it to a sorcerer.
As every sorcerer knows, sorcery is a talent, and these are things that were developed for a special talent.
Both spells are improvements upon the basic Farron Dart, which the Crystal Sage has further refined into Crystal Hail. This ultimate form of the concept can only be acquired by transposing his soul, indicating that the Sage was not very forthcoming with many of the more powerful spells developed during his stay. Orbeck’s surprise to learn that there are Farron sorceries unknown to him after receiving the Sage’s scrolls only emphasizes this fact. The recluse had evidently scoured the Keep’s sorcery library to recover every spell that the Sage and acolytes had created, yet the only spells he can teach us are Farron Flashsword and Farron Dart, the latter of which is already widely known in the world due to being a simplified form of the elementary Soul Arrow — “dart” literally being “short arrow”. (短矢) Orbeck admits that he would likely have never discovered these more powerful variants if we hadn’t brought him the scrolls, demonstrating the Sage’s caution with making them available for public consumption even among just his own acolytes. But Heysel was an exception.
The girl was bright, gifted, and probably eager to study. The rudimentary course was beneath her, and the Sage opted to nurture her talents by permitting her to learn more advanced spells that he refined on her behalf. The fact that the Elder entrusted his scrolls to her parent rather than Heysel herself implies that she was too young to be given custody of such important texts, which only adds to the implication that she is a prodigy. Instead, the girl had to be instructed on its contents from her parent. This suggests that he was allowed to learn these spells as well, though his position indicates that he at least had the maturity to carry such contents if not the skill to benefit from them. Either way, it perfectly demonstrates the selective but supportive nature that the Sage has when it comes to the good of sorcery.
If the Crystal Sage is simply an old man, then this “old” pact with Farron was made within his lifetime, only half a century ago at most. This date lines up well within the Undead Legion’s full history, which can only date back to about a century ago at most if its mausoleum over the Catacombs of Carthus is any indication. The timing would also partially explain why all the Abyss Watchers we face as Lords of Cinder are warriors. The Elder was only recruited relatively late in Farron’s history, so all of the Legion’s veterans were swordsmen with relatively few sorcerers joining as new recruits over the ensuing years. Even after they gathered a healthy amount of Undead acolytes in training, Heysel was probably among the last generations of sorcerers before Farron’s total collapse.
Fall to Cinder
When Lothric was in need of a new Lord of Cinder, the Abyss Watchers stepped up to the plate. As to why, Farron’s crusade against the Dark was based on the presupposition that the Age of Fire is good, so one could argue that them becoming Lords would be the ultimate victory over the Dark in their endless battles. Likewise, they had decent relations with Lothric, so this good-will gesture is no surprise. That said, things must have truly been desperate for Farron to offer its entire legion to fulfill Lothric’s quota. The Abyss Watchers only qualified as a group thanks to the wolf blood they shared. In effect, it wasn’t really their souls that fueled the fire, but the fragmented soul of the Old Wolf that remains connected even after splitting into various human bodies. This meant that at least a significant chunk of their fighting force had to be sacrificed in the short-term, but it is a paltry loss when compared to the Age of Fire’s end for the long-term. Therefore, Lothric must not have had a successful candidate at the time and required outside aide. The Undead Legion answered the call.
Kindling of a King that the Abyss Watchers left.
If the kings won’t return to their thrones, returning their kindlings will suffice.
The qualification of kingship for the Abyss Watchers who swore upon the blood they shared was that very wolf blood.
Some have suggested that the Abyss Watchers came forward only because they had already been corrupted by the Abyss and thus had no other choice, but the only evidence is the Abyssal corruption staining their helms and capes. If so, then the Followers should have already slain them on the spot, and how convenient that so many happened to be corrupted at once around the exact time that a new Lord of Cinder was needed. Are we to believe that they fought a Dark force so powerful that it corrupted practically the entire Legion but not powerful enough to actually slay them? And unlike Artorias’ armor, theirs hasn’t been severely deteriorated by the corruption, even maintaining high lightning resistance alongside decent Dark resistance. Thus, the stains are likely just that — stains from being constantly steeped in the Abyss and the blood of its monstrosities.
