Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Parallel and Paradox of "In Hushed Whispers"

In an unimaginable awakening to a hellish future, sometimes the best solution is simply to end it all and start over. This approach may ennoble the Inquisitor, but it villainizes Solas—and asks us to consider some interesting questions.

SOLAS: This world is an abomination. It must never come to pass.

It's a daunting scenario for a hero.

You're the leader of your people. You're courageous and willing to risk your own life, to walk into a trap, to confront a tyrant that you know wants to kill you and everyone you care about. Who's willing to end the world if they can't rule it.

You show up, everything goes wrong, and the next thing you know, you're in a nightmare world. Everything you tried to do is destroyed. Reality is unimaginably grim, a hellscape. 

You're faced with only one potential solution: End this reality. Kill this nightmare so this world never comes to pass. You're saddened at the idea of ending this world, watching your companions die... but accept that it must be done.

It's an interesting situation. Especially since I'm not describing the Inquisitor's situation.

I'm talking about Solas.

The Inquisitor's situation is treated from beginning to end as a regrettable, straightforwardly tragic situation in which there is only one workable outcome: annihilation of this world and future.
The Deliberate Parallels

I've talked about this before in my post on "Solas and the Waking Nightmare," but I've always felt that "In Hushed Whispers," one of the most pivotal questlines in Dragon Age: Inquisition, offered deliberate parallels between the scenario facing the Inquisitor and the one facing Solas upon his awakening before the game story began.

What's interesting here is that the Inquisitor's situation is treated from beginning to end as a regrettable, straightforwardly tragic situation in which there is only one workable outcome: This corrupted world in which she finds herself must be destroyed (note: as always, I'm referring to my Inky by the gender of my canon character). There's no judgment for this decision the Inquisitor makes. Her companions immediately back her up on it without hesitation. They are, all of them, instantly willing to sacrifice their lives. There is no apparent moral conundrum regarding the Inquisitor's decision at all.

"In Hushed Whispers" is one of my favorite quests across Dragon Age, but I would have loved it even more if there had been more of a grey area to the choice our Inquisitor must make there. What if she had met someone wonderful, whose life would not exist in the other timeline, for instance? (Or maybe that would've been too on the nose?)

Regardless, in light of the new #TheDreadWolfRises Dragon Age 4 teaser with its red lyrium elements and with that sad, exhausted-sounding Solas at the end, there's never been a better time to go back and reexamine "In Hushed Whispers" to see what other secrets may lie hidden there.

There are many parallels between Solas's stories of the Evanuris and the Chantry's creation myth, and those parallels are genuinely shiver-inducing. Especially if you actually read them in a whisper-voice. 

The Canticle of Threnodies

"In Hushed Whispers" was written by Mary Kirby, and I loved finding out that she listened to Gershwin while writing it (Rhapsody in Blue? Porgy and Bess? Or the timeless song standards?). Kirby's writing meshes with the deft talents of the other character writers—in this playthrough for me, those would have included two of my favorite regular callouts—Patrick Weekes (Solas and Iron Bull) and David Gaider (Dorian). Kirby is also credited with writing the majority of the Chant of Light (a superb and daunting work on its own within the Dragon Age universe I'll be exploring further), and I think there's a lot of hidden meaning to the fact that this quest's title comes from the key events of the Canticle of Threnodies within.

The Canticle of Threnodies is the portion of the Chant of Light that describes the past beyond the Fade, and which outlines the very creation of the world itself, and in which we, post-"Trespasser," can certainly see tantalizing parallels between the Chantry's version of events and those described by Solas:

And so we burned. We raised nations, we waged wars,
We dreamed up false gods, great demons
Who could cross the Veil into the waking world,
Turned our devotion upon them, and forgot you.

I'll be examining the Chant in detail in a future series of blog posts, but this certainly sounds like the Evanuris to me. (I'm so fascinated with the Chant, mostly to find the little moments they got right, not wrong!)

The Canticle of Threnodies goes on to outline the Maker's creation of the world, his children his 'people' who appeared to be spirits (and, perhaps, elves?), the Golden City, and his growing dissatisfaction with his firstborns, despite the fact that they basically just stood around and sang his praises. The Maker, unhappy with the 'formlessness' of the Fade and the world of the spirits, erects the Veil in one vast and metaphysical shake-up.

And the Voice of the Maker shook the Fade
Saying: In My image I have wrought
My firstborn. You have been given dominion
Over all that exists. By your will
All things are done.
Yet you do nothing. 
The realm I have given you
Is formless, ever-changing.

What's notable here is that there is no great and mythical moment of sin and retribution—no fall of Lucifer, no Eve and the apple, no murder of Mythal. He's just... dissatisfied ("And He knew He had wrought amiss"). And He therefore divides the Fade from the tangible world, shutting the spirits away and ushering in a habitable space for His favorite shiny new kids, the humans:

Here, I decree
Opposition in all things:
For earth, sky
For winter, summer
For darkness, Light.
By My Will alone is Balance sundered
And the world given new life

It's fun to imagine Solas's face when he heard these words for the first time. I have to think he would have smiled, even if there was probably little humor in it.

Meanwhile, at this point in the Canticle, the Maker seals himself off in the Golden City, waiting to see what his fabulous new kids will create. And it's only here that the Maker's firstborn children, understandably a bit peevish over current events, take action, deciding to take power over the world from which they were unceremoniously removed—and the Maker casts them down, imprisoning them "in tombs of immutable rock" for all time.

Now, beyond the twisted parallels we can see between Solas's stories of the Evanuris and the Chantry's creation myth, there's also the fascinating final stanza that describes the insidious revenge of those cast-down demons and spirits, the would-be gods, who gave their worshippers, "in hushed whispers, the secrets of darkest magic."

I mean, that's genuinely shiver-inducing. Not to mention a perfect echo of what our Inquisitor encounters when Alexius catapults them into an unthinkable future.

But let's get back to the Quest...

Travels with Dorian

For me, one of the best things about "In Hushed Whispers" (or IHW for short) is how seamlessly it structures our introduction to new companion Dorian, so that he instantly feels like a friend and supporter. When we find ourselves in the gloomy nightmare future of Redcliffe Castle, the first thing Dorian does is reassure us that he will protect us if danger looms, and I'm sure I was one of many thousands who instantly melted a little at the gallantry.

It's a terrific introduction to Dorian, who is instantly a lot of fun—arrogant and slightly pompous, but also charming, funny, and kind. The storyline of the quest provides a scenario that gives us a tremendous amount of information on Dorian and his relationships with Alexius and Felix in a very natural and unforced way. It's also a situation that spotlights Dorian's keen intelligence and curiosity -- yes, he's famously, ridiculously, handsome, but Dorian's also a really smart guy, and his intense curiosity and joy in puzzle-solving are on full display.

Dorian is an interesting companion choice here, because he's both involved emotionally, and also detached on some levels too. He's not in this for our friends, he's there because he cares about our antagonist (Alexius) even if he's now his greatest foe. Throughout the quest, Dorian repeatedly talks about his concern for Alexius even as we're facing the hellish aftermath of this reality and the devastating outcomes for much-loved companions and advisors. 

Dorian can be tone-deaf about the situation, to say the least. For instance, perhaps his worst moment is (later on) when he attempts to quiz Leliana about the fate of his beloved friend Felix only moments after we rescue Leliana from a full year of pain, torture, abuse and loss. You get the sense that her pain, or the pain of the situation doesn't quite touch him the way it touches the Inquisitor,  and that it does so differently—he's grieving Alexius and Felix even while we're grieving our companions and friends. He's going, "I can't believe he'd do this," while we're going, "Oh my God, everything I loved is gone and my friends are dying."

