Note: These suppositions, speculations, revelations and conclusions were reached and realized with the help of Killian (@FionnBran) after a couple of days of ruminating on the items, characters, events, and descriptions contained within Dark Souls 3’s first DLC pack, Ashes of Ariandel; they contain MASSIVE SPOILERS for the DLC and main game. Please skip to the end for a summary of our speculations and assessment (without citations).
Also, I will keep updating this article as more information comes to light.
Ashes of Ariandel functions exactly as I’d hoped the first DLC would. It’s a miniature version of the main campaign, with summons, bosses, new enemies, and an almost completely self-contained world. It also returns to one of the most interesting places from the first game – an entirely optional, very hard to get to, cordoned off world contained within a painting. This time it’s called the Painted World of Ariandel, which leads us to speculate on who Ariandel is, and what this world’s relationship is to the Dark Soul’s Painted World of Ariamis.
In order to access the Painted World, we meet a relative of “The Painter”: her Uncle Gael. Tracing the identity of The Painter (who appears not to be Ariamis, based on assumed family tree) is a fun exercise as characters are introduced, and her purpose is revealed. Gael asks us to touch a scrap of canvas in order to be teleported into the Painted World, much the same way we entered through the painting in Dark Souls. It should be noted that in order to access the Painted World of Ariamis, a small doll was required, just in the same way we needed one to enter Irithyll – a holdover from the Pontiff’s time in the Painted World. The location of the Small Doll in Dark Souls 3 is very nearby the entry point for this new Painted World.
THE PONTIFF AND THE CORVIANS
Pontiff Sulyvahn becomes the clear connection between the painted world and Irithyll, after the two spells we find tell us: “…the spells left behind by the young sorcerer Sulyvahn before leaving the Painted World… Sulyvahn was born and raised inside the painting yet had little use for his frigid homeland, since he had not yet experienced loss.” This tells us that he wasn’t “forlorn” enough (as all inhabitants of the painting(s) must be), and it might give us an indication of how the golden city of Anor Londo became so wintery.
As we move through this “new” painted world we meet those living there who are lost, forlorn, and worthy of this quiet home. We meet a Corvian, who tells us the best thing to do would be to settle into “a sweetly rotting bed”. We can see the maggoty growth about the place. It pours out of the walls, it’s covered in GIANT flies in the depths of the chapel, and it vomits forth from the mouths of the more aggressive of the pitiful Corvians. It’s worth noting that the Corvians we meet in front of the chapel and the one near the first bonfire look the same as the ones we often find gathered near storytellers in the main world, but the ones in the township look very different. Their bird faces and bulging eyes look more like dying baby birds than the humanoid undead faces of the other Corvians. They either writhe in the pools of sludge, or stalk with stooped heads along the streets, many refusing to acknowledge you at all. They all carry disgusting sacks of muck and rot that grow out of their torsos and drag along the ground behind them.
But these “dying baby bird” Corvians aren’t the only type in the township. There are Corvian Knights who hunt and stalk the other Corvians essentially due to a grave political dispute. Unlike their pitiful brothers, they’re agile and aggressive, and it’s actually this lot that offer the best connection to the old painted world, and an explanation of their (previously) forlorn nature. From the descriptions of the Crow’s Talons and Crow’s Quills weapons: “In their infatuation with Sister Friede, the Corvian Knights swore to protect the painting from fire and to this end, too to the execution of their own brethren.”
SISTER FRIEDE (ELFRIEDE)
These Corvian Knights were at odds with their brethren. They found a new ruler in the ever gracious Sister Friede, the eldest sister of the Sable Church of Londor. She cuts a very familiar figure in her robe. She looks just like the statues of Velka, Goddess of Sin, whose crow-like followers inhabited the Painted World of Ariamis. Watching the movement patterns and attacks of the Corvian Knights shows us that these are the same creatures (perhaps more grotesquely depicted in Dark Souls as naked human lower halves with crows for upper halves). The statue that rotates when the mechanism is turned in Ariamis’ painting is back, and functions the same way in this world. The same mechanism causes it to about-face, and it opens up a path to a strange, giant figure hidden away below the chapel.
Sister Friede (or Elfriede) has changed her appearance to potentially draw the affection of the forlorn Corvians, whose beloved Velka seems to have long been silent, acting only via a statue beneath the Undead Settlement in the main world. With the Corvian Knights on side, we hear what the rest of the pitiful Corvians had planned for their world before a new rule took over: Fire.
