Aldia


Preface


Despite my public criticism of Dark Souls II in total, I can still recognize that Aldia is one of the best characters introduced into the franchise as a whole. He may not have as creative an appearance or backstory as Seath in the original Dark Souls, (DS1) but he nonetheless stands out among the series’ intellectuals for his extremely atypical perspective. Few characters, especially humans, can claim knowledge of the laws governing this world, yet Aldia enters the narrative both aware of and completely divorced from that wisdom, rejecting the logic of the previous title for his own preferences. If there was ever an example that brains doesn’t necessarily translate into smarts, it would be Aldia, but being an halfwit doesn’t preclude one from being a fascinating character.


Royal Scholar


As Vendrick’s older brother, Aldia, originally An Diehl, (アン・ディール) was unsurprisingly involved with the Kingdom of Drangleic since its foundation. Although there is no mention of his specific deeds, he definitely took a subordinate role in his brother’s conquest of the region. Despite being the elder sibling, Aldia didn’t take the mantle of King, and there is no mention of him possessing any titles of peerage, though the localization arbitrarily refers to him as “Lord” on occasion. His only sign of status is the large mansion built on the property named after him — a land situated in the country’s remote hinterlands to the east of the Shaded Woods. The man evidently wasn’t interested in the glory and limelight of war and politics, but nonetheless honored for his relation to the King. In all likelihood, he took a more intellectual role in whatever venture Vendrick roped them into.

Aldia’s choice to live near Heiden ruins indicates interest in lost civilizations, and the Lost Bastille reaffirms this implication. Standing tall in the old castle’s storage room is a statue of a bearded old man dressed in sandals and robes like a stereotypical ancient Greek philosopher, carrying a scroll in one hand befitting that role. However, this wise man also wields a sword associating him with war, and this statue can be found in abundance within the foyer of one war participant’s mansion. In other words, it most likely depicts Aldia himself. The term “wise man” and its associated image are typically shorthand for sorcerers, and Aldia does later obtain the title of a Scholar, or “researcher”, (探究者) and dedicate himself to magical experiments. And if he is the sage, then the statue’s placement in storage would mean that the man had also kept a longtime presence at the Lost Bastille. Indeed, the Anor Londo pots found in the castle storage room are also found decorating his mansion’s interior, so there is no doubt of his presence there.

Before Drangleic made it a prison, the abandoned castle was the capital for countries dedicated to magic, which would have been great interest to a sorcerer like Aldia. The fact that he and his acolytes ultimately recreated magical relics found there reaffirms his close study of the area, as does their possession of Olaphis products like the Dispelling Ring or Staff of Wisdom. The castle may well have been Aldia’s personal residence before the remote mansion was built, or at least another property that he was given dominion over until Vendrick needed a prison. In fact, he probably continued to manage it even after it was repurposed. The jailers (獄吏) seen patrolling the area shouldn’t be mistaken for the “jailer” responsible for creating the Ruin Sentinels. This individual is the prison master, (牢主) suggesting that he oversaw the entire facility and its staff — explaining why he is producing additional prison guards. While this overseer is never named, there is good reason to believe Aldia is his true identity.

Soul of a vacant guard that is the prison master’s creation.

Its body was already lost, and only a vacant soul dwells in the armor.

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

These “vacant guards” (虚ろの衛兵) the prison master manufactures are souls operating empty suits of armor, making them golems. This would require the warden be familiar with magic and the history of golemcraft, both things which someone who has resided in this castle would have ample opportunity to learn about. The jailers are likewise pyromancers, making it all the more likely that the person they answer to is a magic caster as well. Aldia is the only character of note with an interest in both this castle and magic, and he gathers plenty of magic caster’s at his mansion under his leadership for his later experiments. Who better then for Vendrick to entrust with imprisoning Undead there than his older brother? He certainly proved himself to be up for the task.