Rather than necessity, the Undead Legion’s willingness to link the fire was likely because they believed that their ranks would be quickly replenished. They were wrong. The firelinking seems to have had an adverse effect on the wolf blood. The blood used in their rituals “ceased” and thus no new legionnaires could be admitted. This is reflected in the Old Wolf, who we find emaciated before the faux grave. Although easily mistaken for dead or comatose, item descriptions indicate that the beast is in fact still alive, and thus it is probably just quietly resting. Cut content reveals that the wolf was planned to take part in the Undead Legion’s boss battle at one point, so the developers most likely repurposed the model but didn’t have the time or resources to give it new animations. Since the wolf is still alive, the soul remains connected to the Abyss Watchers even after they became Lords of Cinder and theoretically shares their burden. Evidently, it is too much for the Old Wolf to handle.
With a huge portion of its life force dedicated to fueling the First Flame, the wolf might not have the energy to maintain a healthy life in its own body. A drained soul correlates to less blood being produced as the medium for it, which results in emaciation similar to the severe weight loss commonly experienced by victims of anemia. The beast is in no condition to share its blood with others, assuming it still had the same level of power as before. And even if it was possible to kill the wolf and harvest its remaining blood, that would be essentially guaranteeing a restrictive limit to their supply — not to mention the possibility that slaying the nexus would sever the bonds connecting the soul across its various vessels. Besides, the Old Wolf wasn’t the only matter that they had to contend with.
The lycanthropes are bestial in nature but clearly human in form, leading to understandable confusion about why their name references werewolves. However, the Japanese for lycanthrope is literally “wolf-possessed”. (狼憑き) Therefore, the lycanthropes are Farron’s Undead who have lost their sanity, not to hollowing, but to the Old Wolf — specifically its blood. As a result, they act like beasts. The only indication of civility they have left is one such creature sitting before a makeshift bonfire, but the human corpse also sitting before the flames suggests that a camper simply attracted the beasts. This also comes with the implication that they had shared in the now ceased wolf blood, so evidently not every Abyss Watcher went off to link the fire. There are no Farron sorcerers among the Lords of Cinder, so at least they had stayed behind to keep the Undead Legion running.
Between losing their entire troop with no means to replace them and having a sudden outbreak of rabid Undead, the disaster was two-fold. But one naturally took priority — the lycanthropes needed to be put down. All of them are chained to crucifixes that they have apparently pulled out of the ground with them as they broke free. Based on the crux of these cross stacked around the magic academy, there was an organized attempt to capture and restrain the beasts rather than simply kill them in a more straightforward fashion. For the residents, these were trusted comrades who were ready to carry on their duties just the other day. Without fully knowing the cause, it was best to hold them captive in an attempt to calm them down and return them to their senses for as long as possible, even if the method made their execution long and tortuous — the Hollowslayer Greatsword proving that they have hollowed in the interim. Thus the marshy wood became a “forest of crucifixion”, (磔の森) with the crosses employing the same moon imagery as the graves to exorcise a different kind of evil spirits — mad wolf blood.
For all intents and purposes, Farron was no more. What once was a flourishing organization hellbent on the destruction of the Dark was now a remote magic academy with an ailing wolf and a cadre of madmen to care for. And with the Abyss Watchers defunct, what purpose did the Followers serve at that point? These revenants existed solely to lay low their brothers-in-arms when they finally finished their duty, and now they are all gone and will never come back. Descriptions of their armor indicate that they were reluctant to go, but they ultimately did decide to abandon Farron and wander around aimlessly; such was their sense of loss in lieu of a purpose. From there, they eventually entered the Painting World of Ariandel, where many such drifting souls are made welcome, and continued to wander as they hollowed. This leaves only the sorcerers and the miscellaneous staff left at the Keep, the former continuing their studies while the latter presumably managed the crucifixion process.
Helmet utilized by the Revenants of Farron.
It is said that when warriors of Farron were consumed by the Abyss, tall, lean warriors with vacant eye socket quietly appeared and hunted them in groups.
And then, after Farron was destroyed, they wandered about against their wishes and became a pack of Hollows.
