Disclaimer: This article will contain major lore spoilers for Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel. While most of the story has been pieced together from item descriptions discovered in the DLC, there are still a lot of mysteries left unsolved in the story, meaning that some of the conclusions we have drawn here may be proven inaccurate later on down the line.
Our story begins when the Ashen One arrives at the Cleansing Chapel in the Cathedral of the Deep, where he (or she) encounters Slave knight Gael. Gael is praying for fire for Ariandel, and when he sees you, he notes that you have the same scent as another woman, and he concludes that you are Ash. The other woman, as we’ll later find out, refers to Sister Friede. Gael begs us to show his lady flame. Once we confirm that we are Ash, Gael will take us into the Painted World of Ariandel through a rotted scrap of the painting.
At the very first bonfire, we’ll find a Corvian sitting at the corner. He tells us to make our bed and find a good place to rest. While this isn’t really indicative of anything at this point, it is the first hint of the flame versus rot conflict that exists in the Painted World. Venturing further into the Painted World, the Ashen One soon comes across Ariandel Chapel, where Sir Vilhelm stands guard outside. Vilhelm makes a peculiar remark, and is confused as to how you got here, considering that “no bell tolls.” As we know from all of Dark Souls III’s promotional trailers, the beginning movie, and vanilla NPC dialogue, the Ashen Ones rise from their graves when the bell tolls. This is how our journey started, and how we embarked on our initial journey to bring the Lords of Cinder back to their thrones.
However, no bell has tolled in the Painted World, so there’s no reason for us to be here. Nevertheless, Vilhelm tells you to head inside the Chapel and speak with Sister Friede. Friede tells us to leave, and states that there is nothing for the Ashen One here. Our duty lies in the outside world, and we should just forget about the Painted World.
Of course we’re not going to do that, so the Ashen One ventures deeper into the Painted World instead. Here, we find many feeble Corvians on the verge of death. We also find much stronger, much more threatening Corvian knights that choose to slay their brethren. While exploring the Settlement, the Ashen One soon comes across a Corvian NPC who tells us that the inhabitants of this world had long decided to burn this world away with flame, so that a new one may rise. However, Sister Friede, who is revealed to be the first Ash to come to this world, had arrived and convinced Father Ariandel not to do so. Instead of burning the world away, she convinces the Father to let the world steep in rot, and some of the Corvians (the knights that we encounter, essentially) began to follow her rule and turned on their own kind. The NPC also tells us of a prophecy involving two Ashes, one of which will help to restore this world. In this case, we are the second Ash destined to show the lady flame.
Once past the Corvian Settlement, we encounter Sir Vilhelm again, and he decides to slay the Ashen One since we’ve refused to leave. After killing him, he drops a Contraption Key that leads to the attic of the building we’re in, and we find a young painter girl. This is the lady that Gael asked us to find and show flame to. She is the one who will paint a new world to replace this one.
The Ashen One continues through the Snowy Mountain Pass, and along the way, we find a very large bell that lies abandoned on the ground. This must have been the bell that tolls to wake the Unkindled Ones up. But since it’s broken, it couldn’t possibly toll. Perhaps it was Sister Friede and Sir Vilhelm who destroyed the bell so that there’d be no way for a second Ash to arrive in the Painted World.
Soon after, we’ll find a crypt infested with blood-sucking bugs. This is likely a form of symbolism to show just how steeped in rot the world is now. After activating a contraption in the crypt, we get to watch a cutscene where a statue (which looks very similar to the one in the Painted World of Ariamis) moves to reveal a secret area next to where Sister Friede is sitting. In the new area, we find Father Ariandel who speaks of flickering flames. The Father is seen hunched over what looks like a Lordvessel, covering his eyes because he’s afraid of seeing fire. He tells us to bring him his flail, and we later learn that the Father flails himself because his blood is the only thing that will keep the flames at bay. Sister Friede enters the area and tells Father Ariandel not to worry, and that she’ll snuff out these ashes for good.
What she’s basically saying here is that she’s going to kill us.
After striking down Sister Friede, Father Ariandel sees her dead body lying on the ground and cries out in pain. The fire starts to spill over, and because Friede herself is an Ashen One, she is quickly revived by the flames. After killing the both of them, Friede is revived once more as Blackflame Elfriede.
“When the Ashes are two, a flame alighteth. Thou’rt Ash, and fire befits thee, of course…”