Rather than risk ordinary people falling victim to the curse, Aldia sent his own subordinates who happened to turn Undead to the prison as its wardens. The prison master eventually began removing the human element entirely by creating golem guards, assisting the kingdom while also furthering his studies. (Dark Souls III later reveals that the golems’ design relates to the Dark Soul, a subject of Aldia’s interest) This was the perfect response to dealing with something as dangerous and unpredictable as a Hollow, and demonstrates the sage’s wit. It also confirms both brother’s invested interest in combating undeath.


Commence Experiment


When Drangleic finally faced the reality of undeath, both King Vendrick and his older brother sought to know the cause behind it. But one cannot understand the Undead curse without a thorough understanding of the profound mysteries of the soul, chief among which is the nature of life itself. And to understand something so fundamental, one must first be familiar with a variety of interrelated topics — magic, fire, Disparity, light, Dark. And so, Aldia became a researcher, gathering various wise man from all over to his manor. While Aldian “warlocks” are technicians, literally “arts warriors”, (術士) their corresponding mask is actually named for a generic “arts expert” (術師) at the root of both “sorcerer” and “pyromancer”. It also increases both the number of souls acquired from slain enemies and resistance to the Dark; their shields resist flame. Amassing varied kinds of magic users was the goal, all to have them help study the Darksign at the heart of the curse.

One of the grotesque weapons that were made at An Diehl. Swung around like a great hammer. The true origin of this weapon that seems to be part of a crustacean’s body is unknown.

It is said that the mysterious character with the name An Diehl sought the power to explain the secrets of the Undead in order to investigate the truth of life.

Despite these disparate researchers’ express purpose for coming there, some remained independent-minded. Aside from the one seemingly acting in a leadership role at the manor, the warlocks have all apparently moved on from their research for the kingdom and began wandering the land as part of their own personal studies. Aldia’s followers otherwise divided themselves into a simple hierarchy. There were the Archmasters or Sages, literally the “learning experts”. (学師) And then below them ranked the acolytes, “students” or more literally “learning juniors”. (学徒) The differences are minor, but they do wear different headpieces to distinguish their respective rank, unlike the warlocks. But the uniform’s main purpose was to protect them during the course of their experiments.

Hood of an An Diehl scholar. Thing worn by those of higher rank.

Many wise men met up and created various secret ceremonies in An Diehl. It isn’t known whether that was their true motive though.

That ominous mask is for averting the maledictions of what was slaughtered for the secret ceremonies.

Robes of an An Diehl student.

Many wise men met up and created various secret ceremonies in An Diehl. It isn’t known whether that was their true motive though.

Those white robes are for protecting against the gushing blood of what was slaughtered for the secret ceremonies.

With the manor secluded as it was in Drangleic’s eastern hinterlands, Aldia’s sizable research party was able to perform their experiments free of judging eyes, tempting them to be a little more risky with their methods. Even then, they wanted to keep things discreet from each other, and thus created chambers like the “secret ceremony building” (秘儀の棟) hidden behind a moveable wall in one passage. Among the byproducts of such covert rituals was Forbidden Sun, a pyromancy with overwhelming power — never once did they consider if making something so excessive was even necessary. Of course, the dangers weren’t limited to just the targets of their spells. Unleash Magic is a sorcery which opens the full extent of the magic power our body contains to its limits, damaging the vessel in the process. The Aldian researchers’ less than savory ceremonies naturally yielded equally abnormal results, infringing upon the truly grotesque once it came to live test subjects.

Pyromancy born via a secret ceremony of An Diehl. Fires a giant fireball that burns the surroundings to nothing in a great explosion.

Is that excessive power really necessary? The madmen of that land probably didn’t even recall that.

Amplifies the magic power filling the body beyond its limits, but drastically lowers HP as compensation.

The repulsive deeds performed at An Diehl gave birth to some byproducts. They are all in some way warped.