Surprising no one, this crude attempt at mercy failed, and now there are wild monsters let loose upon the fortress grounds. The staff then took it upon themselves to hunt the beasts down and put their former fellows out of their misery. These “possessed-hunters” (憑き者狩り) each carry a tree trunk sharpened at one end into a giant wooden stake, some of them additionally accompanied by a dog. Without any formal talent with the sword, the civilians relied on cruder methods to take down these monsters. But if impaling them on oversized spears and siccing canines was effective, it wasn’t enough. The lycanthropes still exist, and the hunters still patrol the forest to this day as Hollows, their stakes bloodied and their heads often treated for serious injuries. Yet even those who have lost both eyes continue to hunt the beasts and dig holes to stick in their cross posts. And like the Abyss Watchers, they all died or went mad before they could hunt their prey to extinction.
Coinciding with this decline is a rotten forest consuming the Keep. The forest itself likely always existed within the citadel walls based on their similar size to the ones outside them, and the presence of both Dusk’s cave and white tree there reaffirms the implication. Nonetheless, it has undoubtedly spread as a result of the fort’s disrepair — the crumbling facilities are covered in overgrowth absent daily maintenance. The rot on the other hand refers to “filth” that has collected within the Keep. With its enclosed walls and significantly lower elevation, the fort entraps rainwater like a giant well. And with nowhere for impurities to flow out to, this stagnant water decays, forming a swamp rife with maladies which then spread to the trees and stones immersed in them. The afflicted trees have decayed in similar fashion while the Keep’s stone towers and viaducts have collapsed into their marshy foundation. Aside from disease, it has also become a breeding ground for vermin like giant slugs, creating an overall noxious environment not unlike the Poison Swamp from DS1.
Similar issues plague the facilities outside the Keep. We see parallel overgrowth and collapse of architecture due to disrepair. Likewise, the sloping hills past Halfway Fortress descend toward the citadel depression, resulting in another wetland forming just outside its walls — which has flooded the lower levels of one magic academy building. But unlike the citadel swamp, this marshwater is crystal clear. The reason is likely due to the local crab population. Crabs are scavengers, and the potential size of this freshwater species suggests that they can scavenge quite a bit. Furthermore, the ones found in this forest are immune to the poison and toxic status effects, implying that this species has built up resistance to harmful substances. In short, they are eating up all carcasses, algae, and filth trickling in over time and thereby keeping the water relatively clean. But because of the man-made walls, nature’s clean-up crew is unable to spread into the main citadel, leaving the Keep to rot.
From Farron Keep’s decline emerged the Ghrus. The name Ghru, or Guruu, (グルー) may be a corruption of the word guru (グル) in reference to their relation to Farron sorcerers — gurus are teachers or experts in their respective field whereas sorcerers are majutsushi, (魔術師) teacher or experts in magical arts. Considering that the Ghrus behave like a barbarian tribe, it is possibly the name that they call themselves. In that case, it may indeed be that the acolytes referred to themselves as gurus, which was then slurred into “ghrus” by their more primitive descendants who mistook its original meaning. Alternatively, it is a pun on the color of sorcerers’ magic — the enemy type is internally named “blue”, or buruu. (ブルー) In that case, “Ghru” is likely just a meta joke by the developers.
Whatever its origin, the name distinguishes the creatures from humans. Despite being the acolytes’ descendants, Ghrus more closely resemble satyrs with their digitigrade hoofs and furry arms and legs, though with some notable differences. Their mouths are beaked-like snouts, their arm and leg skin look like bird scales, and their heads bear horns and lumps. Moreover, a pair of stubby limbs grow between the shoulder blades while long tail sticks out the rear. There is nothing human about the creatures, at least physically.
Some Ghrus wear tattered clothes, implying that they have a higher social status demonstrative of a developer culture, albeit a primitive one at best. The Ghrus armed with spears and shields only wear ponchos and seem to function as a kind of elite guard, commonly found protecting important places or persons such as what can only be described as Ghru priests. This hornless variant seems to be singled out for its abnormally large head lumps. Perhaps these growths contain cerebral matter and thereby provide greater intelligence, for they alone performs healing miracles with their own bramble and briar talismans. This is odd for descendants of sorcerers, so these Ghrus may have reproduced existing healing miracles or inherited knowledge from acolytes that were previously clergymen. Either way, their fully-clothed bodies resembling the trappings of a monk betrays them as the highest caste in Ghru society, the tribe’s spiritual leaders.