Dorian is a fascinating companion for this quest, and it manages to spotlight his intelligence, dedication, charm—as well as his pragmatism.

Corrupted Companions

One of the most effective and moving moments in the quest occurs when we go into the dungeons and discover our long-lost companions. The introductions to these alternate-future companions are both darkly funny (Bull's resignedly singing the folk song "99 Bottles of Beer" to himself, and it feels like maybe he's lost count more than a few times...) and terribly sad (poor Sera, reciting "Where Willows Wail" brokenly to herself (yes, I think this is a HUGE detail), is terrified to see us, then poignantly talks about running out of arrows the day she was captured). Blackwall, like Sera, is terrified at our return from death, while Cassandra (reciting the "Chant of Light" alone to herself) sees it as a source of comfort, as divine resurrection. 

I found it interesting that Varric, like Bull, is singing (or humming) to comfort himself—Varric is the only companion who doesn't ask how we returned from death, but who simply asks "How did you escape?" I love this sly implication that Varric's faith runs this deep; that he doesn't question whether we live (like almost everyone else), he just wants to know, like any good writer, "What's the twist? How did you get away?")

Meanwhile Vivienne, true to form, doesn't trust for a moment. She is all too aware of the deviousness of men and demons, and so she properly does not believe in us at first, and simply assumes we're yet another attempt by her jailers to trick or tempt her. Watching Vivienne in this scene, I instantly felt like I was getting a glimpse of her Harrowing, where surely she just as easily waved away any incipient demons with an elegant dismissal (as Solas once noted, surely any Pride Demon she met would have given up instantly upon meeting her). Vivienne joins the Inquisitor and Dorian with her usual hint of steel—she doubts they'll succeed, "But I would like to hurt something very badly right now," she says quietly, and surely somewhere even Corypants shivered just a little. It's probably my favorite moment for Viv ever: she knows she's dying, she's a lady, but dammit... she will have her due. 

And then there's the discovery of Solas...

This quest is unquestionably one of the grimmest to occur in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but it holds many riches if we're willing to look past the darkness.

Secrets from Solas

Given what we later discover about his own goals and secrets, Solas's reaction is perhaps most interesting of all.

We hear his voice as we enter the prison: "Is someone there?" The Inquisitor approaches with Dorian (and potentially the other party member), finding Solas, who is emanating red lyrium like the other corrupted companions, his eyes glowing red, and with that oddly deep, doubled "red lyrium voice," as if we are hearing a deeper resonance or echo beneath it. 

And yes, it certainly sounds familiar—an awful lot like the choked, exhausted voice of Solas at the end of the new "The Dread Wolf Rises" trailer.

Solas is visibly stunned as we enter. He actually reels backward. 

SOLAS: You're alive? We saw you die!
DORIAN: The spell Alexius cast displaced us in time. We just got here, so to speak.
SOLAS: Can you reverse the process? You could return and obviate the events of the last year. It may not be too late.

Out of all the companions we encounter in this future, it's Solas who instantly grasps what's happening, and who instantly posits the solution. 

Of course he does. He's been here before, after all, when he awakened the year before the Conclave exploded. And he came to the very same conclusion then.

Going forward in the dialogue with Solas provides some additional clues depending on our choices:


INQUISITOR: You look... bad. Is there anything I can do to help?
SOLAS: I am dying, but no matter. If you can undo this, they can all be saved.

But you know nothing of this world. It is far worse than you understand. 
Alexius served a master: The Elder One. He reigns now, unchallenged. His minions assassinated Empress Celene, and used the chaos to invade the South. This Elder One commands an army of demons. After you stop Alexius, you must be prepared. 

INQUISITOR: We can't do this without you.
SOLAS: If there is any hope, any way to save them... my life is yours.

The fact that Solas doesn't hesitate to offer his life is, for me, surprisingly emotional. Solas may be hiding his own secrets, but he puts his money where his mouth is—he's just as willing to die for a better world as he is to (potentially) kill for one.


INQUISITOR: I’m glad you understood what he just said because I’m not sure I did.
SOLAS: You would think such understanding would stop me from making such terrible mistakes. You would be wrong. But you know nothing of this world. It is far worse than you understand.

INQUISITOR: You are just brimming with good news, aren't you?
SOLAS: If you can return to your present, you might find it helpful to know what the Elder One plans.

What's notable here is that Solas admits to his "terrible" mistakes. The third option, meanwhile, isn't really much different (he simply reminds us to "remember this future. It may help you prevent it").

In the end, no matter which dialogue option we choose here, Solas ends with words that are both prophetic and ironic:

This world is an abomination. It must never come to pass.

I... think Solas may have spoken those words before.

Out of all the companions we encounter in this future, it's Solas who instantly grasps what's happening, and who instantly posits the solution. Of course he does. He's been here before, after all.

Finishing the Quest

As we run through the quest, encountering tragic echoes of other characters from our time in Redcliffe, from an imprisoned, apparently mad Lysas, to a dying Fiona (now grotesquely half-lyrium, who tells us about Leliana and gives us the year as 9:42 Dragon), to a Connor who, if present, self-immolates as we enter the room to avoid abomination. We may also encounter the arrogant mage from the tavern, Linnea, sacrificing a fellow mage despite his pleas to spare his life.

The most notable reference by Solas as we wrap up our quest for red lyrium shards to access Alexius's private quarters is when he notes, as we traverse a courtyard, "The Veil is shattered. There is no boundary now between the world and the Fade."

Now, I have questions, here: Is a "shattered" Veil different from a Veil that has been removed, torn down

Because that's a key, crucial detail. Is this, then, a glimpse of a world without a Veil? 

I'd argue that the answer is no. What Solas wants to do in "Trespasser" is to enter the Fade (using the Mark), tear down the Veil, and in the raw chaos, restore the world of the ancient elves using his magic. As you know, I do not think he'll do this, but... is this a glimpse of that raw chaos?

I'm divided on that. Solas seems so horrified at the state of the world, there are rifts spawning everywhere; he's never even once remotely or secretly empowered or exhilarated by what he witnesses. So to me that seems to imply that a "shattered" Veil isn't the same world state as an absent one (I'm guessing, for one thing, that the shattered aspect would cause even more rifts and demonic upheavals, which certainly looks like what faces us here).

Also, it has to be said, but Red Lyrium Solas is even hotter than regular Solas (the corruption gives his character this sort of wan, vampiric look), so it's just further confirmation that I am obviously evil and going to hell, because, yes, I would absolutely still Hit That. Seriously. (Call me, Red Lyrium Solas!)

The True Believer

Then we find Leliana, and she is absolutely magnificent here. She's come a long way from the sweet young bard we met in Origins, who was inspired by a flowering rose to serve the Maker's will. Here, in this hellish future, despite a year of constant torture, she is a woman made of steel, her belief in the Maker and in a better afterlife sustaining her through unthinkable torment.

When we find her, a Venatori captor runs his hand along a tray of torture instruments, telling a Leliana hanging in chains, "You will break," to which she quietly responds, "I will die first." Then the Inquisitor enters, and Leliana instantly uses the distraction to break the torturer's neck with her legs.

Then she gets right down to brass tacks, brushing away any attempts by the Inquisitor to assuage or comfort her. "You need to end this," she says, then begins to gather weapons.

Dorian's thrown by her immediate acceptance of the situation:

DORIAN: You... aren't curious how we got here?

Dorian begins to explain anyway, with the Inquisitor chiming in with several potential responses on how they'll save her, or this isn't real, et cetera.

LELIANA: Enough. This is all pretend to you. Some future you hope will never exist. I suffered. The whole world suffered. It was real.

