Saturday, May 30, 2020

TEVINTER NIGHTS Analysis: Callback

"Callback" takes us back to Skyhold, our castle and stronghold... and then shows us that you really can't go home again
without significant wear and tear on the heart...
"Know that Skyhold remains, its fires bright. Forevermore it is where you are from, not where you are bound. Attempt no travel there. Let the past guide you to a new direction. And be well."
—From "Callback," DRAGON AGE: TEVINTER NIGHTS

WARNING: SPOILERS on TEVINTER NIGHTS! Please read at your peril!

So hello once again, you lovely Wardens, Hawkes and Inkies!

As always, I hope this finds you safe and well, despite our increasingly crazy world. So let's escape awhile to Thedas, shall we?

As you probably know, I've been doing a series of analyses on Tevinter Nights, concentrating on the stories that I feel add substantially to the lore, and which may give us potential clues to Dragon Age 4. Today, I wanted to share my notes and thoughts on Lukas Kristjanson's bittersweet adventure, "Callback." And of course, please do check out my past analyses of "Three Trees to Midnight," and "The Horror of Hormak."


As I search for new clues from TEVINTER NIGHTS,
we learn some key secrets and plot progressions
from Lukas Kristjanson's story "Callback."
And here we go!

The Story at a Glance

We dive right into the story, with our old friend, the young knight Sutherland, taking in the vista we all know and love so well: beautiful Skyhold, poised high in its hidden valley between the towering snowy mountain peaks of the Frostbacks. It's implied that, as with most of the stories in this collection, it's been about a year since the events of "Trespasser."

"Every day was the best day," says Sutherland, surveying that view with love and sadness in his heart. And right there, already, I knew this story was going to make me a mess. An absolute mess.

Because I love Skyhold. I love it like a real place. Or, you know, even better than that—like all those incredible imaginary places that are more real than real. I love Skyhold like I love Bag-End. Rivendell. Cair Paravel. Brakebills. The Normandy. Or Jordan College. You get the idea. Those places are sacred to me, and Skyhold stands among them. A little part of my soul feels like it lived at Skyhold, after all—walking its Great Halls, peeking shyly into the Rotunda to see if my Inky was brave enough to interrupt Solas, running past the drafty hallway to the War Room, playing chess in the gardens, listening to songs in the warm and flickering light of The Herald's Rest. 

A little part of my soul lives at Skyhold and always will.



There's a demon living in our favorite castle. "Callback" sends it
away. But at a steep price.
Anyway. Wow, this is gonna be a tough one. 

But okay, onward—back to our merry band. 

Our Boy Grows Up

We're at Skyhold with Sutherland (and how genius was it when we discovered that his name is Donal?!), as well as companions in his adventures that we may have known already in DAI—Shayd, a human bard archer, and Voth, an elven mage. If you're a reader of the graphic novels, we did get to reconnect with the gang back in Magekiller—if not, this is our first glimpse since our Skyhold days in DAI.

As they assess the situation, Skyhold seems sad, empty and dark. Too empty, as it turns out, since even though the Inquisition had left it, it had not been left unguarded, and there had been caretakers to oversee it who were now unresponsive. Skyhold was basically force-abandoned, but not razed or destroyed, kept empty but watched as "a distant beacon." The party chats a little, and we learn that they are under orders to investigate, and that under their plans they are due to meet up with others at Skyhold, including Rat, the brash dwarven squire.

The last communication anyone got about Skyhold, the caretaker mentioned attempting to restore the fresco in the Rotunda for some reason (which was odd because it wasn't one of his duties). The caretaker ended his last message with "I have made mistakes." I know who this sounds like, to me, so this is really interesting stuff.

The band is pretty sure a demon is involved even as they make the long climb to the castle, and as they climb, Sutherland thinks back to his arrival at Skyhold, back to when he walked through the doors of the Herald's Rest and the Inquisitor took a chance on him (as well as on Shayd, Voth, and Rat, who would become his found family, his little "Chargers"). From a writing standpoint, I want to note that Lukas does a great job here, by the way, of balancing the Inquisitor as someone of any gender we choose, so that we are still imagining our Inquisitors, whoever they might be. 

