Chapter 1: Thedas or Canada?
“Inay! You’re giving her too much rice!” cried Mom from across the table as Lola's nail polished wringled hands scooped a cupful of rice over my plate of daing. Shifting her accusatory glance at me, she said, “Tala, if you get any bigger, I’m not going back to Divisoria to get you new clothes.”
“You worry too much about her weight, but she tells me that you hardly get her any fish in Canada!” Lola protested waving the scoop sending a couple of grains flying on the table to Mom’s ire. “Besides, if I were you, I would be much more worried about her complexion. Look at her: three weeks in Tondo and see how dark she is now.”
Mom flared. “Inay! Don’t be racist!”
I tried hard not to snicker. Whether I am seven or twenty-seven, these two will always argue about how much rice I eat. I added albeit, “In Mom’s defense, I do live on my own in Montreal. Also, Mom, I believe the best term would be colorist. Sorry Lola…Love you po.”
Lola flashed me a proud smile as she added more rice to my plate. “And this is how we will get another doctor in the family.”
Mom glared at me, “Tala Christiana Mercado Dizon: what did I tell you about talking when adults are talking? God give you two ears and one mouth to listen…”
Lola muttered under her breath. “As if any of own daughters actually listen to me…”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Who needs more coffee?”
Lola and I raised both our mugs, and Mom waddled to the kitchen to refill the coffee pot.
After Mom disappeared through the kitchen door, Lola quickly motioned to me to lean towards her. Lola quickly slipped a long pendant on my neck. The pendant had a faded bronze medal with a third of it missing. On the cracked medallion was inscribed what looked like the sun with large rays, and the words “Fortis Potens.”
“I was my Father’s,” she explained. “It protected him from Spanish guns, American bombs and Japanese bayonets in all those three wars. It protected me well when I was stationed in Tay Ninh. Now it will protect you.”
“Thank you!” I replied, stunned that she would give such a thing to me. Though I did not really believe in magic, one does not turn down a family heirloom from one’s grandmother. “But shouldn’t Mom have this instead of me?”
“Bah!” she exclaimed. “That thick-headed daughter of mine will think it’s demonic and will use it for the fire next time we grill fish.”
She did have a point. Ever since Dad died, my Mom’s first love became Jesus and her Lawrence West Bible study.
“What are you two talking about?” Mom asked now with a full pot of coffee on her hand.
“Vietnam!” I quickly answered. “Lola was just telling me about one American soldier in Tay Ninh.”
Lola gave me a wink. “Ah yes…you see this young man literally got shot in the balls…I managed to stop the bleeding and sew enough of it back up. And his wife still writes me to this day…”
“And how big was his, um, equipment?” I asked.
“I’ve seen much bigger.”
I did not have to turn my head to see Mom hang her head in shame.
Those two annoyed each other endlessly and I love them to bits. Mom even took leave from the hospital so she could come with me. It was one reason why I was back the hometown that I could hardly recognize.
While it was a relief to escape the February snowstorms in Montreal, adjusting back to the Manila heat, the bugs, the incessant beeping of jeepneys, and the almost non-existent wifi for the past month was a bit of a challenge. At the same time, I marveled at the gigantic shopping malls that cropped up near our old house, which almost obscured crowded shanties behind its walls.
I was back in Manila as part of my funded Phd project. Months before I wrote a few NGOs, activist groups and some university students within the Tondo area to assemble people for community media workshops in the hopes that they get to build their own podcasts or community radio. The idea was to equip members of these communities to tell stories within these communities.
The task was not easy. Nonetheless, despite the general sense of fear that I sense from the surrounding communities, we got to work. That day after breakfast, I proceeded to that town hall, where my students showed me samples of stories they collected from the previous day. Many of the stories were grim, such as those about forced relocations, horrible living conditions, and gang wars. But the students and NGO participants got to work assembling these into a month-long program for a podcast.
Just before we finished for the day, one of the attendees asked me if Jenny, one of the students who used to come to the workshops a few weeks prior has made any attempts to contact me. When I replied that I did not, I was told that she disappeared from home the past week, and that her mother was very worried.
As I packed up for the day, I wondered what could have happened to make her disappear so suddenly. Jenny had wanted to tell a story about her brother who had been arrested by police for drug use. It was a story that everybody cautioned her to write, as it can be that kind of story that can reveal something worse or can get one person killed. But she was determined. So we lent her a recorded and she never came back.
Just as I was driving though the rainy traffic on España Boulevard, my phone buzzed. My eyes lit up in surprise when I saw when I saw the caller ID printed in large letters: JENNY.
Almost as soon as I picked up, her voice broke through my phone’s speakers, “Hello, Tala?”
“Jenny?” I answered on the speakerphone, “Why don’t you come home? Everybody has been so worried!”
“They’re after me!” she cried.
“Who’s after you? Why don’t you call the police?”
“I can’t!” she screamed. “They will find me. Please come and get me—”
The line cut off. A minute later, I got a text: Wanda’s Sari-sari Store. I remembered that name. It was a general store near the town hall where I conducted the workshops. Almost instinctively, I shifted lanes to turn my car around the next U-turn.
That was the last thing that I remembered from my own world.
When I opened my eyes in this new world, the snow almost blinded my eyes.
I was seventeen the first time I saw snow. Growing up in the perpetual summers of Manila, I had only seen them in tacky American Christmas movies and fluffy winter Korean dramas. Mostly the latter. In these dramas, if one makes a wish on the first snowfall, that wish will come true. If one meets another person during under the first snowfall, one would fall in love with that person. At least, those were always the rules in kdramaland.
That year, Mom and I just migrated to Canada—she in Toronto and me in Montreal to start university, in a school that to me looked a lot like Hogwarts. But this Hogwarts was not magical at all. Everybody spoke English and French, but they spoke in a pace that was a bit too fast for me at that time. Nobody seemed to know where I came from even though it was in every world map. A lot of people looked at me like I was strange. In my mostly white first year dorms, it was a bit difficult to fit in, especially if one did not grow up collecting hockey cards, watching the Heritage minutes or Degrassi, or if one is almost completely ignorant about what people do when it snows. And no one spoke Tagalog.
I severely missed my Lola, who had to stay behind with one of my aunts until they process her grandparents visa. Lola always knew how to make me feel better with some tablea hot chocolate. That day, I found out that my mom was earning money by scrubbing other people’s toilets. My mother, who was a well-known vascular surgeon in my hometown, gave up a job that she loved just to send me to university. And a week before that, I had a huge fight with her after I asked her if I could transfer back to a university in Manila. Mom already suffered enough heartbreak, first when police identified Dad’s body in a mass grave in Mindanao after he disappeared while covering election fraud. As usual, the official word was that the NPA did it, but of course no one believed that. I was twelve then. And I tried my best then not to cry for Mom’s sake. And then I broke her heart again, just because my grades were mediocre, because I felt like I couldn’t fit in, and because I simply missed being Hermione Granger in my old school.
I cried a lot in my room that day until I saw the white flakes touch my window. Then I looked out and marveled at how within the span of twenty minutes, the dull gray and orange campus suddenly turned white. So I went outside, lifted my arms and wished.
Bring me home, I pleaded. Bring me home.
Of course, it didn’t happen. I didn’t see Lola again until a few years later and my hometown until about ten years later.
In the meantime, I graduated, got citizenship, found good friends, helped build a couple of migrant radio collectives, finished two MAs and was well on my way to finishing a Phd in Media Studies.
If my life taught me anything, it’s that there is no magic other than that we create ourselves.
I specifically organized everything in my scheduled research project so I could avoid at least one more snowy winter in Montreal. As my feet trudged uphill through the blizzard, the unavoidable thought came.
Putang Ina. How the fuck am I back in Canada? And where the fuck am I in Canada?
The cold pierced through my jeans and hoodie, and my rain boots could not keep anything from leaking through my socks. When I finally got to the top of a large hill, I peered through the pouring snow.
In the distance, I spotted a large stone temple on top of a hill bordered by two massive statues. Down below, armored knight-like figures marched single-file and robed figures carrying staves marched on another.
I had seen this before in a videogame that I played for about 200 hours in an RA project with Prof. Williams on representations of gender and sexuality in games: Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Of course! VR! That was why everything felt so immersive. But then, I remembered that the last time I tried VR, my entire lunch ended up on the floor.
No. I am in video game. Putang Ina.
The memory came of what will happen to the stone structure before me each time someone starts a new game. But just as that thought came, a green light flashed around me, and I was suddenly knocked back into the cold snow.
My world flickered around me. It was cold. I had long stopped shivering. Maybe I was dying. I could not feel anything, and my mind slowed.
There is no such thing as magic. There is no such thing as magic.
I repeated that to myself. If I was in a dream, maybe I could wake up.
My sense of time faded. After what seemed like hours or ages, I heard voices close by.
“Commander!” exclaimed one voice. “Another survivor!”
After debating about who I was or the strangeness of my clothes, I felt someone haul me up. Whoever it was had metal arms, a metal torso, and smelt like someone’s grandfather.
There is no such thing as magic. There is no such thing as magic.
As if in reply, the person carrying me muttered. “If only that were true…”
Then my world went black.
Glossary of terms:
Daing: sundried milkfish
Divisoria: a popular market-area in Manila.
Espana Boulevard: a major thoroughfare in Metro Manila connecting Manila to Quezon City
Fairview: a predominantly suburban residential district North of Manila
Inay: Tagalog word for mother
Jeepney: a popular form of public transport in the Philippines, a number of these were repurposed military jeeps left after World War II
Lawrence West: a street in Toronto with a huge Jewish and Filipino population
Lola: Filipino word for grandmother.
Mindanao: a large island in the Southern Philippines where much of the military action in the country occurs. While this is definitely fiction, the event that got Tala’s Dad killed is based on the Maguindanao massacre in 2009 that got many journalists killed.
NPA: short for New People’s Army, which is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Putang Ina: literally translates as “Your Mom’s a Whore,” which can mean the same as “Son of a Bitch” or “Fuck.”
Sari-sari store: a type of local general store found in Filipino communities
Tablea: blocks of cacao that are heated to make hot chocolate
Tondo: a district in Manila known for its wide slum-areas
Tay Ninh: a province in Vietnam. In 1954, the Philippine chamber of commerce dispatched a group of nurses and doctors to this region.
Next chapter: My Avatar is So White
Chapter 2: White Savior
The adventure begins at Haven...
“Where are my dragons?!” I called to the screen, as I pressed W to move Daenerys Lavellan and her party south of the Hinterlands map. “Where are my dragons?”
“You’re not gonna summon them just by calling like that,” said my friend Natalie from the other screen.
“I don’t care. This game promised dragons,” I replied. On my screen, I used my character to summon a barrier and sent the others to attack another trope of bandits. “Besides, this is one of the few games where I could say that line.”
“Goddamit!” cried Natalie. “White-ass Cullen gets to have curly hair and I don’t?! Fuck this! Even this game wants to straighten my hair.”
I paused my game to look over the other screen at the adventures of Audre Lorde Trevelyan. From what I surmised, she just got that one party banter between Cassandra, Varric and Solas on the toughest member of the Inquisition. Natalie scowled at her screen.
“You can always install a mod,” I reminded her.
“The point of this is to not install mods to see what the base game gives us,” Natalie reminded me summoning the character interface.
Unlike me, who gave up making an Asian Inquisitor at the first failed attempt, Natalie had a total of eighteen attempts, only settling on the eighteenth time realizing the lack of hair choices available. I’ve played a number of RPGs before, including the previous Dragon Age games to know that these fantasy RPGs don’t really have good options for women like us, even though in these games we could slay dragons.
“So have you decided on which character you’re dating?” Natalie asked. “Alexa has Dorian. I have dibs on Freddie Prinze Jr.”
Dammit. I wanted to date Freddie Prinze Jr. I looked up on the whiteboard above our computers to see which characters are left on our checklist: Sera, Blackwall, Josephine, Cassandra, Solas and Cullen.
Then I decided, giving her my best fuck-you smile. “Curly.”
She laughed and flashed a middle finger in response.
How is Natalie? I wondered as I paced my cell at Haven. I was supposed to bridesmaid for her when I fly back to Montreal in the summer. And when I finish writing my dissertation, we were going to assemble a postdoc grant application. But seeing at the bars of my dark cell, that may not be so much of a possibility.
When one ends up in a different world, several questions and thoughts always come to mind. Such as: Am I dead? Did I end up in an accident? What happened to Jenny? What will Mom and Lola do when they find out that I am gone? How long will they try to find me before they give up?
No matter what it takes, I need to get back to them.
When the templars found me in the snow, they took me immediately to Adan’s makeshift infirmary. I was one of only two patients. I suffered from hypothermia. My hands still trembled when I woke, but Adan quickly warmed me up when I was given a strange bitter fire flask. It did the trick, and it saved Adan the effort of attending to me.
Because, as I knew from the game, he was much needed elsewhere in that place where they kept that person who was going to become the Inquisitor.
As I lay quietly on my bed, I gathered as much information as I could about the world I was in from Adan’s elven assistants. The survivor they found was an elf, who people have started calling the Herald of Andraste after stabilizing the massive breach at the Conclave ruins. So the Inquisitor will be a Lavellan. Alistair is king of Ferelden ruling with a warden queen. Hawke sided with the mages at Kirkwall and spared Anders.
It was a near perfect world state. And if my hunch was correct, it would be much like my first playthrough and Daenerys Lavellan would be Inquisitor. This world was perfect just as it is. One outsider, especially one bringing no skills in combat or healing, would do well to keep one’s distance and leave this world as it is. Not to mention: I am only five feet tall and a huge klutz. I can’t even qualify for Miss Philippines or Miss Canada. This world is better without me.
When the evening came, my expected visitors arrived. Though they gave no warning, I knew they were coming. After all, I was the other survivor with very strange clothes. Cassandra looked more muscular than she did in the game. Leliana had gapped teeth, and her bright red hair was also showing some gray in them. And Cullen looked much older and gaunt than he did in the game, like he was in his late thirties instead of his early thirties. It was most likely due to the lyrium withdrawal but of course, I could not tell anyone that.
My interrogators were suspicious, but they were civil. Even Cassandra was not in surprisingly not in attack mode all things considered. I told them that I was a merchant on my way to Orlais. I lost my cart, a bunch of my clothes and the rest of my possessions during the explosion. The clothes that I wore were part of a new type of fashion that I hope to sell in Orlais. My story was a bit farfetched, but it was the best one I could think of.
I am not sure how much they believed me either judging by Cullen’s scowl or Cassandra fiddling with her sword hilt. Leliana was the only one smiling but I know that she can smile to keep appearances as part of her training as a bard.
“If you don’t believe me,” I reasoned, “You could at least acknowledge that I am not a threat. I carry no weapons with me and I have no magical ability.” I pointed to both Cassandra and Cullen. “Both of you can attest to that.”
Cassandra answered with a grunt. Leliana motioned to Cullen, who knelt beside where I sat to closely examine my eyes and then my hands.
“Nope,” he answered. “As she said: no evidence of magical ability. And these are not sword hands either.”
I instantly pulled my hands away. Templar perv. “Anyway, are we done now?” I asked pointedly. “If it is possible, I would like to be on my way to salvage what I can of this.”
“Not quite,” he replied, lifting the medalion I was wearing from my neck. “This broken amulet: how did you come by it?”
“It’s a family heirloom,” I answered honestly. “My grandmother is a bit superstitious at times.”
“Is that so?” was his response. “Because from what I can see, this one does have magic.”
“Oh my God! Really?!” My eyes lit up. I never knew. My family had magic all this time. It was like I got a letter from Hogwarts, even though it was decades late. Putang Ina.
The three in turn stared at me in surprise at my outburst. Perhaps that too was something they did not expect.
“But I see no harm in carrying magical items such as this,” he resumed. “They function as protection wards for travelers. Which probably explains how you survived the blast.” At this, Cullen let my medallion drop to my hands and got to his feet. Turning to the other two, he continued, “She is no threat to us. Now if you don’t mind, I’ll return to matters that truly need my attention.”
At this, he and Cassandra promptly marched out of the small hut. Leliana soon followed, but not without giving me a look that indicated that she was still onto me. Because of course she was. Even if I could get past Discount Chris Evans, there was really no fooling Dragon Age’s Natasha Romanoff.
But me having something with magic changes things. That answered my question of how I got here. The amulet must be the key. So I resolved to find someone with magic who could help me get a clue as to how I could use it to get back to my world.
That night, while lying on my bed, I listed my possibilities. Vivienne would probably be recruited soon, but I don’t think amulets such as this is her specialty. Solas was a no-go. I by no means would not give the Dread Wolf access to my world as he sabotaged this one already. So I was left with Dorian. If he could figure out time travel, maybe he could help me figure out world travel. The Inquisitor would definitely bring him to Haven, so I only had to stay put and wait.
After Adan discharged me the next day, I headed to what was left of the town’s trading center to barter my clothes for some normal Thedas ones. If I am lucky, maybe I could use them to cosplay in a medieval fair or comic-con someday. All day long, one of Leliana’s scouts seemed to watch me. But I paid her no attention.
The town seamstress marveled as she sat examining the fabric of my red hoodie. She clearly had not seen polyester before this. “Who is Han?” she asked, lifting my black Han Shot First t-shirt to me.
“Fictional character at where I am from,” was my prompt answer. “Quite popular too.”
A trumpet suddenly sounded from the direction of the Chantry. Inquisition flags were suddenly erected everywhere. Immediately the townsfolk gathered as templars lined the path to keep the crowd back, making way for Cassandra who marched up the Chantry towards where Josephine, Leliana, and Cullen stood.
“It’s her!” someone cried joyfully. “The Lady Herald!”
I looked up and suddenly there she was: Bright under the morning sun, looking very much like Emilia Clarke with pointed ears and standing proudly in full dragonscale armor: Daenerys Lavellan, the Mother-fucker of Dragons.
Damn, I am so good at character creators.
The last time I saw her on my screen, she was at max level, and was damn good at soloing dragons.
And she’s whiter and much prettier than anything, my Lola or any Ponds Whitening Cream commercial could ever hope to be. Girls like her are meant to lead, and girls like me are meant to stay back.
When I was fifteen, my high school decided to hold auditions for the school’s version of The Phantom of the Opera. Like many hopeful juniors, I auditioned for Christine Daae. You see, Mom put me up for a lot of musical lessons including classical voice, guitar and piano as a back-up plan for a university scholarship. And I worked hard to get my range up for Christine Daae.
That moment, when my music teacher announced to my class that I won the part of Christine Daae, was possibly one of the happiest moments that I could remember. Mom and Lola were very proud.
But one day, when the principal came to one of our rehearsals, I could notice her look of displeasure as she watched me. During break, she and my music teacher had a long meeting. After which, I was called and told that there would be a cast change. Because I was chubby and morena, I was not Christine Daae material. A mestiza was needed to make the role more believable because Christine Daae is supposed to be Swedish. And true enough, they recast the prettiest mestiza senior for the role. But because she could not hit the E6 that was needed, I was still asked to sing for her in the back. And that was how it was coordinated. So when the performance came, I sang behind the curtains to help someone else become Christine Daae.
Though I had grown up since then, no amount of pop feminism could repair the hard truths of that day.
The crowd cleared, and a voice broke me from my thoughts. The voice repeated, “I said: do you need a place to stay?”
I turned back to face to town seamstress who by now had risen from her blanket and her seat, stretching to reveal her very large pregnant belly. She continued, “I know you’re not from around here, but I could certainly use the help when this little one comes.”
“I don’t know much about babies,” I confessed.
She smiled at me and took my hand. “Well, neither do I.”
Her name was Agnes. She lost her husband to a logging accident eight months back. Poor thing. Now she has to raise the baby all by herself, and she’s not much older than I am. She didn’t ask too many questions. But she shared what little food she had and taught me all the house chores and a little bit about sewing. I was mostly useless, so she probably assumed that I was a highborn lady or something of the sort. Thankfully she did not ask too many questions.
My biggest worry came in the form of Captain Rylen, who often came by to visit around dinnertime usually with flowers. At first, I thought Cullen or Leliana sent him to keep tabs on me, but apparently, he was a regular visitor even before I came. There was much gossip around town about the pair, mostly surrounding the real father of Agnes’ baby. Agnes told me to pay them no heed. She assured me that the Captain was only being kind to a poor widow. But I have seen the way he looked at her, and she at him. If I was in my world, if she were not as pregnant as she was and if she were still not grieving, I would tell the both of them to just fuck already and to not give a fuck about everything else. But love is complicated.
Agnes gave birth a week after she took me in. The midwife came and there was little else I could do except to hold her hand and let her scream and cuss as much as she wants--at anything really. In the days that followed, I learned as much as I could about babies, like which cry means, “Give me milk” vs “Oh I pooped.” Again, I was mostly useless. But Agnes told me that it was enough that I was there.
Without knowing it, Agnes became my first friend in this world.
One day, as she breastfed little Edith, I suddenly remembered Mom. Like Edith, Mom did a lot to raise me by herself when Dad died. Being with Agnes and Edith reminded me of how much I missed her and Lola. Without warning, I broke down and cried.
I really missed Mom.
Because I was emotional, I suddenly found myself telling my entire life story to Agnes, who listened intently as I confessed the truth to her. After I finished my story, I continued sobbing, “So are you going to turn me away now? I lied to you after all…”
By this time, Agnes put Edith to bed. “No, no, no. Definitely not,” she declared while rubbing my shoulders. “Besides, as you would say in your terms, you are a ‘shitty liar.’ Who would actually believe that those clothes would come anywhere from this world? I took you in because both of us needed help. And we women are always stronger when we help each other.”
I smiled weakly. “That’s just something Mom would say. And afterwards she would quote it as a random Bible verse even though it’s not really a quote.”
“Your mother is a smart woman then.”
Meanwhile, I also kept tabs on what the Herald was doing. She spent most of her time at the Hinterlands. It was my mistake on my first playthrough really. Predictably, she was trying to keep the peace with both rogue mages and templars, finding food and other things for the villages around Redcliffe, chasing away bandits and slaying dragons. After two months, she was arrived back at Haven with the rest of the mages in tow, and a Tevinter magister as prisoner.
It was my chance: I could find Dorian and get out before all hell comes loose on Haven.
And then I thought of Agnes and Edith one night. In the game, I saw their house burn, and I didn’t remember seeing them in it. I wondered if they would make it out during the evacuation of Haven. Things in games used to be so simple: fight the baddies and try to rescue as many NPCs out. But Agnes and Edith had stopped being NPCs to me. I had to make sure they make it out of Haven alive.
After I watched Daenerys lead her army of mages out towards the Breach, I lured Leliana’s scout out, and asked this scout to take me to Leliana. The scout escorted me to Leliana, who just emerged from her tent when I arrived.
Smiling casually at me she said, “Ah, you’re here. So, have you come to surrender?”
“My name is Tala Dizon,” I began. “I am from another world, and I know what happens tonight once the Breach is closed. The Elder One will come with his army of Red Templars. You need to call back your scouts, assemble the soldiers and evacuate everyone immediately through the Chantry. Chancellor Roderick will know what to do.”
“What’s going on here?!” Cullen stormed in glowering.
“Our little spy has come to confess,” Leliana stated as if pronouncing a sentence, crossing her arms.
“I am not a spy,” I corrected her. “I am simply telling you what needs to be done. Tonight, as the town gathers to celebrate the Herald’s victory: the one called Corypheus will bring a dragon and Red Templars here and burn everything. A boy will come through the gates to warn you about the same thing that I am telling you about. The trebuchets will help hold back the Red Templar army for a while, but none Cullen’s defenses will work. Chancellor Roderick will get stabbed as everyone retreats to the Chantry. But as he slowly bleeds, he will lead you through a path down the Chantry to escape while the Herald risks her life to create a distraction. That is what will happen. I only ask that in order to avoid more casualties that you both evacuate everyone earlier and get as many people to help.”
Both stared at me incredulously.
“Leliana,” I insisted, “Pull your scouts back. They will die if you don’t and you will regret it. I know you: you may be Princess Stabbity but you are someone kind underneath all that.”
At this, I noticed the confusion on Leliana’s face. “Princess Stabbity: nobody has called me that since…Who are you?”
“We don’t have time for this!” It was my moment. I turned to Cullen and demanded, “I’m telling you Mr. Discount Chris Evans: assemble the Avengers now and get the rest of us the fuck out! What say you?”
Of course, he had to ruin the moment by giving the order to throw me in the Chantry cells. Fucking Discount Chris Evans. And I lost my Dragon Age Inquisition virginity to this guy. Putang Ina.
My cell stank. It smelt a lot like piss, and I deserved it. If I had not lied and told everyone from the beginning what was going to happen, more people could have been saved. Because of me, Agnes and Edith might die.
I am going to die. A lot of us are going to die.
“I wouldn’t give up just yet,” a voice called outside my cell.
I got up immediately and looked out beyond my cell door. The torch light revealed someone I did not want to meet: Solas, aka. Elf Version Erik Magneto in the flesh.
I let out a shriek. “Please don’t turn me to stone! I won’t tell anyone about you, I promise!”
He laughed. “Whoever said that I wanted to turn you into stone? I only came to ascertain whether the stories are true about a stranger from another world who traveled to this world bringing knowledge of things that happened, and things to come. If so, we are very much alike, you and I. I would gain nothing by turning you into stone.”
