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.


  1. This is so brilliant! I'm sure there must be another use of the ancient eleven artifacts. I eagerly wait to hear more about Solas's activities that night!

    1. Thanks so much, Michelle! I'm really intrigued by them, and while they may in fact just help to strengthen the Veil (the better for Solas to tear it down), I can't help but wonder what else they may do... or what they may be turned to do in DA4! I hope you'll keep reading (and commenting)!

  2. This is excellent, thank you for writing it.

    Ever since I heard that it could be Merrill's eluvian there in the Winter Palace, I'm trying to come up with an explanation how it even got there?

    1. Hi Barbex, thanks for commenting! My take is that it was a combination of factors. After the events of Masked Empire, Celene would almost certainly have remained keenly interested in the eluvians and tried her best to amass what she could. Then there's the Morrigan factor -- Morrigan we already know is deeply invested in them, and may have used her curiosity to encourage Celene to acquire what she could from across Thedas.

  3. Brilliant. Also great to see Merrill (somewhat) redeemed. She's a great character.

  4. Yay! Another Merrill fan! Thanks so much for chiming in here. I love Merrill -- I feel she's so often underappreciated (and even infantilized) so I'm working on a post about her that details some of my thoughts in more detail. Thanks for reading, and hope you'll stay tuned!

  5. I think it makes perfect sense for Merrill’s Eluvian to be at the Winter Palace. We hear Solas say that Briala controlled the Eluvians (or many of them, anyway) when we meet him in Tresspasser, and we know by the time the Inquisition arrives, she’s already been utilizing them for some time. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to think she got one into the palace at some point, which could also help explain why it’s counterpart is at the Crossroads. I’m interested to see what else you have to say on the subject!

    1. Christina, thanks for commenting. I agree that between Briala and Celene, it's very easy to imagine how Merrill's eluvian got to Halamshiral.

      I love little details like that -- little things that tie together DA2, "The Masked Empire," and Inquisition. That's why I love the Dragon Age world so much -- all that lore and complexity!


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