Hellfire Chapter 5: Harrowing — Dragon Age Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter.

The Fade was no different than usual despite his change in entry, so to speak. Instead of it gradually rising from a dream, it rushed to meet Hawke. He could almost sense its alert to his arrival in the odd air of the Fade. The warped cobbled roads sort of resembled Kirkwall’s city streets, but… Not quite. The Fade reflected your expectations back at you the best it could, but it never could quite manage to make it perfect. Lucky for the skilled mages of the world who wanted to avoid possession and becoming an abomination. That would really ruin his day for certain. And think of poor Carver!

“Well,” Garrett said to himself, never one to keep quiet. “Only way out is forward.”

He walked alone for quite a ways, picking off a wraith here or there, and almost found himself wondering when the Harrowing was going to start. Sure, he was no noble of Hightown here and he had no schedule to keep, but surely his time was worth more than a prank trip to the Fade.

“Although,” Garrett trailed off, stopping at the top of a hill overlooking the almost-but-not-quite realm of the Fade. Chairs jutted out from walls and ceilings, spires stood at a slant along walkways leading to nothing. All typical, and yet—he could tell this was just a corner of the Fade. Hawke was contained in here, just a margin of the Fade, and so was something else. He couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s your big test? One demon?”

Maker, was he glad they didn’t ask him about the things he’d faced before. They might not’ve gone so easy on him if they’d known. With Meredith at the helm, it was almost a guarantee they wouldn’t have. Busy thinking on that, Garrett almost didn’t spot the glowing figure on a dock down the hill from where he stood. Nearly blended right into the sky behind it, but the figure was the first sign of anything in this trial he’d seen so far.

Naturally, Garrett approached it. Best get this over with before Carver stressed himself to early grey hairs.

“Hawke,” called a familiar voice with a faint echo as he came over. This area was different from where he first came into the Fade. Up close, it looked more like the docks of Kirkwall where he first landed with Mother, Carver, and Aveline. Made sense, since he was looking at Aveline for the moment.

“Bit of a cowardly trial, even for mages. Facing a demon unarmed,” she said, crossing her arms and setting her expression into a thoughtful frown he recognized all too well. This wasn’t the first Spirit of Valor he’d ever met, but normally, it was a faceless guard or a soldier. Aveline, though? She should be flattered if he ever told her. Which he wouldn’t, of course. He’d play along with this part, dangerous as that was. He understood the difference between a spirit and a demon better than a sheltered Circle mage. Hawke could play with this fire just fine.

“Worried about me?” He teased her and the spirit even came close to the same ‘cut it out’ stare Aveline was so good at.

“Not every mage is you, Hawke. But,” she sighed, shaking her head and resting a hand against her temple. “That you’re here means you haven’t faced the demon hunting you.” She walked past him to the edge of the path, pointing out at a half-circle of flames he passed earlier. In all honesty, he realized now that he should’ve figured that place was important. “This is where the creature will fight you. Be careful, Hawke.”

“Always,” he lied. The spirit, showing only the person he most expected in Valor and not being Aveline herself, just nodded in reply. Reminding himself that anyone he saw in a dream was nothing more than a familiar face was a big of part of travelling in the Fade. Losing sight of reality and your preconceptions was the biggest danger here, after all. Garrett went back down the path he came from without another word.

…only to find the place had changed entirely. The ruined stone towers and barren earth scrubbed lifeless by harsh winds and recent Darkspawn attacks, a place he couldn’t forget if he tried. And did he ever try. He glanced at the boulder where Bethany died and his mother held him to blame, a guarded smile already on his face. This demon played dirty, then? Well, it wasn’t the only one.

“Look familiar?” A gravelly voice, if you could call it that, ripped across the clearing to Hawke.

“Oh, so you talk? Pride demons are always jumping right to crushing,” he taunted the horned, towering beast. Each footstep rumbled through the ground as it marched over, perhaps involuntarily flexing its massive spiked arms.