“What do you want then?” I demanded.
“A friend,” he replied curtly. “A friend who understands what it means to be alone without her people. A friend who would do anything to get her world back, no matter what it takes. A friend will tell me what I can do to get these people out and save everyone.”
I was startled by that confession. Solas caring. Really? Even as he plans to burn this world anyway? “I thought you wouldn’t think of the people here as, well…people.”
“Certainly not at first, but I am not alone in recognizing my mistake, am I?”
He certainly had a point. I thought that too before I met Agnes. You really know that things are bad when you start agreeing with the Dread Wolf. So I summarized everything I said to Cullen and Leliana, and suggested a plan for everyone to get everyone out earlier. When I finished, I asked, “So, are you going to let me out?”
He shook his head. “I apologize. That will have to be for another person at a later point in time.”
As he walked away, I screamed, “What do you mean a later point in time?! Motherf—Get back here!”
Putang Ina. And I fucked this Egg with my second Inquisitor.
The festival music started playing as soon as night fell, but that only accentuated my feeling of dread. Then my cell door suddenly opened, Agnes rushed into my arms.
“Thank the Maker you’re safe,” she said. “We have to hurry. They’re evacuating everyone through the tunnels, but I told Rylen that we can’t just leave you behind.”
Rylen walked in soon after carrying Edith. “She was very insistent and I couldn’t refuse.” Because I could not hug him without squeezing Edith, I gave him a light peck on the cheek.
Quickly we joined the other evacuees into the tunnels. Apparently, Solas convinced Daenerys to pressure the A-team to push the plan through. The festival music and town fireworks would go as planned to lure the Corypheus’ army into the town. But as they attack the Herald’s Avengers would fight back and trigger avalanches with the trebuchets. The people fighting would all slowly retreat to leave Daenerys to get Corypheus’ attention and trigger the last trebuchet. So far, everyone at town was accounted for in the tunnels. Even Chancellor Roderick avoided getting stabbed, but Cole still carried him because he kept complaining about something like medieval arthritis. I can't blame him as these those tunnels are not clearly wheelchair accessible. But other than that, we were all fine.
It’s all up to the Herald now.
While pacing up the snowy tunnel, Solas caught up to me. He said, “I found Agnes for you.”
I gave him a scowl in response. I was still sore about him leaving me in my cell.
“You’re welcome, by the way.”
As we got out of the tunnel, we got a really good view of Daenerys holding of Corypheus and his dragon. I saw this fight several times on my screen before, but nothing compared to seeing it as it actually happened. It was nothing short of miraculous, really. When she triggered that last avalanche, the snow roared past us, almost deafening to one’s ears. The dragon flew away into the darkness, and we were all in the clear.
There was a sigh and then a lot of weeping around me, when Cullen reluctantly ordered everyone to move out. If I could only tell everyone that Daenerys was going to be alright, but I couldn’t.
Beside me, Solas stood disbelievingly, staring into the darkness with his fists clenched at his staff. Then he turned to me stone faced. With some suppressed emotion in his voice, he asked. “She’s alive is she? Tell me she’s alive.”
“She’s alive,” I answered matter-of-factly. “She’s down the caves, somewhere. Her mark will intensify, but through it, she we learn to wield it against demons. She will escape the caves, and will wander through the blizzard cold and bruised. But by dawn, she will come to us. You’ll see.”
“I cannot wait that long.” He started walking to the opposite direction of the caravan.
“Where are you going?” I called trying to catch up against the tide of bodies against us.
“To find her.” He declared.
“Alone?” I asked incredulously.
“I am always alone.” With that, he disappeared in the crowd.
“Yeah, with that attitude it’s no wonder,” I scoffed in response.
Sigh. Dread Wolves. So angsty. Now I will have to cover for him.
Also, this damned Dread Wolf’s obviously got it bad for our Herald. And I do know that he has a thing for elven Inquisitors. Too bad on this run, she’s going to end up with Cullen. Actually, it’s not too bad. I will not have the Mother-fucker of dragons get fucked and dumped by this turd. Definitely not. Solas can suck on his own dick like a boss.
Thankfully, no one seemed to wonder or even notice that Solas has disappeared. Perhaps that’s the added benefit of disguising as an apostate hobo.
We camped in a large clearing beside a narrow gorge, just like in the game. In the time we waited, I petitioned Leliana and Cassandra to prepare a warm place for Daenerys and told them that she would be here soon. No one seemed to believe me. They were still a bit shaken, I think. Only Mother Giselle seemed to hear me, and she collected as many blankets as she could find.
Then in the distance, we heard the howling of wolves. My alarm bells immediately went off. Solas? Perhaps this was his way of signaling to us that he found her and she was on her way.
Cullen quickly assembled a party of soldiers to form a hunting party. Cassandra quickly joined sword drawn potentially looking for something to hit. They probably thought that a pack of wolves have come for the villagers.
Dammit, Solas is going to get himself killed, or he will kill a bunch of people. Whatever it was, I was not going to let it happen, so I rushed to them to tell them that the wolves are no threat.
Just as I was speaking, in a distance through the gorge, a figure loomed limping through the snow and was about to collapse.
“There!” Cullen shouted. “It’s her!”
Cassandra dropped her sword and cried relief. “Thank the Maker!”
Daenerys collapsed on the snow weak from exhaustion. As Cullen stared, Cassandra pushed him over. She rushed over to Daenerys’ side, and immediately hauled Daenerys shivering body over her shoulder.
That was unexpected. And all the fan fiction and fan art I consumed over the years told me that Cullen bridal carries the Herald. I guess it didn’t happen this time.
I walked back to the camp. Agnes immediately came over to meet me, Edith in tow. I was met with a row of questions. “What happened? Was that the Herald? She survived?”
“Yes, she survived,” was my plain answer. This time I did not even feign surprise.
As we neared the fire, I spotted Solas who gave me a quick nod. If only he knew what almost bit him in the ass. He does not have to know that I tried to save his life.
I collapsed on the bedroll of the tent I shared with Agnes and Edith.
“So what now?” she asked.
“Hope.” It was the only answer that I could give her in the blowing cold.
Hours later, I was awoken by the advisers arguing. My first thought immediately was: Oh my God, yes! It is happening! I immediately got up to see what was going to happen. In my haste, I woke Edith and her cries rang loudly. Agnes immediately took her in her arms to appease her.
“Sorry!” I said as I ran out.
I was just in time to see Daenerys emerge out of her tent. Mother Giselle began singing. One by one, people started coming out of their tents joining the song. Soon, Agnes, Edith and Rylen came to the spot where I stood. And in my joy, I hugged everyone as they sang.
Even after Mother Giselle’s song ended, people stood there in reverence to the Herald. The moment was only interrupted when Solas pulled her away. No doubt he would tell her that the orb that Corypheus wields is elven. Of course, having seen that conversation so many times, I knew that he was going to omit that the orb was his.
My biggest surprise came the next morning. I just stepped out to watch the sunrise when someone caught my hand and called my name. When I turned around and saw who it was, I instinctively dropped to my knees.
Daenerys Lavellan in the flesh. It felt very unreal.
Her purple eyes beamed at me. She laughed at my gesture. “What are you doing?”
“Bending the knee. It just seems like something you would ask me to do.”
Her musical laughter pealed, and I recognized my stupidity. Great, my first meeting with the Mother-fucker of Dragons and I immediately make a fool of myself.
“I hear that we have you to thank for our escape last night,” she said, leading me to that private area where she spoke with Solas the night before. “If you had not warned us of the attack when you did, I would not have been able to hold them all off long enough to let everyone escape. For that, I thank you.”
“No thanks needed. I only did what I did to save my friends. You would have been fine on your own.”
“Hmmm…” She paused and then I saw a glint of doubt in her eyes. “How did you know? When Corypheus had his hand on my throat as that dragon stared down at me, I was sure I was going to die.”
“But you didn’t, and that’s what matters. You get to survive to fight him another day. And you will. Next time you’ll be stronger.”
“I need to be. So many people…these humans—they all depend on me.” I noticed that her non-marked hand trembled as her marked one pulsated. Then I realized that she was only one mortal, who carried the weighty power of a god with one hand. She was afraid.
“Someday you will win.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I have seen this play out so many times.”
I then lengthily explained to her that in my world, all the events that happened and the possible consequences are recorded somewhere, while trying not to sound as cryptic as Doctor Strange. I did not tell her that she’s the protagonist of a video game and that she’s my avatar. Let me put it this way—you just don’t red pill someone into the Matrix and trigger an existential crisis just because it’s easy.
“So let me try to understand this…” She paced around me as she spoke. “In your world there’s this book where everything that happens here is recorded so that’s how you know about me? What kind of magic exists in your world for this to exist?”
“They’re not exactly books. The better term in my world is simulation. But that will take longer to explain and is a lot more complicated. And honestly, I didn’t think that my world had any sort of magic, until this thing…” I pointed to the amulet on my neck. “Sent me here. No: my world is more a world of science, not magic.”
“But magic is science,” she argued. “And science is magic.”
I had forgotten that I was conversing with the First of an elven clan. In a lot of ways, she was also a scholar, just like me. “It’s nice to meet a fellow nerd.”
At this, she playfully raised an eyebrow. “Nerd? What is that?”
“It’s a term in my world that is used to describe someone who really loves learning. Sadly, in my world, not a lot of people like learning or the truth, so the term is often considered derogatory. This is why we have so much fake news. But I carry this label with a badge of pride.”
“Fake news?” she repeated.
I shook my head. It is going to take forever if I explain that. Suffice to say, she was born for the role of Inquisitor with all her questions. Nerd.
“Do you miss it?” she asked staring into the blank snow.
“Most painfully,” I admitted. But she was not going to make me cry.
Then her purple eyes met mine. “So do I.”
I really didn’t want to cry. And apparently so didn’t she. So we directed our gaze at other things, paced around so we don’t have to cry. Our actions mirrored each other. She tilted her head a bit to the right like she does whenever she’s thinking about something. It’s creepy that Mom pointed out that I do the exact same thing when I think. Creepy. But she stopped pacing. She probably noticed it too.
“It’s strange,” she wondered. “You and I are so different, and we come from different worlds. But I feel as if I know you as much as I know myself. Don’t you find that strange? Do you understand how that feels?”
“You have no idea,” was my answer.
Later that day, we all set off to find Skyhold. At least, I knew that we were headed to Skyhold. They didn’t. I was given the rare opportunity to walk ahead with the Herald and Solas. I didn’t want to leave Agnes alone, but she insisted that I go, so as I don’t “miss the Maker’s will.” Seriously, if I didn’t know any better, she was starting to sound like my religious Mom.
I lived in South Wales for a year while doing my first Masters. Castles don’t surprise me much anymore as they used to. But Skyhold was nothing like I’ve seen. It’s like a fortress that floated on the sky above the mountains. And I never thought that I would actually get to live in a castle.
On our first night, we slept under the stars. We were almost up in the sky, but the stars above still seemed very far away. And they looked different. I could not find any of the constellations I knew. But then constellations were named after our mythological figures. This world has an entirely different set of myths altogether. I am in that space where myths were being written.
The next morning, work at Skyhold begun. But in the afternoon, everyone assembled at the courtyard. In one corner, I spotted Cassandra speaking with Daenerys. Daenerys was going to become the Inquisitor. But to my surprise, they called me up to them.
Just like it happened in the game, Daenerys stepped up to the platform, and title of Inquisitor. As she raised her sword and declared that the Inquisition is for all, the crowd below cheered. I am not sure if the crowd noticed how her arms trembled as she lifted the heavy Inquisition sword. But she did it anyway. And I realized one thing: though Daenerys kept a brave face in front of everyone, she was very much as scared as some of us would be when given so much.
Then she summoned me to the platform with her. Addressing the crowd, she said, “Our survival at Haven would not have been possible without the bravery and knowledge of a number of people here present. But most of all, we are indebted to the bravery of this one woman here present.” At this moment, I realized that all eyes were on me and my knees almost buckled. I mean, c’mon—I clearly didn’t even fight or even lift a sword.
“This woman,” Daenerys continued. “Came into our world with knowledge from the heavens of things past and things to come. Such knowledge can uproot and tear down, to overthrow and to build. She could have chosen to be silent, but she spoke her knowledge at the risk of martyrdom to save us all.”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call that martyrdom,” I interrupted. “It’s just—”
Cassandra shushed me with a stern look. Daenerys gestured me to kneel, so I did. Tapping her sword on both my shoulders, she pronounced. “Tala Dizon: I name thee Seeress of the Inquisition. You will answer to no one save me. Your word is to be taken as my word. And any who opposes shall perish.”
Seeress of the Inquisition. It all felt so unreal. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t know what to say.
“In addition, I will grant any favors that you may ask.”
In a heartbeat, I knew something I wanted immediately almost the moment when I first met her. “Can you say, Dracarys?”
“What?” she asked, definitely confused. “Dracarys?”
“Louder please?” I begged.
DRACARYS! She shouted.
As I cheered, everyone cheered with me. I am pretty sure no one knew what it meant, but it didn’t matter. Dracarys.
For the first time, I was no longer that girl at the back of the stage curtains. I stood there, taking my place among heroes. If only Mom, Lola and Natalie could see me at that moment.
Mestiza – light skinned Filipina
Morena—brown skinned Filipina
I finished this chapter quite quickly. Probably due to some kind of May-the-Fourth blessing. It’s pretty long and I am proud of myself. I rarely get to write long chapters.
There will be ships. Though I am curious, what my readers’ predicted ships are.
Thank you so much to everyone who left a kudos!
Chapter 3: Dalagang Filipina
Upon which Tala resists something called "kilig"
One of the perks of coming clean about myself was getting my backpack back, one I thought I lost in the snow in the Conclave explosion. And it still had everything I remembered I put in there: my notepad, voice recorder and phone (which were entirely drained of battery but perhaps someday usable if I find a way to charge them), my ukulele in its hard case, my reading glasses, the all meds that Mom packed for me and my tattered copy of Jane Eyre.
Construction was ongoing at Skyhold. Varric sat with me near the research table on what was going to be the library, while Dorian examined my amulet by the light near the window.
“Alright Scribbles, let me get this straight…” paused Varric his arms folded, “You want me to write a serialized novel about Dany on this new publication you’re starting. What’s it called again?”
“The Herald,” I repeated. “Tentative name, but I think could stick well, especially as a newspaper name. Also, I’ll need you to write to printers to so we could have a printing press here as soon as possible before you all leave for the Mire if possible. Can it be done?”
Varric sighed, looking at the paper that listed all the tasks I had for him. “This is a lot, but I’ll try. And I’ll see if I can find a few more hacks to send your way.”
“I’d appreciate that. For now, both of us will have to do the heavy-lifting, and you will have to act as my war correspondent. But once we get this up and running, the zone will be massive. We’ll be able circulate copies everywhere the Inquisition has a presence and literally dominate the information highway between Ferelden and Orlais. It’s a definite win.”
Varric got up to leave. “Sure. That will be a change from, well, losing. And getting my ass kicked by Cassandra once our guest from Kirkwall arrives.”
“You think it will be that bad?” I replied, placing all my things back in my backpack.
“Will it be?”
“Then I’ll deserve it.” He muttered as he went down the stairs.
By this time, Dorian moved towards the table and handed my amulet back to me. I asked hopefully, “Any luck?”
Dorian shook his head. “No. Not with a large part of it missing. It does have a protection spell on it right, which allows its wearer to be transported elsewhere when in danger. The inscription here…” He pointed to the letters on the medallion. “…reads like Old Tevinter script. If we get all the words in, we might find a way to send you back.”
“But I don’t know what those other words are,” I pointed out. “It was given to me like this and I have no way of asking anyone in my world who might know.”
“Perhaps if you could remember anything,” Dorian proposed, “Anything at all that could have triggered the protection spell.”
I rubbed my temple. “Nope. Nothing. Nothing from that moment I last mentioned to you…”
“Hmmm…” Dorian scratched his head. “Perhaps if we can find similar other amulets, we might be able to guess the incantation? I’ll do some research when I find the time.”
“Thank you!” In my excitement, I suddenly put my arms around him in a tight hug. “I would really really appreciate that. You are a rare and wonderful person and your father was a dick.”
“Oh…hugging.” I wasn’t sure if he was comfortable because he suddenly froze up.
Sensing this, I immediately pulled away. “Sorry.”
“I wish I was more of a hugging person,” he said brushing his sleeves. “Now if you’re quite done suffocating me. I might head down to the gardens to enjoy a little bit of the afternoon air.”
Outside, the sisters started humming their three o’clock chant.
I immediately stood up. Crap. I suddenly remembered that we set a war table meeting in less than an hour. And I still had to change. I dashed down the stairs, past the great hall and the courtyard to climb up a tower just above the tavern. I specifically requested my room to be there so that I would be close right to where the printing press will be.
Print media was not exactly my area of expertise, but I was determined to bring the Enlightenment to the Inquisition. I wasn’t going to stop there. I was going to propose coffee shops, an ampitheatre and a bigger library. Though they could not be done all at once with the Inquisition’s resources, so the rest would have to wait.
It was my first day as Seeress of the Inquisition. Though it was unclear to me at first, my job was to coordinate everything that everyone does on the War table, and make decisions on operations when Daenerys was going to be away. Which was, in truth, all the time.
If this was Game of Thrones, I was Hand of the Queen.
Technically, it was my first real job outside academia, if one does not include part-time call centers, flyering, waitressing, fundraising or recycling. Fine. I had a lot of shit jobs before this--one of them included actual shit—but I was really not so good at them. Basically, I am that walking Asian millennial stereotype of that one who is great at campus (and campus radio), but not much at life. So, I stayed where I thrived, and I never imagined myself anywhere else.
Of course, getting pulled into another world changes a lot of things, and I did not know how I was going to make it home. So, I took it as a chance to do something different in the meantime--kind of like an interim job.
Josephine just had my uniform delivered all the way from Orlais to my room. It was a velvety crimson red gown with the gold insignia of the Inquisition embroidered on the chest. Looking at my closet, I had a few more copies of the same overdress with the knowledge that she ordered more to be delivered.
Quickly, I stripped to my tunic and slipped the new uniform as fast as I could. Because I had very little time to do anything with my hair, I tucked it all in a hair net and fastened the rest with pins. Who knew that all that time cosplaying can count as a valuable work experience?
As it was my first day, I had to at least look the part. Still, I think Josephine went overboard. Out of everyone in the Inquisition, why should I be the only one wearing these really long skirts?
In my haste to the war room as I shuffled with my skirts through the path on the battlements, I almost plunged headlong into Discount Chris Evans who apparently was also running late.
“Pardon me, m’lady,” he stuttered. “I wasn’t—” His eyes shot up from the floor to mine and he stared.
“My name is Tala,” I reminded him as he obviously forgot my name. “If you remember it all all…”
“Forgive me…I did not recognize you.” He seemed shocked.
“Of course,” I replied saltily. “I hardly think you would remember everyone you ever arrested.”
Admittedly, I was still sore from that time he mistakenly threw me in prison. I would have forgiven him much more easily if he had not hurt my pride. He could have at least remembered me.
Before he could say anything else, I marched off quickly. He soon caught up to match my pace. Blame my very short legs, those skirts and almost everyone being taller than I am save the dwarves. He looked like he was going to say something but could not bring himself to say it. I did not want to wait as I was already late and annoyed as it is.
The meeting began almost immediately as we arrived. The first order of business concerned Clan Lavellan. Inquisition soldiers will be dispatched immediately to help, and I suggested that Leliana’s spies investigate Wycome knowing full well how the Venatori are involved in the situation. Secondly, warned about the assassins who will be after Josephine’s life because of the an old contract at the house of Ripose, and suggested that Josephine finds a way to elevate the Du Paraquettes. Skyhold improvements were next. Barracks, the infirmary and the mage tower were definitely priority, but I suggested a café in the garden where pilgrims, diplomats and nobles can discuss politics close to where the Inquisition wants them to be. Cullen preferred a Chantry garden, but was overruled by Josephine and Leliana, especially after the suggestion that certain days people could bring domesticated nugs in the café. Dany was neutral as long as we could find a place for some of her herbs to grow.
Ugh. Chantry boys. Thankfully, white male privilege does not hold for much in the war table.
Last of all, we discussed strategy for the Fallow Mire, alerting Dany about the undead and indicating that disturbing the water would make things worse. Aside from that, pointed out other areas of interest in the map, and gave other various suggestions on a list.
“I still don’t understand why having Dorian and the Iron Bull in one party is preferable,” Dany commented as she read from the list that I gave her.
I didn’t want to give her spoilers, so a knowing smile would have to suffice. “Trust me: something infinitely wonderful would happen if you do.”
Dany shrugged. “Okay.”
Leliana moved her token onto Denerim. “I’ll take care of the Venatori in the palace. I have just the agent in mind.”
Dany clapped her hands. “Excellent. I wish you all the best in your endeavors. If we’re quite done here, I have some matters to discuss with Solas.”
The meeting quickly adjourned as she walked out the double doors. At this, I headed towards Josephine who was in apparent distress over what I had just revealed about the assassins.
“I am so sorry.” Josephine placed her delicate hands on her face. “I never thought that my family’s trading status would become a liability to the Inquisition.”
“You’re not a liability Josephine,” I argued. “We’re doing this because you are important to us.”
Leliana patted her back. “She’s right. And it is good that we know about this now. I could suggest a faster approach in the case the House of Ripose activate the contract, but I know it is very much like you to take a much longer route…” At this she shook her head, perhaps knowing her friend’s stubbornness.
I put on my best cheery voice. “It will be alright Downton Abbey: this time, time is on our side.”
Josephine brushed her tears of with a handkerchief. “Perhaps you are right. I can take comfort that the Maker has given us a seeress to look out for us.”
It’s not every day that I get to meet strong female leaders like both them. Her words suddenly triggered my full fandom mode. “Oh my God, are you kidding me? In my world, there are very few opportunities to work with women like you…like this, and not be judged by the color of their skin. In my world, men mansplain everything. Because really…” I cut myself off glimpsing Cullen on the side carefully examining pieces on the map. So I switched to a language I knew both ladies would understand. “Parce que les hommes sont de gros chats.”
“C’est vrai…” The reply came from the opposite end of the table, with Cullen’s very male voice.
Putang Ina. He understood that. Tabarnak! No one ever told me that Discount Chris Evans understood French…or in this case, Orlesian.
I quickly made my way out of the room in my embarrassment and left those two women snickering.
Seriously, that man has a way of putting me in the most embarrassing of situations.
Inquisition resources allowed me to maintain two offices. One right at where the printers will be and the other close to the war table by Josephine. While I waited for the machines to arrive, I spent most of my time with Josephine. It was mostly work, but a lot of that work involved gossip. And it gave me the opportunity to try to learn Rivaini, which is also Spanish. It amused her greatly to find that Tagalog has a lot of Rivaini mixed into it.
The day before Dany’s party was about to leave for the Fallow Mire, I finished the plan for the garden café. Needing a few suggestions from Dany on where to put some herbs, I rushed to the lower courtyard where I was told I would find her.
“Thank you, Cullen,” Dany said gently as if in a whisper.
Upon hearing that, I quickly hid under the nearest bush. The shit was happening and I came at just the right moment.
“Our escape from Haven,” she continued. “It was close. I am relieved that you—that so many made it out.”
You go girl. Hurray for her for taking the initiative just like any woman on top.
“As am I…” was his soft reply. “I will not allow the events at Haven to happen again. You have my word.”
He better not. Especially if it involves throwing people who want to help in jail.
I let her pass me. I didn’t want her to see me, but I was glad to have witnessed that. I did my best to reign in my excitement.
This ship has sailed!
“What ship?” asked someone right above me.
“Putang Ina!” I exclaimed. I must have said it out loud.
Guiltily, I rose from the bush up meet the amused face of Discount Chris Evans.
“Poota Inha…” he tried to pronounce it. “You say that a lot. What does that even mean?”
I dusted myself as I found the words to explain. “It’s an expression that literally means ‘Your Mom’s a whore…’”
The scar on his lips lifted to form a lopsided grin. “My mother?” he repeated playfully.
“Well, not your mother specifically…” I avoided his eyes.
He laughed. I really mean it. Discount Chris Evans was laughing at me.
Susmariosep. The embarrassing situations never end with this guy.
“It was not my intention to eavesdrop,” I explained. “I just wanted to show Dany some plans…”
He walked back to his makeshift desk. “I have no doubt, m’lady. You seem very dedicated to your new duties.”
“Are you complimenting me or mocking me?” I hissed. “Sometimes, I just can’t tell.”
“You’re the Inquisition’s seeress.” He started shifting papers. “What do you think?”
Fine. He was serious, and he was complimenting me. But game-Cullen was less annoying. Perhaps it was because I always played as the Inquisitor, and of course, he probably could never tease or troll the Inquisitor. “Thank you, I guess…” High praise, I must admit, especially from the Inquisition’s resident workaholic.
“You’re welcome,” was the abrupt reply, continuing to shift papers.
I was about to leave him to his papers when I felt his large gloved hand catch mine. As I looked up again, I found myself staring up again. This time, his brown eyes looked uncertain and serious.
“Wait…” he said almost pleading.
I pulled my hand back immediately. Pambira. This man shifts faster than Montreal spring weather.
