Monday, February 25, 2019

Dances With Dread Wolves: Solas's Secret Mission at Halamshiral

Perhaps the most surprising development of "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts" is to discover a Solas who's drunk,
amused, relaxed, and even secretly celebratory (and by all appearances very much at home).
SOLAS: I do adore the heady blend of power, intrigue, danger, and sex that permeates these events.

Ah, Halamshiral, the masked ball, and the Inquisitor's entrance to the stage of the impeccable and complex movements of the Great Game. Where a single pair of shoes can betray a family's financial woes or hopes for greatness; where a single gesture can gain the approval of the aristocracy, or doom generations to disgrace and dishonor; where a dance can mean instant success or failure on the very grandest scale

Lies or truth, love or loss, acclaim or disgrace. In Orlais, in the Great Game, there is no in between. It all comes down to life or death in the end.

And it's all there in the Dragon Age: Inquisition quest "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts." So loathed by some. So loved by others.

For me? It's the best quest in Inquisition. I love that so little of it involves fighting, and that so much of it involves statecraft, conversation, and trickery. I also love the atmosphere, the exotic Orlesian setting, the location design, and Trevor Morris's tense, delicate and evocative music, with its main theme a variation on the "Empress of Fire" bard song. I especially love jumping into the quest as a lowly Dalish Inquisitor, one who is instantly loathed and distrusted by the Orlesians present (and who are so befuddled at the sight of Solas that they simply announce him as a semi-nameless elven servant).

But my favorite part of "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts" is how it provides a subtle, enjoyable and essential new flash of insight into Solas—who isn't really there as an Inquisition party member, in my view. He's not there to take down Celene, or Gaspard, or even Briala. He's there for reasons of his own.

Or so I think. So gird your loins and prepare for tinfoil hats galore, as I share my 2 cents on Solas's situation at Halamshiral! And since I think the romance adds some necessary and vital subtext, this is definitely a part of my series of analyses on Solas's romance, as well. But it's also probably my biggest "headcanon" piece to date, so of course, as always, I may be utterly, totally wrong here.

It's all supposition. But it's fun.

Gaspard's capacity for brandy is either horrifying or laudable depending on your POV, but it still cannot remotely forgive his open racism at the Winter Palace. (Choose Briala as the evening's victor and watch him spit the word "Rabbit.")
The Vermin at the Palace

The first time I played Dragon Age: Inquisition, I figured I knew exactly what I was going to be faced with when I took Solas to the Winter Palace: A tense, humorless, angry and resentful man. Solas would have ample reason to be that way, but let's face it, I wasn't expecting to see my favorite elven apostate at his best.

Especially after our arrival, when it became crystal-clear to me just how unwelcome my Lavellan really was. The nasty little comments by the Orlesians. Their disbelief that she was actually not just an elf, but a "Dalish savage." Even Gaspard's not-so-subtle delight at the fact that her presence was an exotic and hilarious insult to Celene and the entire evening.

The funny thing is, for that first playthrough, and even a few after, I actually found Gaspard oddly charming there—because he was so honest, so forthright. I really got a kick out of Gaspard, I did—until I realized that he wasn't actually enjoying the frisson of walking in as a disgraced rebel Duke with the unexpected escort of an elven Inquisitor. Rather, he was enjoying the idea of himself walking in beside someone who was not even a person to him—just one of the Dalish "rabbits" he liked to hunt in his spare time (which is why, it's strongly implied by partygoers, Gaspard has so many hunting dogs).

You get an added dose of this reality if you play WE&WH through and support Briala at the end. In that final scene, Gaspard is spitting mad there, all courtesy abandoned, and he's blatantly and repeatedly calling her "rabbit" through the entire final scene. It's pretty gross stuff. Let's just say I've never found him remotely charming again.

The Hidden Question

But... where's Solas throughout all this? 

His absence is, needless to say, notable.

Because, meanwhile, my favorite resident rebel is nowhere to be seen outside the Palace, or in the earliest scenes at the Vestibule. Which is probably for the best, as very, very quickly, playing this segment of the story as an elf, you really feel the sting of the racism and bigotry. It begins to feel less like a game and more like, well... the world.

Then the Orlesians actually have the temerity to introduce Solas as "The Lady Inquisitor's Elven Serving-Man, Solas!" and in my very first playthrough, I basically full-body cringed and waited for the guaranteed explosion to follow.

Except the explosion never happened. 

Then I realized why: This night is a culmination. For Solas, it's a notable victory. Let the shems ignore him, humiliate him, call him disrespectful names. No matter. Their prejudice only empowers him and his victory is all the sweeter for it. Because tonight he has achieved a task that gives him—and his people—potential dominion over them all.

Instead of consoling the Inquisition's resident rebel, my Inquisitor found herself facing a decadent, slightly drunken elven mage viewing the worst Orlesian racial and class excesses with nothing more than a slouch and a half-smile.
The Trickster in the Corner

After entering the ballroom, I wandered my Inky around for awhile, trying to get used to my terrible Nutcracker formalwear and the feeling that everyone hated my heroine for the shape of her ears, then eventually located most of my companions and advisors around the ballroom or in the vestibule. But I couldn't find Solas.

Then I headed out toward the garden, and as I entered the antechamber between the main vestibule and the garden, I looked off to the right... and there was Solas. Amused and relaxed, and lounging in the shadows, leaning against a pillar and by all appearances very much at home.

Well, you could've knocked me over with a feather. Or, rather, a fluffy Orlesian fan.

Instead of being faced with consoling or soothing the Inquisition's resident rebel, I was facing a decadent, slightly drunken elven mage happily viewing the worst Orlesian racial and class excesses with nothing more than a slouch and a half-smile.

And then he practically stretches and purrs in his delight at his situation:
SOLAS: I do adore the heady blend of power, intrigue, danger, and sex that permeates these events.
ME (plotzing slightly): What the hell happened to you?!
You okay, buddy? I want to ask. But I do not. Even if I might be dying to. Because, well, this is awesome. And... um... hot. Fine, yes, I said it. Surprisingly hot. Still, I do continue the conversation, where we're given the chance to have our Inquisitors respond at the change in him:
INQUISITOR: You seem more comfortable with a grand Orlesian ball than I’d have expected.
SOLAS: I have seen countless such displays in my journeys in the Fade. The powerful have always been the same. Only the costumes change.
ME (upon replay): OH MY GOD You're lying. Again.

