What is it with Redheaded Rogues, Anyways?
A fanfiction series inspired by the games and collective lore in the Dragon Age franchise.
Excerpt from The Traveler:
The thunder rolled over the purple plains, but no lightning struck the barren ground. Clouds boiled in angry, violent chasms above their heads, and through the gaps a mockery of stars, pale and poor imitations of the real thing. Eva recoiled from the sight, but he placed a hand on her shoulder, his fingers reassurance and bravery where her own would fail.
It was the fade. It was deep in the fade, in the far reaches where he rarely lingered, in the areas that existed for the oldest spirits who could claim memories that reached long and ancient, twisted roots woven in the web of the world. He avoided such creatures, avoided minds that were stale from the years, receding further into their lairs rather than lifting from the mire to explore the world. The stories they told were always the same, and he had heard them a thousand times. He traveled to find things new, things unknown to him, things to ease the loss and sorrow tattooed across his heart. Such spirits stood brazenly against that goal, wishing only to remember what was, to will the old days to rise out of the past and live again.
Which bothered him most of all, because he shared the sentiment, and he hated the mirror that they held up to his heart.
Eva had not seen such things before, and so her feet tread lightly on the unfamiliar ground. Her eyes were wide, and they reflected the lavender bog before them, rolling hills drowning in midnight waters, wind that howled but stirred no blade of grass nor branch nor leaf. It was beautiful, and scarred, and carried an indescribable sadness that permeated the atmosphere, a physical presence that wrapped around the interlopers with a forlorn caress.
He could tell that she was reluctant to explore further, reluctant to lose sight of the Uthvir and lose herself in the landscape of sorrow and oddity. He was less uncertain, however, and choose to amble forward with confident strides, leading the way deeper into whatever adventure the Uthvir had provided them. His path gave her legs encouragement, and she followed matching his pace, her shoulders relaxing. By his cue she was able to have her fear drain away, replaced with awe for the sight of something ethereal and intangible.
They found the spirit near a sea of amethyst snow that mirrored the frozen wastes that would be near the outside of the veil. She was a shimmering form of lilac and white, humanoid in shape but not in essence. She was curled in on herself, seated at the very edge of the cold and empty wasteland before her, arms wrapped around legs that flickered as candlelight in the wind. Her chin rested on her knees and her featureless face stared at the nothing, drinking it in so that she was filled with it, shadows chasing shadows beneath the living light of her skin.
A lilting song drifted through the plains, emanating from within her. Chords of tragedy spun with harmonies of abandonment, weaving together music that pulled at his heart, unraveling the strings to leave him open and wanting. He had felt sadness, and he had been covetous and full of desire, but he had never felt yearning of such magnitude. This creature, at the end of the world by herself, had known loss almost as great as his own, and she felt it more keenly, felt it so strongly that it overpowered who she was and left her stranded in the wastes of her own soul.
“She’s so sad.” Eva’s voice cracked as she gazed at the spirit.
The song stopped, falling to a murmur, then a whisper, then disappeared beneath the hush of the ghostly wind.
“I am alone.” The spirit lifted her head, glancing back at the pair of them, and Eva jumped in shock.
Her regard was not cold, but nor was it warm. It was lacking, as though she looked through them, seeing eternity through the passage of their eyes, eternity that was not a part of them but beyond them, long out of reach. He pitied her, and her gaze, and the song that she sang to the silent shores. He could see Eva reflecting that same sentiment, her wish to help plain on her sweet features.
Eva swallowed and took a stuttering step forward. “Would you…would you like some company?”
Darkness swallowed the place where the spirit’s face would be, and she tilted her head to regard them. “I have driven away my companions. You would run, too.” The darkness drained away, leaving the even marbled lilac untouched once more. “I am alone.” She repeated.
He could feel more meaning lurking behind the puzzle of her words, a thousand things left unsaid between the stuttered lines that did not say enough. She had tales to tell, but no tongues to speak them, and so her skin flickered, and she said what she could, never quite revealing the truth.
He walked past Eva, moving carefully to the edge of the tundra before sitting next to the spirit, crossing his legs and facing her. “Who were your companions?”
Colors burst across her face, all of them muted and dark, shadowed versions of a brilliant rainbow, tainted by her grief. “The people who lived here, and built homes out of snow and fur. They were once all around me, light and dark and alive. Now they have gone.”
Eva found her courage and approached, sitting beside him gingerly, finding it difficult to fold herself into a comfortable position due to her longer legs. She settled for stretching them out in front of her, using one hand to brace herself against the ground for balance, the other playing nervously with the end of her braid. She was rapt as she looked at the spirit, hanging on the edge of her too-few words, drinking in the eerie presence like an oasis.
“We are at the edge of the southernmost wastes,” he told Eva. “It is likely the people she speaks of were the original Alamarri before they moved north into the Ferelden plains.”
