Saturday, August 12, 2017

Sera and Andruil: Echoes of the Huntress

Solas: We are not so far apart, you and I.
Sera: We will be.

Funny, brash, and maddening, Sera can be both charmingly sweet and occasionally, breathtakingly cruel. She's the impudent friend who's spent her life thieving (but who, like Robin Hood, never forgets to champion the little people), who drinks herself under the table, flashes her ass at prim and proper Vivienne, and who jokes with Bull and Blackwall. She also taunts Solas constantly—not for his secrets, but ironically, simply for embracing a shared heritage she has refused to acknowledge in herself.

Sera is a superb archer who's bold, slightly mad, loves women,
and who hates dragons, Solas, and injustice. She bears an
intriguing similarity to the Elvhen goddess Andruil.
However, Sera, out of all our companions, cares most about the common people of Thedas's world—the poor and abused who suffer most during the appearances of Breaches and Blights (although she has a definite fondness for breeches of another kind). Sera thumbs her nose at propriety, is wary about getting too close to people, hates her own "elfyness," and also deeply dislikes people writing songs about her skills at thievery and archery. Do that, and you just might get a lute over your head.

However, what's even more interesting about Sera is that while she hates and fears her own elven heritage, there are several mysterious hints within Dragon Age: Inquisition that she may in fact, like Flemeth, carry a spark of the Evanuris (ancient elven immortals) within her—specifically, in Sera's case, the "wisp" of the elven goddess of the hunt, Andruil. (Note: This has been a popular topic of discussion across the DA fanverse, but I wanted to write my theories before reading others. I've now gone through several outside debates on this as well, so I definitely want to credit Shaylyn Ispan, who started the discussion following some early Bioware posts—her original post and analysis is not only detailed and worth reading, it also includes the fantastic revelations of the Andruil Vallaslin superimposed over Sera's Tarot card.)

According to the tales and scraps of information we uncover in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the ancient Elvhen goddess Andruil was a superb archer, creating what was known as the "Vir Tanadhal," or "The Way of Three Trees." This Way involved three branches: The Vir Assan ("Way of the Arrow," a directive to, per the Dragon Age Wiki, "fly straight and do not waver"; the Vir Bor'assan ("The Way of the Bow," to bend without breaking), and last but not least, the Vir Adahlen, or "Way of the Forest," which involves the acceptance of the gifts of the hunt with humility and compassion.

Let's apply these to Sera: She lives and breathes the Way of the Arrow ("Arrows!" is her answer to most quandaries), she's a survivor, bending without breaking, and she gives generously of the hunt with compassion to the humblest in Thedas.

In other words, Sera shares an incredible number of similarities with Andruil: She's a superb natural archer whose abilities are commented on with amazement (along with the reminders that she achieved this with little to no training), she's both compassionate to the "little people" but also cranky and distrustful of authority figures. She's more comfortable on her own than in a group. Like Andruil, Sera is quite willing to act mercilessly in vengeance, and like the huntress, she does so swiftly and brutally. 

Also like Andruil, whose beloved was a woman named Ghilan'nain, Sera is gay, a woman who loves women, and she prefers a life that's fierce and free, untethered. Andruil's ambitions eventually drove her mad, and here again, Sera shows more than an occasional hint of mental instability. Another way Sera resembles Andruil is in her antagonism—just as Andruil once actively fought against Fen'Harel directly on more than one occasion, Sera clashes constantly and adversarially with Solas, as well as with Mythal (so this is probably a good moment to note that Sera's curiously drawn to fighting dragons—interestingly, Mythal's symbol is a dragon, and it's also Flemeth's alter-ego/shapechanging form).

Another potential similarity is the fact that Sera's greatest fear (as we discover in the Fade) is simply "nothingness." What was Andruil's greatest feat? Entering the forbidden Void in order to hunt the Forgotten Ones—a feat that drove her mad. (Eventually Mythal intervened and removed all knowledge of the Void's location from Andruil's mind).