I do not think it's an accident that there are elven servants just steps away from Solas, whispering in the shadowed corner.
I smile as my Inquisitor edges forward, taking in the scene. Solas is still there, just hanging out, looking loungetastic and slinky in his subversive elven corner. It's important for me to note here that there are elves all around us, including just to the Inquisitor's right, in the corner proper, just steps away from Solas.
INQUISITOR: Have you seen anything useful?
SOLAS: No. Sadly... I do not have the look of one of the elven servants, or I might well be invisible... (another pause)
But wait... let's look at this. Because: Really? Really? If Solas wanted to go undercover, he'd just need a switch of a jacket and hat. Boom. He wears no vallaslin, no identifying markings. He'd be just another elven servant making his way quietly between rooms. So he's dissembling, and deliberately so.
SOLAS: I wonder how masked men live their lives without ever seeing that servants have an entire society of their own? If you want to find something useful, I would pay attention to what the servants do.
INQUISITOR: Have you encountered any trouble with the nobles?
SOLAS: The Orlesians do not quite know what to make of me. I have kept to myself, for fear of giving them some purchase to cling to. 
He says all of this with such satisfaction, and Solas voice actor Gareth David-Lloyd makes the most of each carelessly aristocratic syllable. We can practically see Solas grin in the moment here, as he takes a breath.
SOLAS (continuing): The food and drink are excellent, however, and the servants have been happy to refill my glass.
I'm sure they have, I think when viewing this scene now. Considering that I am pretty certain at least some of them work for you.
INQUISITOR (romanced): Do you have any interest in dancing?
SOLAS: A great deal… although dancing with an elven apostate would win you few favors with the court. Perhaps once our business here is done?
Our female Inquisitor voice actors are especially lovely here. Sumalee Montano is more kidding and defiant in her delivery, with that slight edge of humor she often brings to the Inquisitor, while Alix Wilton-Regan is more yearning, openly wishing simply to take a moment to enjoy the spectacle for herself.

The disparities here are so fascinating. Solas is again calm, delighted, relaxed, and hyper-aware of the racist, genuinely creepy setting in which he finds himself... and yet it's all fascinating and amusing... and doesn't seem to touch him at all. He's happy to call upon the elven servants, to be waited upon. 

If I analyze this moment, to me there's a touch of nostalgia to Solas's attitude here (and afterward, in the Rotunda conversation). He's transported back to a time when he was one of the chosen, one of the special few, to be respected, flattered and adored. A prince at court, one of the Evanuris.

In other words, the rebel apostate is gone. In his place is the amused god for whom all of this is nothing more than spectacle.
INQUISITOR: I’ll be back.
SOLAS: Hunt well!
One of the little details I love about this dialogue between Solas and a romanced Inquisitor is the fact that Solas wishes her well as she heads into the danger and intrigue of the evening's investigations. He doesn't tell her to be careful, he just smiles and bids her to "Hunt well!" It's wonderful, subtle and empowering for those playing a female Inky.

But why is Solas so relaxed, so out of character here? Is it just a little wine and a little Orlesian decadence, a reminder of his youth in millennia past? Or is it something more?

Me, I think it's something more. I think he's celebrating a private victory.

It's my belief that Solas effortlessly navigates the eluvian network the night of the Masked Ball,
and that he does so, potentially, with the help of Merrill's eluvian.
Solas's Secret Mission

As I outlined in my recent overview of the eluvian network, I believe Solas has had an entirely different agenda at Halamshiral: That of reacquiring control over the entire eluvian network.

And let's note: There have been other signs in Inquisition that Solas is focused on the eluvians. If we hit the Emprise du Lion, kill Imshael, and recruit Michel before the Winter Palace events, we are told outright. In the War Table mission "Assigning Michel de Chevin" Solas is revealed to be working actively on the eluvian situation, and Michel can be assigned to work with Solas and the Inquisition's scholars on the eluvians of Orlais. If chosen, Leliana confirms that Michel's memory of the paths between eluvians is excellent, and that he is already providing much information.

Come on. This is the best thing ever. Solas is researching the eluvians for the Inquisition. Because of course he is.

Meanwhile, here we are at the ball. And while the Inquisitor, advisors and other party members have been fixated on the Great Game, on the worrisome politics of the evening (and how it all might go terribly wrong), I believe Solas has been solely focused on his private and different mission... and that he's already accomplished it within the first hour of the evening, in fact. Before we ever confront him in the vestibule, in fact.

The wolf has already been on the prowl.

A wave of the hand? A flash of the eyes? A little magic, and either way, the eluvian network is now Solas's.
Through the Looking-Glass

Here's what I think happened: While everyone else was focused on Gaspard, and the Inquisitor, and Celene, and on the stakes and steps of this all-important evening, Solas took a short walk and accomplished his greatest victory yet.

Let's imagine it:

Solas arrives at Halamshiral, then swaps his hat and jacket in seconds for those of an elven servant. He uses magic to access the room in the Palace housing an intact but dormant eluvian. This may be Merrill's restored eluvian, in which case Solas simply slips into the garden from his corner a few steps away, ascends to the library on the second floor, enters the library using his magic, and then does the same to the storage room/study housing the Veilfire off the library's upper back room. If it is not Merrill's eluvian, I think Solas simply goes to another, in a different storage room, with the same result (an eluvian he is already aware of thanks to his own elven spy network in the Palace).

Either way, he activates the eluvian in a smooth rush of ancient magic, then being both elven, magical, and experienced, he travels to the Crossroads and beyond at the super-fast travel speeds available only to elves. Knowing the network intimately, Solas does not need to travel a long series of entrances and exits as Briala and her companions once did; he simply has to choose the right eluvian to get him to the central chamber. Which he does.

Once there, Solas uses his magic to access the labyrinth, and then walks it smoothly, reaching the center. While I believe it is possible for Solas to have stolen back the Keystone in his previous year before the Breach, Solas's words in "Trespasser" make me think he did not do so: 

SOLAS: You remember Briala from Halamshiral? For a time, she controlled part of the labyrinth. One of my agents was supposed to take it from her, but he did not succeed. I had to override the magic personally.
Solas isn't just referencing Felassan here (one of several heartbreaking direct references to my favorite Masked Empire character throughout "Trespasser"). He's also admitting point-blank that he did not have the Keystone and instead overrode the magic on the fly.

Although, since I've noted previously that as Briala's passcode was simply "Fen'Harel enansal," or "Fen'Harel's blessing," the most likely occurrence was that Solas stood at the center of the labyrinth, ascended the pedestal, and guessed the words, with or without another rush of magic, that would give him control of the entire network in perpetuity.

