Stonefang, City of Tunnels
Most of the stubborn excavators who supported the soldiers of Boletaria had their souls taken. Lacking their own will, they mindlessly continue working.
–Inscription, Stonefang Tunnel Archstone
Deep inside Stonefang mine is an ancient dragon burial ground. The bones of the dragons exude ore.
Demon’s Souls could be a case study for divergent evolution. In the distant past, the world was shattered, the majority of it swallowed up by the Deep Fog; the remaining islands of civilization were preserved by the Nexus and united by the five Archstones. In the millennia since, the five lands linked to the Archstones have become specialized, each contributing uniquely to the new ecosystem. Boletaria, once “a small yet diligent land,” has expanded into a hegemonic empire, spreading its influence across the other four lands. (We can speculate that Boletaria’s rise to power was not accidental; remember the story of the Northern Regalia and Old King Allant’s mysterious mastery of the Soulsucker spell?) The other Archstones developed their own peculiarities and specialties; the Depraved Ones that inhabit the Valley of Defilement are physiologically distinct from Boletaria’s Dreglings or Stonefang’s Scale Miners. Similarly, each “World” has its own contributions: the Tower of Latria should be the first stop for would-be magicians, the Shrine of Storms is the place for “farming” souls, and Stonefang Mine is a blacksmith’s heaven below the earth.
Smithing in Demon’s Souls is an esoteric, surprisingly labor-intensive process. You must first find a weapon with which you’re comfortable. This decision is equal parts emotional and intellectual, involving the weapon’s heft, its moveset, its damage type and stat scaling. Swords and other slashing weapons tend to be swung from side to side, giving them an advantage against groups of enemies but limiting their utility in narrow, enclosed spaces, such as the tunnels of Stonefang. Piercing weapons like spears can cut through armor and scale, and they allow you to maintain a comfortable distance from your foe; you can even practice a technique called, in the vernacular, the “shield poke,” attacking with a long spear while your shield is raised, though this will drain your stamina rapidly, and spear attacks in general are easily deflected by the enemy’s shields. Weapons of similar build might have unique attack animations including side-swipes and overhead smashes; some weapons allow for quick, low-damage jabs, while others focus on ponderous, bone-crushing, momentum-driven swings. Most weapons scale their damage with both your Strength and Dexterity stats, but some prefer one over the other, and many require minimum stats to wield effectively, so you need to choose a weapon that complements the focus of your Soul Power upgrades.
You should also consider the weapon’s stamina requirements–if your stamina depletes before you can finish the enemy off, you will suffer a pause in your swings, a window the soul-hungry enemies will be sure to exploit. Even if you switch to the defensive and raise your shield, low stamina leaves your guard easily broken. Finally, recall your Equip Load and Item Load–every piece of equipment you carry slows you down, so those who choose the path of heavy weapons and heavy armor will find their reaction time severely diminished. Demon’s Souls‘ armory of over 75 weapons includes straight swords, curved swords, greatswords, rapiers, daggers, axes, greataxes, clubs, picks, longbows, shortbows, crossbows, spears, polearms, iron knuckles, and spell catalysts, plus a few unique tools forming a category of their own. Some of these can be purchased from blacksmiths or local merchants, but most must be pilfered from the corpses of former heroes scattered across the five Archstones.
Once you have chosen your arms, you’ll need to find a blacksmith equal to the work. Blacksmith Boldwin of the Nexus can handle your basic smithing needs, repairing equipment when frequent contact with armor and masonry has dulled its edge, and he can improve your weapons at a basic level. Weapon upgrade requires special ore: hardstone for strength-scaling weapons and sharpstone for dexterity-based ones. Boldwin can also handle weapons forged with a clearstone alloy, giving them the “quality” adjective, which evens out their strength and dexterity bonuses–due to the diminishing returns of Soul Power, this will serve a warrior best in the long term, but will often diminish a weapon’s use for less mature heroes. Sharpstone and hardstone are commonly found on slain enemies in Stonefang Mine and sold by its local merchant, the Filthy Man, so these standard upgrade paths require persistence but little in the way of specialized knowledge.
Rarer ores can be used to imbue your weapon with special properties in the hands of a master blacksmith. Dragonstone gives it a fiery attack; moonlightstone, darkmoonstone and faintstone all give it a magical attack, though the source of damage changes; suckerstone and mercurystone allow your attacks to inflict bleeding or poison, respectively; greystone and bladestone shift the damage scaling toward strength or dexterity and away from the median; marrowstone increases the damage of critical attacks, such as backstabs or ripostes, but decreases base damage; and finally, spiderstone and cloudstone are specialized ores used in upgrading bows and shields, increasing the dexterity scaling of the former and giving the latter magic absorption properties.
