Monday, July 13, 2020

TEVINTER NIGHTS Analysis: The Dread Wolf Take You

"The Dread Wolf arrived. It was no elf, no mortal mage. It was a beast unlike any I had ever seen. Lupine in appearance, but the size of a high dragon, with shaggy spiked hide and six burning eyes like a pride demon, and it came to us on wings of fire..."
—From "The Dread Wolf Take You," DRAGON AGE: TEVINTER NIGHTS

WARNING: SPOILERS on TEVINTER NIGHTS! Please read at your peril!

Happy Summer, you beautiful Wardens, Hawkes and Inkies!

As always, I hope this finds you safe and well, despite our increasingly crazy world. And apologies for the lag in posting this latest analysis—between an incredibly lore-centric piece here by Ser Weekes that took me a month to annotate and research, I admit I may also have escaped into Hamilton a few times too. (I mean, come on. Hamilton! Up close and personal! We can see Lin-Manuel Miranda's tears—and everyone else's!)

So this took some time, but I really felt like it was important to do this piece before I addressed the tantalizing possibilities of the images we glimpsed last month from BioWare that appear to be from Dragon Age 4.

Meanwhile, let's escape back to Thedas once again, shall we? And please do forgive a few formatting weirdnesses here—Blogger is clunky when it comes to bullet-points but I felt they were essential for this analysis, so you'll be seeing the occasional wonky image,  bullet- or number-point here.

Welcome to the latest in my series of analyses on Tevinter Nights, concentrating on the stories that I feel add substantially to the lore, and which may give us potential clues to Dragon Age 4. Today, I wanted to share my notes and thoughts on Patrick Weekes's elegant and mysterious "The Dread Wolf Take You," the final story in the collection. Please do check out my previous Tevinter Nights analyses, also, on "Three Trees to Midnight," "The Horror of Hormak," and "Callback."

New clues from TEVINTER NIGHTS, in Patrick
Weekes's "The Dread Wolf Take You"
And here we go!

The Story at a Glance

It's a year since the events of "Trespasser," so by my estimates we're roughly around 9:45 Dragon at the moment.

This story is different than any of the others in the compilation, as it's presented as a tasty puzzle box full of enigma-wrapped cipher-chocolates and sprinkled with delectable mystery-sugar. And you don't really appreciate this dessert until you get to the end.

It starts on a dark and stormy night, like all the best stories. Well, okay, it's dark. We don't know that it's stormy. But it should be. And let's face it, it's stormy somewhere.

At a tavern called The Teahouse near the docks in Hunter Fell, our old friend Charter shows up to what is obviously a clandestine meeting. Persons of interest at the meeting include such minor characters as a knowing Qunari doorman (a survivor of the Qunari occupation of Kirkwall years back), the Nevarran dwarven bartender Sage, a middle-aged human serving-woman, plus consummate spies who, in addition to Charter, include a Carta assassin, a Mortalitasi, an Executor from "across the sea," and an Orlesian Bard, outfitted in golden curls and an Orlesian dragon masque.

Charter reveals the code word for the meet as "Gauche, party of five." I found this amusing, because it could be Orlesian (in which case, it means "left"), or literal—in which case, it might mean "awkward," or "lacking grace." 

The order for the table is one black tea, one herbal, one spiced wine. Charter, missing her girlfriend Tessa, adds to this by ordering a tea of Anderfels mint, two sugars (which Sage effortlessly remembers even after ten years—there's obviously a warmth between the two of them). 

The meeting is quickly revealed to be a strategic "state of the union," in which major players on the world stage reveal their recent experiences in the international chess match against Solas (now revealed to all involved as Fen'Harel). 

The Players

The Carta Assassin is a tough, weathered man drinking coffee. He's also snappish and stressed, and mocks Charter for the Inquisition's sheltering of "The Wolf" for over a year.

The Orlesian Bard is slender, dressed in bright silks, and has curly golden hair. His mask is ornate and covers his whole face. Before him is a cup of tea, drops still present in the spoon. He speaks with the accent of Orlais.

The Nevarran Mortalitasi mage is a pale, cruel woman drinking mulled wine, lazily using magic to stir it (more on this farther down). She is cold but unerringly polite.

The Executor known only as one of those from "across the sea" is a dark, hooded figure whose face is hidden by a kind of mesh. They are genderless, chilling, mysterious and scary; even the patterns in their robes are painful to Charter's eye. They smell faintly of the ocean and are drinking red wine.

Charter is a lot of fun throughout this story—as always, she comes across as smart, poised, and observant, and beyond this, she's a true pupil of Leliana in every way—an actress playing a part flawlessly, pretending emotions, hiding others, eliciting reactions for the benefit of the mission. Her role in this story makes me pretty certain we're going to see her in Dragon Age 4, as well (possibly taking on Leliana's former spymaster role, or as an advisor).

The story is broken down into a series of fireside tales, and each reveals a new aspect of Solas's mission and goals (I'll get into what each reveals in the section to follow). As a brief recap, the Assassin reveals that Solas wants the lyrium idol taken from the heart of Meredith's statue, and that the idol was stolen after the smugglers were killed in their dreams by a mysterious force and attacking vallaslin-less elves. The Mortalitasi reveals that she was present at a Tevinter ritual aimed at opposing Solas, a ritual destroyed by the appearance of a monstrous six-eyed Dread Wolf the size of a High Dragon, which attacked accompanied by warrior-spirits, and then continued to persecute the mage in her dreams. The Bard meanwhile tells of how he saw Solas steal the idol from a hidden chamber in an auction house in Lomerryn, and then escape with it through an eluvian.

The meeting breaks down into a series of recriminations and quiet threats, led first by the malevolent Executor, who is quieted by a touch from the Bard. After the rest of the tales, emotions run high again, and Charter, rather shockingly, simply turns to the Bard and quietly begs for her life. The others are oblivious, and easy prey as the Bard, now revealed as Solas, grants her her life, but kills the other two (the Executor he'd petrified many minutes before, with a single touch).

The story ends with Solas asking Charter for understanding (and forgiveness from the Inquisitor), but with clear expression that he has not given up on his plans. Charter is more determined than ever to stop the Dread Wolf, and begins to write her report for the Inquisitor.

What it Adds to the Lore

There are some terrific little nuances to this story that I felt were especially worth noting in the introductory section, and which I'll further organize by tale to follow:

  • The fact that the meeting is at the Teahouse is an exquisite irony, given the revelations we get. I love it so much. You just know the Bard chose the location.

  • Charter is interestingly referred to as "the elf currently known as Charter." As Charter is, of course, elven, and elven names have meaning and purpose, what I'm wondering is, has Charter taken on a different name (even privately) since the traumas of Inquisition or beyond? As it's implied Abelas may do after the Well of Sorrows, or as Solas may once have done after avenging Mythal? One that denotes a new quest or self-definition in penitence (which is what I think Solas did all those millennia back)?

  • The Executor is a fascinating new race we first heard tantalizing hints about (and may have received messages from, depending on our choices) briefly in Dragon Age: Inquisition. All we know is that they watch, they are superb spies, they are disquietingly creepy, and are from "across the sea" and possibly outside known Thedas. I love the idea that they are perhaps unknowable—as male or female, as old or young, or as anyone specific beyond that faint scent of the sea.

    I love this moment of description, for instance: "It was less a voice than the idea of a voice, rendered acceptably but no more." I am dying to know more about the Executors!

  • Interesting that the Qunari Ben-Hassrath and Tevinter Siccari were also invited and declined to send emissaries to the meeting. I'm so bummed right now that we don't get The Iron Bull's take on all the revelations about Solas after "Trespasser." I'm just sayin'. You know the analysis would be sharp and the language would be colorful. (And I would be here for that. Sigh.)

  • I love the revelation that the Carta agent shows up only as a favor to "Viscount Tethras," who has also (it's revealed) been protecting Kirkwall from the effects of Meredith's red lyrium statue ever since). That's our Varric. Although he'll probably feel a bit bad for the guy, given the outcome of this meeting...

