Having defeated Godrick the Grafted, traveled through Liurnia of the Lakes, and faced the academy of sorcerers, there are two major options facing players in Elden Ring. You can continue to make their way north to the Altus Plateau, home of the foot of the Erdtree, or they can venture east of Limgrave to the festering lands of Caelid. In fact, one of the paths to the Altus Plateau requires you to head to Caelid and fight your way through a fort infested with giant bats. So before moving farther north, we're going to head east to claim a third Great Rune.
You can access Caelid pretty early, but it can be a tough place for any Tarnished to survive. That's because Caelid is ravaged by something called Scarlet Rot. The creeping disease infects living things and pools in a huge, fetid swamp, resulting in a whole region filled with putrefying, monstrous creatures. It's also the home of Radahn, one of the demigod children of Radagon and Rennala. The Shardbearer waits for you on the eastern coast of Caelid, but unlike the others, Radahn isn't gathering power or planning to try to become Elden Lord. You'll soon see why.
The reason Caelid is so messed up is because it was the scene of a major turning point in the Shattering, marking the end of most major hostilities and the beginning of the demigods mostly retreating to their lands and strongholds. The Scarlet Rot is the result of a battle between the greatest warriors among the demigod children: Radahn and Malenia. Their clash destroyed Caelid by unleashing the disease, but it also destroyed both Malenia and Radahn. Here's what you need to know about what's happening in Caelid. As always, there be spoilers beyond.
More Elden Ring story explainers
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 1: Limgrave
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 5: Leyndell, Royal Capital
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 6: Mountaintops of the Giants
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 7: Castle Sol and the Consecrated Snowfield
- What Happens in Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 8: Miquella's Haligtree
- What Happens In Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 9: Eternal Cities, Deeproot Depths, And Mohg
- What Happens In Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 10: Crumbling Farum Azula
- What Happens In Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 11: Leyndell, Ashen Capital
- What Happens In Elden Ring? The Game's Story, Part 12: Becoming Elden Lord
The rotten land
As you first enter Caelid, you largely find it in ruins--moreso than usual, I guess--with diseased birds and dogs feasting on bodies of the dead. Corpses are piled together and burned in ravaged buildings, but some of those corpses are undead and need to be burned again to prevent them from exploding and spraying disease everywhere. Fire is almost as much a part of Caelid as the Scarlet Rot, and you soon see why: Soldiers and knights still loyal to Radahn are trying to push back the scourge by burning it. Near Redmane Castle, Radahn's former seat of power, you see coordinated groups of soldiers ambushing, attacking, and burning the giant T-rex-like dogs that maraud the land. A reverence for flame has become a calling card of Radahn's formidable soldiers, in fact, and you'll see fires set all over Caelid as they work to hold back the rot as best they can and burn anything afflicted with it. But while the humans are trying to take back the land from the disease, at best, it's a stalemate.
In the center of Caelid is the Swamp of Aeonia, where the rot is worst. The infected water spreads the disease to anything that touches it, making this a dangerous place to cross. You can find Cleanrot Knights here, remnants of the force loyal to Malenia that marched with her to fight Radahn. Scarlet Rot, in fact, came from Malenia (at least, in a roundabout way), and the battle between her and Radahn is why it covers Caelid. The Cleanrot Knights pledged their loyalty to Malenia in spite of the fact that they knew they'd contract Scarlet Rot if they did so; they're not immune to the disease, but have accepted the "putrefaction of their flesh." That speaks to the kind of loyalty Malenia and her brother, Miquella, instill in people. We'll talk about both of them in more detail in later articles.
There are others who are not just willing to succumb to the rot, but who actually worship it. You find these "pests," human-sized centipede-like creatures, in a few places around Caelid. These beings seem to worship the Scarlet Rot, and moreover, the real force behind it: an Outer God. We know little about the God of Rot, but it does seem to have influence in the Lands Between, and it appears to be responsible for Malenia's rot curse. You'll later find the pests in certain locations, like the underground Lake of Rot, that suggests they have a hidden culture and agenda of their own.
The Beast Clergyman
Far in the north of Caelid, you'll find Greyoll's Dragonbarrow, a mesa that has been taken over by dragons and other creatures. The nearby Fort Faroth has been invaded by vicious giant bats, and there you can find half of the medallion that allows access to the Grand Lift of Dectus, which will carry you from Liurnia's Bellum Highway to the Altus Plateau (the first half is in Fort Haight in Limgrave). Among a whole bunch of smaller baby dragons, you can find a huge one in the center: Elder Greyoll, the mother of all dragons. Greyoll won't fight you herself, and actually seems barely able to move, using her dragon children for protection. We don't know much about Greyoll or the dragons who live here, but the title "mother of all dragons" seems significant in terms of what we learn about dragons through the course of the game, especially later in Farum Azula. In essence, you can kill Greyoll, but one wonders if that might put an end to the future for dragons all together.
Heading even further north, you can find a cathedral-like building called the Beastial Sanctum. Inside is a strange character named Gurranq, described as a Beast Clergyman. Gurranq's a bit weird--he covers himself in a shabby cloth and seems barely able to restrain himself. He asks you to bring him Deathroot, something that only grows in the presence of beings called Those Who Live in Death.
