The Eclipse

After defeating the last Lord of Cinder, we return to Lothric to discover the world experiencing a solar eclipse. Normally, this would be the result of the moon blocking the sun, casting the lunar body’s shadow upon the earth. However, the timing of its appearance and its later reaction to us subverting the First Flame as the Lord of Hollows indicates that it isn’t an ordinary astronomical phenomenon, as was the case with the lunar eclipse in Dark Souls II. And since the sun is representative of the First Flame, it beginning to go dark after the deaths of every Lord of Cinder raised to safeguard it is perfectly reasonable. The sun presumably vanishes with the loss of flame, so the solar eclipse is just a stage in this process, a sign that light is imminently approaching Dark — somewhat overlapping with the concept behind the Darkmooon.

The eclipse’s resemblance to the Darksign also brings the Undead curse to the forefront of the narrative, both for our ultimate decision at the end of the game and for the duality inherent to the image. In fact, the combination of light and Dark is a core theme. Embered humanity, Lothric’s Angelic Faith, the Undead Settlement’s self-immolation, Farron’s Abyss Watchers, the Cathedral of the Deep and Rosaria, Carthus’ black pyromancies, Irithyll’s Darkmoon culture, the Profaned Flame, Ariandel’s Sister Friede, the Ringed City — we can find some form of this concept in almost every area, building upon the dichotomy from past games with more nuance. But much like the eclipse, all of these examples seem to exist simply for flavor, none having much bearing on our journey overall. Not so in earlier versions of the narrative.

Cut content affirms that the developers were at least experimenting with the eclipse appearing much earlier in the main story, with possible variations for different areas and narrative beats. Cutscene triggers for the network test version of the game also indicate that certain enemies would have occurred in a different order because of this. For instance, the Abyss Watchers boss battle would have postdated this event, as evidenced by the Old Wolf of Farron — the original focus of the encounter — being named “eclipse old wolf” (蝕の老狼) internally. The slug of the Consumed King’s Garden is likewise dubbed “eclipse slug small” (蝕のナメクジ小) internally, so it too must have initially been impossible to encounter prior to the eclipse’s appearance. And based on early promotional screenshots, the phenomenon would have had a far more radical effect on the setting toward the end of the game than ultimately seen in the final product.

Originally, Untended Graves wasn’t an optional area but a permanent lighting change to Firelink Shrine and the Cemetery of Ash after a certain point in the narrative, the darkened state possibly affecting the wider game world — which might explain why Princes Lorian and Lothric are internally named “Dark Twin Princes”. (闇の双皇子) This world state would have then changed once again after we rang the shrine bell during the story’s climax. And while none of the assets for this third state remain, we can still infer its connection to the leaked screenshot thanks to the original final boss planned for this version of the area. This boss isn’t the Soul of Cinder, who would have instead been a standard NPC at the shrine, and it wouldn’t have been confronted at the Kiln of the First Flame but Gundyr’s boss room. Its internal name is “snake spirit” (蛇霊) and audio files indicate that it would have sounded similar to the pus of man. And the screenshot just so happens to show a gargantuan, snake-like being resembling the pus in the distance, its body seemingly dripping out from the sun.

We can thus be certain that ringing the bell would have somehow led to the darkened world becoming an apocalyptic hellscape, the whole of the land fracturing and shifting around like we see from the High Wall to the Undead Settlement in the final game. This would have resulted in the Dark of the eclipse leaking out to form an oversized pus of man, implying that at least this iteration of the eclipse would have consisted of actual humanity. Indeed, the cut name and description of its soul refer to it as a “wicked spirit” (邪霊) or “wicked god”, (邪悪な神) using the same kanji for “wicked” as the “false” faith of Dark heathens from the original Dark Souls. (DS1) In other words, the snake spirit appears to be a foil for the Soul of Cinder: instead of a deity born of the souls of countless Lords of Cinder, it is a god born of the countless dark souls comprising the Abyss. It was in every way the greatest pus of man we would ever see, making it a worthy final roadblock in the narrative. But that isn’t where the association with the eclipse ends.

The description for the soul describes the snake spirit as possessing the heart of a “hero king”. (英雄王) The heart, of course, refers to the soul’s will, so much like the relation between our souls and our humanity, the giant manifestation of the Dark Soul would have consumed the king’s soul and overrode his will. This implies that we would have only actually fought the spirit itself during the initial or last stage of the battle, with the rest dealing with this possessed king. And there is only one possible candidate for the hero king: Pontiff Sulyvahn. The Pontiff is internally named “eclipse old king” (蝕の老王) and alone loads into the Cemetery of Ash during the third stage, meaning that the model was most likely originally designed to be that possessed character. After all, the Pontiff does wear eminent robes and a crown befitting a king, and concept art portrays the Dark as seeping out from the character’s entire body, far more than what we see in the final game — possession by a Dark pus spirit also explains the boss’ sudden dendrofication pre and mid-fight better than random chance.