The Assassin's Tale Revelations

There are so many delightful little details as we dive back into this world:
  • Among my favorites are the revelations about Varric's attention to the red lyrium situation after Kirkwall (and after the events of Inquisition).

  • I love how self-aware it turns out people were after Meredith went mad. And that (while she was a lyrium statue) Varric was so conscientious in making sure nobody else chipped off, er, pieces of her (which was something I'd wondered about—a radioactive statue just sitting out there). The statue is confirmed as being guarded AND behind barriers for people's protection. But the dwarves still hear it singing as they approach, which, sheesh, Kirkwall doesn't need any of those additional negative vibes, folks!

  • We know Red Lyrium is Blighted, but it's nice to hear the facts emphasized and confirmed here. I still think it's important to point out those hints of a Red-Lyrium-Blighted future from those "Dread Wolf Rises" teasers and images, and how they may curiously echo back to that "In Hushed Whispers" quest for the Redcliffe mages (and where we meet a Red Lyrium-infected Solas and companions in an alternate universe where Solas's belief that he is living in an unreal world and timeline is actually true).

    Also nice to know the Carta also won't touch the red variety (which of course creepily whispers in the Kirkwall square, reminding everyone of its malevolence). More of Varric's protective influence?

  • We also learn that the Carta has kept on selling lyrium to former Templars in Kirkwall, but only as long as they "kept trouble to a minimum." 

Idol Confirmations and Details

Speaking of which: Nice to have confirmation of a few points that have embattled Dragon Agers since the "Dread Wolf Rises" teaser came out: 

  1. Yep, the idol was in fact Meredith's Sword (this was hotly debated in some quarters)

  2. The sword exploded (recreated of course, depending on your options, in Inquisition).

  3. An elf's dreams (cough, cough, wonder whose?) told the visiting elf that the idol could be drawn from the remains of Meredith's statue (using a special potion to soften the lyrium). Note: The elf is not apparently Solas, since he wears a vallaslin, and I don't see Solas doing that, even to disguise himself.

  4. Timewise, this is of course while the statue was still in the square in Kirkwall, and not an addition to the shadows of the Black Emporium.
  5. Further, it can't be a coincidence that the idol was removed from the statue's chest (where her heart resided). He pulled out her heart, and hidden inside was this image of two figures in comfort or grief or both.

  6. And what a metaphor for Solas's situation and romance, if you romanced him.

  7. But... keep in mind... Meredith's statue is the alchemical outcome of her transformation/corruption by red lyrium. How the heck did the statue GET INTO HER HEART?

Describing the Idol

We also get an incredibly telling confirmation of the idol physically here as well as its removal. The description gives us several clues and confirmations we could only guess at by looking at it previously, so I'm going to collect ALL those descriptions from across the tales here, in one place:

  • "It’s not much to look at—a couple hugging, too thin to be dwarves—but it’s sitting there, glowing softly like a ruby lit by the grace of the Maker himself..."

  • "When I hefted it in my hand, it was like it wanted to keep moving, like it was liquid inside."

  • The Mortalitasi's tale adds this aspect: "...we saw it clearly—an idol crafted from red lyrium, which seemed to show two lovers, or a god mourning her sacrifice, depending upon how it caught your fancy."

  • In the Bard's tale, even though we cannot of course trust ANYTHING he says, he does let slip a detail at the end about the idol that intrigues me, because it provides us new context on the idol and what it may mean to Solas:

    "He whispered something as he picked it up, tracing his gloved fingers gently along the crowned figure who comforted the other, but I could not make out the words, for I fear they were elven."

    This description is unlike the others, as if Solas himself knows more about what the statues are actually depicting. And it's interesting that he describes this moment as an almost holy one for Solas—certainly one involving deep emotion and perhaps memory?

    I thought the woman was wearing a sort of helmet (interestingly mirroring those of both Andraste and Meredith), but the word 'crowned' now makes me think more than ever that it's the "Queen" of the Evanuris, Mythal, perhaps being held by Solas even as her body died. Which is why I'm more convinced than ever that the statue depicts some variation on Solas and Mythal after her murder by the Evanuris (echoed yet again when Solas held Flemeth's body in the epilogue of Inquisition), but that it may also foreshadow that one day Mythal will hold Solas's body to her in the same pose—perhaps this time, in grief and regret after his own death.

Back to the Assassin's Tale

Additional interesting aspects to note from this tale:

  • Given later revelations, I enjoy that the Bard moves like a bard, liquid and graceful. It adds believability and context to the person we have met.

  • The chest with the idol is taken by a Tevinter agent of the Tevinter house Quintara, who pays a hefty bag of gold to the rogue Templars and departs. I can't find any information about these guys—anyone? Bueller?

  • After the initial Templar attack, there's a far more terrifying attack, in which someone attacks everyone with nightmares—nightmares that even affect the Carta dwarves! The dreams are so horrible that all the sleeping dwarves and guards die, bleeding from the ears. The attack is supported, notably, by elven archers. But I'm still stuck on the fact that Solas can kill people of all races en masse in their dreams. What a terrible ability (petrification would've been kinder).

  • The elves who show up are without vallaslin, and are decidedly un-humble or servile, and are wearing "fancy armor" (cough, ancient elven armor).

  • The accents are "normal Ferelden," according to the assassin. Then another leans down to say a prayer over the dead elf, and this one DOES sound Dalish, even if he's without vallaslin, saying, "The Dread Wolf guide your soul to peace, brother."

  • After this tale, everyone gets more refreshments. I think it's a wonderful sly detail that the only ones to thank the servant are Charter and the Bard, who politely declines more tea. This additional detail is delicious given who the Bard actually is, of course.

  • As they all sip their beverages, we realize the Mortalitasi has enslaved a wisp spirit to inhabit the stirring stick that stirs her wine, and it's really effective and gross (she threatens it for slowing down).

  • The Executor meanwhile notes that House Quintara fell when the city of Ventus was conquered by the Qunari. Yet another reminder (bookending the opening story) that the Qunari are relentless and are very much pursuing that far-off day Sten once envisioned.

  • Charter smiles, able to refute this, noting that according to her spies, the idol was sold or traded to the Danarius family before the city fell. (Okay, of all the people to touch the idol, this one is the grossest to me. Danarius is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad person. Who also—it's worth pointing out, based on what we learned about his experiments on Fenris—knows a heck of a lot more about lyrium (and lyrium magic) than most people in Thedas do.)

  • The Assassin is irritated that Charter already knew, while the Bard simply enumerates the facts as they currently stand. He tosses his golden locks effectively, but a little clumsily—it's a terrific subtle detail here, given later revelations.

  • When the Assassin and Executor nearly come to blows, the Bard intervenes calmly and coolly, resting a pale, long-fingered hand on the glove of the now-quiet Executor. Ever observant, Charter notes that the Bard's rings have no tan lines, so they are not daily wear for him. Again, it's such a fun, subtle detail, and it's a great way to show us how smart Charter really is.

The Mortalitasi's Revelations

The Mortalitasi's Tale is fascinating, and reconfirms what we learn about Nevarran practices from across this entire short story compilation, as well as providing several additional enjoyable secrets and revelations:

  • I also love the haughty reminder that they disdain Tevinter's need for mages to rule, and it's true—the Mortalitasi are more efficient. They simply control the King. And everything else falls into place.

  • The Mortalitasi basically starts by admitting that the Mortalitasi had communicated a message from our darling Dorian, who has admitted that Dragon's Breath (the Antaam Qunari plot) had dangerously destabilized the entire world of Thedas.

  • The loss of various priests and other destabilizing influences have crushed Tevinter and progressed the Qunari plans without regard for other outcomes for regular citizenry. So the Mortalitasi admits that the Antaam splintering off is now common knowledge, and that, further, "I fear everything east of Vyrantium will be under their control inside a year, and northern Antiva as well." Yep. Sten was right.

  • One more reason, by the way, that I feel like Dragon Age 4 will involve a time jump of at least a few years. Maybe more.