Some posit that the Ghrus’ form is the result of Abyssal corruption, citing similar cranial growths exhibited by Manus or the bloatheads in DS1. While bloathead sorcerers also had larger cranial mutations compared to their ordinary citizen variant, Ghru priests employ miracles, not dark sorcery. Another point of contention is their choice of weapons and the environment they derive from. The Ghrus live in the Keep’s swamp where they fashion crude daggers, spears, and shields from the filth-mired ruins, coating them in Rotten Pine Resin they concoct locally. These are not the weapons of monsters transformed by the Abyss and making it into their strength, just the poisons of their habitat.
Crude, half-rotten dagger.
Weapon of choice of the lump and horned Ghrus, descendants of the acolytes of the Citadel of Farron.
The filthied blade is covered in rotten filth and possesses strong toxicity.
Fans have thus theorized that the rot itself is somehow connected to the Abyss, pointing to the presence of Darkwraiths as proof an underlying connection. However, their presence only reveals that remnants of these ancient knights have wandered into enemy territory. Artorias hunted the Darkwraiths, and Farron took up his mantle. It isn’t odd for some to have wandered into the ruins with the intention of slaying whoever is left. Two Darkwraiths will even slaughter the Ghru as they approach the Abyss Watchers’ boss room, apparently intending to confront the Legion. Without any actual direct associations with the Dark and even outright antagonism with at least one Dark faction, the Ghrus are unlikely to have garnered their monstrous form from the Abyss.
On the other hand, the Ghrus have been in contact with chaos demons as their presence in the ruins of Smouldering Lake demonstrates, but they are not chaos demons themselves. Despite their English name “Demon Ghru”, close examination of the demon deacons’ physiology prove them to be different creatures. Their skull-like heads and bony tails more closely resemble the Capra Demons, only more avian in nature. Likewise, they have four fingers versus the Ghrus’ five digits, and toed feet versus the Ghrus’ hooves. They even have a second set of larger arms and smaller legs sharing joints with the first, whereas the Ghrus merely possess what look more like vestigal wings between the shoulder blades. Black Knight weapons don’t affect the Ghrus like the chaos demons, there are no signs of them bearing chaos fire, and the Elders already show a Ghru at full maturity. Demonhood just isn’t the answer.
If their monstrous form cannot be credited to an outside force, then it is likely a confluence of various natural phenomena that all happened to coincide. One is a natural evolution of the acolytes and their progeny in their toxic environment, which for all intents and purposes functions as its own isolated biome. That being the case, the acolytes may have adapted to their habitat, similar to the “lizardmen” and darkness Hollows in DS2. If such evolution occurred with the first generation of acolytes dwelling in the Keep as it became a poison swamp, then it would guarantee all subsequent generations be less sophisticated than the original. Indeed, the Ghrus found in Smouldering Lake have grown different horns than those in Farron — specifically the demon deacons’ horns. Their bodies are already beginning to adapt to their new habitat, which coincides with them adopting new weapons derived from local materials.
As to the speed of this transformation, we find corvians leading up both to Farron Keep and the Abyss Watchers boss room, reminding us of the power that emotions have in twisting the human form into something more bestial. Strong emotions have demonstrated the capability to trigger hyper-evolution, like the Gaping Dragon in DS1 and the Covetous Demon in DS2. The acolytes’ transformation is thus likely a result of their intense feelings, creating effectively a new “race” of creature. Their physical devolution would reflect a behavioral devolution during their isolation from Farron’s magic academy outside the fortress walls. Indeed, the Ghrus’ barbaric tribal practices all seem to derive from the beliefs and practices of Farron before and during its collapse.