I think this is so important, and Leliana really gives us the gravitas that this entire interlude requires—the knowledge that people really did suffer unimaginably. People we cared about. Where's Josie? Where's Cullen? Where are our other companions? It's pretty obvious they didn't survive.

It's worth pointing out that during this quest, we find several important notes or diaries, most notably Alexius's Journal, which notes that despite "countless" time resets (remember what I said about Fiona having no choice in what she did?), he cannot skip back to any time before the Breach. We also find a horrifying "Studies on the Blight," which dryly and dispassionately outlines Leliana's terrible torture over the past year, as well as her mystifying immunity to the Blight itself.

Dorian, meanwhile, pauses now and then to admit to the Inquisitor that this situation is painful for him from a different perspective. He once idolized and loved Alexius like a mentor, a second father, and (I believe) with a hint perhaps of romantic love. His respect for Alexius and love for Felix don't exactly cause him to excuse Alexius's behavior, but he continues to express disbelief that he would go this far ("Once he was a man to whom I compared all others"), and to hope that the Inquisition will be merciful.

Leliana has no room for mercy. When Dorian asks her if she knows what happened to Felix, there is a quiet yet utterly understandable cruelty in her response: "Yes." She will elaborate no further. She won't give him solace. She has no kindness left within her.

Then we confront Alexius, and Leliana confronts him on his monstrosity over the past year, coolly cutting the throat of Felix (now a zombie from the progression of the Blight, and foreshadowing a later, similar situation) without even the pretense that there will be a bargain here with her. All she wants now is vengeance. We take out Alexius (and it's a pretty fun boss battle, with lots of magic and rift-closing), then it's time to use the amulet. 

Dorian, predictably, is confident and almost casual. "Give me an hour to work out the spell he used, and I should be able to reopen the rift."

Leliana is openly contemptuous. "An hour! That's impossible! You must go now!"

The earth shakes, and she and Solas both echo the same thought—the Elder One approaches, and we cannot stay.

Then there's a quiet look between the two remaining companions, whoever we bring, and then a nod, as they wordlessly agree to die for us. Right in this moment, and it always kills me. It's just beautifully rendered by the artists and animators here (as is this entire quest; the sparking red lyrium is beautiful and grotesque all at once).

SOLAS: We'll hold the outer door. When they get past us, it will be your turn.
INQUISITOR: No. I won't let you commit suicide. (alternate: We'll make this count.)
LELIANA: Look at us. We're already dead. The only way we live is if this day never comes.

They go through the door, resolute and ready to die, and we watch as it closes behind them.

LELIANA: Cast your spell. You have as much time as I have arrows.

Dorian begins the cast as Leliana readies her bow. The doors crash open as she smoothly shoots the darkspawn and demons that enter. As she fights, she recites the Chant, and we see, once and for all, how deeply Leliana's belief sustains her.

It is a tragic but deeply triumphant moment. Leliana, ravaged, hollow-eyed, and prematurely aged by her tortures, is nevertheless luminous here, glowing against the darkness, and the framing and direction by director Mike Laidlaw and Cinematic Director Pierre Michel-Estival is just stunning, as is the vocal performance by voice actress Corrine Kempa. Trevor Morris's driving score soars, and the moment is rich, cinematic, and absolutely devastating. For me, it remains a hallmark moment across DAI (and all the games) for emotion and terrible beauty.

LELIANA: Though darkness closes, I am shielded by flame.

The next moment, you'll see one of your companions die, as their dead body is thrown casually through the door (for me it was Bull this time, but in other playthroughs it was Solas, Varric, Cassandra, etc.).

LELIANA: Andraste guide me. Maker, take me to your side.

She is out of arrows. She begins to fight hand to hand, clearly doomed, yet still she takes out, one, two, three, four antagonists. She keeps fighting. More keep coming. She begins to use her bow as a blunt instrument, leaping over her attackers. She is clearly doomed.

The Inquisitor may try to approach her, but Dorian stops her, as they must go now, to prevent this future from taking place.

The last thing we see, as the Inquisitor unwillingly leaps with Dorian into the window to the corrected past, is Leliana's face as she is captured and a darkspawn holds her by the throat. She is calm. Her eyes widen as death approaches. Then we are, thankfully, spared the image of her actual death, then Dorian and the Inquisitor take the leap and we fade to black.

And then everything's fixed.

But... not quite. Because we were there. We saw it all.

Never test Leliana on the depths of her belief. Even in this horrific future, ravaged, hollow-eyed, and prematurely aged by her tortures, she is steadfast and luminous, willing to die for a better world.

The Aftermath

The conversations after this interlude, with present-day Leliana and whoever we brought on the mission, are fascinating. I love Leliana's reaction, because when we tell her "I saw you die, you sacrificed yourself for me," she simply shrugs and answers, "Of course." It's an echo back to the badass we just watched—we're reminded with zero doubt that if Leliana needs to give her life for the Inquisition, she will do so, and without hesitation.

And if we talk to Solas, it's interesting for an entirely different set of reasons, knowing why he's really here and what he wants to do. And if you know who he is and what he wants, there's so much to explore and consider there. I have to think the parallels are deliberate, right? How can they not be?

When we talk to Solas directly after, at first he's typically excited on a scientific level (it reminded me very much of Dorian here), wondering how sure we are that we visited an actual alternative future. Then he is visibly exhilarated, almost inspired, when we reaffirm that it was a trip to an alternate future. 

"What an amazing gift," he says. "It is vital the Inquisition succeed, to avoid the future you witnessed." Then he doubles down on this, telling the Inquisitor to remember this moment, if they ever feel hesitant about the necessity of the Inquisition’s actions. 

We don't know it, but we just reinforced his agenda, the righteousness of his belief. Depending on how "elfy" you are, and whether you think his plans will ever come to pass, this will either comfort you or terrify you. Or both.

Either way, the alternate future is done. Taken care of.


That world was an abomination. And now it will never come to pass.

NOTE: Apologies on the un-edited screenshots. I just don't have time right now to crop them all, so I appreciate your patience. I do plan on fixing them all, here and throughout the blog, at some point soon.

Monday, December 10, 2018

"The Dread Wolf Rises" Teaser Breakdown Part 2: Burned Bridges, Trees, and Idols

We lost eternity and the ruined tree of the People
Time won’t help when the land of dreams is no longer our journey

Just a few more thoughts and ideas from our favorite new teaser trailer! Apologies as always for the length, rambles and walls of text... I hope you enjoy anyway, and find a few new ideas to consider.

The Mysteriously Cropped Mural

First off, I was sort of knocked out to realize that the officially shared mural is actually CROPPED.

So the mural I was doing all my initial hysterical analysis on... was cropped. Sneaky BioWare! There are actually three different versions out there.


Here's the "original" version as shared by BioWare:

Here's the image the BioWare mural artist Nick Thornborrow shared via Artstation:

And last but not least, here's a look at what appears to be the complete and entire mural:

New Elements from the Wider View

The figure I believe to be Solas is standing on an arched road, or what I believe to be a bridge. A burning bridge, to be exact (gotta love those sneaky metaphors), whose flames are burnished with bright gold.

Not only do we see the full tree behind him, but it is visibly burned, and there is something winding up the center of the trunk in a diagonal fashion. This makes me fairly certain the tree is a vhenadahl, one of the trees sacred to Elves, and which is frequently painted or decorated to celebrate the elves. 

According to this Codex entry from Dragon Age: Origins (by Sarethia, Hahren of the Highever Alienage), the vhenadahl was also a symbol of Arlathan, a fact increasingly forgotten by modern elves:
So it is with the vhenadahl, the tree of the people. Every alienage has one, I'm told. Or they used to. When I was a little girl, my mother told me the tree was a symbol of Arlathan, but not even she knew more. 
For extra echoes and gravitas, it's worth noting that, further, "Burn the Vhenadahl" is an actual quest in the Dragon Age:Origins DLC, "The Darkspawn Chronicles." And now here we are looking at an actual burned vhenadahl—is it a representation of destroyed Arlathan? Is it a representation of something more recent? Did the tree burn in the "raw chaos" of the destruction of the Veil (which we may be seeing now)? 