As mentioned above, the use of these rare ores requires a skilled blacksmith, a master of his craft. Luckily, Stonefang Mine contains just such a blacksmith, as well as various grades of ore in abundance. One might argue that, in the divided world of Boletaria, such a blacksmith could only be found in Stonefang; even Boldwin grew up in the City of Tunnels before he wound up in the Nexus. “Back in my younger years, I had the strength of an ox. The miners would always ask me to clear out the bearbugs, which I pummelled with my bare hands! But even I couldn’t beat ’em. So I lobbed them into the lava pits! Gah hah hah hah hah!” After an undisclosed falling-out, Boldwin departed Stonefang, while his twin brother, Ed, stayed behind to hone his craft to a legendary degree. Oblivious or simply unbothered by the changes occurring aboveground, Ed waits in his foundry at the base of a disabled elevator a few paces from Stonefang Tunnel’s first Archstone, though you will need to progress deep into the mine to get the machinery running again.
Boldwin is ambivalent in his estimation of Ed. At first, he describes him with some distance: “Perhaps you’ve already heard, but there’s another blacksmith at the entrance of Stonefang Mine. He’s an eccentric old man, but he knows his trade well. He’s the only sane one left in a town of soul-starved men. If you do meet him…yeah…well, forget it. That stubborn old ne’er-do-well will just ignore you.” Once you actually speak with Ed, though, Boldwin shows some warmth for his estranged brother. “Well, old Ed’s still up to his old strange ways, is he? Hah hah, even the Demons don’t know what to do with him, hmm?” Whatever the nature of their disagreement, Boldwin can recognize Ed’s skill: “The man’s a beast, I tell you! The man must eat dragon tails and wishing stones.” Strangely, the conversation never flows the other way; Ed never so much as acknowledges Boldwin’s existence. Is he simply too caught up in his work, or has his soul been corrupted by Demon power?
Ed’s mastery is truly inhuman; he can even, with the right materials, “bless” your weapon with a Demon soul, imbuing the weapon with the nature of the Demon. “Forging a weapon strengthens it, and alters its character,” Ed explains. “Ores are transmogrified sprites. Their presence blesses the weapon.” A weapon blessed by a Demon soul undergoes a fundamental alteration of character and provides a glimpse, however paltry, into the natures and motivations of your preternaturally powerful opposition. However, performing such a “blessing” requires the right equipment–a weapon of the matching type forged to the right level, usually +6 to +8 along the standard upgrade path; the Demon’s soul; and a flame hot enough to master it.
This means progressing deeper into the City of Tunnels, to face the fire demon guarding the dragon graveyard. True to its name, Stonefang is a labyrinth of dark, cramped corridors. The upper levels are taken over by machinery, bucket elevators and watermills, though most of it has been allowed to idle–even the path to Ed’s forge is initially disabled, although the old man, hammering endlessly upon a sword-blade, doesn’t seem to have noticed. “I work alone,” he often mutters as you complete your business. Pick-wielding excavators strike mindlessly at the stone walls, most of them harmless, although they will fight back if provoked. A few–look for the glowing, yellow eyes–have the soul-hunger and will turn their tools to murderous use as soon as you show them your back. Take care when you strike back, for their scaly hides will easily turn aside your sharpest blades, and a too-wide swing is just as likely to ricochet off the wall before it finds its mark. (In Demon’s Souls, walls and other objects can interrupt your attacks, often at the most inopportune moments.) King Allant’s fireball-slinging fat ministers act as apparent overseers, accompanied by mangy dogs. In some locations, clustered around molten rock, you will encounter dog-sized salamanders, radiating intense heat.
It’s the sound that gets to you: the creak and click of machines, spinning ceaselessly, and the basso rumble of the mountain itself, whispering of the unimaginable heat that fuels its belly. As you descend, you’ll notice an ominous change in the scenery: dead miners pinned to the walls by giant cobwebs. The reason for this soon becomes clear as you encounter Stonefang’s first Demon, the Armor Spider. The gigantic, fire-breathing arachnid awaits you at the end of the long tunnel, and reaching it proves difficult, but it is surprisingly weak at close range–striking at its spindly legs easily disrupts its balance.
Next level: bug husks and branching paths. After the Armor Spider fight, the mining infrastructure thins rapidly, replaced by natural tunnels and rickety scaffolding. Rivers of magma glow brightly. The path here splits in two: to the right, a series of near-blind drops can take you directly to the entrance of the ancient dragon graveyard, guarded by the Demon Flamelurker. To the left, a more gradual decline takes you through a maze of tunnels, across a lava pit, and, eventually, to the same destination. The tunnels here are clogged by crumbly, grey tubes and ovals. Only later will it become clear that these are the discarded husks of the armored “bearbugs,” hippo-sized beetles filled with some hot, volatile gas. You will encounter the bearbugs in several stages of their life cycle, including dog-sized flying versions and burrowing, worm-like things that could conceivably be bearbug larvae. The latter eject a flaming liquid from their throats, while the adult versions simply explode upon death. (It may or may not be meaningful that the will-o-wisp-like balls of energy you encounter in the tunnels explode in the exact same fashion, including the sound effects. Could it be the bearbug’s natural food source, the way some caterpillars eat toxic leaves and become toxic themselves? Or could the ethereal balls be yet another stage in the bearbug life cycle?) Regardless, it’s fair to assume that the narrower, un-shored tunnels you encounter deep within the mountain, just wide enough to fit a mature specimen, were carved out by the trundling insects themselves, and that the lava pit at the tunnels’ heart is most likely their nesting ground. Hardy creatures.