The Inquisitor faces the missing piece of the puzzle, and yet simply moves past in her investigations this evening. Ironically, Merrill's eluvian is an object of nothing more than mere curiosity.
The Slow Arrow's Echo

As I mentioned in my examination of the eluvians, the irony and sadness of Felassan's death at Solas's hands is that, to me, Felassan had already done the work assigned to him. In teaching Briala as his da'len, in focusing constantly on Fen'Harel in his tales, and especially in hinting to her of Fen'Harel's far more likely real complexity, he had already primed Briala subconsciously to be an agent of Fen'Harel, and to choose one of the ancient phrases his guardians and agents would have used in those long-lost days.

So Felassan dies for not giving Solas the passcode... a passcode it surely took him seconds to guess. Unless he simply waved a hand and magicked himself a new one.

Either way, it's done. And Solas has just won a silent victory on his path to tearing down the Veil and restoring his world.

The Secret Victory

Solas then makes his way back through the Crossroads, directly to the Halamshiral eluvian, emerges in the Library, and (with a quick switch of coat and cap) returns to the Vestibule.

I'd argue that this was all doable within 30-60 minutes. If that much. And easily accomplished well before the interminable list of attendees were even completely announced to the gathering.

And all thanks to the racism and blindness of the Orlesians, which made it laughably simple for Solas to achieve, since their prejudices ensured that he was basically invisible the entire time. It's a beautiful irony that Orlesians, when confronted with the most powerful being in Thedas, simply saw a lowly and despised elven servant with pointed ears.

When we look back at the Winter Palace, it's fitting that Solas has never appeared quite so wolfish as he does here.
The Subtle Celebration

Now let's revisit that scene again. The Inquisitor endures the wait outside the gates, the mingling and insults in the courtyard garden before her entrance, and then there's the pause in the outer vestibule before the ballroom doors open. She is announced, and then walks the long, slow, terrible distance to Celene. She banters as well as she can, beginning the Great Game. 

Then she locates her advisors, her companions. Makes chit-chat. It's entirely possible that all of this takes an hour or more.

Finally, she goes to find the rest of her companions—Bull, Blackwall, Solas or Dorian, etc. Only to find Solas in that darkened corner, relaxed and cynical, a little drunk, smiling and curiously lighthearted.

Dance with Me

The evening ends, in intrigue, in truce, or very possibly in Celene's murder thanks to our tacit support of Florianne's assassination, or of course, in the equal potential for death for any one of the other two primary movers (Briala, like Gaspard, can be executed here).

And then the Inquisitor is out on the balcony after welcoming Morrigan to the organization, and she's very possibly facing the realization that she's no longer a good or defensible person—and now she has to live with that knowledge. 

As Morrigan exits the balcony, Solas enters.
SOLAS: I’m not surprised to find you out here. Thoughts?
The Inquisitor can respond with a number of reactions here. With satisfaction for achieving her goals, with remorse for Gaspard's, Briala's or Celene's deaths, or (my choice) with a simple admission of tiredness and general sadness:
INQUISITOR (sighs): It’s been a very long day.
SOLAS: For everyone, I’d imagine. It’s nearly over now. Cullen’s giving the men their marching orders as we speak.
He's still buoyant, pleased by the day's events. No matter what happened here, he won. He leans forward in a courtly bow and offers her his arm:
SOLAS: Come, before the band stops playing, dance with me.
She has a number of options here—to dance with him, to ask him to simply be with her there for a quiet moment, or for her to tell him she simply wants to leave.

Among the options and potential choices, I want to spotlight one of Solas's most important comments to Lavellan here (said if she expresses remorse over her actions, especially if they resulted in death): 
SOLAS: Remember what happened; do not dwell on it. You cannot save people from themselves.
I know everyone hates Solas's Winter Palace hat, but I adore it, when it's not clipping horribly (as here). But I just love what it does to his face; it frames his angular cheeks and jawline in a really interesting way.

"You cannot save people from themselves."

One wonders if Lavellan thinks of this comment, in the months and years to come. Or if she ever reexamines those early, charmed moments in the Vestibule, when Solas was unmasked—the Prince of the Fade, decadent and amused, satisfied with the day's victories.

"I'll be back," she says, poised to hunt the evening's secrets, thinking her night has just started, never ever aware that the greatest secret of all is standing before her, both god and man, wolf and hunter. And that, for him, the evening is nothing more than spectacle. Everything he needed to do is already done.

No wonder Solas is pleased and secretive, possibly charmed by her beauty and courage, and most of all, by the prospect of his future victory... His path is not yet that of the din'anshiral. He still thinks what he wants to do is both possible and defensible. So for now he can observe, and drink, and watch the pageantry of human frailty before him, untouched by any of it, and knowing that when it comes to the Great Game and these racist, rather silly and shallow Orlesians, that he has already won.

"Hunt well!" he answers. 

And he smiles.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Through the Eluvians: Recaps, Overviews, Explorations with Artifacts...

Merrill's eluvian is an important plot point in DA2. It may prove to be an even more important plot point if my suspicions about DAI are correct...

[Felassan] leaned over and poked at the stones. “It’s not the Fade. The runes are elven … If I had to guess, I would say that our ancestors actually created some sort of tiny world between the eluvians.”
—Patrick Weekes, The Masked Empire

As I move my quest and romance analyses toward the pivotal events of the Winter Palace and "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts," I thought it would be useful to recap what we know when it comes to the ancient eluvians as of the world post-Trespasser—and what I suspect. Because for me, the eluvians are the heart of the entire situation of "Wicked Eyes" for Solas—and the pinnacle. The endgame. I realized I couldn't address his odd and fabulous demeanor at the event (or what I felt it meant) without dealing with the eluvians first). So, darn it, here we are. 

And... yes... bring on the wall of text!

The Ancient Eluvian Network: A History

Created and used by the ancient elvhen people during the heights of Arlathan, the ancient eluvian network has existed for millennia, even as it has also eluded the understanding of most who have attempted to discover its secrets.

After the raising of the Veil and the fall of Arlathan shortly thereafter, we know that the network remained largely locked and inaccessible, hidden away, and that Tevinter was only able to use a few eluvians, at some point, simply for communication (but not travel) across distances. During the Dalish elf origin in Dragon Age: Origins, Tamlen and Mahariel discover an ancient eluvian that has been tainted by the Darkspawn. Tamlen vanishes, only to reappear later, doomed and Blighted, and Duncan destroys the mirror to protect others from the potential Taint.

There's a curious and fantastic vindication for Merrill fans to seeing her completed eluvian either at the Winter Palace or in the Crossroads. It's a singular moment.