Last but not least, another tantalizing point was made by my friend Eryn Earls, who noted the tree may also reference the vallasdahlen, or "life-trees," the trees planted by the Dalish to honor and remember those who were gone (and that legendarily grew into a mighty wood). The term also references the Dalish practice of planting a tree on the grave of an elf as part of the funeral ritual (and possibly as a protective act against demons). And last but not least, I believe it may also subtly reference Andruil and the Vir Tanadhal, or "Way of Three Trees" (I'm telling you, Andruil is gonna have a big part to play in DA4. I'm convinced. Subtly, she's everywhere we look.)

Where Willows Wail

Speaking of lore, the ancient elven poem "Where Willows Wail" has some very intriguing elements, and one very important tree reference (please note that I have taken the liberty of smoothing out some of the translation here and that it is of course subjective in nature). It's fun to note that the opening stanza is in iambic tetrameter (or, in a series with four "feet," or unstressed/stressed syllables in a row)—it made me wonder if Patrick Weekes wrote this?

Let's take a closer look:

When waked, we walked where willows wail,
Whose withered windings want wassail.
We weary-worn with wited wale,
Were wavering with wanion ward.
When wishing waned, we wighters warred.
When wolfen wan, we wastrels warred.

We lost eternity and the ruined tree of the People
Time won’t help when the land of dreams is no longer our journey
We try to lead despite the eventual failing of our markings.
To the inevitable and troubling freedom we are committed.
When we could no longer believe, we lost glory to war.
When the Wolf won, we lost the People to war.

It's worth noting this for a few reasons: First off, for the pretty fascinating parallels buried within its lines, as quoted above.

I love all the hidden references to waking and dreaming—obviously, I believe, references to the Fade and to uthenera. I think most of the poem is actually spoken from the point of view of one of the ancient elven sentinels, like Abelas, both mourning the past and their own weakness (the "eventual failing of our markings"). The loss of eternity and tree is of course the loss of immortality, and the loss of the People in general (and Arlathan). It's interesting that they, like Solas, view their commitment to freedom as both necessary and troubling. And of course, in the end, they lost it all.

Solas, it might be argued, is the last sentinel elf. And the most vigilant. 

And now "the land of dreams is no longer [his] journey," which also echoes his final conversation with a romanced Inquisitor, when he tells her he now walks the path of death, the din'anshiral, and he would not have her see what he becomes. I feel like this mural's very title could be "The Din'anshiral."

The Possible Sera Connection

This poem is also important to note, however because it's the poem Sera quotes to a high-friendship or romanced Inquisitor as a bit of nonsense out of her Denerim childhood—nonsense that just happens to be an ancient piece of high elven lore! Now this could just be coincidence, but... I don't think it is.

If I add in these elements: Sera's echoing and intriguing connection to Andruil (complete with hidden signs and symbols on her Tarot), her reciting the poem that mourns the loss of Arlathan, and the fact that she is the only character to have red eyes on her Tarot beyond Solas's Dread Wolf, I think this deserves a second look.

Sera's red eyes in the Tarot. The red eyes of the Dread Wolf. Solas's red eyes here on the new fresco. Do they signify corruption by Red Lyrium? Or a connection to the Fade? Or simply to the divine?

I will always think there's something more there, beyond the Sera/Andruil Tarot parallels, and even here, we can see what are arguably elements of all three branches of the Vir Tanadhal: The Way of the Arrow, The Way of the Bow, and The Way of the Forest ("Together we are stronger than the one"—in this case, possibly by the Inquisition symbol itself).

On the flip side, all of this may even imply that Sera is going to be important in defeating Andruil, that she is in fact her antithesis (both cards with heavy Andruil subtext appear to include "flipped" elements—for instance, Andruil's bow is always pointed downward, and here's Sera, mirroring her, but in the absolute reversed position, although it did point down in the previous card (but we'll go over that again another day—I'm prepping a whole series of posts on the secrets of the Tarots).

The Hidden Country

Meanwhile, let's look at the mural again. 

The skies could be argued as being twilight, or a greenish, misty dark blue. Below those skies, high above Solas and the tree at left, we see the jagged shadowy shapes of what might be mountains (or the jagged walls of the physical Fade).

I'm voting that it's mountains because of the little visual trick at the beginning of the teaser, in which the edges of the idol look like mountains as the sun rises over the Frostbacks. I also think these are mountains here because of Solas's secret towers and hideouts in "Trespasser," at least one of which appeared to be hidden in the Vimmarks.

Between Solas and the sky, however, echoing the general flow of the tree branches, notice something else? There's a structure there, almost like the gabled roof of a building or temple—a straight and diagonal line, clearly edged and shadowed, that appears to come to a point offscreen above the central circle image of the Lyrium Idol.

What is this structure? Is it somewhere we've been before? Is it the Black/Golden City? Arlathan? Skyhold? 

Also, note the striped patterns on the bridge beneath Solas, and look at the romanced Tarot I've posted here farther down: Those same exact patterns appear on the earth behind Solas's feet. 

Solas is standing in the middle of a burning bridge. Behind him is the burned and destroyed symbol of Arlathan. Before him is the face he never wanted anyone to see—the savage dark face he wore "as a symbol of Pride," given by his enemies, those who enslaved their own people and marked them like animals.

And between them both is an image of grief, loss, and agony, of Blight and corruption, encircled by the divine reminder that once he was part of a group of eight, and that six of the seven who remained are sundered forever from him.

Even superficially, it's brilliant symbolism: a beautiful, subtle, terribly tragic grace note.

Subtle Differentiations and Lines of Power

As the video of the idol transforms to the fresco, some really interesting and subtle things begin to happen. The ending fresco image is not the same one we see in the flat fresco.

Look at the screen shot I've taken below from the teaser. The central idol remains the "real" one, not the painted version. And there are subtle, smoky lines of power, Blight or corruption emanating from Solas, his staff, and from the Dread Wolf.

The Dread Wolf, meanwhile, is markedly different from the flat fresco version—no circles or swirls, and it's subtle shimmering, transparent, smoky like the lines of power. We can actually see some of those lines through the wolf's face (it's much more transparent here than in the original fresco, which only has slight elements of it). Is this yet another clue that the Wolf is emblightened, exuding the Blight as the Archdemons once did?

Note: Several smart people on Twitter have been positing that this Wolf is not THE Wolf, and that, in fact, the representations of the Dread Wolf on frescoes across the games has actually been a misdirection in which we are seeing different wolves, perhaps Solas's "pack" of followers (even, Julie Taube suggests, some of the Forgotten Ones). I think this a pretty amazing idea, and I absolutely agree that this could be the case. 

But the thing that trips me up, as here, is the consistent presentation of the Pride Demon Eyes in all the Dread Wolves we've seen (save for the fluffy, almost coy White Wolf on Solas's Hierophant/Fool romanced Tarot card). 

For me this heralds the Wolves (and this one), on an intimate and personal level, as representations of Solas ("Pride") himself.

But I could, as always, be so, so wrong.

Meanwhile, there's something else interesting about both presentations of the Wolf here: It appears to be the only source of the red lyrium energy in the image. If we look closely, there are almost electric arcs and crackles of red energy around the Dread Wolf's head, extending up above the Idol Circle, and especially all around the Dread Wolf's head and mouth. And yet there are no cracks of red upon the Dread Wolf himself. Just that lolling red tongue (which was a distinctive greenish-blue in the Tower Tarot previously—scroll down to the end of this post for a refresher look). Is he the source of the Red Lyrium or corruption? Or is this simply another representation of Fade energy?

