This Isn't Magic
Eleanor sat before her iMac and brought up Google Maps. Dorian put his fists on his hips and leaned back to look at the thing while Cullen looked at the screen, and then behind the screen, and then back at the screen again.
“We were told you wouldn’t have magic,” he said, almost irritated.
“Well, if you had paid attention to a single thing Leliana’s agents had told us, you would know, Commander, that this isn’t magic,” Dorian attested firmly, then leaned down to Eleanor and asked quietly, “What is it?”
Eleanor closed her eyes at the absurdity of the situation. This couldn’t be happening. This was a dream. Magic? For fuck’s sake. The commander had propped his sword - and shield, she had missed the shield, initially, strapped as it was to his back - up against the arm of the couch and Dorian leaned on his staff as though it were a walking stick.
Swiffer padded across the living room carpet and leapt up into Eleanor’s lap, purring gently. That was their ritual; Eleanor would come here to kill time on slow nights, or take on some small web development work - her part-time job - since the farm was handled mostly by the hands themselves now, and even more so since Eleanor had sold off good chunks of the fields to the state of Indiana to allow for the construction of a small wind farm. There wasn’t much left to do, and the profits that the agricultural work brought in were small, so she did what she could online, now. While Eleanor would work, Swiffer would enjoy the warmth of a lap. Even on the hottest of days, though, Eleanor figured, those were still yet to come. Swiffer had been born just after New Year’s and while Eleanor still thought of her as a kitten, since the animal remained so petite and dustmote-like, she was going on six months old. But this would be the cat’s first summer. So far, though, Swiffer didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat, even when the warm fur on her lap made Eleanor sweat fiercely. She didn’t have the heart to move the sleeping fluffball, though, so even now, with two strangers - strange indeed - watching her type in her own address on Google Maps, she let Swiffer remain where the cat had landed.
“So here’s us,” Eleanor said, pointing at the screen. She was surrounded by a vast sea of nothing. Her nearest neighbors were miles away on any side; she was almost that far from the road, if you excluded her driveway, and quite frankly, she liked it that way. It was always quiet. Even when the farm hands lived in the renovated barn during planting or harvest - that was really the only time she needed help anymore; she could tend to irrigation on her own and the beehives were her own special project to begin with - she experienced something like complete isolation, as much as a person could in the modern era. It suited her just fine. “Here’s about where you all… came from, I guess,” and she indicated a spot only a few inches away on the map; she’d zoomed out a bit, not knowing how large of an area they would need a map for.
“Can you see, uh, surface features on this thing? Mountains, valleys, all that?” Cullen asked, having finished his inspection of the back of the monitor.
Eleanor nodded and selected the view for terrain. She had to reorient herself but once she figured out what she was looking at, she said, “Yeah, yeah. Here’s the creek along here, and this dark line is the ravine -”
“What ravine?” Cullen said it with such force that Eleanor had to blink a bit to remember what the name of the place actually was.
“Um, I think it used to be a tributary to the Ohio River. It’s just a really old, dried-out riverbed.”
“Dunno, I’ve never been down there. Deep enough, looks like,” she said, indicating the map. “Goes on for miles.”
“That has to be it,” Cullen said to Dorian. “That’s why she sent us here. Let’s go.”
“But Commander,” Dorian hesitated.
“What is it, Pavus?” his voice was stern now, like before. He had already turned on his heel to pick up his things.
Dorian looked at Eleanor and gave her a nod. “Don’t you think she has a right to know?”
Cullen opened his mouth as though to object, but something crossed his face, a darkness, a knowing.
Dorian continued, “If this is going to affect her land, her home - Cullen, even if we stop this quickly, and there’s no guarantee that we will, or can, she should know what she’s in for.” He tugged the commander away from the computer to the doorway, and whispered, just within the realm of Eleanor’s hearing. Even Swiffer stopped purring and picked up her little grey furry head to observe. “She didn’t run screaming at the sight of the Breach. She approached us. She’s… she’s helping. Maybe she can do more than that. Maybe we were sent here for a reason.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in reasons,” the blond man hissed.