Dragon Age II companion Merrill, however, retains a tainted shard from the shattered eluvian, which she purifies through blood magic learned via a Pride Demon within Sundermount, and she begins to attempt to restore the mirror bit by bit, this time in a pure and untainted form. Merrill's choice to pursue this path means that she must abandon everything, both for ethical reasons (she needs to minimize the potential danger to her clan), as well as for political ones, as her Keeper Marethari actively opposes her choices. So Merrill, recognizing that there is only one option that satisfies all requirements here, leaves her clan and pursues her research on her own.

I'll be addressing Merrill's choices (and how unjustly maligned I think she is as a character) separately, but in the meantime, let's just say that ultimately, there are varying potential levels of both success or tragedy here. Either way, depending on our choices in Dragon Age II, the mirror is destroyed or fully restored by Merrill.

And if restored, we will later see it, or mirrors like it, in the Crossroads as well as potentially at Halamshiral. My question here is whether it's simply a repeated element (which sometimes happens in Dragon Age or pretty much any game) or whether it's a deliberate and meaningful object choice. 

Me, I vote meaningful choice—and that the eluvian is presented as intact, unshattered, and potentially active and usable. I think it is used, in fact... the night of the Masked Ball at Halamshiral.

But more on that in my post to follow.

And here, friends, is Merrill's completed eluvian, on full display at Halamshiral, stored away not far from an ancient elven artifact and Veilfire. Let fly the intrigue!
Meanwhile, Morrigan herself is obsessed with the secrets of the ancient network. Through research and outright theft from the Dalish, Morrigan discovers both an ancient treatise on the eluvians, and an intact eluvian she is able to activate.

Although the network remains largely dormant, she exhibits an ability to travel through at least a few eluvians on her own (specifically, the one in the Dragonbone Wastes, and later on, via a different eluvian that she brings to Skyhold).

Morrigan doesn't acquire her knowledge of the eluvians by honorable means, but it is an intriguing and potentially rich character element.
The Eluvian Network and The Masked Empire

But there are greater efforts to control the eluvians taking place elsewhere within a matter of years. 

As we learn in Patrick Weekes's beautiful and complex Dragon Age novel The Masked Empire, the Dalish Vernehn clan actually summon a Desire (or self-named "Choice") demon, Imshael, to attempt to reactivate the entire dormant eluvian network. Imshael has created a Keystone, a mysterious jewel like a huge ruby, that will lead its bearer to a central location connecting all eluvians across Thedas, and where the eluvian network can be activated and the password reset by the bearer (in a series of words or phrases they choose).

Nobody in Thedas has been as influential or as important in the modern history of the eluvians than Briala, especially via the events of The Masked Empire.
Imshael eventually tricks Ser Michel de Chevin into freeing him, and promptly massacres most of the clan, then almost casually gives the exiled empress Celene the Keystone in gratitude. 

The story moves along for several characters, them culminates after a series of exciting fights, intrigues, crosses, double-crosses and triple-crosses. All of which I'm basically convinced were part of Patrick Weekes's kindergarten years somewhere in Orlais as he brilliantly acquired the basics of the Great Game as well as how to wring maximum fan-tears from required plot points (LOVINGLY! I MEAN IT LOVINGLY!).

Then Celene, Briala, Felassan, Mihris, and Michel flee with their party from Gaspard into the tombs, intriguing and ancient chambers of magic or ritual, and through several eluvians, traveling in and out of the Crossroads, and eventually reaching that crucial central chamber. The journey reveals concretely that the eluvians are connected via the Crossroads, and that the Crossroads itself is a pretty exciting realm that is wholly separate from the Fade, a sort of pocket universe created by the ancient elves. 

The Crossroads is unpleasant for non-elves, but for elves it isn't just a pocket universe; it offers a tantalizing hub for connecting to worlds and locations across Thedas and—perhaps—beyond.
Navigating the Crossroads

While the Crossroads are colorless and physically sickening and disorienting for non-elves, they are comforting and filled with color for elves who travel them (a detail delicately and gloriously captured in "Trespasser," depending on the race of your Inquisitor). The story here also notes that elves can also move through the eluvian network at speeds that are near-supernatural, almost as if they are tessering through shorter ways much faster than a horse can gallop, for instance, on the surface of the actual world. This will be an important aspect I'll note later, relating to Solas's evening and potential actions at the Winter Palace at DAI's masked ball in Halamshiral.

Meanwhile, Briala's journey with Felassan, Celene, Mihris and the others takes them through countless tombs and mysterious rooms that reveal ancient and terrible crimes as typical then as now, in which class targeted class. They discover the brutal murders of the ancient elves while defenseless in uthenera, as well as the callous abandonment of ancient elven servants who were trapped and left to cruel lingering deaths (and terrible resurrections due to the protective spells on the tombs) by their so-called noble employers and masters.

In Masked Empire, once they reach the central chamber and defeat the ancient varterral guarding the pedestal, Briala takes the stage in a gorgeous bit of drama (after sexily stealing the keystone during a kiss with the empress) and reveals her knowledge of Celene's betrayal, as well as that the woman she loves colluded with Mantillon in the murder of Briala's own parents, then uses the jewel to traverse the labyrinth and take control of the eluvian network herself, speaking the passcode she has created: "Fen'Harel enansal," or "Fen'Harel's blessing."

Although Felassan dies shortly after, executed in the Fade because he will not reveal the passcode to Fen'Harel (who we now know to have been Solas), the irony is that Briala's passcode probably took Solas all of 60 seconds to guess, tops (if he even required it at all, given the extent of his growing powers as of DAI). (But more on this later...)

Inquisition takes it slow, but eventually eluvians show themselves as deeply important to the events in which we take part.

Eluvians and Connections in Inquisition

First off, I hardly hear anyone talk about this, but it's so interesting to me that we meet Mihris again in Dragon Age: Inquisition! The last of her clan, formerly possessed by Imshael himself (and freed by Felassan, who simply told the demon "Something bigger is coming"), Mihris is an important figure from The Masked Empire.

Mihris was a fantastically complex character in The Masked Empire, and it's a treat to encounter her again in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
And here she is, just quietly wandering the Hinterlands, looking for the very first of those elven artifacts that Solas loves to go around and activate (starting the "Measuring the Veil" quest series), triggering that phrase we will hear over and over again from Solas, sometimes almost comedically, in the adventures to come: "I can sense one of the artifacts of my people." Note the specificity of this particular phrasing—remember, Solas doesn't think that anyone is "his people," and he in fact denies this connection over and over again during the first half of DAI (he may soften on this subject if romancing a Lavellan who calls him out on his unfairness to both the Dalish and to Briala). But the ancient artifacts are a nice, subtle clue: The ancient elves are who Solas truly sees as his people. At least this far in the story.

