Drangleic


Preface


I do not hide my personal antipathy for Dark Souls II, but that can be faulted primarily on the gameplay side of things. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the story side of things are much better. Unlike the original Dark Souls, (DS1) “dense” doesn’t describe its sequel, with FromSoftware‘s smattering of ideas building an incredibly vacuous world. For all its inane or repetitive details, Drangleic simply isn’t that well-fleshed-out of a place, serving basically as just an extension of Vendrick’s story. And with the constant repetition in the text, Vendrick’s own tale doesn’t have much to say, certainly nothing as deep or coherent as the writing tries to portray it as. Even after getting a second shot at making this mess into a cohesive whole, the developers still left a terribly uninspiring main plot full of holes. All of this is to say that this was incredibly difficult topic to cover, for the tedium if nothing else.


On Dragonback


What is most striking about the foundation of Drangleic is its spontaneity. Vendrick suddenly appears out of seemingly nowhere with an entire army, ready to sweep over the continent. Was the swordsman some disaffected noble? Mercenary leader? It is true that the man speaks with archaic language unlike any of his contemporaries, showing an attempt to project preeminence much like Gwyndolin did in DS1. This makes it possible that Vendrick wanted to convey kingship despite less than kingly origins. But even if this speech pattern is simply a creative liberty taken by the developers, there is no denying that someone who is already king wouldn’t establish an entire new nation somewhere else to become king to. There is also no indication or reference to family besides Aldia, so the two brothers’ actions were entirely independent. Considering the impressive size of Vendrick’s soul, the man must have had plenty of battlefield experience, his life of war eventually giving him charge of his own troops.

The Dragonriders, more accurately “dragoons” or “dragon cavalry”, (竜騎兵) are exactly what you expect: cavalrymen riding dragons instead of horses. To be specific, they originally mounted wyrms or “land dragons”. (地竜) Much like how wyverns lose their front limbs to become “flying dragons”, concept art reveals these wyrms to have lost their wings to become purely terrestrial. However Drangleic’s founder came about this otherwise unseen species of dragon, they ultimately managed to tame the beasts, which wasn’t easy. According to their armor’s description, prospective riders were often eaten by their steeds if they weren’t careful during training, though the end result was a peerless army boasting strength beyond ordinary men. Item descriptions further define them as jushi, (従士) essentially warriors accompanying in service to their master. Vendrick already had their loyalty, and he didn’t waste it, swiftly overtaking the land they would ultimately call Drangleic.

Helmet of a dragoon, who is King Vanclad’s warrior entourage.

It is imparted that the king’s cavalry, as their name implies, once rode wyrms, not horses.

A dragoon boasts strength like a demonic god, and it is said that those who didn’t have their groundings were devoured by the wyrms in the process of training.

Greatshield of a dragoon, who is King Vanclad’s royal guard.

Dragoon is the name that was given to the warriors of the founding, who contributed to the foundation of Drangleig.

The king trampled this land underfoot and raised up a country together with them.

Indeed, as a physical fighter himself, Vendrick had a liking for the plain warrior and strove to have an almost intimate relationship with his army. One of the King’s Gates opened with the ring he alone wore can be found at his nation’s seaside fortress. While the chamber it leads to is completely destroyed in the present era, we can see the unruined building exterior in the Memory of Vammar, completely with a fancy doorway on the wall opposite that of the King’s Gate. Based on this and the size of the chamber, it was most likely Vendrick’s personal quarters there, revealing a desire to living alongside his men during wartime rather than safely tucked away in his faraway castle. Moreover, all but the most basic infantry are identified as “kingdom” (王国) soldiers and swordsmen, with their high quality equipment naturally provided by their liege from his castle’s own blacksmith. Those who proved particular excellence in the line of duty were also given rings to help manage the weight of their heavy armor. It was brute strength and uncomplicated thinking that the monarch respected, and likely shared.

Ring with the wax seal of a warrior applied to it. Has effect that boosts equipment weight.

It was given to excellent warriors by King Vanclad as proof of meritorious deeds. It is said that the king liked simple, honest warriors that rely only on their own brute strength.

Helmet of a kingdom soldier of Drangleig.

Equipment forged by the blacksmith of the royal castle. It is well maintained and will probably stand up to even fierce battles.

While his dragoons’ magic halberds and brother’s expertise prove that he wasn’t intrinsically opposed to sorcery, it was clearly never a priority, perhaps owing to his own unsophisticated intellect. In any case, piety wasn’t one of the king’s strong suits either, showing contempt for clerics and their miracles. This was presumably due to their overreliance on defensive arts. Sure, healing magic saves lives and allows for comebacks, but wouldn’t it be better to just straight-up kill the enemy before getting hit in the first place? And what can be done with a lightning bolt can be done just as well with a spear, without all the added memorization and prayer. He had no plans to uproot the land’s age-old religious traditions, but he wouldn’t upraise them either. At best, a fabled knight of old — the paladin Leeroy from DS1 — would serve as the model for his soldiers’ armor. There simply wasn’t a place for something as complicated as magic in the king’s roadmap for conquest.

Crown of a clergyman from long ago.

The clergy of this land are ones that were inherited from long ago, but were kept a fixed distance from the royal family. To be a slight, as it were.

Even though particular dressing depending on gender is customary practice, its significance is unknown. This is one for women.

Holy bell given to high-ranking clergymen. Becomes a catalyst for miracles and dark arts.

Clergy existed even in Drangleig, but King Vanclad made light of their power and simply had them in accordance with tradition. In that sense, clergy of this land were unfortunate.

Shield of a kingdom soldier who became a Hollow. It is tattered and will only fulfill its minimal duty.

The equipment of the kingdom soldiers depicts the form of a knight who exists in old teachings.

As to who the future King and his retinue of troops were subjugating, it is possible that they were simply cleaning up remnants of Alken and Venn. Parts of the iron was stripped from the Iron Keep to help create the new kingdom’s western fort, while the Lost Bastille was completely taken over. The two warring states of old evidently had some of the best preserved ruins for Drangleic to build upon, parts of which remain infested with Hollows among other entities even in the present era. This leaves no evidence of any major country uniting the land in the interim between the twin states and Drangleic’s histories, meaning that there would have likely been many fractured peoples for Vendrick’s forces to war against. In other words, Drangleic succeeded Venn and Alken as hegemon of the continent, hence adopting the latter’s dragon crest as its symbol — the twelve smaller crests beneath it would thus be those disparate remnants that the kingdom united under its new banner.

