untold eons ago, a race known as the pthumerians served the great ones as they slumbered. after becoming exposed to the deliberately vague notion of “the eldritch truth” (it is unclear if this is a specific phenomenon, like the secret to their longevity, or simply the knowledge of the great one’s existence), they developed a unique and startling appearance: pallid skin, black eyes, and slacking jaws. i mean, they also lived underground so they look like underground creatures do. either way, they are distinctly inhuman humanoids.
this civilization became lost, but did not die; they continued to serve the “gods” underground, excavating tombs and chambers for them without rest. over time, they settled a city and elected a leader, yharnam, pthumerian queen, who was given a ring imbued with special meaning by the great ones indicating her commitment to bear a special child. this child would be known as a “child of blood” (the ramifications of this are not known). she still wears the ring today.
one solid theory argues that at this point, a civil war breaks out in pthumeru, that results in a schism that pushes some pthumerians to the surface, where they become early yharnam nobility and the modern day royalty of cainhurst. the evidence for the cainhurst/pthumeru connection is strong: living and hostile cainhurst knights with modern armor can be found in the lowest levels of the chalice dungeons. bloodlickers, an enemy that is exclusively found in cainhurst in the main game, can be found in chalice dungeon rooms where you preform visceral attacks1. small, gold statues identical to the large, marble ones in cainhurst can be found in the dungeon treasure rooms. a collection of portraits in cainhurst depicting royals and knights has a portrait of the bell-ringing “mad pthumerian” of the labyrinth as well as a portrait of a man with the physical appearance of the cainhurst map exclusive enemy “the lost child of antiquity“. the armor he is wearing can be found scattered throughout the pthumeru levels.
the cainhurst royalty and the pthumerian royalty both aspire to have a child of blood and both have knights that work explicitly to further this goal, putting them at odds with each other. today’s cainhurst royalty maintains some of the “pthumerian look” but not to such an exaggerated degree, with the resemblance fading with each removed generation.
pictured above are the canonical cainhurst royalty and their descendants in order of relation from left to right: annalise, queen of the “vilebloods” (top left), lady maria (top middle, a cainhurst knight and “distant relative of the queen”), arianna, woman of pleasure (right; she is also the most distant descendant). the bottom image is concept art of lady maria during her boss fight with a more exaggerated look that did not make it into the game.
i’m inclined to learn toward believing that yahar’gul, unseen villageand hemwick charnel lane were late pthumerian settlements on the surface. this is based on the enormous sizes of the corpses in yahar’gul and the hemwick grave women. though it can be hard to see due to all the murdering you that they’re trying to do, but they too are slack jawed, thin and pale. there’s other things that only become apparent by the time the hunter comes to visit, so we’ll hold out until then.
anyway: a bazillion years later or whatever. the cainhurst royals rule over a land that includes the victorian england-ish city of yharnam, named for the forgotten queen of pthumeru. the main appeal of yharnam is its proximity to a university of bold, weird research.
the school of byrgenwerth and its scholars were once an archeological and historical research center headed by provost willem. however, during the course of their studies they discovered a vast labyrinth beneath the school where (if the first location they discovered was the same as ours this would be the pthumerian labyrinth) they encountered ancient humanoids, women with the ability to re-animate corpses, an perpetually burning dog who somehow still lives and, most intriguing of all, a flora/fauna creature that defied all understanding. further investigation revealed an unspecified “holy medium”, ritual blood, which does not coagulate. while the ritual blood on the altar found in old yharnam (at this point in history it was presumably simply “yharnam”) is not THE ritual blood from this expedition, i believe the player is intended to draw the connection between the blood and the first layer of the labyrinth due to their proximity to each other and use to access the dungeons for the first time).
it may or may not have been THIS specific type of beast. however, i can argue in favor of it: i believe the beast-possessed soul was once a labyrinth ritekeeper turned by the scourge. my evidence is the similarity in height (when they stand), the canon knowledge that clerics (in loran as well) transform into horned beasts, and the fire throwing ability they share that is otherwise unique to pthumerians.
but i have a very convincing final piece of evidence: the ritekeepers are actually holding a sage’s wrist which is used to buff enemies around it (it does, as the item description says, invigorate the watchers). as a result, the arm that was holding the hand is much larger than the other after transformation.*
the point of this being: there ONE beast possessed soul OUTside of the chalice dungeons and he drops the beast rune (he is experiencing the titular possession). i believe the encounter with the beast possessed soul in the labyrinth was the flashpoint for the transcription of the first plot significant caryll rune, as “beast” is described as one of the first runes to be discovered. the final line of the rune reads:
“The discovery of blood entailed the discovery of undesirable beasts.”
if byrgenwerth followed the same or similar progression we do into the dungeons, they would have encountered him in the central pthumeru chalice dungeon after clearing the first layer of the pthumerian labyrinth.
the appeal of the chalice dungeons to the casual player (as opposed to the lore-driven madman) is the superior strength of the weapon enhancing blood gems. keep this in mind. where you find them in-game is interesting!
of course, cainhurst already knew all about this dog blood shit. the royals were described as “long time imbibers of blood” in an item description of a weapon that has been around long enough to inspire other hunter weapons by the time you arrive. they already have a special class of servants (knights) who take care of any signs of beasthood bubbling up under their jurisdiction with discretion. there’s a weird valley at the start of the cainhurst map full of the worst enemy ever in the world, parasite larva, that dead ends in a strange way. its like a cave that collapsed. at its entrance is a corpse with a blood gem. perhaps this was once the entrance used to access pthumeru for blood and trinkets. or maybe its just the royal worm pit. for the worms.
the miraculous healing abilities of the “old blood” in the labyrinth became well known to the students of byrgenwerth. blood was used to combat the beasts via invigorating injections for the hunters. blood was everywhere (literally coming out of the ground) and it healed wounds and illness with supernatural speed. it even began to extend the lives of the hunters beyond human limitations. they soon found a way to expedite the whole “getting blood” process.
the quickest way to exsanguinate something is to hang it upside down, slit the throat and let gravity take over. butchery 101. knowledge of this practice (its unclear if byrgenwerth was responsible for the central pthumeru bloodlettings or if they just learned the technique here) revealed to the scholars the rune “hunter“; the discovery of blood lead to beasts and the discovery of beasts lead to hunters. the hunter’s rune is an extremely ancient rune, as demonstrated by its (varied) presence in all layers of the chalice dungeon. the rune “hunter” is branded in the mind of every hunter who takes the pledge. if you think about it too hard you die. like when i try to do math.
*i recognize that having one big arm is a common motif in the game, but when it comes to one armed beasts the other major example is the cleric beast and by extension, laurence (who is just a cleric beast on fire). however, the cleric transformation is a result of the described “failed implementation” of the “beast’s embrace” rune, which is dropped by laurence.