The Ivory Tower of Latria
The Queen banished her depraved old husband from the land. He returned in strange golden garb with foul Demons in tow. They pillaged great Latria, land of the learned, and locked us in this dungeon. Since then, they’ve been feeding off our souls…. Telling us over and over that if we go above, we will be granted redemption.
–Once Royal Mistress
His revenge complete, the old man withered away, possessed by golden robes of insanity. Too weak to be a demon’s vessel, his soul was eaten.
–Inscription, Old Monk Archstone
To be sure, the corrupting influence of False King Allant has spread to the farthest corners of Boletaria. But whereas Stonefang was clearly an annex of Boletaria, its original race of “burrowers” wiped out and the new lizard-eyed townsfolk stripping the mountain in service of King Allant, Latria is a world apart. The Demon blight and the Deep Fog have left their mark, to be sure, but as you climb Latria’s once-beautiful ivory tower, now converted into an aerial dungeon dominated by an eldritch cult, you get the distinct impression that Latria would be in trouble even without Allant and his corrupt revival of the Soul Arts.
Even aesthetically, Latria feels distinct from the other four Archstones. While Demon’s Souls has no trouble building atmosphere, much of it feels at least halfway familiar, medieval fantasy tropes filtered through Demon’s Souls‘ nihilistic lens. Latria, on the other hand, conjures the feeling of a lucid dream, dominated by surreal imagery, colors and sounds blending to create a floating, disembodied sensation. In a way, this too fits into the Tolkienesque setting: Latria is a land once renowned for its magic and scholarship, the corrupted equivalent of a wizard’s tower.
Whatever it once was–it’s referred to as the “land of the learned” ruled by “the wise queen of the great ivory tower–Latria is now little more than a vast prison where the queen’s former subjects are tempted into inhuman rites by false promises of salvation. While Allant may exert some influence over this land (see the piece on Boletaria for speculation on Allant’s involvement in Sage Freke’s imprisonment), Latria’s story is mostly self-contained, a melodrama of corruption and betrayal that raises a mirror to Boletaria’s collapse.
Evidence of Latria’s corruption is immediate: while Boletaria’s Archstone is placed centrally on a major bridge and Stonefang’s occupies its own small shrine, Latria’s Archstone is held in a small cell on the third floor of a Sadeian dungeon, next to a rat’s partially decomposed remains. Dozens of similar cells stand beside it, all locked, many of them occupied by emaciated madmen who extend their arms in supplication as you pass. The trill of some sort of night insect (Latria occupies a perpetual, moonless, starless night) is occasionally punctuated by the ringing of the warden’s bell, somewhat like a call to prayer. Although it’s open to the sky, Latria’s dungeon is mostly pitch black, except for the eldritch green glow of the prison guards’ bells, which serve as foci for the guards’ powerful, paralyzing magic. Oh, and these guards, known as Mind Flayers, have octopuses for heads and will impale you with their tentacles if you get close enough, leeching your life-force straight through your skull.
Although they are among the few enemies you’ll face in the first level of Latria (called the “Prison of Hope”), Mind Flayers have the advantage of range, and you will likely spend a lot of time playing cat-and-mouse behind pillars and in cells, listening to the ringing of the bell draw closer and praying that you will be overlooked. As you explore the prison, adding gradually to your key-ring, snatches of tuneless song will occasionally drift in and out of your hearing, greatly contributing to the unanchored, dream-like atmosphere.
This song cuts abruptly short when you happen upon the cell of an eccentric old lady. An uncanny sight in the midst of a depraved dungeon, she occupies a large cell that is bare save for a colorful rug on which she sits, illuminated by a single candle and surrounded by chests of jewels. Referred to in-game as the “Former Royal’s Wife,” she acts as merchant, a good source for spice (used by practitioners of the Soul Arts) and the useful Ring of Avarice, which allows you to harvest more souls from slain enemies. More importantly, though, she is the teller and central figure of the story of Latria’s fall.
“I’ve had better days. I was once the wife of royalty,” the strange woman claims, and despite her fine gown (torn and rotting, but clearly of expensive make) and enchanting voice, you are tempted to disbelieve her. Many in Boletaria claim to be that which they are not. But there is strong evidence that this is none other than the wise queen herself; she even bears a passing resemblance to the figure carved into the Latria Archstone, despite her hideously scarred face and hands. She tells the story of how the queen banished her husband and how he, in revenge, imprisoned and tortured the queen and her family. She also mentions the “strange golden garb” the king wore upon his return.
These “golden robes of insanity” will become important a little later on, but first, there are a few elements of the Prison of Hope that merit further description.