Edit: As mentioned in the edit below, the statue on the mechanism that opens the boss chamber (presumably of Velka; the one that matches the statue in the Painted World of Ariamis) gives us further indication of Sister Friede taking the role of Velka. The statue’s head has been removed, and surrounding Friede are paintings of her own face. The head was possibly removed because the face didn’t match Friede’s own, and the paintings surrounding her replace the statue as reminders to the Corvians of their “benevolent” caretaker.
Speaking with the seated Corvian in the township, we hear that they were all prepared to burn away the growing rot of the world, so that it could be painted anew, but it was Sister Friede and her allies that put a halt to their plans. Legend speaks (because of course it does) of two Ashen Ones entering the painting, and the second one bringing Flame. And as Uncle Gael and the Corvian beg us, we must be the one to show Flame to The Painter.
Along with the Corvian Knights, Sister Friede has brought one of the old guard with her, Sir Vilhelm. At first he bids us speak with the Sister and follow her instructions, but when it becomes clear that we’re not willing to leave, he points out the player AND character’s problem of their place in the world: “I’ve seen your kind, time and time again. Every fleeing man must be caught. Every secret must be unearthed. Such is the conceit of the self-proclaimed seeker of truth.”
His Onyx Blade description tells us that he was meant to leave her charge, but instead he had different plans, and followed her into the painting: “Elfriede, the eldest amongst her sisters and leader of the Sable Church, bestowed this sword to her knight. Only, the sword was a farewell gift, and acceptance signified the knight’s resignation from Elfriede’s service.” His armor set gives a more information about his relationship to Friede, and his role in her service: “Vilhelm, Knight of Londor… This hollow knight, who served the three sisters who founded the Sable Church, was particularly loyal to the eldest, and was known as a cold-blooded hangman.” This information about him seems at odds with his appraisal of us, as if he refuses to see in himself the same trail of destruction he sees in us. Of course, his dialogue could just as easily signify his estimation of the new path he now follows. After all, the Sister has left behind her siblings, and no longer strives to place a Dark Lord on the throne.
Chatting with the middle sister, Yuria, after returning to the world with Elfriede’s soul gives us some indication of the terms on which they parted: “Elfriede… A poor wench turned to Ash, who would abandon Londor…”
THE OTHER FORLORN
Along with the Corvians, seemingly abandoned by their beloved Velka, we have others who ended up in the painting, with no other home left in the world for them. The Followers (of Farron) are without comrades in the battle against the Abyss, as they follow in the way of Artorias. Their brothers who shared the soul of the blood of the wolf (Souls of the Blood of the Wolf description: “The blood was spread amongst the Abyss Watchers, and their souls are one with the soul of the wolf blood master.”) have turned to madness and the Abyss itself, and their homeland of farron has been reduced to a poisoned swamp. Here in the Painted World of Ariandel they have a new wolf and a new champion.
We find out a little more of their story, and cement them as brothers to the Abyss Watchers when we read their item descriptions. From the Follower Sabre: “The Followers brandish their swords to hunt warriors taken by the Abyss. Their technique is honed to face men, implying those yet to lose their human aspect are their likeliest prey.” The item description for the Follower Javelin shows us that often they would be snuffing out knights and warriors who may have been their own kin; “The Followers attack in groups, surrounding foes, shielding themselves, and thrusting their spears at their foes. On a final command, they hurl their spears at their fallen foe, to give the retired warrior an honorable send-off.”
The wolves that spot the landscape and stalk us are found fighting alongside both the Followers, and a new set of warriors called the Millwood Knights. From their weapons and armor we get a good idea of how these lost and forlorn knights would have been drawn to the painting. From their armor: “When the fabled Millwood forest was discovered it was a vacant ruin. The only thing left was the Ethereal Oak, stood rotting. No corpses were discovered, yet their belongings lay neatly on the ground.” From the Earth Seeker weapon description: “This large twin-bladed axe forged with bronze is a ceremonial weapon normally used in sacred rites. Millwood is a land of primitive earth worship where chieftain knights served as high priests.” From the Quakestone Hammer description: “A Stone hammer wielded by the Millwood Knights, with a head of naturally-formed stone. The Knights of Millwood would fight hand-in-hand with the earth itself, and this weapon, among the oldest in Millwood, is symbolic of that relationship.”
That the Followers and the Millwood Knights would end up in the same place seems inevitable. They fought the same enemy, although in a different form. From the Millwood Greatbow description: “It is said that the Millwood Knights used these to face their sworn enemy, the Abyss Dragon.” The Followers and the Millwood Knights both fought the Abyss, and when it either consumed their home, or their friends, they ended up in the painting. The imagery of the Millwood Knights leaving everything behind for a new life in the painting is particularly poignant for just a few lines of text.
