The Pit of Hollows has earned its name not only for the corpses dumped down but also the Mound-makers hiding out. Based on Hodrick’s dialogue, members of this covenant judge someone’s Hollow status by their minds instead of their bodies. This isn’t unprecedented considering that many characters will consider us Hollow purely based on whether we “randomly” attack them, including Hodrick. But it is an odd criterion for membership when Hollows aren’t strictly insane, even if their insanity is inevitable — Londor is a functional state of Hollows, after all. However, the Mound-makers view it as an essential part of being human. Hodrick calls all sane folk madmen before claiming that everyone, Undead especially, will go mad someday. In other words, he recognizes that the Hollow form is the true form of mankind, thereby making the associated madness a key facet. Indeed, there is a mad element to human nature, namely that very humanity.

The covenant is called the “Pilers” (積む者) because they pile up human vertebrae in an altar at the back of the Pit. While this altar also displays skulls and the statuesque bodies of the buried and dendrified, backbones are clearly the focus, reason being that they are sacrificial offerings which members reap from the living. Whether crossing space and time as a cooperator or invader, Mound-makers manifest as “mad spirits” who can at any time help the invaded or hinder the summoner. However, these so-called madmen do have a defined goal: collect a unique vertebra found within each of their fellow man; who they collect it from is of no consequence to them and so left entirely to whimsy. Their obsession with obtaining this special bone is because it is proof of the “shackles of the gods”. The original Dark Souls (DS1) already indicated the existence of the gods’ shackles and their presence somewhere in the human body, and the Mound-makers confirm them to be the “sign” marking the inside of these misshapen vertebrae. Our covenant item is one such “shackle”, the menu graphic featuring an obviously artificial engraving.

Special bone that those who are in the “Pilers” covenants discover killing those of other worlds.

It is the only one that can be found in the vertebrae, so the Pilers think it a shackle of the gods.

With that, their reason for embracing “madness” becomes obvious. The Mound-makers are those who somehow came to realize the medials’ deception, that the curse which has so long plagued their kind is a product of the “gods” they worshiped. In an instant, their entire sense of reality, normality, morality even, was flipped upside down. But no god-fearing man would believe their conspiracy theory. The world as they knew it was all a lie? That goes contrary to all common sense. The heretics would be forced out of decent society as “madmen” without merit. Abandoned by friends and family alike, those desperate for emotional support find affinity with, ironically, the very shackles which estranged them. After all, Hollows are Hollows because of the nature of the Darksign, humanity segregated from the “normal” soul cultivated from birth. With its development stunted, the dark soul relies on wild and unsophisticated instinct like a feral child, “madness” to onlookers for both Hollows and pus of man. In that sense, the shackled Dark is their last bond for them to rely on.

And so, the resulting covenant latches onto madness. A corpse in front of their altar carries a shield bearing the symbol of Anor Londo’s god of madness, a member who evidently came into possession of a leftover Lion Clan shield presumably brought over with the drift. Another bone piler wielded Bloodlust, a katana whose name more accurately means “blood-madness” (血狂い) but can double to refer to mania or fanaticism. This is relevant since its skill reflects the original wielders’ obsession with blood. The saw-like blade already causes bleeding, but coating it with the user’s blood after practically committing seppuku makes that all the deadlier — most likely, the soul of someone willing to “irrationally” risk suicide against lift’s nature for more blood produces blood with that same nature, making it deepen the cut and draw out yet more blood when lathering the blade. Each mound-maker finds their own way to express it, but they have all entrusted themselves to some form of madness.

Katana of an old “Piler”.

It is said that he piled up victims at the altar and ultimately became one of those himself. “And so he left a single katana to his later family.”

Battle art is “Blood-madness”. Dye its edge with your own blood and temporarily obtain bizarre levels of sharpness. There is nothing blood-madness can’t cut.

In making the madness shared with humanity and hollowing their identity, the covenant sees the bones they pile up as their family. Hodrick says that this determines the “madness” required to join the covenant, referring to each sacrifice as adding a “connection” or “relation” (係) in Japanese dialogue. The English description for the vertebrae they collect echoes these sentiments, the final line most likely leftover from an earlier draft of the Japanese script. Indeed, stacking up vertebrae is like building a family, each new member slotting into place one after the other to form a person’s spine — their support. And for mound-makers, building up their altar to display the proof of their claims supports naught but their own egos, isolated in a dark pit bereft of real human connections. Any onlooker would think them sad, lonely lunatics. The irony is that they don’t actually want to go mad.

Atypical vertebra that a madman discovered. It is engraved with a strange sign on the inside. That ought to be proof of the shackles of the gods.

Equip to become a covenantor of the “Pilers”.

A Piler simply seeks shackles to pile, so becomes a mad spirit whether cooperating or invading.

It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. So long as you continue to kill, you will probably find shackles.

The shackles of the gods are surprisingly fragile things… So, here, a gift. When you go mad someday, engrave it into your heart. Pile up sacrifices with their relations in this place… You’ll know if you’ve gone mad. They’ll become your family. Hahaha… Haha.