Many corpses of what appear to be Ghrus have been crucified all around the swamp, their mutilated bodies laid with additional remains at the base of their cross. This practice is clearly modeled after lycanthrope crucifixions but is instead performed on fellow Ghrus as some sort of ritual sacrifice. We can thus infer that acolytes’ presence within the citadel was originally to help hunt the lycanthropes before the practice degenerated into this rudimentary ritual. The Ghrus also continue making the black bug pellets that their ancestors created before Farron’s collapse, revealing a tradition of opposing the Dark long after they stopped actually confronting it. This can also be seen with their totems ornamented with crescent moons, a symbol which some Ghru absentmindedly stare at as if entranced by it. Even after the Keep fell, its mission to exterminate the Dark wherever it may be found has remained on its residents’ minds.
A sizable number of acolytes wanted to bring the lycanthrope issue to heel and continue the Abyss Watchers’ duties, which morphed into a primitive religion after they moved into the main citadel. One aspect of this religion is fire. In lieu of the Farron Followers’ use of fire to cleanse the Dark from the Watchers’ bodies, the Ghrus create pyres and bonfires out of mutilated flesh. This cleansing of the body by fire is why the acolytes are likely the “barbarians” referenced in the description for Sacred Flame. The pyromancy is more accurately a “Cleansing Fire” (浄火) that savages used in ritual purifications, raising and igniting a fire within the bodies of sacrifices to cleanse them of “corruption”, hence the name. This pyromancy text is found off a human corpse scorched by the lava of the Demon Ruins in Smouldering Lake. However, the local Izalithian culture has no such tradition, so why is it there? Because a barbaric tribe developed it as a result of learning pyromancy from the chaos demons. The Ghrus are the only ones who fit this description.
Pyromancy handed down to barbarians. Raises a fire within the enemy and instantly ignites it.
It is originally a ceremony that cleanses a sacrifice’s corruption, thus that fire is called a purifying flame.
Even if it looks somewhat barbaric, or maybe it is appropriate for that reason, barbarian pyromancers are most certainly also priests.”
Despite lacking any physical relation to chaos demons, the Ghrus still lurk in demon territory, so they have evidently found their way from Farron to these abandoned Carthus ruins deep underground. But why? Among them, one Ghru priest can be seen sitting and staring at a dead demon deacon while two spear-wielding guards mind the entrance. This is the same room where a human corpse carrying an Izalith Pyromancy Tome kneels before the demon cadaver, giving the scene an air of reverence. All of this suggest that a profoundly intimate moment of religious significance is taking place, one which relates to the deacons’ fire arts. Why pay your respects to the holy man of another religion unless your two tribes share some deep-rooted spiritual connection, specifically the use of pyromancy? And what “corruption” would fire be expected to cleanse other than the Dark often described as such?
Pyromancy fits perfectly with the Ghrus’ tradition of ritual body burning to exorcise the Dark, and their priests’ respect for the deacons is in line with the Izalithian art’s emphasis on master-pupil relations. In fact, Sacred Flame’s description makes a point of these rituals’ sheer barbarity requiring the pyromancers be called “priests” to justify them. Some might argue that these Ghru shamans never perform any fire art against us during combat, but why would they? The spell’s text explicitly states that it exists solely for sacrificial purposes. We are the ones repurposing the ritual as an attack. The Ghrus practice these ceremonies among themselves, so there is no reason for the priests to try purifying us human invaders in battle, unlike the evangelists from the Cathedral of the Deep; in fairness, their poison breath attack does function similar to the Poison Mist pyromancy.
Contact between the chaos demons and Ghrus can be dated as far back as the original generation of acolytes. A human corpse can be found near a chasm leading to Smouldering Lake from the Catacombs of Carthus and it possesses black bug pellets. It is therefore likely that the human acolytes came in contact with the chaos demons while exploring the catacombs. They then learned pyromancy from its deacons, which was then used in their savage tribal practices as they degenerated into the Ghrus. The current presence of the Ghrus in the Demon Ruins further suggest that the two parties have maintained contact well after the acolytes’ transformation. One Black Knight can be found slaying a Ghru behind an illusory wall down there, so efforts are being made to kill or contain the wandering spirits on the surviving demon deacons’ behalf, unsuccessfully though it would seem.