CHAMPION’S GRAVETENDER & GRAVETENDER GREATWOLF
The first (and optional) boss fight of the DLC begins in a field of flowers, by a grave, with icicles jutting out of the ground. It clearly evokes imagery of both the fight against Sif, and of the final boss fight against the Lord of Cinder. There’s even a grave, with a sword in front of it. Once we disturb the man tending to the grave, he attacks us with a sword and shield combo that gives us some insight into the possible identities of both the man and the giant wolf that soon arrives at his side, mid boss fight. The Valorheart, as the sword/shield are together known, bears the following description: “Weapon once wielded by the Champion of the Undead Match… The champion fought on, without rest, until he lost his mind. In the end, only his page and a lone wolf stayed at his side.” The grave, and the giant wolf give us some indication that this small-statured knight must be the Champion’s page.
Once defeated, the Champion’s Bones are retrieved and allow access to the PvP arena of the DLC. Their description gives us a little context for who the Champion was, and seemingly tells us that even if there’s a chance that this greatwolf is Sif, the Champion he defended doesn’t appear to be Artorias, by any stretch: “The charred but warm bones of a champion. Long ago, an Undead declared a fight. A fight to celebrate their undeath, and so to preserve what remained of their souls. So it was that the Undead Matches were born. The merit of an Undead is measured in deaths. Could there be a greater gift for such a creature, than a fight that has no end?”
Perhaps Sif, once he finished his service to Artorias, protecting others from being consumed by the Abyss, found a new home in the painting, but I think the thematic link is all that’s intended by this connection. A wolf, who is a warrior in their own right, will find kinship in a human warrior of incredible strength. They are man’s best friend after all. The image of a great dog waiting by his master’s grave seems to merely be a recycled motif, rather than any direct connection to Sif, despite the presence of the Followers (of Farron, and thus Artorias), just nearby.
Unlike Ariamis, the esteemed painter spoken of by Crossbreed Priscilla in Dark Souls, we have plenty of access to both The Painter present in this world, AND to Ariandel, whose name seems too similar to Ariamis to be just a coincidence. We meet her via her uncle, who commissions us to “show her flame”, so that she might paint a new world, now that this Painted World has gone to rot. Uncle Gael tells us, “I need you to show her flame. A proper one that will burn the rot away.”
When we find The Painter, she’s kept by Vilhelm in the upper floor of what may once have been the bell tower. In a snowy embankment nearby we see the giant, discarded bell, of a similar design to the other summoning bells. The stories tell of a second Ash who would bring flame, and since Elfriede has decreed no need for flame, it makes sense that the bell would be discarded, to prevent the arrival of Ash, and the summoning of flame. It makes sense that Vilhelm would remark upon our arrival in spite of a lack of bell toll; “No bell tolls, and yet, you’ve slipped into the painting.”
Arriving at the building where The Painter is being held, we’re attacked by Vilhelm, and after opening a way to her, she seems unfazed, but keen to return to her canvas. Friede and Vilhelm clearly didn’t wanting her painting a new world. All the sisters of the Sable church seem bent on usurping the status quo, even though this particular sister’s wishes seem in direct contradiction with her siblings’. She wants to let the Painted World rot and remain a champion to those seeking guidance and a home, instead of letting the natural course of death and rebirth take place.
“Oh wondrous Ash, grant us our wish. Make the tales true, and burn this world away. My lady must see flame, and you have only to show her.”
The seated Corvian in the village shows us the desperation of this decaying Painted World, and the suffering caused by prolonging its existence. When the Flame has finally been “unleashed”, we get a good idea from this same Corvian that the folly of the outside world matches that of Friede’s purpose for this painted one. Allowing the world to die is the only way new, uncorrupted life can really take hold.
“When the world rots, we set it afire. For the sake of the next world. It’s the one thing we do right, unlike those fools on the outside.”
As we work our way up the insides of the chapel, we find a secret access route to the boss arena where we just fought the page and greatwolf, and it’s very obvious that as we make our way down the vines, we’re coming to the tower where we met Priscilla in Dark Souls. Instead of Priscilla, we’re invaded by the spirit of Dunnel on the exact same spot, and this piece of environmental storytelling. His Pyromancy (Floating Chaos) tells us a little of his travels: “Pyromancer Dunnel was fascinated by this ceremonial art employed by the clerics of the Smouldering Lake.” It’s his Pyromancy Flame (Pyromancer’s Parting Flame) that gives us the best piece of information about his narrative purpose: “The pyromancy flame of Livid Pyromancer Dunnel that attracts the echoes of the death. When Dunnel lost his hideous spouse, he gave his own pyromancy flame as an offering, which transformed into a parting flame. Not long after, Dunnel became a mad spirit, cursed to wander the lands.”