The prisoners of Latria come in many forms. Apart from the Former Royal’s Wife, the Prison of Hope houses two other prisoners of note: Sage Freke, as mentioned previously, and Lord Rydell, a storied but enigmatic figure sometimes referred to as “Little Allant.” Freke was overpowered and imprisoned by the octopus-headed guards, whose sorceries proved too powerful even for “Freke the Visionary.” Specifically, Freke refers to “the golden elder beyond that dungeon. Beware of him, for he manipulates souls. He has power over dark souls, those susceptible to madness and paranoia.” In a later conversation, Freke mentions “the golden elder of Latria” as one of the three humans who have chosen to become Demons. Though it’s clear that the “golden elder” is the queen’s banished husband, it seems odd that he goes unnamed. Or perhaps not; Latria is clearly a matriarchal society, or was until the golden elder seized control, and even the queen is never named explicitly. (Popular speculation names her as Yormedar, mentioned in several item descriptions; however, while the silver spell catalyst and coronet “given only to the famous magicians of the distinguished Yormedar family” are among the starting equipment for the “Royalty” character class, I find it a stretch to assume that the Yormedar lineage is synonymous with the ruling family of Latria. More likely, they are a family of gifted magicians elevated to courtly status by the queen, herself a powerful sorceress and lover of knowledge.)
Lord Rydell is another mysterious player in Boletarian/Latrian politics. It’s known that he’s sometimes referred to as “Little Allant,” making it likely that he is a member of Allant’s line but not the direct heir to the throne. His presence in Latria is conceivably due to a political marriage (he mentions that the enchanted ring he wears is “a keepsake of my late wife”). Apart from two enchanted rings, Lord Rydell wields the Phosphorescent Pole, a magically imbued polearm that recharges the wielder’s magical capabilities. This weapons description mentions that Rydell stole it from “the witch in the sky.” What’s most striking about Rydell, though, is that he is already dead by the time you meet him; his soul has somehow been imprisoned while his body rots. This makes him one of only two characters encountered in Soul Form, the other being the Nexus’ Crestfallen Warrior.
Nor should you overlook the prison’s anonymous multitudes. One of the most memorable things about Latria is the creative tortures endured by its inmates. Some hang by wrist-shackles from the ceiling; others have been crushed by iron maidens; still others have been encased in urns, only their heads poking out the top. Spike-covered iron chairs and teetering stacks of caskets speak of other tortures. Those prisoners allowed relative freedom of movement have clearly had their minds demolished, alternating between running away, hands weakly shielding their heads, and standing before you with thin arms raised in devotion. Bubbling cauldrons of unknown liquid complete the atmosphere.
Immediately adjacent to the prison is a church housing a false idol “mimicking the queen.” However, the path to this church is blocked by a colossal siege engine in the shape of the church goddess and the sorceror-queen (in this and the idol, she is depicted with four arms holding various books and scrolls). This siege engine fires seemingly endless volleys of arrows at regular intervals; the path leading up to it is littered with corpses possessing noble trinkets and dress.
The Fool’s Idol, as next Demon is known, is a nasty piece of work originating several tricks I’ve now come to expect in Souls series boss fights. Hovering over the stones of the church, she summons paralyzing circles (note the similarity between the idol’s magic and that of the guards) and fires a piercing beam of magic. Her first tricks is to disappear at intervals, reappearing elsewhere in the room. Her next trick is reappear in more than one place at once, creating several illusory decoys that are distinguishable only by firing slightly less deadly magic at you in triangulation. Third trick: when the Fool’s Idol is killed, she is immediately resurrected. Endlessly. The only way to destroy the Demon for good is to kill a single prisoner in devotion in the church’s rafters. Huddled over a glowing pentacle, the prisoner sits near a hard-coded soul message reading, simply, “Beware of the liar ahead.”
After defeating the Demon, the path forward is not immediately obvious unless you think to inspect the church’s altar. As soon as you draw close, a pair of animated stone gargoyles swoop down from the heavens and carry you off, above, where redemption is promised. Even the transition between stages in Latria manages to disengage rather than solidify the setting.
The second level of Latria’s dungeon takes the slightly askew atmosphere the first level evoked and peels back another layer from your oculus. This stretch of tower consists mainly of a series of narrow walkways, sans guard-rails, stretching between towers lit by bright beacons that still can’t seem to cut through the darkness. Wide keep the bridges and their intersections lit well enough, but the black smoke spewed by the larger fires further occludes the senses. In the distance overhead, a city-spanning spiderweb stretches incongruously across the sky. Living gargoyles pose as statues or hover in the sky, waiting for you to pass so that they can ambush you from behind. In the central tower, a gargantuan, exposed heart beats lazily.