Sparring with Solas

And this is where it gets really interesting. My feeling that Sera has an inner magic or presence isn't just based on her outer similarities to Andruil, but on her own acknowledgment that there's something else going on within her that scares her to death.

Interestingly enough, the person who brings this out in her? Solas
In her conversations with Solas in the game's banters, Sera suddenly shows outright terror and disturbance at something she can't define (she is shaking visibly). Solas asks her what's happening, and this is the conversation that follows:

Sera is terrified of acknowledging her "elfyness." What if her
fear is actually of awakening the ancient elven presence
within herself?
Sera: Weird.
Solas: Sera? What are you feeling?
Sera: Ugh, here we go. It’s nothing, it just feels like I've seen
this. Exactly this. It happens.
Solas: Not to everyone.
Sera: It’s not an elf thing. Inquisitor's not shaking (alt: You're not shaking). I suppose now you’ll switch to how I’m 

the same but different?
Solas: You are different. You are the furthest from
what you were meant to be.
Sera: Well I’ve definitely heard piss like this before. Hmph!

This is one of my favorite banters across the game—the moment in which Solas, quietly and without doubt, says to her, "You are the furthest from what you were meant to be." As if he knows exactly what or where that is. 

This moment is echoed again in a later banter, this time with Cole, as Sera feels that strange sense of deja vu again:

Sera: Have we been here? I mean right here, doing exactly this? It feels weird.
Cole: Yes. But not how you mean. In the soft thin places, spirits push with memories that didn't happen. Or did. Or might.

Meanwhile, Solas is even able to get Sera to expound on these moments later on, despite her unwillingness to engage with him:

Solas: What color is the sky when you look at it?
Sera: You know, blue mostly. Except for the Breachy bits.
Solas: And when you looked past the Breach? As perhaps
you were drawn to do?
Sera: Greenish? Then clear a long ways, and kind of... felt
like falling. Ugh! Makes my head hurt. You make my head hurt.
Solas: We are not so far apart, you and I.
Sera: We will be.

Solas makes several similar references in the course of his conversations with Sera—that Sera is far from herself, that she is "apart," and sundered from who she was meant to be. Is Andruil who she was meant to be? A proud elf, fierce and free, a hunter of men and beasts alike?

Calls From Past Millennia

Remember Flemeth's dialogue with Morrigan in the Fade near the end of the game? About the wisp of Mythal's awareness that became part of her, and of how a soul cannot be forced upon the unwilling? I think this is hugely important—not just to Solas's story, but also potentially to Sera's.

Is Sera hearing the voice of Andruil somewhere deep inside?
Could that actually be part of why she rejects and fears her
own elven heritage?
Millennia back, Mythal was murdered by the Evanuris—the act that caused Solas (Fen'Harel) to create the Veil, imprison the Evanuris (who were enslaving their own kind, while also making a pretty fair attempt at conquering the world), and to inadvertently damn or destroy the very people he was trying to save—the elves—for ensuing millennia. 

Mythal's consciousness, however, continued to live, until (centuries before the events of DAI), she made her presence known to Flemeth, a witch howling with loss, rage and a desire for vengeance against men. Flemeth heard and accepted Mythal's presence as a kind of wakened subconscious, as a new teammate in her desire to take retribution (and, I feel, once her anger had cooled, to "nudge" the events of men now and then in the right direction). Mythal's presence in Flemeth elevated the witch to something more than mortal, and she lived for centuries, arising even from death (if killed in her dragon form in DAO) only to live again in DA2 and DAI, providing rescue, counsel and insight at key moments.

Love and Death Among Immortals

From a writing standpoint, I think Mythal clarified this for us in DAI so that there was no mistake about the final scene in the epilogue between Flemeth and Solas (also a scene between Mythal and Fen'Harel, of course). But generally speaking—we see Flemeth send another of those familiar "wisps" of soul into her eluvian. Then she simply, calmly awaits Solas. When he arrives, their reunion is sorrowful and loving. Solas even notes that he is the one who should pay, but that he cannot leave his task undone. Mythal, meanwhile, seems to be nothing but supportive. She is either actively cooperative or passive as Solas then, sorrowfully, takes the wisp of life from Mythal. That light instantly glows in his own eyes, over her apparently lifeless body, but that still doesn't account for that wisp she sent through the Eluvian, so I'm totally in the camp going, "Flemeth/Mythal's not dead, guys" (and it's echoed again, smilingly by Solas in "Trespasser," when he admits, "The first of my people are not so easy to kill"). So, basically, Solas got a huge power-up (and I'd imagine the life of a goddess to be a significant boost, judging from his seriously terrifying powers in "Trespasser").