Key to the iron doors of the Melted Iron Castle.

The Old Iron King’s castle sunk into fire. A consequence of the weight of its iron, or his hubris.

The iron that was left in the castle was altogether taken away by those who came to this land later on. The iron doors too may be somewhere far away.

According to Wellager, Vendrick had also defeated the Great Ones and used their four souls to help build his kingdom, but this notion is entirely nonsensical. Two of the four have been possessing certain individuals since well before Drangleic’s foundation, with the other two possessing entities contemporaneous with its history. It is therefore impossible for the king to have been using their souls in any capacity at the time. At the same time, it is bizarre for the kingdom’s chancellor to know enough about them to boast such a claim with that degree of specificity. He gives no impression of lying, nor does the rest of his dialogue reveal any obvious exaggerations. At the very least, Wellager seems to believe he speaks truth. And based on the rest of his dialogue, he is attesting as witness to the early events of his King’s reign. In all likelihood then, this odd line is simply a developer oversight, a vestige of sloppy revisions to the script. Vendrick certainly took interest in great souls and their power, but only well after establishing his kingdom.

Defeating the Four Great Ones… His Majesty built this country with the power of their souls…

On the note of sloppy development, there is a question about the full extent of the king’s domain. Considering Dark Souls’ penchant for countries being city states, it is surprising that we even visit one town outside the capital. In fact, we never do come across a Drangleic capital, nor hear mention of it. This is especially curious given that Wellager claims that Drangleic Castle, the ultimate center of the kingdom, wasn’t built until well after the founding. Where had the royal government been seated then? Simply put, while we may find neither hide nor hair of a royal capital, it must have existed, and perhaps still does. Aside from the castle, another prominent landmark is the massive viaduct stretching across the Shaded Woods. Even if there is no sign of it once we actually reach the royal abode, we can see it clearly heading in the direction of the castle — cut content confirms that the two were planned to be connected at one point, at least. In that case, what would we find on the other side except the capital, the one place you would expect to have a direct link to the king?

Cut content reaffirms this implication. Originally, we would have explored ruins of Drangleic’s capital on the way to the castle above it, much like the relationship between the Undead Burg and Anor Londo in DS1. Shalquoir mentions this “Dran Town Below the Castle” (ドラン城下街) as well as the gates connecting the two in her original scrapped dialogue, so there is no doubt of FromSoftware’s initial intention. And while the Dran area was ultimately relegated to the village of Majula, the idea of a capital connected to the castle seems to have been carried on into the final game, with the viaduct hinting to its existence somewhere in the mountains. Indeed, much of Drangleic’s holdings are found in that eastern mountain range, so it complements the setting. We simply never explore it, much like any other old town or village that might also stand in ruins somewhere across the land — though that phrasing is maybe too broad.

Looking at the official map of Drangleic, one can see that the kingdom more or less firmly controlled the central slice of the continent. Excluding the less than ideal properties of Heide and the Undead Crypt, the only areas left untamed were the Alken territories stretching from south to west; the adjacent Shaded Woods arguably isn’t much better. This is especially awkward considering Drangleic apparently took over the Lost Bastille, creating a huge disconnect between the lands of Drangleic’s territory. It isn’t as if the kingdom completely ignored these unconquered lands either. As we explore Drangleic Castle, we find plenty of enemies native to other areas seemingly captured and repurposed as guards. These include old knights from Heide, wall ghosts from the Undead Crypt, a belfry gargoyle from the Lost Bastille, an Executioner’s Chariot from Huntsman’s Copse, desert pyromancers and manikins from Earthen Peak, and Alonne knight captains and pursuers from the Iron Keep. Wellager also sells various items related to these places. Drangleic had clearly swept through all the continent, but only conquered portions. Why?

Even if we assume that Vendrick was only interested in lands with normal people to rule over, would he really be unconcerned with the threats so close to his border? At the very least, all the Hollows and necromancers lurking within the Huntsman’s Copse should have been worth clearing out, to say nothing of the witch running her own operation out of the valley beyond it. Wellager isn’t shy to claim that his king had been protecting the nation for so long. And with how much item descriptions tout the Dragonriders’ military prowess, one would think that exterminating these domestic threats would be no issue. Yet Vendrick apparently chose the inconvenience of needing to sail to his own bastille over the inconvenience of subjugating the areas surrounding it. This brings the game’s sloppy worldbuilding to mind, the developers wanting us to explore the ruins of Drangleic’s predecessors before considering the integrity to the setting. It certainly wasn’t the case that Vendrick ignored his kingdom’s security.

For since ages long, long ago… His Majesty had continued to protect this country…

As their English name and stereotypical Viking attire would suggest, the Varangians are “barbarian” (蛮族) raiders from overseas who sailed down to Drangleic to pillage its riches from people living along the coast, killing any in their way. Cut dialogue reaffirms this notion, with Shalquoir revealing that the Varangians would have raided Dran after Vendrick’s disappearance threw the government into disarray, the castle shutting its gates to save itself while the capital’s residents were left to suffer at the barbarians’ hands. By all indications, they were a brutal lot harassing the citizenry, but the king dealt with these ruffians, turning those they captured into essentially slave labor; they may have even been the impetus for building the coastline fort on the western shore. If coastal raiders were worth stamping out, then surely the likes of the Skeleton Lords and Mytha were, too. But whether due to lack of will or ability — or poor writing — Vendrick left those areas to their own devices, focusing instead on internal affairs.