He appears to us in the exact spot we met Priscilla, which tells us who his “hideous” (read: crossbreed) spouse might be: Priscilla herself. Her words from Dark Souls echo Friede’s: “Why could thou not let us be? Didst thou not see why Ariamis created this world?”
Her reverence for Ariamis’ Painted World, and perhaps the artist himself, might be some indication of how the new painter came across her chosen “profession”. Examining The Painter’s face shows us a face similar to Priscilla’s, with scales, and serpentine eyes. It seems more than likely that The Painter may be the child of Dunnel and Priscilla, given another line spoken by The Painter fits this context: “Those who aren’t ken to fire cannot paint a world. Those absorbed by fire, must not paint a world. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten, Mother…”
This advice from her mother shows that perhaps the meeting with the Chosen Undead from Dark Souls was canonical, and that the one who would Link the Fire brought destruction. Perhaps this child, a quarter dragon, with a long, snaking white ponytail to match her mother’s actual tale, has been forewarned of the dangers that dwell in the heart that seeks to own the Flame.
When we finally meet the creature for whom this Painted World was named, he’s bound to a chair that’s nailed to the floor. He’s a hulking, pitiable character, consumed by guilt, always trying to put visions of flames out of his mind. The Father of the chapel, and of the Painted World is said to have had a part in reimagining it, if not outright creating it. From the description of the Rose of Ariandel: “A flail used by the bulbous Father of the Painted World to shred his own skin, producing blood to appease the flame. Both a weapon and a miracle catalyst. Ariandel, being the restorer of the Painted World, knew that it was painted with blood, and only blood could protect the secret.”
Through this we get an understanding of why Priscilla’s tower, and the Chapel’s basement are of a similar layout to those in Dark Souls, but why they’re in the wrong locations. Father Ariandel presumably created this world from the canvas that was Ariamis’. Our own discussions have led us to suspect that part of the Father’s guilt lies in how he managed to restore the painting. If it was painted in blood, then perhaps we’ve found out the ultimate fate of the Painter Ariamis.
There are two possible bodies who were the original vessels of the blood that was used to paint this world, if we assume it wasn’t just the Father’s blood. He “…knew it was painted with blood, and only blood could protect the secret.” We know of one death in the world, and that can possibly be explained by our player character from Dark Souls. Priscilla died, and left a grieving husband, and lonely child. Perhaps it was her blood that was used to restore the Painted World.
Another candidate presents itself in the form of a corpse or a statue situated behind Father Ariandel in the boss room. It’s been stuffed, and has a human face, with scales at the cheeks, similar to Priscilla and The Painter. Upon closer inspection, the entire statue/corpse has been covered in a snake skin, through which you can see the tail has been filled with logs, with a cord of rope through the middle, like some grotesque puppet. Its torso is covered with fluffy fur, and the face can be glimpsed through the torn snake skin that covers the face. Some speculate that this could be related to Priscilla, but I think perhaps we’re looking at the master painter himself. I think this very well could be Ariamis, and perhaps it was his blood that was spilled in order to restore the painting. Its position behind the Father, while he self-flagellates, could speak to his guilt about the statue, or it could just as easily be a strange memento.
Edit: It has been pointed out that the head of the statue out the front of the boss chamber (which is the same one that rotates in The Painted World of Ariamis) is missing its head, and the face design matches the one hidden in the snake skin, so we now know where the face comes from.
Names in Dark Souls usually indicate a family tree, and if Ariamis is related to Ariandel, and if this corpse belongs to Ariamis, then the only (and superficial) similarity is the fur-covered coat.
The “bulbous” Father Ariandel isn’t just flagellating himself to assuage his guilt, but similar to the religious practice, he’s trying to avoid the temptation of the flames that pop into his mind’s eye, as he stares into the lordvessel-shaped bowl.
As the Ashen One draws near to the Father, he starts to call out, “I see flame. Flame, flickering, once again. Not enough blood yet shed. My flail… Bring me my flail. Ahh, Friede. What stops thine ears? Please, my flail, right away…”
Sister Friede has convinced Father Ariandel to suppress the flame that would burn away the Painted World, along with its rot. While the two embrace the rot, the painting can’t be painted anew. To this end, The Father sits, tied to his chair, bleeding himself into the bowl for this dual purpose of resisting the flame’s temptation and demonstrating attrition, if not quite contrition, for the sins of the blood.
