Dark Souls Lore Explored: Who is the Old Dragonslayer?
After pulling on a lever, a drawbridge falls down with a harsh crash in front of you. Surrounding you are the bodies of enemies three times the size of you, strewn across a now empty platform. The bridge slants up, inviting you to explore the chamber it once blocked. You walk up the bridge; armour clanking in the silence of the moment as you ascend the pathway. You realize you’ve entered the Cathedral of Blue, and before you stands a fog gate. The thick white fog covers the doorway blocking any vision of what lies before you. As you breach the murky blanket you are greeted by a familiar face, or is he? Across the room standing on a red carpet is a man dressed in heavy armor reminiscent of the mighty Ornstein, his mask resembling the head of a lion with a plume of red and his arms covered in spikes, but something is off. The golden brilliance of Ornstein’s armour is not here, it is replaced by a darkness that seems to taint the mighty warrior. Before you get a chance to take a closer look the warrior approaches you with quick steps and a spear drawn, before you know it you are locked in battle with the Old Dragonslayer.
Anyone who has played Dark Souls 2 has most likely had this interaction before, but even those who have still don’t know for sure who this Old Dragonslayer is. The Souls series by From Software tells its story through interaction in a unique way that forces the player to take in everything about a scenario to learn from it. There are no codex logs or NPC lore masters to tell the player about the world, so if the player wants to learn more about the characters, settings and story, they need to investigate every little piece of information they can find. By studying these little bits of information players can learn many things about the land of Drangleic and its inhabitants. Today we are going to look over all the pieces of information surrounding the Old Dragonslayer in hopes of finding out who he is and what his story is. Is he the mythical Dragonslayer Ornstein or is he simply another knight of Gwyn? By looking at all the facts presented to the player throughout both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 hopefully we can come to a conclusion.
(Note: There will be minor spoilers for both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 in this article)
In regards to the lore, there is no direct information about the Old Dragonslayer, however knowing the story of the First Dark Souls game could provide information that will help understand who the Old Dragonslayer could be. Prior to the events of the first Dark Souls game, Lord Gwyn was granted a Lord Soul upon finding the First Flame. This Lord Soul granted him incredible power, but the Everlasting Dragons still reigned supreme in the world above. Gwyn declared war on the dragons and launched an assault on them with the Knights of Gwyn. Seath the Scaleless (a dragon who had lost his immortality) betrayed the dragons and revealed to Gwyn and his knights how to defeat the dragons by stripping their stone scales with bolts of magical lighting. With this knowledge the Knights of Gwyn defeated the dragons and took control of the surface.
Lord Gwyn granted special powers and equipment to four of his most decorated Knight, one of whom was Ornstein the Dragonslayer. His armour was imbued with the power of lightning along with his spear. He was granted powerful items including a special soul and the Leo Ring by Gwyn as a reward for his service in the war. As the Age of Fire came to an end, the player could find Ornstein in the once grand capital city of Anor Londo guarding Gwynevere (Gwyn’s Daughter) along with the remaining silver Knights of Gwyn and Executioner Smough. This version of Gwynevere however is not real, she is an illusion created by her younger brother Gwyndolin, something that Ornstein may or may not be aware of.
While the lore has very little to tell people about the Old Dragonslayer, studying the lore of Ornstein does give a chance for comparison. Comparing the Old Dragonslayer to the facts we know about Ornstein can tell us if they are truly the same person, or rather two different, but similar, men bound by title alone.
The Old Dragonslayer is located at the Cathedral of Blue. The Cathedral of Blue houses Blue Sentinel Targray who can initiate the player into the Blue Sentinel covenant. The Old Dragonslayer is standing in the first room of the Cathedral of Blue, guarding the entrance way to the rest of the temple.
The Cathedral of Blue is located in the area known as Heide’s Tower of Flame, a location very reminiscent of the mighty city of Anor Londo in Lordran. The Cathedral especially is reminiscent of the mighty churches and palaces of Anor Londo in its design. This fact potentially acts as another link between Ornstein and the Old Dragonslayer.
Appearance, Fighting Style and Equipment
In appearance the Old Dragonslayer looks very similar to Ornstein; however there are a few notable differences. The Old Dragonslayers armour is very similar to Ornstein’s in design, but rather than being gold in colour it is dark grey and black. This colour of armour reflects the Old Dragonslayer’s choice of magic. The Old Dragonslayer uses dark magic, also known as Hexes. This is especially significant to mention because, as we know from the lore, the dragons could only be defeated through the use of lightning magic (also known as Miracles). Without the use of Miracles it is hard to imagine this Old Dragonslayer being very proficient at killing dragons.