Mihris is friendly, but also slightly insulting (she calls Solas "flat-ear," a slur for city elves). If the Inquisitor is Dalish, she'll tell us about what happened to the Vernehn clan during The Masked Empire, but if they are any other race, she'll say she was trying to research the Breach in order to help. If this happens, Solas does this amazing thing—he says, "Ma harel, da'len," or "You lie, child," and at that point Mihris quickly ends the conversation.

If she joins us to go fight the demons and activate the artifact (it is entirely possible for us to be antagonistic to Mihris, and to kill her at this point), Mihris then also discovers an amulet of power that she desires to keep for herself. We have the option to ask Solas to help, and when he says to her, "Ma Halani. Ma Glandival. Vir Enasalin" (which I translate as "(You) help me. You owe me. It will lead us on the path to victory.") she hands it over.

What I think is interesting here is that Solas knows everything about Mihris, and she knows nothing at all about him. Further, it's worth noting that Mihris is only one of a very few people across Thedas who possesses the password to the eluvian network given to her by Briala. And here she is, showing a lot of interest in these ancient elven artifacts...

Artifacts of Power

So. Is Solas just seeking the elven artifact here? Or is he seeking Mihris? Or is it possible that the elven artifacts aren't just about strengthening the Veil (you already know why I think he would want to do this) but are also a potential power source for Solas himself—and possibly the eluvian network?

A digression: What if elven artifacts are actually somehow part of this twisted web and woof?
What if every ancient elven artifact that is activated is actually empowering... SOLAS?

Because... I'd argue that Solas's primary mission throughout Dragon Age: Inquisition actually boils down to three very simple and important tasks:
1. Regain and unlock the Orb
2. Retake control of the eluvian network once and for all
3. Power up
It would therefore not surprise me at all to learn that the ancient artifacts are both empowering Solas and the Veil... and that, if desired, that Solas can also turn them into pretty daunting weapons if he chooses. 

Think about it. There are 25 artifacts that can be activated across Thedas, as well as, interestingly enough, three that cannot be activated (two in the Winter Palace, in separate storage rooms, and one in the study at the Darvaarad).

But let's get back to the eluvians.

Want to feel lonely at Halamshiral? Play a romanced Lavellan. Viewed as a 'rabbit,' an inferior, and vermin for hunting by Grand Duke Gaspard.
The Eluvians in Inquisition

Things get interesting in Inquisition... eluvian-wise.

Because... for a little while, there's a lull. We don't hear about Masked Empire, or eluvians, or anything like that. We're preoccupied with archdemons and Corypants and stuff, and whoever we're romancing who may or may not be falling at our feet or (of course) ignoring us. DAMMIT.

But it's quiet about eluvians, let's just say. For awhile. And it's brilliant misdirection.

For instance, when we finally end up at Halamshiral in DAI for "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts," we don't hear crap about them. It's certainly a subtle and interesting story choice. But the best part of this is, once at the Winter Palace, we may—depending on our choices in Dragon Age II—discover Merrill's finished eluvian in one of the palace storage rooms (specifically, the one off the Library, with the Veilfire).

This discovery really thrilled me because it's always really special when the previous chapters of the game are echoed in the latest.

And also, because, dammit, it means Merrill was right. And that she did indeed finish her eluvian. As she deserved to do.

I'll stop there, for now. In the glow of something small achieved, even amidst a tapestry of impossible and magical and terrifying events.

I have more to say about the eluvians and their mysteries. But to do that, I'll need to take us back to our arrival at the Winter Palace... and we'll be looking closer at Solas's activities there on a specific night, as well... 

When—I think—he takes them back. For all time.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The All-Time Most Romantic Dragon Age Moments

Oh, Cullen. Your love for the Inky is sweet, hesitant, and a reminder of how much our Dragon Age characters can evolve across one of gaming's best trilogies.
Varric: Look, Seeker, if you love a character, you give them pain, ruin their lives, make them suffer. Maybe even throw in a heroic death.
Cassandra: That makes no sense!
Varric: You care enough to argue. If she had a nice afternoon and took a nap, you'd stop reading.

Happy (Late) Valentine's Day!

So, I wanted to post this a few days ago. And of course, life and work intervened. But still... better late than never, right? Hawke would forgive me instantly. The Warden would roll her eyes. And the Inquisitor would look at her watch.

Or so I headcanon. But onward...

The lovely thing about pixels is, they never let you down. If we love them, they love us. And because we are all fabulous Dragon Age fans here, let's face it, no matter who we are, we've all had a perfect romantic moment with the companions we love.

So instead of a ranking of romances, which I just feel wouldn't be productive and wonderful, I'd rather provide a rundown of my personal favorite sexiest, most romantic and most poignant moments across Dragon Age, for all companions.

Here goes!

Dragon Age: Origins

A rose by any other name just wouldn't be the rose given by Alistair to his adored Warden. It almost makes a Blighted world worth navigating...
Alistair is a lovely Prince Charming, especially when he begins to face the Blight-ridden world he's supposed to save, and grows up. He's sweet, brave, and bashful, and his declaration of love for the Warden, giving her a rose in a world of darkness, really moved me the first time, and always will. It's one of my favorite-ever romance moments in Dragon Age: He's young and vulnerable but he's not wrong to use this one moment in a time of tragedy and torment to declare his feelings. It's just lovely (and beautifully acted by Steve Valentine).

For me it's Alistair's most beautiful, literate and genuinely poetic moment: 

Here. Look at this. Do you know what this is?

I picked it in Lothering. I remember thinking, 'How could something so beautiful  exist in a place with so much despair and ugliness? I probably should have left it alone but I couldn't. The Darkspawn would come and their Taint would just destroy it. So I've had it ever since. I thought that I might... give it to you, actually. In a lot of ways, I think the same thing when I look at you.

(Warden replies among several options)

I'm glad you like it. I was just thinking... here I am, doing all this complaining, and you haen't exactly been having a good time of it, yourself. You've had none of the good experience of being a Grey Warden since your Joining, not a word of thanks or congratulations. It's all been death, and fighting, and tragedy. 

I thought maybe I could say something. Tell you what a rare, and wonderful thing you are to find amidst all this... darkness.

