A Bridge between Worlds
Eleanor did as she said, putting on sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt which might have been one of Cullen’s or might not have; it had become hard to tell in the days before they left, and then went around the house, plugging things back in and charging phones and tablets that had gone neglected. She put on coffee and and started a stew in the slow-cooker. She went into the basement to make sure the furnace filter was in good enough repair and turned it on, and as she was coming back up the basement steps, she ran into Cullen, foisting a laundry basket on his hip. There eyes met and something clicked in Eleanor’s mind.
“How do you do this?” she asked him.
“Oh, this one’s a lighter load, actually, just a few -”
She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes.
“What is it?” he asked, adjusting the basket, and she reached out to take the basket from him, depositing it on a lower step before going on.
She leaned against the railing and said, “How can you go from that,” she jabbed her thumb behind herself, “that world, that place, fighting and commanding and shouting about big, awful, important things to doing our laundry?”
He gave her a thin smile, but it was honest all the same. He sat down on the top step so that they were now eye level and said, “It’s not like I’ve done this before, El. I suppose I’m just taking it moment by moment. Yesterday I had to shout. Today I have to wait, and I also have to wash clothes. And,” he added, coyly, “it’s not terrible that it’s our laundry,” putting extra emphasis on the pronoun. Eleanor only rolled her eyes. “Oh, give me some credit; I’m trying,” he said, mocking exasperation. But he slapped his hands down on his thighs gently and stood once more. “I don’t know, Ellie. I was sent her under the impression that I didn’t have a choice. I don’t mean that as a negative thing; this is what I came here to do. Er, not… this,” and he made a back and forth motion between them with his hands, then cleared his throat.
“Just an added bonus?” she said with a wink.
“Let’s call it,” he agreed. “In any case, this is what I signed up for, in one way or another. It’s not that I never stopped to question it; if I hadn’t I’d still be a templar.” He stuck his hands in his pockets. “What about you?”
“What about me what?”
“This can’t have been easy on you. Especially not with your, ah, yes. You’ve had to change a lot, going from farming and working and solitude and silence, to, well, shouting about big, awful, important things? I’ve nothing against a quiet life, and it seems you don’t either. This has to have been much harder on you.”
It was the sentiment that Leliana had expressed to her only days ago, but hearing it from Cullen gave Eleanor a warm sort of confirmation. She hadn’t needed to hear it, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t nice to know that he was aware of what was happening.
“Hey, it hasn’t been too bad. I’ve had help.”
“And I’ll continue to help however I can.”
Eleanor pointed toward the bottom of the stairs. “Washer’s that way. I’m gonna go get the truck.”
The first snow fell on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Cullen and Eleanor woke up slowly; there were no sounds to disturb them. In the soft whiteness that had blanketed the farm, all the normal sounds of the world seemed to be absorbed. Fat flakes still fell from the sky and showed no sign of stopping. Cullen grabbed his pillow and adjusted it under his shoulders, sitting up just enough for Eleanor to prop her own self up on his chest. She snuggled against his skin, one arm thrown across his body, covers pulled up to her chin. Her hair blanketed his right arm, and he pushed the rich, brown locks away from her eyes as she drifted in and out of waking, her mind in no hurry to rise, her body even less. Cullen reached out to the nightstand for his pack of smokes, slipping one out of the pack with a gentle shake. He pursed the cigarette between his lips and replaced the pack in his hand with a lighter. Igniting it, he drew the hot, acrid smoke into his lungs, holding the cigarette in his mouth as he used his free hand to find the one that Eleanor had flung across his body. He twisted her unresisting fingers in his, running his thumb over the flesh of her knuckles, the bones in her hand. He pulled his hand away from hers only to flick the ash from the end of his cigarette, finding it again as soon as his fingers were free.
“Hey, El? You awake?” he asked quietly, around the filter in his mouth.
“Nn,” she said softly, pressing her cheek a little harder against the flesh of his chest.
He carefully freed his trapped right arm and wrapped it around her shoulder, beneath the heavy comforter. He gave the muscle there a little squeeze and he could feel her smile against his body. A moment or so passed and he felt her breathing slow once more, felt her body subconsciously wiggle a few inches deeper under the comforter seeing its extra warmth.
Cullen took the last long drag from his now-spent cigarette and exhaled a blue-grey cloud.
“I love you,” he said, though he knew, or perhaps because he knew, she was asleep.
Dorian sat at the dining room table, a wide piece of parchment spread out before him, thumbing through several books he had brought from Skyhold with the most recent rotation. He had also requested a number of other texts, scrolls he’d only heard rumours of, codices he wasn’t sure still existed if indeed they’d ever been anything more than myth, and Leliana said she would put her agents on it, that she would do her best, but he was only even hoping such things existed, so he was currently making do with what he had in front of him.
Varric had shunned parchment and had instead accepted from Eleanor several spiral-bound notebooks and a whole sleeve of ballpoint pens, and he had set himself to work filling the lined white paper, scratching away intently with the black Bics, every now and again pausing to bring the end of the pen to his lips, tap his cheek gently with the round end of the instrument, before setting back to work.
Dorian eyed him cautiously, watching Varric scribble intently as Dorian slowly, painstakingly filled his parchment with notes and designs.
After more than an hour of this, Varric crossed his arms, wiggling the pen between his fingers. “Alright, Sparkler. Talk.”
“Just what are you working on?” the mage spat, nearly throwing his quill down on the table.
“Why, this, of course,” the dwarf raised his hands and made a circle in the air to indicate some sort of entirety. “Might just be my best story yet.”
“Indeed,” said Dorian, giving only the tiniest twitch of his eyebrow, lips flat and level.