Coming Home to Loss

The adventurers arrive at a courtyard full of memories, and realize the first desecration—that the old caretaker's body is nailed to the door of the empty stable—and that he did the job himself.


Sutherland and crew return to a Skyhold with no warm, sweet torches or
welcoming fires. The Skyhold of the future is sad, dark, and virtually empty.
They investigate further, and everything is clean and empty and sad, yet full of memories. The courtyard, the buildings, the stalls, the tavern. There were seven permanent staff left behind but at first there's no sign of anyone but the dead caretaker, but Voth can sense the demon nearby. 

When Sutherland and friends investigate further, they discover that our once-beautiful Rotunda, the jewel of Skyhold—from Solas's frescoes to the second-floor library to the top-floor rookery—is now a tower of horrors, of body parts and old blood. And the frescoes themselves now seem to be somehow alive... in peculiar depth and motion, surrounded by a blackness that seems to be draining them of life and color. The demon then attacks them, inhabiting the wolflike/draconic creature from the final panel, and both Voth and Shayd are instantly defenseless. When Sutherland confronts it, the demon confirms that it is Regret, "an echo that has breached the Fade."

Bees, Friends, and Kisses Galore

Sutherland battles Regret while his friends are caught and trapped by their own internal regrets and memories. He manages to stab the demon, but the demon is able to regenerate almost instantly. Still, Sutherland—the only one present with zero regrets—is strong and unafraid throughout the fight. Skyhold made him who he is, and he will regret nothing that happened there, so he's able to hold off the demon until Rat shows up with another of our old friends from Skyhold—Dagna! They attack the creature with amphora of bees (BEES! Of course! And a lovely little shoutout to Sera, the character Lukas wrote for DAI, as well as to her romance with Dagna), and as the demon goes nuts, Sutherland is able to rescue Shayd and Voth from their immobility, and he and Shayd take a moment to celebrate (remember, they flirted then got involved way back in DAI!) with a passionate kiss despite the mayhem. No time like the present!


"Callback" gives us some really fun, tantalizing glimpses of Skyhold
as a working (and highly defensible) castle.
Then the gang lures the demon outside, with Rat running nimbly to distract it from the others, and our old blacksmith Harritt joins the fray, then our old quartermaster Ser Morris, who rush with Sutherland and the others to pursue the demon into the Herald's Rest. Once inside the tavern, my darling sweet grouchy Cabot appears, noting that, "as a bartender, I drown regret." Cabot attacks the demon, and is joined in the attack by Elan, our former elven apothecary. The two banter adorably enough to let us know that they're a couple (yay!), and man, the nostalgia is absolutely lethal here, people. Especially since it appears the tavern is now on fire. (NO! Not the Herald's Rest!)

The Heart of Skyhold

The entire gang helps Sutherland converge on the demon to take it down, and his memory of the Inquisitor gives him enough courage to stand for his friends. He's able to stab the demon, then everyone else (touchingly "the little people, who supposedly didn't matter" yet who were in the end, "the heart of Skyhold") helps him to take it down. The death of Regret is bittersweet, and it dies chuckling, but with an aura of sadness, and bringing a fresh and cleansing breeze through the garden. Sutherland's merry band, together with their friends, have triumphed.

The story ends with a proclamation from Divine Victoria, praising the Inquisition and the Herald, while also saluting the acceptance of change, and the knowledge that Skyhold is no longer a destination, but their past. "Attempt no travel there," she warns, "Let the past guide you to a new direction. And be well."


"Callback" implies that Solas's regrets were so powerful they became
a literal being. That's hardcore.
And then I cry like a baby, because Skyhold is empty again. And Solas's Rotunda is a wreck of bodies and bloodshed, and his gift of the ancient and beautiful murals are lost forever (although Dagna will eagerly study the demon-touched remnants), and the Herald's Rest was burning when last we saw it.

I love the story, but Skyhold's fate fricking breaks my heart.

What it Adds to the Lore
A view of Skyhold. Back when it was a working fortress. (cries)
We learn quite a lot here in "Callback," of course, along with some nice lore confirmations, so here's my rundown:

  • First, Sutherland tells us that the Inquisition attracted roughly 10,000 soldiers, assassins, diplomats, and freeblades from across Thedas, transforming them into "a massive, destabilizing militia with an allegiance to an ideal, not borders."