Morrigan has literally been raised to distrust closeness, kindness, and generosity. Her romance therefore reveals a vulnerability and sweetness that is doubly charming.
For a scary swamp witch who can turn into a spider at will, Morrigan is surprisingly lovable. I adore her. I know she's controversial but to me she's a peanut-butter-tart with a soft and creamy center.

Wait. That sounded more sexual than I meant it. Although yes, I wanted to romance her with my female Warden and am still not okay that I couldn't.

Morrigan's romance, however, is genuinely lovely—she's tentative on emotion, forceful on passion, as you might suspect, and yet... the emotion is always there. It means something to her. Her acknowledgement of the Warden's feelings is moving because we know it's one of the only times she's ever done so in her life. Ever.

She seems like one of the sweetest characters in Dragon Age, but Leliana has a core of stone and steel to see her through the greatest crises of world or heart. And yet, no one is braver or more faithful.
Oh, Leliana, Leliana, where do I start.

Romancing Leliana in DAO is like admiring the grace of a beta fish and not knowing it was a shapeshifter fish. It was not swirly and cute and pretty and inoffensive. It was a swordfish. Ha. But the joke's on you. It wasn't a swordfish, either: It was a shark all along. A beautiful GORGEOUS awesome, smart, subtle shark, but... yeah.

But that shark still has the soft little feathery feelings of the beta fish. As it should.

The best part is that she is unshakably faithful: If she romanced the Warden in DAI and Trespasser, she's still present, faithful, and loving there. It's the best thing ever.

Leliana: "Here, with you, knowing the freedom of the road and the uncertainty of tomorrow, I feel alive again." And a bit later... "It comforts me to know that the stars will remain untouched by the Blight. That whatever happens down here, they will shine eternally, their light undimmed."

Leliana is a combination of sweetness, softness, and steel. Leliana is amazing.

He's the rogue with the tongue of velvet and the heart of silk. Zevran is well worth romancing, and he's one of the funniest and most moving characters across the trilogy.
I love Zev. Because his romance isn't "Yay! We're in love! Let's have sex!" and more, "Yay! We've had sex! Now we navigate the minefield of... feelings?!"

Ahem. But you get it. 

Like Bull, Zevran makes sex simple and only the emotions that follow anything complex or challenging. For him, they are a series of puzzles, a cipher. A product of incredible abuse thanks to an upbringing among brothels and assassins (wait, who does this remind you of?), poor Zev came through with his joy and sensuality intact. After a recent devastating loss of both life and faith, he has decided to kill himself, and it's only the Warden's mercy that spares him (or not).

And so there we are, with a wonderful character who thinks nothing of sex and who guards his own secrets like gold. Beautifully and humorously voiced by the talented Jon Curry, Zev is a character to adore or to kill and discard as too dangerous to live. Me, I've never ever been able to kill him or send him away.

And it's fitting for such a textured, rich character that one of his most devastating moments is when he's absolutely stone-cold serious and his heart is breaking:

"By your side I would willingly storm the gates of the Dark City itself."

Dragon Age II

Merrill cannot find her way around her own alienage even after years of residence, but she knows her own heart, and she's wiser than she seems.
Secrets of Dragon Age blogging: Look. I love Merrill. I love her like I love relatives. Pets. Because (cringeworthy admission): She is the most like me. Of any DA character, she's who I understand, who I love, who I know. I have to respect and adore someone who can understand and parse complex magic and metaphysics while also finding herself lost in a simple neighborhood setting. BINGO. I get this.

And I think she's vastly underestimated. She's a goofball but she's also wise, and brave, and clear-eyed. (I'm not saying I am any of those things: But she is undoubtedly smart and yet in life, she is often... not. And I identify with that.)

But here's my favorite example of her feelings for a romanced Hawke, because they show that little thread of metal at her core, and as always it's a gorgeously voiced scene by Merrill's voice actor Eve Myles. Merrill is darling, but she does not mess around:

Aveline: I didn't expect you to stick around for this mess Merrill. This has nothing to do with your elves.
Merrill: I love Hawke, I wouldn't go anywhere.
Aveline: But it's not your fight.
Merrill: I love Hawke.
Aveline: You said that.
Merrill: I say it a lot. It makes things clearer, takes away doubt when everything is crazy and people are dying.
Aveline: I understand.
Merrill: Oh, good. Someone should.

That's Merrill for you. Funny when you expect her to break your heart. And heartbreaking just when you expect her to make you laugh.

Sexy, confident and complex, Isabela's suffered much. And she's softer at heart than she seems.
I loved Isabela's romance. It's surprising, funny, sexy, and warm. It's also complex and it often zigs just when we think it will zag.

Isabela isn't always an easy character to love. She's tough, tenacious, pragmatic, and a pretty challenging, frightening life that included enslavement, rape, forced marriage, servitude, and imprisonment has taught her to be all right with cold, even callous choices. (Evidenced by her behavior over the Tome of Koslun throughout Dragon Age II.)

But there's more to Isabela, and she often shows us real charm and sweetness beneath the tough swaggering sailor-captain. She puts up with Aveline's constant yelps of "Whore!" and still sees beneath the warrior's puritanical knee-jerk reactions to the slightly scared, socially uncomfortable woman beneath.

As Izzy's terrific voice actor, Victoria Kruger's voice is rich and gorgeous, and it provides Isabela with something that externalizes who she is at her core—her generosity and warmth. As when she looks out for Merrill and calls her "Kitten." There's something to Isabela that's fine and pure, when she allows herself to be vulnerable.

My favorite moment for Isabela's romance is the very first one, when she shows up at Hawke's door for a little quality time. Since I was playing this with my FemHawke, I had no idea Izzy was, er, propositioning my girl for a little sex, and I was stupid enough to go, "Sure! Let's have girly time!" I was picturing more mani-pedis, but was also sort of delighted, nevertheless, that she was proposing something entirely different. My Hawke's reaction: Well, all righty, then! (Mani-pedis are, after all, overrated.)

Needless to say, the next scene, of Izabela and my Hawke happily making out while tossing off a dozen daggers apiece, remains one of the funniest, sexiest scenes in Dragon Age for me. I've seen it with a male Hawke too, but somehow it's better and funnier with the two women. Maybe because it's just so empowered, so strong, and so freaking funny.

I know many, many fans will disagree with me, but for me, Anders deserves every tiny little moment of happiness he can get. And somebody still needs to go find Ser Pouncealot. (Talk to the hand.)
Oh, Anders. The angst! The drama! The italicized proclamations!

Here's the deal: I love Anders. I know he's over the top. But I know how much he's been through. I know what he's suffered. I know he's spent his entire life running from people trying to isolate and control him.

