Shrine of Storms


Preface


I was immediately intrigued by the Shrine of Storms based on aesthetics alone. Once I scratched the surface of this haunting aesthetic, I found the substance to the mystery wanting. But delving even more thoroughly into these layers left me intrigued once again. The story to this area may not be as complicated as I was first hoping for, but that didn’t lessen the depth to it. Perhaps more than any other part of the game, the Shrine of Storms feels firmly rooted to its setting. In no other series could this kind of culture have emerged in this sort of way, elevating the Shadowmen to be more than their archetype. Leave it to game Director Hidetaka Miyazaki to make the stereotypical savage nuanced enough to not be killing for killing’s sake but not so nuanced as to expunge the malice of their deeds. The shrine is a monument of evil twisting the good, and I would have it no other way.


Burn Your Bridges


For a tribe of barbarians, the Shadowmen were no less cultured than their more “civilized” contemporaries. And at the heart of this civilization lay the Shrine of Storms, seated upon a small island as remote as it was steep — and thereby as easy to defend as it is difficult to first set foot on. The Shadowmen wasted no opportunity to fortify these natural defenses, building an impressive stronghold atop their shrine with all manner of traps, hence the area’s internal name of “old fortress”. (古砦) This place was clearly important to these barbarians, precisely because of its religious significance. Their leader who received an Archstone was their priest, meaning that spirituality dictated the tribe’s identity; no decision was made without the shrine’s sanction. And these priests put a heavy emphasis on ceremony, as evidenced by this specific shrine literally being a “ritual place”. (祭祀場) It wasn’t a house of god, and these sacred rituals involved the soul arts just like other pagan nations.

The “grim reapers” (死神) first encountered performing rituals at the shrine altars are described as spellcasters and demonstrate the ability to both summon beings and shoot something akin to soul arrow from their elongated fingers; they also commonly carry darkmoonstone, an ore specialized in enhancing weapons with magic power. Whether there was just one or an entire caste of priests at a time, it is obvious that they served as both cleric and magician, which seems to have been the norm for such tribes. The Ring of Magical Nature that barbarians now evade more literally possesses “heavenly qualities”, (天性) solidifying that association between magic and the divine. Spellcasting was a form of worship in these so-called savages eyes, and the qualities of the ore they collected probably helped to shape that worship — like darkmoonstone, the priests were less focused on maximizing magic power so much as accumulating it gradually. We can see this in the unsettling nature of their rituals.

This place here, once, was the ritual place of barbarians dedicated to freaky spells.

The reapers specifically summon shadowy figures with exaggerated humanoid form, mostly shadow men but also a fair number of shadow women. In fact, Blige’s Japanese dialogue indicate that the shadows were originally human. Most likely, they are some offshoot of black phantom. The Graverobber’s Ring is an old topaz band we can, fittingly, loot from the shrine; its effect? Making our soul less detectable to black phantoms. The source of the mind manifesting phantoms would explain why the shadows have white glowing energy largely concentrated around the head — which they can shoot as a magic beam — before flowing like veins throughout the rest of the body. Indeed, shadow women alone fail to vanish once the summoner is killed, bringing the added potential power of female souls to mind. Even summoning and enslaving black phantoms isn’t unprecedented, as Latria’s elder in yellow well demonstrates. All in all, it appears that these black-clad priests in hoods are reviving corrupted spirits of the dead for their own purposes. As to where the souls come from and why they are summoned, we need only examine the broader religion.

Old topaz ring. Suppresses the soul and makes it difficult to be detected by black phantoms.

The Shadowmen are known for worshiping storms, death, and the dead. The latter seems to be an extension of their warring culture, the Nexus Archstone backdropping the wrapped corpse the priest oversees with flames and swords. Although looking like the stereotypical Death’s sickle in their hands, the “scythe” (サイズ) the reapers actually drop is more typical for war. All the skeletons we encounter are likewise some form of conventional warrior, each carrying bladestones used to enhance dexterous weapons’ cutting power at the cost of durability. They also leave behind soul remains. According to their description, these are remnants of “heroic spirits”, (英霊) souls of warriors who performed impressive feats in life and died in battle. Indeed, there is no shortage of souls of warriors, soldiers, and heroes drifting around the shrine, both nameless and legendary. True to the stereotype, these barbarians were a violent lot hoping to die fighting, venerated postmortem for their bravery and providing a regular income of bodies and souls for their shrine. Of course, this requires enemies to die fighting against, and the Shadowmen had likely looked eastward for unleashing their belligerence.

The barbarians offered their brave dead to storms at this ritual place.

Remnants of an old heroic spirit’s soul that drifts in the ritual place. Attracts those starved of souls.

