Elden Ring, like many Souls games before it, can be a little coy when it comes to providing you with important information. Case in point, you’ve probably noticed a peculiar icon below your health, magic, and stamina bars depicting a red square with a down arrow. “Where the heck did that come from?” you may be asking yourself, to which I respond, “Have you hugged any strange women lately?”
Upon reaching a certain point in Elden Ring’s early game—it 100% occurs after defeating the first major boss, Margit the Fell Omen, but some folks are reporting it happening beforehand as well—you’ll be invited to the Roundtable Hold. This hub area includes a ton of amenities, like merchants and a blacksmith who improves your equipment more than you can on your own, but the most interesting NPC is a woman named Fia, introduced in the game’s intense intro as “the Deathbed Companion.”
At first, it doesn’t seem like Fia does a whole lot. She offers to hold you, a rare moment of warmth in the Souls genre, and provides you with Baldachin’s Blessing, a unique item that increases poise at the cost of some of your magical energy, before sending you back on your way. The whole scene, while touching, comes and goes without a second thought. But as it turns out, there’s a price to pay for proving to Varré once and for all that you’re not as maidenless as he thinks.
Think back to the first time Fia asks to hold you. Remember the part about sharing some of your “lifely vigour” and “stout-hardedness” in exchange for her embrace? That wasn’t just a flowery bit of dialogue on her part: Her hug literally decreases your maximum HP by 5%, a debuff indicated by the mysterious red square icon I mentioned before. It may not seem like a lot, but believe me, you’ll be wishing you had that 5% back at the tail-end of a tough boss fight no matter how useful the blessing she gives you in return happens to be.
Is Fia’s health-sapping, pseudo-sexually transmitted disease a clue to the Deathbed Companion hiding something more sinister further into Elden Ring’s campaign? I can’t say for now, but over a decade of Souls experience has taught me that you can’t trust everyone you meet in these games. I certainly wouldn’t put it past FromSoftware to use something as nice as someone offering free hugs at the end of the world to facilitate some sort of vile plot twist.