The “Dran Town Below the Castle” has been closed. Reason’s that it was attacked by barbarians long ago. They aimed to take advantage of the chaos at the castle caused by the king’s disappearance. The strategists blockaded the main gate, so invasion to the castle was fended off, but the people of the castle town were forsaken. They did something so cruel to those who were probably just awaiting help…

In apparent reward for their service during the founding, the Dragonriders were given the honor of serving as the new king’s personal guard, escorting him wherever he went. With this move inevitably came changes to their training regime. For one, the kingdom phased out their wyrms in favor of wyverns. Not once do we encounter the former, but we find a “Nest of Guardian Dragons” (護り竜の巣) within Aldian territory and one such wyvern loitering around the same Heiden ruins as a stray Dragonrider. It is clear that Drangleic abandoned their original steeds for superior flying mounts. Likewise, the construction of Drangleic Castle, where they presumably spent most of their time training and standing guard, eventually introduced a trial pitting those recognized as potential Dragonriders against the Looking Glass Knight as their final test. With metal armor uncharacteristically resistant to lightning and a shield capable of summoning spirits trapped inside it, this mirror knight was a fearsome foe; anyone hoping to be Vendrick’s elite entourage either proved their mettle by defeating it or died a sacrifice to the process.

Mask of the Mirror Knight. Has high lightning defense power despite being metal.

Those that want to become real warrior entourage of the king are imposed a trial to battle the Mirror Knight from among brave warriors, beyond the King’s Corridor. If one doesn’t overcome the trial, they are only a sacrifice to the Mirror Knight.

Doubled-edged blade of a dragoon, who is King Vanclad’s royal guard.

Even thought it is a double-edged sword with a characteristic sword technique, it has excellent might and is, on the other hand, heavy.

A weapon that forces adequate caliber of the holder. But, those who can’t handle this aren’t qualified to be royal guards.

Vendrick knew who was responsible for his throne and provided for them accordingly. Indeed, it is dragons which comprise Drangleic’s crest, and even the name “Drangleig” (ドラングレイグ) bears obvious resemblance to “dragon”. (ドラゴン) Whether or not that is its meaning, Drangleic was essentially the kingdom of dragons, with new iconography plus existing religious tradition reinforcing that association. And the royal guard were the ones who rode those mighty beasts, glorifying themselves by proxy. It is no accident that the position of the nation’s founders was so difficult to reach but so celebrated. Even if they now rarely charged into full-scale battle, Vendrick wanted to maintain an elite cavalry unit with all the loyalty they had shown him during their initial conquests. The description for Drummond’s helmet reveals Vendrick to have been a righteous individual who wanted the same of his vassals. Perhaps it was also this invested attention to his military and widely-recognized imagery that made Vendrick so powerful not just as a man but as a monarch.

The Japanese descriptions for the king’s soul and crown describe him as ruler of the world of man, indicating that Drangleic was the regional superpower of its day with wide hegemonic influence. Part of this can be credited to the kingdom’s control over religious pilgrimage sites, but there is also its monetary power, with the royal guard defending heaps of gold collected in the castle’s treasure room — gold it had no problem spending. Despite its fervent nationalism, Mirrah was unable to prevent Drangleic’s prime minister from poaching one of its renowned craftsman on Vendrick’s order, bringing with him its military manufacturing secrets. Indeed, Llewellyn is probably the castle’s blacksmith responsible for the army’s quality equipment, a select few including Wellager even receiving some made with those trade secrets. Such leverage over other countries shows who reigns supreme, hence why our Fire Keeper guide immediately expects us to have heard of the place: it was too important not to be name-dropped in history lessons. By dragon or by affluence, Vendrick worked hard to bring his kingdom — and himself — to such heights.

Thrusting sword of Prime Minister Bellagar. Makes use of rare gran steel.

This gem by the hands of the craftsman Lind was what he brought from Mirrah and presented to Drangleig.

Armor enhanced with rare gran steel. Personal effect of Prime Minister Bellagar.

Excellent armor combining lightness and strength is given to only a select few people within the kingdom since it is by the hand of the craftsman it employed, Lind.

Its simple, sturdy design lacking in pointless ornamentation well expresses the artisan’s personality.


Brightest Light


Like every national leader before him, Vendrick was inevitably faced with the eternal conundrum of undeath. His initial plan to combat the curse followed in Olaphis’ footsteps, locking up the undying in the Lost Bastille. While certainly a straightforward solution befitting Vendrick’s thinking, the King still had the sense to look into the underlying cause, working in tandem with his brother to investigate. For his part, Vendrick’s contributions seem to have mainly been to sponsor Aldia’s research while dealing with the day-to-day affairs of his kingdom, as it is only later that he realized the full extent of that research. However, the Aldia Key’s description confirms that they were both resolute in seeking the truth, and No-man’s Wharf provides proof of their collaboration.

When the bastille became overcrowded, Vendrick set up a nearby “hidden port” (隠れ港) for the Varangians to reside and operate from under army supervision, spending their days in that dank cave town building, loading, and launching ships with Undead prisoners. These were essentially suicide cruises, the crude ships designed to break apart after they were left adrift at sea for enough time — leaving its immortal cargo to sink to the ocean bottom. And executing this system without sentiment both at the bastille and the port are Flexile Sentries, or more accurately the “enforcers of exile”, (流罪の執行者) associated with Aldia. Even if they were following the king’s command, their presence at all demonstrates that the two brothers weren’t acting wholly independently. Each simply played to their strengths, with Vendrick handling the more practical side of things like funding and disposal.

Curved sword created from the soul of the Enforcer of Exile. Originally made as a straight sword but warped as if to denote its twisted nature.

The king of its country commanded the grotesque watchman and sent out the cursed that didn’t fit in the prison to sea. Never to return again.

Soul of the Enforcer of Exile.

The watchman that carried the role to punish the Undead and ruthlessly carried out that role in all respects.

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

With imprisonment dead in the water, Vendrick had to begin flexing his kingly might, hiring foreign mercenaries to help stem the ever-growing Undead population — including both the berserkers and Mirrah’s shadows. Item descriptions make a point of Vendrick trying to control the curse with his powerful soul, the extent of his royal authority being a direct product of the strength of his soul. The Japanese text for his crown goes so far to imply that Vendrick thought his control over mankind proved the worth of his title, as would probably most. But even despite all that power bringing him so much wealth and influence, the king still came up short against the Undead curse. And as Wellager affirms, he and his brother’s investigation had long come to recognize the soul playing some central role in it. Nashandra relates that, just as how he gained its power to become the de facto ruler of mankind, he sought yet more in his attempts to confront undeath. And she was the one who would point him to it.

