While farming some giant leeches in the swamp (yes, eww) I revisited a great tree that sat there and thanks to signs left by other players, found two secret passages leading to a drop called the Great Hollow. Because we weren't low enough yet? So I traversed the vertical maze of winding branches (inside the tree), slew more cute froggies, ran passed a colony of shroom people and finally at the very bottom, got out onto beautiful beach with a bonfire at the serene Ash Lake. Man, such a Warriors of the Wind moment.
It's so beautiful down here.
On the opposite bank was a hydra and due to it's close proximity to the bonfire I figured now was the time to learn how to fight it. Getting up close was the simplest - made easier as more and more heads were removed. Still a long fight, but not very difficult now. Hidden further along the shore was an even bigger surprise: a black dragon. Wordlessly he asked that I join his covenant. I said yes! Of course, I found out later that this was a more PvP one. Oops!
I speak only with my mind.
Anyway, the lake was a dead end so I had to climb all the way back up the tree and back up through Blighttown to get back to Firelink Shrine. This journey was getting a lot easier. Laurentius and Griggs, the two I had rescued before, were now here. Griggs offered to teach me magic (but my INT was too low) while Laurentius offered lessons in Pyromancy. Since that school of magic had no requirements, I learned as much as I could!
I also spoke to Petrus to rejoin the Way of the White Covenant (since you can only be a member of one at a time, it deactivated the PvP one) and learned his buddies had come and gone, and he was now quite worried about their fate. Unlike most normal quest givers in other games though, he drops absolutely zero hints on who they were or where they were headed.