Forbidden Woods

Bellwether Vain

The Forbidden Woods lie north behind Yharnam, the area we explore spanning from the west side of the valley all the way to the ocean on the east. The mountainous terrain and winding trees make this vast wood easy to get lost in, with human bones sporadically littering the entire area. The forest isn’t just making them die of starvation either, as it has become a breeding ground for all kinds of hazards. For one, the area is rife with venomous snakes, so many in fact that we find most tangled together in a ball. These serpents can also grow to gargantuan sizes, making the venom they spit all the more dangerous. Joining them in this forest are the similarly giant maneater pigs (人喰い豚) we often see chowing down on some poor sap’s corpse — their noxious belch telling just how many pathogens their diet cultivates. Like the snakes, this seems to be their native habitat, as above ground elsewhere the pigs are only found in urban settings. At the same time, these animals’ nests appear to be relatively recent in the forest’s history.

Pools of water dot the area, the largest unsurprisingly forming at the lowest elevations. These are the early rudiments of a swamp, and indeed, concept art does refer to this area as a “snake swamp forest”. (蛇沼の森) And yet, despite the plethora of poisonous fauna, this water is mostly clean. As fans of FromSoftware’s Souls titles well know, stagnant water at low elevations is typically a magnet for unsanitary elements harmful to the human body, bringing in all sorts of filth and thereby pathogens or carriers of them. Therefore, both the swamp and the deadly wildlife calling the forest home are probably newer additions — the creatures have yet to contaminate this fresher water with their poison. In truth, there is good reason to believe the forest itself more recent.

Tombstones litter the entire woods, all one of a kind save for the smallest also erected makeshift in Yharnam’s streets. The forest graves definitely seem to come from an older era. As we head deeper into the Forbidden Woods, we additionally come upon even larger graves, suggesting that they belong to something far grander in size or importance than a human but still existing alongside them. The obvious answer would be the Great Ones, whose primary resting place underground is home to its own share of oversized headstones. Statues of Amygdala and the occasional celestial child likewise line either side of the main road as we progress through this section. Tiny slugs can be spotted hollowing out the stones from the back. Corpses are also prostrated before these graves, each having apparently received Caryll runes in response; candles laid out on the tombstones reinforce the air of ritual worship. Finally, concept art describes the large monument as the “gravestone of an elder god”, (旧神の墓碑) leaving no room to doubt the connection.

Evidently, the Forbidden Woods were originally a human and Great One burial site, though the overgrowth of trees indicates that it has long been neglected. The question is, by who? It is worth noting that the Great One graves disappear as the graveyard draws closer to Yharnam, with the two’s proximity in itself warranting suspicion. And as seen exploring Old Yharnam and Yahar’gul, there isn’t much space for graveyards at the bottom of a valley. It is only in the latest stratum up top that proper cemeteries begin to crop up, the one at the Oedon Church being the largest if still moderately-sized. Where then were the Yharnamites burying their dead before that? Perhaps the land just outside the valley? We do see the Yahar’gul church extend to up top, showing that the early Yharnamites did have an interest in coming up there. And a church’s duties typically include the consecration of burials, especially if it involves its gods.

In short, the forest cemetery in all likelihood originated with the ancient Yharnamites. When the settlement was first founded as Yahar’gul, there were both humans and Great Ones to bury. But as the Yharnamites moved away from their Pthumerian roots, fewer and fewer elder gods were enjoying eternal rest, leaving only human graves to be erected as the dead inched closer to the city. And as time went on, the cemetery itself was eventually forgotten, left to be taken by nature and become a wild wood. The relative recency explains why the swamp is still in its early stages and bereft of poison, but only thus far. The older, larger snake balls’ longtime tangle has made them ripe prey for similarly large ticks, showing the rot has already begun to set in. One of the giant pigs has likewise found its way into Yharnam’s sewer system, locating the sewage outlet in the woods for it to crawl up. And dumping such rot into wetland will poison the well soon enough.