Leading into the mansion are several abandoned carriages whose contents wildly rock them back and forth. Destroying the carts reveals the cargo to be basilisks, and we can see a giant one has been caged as we progress. Further in, we see that the residents have also been caging mimics, dogs, and even a gargoyle from Belfry Luna. Aldia had been collecting specimens for research, and made sure to use them. The acolytes employ special hammers for dissecting what they studied, with warlocks and acolytes alike using equipment derived from the bones or body parts of whatever they no longer needed to study. For example, Merciless Roenna, originally Ruthless Ruth, (無慈悲なリュース) is an Aldian warlock additionally wielding the bone scythe derived from the Covetous Demon — though the bones are probably intended to be another one of those dissected creatures. Item descriptions otherwise can’t identify the crustaceans, reptiles, or mammals that these weapons seem to belong to; the name and text for the Cursed Bone Shield implies this to be due to the rituals enhancing them.

Shield that An Diehl juniors used. They apparently forcibly made the bone of something that became unnecessary in research into a shield.

The mysterious character with the name An Diehl collected giants at the mansion and tried to create a dragon, but eventually disappeared himself.

Small shield of An Diehl technicians. Strengthened via a secret ceremony and possesses the power of fire. Can repel spells by parrying.

The mysterious character with the name An Diehl collected giants at the mansion and tried to create a dragon, but eventually disappeared himself.

The dogs captured within the mansion have been mutated from such experiments according to the Dark Souls II: Collector’s Edition Guide, swelling their muscle mass and moderately twisting their appearance — this seems to be why they have no issue wading through pools of acid from within their pens. These swollen dogs aren’t alone, as the so-called kobolds found mostly just outside the manor are actually “wandering dogs” (彷徨い犬) despite looking nothing like a canine — the ones closest to the building also possessing the ability to petrify matter. Evidently, Aldia and company tinkered with the biology of these dogs as well, so there were probably a number of mutated species created in these experiments, most of which didn’t survive the dissection process. Of those that remain include the man-eating ogres, which the Collector’s Edition Guide suggests were created rather than born. This begs the question: what were they created from?

The homunculus mace and wooden shield originate from Aldia and have strange, spherical lumps attached to them. While similar to the Fair Lady’s eggs from DS1, these protrusion look more fleshy in nature. At the same time, dark segmented legs have broken through the cracked “shells” of these supposed homunculi, or “small humans”. (小人) Given their resemblance to the crab-like legs of DS1’s wandering spirits, these small lumps of flesh most likely contain humanity, hence they are “human” despite appearances. Aldia were toying with dark souls’ spontaneous generation to artificially produce life, which requires them to have been studying human biology; in other words, to have had human test subjects.

One of the secret treasures that was reproduced at An Diehl. Increases the number of spell uses at the cost of decreased HP.

Looks like a simple ring but it hides extremely strong magic power. How many sins occurred before this was created? The residents of An Diehl had died out.

Aldia recreated the Northern and Southern Ritual Bands through ceremonies involving human sacrifice, their descriptions noting that the mansions residents “died out” before their “sins” resulted in these extremely powerful magic rings’ production. The residents’ robes and masks were designed to shield them from the gushing blood and curses of those sacrificed in these rituals — the latter betraying their sacrifices’ unwillingness in these endeavors. Such resentment didn’t come from just the ordinary folk, however. The warlock mask’s description acknowledges that these magic experts performed these secret ceremonies upon themselves as well. Other items descriptions make no distinction for which humans summoned to the manor ended up dying out or disappearing only to be replaced with grotesque abominations.

Strange mask that An Diehl technicians wore. Endowed with dark defense power and also raises the amount of souls acquired.

It is said that there were technicians that performed secret ceremonies on themselves at An Diehl, which birthed grotesques. They were captured by madness at the end of their deeds, or possibly from the beginning…

Spear said to have been created in An Diehl. Hides the power of great fire and unleashes that power with a strong attack.

The mysterious character with the name An Diehl shut himself in his mansion and conducted various experiments. The humans that were summoned to his mansion gradually disappeared and the grotesque came to wander about in their place.

Indeed, what didn’t kill Aldia’s human specimens made them monsters. The Lost Bastille’s Undead jailers are bandaged up like mummies, all to hide a darker secret if the Collector’s Edition Guide is to be believed. They were most likely some of these Aldian researchers who ended subject to their colleagues’ experiments, severely disfiguring them in one way or another. And after these individuals happened to turned Undead, their service to the kingdom permitted them the responsibility of managing the cursed whom Vendrick wanted imprisoned rather than join them in their cells. Another can be encountered on the prisoner ship to the bastille from No-man’s Wharf, along with magical blue flames and magic crystal device for autopiloting to its destination — proof of the brothers’ close cooperation at every stage in this operation. Of course, the jailers weren’t the only Undead experiments whom Aldian dumped into Drangleic’s prison system.