    This is also a direct offshoot of Sutherland's series of quests for us under Ser Morris in DAI, and of how we see him and his friends contribute to the influence of the Inquisition itself.

  • We get some lovely specific details on Skyhold's mechanics here, that further solidify it as a working fortress, a real place, and I love that! Let me count the ways...

    Like, for instance, that a cable lift was used to bring up people, animals, and supplies from the valley floor to the fortress. There's also access via a steep, very high climb via a watchtower with an internal staircase.

    We also learn that Skyhold was equipped with formidable ballistae, and that several were trained on the bridge to the main gate—a terrific defense with zero places to flee for the opponent on the bridge.

    We also learn that there were fires that could be lit beneath the gatehouse that could sear intruders caught between the portcullises and past the drawbridge if needed. Basically, Skyhold did not mess around.

    And remember... this is all a place that was once conceived and created by Solas himself. It's a fascinating thought.

  • We also get confirmation that the Veil is unusually thin at Skyhold, causing it "to react to events like water reacted to stones." Since we know that Skyhold is where Solas literally created the Veil, this is extremely interesting information.

  • We're given further lore on spirits and demons, and that both are driven by the singular emotions that define them, so much so that they actually embody those emotions (Compassion, Wisdom, Faith, Pride, Despair, etc.), as we know. This isn't a surprise, per se, and yet here it's presented with a dash of sadness, of predestination (and as if the spirits/demons could have been more complex depending on their choices). It's implied that these spirits/demons do have a choice in who or what they become, in other words, at least to me. They are aware of what drives them.

    We also learn that in comparison to spirits, that demons are both similar (as we already knew from Solas's banters with Cole) and yet also "inward" and "craving," that they are "jealous, starved, and dangerous."

  • The demon emerged in the Rotunda and from the very plaster of its walls, inhabiting, animating, and obliterating Solas's eight beautiful frescoes, which we are told here were nearly twenty feet tall, and which are confirmed to have been Solas's gift to the Inquisitor (something that still touches me, especially since he created these masterworks regardless of whether he liked or loved the Inquisitor).

    Also, twenty feet tall! Sheesh, no wonder our favorite Fade Walker never seemed to sleep. He didn't have time. Good grief.

  • We get some tantalizing new descriptions of the frescoes that offer a little more insider insight into that tantalizing unfinished eighth panel Solas left behind.

    Among other things, "Callback" gives us confirmation that the wolflike creature standing over the dead dragon is itself rather reptilian and draconic (something I've definitely been a proponent for, so I'm pretty tickled at the revelation), and that the emerging creature (not the fresco animal) "has too many eyes" (a subtle reference again, to Pride Demons, not to mention to Solas's many Tarots in DAI): 
For those of you who felt that this "wolf" figure was also
pretty dragony? DING DING DING, you got it right!
"...here, unfinished, was the outline of a beast that stood over both dragon and sword. This was not the battle, or the victory. This was after. And the beast was not a dragon. The outline alone might have allowed that assumption, but now, filling with black and red, it was something other. The creature was reptilian, but also canine. The snout was blunted and toothy, but edges came to a point in houndlike ears. As the mass of plaster filled the shape, it began to rise, revealing scales and tail, and paws with talons. It looked like two figures painted on either side of a pane of glass, then viewed together, their forms confused. A wolf that had absorbed a dragon, and now stood crooked over all."
This is almost a literal recap of the final confrontation of Solas and Mythal at the end of DAI. And it also quite beautifully expresses the regret and self-loathing that almost surely followed that confrontation for Solas. We saw the clear love and affection between the two—which we now know encompassed thousands of years. And now it appears Solas 'absorbed' that draconic essence of Mythal quite literally. Or so this implies. And it also feels like, well, it's just one more monument to his own self-loathing on this journey on the din'anshiral.
As I've blogged here before, I already believe Solas can wear many faces, from man, to ancient elven god, to Dread Wolf (a wolf walking both Fade and in the real world), to Pride Demon. And now here we get the implication that he has, perhaps, also finally achieved that 'level-up'—to the divine draconic form. It's a revelation to shake all of Thedas. If they only knew. 
Sorry, I know I'm supposed to caption this with something touching
about Solas's murals, but as always, I'm just staring at his booty here.
  • I am the heart of what was here,” roars the demon to Sutherland, pointing at the frescoes. "I am Regret!" It goes on to reveal, "There is so much of me that's here. So much regret behind these deeds. I wonder if you know the dread that's coming?"