“I uh…” He looked down and uncomfortably scratched the back of his head. “I owe you an apology for throwing you in prison back at Haven. You were trying to save us, yet I treated you like some madwoman…”
Now, that was the awkward Cullen I knew. The truth is, my annoyance came from this little crush on someone I used to know. I am annoyed because it is making me feel something. Even if it’s only an ounce of kilig.
“Your world,” I replied coolly, “has a terrible way of dealing with mental health issues.”
“Really?” His brow arched. “What do you do in your world then?”
“We have psychiatrists and therapists. It all depends on one’s money and insurance. Sometimes, we do nothing at all.”
He playfully shook his head. “That’s equally terrible.”
In the immortal words of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago: Crushes are like math problems. When you can’t seem to get them or understand them, the only thing you can do is stare.
“So…forgive me?” Then his scar pulled upwards again into that lopsided grin.
“Fine.” Math problems girl. And I was never good at math.
“What’s a math problem?” asked Cole, suddenly appearing by my side. “And why do you have to keep staring at them?”
“I have to go!” I didn’t care if it was rude. I just scrambled away as fast as I could.
Pakshet. Of all times for Cole to suddenly pop out.
Daenerys eventually got the café plans later that day. But not after sprinkling myself with some very cold water. It was icy but I deserved every bit of it.
Despite all the feminism that I identified with at university, my mother still raised me to be a dalagang Filipina. Dalagang Filipinas are meant to play it like ice queens and not let anyone know about their feelings upon the pain of death. I could cheer others to help them become independent take-charge women, but I should never cheer for myself. Besides, there’s that thing about Dany. It is a ship that’s meant to happen. So I played it like a dalagang Filipina.
As I related the story to Agnes while visiting for dinner, Agnes teased, “This from the woman who once told me to ‘fuck and not give a fuck about anything else…’ That water must have been very cold indeed.”
I nodded. Drinking a large sip of the ale aka. substitute water.
“Don’t tell me you’re a…” She didn’t finish that word. But I knew what she was asking about.
I took another sip. “Not really. When one goes to university, things happen especially in co-ed dorms. While I do want others to be happy, for myself, I find that relationships are a liability. When my Dad died, my Mom almost practically lived on the cemetery for weeks on end. And even after that she was never the same. When my Lola fell pregnant with Mom while serving in Vietnam, she was pressured to marry some rich douchebag who cheated on her a lot even after giving him three daughters. She had to threaten him with a shotgun just so she could file for annulment. So really, men don’t really do much for the women in my family and I am much not having to deal with men PMSing over things.”
By this time, I finished my pint and Agnes picked it up to refill it, and that was how I noticed a new ring on her finger. Perhaps reading my mind, she responded with a bit of hesitation, ‘Oh this…is what I invited you here to tell you: the Captain asked me to marry him, and I said ‘yes.’”
“Congratulations!” My arms caught her in a hug. I was happy for her. I truly was.
She started brushing of happy tears from her eyes. “Maker, just thinking about it makes me happy. When my husband died, I never thought that I could feel that way for anyone again.”
But I could tell that there was something she was hesitating to tell me. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s just that getting married again…He and I talked about moving somewhere quiet after the war, so it won’t be for a while. But I don’t want you to think that I’m abandoning you.”
“Of course, you’re not!” I said. “If anything, I too may be leaving, if I ever find my way back to my world. We both will be simply moving on knowing that both of us have gone to better places…”
After a few more tears and another pint, I headed out. It was better that way.
Every night, it became regular practice for me to look up at the stars examining the constellations on this new sky and comparing them to ones listed in a compendium that I found from the library that we started assembling. When I was around six, Mom installed stickers up my bedroom ceiling patterning them according to known constellations, to make it easier for me to memorize them. On nights when the sky was clear, she always asked me to name each visible constellation. Trying to memorize each constellation with their own myths, was my way of adjusting to this new sky.
“No matter how much you try to memorize them, I doubt that you will ever really adjust to the sky being different.” A gentle voice interrupted.
Solas stepped up close to where I sat on a small ledge on the battlements.. I looked around to examine if there was a guard passing. “Was the sky that different, you know, before the Veil?”
“A lot different.” He remained standing, his hands behind his back. “There were a lot more colors. The stars danced along with the colored lights.”
“It must have been beautiful.”
Then I heard the chink of glasses. As I glanced to my side, he poured me a glass from what looked like a very old bottle covered in a lot of dirt.
“No thank you,” I refused gently. “I already had two pints of Ferelden ale.”
“Come now, just one more glass would not hurt.” He pressed as he handed me one glass. “I do not often share bottles that date all the way back from my time.”
“How can you be sure that’s from your time?”
“Because I was the one who hid it.”
My attention shifted to the old bottle. It did look very old. Its glass amphora had handles that looked like the shape of halla horns. Moss and dust coated a bit of its surface. I could hardly see the contents inside. “You think it’s still drinkable?”
He lifted his own filled glass. “Only one way to find out…”
It’s not everyday that one gets to drink ancient wine with the Dread Wolf. So I took a swig from my glass. My tongue tasted something like lime, olives, yeast and maple syrup…and the sudden aftertaste of mud. I spat it out.
Beside me, Solas coughed. “I take it back,” he mumbled between the heaving of his lungs. “The humans here have much better wine.”
We laughed, and I could not believe it. To think that I would find myself laughing with the Dread Wolf.
There was no more wine drinking that night. But he started asking me about the places where I travelled on Earth. So I talked about Montreal, Toronto, Hong Kong, New York, London, the year I spent at Cardiff with a Masters scholarship and the backpacking trip I did of Europe the summer after, which set my citizenship status back a couple of years but was worth it nonetheless. I thought he was the type who would have talked on and on about his own dreams, but curiously, his questions about my world were almost endless.
“But really, which city is your favorite?” he asked.
“It’s really difficult to decide, especially since I love a lot of these places,” I confessed. “But if I were to pick just one…maybe Vienna.”
“The cakes,” I said trying not to sound gluttonous. “The opera music, the little finger-sandwiches, the sausages, schnitzel, the 11 o’clock coffee and the strudels…”
He laughed. “My my…you are far too easy to bribe with food.”
“But it really changes by my mood. Sometimes it’s Rome. One could never really get lost in that city, because it is easy to find other Filipinos wandering around. And in between those hours-long museum lines, the gelato one can eat…”
“Still about food,” he teased. “How about your least favorite?”
“Paris. Definitely Paris. My Mom joined me on that leg of the trip--for her first vacation in ages mind you--with one of my other aunts. Goodness, those two women always needed a toilet break every two hours. And that city has the worst toilets. Which reminds me…I should probably remind Josephine to speed up the plumbing and sewage construction.”
“Ah yes…the sanitary conditions here are far from the best.”
Then, out of curiosity, I asked, “So, where do you folks do your business in ancient Arlathan? Do you just take a dump somewhere and it magically disappears? Do you have plumbing or is magic your substitute for plumbing?”
“Really?” He arched his brow.
“Yeah, really.” It was a question that Sera might have asked but I was still curious.
“Well, since you asked, we had these places made out of Fade called etun—”
The interruption came from the sound of chapel bells. Time flew so fast and before I knew it, it was already 5 am.
Upon noticing this, he said. “It seems that I have kept you far too long, and I apologize.”
I stifled a yawn. “No: if anything, it was a good distraction. And I never thought I would say this but…thank you.” I then realized why, when playing as Inquisitor, he always seemed to like it when the Inquisitor asks him about his travels in the Fade. Being asked about travelling and being able to talk about one’s travels, almost makes one forget how much one misses home.
“You are very welcome, lethallan.”
He walked me to my door. But before he disappeared back down the stairwell, I called him back. “Solas…”
“There is something you must know…I have no idea when this will happen, but sometime in the near future, your friend Wisdom will be summoned away from the Fade against her will and bound as a pride demon by a group of travelling mages somewhere in the Exalted Plains.”
He froze. Though he had his back turned to me, I could tell he was not pleased with this foretelling to say the least. “Is there a way to prevent this said future?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All I know is that you will ask Dany for her help but both of you will be too late. And I’m sorry.”
His fists clenched. “I see.”
“The future I see is not always set. That much is clear from Haven. So perhaps you can find a way. Maybe your friend won’t have to die and you don’t have to be alone.”
“And what do you want for this information?”
“Nothing. I just don’t want my new friend to blame me in case it happens.” I meant it. I knew who he was and what he could do to this world or Dany, but I just knew at that moment that just like me, he knew what it was to long for a world that one has lost. I didn’t want him to hate me.
“I take comfort then, that this one friend considers me her new friend. I care not to lose her friendship either. Until I see you again, lethallan.”
I did not see Solas or any of the Inquisitor’s party again for about a month. In the interim, I occupied myself with the tasks that I set out for myself. Most nights, I wrote. Work has a way of not making me think about home, whatever home is.
Once, I thought that I would always hate Montreal. I mean, there are still parts of it that I still hate like its six-month long winters and those guys who just blow weed on one’s face while crossing the road in the middle of summer. But I found myself starting to miss it too, particularly Natalie, the rest of my friends, my thesis supervisor nagging me about deadlines, rice, the Korean grocery on the next street, all the dogs walking around in the summer at NDG, good working toilets, heating, electric light and wifi—especially the wifi.
I missed Canada. Oh Canada, I actually missed Canada.
Above all of those, I missed Mom and Lola.
Some nights, I just found myself crying.
Those nights, I brought out my ukulele and started singing. Sometimes, it was something random like the Moonlight Densetsu, Chandelier or Wuthering Heights. At times, they were songs from Rogers and Hammerstein musicals that I sang to Lola whenever she asked. But often, I found myself singing really old kundimans that Mom taught me, particularly an old lullaby I learned on my very first music lesson:
Sana'y di nagmaliw ang dati kong araw If only those days never faded away
Nang munti pang bata sa piling ni Nanay Those days in my mother’s arms
Nais kong maulit ang awit ni Inang mahal I want to hear that old refrain that my beloved mother sang
Awit ng pag-ibig habang ako'y nasa duyan That song of love as she gently swayed my little hammock
Sa aking pagtulog na labis ang himbing In my deep and peaceful slumber
Ang bantay ko'y tala, ang tanod ko'y bituin The stars guarded me and the starlight kept me safe
Sa piling ni Nanay, langit ay buhay In my mother’s arms, the heavens came alive
Puso kong may dusa sabik sa ugoy ng duyan. This sad heart longs for the sway of my little hammock
The sound of a heavy boot interrupted my song once as I played it on one secluded part of the battlements where I thought no one would hear me save a few passing guards.
“Forgive me, m’lady,” a sonorous voice said, “I did not mean to interrupt.”
I quickly wiped away any evidence of tears. I didn’t want anyone to find out that I was crying.
When I spun around, Cullen was leaning on a part of the wall a fair distance from where I stood. It was dark and the area was unlit except by starlight, so I could barely see his face. But the comfort is, perhaps he too could not see my face or my teary eyes as long I kept my voice steady enough to not betray me.
“I’m sorry, if you need to inspect this area, I’ll gladly move.”
“No…stay. The music is very…soothing.”
My mind thought about as to why Discount Chris Evans wandered into that part of the battlements that time of night, and I could only surmise one thing: headaches from lyrium withdrawal.
“That song…what does it mean?”
“It’s a lullaby,” I replied. “I don’t think I could ever translate it without stripping away some of its meaning. But the music and the lyrics were written by two Filipinos on a ship heading back to Manila. Judging by these lyrics, I think really think they missed their mothers and their homeland.”
“Hmmm…the melody does echo a bit of homesickness.”
“Can you blame them?”
I paused, changing the subject, I decided to address the issue directly. “Did you tell Daenerys about your headaches? About your lyrium withdrawal symptoms?”
A sigh. “Of course, you would know about that too…”
“Yes. She had every right to know as leader of the Inquisition. If she finds anything lacking in my leadership because of these choices that I’ve made, she would do well to find a suitable replacement as soon as possible.”
There’s a saying that Lola used to repeat to me: Ang sakit ng kalingkigan, sakit ng buong katawan. Literally, it translates as “Pain, even if it is only felt on one’s little toe, can mean sickness for the whole body.” Each sickness reveals something wrong with an entire system. If any person has chosen to endure pain to shake that system, that person deserves every help possible.
“How long have you been without lyrium?”
“Five months, give or take.”
Perhaps impulsively, I grabbed his hand and dragged him to follow me to my tower.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Helping you,” I interjected.
We made our way back to my tower mostly in the dark. Whenever his eyes saw torchlight, I noticed a scowl.
It’s a migraine alright.
As we reached my door, he let go of my hand. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s your bedchamber…” he awkwardly pointed out as I opened the small wooden door.
I shrugged. “So?”
“I can’t possibly…You’re alone and I don’t want to presume—”
“Fine! Stay there if you want. It’ll only take me a few minutes.” At that point, I did not want to get into argument about ladies’ honor and those kinds of sexist BS.
I lit a candle on my desk. My only remaining candle. Finding one’s things by candlelight took a bit of getting used to. I took a lot longer than a few minutes to find my pack of aspirin. Upon finding it, I rushed back to the door immediately with a glass of water.
He examined the white tablet on his hand curiously for a few minutes. “What is this?”
“Modern medicine from my world. It will help you feel better soon.”
He took it with one gulp and drank the rest of the water. Afterwards, I handed him the rest of the pack.
“It’s all I have,” I explained. “But perhaps it’s for the best. Only use them when the migraines get really intense. If you feel that every day you are on the verge of a panic attack or something of the sort, stop taking it altogether.”
Honestly, my Mom would have fared better and would have done so much more if she was in my place. In manga or historical fiction, the kind of heroines that end up in the past or other worlds always have the most useful practical skills like nursing. Sadly, I am no Claire Fraser and that was the only thing I could do to help. I wished that I could do better.
“Thank you,” he said gently.
I tried to make out the expression on his face, but the candlelight from my desk only cast shadows on where I wanted to see.
“You’re welcome. I just hope it helps.”
“It’s from you,” he said pointedly. “No doubt it will work better than magic.”
I think he overestimated modern science, but whatever. He was on the clear, at least for then.
I was about to close the door when his hand stopped it. “Just one question: who is Chris Evans?”
“Good night, Commander,” was my abrupt reply as I quickly slammed the door shut.
Dalagang Filipina. Dalagang Filipina.
And dammit, I gave him the last of my cold water.
Dalagang Filipina – literally translates as Filipina maiden, but it comes with its set of conservative traditional values and is linked to courtship practices dating back to Spanish Era Philippines. See: http://nine.cnnphilippines.com/life/culture/2018/02/15/sexism-of-traditional-courtship.html
Kilig – there is no English equivalent for this. But it is a term used for the kind of excitement that one feels when something nice happens related to one’s crush. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilig
NDG –short for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. An anglophone neighborhood in Montreal. Aka. Looks a little bit like Ontario but it’s not Ontario
Pakshet—a Filipino amalgam of “fuck” and “shit”
Pambira—shortened version of “pambihira.” Literally translates as “unbelievable.” A Filipino expression of surprise.
Susmariosep—a Filipino amalgram of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Tabernac—French for tabernacle. An equivalent of the f-bomb in Quebec.
“Parce que les hommes sont de gros chats.” / “C’est vrai…” – Basically, Tala is comparing men to cats, and Cullen replies “so true…” to her embarrassment.
The title of the song that Tala sings is Sa Ugoy ng Duyan. If you're curious about what it sounds like, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpdAzjYwGss
Tala also has nicknames for everyone. I don’t think I’ll use them all, but here they are:
Cassandra – Margaret Thatcher
Josephine – Downton Abbey
Leliana – Natasha Romanoff
Cullen –Discount Chris Evans
Varric – Dickens with Porn
Solas – Elf Version Erik Magneto; Creepy Ianto; Mr. Spock; the Egg; Professor Higgins
Sera – Class Struggle
Blackwall—Discount Gerald Butler
The Iron Bull—Freddie Prinze Jr.
I’ll try to post a chapter next week before I leave for a conference. If not, it will have to come after next weekend.
Chapter 4: Games and Generals
Of which Tala teaches the Commander to play a certain Filipino board game
A guide to Game of the Generals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gfDzyLIXks&t=99s
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Two more squares until that one white piece reaches my first row. And one piece was blocking my general on for the capture. Dammit. In two moves, Dad pushed the piece down to reveal his flag.
He won. But what was much more annoying was that the piece that blocked my way was a mere private.
“Really, Dad?!” was my reaction.
“You always take my bluff kiddo,” Dad pointed out looking at my pieces. “Sometimes you have to learn when a man is lying to you. Valuable life lesson. It will also save me the effort of chasing down your suitors. Putang Ina, I won’t be looking forward to that when it happens…”
“Vicente!” cried Mom at the center of the game table where she sat as arbiter. “Language!”
Dad flashed her his guilty eyes and mouthed a sorry.
I started flipping more of Dad’s pieces. Sargent. Colonel. Two more privates. In the meantime, I still had three of my generals and a spy.
“Hoy!” Mom interrupted. “You let that word out young lady, and there will be no sleepovers this weekend!”
I lifted a peace sign in response and planted a kiss her cheek.
“Strategy will only get you so far,” Dad pointed out to me. “You need to learn to bluff once in a while.”
“But you can always tell when I try!”
“Search your feelings…” he said in a mock Darth Vader voice. “It’s because I am your Father.”
I giggled. Oh, Dad and his bad Star Wars jokes.
Flipping more pieces down, he added, “Also, you tend to fall back a lot these days on distributive defense a lot these days. Change it up a little. It’s getting predictable. Sure, the other kids may only know how to attack blitzkrieg style but someday someone else will figure out how to get through your defenses. I’ll also be looking forward to the day when you become more aggressive…”
“Oh stop it, Vic!” Mom said while fixing my braids. “You’re scaring her. She’ll win this championship like she does every year.”
“I am not scared,” I insisted.
“You say that, but I’m the one prescribing you Omeprazole almost every year. Stomach acids never lie.”
Ah Omeprazole: the magical drug for one’s nerves and one’s stomach.
Truth was, I mostly played Game of the Generals competitively, because it was the only game where I could beat the boys who almost every day put trash in my locker and my backpack. It was through this game that I was able to show that that I wasn’t afraid of them. I showed them every single year, and it was Dad who taught me to never back down.
A car started beeping outside. In response, Dad picked up his duffel bag by the table, and kissed Mom. Just before exiting through the door, he patted my head and whispered, “No fear.”
That was the last time I saw him.
That afternoon, he took a flight to Mindanao and never came back. The week after, I missed the competition after Mom and I got word that Dad’s body had been found. It was the only competition that I lost, because I failed to turn up.
Because no Omeprazole could numb the pain of losing him.
I would like to think that when he was taken at gunpoint, Dad showed no fear along with many other journalists who died with him that day. No fear, he always said. No fear in pursuing the truth.
This is what I thought to myself, as I wired lemons with one another via nails and other metals that the blacksmith managed to craft for me. If I was going to find out the truth about why I was transported to Thedas, I would potentially find it in the stuff I brought with me. Maybe there was something in my voice recorder that could help me remember. But charging it takes time, and perhaps almost all the lemons at Skyhold.
Josephine watched my hands curiously. “How long are you going to keep doing that?”
“As long as it takes,” was my determined answer. True, I could have asked Solas to try zapping it with electricity, but I did not want to risk frying it.
At that point, I was able to wire more than a dozen lemons on our office floor. I sat close to the fire with my bucket of lemons slowly piercing and knotting wires.
“Oh dear…the Commander will not be pleased at the state of your hands…” she commented.
It’s true. I had gathered a few callouses from writing with a quill and a few scratches from the wires. Oh, how I missed keyboards and electricity!
For weeks, she had been teasing me about Cullen after I tattled a bit. After that, she seemed determined on what ship she wanted to sail despite the fact that I pointed out that his affections turn more towards Dany’s side of things. But the woman, who overturned her own assassination and trading status in Orlais via my advice, refused to heed me on this one.
“Who cares about hands when I could potentially bring electricity to Skyhold?”
I did tell her about electricity and how it powers my world. I was not sure if I could bring it in the scale of 2017, but one will never know. At that point, I was making Thedas into a Civilization VI experiment. Was it possible to bring electricity without developing the entire tech tree? Or Nationalism civic even if I try skipping the Reformed Church? One will never know. But just a few more turns…
“The way you two work…” Josephine remarked. “It’s frightening.”
“Where I am from, we immigrants always get the job done. All migrants have to be model migrants. Anything less is unacceptable. People could potentially lose countries if they don’t work hard enough.”
“Sounds very much like Orlais.”
I grabbed another lemon from the bucket and nodded. She understood.
“I was going to convince you,” she continued, “To take a break with a certain interesting person coming to speak with the Inquisitor on the battlements, but it really seems like you are very much pre-occupied.
I dropped the lemon. Hawke was there for a visit and I was not going to miss that. I gave Josephine a hug before proceeding out the window.
“Why are you heading out through that way?” Josephine laughed.
“Oh, I think Class Struggle booby trapped the door from the other side while you were not looking.”
“That little…” Josephine growled. “Why didn’t you stop her?”
I closed the window after glimpsing Josephine making a face.
It was a windy day outside at the battlements. When I got there, Dany and Hermione Hawke were surveying the people below. I watched from the tower above trying to get a glimpse of Hawke.
She turned and there she was looking much like an older Emma Watson with her curly red hair flowing in the wind.
I was proud of myself.
“When the Wardens began acting strangely,” I heard her say, “I had Aveline take my brother out of the Free Marches. Merrill is helping elven refugees who were displaced by the war.”
“Oh Merrill!” I whispered giddily trying to contain my excitement.
“Oh yes, that mage was always difficult to find…” said a voice behind me.
The voice startled me. I made a huge clang when my elbow hit this person’s armor. It also really hurt.
“Who was that?” cried Hawke from below.
Cullen immediately took my arm and we dashed away to another part of the battlements until I could not breathe anymore.
My pace slowed as I wheezed. My lungs tightened and I suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Cullen stopped when he noticed.
“Inhaler…” I called weakly pointing to the small white cylinder that fell on the floor.
Cullen immediately picked it up. Handing it to me, I quickly inhaled a puff. And then another. It took several minutes more for me to really breathe again normally.
“Putang Ina…you almost killed me!” I glowered.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t know you were…”
“And you really should stop sneaking up on people! God, you almost gave me a heart attack.”
His eyes betrayed a look of concern. “I am really very sorry.”
For someone so heavily armored, he can really sneak up on someone Solid Snake style. “What were you doing up there anyway?”
“I saw you walk up the tower. I called you a few times, but you did not seem to notice.”
“Well now I notice thanks to you…” God, I would not have forgiven him if he wasn’t looking at me with those brown puppy eyes. Something of which I would never let him know. “What did you want anyway?”
“I came to thank you,” he said simply. “The medicine you gave me was a wonder. I barely have headaches now.”
“Good,” I replied trying not to stare. “It won’t last forever though, and overusing it is also bad for you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Math problems, girl, math problems.
“Good day then,” I marched away before he could notice anything else.
Talking to him was always weird.
In the week that followed, the rest of the Inquisitor’s party left for Crestwood, and I started laying out the plans for the garden café. One unusually sunny afternoon, I surveyed the garden with an architect to list the number of chairs, tables and other things that were needed, as well as some minor notes for renovations to help cut a shorter path from the kitchens to the garden.
We moved to survey the area close to the wall, I managed to take at the gazebo to notice Cullen setting up a chess board. He waved to me in acknowledgement, and I replied with a light nod.
Don’t be pabebe.
Thankfully, I had actual work to be done and requisitions to order. After I signing a few some documents and finishing my business with the architect, I felt a light tap on my shoulder.
“Fancy a game?” Cullen offered. “Leliana seems to have abandoned me today.”
“I haven’t played in years,” I answered. “I don’t know if I can hold my own against a master.”
“Perhaps now would be the best time to start learning again. I’ll go easy on you.”
I really had no excuse to say no, and he left very little room for argument.
Taking over the white pieces, he made his first move: pawn to C4. A very British opening. Or should I say Ferelden?
Black knight to F6. White pawn to G3. Black pawn to B6. White bishop to G2. Black knight to C6.
“How long ago have you last played?” He asked while moving another pawn to try blocking an attack on D4.
“Not since I was twelve. I used to play this with my Dad, as well as a game called Civilization and Game of the Generals. Dad was often away, but whenever he was home, he always insisted that I keep my mind sharp.” Pawn to E6.
White pawn to D5. It was a bait and I fell for it. After an exchange of pawns, I had to move my Knight to E5.
Yup, he was good. Keeping up would be a challenge.
“Why did you stop?” he pressed his questioning.
“Dad died. After which there was simply no one to play with. Mom and my grandmother were not really big game players. And all my cousins either migrated elsewhere or were too busy attending tutorials to get into the nation’s top schools.”
“Maker, I am so sorry…” He apologized quickly. “I should not have asked…”
“It’s been fifteen years, Cullen,” I pointed out. “I have moved on.”
“Then…if I may ask,” he continued hesitantly. “Why…or how did he die?”
“He was murdered along with twenty other reporters during an assignment. To this day, his murderers still have not been convicted. Such is the way justice works in my world.”
“I am truly sorry…”
I looked up to him earnestly. “It’s not your doing. This is why we simply must do what we can to make things right.”