Mask of a foreign country of unknown origins.

King Vanclad collected various powers from various places in order to resist the curse. This may have been one of these.

Mask of the shadows that hide in the dark night. Those who had preeminent assassination techniques often acted behind the scenes as mercenaries.

Vanclad, who tried to resist the curse, hired those of shadow to clean up the Hollows. However, they eventually became Hollows.

My liege is a great man… who once thoroughly investigated the profound mysteries of the soul…

Vendrick was apparently instantly charmed with the mysterious beauty who came before him alone. Where she came from was irrelevant when compared to her claims alleging an impending invasion by a country of giants beyond the northern sea. It was a bold prophecy, and there is no indication of any substance to it. Why would the giants attack another nation across an entire ocean without provocation? At the very least, Drangleic would need to verify that a crisis really was coming its way. Yet for being so fair and just, Vendrick seemed to simply take the stranger at her word — in all likelihood, his affections superseded his better judgement. Even if they weren’t actually wed until after the event, Nashandra secured her place as his queen as the two set out together on a military expedition north per her counsel. Once they arrived by sea, they confirmed the existence of these mighty giants, and that was enough for Vendrick.

His Majesty had a queen… She was extremely beautiful… Her Highness came from a foreign country once… By herself… She told the King of the coming crisis… of the country of giants… beyond the sea… The king crossed the sea… and triumphed against the giants… together with Her Highness…

Club of the giants that raided Drangleig. Its original construction is just affixing a rock to a fallen tree, but it exhibits formidable might.

The King of Drangleig, Vanclad, turned soldiers north to subjugate the giants that possessed mighty souls in accordance with the counsel of the queen, Dunashandra.

According to Drummond’s Japanese dialogue, it was the King who committed atrocities against the giants, not just the kingdom. From this, we can infer that he conducted this preemptive war more like a beast hunt. The unexpected country was raided, its people brutally killed or captured like animals, only for his forces to pull out once they believed the threat pacified. There was no treaty or armistice. It was wholesale slaughter bordering on genocide. Once again, the fair and just king forewent his righteous instinct, and once again, all in order to appeal to the woman he loved. Then, after returning home with his prisoners of war, Vendrick immediately had the giants — specifically their souls — used to fashion massive stone golems, presumably by his brother. And as their first order of business, these enslaved souls were tasked with constructing Drangleic Castle in a show of their master’s affection for his new wife.

Once, my King crossed the sea and invaded the giants’ country. And then he brought back “something” from there. Since then, I hear those golems have been born in this country.

Golems… we brought back the power of giants and created them… The King made this castle via the power of golems… As proof of his triumph… and as proof of his gratitude and affection for Her Highness…

In this final act, Vendrick reveals another element to his relationship with Nashandra. Why would building their residence in isolated mountains so far from the capital serve as proof of his love for her? And was it really coincidence that he located the site basically atop the Throne of Want, not to mention the Shrine of Amana and a Dark Chasm of Old? Most likely, the queen had told the king about at least the throne and the First Flame beyond it, prompting him to show his interest by building their home where they could conveniently access it. In other words, Vendrick wasn’t just warned about a threat, but presented with an opportunity. The monarch sought power, which souls provided. The stranger showed him to powerful souls across the sea, with which he could dig and clear up the path to another soul, the most powerful soul of all situated at the source of all souls: the soul of the Lord of Cinder.

I am king, king of this country that ended up crumbling to pieces. I subjugated the giants and took away their power. To acquire further power and approach fire…

A soul is similar to a curse, and those who possess a strong soul are taken over by a stronger curse.

The King of Drangleig, Vanclad, controlled the curse with his powerful soul, and eventually decided to start pursuing the fire that was at the beginning of it all.

Can open the King’s Gate if worn.

Acquire power and meet the king. The one who once revitalized this Drangleig and approached the source of souls. King Vanclad.

This country is now completely destroyed, but it was once the origin of a great king. The king’s name is Vanclad. The one who approached the source of souls. He must have possessed a beautiful soul, don’t you think?

Vendrick believed that his dominion over man made him a king, but Nashandra and Aldia speak to a more philosophical kingship. A true King isn’t actualized by virtue of an inborn capacity or prelaid destiny. For at the heart, a king is whoever holds the power to effectuate his will, to turn his want into reality. And the one who holds the greatest effect upon reality is the one holding dominion over the First Flame, the entity central to the current world order. Primarily this concerns the King of Kindling. In becoming avatar to the fire from which all souls originate, he who inherits the flame also takes over the “karma” (因果) of the soul, becoming the cause behind the effect on this world shaped by Disparity; even the Emerald Herald acknowledges that us revitalizing flame will only fill the world with more of Disparity’s power. The same, however, is true for the Dark Lord, the one who wills the flame to die becoming King of a new age. Whether of Dark or Kindling, both can be considered the true King.

Crown of the King of Drangleig, Vanclad.

What really is a king? Some say it is a natural capacity, some say it is a preordained fate.

If it is simply the name of the one that rules the world of man, that may be enough.

The one who once approached Kingship, Vanclad, is in this land. What is a King?  It is not a capacity you are born with, nor is it a fate you are preordained to have… You want what? It is still not known even to you yourself. Until next time, Hollow.

In this respect, the “Throne” of Want is symbolic. After all the trials and hardship we overcome to reach the seat leading to the First Flame, to actually take it is essentially to already be King, our victory over our predecessor all but guaranteed. As various characters and even item descriptions frame it, assuming the throne liberates us to finally do as we desire, unburdened by the world’s constraints. It is for this reason that Aldia focus so heavily on interrogating our wants, our actions before journey’s end driven by the need to survive more than anything. And it is for that same reason that Vendrick chose to seek it for himself. He didn’t fail to wipe out the giants, including their King. His goal was always just to collect a sufficient number to help excavate the throne site while crippling their fighting strength. And as we see, this number have dug all the way to the throne itself, ready to serve as a bridge for the gaps. Nashandra pointed Vendrick’s aim toward the First Flame, which he himself admits.

There is a suitable throne for the one who is King. What is seen from there is something only known by those suited to that seat.

Or does the throne show what the one seated there wants?

