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charamei ([personal profile] charamei) wrote2016-07-22 07:39 pm

On The Shape Of Thedas

Or, Falling Into The Sky: Why The Dwarves Aren’t So Wrong After All

“You can’t go outside! You’ll fall into the sky!” Orzammar dwarves cry, in defiance of countless surface dwarves, Grey Wardens, and other surfacers repeatedly telling them that they won’t. And, indeed, in defiance of the fact that they themselves aren’t all glued to Orzammar’s ceiling. Falling up just happens out there, okay? Gravity doesn’t work right with all that sky messing things up.

As superstitions go, it’s an understandable one. Leaving Is Bad, for reasons that I doubt even the Shapers fully understand any more (maybe you shouldn’t have wiped the Titans from the Memories, guys). But there must be a reason, and what does the surface have that Orzammar doesn’t? Sky! So clearly the sky is dangerous. Perfectly logical. You know, I heard lightning comes from it sometimes. And the Fade is in the sky! The Fade has demons. Demons are in the sky. They’re probably the ones throwing lightning down at surfacers! Wow, that sky thing sounds terrible, I’m so glad we don’t have it down here!

Yeah, uh. That was before The Descent and Trespasser came out. Putting together the information we have now, I think there might be a more solid foundation to that superstition than we thought. And as with anything Trespasser, it all comes down to the nature of the Veil.

Sorry, dwarf fans, but this means that once again, we have to start with the elves.

So Trespasser gives us two important new pieces of information on the Veil. The first, obviously, is that it’s artificial, created by Solas to bring about a new Golden Age for the elves. At least in theory. We all know how well that went.

The second piece of information comes from an Inquisitor with the Arcane Knowledge perk during Bull’s cutscene, and it’s the single best explanation of what the Veil actually is that we’ve had in three games:

Inquisitor: You know, the Veil isn’t a physical barrier. It’s more like a magical vibration that repels the Fade.

One thing we’ve heard a lot of in all three games, that didn’t make a tonne of sense before this, is that the Fade is in the sky. The Breach appears in the sky; the Avvar and ancient elves seem to use ‘sky’ and ‘Fade’ fairly interchangeably... and all the rifts appear in mid-air, though not necessarily very far up.

But here’s the thing: the Fade should be everywhere, and all the Veil does is push it back. So I think, rather than going Fade - Surface - Deep Roads, Thedas looks more like this:

Whatever Solas did to create the Veil, he did it at ground level - after all, that was where the elves lived. But the Veil is a magical vibration, and it pushes the Fade away in both directions at once. The Descent codex entry for the Wellspring seems to hint at this:

[...] So the second son dug farther and farther into the Stone—so far that he
broke through to the other side and found the sky
. And this he claimed
for his thaig. And the Assembly named him king.

But the Assembly wanted him to bring back his treasure for the thaig.
The new king climbed down and down the endless mine until he reached the
, but try as he might, he could not pull the sky up, nor strike it
to pieces with his pickaxe. The new king mined out more and more earth,
trying to carve a path to the sky, and finally, he undermined his thaig
so much that the whole kingdom broke loose and fell far, far into the
ground and up into the sky

The Breach could just as easily have appeared deep beneath the earth, if Corypheus had been inclined to go down there and try it out.

Why does this matter? Well, among other things, because of this:

You okay, there, Hawke? In the sky? Where you’ve fallen up?

(Actually, it’s the Inquisitor who fell upwards:

Hawke’s life is right-side-up for once. Probably. Well, close enough, anyway.)

There is no up or down in the Fade: you can fall any which way you so desire. And the Fade, as we have been told repeatedly, is infinite.

Which means - you got it - if you go up far enough, you come back down. And vice versa, as our dwarven king found out.

So about those darkspawn falling from the Fade and crawling up into the Deep Roads, then...

Not So Much Falling As Sauntering Vaguely... Upward?

Still, the question remains: where did these monsters come from? It's a given that the Chantry's
beliefs about the darkspawn's origins are nonsense. They were not cast
down from a fabled city—they crawled up from the deep recesses of the

- The Descent codex entry: The Eternal Battle: Darkspawn

I’m gonna go ahead and assume the dwarves know what they’re talking about on this one, since the darkspawn overwhelmed them before ever making it to the surface. But I don’t think the Chantry is completely wrong, either: the darkspawn did come from the Fade. It’s just that, while the magisters breached the Fade in the sky above Kirkwall, they and the Old Gods later emerged from the Fade under the Deep Roads. The only trouble is that - as we’ve seen with the Avvar and ancient elves - ‘Fade’ and ‘sky’ are near-synonymous on the surface, so everyone just kind of assumes the darkspawn must have come from above.

A Sunken City In The Sky

So could Arlathan be the Black City? Maybe! I’m not a fan of the idea for other reasons, but logistically, yes, it could have been sunk by Tevinter and ended up in the Fade.

Falling Skywards, Or, Why We Live In A Rock

Now let’s shut up about elves and magisters and give the dwarves some love for a change.

So let’s say, back when the Fade is everywhere, that you’re a species that isn’t very, well, magical. (Dwarves then were more magical than they are now, definitely. But they don’t seem to have had the Fade leaking out of every orifice like some pointy-eared bastards we could mention.) And the world is dangerous. Not only is it full of pointy-eared bastards with more magic than you can shake a rock at, but also the sky wants you dead. For real this time! There are spirits and demons wandering around even underground, Evanuris trying to enslave you, and even gravity doesn’t work, so if you let go of the wrong bit of ground you are in genuine danger of falling in any direction you can imagine.

The elves seem to have fixed their gravity issues with magic: certainly the Crossroads doesn’t turn you upside-down. (ETA: I just replayed Trespasser! The Crossroads does turn you upside-down! So I was even more right about the nature of the pre-Veil world than I thought!) But you’re a dwarf. All you want is somewhere nice and quiet to raise a family without the air dropping a sodding demon on your head or your baby floating off to starboard when your back’s turned.

And... let’s say you find somewhere where that dream can be reality. See, inside animals is safe. Spirits don’t just randomly pop into existence in your ribcage. So you find a nice big living creature, one with air and water and light in its belly, one which will obligingly grow you new houses in exchange for having something to sing to and some other favours of currently unknown nature.

And you move in.

And over time, your relationship becomes symbiotic. The dwarves provide.... something... for the Titans (there’s something here about returning bodies to the Stone, but I don’t have enough information to speculate), and in return the Titans keep the dwarves safe from the Outside.

By the Dragon Age dwarves haven’t actually needed to live underground for centuries, of course, but those old stories still live on - not least because once upon a time, if you weren’t careful, you really could fall into the sky.

(In fact, you still can, but only if you dig deeper than the darkspawn will allow.)