  • The Mortalitasi notes that "The mage who came to us had a way to drive back the Antaam: he would perform a ritual with our help, directing the course of the Fade against the Antaam, so that every dream, every demon, every half-interested spirit would urge them back to the north, away from humanity. Their resolve would weaken, their invasion would crumble, and all would go back to the way it should be."

  • I love how the plan is "unsubtle" because, well, that's how Tevinter rolls. Bull would have a fit over so many aspects of this.

  • The ritual is deeply upsetting and Solas would have been shrieking. I mean, it involves Mortalitasi, the catacombs in the Grand Necropolis, slaves (bound and sacrificed), bound spirits, and ancient artifacts. I mean, OH MY GOD. (NOTE: I thought at first the elven mage might be Solas, but there's no way he's gonna stand by while they sacrifice slaves. Just no way.)

  • The ritual grows in strength and nears its climax, then the Tevinter mage raises the idol, and "a spike of lyrium spring[s] from the base of the idol, so that all at once, it was not merely an idol, but a ritual blade." Okay, THIS IS SO COOL. And creepy!

  • Then there's "a great booming roar" that's powerful enough to shake the Fade itself (and it appears to echo back even from the Black City itself), and my lore geekness knows no limits, because yes, folks, it's happening, THE DREAD WOLF APPEARS. The actual Dread Wolf. Like, NOT A METAPHOR! But the wolfiest wolf ever!


    (I pause to do a Snoopy dance around my apartment, then return. AWOOO! Look, I'm probably getting 75% of this stuff wrong, so anything I guess that turns out right, I am one ecstatic lore nerd...)

    And it's a FREAKING PRIDE DEMON DREAD WOLF—basically, the six-eyed avatar we have seen so many times on Solas's Tarot cards and on the Dread Wolf Rises teaser! It's described as follows:

    The Dread Wolf arrived. It was no elf, no mortal mage. It was a beast unlike any I had ever seen. Lupine in appearance, but the size of a high dragon, with shaggy spiked hide and six burning eyes like a pride demon, and it came to us on wings of fire that resolved themselves into a horde of lesser demons as the Dread Wolf landed before us.

    And then the awesomeness gets even better, as the Dread Wolf SPEAKS—and IT'S IN THE "HALLELUJAH" CADENCE! Meaning, pairs of iambs ("heartbeats"), repeating, and ending each stanza in an amphibrach.

The Dread Wolf's Dialogue in "Hallelujah" Cadence

Here you go, as follows, presented in-rhythm (as usual, I've divided up syllables where needed to mimic the song format):




Y'all, I almost cried. In a good way. It was delightful to see this cadence again! Solas is still singing one of the world's saddest and most beautiful songs in secret.


Back to the Mortalitasi's Tale
  • There's an interesting further revelation here by the way from the Mortalitasi, who notes that the "lesser demons" that attacked presented as if they were actually "spirits of Valor or Justice," but she then scoffs at this idea and assumes that they are bound demons, as "no kindly spirit would tear into us as these creatures did."

    Not even if the ritual was attempting a desecration of the Fade? Come on. Of course they were spirits. And they wield blades forged from the raw Fade itself.
  • This is another really incredibly important detail. Solas has not one, but two armies: He has the army of elves he has been calling and amassing for the three years since he absorbed Flemeth's essence. And he has an army of spirits in the Fade that love him and are loyal to him—and they will fight for him (and for the Fade).

  • Meanwhile, in the midst of all this fabulous drama, a young noble's son among the Mortalitasi grabs the Lyrium Idol (whose lyrium blade is either retracted or shattered—it's not clear), throws it into the chest, and runs off with it, fleeing into Tevinter.

  • The Mortalitasi may be arrogant, but she ends her tale with grudging admiration: "Whatever fear the name of the Dread Wolf carries, he has earned. While we might visit the Fade, it is his natural home, and the spirits there serve him gladly. They whisper in my dreams now, accusing me of crimes I never committed and promising vengeance if my wards fail."

    She also adds that the Dread Wolf may be seeking to kill her or drive her mad, and that she now realizes they had with the profane ritual somehow messed up whatever he was planning.

  • There's a slight intermission here, where there's a discussion of Corypants and his alliance with a fear demon back at Adamant as a way to trap the Grey Wardens, and the Bard's voice betrays his disapproval when he notes that "the Grey Wardens trapped themselves." Given the revelations to come, I love these little clues about who the Bard really is. Solas has always disliked the Grey Wardens, even though we still don't know why (I'm guessing it's something to do with the archdemon/"Old God" blood aspect and the melding/corruption involved in the Joining).

  • The Assassin asks the Executor for their tale, but the Bard interrupts, and offers his own revelations. Of course, again—rereading this is so much fun, because it becomes very clear by the end why the Bard interrupted here. The Executor's tale-telling days are done.

The Secrets of the Bard's Tale

Okay, first and foremost, the best part of the Bard's Tale is all the affectionate allusions to beloved characters from across the trilogy:

  • The Avvar augur (if it's the guy we met in the Frostback Basin, I love him and he's totally on my crush list)
  • The Rivaini pirate captain (a nod to Isabela)
  • The disapproving Starkhaven noble (Sebastian, is that you?)
  • The red-haired Ben-Hassrath agent (definitely Tallis!)
  • Xenon the Antiquarian from the Black Emporium (still shrieking at his urchins for "a moist towelette!"—which always makes me think of Cassandra from "Doctor Who")
  • Divine Victoria herself (whoever we chose, although for me it's most delicious if it's Leliana for various reasons)

The Bard describes these wonderful little glimpses, then tells the story of his following some Ben-Hassrath agents down to a clash between Qunari warriors, Tevinter mages ("Siccari"), and a golem. It's an ancient elven ritual chamber complete with a working eluvian. The idol lies on a stone pedestal between the two factions. When you realize this is all Solas's fanfiction, it's even more fabulous. Like, the idol's just sitting there. Waiting on a fancy pillow to be picked up and cherished.

  • The Bard then pretty accurately describes Solas himself as we last saw him, in the ancient elven armor of super-hotness, wolf pelt over his shoulder. Solas then instantly petrifies everyone with the glowy-eyed magic we saw in "Trespasser," then picks up the idol.

  • The most important thing we should remember here is that everything the Bard (cough, Solas) tells us here could be a lie, a feint. And probably is.

  • The Assassin and the Mortalitasi begin to bicker over the Bard's account, and I enjoy the fact that the Assassin is smart enough to scent the lie in it.

  • Charter however, sighs, and goes very still. She agrees that there are many liars at the table, then, in a revelation that hit me like a sledgehammer, she quietly begs for her life.

  • The others continue to bicker, and Charter asks for her life again. There's something really moving about this for me. She knows she has zero weapons at her disposal here against the real person behind the Bard's mask.

  • It's pretty heartbreaking when Charter, who is very aware that she may be just moments from death, reveals that she will regret not recognizing Solas for who he was back at Haven for the rest of her life.

  • When Charter asks for her life a third and final time, Solas responds in elven with "Ar lasa mala," which I translate as "I give [it to] you," and which Solas translates as "I grant it to you." (I love the detail that his ancient elven accent is not quite the same as that of the Dalish, which is something I've always enjoyed as as headcanon).

  • It's so in-character that of course the first thing Solas does after petrifying the other spies is to free the enslaved wisp from the Mortalitasi's stirring stick. He even uses his old catchphrase: "You are free."

  • Solas admits that he called this meeting so he could learn what the Inquisition knew about his plans and movements. He also admits to Charter that his honesty to the Inquisitor in "Trespasser" was "a moment of weakness."

    See, but I don't think so. I think he wants Charter to stop him.

  • Just like I think he wants the Inquisitor to stop him. And that's why he spoke honestly to the Inky back then. And of course, if romanced, it also enabled him to pull back the lie implied when he ended their romance and to give her the comfort of truth—that he'd never stopped loving her, he just could not do so while lying to her. So the honesty freed him. It's still one of my favorite things about that final scene there.