The “explosive Hollows” (破裂亡者) are former citizens of Drangleic according to the Collector’s Edition Guide, mostly found imprisoned at the Lost Bastille. Their bodies have similarly been disfigured in the Aldia’s experiments, their souls made highly unstable and thereby volatile. Considering the sheer number and variants of these enemies, these soul studies were extensive, and such ordinary people were doubtlessly used for other experiments. The “grotesque Undead” (異形の不死) are mainly found at Aldia’s Keep, but also at the Lost Bastille on NG+, meaning that they too were dumped there after returning from death. As to why they were ultimately discarded, the Collector’s Edition Guide notes that these hulking Hollows look half-dragon in appearance, and we can acquire the Malformed Skull — a dragon’s skull, going by its description — from their bodies. In other words, they are failed attempts at making humans into dragons.

The very skull of something. Can be used as a weapon by swinging it around like a great hammer. The skull looks like that of a dragon.

Although it is quite a rare item, it probably shouldn’t have such careless treatment if the genuine article.

Human-to-dragon experiments was probably the origin for the Flexile Sentries as well. Like most other Aldian creations, these conjoined lizardmen are described as “grotesque” in the description for the warped straight sword derived from their soul, which further implies that they were twisted into their current form. And because they possess the intelligence to make use of weapons and armor and perform prison duties, they too must have been previously human, perhaps even Drangleic warriors. Aldia does prove to be the source of the Drangleic warriors sealed within the Looking Glass Knight’s mirror shield, a process which is neither simple nor safe based on the corpse sticking halfway out of one such glass portal at the manor. And indeed, the “beastman knights” (獣人騎士) resemble anthropomorphic mastodons with the strength to match, but their susceptibility to the Undead curse indicates that these products of Aldia’s experiments were originally human — and, to some extent, still are.

Greatsword of the beastmen knights that protect the royal castle Drangleig.

It is like a twig for the beastmen knights that boast superhuman strength, but the weight to even hold it up is too difficult for ordinary men.

Various abominable experiments were once conducted at the mansion which is in the hinterlands of Drangleig. It is said that the one who carried out those experiments was named An Diehl.

There was no doubt ordinary work conducted at the mansion. We see the acolytes building metal frames for the mechanical switches used at Heide, and the items acquired from Aldia-related areas include golden pine resin, aromatic ooze and elizabeth mushrooms — ordinary items to study. But the vast majority of the mansion’s research has clearly been dedicated to the unsightly and bizarre, from petrifying people to simply torturing them with various crude devices. And what wasn’t used ended up dumped down a pit leading to the swollen dogs’ pens, where the flesh of countless bodies would be eaten or dissolve in the acid. Since this includes many of their own colleagues, only a handful of researchers remain by the time we arrive, still pursuing their own interests. But in many ways, this was inevitable. Much like Seath before them, such research topics would require living test subjects to further their understanding. The warlock mask acknowledges that they were mad from the start —because they were divorced from moral constraint, not logic. There were no limits in the pursuit of the soul’s secrets, and these so-called madmen ultimately gave their master everything he wanted to know, means be damned.


Profane Discovery


Because of all of this investigating, Aldia finally realized the fundamental principles to the universe and how they were manipulated to create the “yoke” currently binding man. He also seems to have studied up on the history preserved in legend and scripture, for he has accurately surmised Gwyn’s connection to the Undead curse. The King of Light replaced the natural order resulting in the Age of Dark with a new logic to preserve the Age of Fire, shackling the power of the Dark Soul that every human bears by nature and obscuring our memory. In our ignorance, we enjoy the lie of our mortality blissfully comforted by the gods’ grace, only to be unknowingly faced with the reality of that falsehood when the Dark burgeoning within prevents us from actually dying. Fire eventually goes out and leaves behind only darkness, but Gwyn resisted this truth in the hopes of preserving his power from the start, labeling the “karma” (因果) of these iniquitous actions as man’s sin — thus Aldia is Scholar of the First Sin, a direct reference to the original sin (原罪) from Christian theology.