Progression means finding a way to each of the surrounding towers, where prisoners pray at stone altars, their rites presumably strengthening the thick chains that stretch from their tower to the heart, holding it aloft. Killing the worshipers disrupts the ritual, breaks the chains, and crushes the heart, allowing passage. Because the bridges are crumbling and labyrinthine, you will have to move between the upper walkways and a blood-filled swamp at the base of the tower by way of Latria’s morbid elevator system, a set of hanging gibbets that serve as claustrophobic but efficient transportation. Again, due to an oblique fade, the actual distance covered by this descent can’t be pinpointed.
The blood swamp breeds a new nightmare. It’s home to a hellish menagerie of abominations, results of the golden elder’s attempts to create new Demons. At least, this is the commonly accepted explanation for monstrosities like the Man Centipedes, acid-spewing, insect-like hybrids decorated with grey, taut, eyeless, toothless human faces, or the Prisoner Hordes, orbs of conglomerated flesh that fling spears of magic and flail in mindless aggression. Or the giant blood-carrying tubes, capillaries or umbilici, that frequently block your path.
This segment of Latria culminates in another trend-setting Demon battle, possibly the least forgiving battle of the game. Maneater faces you atop a narrow bridge. This chimeric gargoyle can fly and shoot homing Soul arrows from its serpentine tail, but it relies primarily on main force to take you down, pummeling you with downward strikes or lunging great distances at a time. These attacks can easily destroy the pillars lining the bridge and knock you into the abyss. One Maneater is trouble, but it’s the second one that shows up mid-fight you really need to watch out for.
Maneater isn’t directly connected to the story of Latria, but there are a few interesting tidbits of lore surrounding it. One, it’s probable that the title “Maneater” refers not to the gargoyle itself, but to its snake-like tail. The only clue that exists to explain Maneater’s existence is the Needle of Eternal Agony, a Demon weapon forged from Maneater’s Mixed Demon’s Soul. This hooked needle “stabs its target, hooks into the flesh, and slowly grinds away at the Soul. Could it symbolize the relationship between the host and snake within the Maneater?” It’s true that the tail seems, at times, in control of the hulking Demon. At times during the fight, it sinks its fangs into Maneater’s neck, causing the gargoyle to clutch its throat in agony as yellow light spills from its eyes and mouth. This causes the Demon to go into a fury, gaining strength and speed. The snake-tail is also the source of Maneater’s magic, which again resembles that of the octopus-headed guards. The parasitic description of the tail, the epithet “Mixed Demon,” and the prison’s other monstrosities suggest that the Maneaters are another of the golden elder’s Frankenstein-esque experiments, a fusion of human and Demon. This raises the possibility that the Man Centipedes, Mind Flayers and Prisoner Hordes may be predicated on a similar principle: human flesh and soul as host for a parasitic Demon.
Which would be appropriate, since the Old Monk himself, lord of the tower, is host to a parasite himself. In an homage to Lovecraft’s take on Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow. The “golden robes of insanity” the old man wears have come to consume him, and, too weak to defend himself, he uses the robes’ power to summon others to fight in his stead. The format of this Archdemon battle is unique; instead of another computer-controlled opponent, the Old Monk randomly summons another player to serve as boss, giving the summoned Black Phantom a few boosts and a homing magic spell. Being summoned by the Old Monk is entirely out of your control, but should be considered an honor; successfully vanquishing your target rewards you with the Monk’s Head Collar and this message: “You’ve taken a human’s Soul. What a superb demon!” The Head Collar, a face-covering tornado of yellow cloth, increases the wearer’s magic power. This battle is certainly the basis for the Covenants that have become increasingly important in later Souls games, some of which utilize a similar concept to orchestrate non-traditional player-versus-player matchups.
The Old Monk’s Soul yields a variety of spells, miracles and weapons, making it one of the most flexible Demon’s Souls in the game. The Insanity Catalyst behaves similarly to the Head Collar, with the warning, “If you have no dreams for the future, you may want to place your trust in the power of the golden garb.” The Soul Thirst spell “gives the user a thirst for Souls, taking as many Souls as possible from the target.” The Homing Soul Arrow is like that employed by the summoned guardian. “The old man was nothing more than a medium for the robe that drives men mad. This spell reflects the old man’s nature to yearn for power that was not his.” Finally, the Banish miracle, “a countersign against the insane old man who summoned and enslaved Black Phantoms.”
In the end, the golden elder is a mere foil to King Allant and his hubris, but the nightmarish state of the Southern Kingdom of Latria leaves one with a chilling thought: if King Allant, rather than the queen’s depraved old husband, had been first to discover the golden robes, what might they have done with a worthier vessel?