“Oh, don’t play games with me now. You can despise me all you want, Commander,” Dorian made the title ooze disgust when he said it, “but we were sent here, in the Divine’s infinite wisdom, to establish outposts. To stop the Blight. And I don’t seem to recall this ever having happened before, a Blight on an entirely different plane of existence. I don’t seem to recall an entirely different plane of existence outside of the Fade, unless you’ll suddenly claim to know more about those kinds of things than yours truly. If we’re to stop this Blight, I suggest we start making some friends.”
As Dorian spoke, Eleanor stood, letting Swiffer drop to the floor from the height of her lap. Before Cullen could respond to the dark-haired man, Eleanor intoned, “Blight?”
Eleanor knew about blights, she thought. Crops had been failing all over the county; it was all anyone could talk about that that spring’s farmers’ market. Thankfully her small berry harvest seemed to remained unscathed as of yet, but the fields she’d left fallow seemed drier, more barren than ever before. Normally weeds would poke up only to be cut down again by the tiller when she began to reseed, but this year, it was only brown dirt and dust.
“And there it is,” said Dorian, turning away from the commander, and putting a knuckle to his chin.
“Flames, Pavus,” the commander groaned.
“I don’t know what’s going on, alright?” Eleanor confessed. “You fucking weirdos can walk out of here and leave me none the wiser, whatever, fine. But…” she let out a long exhale, stuffed her hands in her jeans pockets, fingers on her left hand rolling around the shotgun shells, still there, and her chin dropped to her chest, as she hesitantly admitted, “I don’t know. Maybe explain this to me. Maybe this is something I should know. For the moment, I think I’m willing to listen.”
Cullen put his hands back up to his forehead, pressing on his brow as though to stave off a headache. Then he flung them down to his sides and reluctantly said, “It might be easier to show you.”
Eleanor bit her lip. “Okay. Alright.”
“We should get going. I’m not familiar with that… particular map…” he waved his hand dismissively at the screen, “but it could be several hours walk to that ravine, I think,” Cullen said, peeking back over to the computer screen as though it were helping him at all.
“Walk?” Eleanor said with a small laugh. “I don’t think so. Not in this heat.”
“Do you have horses?” the commander offered.
Eleanor smiled broadly. “Something like that.”
“I’m… not so sure about this.”
“Ah, come, Commander. This looks like it’ll be fun.”
“Of course you would can say that,” mumbled Cullen. “You’re inside the… the… carriage. Thing.”
Cullen Rutherford clung to the sides of the bed of Eleanor’s pickup truck. It was an old, beat-up yellow thing, single cab, and Dorian had hopped into the passenger seat as soon as Eleanor finished explaining just what it was and how they would use it, tossing his staff in the back with Cullen. Strictly speaking, this wasn’t Eleanor’s primary vehicle; she had a little Honda Civic tucked away in the shed which had excellent trunk capacity when she laid down the back seat, so she used that for grocery runs and road trips and other ventures into society.
But she had just gassed up the truck and she didn’t feel like unlocking the shed, and it wasn’t like they would be taking any main roads to the ravine. It was maybe a half an hour’s drive away. Okay, maybe more like forty-five minutes. Cullen would be fine. It was certainly safer than riding a horse. Probably.
From the driver’s seat, Eleanor flicked open the back window and stuck her hand through to show Cullen the opening. “You can poke your head in and talk to us through here. Though you might want to keep your face away once we get up to speed. Don’t need any split lips today.” But Eleanor caught sight of the deep scar that already bisected the man’s upper lip and figured he wouldn’t be overly concerned about a cut or bruise received in the back of a pickup truck.
“Alright, we’re ready to roll.” She pulled her seatbelt down over her shoulder and clicked it into place, motioning for Dorian to do the same.
“Indeed?” he asked. “Just how fast will we be going?”
Eleanor shrugged, and turned the key in the ignition, giving the engine a little gas as she slipped the stick into first gear. At the sound of the revving, the slow movement as the wheels began to slowly roll out onto the drive, she saw Dorian’s eyes grow wide.
“Your whatsherface not briefed you on cars?” Eleanor asked, but she had just about made up her mind. Either these two were completely off their rockers, or they really were from some… where? when? else.
“No, I do specifically remember something about this… I just hadn’t thought…”
But whatever Dorian had or had not thought was lost as Eleanor shifted into second and began to pick up speed, and the dark-haired man immediately grew silent.“I don’t like this,” Cullen mumbled from the bed, and then fell silent.