Taken together, we have a fuller history of the acolytes’ decline. As Farron fell into disarray, there was a split among the acolytes. One party remained wholly invested in their research even as everything crumbled around them, ultimately hollowing. But those who studied sorcery in order to combat the Abyss rather than enrich their own knowledge joined the general staff in hunting the lycanthropes. Their efforts centered around the actual Keep and ended up being very successful based on the lack of the possessed there. However, their obsessive dedication to Farron’s ideals and the increasingly harsh environment made them devolve into a tribe of savages. This tribe had spread underground and eventually made contact with the chaos demons before they and their descendants fully became the monstrous Ghrus. And by that point, the barbarians had turned their degenerated practices on themselves, which is rooted in some logic.
While all the Ghrus are primitive, they exhibit varying degrees of savagery. The most civilized among them continue to hold onto vestiges of Farron’s culture while the least behave like wild dogs. There is a clear degradation of mental faculties occurring with some Ghrus. Another unarmed variant still walks on two legs. Its internal name labels them as “estrus”, (発情) so its hyper-aggressive behavior can be attributed to being a female Ghru in heat. But, this is likely just a joke by the developers, similar to how the dog-like Ghrus are labeled “dogs” (犬) despite only resembling them behaviorally. Based on the unusual number and growth of their horns, these tribesmen’s minds have only developed a particularly aggressive instinct, making them only marginally better than the totally wild Ghrus.
Would this madness not look like possession by evil forces such as the wolf blood or the Dark? And the Ghrus’ tradition for exorcising these forces was crucifixion and immolation. In this way, the acolytes and Ghrus developed a religion of sacrificing their brethren to cleanse the tribe of “corruption” that they presumed caused the madness. In truth, this faith may be the only reason that most Ghrus retain some measure of civility. The ones entranced by the Darkmoon totems are all at an early stage of madness, as if hoping to calm their minds and retain themselves by focusing on the symbolic image. But their worsening mental state seems to simply be a byproduct of their physical transformation, embracing the beast if you will. Ghru religion is based on primal reactions to phenomena that they no longer understand, a far cry from the learned men of reason they descend from.
Indeed, the final remnants of the acolytes’ sorcery seem to be carried on by the Elder Ghrus. This aged variant wield white tree trunks like staffs, suggesting that they are aware of their magical properties if not their prior use for Oolalician sorcery staves. Cut content confirms that the weapon was originally intended to be a sorcery staff imbued with the magic power of the “sacred beasts” (霊獣) dwelling deep in the forest and utilizing very old sorcery. This refers to the Elder Ghrus, whose internal name is “sacred beast of the forest”. (森の霊獣) Previously, the term had only been used for the Sanctuary Guardian of DS1’s DLC. Therefore, the intention may have been for these Ghrus to play a similar role, casting Oolacile’s ancient light sorceries to associate them with the divine. But whatever the original intention for this enemy and its staff was, it clearly changed.
Staff used by sacred beasts that dwell in the deep forest.
The staff enveloped in the magic power of the sacred beasts who utilized sorcery from very long ago boosts the might of sorcery.
Rather than cast any recognizable sorcery, Elder Ghrus summon spirits of the dead from the skulls tangled in the tree roots. These skulls seems to be those who had died and were buried before the rotten overgrowth consumed the Keep, which is supported by the multitude of grave markers found throughout the swamp. This makes these catalysts less like sorcery staffs and more like shamanistic cursed staffs, drawing specifically on the grudges of the dead they disturb by slamming these trunks on the ground. These elders may be the original generation of acolytes, but they have long abandoned the principles of sorcery in pursuit of preserving their ruined organization, which explains why the Ghrus are so fiercely territorial — even slaughtering the native mushroom men if the barbarians loitering among their corpses is any indication. The acolytes’ obsession with saving their adopted home only cemented its destruction.