  • And I think the real reason he called this meeting was that he's lonely. Sure, he's a semi-god leading two armies, spiritual and elven, but he's also alone. Three years ago, he had friends, companions, a beloved. Now he's an archvillain on an inexorable road to death. And, as I always believe is the case on some level with Solas, he's lying to himself constantly.

    Now obviously, I could be headcanoning like a madwoman here, but, as before in "Trespasser," when he moved heaven and earth to foil a Qunari plot and spend 15 minutes with the Inquisitor (also saving their life in the process), there's something touching to me about Solas arranging all of this if he did do so for a brief reminder of what he had lost. If he'd done it just for these few moments of companionship with someone he genuinely respects.

    There's a melancholy and real sense of regret to Solas. It's always a quality that I love in the character, whether we see him as a villain or antihero. Above all, there's still that lonely or yearning quality to him that always affects me, and that makes it easy for me to believe, sure, he'd do all this just to hear how the Inquisitor is doing. And his friends.

    And I admit it, as a Solasmancer? It totally slays me when his voice breaks at the end, as he asks her to tell the Inquisitor that he is sorry. 

  • Charter asks him to reconsider his plans, thinking of Tessa, her lover, who would not survive. Solas admits he feels this way as well, and once again refers to himself as "prideful, hotheaded, and foolish"—words very similar to many he has used about himself in the past, to both Blackwall in Inquisition banters, and to the Inquisitor at the end of "Trespasser."
  • He still says he's committed to his path. He still thinks his plans will save, not damn, the world, and that he has no choice. He still thinks the elves will have a better life once his ritual is complete.

  • Charter notes the new details we learned about the idol—especially that "crowned figure comforting another," and ends by recommitting to stopping the Dread Wolf.

And then I go off and hug a fluffy pillow, my cat, and weepily drink a large glass of wine.

Meanwhile, what did you think of the story? And did I miss anything cool here? Please share in the comments!

NOTE: Hey all, I updated a few of my bullet points in that final section, because the most important ones on Solas's loneliness and meeting justifications somehow got deleted. Sorry for the post update!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

TEVINTER NIGHTS Analysis: Callback

"Callback" takes us back to Skyhold, our castle and stronghold... and then shows us that you really can't go home again
without significant wear and tear on the heart...
"Know that Skyhold remains, its fires bright. Forevermore it is where you are from, not where you are bound. Attempt no travel there. Let the past guide you to a new direction. And be well."

WARNING: SPOILERS on TEVINTER NIGHTS! Please read at your peril!

So hello once again, you lovely Wardens, Hawkes and Inkies!

As always, I hope this finds you safe and well, despite our increasingly crazy world. So let's escape awhile to Thedas, shall we?

As you probably know, I've been doing a series of analyses on Tevinter Nights, concentrating on the stories that I feel add substantially to the lore, and which may give us potential clues to Dragon Age 4. Today, I wanted to share my notes and thoughts on Lukas Kristjanson's bittersweet adventure, "Callback." And of course, please do check out my past analyses of "Three Trees to Midnight," and "The Horror of Hormak."

As I search for new clues from TEVINTER NIGHTS,
we learn some key secrets and plot progressions
from Lukas Kristjanson's story "Callback."
And here we go!

The Story at a Glance

We dive right into the story, with our old friend, the young knight Sutherland, taking in the vista we all know and love so well: beautiful Skyhold, poised high in its hidden valley between the towering snowy mountain peaks of the Frostbacks. It's implied that, as with most of the stories in this collection, it's been about a year since the events of "Trespasser."

"Every day was the best day," says Sutherland, surveying that view with love and sadness in his heart. And right there, already, I knew this story was going to make me a mess. An absolute mess.

Because I love Skyhold. I love it like a real place. Or, you know, even better than that—like all those incredible imaginary places that are more real than real. I love Skyhold like I love Bag-End. Rivendell. Cair Paravel. Brakebills. The Normandy. Or Jordan College. You get the idea. Those places are sacred to me, and Skyhold stands among them. A little part of my soul feels like it lived at Skyhold, after all—walking its Great Halls, peeking shyly into the Rotunda to see if my Inky was brave enough to interrupt Solas, running past the drafty hallway to the War Room, playing chess in the gardens, listening to songs in the warm and flickering light of The Herald's Rest. 

A little part of my soul lives at Skyhold and always will.

There's a demon living in our favorite castle. "Callback" sends it
away. But at a steep price.
Anyway. Wow, this is gonna be a tough one. 

But okay, onward—back to our merry band. 

Our Boy Grows Up

We're at Skyhold with Sutherland (and how genius was it when we discovered that his name is Donal?!), as well as companions in his adventures that we may have known already in DAI—Shayd, a human bard archer, and Voth, an elven mage. If you're a reader of the graphic novels, we did get to reconnect with the gang back in Magekiller—if not, this is our first glimpse since our Skyhold days in DAI.

As they assess the situation, Skyhold seems sad, empty and dark. Too empty, as it turns out, since even though the Inquisition had left it, it had not been left unguarded, and there had been caretakers to oversee it who were now unresponsive. Skyhold was basically force-abandoned, but not razed or destroyed, kept empty but watched as "a distant beacon." The party chats a little, and we learn that they are under orders to investigate, and that under their plans they are due to meet up with others at Skyhold, including Rat, the brash dwarven squire.

The last communication anyone got about Skyhold, the caretaker mentioned attempting to restore the fresco in the Rotunda for some reason (which was odd because it wasn't one of his duties). The caretaker ended his last message with "I have made mistakes." I know who this sounds like, to me, so this is really interesting stuff.

The band is pretty sure a demon is involved even as they make the long climb to the castle, and as they climb, Sutherland thinks back to his arrival at Skyhold, back to when he walked through the doors of the Herald's Rest and the Inquisitor took a chance on him (as well as on Shayd, Voth, and Rat, who would become his found family, his little "Chargers"). From a writing standpoint, I want to note that Lukas does a great job here, by the way, of balancing the Inquisitor as someone of any gender we choose, so that we are still imagining our Inquisitors, whoever they might be. 

Coming Home to Loss

The adventurers arrive at a courtyard full of memories, and realize the first desecration—that the old caretaker's body is nailed to the door of the empty stable—and that he did the job himself.

Sutherland and crew return to a Skyhold with no warm, sweet torches or
welcoming fires. The Skyhold of the future is sad, dark, and virtually empty.
They investigate further, and everything is clean and empty and sad, yet full of memories. The courtyard, the buildings, the stalls, the tavern. There were seven permanent staff left behind but at first there's no sign of anyone but the dead caretaker, but Voth can sense the demon nearby. 

When Sutherland and friends investigate further, they discover that our once-beautiful Rotunda, the jewel of Skyhold—from Solas's frescoes to the second-floor library to the top-floor rookery—is now a tower of horrors, of body parts and old blood. And the frescoes themselves now seem to be somehow alive... in peculiar depth and motion, surrounded by a blackness that seems to be draining them of life and color. The demon then attacks them, inhabiting the wolflike/draconic creature from the final panel, and both Voth and Shayd are instantly defenseless. When Sutherland confronts it, the demon confirms that it is Regret, "an echo that has breached the Fade."

Bees, Friends, and Kisses Galore

Sutherland battles Regret while his friends are caught and trapped by their own internal regrets and memories. He manages to stab the demon, but the demon is able to regenerate almost instantly. Still, Sutherland—the only one present with zero regrets—is strong and unafraid throughout the fight. Skyhold made him who he is, and he will regret nothing that happened there, so he's able to hold off the demon until Rat shows up with another of our old friends from Skyhold—Dagna! They attack the creature with amphora of bees (BEES! Of course! And a lovely little shoutout to Sera, the character Lukas wrote for DAI, as well as to her romance with Dagna), and as the demon goes nuts, Sutherland is able to rescue Shayd and Voth from their immobility, and he and Shayd take a moment to celebrate (remember, they flirted then got involved way back in DAI!) with a passionate kiss despite the mayhem. No time like the present!