“There it is again.” It barked a laugh, throwing its head back. “Your pride. Your arrogance.” The demon slammed its fists into the dead earth, nothing but a display, and Garrett didn’t flinch. “You kept telling yourself you could handle it when you fled from Lothering. You even told yourself that coming here.”

Garrett called forward the staff, appearing just as it was across the Veil because he willed it to. The Fade did have its perks. He faced it and squared off, staring it down. Or up. Difficult to say, now that he thought about it.

“And just like before, your pride will be your ruin. And I will run free in until your body decays!” Light consumed its body as it morphed to take the form of the ogre that ended Bethany’s life. A trick to get him to lean on that ‘arrogance’, or so it claimed. Well, what a blunder that was.


Then the real world came back into focus, the charged atmosphere of the Fade giving way to regular Kirkwall air that stank of life, seawater, and now musty books too.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Garrett said, slightly winded but managing a debonair smile. “Once you get past the demon, it’s… nothing.” He staggered forward, catching himself on the stoup. Orsino marched over to offer a free arm, whatever good that might do to a man twice his size, and Carver just scoffed. He heard it often enough to know it was him and not some nameless judgmental Templar off to the side.

“Right, so… when you said willpower,” Hawke implied the rest of the sentence, gesturing to himself. Once the mage was in the pocket of the Fade, they were removed from the supply of lyrium, drawing on their own resolve instead… Leaving them an easy kill if a demon did get into their body.

Besides, why waste the Circle resources on one who might end up dead anyway? Times like this, he understood Anders’ indignance more than he wanted to admit. His vision swam and he pushed himself up using the stoup instead of his offered arm. “Thank you,” he breathed to Orsino, the exhaustion hitting him hard. “Just need a minute.”

“To your credit,” Cullen entered into the conversation, glancing to Orsino to gauge the elven man’s irritability with the practiced eye of guard. “Most mages pass out during the Harrowing.”

“Can’t imagine why.” Garrett almost laughed, but it came out more like breathing wrong. He hadn’t pushed his magical limits like this since he was a child training under his father. Garrett did not miss this feeling. He reached for his staff to use as a walking stick, mainly to spare Orsino the uncomfortable task of leading him anywhere.

“I can’t let you do that,” Cullen explained, the soldiers behind him reaching for their weapons. All of the Templars, even Carver. Maybe especially from that scowl on his face. How much of it was acting, Hawke wondered sometimes.

“Makes perfect sense,” Hawke quipped and lowered his hand. He was too tired to argue and if he had to, he’d drag himself to his room. Quarters. Cell.

“Ser Carver,” Cullen said, turning only barely over his shoulder. “Return this mage to his chambers.”

“Yes, Knight-Captain,” Carver answered and marched forward to collect his brother from the stoup. “Come on.” If his goal was to sound as indifferent as possible while maintaining the barest level of civility, he was doing just perfect.

They walked the hallways in silence aside from Garrett’s occasional uncomfortable sighs. Carver took a careful pace once they were out of view and could’ve been careful not to mention it. But social skill wasn’t his specialty, was it? “Maker, you’re heavy.”

“Don’t they train you Templars?” Garrett could manage a proper laugh again, at least, though only one. Maybe one and a half. “The Order is so dangerous; this is the least of your worries.”

“And now you sound like mother,” he muttered. Not a wise plan to bring back the memory of Carver’s declaration to be a Templar so soon after the pride demon took a dig at Hawke.

See, Mother? I told you he’d only think of himself.

“Better than Gamlen.” Garrett didn’t miss a beat, always ready for a battle of wits. Not much else to do in their home in Lothering or back in Gamlen’s hut. “Just don’t miss out on your big chance to be someone.”

Carver scoffed again, this one sharper than the last. So now it was hitting home—and instead of stirring him to fight Carver like he was so close to wanting to, Hawke felt guilty for even saying it. “I’m not serious, Carver.”