The forest rainwater seemingly flows down into the underground cave linked to Iosefka’s Clinic, forming an aquifer at the bottom. But unlike the bodies of water at low elevation outside, wading through this cave water inflicts the slow poison status, implying enough contaminants have accumulated to make it hazardous to our health. True enough, this cavern happens to be an extension of the forest graveyard, with plenty of headstones all around. Add in the decaying corpses still buried or partially exhumed along the sandy beaches, and we can be certain that this is the cause of the poison. The cave may manifest this illness first due to having the highest concentration in the most unfortunate location, but the whole forest will eventually suffer the same fate as is. Yharnam has left its ancestors to collect filth and vermin.

In fact, the only reason the Forbidden Woods haven’t become a poison swamp sooner might be thanks to the Hintertombs. Heading down that labyrinth leads to various cavernous pockets with noxious pools and swamps. These are new to the stone labyrinth given the haphazard construction of makeshift wooden platforms and bridges to circumvent the problem. Unlike the core Pthumerian ruins beneath the entirely urban Yharnam, the Hintertombs have apparently been accumulating rot, presumably from the rural land outside the city above. This has made them a nest for diseased rats and insects, not to mention the balls of snakes and giant pigs. This would imply that the forest fauna have somehow managed to slip their way into the ruins underground. This is feasible considering that the woods’ underground cave proves to also intersect with the core ruins. If the labyrinth’s natives can climb their way out, woodland animals can just as easily burrow their way in, especially the snakes we observe burrow out of the ground.

One of the Holy Grails that breaks a seal of the underground ruins.

However, that which isn’t a pan-Holy Grail doesn’t change the form of the “Holy Grail Dungeon” via a ceremony.

The Remote Graves is a sparsely-ritualized section of graves and death, as well as a nest for hazardous poisonous snakes and insects.

Simply put, the Forbidden Woods are the probable source of the Hintertombs’ poison. The area is located just outside Yharnam, categorized under the Frontier, or “remote regions”, (辺境) headstone in the Hunter’s Dream. This puts it in the same dynamic as the remote graves with Pthumeru and thereby general locale. Factor in the wildlife, and there is only one viable place that could be seated above the Hintertombs. Therefore, as the forest ecosystem flourishes and Yharnam dumps its waste, it naturally all continues to expand down deeper too. It isn’t just that the actual woods are a more recent development — most of the dregs that would sully the swamp water are sinking lower still. The Forbidden Woods are a pitstop rather than a full stop, part of the flow instead of the stagnation. As we can see, however, the Hintertombs are already replete with rot, and the forest is starting to stagnate itself. The corruption process in the woods has been slow-going, but the floor can only accumulate so much before it is up to your level.

Scum and Villainy

Given the way things both are and are heading, one might think that anyone with sense would avoid these woods like the plague, but lo and behold, there is a village. It was established as a farming settlement, two large windmills for grinding grain serving as its characteristic landmarks; some of the inhabitants also use plows, pitchforks, or sickles. While this would make them subsistent on just their own labor, it would also suggest them to be impoverished. Indeed, the houses are mostly dilapidated wood, the bulk of their stone going to bridges and the perimeter walls. Based on the handsaws wielded by certain villagers, this ramshackle place was cobbled together from whatever spare or discarded materials they could recycle — even some of the lanterns they have set up are simply bird cages with their occupants set aflame. They are destitute men living destitute lives, so what brings them out there? Nothing of their choice.

The residents are identical to the mob enemies in Yharnam, only most wear clothes of a slightly different style and lighter color. Many of the villagers also possess pungent blood cocktails, more than actual Yharnamites — every man needs a drink to drown the sorrows of a meager existence. In fact, we only ever encounter men in the Forbidden Woods, the village seeming to comprise of no women or children. Food may be hard to come by there, but where did this community get so many members, and how have they repopulated? The answer can’t come from within, so it must arrive from without. In other words, the villagers must be from neighboring Yharnam, and Famitsu articles confirm that the woods are where those driven from the city gather. With this in mind, they are most likely the violent criminals and other dissidents in exile.