The Shrine of Storms is brimming with Eastern katana, kunai, kilijes, shotels, holy arrows, and ronin ring. Some of these are carried by the skeletons, and even their bladestone being “wet with dew” seems to be a reference to famous Japanese swords. Such cultural exchange implies closer proximity to the East even compared to Stonefang. The shrine is also where we encounter another Vanguard, demons that are supposed to be diffusing with the deep fog. Therefore, much like Boletaria’s colony in the south, this island in the middle of nowhere must be the western land farthest east currently within the fog — unsurprisingly, the cinematic’s world map features an island roughly equidistant between the two continents. The Shadowmen were caught right between East and West, influenced by both but too violent to facilitate a bridge between the disparate cultures. Instead, they thrived on raiding their eastern neighbor, perhaps due to how mountainous the West’s east coast looks to be according to the map. As to why the obsession with battle, the Shadowmen seem to have believed it key to the afterlife.

The barbarians’ worship of storms stemmed from their notion of a Storm King, a massive flying stingray-like creatures whose wings block the skies and whose smaller “storm child beasts” (嵐の子獣) swarm its vicinity. The island people predictably venerated this master over storms as a god — one apparently willing to welcome humans into its heavens. The Old Hero’s crystal stone blade is the “greatsword of one who searches”, (探すものの大剣) its description clarifying the man’s alias to be “one who keeps searching for storms”. (嵐を探し続けるもの) Aside from justifying a weapon derived from his soul improving the wielder’s ability to discover items, it reveals that this brave warrior of the tribe was constantly seeking the King’s domain, which clearly coincided with endless fighting. In the end, his blade was nicked into an unrecognizably decrepit state, proof of his heroism along with his bodily scars — probably proof of his cause of death, too. But even if left blind and broken by the end, this Old Hero seems to have set the bar for who will find themselves ascending to a higher plane in death.

Crystal stone great curved sword possessing a gigantic crescent moon-shaped blade.

Weapon born from the soul of the demon “Old Brave Warrior”. Due to long battling, the decrepit blade has been nicked intensely.

The Old Brave Warrior is also called by the alias “One who Seeks Storms”, so his soul brings good luck obtaining items to the user.

Before they could meet the Storm King, the dead would be judged, the Adjudicator’s Shield vibrantly depicting the dead kneeling before their arbiter. This Adjudicator is, as Miyazaki says in a Game Informer interview, a “pagan god” with a towering stature and slimy, corpulent figure matched only by his flexile tongue and enormous butcher knives held in each hand. However, this monstrous being is himself servant to the golden crow shining atop his crowned head, following its every caw. For all intents and purposes, the bird is the true Adjudicator, hence we must attack it to deal damage against the boss. This certainly explains why eating birds is among the criteria for judging a “Storm Hero” alongside cowardice, with the rather karmic fate of the Adjudicator greedily devouring the dead, body and soul, until only bones remain. It also makes sense so far as the Storm King’s own avian parallels — it is easy to imagine birds as similarly sacred beings, whether descended from the storm beasts or some other lower class of divine servant.

Large wooden shield. It depicts the judgment of the dead with vibrant colors, and its back has one adage engraved with old script:

Cowardice and bird-eating aren’t the works of a Storm Hero. If one displeases the Judge’s master, the golden crow, the dead will be chewed upon and only bones will remain.

Gigantic carving knife. Weapon born from the soul of the demon “Judge”.

As the weapon of the Judge, it will change sinners into such meat and souls.

Also, it will steal a little bit of HP from attacked targets and reflect its master’s greedy nature.

But more important than the ties to divinity are the ties to humanity. Why is the Adjudicator vaguely humanoid? Why does he wear elaborate tattoos and jewelry? Why does he have no eyes? Why are his lips carved up and stretched back over the skin and everything else? And why does he share all these traits with the Old Hero? Perhaps because the Adjudicator is what became of our brave warrior, his valor ascending him to godhood where he would act as arm to the golden crow. His mutilated lips were likely self-inflicted, a painful and constant show that he never hid bird flesh behind them. As a reward for his abstinence, he can now greedily gorge on his fellow tribesmen, becoming a fearsome figure for them to be judged against in more ways than one. The transcendence of man to god also rationalizes the Adjudicator’s crown when he isn’t above a bird, let alone the Storm King, in the hierarchy: he is a Storm Hero above all others, sovereign over warriors who hope to follow him.

With bravery in battle deciding your fate in the next life, it is only natural for the tribe to have worshiped the dead who succeeded in ascending the same as the storm. In that respect, death was something to celebrate, explaining the barbarian warriors wearing armor made from human and animal bone along with their jewelry. But this requires that the tribesmen know who among them proved their worth in life right until death. Enter the priests, who just so happen to possess the special arcane knowledge to find the mark of the Adjudicator’s decision. They would take the bodies and perform the proper rites at the shrine, the funeral paralleling the journey through the afterlife. Deeper parts of the shrine are gated by a special button we step on behind the first altar, indicating that the judgement was divined there in that early chamber before the priests opened the way forward. In that case, the body was most likely placed upon the altar and examined for signs of heroism as the Adjudicator Archstone indicates. And we see the reapers perform only one ceremony which can be linked to such a process: the shadow summoning.

