One of the Least Unbelievable Things
The ride back to Eleanor’s farm was silent. Neither man had any idea what to say to her. They hadn’t realized it before, but they’d both lived in a world which had always held the possibility of a Blight. It was a horrible thing, to be sure; rare and horrible all the same, but Cullen had lived through the Fifth Blight. Dorian had at least been alive for it, and Tevinter had been the home of the First Blight, etched indelibly into the Imperium’s history. Blights were, sadly, things that happened, they were things that were a part of both men’s existing worldview. Eleanor’s worldview had just come crumbling down, and the whole fucked-up day was slowly filling in the cracks.
A hole - a Breach - in the sky. People with swords. People with magic. People whose world didn’t have cars. Or computers. Or iPhones. People whose world had magocracies. And evil.
That’s what it was, Eleanor realized. What she had responded to so violently at the ravine. What was on the wind, what had swept up and surrounded her. It wasn’t some nebulous idea of evil like she knew from politics and shaky far away camera angles on CNN. It was real, true, nauseating evil; the evil of murder and rape and hate. She had never been that close to it before. God, she was lucky. Had been so lucky. It had never touched her like that before. But back there, standing at the side of the ravine, she had been awash in it.
Bile rose in the back of her throat, and before she knew what she was doing, Eleanor had slammed on the brakes and the engine stalled and she threw open the door and threw up her guts on the dusty gravel road below. She was trapped by her seatbelt but she quickly gathered her hair away from her face with one hand and held on to the side of the truck with the other and vomited until her stomach was emptied and continued to gasp and heave even still.
Unexpectedly, she felt a hand on her back and Eleanor flinched, until she heard Cullen’s voice say, “It’s okay.”
She threw him off. “Okay? Okay?! Nothing about this is okay! You! You come here, you bring this, you - you -” she gasped again, gagged again, threw up sticky hot yellow bile onto the road, wiped it away from her chin with the back of her wrist, and she wanted to keep screaming at him that this wasn’t right or fair or natural, but she couldn’t piece together the words and between her sobs and gags she couldn’t only repeat, “Nothing about this is okay.”
Dorian had jumped down from the bed of the truck and stood as close as he could to Eleanor without standing in her pool of vomit. His nose wrinkled, but he suppressed the action enough to tell her, “No. It’s not.” He reached out and pressed a hand to her knee, and through her jeans the skin of his palm felt warm, not warm like skin, but warm like a warm bath, and then Eleanor felt like she was drowning in it, if drowning were good, and some of the panic left her mind and her shaking stopped and she could breathe.
“But we are here to help,” he assured her.
And Eleanor knew it was magic. In her and around her, stirring up a feeling of well-being inside of her, a feeling that for the past fifteen minutes, miles, had died. Reflexively, she reached out and pressed her hand on top of his, and she shut her eyes, and let the feeling take her, until Dorian slowly withdrew his hand.
She recovered with a deep breath, nodded, and slid herself back into an upright enough position to start up the truck again. She closed the door, and Dorian leapt up once again into the back of the pickup.
As they began to move, Cullen turned around to the little window, and mouthed to the mage, “Thank you.”
Dorian gave him a smug nod.
The house was quiet; all of Cullen’s forces were outside, doing drills and sparring like the soldiers they were, or resting on the soft lawn. Among them, a soft, grey kitten was playing, feeding off of the attention.
Eleanor had walked wordlessly into the kitchen, not asking Cullen and Dorian to follow but not expecting them not to, so they did. From the freezer she retrieved a fresh carton of cigarettes and chucked it onto the kitchen table; from the fridge she retrieved a six-pack of much cheaper beer than she had offered her surprise guests, and thunked the cans on the table with only slightly more care than she had with the carton. Quickly but carefully she popped open the carton, retrieved a fresh pack of smokes, and peeled the plastic wrapper off. She pitched it in the bin beside the sink and fetched a fresh ashtray. She threw out the empty pack of cigarettes but not before she saved the lighter, slipping the carton back into the freezer.
Eleanor sat back down, now well-supplied. She tore the foil from the pack of cigarettes, withdrew one, lit it, and breathed in deeply as she popped a can of beer from the plastic yoke, and cracked it open. She set the cigarette down in the ashtray, drank deeply from the beer, and nodded.
“Alright. How the fuck did this happen?”
Cullen sat, taking off his gloves and gesturing to the now five-pack of beer before him on the table. Eleanor swept out an open hand as though to say, “by all means,” and popped free a can of his own, pulling back the tab slowly. The carbonation leaked out with an eager fizz. Dorian stood propped up against the fridge, right hand on his left elbow.
“I’ll tell you what I - what we - know, but I’ll be direct with you: it isn’t much.
“Perhaps six, seven years past, now, an ancient darkspawn came into possession of an elven artifact that resulted in Breaches between reality and the Fade.”
“I’m gonna stop you right there,” Eleanor said, picking up her cigarette and holding it between her index and middle fingers.
“The elven artifact -” Cullen began to elaborate, but Eleanor cut him off.
“No, I’ll buy that. Fine. It’d be one of the least unbelievable things I’ve believed today.” She flicked ash into the tray. “What’s the ...Fade?”
“This… might take a while,” Cullen sighed.