“You really admire your father…”
I smiled. “Very much. If I could become half the person he was, I would be very satisfied.”
In truth, I had not thought much about Dad since Cullen reminded me. Was the memory of his death sad? Still very much so. But there were wonderful things too like the way he carefully explained Bobby Fisher traps or bluffed his way out of Game of the Generals. Though I sometimes still cry at Father’s Day, not every memory had to be sad.
White knight to C3. Black bishop to D6. At this move, one of his brows raised. Every move I made, I felt as if he was trying to read me.
White pawn to E5. Knight to C4.
The game brought me back to the present, and I wasn’t going to allow him to capture my knight.
“So, you used to play this game a lot with your sister. And you practiced a lot with your brother in order to beat her.”
This time, the scar on his lips wrinkled into something close a smile. White pawn to B3. “Yes, but you already know that.”
“But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hear about them.” Bishop to B4.
So he leaned back to his seat and related the story that that I remembered from the game. In addition, he told me about the things that he enjoyed training as a templar—not just the physical aspects of it but also what he got to learn from it. It explains why he also loved to read. He related the story of how he and his fellow recruits survived vigils—by taking turns to cough loudly or subtly kicking the other person about to nod off to sleep.
“But you survived, thankfully?” I asked moving my queen.
“Barely. I could hardly recite anything the next day.” He laughed. “What’s worse was that I sang quite off key during the chant that the Knight Captain interrupted me to quickly end the ceremony. Surviving the embarrassment the next day was much harder…”
I could not contain my laughter then. “So that was how Commander Rutherford became a templar…I really had no idea.”
“And then there was Kinloch…” There was a bit of a lull when he said that last name.
I said nothing in response. I knew what that place meant to him.
“I don’t suppose you know…” he did not complete that last question.
“Yes.” I replied simply. “And I’m sorry.”
He avoided my gaze, staring at some random plant away from me. Then a smile came. “It wasn’t all bad. There was…someone.”
Of course, Solana Amell or maybe Neria Surana. Even if she did not become the Hero of Ferelden, she still existed, but probably met a grim fate because Duncan did not come. It was probably something traumatic, and I didn’t want to ask Cullen. But he told the story anyway.
“It was a cold gray October afternoon on my first month at Kinloch,” he began. “One enchanter took his students outside for a lesson on magical creatures. It was one of the few days of the year that the mages were allowed outside, and I was tasked to stand guard. On this particular class there was one girl…”
“What was she like?” I asked trying not to sound too curious. One should not really be too curious of other people's exes or sort-of exes.
At this, he started at me directly. “Small, charming, pretty-ish, incredibly smart and not much younger than I was. Yet she always knew how to stand out from a crowd without ever realizing it.”
The way he looked at me, I could never really tell who he was really describing. But I would never give him the satisfaction of showing an ounce of kilig. Not a hint. And he was describing someone else. I could not imagine how that is in any way thrilling.
“So you stalked her?” I accused playfully.
“It’s not exactly stalking when you’re asked to guard mages. It comes with the job really. I did not do it for my own amusement.”
“Maker’s breath, woman! Let me finish my story…” he protested.
“Sorry.” I flashed him a peace sign.
Another laugh. “No you’re not.”
At least he could tell what a Canadian sorry is.
He continued. “That day, she stood there nervously looking at the drake chained up to the ground, while the other paid her no heed. Suddenly, the enchanter’s robe caught on fire, and the rest of the students and templars rushed to help him put it out. Then perhaps seizing the opportunity, she quickly muttered something so the drake’s chains suddenly broke. The drake immediately flew away, and then her eyes suddenly met mine.”
“What did you do?” At that point, my curiosity peaked.
“She did not say a word, but with her eyes, she begged me to not say anything. When the everyone else saw the drake flying away, the Knight Commander Greagor stormed and demanded to know what happened. And I lied…”
“Back then, my sympathies swayed elsewhere. That was the time when I thought we were too hard on mages. And I could not bear to see her get locked up for something she probably did out of compassion.”
“You kept her secret. Did she and you ever get to--”
“No," he said adamantly with a tinge of regret. "She was a mage, and I was a templar. I barely even got to talk to her, even though they did let me attend her Harrowing. The day before she…”
Died? Was taken to Aeonar? He never finished that sentence, and I didn’t want to ask.
“But I will always remember that day,” he said fondly. “It was the day when she first noticed me. Every single day after that, I wanted her to notice me again and again…”
As he finished his story, a something in my head flashed.
A cold blustery October morning. A lesson on magical creatures. A creature chained and crying. It was begging me for help. Let me go. Let me go. Jowan giving me a look before the tip of the enchanter’s robe caught fire. Templars and mages rushing away. That rush as I whispered the words to get the creatures chains to snap. Wings flapping. Freedom. Brown eyes staring back at me. A templar. He spoke softly to the other templars. He kept my secret. That day as they trooped us all back inside, I wanted to see him again…
Cullen? Solana Amell?
What the heck did I just see?
“Checkmate,” Cullen declared interrupting my thoughts. His queen and knight cornered my king on the side of the board, and I hardly noticed it.
The feelings that came with that memory were intense. There was a part of me that wished that I could tell him that she longed for him the same way he longed for her without sounding crazy. Heck, he already thought that I was crazy once.
“Tala?” His eyes betrayed a look of concern. “Are feeling alright?”
“Fine,” I lied. “I’m probably tired that’s all.”
“Pity. I wanted to ask if you would care for a second game.”
I glared. “I don’t trust you. You said you were going to go easy and you didn’t.”
“What better way to learn than to be challenged? It always worked for me.”
“Says every masochist who plays Dark Souls…” I quipped.
We didn’t play another game that day, but he kept asking me about a game where I thought that I would certainly beat him, that would potentially convince me to play with him again. So I talked about Game of the Generals. An hour later, we ended up in my shared office with Josephine, with Josephine giving us knowing looks. I ended up explaining some of the rules to him, listing all the pieces and describing what the board looks like. All until the dinner bells rang.
So I spent half a day with Discount Chris Evans. It wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. I could almost spend several hours with him without making myself look like an idiot. Almost.
The memory flashes were odd. I thought about what they meant. What magic was it in this world that allowed me to see and feel that? And more importantly, why me? More questions to possibly bring up with Dorian or Solas when they got back.
Three days later, while I was poking more lemons, a scout delivered a note in his handwriting:
Immediately, I rushed to the indicated location to find him sitting across a wooden board on the game table made up of 9x8 squares, with 21 metal pieces marked with the various names I listed a few days back.
A crafted Game of the Generals board.
“I tried to get it as precisely as to what you told me,” he said hesitantly. “I hope it is enough.”
Out of the blue, the tears just came. I ended up awkwardly sniffing onto the fur of his armor. So much that I think I left wet tear marks. Though he did it stiffly at first, I gently felt the pat of his arm on my back.
It must have taken him all those three days to get this made.
He probably had no idea how happy he made me. It was one of the few times in my life where I had no words but “thank you.”
When my sanity returned and I had the opportunity to dry my eyes, I remarked, “All this for a second game?”
“The Maker hardly gives second chances. I merely am trying to see if I could get mine,” he said simply, ardently.
At least it also gave me a second chance to kick his ass and kick his ass I did. I taught him a few techniques and formations, such blitzkrieg, defense and clustering. Of course, we had to play it without an arbiter, so we just agreed to be honest when eliminating pieces. He tried to do a blitz on his first run on my left flank. As I had much experience against people who blitz, I was able to slowly whittle down his attacks until I knew I took out all his strongest pieces. With all of his generals and his spies out, I pressed my attack onto his side and captured his flag.
Honestly, he wasn’t bad for a first-time player. At least he did not make the mistake of most first timers I know who get almost all their strongest pieces on the first row eliminated on the first attack wave.
On our second game, he tried it again, this time attacking through the center. But that only allowed me to end the game much more quickly as he didn’t bring enough to sustain the forces I used to defend from both sides.
Still, I like the fact that he experimented. He even took notes on the side while we played.
“You’re a very defensive player,” he remarked while jotting down. “Now I can see why that is so.”
Funny, Dad said almost the exact same thing many years ago.
But he had those determined eyes. Yes, he was determined to beat me and I would never give him the satisfaction.
“We should teach Dany when she gets back,” I pointed out as I started packing the pieces. “I know that this would definitely be something she would enjoy playing with you.”
I expected his eyes to light up at the mention of her name, but he kept his focus on the little sheet where he wrote his notes.
The man surely knew how to play it cool.
There was always work at Skyhold, but at times when the afternoon sun rose high we met to play. I got to play chess again. And he continued to show me new tactics so I could beat him someday. Other times, it was Games of the General, and he proved to be a good attentive student.
At times, Leliana even joined us. She had the best poker face and was able to bluff her way to victory with Cullen. She didn’t need to cheat. That smile—the same one she flashed to everyone playing the Great game was her asset. I found games with Leliana much more challenging, though I was hardly ever sure if she ever really tried cheating. Yeah, she probably did.
Those days were wonderful, especially those times when Cullen smiled at me. But those days had to pass, because I knew that eventually, he would have to play those games with someone else.
When Dany came back victorious from Crestwood, I set her up on a game with Cullen. It was a game that was bound to happen anyway.
“I appreciate the distraction,” he told her, giving her his slight underhand smile.
And she smiled back. “We should do this more often.”
“I would like that…” was his enthusiastic reply.
I arbitrated the game, but I felt much like an interloper. When the first game ended, I found that I couldn’t stay for a second game.
“I should go,” I declared.
“No stay,” Dany pleaded. “You promised that you would teach me.”
Nodding to Cullen, I replied. “The Commander can teach you as well as I can.”
I avoided his gaze. I needed to walk out when I still could.
They didn’t need me, and that is how it should be.
As I left, I took one last look back at the both of them, smiling at each other under bright afternoon sunlight. There was a part of me that felt bloated, and it wasn’t my stomach.
I found myself wishing, if only there’s an Omeprazole for one’s heart. Because mine felt really bloated that day.
Game of the Generals—a Filipino strategy game that plays a lot like a blind Stratego. It’s played competitively in a some schools in the Philippines. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_of_the_Generals
Pabebe – no English equivalent, but it is when someone acts cute in front of one’s crush. See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/30/pabebe-what-is-filipino-craze-gone-viral-online
I am posting this early because I will be busy over the weekend.
I have been asked about this, and yes Tala is a character who happens to identify as feminist, but she is by no means a perfect character. For one thing, she easily points out sexism and racism in others, but does not see at times how she also internalized some of the sexism and racism directed at her and from the cultures she grew up in. Part of her character arc is growing away from these.
I make no apologies for writing a character who identifies as feminist.
Chapter 5: Daenerys
Also: Spoilers for the GoT ending in Season 8. Sorry.
In my dreams, men always tell me that I am mad. They circle around me and a large stone table littered with names, pawns, and maps. They pledge their life and loyalty to me, but one always knows that men’s loyalties are fickle, especially when a woman attempts to cross their ambitions.
For the good of the realm, they always say. For the good of their house. For my love.
Yet they almost always betray me. Either that, or they die protecting me.
Is it so terrible for a woman to dream of power? Is it too terrible to want power to save my people?
My people…who are my people again?
I don’t remember everything in my dreams, but I always remember how they end: On top of a high tower. Bells ringing. Myself on a dragon.
In my dreams, I always ride dragons.
I did it. I am home. My friend will be avenged.
Yet in those bells, other voices ring. Burn them all. Burn them all, they say.
Because plot. Shock value.
Whatever those last words mean.
And right then, I lose me body. I lose my soul. Yet my child obeys. Burn them all. Burn them all.
I did not want to do it. Why do I have to do it?
But the voices need a knife in my heart. They need me to die.
Yet I would never feel that knife. Or the kiss before that. No: by that time, I would have been long dead.
Every night, the same dream.
On one of those nights, I woke up with a cry. A cry that no one hears.
I heard that word once before from my eccentric friend. Tala: my eccentric friend from another world. Though it is a word that frightens me. That word always mades her smile. And when she smiles, I could not help but smile too.
We are different, but there’s something in me that knows that she and I are the same.
Outside, someone sings in a distant tower. A woman’s voice. My friend’s voice.
Heathcliff…it’s me, I’m Cathy. I’ve come home
And I’m so cold…
Let me in your window…
I let out a snicker, as I listened. For a moment, I forgot about my dreams. If she only knew that, she had spooked half the soldiers from coming to that tower only with that song.
Her world has strange stories. When I asked her about that song once, she told me that it was based on one story in her world called Wuthering Heights. It’s about a girl who haunts her lover. In that story, the woman is separated from her lover. Her lover finds his way back to her, but she gets married to someone else and dies. He destroys her family and she haunts him.
In her world, she said, a lot of women become ghosts.
Hers must be a strange world.
As I paced, I knocked over one pile of books to the floor.
Of course, my books. Some piled like little mountains on the floor. Others piled like towers. And they’re always here with me.
In another life, there’s always that sense that men have withdrawn and used their knowledge against me. Because they think that I am mad. Because they needed to tame me.
But this time, I too can have knowledge. This time, I think no one would think me mad if I have it.
So I learned. I keep learning. I learned magic.
My magic made me First of my clan. No one can wield fire like I do. At least, that’s what Keeper Deshanna always said. I have fire. Like my mother and her mother before that, even though I have never met them.
I was told that the humans hunted down my parents for their magic.
The humans hate magic, but so do many in my Clan. In those ways, they are the same. In both worlds, those who possess magic, those who can dream are caged in different ways.
For this reason, I chose to bear the markings of Mythal. Someday, all injustices will be avenged. Including mine.
Always, I had looked across the sea on the beach at Wycliffe. I had always wondered what lay across. So when news of the Conclave came, I went.
Yes, my Clan needed me. But I too needed to go. I needed to see what lay across that vast sea.
One day, I woke up with a painful mark on my hand, with someone’s voice whispering.
Ir abelas. Ir abelas.
Solas. He is always sorry, even though I would probably never know what he is sorry for.
But then again, men always find me pathetic. I thought that he was the same, even though we have the same ears and he apologized in my language.
Yet, he always smiled when I asked him questions. He always smiled when I asked about dreams and the world of dreams. I used to think that men always hated it when I learned things.
The Fade shifts to our desires, he always said. And its reality is affected by this reality.
Once, sitting down by the river near Redcliffe. I asked about what he thought about other worlds, like the world where our friend Tala came from.
And once more, his lips twisted into a smile. He said, “I have a theory: our worlds are connected by dreams. Many imagine our world the same way we imagine theirs. Dreams tell stories of their world and they tell stories about ours.”
He spoke with much certainty, like he himself came from another world.
In a lot of ways, he’s my other eccentric friend.
And he smells like a wolf.
He spoke a lot about his dreams, his travels. And I listened.
Though he dressed like a wandering apostate, he did not speak like one.
He said his people are not my people. I do not know them, he said. They are gone. Yet, looking into his gray eyes, one could sense that he cares more about them than anything else. Like he would die a thousand deaths for them, even though I may never know who they are.
It’s like he carries the weight of this world, like I do. It’s like he is marked by the same painful mark on my hand.
It’s like we carry the same scars.
I think I loved a man like that once. I just don’t remember how or when or where.
Yet he is also different. For one thing, he is no hero.
And I think I know heroes: they either die for you, or they stab you in the heart supposedly for the good of everyone else.
I want no heroes.
One night, he let me see one of this dreams—one of me in Haven. And there, I kissed him. To my surprise, he kissed me back.
It was just a kiss. I joked about the Fade tongue the morning after.
He laughed with me, yet his laugh felt hollow. Perhaps for him, it was real.
What is reality? What are dreams if they also make us what we are?
I perhaps may never know or understand.
That same night, I gazed at the mark on my hand and listened to it crackle. It was pain, but it was also power.
And a monster wants me dead because of it. He burnt an entire town for it. And for that, he deserves to burn if he can burn.
This mark got me a title. This mark got me a castle. It gave armies. It gave me a throne.
I really do not mind power, especially if I can use it for good of everyone.
I swore to protect my people who live across the seas. The humans sing songs about me here. They have become my people too.
Someday, I will deserve their love. If this mark will protect them, I do not mind carrying it. Even if it stings, a little.
A cry interrupts my thoughts. It’s a cry only I could hear.
Fenedhis. I almost forgot. Tonight, I was supposed to visit them again.
But last afternoon, Tala made me sit with Cullen to play some strange game. She promised to teach me, yet she left almost right in the middle of it. And I had to spend the rest of the afternoon watching Cullen brood.
Why she thought that was important is beyond my understanding.
I rushed down the stairs, down a dark passageway, and through a secret wall that led directly out the snowy mountainside. Then I followed a narrow path in the snow leading to one large cave.
More cries. They’re awake and they’re hungry.
I passed the magical barrier.
One immediately leapt in front of me. Its feet shook the ground. It leant its face towards me, and sniffed.
“It’s me,” I said.
Immediately, she drew her head back and let out a low growl.
I tossed a leg of ham to the ground. She dove immediately for it. Beside her, her sister flapped her wings. And I threw a leg towards her too, which she devoured in one gulp.
Of course, it’s not enough. Of course, I should not be caging dragons.
But for now, it is the only way I can be sure that they are safe.
The world thinks that I killed them. I, after all, can wield summon a blade that can pierce right through their armor.
My soldiers killed their children and I did nothing. So this is my penance.
Right there in that grove near Redcliffe, she stared at me with grieving eyes. They killed my children, her eyes said.
I don’t have children, yet a part of me felt her loss.
So I told her to leave. Yet she followed me here. And so did this other one who I met at Crestwood.
The first one, I called Cersei. Because she was an enemy who became a friend.
The other one, I called Missandei.
How I came up with those names, I do not know. But they seemed fitting.
“I am so sorry,” I told them. “I will come back when I get more.”
It’s really not easy to sneak in one’s kitchen and steal food when one’s servants panic as soon as one enters. Stealth is not exactly one of my key attributes.
It is difficult to hear them cry. So I left when I could.
As I passed the barrier again, a voice called, “You could have sent Cole. He would have gladly made the trip for their sakes.”
Ah my shadowy apostate friend. It is true that he could sneak up on people, the way he can creep through dreams. Of course, he would know that I would come here, because he did help me hide them.
“I needed to see them,” I replied determinedly. “It is for them, as it is for myself.”
He approached, his hands knotted tightly across his back. “You’ve been having dreams again, haven’t you?”
I did not confirm anything or deny anything. Yet he knew.
“I told you: that I could help you forget, if you only ask for it.”
“And miss my chance at perhaps seeing another world?” I replied with some playful assertiveness. “I thought you better at imagining things.”
As he trudged the snow alongside me, I studied his face. His was a face of a person who was going to ask something. I had studied faces like those. Yet, he asked a different question. “Do you think that is the world from whence our mutual friend comes from?”
“No,” I answered. “She said her world does not have magic. Clearly, this one has magic.”
“Really?” His brow arched. “How can you tell?”
“I rode a dragon for one thing, and I think I helped fight the undead.” I paused, attempting to remember the sensation of bring on a dragon’s back. But it all felt very faint and distant. Like a wish, long gone and forgotten.
To my surprise, he gave no clever or insightful reply to that. Clearly something had disturbed him.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He paused carefully, as if he was unveiling something but chose to do it in the least revelatory of ways. Because that’s what he always was. Though he liked questions, he had always been careful about revealing things about himself.
“That note of prophesy she gave to me once, I think it is coming to pass.”
“One of my oldest friends—a spirit of wisdom—has heard a call towards the Exalted Plains. I begged it not to answer, but it said that this world hardly cries for knowledge and to miss that would be to miss the rarest of chances to impart knowledge. Truthfully, I fear the worst…”
“What did our mutual friend say would happen?”
He scowled. “That my friend would be captured by mages, bound and forced into slavery. I fear it would happen soon.”
Slavery. No matter how many lifetimes I live, I will always detest that word. I determinedly gave my answer, “We leave tomorrow afternoon for the Plains. Cole will have to remain here, for my dragons.”
A slight smile. “Thank you, Inquisitor…”
Inquisitor. After all that has come to pass, he had yet to call me by name. Even Tala calls me Dany.
It was barely dawn. Yet, I summoned my eccentric friend to the war table before the rest. By the state of her dress, which was not much as some humans would perhaps deem it necessary to have a bit more layers on one’s overdress for parts to not show or cling so much, one could tell that I probably should have given her more time to prepare. But time was of the essence.
She stifled a yawn. “I am so sorry…I came as soon as I could. My queen—I mean, Inquisitor!”
“Coffee?” I offered, gesturing to the side table with pots and cups that Josephine’s assistants laid out.
“No, sorry!” she replied. “Let me do it, my que—Inquisi—Dany!”
With that, she rushed to the table. One could almost forget that she was the one who brought and insisted on Skyhold creating what she called, “coffee culture” as well as some sort of a two-language system. From the time she took over as Seeress, almost all the servants greeted everyone with, “Bonjour Hi!” It was a strange practice, but she told me it was necessary to keep the peace between both Orlais and Ferelden.
“Milk and sugar?” A yawn. “Would you like whipped cream with—” Then she realized her mistake. “Sorry! Habit. Mornings…Clearly, I am very Canadian in the morning. Putang Ina.”
I laughed. “None, please.”
I needed her mind sharp, because I was going to ask her for something important. So I let her have a few sips before I asked my question.
“You told Solas that his friend could potentially be captured by slavers,” I started. “I need to know why you thought that important.”
At this, she almost spat out the coffee she was sipping. “Sorry, I was startled by the question…”
“Take your time,” I offered her a glass of water as she may have almost burned her tongue.
Upon recovering, she carefully laid out an answer. “I…don’t want him to be our enemy. If we could save his friend, maybe things will turn out differently.”
I stiffened. A part of me knows what betrayal may feel like. “Do you think he will betray us?”
“Not for now. But someday, maybe…after this is all over.”
“For what reason?”
Her head bowed. “I cannot tell you. I promised…”
“And what about your promises to me?” I pointed out. “Have you forgotten that?”
“I haven’t,” she said firmly. “I don’t like secrets as much as I assume you don’t like them either. Heck, I publish secrets for a living. This is hard for me too.”
“Yet you deem them necessary?”
“For this one, yes…” she said, sipping her cup. “Solas is a man of secrets. But in time, we may be able to win his loyalty. Perhaps one day he would tell you himself once he trusts you enough. In one of my playthroughs, he fell in love with one of my Inquisitors and almost tells her before he chickens out…”
“Playthroughs?” I repeated. “One of my Inquisitors?”
Her eyes widened. She realized her mistake. “Sorry! Word choice. I meant outcomes or possible futures. Gosh, I am clearly not fit to work in the morning…”
“If what you say is true, why would you want me to help someone who can possibly betray me in the future?”
“Because even if he may have done wrong, he’s someone who wants people to be free. No too different from you, I suppose.”
Sometimes, I think she supposed a lot of things. But as for what I wanted, it was not too far from the truth. “No: not too different...”
The door opened to reveal Leliana walking in. Cullen and Josephine soon followed, and the war meeting began. And so passed the time to ask more questions.
As soon as my companions were able save Cole, we set off.
Solas might betray me. Still, I reluctantly promised my eccentric friend that I would help redeem him. Traitors deserve nothing but death. Yet he did save my life at the Conclave. He had proved to be a friend. He helped me keep my dragons. He is not a traitor. At least, not yet. So perhaps there is some wisdom in my eccentric friend’s counsel.
I kept my distance, which was not too hard given that he was distracted with the possibility of his friend’s capture.
Playthroughs…what exactly does that word mean? It means something in her world. And I wondered what they would mean in mine.
I need to know what that word means.
It took days to reach the Plains. I spread out scouts to survey the area. Perhaps they could find those mages and prevent the summoning.
The first night we set camp, he got up in the middle of the night and paced around the campfire. “They binded her. I heard her scream. They’re just by the river banks.”
But it was easier said then done. Our way was blocked down the south by rifts and flooded plains. To the west and the north, we were overwhelmed by numbers of the undead through ramparts and magical barriers.
So we had to take care of the undead first. Burning the bodies and completing rituals while the undead attacked. Time was of the essence and we were losing it fast.
When we got close to the location Solas pointed out, we found a body slain by arrows, and then several more bodies charred close by it.
“These aren’t mages. The bodies are burned, and the claw marks.” I watched his face fell. “No, no, no, no…”
Further down the way, surrounded by tall stones stood a pride demon.
I heard many stories of slavery. My people’s stories. Because humans always need to use something or someone, people or spirits.
As we stood there stunned, an enchanter rushed to them followed by a group of exhausted acolytes.
“A mage!” the enchanter exclaimed in relief. “Thank goodness! Do you have any lyrium potions? Most of us are exhausted. We’ve been fighting that demon…”
“You summoned that demon!” Solas shouted struggling with words perhaps with his blood boiling like so. “Except it was a spirit of wisdom at the time. You made it kill! You twisted it against its purpose.”
The enchanter tried to explain out of his situation, but Solas would hear none of it.
“Shut up!” His fist clenched.
Glancing at the demon…at the spirit. I felt its pain. I was growing weak.
“Do we have a plan?” I hurriedly asked. “There must be a way. An open rift, anything!”
“The summoning circle,” Solas pointed his staff to the stones. “We break it. We break the binding. No orders to kill, no conflict with its nature, no demon.”