The one who once became the King of Light shut away the Dark of the name “man”… And so man acquired a transient form. That is undoubtedly the beginning of this world’s logic, and all of man exists within a life of falsehoods. No matter how kind, how beautiful. A lie is no more than a lie, after all. Hollow. Do you still want peace, even so?

Man lives in peace. And so, they believe and love the cage of falsehoods, even if it is likely all a lie. Until the curse is eventually shown on their bodies. That is the yoke imposed on us. And thus, the Dark is undoubtedly the truth that dwells within man.

However, knowing all this was just a means to an end for Aldia. The description for the Malformed Shell confirms that the man was more interested in learning the inner workings to life itself, and the text for his dissection tools similarly confirms that he and Vendrick’s paths eventually diverged. If the King wanted to simply be free from the curse, fine. But Aldia saw the bigger picture during his increasingly repulsive deeds. He had answered how and why humans can uniquely live on past death, something which anyone might reasonable conclude to be a blessing. It was only because of hollowing that the Darksign is considered to be a curse, the karma stemming from the medials’ meddling. What then if Aldia found a way to overcome this karma, to rectify Gwyn’s sin? Man would then ascend beyond its mortal coil while liberated of its limitations. And so, the researcher of the first sin pursued avenues to this end, him and his followers committing no shortage of atrocities in the process.

Hammer that An Diehl juniors used. Rather than a “weapon”, it seems to have been employed in the dissection of various things for research.

It is imparted that An Diehl was the King’s elder brother. The two who raised the country together at some point changed their paths.

During the course of these horrors, Aldia’s discoveries made him curious about the Dark in itself. Soul Geyser is a sorcery which unleashes a massive gush of souls true to its name “Soul Torrent”. (ソウルの奔流) Although its English description claims it to be Aldia’s family heirloom, the Japanese text only calls it his “legacy” (遺産) — something he had left behind rather than inherited. This was a sorcery created by the man himself. But while it is one of many spells learned at Aldia’s mansion, this one is uniquely called a “secret art”, as if its existence was kept particularly hidden among those invented in the manor’s secret ceremonies. Indeed, we can only acquire its text from a corpse carrying the manor’s key, implying that this was a trusted colleague whom ended up used in others’ experiments only to later be dumped there in the acid pen. Aldia was particularly concerned about this spell leaking out. Why? Because it would beg questions about his piety.

Secret art that releases a strong gush of souls. The pursuing soul mass pierces enemies and deals damage repeatedly.

It is imparted that this spell, which was worked out with the goal to keep pursuing the enemy until they run out of breath and can be called a black art, is An Diehl’s legacy.

The spell doesn’t just fire a mass of souls in a general direction, it makes the souls pursue their target, a quality typically associated with Dark magic. This is why the sorcery can be considered a “black art”, jahou (邪法) using the same kanji for “wicked” as the heretical occult from DS1. Much like Logan before him, Aldia was creating spells which at the very least risk the researcher falling to the Dark, something which would have definitely made the religious elements of Drangleic society mobilize against him. To be fair, the outrage wouldn’t be unfounded since most Aldian warlocks we encounter do employ Dark magic. The researcher did proliferate heresy among his fellows in their quest for knowledge. Soul Geyser only suggest that he had been trying to hide any sign of these interests early on, keep their dabbling to a select few closest to him; it didn’t last.

In his attempts to overcome the Darksign, Aldia eventually embraced the Dark directly, performing experiments which ultimately resulted in the Forlorn. These spawns of the first sin invade us as dark spirits, confirming their connection to the antithesis of light through the Darksign. But unlike other phantoms, they cannot return to physicality. They don’t even have actual bodies — just an empty suit of armor with no face beneath the hood. They are forever phantoms wandering the world as perceived by others, attacking without purpose. This is because these wandering spirits lack individuality. They have no self with which to recognize their own world, keeping them untethered from reality. Without a place to go, they simply exist outside of time and space, manifesting only their equipment and only incorporeally. This goes far beyond the typical use of Dark magic. How did Aldia achieve this? Human sacrifice, of course.