Recall the shadows’ relation to black phantoms, still-conscious souls corrupted by negativity. Cowardice, betrayal, bad luck, the knowledge of failure; the fear, sorrow, and resentment those bring — aren’t those the exact kind of emotions to expect from many warriors during their final moments? Simply put, only the strongest and most zealous of barbarians could meet death with dignity. The rest would show signs of their “sins” as phantoms, at least in theory. But phantoms can’t manifest on their own, so the priests created their own method to derive spirits from souls, resulting in the alien shadows instead of the typical black phantom. This explains why the tribe is known as the “Shadowmen”; it is their default state. These pagans’ faith demands that they work to escape “hell” in the Adjudicator’s gullet, and the vast majority evidently don’t pass spiritual examination. This is why the warriors’ shields depicts the judgement with such bright colors plus an etching warning about the event — it is both a bulwark against a premature death and a reminder for eternal virtue. Naturally, with this need to be both mentally and physically exceptional, few tribeswomen seem to have even made the attempt.

Once the judgement is determined, then comes the sorting. Despite souls and phantoms typically being considered a person’s essence, Shadowman religion seems to consider the “shadow” separate, as these occult summonings evidently don’t interfere with the dead’s judgement in the tribe’s eyes. Because of this, there was no issue with the priests keeping the “shadows” to defend the shrine while discarding the bodies to be devoured — arguably giving the damned some consolation. Conversely, virtuous heroes would have their everything brought with them to the next world, so we never see the reapers employ a “white shadow” or some such. That soul would be carried along with the body, onward and downward, deeper into the shrine, until it reached a large cavern underground. There they performed the next ceremony, a purification ritual where the lightwater pooling at the cave’s depressions would be poured all over the body laid upon another altar.

Keystone left by the demon “Judge”.

It is said that the dead who were given the mark of a hero by the Judge were finally transported to the depths of the ritual place by the Shadowmen and mourned in the storm after being purified with lightwater.

The purpose for cleansing the body with this particular water, again, probably relates to storm worship. Subterranean caves tend to accumulate what rainwater seeps through the rock, making it essentially a gift from the heavens in the Shadowmen’s religious framework. The lightwater’s faint yellow glow would certainly add to that impression, especially since we see shadows respawn from these water pools. As a matter of fact, we can spot thin canals carrying lightwater across the floor of every large chamber, and the broken flooring in practically every part of the shrine and fort complex exposes more underneath. Taken together, the priesthood clearly considered the cavern to have some kind of blessed water tied to the afterlife and maintained a system for distributing it through the rest of the facility — there is even a well in the fort on the highest stratum. In that case, purifying the body might have served to prepare the Storm Hero for being immersed in those divine skies.

Finally, the body was brought out to the forest of monoliths behind the shrine and offered up to the storms. This implies that this ritual, and perhaps the others as well, were only performed during a storm — the one sign that their god was present. It also indicates that storms are fairly regular in this ocean, or else they leave the corpses to decay for long intervals at a time. The prevalence of darkmoonstone on this island may also support this notion. If the ore is formed from sunlight reflecting off of a mostly shadowed moon, then it may also form from what little sunlight filters through overcast skies. Regardless, the deceased presumably left for the next world while mourners provided their sendoff to the ascended hero. And once the funeral was complete, the body seems to have been brought back inside and enshrined within the walls, some now mere skulls or skeletal carcasses while others remain largely preserved. But already this begins to show the cracks in the pagan narrative.

Keystone left by the demon “Old Brave Warrior”.

The remains of heroes whose lightwater purification was finished were offered to the storm-wielding beast king from the forest of monoliths. It is said that the giant Storm King covers the sky with its wings and is accompanied by countless storm beasts.


Twists of Time


How did the Shadowmen learn the will of their gods? Why did they operate from a small and remote island? How did they come to realize the shadows represent sinners?  Why did they offer their dead in that peculiar location? How did they know the Old Hero ascended to godhood? How did they know what their gods looked like? How did they know what the afterlife looked like? There are no shortage of holes that the tribe’s traditions don’t answer. Combined with the narrative’s tension with the established cosmology for the setting, and it is clear that the religion suffers from some discrepancy. And so, as one would expect, the Storm King Archstone confirms that the god was no more than a figment of their imagination, making their entire faith a delusion. How then did the barbarian culture come to these practices if the beliefs weren’t based on reality? To answer, we must turn to their roots.

Keystone left by the demon “Storm King”.

The giant, sky-flying, stringray-like Storm King was a conception of the Shadowmen who believed in it several hundred years ago, but was it that which formed its shape as a demon?

The so-called “forest” of monoliths is clearly an old cemetery, with runic text occasionally etched on the varying-sized gravestones. Stormruler can be found stuck in the ground before one of the particularly large graves, its description revealing the sword’s origin with the Shadowmen’s forefathers. In other words, this is an ancestral graveyard for the tribe’s progenitors from before the Classical Era. And like other Mythic Era peoples, these ancestors held unparalleled mastery over the soul arts. While the helix-thorn blade deals no magic damage, the deep fog has allowed the souls laid to rest in that burial ground along with their bodies to revive Storm Ruler’s mostly-faded power from their memory. And what is that power? To cleave the air in massive gusts that can reach as high up as the skies with a single swing. For its ability to part clouds and thus calm storms, this magic sword was given an appropriate name. What a coincidence that the Shadowmen came out to this graveyard where the Storm Ruler was located to worship the Storm King — or not.

