Omake

Footnotes, marginal notes, endnotes, junk drawer, whatever. Spoilers for approximately all the things.

in which I disappear (further) up my own argument

So why? Why have I chosen to steal stories, and then redone most of the characters near-unrecognisably?

Basically, I wanted the history of the character without the personality. I wanted to tell a story in which the people were a little bit less one-note, in which they had a bit more agency. So where we know exactly what the computer game’s Leliana looks and sounds like – average height, extremely white, lank straight red hair, French accent – my Leliana is much clearer about how she thinks, how (and when) she acts, how she fights. And of course, she can speak for herself a great deal more. In fact, let me go through my (Dragon Age) characters and decisions and explain myself. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it even if (statistically) nobody will read this page ever.

Dragon Age: Origins

Kallian Dener is looser than the City Elf Warden, less well educated, less well spoken, and of course I have freedom to put a bigger chip on her shoulder in speech. Incidentally, the Wardens’ superpowers are *entirely* to hand a lampshade on the fact that a high-level PC in DA:O wipes the floor with every single adversary they face for no in-universe reason beyond being good at things.

Alistair I’ve kept largely the same. Magnified the sense of humour and the sarcasm, made him a little less sure of himself – I’ve got more than half a dozen lines to show that he’s got no idea of women at all. Yes, Kallian and Alistair is supposed to be borderline creepy when you stop to consider it. It’s almost like they’re different species. Also, trust me, as a man who is a foot taller than his wife, it’s totally physically feasible for them to kiss. The point with this romance was that I had a whole hundred thousand words to tell it with: I wanted very much for it to be about a pair of young people with absolutely no clue, and for the two of them to have got any closer than that before the end of the story would have cheapened it. A very physical romance with basically no touching.

Morrigan is the big change. I really hated the way that the girl raised in the middle of nowhere by a witch knew all the ways of civilisation because she’d studied it  by magic. That sucked. Given that I didn’t need her around and being sexually liberated at the player character, I decided to go full raised-by-wolves on her. Why the flesh-golem thing? It just seemed to make sense. I didn’t want her to steal a book by Flemeth from the Circle, but I wanted to get Kallian’s visceral reaction to the godbaby plan, and everything just kind of followed. Also I didn’t need her to be unremarkable as mages go in order for it to make sense for a mage PC to learn her arts.

Leliana, I simply substituted DA:I’s Leliana, whom I prefer. Downplaying the whole crazy-vision angle and playing up the spy angle worked nicely. The flagellation thing came out of left field but she insisted on it so it stayed.

Sten, I cut because I couldn’t find a decent place to put him in. I had a lovely little plan to female-gaze him to a slightly embarrassing degree, but it didn’t work out because he’d collide full tilt with Leliana and that would suck.

Dog, I cut because I’m not over fond of the whole informed ‘Ferelden is full of dogs’ angle, and because where would I put him in? Where are all the dogs once you leave Ostagar, anyway? Bah.

Wynne, I vacillated over keeping the whole spirit angle in there for quite a while before deciding that a human archmage to put Morrigan in her place was just cooler. Given that all the other big mages we see for quite a while are snowflakey, Wynne manages quite well by just being, well, not.

Zhevran, I love the betrayal arc I wrote to little bits (and when I play the game, Zhevran nearly always ends up trying to murder me). Clearly the player of the computer game would feel massively cheated if he just up and tried to murder them the first chance he got even if romanced, but doing just a single path let me do something nice here. It was a very *careful* couple of chapters, I was quite worried about going over my self-imposed limits of ‘nothing you wouldn’t be surprised to see in Tamora Pierce, with exceptions for alcohol and swearing’, but I think I got away with it.

Oghren I didn’t know what to do with, and indeed the whole dwarf / Deep Roads section suffered a great deal from being Miles and Miles of Bloody Uberwald without a break. The trope reversal of making the dwarves Machiavellian sociopaths was already mostly there in the game and I just leaned on it. The whole character was built off the double entendre inherent in a dwarvish gold-digger.

Places:

Redcliffe wrote itself. Teagan suffers slightly from being given a face-heel turn he didn’t deserve, but I simply prefer the version I wrote. It never made sense to me to send to the Circle for mages so I didn’t include the option.