The mage tried to argue. Solas begged. “Inquisitor, please…”
Instantly, I leaped into action and bid others to do the same. Dodging the demon and casting a spell that burnt the stones around it.
We destroyed the stones, but it was not enough. Even as Solas’ friend returned to its original form, it was already too late. One could feel it slowly fading.
“Lethallin, ir abelas,” he whispered.
His hand extended to touch its fading form, perhaps even knowing full well that he could not.
“Tel’abelas,” it replied gently. “Enasal. Ir tel'him. Mala suledin nadas. Ma ghilana mir din'an.”
He let his head hang. With some reluctance, he agreed to what she wished. “Ma nuvenin…”
Then he raised his hands, and she was gone.
I had seen death before, but not like this. Or so I thought. And then I saw it…
A funeral pyre. One friend murdered in an alley. And then another one so dear, his body marred by numerous stab wounds that he took for her. A sword swinging towards the head of another dear friend. Dracarys. Burn them all.
Closeby, Solas burned in anger. They begged for their lives, but it was too late. His eyes glowed blue, and the next moment I heard their screams as flames swallowed them.
"Damn them all!" he cried.
I could have stopped him, but I did not. Maybe they deserved their fate.
In another life, I may have done the same.
Solas left to wander that day. To where I did not ask. He simply said that he needed time to think.
The next few days were spent securing alliances with the Clans in the area, and the Orlesian army. I sent a raven to Skyhold, informing Tala that I failed.
On the journey back, the dreams continued. But each night I awoke, there was always someone there for me by the campfire. At times, it was Varric with his stories. Sometimes it was the Bull, his Chargers and their drunken songs. Vivienne, Dorian and Sera took turns insulting one another. And Blackwall simply sat by me in silence, but it was the kind of silence that acknowledged another’s pain.
I think I had friends like these once. There are moments perhaps in another life that I can only hear in echoes, but they resonate nonetheless. I would have given everything for them.
I would not lose my family--my people--ever again.
The moment we glimpse Skyhold again, I send a raven, summoning my eccentric friend to me for one important question. As we sat on the rug by the fire, I told her about my dreams. She listened intently.
By the end of it, her eyes were in a mixture of awe, shock and dismay. “Putang Ina! This is how Game of Thrones ends two years from now? Fuck.”
Game of Thrones. As usual, she always used mixtures of words that did not make sense. But things need to make sense, and I had to ask her my question. “So now I ask you: in your world, what am I to you?”
At this she attempted to look away. “You are my Inquisitor.”
I wasn’t going to give up. I moved closer and taking both her hands, I pleaded. “I beg of you, please tell me.”
The sad look in her eyes betrayed pity. I do not want to be pitiful. “You will be unhappy.”
“I am already unhappy!” I cried. “These dreams torment me every night. I need to know why I suffer every night…I need to know why I am here.”
She paused for a moment, and then relented. “In my world, you belong in a story called Game of Thrones. A lot of people love you in my world, especially a lot of women. On certain occasions, they even dress up like you and try to be you. You weren’t perfect and the show was a bit racist, but you suffered like many of us have and triumphed in the midst of great adversity. And you managed to gain and exercise the kind of power that none of us ever could have. So we projected our desires on you.”
“So this world is called Game of Thrones in your world?”
“No. We called this world Dragon Age. It’s a kind of story where one is allowed to make the protagonist and decide the outcome of the story based on certain things that one chooses in the story.”
“And you made me into this story’s protagonist?”
Another pause of reluctance. “Yes.”
“And you know how this story ends?”
The realization sunk in. Then the hurt. And the anger. “So…everything that I had suffered…It was all for your people’s entertainment?”
“The writers of Game of Thrones are men. And when many men make stories, a lot of women suffer for the sake of their desires. A lot of men in my world tend to love to imagine that women easily grow mad so they could imagine themselves as heroes.”
Dracarys. Plot. Shock value. Those voices echoed in my head once more.
Why? Why? Why? I wanted everything to just end.
Then a small gentle hand squeezed mine. It was rough and it had blisters, but it was warm. She wept as her arms caught me in a tender embrace. “I’m sorry. I am so sorry.”
My arms caught her back and I wept with her. I wept for minutes, for hours until I could not weep anymore.
I lost many things. I lost my world. I lost my people. I lost my life. I lost myself.
But then the woman beside me wanted better. She dreamed me here. Here, I have everything one could only dream of—a home, family, friends, power and love.
Even if I was meant to die, even if I was meant to suffer, I have been given this life to live for myself, for her. This life for me as much it is for her.
I am loved.
A week later, upon coming to the main hall, I noticed a new throne on the center. A throne made of swords, or things that look like swords. It was one that I probably saw in a dream of a dream.
I was about to touch it when my eccentric friend interrupted. “Don’t worry. They’re all blunt discarded swords. I don’t think they’re too sharp.”
Why anyone would want to sit on it is beyond my understanding.
“I really appreciate the gesture,” I said. “But I have a better idea for it. Moreover, it is high time that I introduce you to some of my children.”
Her confusion was apparent as I had the throne mounted on a cart and horse, alongside several cuts of meat, that we drove towards the cave. She grumbled and swore as we both pushed the cart the rest of the way inside the cave after I left the horses outside.
She screamed at the sight of my dragons. My dragons pounced, burned and ate almost every part of that offering she gave to them.
No one needs to sit on that throne.
When their meal was done each took turns in sniffing her.
“What the fuck? The throne! And dragons!” Her shock and dismay quickly turned into joy. “You have dragons! Putang Ina! You have dragons!”
When the dragons have finished sniffing her and after her giggle fit neared its end, I took her arm. “Now I do have a mind to potentially bring a third friend, so I would need to find someplace bigger. Would my Seeress have an idea on a good place where dragons can thrive and not be hunted?”
“Oh my god! In a place called Japan, there’s this area people call Cat Island or Aoshima…” On the way back, she talked lengthily about a place in her world that kept felines. She then suggested something similar but for dragons.
Her voice slowly faded as she exited the cave.
I took one glace back at the smelted throne and my dragons and caught up with my friend towards the light outside.
That woman who wanted that throne is gone.
This is how I move forward.
Am I crazy writing this? I probably am. But heck, this is fan fiction and I can do what I want with it.
Originally, the Inquisitor was supposed to have a background similar to one Inquisitor in one of my other stories, What It Feels Like to Be Human, which is a different story but one I am writing alongside this. But at one point, it was becoming too similar and I really want to write something different. Plus, using that would make the Inquisitor too similar to Tala and writing her like that became dull.
And after that GoT ending, I was like, why the fuck not? If I was going to link worlds anyway, why not link another one alongside Thedas and Earth. And I had a lot to think about after reading this blogs post: https://dangerouscharacters.substack.com/p/who-wins-who-dies-game-of-thrones?fbclid=IwAR0CA0UxDCKrIXDNEF1PR7jY2KvSmEo_zhFb2XRjZYfs9wWymrVCMJdlVyQ
So, does this count as a crossover fic now?
I may regret this. But so far, this actually helps my overall plot a lot and I am excited for the next one. Now to write Solas.
Chapter 6: Revelation
Where Solas pulls a Solas
“War forces terrible choices on us, but justice demands its due,” Daenerys proclaimed. “Gregory Dedrick: I, Daenerys Lavellan, leader of the Inquisition, sentence you to die.”
A drum sounded. The soldiers promptly escorted him out. A few hours later, he and a few others were brought to the cave where they were fed to the dragons.
I did not care to watch that.
I followed along with my fellow advisors at the mouth of the cave. I did not see the dragons setting fire to those men or hear Daenerys speak that fatal word. But even from outside, I heard their screams and smelt their burnt flesh.
The crowd outside cheered.
My stomach felt sick and I almost threw up.
This was Daenerys’ brand of justice, and she judged more people that I would have thought, including captured Venatori.
The day after, it was going to be Magister Alexius’ turn to be judged, and I feared the worst. Dorian would be disappointed.
Sure, Dany was pretty much Snow White to her dragons, but to the people who wrong her or the Inquisition, she was The Punisher. Sometimes I forgot how justice is dealt in this world. The fact that she was able to somehow get dragons to follow her was sensation enough to many it seemed, but this sense of justice, and the fact that people approved this form of justice was something I could not I could not feel comfortable with, even though these people did wrong.
Mom said that my asthma at times was psychosomatic. At the smell of burnt flesh, my lungs tightened, and I found myself grasping for air. Before anyone could notice, I quietly withdrew from my companions and the crowd.
I stole two puffs from my inhaler when I managed to gain a safe distance from the crowd. Glancing at the dose counter of my inhaler, I noticed the number 12. Only twelve more puffs and I would need a new inhaler. I checked my pulse. Fifty-six beats per minute. Low, but not too bad. It will be fine. I’ll find my way home eventually.
The climb up to Skyhold was steep and icy from the frozen rain. My pace was slow as I slowly steadied my breathing. One foot slipped as I took one step up, but thankfully a steady gloved hand caught my arm.
“Careful,” Cullen said with a worried expression on his face. Steadying me, he continued, “The soldiers have yet to salt this area. Are you feeling alright?”
I shook my head. “No, but I will be. I was just feeling a little faint, that’s all. But thanks anyway. A broken nose or arm would have made things a lot more complicated.”
For a moment, we stared at each other. The past month, we hardly spoke outside war meetings and our reports.
I did not avoid him. I was merely busy.
Fine. I avoided him a little bit. I think he eventually noticed and took the hint. Of course, that made everything weird again.
He stuttered. “I, uh—would you care to…?”
No harm in walking back to Skyhold with him. Besides, I was too weak and exhausted to refuse.
We walked in silence for a bit, until he posed, “I take it you’ve not witnessed death before.”
“No,” I answered honestly. “I have seen dead people in funerals. But I have not seen people die. Let alone get executed.”
“You are very fortunate, then. Your world must be a truly peaceful one.”
“Truthfully, no.” I corrected him. “In the country where my mother and I hail from, suspected drug addicts are getting executed by hired assassins and sometimes police. What’s worse is that no one could keep track of how many people are dying every single day. And in the country where I live, thousands of women have gone missing and are suspected to have been murdered—all because of their race. There are also death sentences in other places. People say that those executions are peaceful, where people are simply put to sleep with injections and all. But in reality, those could also be excruciating deaths. An axe may at times be kinder. But we like to tell ourselves that it’s peaceful so we can sleep at night.”
“I see,” was his solemn acknowledgement. “Not too different then.”
Of course, he would know what it is like to see death young. Kinloch. Kirkwall. He had the worst of luck in that aspect.
I stole a glace beside me. The past month had not been kind to him either. Dark circles formed under his eyes and I could notice some new lines on his face.
“You’ve not been getting any sleep,” I pointed out.
“I have a lot on my mind.”
The war. Corypheus’ demon army. Red templars. Samson. Daenerys, maybe. I wondered if she told him about her dreams. But what they told each other outside Inquisition-related matters was clearly none of my business.
“You are not comfortable with the sentencings,” he said as if he read my mind. “May I ask why that is so?”
So he noticed. I did not mean to make it that painfully obvious. “It’s just that…I want to believe that people can change. But even if some can’t change, there has to be a better way than just simply killing people.”
“That does sound like you,” he muttered with a hint of a smile in his voice.
“What does that mean?”
“Don’t ever change.”
I stopped walking, and the wind passed between us. When I looked up, his eyes stared at me, like they were reaching out, calling to me. I closed my eyes and shut my ears like Ulysses to sirens. He belonged to someone else, and I don’t belong in his world.
The rest of the walk was passed in silence. But when we reached the gates, he said, “It is not like you to keep your emotions and opinions in a bottle. Speak with Daenerys. Perhaps you can make her see things from your perspective.”
“You think that will work? Ever since she started remembering things, she’s been very fixed on her judgements.”
“Why ever not?” He smiled with that familiar lopsided smile of his. “It almost did work with one person.”
Watching him walk back towards his office, I realized that he did have a point. Besides, even if I couldn’t convince her, it would have bothered me if I had not tried.
Later on that evening, as I got invited up the Inquisitor’s chambers, I brought Daenerys some cup noodles to share. I figured that if she was really a khaleesi who ate horse heart in another life, she could handle some La Paz Batchoy.
She ate much faster than I realized, smiling as she slurped the soup. “So you could eat this every day in your world?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Though it’s available in almost every convenience store in Manila, I usually have to go to Cote des Neiges to buy it in Montreal. You’re lucky Mom packed me two.”
She continued slurping until she finished all of it. “That was good. This thing might also help the food rationing problems Cullen is currently having with the soldiers. Next time I’m gone, invite him to eat this sometime.”
I almost choked on my soup at that suggestion. Clearly, she didn’t realize that inviting someone for ramen in other places could mean more than just ramen. And no, I would not steal her boyfriend from her even if the temptation is ever present. Thank goodness that of all the worlds I stumbled into, I did not stumble into a k-drama.
“And now for your reward,” she declared as I finished my cup. She sat me onto a very large dresser made for her and started braiding my hair. “I remember more things now, about who I was. And I do believe that it is important to celebrate small victories.”
“But I have not won anything,” I argued.
“Yes, you have,” was her firm response. “You helped us win Haven, and every day, you inspire me. And the world should know of all the things you’ve done even though you hardly ever get to leave the walls outside.”
My thoughts returned to the dragon cave--the screams, the smell, the cheers. Was that what winning meant?
“What’s wrong?” she asked with some concern.
I hesitated for a moment and summoned my courage to tell her. Just as Cullen thought she would, she listened though at times frowning on some of my assumptions and over twisting my hair roots at points that made me a bit afraid that she would tear out my hair.
“I promised justice,” she firmly argued. “The Venatori will kill more if not made an example of. As for Mayor Dedrick, he deserved something far worse than a quick death. As for Magister Alexius, he would have killed so many had he succeeded.”
“Yet you’ve seen what he had become in an alternate future. That is a man who greatly regrets everything he’s done. Dorian said he was a good man once, maybe he can become that person again.”
“In my experience, it’s the betrayal of good men that cut the most deeply.” She said those last words with conviction that it was difficult to give any counter argument.
I tried a different argument. “You said yourself that the Inquisition is for all, and you said once that you want to ‘break the wheel.’ Yet if we perpetuate the same cycle of violence, how would we ensure that things will be different?”
She paused, perhaps pondering what I just said. Resuming her braiding, she sternly answered, “Very well then. Perhaps Fiona would have a more fitting punishment for him.”
I almost hugged her, and my giggling unwinded some of the knots to her annoyance.
“Why did you wait this long to ask me about this?” she asked as she twisted some knots back.
“I was unsure at first. But then your boyfriend convinced me.”
“Who?” Her hands paused on their task. “Solas?”
“Cullen.” Then I realized my mistake. Putang Ina.
The braids came undone again, and she stared at me in shock. “You think that the Commander and I…”
“Solas?” I cried in surprise. “Really? Solas? Why?” What the actual fuck?
Collecting herself resolutely, she redirected her gaze at me through the mirror. “Cullen is a good man: honest, honorable, yet he does not make my heart flutter.”
“But Solas?!” was my question on repeat. Fine: a part of me was annoyed that had Solas not gone away, I would have stormed into his quarters and punched him in the face, like one could do in the game.
“I had a brief…” she hesitated, no doubt to think of her choice of words. “…impulse--towards him. Nothing more. Those few weeks before he left, he had been helping me with my dreams. And during one of those dreams, I kissed him.”
I spotted a shadow of a smile as she said those words.
Several responses raced through my mind. Do I tell her that she just picked the worst possible love interest in the entire game? Do I tell her that her Stupid Egg boyfriend broke so many hearts in my world?
No. Just no. For the first time, I did not see this one coming. I almost wanted to die in shame. I was so blind.
She actually liked Solas. It explained why she did not take my telling her of Solas’ possible betrayal well. I was such a fool.
“But it does not matter,” she resumed adapting some smooth calmness in her voice. “He does not care for me, and you said he could even potentially betray us.”
“Potentially,” I stressed. Nothing is for certain anyway, given what just happened. I decided to shift the subject a little. “What do you think of the Dread Wolf?”
Her eyebrow arched, perhaps puzzled at my question. “You mean Fen’harel? Dread Wolf take me—if he even exists. But nothing is impossible these days, given that I did met a Tevinter Magister.”
Oh, he will take you, you poor thing. He definitely will, unless I do something. In the meantime, I kept my cool. “And what would you do in the odd chance that you actually meet him?”
That said it all, and that was what I was afraid of.
In one life, she was a Targaryen and in this one, she is the First of her Clan. It’s a lethal combination.
Finally, she proclaimed, “There, all done!”
When she turned me towards the mirror, I let out a small squeal. She gave me two braids and they looked badass. I promised to wear my hair like so from then on.
I looked badass, but I did not feel badass. How could I have been so wrong? Is it too late to suggest that she ride the Bull instead?
My ships were all going down. Suddenly, I wished I stumbled into a fluffy shoujo manga or kdrama instead. Princess Hours anyone? Or Boys Over Flowers? Or an otome game for that matter as long it’s not Diabolik Lovers.
More importantly, I had to keep those two from potentially killing one another. To say that that relationship is complicated is an understatement to say the least.
In the succeeding days came the official opening of the cafes around Skyhold. Skyhold was becoming its own little city. In celebration, Leliana and Josephine produced a slightly Chantry-friendly highschool-style open-air version of Faust, Part One. I told that story to them after a war meeting once—the context of which I have completely forgotten. But then, the pair liked that story that they decided to do their own production of it with their own scouts and assistants. In this version, God is replaced with the Maker and Mephistopheles was turned into a fallen Tevinter magister. Come to think of it, it was a brilliant idea to increase morale, even though I was not into the whole Inquisition propaganda thing.
Honestly, it was bad. But then again, how many good Faust adaptations are there? The actors were tripping up all over the place, but the crowds were entertained. It had people crying as Gretchen ascended to heaven. Even Cassandra was in tears.
So clearly, the propaganda aspect seemed to have worked.
As I watched the crowds clear, I felt a slight tap on my shoulder. When I turned around, Solas was smiling at me. I instantly threw my arms around him. I probably should have punched him after all the trouble he’s cost, but just at that moment, I was just really happy to see him.
“Old friend,” he whispered gently as he returned the hug.
I pushed him away in playful annoyance. “Old friend? Really? I am not that old!” But then again, he had always acted like he had always known me. It’s super weird, but if one becomes friends with a Dread Wolf, and the Mother of Dragons, one can quickly get used to weird.
He returned the insults with a weak smile. “Like I said: my old friend.”
Fuck this guy.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent in updating him over coffee—tea in his case which he detested--on the various gossip and goings-on at Skyhold, which included: the upcoming operation on the Western Approach, the new Mage tower and cafes, the library, executions and Dany’s dragons and upcoming weddings at Skyhold—Agnes and Rylen’s in particular, and finally about that terrible production of Faust which he just saw.
“It’s a very appealing idea—that striving is the essence of existence…” he pointed out, sipping a bit of his tea which he hardly touched.
Of course, the Dread Wolf would want to agree with that.
“Yup, that’s why you and Faust make terrible boyfriends. But Dany is no Gretchen. She will burn your ass when she finds out.”
“Ah, so she told you…” He took a gulp his now-cold tea, possibly to avoid my eyes as I glared at him.
“As much as she could tell me! Look: you are making it worse for yourself. And it’s annoying to be that friend who is stuck between you two.”
He placed down his cup. “If this is your way of asking me to stay away—"
“I am not asking you to stay away from her. Clearly, you can’t and I know you’ve been hurt. And God knows you’re still grieving. So I know you do need friends. But I need you two to not kill each other. Not just for the sake of the Inquisition, but because…”
I care. I care for both of them. And I should have said that but I didn’t. Sometimes, telling the people you care about them is the hardest thing.
But I felt a slight squeeze of my hand. Looking up, his gray eyes told me that he understood. Fuck, I actually cared for this stupid Egg and it sucks.
And I suddenly understood what Solavellan Hell meant. Putang Ina. I did not want to board this ship dammit, but I found myself doomed to go down with it.
“As you said: Dany is no Gretchen,” he repeated. “If the worst should happen, then I would most likely deserve it.”
Perhaps that was the greatest tragedy of it all: that all this time, he had always known who he was—not a hero but a villain who can potentially destroy everything. But still he strives.
After night descended on the garden, he asked about what people do in my world when they want to forget about something. My mind immediately went to all those post break-up Rue Crescent karaoke sessions that some of my friends dragged me into. So I described karaoke to him.
“Would you like to—what do you call it—karaoke?” he proposed. “I can take you anywhere as long as you let me in.”
The temptation was there. I could see a glimpse of home again. “You mean, you want me to dream it?”
“Technically, we can go to any place as long as it exists in your memories.”
Okay, I was weak. It was karaoke, and I really missed karaoke.
Though Cullen had secured supplies for lyrium, they were nonetheless still in short supply, so everyone was required to get their supply from Requisitions. Since Solas was one of the Inquisition’s companions, thankfully he was on some kind of priority list. But just as we were leaving, Dany walked in and eyed us suspiciously.
But Solas did not seem too surprised. “Our little friend here has decided to show a glimpse of her world. Would you care to join us?”
I stared at him in disbelief. What was he thinking?
Dany’s eyes shifted from Solas to me. It was that look that Mom always had when she thinks that there’s some perv about to harass her daughter. Determinedly, she replied, “Yes.”
Susmariosep. It was a lot of tension just for some karaoke. But I shrugged it off. It was probably going to be fine as long as no one sings “My Way.” Or so I thought.
I almost spat out my first taste of lyrium. It reminded me of the bitter taste of magnesium, only this one was at least thrice as bitter. And the aftertaste lingers for a while. I couldn’t believe that mages and templars had to take a thing this gross every single day. The only way I could take the rest of it was downing it with some milk.
But the milk and the lyrium worked like magic. Heck, it is magic. Soon, I was fast asleep.
Downtown Montreal always smelled like weed in the summer. And that was exactly how Ste. Catherine smelled like in my dream. When I opened my eyes, the evening lights from all the cars, restaurants and shops flashed around me. Everything was as I remembered it—from that XXX sign on the massage parlor window right above Virgin mobile and the crowd of shoppers--to that drunk guy waving cars around in the middle of the road and the police officer who was about to issue him a ticket.
All the people seemed to be frozen in place.
“Can you guys see me?” I called out around me, my eyes searching for my friends. “How exactly does this work?”
“You have to summon us,” Solas called somewhere from above.
I closed my eyes. “Accio!” Nothing.
“You have to imagine us there with you or else it would be difficult to find you.”
“Oh, right. Sorry.” I closed my eyes again and pictured them beside me. When I opened my eyes they were right there, blinking at all the lights around us.
“It’s so…bright,” Dany remarked shielding her eyes.
“You’ll get used to it,” I said patting her on the back.
To my left, Solas spun around, his eyes wide with wonder. “Fascinating! I would have chosen a different area but to see a place so illuminated…”
“As McLuhan once wrote, ‘a light bulb does create an environment by its mere presence…’” I quoted. Just because I could. The medium is the message motherfuckers!
“Are those coaches running without horses?” Dany asked pointing to one of the cars.
“They’re called cars,” I explained. “They run on something called ‘gas.’ Oh, and those red and green lights over there coordinate the traffic and the pedestrians.”
“That smell…” Solas stifled a sneeze.
I snickered. Of course, they would notice it. “Weed. One could say that it’s our version of lyrium. And it’s legal here.”
“I like this place already!” Dany declared with a huge smile on her face.
It only took around five minutes to walk from the spot we emerged from at St. Catherine to that karaoke place my friends and I frequented at Crescent. However with those two, it took far longer than that, especially with them stopping and noticing so many things along the way. Solas shamelessly grabbed three slices of cake from a crepe store we passed—one or each of us. Dany tried on a pair of sunglasses.
For a moment, I forgot that those two could practically murder each other.
Like all the places we went to, the karaoke bar had people frozen in place but the machines well all running. So I just grabbed few Asahis from the beer fridge and found us an empty room.
As I flipped through the songbooks, both of them gawked at the glitzy kpop snippets on the “lightbox” as they called it. As there were obviously no songs in Elvish or Thedosian, I was in charge of song picking, so I started with a Journey classic.
Just a small town girl, livin in a lonely world
She took the midnight train going anywhere…
I continued to sing while they continually gaped at the unrelated drama clips playing with the song lyrics. I kept singing and Solas kept bringing more beer. I put the song on repeat so Dany could learn it, and eventually, she belted out the lyrics with me.
Don’t stop believing
Hold onto the feeling
Next up, I taught her how to sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Which was easy because she only had to sing the “turn around” part and the chorus.
And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you only hold me tight
We’ll be holding on forever…
And when we got a bit more drunk, there was also some time for other songs.
It's my dick in a box
My dick in a box babe
It's my dick in a box
Ooh, my dick in a box girl…
I couldn’t remember when I passed out. Heck, I didn’t even realize that one could get drunk in one’s dream. I must have made a Total Eclipse of the Heart flowchart because when I came to, I was drooling on it. Dany slept soundly on the couch beside me.
But Solas was gone.
Was he still in my dream? I probably was, and he most likely planned this. Putang Ina.
