Friday, September 25, 2020

Fund My Kickstarter to Make "DREAMS, DRAGONS, AND DREAD WOLVES" Criticism Book a Reality!

CASSANDRA: The Inquisition! You're not planning to write a book about us, are you?

Hello, fellow Thedosians!

After over three years of writing this blog of criticism and exploration of Dragon Age, I'm excited and humbled to announce that I'm Kickstarting a full-length nonfiction criticism book on Dragon Age, called Dreams, Dragons, and Dread Wolves. I'm so excited I'm a mess. I'm speaking Qunlat and elven to strangers. I give weird looks to mirrors. You get the idea.

But it's happening at last. Dreams, Dragons, and Dread Wolves will offer an array of in-depth analyses, critiques and explorations of Dragon Age: Inquisition, its companions and advisors, and its villain/antihero Solas. The book will also include my predictions and theories for Dragon Age 4 after the revelations of the DAI DLCs ("The Descent," "Jaws of Hakkon," and "Trespasser"), as well as those of Tevinter Nights and the tempting teasers released by the BioWare team. And all in a collectible hardcover book.

My hope is that this is a must for fans of Dragon Age, and if the project is funded, would be completely unique as the world's only independent and comprehensive literary and critical analysis on Thedas in print.

The Project in a Nutshell

After falling in love with Dragon Age, what I've always really wanted was to create a book of criticism that wasn't like anything else out there on gaming or RPGs, that offered critiques of this gorgeous series that treated the writing and worldbuilding with respect—and that analyzed them on a formal, even literary level. Or at least, that was my goal. I haven't always succeeded—I still feel like I should have written more, covered more characters. But I have made headway in the past 3-4 years, with more than 110 blog posts and ridiculous walls of text. And it's been a blast.

I love the world of Thedas, so this book is something I've dreamed of creating. Coming this close to realizing that goal, I can't tell you what it means to me. Now let's take a look at the project in a nutshell:

  • GOALS: $12,500 to fund an eBook and limited collectible print run of a special hardcover edition that offers a complete, in-depth and entertaining critical analysis of the world, characters, romances, and quests in DRAGON AGE INQUISITION.
  • STRETCH GOALS: $20,000 will expand the book by adding a FULL section of chapters on DRAGON AGE ORIGINS characters, romances and story. $27,500 in stretch funding will add another FULL section of chapters on DRAGON AGE II characters, romances, and story. $35,000 will add a section of detailed analyses and discussions of ALL Game DLCs. $40,000 will add a section of analyses on ALL DRAGON AGE NOVELS, MOVIES AND COMICS. There's plenty more content I can add from there (including timelines, quest analyses per game that include ALL quests, etc.), so let's see how it goes!
  • EBOOK: All formats
  • HARDCOVER PRINT RUN (EMBOSSED COLLECTIBLE): 250/500/1000/2000/more copies (possible via stretch goals, depending on demand).
  • PAGES: Approximately 450 (although this will be more if stretch goals are met)
  • KICKSTARTER FUNDING TARGET: $12,500 or above for hardcover print run at cost; $25,000 or higher to cover writing, editing and additional fees, as well as higher print runs (and print extras such as higher page counts, flocked pages, and more.
  • REWARDS AND GOODIES: I will be editing these as the project moves along, and hope to be able to add more rewards and goodies to come. 
  • KICKSTARTER LINK: Find and fund my project at

    And thanks for whatever you can contribute! And no pressure -- if you can't support me right now, I hope you'll share where you can with other Dragon Age and gaming friends. 

The Details

The book is written by me, and is a heavily expanded version of my posts and analyses right here on "Dumped, Drunk and Dalish." But the book isn't just going to be some kind of rehash of previous blog posts—instead, what I'm doing here is to take every single Inquisition-focused blog post I made about the larger history of the game, its companions, heroes, villains, advisors, and NPCs, as well as peoples including spirits, demons, the Evanuris, Tevinter, the Qunari, the Chantry, and beyond—and I'll be expanding, updating, and re-ordering those elements into chapters and themes that move us through the backstory of Dragon Age Inquisition chronologically, as well as by emotion and approach. 

Story, Companion, Romance, and Loyalty Quest Analyses

The book will include character analyses from those you've seen here, on The Iron Bull, to Solas, Cullen, Cole, and many more, to those not yet posted to my blog, on key figures from Leliana, Josephine, Dorian, Blackwall, Varric, and Vivienne, to Krem, Celene, Briala,  and dozens of other major characters across Dragon Age Inquisition.

I'll also be including an analysis of the main story plot from beginning to end (and major Inquisitor quests), Companion analyses (including all loyalty quests), and detailed analysis and discussion of all game romances—from Solas, Cullen, Sera, Josie, Cassandra, Blackwall, Dorian, and The Iron Bull, to Adoribull, to the quiet flirtations of Blackwall and Josephine, of Maryden and her three different potential suitors (Krem, Cole, and Zither) and of Scout Harding to a smitten Inquisitor. I also take a look at unromanceable characters and their relationships, like Varric's complex relationship with Bianca, or Vivienne's secret tenderness for Bastien.

From old to new, all of these chapters will move fluidly one after the other, section by section, and each chapter will bring a new exploration and perspective. I'll also be including discussion of Companions with high Disapproval of our Inquisitors, and how those Disapprovals can change the game.

Right now in semfinal draft form, it's about 115 chapters organized across seven sections. 

Promo Decisions

As far as where this work fits into the fandom world of Dragon Age, I want to be blunt and transparent, and to note how supportive BioWare and so many team members have been when it comes to my blog, and how grateful I am to them all. So many writers, devs, and artists (and more) have always been kind, accessible, and interactive, and I can't thank them enough.

For this reason and so many more, from a big-picture standpoint, I've done everything I can here to plan and create something that's legal nonfiction criticism and discussion, and wholly unique (I hope). AND... separate.

That's why I'm attempting to fund my book without asking for my acquaintances and friends at BioWare to share it, because I don't want to put them in any position to feel conflicted, and because I worry that even if they did support my project, such shares or likes might constitute some kind of endorsement, or put them in a position of having to feel used by me as some kind of conduit. They're good and generous people who work way too hard, and I don't want to make their lives more difficult in any way.

Ultimately, while this book is a real culmination for me, just know that it won't end my blog or my love for this universe. Dreams, Dragons, and Dread Wolves simply gives me a different way to criticize, discuss, and celebrate the world BioWare has given us.

Thanks for Supporting!

I know these are tough times for everyone. We're all battling our own Breach in the sky right now, so just know that I'd be truly privileged simply to fund the eBook and smallest print run. However, it would be amazing to achieve stretch goals, so that I can get the project to the point where I can guarantee a larger print run, to offer content on ALL games, and earn some income to cover the years this project has taken me to prepare. But fingers crossed!

Please note that the book is currently primarily focused on the main game world and Inquisition, but I will add commensurate (huge) sections and chapters on Origins, Dragon Age II, the DLCs, novels, movies and more, as stretch goals are achieved.

More on this in the next few weeks—and thanks! Please stay safe out there, okay?

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... 

Fund My Kickstarter to Make "DREAMS, DRAGONS, AND DREAD WOLVES" Criticism Book a Reality!

CASSANDRA: The Inquisition! You're not planning to write a book about us, are you? Hello, fellow Thedosians! After over three years of ...