"Callback" gives us some really fun, tantalizing glimpses of Skyhold
as a working (and highly defensible) castle.
Then the gang lures the demon outside, with Rat running nimbly to distract it from the others, and our old blacksmith Harritt joins the fray, then our old quartermaster Ser Morris, who rush with Sutherland and the others to pursue the demon into the Herald's Rest. Once inside the tavern, my darling sweet grouchy Cabot appears, noting that, "as a bartender, I drown regret." Cabot attacks the demon, and is joined in the attack by Elan, our former elven apothecary. The two banter adorably enough to let us know that they're a couple (yay!), and man, the nostalgia is absolutely lethal here, people. Especially since it appears the tavern is now on fire. (NO! Not the Herald's Rest!)

The Heart of Skyhold

The entire gang helps Sutherland converge on the demon to take it down, and his memory of the Inquisitor gives him enough courage to stand for his friends. He's able to stab the demon, then everyone else (touchingly "the little people, who supposedly didn't matter" yet who were in the end, "the heart of Skyhold") helps him to take it down. The death of Regret is bittersweet, and it dies chuckling, but with an aura of sadness, and bringing a fresh and cleansing breeze through the garden. Sutherland's merry band, together with their friends, have triumphed.

The story ends with a proclamation from Divine Victoria, praising the Inquisition and the Herald, while also saluting the acceptance of change, and the knowledge that Skyhold is no longer a destination, but their past. "Attempt no travel there," she warns, "Let the past guide you to a new direction. And be well."

"Callback" implies that Solas's regrets were so powerful they became
a literal being. That's hardcore.
And then I cry like a baby, because Skyhold is empty again. And Solas's Rotunda is a wreck of bodies and bloodshed, and his gift of the ancient and beautiful murals are lost forever (although Dagna will eagerly study the demon-touched remnants), and the Herald's Rest was burning when last we saw it.

I love the story, but Skyhold's fate fricking breaks my heart.

What it Adds to the Lore
A view of Skyhold. Back when it was a working fortress. (cries)
We learn quite a lot here in "Callback," of course, along with some nice lore confirmations, so here's my rundown:

  • First, Sutherland tells us that the Inquisition attracted roughly 10,000 soldiers, assassins, diplomats, and freeblades from across Thedas, transforming them into "a massive, destabilizing militia with an allegiance to an ideal, not borders."

    This is also a direct offshoot of Sutherland's series of quests for us under Ser Morris in DAI, and of how we see him and his friends contribute to the influence of the Inquisition itself.

  • We get some lovely specific details on Skyhold's mechanics here, that further solidify it as a working fortress, a real place, and I love that! Let me count the ways...

    Like, for instance, that a cable lift was used to bring up people, animals, and supplies from the valley floor to the fortress. There's also access via a steep, very high climb via a watchtower with an internal staircase.

    We also learn that Skyhold was equipped with formidable ballistae, and that several were trained on the bridge to the main gate—a terrific defense with zero places to flee for the opponent on the bridge.

    We also learn that there were fires that could be lit beneath the gatehouse that could sear intruders caught between the portcullises and past the drawbridge if needed. Basically, Skyhold did not mess around.

    And remember... this is all a place that was once conceived and created by Solas himself. It's a fascinating thought.

  • We also get confirmation that the Veil is unusually thin at Skyhold, causing it "to react to events like water reacted to stones." Since we know that Skyhold is where Solas literally created the Veil, this is extremely interesting information.

  • We're given further lore on spirits and demons, and that both are driven by the singular emotions that define them, so much so that they actually embody those emotions (Compassion, Wisdom, Faith, Pride, Despair, etc.), as we know. This isn't a surprise, per se, and yet here it's presented with a dash of sadness, of predestination (and as if the spirits/demons could have been more complex depending on their choices). It's implied that these spirits/demons do have a choice in who or what they become, in other words, at least to me. They are aware of what drives them.

    We also learn that in comparison to spirits, that demons are both similar (as we already knew from Solas's banters with Cole) and yet also "inward" and "craving," that they are "jealous, starved, and dangerous."

  • The demon emerged in the Rotunda and from the very plaster of its walls, inhabiting, animating, and obliterating Solas's eight beautiful frescoes, which we are told here were nearly twenty feet tall, and which are confirmed to have been Solas's gift to the Inquisitor (something that still touches me, especially since he created these masterworks regardless of whether he liked or loved the Inquisitor).

    Also, twenty feet tall! Sheesh, no wonder our favorite Fade Walker never seemed to sleep. He didn't have time. Good grief.

  • We get some tantalizing new descriptions of the frescoes that offer a little more insider insight into that tantalizing unfinished eighth panel Solas left behind.

    Among other things, "Callback" gives us confirmation that the wolflike creature standing over the dead dragon is itself rather reptilian and draconic (something I've definitely been a proponent for, so I'm pretty tickled at the revelation), and that the emerging creature (not the fresco animal) "has too many eyes" (a subtle reference again, to Pride Demons, not to mention to Solas's many Tarots in DAI): 
For those of you who felt that this "wolf" figure was also
pretty dragony? DING DING DING, you got it right!
", unfinished, was the outline of a beast that stood over both dragon and sword. This was not the battle, or the victory. This was after. And the beast was not a dragon. The outline alone might have allowed that assumption, but now, filling with black and red, it was something other. The creature was reptilian, but also canine. The snout was blunted and toothy, but edges came to a point in houndlike ears. As the mass of plaster filled the shape, it began to rise, revealing scales and tail, and paws with talons. It looked like two figures painted on either side of a pane of glass, then viewed together, their forms confused. A wolf that had absorbed a dragon, and now stood crooked over all."
This is almost a literal recap of the final confrontation of Solas and Mythal at the end of DAI. And it also quite beautifully expresses the regret and self-loathing that almost surely followed that confrontation for Solas. We saw the clear love and affection between the two—which we now know encompassed thousands of years. And now it appears Solas 'absorbed' that draconic essence of Mythal quite literally. Or so this implies. And it also feels like, well, it's just one more monument to his own self-loathing on this journey on the din'anshiral.
As I've blogged here before, I already believe Solas can wear many faces, from man, to ancient elven god, to Dread Wolf (a wolf walking both Fade and in the real world), to Pride Demon. And now here we get the implication that he has, perhaps, also finally achieved that 'level-up'—to the divine draconic form. It's a revelation to shake all of Thedas. If they only knew. 
Sorry, I know I'm supposed to caption this with something touching
about Solas's murals, but as always, I'm just staring at his booty here.
  • I am the heart of what was here,” roars the demon to Sutherland, pointing at the frescoes. "I am Regret!" It goes on to reveal, "There is so much of me that's here. So much regret behind these deeds. I wonder if you know the dread that's coming?"

  • What is fascinating here is that this demon is very obviously embodying at least the shadow and memory of Solas. It is Solas's grief and regret brought to actual life across the Veil, and as such it seems to speak both in his voice and even with his penchant for riddles and secrets in plain sight (the "dread" that's coming). The creature even openly says, "I am the regret of a god," which once again confirms that at some point, there appears to be a slight truth to the power of those ancient evanuri (including Solas) and that it was, well, pretty darned godlike.

  • Sutherland realizes during the fight with the demon that his mission was a setup -- a mission that was supposed to fail, and which would therefore allow the evil nobles to obliterate the castle and erase the Inquisition's proudest legacy.

  • As Regret begins to die, we get a tantalizing glimpse of illumination as Sutherland sees "a sliver of the spirit that might have been." Not the opposite of regret. A different flavor, or shade. Contemplation. Introspection. It felt the actions that had summoned it. There might have been a better choice," said a thought it had not been allowed."

  • Regret dies chuckling, and again, we get some really fascinating lore here: "It glimpsed the spirit realm beyond the Veil, and a faraway glimmer. Familiar, and somehow far brighter than what had drawn it here. It knew where it would go."

    To Solas, perhaps?

    To be reunited, no longer a sliver of spirit, but whole with the spirit that spawned it?

    Or is it simply seeing a place within the Fade where it can be reborn? What an odd child of Solas's life and deeds.

But what did you take from "Callback?"

Final Observations

For me, this story was as delightful as it was painful... it took me back to Skyhold. A place I love. 