I immediately roused Dany. We wandered the streets with the frozen faceless crowds calling his name. One thing I realized upon observation was that certain details—things that I didn’t remember well—were blurred out. Like names of souvenir shops or the name of that cigarette store that I couldn’t remember. As we went farther away from St. Catherine and the university, more details started blurring. The fact that some details were more distinct than others hinted at the possibility that he would gravitate towards places that I would remember the most.
Of course, the game lab!
The game lab was within a block of the karaoke bar. We raced towards that reddish-brown university building I knew where the Film and Communications department was.
Yes, he was mostly likely there.
Sprinting up the stairs, the lab door was wide open. The lights above flickered like we were into some horror game. As we entered, several computers lined the walls. The huge whiteboard tracked our game progress of Dragon Age Inquisition. The rest of the PCs were off, but mine was on, and it played that scene from the Trespasser DLC.
Dany slowly approached the screen, studying the figures.
On the screen, there was my avatar—a replica of her. And a replica of Solas.
“I suspect you have questions,” said Solas on the screen.
The version of Dany on the screen answered. “The qunari answered some of those questions. The information I found while travelling the eluvians answered more. You’re Fen’harel. You’re the Dread Wolf.”
“It can’t be…” Dany cried disbelievingly. “Tala, please tell me he’s not…”
“I am afraid it is all true,” Solas answered emerging from the shadows with a staff. “I needed you to see for yourself.”
“You can’t be him. You can’t be…”
She stared at him. Her expression of grief suddenly turned into hate. Her hands started glowing, burning. A fireball formed between her fingers, which she threw in his direction.
It missed its mark but it burned the consoles stocked on the other side of the room.
They circled one another. The fire grew around them, and there was nothing I could do.
Dany cast another fire spell on him, which he blocked with a barrier. Summoning her spirit blade, she charged. He evaded. Her attacks knocked plaques, books, shelves, PCs and tables with board game prototypes.
The sprinklers turned on. The fire alarm started blaring.
In retaliation, he charged his staff with lightning targeting the shelves above, sending a bunch of streaming and VR equipment crashing into her direction. She dodged the shelf but not all of its contents. Without looking at her target, she threw another fireball which created a massive hole on the wall leading to the streets below.
Solas jumped out, and she gave chase.
Unlike them, I would definitely take a lot of damage from jumping three floors, because I am definitely not Superman even in my dreams. So, I grabbed a towel, wetted it on the sink, placed it on my nose and charged down the stairs through the smoke and fire.
Outside, the battle continued. Dany’s reckless attacks burned trees, bikes, park benches, and statues. Solas responded in kind, summoning barriers and occasionally targeting something to distract her. But he never aimed any spells at her. It was as if the attacks that he summoned were designed to simply provoke her more.
What was he doing? Why wasn’t he attacking? True: he still did not have all his powers back yet, but he definitely could do far more damage than that. Why tell her now? Does he have a death wish or something?
Putang Ina. He may actually have a death wish. He wasn’t trying to win this. He was trying to die.
No. This is not the Solas I know. The Solas I know would not just give up.
Finally, Dany’s blade managed to graze him on the arm and cut his staff in half. He fell to his knees. Her eyes started at him coldly, brandishing her blade towards his neck.
Just before she could strike the blow, I threw myself in between then.
“Stop this,” I cried. “Stop this now, please…”
“Stand aside!” Dany barked. “This monster deceived my people. Because of him, my people lost their gods! Because of him, many innocents are dead!”
“If you could only listen to his side of the story…Also, killing him here would make him Tranquil!”
“Then so be it! I have listened to his lies for far too long! And I will not be pulled by his strings any longer.”
I stood completely still. Was I going to die if Dany stabbed me right there? I did not know. Would I go insane? Probably. But at that moment, it was a risk that I was suddenly willing to take.
“Stand aside!” Dany shouted. “He does not deserve your mercy.”
“Maybe he doesn’t. But I don’t want to make a monster of either of you. And I want to believe that people deserve second chances. I want things to be different! Dany, please…”
Her eyes gazed at me for a few moments, her expression softening. She drew back her blade.
Redirecting her eyes at Solas, she said, “It appears that I will have to kill you on another day, on another place. Count yourself fortunate until then, Dread Wolf.”
I mouthed a thank you.
The dream slowly faded away. When I opened my eyes, I was back on my bed. Sunlight peered through the window.
I was probably still in my night clothes, but I did not wait. When I charged through the battlements and the bridge to Solas’ chambers, the marching soldiers probably had a fair glimpse of the shape of my ass, and perhaps a good laugh at my expense. I did not care. I was mad.
He was just preparing his tea. I bolted through his door. Before he could properly greet me, I delivered a round kick to his face, knocking him to the ground.
“Putang. Ina. Mo!” I growled.
“I guess I deserved that,” he muttered, rubbing that side of his cheek that I kicked.
But I wasn’t done. I have Caviteña blood, which overflows when it boils. So when I get mad—I get mad. I was still fuming.
There was a bit of trepidation in his eyes when he noticed that I was not done. “Let’s not be hasty. After all, you did save me last night if you remember…Let’s not waste that.”
“I don’t fucking care! Putang ina mo! You pulled that stunt so I gives me every good reason to kick your ass!”
I chased him all over the room knocking over platforms, paint buckets, brushes and almost everything he had in that room until I could not breathe anymore.
Then I remembered too late that I forgot my inhaler. My breath shortening and my chest tightening, I fell on the ground.
When I came to, Solas sat me on his chair and was getting me to breathe normally.
I tried to hide my embarrassment as much as possible when Solas made me tea with what was left of the pot and his cups. It’s official: I’m the worst fighter in the Inquisition. And all my Caviteña ancestors—who all stood their own in all three wars—would most likely disown me.
“I still can’t believe what you fucking did,” I told him. “You almost broke Dany.”
“Better that she knows now than later.”
“And the rest of your plans?”
“They will keep until we defeat Corypheus…”
“And fuck! Dany almost killed you.”
“But she didn’t,” he said calmly. “Thanks to you.”
After he said those words, the realization came. I was Dread Wolfed. “Wait—so all this time, you knew she wasn’t going to do it? Walang hiyang hayop ka! You used me?”
Maybe I should have been bitter, but I wasn’t. I was actually relieved. Because one of the most horrifying things of that scenario was him simply giving up.
“I took my chances. Truthfully, I wasn’t completely sure, but I had faith in you, Old Friend.”
“Putang ina mo!” I fought back tears of relief while the anger slowly gave way. “Sira ulong pakshet ka…”
His gray eyes peered at me earnestly, as his hand smoothed my injured one. “No matter how many times you cuss at me, Old Friend. I will always be grateful.”
At this point, the tears just came. “Gago! I was so worried! You Motherfucking Discount Elven Magneto Egg Bastard Spock Wanna-be!”
His other hand smoothed my hair as he smiled. “Feel better now?”
“How’s your face?” I asked.
“I hardly felt it actually,” he admitted.
At least he could have lied about that and told me that it hurt a little. Really, that was the best time to lie a little.
Still, I was glad that both of them came out alive out of that ordeal. Obviously, things were going to get a little tense for a while between those two but perhaps it was for the best.
If a Dread Wolf can come clean and a Mad Inquisitor-Queen can show mercy, perhaps there is hope.
Anyone could deserve a second chance.
Caviteña – woman hailing from Cavite, a historic province near Manila—a key area in the Philippine Revolution against Spain, and the birthplace of the First Republic of the Philippines. Caviteña women were known to be fighters, often fighting alongside men in many battles. In this story, Tala’s mom and grandma are Caviteñas.
Gago – translates as “stupid”
La Paz Batchoy – a type of pork-based ramen with origins in Central Philippines. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batchoy
Massage parlour – a place to get a massage, but usually people go there for more than a massage if you take my meaning…
Pakshet – a combination of F and S. LOL.
Putang Ina Mo—well, the full version of you know what.
Sira ulo -- crazy
Walang hiyang hayop ka— translates as “You shameless animal!”
Duterte’s Drug War - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atuqx5Ubr5o&t=380s
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DLZgG15c-o&t=218s
Lethal Injections - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lTczPEG8iI&t=584s
My Way killings - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Way_killings
Another chapter done! Thank you so much for the kudo’es and the reads. I will need more editing and I am still in need of a beta. So if anyone wants to volunteer, feel free to tell me.
I actually considered using Solas’ POV for this, but as I was writing it out, it was revealing too much, to soon, so I switched back to Tala’s more limited perspective. Hopefully this build up is worth it.
Also, there’s a reason why Solas calls Tala an “old friend.” And I will not spoil it here. But people can guess in the comments if they want to.
Tala’s Total Eclipse of the Heart flowchart probably looks a lot like this: https://www.reddit.com/r/funnycharts/comments/244adv/total_eclipse_of_the_heart_flowchart/
Chapter 7: Proposal
Yellow Fever exists in Skyhold... Also, there's a wedding in this chapter.
“For the last time, Lord Bennick: I cannot accept your proposal!” I firmly declared, moving as far away from him as I possibly could.
Lord Bennick protested, giving chase, “But how will I bear it if you continually torment me with your exotic eyes and your skin the color of—”
“Motherf—” I stopped myself, for Josephine’s sake. This guy may be a racist turd but he’s a noble racist turd. Not to mention, we were just outside the Great Hall where nobles gathered. “No: means no!”
Five months at Skyhold and I got my fair share of creeps. It was moments like those that remind me that Thedas is not too different from Earth with the amount of people affected with yellow fever and Asian fetishes. On Earth, I too got my fair share of dick pics and creepy Tinder messages, multiplied by three. Too bad Thedas has no block button.
“Is there a problem here?” Cassandra towered above him, her eyes glowering as she crossed her arms.
“No—nothing, Lady Cassandra!” he stumbled. “I was just on my way…”
I couldn’t almost contain my smile as Lord Bennick scrambled away as quickly as he came.
Thank God for Cassandra. Fine, I take it back. Thedas may not have a block button but it has Cassandra.
Ever since that incident with Solas, I traded my copy of Jane Eyre for hand-to-hand fighting lessons with Cassandra. My recent adventures taught me that though I am surrounded by the most skillful fighters in all of Thedas, I would be amiss to not learn a thing or two from them. If I was going to learn discipline, the best person I could learn it from was Cassandra.
Staring at Cassandra’s towering figure, I suddenly remembered that I forgot to tell her that I was not going to make it to that late afternoon’s session, due to the events of the day—an assembly ball to celebrate The Herald’s first issue, and Agnes and Rylen’s wedding. And I was already in my rose-colored bridesmaid dress that Agnes specifically sewed for the occasion. The fact that they were happening on the same day was chaos enough, so I made the necessary arrangements so Varric take point on the first one, while I attended to the latter.
I totally forgot and I thought I was so dead. “Oh my God, I am sorry! I meant to send a note through a messenger but I was completely distracted. I am so sorry!”
The livid look on her face lingered as she approached and grabbed my wrist. “The way to escape a wrist hold,” she explained. “Rotate your wrist toward my thumb.”
Rotating my wrist, I obeyed.
“Now pull with all your strength and kick me!” she commanded.
I did as she asked, but only kicking her lightly.
“Not enough.” She barked. “Again.”
I repeated the motion ten more times until she was satisfied. We practiced in full view of early assembly attendants who were either a bit shocked or started avoiding us.
“Good,” Cassandra commended me. “Now no one would care to bother you again for the rest of the evening.”
I thanked her. Yes, she was always stern, but she always looked out for me.
Thedas weddings are much simpler than Earth weddings. There are no bridal showers, bachelor parties or bridal registries. What it usually involved was a notice posted on a church or chapel door a week prior, vows and a few witnesses. Not a lot of fanfare compared to Earth weddings.
I knew for a while that Agnes and Rylen were getting married. But after Rylen got reassigned to the Western Approach, they decided to accelerate their plans so the new family could stay together. This was also going to be their last evening at Skyhold.
Music swelled through the great hall as I entered. Leliana smiled and Josephine greeted guests near the entrance. Vivienne was already starting to cosy up to the rest of the nobles. Dorian mostly observed from the sidelines. Solas was sipping wine by the corner of a statue, raising his glass at me when he met my eyes. Finally, I saw Varric shifting in the corner by the fire, perhaps not used to those types of starched collared shirts not showing his chest hair. He read from a small piece of paper beside him—the speech I helped him write. When he looked up, he gave me a thumbs up.
All was going as well as I hoped. It was not every day that one can attend a party such as this, but there was somewhere else I needed to be.
When I got to the chapel, Agnes and Rylen were already there, with Mother Giselle and a chantry sister cradling Edith who slept in her arms. I inserted a couple of camellias on Agnes’ braids while Rylen glanced at her adoringly. I was about to ask if we were waiting for someone else when Cullen rushed in, offering his apologies for being delayed.
Of course, he also had to be there.
I kept my surprise to myself. Why should I mind that he’s there? We’re both colleagues and friends of the bride and groom. Nothing has to be awkward. And we see each other every single day for our jobs.
The ceremony proceeded. Mother Giselle read words from the chant of light, while Agnes and Rylen only had eyes for each other. Both of them cried as they read their vows. There was an exchange of rings and finally the kiss.
Beyond the walls of Skyhold, there was still a war. But for a moment, I forgot about it. In that small chapel, I remembered that love exists in this world.
Afterwards, we feasted at the Tavern. Maryden sang love songs. Rylen bought all the soldiers drinks.
Cullen and I sat in one table with the bride and groom. The serving girl brought us our fare of roasted veal, bread and pies. After she left, she came back and placed a bowl of rice beside my plate. I called her back, “Oh, I didn’t exactly order this...”
“No you didn’t,” she smirked. “But he did for you, miss.” Her eyes were directed at Cullen.
My cheeks must have reddened immensely. Agnes and Rylen stared in awkward surprise, while Cullen stoically continued eating.
Rice at Skyhold was not exactly common. Not a lot of people ate it, and our supply come all the way from Antiva. Yet, the fact that rice does existed in Thedas made me extremely happy. It makes Thedas livable as I do not think I would be able to survive without it.
Agnes and Rylen snickered. Cullen shrugged. “What? Don’t pretend that you weren’t going to get some. You eat it with everything.”
“She does!” Agnes quipped. “Even with oats she still eats it.”
He added, “And she also has this curious ability to point at everything with just her lips.”
I protested. “I do not!”
“You do. In fact, you did it again the other day when I passed by your office for Josephine’s report.”
“Really, I don’t…”
“Oh really, my lady?” Cullen challenged playfully. “Now would you care to direct me as to where the Iron Bull usually sits?”
As if by instinct, my lips puckered and pointed to where the Bull was drinking his beer with the Chargers.
A roar of laughter ensured. I glared at Cullen.
Agnes was almost crying as she laughed. “I know! The first time she did it, I was confused too, Commander. But then, this is why we love her.”
Cullen took a swig of his pint and smiled. “Yes, we do. Yes, we do.”
Well played, Discount Chris Evans. I shall be avenged.
When they finished laughing, I gulped a bit of Ferelden beer and began. “Cullen here is a sore loser at Wicked Grace.”
Cullen’s brow quirked. “We have not played Wicked Grace yet.”
“No, but we will and you will lose to Josephine. And you will stubbornly keep on playing until you lose all your clothes. And oh, many will relish your walk of shame back to the barracks…”
He directed his gaze at me as if in a challenge and with mock concern. “Milady, are you telling me to prevent this from happening?”
I met his eyes back. “No: I am saying this because it speaks of the kind of man you are. You are that man who would rather stubbornly lose all his clothes and bear that walk of shame rather than forfeit any battle. You are that man who keeps on fighting. In fact, I know you will still challenge Josephine and lose even after I say all this. Am I not right?”
He did not answer. Instead, he swallowed the rest of his beer in response.
I was right.
“And this is why he is our Commander!” Rylen raised his glass. “To the Commander: long may you fight until you lose all your small clothes.”
Afterwards, both Cullen and I made toasts to the couple. With a lot of coaxing from Agnes, I played and sang “Thinking Out Loud” for them while they danced, avoiding Cullen’s gaze the entire time as he proved to be very distracting. Then they retired to an upstairs room for the night.
I then retired to the tallest part of the battlements with a small pint. It was dark out but I wanted to imagine what lay beyond the walls, the snow, the mountains and the invisible horizon. I had been living in Thedas for several months now and yet I had not seen much beyond those mountains that block my horizon. I know I do need to go home, but there were still a lot of places to see in Thedas and I have not seen them.
“What? No songs tonight?” Cullen teased as he approached with his own glass of beer.
I turned. “You’ve been listening?”
He occupied the space beside me. “Just every night.”
Oh, God. And my song selections had been very random and emo. Tangina.
“You don’t have to be embarrassed,” he said quickly. “Though I could not understand them all, your songs are beautiful. They sound very genuine, and they speak a lot about emotions in the world you lived in. Though at times they can be very personal…”
Personal is the understatement of the year. He said all of that as if he was merely stating facts. Yes, he was awkward a lot of times, but he sometimes just knew what to say. Tangina, why does he have to be so fucking perfect?
Taking another drink from his mug, he pointed out, “You’ve not gone a lot beyond Skyhold’s walls…”
“I know,” I replied. “A shame.”
“Well, you are no prisoner here. With the Inquisition’s resources, we can go anywhere.”
I gave him a slightly puzzled look. We…the Inquisition’s soldiers most likely.
“Just the other day I spotted the perfect area for a camp by a river only a few miles from here. We killed a couple of wyverns on the way, but other than that it’s blissfully quiet.”
“Wyverns and one large bear…”
Jesus. “Oh God. On second thoughts, staying in Skyhold is not such a bad idea…”
“Really?” he asked a bit dejectedly. “Pity. I just thought that maybe you and I could have used the break…”
Wait, what? Did he just indirectly ask me out on a date? And did I just accidentally just turn him down? Tangina.
“That’s not what I meant!” I followed up quickly.
He knitted his brows. Gosh, this is awkward.
“What I mean to say is, I really won’t mind it as long as there are no bears or wyverns.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he replied, looking somewhat relieved. “I’ll come up with another idea then.”
Okay, that was bad. But I played it cool. Dalagang Filipina. Just play it cool. If I played it cool, I thought, I could get another chance at this.
We continued to drink our beers in silence. And I got a few moments to pause. Because really? Cullen almost asking me out on a date? It’s surreal. I must be high. Or getting drunk.
He cleared his throat. “So, where do you see yourself when this war is over?”
I raised an eyebrow at him. What the heck is this? A job interview?
The question caught me off guard though. Honestly, I never really thought about it.
I replied honestly, “I figured that I would have found my way home by then.”
“Oh, right, I almost…” he scratched the back of his head. “By home you mean…your own world?”
“Yup, that place called Earth.”
But then I thought about it, it’s been months, and I haven’t managed to find a way to get home. I had been endlessly charging and recharging my recorder and phone to at least find clues on what got me to Thedas, but no. Just hours and hours of ambient sound and material that I use for sound art. And there was still more to go through. My hands were getting more and more scratches from the wires every single day. And Dorian has not found a single clue either. I’ve been there for months, and so far, nothing.
The reality came. I could be stuck in Thedas forever. I didn’t know when I started crying.
“What’s wrong?” Cullen interrupted with a worried look on his face.
“I don’t know when I’ll ever get home…” I sobbed.
I’m not usually emotional. It could have been the beer. Tangina, why was I so emo?
“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “I’ll stop crying. I swear, I don’t always do this…”
“Even if you do,” he muttered under his breath. “You’re still…”
“Nothing.” He said defensively. “Absolutely nothing.”
“You are an excellent liar.”
Then my tears gave way to light cackles. This man could put easily swing me from one emotion to another and I could hardly feel the whiplash.
“Where would you want to go then?” he asked. “If you could go anywhere here in Thedas?”
“Gosh, I don’t know. I’ve been here within these walls for so long, so any place would be a good change.”
He started pacing. “So, after this war is over and if you’re still here…would you…would you care to travel with me to South Reach to visit my family?”
It occurred to me that he had not seen his family literally in decades. In situations such as these, I supposed that bringing a friend might make things less awkward. But then, I also asked a girl who’s had a massive crush on him in like, forever. So, what is this?
Perhaps noting my confusion, he continued putting as much care into his words as he possibly could, “It does not have to mean anything…”
“Right…” I nodded trying to mask my disappointment.
“But if it does…if you don’t mind it meaning anything…once you meet them, I also would want you to consider one other important question…”
“What question?” I asked dumbfounded.
“Maker’s breath woman!” he said in frustration. “You’ve been receiving them all week!”
Oh. My. God. That question. I could only stare at him in surprise. It was hard to decide if this was going too fast or too slow. And I could hardly believe what I was hearing.
“I apologize,” he said quickly. “It’s just that…all week long, Josephine has been, well…Maker, I am a fool. And now would be a good time for you to at least say something…Pootah Inha or whatever it is you have to say…”
For yet another moment, I still stayed silent in a bit of a shock. He turned leave.
“Yes!” I cried. I didn’t know which question I was exactly saying yes to, but I said it anyway. I just didn’t want him leaving.
At first, the darkness obscured his face, but when he came close, the expression on his face was one of shock and joy. “Yes?”
“Yes.” I repeated as he gently smoothed loose strands from my braids.
He slowly inched closer. I closed my eyes as he lowered his head towards mine. I could feel his hitched breathing, a hand reaching for my hips and the touch of his fingers at the corner of my lips.
I expected the touch of his lips at any second, but then I heard a terrified gasp. I felt a violent push before I met the ground.
Upon opening my eyes, I watched as his eyes widen in horror and stare at blank space. His hands shuddered as he gripped his head. “Maker, no! Not her…not her…not her face…”
Getting up, I rushed to him. “Cullen, I’m here. You’re safe...” I said gently turning his eyes to mine, hoping he would wake up from this. “You’re safe. I’m here.” His grip tightened on my arm.
Finally, the brown in his eyes returned to their former gentleness as I continually called out to him. But then, perhaps seeing the scratch on my arm and the state of my dress, he gasped anew in shock. “Maker, what did I do?”
“I’m fine, Cullen,” I assured him. “Really.”
“Maker, I’m sorry,” he cried. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
I held him reassuring him that I was fine, but then he loosened my grip.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated regretfully. “I can’t do this.”
With that, he hastily left as soon as he came. I didn’t want him to go.
I had a few proposals that week. Most of them were from douchebags. But this was the only one that made me cry.
Tangina: shortened version of “Putang Ina.”
Music for the week: “Balang Araw” (Someday) – I Belong to the Zoo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cWuVBDoyek)
Translation: https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/I-Belong-to-the-Zoo/Balang-Araw/translation/english - not the best and it’s a bit literal but it will do.
I just had to put this here because this literally popped into my head as I was writing that last bit.
A/N: Short chapter this week. It’s supposed to be a longer chapter, but I decided to cut it in two. Not only does it make sense thematically, but I also think there should be an angst quota each week. LOL. If things are getting too angsty please do let me know.
Of course, there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes that our POV character does not know. Those will be explored further in the next chapter.
Thanks to the Dragon Age Fanfiction Readers and Writers facebook group for telling me that there’s rice in Thedas. Because really, I think Tala would go insane a week without rice.
Yay for the Raptors. I'm still high on it. LOL.
Chapter 8: A Canticle of Silence
Tala stumbles upon an old mystery, and this mystery is one that surrounds Cullen's almost-ex.
There’s always no easy way to say goodbye, especially if it’s a goodbye that to a person that one will not get to see for perhaps a very long time. But the more one practices saying them, it gets a little better each time.
The first time I had to say goodbye like that was to Lola in an airport as I was about to leave for Canada with Mom. I cried even after my tears dried out, and Mom annoyed stewardesses to keep me hydrated on that 20-hour flight. I thought I was not going to see Lola again.
The second time was during my university graduation. I knew a lot of my friends were moving on, and I was about to set off to Britain for my masters. The third time was when I had to say goodbye to friends I made during my MA. While it’s true that I only spent a year with them, for that year, my life revolved around my studies and them.
But I had to move on. Because life is about moving on and changing. Change always happens no matter how we want time to just stay still.
When we move on, we try to pack up as much of the love that other person gives us to bring with us. Be always, we leave parts of ourselves behind. Either that or we get left behind, and they leave parts of themselves with you.
Thankfully, each time it gets a little better. Each time, it gets less painful, and one cries less and less.
I tried not to cry when Agnes left.
Because once, I would have saved a hundred Havens if it meant knowing that she would be safe. But of course, she too had to move on.
This time, I was the one staying behind.
I held her tightly one last time, before she climbed up the wagon with Rylen and Edith and bid me to write her. With the sound of a whip, the wagon slowly retreated and disappeared into the mountains.
Letters are not like emails. Oftentimes, it takes weeks for them to get to their destination, and I sometimes forget about what I wrote about in my last letter. In her last letter, she told me about how they were adjusting to desert life, and there were a lot of notes about sand than I cared to know about. Still, she was becoming a regular Lawrence of Arabia, minus the orientalism.
In turn, I wrote about everyday happenings at Skyhold, like the new infirmaries and the new school that I helped establish for soldiers, scouts and their children. To be sure, most of the teachers came from within the Chantry, but with some correspondence with the University of Orlais, we managed to get a few outside the influence of the Chantry. And of course, there were Dany’s dragons. There was another addition who Dany started calling Irri who Dany befriended at the Western Approach. And we found a draconologist, who would help us study the dragons and herd them towards an island just a bit off he Storm Coast.