Among the trash making up the village is the cannon firearm discarded by the Healing Church, hinting that much in this place was likely similarly discarded by Yharnam’s citizenry. And if throwing out unwanted things, why not people? Those people certainly can’t be the ill, however, given the region’s robust nursing culture — the Healing Church definitely wants them. By contrast, the village keeps Beast Roar, one of Izzy the apostate’s inventions forbidden for hunters. This highlights how unsavory individuals willing to commit illegality lurk in this settlement in Yharnam’s shadow. But what happens when that behavior is discovered in the city? As far as we can see, Yharnam has no proper jails or execution facilities. What then are they doing with violent felons, the sort liable to be men? Exiling them. Indeed, if Yharnam made a habit of driving off beasts into other lands, why wouldn’t they do the same with other unwanted elements within the community? It is the perfect solution for such an insular town.

Some villagers might be decent men wrongly accused or condemned for unjust cause. The Madaras twins, for instance, grew up in the woods without obvious parents, implying that they were simply dumped there and left to die — a historically common practice for unwanted children during famine, especially twins whose birth were sometimes considered ill omens in medieval Europe. We can thus not rule out superstition defaming otherwise innocent persons. Still, at least a plurality of the settlement is the seedy sort. The only reason they seem to remain so close to Yharnam is that they don’t want to be subjected to foreigners who won’t take kindly to their unseemly blood-drinking habits. That doesn’t mean that these societal rejects are necessarily opposed to living side-by-side with nonnatives. In fact, they already do.

The resident League master Valtr is a former constable of a neighboring land. Likewise, the portion of the Forbidden Woods between the village and Byrgenwerth — in other words, farthest from Yharnam and closest to foreign cities visible across the ocean — has various corpses carrying shining coins, second only to the Cathedral Ward in number. Currency isn’t that important in a self-sufficient farming commune, but it is for foreigners coming from other civilized lands. Should the nonnatives who survive the trek to the village choose to stay, those coins could then be used to purchase things from other foreign visitors; things like their clothes with a distinct fashion, dogs imported in cages, or a cannon artillery — hard to believe a secluded city like Yharnam keeping that sort of military equipment to trash. And so, the village has its fair share of outsiders who don’t, or can’t, go back home for potentially just as dubious reasons. If these outsiders are choosing to live out there, they probably aren’t too partial to foreigners themselves, and these Yharnamites are no saints either. There should be no complaints.

As a result, they all stick it out in the Forbidden Woods together. But eking out that simple life on a grain farm is easier said than done. While the parts of the forest between the village and Yharnam seem largely tamed, the areas beyond look to be a constant threat. Many of the villagers patrolling that side wear a burlap sack over their head, sometimes a hat on top of that. Clearly, they are trying to hide something, and we see what upon approach: the wriggling sack bursts forth a bunch of snakes. The still-masked body acts mostly no different from normal, even whistling to summon more snakes from the ground. But the number of snakes coming out of orifices and effect of that whistle make the body’s fluidity of movement irrelevant — whatever will in the blood it still has is now acting solely on instinct, piloted by the serpents infesting the body. That is the reason this enemy is called “snake parasites”, (蛇の寄生者) barely containing infestation until we come by.

With parasitic reptiles hiding in the trees, ready to get the drop on you at a moment’s notice, it is no wonder why some have turned to the neglected elder gods again. Those bodies we find having prayed to the Great Ones possess the HP-extending Clockwise Metamorphosis and poison-denying Clear Deep Sea runes. Another implicitly cornered and killed by a pair of giant snake balls along with the rest of his group bears the insanity-resisting Deep Sea rune. The implication is straightforward. The villagers are constantly concerned for their survival and sanity, hoping for anything to combat the poisonous fauna. The gods are sympathetic to their plight, at least when they aren’t driving the residents mad as indicated by the frenzied coldblood near their graves. But divine grace evidently didn’t do these men any good — they still died to snakes. Not to say that it is impossible for the disparate species to coexist, though the circumstances require the o-so-civilized humans be more in-touch with their wild side.