The sacrilege of "Callback" runs deep for me, since I always thought
Solas's little home in the Rotunda to be one of Skyhold's loveliest
locations, with its frescoes, jewel tones, and soft furnishings.
And then it took Skyhold away from me. And reminded me that Skyhold is now empty, alone, and damaged beyond repair.

The beautiful frescoes that Solas so carefully painted for the Inquisitor, each one a gift priceless beyond measure and created as treasures and recreations of art that belonged to thousands of years past (even if the Inky didn't realize this then) are gone, crumbled into a demonic cauldron of self-loathing, loss and regret.

All that remains is an empty castle, dried blood, and a few flakes of plaster. And the bitter tang of loss and regret.

The Din'anshiral

For me, this story, more than any other in Tevinter Nights, reveals the bitterness of Solas's secret heart. For those who see him simply as an arrogant know-it-all, a villain with no heart, I would point them to this story, in which his regret, self-loathing, loss, and sadness have literally been so painful, so vast, that they spawned a demon in his absence.

For me, "Callback" does a brave and beautiful thing: It reminds us of something beloved and beautiful (Solas's frescoes), something we may have treasured in DAI—and it brutally destroys them. It's awful and sad. It's painful. But it's necessary. The Solas who painted those frescoes is gone. The world that held them is gone. Everyone has moved on. Except, perhaps, the Inquisitor who loved him.

Skyhold survived the creation of the Veil. And then the departure of
the Inquisition. Will we get to return in Dragon Age 4? Time will tell.
All that remains is an empty castle, a dying Veil, and the memories of people who still believed in goodness. Who really hoped they could fix the world. And who even when they left, kept hoping in all their stubborn, stupid, glorious belief.

I don't look to videogames to inspire me in daily life, but this? In the craziness of our terrible current world, man, I'll take it. 

Skyhold is empty. Will it stay that way? Or will Dragon Age 4 allow us to return? Only time will tell... 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

TEVINTER NIGHTS Analysis: The Horror of Hormak

Ghilan'nain? Girl, you've got some
explaining to do!
"The expressions on the faces of those elven rulers betrayed a contempt that was almost palpable, the beatific smiles edged with disgust and disdain for the creatures at their feet. And the subjects, far from kneeling in reverence as Ramesh had first thought, seemed more to be cowering in terror."
—From "The Horror of Hormak," DRAGON AGE: TEVINTER NIGHTS

WARNING: SPOILERS on TEVINTER NIGHTS! Please read at your peril!

So hello again, you beautiful Wardens, Hawkes and Inkies!

I hope you're well and safe out there—hopefully, wearing masks while pretending to be Orlesian, because why not? This is our time, people, let's be Orlesian!

As I noted in my previous post here, I wanted to offer some analyses on stories in TEVINTER NIGHTS that I felt specifically really advance the lore, which teach us valuable facts about the year (to year and a half or so) since the end of the events in "Trespasser." I loved the entire compilation, but my focus here is on stories that give us hints for plot points, characters, or directions we might find ourselves facing, also, in our long-awaited Dragon Age 4.

Which is why I'm back today with my notes and thoughts on John Epler's wonderful horror tale "The Horror of Hormak."

Please Note: I follow several amazing analysts, artists, and critics in the Dragon Age community, led by, first and foremost, Ghil'Dirthalen, who's brilliant, not to mention kind, funny and insightful. But to keep my ideas my own, I have not listened to anyone about TEVINTER NIGHTS. I do plan to do so after I've blogged about all of the stories that contribute to lore (and can't wait). 

As I search for new clues from TEVINTER NIGHTS,
we get a ton of lore in John Epler's story "The
 Horror of Hormak"
So—in a nutshell, insights are my own, and mistakes are also my own here. If I'm excited about a revelation you've already been yawning over, hey, I'm late to the party. But ultimately, I'm just very careful about appropriation and want to present ideas (however goofy some of them are) that are really my own. And honestly it's just so much more fun for me that way, so thanks for bearing with me.

So here we go!

The Story at a Glance

The story begins deep in the Nevarran Forest—that's all we get on location, but my guess is that it is specifically in or near the Northern part of the Planasene Forest, which is just north of the Waking Sea, and slightly West of Kirkwall.

Grey Wardens Ramesh and Lesha are investigating the whereabouts of a lost Grey Warden mining expedition led by Senior Warden Jovis, now lost for eight days and counting—and the clock is ticking on whether they can possibly still be alive. To complicate things, Jovis was a man Ramesh had once deeply loved and turned away from, losing a chance of real happiness, despite the hardships of Grey Warden life. He is now nearly desperate to save Jovis, and to undo his past decisions. Ramesh and Lesha seem to be heading East, which will bring them out of the forest eventually, and into the northwestern arc of the Vimmark Mountains. 

Lesha is a young Tevinter mage—cocky and fearless, an Acolyte who has only been a Warden for a few years, while Ramesh, the commander, is a Senior Warden who is older and more careworn. He's been a Warden for 23 years and counting, and can almost taste that the Calling is upon him. But it's Lesha who is uneasy right away, who notes that "Something's wrong about these woods. Feels like the air hates me. Wants me to die." She's not wrong.

The story follows the two into the darkness of forest and nightmare, as they find a surviving Warden from Jovis's party, Warden-Recruit Friedl, a young woman, but she's been badly wounded and whatever she experienced has driven her mad enough to mutilate and blind herself. Ramesh and Lesha attempt to calm and save Friedl, even as they continue to pursue the mystery deeper into the forest, but eventually, Friedl kills herself. When Ramesh checks her dead body, it vomits gallons and gallons of a terrible, briny seawater-like substance. 

Again with that "seawater" theme. Also, ew, ew, ew, ew, ew! (I HAVE VOMIT ISSUES, PEOPLE!)
PARAPHRASED SEGUE: (to the TV show "Monk") 
DOCTOR: So, Mr. Monk, you have been poisoned and I'm sorry to say are going to vomit copiously and then die in agony. 
MONK: (weeps quietly) 
MONK'S ASSISTANT NATALIE: He's upset about the vomiting. 
That's... basically me. I have rarely so identified with a fictional character.

ANYWAY. In the aftermath, Ramesh is kind and supportive of the younger mage when she has difficulty processing the horror of the moment, but also adept at keeping her focused on their ultimate goals and loyalties. It's moving and believable.

On a side note, can I just say that I love stories like these, in which two adults are in close prolonged circumstances and that there is no stereotypical sexual tension? Yes, I love UST. But there's so much more to friendship, work, and other relationships, and it's lovely that Ramesh (who is, at this point, revealed as either gay, bi or pan) and Lesha have nothing but a warm, kind, mutually respectful, and entirely professional relationship from beginning to end. It's a signature of BioWare's inclusivity and general respect for individuals and relationships, and I love that. And let's hear it for yet another LGBTQ protagonist in the compilation!

The Deep Roads are always scary places for me. (I would have made a
terrible Warden. I would have just run around screaming.)
Onward! The two exit the forest into rocky terrain marked by three distinctive peaks (I'm again assuming these peaks are most likely in the Vimmarks BUT what makes them distinctive? Have we seen them before? It's killing me...) as they discover the entrance to the Deep Roads beneath them, littered with twisted Darkspawn bodies and blood (no Warden bodies), giving them hope of finding their companions alive. They bravely enter a finely carved doorway in the ancient dwarven style, runes above the entrance naming it as "Hormok" (So is this deliberate or is the title a typo? No judgment if so...). They descend, the passages glowing with lyrium, and discover great and beautiful chambers like the most ancient dwarven thaigs, and then, descending further, fight a fierce, brief battle with more twisted darkspawn before discovering a new descent into areas that are first dwarven, then obviously ancient and elven.

When the duo reaches the final chamber, it's revealed to be a massive, ancient chamber of horrors, a kind of "creation tank" of viscous, briny fluid powered by a huge lyrium crystal hanging above. They confront the biggest creature, a terrifying giant centipede merged with the torso of Warden Jovis, who, faced with his love, manages to retain his sanity for a few moments to relate what happened to his doomed company, and what "she" (Ghilan'nain, I believe) plans for this chamber. 