Time Marches On
Despite all the chaos, Farron’s downfall appears to have passed by quietly on the world stage. The description of the Dreamchaser’s Ashes details that the man hoped to join the ranks of the Undead Legion. This occurs significantly after Farron’s collapse since he had been wandering the rotten forest for some time, collecting various local items along the way based on what the Shrine Handmaid derives from his ashes. If the circumstances surrounding Farron are widely known, why would the man even bother making an attempt? He is presumably Undead, and the Hidden Blessing on his persons further suggests a relation to the Queen of Lothric and the unkindled. If any country would have first learned about Farron’s destruction, it would be Lothric, so the Keep’s decline apparently went largely unnoticed by its neighbors. The fortress doesn’t seem to have been keeping regular contact with outsiders, so no one may have learned the full situation until rather recently if at all.
In these more recent times, many drifters have come upon Farron — sellswords, pyromancers, dispossessed knights, and mountain bandits. Some of these vagabonds managed to make contact with the Old Wolf and agreed to forge a covenant with it, forming the Watchdogs of Farron. Item descriptions assert that the Old Wolf has commanded its new conscripts to protect the warriors’ rest, essentially glorified grave keeping. As much as this is an obvious callback to the role of the Forest Hunters in DS1, it also doubles as a reminder to the Old Wolf’s motives. To this day, the wolf stands between the world and Artorias’ grave. Now that all his successors have been laid to rest, is it not its duty to assure that they rest in peace, too? However, neither the Old Wolf nor anyone else left in Farron is willing and able to. Thus, it once again had to rely on outsiders. Naturally, not every one of them was a savory individual.
Old wolf crest medal. Proof of a pact with the Old Wolf of Farron.
Equip to become a covenantor of the “Watchmen of Farron”.
The watchmen are the ones who protect the sleep of warriors, and when something approaches the forest of Farron, it is their mission to hunt it as covenant spirits.
We encounter two such watchdogs guarding the main entrance to Farron Keep, both exiles who wear armor reminiscent of escaped convicts. If they were runaway prisoners, their crimes must have been quite serious. One wields a greatsword heavily stained in blood that item description affirm is indicative of serious crimes. The other wields a large club and target shield but casts healing miracles, so he was at least a devout person before committing similarly grave offenses. Neither seem to be Undead based on their implicit banishment for other crimes and their failure to use Estus when needed, but that isn’t an issue anymore. The Old Wolf has no reason to turn away two criminals willing to dedicate themselves to its cause. This loyalty could be out of legitimate contrition for past sins, a desire for real purpose and a place to belong, or just material gain; the Old Wolf does offer a curved sword containing its soul as well as Artorias’ ring and shield as rewards for its watchmen. However, this is unlikely given the little practical value of these items and effort required to obtain them.
As proof of the covenant, the Old Wolf provides each watchdog with a medal bearing its crest. It evidently bears magic power since equipping it will allow the wolf to summon covenantors to Farron as blue spirits so that forest invaders can be hunted down. Upon completing the mission, the watchmen will retrieve a bloodstained swordgrass. The Watchdogs believe that the spirits of the dead bring them to show their appreciation for the guardians’ work, and there is some merit to the belief. The fact that it is “wolf blood” swordgrass implies that it contains traces of a legionnaire’s soul that had been previously used to convey a message. In that case, the warrior’s spirit may well recognize and respond to a watchman’s actions. And because it doubles as its own blood, the Old Wolf recognizes it as proof of success and raises a watchdog’s rank accordingly, the highest ranks gaining access to Artorias’ equipment.
Proof that the Watchmen of Farron who protect the warriors’ sleep along with the Old Wolf fulfilled their mission. Leaf of swordgrass stained with dried blood.
It is a symbol that the Undead Troop once used to communicate, and it is said that spirits of the warriors that sleep in the rotted forest bring it to the Watchmen and is proof of their approval and appreciation.
At least, the Watchmen believe so.