“When are you ever,” he drawled back, taking him cautiously down the stairs back to his floor. “I told you not to joke about the Harrowing, and now I’m practically dragging you back.”

“The noble work of a Templar,” Garrett mockingly praised, the rest of a biting remark dying before he said it out loud. Thank the Maker. “I did promise I’d be back before you missed me. One of two isn’t bad, Carver.”

“I see you’re feeling better.” They were back at his cell and to think that this morning, he couldn’t wait to leave the place. Now he was sure he’d sleep for 12 hours on the fabric-encased rock slab they called bedding and be happy for it. “Just in time for your meeting with Meredith and Cullen in the morning.”

“Afternoon?” He hopefully corrected, leaning against the wall in what might have passed as nonchalance while Carver opened the cell door.

“Morning,” Carver insisted, gesturing into the cell. “Just keep your head down and follow the rules for once, brother.”

“I’ll be a model mage.” He could just envision the look his brother gave him even as he passed him into the chambers. Made it all worth it. Hawke sat on the bed, staring out into the hall at Carver cast in shadow. “You can count on it.”

“Not just me.” He couldn’t mention Merrill directly anywhere in this building, but that was all Hawke needed to know what his little brother was thinking of. Rather, who. Then he disappeared from view, the clanking of his armor fading into an echo. Finally, Hawke let out an exhausted groan, laying down and practically falling asleep before his head even hit the bed.

BioShock 2 Review: Why I Don’t Like It

It’s no secret that BioShock 2 is my least favorite game of the series, and I’ve been asked a handful of times why that is.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s the worst game in all creation. Just in this series, and that’s only my opinion. This post is to clarify why I don’t like the game for those who are curious and to reassure anyone concerned that this isn’t an insult by any stretch of the imagination.

If you like BioShock 2 and I don’t, it’s no different than if you like olives and I don’t. More for you! But now let’s get into the reasons I don’t like BioShock 2:

  1. Narratively Ho-Hum

It doesn’t really do much in the way of establishing itself in the timeline in relation to BioShock 1, for starters. Is Jack still there? When in the timeline is this, anyway? The novel does a better job explaining what happened when, acting as a transition between 1 and 2 better than 2 itself did.

I’m not saying it never explained the timeline, only that it did it poorly in such a way to cause more confusion and put most of the work on the player.

You get the impression that Ryan is gone since Lamb has essentially replaced him, but how long ago? Ryan knew of Subject Delta, so this special Big Daddy was there during BioShock 1 somewhere. There’s a recording to find about Fontaine making the switch to Atlas, so that’s a thing too. And when and how did Sinclair and Tenenbaum meet? So many questions.

Also, Tenenbaum shows up for the beginning only, never to be seen in any significant way again for vague reasons… In a game that’s about Little Sisters in a pretty big way.

Little Sisters

 

It’s not the first time I’ve had to flesh out the story for game designers who crawled over the narrative finish line, but I really just expected better from the sequel to the smash-hit classic BioShock 1.

That narrative wasn’t innovative, per se, but it was masterfully done. By comparison, the narrative presentation of BioShock 2 is little more than a rough draft.

That said, it was nominated for the BAFTA award for best story in 2011 (among 5+ awards or nominations for music, to give you context). It didn’t win, but some people liked it enough to nominate it. To each their own, see?

2. Combat Mechanics are, Shall We Say, Not Good

You start as a Big Daddy, the strongest enemy of the first game. When you start a sequel game as the top of the food chain from the prequel, this presents an issue for designers making your combat experience. Everyone, starting from your first opponent, has to be stronger than the strongest thing you’ve ever faced until now.

bioshock 2 big daddy little sister.jpg

 

This gets you a game focused on beating the ever-loving crap out of you. And that’s totally fine if you want to boast about beating a needlessly difficult game, but I’m not that kind of gamer. I like a challenge to test my strategies against, not a poorly crafted nuisance because the designers painted themselves into a corner at the outset.

