I would start this off by apologizing that it’s later but since I’m running on Michael-Time (patent
pending lost in the mail room), “on time” and “late” don’t seem to factor into any kind of reality that I recognize. So instead, I’m just going to get down to the skinny of this and say: “It’s time for more Shadow of the Colossus Lorequest!”
The Quest beings~
Thy next foe is…
In the land of the vast green fields…
Rows of guiding graves…
It is giant indeed but fearful, it is not.
This time, Dormin’s advice is vague and even potentially incorrect. Naturally, this makes it really fun to talk about!
Phaedra, or Equus Bellator Apex, by the community, is the fourth of sixteen Colossi encountered by Wander in the Forbidden Lands. Its lair is in a secluded green pasture surrounded by shady, misty mountains that prominently features a large underground tomb. Its lair is reached by coming down an earthen ramp into the pasture and Phaedra waits atop a large stone square marked with an indecipherable runic language often seen in the Forbidden Lands.
Phaedra, in my interpretation, is a god of shepherding the souls of the dead to their resting places in the afterlife. The most immediate evidence for this is Phaedra’s appearance. It is skeletal-looking, standing atop four tall, spindly legs that resemble bones without flesh or muscle. Additionally, it was one of two Colossi that have a bone structure jutting out from its body. The other is Colossus #6, the other Colossus heavily affiliated with death and burial (oh and I guess Pelagia has exposed ribs, too. I’ll come up with something for that, I swear!). In this case, Phaedra has a ribcage-like structure coming out of its chest. Dormin’s comment, while strangely inaccurate (and something I’ll get more into later), does mention “guiding graves,” implying a connection between Phaedra and the dead. And finally, the large ruins that Wander must use to defeat the Colossus is almost definitely a tumulus, a hill situated over a grave that has been used for millennia across cultures.
Since there’s actually not much to talk about in terms of Phaedra outside of it looking awesome/creepy/undead and it being in a calm, misty area, let’s start picking apart what Dormin has to say about our Warhorse of the Graves!
“It is giant indeed but fearful, it is not.”
What on earth is this supposed to mean? Wouldn’t a large size imply greater strength and confidence? Well, as we saw with Quadratus, that is not always true. And yet, as we will later see with Celosia, there appears to be no correlation between size and confidence regardless of largeness or smallness. So, maybe Dormin is implying that Phaedra was, at one point, very fearful. Potentially, Dormin may be trying to inform Wander that Phaedra, in its original state as an idol, was not one prone to violence. However, with the Shaman’s spirit inside and Wander carting around pieces of Dormin inside of him, Phaedra’s attitudes may have changed. After all, Phaedra clearly isn’t any kind of coward. While it does not actively seek out and try to kill Wander like Dirge or Cenobia, it certainly has no qualms about trying to smash Wander to bits. It’s feasible that Phaedra, as a god of death, may have been pacifistic. Given Phaedra’s shape as a horse with dangling reigns (implying that others have control over it), it appears as though Phaedra was a Colossus that was made to be more subservient to people rather than a Colossus that would have people worship it. There is no temple to Phaedra in its lair, as well. So, rather than inflicting death, Phaedra may just have been in charge of keeping death in working order and controlling the population of souls that go to the afterlife.
Oh, and as a much shorter and less interesting theory— Dormin may just be warning Wander because Quadratus wasn’t the bravest of sorts. Quadratus was the only other massive quadrupedal Colossus that Wander had fought up until this point, so perhaps Dormin was simply warning Wander not to get comfortable thinking that all giant quadrupedal god creatures are big fat cowards.
But that’s boring, so to heck with that!
Let’s go further than that, though. Let’s examine what else Dormin says— namely about the “guiding graves” situation.
What is strange about what Dormin says though, is that It pluralizes the word “grave.” However, as the player can see, there is only one specific and defined grave structure in the entire arena. And one cannot even make the argument that multiple people are entombed in the tumulus since Dormin also makes mention of “rows” of said graves. Personally, I see only two ways in which Dormin’s words can be interpreted and still made sense of. Meaning, I am disregarding the idea that Dormin may simply be lying— after all, It hardly has any reason to since It truly wants to see Wander succeed.
So, either Dormin’s knowledge of the Colossi is outdated due to Its separation from the natural world for a long time and the rows of graves that Phaedra once loomed over no longer exist, or the graves are highly atypical in nature and exist in plain sight.