So it appears that the Wolf exudes two things at once: darkness (Blight?) and redness (corruption, lyrium, the Fade). Also, note the fact that in the flat artistic rendition of the fresco, just above the wolf's head and down into the area behind his jaw, we can see a fine network of cracks in the fresco, the only place they occur this deeply (except possibly also below the Wolf's jaw as well). Those cracks are notably missing from the final teaser video image.

Either way, all things considered, whether it was tame before, the Wolf now appears to be pretty clearly an element of chaos, corruption and destruction.

And is that now what Solas himself has become? The destroyer of all worlds? Or... their savior?

A Question of Hands

Those of us who have played "Trespasser" (in my case, sniffling my way through the final enjoyably heartbreaking moments with the help of wine, tissues and cookies) know that the Inquisitor lost the Mark and her left forearm when Solas took both in a magical (and evidently painless) amputation to save her life.

 So, Solas now has the Mark. And it may not just be something he possesses as a boost in power, but as something he can potentially wield. Because isn't it interesting, then, that Solas in this mural stands in a pose we saw dozens of times before from the Inquisitor as she closed Rift after Rift? I don't think it's an accident. He stands before the closed circles of the Idol, before the Dread Wolf, and all he has is an upraised hand. We don't see any spell emanating. It's almost as if he's confronting it through will alone.

Meanwhile, along these same lines, is the Wolf even a wolf anymore? It now appears to be more of an elemental being, a swirl of arching darkness. Where are its paws, for instance, which were so visible in the Tower Tarot (and with that lifted paw ironically echoing the romanced Solas's upraised hand from the previous card)?

I know I'm probably overanalyzing. But I also think these are good questions if we're going to solve this.

The Divided Self

One of the popular fan theories out there that I could never quite get behind was the idea that the Old Gods/Archdemons were literally also the Evanuris in some way. And I could never make that work.

But in our recent Twitch discussion (after shrieking over the new teaser), Stefanie White, Brian Bauer, and Jason Nosja posited that when the Veil came down, it divided Solas in some way just as it divided the world itself, freeing perhaps his Dread Wolf side in ways that would not otherwise have occurred.

I immediately loved this idea, and think there's something there. First off, even if it's not something that happens all the time, it takes the presentation of the wolf as an entity alongside Solas into the real world (or Fade) as something beyond metaphor.

But for me, more importantly, it solves the riddle of the Old Gods/Evanuris. If the Veil sliced down like a knife even as Solas imprisoned the spirits of the Evanuris in a kind of Fade Prison, their dragon-selves (the "divine shape" reserved for the gods alone) could have been created at the same time, similarly imprisoned and slumbering beneath the earth. The deaths of these sentient beings I believe did not kill the corresponding spirit selves of the Evanuris, but they did mean the loss of part of the soul of the Evanuris, an ancient connection Flemeth/Mythal was fairly desperate to save whenever she could (and it's worth noting that for all her calls for vengeance, she seems to genuinely want to protect the Old God Baby, and shows nothing but subtle love and empathy for Kieran when she meets him).

This also explains Solas's deep hatred for the Grey Wardens, as to him what they are doing is both fumbling, dangerous, uninformed, and crude. To Solas, if the archdemons are physical remnants of the divine (however corrupted), the idea that people now drink their Blighted blood in order to hunt them down, with their own souls destroyed in the act of killing the Archdemon, is understandably foul to him on multiple levels.

It even satisfyingly ties in, for me, most of the main religions across Thedas—from the ancient elves, to the ancient worshippers in Tevinter, to the Chantry.

Two Blights are Better Than One

Anyway, all of this is to preface my idea that we may be seeing a ravaged world dealing with not one but two Blights, as I noted in my last blog post on this. Since the Fall of the Magisters Sidereal and/or the awakening of Dumat, each Blight throughout history in Thedas has begun with the awakening of an Archdemon, or Old God.

We know there are two Blights remaining, and two Archdemons hidden beneath the earth. We also know five have been destroyed: Dumat, Zazikel, Toth, Andoral, and Urthemiel. 

All of this makes total sense to me if in fact, by tearing down the Veil, Solas frees the Evanuris, two of which join with their previously divided physical selves, the two remaining Archdemonic dragons, creating two Blights at once. Add in the potential chaos if the Veil is torn down, PLUS the potential madness as Tevinter and the Qunari attempt world conquest once again (I think it's inevitable), even if simply as an attempt to stabilize what's left of Thedas? This is pretty interesting stuff.

And even if the Veil doesn't come down, it's absolutely possible that one or all of the Evanuris (or the Blighted Forgotten Ones!) escapes in a different way, wreaking Blight and corruption and holy fire across Thedas in any number of other ways. If this happens, my bet for the major players in fiery vengeance are going to absolutely be Andruil and Falon'Din, alongside perhaps Dirthamen and Elgar'nan. I mean, we see their symbols and statues (hawks, owls, ravens, suns) over and over again in all three games—their mosaics, their altars, their holy places.

Etched in Gold

It's also interesting to note the use of gold leaf here and on the frescoes in general. It seems to almost exclusively gild the images of foci (which, by the way, have eight lines, not seven, as I noted last time—I goofed!), the borders of the frescoes, the mosaics in the Temples, and (possibly, here) the flames on the bridge.

I've been reading up on this, and evidently the main requirement for a manuscript to be referred to as "illuminated" was the use of gold leaf, which was a sign of "exalting" religious text, at least, according to Wikipedia. Which adds a nice subtext to all the elven frescoes we saw in DAI, "Trespasser," and here in the trailer: it's a nice, subtle reminder that their focus is something the artist saw as godlike or divine. (My jury's still out on whether those foci were in fact crafted from the hearts of defeated Titans...)

The use of gold leaf to 'burnish' art also reportedly dates back millennia to the Pharaohs of Egypt, where it was "the color of the gods," and it was also popular in China, and later on, in Italy, Greece and Europe. Halos, meanwhile, were used not just for religious figures, but to depict heroes and commanders as well.

What were the Evanuris? Heroes. Commanders. Then Gods. And what is burnished in gold here? The borders of the Fade (Circle). And the two images of the still-living 'divine' foci.

Flames of Fire, Flames of the Fade

I believe upon further examination of the teaser and the fresco, that there are two kinds of flames in the image: actual flames (again, perhaps the burning of the "raw chaos"), and then, much higher than Solas, the flame-colored essence of the Fade.

It's fun to use this image of Cole's Tarot for comparison here—there's a definite general similarity.

It's even more interesting for me to ponder this because my canon choice for Cole is for him to become "More Spirit," so that he returns to the Fade, knowing (even beyond Solas's mindwipes) that he will be needed in the future, and he must return to "help." And I so hope he can!

The New Darkness in Solas's Voice

I have one final additional detail to share here, and it absolutely killed me when I realized it: 

Solas isn't just sad or weary when he speaks those final words. He is in physical distress, possibly agony. If you listen very closely to the teaser, just as the music crescendoes then falls, you can actually hear Solas gasping for breath behind the music. It's very subtle but it's there. It culminates in a great indrawn gasping breath just before he says, "So."

As others have already noted, it doesn't end there. Solas's voice is ever so slightly warped, lower, slower. Still beautiful (of course) but perhaps corrupted? Is it red lyrium after all? Or simple exhaustion and despair at last, after so much life, hubris, and struggle?

I still have questions. So, so many questions.