Legendary greatsword with a helix-thorn blade.

It possesses the name of one who calms storms, or perhaps rules them, and it is said that the progenitor of the Shadowmen once parted the clouds and storms of the heavens.

Now abandoned and most of its power lost, you can confirm mere vestiges of it in the form of blowing away enemies, but it will show its former power that parts the sky if it is in the land where the progenitor spirits sleep, a forest of inscribed monoliths.

Simply put, the Shadowmen’s storm worship is a corrupted evolution of previous ancestor worship. The forerunners were clearly powerful warriors supported by powerful weapons they created with their deep understanding of the soul. This more than provides an inspiration for their descendants’ obsession with battle, trying to emulate their heroic predecessors. But those heroes evidently all died without passing on their immense soul wisdom, leaving the tribe rarely to use magic outside its religious rituals — making only the occasional enchanted weapon or trap. They could have possibly reverse-engineered their relics, but the fact that Storm Ruler has remained undisturbed until we take it proves that the Shadowmen respected their forefathers too much to disturb their graves. Everything was left with them, and the tribe merely hoped to honor them through imitation, bringing similar dead heroes out before the graves to show off each success. Only, how would their story be passed down?

Storm Ruler was most likely unique to a particularly impressive member of the tribe, perhaps it leader, and became exemplary of what the Shadowmen’s past heroes were capable of; Blige implies that stories of it even survive to this day in Japanese dialogue. The sword, and its owner by extension, were the ones who rule storms, thus worthy of veneration. But generation after generation of telling and retelling ended up detaching the “Storm Ruler” they venerated from the ancestors. Divorced from its original context, the name was misinterpreted as an actual king who ruled the skies, and one can only imagine an islander absentmindedly gazing up at a bird flying overhead and down at a manta ray swimming just below the water while daydreaming about this Storm King. Wait a few more generations, and this image for the beast became ingrained in the tribe’s psyche, the ancestors’ importance diminished. Why were they bringing out the bodies? To offer them up to this “god”, obviously. Suddenly, there was need of an afterlife, which opened up incentives to invent postmortem rewards and punishments.

All of this had a cascading effect on the rest of the tribe’s practices. After all, how did the priests initially judge who was a hero without an afterlife to explain their divinations? From their souls, of course. Recall that the dead’s periphery souls are drawn to their killer, allowing warriors to amass sizable souls long-term — hence the barbarian has the greatest strength, vitality, and soul level of all our potential backgrounds. Even among them, heroes accrue the largest souls, making the soul an excellent mark for who spent a lifetime braving battle. The existence of a shadow was secondary, since you can expect most corrupted spirits to arise from the weak at a time when matching the ancestors’ strength was the only requirement. The smaller souls were then taken by the priests to fuel their own arts. Now that the bodies were being prepped for the afterlife, the shadows started to take precedence. However, the shadow could no longer be the person’s essence in this narrative, so the priests needed to explain what was happening for the body to be discarded. This led them to invent the Adjudicator, but it wasn’t out of whole cloth.

Ask yourself: what was the shrine doing with the bodies it rejected? Based on the plethora of skeletons outside the ritual place, there were plenty of warriors whose corpses remained on the island but were never enshrined. If not dumped into the sea, then the options were either buried in unmarked graves or left to rot in the open air. In the case of the latter, the Shadowmen would be able to look and see the body rapidly decay as it was exposed to the elements, including the sun’s rays and scavengers’ appetites — indeed, we see large double-winged hawks nesting on the island, and many species of hawk are known to scavenge. This is convenient considering that the golden crow is a common symbol for the sun in Asian cultures. And with the Shadowmen drawing influence from the East while equating the corporeal with the metaphysical, what they saw happening to the bodies would be relevant in their eyes.

In other words, the golden-glowing crow and the yellow monstrosity expanding beneath it would be a representation of the sun and its rays, the dead being greedily devoured to the bone representing how sunlight accelerates decay until only bleached skeletons remain. Add the avian parallels with storm beasts, and both this Eastern symbol plus birds in general would be interpreted as divine messengers enacting punishment. In that case, it is obvious that eating birds would be taboo, which reinforced the importance of the shadow over just the soul in identifying sinners. Later on, the Old Hero was mixed in as a more contemporary standard for future warriors to live up to, conflating him with the Adjudicator no more than a psychological manifestation for the figurative bar he set; the hero-turned-god literally consumed them in death because his example figuratively consumed them in life. All of this mythology just to rationalize the priests getting rid of bodies with unworthy souls in the most lazy way possible. At least such mundane roots explain why depictions of the judgement occur in terrain suspiciously resembling the rocky, mostly barren island.