THE MEETING OF THE ASH
As you approach the Father, he asks you to fetch Friede, but she walks in behind, wielding a scythe, much like Priscilla’s. If we read the description of Friede’s Great Scythe, we see both why she uses it, and why a second, smaller scythe materializes: “A great scythe wielded by Sister Elfriede, with a curved blade thinly coated by Painted World frost that easily breaks the guard of shields. In the painting, the scythe is a symbol of a long-lost home, possibly explaining Elfriede’s preference for it. Conjure a magic bladed support scythe into the left hand while the great scythe remains in the right, a stance derived from Elfriede’s former swordsmanship…” The weapon signifies her kinship with the forlorn, as a symbol of a “long-lost home”, and the dual weapon stance is derived from her dual sword stance that she used back in Londor.
Her fighting style incorporates Priscilla’s habit of turning invisible, but after she’s slain, Friede’s blood trails down to the lordvessel-bowl and enrages Father Ariandel. He tears up the large nails holding the chair down, and joins the second phase of the bossfight, chair and all. Before this begins, he slams the bowl on the ground and the flames he’s been suppressing spill forth and burn the room’s ornate woodwork to the ground. The flame spurs Sister Friede to rise again, and the two fight in the burning wreckage. It’s only after we slay the Father that we hear the story told through his disembodied voice, explaining the reason Uncle Gael summoned us to the Painted World, “‘When the Ashes are two, a flame alighteth.’ Thou’rt Ash, and fire befits thee, of course…”
As a third, unexpected, phase to the boss fight, Sister Friede gets up, this time under a new title, “Blackflame Friede”. The description of the pyromancy, Black Flame, gives us this definition: “Black flames born from the Abyss bear no shadow. They are said to be the impenetrable fires of humanity.” It seems that the meeting of the two Ashes has not merely created a flame, but one constructed of distilled humanity. And this flame, destined to reach The Painter, goes some way to explain her strange utterances concerning her painting tools.
“Behold its size. This is my canvas. It’s to be a cold, dark, and very gentle place. …But first, I must see flame. One day it will make someone a goodly home…
“My thanks, Ashen One. I can almost see the flame. Soon Uncle Gael will bring me the pigment. I wonder if he has found it? The dark soul of man…”
This incredibly interesting line tells us that perhaps The Painter will paint in different hues to Ariandel and Ariamis before her. Instead of blood on the canvas, she may wet her brushes with humanity, or human souls, or the Dark Soul taken by the Furtive Pygmy, or human dregs, or the pus of man, or even the Abyss itself. It’s a rotten tease at an eventuality we may never see. In a strange way, Friede may have brought about the wishes of her two sisters within the painting: Darkness may guide the future of this Painted World, and not the usual cycle of fire.
Below is a short collection of our best understanding of what we’ve learned from our time with the Ashes of Ariandel DLC:
- Pontiff Sulyvahn was born and raised in the Painted World, but didn’t belong because he was not forlorn
- Father Ariandel restored the painting of the Painted World (perhaps with the blood of Ariamis)
- Elfriede, the eldest sister among the founders of the of the Sable Church of Londor came to the Painted World and convinced the Corvian Knights and Father Ariandel to embrace rot, and reject flame (and hence refuse to reset the Painted World) against the will of most Corvians
- The Millwood Knights lost their homeland, and previously fought the Abyss Dragon until there was no home left for them, so they joined the Painted World
- The Followers (of Farron) are without home and without comrades, so they were drawn to the Painted World
- Pyromancer Dunnel and Priscilla may have been parents to The Painter
- When the two Ashes met (The Ashen One, and Elfriede), a Black Flame was created
- The Painter needed to see flame (which draws near) before she could paint a new world
- The Painter was held captive by the Knight Vilhelm who came to the Painted World with Elfriede, and remains in her service
- The Undead Champion’s page and companion greatwolf attend and defend his grave, mirroring Sif’s devotion to Artorias
- Whose blood was used by Ariandel to restore the painting of the Painted World?
- Who is the statue/corpse situated behind Father Ariandel?
- What will a world painted using the pigment of the “dark soul of man” manifest as?
- Did Elfriede’s turning “to Ash” bring out a dark flame, at the point when the “Ashes are two” because of her connection to Londor and the Sable Church?