I clicked the “submit” button on my finished blog entry and pushed back my chair, rising to fetch myself another cup of coffee from the kitchen. It was one of those mornings – I had already accidentally deleted an e-mail from the owner of one of the websites for which I wrote daily articles; my most recent entry on a new Dark Ages weapon find in eastern England was littered with typos; I’d stubbed my toe on my chair leg twice; and I hadn’t even had my mandatory second cup of caffeine yet.
I had seriously pondered just going back to bed and writing off the whole day as a loss.
But, as I wandered into the kitchen of my apartment, I was glad I hadn’t. The window beside the refrigerator allowed a decent view of the city park next door, and it revealed a beautiful and clear summer day. After I poured another cup full of steaming, dark coffee, I meandered over to the casement and looked out at the baby-blue sky… cloudless except for a single jet contrail that streaked across it like a giant backslash.
Something soft then brushed against my bare foot.
“Hey, Maddie,” I said quietly, glancing downwards with a half-smile.
My three-year-old calico flopped down on the top of my foot and rolled over and over, her warm fur tickling my skin. I sighed and acquiesced to her begging for attention, lifting my foot to rub her exposed tummy and flank. Maddie loved belly rubs. Possibly more than the person who gave them to her on demand.
But only when I did them right.
Maddie traipsed away with tail lifted after nipping at my big toe like she hadn’t done anything wrong. I sighed again, peering at the spot to make sure it wouldn’t start bleeding. Maddie was most certainly an aggravation, but she was my aggravation, and I loved her dearly. Ever since I had moved from my mother’s house after my parents divorced, Maddie was my only company. My online jobs barely brought in enough money to feed the both of us, but I wouldn’t give her up for the world.
Taking a stale donut from the half-full box beside the microwave, I quickly ate it for a late breakfast, washing it down with the rest of my coffee before heading to my room to get dressed. I felt antsy, like I needed a walk or something, and so I decided to head down to the park for a while. I put on a faded pair of jeans and my favorite blouse – a forest green peasant top with billowy sleeves – and then slipped into my usual black ballet flats. It was a tad humid today, so I pulled my wavy hair back into a tight ponytail. My hair was the type that, if the atmosphere was the least bit damp, it would frizz like Hermione Granger’s and look twice as ridiculous. Despite its difficulty, though, I wasn’t planning on cutting it anytime soon; I rather liked keeping my nearly-curly chestnut brown tresses just past my shoulders in length. It prevented my rather long neck from looking too skinny when I did wear it down. Or so I believed.
Taking only my keys and phone with me, I said bye to Maddie and left the apartment, not planning on being out more than an hour or two. I couldn’t stay longer than that even if I wanted to; the Irish part of my heritage ensured that I somehow burned to a crisp even in the shade. Thus, my life was mostly an indoor one, sitting in front of a computer screen, with only brief jaunts out into the sunshine.
On the way out of the door, I texted a friend of mine who lived two floors above me in the same complex, Abigail. She was a student at the local community college but was able to take summers off. She worked weekends at the coffee shop a block away, while her boyfriend, with whom she currently lived, worked at the computer store every other day and as an online help technician on the side.
Hey, u want 2 meet up @ the park?
I was outside of the complex and halfway down the sidewalk before she replied.
Sure. 1 sec. Showing bf how to do astrarium puzzles.
I smiled to myself, continuing my walk so I could pick a bench for us. Abigail and I were both avid Dragon Age fans, and she had managed to pull her boyfriend into the series, too. She and I were still playing Inquisition in our spare time, even after beating the game and all its DLCs several times over, and we hungrily devoured any and all news on the next installment. She had told me on more than one occasion that she wanted to make a character to romance Blackwall, but as far as I knew, she was still chasing everyone’s favorite ex-Templar.
But I couldn’t say anything at all about that, because I was doing the exact same thing.
I had just found a nice vacant park bench under a giant oak when I heard something that sounded like the distant wailing of police sirens. That wasn’t anything new, of course, so I paid little attention to it.
Until it became louder and louder…
Brow furrowing in slight concern, I finally looked up to see a massive cloud of debris billowing into the sky in the distance, the loud bang from its creation following after the upwards spray that just kept going and going. Eyes widening, I quickly realized that the massive upward motion of debris was getting closer as it also got taller, rippling across the horizon in a wave. An ominous rumbling vibrated through the ground and into my feet. Deep down, I knew that it wasn’t a simple explosion or even a demolition. It was an eruption…
And it was headed straight for me.
“Oh my God…”
I felt the words leave my lips, even though I couldn’t hear them over the roar of the earth breaking apart. In my panic, I dropped my keys and phone and turned to run, though it was entirely useless. Whatever had happened, it was already too late.
For everyone. Including me.
I didn’t see the eruption uproot the apartment complex behind me. I didn’t see the ground begin to crack underneath my pounding feet. I didn’t see that the opening earth beneath me glowed green.
The last thing I remembered from my time on Earth was being vaulted into the air at impossible speed.