So the fact that he's able to still feel so much in Dragon Age II, to be so passionate, is kind of a miracle to me. Let's not forget that our earliest outing for him literally involves our mercy-killing the first person he ever loved romantically.

So I love Anders's romance, with all its dramatic proclamations, doomed portents, and breathless kisses. His romance is one of my favorites across Dragon Age, and always will be.

I know people favor the dramatic "drown us in blood" quote, but the one that always gets me with Anders is quieter, and it broke my heart into little slivers:

"No mage I know has ever dared to fall in love... This is the rule I will most cherish breaking."

This. This is everything that's wrong with the mage/templar system. And it's doubly tragic given Anders's choices in this story path. But it will always move me.

Hey, if they took away his damn cat (don't get me started on Ser Pouncealot's fate!), the least Anders deserves is a night with the person he loves.

Abused, enslaved, and traumatized, the beautiful Fenris is a terrifying warrior who's able to reach right in and grab your heart. Both literally and metaphorically.
"That night... I remember your touch as if it were yesterday. I should have asked your forgiveness long ago. I hope you can forgive me now."

Oh, Fenris. Such a tease.

I mean, I understand. And I know he has good reason—and isn't even always aware of how or why. As with Solas, he's close then not-close; near then far—not because he's consciously being a jerk, but because of the incredible trauma he's navigating.

And nobody has more trauma than poor Fenris, who has endured impossible sufferings in captivity, enslavement, rape, and further trauma, and all of it has—tragically and predictably—left him with a wellspring of real damage, sadness, hatred, vengeance, and suspicion.

He shares a night with Hawke, but he's then instantly conflicted as hidden memories surface, and he's undone by the vulnerability of real love and sex. While poor Hawke is devastated, Fenris's return is lovely and truly romantic:

"Nothing could be worse than the thought of living without you," he says. He goes on to say, poignantly, "If there is a future to be had, I will walk into it gladly at your side."


Dragon Age: Inquisition

Cassandra is a strong woman and superb warrior, but she's just as susceptible as any of us to a sweet moment of poetry. And that's a very, very good thing.


In a grove just outside of Skyhold, the Inquisitor calls to Cass with a line of lit candles through the trees, with poetry to bring her into the space.

He declaims the poem, "Carmenum di Amatus" and she teases him about it then quotes from it on her own lips:

His lips on mine speak words not voiced, a prayer.
Which travels down my spine like flames that shatter night.
His eyes reflect the heaven's stars, the Maker's light
My body opens, filled and blessed, my spirit there.

And the moment when the Inquisitor circles around behind Cass to join in on the poetic moment she finishes those final lines, his breath on her neck, her face inches from his. It's just so lovely and delicate, and everything our romance-loving Cass could wish.

"Not merely housed in flesh," he says. "But brought to life."

It's pretty sexy. It's even better that Cassandra's romance-loving heart of course adores every single minute.

What happens when sex turns to something more? Iron Bull's romance explores this conundrum with humor, edge and charm (and a surprising amount of poignance).
Iron Bull
It's a challenge to pick a romantic moment from the guy who shows NO RESPONSE AT ALL when we flirt with him, hopelessly, over and over and over again. Who views sex as a purely physical thing, a release and then boom, done.

Until he begins to think there might be more.

That's a relationship with the Iron Bull. For me, despite many romantic moments with our challenging and edgy Hissrad across the relationship, the one moment that stays with me as the loveliest and heart-meltiest, is during the postcoital "watchword" discussion scene. 

And here, for me, the final wonderfulness is a tie, when we can either tell Bull we love him (and Bull, acted beautifully by Freddie Prinze Jr., responds poignantly with a soft, "I love you too," or we can tell him we fear the outcome and that we may not make it through, and for the first and only time, Bull breaks down. 

He actually breaks, and responds softly, with "Katoh. I can't..." And that's the moment, you guys. It absolutely kills me. Kudos to Patrick, Freddie, and BioWare because I cry every single time I've seen it.

NOTE: And of course, I'm talking Tal-Vashoth Bull for maximum romance. Because, do not even start me on the alternative. Nope. We're not going there. KREM LIVES, you bastards!

Cullen's romance is sweet and unexpectedly moving, but it's his faith that adds a dash of pathos and real emotion.
DAI's pensive Templar is one of my favorite characters across the trilogy, not least because he has a complex path through youth and into redemption and self-acceptance.

When I first played DAI, I remember assuming Cullen was mid- to late-thirties, just one of those ridiculous men who become more and more handsome as time passes. Except when fleeing our Warden's flirtations in DAO, he always seems like a guy who knows who he is, and who is certain of his own feelings.

But y'all. The reality is so much sadder.

The reality is actually more tragic to me—Cullen's a teenager in DAO, and in DA II he's just a traumatized guy in his twenties who really needed a vacation but who was instead sent to the worst possible place in the world for his next assignment: Kirkwall, where every bad opinion of mages he'd formed was confirmed. Where every corner contained a magical conspiracy.

Although barely 30, the Cullen of DAI knows better. He has finally realized how wrong he was, how corruptible even the best people are, and he has gone from confidence in his own infallibility to fear of causing harm for anyone under his watch: Mage, Templar, elf, qunari, human, dwarf, or otherwise.

Which is why, for me, Cullen's romance is sweet, hesitant, and sensitive. It's sexy but also realistic; there's the sense of real people dancing hesitantly toward each other here. He's someone old before his time; he's tired, self-doubting, and disillusioned. So the romance brings him back to himself in some lovely ways, while also reminding him of the importance of abandoning former hypocrisies and bigotries when it comes to mages or other races.

The most moving scene in Cullen's romance for me is the final one, when he desperately embraces a romanced Inquisitor in the chapel, both certain of his faith and fearful of her future.

Josie wants love, but she gives us the sense that she's not exactly seeking it out or expecting it. She's not chasing the physical, and is a fantastic ace option for Dragon Age: Inquisition protagonists.
If you want an innocent romance, especially one with lovely, gently ace overtones, Josie's is the perfect choice for you, and it's a wonderful example of how different Josephine can be in her own quiet way.

As our resident Disney Princess, Josie seems like a typical privileged player of the Great Game, but she's so much more. She's quieter and gentler than Leliana, and still haunted by the one death that ever resulted at her own hands.

Josie wants love, but she gives us the sense that she's not exactly seeking it out or expecting it. She's not a physically outgoing person or after sensual pleasures. She's surprised and hesitant when flirted with, and disarmingly lovely simply for a few fairytale-worthy time-outs with the Inquisitor.