Soul of a wicked god that possessed the heart of a hero king. Can acquire a vast amount of souls by using it, but by offering it to the molding kiln…

All of this provides the necessary context to infer basic details about that scrapped character. For one, he was probably the first Lord of Cinder in Lothric’s system. “Hero” king echoes the terminology used for firelinking “champions”, and this hero’s face looks to be covered with a white cloth beneath the chain mail, a common practice for the deceased in Japanese culture. This suggests that he was one of the Kings of Kindling buried in the shrine graveyard, and, indeed, he must have been buried nearby for the snake spirit to possess him — perhaps within the giant, ornate coffin visible in the boss room, which looks far older than any of the other graves and has been fittingly half-buried by the roots of a large, bare tree. Likewise, the kanji for “old” (老) specifically implies him to be physically an old man, and yet he wields two greatswords embodying the power of flame or sorcery. Why so strong, and why these particular weapons? Most likely because he was also a king of Lothric.

The statue of Prince Lothric erected in one of the city squares is curious in that it depicts him with the same flame greatsword and bejeweled bracelet as Pontiff Sulyvahn. Considering that King Oceiros commissioned the propaganda, this is obvious flattery for his longtime ally and close collaborator on the firelinking mission. Despite their true natures, the Profaned Greatsword and Pontiff Sulyvahn ostensibly represent the power of holy and the Allfather’s will respectively, making the prince’s possession of these trinkets a telltale sign of the gods’ blessing — and, by extension, Sulyvahn’s legitimacy. It is expert politicking on the part of Lothric’s last king. But, in the context of the original narrative, these details take on an entirely different meaning. The prince would have instead been mirroring the final boss. Why do this unless the prospective firelinker was supposed to trace his predecessor’s path?

In other words, Prince Lothric would have likely been adorned with the same ceremonial jewelry and sword as he too offered himself up to the First Flame. This commitment to tradition for Lothric royalty would therefore symbolize the prince’s success, which Oceiros would want to convey to his subjects as preordained. And if he is mirroring this specific predecessor, then the old hero king must have been one of Lothric’s earlier monarchs. Consider his additional sword imbued with sorcery. Why wield that for a ritual glorifying flame? Was the king simply a sorcerer, closely aligned with the kingdom’s scholars? In the final game, it is supposed to represent the Darkmoon’s judgment, so perhaps it would have been a gift from Irithyll, proof of the gods’ blessing in this holy ritual? If so, then this firelinking would likely have been the first of its kind, early in the two countries’ history together; the location of his proposed coffin in relation to that of the Divine Graves only reinforces the notion. In short, the old king would have been the first king of Lothric to successfully complete the firelinking ritual, an ancestor for future generations of royals to emulate.

With all this in mind, ringing the shrine bell may not have strictly caused the change in the world state, but rather be what would be occurring at that point in the narrative. The toll of the bell itself might have simply been intended to rouse the hero king from his slumber, just like with the other Lords of Cinder and unkindled ash. Surrounding events then would have caused the awakened king to be possessed, prompting the boss battle. Concept art shows the blue magic enveloping the Greatsword of Judgment with streaks of Dark magic, so his possession would have likely corrupted it. This means that he would have wielded a sword representing fire and Dark in each hand, thematically reflecting the eclipse at the root of his current state. Thus, the final boss for the final game of the franchise wouldn’t have been your conventional Lord of Cinder embodying the First Flame like in DS1, but one who embodied the duality of light and Dark in full, bringing the overarching narrative full circle.

But the script changed, and the final boss with it. The old model was moved to Irithyll’s cathedral, replacing the “moonlight witch” (月光の魔女) who ultimately became the generic flame witch as its boss. This wasn’t an isolated change either. Aldrich’s internal name is “Sullivan” or Sulyvahn, making him the boss commanding the Pontiff Knights — internally “Sulyvahn’s reapers” (サリヴァーンの死神) — and Irithyllian hounds — internally “Sulyvahn’s watchdogs” (サリヴァーンの番犬) — originally. Concept art likewise portrays Aldrich’s boss room with Irithyllian candlesticks, indicating that the Anor Londo cathedral was initially imagined as a continuation of the new capital. In that case, the government was probably headquartered there, with Gwyndolin its willing resident. Text for the unused “old king” crown and robes details the land’s physically old defender wearing majestic but now severely corrupted attire. The head of royalty in Irithyll was undoubtedly older, and this description matches with “Aldrich’s” corroded-looking crown and black robes — in DS1, Gwyndolin’s crown had sharp details, while his robes were more white.

Crown of the old king who protects the capital of the Cold Valley. That which was once resplendent has greatly changed in appearance due to the Dark’s encroachment.

Taken together, and Sulyvahn’s coup would have taken place after he became the monster. But FromSoftware evidently wanted to go in a slightly different direction with this storyline. The maneater who morphed into a Dark abomination and the traitorous sorcerer who took over as tyrant were split into two characters, one retaining the initial name, and the sequence of events was reversed. The Anor Londo cathedral became a long abandoned ruin, and Irithyll’s center of government was moved to the city cathedral to make it more of a theocracy — “Old King” Gwyndolin becoming prisoner in his DS1 home before getting eaten. All of this to account for one boss who no longer fit the developers’ initial vision, where the image of the eclipse was paramount. There are undoubtedly many more changes which didn’t hinge on this single element, but suffice to say that the story we know would have been quite different if that single element was more than aesthetic.