Fire flourishes but eventually abates. As long as the one to link it doesn’t materialize, what is it that the one who acquired the throne really…

One who links the fire, one who takes on the curse within yourself… If you link the fire, souls will propagate again and the same thing will repeat. To want it, to refuse it… It is for you to decide. One to be King, to your throne. Only you see what lies beyond it.

As for how much Vendrick knew at this juncture, his dialogue indicates his ultimate recognition of flame’s cosmological significance, as well as undeath’s underlying nature. If the curse was Dark, then surely he just needed to control fire, for shadow only exists thanks to fire. Control the flame, control the Dark; that was his logic. And even if we he wasn’t fully aware of all the details until much later on, the king could surely trust the advice of his beloved wife. While excavation was still underway, Vendrick continued to govern his kingdom from their new castle, and we can find the queen’s chair seated alongside his in their audience chamber. Almost everything was done in concert with Nashandra. He cared for her, respected her opinion, and according to Wellager, she brought peace both to the country and to him. During this period of calm, Vendrick took the opportunity to dig into more than just the Throne.

Once, fire was born, and it brought Disparity. Heat and cold, life and death, and light and dark.

Dark is called a curse. But, a shadow is born only if there is fire. The more fire flourishes, the more Dark darkens its color. Control Dark with fire… That is taking on them both together. The one who accomplishes that would undoubtedly be…

One long lift ride down from the back of the castle takes us to the Shrine of Amana, with another up its iconic tower taking us to an imprisoned Milfanito. Taken together, the king was invested in learning about the subterranean ruins north of his castle, and his later flight to the Undead Crypt proves the depth of this inquiry. Indeed, nothing better showcases the value of the research quite like the “lock” securing her prison. Chained to the door is a mutilated man called the embedded, or more accurately the “seal-man”. (封人) His miraculous survival across the eons is thanks to his chains, which boost the power of body, stamina, and life at the cost of increased vulnerability. In other words, only when his keyhole-masked face is pierced by the sword “key” will he die. Being a masochist, this outlandish security mechanism was as he wished. Add in the sorceries stored in that very room, and clearly Vendrick wasn’t handling any of this himself, hence why the key-holder seems to have been eaten by the Demon of Song.

Ring made from the seal-man’s chains. Brings various benefits in exchange for increasing damage received.

The seal-man’s chains have a power that makes man a slave to pleasure. It is the path to ruin, so this ring was made using such power.

Sword for opening the seal-man’s door. It can be used as a weapon but it is a key.

The seal-man who is pierced with this key will finish his role in a joyful climax.

The seal-man, who was once human, chose to be eternally bound in chains for his own pleasure. And has been waiting all this time for the one that will pierce him with the key.

The same hands-off approach can be seen in his efforts to explore this land’s past kings. His brother expresses familiarity with the Sunken, Iron, and Ivory Kings, and we can find evidence of Drangleic’s presence in two of the three’s kingdoms. Aside from the aforesaid pillaging of the Iron Keep, dead Drangleic soldiers litter the lead-up to Brume Tower, apparently having given their lives to destroy just one of Nadalia’s idols. The berserkers the kingdom hired are also found in groups both in the tower and at Belfry Sol, each party having apparently gone rogue — the former to obsess over Alonne’s equipment, the latter to act as Bell Keepers; maybe they really are “mad warriors”. (狂戦士) Meanwhile, the key to Eleum Lloyce is stored at Drangleic Castle, and the same kind of chain link used to seal the embedded can be found within the frozen city’s walls — the same for two Flexile Sentries sealed in ice caves. On top of that, the stela warning against entry to all three domains likewise mention tribulations worthy of a would-be “King”, thereby implicating Vendrick in their erection.

The monarch was curious about anyone who might have been in shoes before — perhaps hoping to construct a better roadmap to follow — but ultimately thought these expeditions too dangerous for most and not worth the trouble to clear out by himself. At each instance, he decided to cut his losses and simply seal access to the area, allegedly removing the water the local teleporter relied upon to prevent even the “temptation” to try — though by the time we enter the scene, this is clearly no longer the case. Leaving a surprisingly high-effort warning for the curious, Vendrick moved on from ruined kingdoms, though not without learning about the fates of each king if Aldia’s dialogue is any indication. None before him had ever reached the throne and become the real King. He alone could decide the fate of the curse and the world. This savior complex is evident by the second King’s Gate, giving him sole access to the Throne. The sentiment rings especially true given that, despite his brother’s assistance in these endeavors, they could no longer walk that path as saviors together.


Darkest Shadow


At some point, Vendrick deigned to visit Aldia’s mansion, and he was clearly horrified by what he saw, henceforth confining his sibling and his cronies there — a third King’s Gate would keep the length of their sentence in his hands alone. Up until then, the king believed that the two siblings were of the same mind concerning the curse, but experimenting on fellow humans, fellow countrymen, especially when linking the fire was now a known solution, plainly showed Aldia’s split. Their ideologies and end goals were simply irreconcilable. That Aldia still lived for his crimes against humanity speaks much to Vendrick’s brotherly love; his house arrest, to the depths of his betrayal. The king’s commitment to all that is good and just for his people is on full display in this incident, but he supposedly had his own demons to deal with.

While the localization describes it as a transfiguration, the Japanese text for Drummond’s helm asserts that his liege did gradually turn into a different person after coming home with giants in tow. Drummond himself reaffirms that this wasn’t a physical change, but rather a change in visible demeanor. Vendrick had apparently become the total opposite of the fair and just king of his prior years, a man of darker character. The obvious implication would be that the introduction of Nashandra and her continued influence over him had an adverse effect on his moral fiber, gradually degrading the good monarch into a tyrant. Unfortunately, we are provided no examples to substantiate this supposed decline over time. All of Vendrick’s known actions after meeting his queen more or less fall in line with those from before.

Soul of the king of giants that destroyed Drangleig once.

Vanclad, who crossed the sea, captured giants and took them away to the royal castle. A dark shadow gradually became visible in the king’s expression since that time.

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

Drangleig traditional helmet. Personal effect of the kingdom captain Drummond.

King Vanclad was once a fair and just character and sought that even in his vassals. This helmet is proof they acquired the king’s trust, but their king without a doubt gradually changed into someone else.