The Warmth pyromancy is “strange” since it, unlike most of its ilk, is a healing spell, generating a “gentle” flame affecting anyone within range of its warmth. While this “fire of warmth” (ぬくもりの火) was related to the Undead Crypt in Dark Souls II, this iteration seems to have been developed by the Mound-makers independently, and requires solely faith. The reason isn’t that they feared separation from the gods, per se, as the localization claims in its description. Rather, Warmth shows that they fear the “shackles coming off”, the ring of fire inherent to the Darksign being the only thing separating them from the mad Dark chomping at the bit to consume them. This combined with their desire for a family creates a flame which makes them feel in “harmony”, danran (団欒) invoking the image of a family sitting in a happy little circle around the campfire. It is only through fire that the Mound-makers can live amicably with their “family” as well as each other. And so, they perversely cling to faith in the powers of the liars who put them in this situation.

Strange pyromancy of the Pilers. Develops a gentle flame and recovers the HP of those touching it.

They fear the shackles of the gods coming off and are seeking a family. In that case, this is probably a flame of harmony.

This puts the covenant in the Aldia dilemma. They cannot forgive the medials for manipulating mankind, but they cannot give up the only world they knew in the Age of Fire either. And in their case, staying part of the “sane” is as awful as succumbing to true insanity. They are burdened by the truth, so seek a miracle which they principally reject for reprieve; heretical pyromancy as their only answer for rebellion. This is also why we don’t see the Mound-makers bear any connection to Dark magic. If they are to be sinful Hollows, let it be because they recognize the reality of their nature, not because they are consumed by it. Of course, they would be foe to the gods regardless due to their choice to hunt their fellow man, an act motivated seemingly by just their own petty revenge against a world which rejected them. Therefore, the Mound-makers hide in the shadows stewing in their own madness.

Basing their operations in the Undead Settlement isn’t a surprise. The town is a natural beacon for the cursed and outcast, and its burial culture leaves plenty of bones for them to harvest. The Pit of Hollows in particular is where so many bodies have been left to rot, as seen in the Mound-makers’ altar. In fact, the town was likely where the covenant saw its start. We already see signs of residents researching the Dark they dissect, and these morticians commonly wear the bones — especially vertebrae — like jewelry. This leaves ample opportunity to find the strange marks in one particular vertebra. The curious finder would then, much like Pinwheel in DS1, comb through numerous books for clues on the topic. And after checking some of the oldest bodies deep underground to confirm their suspicions, they would realize the maddening answer. For a town so devoted to the gods out of fear of the Abyss’ horrors, it is the perfect seed for a hidden heretical covenant like the Mound-makers.

The populace thus helps facilitate their piling, sometimes knowingly even. One of the caged Hollows is passive, its occupants officially referred to as “cage madmen” (籠牢の狂人) with similarly eclectic speech tones. Nonetheless, their bizarre ramblings are code for us to enter the empty cage of a nearby manservant, who will then take us down to the Pit. After being dumped with the other bodies, Hodrick comes to greet us as a friend, or at least not an enemy. Clearly, those residents caught up in the town’s recent fanaticism are members of the covenant, with silent supporters among the abused laborers helping them slip into their home base without the more god-fearing populace noticing. If you can follow the code, then you are at minimum considered a prospective madman instead of an unwelcome invader.

The only downside to using the pit as their secret base is that there is no way out. We cannot access the platforms leading back up to the shrine above ground, and the bonfire we can use to warp away after defeating the Curse-rotted Greatwood only exists thanks to game mechanics. Instead, Hodrick offers a Homeward Bone so we can return to our last actual bonfire, evidently taking it from one of the many Undead remains down there. This seems to be how the covenant has operated since its inception. The manservants bring down members or bodies the members harvest for altar parts, then they warp out with the leftover bones. When the corpse inflow isn’t sufficient, they use soapstones and red eye orbs to supplement the difference with live targets. Hodrick invades us in the Undead Settlement and leaves a summon sign as far out as the Farron ruins along the Road of Sacrifices, suggesting that his covenant mainly terrorizes the locals. Otherwise, members have blended into the crowd, appearing like any other ordinary if somewhat off-kilter Undead— and what Undead isn’t?

But even with their safety in this town secured, no bearer of the shackles can resist the curse. Bloodlust was left behind with its owner’s later family, which he joined as yet another vertebra. The implication is that he himself was ultimately killed and added to the pile he helped stack. Considering the friendliness afforded to members by default, this would need to be due to betrayal or hollowing. In other words, the covenant is well aware that they will all truly become part of their new family someday, once they fully embrace madness. This death-seeker aspect can be seen in Hodrick. The man wears both Tearstone Rings, which only active when close to death, and he casts not just Warmth but also Power Within, which gradually brings him to that near-death state. There is no hope in becoming a Mound-maker. These Undead only try to find solace playing house before the inevitable end comes for them.