Hood of the Forfeit who walk around the worlds of the Undead.

As spawn of the first sin, they who lost their bodies and world seek a place to go in other worlds.

However, there is no beginning or end to connections without self. That is why they continue to go around.

Sickle of the Forfeit who walk around the worlds of the Undead.

The King’s older brother An Diehl pursued overcoming the curse by reason which differed from the King.

The Forfeit are one of sin which that sentiment created.

The weapons wielded by the Forlorn all have one thing in common: their designs include a mess of human bodies clumped together as their motif. Aldia had most likely consolidated a massive number of humans into a singular soul, which was then made into a phantom via the Dark’s dominion over space. But since these fused souls didn’t have a singular will uniting them, the consciousness for the spirit possessed no self. It was a blank slate at best and a hive mind at worst. Either way, there was no way for this psyche to identify with any of the different individuals tangled together — it was everyone, yet no one. And a newborn produced outside the confines of the world has no anchor leading back inside. Likewise, there was no way for them to effectively affect reality from the outside. They were stranded, lost; countless human lives consigned to oblivion.

This failed experiment was a transparent attempt to have mankind transcend the limitations of this world on Aldia’s part. The nature of the Forlorn would allow them to be free of the curse while still retaining eternity. But in experimenting with ways to correct Gwyn’s first sin, the researcher himself tried to make humans which defy the world’s logic, hence their existence is “forfeit”. (喪失者) If nothing else, this failure proved that Aldia had to work within the existing universal principles if he ever hoped to trump the curse. But after he finished exploring some of these options, ranging from golemcraft to draconification, the man had lost the support of his country.


No Return


Vendrick eventually discovered the full extent of the mansion’s works, perhaps hearing rumors which he eventually couldn’t just ignore. Indeed, we find ogres and the wandering dogs as far-flung as Things Betwixt, so at least some of the mansion’s experiments managed to escape into the wild. There can also only be so many citizens going missing at the manor without raising suspicions. Vendrick was clearly horrified by what he saw, as he henceforth confined Aldia and his cronies to the mansion, building a gated wall which only he could open with his ring. Up until then, the King believed that the two siblings were of the same mind concerning the curse, but experimenting on fellow humans, especially countrymen, plainly showed the elder’s split — their ideologies and end goals clashed. That Aldia still lives for his crimes against humanity speaks much to Vendrick’s brotherly love; his house arrest, to the depths of his betrayal.

Key used at An Diehl’s Mansion.

King Vanclad confined the man who is his own older brother to the mansion. The two sought the truth together, but their means differed, and they eventually clashed.

In the end, however, Vendrick only served to solidify the mansion’s descent into madness. With the researchers now formally cordoned off from the outside world, they were free to do as they please, learn whatever Dark or otherwise heretical magic they could. And if they weren’t commonly using each other as test subjects before, they definitely needed to now that the flow of citizens from outside were no longer streaming in. If the King hoped that house arrest would make his elder brother reflect upon his abhorrent actions, he terribly miscalculated. Aldia’s experiments continued, until the man himself suddenly disappeared from the public record. While it is easy to imagine the man becoming subject to one of his own experiments from the outset, that truth becomes all the more apparent after meeting him.

Aldia has become a twisted mess of branches and roots vaguely forming a face, the base of which looks to be on fire. But despite appearances, the wood doesn’t seem to actually burn, and Aldia is in no apparent pain as he converses with us. This is most likely because the wood itself is spawned from the flames, rising or descending from the ground where they appear. Indeed, we find that Aldia tailors his form’s shape and size to his environment, and he can control and create more branches at will as demonstrated during his boss battle. The arboreal abomination has used the power of life-generating flame to give himself form, similar to the Flame of Chaos and its seedbed. He creates a “head” for us to engage with for our benefit, not his — he could probably shape it to be anything. Likewise, we don’t receive any souls from defeating this boss because what we slew was merely an avatar, the real entity still perfectly capable of speaking to us as a disembodied voice.