… Soon, those giants shall descend upon even here. This is payback. For the barbarism my king performed. He was supposed to be a benevolent ruler who thought of his people’s happiness and built a country in this land, but… What changed him…?

Aside from those branded with the Darksign, Vendrick also had any verifiable sorcerers residing in his kingdom rounded up and shipped off with them at one point. Certainly, this would make for an excellent tie-in to his split with Aldia, the king’s suspicion of sorcerers having either resulted in or stemmed from discovering his brother’s betrayal. Likewise, exiling innocents for simply their magical practice, death all but guaranteed, would run counter to any notions of fairness and justice. There is only one problem: the timing is impossible. After the big fix, the description for the Varangian Sword explicitly attests to Vendrick’s paranoia about the curse making him suspect “everything” as a potential source. In other words, the terrible persecution of sorcerers it describes must have occurred before Nashandra and Aldia educated him on undeath’s actual cause. It isn’t evidence to slow degeneracy.

Straight sword of a barbarian engraved with a skull.

The king of before captured barbarians that devastated the coastal waters and had them work at the Secret Port instead of locking them up in prison. The king, captured by fear and suspicion, suspected everything as the source of the curse, and severely persecuted those who manipulated sorcery in particular.

In fact, this timing creates a new slew of problems. Put in the best light, the sorcerers’ persecution was the action of a desperate man working with limited information, much like his attack on the giants. From that perspective, Vendrick’s handling of the northern threat wasn’t too far removed from his behavior with the Varangians, at worst — thereby making it hardly the first step down the path of darkness alluded to. At the same time, it is incredibly odd that a man suspecting sorcerers to be causing undeath would be simultaneously sponsoring his brother’s efforts to understand undeath with the help of sorcerers, especially considering how he is later completely blindsided by the depravity of Aldia manor. No matter the angle, Vendrick the good and wise king comes off as either not so good or not so wise. And in all cases, his actions aren’t showing a noticeable moral decline later on. Rather, it isn’t until his kingdom’s imminent destruction is at hand that Vendrick’s desperation crosses over into hypocrisy.

Contrary to Vendrick’s expectations, the giants did return to invade and wreak havoc, his longtime peaceful nation seemingly caught completely off-guard. Even then, it didn’t matter how much fine-quality equipment he supplied his troops, none were able to withstand the giants’ attacks. Drummond uses his family’s traditional equipment, which Vendrick gave when entrusting them with securing the fort on the west coast — hence it is the “guardian”, (ガーディアン) not just Drangleic, set. More than likely, it was specifically given to Drummond’s grandfather, who was still commanding the fort when the giants attacked and presumably served during the founding. After he was killed proudly resisting the enemy, Drummond’s father took over, and then he died in the same manner and left Drummond to assume command. With each assault, the giants whittled away at Drangleic’s forces, leaving only the dead or Undead in their wake. The warriors’ honor, pride, and skill mattered not against a force of such overwhelming power and rage.

This land, been in tatters since the war of long, long ago. With the “giants” or whatever that came from the sea.

Helmet of a kingdom swordsman. Characterized by shape which is easy to move in while having defense power. Ignores ornamentation and is only suitable for battle.

Vanclad gave this armor to courageous swordsmen and challenged the giants. But those to give military gains were rare.

Greatsword of the kingdom captain Drummond. This plain, old sword is endowed with a hard-to-replace pride and dignity.

A sword handed down in Drummond’s family. His father and grandfather both carried this sword and kept battling the enemies that threatened the country.

To supplement the losses, Vendrick hired yet more foreign mercenaries, this time from Volgen and ruined Forossa. Vengarl implies that he saw the king take to the field personally, so the now old man wasn’t simply hiding behind his cash — he just didn’t have the manpower to charge alongside him. As the Hollows patrolling the Shaded Woods demonstrate, neither soldier nor mercenary would give him that manpower. Part of the problem may have been a lack of air power. With Aldia and Vendrick’s split, Drangleic was cut off from its wyvern nests, meaning that its famed royal guards couldn’t mount their steeds. The one Dragonrider and wyvern pair we see seems to be a runaway who hid in the old ruins to evade the fighting. There would be no raining fire down upon the giants. Drangleic was stuck striking at their feet, and human strength just wasn’t cutting it; they needed something inhuman.

One answer to this problem was to send out the golems captured from the Iron Keep, the ironclad soldiers silently slipping among the army ranks. But Vendrick wasn’t satisfied with just them. The king apparently returned to Aldia’s manor and collected its research, for he brought back the arts he himself forbid. Using presumably his own soldiers, the monarch spawned and armed numerous mastodon-men to compete against the giants in both size and physical strength. In his darkest hour, Vendrick resorted to his darkest decision which would have once horrified him, and perhaps still did. He had no leg to stand on when it came to Aldia’s methods — when push came to shove, he was no better. He hunted foreigners for their labor, and now he turned his own people into monsters when they came back for revenge. In the end, his endless pursuit for more power destroyed both him and his kingdom.

Helmet of old heavy iron soldiers. It has high defense effect but is extremely heavy.

Those clad in this strangely dirtied equipment materialized from the royal castle of Drangleig and slipped in among the members of the soldiers before one knew it.

They never uttered a word, and neither did anyone see their faces.

Helmet of the beastmen knights that protect the Royal Castle Drangleig.

It is like paper for the beastmen knights that boast superhuman strength, but the weight to wear it is too unlikely for ordinary men.

The king revived an abominable art that should have been lost and created those that aren’t human.

Villages like Majula were razed to ruins, and the endless fighting left destitute civilians like Melentia with nowhere to sleep — her and likely many others’ solution was to pack up and become nomads. And for all its loss of people and land, Drangleic had nothing to show for it. Even its own king couldn’t survive, as we discover Vendrick is Undead. Since no one makes mention of this, we can only assume that the reality of his death and subsequent undeath wasn’t widely known. Perhaps the old man died in his sleep only to wake up unknowingly immortal the next morning, or perhaps they thought him merely rendered unconscious after taking a direct blow from a giant’s massive club on the battlefield. Whatever the case, Vendrick was now among the cursed he had so mercilessly persecuted, and any trust he still had in his queen’s counsel would be summarily shattered.