Friday, December 7, 2018

"When He Rises, Everyone Will See..." (Deconstructing #TheDreadWolfRises Teaser)

The new teaser is out! And as always, BioWare is AMAZING at giving us everything we want... in a way guaranteed to break our hearts. For those of us who love Solas, hearing that voice again is fantastic... until we realize how desolate he sounds.
“So, you’ve found me at last. I suspect you have questions...”

Every once in awhile, dreams come true. And the dreams of a ton of Dragon Age fans (including yours truly) came true during Thursday's telecast of The Game Awards when BioWare, at long last, teased fans with a Dragon Age 4 announcement, hashtagged #TheDreadWolfRises.

Now, right away I'm gonna go ahead and have a nice meal of crow, because it looks like my prediction that Solas will NOT tear down the Veil is implied to be pretty seriously wrong. The red lyrium idol (from Dragon Age II) that features in the video shared by BioWare, along with (most especially) that haunting and forbidding fresco, implies to me that the Veil is probably coming down.

Mmmm... crow! So tasty. Delicious. 

Now let's talk about what this might mean.

Why I Think It's Solas

EDITED TO ADD: I'm getting a lot of questions about my assumption that the figure is Solas, so I'll address that first in an update:

The reason I assume it's Solas and not one of the other Evanuris is because of the repeated elements from past depictions of Solas in DAI and the "Trespasser" murals.

As far as the elements of the image here (Solas alongside the Dread Wolf, if in fact it's him), Solas is frequently (commonly) depicted in both his man and Dread Wolf forms together in many of those past images, so to me this is simply more of the same. The images have always been heavily symbolic and metaphorical to me, and often seemed to demonstrate Solas's state of mind, his inner self. For instance, on the romance Tarot, the 'Dread Wolf' is white, fuzzy, and adorable (and with two bright red eyes, but without the Pride Demon eyes the darker version carries). Then, in the infamous final "Tower" Tarot image for Solas, there he is, heading off into darkness with his branchy staff, the massive shadowy Dread Wolf (complete with Pride Demon eyes) looming over him, but also following obediently behind him.

This theme continues in "Trespasser," where Solas is repeatedly shown alongside his Dread Wolf self almost in moments of joy and freedom, as in one of my favorites, where he appears to be leaning forward in flight, face uplifted, with the Dread Wolf running placidly behind him. Basically, we can see Solas's mood or state of mind from looking at the wolf in the paintings. The wolf we see in the new teaser is potentially terrifying and tragic indeed.

In short, Solas appears alongside the Dread Wolf all over the place, from Inquisition to "Trespasser" to (I believe) this new mural. And to me, the baldness doesn't necessarily mean it's him, but the canon branchy staff from his Tarot, the repeated robe pattern, and presence of the Dread Wolf are all familiar elements we've seen in his frescoes before. Even the stance, the quiet denial of the gesture, says "Solas" to me.

And I don't think it's Elgar'nan, because of the Solas-staff and cloak, but also because he was reported to wield light or fire, and while yes, there is fire in the image, to me it is a representation of the burning of the "raw chaos" -- it doesn't appear to be a weapon and stream of magic. And the figure with its upraised palm seems calmer, cooler, and is not emanating anything. I also don't think it's Falon'Din, because Falon-Din carried a shepherd's-hook staff in his mosaic in the Temple of Mythal. And the cloak's dark ruff of fur is somehow 'wolfy' to me. 

I just think it's Solas, at the dark end of his journey. If I'm wrong, I'll eat more crow. (Yum! Delicious metaphorical crow!)

"When He Rises, Everyone Will See..."

Because of the phrasing here, for me this title instantly of course calls back, first and foremost, to Sandal's Prophecy in Dragon Age II, when he says:

One day the magic will come back. All of it.
Everyone will be just like they were.
The shadows will part and the skies will open wide.
When he rises, everyone will see.

Now, damned if that doesn't sound like the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition, paired with Solas's plans for the future as openly presented by him to us in "Trespasser."

Solas calm, certain and ascendant in "Trespasser." This is not the voice we hear in #TheDreadWolfRises.

The skies certainly opened wide thanks to Corypants's use of the Orb, causing the Breach in Inquisition. And the magic coming back ("all of it") is certainly one logical outcome if Solas indeed tears down the Veil he created all those millennia ago. Because if the Veil does come down, magic will be as common, as indistinguishable, as air.

Solas once described it to us in great detail at Haven in the following selected snippets:


  • Without [the Veil], imagine if spirits entered freely. The Fade was not a place one went, but a state of nature, like the wind.
  • A world where imagination defines reality, where spirits are as common as trees or grass.
  • Imagine if spirits were not — a rarity — but a part of our natural world… like a fast-flowing river. Yes, it can drown careless children, but it can also carry a merchant’s goods or grind a miller’s flour. That is what the world could be, if the Veil were not present. For better, or worse.
  • Imagine ..... palaces floating among the clouds. Imagine beings who lived forever, for whom magic was as natural as breathing. That is what was lost.

This is important stuff, because it may very well be describing the environment (and alteration in powers and physics) caused if the Veil comes down. The Fade will become real, and dreams and visions will be a part of daily life. Spirits will be common companions and demons will be constant potential threats. Magic will be part of everyone and everything, and will even be able to negate gravity where desired. 

Meanwhile, Sandal's "everyone will be just like they were" seems to me to imply:

  • The return of immortality for the elves 
  • All elves will have inherent magical abilities (can you imagine Fenris or Sera reacting to this?) 
  • A return to balance for spirits and demons (no longer trapped in the Fade) 
  • That magic filling the air will return people to their core selves 
  • Solas will use that magic to further restore the ancient glory days of the elven people as reflected in Arlathan 
Let's not forget the biggest consequence of all as stated by Solas if the Veil comes down: The Evanuris (or "False Gods") will be freed.

Now, Solas notes that he "had plans" for dealing with this in "Trespasser," but still... that's a huge thing for him to address so casually!

Notice Solas's distinctive cloak here. And he's, as always, carrying that branchy staff. Interestingly, the staff is dark here in "Trespasser," yet when we saw it in DAI, it was always light in color.
Questions to Ponder:
  • Will the removal of the Veil (and Solas's "Fade Prisons") free the Forgotten Ones, as well?
  • Will the freed Evanuris be in spiritual or physical form? If they are in fact tied to the physical archdemons (five of which are destroyed), will their counterparts behind the Fade still exist?
  • Will the two remaining—if tied to the remaining archdemons—then awaken in their holy (dragon) form?
  • And if these archdemons awaken, two at once, does this mean two concurrent Blights?
  • The implication in the past has been that the archdemons aren't exactly sentient, but instinctual. What if the Evanuris are freed? Does that mean we're left with two sentient, thinking and aware archdemons?
  • And what if they shapeshift back into humanoid form? The Evanuris were dragon shapeshifters, after all.
  • Whose side will the Forgotten Ones be on? It's implied that Solas was actually a friend to them... which would make sense if he was actively attempting to free the slaves and bring the corrupt and tyrannical Evanuris down.

Apostle, apostate, Fade King, fool for love,
and hierophant: Portrait of Solas.
Biological Reactions to a Veil-less World

My bet would be that all elves will find some degree of potential magic unleashed, while all latent mages will also manifest. I'd imagine there might also be a high number of horrifying and almost instantaneous Abominations, as well.

Ultimately, we have no idea how humans will react biologically to such an environment, as humans have never existed, as far as recorded history tells us, in a world without the Veil.

My guess, based on the reactions of non-elves and humans to travel through the Crossroads (thanks to Patrick Weekes's beautiful and evocative descriptions in The Masked Empire) is that humans facing a Veil-less world may find their perception of color slightly dimmed or weakened. They may feel slight vertigo and disorientation. The elves, will, conversely, feel stronger, more awake and alive, the magic tingling on their skin. They may actually see colors more intensely and experience emotions and sensations more acutely.