Moving on, the lightwater “purification” ritual was likely originally intended to bolster the existing power of the hero’s soul. Lightwater is luminescent due to the souls it retains emanating their power. We can see several glowing white “will o’ wisps” (ウィルオウィスプ) flying around the cavern above the lightwater, exploding when approached. These wisps are otherwise only seen in the underground tunnels of Stonefang — although there they glow orange and instead explode for more damage, presumably having absorbed added fire power from the lava-rich environment. Whether aided by the fog or otherwise, the wisps are most likely energized souls but on a much larger scale and thereby more unstable. Reinforcing this notion, souls hover around the skeletal corpse pile at the cavern’s exit in a similar manner. The overall setup indicates that they were bodies which had finished their purification and were ready to be taken onward to the next step, the lightwater helping animate them much like the larger wisps.

This magical energy is what attracts the giant slugs to bathe in and absorb the liquid, causing them to likewise glow — unlike the same slugs seen clamoring for the magic power of the Moonlight Greatsword in the Valley of Defilement. For that same reasons, these glowing slugs alone produce the sticky white slime we can use to enhance our weapons with magic. The souls in this slime are then recycled back into the water, as the white sticky stuff we can loot from a corpse mid-purification best demonstrates. But then what kickstarted this magic cycle? Perhaps this subterranean cavern is unique, gradually accumulating rainwater along with whatever souls the frequent storm clouds soaked up from the sun while never letting it evaporate back into the atmosphere. We do see lightwater, albeit faint, even in the fort, with its glow only intensifying as we descend deeper into the island. The result? Water with a particularly high concentration of souls pooling at the bottom. Indeed, the Valley of Defilement sees a similar accumulation of water in a lowlight depression and hosts the same slugs; it is only more recent human waste which has potentially interfered with nature’s course and starved the valley mollusks of their luminescent baths.

This unique combination of geology and meterology may have been what persuaded the tribe’s ancestors to settle that remote island in the first place, using its magic resources to create their weapons. Absent that knowledge, their descendants would only see its empowerment of souls. When we encounter the Old Hero as a demon, it isn’t in the flesh — his body never moves from the wall where it has been interred. Rather, it is a glowing yellow, ethereal facsimile we see overlapping with the body, phasing in and out with the sound of a heartbeat, until it finally comes to life and leaps down to block our way. This brings phantoms to mind, especially since the sword the demon grabs from the wall beside him doesn’t even have a corresponding physical counterpart. Instead of a reanimated corpse like other enemies there, the demon manifested from the hero’s raw soul. But rather than the standard blue phantom, this spirit matches the color of the magic water the body was lathered in. And if the ritual bathing had this sort of effect on the soul, then the priests would be able to observe it with their shadow summoning.

In short, the ceremony made the strong stronger before they were exposed to the ancestors. However, the evolution of the religion begged a new explanation for this practice, “purification” sufficing. On top of that, the growing importance of the body over the soul may have biased the perception of lightwater’s benefits. If people’s fate in the great beyond went hand-in-hand with the state of their corpse, then the natural deterioration would be less an ideal. And yet, while we see the dead in various states of decay, the Old Hero’s body appears no different from his spirit — unlike his frail weapon, preserved in spirit form but seemingly long lost to the march of time. Why? Because of his exceptionally large soul? We are presented with plenty of similar persons subject to entropy. Because of the purification? All the corpses buried in the shrine should have undergone the same process. Then what about both in combination?

Put simply, lightwater might double as a preservative, bodies with larger souls seeing more pronounced effects long-term. All the brave barbarians were embalmed after death, but none matched the Old Hero in life, so their bodies have all already decayed to varying extents by the time we visit. In fact, this reaction may have been thanks to the slugs specifically. Although we use their slime only for adding magic damage to weapons, the Regenerator’s Ring has the peculiar ability to gradually heal its wearer’s wounds, implicitly due to its emerald-green gem entrapping a gooey liquid. While the ring’s description obfuscates its origin, we can only acquire it from the Shrine of Storms and the Valley of Defilement. How convenient that in the same two areas where we find this item we also find the same species of slugs capable of producing sticky substances with magical qualities. It is therefore possible that the slime — perhaps in some combination with lightwater — exhibits regenerative effects on the body. The priests observed this and tied it into their inference that it was water from the heavens.

From adjudication to purification to inhumation, the Shadowmen’s memory of why they did what they did became twisted, fact giving way to mythology. This mythos can largely be credited to the priesthood, whom the Nexus Archstone depicts holding open a book presumably detailing their rites and their accompanying recitations interwoven with the narrative; similar to the Book of the Dead in ancient Egyptian religion. But if stories of Storm Ruler continued to be passed down, surely someone would have noticed the oddities and suspicious parallels undergirding the mythos eventually. But even assuming that there was, what would he stand to gain by sharing the realization? As Shadowmen religion evolved to become more and more core to not just their life but also their afterlife, the priests gained just as much power over the tribe. If the priests admitted that their faith was ingenuine, they risked throwing their entire society into chaos — worst case, delegitimizing the whole priesthood. Why jeopardize their current position? The incentive structure simply wasn’t there for reform.