Jovis asks Ramesh to destroy the chamber, then loses control permanently and the creature attacks. Lesha manages to save Ramesh, then gives him enough time to escape, sacrificing herself by destroying the lyrium crystal and exploding the chamber. Ramesh finishes the job by escaping far enough to use the lyrium charges (poignantly using the love note from Jovis as a fuse), and the entire mountain seems to come down behind him, burying the horrors of Hormok forever.

"The Horror of Hormak" adds to the implications we got in DAI that
beneath the Deep Roads, are even deeper ones—and the elves were there first.
Ramesh resolves to carry his story—and warning—to the rest of the Wardens, even as he realizes with horror that the carvings below had depicted twelve different locations for aravels and prey (eleven plus the one just destroyed at Hormok). Meaning, the battle has just begun...

What It Adds to the Lore (and Implies for Dragon Age 4)

  • One of the things I really liked about this story was the atmosphere, the way it bridged the classic fantasy-horror of Dragon Age Origins with the lore and character progression (and larger world) of Dragon Age Inquisition. I also liked that all along, we're expecting war-tired, near-his-Calling Ramesh to die, but it's fresh-faced Lesha who doesn't survive. (Darn it.)
  • We're told outright that the Wardens' numbers are dwindling ever since Ostagar, and then Adamant. To an alarming degree—that they don't even have the numbers to mount an actual rescue mission for situations like this (and which used to be routine). After this reference, and the rumblings of disquiet from Weisshaupt in "Trespasser," I definitely feel a "crisis of the Grey Wardens" is looming for us in Dragon Age 4.
  • The presence of another prominent Tevinter character, Lesha (and that she's a Vint Warden!) tells me that yet again, Tevinter settings and characters are going to be really important in Dragon Age 4. John Epler also noted on Twitter that Ramesh is a person of color who in our world would be of Indian descent, so again, this suggests to me that he may be of Tevinter origin also.
  • Lesha's intuition about the forest reminds me strongly of Myrion's reactions when they entered Arlathan Forest, but here it's less about a sense of hidden power and is more openly toxic and antagonistic. This, too, is the work of ancient elves. Just... angrier, more arrogant elves. (It's interesting to note that Nevarra's biggest forest, the Planasene Forest, carries the ancient name for Nevarrans. Once upon a time, if we go back far enough, this wasn't Nevarra—but was evidently a key location for the ancient elves themselves.)
  • As soon as the two Wardens encounter hidden violence in the forest, there is a scent of "the sea on a stagnant day." As they are far from the sea and evidently nowhere near the coast (so are evidently pretty far north in the forest, if it is the Planasene), Ramesh is understandably freaked out.
  • Ramesh notes that the Deep Roads are closer to the surface here than they are in most of the rest of Thedas. This is a fascinating detail for me. Did we know this before about Nevarra?
  • Friedl, the rescued Warden, just says, over and over again: "We didn't know. And now we do. Oh, yes—we know better. They taught us, gave us a lesson." Hellooooo, Evanuris.
  • After revealing that she has clawed out her own eyes (!), Friedl turns to Ramesh and says that they need to leave this place "to her, to them!" Oh, man. This is good stuff. To her: And of course, it seems obvious in retrospect that the "she, or her," is ancient elven Evanuris and semi-goddess Ghilan'nain.
Why It's Ghilan'nain (It's SO TOTALLY Ghilan'nain)
Evidently not even the halla were safe from Ghilan'nain's experimentation...
 it's really upsetting! (Hush, little halla, you didn't hear this...)

So let me count the ways:

  • As we know, according to a Codex entry from the Temple of Mythal, Ghilan'nain was always a monster-maker, and she did actually make monsters, giants, and twisted creatures of air, earth and sea in the ancient days, that she later destroyed at Andruil's urging.
  • However she did not obliterate all of the monsters, most notably, those of the deepest parts of the sea, and—wait for it—you guys, it's too perfect—"Pride stayed her hand." Pride!

    I'm not sure this actually means SOLAS literally stopped Ghilan'nain from killing her sea monsters, but it's a fun idea -- maybe he just has a soft spot for giant squid? 

    MASKED WAITER: Table for Pride?
    SOLAS: Oh, yeah, sure. Pride. That's me.
    WAITER: Right this way!
    SOLAS: Thank you.
    WAITER: Would you like tea to start your meal?
    SOLAS: NO. I despise tea.
    WAITER: Dude, I make minimum wage and there's a pandemic on.
    SOLAS: Please forgive my rudeness. Water would be fine. Also, I will be ordering the calamari appetizer.
    WAITER: Very good, sir.
  • In some Dalish stories, Ghilan'nain is wounded and blinded by a hunter she cursed, and turned by Andruil into the first halla. Interestingly enough, only then is she raised from mortal to 'immortal' or godlike status. As always with the Dalish, we need to view this story as a twist or warped reflection of what actually happened.
  • Further, Ramesh dreams of Jovis, and in the dream, Jovis is blinded just as Friedl had been.
  • Don't forget that Ghilan'nain is also directly implicated (if we drank from the Well of Sorrows) in spurring a sacrilegious attempt by a 'sinner' who followed Dirthamen to take on the "forbidden" (draconic?) form of the gods. The act prompted swift anger and judgment from Mythal at levels unusual to her, so I always see this as one of the earliest attempts at active rebellion against Mythal, in which Ghilan'nain perhaps was testing the waters.
  • Ghil was the beloved of Andruil, whom Mythal pretty famously punished in a post-abyssal beatdown and then mindwiped. For that and other reasons, I could totally see Ghil being one of the first Evanuri to join Andruil as a major antagonist to Mythal after that (given Andruil's legendary hatred of Fen'Harel, I think she has to be his primary antagonist).
  • There is a symbol—the horns of a halla—repeating everywhere on the columns in the ancient elven chamber discovered by Lesha and Ramesh. The symbol seems to shift in a creepy and magical way out of the corner of the eye.
So yep. It's Ghil. Onward!

Just a reminder that the Qunari aren't the only ones
capable of creating explosives...
More Revelations
  • Ramesh's emotions are so bittersweet and sad, and his regrets are palpable. Over and over again, he revisits his chances with Jovis, even still carrying around the last note of love and hope Jovis had once sent him. I find the emphasis on regret interesting, as it carries us forward nicely (and thematically) into the next story, Lukas Kristjanson's "Callback" (but more on that in a future entry).
  • Lesha and Ramesh use ancient dwarven lyrium charges (like lyrium grenades) to access the deeper parts of Hormok's secrets. I completely forgot that we learned about these in Inquisition.
  • As they begin the descent from dwarven ruins to ancient elven ones, Lesha notices ancient carvings of three figures—"a supplicant, a priestess, and a monster." Ramesh notes that the beings are elven, but Lesha notes that the carvings themselves are dwarven. The series of carvings changes subtly as they go along, so that the priestess looks more and more cruel in each one, and the monster more and more changed.
  • For me, this story doubles down on the shared history of elves and dwarves that we glimpsed in DAI, as it notes casually that Wardens have always found a mixture of elven architecture way down in the Deep Roads, and further ties together and further bolsters my own theory that the dwarves were created as sort of mindless slave-worker bees for the elves themselves, meant to live lifetimes of toil underground, and perhaps only later freed by the death of a titan (my theory—the one that Mythal killed, which I posit was a self-sacrifice and mercy-killing). I further think this is what broke their 'hive mind' while also breaking their link to the Fade (alternative option: Mythal did it for them). But I haven't really organized those theories yet, so just ignore me.
  • In the next-to-last chamber, a gigantic and beautiful, awe-inspiring place, Ramesh notes the exquisite wall carvings, bas-reliefs in three parallel bands around the entire chamber. As in the Temple of Mythal, these are actually mosaics of tiny gemstones.

Let's look at the carvings with Ramesh, shall we?