To put another way, the Watchdogs must go to extraordinary effort to obtain any items of value under this covenant’s current arrangement. And even if they did, what would they do with them? They are exiles, likely to be run out of whatever nearby town they dare approach. They can’t well hope to get rich off these items, and there’s not much practical use for them when they are already armed and armored. There just isn’t much room for avarice, which fits with the beliefs the majority of watchdogs seem to share. Why believe you are rewarded by the spirits of the warriors whose graves you protect unless you want it to be true? The Old Wolf provided that sense of kinship for Farron Keep and the Undead Legion, and provides the same for the Watchdogs following after them.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
When the Lords of Cinder awake from their graves, they all decide to abandon their thrones rather than assist with the firelinking again. For the Abyss Watchers, their primary concern was apparently the state of their homeland, as that is where we can find them. Perhaps they were just curious about what transpired in their absence, or perhaps they heard rumor of what did happen and rushed over to see for themselves. Either way, what they saw couldn’t have been motivating. Their beloved fortress is now a monster-infested ruin beyond any hope of saving, and all because they wanted to appease their hero complex by linking the fire. To call it a blow to their egos is too kind; they must have been devastated. Hawkwood surmises that the Abyss Watchers were searching for a place to die after we defeat them, which puts their behavior leading up to their defeat at our hands in proper context.
… Ah, I need to thank you. Since they were probably searching for a place to die… Ha ha ha… How pitiful.
When we arrive at the Farron Mausoleum, we see two Abyss Watchers battling to the death among the countless bodies of their comrades. The legionnaires have ultimately decided to kill each other in a suicidal free-for-all. What do they have left to live for? They have no hope to rebuild the organization, and they can only blame themselves. How would an honorable knight like Artorias atone for this transgression? By offering up his own as recompense. And how were warriors who dedicated their immortal lives to fighting transgressions to go about it? By putting down the sinner by the sword. Death by honorable combat with each other was thus a fitting end for the Undead Legion living out a meaningless existence. But fate had robbed them of even that. During the boss battle, random Abyss Watchers rise back up from among the bodies to help their comrades in slaying us — they aren’t truly dying.
This situation isn’t unprecedented. In DS2, Tark and Najka were also unable to kill each other due to a magical bond they shared, resulting in the wounds that the two manscorpions inflicted on each other to fail in severing the bond between the body and soul. The Abyss Watchers are similarly all linked by an intangible bond between their souls due to the wolf blood. The legion is at once many and one, individual souls that remain linked to a greater whole. It affected the old wolf who took no actual part in the firelinking, so the same should be true for themselves. Any deathblow dealt by another Watcher is simply shouldered by the others in the network, keeping their collective soul tethered to the individual body. In other words, so long as one of two legionnaires survive killing each other, both do. If more extreme measures like beheading or mass suicide were viable workarounds, the Abyss Watchers ignored it.
Taken in this light, we can only presume that the Undead Legion consigned itself to an endless battle amongst itself for the rest of their meaningless eternity. This bizarre behavior is perhaps a reflection of the contradictions within their own hearts. They deeply loath themselves as sinners but desperately wish to be glorified as heroes. They want to die but are driven to live. They exist to fight but have lost what they fought for. As a result, they are caught in this strange dance where they futilely attempt to face death with honor while endlessly punishing themselves for their refusal to commit to it. They are their own harshest critic and yet their most merciful arbiter, leading to never-ending self-torture. Our arrival to the scene is probably a blessing in their eyes. After slaying the only other Watcher still standing, the last notices our entry and raises his sword to us in what is apparently a customary dueling gesture among legionnaires — we can learn this etiquette for ourselves by praying to the Old Wolf. Whether we be friend or foe, they welcome us to join in their free-for-all. After all, we are the only ones there actually capable of leaving a clear victor.
Much like Tark and Najka, the Legion’s peculiar bond is limited to within this soul network — a force outside the web can sever them from the collective and thus truly kill them. The Farron Followers were not just beneficial to the Undead Legion but a necessity. If one legionnaire was corrupted by the Abyss, the others were incapable of putting him down. This required the Followers be the ones who drag the damned off to the world of the dead, and the same is true for this boss battle. These conflicted death seekers cannot judge themselves, so they turn to an outsider to put an end to their pointless struggle once and for all. And we prove worthy, slaying each of them one by one as they continue to battle us and each other. This forces one legionnaire on the verge of his own death to draw on the blood, soul, and fire they share via their bond to coalesce in his body. With the full power of the entire Legion, this one body gives everything they have to defeat us or valiantly die trying; it also saves us the time of killing them all individually. At least this way, they can face death with a modicum of dignity and a sliver of heroism.