In that light, did the faith really persist due to ignorance, or was it corruption? While it may have simply been to highlight the Shadowmen’s association with the dead, there is no denying that the Nexus Archstone portrays the priest as rather corpse-like. Indeed, we never see the face beneath the reapers’ hoods, so perhaps their bodies are more like zombies from the outset. After all, they were the ones who held all the power, both in terms of magic and authority — what stopped them from experimenting with souls and lightwater to unnaturally extend their living selves? There is no evidence of their gods carving out an exception for the Storm Heroes’ mediators despite them being the source of the whole narrative. And although their weapons do suggest that they participated in battle, perhaps as generals, much of their time must have been spent at home dedicated to their rituals and leaderly duties. In essence, the Shadowmen’s elites might have chosen to maximize their longevity and affluence in this world knowing there was no next. They knew their faith was a sham, perhaps from the start, but it was a sham they were born into and reaped the benefits from. In that case, their fate is rather karmic.


Sins of the Forefather


With the First Scourge came a rude awakening for the Shadowmen. A beast beyond imagining had nearly destroyed this world, and its sealers decreed that the soul arts were to blame. With these revelations, the barbarians’ entire worldview had to have collapsed. If the soul was the true essence of a man, and abusing its power the true sin, then the spellcasters had much to pay for. The priests accepted the Archstones, but their status would soon see a reckoning. Based on the layout of corpses noted previously, the shrine’s rituals abruptly stopped. The ruined state of the buildings plus the sheer amount of loot left seemingly untouched — including a copper key to the fort’s dungeon now covered in mold — further suggests that the island was long abandoned. Combined with the presence of the reapers and the Archstones there, and the priesthood likely saw a violent conclusion. They could no longer use their magic, which was irreconcilable with the cosmology they promoted, so the revolution they feared had come, themselves helpless as everything they built was brought crashing down.

With the death of Shadowmen religion and its priests, their former adherents most likely migrated to somewhere along the West’s eastern coast, becoming one of the many barbarian tribes living like primitive savages even as they shunned the occult that gave them “civilization” — at least, until Boletaria arrived to their shores centuries later. Ostrava notes two things about Oolan: that the Boletarian knight is a foreigner, and that she is a brave hero with barbarian soldiers under her. While the localization insinuates Oolan to be a man, this is simply a misreading of the prince’s royal dialect, which uses the kanji typically seen for “his” (彼) for the gender-neutral instead. Already this description checks many of the Shadowmen boxes, and Oolan’s equipment only reinforces the impression. She wears the leather set and shield typical of hunters and wanderers as well as a kilij signaling eastern influence. But perhaps most indicative of her origin are the holy arrows she shoots with their counterpart, the white bow.

Longbow combined with gnarled white tree.

Possesses two crossed bowstrings. Legendary weapon said to cannot possibly be handled by a human. Had extremely long range.

This longbow, made from a white tree branch and strung with two crossed bowstrings, is a legendary weapon supposedly beyond human handling, requiring an incredible amount of strength and dexterity compared to other bows. But heroes aren’t ordinary men, and Oolan has earned her title “Longbow” thanks to its extra-long range. And where do we find another except at the Shrine of Storms, implying them to be native to the island. Although we don’t see any white trees for ourselves, they may just be rare. After all, why would a tree have bark both so strong and so white? Because of the nutrients it absorbs from the earth. What unique feed is there? The brightly-glowing lightwater which helps produce white slime. The local trees would be sucking up the magic along with the water lacing the island, those absorbing the most inordinate amounts naturally turning white. Critics might point to the resulting weapon only dealing physical damage, but even if arrows shot from this bow don’t suddenly become magical, its strength may still be a byproduct of magic; as subtle affirmation, the local hawks trade the magic holy arrows for moonlightstone pieces and white bows for a complete stone.

Without a doubt, Oolan is a descendant of the Shadowmen who, at some point, visited this island where she acquired her bow and arrows. Her knowledge of the island and decision to sail there isn’t difficult to justify. Despite the tribe abandoning it long ago, the island was likely still the subject of ominous warnings in fables, discouraging tribesmen from ever going to that place of evil magic and death. But Oolan, true to her lineage, wouldn’t be cowed by fairy tales. She had proven herself a hero on the battlefield, and became the first to set foot on the island likely since her ancestors left. There, she found many of these magic relics she was supposed to evade, not seeing how they could be so vile and dangerous like the tales told. Rather, they would only add to her strength — especially given that she is a woman with a powerful soul. If the hero wasn’t already leading the tribe, she certainly would be once she returned with these new trinkets. Much like the Tower Knight for Alfred and Penetrator for Metas, the demon Phalanx seems to be based on Oolan, meaning that her warriors probably created a similar shield wall formation for her to safely snipe from behind.