More weapons won’t save cumbersome level designs or tanked up splicers for when the designers needed what amounts to a Bigger Daddy. It’s not awful, but it’s not anything to write home about either.

3. Takeaway

That said, I don’t hate the game or feel it’s devoid of value. It developed more of the world, which I loved! Seeing from the eyes of a Little Sister was fantastic, and Subject Delta is interesting (honestly, I’d play a game about his prequel to becoming Delta). Eleanor has potential, but her lack of screentime really hurt her development.

…Besides, I’m trash for Sinclair.

bioshock 2 augustus sinclair.jpg

So no, it’s not awful, but I wouldn’t play it again and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else does. It’s worth a watch, not a play—in my opinion.

FFXV Meta: Too Much is Never Enough

I’ve recently beaten Final Fantasy XV and have been sating my need for more content by consuming all the DLC, scripts, and anime (which I’m sure you understand if you’ve also played). The other way I’m coping with the fact that I’m done FFXV is by analyzing one of my favorite songs from the OST, Too Much is Never Enough by Florence + the Machine.

Mind you, these lyrics are subjective and you may find other metas that have a different take. Enjoy them all! The fun is in gathering all the different ideas to discuss. And since you’re here, this is my perspective on what the lyrics mean in Too Much is Never Enough.

BEWARE: FFXV Spoilers Abound

Proceed with Caution

About 1500 words | 5- to 10-minute read

ffxv ff15 chocobros too much is never enough


 

A year like this passes so strangely

Somewhere between sorrow and bliss

He never really grieved his father fully, not on screen at least, and I think these lyrics really speak to that. He’s on the road with three people he loves like family*, but in the meantime, he’s lost his father without really getting to say goodbye. And they had such an emotionally charged but unexpressed (or under-expressed) father-son relationship that he’s never quite fully recovered from or processed his loss.

* not negating any ships here, just acknowledging his bond with all of the Chocobros

– – –

Oh, who decides from where up high?

I couldn’t say I need more time

Oh, grant that I can stay the night

Or one more day inside this life

I love this direct contradiction because that’s just so Noctis: to conceal what you really need emotionally even as you know that’s what you need.

To say you don’t need more time, but praying for the one night or maybe just one more day there, with his family—that’s all he needs before he lays down his life for them.

Because Noctis naturally doesn’t say what he feels, sometimes even saying the opposite, or says just the tip of the iceberg of his real feelings. That cloaked duality comes across here in a really meaningful, subtle (and yeah, hurtful) way.

But it also shows this desperate (not sure if this is the best word, but it’s that quality of needing someone), vulnerable side to Noctis that just wants a single night more even as he also says he couldn’t say he needs more (not that he’s singing, just going on the Noctis angle).

As much as Noctis is kind of spoiled and definitely takes his friends for granted, that doesn’t change the depth of his love for them.

And though this is the official lyrics line break, I do think it’s interesting that it can be heard either as shown above or:

Oh, who decides from where up high? I couldn’t say

I need more time

As an alternate interpretation of “who says it has to be this way, I don’t know” and then the plea for a little more time here with the ones he holds so dear to his heart. This ability to hear it differently really reinforces the duality/contradiction of these lines.

FINAL_FANTASY_XV chocobros selfie

– – –

And the crown it weighs heavy

‘Till it’s banging on my eyelids

Retreating in covers and closing the curtains

I once told my friends that Noctis was like a cat that hides beneath the bed and the Chocobros all have different tactics for getting him out—this section of lyrics reminds me of that, but way prettier and more poetic.

Retreating in covers and closing the curtains, shutting out the world, because he’s avoiding feelings, the pressures of royalty, etc. The specific things being avoided in these lines are royal obligations and the cost of being the True King, of course.

And it does remind me of the pointedly kingly moments of Noctis—like when Jared was killed, he focused on Talcott, speaking to him like his king rather than as his friend. He showed empathy, understanding that this situation wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right, but he promised to make it right.