  • What is fascinating here is that this demon is very obviously embodying at least the shadow and memory of Solas. It is Solas's grief and regret brought to actual life across the Veil, and as such it seems to speak both in his voice and even with his penchant for riddles and secrets in plain sight (the "dread" that's coming). The creature even openly says, "I am the regret of a god," which once again confirms that at some point, there appears to be a slight truth to the power of those ancient evanuri (including Solas) and that it was, well, pretty darned godlike.

  • Sutherland realizes during the fight with the demon that his mission was a setup -- a mission that was supposed to fail, and which would therefore allow the evil nobles to obliterate the castle and erase the Inquisition's proudest legacy.

  • As Regret begins to die, we get a tantalizing glimpse of illumination as Sutherland sees "a sliver of the spirit that might have been." Not the opposite of regret. A different flavor, or shade. Contemplation. Introspection. It felt the actions that had summoned it. There might have been a better choice," said a thought it had not been allowed."

  • Regret dies chuckling, and again, we get some really fascinating lore here: "It glimpsed the spirit realm beyond the Veil, and a faraway glimmer. Familiar, and somehow far brighter than what had drawn it here. It knew where it would go."

    To Solas, perhaps?

    To be reunited, no longer a sliver of spirit, but whole with the spirit that spawned it?

    Or is it simply seeing a place within the Fade where it can be reborn? What an odd child of Solas's life and deeds.

But what did you take from "Callback?"

Final Observations


For me, this story was as delightful as it was painful... it took me back to Skyhold. A place I love. 


The sacrilege of "Callback" runs deep for me, since I always thought
Solas's little home in the Rotunda to be one of Skyhold's loveliest
locations, with its frescoes, jewel tones, and soft furnishings.
And then it took Skyhold away from me. And reminded me that Skyhold is now empty, alone, and damaged beyond repair.

The beautiful frescoes that Solas so carefully painted for the Inquisitor, each one a gift priceless beyond measure and created as treasures and recreations of art that belonged to thousands of years past (even if the Inky didn't realize this then) are gone, crumbled into a demonic cauldron of self-loathing, loss and regret.


All that remains is an empty castle, dried blood, and a few flakes of plaster. And the bitter tang of loss and regret.

The Din'anshiral

For me, this story, more than any other in Tevinter Nights, reveals the bitterness of Solas's secret heart. For those who see him simply as an arrogant know-it-all, a villain with no heart, I would point them to this story, in which his regret, self-loathing, loss, and sadness have literally been so painful, so vast, that they spawned a demon in his absence.

For me, "Callback" does a brave and beautiful thing: It reminds us of something beloved and beautiful (Solas's frescoes), something we may have treasured in DAI—and it brutally destroys them. It's awful and sad. It's painful. But it's necessary. The Solas who painted those frescoes is gone. The world that held them is gone. Everyone has moved on. Except, perhaps, the Inquisitor who loved him.


Skyhold survived the creation of the Veil. And then the departure of
the Inquisition. Will we get to return in Dragon Age 4? Time will tell.
All that remains is an empty castle, a dying Veil, and the memories of people who still believed in goodness. Who really hoped they could fix the world. And who even when they left, kept hoping in all their stubborn, stupid, glorious belief.

I don't look to videogames to inspire me in daily life, but this? In the craziness of our terrible current world, man, I'll take it. 

Skyhold is empty. Will it stay that way? Or will Dragon Age 4 allow us to return? Only time will tell... 

2 comments:

  1. I am really loving all the posts on this blog. And I can't wait to read your recap of The Dread Wolf Take You!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Ryo! That means a lot. I will get to it eventually -- I want to go in order (I think the story order wants us to), so can't wait to share thoughts there too. Meanwhile, thank you so much for reading! I'll look forward to your additional comments.

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