Now, the early dev notes (as posted by Reddit user Libito) do say that Solas is willing to kill Flemeth/Mythal there, so it's definitely possible that he was prepared to be ruthless there. But there's no need... and I like that the scene is presented so lovingly—it's actually sadder and more disturbing that way, and foreshadows the deep love between them that we hear about later in "Trespasser."

But let's get back to Sera—and here's where it gets interesting.

Wisps, Souls and Voices

Flemeth willingly, and in full awareness, accepted the wisp or spark of Mythal's soul. She further emphasizes to Morrigan that there is no real possession involved in the process and that it's entirely voluntarily. She later takes a similar wisp or spark from Kieran (presumably, the spark of the Old God Soul created in him when Morrigan did the Dark Ritual back in DAO). Kieran's wisp is one that I actually think may be more like Sera's -- it didn't seem to be a possessive consciousness for him so much as an additional awareness. (He does express regret to Morrigan that he will be lonely now, once the wisp is gone.)

In addition, remember that it's been established that the first of the Evanuris—at least, Mythal (and perhaps more) can speak to mortals in dreams, as we hear that Mythal has done after the game has ended, if we go back to Val Royeux. Once there, we can hear a woman talking confusedly about her dream-conversations with someone called Mythal—so once again, Mythal has defeated death (and is definitely not gone for good).

So what about Sera? Sera would never accept this kind of soul-subletting, not least with an ancient elven goddess. No way, no how.

A Whisper of a Presence (and a Tie to the Fade?)

With this in mind, my feeling is that Andruil is a dormant and probably inadvertent, trapped part of Sera's soul or subconscious—latent, not active, just whispering to her in dreams and perhaps around the edges of her life. For me, it's almost as if Sera is a distant reincarnation of Andruil, with her most distinctive traits mirroring those of the goddess even as she remains her own person. So she's a superb (almost preternatural) archer and huntress, she is a woman who loves women, she's subversive yet strongly traditional, actively opposing both the dragon (Mythal) and the wolf (Solas).

So my guess is that it's only around the very edges of Sera's life that Andruil whispers her presence—in dreams (another reason for Sera to hate and fear the Fade), or as when Sera grows dizzy looking into the Rifts, or when delving into herself for magic.

Cole also makes some very interesting observations that may denote Sera's inner divine spark as well, as when he tells her, "There are songs in every part of you, Sera. Soft silly sibilant, sighing in silence, waiting for you to hear them." Sera, in response, furiously refuses to listen further.

This would also explain Solas's constant fascination with Sera—a fascination that isn't romantic but which does appear to be intense and almost eager. As a person who is deeply lonely, with no companions from his era save Flemeth (who appears to have distanced herself after the disaster of the Orb and the Temple of Sacred Ashes), Solas would certainly be eager to see potential connections with his lost companions—even those who opposed him.

Does Solas therefore see the echoes of Andruil, his old antagonist, in Sera, and seek to draw her out in his loneliness and desire to reconnect with his ancient people? Even if—as is implied—he brought about her death?

It's a really interesting thought. My guarded answer right now is... Yes. I think he does.

It also provides another really believable answer for why Sera is so antagonistic to Solas (yet also why she is consistently drawn to answer him truthfully). He is pulling abilities and visions out of her that frighten her, and that she does not want awakened.

This is why I believe Solas remembers Andruil when he looks at Sera, and marvels: "You are different. You are the furthest from what you were meant to be." 

It's both sad and believable how, to Sera, this sounds like the Dread Wolf's worst curse of all.

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