The battle continued for so, so long. There was no place for the poor to sleep properly. That’s why I carry all of my own things on my back like this. You’re… apparently carrying something else on your back though. Heeheehee…

A strong soul is similar to a curse. The King of Drangleig, Vanclad, controlled the curse with his powerful soul.

The king sought a stronger soul and even acquired the power of giants, but ultimately sank within the curse.

Can open the King’s Gate if worn.

By this point, Vendrick had realized that his wife was a child of Dark like those attached to other kings in the ruined kingdoms he explored. If the pattern with others didn’t already raise suspicions, his curse certainly did. Proximity to Nashandra causes Undead to hollow, meaning that Vendrick could not have sat beside his wife again without losing visible vitality — and eventually sanity. Of course, this doesn’t mean that she necessarily knew about his realization. The portrait she evidently once posed for exhibits the same hollowing effect. Much like the process for the faithful producing miracles, the painter had presumably imitated her image he saw so passionately that it accurately recreated her other qualities as well once expressed on the canvas. This gave the cursed Vendrick a means to notice something was wrong with both himself and his wife without seeing her in person, and he likely kept such information close to his chest.

Another tipping point seems to be realizing the futility of firelinking. Perhaps the genesis of this revelation came from Aldia or his research, the elder brother’s dialogue showing that he had come to such a conclusion well beforehand — had only his younger sibling listened when confronting him at the time. The curse cannot be controlled with fire, as previous players of DS1 can attest, so revitalizing it would be pointless. In fact, Vendrick’s theory failed to account for an important factor: the longer shadow cast from a closer flame. In the man’s attempt to reach for the original fire and its Kingly soul, he had only served to strengthen his shadow. And who was shadowing him? Nashandra. She was the Dark which paired with him and set him on this journey. And if she lied to him about firelinking stopping the curse, then the monster’s true objective is obvious: the soul she always pointed him toward.

One who seeks fire, thou try to conquer the Dark? I, too, sought fire once. One who controls the curse with fire. That is for sure one to be King… Unaware that it was nothing but a vacant falsehood. One who seeks fire, you should know the depth of your Dark. The further you chase fire, the deeper the Dark. Fire, fire…

Vendrick was being used from the start, and that knowledge smashed any illusions about his seemingly perfect wife. The King’s Ultra Greatsword depicts Nashandra with a heavenly aura denoting reverence. However, its descriptions suggests that the feelings in Vendrick’s soul which spawned the weapon might have actually been hatred. At the very least, the king struggled to reconcile his idealized conception of his wife with his feelings of betrayal. From his dialogue, we can confirm that this Undead, too, joined the crestfallen, losing all sense of who to trust, what to do, and how to push on. If Vendrick took the Throne and became King of Kindling, he would only be advancing his monstrous wife’s design. At the same time, he had already gotten her so close to the finish line, and she didn’t even strictly need him to succeed at this point. Therefore, the only thing that the king could muster the will to do was sabotage.

Ultra greatsword created from the soul of Vanclad. Deals strong damage to enemy armor.

Is the shape imitating the queen out of grace or hatred? There is probably no one who knows that other than himself.

One who seeks fire, you want what? I can no longer see anything…

The Throne Watcher and Defender keep a close eye on the Throne of Want and bear obvious markers of knights with a proficiency in holy magic. This combined with their presence behind a King’s Gate implies that Vendrick tasked them with their “special” guard duty, choosing knights who were both strong and cursed considering that they are still around to this day. The king is presumably also responsible for the giant golems around the Throne remaining inactive, preventing anyone from forming a bridge to cross the gap over to it. All of these create obvious roadblocks for anyone hoping to use the Throne of Want, with the King’s Gate as the cherry on top so long as Vendrick holds the key. Of course, once Nashandra noticed what Vendrick was doing, she was sure to retaliate, which wasn’t to the Undead king or his equally cursed knights’ advantage. To solve this, he needed to be as far away from the queen as possible.

Soul of the Throne Protector.

The throne has guards suitable to it, a consequence of it being something special.

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

Soul of the Throne Surveiller.

The throne has one that watches its appearance closely, a consequence of it being something special.

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

Thus, Vendrick fled down the King’s Passage, leaving the Looking Glass Knight to cover his escape. From there, the king headed down to the Undead Crypt, though it apparently wasn’t his initial stop. A Dragonrider can be found guarding a peculiar doorway at the Shrine of Amana, one which only unlocks when we aren’t Hollow and have already slain Vendrick — most likely, the same mechanism sensing our human form detects some trace of the king on our person and presumes us him. Once inside, we are met with the king’s soul, presumably just a piece, seated in a fancy chair, a small alcove leading to a chest storing his attire. From this, we can deduce that the king initially squatted there behind this door, content with just a chair and one change of clothes. But paranoia regarding his wife evidently motivated him to get up and flee deeper into the ruins. For whatever reason, he left a sizable chunk of his soul behind along with the guard, though the opening mechanism might suggest that he was still open to the possibility of coming back so long as he remained sane.

Key to the King’s Corridor that is in the Royal Castle Drangleig.

King Vanclad executed various experiments in order to cleanse the curse that spans the country.

And then failed at it all and left beyond the Corridor.

Soul of the Mirror Knight, who imposes a trial at the masterless royal castle.

The King’s Corridor was a place only recognized brave warriors could challenge, but now it simply blocks the path to the king who left.

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

Soon enough, the king headed all the way down to deepest parts of the Undead Crypt along with Velstadt and Syan Knights. Agdyne indicates that the party has faced no resistance from the mausoleum’s original denizens for sojourning there. Therefore, Vendrick had only made it exceedingly difficult for Nashandra to retrieve his ring. This also meant abandoning his kingdom in its most dire hour, a fact which wasn’t lost on the man. Vendrick predicts Drangleic’s collapse along with the end to fire, at which point our old dark souls will be freed from their shackles and return all of mankind to its “proper” form as immortal Hollows. He is well aware of the consequences, but he would rather deny his queen the power she seeks than prevent the proliferation of the Undead curse; it is all inevitable anyway. With that, Vendrick reached his lowest point, unable to see through the darkness plaguing his heart.