It was perhaps this resilient strategy that first caught Boletaria’s attention. Coming up against such resistance first-hand, the northern kingdom would recognize that these weren’t ordinary barbarians. And when faced with a potential stalemate, suing for diplomacy was preferable. In the end, Oolan and her tribe agreed to be recruited into the Boletarian ranks, which isn’t too surprising. Both were historically warrior cultures that sent their soldiers off to fight in foreign lands, a fact perfectly emblemized by the single Soldier’s Lotus found on the island. There was a lot of common ground and mutual respect to be had. And if Phalanx is any indication, the tribesmen were armed with quality Boletarian weapons and shields, which is already miles better than the treatment other foreigners received as slave soldiers. There was no reason for the tribe to refuse this chance to join the most powerful and growing empire on the continent.

For her part, Oolan seems to have received a fair amount of freedom. Not only was the foreign “savage” honored with knighthood and permitted to stand side by side with the kingdom’s most illustrious warriors, answerable only to the King, she was also allowed to retain command of her tribe and act essentially as their own military unit in Boletaria’s continued conquests. The superpower even fed into her interest in magic. Based on the silver catalyst she off-hands, Oolan might have attended the prestigious Yormedaar with Boletaria’s backing, though it is just as possibly a stand-in for some formal, fancy wand she obtained with her new status. Regardless, it is fitting that the woman only uses it to cast Fire Storm, one of the more primal spells exhibiting uncontrollable raw power. Even if now wearing the trappings of a knight, Oolan was still a barbarian at heart, simple and wild. At the same time, her ultimate fate as a black phantom reveals how personally betrayed she felt by the lord who brought her and her people to this pinnacle of luxury.


A Past Leftover


Unlike the demons imagined from existing Boletarian legends or iconography, Phalanx had no corresponding image for King Allant to draw from. Instead, he could only produce a glowing white core covered in branches and amorphous goo, which produced indistinct slime blobs melded with the barbarians’ weaponry. Indeed, the lack of effort put into Phalanx’s creation is demonstrated by the nature of its soul. While the Tower Knight and Penetrator demons possess iron and silver souls respectively, Phalanx possesses a lead demon soul, the least valued metal of the three. Add to the fact that the demon is stationed as first line of defense once the castle’s outer gates are breached, and one might think that King Allant still had a slight prejudice against the foreigners despite having elevated Oolan and her tribe. Just because someone is exceptionally useful, doesn’t mean you prefer them over your native-born subjects, especially when you were raised on national epics and legends. Bias aside, the King seems to have exterminated the barbarians the same as his own people, not even a soul-starved to be seen.

But even if the Shadowmen’s bloodline is dead, that hasn’t stopped the Old One from trying to resurrect it. With the fog having reached the island, the deceased pagans’ conception of their deities gave shape to demons. The Storm King and its ilk now exist, their bone marrow crystalized black malice exemplary of their delight in human suffering. The Adjudicator now towers over the dead, though the fumbling fool looks to have gotten himself stabbed by one of his own knives and broken the blade trying to remove it from his hefty girth. The Old Hero now enjoys an afterlife, even if the demonic phantom seems to mostly remain dormant in his old body. And the Vanguards now haunt the land, diffusing with the fog per their prerogative. Even so, these demons are still too few to do all the soul harvesting. Based on the cloudstone they possess, the storm beasts have turned their focus to the sky, the King likely using its power over storms to their advantage. As for those on the ground, they are discernibly too large to be collecting souls from every nook and cranny. And without any living to soul-starve, the flying Archdemon needed to get creative with its servants.

The storm beasts took some of the souls they collected and inserted them into the remains of tribal warriors littering the island, reanimating skeletons similar to how demons in Latria animated gargoyles — naturally, this means that the reconstituted souls are likewise obedient to their captors who have “captivated” them. The skeletons probably aren’t the demons’ only handiwork, as the long-dead priests too walk the land of the living, cheating death as they always wanted. Whether products of demonic necromancy or demons themselves, the reapers can no doubt serve their gods and gather the power of souls again. And unlike the skeletons whose souls the demons have enslaved, they seem to also partake in greater independence, performing their pagan rituals and summonings as they see fit. In short, so long as their masters receive their regular offerings, the priests can use that power however in the meantime.

Ritual place of the Shadowmen built on a steep remote island. They worshiped storms and mourned the dead.

After the sky-flying “storm beasts” appeared in this land that should have perished several hundred years ago, souls of the dead captivated by the demons have been inhabiting empty skeletons and moving about.

Although, the barbarians have long been destroyed and just the souls of the dead are enslaved by demons.

It is this revival of the dead and profane — both pagan and demonic — which has attracted the Temple of God to this island. Local corpses with items like the Talisman of God indicate that many priests have come to presumably exorcise the pagans’ evil. However, none have evidently survived the visit, save for Urbain’s priestly bodyguard who abandoned him after his charge was trapped by Patches. This incident also shows that the threats aren’t limited to the supernatural. Being a thief as indicated by his ring, Patches the Hyena goes for easy pickings, looting the dead that lie in old ruins or who were greedy and foolish enough to fall for his obvious bait of “treasure”. At Stonefang, he attempts to lure us between a wall and a bearbug. At the shrine, he kicks us into a pit with seemingly no escape. Whether by wildlife or starvation, Patches will be the one stripping us of our valuables in the end — until we circumvent his schemes, at which point he will say and do anything to weasel his way out of a fight. The man is a shameless and unscrupulous as they come, and his animus toward self-righteous priests has led to many a cleric’s death.