FFX Noctis Talcott

That’s not something he’d say like that to his boys or Luna—similar, maybe, but not the same. If you know him as Prince Noctis, you aren’t getting past the curtains. He won’t let you in because you need him to be an icon, and he won’t disappoint you that way. But if you know Noct? You stand a better chance, at least.

Another moment is kiddo Noctis declaring to Gladio in Brotherhood that he won’t lose their sparring match—he has lost every one at that point, he has no reason to believe he’ll succeed. But that’s what is expected of him, that’s what he needs to do as prince.

And as much as that pressure is a lot—that crown weighs heavy—he embraces it, he wants to meet that expectation and make them proud. But the cost is both his closed nature and in a way, being blind to the costs of the crown. He knows there’s a cost, he’s said to Prompto that being a normal person is kind of nice. But he doesn’t acknowledge a limit to how much cost is too much (an interesting twist on the title, now that I think of it).

There’s a bit of idle dialogue in-game where Ignis comments on Noctis looking worn down, and Gladio says he needs to take better care of himself—and Noctis tells them that’s their job. I’m using this as an example of him not seeing self-care as worth it, seeing this cost as not being too much to pay, blind to its toll—and his friends have to take on that toll for him so he can keep on going.

But honestly, even the fact that Prompto says nothing is part of the cost. You know this boy probably wanted to speak up, but he 1) might’ve felt it wasn’t his place, thanks Noctis and 2) is the least pushy of his friends.

He lets Noctis come to him when he wants or needs something, so he puts his own feelings aside for Noctis’ benefit. Prompto is someone he can avoid the crown/feelings with who won’t bring it up before he’s ready, which is important, but it’s Prompto who shoulders that burden in the meantime.

Though I also want to say I think the really beautiful thing with Luna is that she gets the special privilege of seeing Noctis as himself and the True King simultaneously— they are one and the same to her, and I think that’s a big part of his feelings for her too.

Again, not negating any ships here! I’m a multishipper, so this game is a grand ol’ buffet of cute ships to me. :sparkling_heart:

– – –

And who cares about the thing I did that night?

So what, maybe Luna had it right

And who cares if I’m coming back alive?

So what, least I have the strength to fight

Okay, so if you look at these four lines separately, you get more options, but I’m choosing to look at them all together because angst.

When Luna dies and sees Noctis one last time, she says they can’t see each other again “because my prayers have been answered, my calling fulfilled”.

That’s what I’m thinking of with “maybe Luna had it right”, but this introduces an interesting thought that Noctis thought she was wrong before. Suggesting that perhaps he was angry with her for praying to die for them even if that is the cost of the Oracle’s covenant. Basically his thought path would be along the lines of “wtf Luna, haven’t I lost enough?”

ffxv luna noctis field scene.jpg

One of the five stages of grief is anger, so that’s especially intriguing to me because I have a feeling Noctis would also feel guilty about being angry, and of course he’s all caught up in his own feelings for the indefinite future as he works this whole mess out.

The first and third lines of this section apply well to the endgame. He’s referring to his own death for the safety of all without actually using the word itself. Avoidant even now, because sometimes it is just too much to take, whether you’ve made your peace or not (and of course he had, he says as much).

But it’s also an extension of not having any idea of what cost is too much—he’ll pay any cost for them and the world. Let’s be real, it’s mostly for the ones he loves, but he lives up to his duty with pride.

But he’s still being dismissive of their feelings. He doesn’t care if he comes back alive, but they do. One last cost he leaves them to pay, but that is part of their duty in this. They filled the time he had with love and a good deal of patience, so they must be among those not exactly celebrating at the return of natural order.

In a way, that last line is for all of them—having the strength to be there, to fight, to live up to the honorable, painful duty set before them—they can be proud of that despite the steep cost.

Thanks for reading!

If you’ve got thoughts to share, I’m happy to see them.