The culimination of Josie's romance is a dashing duel for her heart with the arranged suitor who will steal her hand in marriage, and my favorite moment of the entire situation is when Josie storms in, in a fit of temper, and tells everyone to calm down and control themselves. When the Inquisitor declares love, Josie is surprised and outright disbelieving:

Josephine: Why risk everything we've built? Why risk your life?
Inquisitor: Because I love you!
Josephine: You... you do?
Rival (best moment ever): He does?!
Inquisitor: I do.

And then the delighted kiss at the end, complete with leg-pop. It's the best possible fairytale ending you could ask for.

Blackwall believes he is doomed and does not deserve love. Of course, this makes him irresistible. 

I always love the characters who are so starved for love, for acknowledgement and redemption, and Blackwall's romance is deliciously angst-ridden, and oddly sweet. At every turn, he's blatant in his adoration of the Inquisitor and that he doesn't deserve her love. 

Blackwall's the romantic Knight-Errant ideal personified, the man with the tragic past who feels he cannot deserve his maiden, who cannot face his past actions. It makes his yearning for Josie sweet and sad, and his feelings for a romanced Inquisitor really quietly lovely.

So for me, my favorite romantic scene for him isn't the love scene (DUDES, he left me in a HAYLOFT. NAKED. NOPE.). It's when (earlier) he shyly shows up to the Inquisitor's quarters, and can't help but declare his feelings, and the kiss there. And of course he tells her she shouldn't love him, he shouldn't be there, and shouldn't kiss her.

That moment made me actively root for him and his redemption. And of course also made me love him more. Basically, every single time a pixellated character says, "Don't love me," I JUST LOVE THEM MORE.

It's human nature. And BioWare knows us all too well.

Dorian would run across vistas into his own arms to romance himself. Wouldn't we all?
Okay, I'm biased here, because I love the "surprise kiss" more than life itself as a trope, and I am loud and proud, right here, with it. 

And Dorian's soft, surprising kiss to a romanced male Inquisitor, shortly after the revelations about his family and struggles, is so personal, so sweet and intimate and surprising, that I'm... y'all... it's just gorgeous. It's soft and sexy and prolonged just the right amount. 

The scene is also genuinely emotional, following Dorian's soft, sad account of his relationship with his father. The moment begins with him at the window at Skyhold, light falling on his impeccable profile, the Tevinter haircut more distinct here than anywhere else -- the shaved high sideburns, the dark curls of hair above. It's almost priestly in appearance.

And then he tells us about his father's shame over his choices. And then the poor guy has to immediately face Mother Giselle's innuendos about his relationship with the Inquisitor. Which, thank goodness, we can either allay or confirm (in all the best ways).

Inquisitor: Do you always answer a question with a question?
Dorian: Would you like me to answer in some other fashion?
Inquisitor: If you're capable.

Dorian rushes in, and... sigh. SHOOT ME, I'm not made of stone, people.

Sera's romance is sexy, exuberant, funny, combative and charming. Just don't go too 'elfy' and you'll be fine.
My poor darling Sera gets a bad rap. She's called out all the time for being rude, biased, or mean, and to me she's just tough and traumatized and trying to protect her little sweet taffy-soft heart.

Sera's romance is tough if you're an elfy-elf, and those are often what I've tended to play. But once you get past her flinty and protective exterior, she's soft and sweet and just as adorable as you might expect. 

Sera's romance is exuberant, funny, combative and charming. She knows her own mind, she loves women, she's decisive and fierce, and it's best if you're an Adaar and worst if you're a mage-friendly elfy-elf (please don't do it, just don't). 

Yes, she's intimidating (surprisingly so). But I love how smooth she is—for me, she's right up there with Solas as one of the smoothest companions when it comes to flirts. She openly calls our female Inky as pretty and shows only amusement at early flirtation attempts. 

Sera has a big moment mid-romance that's one of my favorite speeches across the trilogy. It's just so characteristic and real:

You don't act like nobles. I love that.
You don't hide. I love that.
(Varied) You don't like cookies. Convenient. Love that.
(Adaar) And just... look at you. Just... love that.
But seeing this really hurts. I'm fighting to make things better and learn truth and shit, and it just keeps getting scarier.

And when she called my Adaar "honey-tongue," um, it's really, really sexy. And I love her love scenes and how playful they are.

Solas's romance is high romance in the grandest Shakespearan tradition, where the best matches yearn hopelessly from afar, where sex occurs only rarely or just before death, and where outcomes usually end with "and with a kiss, I die." And I wouldn't have it any other way. Even as I tremble at the prospect of DA4 and what it will do to my poor heart.
Oh, he loves us. Yet he hides a terrible, tragic secret. Has there been any formula more deadly or more irresistible since time immemorial?

No. Nope. No, there hasn't. Just ask the thousands of happily weeping Solasmancers out there.

Solas's romance is high romance in the grandest Shakespearan tradition, where the best matches yearn hopelessly from afar, where sex occurs only rarely or just before death, and where outcomes usually end with "and with a kiss, I die."

I know it will shock blog readers (I KNOW!) but I love almost all of Solas's scenes, especially the romantic ones, but for me the biggest romantic zinger will always be the Fade Kiss.

I love all the other Solas Kisses (and it's a high bar, because, people, as a fictional character, it is highly apparent that the dude knows how to kiss), but there's something new and surprised there that always still gets me every time. I love all the others (I DO), but there, he's settled into the lie, he knows how to live there, sort of—but the Fade Kiss is the one discombobulated moment where Solas is literally going "HOLY CRAP, OKAY FINE, KISS ME YOU GORGEOUS THING."

So I do. And that's my favorite moment. Not just the kiss—but the kiss when he dives back in and goes for it.

We should all want that, right? The lover for whom one kiss is not enough. Solas may fight against this very thing, but let's face it... he doesn't fight that fricking hard, right? Not at first at least. Not for many many months. Until the endgame (and goodbye) looms and he faces the hardest choice of all.

But that's fantasy.

As far as reality, I'll wish you Fade romances, today and every day. Whether real or pixellated, I hope you romance a mage, a warrior, a rogue, a misfit, a lover, and get the love you deserve. And all the best kisses and cookies in the world.

And my work here is done. 

Happy Valentine's Day and beyond, you beautiful creatures! Thank you as always for reading!

"Dragon Age: Dreadwolf" Predictions & Ponderings (and "What's in a Name?" Redux)

He doesn't call, he doesn't write, but finally, it looks like we might be hearing from Solas at last (2023?), as BioWare announces t...