Before anyone bristles at the idea of “wantonly politicizing” anything, let me point you to a few paragraphs from Last Flight, which I am currently reading (it’s the last Dragon Age book I’ve not yet read), and which details, among other things, the Fourth Blight:
Under the withering influence of the Blight’s magic, the coastlines had become bare strips of rock flagged wit the wrinkled skeletons of dead seaweeds. The ocean itself head deadened to a murky gray. Its fish had either fled or died, an the mussels and oysters that once fed the cities of Wycome, Hercinia, and Bastion had perished in the water, leaving vast beds of empty shells that clacked eerily in the tide.
Inland, the devastation was even greater, for it was not masked by the sea. Large swaths of the forests were dry and dead, the standing corpses of their trees blotched with unnatural fungi. Once-rich farmlands had turned to cracked hills of dust crowned by a few wispy stalks of headless barley. Children and livestock born under the clouds of the Blight tended to be small and weak, frequently deformed and easily lost to disease. The few wild birds and beasts that had escaped the traps and arrows of desperate Free Marchers had either starved or succumbed to corruption; after nearly a decade, even those that had survived long enough to become ghouls had died years ago.
This is not news, I know — we all knew the Blight made land unlivable — but the extent of it is worth noting. The extent, not just of its hordes of slavering minions, but of its long-term environmental effects. The sea creaking with the husks of dead mollusks is a particularly memorable detail. This isn’t a run-for-the-hills, come-back-when-the-Grey-Wardens-killed-all-the-darkspawn situation. Even when the people actively attacking you are dead, the landscape (or seascape!) you used to call home is fucked.
Speaking of the Grey Wardens:
“Were [blood mages] evil? I mean…were they all evil?”
The human woman shrugged. “I’d have to know what evil is to answer that, and I don’t believe I do anymore. The cleaner answer, the clearer one, is that they all broke the prohibition against maleficarum.”
“But why?” Valya pressed. “Doesn’t the why matter?”
“It should,” Reimas agreed, “but sometimes it can’t. Everyone has reasons for what they do. Some are persuasive, some are absurd. A few might be things I’d be tempted to believe. But how can you know? Whatever anyone tells you is only a tiny fragment of what is, and it’s colored by their perceptions and hopes and fears. Even if they’re honest — and what blood mage is, with either you or themselves? — their story is no more ‘real’ than a vision in the Fade. The one and only thing you can be sure of is that they have committed, and become, maleficarum. As a templar, that ends it. It has to.”
“The Grey Wardens have used blood magic,” Valya said. “What about them?”
“The Chantry teaches us that human pride and human ambition created the darkspawn,” she said, brushing her hair back into place when the breeze died out. “The magisters used blood magic to enter the Fade and despoil the Golden City, and in so doing, doomed all of Thedas to pay the price for their folly. Blood magic created the evil that the Grey Wardens devote their lives to stopping. I can’t help but feel that it is wrong to use that same cursed weapon to fight them.”
Soooo about that.
(Note: 90% of my traffic comes from people trying to google the World of Thedas recipes, so it’s unlikely this applies to you. But, for the sake of consistency, let me warn the statistically-unlikely remnant of you who may not have played Dragon Age: Inquisition and its Trespasser DLC, that there will be spoilers ahead for those, as well as for the Dragon Age comics.)
Laying aside for a moment the suppressed glee of an ex-academic stumbling onto Foucaultian notions of truth and its inherent multiplicity in places many academics disparage so greatly, I have to bring this back to the same guy I always bring this back to. Solas. We know, or at least have been given to understand via a single, primary source of information (Solas) versus a plethora of second-, third- and umpteenth-hand information (the Chantry), that it wasn’t a couple of magisters from Tevinter who started the Blight. Not alone, anyway. Maybe they poked around, maybe some of them died and a couple others were possessed; maybe they just warped over the long passage of time, stewing in their own delusions of grandeur (see: Corypheus), but they didn’t start this shit. They weren’t the ones who built the Veil, separating the material world from the spiritual/magical one.
That would be our bald buddy’s doing over here.
We’re not sure exactly why the Blight happens, vis-a-vis Solas. We’re told that a Blight start when an Old God wakes up, then starts crashing around in a morning ragefest, laying waste to the entire planet until they’re put down. This meshes okay with the tale Solas tells us of having ripped the gods (the evanura, the elven oligarchs) away from their magic and buried them — perhaps, one by one, as they return to consciousness (and call the darkspawn to dig them out, of course) they see what they have become and want to rain hell on the world Solas brought into being, as a result of what he did to them. Perhaps they twist and corrupt creatures into darkspawn not just as tools, a means to an end, but as a kind of revenge, punishing all living things for the power that has been stripped from them.
But I point again to the above discussion, taken from Last Flight, about the Grey Wardens. Both characters speaking in that snippet classify what Grey Wardens do as blood magic, but that is not quite the case, is it? At least, laying the griffons aside, it isn’t. Solas has no particular distaste for blood magic, but he very much dislikes Grey Wardens. They are, after all, taking into themselves part of the corruption that is a festering result of what he did. If “the corruption,” the blanket canon term applied to both deformities of the body and of the environment, is in fact large-scale, slow-to-turn-back change (as it is), and if its [indirect] cause is the sundering of the material from the spiritual one, for us to stop Solas in the next game requires not only the death of all Grey Wardens, but the social and political wrangling necessary to make that happen.