Remember Rogier from back in Limgrave? His quest also deals with Those Who Live in Death, and you can meet a second Tarnished, who goes by D, who's also interested in them. Those Who Live in Death are undead people who don't follow the rules of the Golden Order. When people die, their souls are supposed to return to the Erdtree--that's why catacombs in the Lands Between are built near Erdtree roots, which you'll always find in their boss rooms. Those Who Live in Death don't return to the Erdtree, and thus remain in their bodies, living despite having died like zombies (or more often, as skeletons). D hunts Those Who Live in Death on behalf of the Beast Clergyman and the Golden Order, bent on eradicating them, believing them to be an affront.
If you sign up with Gurranq, he'll give you an item called the Beast Eye, which "quivers" whenever you're near Those Who Live in Death. Kill them, and you can bring their Deathroot back to Gurranq, who trades it for various beast incantations. Gurranq eats the Deathroot, but his hunger for it can never be sated, and seems to be nearly driving him mad. In fact, at one point when you interact with him, he'll attack you. If you smack a little sense into him, he'll snap out of it, but it seems like this is an indication that Gurranq's addiction to Deathroot and obsession with Those Who Live in Death is damaging his mind.
For the time being, Gurranq is just a strange character for whom you can do some jobs, killing Those who Live in Death. Venturing further into the Lands Between, however, we'll learn more about his deal, what's up with the undead, what Rogier is trying to uncover, and how it all ties together with the assassination of Godwyn the Golden.
General Radahn, Starscourge
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The Shardbearer you're seeking in Caelid is General Radahn, perhaps the fiercest warrior among the demigod children of Marika, with only Malenia able to challenge him for the title. The son of Radagon and Rennala, Radahn is huge and ludicrously strong, sporting red hair like Radagon. He took after both his parents to become a great champion, studying warfare as well as sorcery. Radahn specializes in magic related to gravity, learned in the Caelid sorcerer town of Sellia, which he pursued at least in part so that he could use magic to help his tiny but beloved horse support his enormous body and let him keep riding it. When you finally fight him, you'll see the mountain of a man carried along on a horse that absolutely should have been crushed under his weight.
When Radagon was with Rennala, he studied sorcery, and later with Marika studied the incantations of the Golden Order faith. Radahn took at least part of a page from his father, studying to become the strongest warrior he could be, but like Rennala's other children, it seems like Radahn stopped idolizing his father to some degree after he departed Liurnia to return to Leyndell. Instead, Radahn looked to another warrior for inspiration: Godfrey. He leaned hard into a lion motif for his armor and castle, which was a symbol synonymous with the first Elden Lord, with Radahn purposely invoking one of the greatest fighters the Lands Between had ever seen. It's hard to see this as anything other than a slight against Radagon, the second Elden Lord and Godfrey's replacement as Marika's consort.
When it comes to Radagon, though, Radahn might have been a reminder of something the Elden Lord hated about himself. As she was consolidating her power, Marika waged war on the giants in the north of the Lands Between alongside Godfrey. Elden Ring lore tells us that all the giants had red hair, as did Radagon--a fact he hated. Actually, all of Radagon's children wound up with red hair (though in Ranni's case this is a bit speculative since we don't see her actual body in anything but a crispy burnt form). In addition, Radahn is huge, much bigger than any of the other demigods, kind of like a giant. It's speculative at this point because Radagon's backstory is a whole murky thing that becomes a bigger part of the story later, but there's a theory among fans that Radagon may have been descended from or otherwise related to the giants in some way, an aspect of himself that he seems to have despised. Radahn, then, would have been a very big (ahem) reminder of Radagon's giant heritage, and that likely would have damaged their father-son relationship.
Either way, Radahn made a name for himself on the battlefield. His mastery of gravity magic earned him the name "Starscourge," although this part is a little hazy. Apparently, Radahn's gravity magic was so powerful that he could stop the turning of the stars. This is perhaps a bit more metaphorical than it first appears to be; what this seems to be in practical terms is that Radahn was able to use gravity magic spells to prevent meteors falling to earth.
Again, we're in speculative territory, but I think this is specifically a practical move that targeted Raya Lucaria, as well as the people of the underground Eternal Cities, which we haven't talked about yet. The sorcerers of Liurnia channel their strength from the stars, and a lot of their gravity magic is actually directly related to meteors--as if they use magic to yank small celestial bodies out of space and chuck them at their enemies. It sounds like this meteor magic could have been used to destroy Farum Azula, the floating city of the dragons. It's essentially a superweapon in the hands of a bunch of people who don't really subscribe to the Golden Order. This is actually reflected in the game by the fact that all sorcereries use the Intelligence stat, while Incantations of the Golden Order use the Faith stat; this is almost like the conflict between science and religion. Plus, Liurnia only came into the fold of the Golden Order when Radagon married Rennala. Radahn might not have been a fan of his father, but he was still part of the ruling class, so I think the "Starscourge" title came from him using his powerful gravity magic to render the stars incapable of falling, taking away the ability of Raya Lucaria to use meteors as weapons.