Of course, there were things that I had to omit from my letters.
For instance, I could not write tell her everything about Dany or Solas. Every single day, it seemed that Dany remembered more and more of her old life. Yet she also maintained that she is a different person, which I would very much believe as she also has lived her life as a mage and as an elf. Poor little thing. While it seemed that things were still a little tense between her and Solas—for one thing, getting them to sit together in one table was hard—but eventually, the two had seemed to come to an understanding. Though she hated having the Dread Wolf in the Inquisition, they did agree to work together to stop Corypheus. The three of us had agreed to not speak about anything of what happened that night in my dreams, although the rest of the Inquisition did hear about my rampage on Solas’ room the next day. I basically told everyone that I PMS’ed. Not everyone believed it though—particularly Leliana, Vivienne, Sera, Cassandra and Josephine. Of course, they knew that that was not exactly how PMS works. But hey, what else could I say anyway? And at least Dany and Solas won’t kill each other, at least not yet.
And of course, there was Cullen.
After what happened at the night of Agnes and Rylen’s wedding, he went to my office the next evening to try to apologize. Josephine quickly ducked out as soon as she saw Cullen. Damn Josephine to leave me alone at a time like this. Cullen paced around by the fire, perhaps carefully considering the best words to explain why he shut me down.
Before he could say anything, I roused everything that was calm and rational within me. “There’s no need to explain anything, Cullen,” I said with as much reassurance in my voice as I could possibly muster. “We’re both adults and we had a lot of beer. And in your case, the alcohol may have triggered some…unnecessary complications.”
“Unnecessary complications?” he repeated with a slight tone of scornfulness. “You do have your way of understating things…”
“And what would you call it then?” I asked, masking my annoyance.
“I was…” He paused. “I was trying to tell you how I felt. And for a moment, I thought you felt the same. I expected you to be angry at me at least…”
“Clearly, I am not, aren’t I?” It was more of a declaration than a question, really.
“I never expected you to be so…” He never finished that sentence, but I knew what he meant to say. Cruel. That’s right.
But in the immortal words of Hamlet or Shakespeare—I must be cruel only to be kind.
Also, he was the one who shut me down. Tangina, how was I the one who was cruel? But I kept that to myself.
With that, he left.
Perhaps I should have been mad. But right then, the only thing I knew was that I was tired. I was tired of hoping. In some cases, certain kinds of hope would only be painful in the end, especially if one has to leave eventually.
This was how I practiced saying goodbye.
Things like these were things that Agnes did not need to know. There is no need to make her sad on my account.
“Seeress!” Mother Giselle called one morning as I wrote by the garden. “It is time for the morning devotion.”
A few minutes later, the sisters gathered in the small chapel. I was summoned to its center to sing, and I picked an old hymn that I knew well.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
A moment of silence ensued, and then the Chant was read. A passage from the Canticle of Apotheosis:
The legion doused the pyre around her with lamp oil
As Andraste called out in a great voice:
"Maker of the World, forgive them! They have lived too long in shadow
Without Your Light to guide them! Be with Your children now, O Maker!
The Archon stood upon the dais and declared:
"Today, I end this war!" And by will alone
Drew fire from air and set the pyre aflame.
The sisters called for another moment of reflection. Five minutes passed, and then Mother Giselle called for everyone to speak.
A sister raised her hand. “The text describes our Lady’s mercy, which should be extended even unto the undeserving.”
More hands were raised, and soon voices filled the room, adding to more reflections about mercy and humility. “So we too,” another sister declared, “Must be humble, even unto death by the fire.”
When there was nothing else to be said, all went to their knees in prayer. Mother Giselle pronounced the end of the morning’s devotion.
On Earth, I was really not one for organized religion. Though Mom did press me to go to youth groups when I was younger and one terrible Christian dating book almost convinced me to kiss dating goodbye. Yet, there was always something about the sisters’ reflections that drew me in. I did not believe in the Maker, but these were all women leading in faith and worship—something I did not often see on Earth. So, when Mother Giselle asked if I could play some songs that I know from my world on morning devotions, I appeased her, and by this particular time, I had been doing it for a month. I do not believe in the Maker, but there was always some comfort in this community of women simply taking about a text that they love and their faith.
“What do you think of today’s reflections?” Mother Giselle asked as we exited the chapel.
“They remind me of stories my Mother used to tell me from my world,” I answered.
“Stories?” Mother Giselle repeated incredulously. “Does the Maker not exist in your world?”
“I think Andraste and your Maker may exist in different forms. Some of the stories are the same.”
A smile formed on her wide lips. “In the future, you have to tell me some of these stories.”
I nodded. One could always wonder what she would think if I had told her that in our world, Andraste’s equivalent was a man on Earth.
Before I proceeded to the breakfast hall, Mother Giselle gently handed me a small brown leather-bound volume. “A copy of the Chant of Light. A token of the sisters’ appreciation.”
I quickly poured through it. It was surprisingly not a boring book. There were epic battles, betrayals, tragic love stories, and a lot of poetry. One time, as I just opened my copy to begin reading by the garden, something flashed in my head.
The smell of dusty volumes. A warm feeling inside me as I find another letter tucked inside an old tattered of the Chant. One of many outdated editions that lined the shelves in that dimly lit part of the Library. The same red volume that always bears his letters. The same one that carries mine to him. A templar. I do not know his name, yet he knows mine. My Silent Friend, I call him. He never mentioned his name, but he tells me about the world outside these walls. Today’s letter contains a pencil sketch of me and a story about him playing chess with his sister. Will I ever feel the warmth of the sunlight? Will I ever get to meet him?
A flash of sunlight to my eyes reawakened me from my trance. Dammit, I came to just before I got to see the sketch.
What was that? It was like I was someone else for a few minutes. It happened before as I sat playing chess with Cullen. I had a very good idea of whose memories I was experiencing, but why me? Why now? Endless questions enumerated themselves in my head—question that will remain unanswered at least until Dany, Dorian or Solas come back.
And no: Cullen was not an option. It was bad enough that his somewhat-ex was literally messing with my head. So I wrote a note to the next best person.
I write this to ask if it were possible for your scouts and spies to investigate a matter at Kinloch.
This concerns a certain mage called Solana Amell, who was a resident around ten years ago just before the Fifth Blight. If you could find any record of her or clues of her whereabouts, would it be possible to forward them to my office?
Moreover, information of related individuals—a mage named Jowan and First Enchanter Irving would also be of great help.
Under no circumstances should Commander Cullen know that I am investigating this. Hence, I prefer that we communicate about this matter in this form.
I do hope you understand.
If anything, our Natasha Romanov would at least know something.
Her reply was swift. I immediately read her reply as soon as one of her scouts came running to me.
I must admit that I was surprised by your note.
The name “Amell” is one that is familiar to me, as it bears association with the Champion of Kirkwall.
In my travels with Maggie—Margaret Cousland, we have encountered First Enchanter Irving whose magic was instrumental in saving one little boy at Redcliffe, and who led the mages at the Battle of Denerim. As for the mage Jowan, he’s been known to have caused all the troubles of Redcliffe, but word was that he escaped Redcliffe’s cells.
After the mage rebellion, acquiring information about individual mages can prove to be a challenge.
Nonetheless, I will forward any information I find to your office.
You can rely on my silence regarding this matter. Though I suspect that your interest in this relates to your interest in our dear Commander?
I ignored that last bit and sent her a short note of thanks.
A few days later, as I took out books from the shelves in the library, I was struck with another of these trance-like memories.
Tomorrow, I will be harrowed, and it may be the end of me. I asked him to return all my letters and to place them in a box on some loose steps on the way to the third floor. I wasn’t supposed to look, but I saw him.
It’s him. The boy who kept my secret.
Dammit! Though I had a good idea of who that person is, Solana tends to pull back on the most inconvenient time possible. I wanted to see him at least. Still, that got me another clue to give Leliana.
A week later, I finally received some things—a stack of letters, a comb with a familiar crest engraved on it, and a short note from Leliana.
My Dear Friend,
I have made inquiries regarding those other names you mentioned. Reports indicate that First Enchanter Irving died shortly after the Blight—age perhaps catching up to him. Thus, the leadership of the Ferelden circle has then changed hands.
There’s very little of his letters or effects left, as he seemed to have instructed most of his students to burn all his letters. However, this comb bearing the Amell crest, retrieved from a chest with some of his old books in his old office. Perhaps it may have some association with the Amell of interest?
As for your elusive Solana Amell, my contacts at Kirkwall trace the name to the Amell family registry as the eldest daughter of Revka Amell and one of the first of her children to be taken by the Circle more than twenty years ago. Sadly, all of those children—sent to various Circles--seemed to all have perished around the time of the Blight, or the Mage rebellion. As for Solana Amell, she was accused of conspiracy with a blood mage—Jowan as stated—and was sentenced for imprisonment at Aonar. With great scandal to the Ferelden circle, she made a spectacle of burning herself as she was bring transported out of the Circle in full view of all the mages and templars. This is mostly interpreted and believed to be a final an act of defiance.
However, still no word on the mage Jowan.
My scouts have retrieved the letters in the exact location you have given. Among these letters is a sketch that could prove to be of interest to you.
I dropped all the letters to the floor as soon as I saw the sketch mentioned. It was a portrait of someone in mage robes.
Someone with my face.
And her name was Solana Amell.
Short chapter this week. I barely had time to write as I had a lot of things going on this week. But I am hoping to write more with the Quebec holidays this weekend and the next. No promises though, since I’ll also be doing some traveling.
Nonetheless, expect a lot of letters between young Cullen and Solana in the next chapter. It’s one of the reasons why this is short, since I want the letters to be self-contained.
Originally, this chapter, the next one and the one after that was intended to be all in one chapter in my outline, but I decided to slow things down a bit, especially since this is the second most important “mystery” in this fic.
So I will go above the 25 chapters that I planned, but hopefully, it won’t go over thirty chapters as per my estimate.
I hope people saw this Solana twist coming, and hopefully this is the right time to give this away. I did drop so many hints in the previous chapters, from some of Cullen’s dialogue to some of Tala’s song choices—Wuthering Heights or the Moonlight Densetsu. But then what I expect and what readers pay attention to are something out of my control. Still, I hope I did it justice.
If you're curious who "Margaret Cousland" was named after, it's Margaret Hale from Gaskell's North and South, who I suspect Tala read in university. My guess is, Tala relates to the notion of being transplanted like Margaret Hale as a fellow "migrant." Also, the 2004 adaptation of North and South is a must watch. Just saying.
Still editing like the rest of my chapters, so forgive any errors as I still have no beta.
Now to the letters.
Chapter 9: Notes in the Dark
A compilation of letters between one deceased mage and one templar recruit
- d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 e6 4. Nf3 d5 5. e3 c6 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. Ne2…
Is this what templars do to keep awake?
Interesting. A stonewall countered with another stonewall…
But this game needs to begin: Black Knight to D7.
If I recall correctly, this is a two-player game.
--Someone equally bored
How do you know that I’m a templar?
I can easily be another apprentice simply passing the time on Enchanter Passereau’s potions class.
Knight to G5.
--That Hypothetical Templar
A response? How curious…
I read all of the First Enchanter’s letters, assist in marking papers and occasionally write his letters. I am quite familiar of most enchanters,’ apprentices’ and most senior templars’ handwriting. The fact that I have not seen yours means that you are new here.
Really, G5? You are falling asleep.
Mage captures on H2. Check.
--That other bored person
I am certainly awake now.
I met you once, I am certain. But then, you may not remember who I am.
King to H1.
A name would be useful. Or better specifics. I am sure I have talked to and passed every templar behind these walls. So yes, we definitely have met.
I guess you have me at a disadvantage, as you know me but I do not seem to know you. Not even a little hint?
Knight to G4.
--Someone who is curious as to who she is corresponding to.
No specifics. It is necessary to protect your secrets as well as mine.
But I do know one thing: You look pretty, especially when you have that pensive smile on your face when you read. A good book I imagine?
Pawn to F4.
I do know that it important to defend one’s knights.
--Someone who hopes to remain a friend
I see. You know how to use flattery as a distraction.
But names do matter. Otherwise, how would I know that you’re not a ghost or a serial murderer. Or maybe a ghost serial murderer.
No matter: if you prefer not to give names I shall bestow one on you.
I have thought of a few.
I initially thought of calling you “Dear Templar” but I find that too generic, and I feel like I am judging you based on your selected profession. Then I thought of “Dear Lyrium Drinker” but that sounds too insulting to you. I don’t think taking lyrium defines you as a person. I thought of “Dear Mage Watcher” but that one is insulting to me. So, I dub you My Silent Friend as silence seems to be what you insist on.
I don’t mind you calling me by name as any friend would. While it is true that some other person would easily pick up this old volume, I do not mind gambling.
Queen to E8.
PS As you can see, I am not afraid of names. What are they going to do, surround me with more templars?
It is no flattery. It is the truth.
Pawn to G3.
Very well. I will take that name. It is certainly better than “ghost-serial-murderer.”
Dear Mr. Silent,
Queen to H5.
I would try to return the compliment, but I don’t know what you look like.
Is your hair black, brown, blonde or are you perchance a ginger? I hope you’re not bald. You’re probably too young to be bald anyway. We’re both too young to be bald.
And wouldn’t it be nice to write to someone and be able to picture the color of their eyes?
Today I tried to speak to a boy. One of your friends, I bet. I owe him a debt, and I want to thank him, but he keeps running away.
In some ways, he reminds me of you—shy, kind and great at evasion.
Are mages all that terrifying to you templars? Is this why you keep your distance?
If I ever get to meet you, I promise to not turn you into a toad.
His eyes are brown, I think. A superior color.
Would a day ever come when I could look into your eyes?
You looked rather sullen earlier after today’s sermon.
Is anything the matter?
PS King to G2.
My Ever Silent Friend,
Ah, so you were there too.
In that case, have you not heard anything that Mother Petula said? She said that the Maker detests magic. I refuse to believe it. After all, did not the Maker also create the Fade?
The Maker she speaks of is narrow-minded, irrational, mean, unjust and bigoted.
I know a lot of people worship this version of the Maker, and it is pitiable. A lot of these people are better and more good-natured than their Maker.
As for me, I imagine a Maker who is good, kind, forgiving and one who has a sense of humor.
After all, whose idea was it to let two people communicate through a dusty old book?
I feel better now. I found a small spot with a little sunlight via a small crack close to a summoning font. Sometimes, a little bit of sunlight works miracles.
This is the Maker I know.
Mage to H1.
A much more cheerful,
PS It’s spring now outside is it not?
PPS. As it is nearing my birthday, would you kindly leave my bishop alone?
My Dear Lady,
As you have no means to see the Spring, allow your servant to bring the Spring to you.
Crystal Grace does not grow much on this side of the lake, but my finding it is a lot like finding you. Unexpected and undeserved, much like the Maker’s blessing.
Also: Happy birthday.
Knight captures Mage on G1.
I hope my lady forgives me.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Thank you for the flowers. They’re the loveliest things I have ever received or at least remember receiving. I shall treasure them until the end of their time. Along with this old comb, which was the last thing I ever got from my Mother.
And you are forgiven. But I shall have my revenge.
Queen to H2. Check.
What is your opinion on Cook’s barley stew? I think she’s holding out on us on the garlic and other spices.
Also, cats or mabari?
Your ever curious,
My Dear Lady,
As for the stew, as long as she does not hold out on the sausage, I would be perfectly fine with it.
Why do you ask?
King to F3.
Silent Friend, who at this point is also silently confused
PS I have heard some mages occasionally enthusiastically talk about going to the stacks. What do they usually mean by that?
My Dear Silent Friend,
Aha! You’re Fereldan!
As much as I dislike stereotypes as the next person, you my dear sir, are a walking stereotype.
Regarding the stacks, do you REALLY want to know?
Pawn to E5.
My Dear Lady,
Pawn from D4 takes pawn on E5.
I will regret this won’t I?
My Unknowing Silent Friend,
Delicate maidens never discuss what happens in the stacks. And the events that occur there can occur whether its participants are fully clothed or not. While ghosts are rumored to exist there, the moaning comes from an entirely different source if you take my meaning.
It’s both a metaphor and an actual space for said metaphor.
Now do you regret asking?
Now my turn to ask: have you ever gone to the stacks?
Knight captures pawn on E5.
My Dear Lady,
No. Absolutely not! Not that I wouldn’t, but…never mind.
Maker’s fiery breath…
Silent Friend, who at this point is also silently mortified
PS But all the same, have you ever…?
My Dear Silent Sir,
Maker, you are all too amusing. I can imagine you blushing. It’s adorable.
No. But I am not clueless either. Blame Anders not shutting up about his, well, exploits in that area. So, as it is in most areas of life, I can say that I am well versed in theory if not in practice.
Why? Does that matter to you?
Also, you forgot to move.
My Dear Lady,
My apologies. Pawn on E4 captures Knight on E5.
I would remind myself not to embarrass myself with regards to you. I promise to be nothing short of honorable with everything.
Let’s change the subject: I heard you hail from Kirkwall. What do you miss the most about it?
Silent Friend, who is still silently mortified
My Dear Adorable Silent Sir,
I do believe in your promise of honor. No matter how fickle this world is, I would want to believe in you even though I don’t know your name.
As for your question, I barely remember my hometown, as I was hardly seven when the templars came for me. But there are some sensations that I remember like the smell of the sea, the sound of merchants cackling outside my window, my nurse’s old tales and my mother’s lullabys.
Sometimes, I try to imagine my life if I or any of my sisters never had magic. I would have been a noble lady at Kirkwall. I would have been able to use my money and property to help the unfortunate at Lowtown. Who knows? I perhaps could have been Viscount. Noble men would try to marry me, but I would put them in their place.
If not, I can at least travel anywhere I want and be friends with anyone I want without any secrecy. And I will gladly take all of my friends around the Kirkwall of my mind.
But then I realize that had I been this lady, I would not have met you, or Jowan or Anders. In days when I remember my friends, my days here become a bit more bearable.
All the same, I would have loved it if you were in my Kirkwall.
Now to you: where would you like to go if you were not here?
Knight takes pawn on E5. Check.
My Dearest Lady,
There’s a small dock by a lake near the village I grew up in. Out side the occasionally quacking of ducks and geese, it’s very much undisturbed. I often went there to escape my sisters and my younger brother. If we were not here, I would take you there.
With your story, I am surprised that you bear no ill-will against us templars. Nonetheless, I am glad that you don’t. It speaks well of you that you don’t fall to prejudice.
Perhaps another one of your virtues, mind you.
King to F4.
Silent Friend, who appreciates your virtues silently from a distance
My Silent Friend,
I am no angel.
I must confess, I did not think of templars too well at some point. Because I was very young when templars arrived one day at our house for me. I did not even get to say goodbye to my mother, my father or my sisters. I was told that my mother wandered the streets crying for me, and all my sisters taken to different soon after. I don’t know if I will ever see or hear from them again. Call this sacrilege but any system that tears apart families like this needs to change. Anyone who sees this and does nothing is either blind or a bigoted sadist. So yes, for a time, I did not exactly have a good opinion on templars.
What’s worse is that because of my other strange magical abilities, which is probably not news to you, I usually have more templars watching me. Last time I heard another creature’s voice, involved that commotion with the dragon that you have undoubtedly heard of.
But some time ago, one kind templar perhaps took pity on me. We never spoke, but he kept one of my secrets the same as you do this one. You’ve met him, I bet. There are not a lot of handsome templars among your batch of new recruits. And I wish there was some way to thank him. There’s also a part of me that always wonders, does he remember or think about that moment the same way that I do?
But that may be just me.
Anyway, my situation is not all too bad anyway. I have gotten used to the distant company. This other friend actually was assigned in my presence a few times. I have not had the opportunity to thank him yet, as there are always many others around us, but at least I get to see him.
So there, I have learned to find some templars agreeable, including yourself.
Affectionately and hopefully not too sacrilegious,
PS It is not easy for me to write about these things. Normally, I would keep these opinions to myself with the exception of Jowan or Anders, but as my friend, I would hope that you would understand.
My Dearest Lady,
As you have expressed your gratitude, I am very sure that in some way that other person is also very grateful in the opportunity to serve you and would be infinitely happy to know those sentiments though he may have some trouble expressing them.
We, templars, have all vowed ourselves in service of the Maker and his children. Though it is easier to speak of love through service, expressing love through words takes a bit of practice. Sometimes, telling people that you love them is the hardest. I have yet to write my sister. In my own way, this is how I practice.
As for your opinions, you have nothing to fear from me. To be quite honest, I have not really thought about situations such as yours. We never hear those kinds of stories, only stories that bolster our resolve and service to the Maker. While we prize obedience above all, perhaps we ought to remember compassion. But admittedly, it is always hard to remember compassion when we are also taught to fear.
I admire your courage, my lady.
Though duty will always be paramount, you have nothing to fear from me.
In a perfect world, we would have nothing to fear from each other.
Yours but for now must remain,
That Silent Friend
PS Now it is your turn to forget your move.
My Silent Friend,
I apologize. Of course, we must continue our game. Knight to G6. Check.
As I have told my story to you, I do want to believe you when you tell me that I have nothing to fear from you. Though admittedly, part of me is still afraid. After all, you know who I am. Our institutions give you power over me. But I believe in you. If I know anything, it is that I want to believe the best in my friends, because that is what it means to love one’s friends.
A million times, I want to choose love and compassion above fear.
It is after all, fear that divides us.
And in that perfect world you speak of, our institutions and our leaders would teach love above fear.
Perhaps someday, we can change this world to make it closer to that.
My Dearest Lady,
King to F3.
Speaking of friends, you do have an interesting selection. One who you have already mentioned, seems to be notorious among our ranks for his numerous escape attempts and other unsavory exploits with both men and women.
As for the other, let’s just say that the rumors circulating around him do him no credit to say the least.
I do believe in your kind heart, my lady, but I caution you in keeping such friends.
And don’t you have any other lady friends to do other lady things with? Those two tend to hang around you possibly a bit too much. One could almost presume…
If not for your character, for your own safety at least.
And that is paramount above all.
My Dear Silent Sir,
Those two happen to be my best friends, and they are a lot like brothers to me. While it is true that Anders can be an idiot at times and that Jowan has questionable magical interests, they are my friends.
I choose to believe in them.
And before anyone lobbies more accusations at them, that person should at least try to understand why they act like so. While I at least had loving and accepting parents, not everyone is as fortunate. And if one has been imprisoned most of one’s whole life, can you blame that person for wanting at least a bit of freedom?
Moreover, if I were to follow your logic of ladies-must-have-more-ladies-as-close-friends, I should not be writing to you. After all, you, I am almost certain, are a man too.
Are you jealous?
PS Pawn to F4. I do intend to win in four moves.
My Dear Lady,
I see: your tower is perfectly positioned on the other side. But I wouldn’t be overly confident. You still have to clear the way.
Pawn on E3 takes pawn on F4.
Not Jealous Silent friend
My Dear Silent Friend,
Bishop to G4. Check.
Are you sure you don’t want to concede?
PS Sure you’re not jealous…
My Dear Lady,
I will definitely not concede.
King captures bishop on G4.
--One still silently determined
My Dear Silent Sir,
Alright then. Knight to E5. Check.
Let’s finish this.
My Dear Lady,
Pawn captures Knight on E5.
--One who silently resists to the last
My Dear Silent Sir,
Pawn to H5. Checkmate.
I did try to warn you.
My Dear Lady,
Well played. Well played.
It’s been a while since I have last been defeated soundly by another brilliant lady.
--One friend who is silently impressed
My Dear Sir,
Alright. Your move.
Prepare yourself for another defeat.
My Dearest Lady,
Now who’s jealous?
Pawn to D4.
Silently amused Friend
My Dear Sir,
No really, I am not.
Knight to F6.
My Dear Lady,
Why are your answers so short then? Are you by any chance peeved at me?
Pawn to C4.
My Dear Sir,
Pawn to D6.
My Dearest Lady,
It seems you are very peeved at me.
Thus, I am flattered milady.
In any case, the lady I wrote of is my sister.
Now will you forgive me?
Silent Friend who wishes to be forgiven
PS Knight to C3
My Dear Silent Friend,
Ah, I see.
I imagine then that this is how you learned to play this game.
What is she like?
Mage to B4.
My Dearest Lady,
I thank you for your forgiveness.
She is very relentless. In fact, I received a letter from her this morning with a stern reprimand for my forgetting to reply to her last letter.
It took me more than two years to finally defeat her.
I am not sure if she still plays, but I would not have become a templar if not for her encouragement. So, in a way, we would not be both playing this game if not for her.
How did you learn to play?
Also, to atone for my acute transgression, I have made this sketch of you the other day. You look dazzling under the moonlight.
That silent friend who will forever be devoted
PS Queen to C2.
Dear Silent Sir,
I fear that you overly idealize me in this portrait.
You see, I have slits for eyes, a nose too flat and I am not fair. I often get teased about them, especially my eyes. If you tell me that they look like little grains of rice, I shall never write to you again.
To answer your question, I learned from Irving. He taught me the game, because he said that he needed to keep practice. However, I hardly ever see him play with anyone else. My guess is, he is actually practicing to outwit the Knight Commander because those two are always at each others’ throats.
Pawn to D5.
PS Again, do not write to me as if I were a beauty because I clearly am not.