The Old Dragonslayer fights in a fashion similar to Ornstein. His movements are very quick as he uses his spear to thrust and slash at the player. He is almost always advancing towards the player, giving them very little time to regroup from a viscous attack or heal from injuries sustained by a successful strike. The Old Dragonslayer will also use his dark magic by leaping into the air and slamming down into the ground, surrounding himself in a black aura of offensive Hexes. This attack is reminiscent of the attack Ornstein would use after absorbing the fallen body of Smough, though Ornstein would shoot out Lightning Miracle magic rather than the Hex dark magic of the Old Dragonslayer. Another move the Old Dragonslayer uses that is similar to Ornstein’s fighting style is the use of a bolt of magic (Hex magic for the Old Dragonslayer, Miracle magic for Ornstein) that shoots out of the tip of the spear and hones in on the player
There are some key differences between the two fights however, one of which is that the Old Dragonslayer fights alone. Ornstein fought alongside Executioner Smough and when one of them fell in battle, the other would absorb their soul to increase their strength. Another key thing to notice about the fight against the Old Dragonslayer is that the fight itself is surprisingly easy. While staying pretty aggressive, the Old Dragonslayer is relatively straightforward to fight and can be defeated without too much difficulty. This is in stark contrast to the fight against Ornstein and Smough which is considered one of the most difficult fights in Dark Souls 1, a game which prides itself in its difficulty. This may be due to the fact that the Old Dragonslayer is alone during the fight, and also could be because the Old Dragonslayer can be found much earlier in the game than Ornstein and Smough, but it is still worth mentioning.
Upon defeating the Old Dragonslayer the player is given a few pieces of loot. The first thing that the player will get is 20,000 souls, as compared to the 50,000 souls the player would get for killing Ornstein and Smough. The Old Dragonslayer will also drop the Old Dragonslayer Soul, which the player picks up automatically. Its description states that it is “The Soul of the Old Dragonslayer. The Old Dragonslayer is reminiscent of a certain knight that appears in old legends”. This soul can be used to purchase the Dragonslayer Spear, a spear that is similar to his own weapon. The final thing that the player receives is the Old Leo Ring, a ring that boosts the countering thrust damage of the wearer by 12.5%. This is extremely similar to the Leo Ring that Ornstein was given by Gwyn in the first Dark Souls game; however the Leo Ring boosts all counter damage by 40%.
Now That We Have the Facts…
One thing that you may have noticed while reading this article is that none of the facts say exactly who the Old Dragonslayer is. There are lots of similarities between the Old Dragonslayer and Ornstein, as well as similarities to other characters in the Dark Souls mythos, but there is no definitive answer to who he is. There are three prevailing theories within the Dark Souls community as to his identity, and each one uses the evidence provided to prove their point.
1. The Old Dragonslayer is Ornstein
Before the events of the first Dark Souls game the light of the First Flame began to fade. Gwyn was terrified of losing the flame because it was the source of his power, and as a result he went to greater and greater lengths to preserve it, eventually using humanity itself to try and keep the flame alive. These actions caused his closest friends and allies to fear him and many of them began to leave him. Many of them disagreed with his use of humanity and human souls to try and fuel the flame, and decided to leave before his desperation turned into something dangerous. One of the first to leave was Gwynevere. Fearing what her father was becoming she left Anor Londo and took Ornstein with her to the land of Drangleic to be her personal bodyguard.
In Drangleic, Ornstein and Gwynevere created Heide’s Tower of Flame, and the Cathedral of Blue, mirroring its design in architecture. Here she took up residence, with Ornstein prepared to defend her, even from Gwyn if necessary. In Drangleic, people used drakes and dragons as mounts and weapons of war, meaning that there was no need for a Dragonslayer in the Kingdom. As a result, Ornstein abandoned the use of Faith based magic and adopted Dark Hex magic. Hex magic is similar to Occult magic which was one of Gwyn’s greatest weaknesses. If Ornstein was preparing to defend Gwynevere from the madness of Gwyn, it makes sense that he would choose such a magic to specialize in.
If this is the case, then who was the Ornstein that players fought in the first Dark Souls game, and who was the Gwynevere that they saw in Anor Londo? Gwyn’s third child Gwyndolin made an illusion of Gwynevere in Anor Londo to make sure that the population wouldn’t panic. He also made an illusion of the Sun to make it seem like Anor Londo was still basking in the sun’s incandescence. With this power of illusion, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that Ornstein could also be an illusion to keep anyone from poking around and potentially discovering his secret.