And that's if he rises... and everyone sees.

Tantalizing Questions

So, based on the trailer, we still don't know if events are actually set within the Dragon Age at all. As my friend Stefanie wondered in our recent Twitch chat, what if there's a time skip to the next age?

If so, that's a pretty big skip.

When last we left Dragon Age in "Trespasser," we were in 9:44 Dragon. The events of some of the epilogue plot points seem to occur within two years of that ending, so let's say they complete by 9:46.

That leaves 54 years. If the game does skip forward like this, just think of the implications. Will Lavellan still be alive (I'm betting yes, because Magic)? Will our beloved Dragon Age: Inquisition companions? Will Alistair still be King? Will Sten still be Arishok?

It's all good fodder for wondering.

And then we wonder of course... what is the next age? My vote: The Elven Age.

Onward. Or maybe we're not too long after the events of "Trespasser," after all. That's still my guess—because it also increases the possibility for returns from companions whose arcs would be powerfully fulfilled in DA4 (if, as implied, it's set in Tevinter), including Dorian, Fenris, Calpernia, Maevaris, Varric, and Sten. Not to mention additional elven characters whose returns would be fascinating for how they might interact with Solas—me, I'd love to see a single conversation between Merrill and Solas, and also suspect there's more than meets the eye to Dalish (from the Chargers) and Leliana's faithful Charter.

The Idol in the Teaser

The original lyrium idol as
depicted in Dragon Age: II.

Plenty of people recognized the red lyrium idol shown in the teaser trailer, because it was a major plot point in Dragon Age II as the idol uncovered by Bartrand during Hawke's expedition into the Deep Roads.

Forged of red lyrium, the idol was reportedly created by the dwarves of the Primeval Thaig long ago, and after its fall, the idol was lost to history for thousands of years, until Bartrand discovered it on an altar inside a room of the Primeval Thaig.

Bartrand abandoned the party, then later went insane, saved a fragment of the idol, and sold the idol itself to Knight-Commander Meredith, who reshaped it to be her sword (which she named "Certainty"). Like Bartrand, Meredith too went mad, and was eventually defeated by Hawke and their companions.

Now here's where it gets interesting: During our final battle with Meredith, the idol (her sword) explodes into dust and she herself turns to solid lyrium.

So what is the idol we're seeing in the trailer? The original is gone.

Or is it?

Because, remember, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, on a Templar playthrough, Samson is wielding Meredith's very sword, Certainty. Other conversations later tell us that the sword was reforged, using a dark combination of elven, Tevinter, and Blight magic.

But... either way, the idol doesn't seem to exist anymore. So why is it featured here? Is it a vision of the past, or a harbinger of the future?

The Lyrium Idol sword
"Certainty," as carried
by Samson in DAI
My take: It's there because it's when Everything Changed. We just didn't know it yet. But, as with the Ring of Power in The Hobbit, this little idol signified the discovery of something Mythal had (I believe) tried to keep hidden and suppressed for millennia.

The idol is the moment when Red Lyrium entered Dragon Age, stage left. And Thedas was doomed.

So let's go back in time and explore how this is all coming together...


(YES, I can mix fandoms. This is my blog!)

The Throughline: Theories from the Ancient Days

First off, I could be completely wrong. So, so, so wrong.

But hear me out.

I believe that in the days before the Great War between the Evanuris and the Forgotten Ones, the Forgotten Ones may have attempted to defend themselves by hiding themselves (either Blight-infected on their own, or wielding some kind of Blighted potential weapon or bioweapon) in the nothingness of the Void. And that this place eventually ensnared and infected Andruil, who then brought the Blight up and out of the Void and into the light of Thedas.

For those who believe Chantry teachings, the Void is basically Hell—a hell of nothingness and obliteration. For the elves, the Void is the mythical home of the Forgotten Ones themselves, who are the gods of spite, pestilence and malevolence.

Me, I think it's just another (special) pocket of the Fade. A dark pocket.

Andruil and the Void

Getting to the Void was easier for immortal superbeings like Andruil, who as a superb huntress was evidently able to come and go at will. When she tired of hunting Thedosian beasts or even her own people, she escaped to hunt the scattered Forgotten Ones lurking in the Void.

Soon, she was the queen of its domain. She even created powerful armor made of the Void itself—powerful, yes, but all who saw it forgot Andruil's true face.

If we drank from the Well, we are able to translate the following from Veilfire writing transcribed from a ruin in the Arbor Wilds:

"She shook the radiance of the stars, divided them into grains of light, then stored them in a shaft of gold. Andruil, blood and force, save us from the time this weapon is thrown. Your people pray to You. Spare us the moment we become Your sacrifice."

In "Trespasser," when rewarded with the unique bow Andruil's Gift (after the Aiding Kirkwall/Annexing Kirkwall War Table Operation), the Codex on the bow offers additional insight, and this translated further text is pretty terrifying and sad—a mournful plea for mercy to one from whom mercy is doubtful:

"She took the gathering storm, trapped its fury in golden limbs, and strung it with the screams of the south wind. Andruil, blood and force, your people pray to you. Grant that your eye may not fall upon us. Spare us the moment we become Your prey."

Echoes from the Abyss

Increasingly, Andruil (the "Lady of Fortune" to the Dalish) went from being a tough if fair ruler of her lands, to a mercurial cruelty and madness. Once upon a time, it seems she loved an elven woman, Ghilan'nain, in real joy, and adored her so much she eventually elevated Ghilan'nain to fellow 'goddess' status. But then she began to exhibit signs of corruption. She hunted her own people. She went to the Void and forgot herself, glorying in slaughter. She brought back disease and madness with her—darkness visible.

But the Void exacted a heavy price, and each time Andruil returned from its empty darkness, she brought madness with her. And let's face it, Andruil was already pretty hardcore. You know the golden bow I referenced earlier, Andruil's Bow? It's referenced as being crafted from the "gathering storm and the screams of the south wind."

Andruil did not mess around.

Then I think she went too far... and awoke... and infected... a titan. And then in desperation, I think that the following events occurred:

  • Mythal intervened
  • She mindwiped Andruil 
  • She removed Andruil's ability to enter the Void again 
  • She killed the (infected?) Titan 
  • And buried it deep within the earth 
Until, I believe... it was found. And coveted and even possibly worshipped. 

I also suspect that these events directly led to the murder of Mythal, and they're also why she is whispered as being the source of the Calling (if we drink from the Well). Because the Calling, I believe, emanates from the infected Titan Mythal killed and buried so long ago. It may even have infected Mythal in some ways, or created some kind of mental link with her—let's face it, red lyrium has been known to do that!

The Way to Hell

As far as the Void's location, it appears that while you'd assume it would be located outside of the Fade, just as Hell is located outside of Heaven, as I noted earlier, a significant amount of theory suggests that the Void is actually located within the Fade, not outside of it.

It's an intriguing idea, and it works for me because, most of all, it signifies that the Void is almost a state of mind; a nothingness, a despair, and yet something people can come back from, if that makes sense. Someday.

From the Canticle of Andraste (specifically, the Canticle of Threnodies), it's almost presented in a beautiful way, as an abyss from which there is a return (BioWare fans, of course, will recognize the sly callback to Mass Effect):

Here lies the abyss, the well of all souls.
From these emerald waters doth life begin anew.
Come to me, child, and I shall embrace you.
In my arms lies Eternity.
—Canticle of Andraste, 14:11

I would note that not everyone agrees this is the Void and that others believe it refers to the Fade.