The country will fall, fire will come apart… and our souls of old will regain their power… The Dark will remove the shackles and become a curse… And man will be in its proper form…

Eventually fire will cease and Dark will become a curse. Man will be released from death and acquire eternity. Per the form of the Dark we had once come to possess. The story of falsehoods will end…


Emptied Out


During this period of depressing solitude, we can arrive from the future using the Ashen Mist Heart. Vendrick doesn’t question who we are or how we have managed to breach his defenses, any attempt to head out into Velstadt’s boss room always ending our visit prematurely. Instead, the king just instantly ascertains our objective. Perhaps for no other reason than whimsy, the heartbroken man presents us with a trial. If we want to link the fire, we must take the throne, both literal and metaphorical. And if we want to take the throne, we should have a matching crown. To that end, Vendrick sends us after the crowns of the old kings he once investigated, each retaining some of their wearer’s power. Whether he knows this from witnessing it firsthand or reasonable guesswork, the king still directs us without clarifying his intentions, only throwing the question of what we want in our quest for the First Flame. It is only after we collect all three crowns plus his own that the man fully reveals his hand.

Fire blooming and proceeding to disappear at any rate is preordained. Will thou be one who links the fire? All is the will of the one on the Throne. Seek an appropriate crown. Seek hardship, seek old crowns. All is per thine will…

Thou, one who seeks fire, one who takes ahold of a crown suitable to a King. Thou seek fire, and want what? If it is want, seek crowns. The power of old kings dwell in the crowns which are proof of them. Seek hardship. One who seeks fire. One who wants to be King.

In narrating his story, the king states his desire for us to fully comprehend the Dark we face, which this trial achieves by putting us up against its other apostles. Between entities like Nashandra and the futility of firelinking, we cannot come away from Vendrick’s words with confidence that exorcising the Dark will be possible. The alternative, of course, is man returning to its “proper form” once fire inevitably goes out, but Vendrick poses the query: what actually is our “proper” form? He then tells us would-be King of Kindling to take ahold of the power in our newly acquired crowns, the crown we pull out showing a clear and impressive magical reaction. Somehow, Vendrick manages to make the power within each crown manifest a new effect, preventing the wearer from hollowing — presumably because even the fragments of their immense souls lacing the crown is enough to serve as surrogate for our hungry humanity, at least in the short-term. With that, the king leaves us with the promise that all will now be according to our own wants, not the immediate need to retain our sanity.

But… what is our proper form…? One who seeks fire. One who wants to be King. Take ahold of power. And so, per thine want…

I am a clown, a pitiful clown… Unaware of mine own foolishness. The transient vessel, the false soul, thus wants to throw away its false life, wants hardship? Art thou another clown? Or…

Should it be the Age of Fire, or Dark? Are we human or Hollow? No longer able to see an answer worth committing to himself, the crestfallen king places the burden of that decision on our more determined shoulders. The crown, beyond its symbolic purposes, grants the freedom to make that choice for an Undead seeking the Throne. At long last, we can contemplate what we actually want for this world without a fatal timer hanging over our heads. Evidently, Vendrick learned something from his brother’s research if he was able to work out such convenient magic, though why he never uses it for himself stretches credulity — even assuming that he recognizes our time travel and the implications to us carrying his crown, did he never once considers the possibility that we could join forces to confront Nashandra so long as he is willing to wait? In the end, Vendrick remains despondent, and his aid to our heroic journey does nothing to change that. As far as he is concerned, both he and his kingdom are doomed.

Despite his fort’s triumph over the giants, Drummond would be the last in his line to ever take command of the place. The central government at the castle collapsed, and the damage the giants dealt was already done. Most everyone was either dead or Undead, and the number of Hollows were sure to swell as time went on. Some might have survived for a while — Melentia takes up trade as a traveling merchant for souls to get by. But any who did and managed to make it down to the Undead Crypt to plead for Vendrick’s return were summarily slain by his guards. There was no salvaging this situation, no matter the loyalty these surviving subjects had for their absconding king; even after they had no longer strictly “survived”. Chancellor Wellager has persisted as a ghost, his distress and desperation in those final days apparently inducing his soul to endlessly relive them in phantom form — he will even forget who we are when his mind inevitably loops back around. Just as Vendrick foresaw, Drangleic fell apart.

Drangleig traditional armor. Personal effect of the kingdom captain Drummond.

The clan of royal retainers who served Drangleig for generations and were charged as guardians of the fortress came to an end with his generation.

Did you come to meet that man? Uh, the one called Vanclad or whatever? If it is that man, he is inside here. Until now, servants of the castle and the like have come for that one many times, but now they all rest beneath the earth here. For they were killed by the guards who embarked with that one. It appears he doesn’t really want to see anyone.

Over the hill and through the forest is the king’s castle. The one who once approached the source of souls was there. But, it is now already…

Meanwhile, Vendrick found himself similarly coming apart. This loss of will inevitably leads to hollowing, and the great king soon shed his garments, sword still in-hand, as he patrols his boss room, now just another mindless shell. The original Japanese description for his soul confirms that his Hollow is still protecting the ring, or at least trying to. But when we arrive, the Hollow doesn’t even recognize our presence, even if we pilfer the ring from his discarded clothes. Perhaps the king’s protective instinct was so focused on Nashandra that literally anyone else won’t register as a threat now that he has lost his mind. If so, it is a tragic conclusion to one man’s last-ditch efforts to thwart his queen. As his soul’s updated description notes, this king of mankind lacked the capacity to even be Lord of Cinder — he had no hope of holding back the Dark. Once we have returned with the King’s Ring, Nashandra will only note that, with Vendrick’s apparent demise by our hand, Drangleic is truly no more.

Soul of Vanclad, king of Drangleig.

That which was once a king was protecting something even in its completely decayed form.

The special soul of the man who tried to be the one to link the fire is used to acquire a vast amount of souls or create a great power.

Soul of Vanclad, king of Drangleig.

That strong soul eventually drew the Dark near, and the King was possessed by it. The king who once ruled the world of man was nevertheless a vessel insufficient to truly be King, was he not?

The special soul of the man who tried to be the one to link the fire is used to acquire a vast amount of souls or create a great power.

Here now, Drangleig has been destroyed.