Old sapphire ring. Suppresses your presence and makes it difficult to be detected by enemies.

Not all men of dubious vocation on the island are so dangerous, of course. While Blige styles himself an “excavator”, (発掘者) the ring he own shows he is little more than a graverobber. How this differs from him being any other thief is that Blige dislikes killing, at least when it comes to his fellow man. It is because he didn’t want to deal with soul-starved humans that he came to the island, where it would only be the demons, the dead, and their treasures to loot. Despite what the localization might impress, the man doesn’t want to kill even the local skeletons or shadows since they were once living people, hence why he sticks to areas devoid of them. Ironically, this doesn’t stop him from recommending that we kill Patches, calling the “genuine trash” not worth keeping alive. The two clearly have a history, the fortress dungeon we first find him in being one of the thief’s snares that the graverobber fell into.

Skeletons, shadowy figures, it’s all the same. They all were alive originally… For even if starved for souls, killing former humans just doesn’t feel good… That’s why I come here.

Phew, I’ve been saved. Indeed, me falling for such a trap has me worried I’m losing my touch

You’re counting on a brother, so I’ll give you one piece of advice. Beware the damned bastard who ensnared me, Patches the Hyena. That guy’s only talent is thoughtlessly stabbing people in the back, genuine trash. There’s no merit letting him live. If you see him, it’s in your best interest to kill him.

Based on his Japanese dialogue, Blige’s choice in destination was motivated by the stories of Storm Seeker and Storm Ruler. Most likely, he came across Patches and was fool enough to ask him about the treasure. All the thief had to do was say he knew where it was, lead Blige into the dungeon, then lock the door behind the “excavator” and throw away the key. Blige would starve to death with all his valuables, and Patches would collect the treasure for himself — double the profits. Whatever the case, Blige has been betrayed one too many times for to value the human life of a Hyena — honor among thieves is conditional, apparently. The graverobber now looks to strike gold on his own, though he laments finding only trash and disgracing his name; at least he can find solace in our own hardships exploring this wretched place. To be fair, the weapons of legend only evade him because he refuses to fight past the former humans and push onward, which is hardly the problem facing Satsuki.

This place’s where the One who Seeks Storms and That which Moves Storms are ultimately seen. Even though all that’s left’s nothing but trash… Honestly, I missed the mark for an outrageous place… the Excavator Blige name cries…

As the name would suggest, Satsuki is an Easterner, specifically a wandering samurai. Aside from the uchigatana and ronin ring he keeps equipped, the man wears the shaman set despite not casting magic, suggesting that it is merely to highlight its ragged appearance with many pouches for carrying things on the go. He certainly hasn’t had it easy traveling all this way to the island, but he is a man with a mission. Satsuki offers demon souls in exchange for information about the Makoto, which he claims to be a memento of his father. Assuming that he speaks truth, this begs questions. If his father had owned this legendary — if dangerous — katana and bequeathed it to him, how did he come by it? Moreover, how did it end up in the Shrine of Storms, specifically Patches’ favorite pit? Was it stolen? Is that why his father is dead? So many variables, but Satsuki proves to not have any demon souls to trade, not that he ever planned to. Once we find and hand over the weapon, he immediately decides to test it out on us with mad glee. It is possible that, like Patches, his entire story is a lie to trick us into cooperating.

Indeed, the Makoto is a legendary blade, so Satsuki could have heard about it from anywhere, and his dialogue clearly indicates that the samurai has never actually seen the weapon before. In fact, if we refuse to give him his prize, he is more insulted that someone so supposedly lowly and filthy would own something so famous than that we deny him a family heirloom. Perhaps that is confession through projection. By all appearances, Satsuki is a vagabond without a lord trying to regain some modicum of his samurai pride by obtaining a blade of incredible renown. He likely traced stories of the legendary blade’s path back to the long-deserted island, presumably because it was among the countless weapons that the Shadowmen claimed for themselves in their raids of the East throughout the Classical Era. Perhaps the Second Scourge took the warrior by surprise, for ever since he entered the tear and made his way over, it seems that he hasn’t gone too far past the entrance.

Based on World Tendency, Satsuki has been observing those like us from afar, hence why we can spot him atop the battlements of the fort’s entrance upon first arrival. In our best case scenario, he confirms our skill and comes down to approach us for our next visit. This would imply that he has been looking for others to do his dirty work fighting through enemies and finding the Makoto — in fairness, we do encounter him as a black phantom in the worst case scenario, so he may just be aware of his own limits. As long as Satsuki doesn’t have to put his life on the line, he won’t; again, much like Patches. And that seems to be the Shadowmen’s legacy: a dead and fragmented carcass of a civilization picked at by vultures looking for juicy scraps as it shambles on under hazy skies with an equally clouded history. It would be almost too fitting if it weren’t so pathetic.