At the root of the mountain, amid the bones of dragons, is an ancient temple. Here, Flamelurker hides, and beyond him the Dragon God. One of Demon’s Souls‘ most memorable foes, the Dragon God is actually more powerful than any of them, even King Allant’s Demon lookalike. Its fist alone is the size of Adjudicator, who is large enough to require a three-tiered arena to do battle in. The majority of the Dragon God “fight” consists of figuring out how to reach the two harpoon-firing siege engines that will render the colossus defenseless. Mostly defenseless, anyway; even on the brink of death, the Dragon God’s breath–not a breath attack, mind you, but its regular, labored breathing–is hot enough to kill.
Let’s talk about this whole “Dragon God” thing, though. Its Archstone explains, “The underground shrine was made to worship as well as seal in the Dragon God. The ancestors of the Excavators revered it as a god, and maintained it well.” Though impressive, the boss Demons of Stonefang Mine feel a little arbitrary at first blush: a giant spider, a fiery demon, and a really big dragon? Just as in Boletaria, though, there’s more to the story, and it centers on the identity of the “Excavators,” clearly a distinct people from those of the Northern Kingdom. The Archstone of each “world” depicts its original recipient in a sort of medieval bas relief, as well as a green oval, presumably the stone itself. Stonefang’s shows a squat, bearded man wearing a circlet and appraising a nugget of ore. The Monumental described him as “the king of the burrowers underground.” This description, the name “City of Tunnels,” the king’s appearance, and the architecture of the shrine all suggest Tolkienian dwarves. However, what we actually encounter in the mines are what the Filthy Man, Stonefang’s local merchant, refers to as “lizard-eyed townsfolk,” which are certainly not dwarves–if anything, they’re a little lanky.
On a side note, let’s take a moment to appreciate some of the Filthy Man’s dialogue. I particularly like his hacking, wheezing take on Demon’s Souls‘ ubiquitous, maniacal laughter, speaking of decades spent inhaling dust and torch fumes:
(The Filthy Man mentions “little Scirvir,” better known as Scirvir the Wanderer, an old plunderer who came to Boletaria to “seek treasures of the unknown.” Currently, he’s looking for the Dragon Bone Smasher, a dull, bludgeoning greatsword of burrower design, which was enshrined alongside the Dragon God, “as a precaution.” If you fetch the sword and show it to him, he will marvel at “the arts of swordsmanship applied in a perfectly useless manner!” Although a minor character who only appears if you have Pure White World Tendency, Scirvir has a unique outlook on Boletaria’s plight: “I love Boletaria for what she is. A place of odd wonders. Strange faces…wielding strange trinkets…hiding in strange places. I’m beginning to think Boletaria is better off now than it used to be.”)
But if the Excavators are truly descendants of the burrowing people, what is there to explain their hard, scaly skin? I can furnish two theories. It’s known that the bones of dragons exude ore, but is it possible that the great dragon, worshiped as a god, exudes…something else, augmenting the townsfolk over time with reptilian features? It may sound far-fetched, but similar transformations are a staple of the kind of myth Demon’s Souls draws inspiration from, as well as in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft (see: “The Doom that Came to Sarnath,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”), whose influence is to be felt strongly in World 3, the Tower of Latria. Evidence for this theory can be found in Blacksmith Ed, who is nearly identical to his brother Boldwin except for the more youthful coloring of his hair–and for the patches of scales that cover most of his body. On minute inspection, Boldwin has a few of these scaly areas as well, but not nearly to the extent of his brother. If the transformative effect is emanating from the dragon shrine, it would make sense that the brother who remained in Stonefang, practically living in his forge within the mountain, would be the most affected. Could this also explain his more youthful appearance and his inhuman vigor? Another clue comes from the creatures the Filthy Man calls “that sparkling lizard,” found throughout Boletaria but in greatest abundance in Stonefang–you can even find a valuable nest of them shortly after the Armor Spider fight. The sparkling lizards are rare creatures that can only be encountered a few times per playthrough and drop rare ore when killed. While alive, they emit a cool, blue glow, but when dead, they actually bear a close resemblance to Stonefang’s flaming salamanders, but sparkling jewels seem to grow directly from their skin. Could this be another species affected by the ore-exuding Dragon God?
The more mundane explanation would be that the lizard-people are a separate race, and that the blacksmith brothers are the fruit a mixed-race pairing between a Boletarian human and a lizard-eyed excavator. In either case, if true, burrowing dwarves ever existed in Boletaria, no trace of them remains.