The Fresco Illustration as The Dread Wolf Rises

Thanks to the always-communicative Patrick Weekes and John Epler, we now know that concept artist Nick Thornborrow created the incredible new fresco image of Solas. And there are so many potential secrets hidden within!

I'm going to deconstruct as much as we see there in a series of points, below:

If this is a depiction of reality (and not a nightmare of Solas or the Inquisitor), then Solas has indeed torn down the Veil, because this sure as heck looks like the world "burning in raw chaos" to me. There are visible flames both in the fresco, and (in a neat and very dramatic effect) actual embers flying up before the fresco as well.

As Jen and Brian noted in Stefanie's Twitch chat the other night, the red lyrium idol in the center sure has the subtle shape of a key... if you squint at it. What could it unlock? The corrupted titan deep beneath the earth—and source of all red lyrium?

The idol is reportedly Andraste, but I've always wondered if it was someone else. Upon reflection, I now wonder if it is not in fact Mythal—holding, perhaps, Andruil, the daughter she had to defeat and punish? Or is it Mythal holding Solas, just as Solas once held Mythal in his own arms, grieving at what he had to do?

Another reason I think the idol is Mythal (or even possibly Andruil) is the serpent/dragon circle behind her. Remember that the dragon form was a 'sacred' form to the Evanuris. Complicating matters is the appearance of a third person on the idol, down on the lower-right side, partly hidden at almost all angles. I'm still pondering who I think that figure might be... the enslaved elves, underfoot?

The strong fresco motif of repeated circles (which seem to represent the Fade, as in Solas's Tarot, and even in the Dread Wolf mosaic) is once again present, as are the representations of the elven orbs. Also, if you look closely at the Dread Wolf, it too is made up of swoops and circles and swooshes, especially around its red Pride Demon eyes. And there is that deep red circle around Solas. Signifying the Fade? Divinity? Power? Even on his Tarot card, Solas there, too, wears a kind of halo.

There are seven orbs studding the central circle around the red lyrium idol, corresponding to the seven Evanuris imprisoned by Solas, but that all but two orbs are now "dark" and lifeless. I'm assuming this is because of the deaths of the five archdemons. (I talk about this elsewhere, but I wonder if killing an archdemon actually freed the corresponding Evanuris from its metaphysical prison, versus killing it?) Also, as we've seen in other representations, the 'orbs' presented here have seven intersecting lines.

The little downward triangles we've seen on other frescoes are repeated here. I can't quite figure out why, can you? (Edited to add: My friend T thinks the repeated downward triangles may be an evocation of the female, whether Andraste or Mythal or (potentially) Morrigan or even Andruil.

Solas appears to be carrying the same "branchy" staff he carries in his original Dragon Age: Inquisition Tarot card. Most notably, however, the staff is now black (has it been 'burned' in the raw chaos?). Or is it simply darker after the events of DAI? The staff we see in the mural in "Trespasser," for instance, is also noticeably darker.

Solas also appears to be wearing the same robe he wore in the "Removing the Vallaslins" fresco from "Trespasser," only reversed! It can't be an accident, by the way, that the pattern on his robe is of a series of crucifixes. Solas is already a subtly sacrificial figure even in his original Tarot, and let's face it, nobody wears regret as eloquently, as beautifully or as openly, as Solas. Also, speaking of Solas's wardrobe, he's also "wolfier" here than we have ever seen him, and for the first time he is wearing a full-on furred cloak.

Solas's eyes are red here, and I believe it's the first time we've seen them this way. To me this is incredibly important, because I believe the red eyes in the frescos and Tarot cards signify connection to the Fade (they may also signify some kind of corruption but I'll address that another time). Please note that Solas's white wolf in the "romanced" Tarot also has red eyes, as of course does the Dread Wolf with the red Pride Demon eyes (as does SERA in her "romanced" Tarot). Are Solas's eyes red because of the removal of the Veil? Or because he has now been corrupted by red lyrium?

Side note: Remember when I called out the fact that Falon'Din and Dirthamen's eyes are the only black eyes in the mosaics at Mythal's Temple? What if those eyes were actually RED (but the mosaics are basically only created in gold, black, and white)?

Solas is holding up his left hand (interesting—echoes of the Inquisitor and the Mark?) as if in denial. It is not an antagonistic pose, exactly, but almost mournful, sorrowful.

The Dread Wolf here is rampant and on the attack, complete with lolling tongue and upraised head (keep in mind that even in his final Tarot ("The Tower"), Solas's Dread Wolf appears brooding but obedient, overshadowing him but following him. Then, in "Trespasser," the wolf almost appeared to be running joyfully behind a Solas in flight, as if supporting him. Yet here it is confronting him, absolutely. They are divided, perhaps forever.

Is this a literal representation or a sign that Solas will be at war within himself? If it's literal, my guess is that what we're seeing is Solas fighting his own monster-self in the Fade (I've written about this before, but I believe Solas's Dread Wolf is an actual aspect of Solas that he is capable of wearing within the Fade).

Denial, abnegation, anger, or grief? A red-eyed
Solas confronts his hidden self
Secrets in the Teaser

Last but not least, here's a quick rundown of high points I'd offer from the mysterious teaser:

The initial gorgeous closeup of the idol is wonderfully misleading and resembles, at first, the sun rising over a distant mountain range. This may be a subtle reminder of the Titans or a bigger-picture evocation that the story to come will affect all of Thedas.

When viewed in 3D, it's more apparent than ever that the idol carving is a kind of 'Pieta,' an image of a woman in grief or torment cradling the ravaged body of what may or may not be a man (or son). Again: Mythal and Solas? (But who is the hidden third figure, way down on the lower right? I haven't figured it out yet...)

It's interesting and (I'm certain) deliberate that the first face we see is not the face of the female figure, but the hidden face, turned inward, of the male figure she embraces.

Our POV appears to be in a cave, as we view the fresco even as live sparks fly into the air before us. Who is looking at the fresco? Our new protagonist?

The lyrium idol, stylistically, strongly resembles the burned figures the Inquisitor encounters in the aftermath of the explosion of the Conclave. Lines of red lyrium then slowly begin to appear and 'crack' the idol. Do they signify destruction, or awakening?

Andraste and Shartan? Mythal and Solas? Mother and Son in a tragic pieta?
And then the real idol becomes the fresco, the sparks fly up, and we hear that unmistakable voice, in all its beauty (oh, Gareth David-Lloyd, we've missed you so!).

SOLAS: So. You've found me at last. I suspect you have questions.

Now, a lot of people are speculating that this means what we're seeing is most likely the prelude or preface to the next game.

I disagree. And if it is in the prelude or preface, I think it's one of those flash-forward moments we'll revisit in the end, because Solas sounds absolutely terrible here.

This is not the cool, confident, and amused voice of the ascendant elven god we met in "Trespasser." This is the ragged, exhausted voice of a Solas who has reached the end of his road into hell, his dinan'shiral. This is the voice of a Solas who wants to die. And it already breaks my heart.

(Exits to pursue some sort of alcohol-based sustenance against eternal heartbreak and delicious angst. Mmm, angst! It's even better than crow...)

But I do not think this is the voice of an antagonist, of a villain. I still stand by my theory that I do not think Solas will be our main focus in Dragon Age 4: I think rather that when Solas tears down the Veil (if in fact he does so) that both Tevinter and the Qunari will swoop in, eager for the chance to use this vulnerable moment to achieve world conquest even while the world burns (and we all know what Alistair says about swooping!). 

If Solas and the elves do not act to tip the balance (as I suspect they will), all of Thedas may break irrevocably.

Just like my heart at hearing that voice.

But what do you think? And what did I miss? Please share in the comments!

Also, please do check out part 2 of my analysis for new secrets uncovered here!

The Parallel and Paradox of "In Hushed Whispers"

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