It's also possible this was a move aimed at protecting against attacks or incursions from Outer Gods or other cosmic forces. Radahn is said to have studied gravity magic in Sellia under an Alabaster Lord, one of an ancient race who supposedly were born from a meteor that struck the lands between in the distant past. There are also several creatures who are linked directly to meteors--we can find more than one "Fallen Star Beast," a monster that literally falls to earth from space, and fight two versions of a boss called Astel, which seems to be some kind of cosmic horror star-monster as well. Radahn's experience with an Alabaster Lord in his youth might have given him an inkling of the dangers that lurk beyond in the void.
Later, during the Shattering, Malenia marched south from the stronghold she shared with her brother Miquella at a place called the Haligtree. This was when she passed through Limgrave and humiliated the cowardly Godrick; after that, she headed to Caelid to face Radahn as the demigods warred over who should claim the Elden Ring. Radahn would have been her strongest competition among the demigods, and if they hadn't faced one another, it seems like one of them might have managed to consolidate enough power to claim the Elden Ring. That's not how it went down, though.
Malenia faced Radahn on Caelid's vast Wailing Dunes, near the continent's shores. There, the pairs of armies faced each other down and a huge number of people were killed. As Malenia faced Radahn, she quickly found she couldn't beat him under normal means--he was too strong and too skilled. In order to match his ferocity, Malenia gave up the pride and determination she used to hold the rot at bay within herself. She "bloomed," literally appearing cocooned in a giant flower, as part of the curse, which essentially caused an explosion of Scarlet Rot. Radahn, as well as the rest of Caelid, were infected.
The battle had huge consequences for everyone involved. Neither Radahn nor Malenia was actually able to win the battle, and in giving herself over to the rot, Malenia lost something--some part of her sense of self and her will. She fell into a deep sleep and her Cleanrot Knights had to evacuate her; one knight, Finley, carried Malenia all the way back to the northern mountains, to the Haligtree where she and her brother Miquella were based.
Malenia and her knights retreated, but Radahn didn't win, either. The Scarlet Rot infection ravaged him from the inside out, but because Marika removed the Rune of Death from the Elden Ring, Radahn couldn't die. So he just...kept rotting. The infection drove him mad and he never returned to Redmane Castle. Instead, he just wanders the battlefield, now more monster than person.
The Radahn Festival
When you finally make your way into the Lands Between, depending on how far you progress in the rest of the game and who you talk to, you might hear about the Radahn Festival. If you've met Iron Fist Alexander, the big living jar, or progressed the quests of Blaidd and Ranni, you'll hear about the festival from them. The festival takes place at Redmane Castle in the southeast of Caelid, and draws Tarnished warriors from all over to take part in it.
Radahn's troops are still loyal to him, but as you learn when you reach Redmane, their lord is lost. At this point, everyone who liked the guy just wants him put out of his misery. The festival is now run by a guy called Jerren, who you'll meet at Redmane when you arrive, along with other Tarnished and Blaidd, if you've progressed his quest.
Jerren explains the deal of the Radahn Festival, which is both tragic and kind of hilarious. After his fight with Malenia, Radahn never returned to the castle; he stayed out on the Wailing Dunes as the Scarlet Rot festered and drove him mad with pain. The affect turned him beast-like, and he just wanders the sands, eating the corpses of the fallen soldiers who litter the battlefield. The Radahn Festival isn't a celebration of the former lord or his triumphs in battle, it's literally a tournament in which warriors show up and show their skill and strength by trying to kill Radahn. For the Tarnished, the reward is a Great Rune; for Radahn's soldiers, the upshot is their lord will finally be released from his maddening torment. But in essence, the remnants of Redmane Castle put a bounty out on their former general and turned his execution into a game, and that's what the Radahn Festival is.
Taking part in the festival lets you head out to the Wailing Dunes and face Radahn, and if you so choose, you can use Elden Ring's summoning feature to bring all the other warriors you see at Redmane into the fight with you. As a team, you all slug it out with Radahn, who is likely to beat the hell out of just about everyone--even though he's lost his mind, he hasn't lost any of his strength or skill. He's barely holding on from the infliction of the rot, however, and you can see this if you use weapons and items that inflict Scarlet Rot in this fight. Build up more rot infection on Radahn, and he goes down quickly, suggesting the affliction becomes more than he can handle.
Eventually, though, you'll bring Radahn down, finally killing him and ending his plight. The Radahn Festival ends with a few of the other warriors congratulating you and talking about where they're headed next. With Radahn defeated, you can continue to advance Ranni and Blaidd's quests, since the death of the Starscourge means the stars can move once again, and meteors will immediately start to fall.
Falling stars will actually rip holes in Limgrave, opening a new pathway to buried locales below. But before venturing down, we'll head up--to the Altus Plateau, the foot of the Erdtree, and Mt. Gelmir, the home of some of the worst atrocities in the Lands Between. Read on in Part 4.
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