  1. The topmost band depicts noble ancient elven royalty and respectful supplicants.
  2. The middle band depicts elven mages apparently healing and comforting the sick and dying.
  3. The bottom-most band shows incredibly elaborate ancient aravels being pulled by armies toward the mountains (including the very mountains above them now).
  4. Upon closer examination, the bands begin to appear vaguely wrong and corrupt, even frightening. The halla have "too many horns" and look "insectile." The aravels are not grand landships after all, but are revealed to be prison vessels with barred windows. And the mages aren't healing people, but corrupting them. And the elven rulers are increasingly shown to be contemptuous, arrogant, and disgusted with their cowering and terrified subjects.

    Is the yellow-greenish lyrium an important clue here?
    So let's look at these revelations: The Evanuris were imprisoning their own people and apparently dragging them to these different locations in order to corrupt and mutate them, building some kind of secret army. We already know from Inquisition that several of the 'gods' (Falon'Din, cough) also loved sacrificing large numbers of their subjects just for the fun of it. And of course, here, we also see that the Evanuris were also actively corrupting (not healing) their own people in further experimentation, leading massive armies to bring their prison ships to their doomed final destinations.

    Nah, that's not disturbing at all. (Seriously, Evanuris people, what was WRONG with you?)

    Wait, Where Have We Heard This Before...?

    Last but not least on this thoughtline is that it offers perhaps the subtlest of hints on another race in Thedas: The Kossith/Qunari. Who also can have varying numbers of horns, and whose origins Bull mused about in Dragon Age: Inquisition, wondering if the Qunari shared some dragon blood somehow:

    BULL: "Well, you know how we have horns? We kind of look more... dragony than most people. Maybe it's that.....But a few of the Ben-Hassrath have this crazy old theory. See, the tamassrans control who we mate with. They breed us for jobs like you'd breed dogs or horses. What if they mixed in some dragon a long time ago? Maybe drinking the blood, maybe magic. I don't know. But something in that dragon we killed... spoke to me."

    To me, this is a pretty big potential additional hint that the Qunari may in fact be the descendants of one of Ghilan'nain's first experimentations at combining or corrupting races or species.
More Lore Notes:
  • The corrupted, insectile halla are disturbing to consider. If there is any animal supposedly sacred to Ghilan'nain, and to the elves past and present, it is the halla, and yet here we see that she even warped the halla into monstrosities. This hit me as a truly profane and grotesque act. Just imagine how the Dalish would react!
  • The final chamber's lyrium glows with a "sickly" light that is, interestingly enough, not blue (or red), but yellow and green.
  • There's a lot of body horror in the final chamber—monsters warped and assembled grotesquely out of 'parts' to create a corrupted and terrifying army. But we do learn that the Darkspawn monsters are changed/warped simply by contact with the viscous pool, whereas Jovis tells Ramesh that the Wardens (and presumably all thinking or higher beings) had to actually drink from it to be transformed.
  • Jovis seems to imply that Ghilan'nain is doing all this with a purpose, but that she must be fought, and her chamber of horrors buried and destroyed: "She cannot have it. Not again. Locked for a reason."

    Locked—by a certain Dread Wolf, one assumes.
  • It's interesting to note that if you examine a map of Thedas (here's one of my favorites, a fantastically detailed, zoomable version thanks to The Wyrd Sisters of Thedas), there is a Grey Warden Prison located in the central Vimmarks, just Northeast of the Planasene Forest. Which further makes me think that's the general area of this story's setting, as it involves multiple Grey Warden parties scouting the area. This also gives Ramesh a believable and easily accessible place to which he can return with his sad (and scary) news.
  • Ramesh's horrified realization that this was just one of twelve different chambers of ancient horrors, and that there are eleven remaining under eleven other distinct mountain peaks, definitely gives me further food for thought.

Which mountains? My totally wild guesses, just using proximity of peaks/mountains to ancient elves, dwarves, or general Thin Veil Spots, might include: 
Time to take a closer look at the mountains of Thedas...

  1. A peak in the Hunterhorn Mountains in far Western Thedas (perhaps near Kal-Sharok and the Blasted Hills)
  2. The White Spire peak, North of Brynnlaw, and East of Arlathan Forest. (For me this one's almost a certainty. It's a lonely mountain near the most ancient elven location in all Thedas!)
  3. A mountain in the Gamordan Peaks in far Southwestern Orlais—perhaps even near Mont de Glace ("Ice Mountain"), another solo peak?
  4. In the Southern Frostback Mountains, perhaps farther East, towards Valammar? (I don't think there's one near Skyhold, because Solas would not have chosen an 'unclean' area for his castle.)
  5. Near Bownammar (Dead Trenches), Southeast of Lothering, Northwest corner of the Southron Hills. There are Elven ruins not far away to the Northeast, as well.
  6. A peak in The Hundred Pillars between Tevinter and Antiva. There's access to a ton of ancient elven locations to the West, and it's perfectly situated to cause trouble.
  7. Soldier's Peak (The Coastlands, Southeast of Highever, and directly West of Amaranthine)
  8. Talo's Eye, a lone peak in the Northeastern Anderfels
  9. Arl Dumat, a lone peak below the Urthemiel Plateau (Northwest of the Forbidden Oasis)
  10. Perhaps another near The Colossus and Kal Repartha in the Northwest Hissing Wastes
  11. With so many ancient ruins, there's got to be something near the Arbor Wilds, perhaps in the Uncharted Territories.

Final Musings

This last revelation of eleven more locations is quite the bombshell. If these things are scattered across Thedas in eleven other places, it's pretty freaking terrifying! It's basically eleven massive, ancient Elvhen bombs waiting to detonate. It would make the "Dragon's Breath" plot by the Qunari look like child's play in comparison. (NEW: The very smart and helpful Q. McLamore on Twitter also reminded me of the crucial lore that since Origins, we have heard rumor of "Twelve great Thaigs" in history past. Which is so exciting and maddening!)

All of this brings up further questions for me, as well. First and foremost, why were the Evanuris seeding terror, corruption and death across all of Thedas thousands of years ago, creating monstrous armies-in-waiting?

Was this in reaction to Mythal and Solas's division from their ranks? Or a reaction to something bigger, or something they simply anticipated? Remember, at this point, elves ruled everything. So why do this? What were they so afraid of? And why would beings that valued power, beauty, life and learning (according to the Shattered Library) so allow themselves to be twisted by arrogance that they would become creators of monstrous death? Or were they so bored with immortality at this point that it was just one more way to create drama and kick an anthill on the most massive scale? 

All of this is possible. Especially since I've always believed that Andruil created (or sparked the awakening of) the Blight and Darkspawn after becoming blighted and insane in the Abyss. So it certainly sounds like she and monster-making Ghilan'nain were a match made in heaven, if so.

If nothing else, "Horror of Hormak" pretty definitively backs up Solas's
account that the Evanuris were evil and needed to be stopped.
These revelations about the corruption and cruelty of the Evanuris also serve another purpose—they independently confirm Solas's revelations in "Trespasser" that he was fighting against beings who had become evil and corrupt with power. Which I already believed, based on what we were presented, and based on the revelations of the Codices, the Well of Sorrows, Solas's ancient tower mosaics, and the dialogues with Flemeth. However, whether or not Solas was telling the truth has still been a topic for frequent debate since "Trespasser"—understandably so—and yet here we have the Evanuris seemingly confirming those facts with their own hands, deeds, and mosaics.

This is especially important, to me, because it's continuing to keep Solas balanced between hero and villain, emphasizing Solas's complexity as a character (and confirming that his origins were pretty undeniably heroic). The people who created this chamber, who carved those carvings, who murdered Mythal, who enslaved their own people, who treated the dwarves like mindless things, who siphoned off the blood of Titans—these people deserved to be stopped.

The 'horror' of Hormok is that the ancient evanuris appear to be even worse than Solas described them. They were not gods, but monsters.

But what do you think?

Thanks as always for checking this out. I'll be taking a look at "Callback" next in the series (get out your handkerchiefs, people!). Meanwhile, stay safe out there.

TEVINTER NIGHTS Analysis: The Dread Wolf Take You

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