Think about it. The darkspawn are always there, down in the Deep Roads, right? Humans and elves up top may forget this, but the dwarves never do. Because the darkspawn are always there, like a toxic chemical landfill, seeping upward every few hundred or thousand years to pollute the surface. People blot at the surface, sending armies to fight the hordes and buying peace for a few centuries with the death of another archdemon, but they never address the heart of the matter, festering down beneath the earth. If you want people up top to stop getting sick, you’ve got to clean out the mess below. Which means all of it. Which includes the blood of the archdemon running in Grey Wardens’ veins.
The Hero of Ferelden and/or Alistair better keep working on that search to end the Calling, eh?
This, though, is only one path to the solution. Another would be to tear down the Veil and bring those two worlds, material and spiritual, together again — and, while this is likely Solas’s goal, it is one that our characters are likely to oppose, given the not-insignificant fact that most people in Thedas now would die in the resulting cataclysm. A third, though, has already been found. By Fiona.
Fiona, if you’ve not read the comics or books, is — ta daa! — Alistair’s mom. She slept with Maric Theirin and poof, there went the Calling. It is unclear whether this was a side effect of conception or of the full-term pregnancy. We don’t know when it went away from her. But something in Maric’s blood — the “dragon blood,” as the Qunari who kept Maric prisoner for years called it — made the Calling go away in Fiona. So to end the cyclical, recurring threat to the planet that Solas brought into being, (of which the Calling is a part) we could:
1.) Have Alistair have sex with everybody (and kill all the Old Gods). Awesome, but no. Also, if in your playthrough he’s dead, that would leave Thedas shit out of luck.
2.) Kill Solas (and kill all the Old Gods). This isn’t the entirety of the solution though because again, he’s not sitting around holding things in motion. He already set them in motion. Just for him to disappear off the map wouldn’t wipe all the other buried Old Gods / evanura out of existence. The Blight would keep happening.
3.) Inoculate all the Grey Wardens with non-tainted dragon blood some way other than sex (and kill all the…you get the idea.) Tempting, similar to how the Grey Wardens do it with archdemon blood, but a.) there are too many people, and b.) for this to work one would assumedly need a dragon who’s not corrupt, and as far as we know that would be Flemeth, who died. Unless we…
4.) Talk, coerce, or otherwise cajole Solas-as-old-souled-god to give that blood to everyone who currently hears the Calling. Probably after you helped him kill all the Old Gods. Would this make people forgive Solas? No. Is there a ripe opportunity for heartstring-tugging sacrifice here? Gods yes. Maybe have him walk into that lyrium well at the center of the earth we saw in The Descent. It doesn’t have to be hands-on like with the Grey Warden chalices; he could walk into some central pillar of flame and have the loss of him into it somehow cure everyone in the vicinity (or who drinks from the waters, or who is bathed in the flames, etc. etc.)
But the problem with this plan is that Solas doesn’t want to do that. At all. He wants to end everyone and bring back the world he failed to fix. It would be poetic if the Inquisitor’s love were enough to steer him off that path, but that didn’t work before and there’d be no reason for it to work now (or with anyone else). What else does he care about enough to cause him not to do this? Could he, like Leliana, be wooed from this dark path if persistently pressed hard enough the other way? It seems like it’s a bit late for that.
Thanks to the evanura, Solas as a deep and abiding distaste for large organizations, which naturally become corrupt over time. But so do individuals. (Check the mirror, baldy!) If he could be brought to see that, he might be talked into somehow sparing the Grey Wardens their march toward death, through some sort of self-sacrifice. But he would only do that for a terrible price. Taking all of the former lands of Arlathan back somehow, for example. Tearing the Veil down there, so all of that territory becomes inhospitable, and full of spirits malevolent and otherwise.
Or perhaps, he could this to the Qunari, whom he hates so much. Turn their lands into a spirit-ridden place of danger and magic. That might be his price, and you would be forced to decide (after having been made to empathize with the Qunari, one assumes) between inflicting this localized apocalypse on Tevinter or Seheron. And in return for the loss of all that land, all those people, Solas would (after some sort of giant battle with some form of whatever old golds are left) torch himself, let flow his magic dragon blood, or otherwise sacrifice himself and in so doing, end the Calling for good.
All this, though, treats the Blight more like a toxic spill. Stemming from a single, soiled point with a finite end. If, however, the cyclical nature of the Blight has become so ingrained in the fabric of Thedas — of the corporeal world that is now Thedas, after the construction of the Veil — that, Old Gods or no Old Gods, the darkspawn will continue to roam the Deep Roads; the dark earth will continue to sprout only grotesque mockeries of flora and fauna…if that is the case, and the Blight is more like climate change, Thedas is more fucked than we realized.
Because you can punish the bald elf for what he did. You can kill the man who made the Veil. But the Veil itself is fracturing, as we have seen. It is growing thin; able to be punctured by rash mages. Do you really want to snuff out the only person who understood it enough to build it — and then repair it?
And if you do that, and the darkness continues to bubble up from the earth: do you really want to see what terrible form that darkness takes, when the Veil limiting evil to physical form, to bodies, is lifted?