And then everything went black.
The first thing I became aware of after that was that I hurt all over. It felt as though someone had stuffed me into a washing machine and kept it going for hours on end. Everything hurt, from my skull to my toes. I was also cold, my clothes wet with… water? Sweat? Blood?
I slowly peeled my eyes open, afraid of what sort of sight might greet me.
And what lay before me was unlike anything I had ever seen before… or was it?
Where the hell am I?
It was a desolate landscape of nothing but green-tinged wet stone, slick with what I assumed was water, judging from the appearance – the same substance I also assumed had dampened my clothes. The sky was tinted a similar eerie green hue, with hints of some other colors. I looked about and found myself plastered to a twisting column of rock perhaps twenty feet off the ground, the only thing preventing me from plummeting down the column being the tiny ledge my feet were planted on.
Am I dead? Please tell me this isn’t Purgatory. Or Hell. Because this isn’t Heaven, for sure.
I pinched myself. Checked my pulse. Breathed on my hand. Nope, I was alive and very much awake. Or so I was convinced. So, had the world ended, and this was what it looked like now? It certainly had felt like the world was ending…
I looked up, and to my great surprise saw rocks suspended midair, a particularly large island floating in the distance, with what looked like buildings on top of it.
Wait, this looks like…
“Oh my God…”
My voice ended in a squeak, and my breathing quickened with my pulse as I frantically looked all around, memories of playing Inquisition’s “Here Lies the Abyss” swimming to the forefront of my mind.
“Oh my God… this can’t be real… this can’t…”
But it looked for all the world like I was in the Fade.
My heart pounded in my throat, beating as if it were trying to escape my ribcage and flee my body all by itself. Grip tightening on the slick stone behind me, I glanced about my person again and again, my eyes confirming over and over what my brain both feared and desperately denied was true.
“I’m crazy… I’m dreaming… I’m insane… I’m dead… I…”
I screamed. I couldn’t do anything else. I screamed and screamed, the sound torn from my throat and echoing across the stony landscape. Some part of me hoped I would scream loud enough that I would wake myself up and I would sit up straight in my own bed in my own apartment on my own real world and I would realize to my great relief that no, I was not trapped in a goddamn video game!
That was the stuff of fanfiction, for crying out loud! That wasn’t reality! It wasn’t possible!
But every sense of mine told me otherwise. I was in the Fade. It was very much real… at least now. For me. And as the last echoing remnant of my final scream faded in the distance, I suddenly realized that I was also very much in trouble. The tears that spilled from my eyes abruptly halted with my overwhelming panic, and my sobbing gasps threatened to turn into outright hyperventilation.
If there were demons here, then I really would be dead. Soon, if I couldn’t find a way out.
And if this wasn’t Thedas during the events of Inquisition, there would be no way out at all.
I struggled to control my breathing. I could think later. After I found safety. Thinking didn’t matter at the moment. Survival did.
Breathe, Tamsyn… breathe. Breathe in… breathe out…
I swallowed and gathered my focus, noting that my throat was raw from my bout of screaming. Then, looking down, I tried to formulate how exactly I was going to get off of this giant rock column. My flats were certainly not made for climbing, especially not on wet stone, but I had to try.
I slipped on the first step, and another scream flew from my mouth but was abruptly halted in my throat after I didn’t keep sliding. Instead, the sole of my foot stuck to the stone as if held there by gravity, even though it was bent backwards on a vertical surface. Suddenly, I remembered how the scene with the Inquisitor and Hawke in the Fade had looked, and I realized that, if this really was the Fade, gravity truly meant nothing here.
It was whatever I needed it to be. Whatever I imagined it to be.
Feeling a bit daredevilish, I let go of the rock and held my hands out to my sides. I still stayed put. Despite my earlier panic, a grin spread across my face, and I began to awkwardly shimmy down the rock.
Then, I took an actual step.
And the world turned with me. Up became behind, forward became up, down became forward, and behind became down all at once as the scenery rotated. The rock I had been leaning on was now beneath me and I, quite disoriented, fell face first onto it with a yelp and a smack.
“Uhhhhghghhggh!” I snarled in frustration, my hands balling into fists.
Wiping wet chestnut curls out of my eyes where they had come loose from my ponytail, I stood and continued walking. I was angry. And anyone who knew me when I was angry knew that was when I was most determined to get a job done. I didn’t stop until I had reached the base of the column, and the world righted itself again. Thankfully, I had expected it, and I didn’t fall over a second time. I huffed out a breath of relief and put my hands on my hips as I looked around again.
Now… how to get out of here?
Nothing but grey-green stone loomed everywhere. Pathways and tunnels in the rocks led in every direction. Anything could have been hiding in the shadows, and I had no weapons… no way to defend myself. Nothing except…
Remember your lore, Tamsyn.