In regards to the first theory, it is hard to make heads or tails of any kind of truth of it. Dormin’s soul is fractured into sixteen (roughly speaking, after all, It still needs enough of a soul of speak to Wander from the Shrine of Worship) fragments, which may imply that It still has some kind of awareness of what It’s soul pieces are doing. However, given the point I made in the Colossus entry about the Shaman spirits moving to counteract Dormin’s influence in the Colossus by making them fight intruders rather than lie down and die for them, defuses this point a bit. Dormin’s awareness of where Its souls currently rests is a bit dubious. Of course, there is still the issue of how on earth Dormin can even help Wander at all with hints. What I would guess is that Dormin’s knowledge of the Colossi is tertiary, rather than first-hand. After all, since the souls of Shamans and Dormin were placed into the Colossi, which themselves were already god-like idols that existed in the Forbidden Lands, it is possible that Dormin is merely telling Wander what It knows about the Colossi’s nature as idols and gods. This may, may just explain the oddity that is Cenobia’s city-destroying rage, Celosia’s fear of fire, and Malus’ abandonment of its violent urges once Wander crawls onto its hand. The Forbidden Lands have been isolated for a long, long time if the decay of their buildings and natural environment is anything to go by (which I believe it is). So, the Colossi, being animated by humans, have likely changed somewhat over time. In this way, it is possible that, at one point, there were “guiding graves” that Phaedra once stood guard over. However, time may have just worn away the graves in the same way that time and nature have worn away other structures throughout the Lands. The tumulus may have just been the largest and most important of the graves in the area so it stayed intact the longest.
The other theory around the graves suggests that the graves in Phaedra’s pasture are merely atypical of what we would normally consider graves. I would be hesitant to accept this theory, even before going into details. To me at least, “graves” imply gravestones. And gravestones are a kind of “stele,” a more general term for a wooden or stone tablet meant to show commendations or accomplishments for a (usually) dead person. Stele have been in use for at least two millennia. So, if the people in the Forbidden Lands are using a tumulus, it would logically follow that their method of burying and marking the dead (meaning, burying the corpse underground and using some kind of raised earthen mound and a stone container for the corpse) would seem to be similar to ones in our world.
However, let us just go with the theory for now.
I have read a theory floating around that the trees that live around the rim of the arena are used for marking the graves of those who have died. Honestly, this seems almost plausible, since planting a corpse alongside the seed of a tree would be a very naturalistic way to bury somebody, as their bodies would return to nature. Given that shamans, spiritual leaders often tied to nature, are prominent in the culture of the Forbidden Lands and beyond, it is possible that the trees-as-graves idea may hold some water (then again, Barba’s underground tomb seems to defuse the idea that death is only treated in a natural way in the Lands). However, I am hesitant to accept this theory on the grounds that we can see the structures of the Forbidden Lands in enormous decay. Stone structures would take many, many years to fully decay and collapse into dust and nothingness. As I mentioned in the Forbidden Lands Lorequest entry, it has indeed been a terribly long time since Dormin was imprisoned. If trees were used to mark graves, I would think that the trees would have grown enormous or would have simply died off. If my more-than-flimsy grasp of botany fails to sway you, then I turn you to the word “guiding” from Dormin. “Guiding” implies some kind of information being conveyed so that guidance may be imparted. Well, if the graves are trees, trees that have no kind of carvings or markings on them whatsoever, then they are not truly “guiding” anymore. In other words, Dormin still managed to get the nature of the graves wrong when telling it to Wander, proving that the first theory may have some kind of real power.
And I’m not just saying that because I made it up!
And to prove it, I will also totally destroy the other potential atypical grave— that idea being that people are buried underneath Phaedra, beneath the huge stone slab that it rests on. It is possible, albeit highly unlikely, that each symbol on Phaedra’s slab is a kind of marking for a person buried beneath it. However, how new people would be buried down there once the stone slab was placed down is totally lost on me. And that’s probably because the theory is kind of bunk. It is not totally impossible but it simply doesn’t have any evidence going for it. However, it is interesting to note that if this theory is accepted, then the “guiding graves” may not guide Wander or others visiting the area but instead guide Phaedra, reminding it of its duty and position to shepherd the dead.
And yet, I do think that the slab beneath Phaedra is more likely a large mural of sorts, but a mural of words. These words would have some kind of funerary purpose such as a graveyard-wide blessing or spell of protection. Phaedra’s resting position atop the slab does seem to imply that it is incredibly important and central to the entire area. So, I would imagine that the indecipherable rune language on the slab tells of some kind of story or blessing meant to commemorate the dead or even Phaedra itself. Granted, I have no idea what that may be since the runic language of the Lands is, again, indecipherable.
Here’s a random fun fact: Phaedra’s design is my favourite of all the Colossi!
Well, on that irrelevant note, I think I will end this entry here. Phaedra’s going to go lie down for a bit and shepherd souls off to the afterlife where they can hang out with Dormin and the deceased forms of my once-healthy wrists and finger joints.
Until we meet again, Questers!
Given just how quickly I can churn these out sometimes, it makes me wonder why I don’t do more of them. A question for the ages that I would answer but I just can’t be bothered/because I’m too distracted by other stuff.
Oh, that may be why.
Good luck you brave writer (and gamer) folk!
1. Images from the Team ICO wiki.
2. Screenshots from the Game Grump’s playthrough of Shadow of the Colossus