My Dear Lady,
But I contend that you are. You will always be one to me.
As for your eyes, they always smile even when you don’t. They show a radiance within—resilience, purity of spirit and the Maker’s light. Someday I want to be able to gaze at them and understand how the Maker would allow such beauty, mind and spirit come to be in this place.
Pawn to A3.
Do you think there will ever come a time when those two will be friends?
My Dear Silent Sir,
Mage to E7.
The First Enchanter and the Knight Commander becoming friends? I certainly don’t think so. Although, one could dream that they secretly are romancing each other given all those intense stares. Can you imagine them, well, in a bridal chamber together? Ah, the agony. Makes for a wonderful forbidden romance.
It is unfair. I still don’t know what you look like. So, I will make you a portrait of how I see you in my mind in the attached page.
Your ever curious,
My Dear Lady,
Greagoir and the Knight Commander in a bridal chamber, Maker forbid! I dare not follow your imagination on that one.
Also, the page is blank.
- Also, I see that you are quite attached to your mages. Pawn captures pawn on D5.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Exactly. That page describes you exactly as how I picture you.
And it will remain so unless you give me any hint as to what you look like.
My pawn in turn catches your pawn on D5.
My Dear Lady,
Mage to B4.
I shall satisfy you on one thing.
You are the only woman who I write such letters to. Each day I awaken to thoughts of you, our game and what you would write me every single day.
I hope you feel the same.
My Dearest Silent Friend,
Is it possible to feel this way with someone one has never met?
Sometimes I feel that I merely imagine you. For all I know, I am writing to a ghost. A ghost-templar. After all, many spirits haunt these halls and why shouldn’t you.
But you are no ghost I know.
I think I saw your shadow once. I called out to you, but your figure and your steps quickly retreated out of the darkness.
So, I know you are real.
But as the lady you write to, I give you this reprimand: For the Maker’s sake, write to your sister! You cannot be writing to me all the time.
PS Pawn to C6. I see what you intend to do with your Knight and Mage. You are getting better this time around.
My Dearest Lady,
I apologize for my long absence in writing.
I was part of the troop who was dispatched to catch your friend Anders.
I tried my best to not raise my sword against him for your sake, but there were many others in our squad who did not feel so kind. He will feel the effects of nullification for a few more days.
Greagoir was cross, to put it mildly, and he will be placed in solitary confinement. I don’t know how long he will stay there. But they seem to plan to keep them there for a while.
As he is your friend, be forewarned that you and your other friend will most likely be questioned and placed under guard for your association.
All I can tell you is: I am so sorry.
PS This news will, I fear cause you to grieve. But when you have shed all your tears for him, remember that I will be here, ready to continue this game. Pawn to H3. Take as much time as you need.
My Dear Silent Friend,
It is as you predicted.
As of late, I have been brought for questioning twice this week not counting the ones before, and though I can still freely roam the halls, there’s always someone watching me. Thus, finding time to write this and slip this in has proven to be trickier than usual.
I must confess that I did suspect that Anders would attempt another escape. But then again, he always declares it to the world that he would do so. Sometimes, it is like a boast and he would laugh about it. But then, every time he gets caught, it gets worse and worse, and I fear for him.
I have been barred access to the dungeons and to him. So I assume that he is still in solitary confinement? How long exactly do they plan on keeping him there?
Yes, perhaps he did some wrong but is it necessary to keep him there this long? I fear that he would grow mad. And I mean that literally. Confining a mage such is not wise, especially if there are spirits of rage or other demons lurking.
The next time they question me, I shall try to speak to the Knight Commander. Perhaps it is the one good thing about being brought again and again for questioning.
It is strange to be writing to you about this, but I have no one to write to. I have shed my tears but now is the time for action.
PS I have not forgotten our game. It is one of the few things that keeps me sane these days I feel. I castle on this move.
My Dearest Lady,
I admire your fortitude on this.
I know that you have nothing to do with his escape, but I fear that they will keep you under guard still. The rest of the troops are restless. Everything is on lockdown, and I am sorry that you would utterly miss the remainder of the summer—not that you’ve seen much of it.
There are still dandelions by the lake. I hope these ease your sorrow, and that you find them in this volume before they are completely dried.
Pawn to E3. I am glad that our game brings you comfort as it does to me.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Tower to E8.
Thanks for the dandelions. I truly appreciate the gesture.
Unfortunately, Greagoir did not listen to me. But then again, no one listens to a mere mage.
I know this may be too much to ask, but would it be possible, for you to ask him what I could not? Maybe he’ll listen to one of his templars.
Of course, you can refuse it if you wish or if it places you or your rank at any disadvantage. I do not wish to endanger any other friend for this. But I worry.
My Dear Lady,
I have not had much time to write.
Since your last letter, I have done what you asked. Unfortunately, the Knight Commander was annoyed by the request, and had assigned me to the dungeons the past few weeks.
Nonetheless, I did get a glimpse of your friend. Though I am not permitted in any way to engage with him, I did hear his voice. A glance inside and I saw that he was speaking to a small orange cat.
With all this, at least he is not completely alone.
It’s been so long, that I had almost forgotten what my next move was. But I cannot forget you.
Mage to D3.
My Dear Silent Friend,
I feel so ashamed.
I should not have asked it of you. I am utterly sorry.
But somehow, it is a comfort that Anders is not completely alone. I have not given up. I’ll find a way to help him out of there.
What can I ever do to make it up to you?
PS Knight to E7.
My Dear Lady,
No thanks necessary.
It will always be a pleasure to serve my lady.
And I could not stand by and do nothing.
Knight to F3.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Really, what can I do?
Please tell me what I can do because I feel like all I ever do is harm my friends.
Also, everything about this feels so uneven. You keep giving me things, but I can’t give anything back to you. It is rather unfair.
And I hate owing debts. All my life, I’ve been receiving things and I cannot give anything back. I hate it.
I am so sorry.
Knight to F8.
My Dearest Lady,
Truly, there is no debt.
But if you insist, a favor would do.
Knight to E5.
Servant and Silent Friend
My Dear Silent Friend,
Sure. What favor?
I’ll gladly do anything.
Mage to D6.
My Dear Lady,
That glove on your hand will do.
As for our game, I castle on this move.
My Dear Ever So Knightly Silent Friend,
A glove? Really?
You, my dear ser, have been reading far too many romances.
Nonetheless, if this is truly what you desire, I have left it behind the shelf.
Honestly, I would have asked for something more useful.
Knight to E6, threatens mage on F4.
My Dearest Lady,
I have retrieved thy token with success, and it will be used to great effect.
On the contrary, I would argue that a lady’s glove can be extremely useful to any knight-errant. Uses listed as follows:
- Opening stubborn pickle jars
- Removing mabari hair on one’s clothes and armor
- Dusting other books from this shelf
I also realize that this is the closest I could get to touching and holding your hand.
Thus, I shall cherish thy dear hand and keep it close.
PS Your warning has been heeded. Mage to H2.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Given the way you put it, my dear sir, I should feel decapitated, but I don’t. Then again, perhaps it has always belonged to you.
In a lot of ways, somehow you help me momentarily forget that a lot of these horrible things.
I thank you. It’s not enough. I truly wish I could give you more.
Pawn to G6.
My Dearest Lady,
It’s wonderful to see you smile again.
I would endeavor to do a lot more just to keep you smiling if I could.
I caught a maple leaf on patrol today, or rather the wind pushed it through a slot in my armor.
I heard that catching a leaf in autumn brings some good luck, which I share to you, my dearest lady.
Knight to F3.
My Dear Silent Friend,
What happened in the dungeons?
I saw templars rushing about earlier, and then funeral boxes sometime later with the smell of something or someone singed. What happened?
Is Anders alright?
My Dearest Lady,
There was a situation in the dungeons.
The cat I mentioned a few letters back turned into a rage demon. The thing took out three templars, and your friend almost managed to escape again.
One of the templars who died was someone I knew. And he’s dead.
Your friend has been transferred a different more secure solitary cell. He is unharmed and shows no signs of regret for the dead.
He is a dangerous man.
My Dear Silent Bastard Friend,
What do you mean he’s dangerous?
This is what I’ve been saying all along that can happen if a mage is locked up for too long on his own. And no one heeded what I said.
Maybe they deserved it.
And you, Mr. Stubborn Lyrium-for-brains have no right to judge a mage so severely punished. Have you suddenly decided to become part of the roster of rising stars for top shelf bigots?
My Dear Silent Friend who I hope I am still friends with,
I am a Stupid Beast of a friend. I have not acted like a friend at all.
Please forgive what I wrote on my last letter. It was mean. I was mad and I wasn’t thinking.
Yesterday, I sat with that other templar friend I mentioned several letters back. He was quite distressed about that happened. He barely spoke anything, but he did tell me that those deaths were the first instances of death that he ever saw. So, I held his hand until I heard someone about to pass us on the hall.
Was that also the first time you saw death?
If so, I am so sorry. I wasn’t thinking.
Moreover, if you could ever forgive me and are still up for it, Knight to G7
My Dearest Lady,
Mage takes make on D6. You were obviously very distracted. It is very unlike you to leave your mage just so.
I, too, must apologize about what I wrote about your friend. Anger, perhaps, makes rage demons of us all.
That colleague of mine who died, he wasn’t a good man. He, alongside the other two, seem to revel in their task of tracking and disciplining apostates. Sometimes the disciplining can be a bit too extreme. But he was someone I knew.
And he’s dead.
Death is something that happens to us all, but to see it upclose…One moment he was there, the next moment, he was gone. It was something that I had not seen before.
Your other templar friend had been extremely lucky to have been able to hold your hand. For now, this glove—that memory or shadow of that which you once touched—will have to suffice.
That Silent Friend
My Dear Silent Friend,
Queen takes mage on D6.
If we can forgive and comfort each other, perhaps there is hope that things can be alright.
If I had never been a mage and you were not a templar, there wouldn’t have nothing to keep me from holding you. I would just be able to come as just me, and you would be just you.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
My Dearest Lady,
It would, but otherwise, I would not have met you. I wouldn’t exchange that for anything.
Tower on F1 to C1.
My Dear Silent Friend,
It’s truly annoying that anything that I confide to you and you to me, can be framed as an act of conspiracy. And I hate this fact makes me hesitate at times in writing about certain things.
And you’re the only person I could really ever write to and ponder about these things.
Why must the world assume that the both of us are bitter enemies? I hate it.
Apart from news of darkspawn in the south, there’s been some talk brewing. The enchanters have gone restless, Uldred especially and they have been giving some certain ideas to some students. And what’s worse is that some of my other friends are starting to agree with these.
I hate it.
I must do something, but I feel powerless.
Do you ever feel that way?
I hate it. I really hate it.
PS Mage to F5.
My Dearest Lady,
There’s also been some talk among our ranks, especially with the Knight Commander corresponding, with the Grand Cleric more than regularly.
Truly, I understand what it means to be torn by duty and affection. It’s the only thing keeping me from holding onto that hand of yours.
Please be well, my lady.
Knight to D2.
My Dear Silent Friend,
I will not take this sitting down. I will show them that things can be resolved through more peaceful means. And I will get my friend out of those dungeons.
Even if it takes all of me to do it. I will.
Tower to E7.
My Dearest Lady,
I noticed that you’ve not been eating anything. You push away your plate and sit silently at mealtimes, staring at all onlookers.
What are you doing?
Pawn to B4.
My Dear Silent Friend,
So others are noticing? Good.
Tower to E8.
I am fasting in protest of the inhumane treatment of mage prisoners. As a dependent of the Chantry, what would it look like if the Chantry’s servants failed on that duty?
What’s more, with all this news of a possible Blight, what would it look like if they are less another mage to fight the next war?
This is how I fight. If I die doing this, I don’t mind.
My Dearest Lady,
I’ve noticed some other mages have followed you on this. Though it is always in me to wish the best for your health, in this case albeit reluctantly with some thought, you have my support on this.
Man’s first impulse at these things is always war. But you have chosen what is noble.
For this reason, apart from the Maker and his Lady, my devotion will always be
That Silent Friend
PS Tower on A1 to B1.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Mage captures pawn on H3.
It’s so cold, but I’m surviving.
Some templars seem to have started fasting as well as passing their lyrium intake. Is it your doing, I suppose?
Or is my bring consistently hungry now making me imagine things?
Yours perhaps until the end,
My Dearest Lady,
I would honestly like to imagine that it was my doing. However, the others seem to have decided that on their own. Mages are not the only ones to desire peace.
Pawn captures mage on H3.
PS Why did you give up your last mage?
My Dearest Silent Friend,
Tower captures pawn on E3.
Perhaps it would be easier to pass our hunger if we imagine.
If we cannot have a perfect world right here, we ought to perhaps create our own. If I get to live a different life in this hypothetical other world, I want to be able to travel, roaming as much as I can. In that life, I will not have to part from my mother because of magic.
And we can speak to each other without any fear.
Don’t get me wrong: I love magic. But if I need to trade something for this, I don’t mind trading this for this world.
In this other world, do you think we would meet someday?
My Dearest Lady,
I must confess, I do not think much of other worlds or the possibility of other lifetimes. Such imaginations are the workings of desire. While imagination is not evil, we should always be wary to never let desires take over.
Nonetheless, you have shown me your mind and your heart, my dear lady, and I see no evil in them.
If such a world exists, I will follow you there.
Just one thought though: in this world you imagine, will be still be playing this game?
Bishop to F1.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Perhaps. But surely there may also be other games we can play, and I may not have to give up all that I have to find you and get to you.
Knight to F5.
My Dearest Lady,
You are truly the most relentless woman I’ve ever met.
In these hypothetical games of yours, I wonder if I will always be on the defensive. Maker forbid that we not end up on opposing ends of a battlefield.
Pawn captures Tower on E3.
My Dear Silent Friend,
We did it! They released Anders, and we all survived this winter fast.
He looks a lot worse for wear, but he has not seem to have lost his humor. After he heard about the protest, he’s repeatedly directly dieting jokes at me and how I have spread this diet of defiance to everyone else.
But I am glad he’s alright.
Also, it’s great to taste food again. Oh, I will never complain about Cook’s porridge ever again!
PS Queen to G3. Check.
My Dear Lady,
I am glad to hear of it.
And it is also wonderful knowing that the Knight Commander can be reasoned with.
It is true what you say about the porridge. I could be dreaming, but there’s also a hint of sweet potato. I also get the feeling that she’s glad that people are eating her food again, bless her soul.
Bishop to G2 stepping in defense of the King.
It’s nearing your birthday again. Any plans?
My Dear Silent Friend,
I am glad that it’s spring again, and today I turned eighteen.
I realize that we’ve been writing to each other for more than a year now, but you never mentioned a birthday. How old are you exactly?
Anyway, to celebrate, Anders and Jowan managed to get a few bottles of wine from Irving’s stash. Now they are quite hammered on the floor.
I’m saving you a bit from this last bottle. I think it fits under the loose floor tile close to the other shelf. I’ll leave some for you.
Now that our stomachs have most likely recovered, I figured that you can join the celebration.
This wine is rather sweet and I feel hot. So hot in fact…
Queen captures pawn on E3.
Yours with my world spinning around,
My Dearest Lady,
Happy eighteenth birthday.
I thank my lady for thinking of me, but my birthday has already passed. I turned nineteen last year.
You did not manage to hide the bottle under the floor tiles, but I manage to dispose of the incriminating object without suspicion.
I gather that that was your first time drinking?
Still, I enjoyed our conversation about your theories about the size of dragon brains amongst other things.
I never got to taste some of that wine though, save what was on your lips. You kissed me. You are right. I did think it was a bit sweet.
Do not worry though, I did not do anything untoward. After you passed out, I was able to deposit you to where your other friends could easily find you.
I heard Pig Oat Mash helps with hangovers, but I wouldn’t know. I am not the one who hails from Kirkwall.
And when your head is a little better, we can continue our game. King to H1.
I hope you feel better, my lady.
PS Do you usually use a lot of tongue when you kiss people?
My Dear Silent Friend,
Oh Maker! I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to pounce on you. At least, I didn’t think so. I didn’t even have any idea that you would be there.
How do I not remember any of this?
That was my first kiss. And I don’t remember it. I remember nothing past when I got to half the bottle.
I am so sorry.
Also, this hangover is killing me. But I can still win this. Knight to G3. Check.
Yours most embarrassingly,
PS Was I that bad of a kisser?
My Dear Lady,
Perhaps I should be sorry too, but I am not. Because it is you.
It wasn’t a terrible kiss. I think it only lasted for about minute but it felt like forever—a good kind of forever. It is difficult to explain. If only you didn’t pass out right after. Is it a sin if I confess that I wanted it to last forever? Strange, it felt like a moment, but the memory still lingers.
It’s a shame that you didn’t remember, but perhaps it is for the best. I wanted to tell you something that day, but I didn’t. I was a coward, and I don’t want you to remember my cowardice. If I want you to remember me, I want that memory to be good.
But you more than make up for my hesitance. You are always relentless in both everything, and in chess. I will always be forever disarmed by you.
King to H2.
PS That was my first kiss too.
My Dearest Silent Friend,
What did you want to tell me? Can’t you just write it here?
I still regret not remembering it. But still, I am glad that it was with you. Though I do not know you, I wanted it to be you. If another opportunity arises, I want to remember. And I want for it to be with you.
With you, I always feel that I will always be safe.
Am I wrong to wish or even to admit that? Maybe I am, but I want to be honest.
Queen to F4.
Knight to F3.
I heard talks that Irving is negotiating the date of your Harrowing. So perhaps now is not the time to tell you. If anything, I do not want you or I to have any regrets.
Instead of focusing on these matters, perhaps it is best to focus on preparing yourself.
Because you need to survive. Just the notion of it is…
I can’t think of it. I can’t.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Did you intend to omit that last word of your address?
No matter. Let me imagine.
What exactly happens during Harrowings? I am well aware that many mages do not come back from it, that some prefer to be made Tranquil instead.
Tower to E2, threatening Queen.
My Dearest Lady,
My vows prevent me from answering that question. I am sorry.
Knight captures Tower on E2.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Do you think that I should elect Tranquility instead?
I don’t want to. Because if I lose these feelings, these thoughts, I would lose myself. I would rather risk my life rather than lose myself. If I die trying, I would rather die as myself.
Knight captures Knight on E2, opening a check from my Queen.
My Dearest Lady,
It is bad enough that there’s nothing any of us can do about this.
Speak no more of dying, please.
King to H1.
My Dear Silent Friend,
I apologize. I will try not to write more about it if it distresses you.
Honestly, I think my Harrowing being rushed is not that much thing. If I succeed, I won’t have as many templars watching me.
So it will be a step up.
Don’t get me wrong. I think I have quite gotten used to my templar supervisors, particularly one other shy friend. But it would be nice to not have to always awkwardly ask permission to not be followed to the bathroom every single time I have to go.
I also don’t think you’re distracting me at all. In fact, I do think you have quite the opposite effect on me. Because you inspire me.
I’ll succeed. Don’t worry so much.
Knight to H5.
My Dearest Lady,
You cannot ask me not to worry. I will always worry.
And I cannot help but feel that they are rushing this, now with many of the senior enchanters going off to war down South.
There’s also rumors of a Grey Warden coming to find recruits. If that were true, I wonder if it may have anything to do with you.
Queen to E2. Obviously, I am offering up my Queen to your Queen.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Not falling for it. Knight to G3. Check.
War is terrible. I’ve never seen one, but I heard that it involves lots of people dying.
Wynne and Uldred have now gone, and so have some others. I hope they come back, Wynne especially. If she comes back, there is much I want to ask her.
Regarding a potential Grey Warden coming, wouldn’t that actually be nice? If I get recruited, that means I’ll be able to go outside again, and I’ll be able to travel. Wouldn’t that be great?
Don’t worry. If that ever happens, I’ll keep writing to you.
My Dearest Lady,
I would welcome your letters, but I fear that you would forget about me.
As you should.
But every day, my prayers will always be with you, though my heart would bleed inwardly. As much as you bleed me dry on this game.
King to H2.
I honestly think I will never win against you.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Oh, come on! The Friend I know never gives up.
Then again, I heard that there are cute boys among Grey Wardens. You do know my type—the brown eyed awkward ones…Who knows? I might end up marrying one of them, and you will regret not introducing yourself to me in person.
But in all honesty, I don’t think I could forget you. You have kept me sane all these past months. Perhaps I wouldn’t be here without you. Because I know I have someone like you, I can face my Harrowing with confidence.
Okay. You can give up on this one though. Your King is running out of squares to move, and I’ll most likely win in two moves.
Knight to F1. Check again.
My Dearest Lady,
Relentless, as always. But you are correct. I will only resign with a checkmate.
King to H1.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Very well then.
Queen to H2. Check.
Think carefully, my Dearest.
My Dearest Lady,
My Dearest? Is that meant to ease this embarrassment of constantly losing to you?
Knight captures Queen on H2.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Knight to G3. Checkmate.
I suppose this ends all games for now. I do hope that I can play with you again. If not for the enjoyment of constantly defeating you. Getting to you always means throwing at you everything I have, but it is always worth it.
But I guess our little games have brought me to you.
My Dearest Lady,
I pray that after your Harrowing, we can start another.
Perhaps I would win the next game.
I am very determined.
My Dear Silent Friend,
Since you have not written for a while now, I assume that you are part of the party yet again to catch Anders.
The evening of his escape, he taught me a healing spell, and left me a small earring. He said it was all for my Harrowing, but I knew that it was his way of saying goodbye. He’s done this for so many times, but I think this time it is for real.
There was something in me that just knew that that was the last time I was going to see him.
Perhaps you would not like me writing this, but for his sake, I hope that he would be truly free this time. Perhaps he would find Karl again. And my heart can’t help but feel both sad and happy at the thought.
My Dearest Lady,
Greagoir sent alerts to all the outposts, but with many villages in panic, it is easy to disappear. I think he has truly evaded us this time.
I never thought that I would write this, but for his sake and yours, I hope he would remain uncaptured.
Losing a friend is never easy. But know that I will always be here for you.
My Dearest Silent Friend,
I don’t exactly know when I’ll be Harrowed but I feel that they will come for me soon.
Perhaps you would come for me, and there will be nothing neither you nor I could do about that.
But these letters have been important to me. If I do not make it out of the Harrowing, I want the possibility—perhaps in the distant future--of maybe someone finding that a mage and a templar can be friends. I want to believe in it.
When you find this, please collect all my notes and letters and place them in a box that I hid under some loose steps leading to the apprentice floor.
You may not have the chance to write any more letters, but trust that I will find you if I survive this. If I survive this, I will try to tell you what I cannot express in these letters.
If I do not survive this and you be asked to end me, please do your duty and let my death be swift.
My Dearest Lady,
I have done as you asked, but do not ask me to not write to you. These letters have been more than precious to me.
Again, my lady, please do not write as if you are about to leave this world. I will not have it.
Have faith in yourself. You can endure this.
If we ever get that chance, if you ever get to find me, I wonder…will I measure up to that man you imagine me to be? I never could.
I am sorry.
But you have to endure this. You have to.
My Silent Friend.
If you are reading this, you know what has happened to me and what I have will have done. Greagoir will fulfill my last request and keep this a secret, so this will not do any harm to you.
Your face reddened and you ran away when I came to you. You are seem truly different from that person I wrote to. But I do believe that they’re both you, and I take these both sides of you in my thoughts.
What were you even thinking that I was going to suggest? You perv.
And because of this, I would never be able to tell you in person what I just had to say.
But then, maybe what I was imagining was impossible. But girls can dream right? And you will be my last dream.
Nonetheless, my last dream. I give you this comb that I enclose with this last letter. The last thing my mother gave me. Please remember me. I do not know if anyone would.
My dreams will die with me tomorrow.
Jowan did wrong. But he was my friend. Though I acted in ignorance, and because I wanted him to be happy, I do not blame him. The only think I wish for is that he forgive himself. I hope he can know that.
I do not want to die. I really don’t. But if I were to die, I do not wish it to be in the hands of someone else. I would rather die as myself.
Will anyone remember me after I die?
Everything that happened and will happen is all on me. Please do not blame yourself. Never blame yourself.
For all it’s worth, I am sorry. If you ever find it in your heart to forgive me someday, please forgive me.
And I love you.
Yours always and forever,
Please forgive the time it took to post this. I’ve been busy during the Quebec holidays. And I have been traveling—in a lot of places without wifi. And if you’re curious, part of it involves visiting my own grandmother—my “Lola”—in the Philippines, and then two conferences afterwards in Japan. So I do have a busy summer, and I will make no promises about posting schedules. But no, I will not abandon this. Of course not. Believe it or not: Tala is a lot in my head these days.
I finally got to write a Cullen-Amell story, which is something I've always wanted to do since DAO. Admittedly, this can be a stand-alone piece, but I want it here. It took so long, but I wanted to give it justice.
For the chess games in this story, I use actual chess games. The one featured here is based on a game between Glucksberg and Najdorf called “The Polish Immortal” sometime in the 1930s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_Immortal), and the other one is “Kasdan’s Immortal” (http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1340086). I’m not a great chess player, but I do love watching tournaments. I used this one because I want to show Solana play aggressively in contrast to Tala who is a lot more careful and defensive.
Thanks for the comments and the kudos.
Next up—a confrontation.