Despite being left to fend for themselves as children, both Madaras twins managed to survive into adulthood. Part of this can be credited to one of the poisonous snakes they grew up with. Even if incapable of communicating with words, the two wild boys were still able to befriend the similarly immature serpent. This inhuman friendship seems to have developed akin to taming a puppy, the snake at their beck and call via a unique whistle — going by the menu graphic, it was crudely fashioned in those woods. If human speech wouldn’t register in the animal’s mind, then they would condition it to follow signals from the whistle’s simple yet distinct sound. One can imagine the benefits of a viper helping them hunt for food or survive the forest’s threats. On that note, key to domesticating such an animal would be supplying it a stable food source, and the brothers certainly understood that. According to the whistle’s description, the snake grew big enough to swallow a man whole thanks to the twins feeding it beasts they dissected, hence the blood on their “dissection” (腑分け) attire.

Whistle of the Madaras twins, residents of the Forbidden Forest. It is probably the bond the twins, who grew up along with a poisonous snake without even words, used to establish their inhuman friendship.

Feeding on dissected beasts, the poisonous snake grew exponentially. Also, even after it died, it is said to respond to the twins’ whistle from within the Nightmare.

The fact that they wear leather apparel likewise betrays the two brothers’ reconnection with their human roots. The only source for leather in the Forbidden Woods would be the local village, and the younger brother wields a Hunter’s Axe and Blunderbuss as a member of the League. Therefore, in forming a covenant with the resident League master, it is safe to assume that the adult twins also reintegrated into human society — given that they were dumped on the snake-infested side, they are foreign-born and so would be treated like any other outsider wandering into this settlement. As the description to their equipment details, they both recalled that they were men rather than beasts, appropriately becoming beast hunters. Outside that thematic significance, however, the brothers’ reason for this choice of occupation was likely two-fold.

Mask of the Madaras twins, residents of the Forbidden Forest. Likely that of the older brother.

The twins grew up along with a poisonous snake without even words, went on to remember their human identity, and became hunters. It is said that they discovered the “insect” within their beloved snake, and that the younger brother then killed the older.

On the one hand, the beast scourge was undoubtedly a recurrent problem with all the blood the villagers were imbibing. Many decomposing corpse enemies loiter within the pools in the deepest parts of the forest next to a large camp, implying that afflicted inhabitants fled into the wilds to escape a mob only to choose drowning as the disease progressed — based on their unique appearance, it had gotten quite advanced by that point. With these bodies reviving, doubtless more never died and became horrifying beasts over the village’s many years. The twins knew the forest best, and the villagers couldn’t complain about two newcomers putting their two lives on the line to protect everyone else. But on the other hand, the beasts might harm the wildlife, so joining the League doubles as safeguarding their serpentine friend. And as mentioned earlier, hunting beasts gave the brothers new meat to feed their dear snake, though this idea wasn’t wholly theirs.

As made explicit in their equipment’s Japanese text, the twins were hunting, dissecting, and taking back beasts to serve their pet as part of the villagers’ “taboo research”. Perhaps they were inspired by the story of Valtr the “Beast Eater”, or perhaps they were simply curious if feeding such powerful beasts to a snake obedient to man would pay dividends. Either way, the residents didn’t have the moral fiber to care about the church’s ban on beast-eating or the health of a snake. The Madaras brothers likewise wouldn’t have known the risks given they had, until recently, been going native. As far as the twins knew, any meat is good meat, so why not answer the village’s innocent little request? They would happily carve up beasts for their friends, old and new. To the villagers’ credit, the snake did grow to a massive size. All the beasts gave it the sustenance and strength to rival those summoned by the parasitized Shadows of Yharnam.