As to what fire would have the power to rival the Chaos Flame, the obvious answer is the First Flame. Aldia mostly manifests from Undead bonfires, showing that he is connected to the network and thereby the flame at the heart of it. At the same time, his appearance at the Throne of Want confirms that he isn’t limited by the bonfires — they just seem to be his most convenient points of entry. In that case, he has most likely weaved his soul into the fabric of reality itself, all of which has been permeated by the First Flame. Not just his standard soul either, for the flames Aldia produces to attack or move have the same black-and-red color scheme as dark pyromancies. In other words, Aldia involved his own dark soul in the process, perhaps even using his own Darksign to leapfrog off of when linking himself to the original fire.

The researchers’ motive for his current state is easy to surmise. If he cannot exist outside the methods of Creation, then he can at least be the one behind the steering wheel for it. Much like how Vendrick muses about controlling the Dark with fire, Aldia probably imagined the reverse: control fire via the Dark. He had already proven that the Dark could be used to transcend both mortality and physicality, and he wouldn’t be the first resident of the New World to use dark souls for a kind of reincarnation. If his soul could assert control over the First Flame, then he would be master over all it touches — akin to a god. And if this deity was pulling the strings binding the universe together, then he could theoretically manipulate the Darksign’s curse over all of mankind. This would explain why Aldia seems to be the one and only person subjected to this experiment — who else was he to trust with this mission except himself? The researcher attempted to achieve a kind of apotheosis through light and Dark. What we see is the end result.

However, the karma shackling man continues unabated, and Aldia acknowledges his failure. The First Flame answers to no master; he is merely another cog in the machine comprising reality. While this doesn’t seem to have affected the researcher’s previous influence upon the universe, he can no longer go back to being human. This was his last best gambit at resolving the first sin on his own. One might argue that he has at least escaped the confines of the curse, but that wasn’t his objective. Aldia expresses no interest in making his fellow man into monsters like him. He sacrificed his own humanity, both literally and figuratively, for the sake of freeing others from such a fate. He would have been the god who would bring an end to hollowing, allow man to enjoy paradise as men. On this front, all of his efforts have amounted to failure, so now he watches from the sidelines to observe if others can provide the answer he couldn’t.

One might question why Aldia went to such lengths when the simpler solution was removing fire from the equation. Although he likely had the same realization as Vendrick — namely that undeath would not disappear on account of the firelinking ritual — he could still liberate man by kickstarting the Age of Dark. But Aldia doesn’t want fire to vanish from this world. Even as we hear his sheer rage in recounting Gwyn’s lie, he cannot deny that it is a beautiful lie. An existence bathed in the sun’s warmth will change with the end of flame. Without it, there can be no dazzling life captivating the heart. If not for undeath, man would remain blissfully unaware of its cage. But, what man doesn’t wish for the continuation of his existence? There lies Aldia’s dilemma. He cannot ignore the lie, but he cannot relinquish it either. He wants humans to enjoy both the light’s beauty and the Dark’s immortality. In short, Aldia is a fence-sitter, unwilling to commit to one or the other.

All of man is within a life of falsehoods. But, is it truly wrong? A life of falsehoods that was manufactured. But… it is a surprisingly kind and sweet world. Hollow, do you really want to release the yoke and break the falsehoods, even so?

I am An Diehl. The one who once challenged the karma, failed to achieve it, and only awaits an answer. Seek the throne. The light, and the Dark. The ends of them…

The researcher presents his case plainly during our encounters. He cannot remember the last time he has seen someone reach one of the primal bonfires, and initially only takes interest in us with amused curiosity. But he nonetheless hopes that we go beyond this midpoint in our journey, directing us to meet Vendrick. To him, we are a Hollow regardless of appearance. After all, a Hollow is all we are: a ragged, aged corpse which has lost its true soul. Instead, he distinguishes us from the “heartbroken” sort who have given mind and body to escape adversity in one form or another. We have proven our hearts strong after reaching the Undead Crypt where the King resides, so he is happy to indulge us with his knowledge of the first sin, all the while questioning our own will in this journey and what it really means to be a king. When we reunite at the Dragon Shrine, he shifts gears to questioning how wrong the gods’ lie really is, ultimately leaving us to seek the Throne of Wants and what lies at the end of the two paths stemming from it.