Eva nodded, her brow furrowing as she contemplated this. “Why did they leave?”
The spirit’s voice seemed to meld with shrieking wind and hollowed howls, blending into something that inspired terror as much as tears. “Alone, lonely, withered and weeping. Companionship.” Her face bloomed with black splotches, ink spilled on the surface of a purple pond. Then in the blink of an eye it vanished, and she was as a placid lake once more.
“Why would companionship drive them away?” Eva frowned further as she tried to understand, tried the grasp the riddles and turn them over to reveal the solutions.
“Not all companionship is the same, not all wants are equal. A relationship is not always both sides.” The creature looked out into the void beyond. “Some relationships only take, and the loved is left broken and empty.”
Unequal love, spread between those tangled in the mess without care or compassion. It was strange to think how one-sided relationships could feel, and how lonely one person could be despite being claimed by another. Sometimes that loneliness was the most bitter of all, and ate away at the soul like acid, one drop at a time, until how it started was forgotten and all that was left was the resentment. Trapped on the outside of something promised to them, something they were to be a part of but were then banished to the fringe, yet still they clung to the promise as though it meant something. He had seen countless hearts break this way, falling to the wayside of selfish whims. He had felt that at times, himself.
Sometimes it felt as though the people that he dedicated himself to were more wrapped up in the world than in what was in front of them. Grand causes and brave speeches, flags held high against the staunch darkness of the night. It was worthy, and he had fought for it, because it had been worth fighting for.
He had never loved Mythal, but he had followed her, he had cared for her in ways that others had not stirred in him. It was admiration that had driven him, but it had always been met with calculation, with purpose instead of reciprocation. Still, he would have done anything to aid her, because he believed in her. He believed in what she stood for, in who she was, and so her will had always surpassed his own. It was why he had been so bereft when she had gone.
The spirit sang her empty song, and he wondered if he had been in the wrong. So much broken, so much lost. Perhaps he had been the prey that hadn’t run, had been swallowed for companionship and given only loneliness in return.
Or perhaps it was betrayal to think such things of the only friend he could remember having.
“They don’t remember.” The spirit said, a haunting echo of his own dark thoughts. “They left in trails of frost and blood, beyond the edge of the snow. They trekked through mud and mire and murk, and I remained. Alone. Their stories forget the shadow goddess. They forget the hunger and my song. I am forgotten. I am alone.”
He understood, then, what she was and why they fled. A spirit of loneliness, seeking out love, a hunger that could never be sated. She would always be alone because that was all that she could be. A bastion of tragedy in a world that passed her by.
“I could remember you.” Eva offered. He could see by the set of her shoulders that she understood the danger, that she knew the creature that they faced was not to be taken lightly. Still, he could also see the compassion that she had for it, as pure as though she were a spirit herself. Even knowing that this was a beast that would kill those that tried to love it, still she tried to reach out, to offer what she could, an olive branch across a chasm that could not be crossed. Sweet, naive Eva, sat between the clouds and the ice, offering to remember loneliness if it would ease her pain.
Shadows ran rivulets down the spirit’s face. “You will know much of me before the end of days.” She spoke, but she did not speak to Eva. The spirit’s hallowed light was directed at him, piercing him with prophecy that bore down with ill intent.
“And I, too, shall remember.” He told her.
The clouds rolled over the false stars, and an oil-slicked rain began to fall from the sky. Small points of blackness spread across Eva’s skin, seeping into her hair and draping her in ink. The spirit flickered and disappeared, off to find an empty part of the tundra to continue her wandering, to carve her path of weeping steps across the landscape.
Eva stood, holding her hands palm up to the sky, catching the ebony drops and cradling it between her fingers. Were it anyone else, they might be afraid. Were it anyone that had seen life and death, light and darkness, they would know to mistrust the rain as much as they would the sun. Those who experienced life lost their ability to see wonder, bit by bit, until everything bred fear and caution until proven otherwise. Eva had seen little, and she had been emboldened by his own focus, her fears forgotten as she followed his lead. She had seen restriction, she had seen her bakery. She had seen the measured cups of flour and salt, she had seen the mixing bowls and ovens. She had seen the shadow of her empire, but she had never seen black rain. She tilted her head up to sky, laughing as she spun around in it, reveling in the strangeness, in the otherworldly event that she would never see by day.
Even he had lost that sense of wonder, and he mourned that loss as keenly as the others.
She took a deep breath, her laughter abating as she smiled down at him, teeth white against her tar stained lips. “I should be going back. It is almost morning.”
He nodded, standing, his robes sodden with liquid gloom. He crossed his arm over his stomach, bending at the waist to give her a low bow. “Then I bid you good day, and I shall see you when next you dream.”
When he stood she was no longer there, and he looked out across the abyss and wondered if loneliness would break him.