Apparel of the Madaras twins, residents of the Forbidden Forest. Likely that of the older brother.

The twins are both hunters, and it said that they dissected beasts, took them back for food, and served them in the villagers’ taboo research.

But then, these League members discovered the insect vermin within the snake. The younger brother subsequently murdered the elder, presumably because he is the reason the snake is now dead. While it will still answer the whistle’s call from the Hunter’s Nightmare, the snake is nothing more than a spirit, albeit with impressive willpower to be briefly escaping a curse. The real flesh-and-blood creature died sometime ago, and the now missing Madaras brother is the obvious suspect. Most likely, the older twin slew their friend as a mercy killing following the discovery, prompting the horrified younger twin to slay him in a blind rage. It was the classic moral dilemma — the elder thought there was no choice but to end their pet’s suffering before it got worse, the younger couldn’t imagine killing their friend under any circumstances; now they both have blood of loved ones on their hands. Worse, the surviving twin probably still hasn’t realized how all three of them have been used. In that case, fate has presented their victimizers with their just desserts. For those outlaws care when they are the ones being used for research.

Control Group

The years have not been kind to the village. The grain mill sails look decrepit and overgrown, with no sign of land currently being cultivated. Clearly, the residents haven’t been farming their own food for a long time, likely thanks in no small part to the ever-encroaching woods and sewage dump. This begs the question of how they have managed to survive. Even if they relied more on trade with outsiders, what of value did they produce in exchange? The answer seems to be service as facilitators. Their dogs and dogs cages are the same found in Yharnam, indicating that the city has been importing the breed from the village. If the town is still willing to deal with exiles, then enough coin would be flowing in to buy food along with the dogs. So long as the northern forest remained the most convenient means for this foreign trade, its residents have the bargaining the power to secure their livelihoods.

But as the name suggests, the woods are now a “forbidden area” (禁域) per the Healing Church. If Yharnam hasn’t been able to access them in recent years, then what about the trade? The answer this time is smuggling. The caged dogs are all assembled just outside the cave connecting the village to Yharnam. Although the plethora of human bones at either entrance shows the dangers of this route, both settlements seem to have carried on trade through the underground cavern. Since Yharnam’s entrance is accessed specifically from Iosefka’s Clinic, this couldn’t be done without the Healing Church’s knowledge — in other words, they are the other party in this trade, trying to circumvent their own ban. Naturally, dealing directly with the church has led to an explosion in the beast scourge, and like Yharnam’s city folk, the villagers’ fear mixed with ire eventually reached a breaking point.

The whole lot now patrol their territory ready to kill any outsider, all the while regulating their own. We spy them burning horses, presumably belonging to the foreign merchants previously bringing in goods from afar; as for the riders, foreign clothes ominously decorate the bridges like scarecrows. The dogs no longer being exported have been put to use by the villagers, another large camp seemingly evading the commune hunted down just before we arrive. Traps have been set up along the main road leading into town, triggers and pitfalls hidden beneath the wooden detritus to fool their fellow men. Corpses with Beast Roar or beast blood pellets lay against wall shackles inside some of the buildings. Afflicted corpses revive in a large pool of oil, rooftop villagers ready to set them alight with molotovs. With all the recent death, it is no surprise that the crows even here have fattened up on carrion.

And yet, this crackdown hasn’t abated their affliction. Aside from the League, the villagers are all visibly at varying stages of the disease, some worse than others. Indeed, the earliest dwelling we can come across, just outside the walled perimeter, has a thoroughly beastified villager walking out, having apparently just killed its secluded owner for the beast blood pellets in his possession — the height of irony. None of them realize that it is the church’s blood vials they still keep on their persons. And those not part of the mob have simply fallen into a drunken stupor awaiting the end. Combined with those being parasitized on the more wild side of the woods, and this village has no future.