When was the last time someone who reached here appeared? Hollow. Do you want to try surpassing the curse? Then challenge the trials, the very mission imposed on Hollows. Unless you are a heartbroken who has given up on everything.

That need not be the last time we face each other. If we have taken the additional step of defeating Vendrick’s Hollow, Aldia will step in following Nashandra’s defeat, trying to stop us from taking the throne by force. He notes of many kings like Vendrick who possessed powerful souls worthy of Lords of Cinder. And yet, none of them surpassed the trials imposed by others to reach this point. If we are more worthy of taking the throne, he expects us to give him the answer they haven’t. But Aldia knows the futility of linking the fire, and has been subtly nudging us to go against our conditioning up until this point — that we will take this mantle of King of Kindling or King of Dark whether we want to or not. He wants us to think for ourselves, or rather, to come to the same conclusion that he has: the best course of action is rejecting the throne altogether.

Once, many kings appeared. One was swallowed by poison, one sunk into fire, and one sleeps in a frozen land. Without reaching this place, as you alone have. One who passed the trials. It is time to give an answer.

Vendrick was the King closest to attaining the ultimate Kingship before us, as Aldia himself admits. But whereas the younger brother wants us to choose either path unbiased by our curse, the older brother wishes for us to reject them both in spite of it — to allow this twilight era to run its course for as long as it is able. Since Vendrick is an optional boss, Aldia most likely interprets our decision to still kill him as our personal rejection of everything Drangleic’s King stood for. It must therefore frustrate the researcher to see us still mindlessly following the path laid out before us, thereby feeling that he must interject to dissuade us from becoming a tool of tradition. When both words and violence fail, he can only appeal to our will yet again, asking if we maybe see the third path and consider taking it over the road which will do nothing or too much to solve the karma. If we listen, we will simply abandon our journey at the final leg. Aldia narrates that this path is untreaded territory which is nonetheless our self-imposed “trial”, the consequence of no one’s will but our own.

I lost everything, and then continued to wait. The throne will probably welcome you. But the karma will… You want what? Light, Dark… or maybe…

There is no path or the like. Ahead where even light doesn’t reach and even the dark is lost, what is said to be there? But seeking it is undoubtedly the trial imposed by us…

But despite such liberating framing, Aldia’s option is patently absurd. Even ignoring the fact that the researcher essentially fed us this answer, our choice is effectively a non-choice. The torches in this final cutscene convey the end result: fire will go out. There is no mystery to be had. We will end up at the Age of Dark; it will just take longer to wait out the flame, and we will have to deal with more consequences of prolonging the inevitable in the meantime, undeath and otherwise. Aldia has simply tricked us into reneging responsibility under the guise of becoming the Übermensche. Certainly, in every case where one person is put in the position to make a difficult decision with large-scale and long-lasting implications, there is always the option to wash one’s hands of the whole ordeal. But you are only pushing the decision onto someone else, leaving anarchy in the gap. And what guarantee is there that the person filling that vacuum is the kind of person you would want to be making such decisions for you?

In truth, perpetuating this twilight era is of no benefit to anyone, not even Aldia. The fence-sitter simply wants to split the difference, perhaps hoping to keep man’s options open until another solution is discovered in the interim. Clearly, he would prefer that we go back to the early days for human civilization, after the pygmy Lord split the Dark Soul among his kin but before the gods shackled man. But that time has long since passed. We can only work with the hand we are dealt; there is a reason why DS1 boiled down to two options, no matter how much Aldia wishes that were not the case. The man of logic has been compromised by personal feelings. For all of his knowledge and antipathy for the first sin, he is no better than the god he despises. The fence-sitter might try as he might to delay the inevitable, but it is for his sake and his sake alone.