I chuckled bitterly to myself at the irony. How funny was it that the stuff that meant absolutely nothing in the real world was vital to survival here? What was worthless before had become more valuable than gold. If this really was the Fade, then I should have been able to influence it somehow, if I concentrated hard enough. I closed my eyes and thought solely of my need to find safety, wherever that was. Somewhere outside the Fade, and preferably in the real world.
Though, if the real world was gone…
Safety. Safety. I needed to find my way out of the Fade and to safety…
I opened my eyes. At first, I thought nothing had changed, and I sighed, throwing my hands into the air in exasperation. But then, in the distance beyond one of the rock tunnels, I glimpsed a small bobbing light.
And it was getting closer.
I tried to shut out my fear and control my urge to flee as the thing neared. It was a little sphere of almost blinding white light no larger than a softball, and for a moment I wondered if it was some sort of demonic lure, like the light of an angler fish. But when it did absolutely nothing but float there in front of me, I began to think it was a friendly spirit of some sort, drawn by my need for help. A wisp?
“Uh,” I began, not quite believing I was actually going to start talking to it, but having no other real option. “Hey, little… um… one?” Spirits were technically genderless, so I couldn’t legitimately use “guy.”
Trust me to be trying to address it properly when it wasn’t even supposed to exist…
Much to my surprise, at the sound of my voice, the thing seemed to perk up. Or at least, that’s what I thought bouncing in the air and glowing brighter meant.
“So, uh,” I looked around to make sure nothing was sneaking up on me while the wisp was distracting me, before cocking my head and asking, “can you show me a way out of here?”
The wisp stilled, dimming a little. Then, after a few seconds, it brightened again and bounced.
Even after its affirmation, I hesitated. Spirits rarely did anything without wanting something in return, or so I thought from what I had read about them. I wondered what it was getting out of all this, or what it wanted me to do.
“Do you… want something in exchange?” I finally asked, praying to all heavenly powers to have mercy on me.
The ball of light grew still again, and I heard my own words echoed back at me: “Do you… want something in exchange? Can you show me a way out of here? Hey little… um… one…”
I blinked. “You want to hear me talk.”
The wisp bobbed again, seemingly in affirmation.
A wave of relief washed over me. I nodded, “Talking. I can do talking. Show me the way and I’ll talk all you want.”
And so it did. It floated away, following its own peculiar whims as it flitted around rocks and under archways, but generally leading me in a relatively straight path across this eerie landscape. All the while I chattered away about mundane things from the real world I knew it couldn’t warp into a weapon of some kind – my cat, my laundry, my wardrobe, what I had for breakfast. It made no noise of acknowledgement that it understood anything I said, but if it made it happy and got me out of that hellhole, I was more than willing to talk my head off. I kept looking around as I did, fully well expecting some demon to come along and try to destroy or corrupt both of us, but this region of the Fade was surprisingly quiet.
Perhaps they didn’t know how to handle a being from beyond the Beyond itself. Or perhaps this little wisp had more protective power than I thought. Either way, I wasn’t about to complain.
At last, the glowing ball stopped in the middle of a relatively clear area, where a shimmering ribbon of green light hovered midair. A rift, I thought. That had to be it. I was still hoping against hope that wherever the wisp led me would cause me to wake up in my own bed with Maddie curled up asleep at my feet. That I would find out this was all just a really elaborate nightmare born from an overactive imagination. That I would actually just be going home…
The wisp seemed even more curious at the tears that welled up in my eyes, floating up so that it was level with my face. I smiled despite myself. It was almost cute, in a way.
“So, that’s it, right?” I asked quietly. “Thanks. There needs to be more nice little spirits like you.”
Before I could react, it suddenly bounced forward and touched me right between my brows. Instantly, I jumped as it felt as though I had been shocked, the flesh briefly going numb from the impact. I rubbed at it furiously, and when I blinked, the wisp was gone.
What had it done? Was that just its tiny way of saying goodbye, or had it… done something to me?
I didn’t feel any different. After a few moments of standing there, I decided it must have been the former. At least, I hoped it was the former.
My thoughts were broken, however, by an echo of eerie sounds behind me, and I suddenly remembered the need to leave this awful place, the almost placid atmosphere created by the little wisp now utterly gone. Steeling myself, I faced the ribbon of light, took a deep breath, and then stepped into it, praying to whatever deity would listen not to dump me somewhere terrible…
There was a brilliant flash, and I stumbled forward onto much softer ground. I squinted hard against the light, which was so much brighter now than where I had just been. Whirling around, the ribbon of Fade green was still there, suspended in the air behind me. It was most definitely a rift.
But as I looked about, quickly taking in my new non-Fade surroundings, my hopeful heart sank – sank like a stone when perhaps almost every other Dragon Age fan would have thought it should have swelled with delight. The looming, snow-covered mountains, the copses of firs and red-leaved oaks, the curly-horned rams that bounded up the grassy hills and crags... it was all so familiar. Too familiar. Heart-achingly familiar.
I was alone in the Hinterlands. In Thedas. Perhaps forever.
The scenery spun violently, and all went black again.