Eventually something happened to Gwynevere and she is no longer at Heide’s Tower of Flame, resulting in Ornstein being stuck there all alone, guarding the remaining city from invaders as it crumbles into the sea.
2. The Old Dragonslayer is Ornstein Re-incarnated
Powerful souls do not die easily and don’t disappear forever. Powerful souls linger in the world long after their owner dies, taking new forms and maintaining their power. In Dark Souls 2, this is seen throughout the Land of Drangleic in the bosses that the player finds and defeats. The mighty Great Souls that are required to proceed through the game are remnants of the mighty Lord Souls of the first Dark Souls game given new form in the guise of the Rotten, the Lost Sinner, the Old Iron King and Freja.
For acting as Gwyn’s lead knight, Ornstein was awarded many great honours, including a powerful soul. This powerful soul may have been re-incarnated as the Old Dragonslayer in the land of Drangleic. Lost in this new world the Old Dragonslayer looked to something familiar and found the Cathedral of Blue, a building reminiscent of Anor Londo. Here he took up refuge, working with the Blue Sentinels as payment for being allowed to stay there and work.
If this is the case, it would explain why so many of the Old Dragonslayer’s items are reminiscent of Ornstein’s. Everything the Old Dragonslayer has, from his soul to his ring, are similar to all of Onrstein’s items. He is very much the same person; however he was brought up in Drangleic. Drangleic uses wyverns and dragons as tools of war, and doesn’t have need for a Dragonslayer. The dragon tamers and riders have the dragons under control, so this new version of Ornstein never needed to learn how to use Faith lightning to attack dragons. As a result he now uses Dark Hex magic to help him fight his enemies, adapting it to his natural fighting style that he had remembered from his previous life as Ornstein the Dragonslayer.
3. The Old Dragonslayer is a Knight Who Served Under Ornstein
During the war against the dragons, many silver knights fought alongside Ornstein and Gwyn. Lord Gwyn gave special recognition to the Ornstein, Artorias, Claran and Gough but it is possible that there were many knights that could claim the title of Dragonslayer.
Much after the war when the First Flame began to fade, Gwyn began using Humanity to fuel the dying flame. Humanity comes from the souls of humans, and is a piece of the Dark Soul that was taken from the First Flame by the Furtive Pygmy. Gwyn even encouraged invading other parallel worlds to gather more humanity to fuel the First Flame. This decision was very polarizing among Gwyn’s friends and family, resulting in many people leaving Lordran, even his eldest Daughter Gwynevere.
The Old Dragonslayer could have been one of the people who abandoned Lordran. This would have been a dangerous move to do however, because Gwyn was still very powerful and wouldn’t accept any threat to his rule. To protect himself, the Old Dragonslayer would have chosen to abandon Faith Magic (the magic Gwyn was resistant to) and learn Hex magic, just in case Gwyn decided to pursue him.
When leaving Lordran, the Old Dragonslayer tried to find a way to protect the people that Gwyn had threatened. He wanted to make sure that humans would not be targeted by Gwyn for harvesting, and wanted to protect any human that was invaded. To do this the Old Dragonslayer began working with the Blue Sentinels, a covenant that protects people that have been invaded by counter invading into the fight and acting as backup for the victim. When the Old Dragonslayer saw what the Blue Sentinels were doing, he joined up and acted as protection from anything that Gwyn may send their way. He knew that the Blue Sentinels would be a target for Gwyn as they opposed what he was doing so the Old Dragonslayer acted as a bodyguard, protecting the Cathedral of Blue as its last line of defence.
These three are the most widely accepted theories about the Old Dragonslayer’s true identity, but they are by no means the only ones. From Software has left the lore wide open for interpretation, and that is why many people are drawn to the Souls franchise. By not telling the player every little detail about the world, the developers have created little mysteries for players to try and solve, and the only way that players can solve these mysteries is by delving into every aspect of the game. They need to study the known lore, the items, the settings, the gameplay and even the previous games if they want the whole story. This creates a unique experience that other forms of media can’t really copy, resulting in a brand new version of storytelling that has fans scouring every little detail in hopes of finding the truth about the characters and world of Dark Souls. There are dozens of characters in the Dark Souls universe whose story is hidden among the clues of the games world, such as Gwyn’s first born son whose name has been purposely erased from the annals of Lordran’s history, or the Knight Ostrava of Boletaria looking for the truth behind his father’s disappearance. Even when the truth isn’t known for certain, the search for proof can add a new layer of fun to the gaming experience.
What do you think? Leave a comment.