“Of course! No one will believe this - a Blight spreading through a tear in the Veil left over from Corypheus! A bridge between worlds! A path through the blasted Deep Roads from Thedas to - to here! The commander, falling for a mage, who never even knew she was a mage! Even I can’t make this shit up.” He leaned back, seeming self-satisfied, as though the fact that reality - realities - were stranger than fiction was affirming to him in some way.
“You certainly cannot,” agreed Dorian, though he seemed far less enthused about it than Varric.
“How about you, Sparkler? Whatcha got there?”
He sighed, long and frustrated. “A bridge between worlds,” he answered.
“You don’t say.”
“Oh, but I do,” he said glumly, and flicked back and forth between a few pages. “There have always been some theories about… other worlds, pathways, different threads in the fabric of reality.” He put up his hands so that all of his fingers were splayed wide, pointing the tips of his fingers all to the right. “Imagine,” he said, before looking up at the sound of a floorboard creaking in the kitchen.
“Farm Girl,” said Varric, swiveling his head around to spy into the adjoining room. “Maybe you should hear this.”
“Hm?” she poured her cup of coffee from the carafe, still warm on the burner, and walked across the floor on socked feet.
“Alright,” said Dorian, “imagine my fingers as parallel threads, never touching, never meeting. My index finger,” he wiggled it a bit, “is one reality. Alone, by itself, there is no way for it to ever meet any of these other possible… let’s call them worlds.”
“Okay,” said Eleanor, “like the Many Worlds theory.”
“An excellent name,” said Dorian, not realizing it wasn’t a phrase of Eleanor’s own invention. She didn’t bother to interrupt him. “Yes, these ‘many worlds’ would have no way of ever meeting, except, we know, through the Fade.” He brought his other hand to meet the first, this hand pointing toward the ceiling, making a grid with his fingers. “The Fade,” he wiggled his vertically-oriented index finger, “must intersect our own world, we know that,” he nodded toward Varric, “because we can physically go there, rarely, yes, but it can happen. The Somniari are capable of entering the Fade without the use of any lyrium. And because we know that mages, not just the dreamers but all mages, draw their power from the Fade, it stands to reason that the Fade must also intersect this world - notwithstanding our ability to travel between these places, for the moment - because of Eleanor here. You draw your power from there, you go there when you dream.”
Eleanor nodded and tried to keep out of her mind the memories of her dreams, tugging at her consciousness. She slept more soundly now that she knew how to control her power, how to use it, but the dreams still bled through and sometimes she would wake up with Cullen awake next to her, fretting, smoothing her hair, wondering what, if anything, he could do. He had once mentioned something called a Harrowing, but seemed reluctant to bring it up again.
“We know all of these places are physical places: we’re physically here right now. We’ve all physically been to Thedas. The Fade is different, not part of the first sort of reality, because it can be entered incorporeally as well, but it is possible, as some of us know first hand, to enter the Fade, body and mind.”
Varric looked exhausted at the mere mention of it, and Eleanor deduced that he must have been included in the group of “some of us.” It did not seem like the dwarf had enjoyed his experience.
“That’s great, Sparkler, but these are all things that we know, unbelievable though they might seem. These are all things we’ve done.”
“Yes, but, just because we’ve done them doesn’t mean we can explain them. Which brings me to the ravine. The Deep Roads.” He let his hands fall down to the parchment, where he had been working on what looked like a combination of maths and descriptions of figures that he had drawn, all of it in a language incomprehensible to Eleanor. “The Fade has been serving us as a path between worlds. And indeed, it is some sort of ‘other’ world, separate and yet joined to both of our ‘real’ worlds. But if all of these places are ‘real’ places, places that a real body can physically inhabit, I think… I think that there’s no reason why we should need to use the Fade to travel between this world and Thedas.”
“Isn’t… that what happened?” Eleanor asked, holding her coffee cup up just under her chin as she leaned against the dining room wall.
“Well, yes, but it didn’t necessarily have to be.” He took a deep breath, searching harder for words now. “There are also… between-places. The eluvian - enchanted mirrors,” he offered to Eleanor, “transport a person, a physical body, from one place to another using a space that exists in a sort of… no place. The magic the elves used to construct those roads is very different from the magic you and I both use, Eleanor. I had thought at first, when you developed your power, that it might be something different still, but it seems to be the same sort of magic that I myself can access. I haven’t felt any magic like the brand that the eluvians use here. But - do you - you both - recall that… well, there was a shimmering.”
Eleanor bobbed her head. “Yeah, it seemed like right before the ravine became the Deep Roads.”
“Exactly,” he pointed at her.
“I noticed that,” Varric agreed. “Things got a little hectic right around then, though.”
Dorian picked up his pen, then set it back down again. “The Deep Roads didn’t seem to progress any further beyond that point, in this direction.”
Eleanor and Varric gave silent agreement.
“I think,” he started, eyes searching the room while his mind searched for ways to put his thoughts into words. “I think that what we passed through, that shimmering, was the remnant of some kind of barrier. Perhaps natural - some sort of meeting point where the worlds touch, or… perhaps constructed.”
“How -” Eleanor started, but Dorian begged her hold her thoughts.
“Think of strings in a fabric.” He held up his hands again. “When they’re new, they weave a square pattern. But when you get caught on a nail, the strings tug, pull together. The straight threads dip down, meet the thread next to them in a way which they were never meant to do.”
“You think that’s what happened here? Somewhere down in that ravine?” Varric asked.
“I do,” Dorian answered. “Which poses us with a wholly different question.”
“Which is?” Eleanor wondered.
Dorian cocked an eyebrow. “What was the nail?”