Circle Tower is much like the game. I used it to worldbuild about magic and the Fade.

Orzammar, well, I said already. Ew.

The Dalish, clearly I was going with the solution where we saved the elves. The inclusion of Justice as the wolves’ spirit just decreased the multiplication of entities and I already had an eye on Anders.

Denerim, there’s not nearly enough made of the character’s homecoming. I fixed that, and gave Shianni some badly needed agency back in the process. Also, I really liked Anora. Here’s a badly needed example of a woman who isn’t a ball-busting terror but still knows her own mind.

The Landsmeet, modulo a difference of description, is much as it is in the game.

The end, well, the reason I set off on DA after ME was at least partially because I had the image of the final scene with the dragon in my head. The reason for flitting to and fro on different battles and what have you is because the end of the computer game is basically incoherent. You click a button and suddenly the enemy is at the gate and for some reason you’re outside that gate? I can’t even.

DA2

The story is told in an oblique manner because I love the framed, stylised narrative of DA2 and really really wish they’d stuck to their guns on it. And just like the computer game, it doesn’t quite work just right.

Bethany I had a very strong image of, and I very nearly just flat-out protagonised Bethany and cut Tobias entirely before realising that my proposed story arc (Fenris as romance option, forsooth) was exploitative as balls and my protagonist would have been a damsel in distress with superpowers ex machina. So I reimagined her as the acceptable face of magic, a civilian with terrifying superpowers who just wants to tend bar and live her life.

Aveline is much like she is in the computer game, except that I saw no need to cheapen her by making her late-game arc entirely about a nonentity of a man. Added a decade to her age to make it fit in my head that she was Hawke’s mother’s friend. I had not decided by the end of my fic whether she was bisexual or not. I didn’t figure it mattered.

Varric I decided to play up the businessman angle and leave his writing as a sideline. His marksmanship is unexplained but *shrug* y’know. Bianca is less of a deal and she’s magical rather than technological because there are literally no other technological artifacts like that in the setting. The hand crossbows are because you simply can’t conceal a heavy crossbow, I’m sorry, no.

Merrill I really like, and I spent some time on her portrayal. The whole ingenue thing gets old fast, so I was determined to get inside her head. I had serious problems with her arc not intersecting the main plot, like, at all. The whole archmage thing basically came out of going ‘okay, she’s objectively terrible at nearly everything, why do they tolerate her?’ and coming up with the idea that she was just scary good in her field. (Did Merrill and Aveline have a thing going on? I think they don’t have to, but they don’t have to not. If I had to come down on a side, I’d say that Aveline carried a torch that she’d hardly acknowledge even to herself and Merrill thought of Aveline as a friend. There could be fic there. I ain’t writing it.)

Anders I had great hopes for, and they didn’t pan out. He was basically straight out of the computer game.

Fenris I cut because he didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and he looks waaay too much like a mary-sue on the page. Elf, snowflake background, superpowers of a special kind, gravelly voice, no flies on him: no thanks. Sorry.

Isabela, in the computer game, I really don’t like – so I leaned heavily on her in the fic. So much of everything is her fault that I couldn’t very well ignore her, so here we have a Bad Influence, an Unsuitable Girlfriend, an unsavoury type who’s supposed to crawl just inside ‘likeable’ by virtue of recognising her error (admittedly too late). Also this isn’t a romance story of the kind I generally see in fantasy novels: the two of them hook up very, very fast, and the story of the two of them is the story of how they stick it out, it’s like, they are totally screwing but it’s not important enough to merit even one line in the story.

And Tobias… Not protagonising him meant that he could be much less fallible, it meant that I never needed to answer ‘why’ to half a dozen things he did. It meant that the common theme of the story was the character who was in all of their lives who none of them (except maybe Isabela) really ever knew.

The entry into Kirkwall – I always thought it was a missed opportunity to have Hawke’s sponsor never show up again.

The Deep Roads were not quite straight out of the game but close enough. Let me do some worldbuilding while down there. Let me cut loose with the special effects. *shrug*

Bethany’s capture I conflated with a random sidequest from the game. Yes, nearly any reader I have will already know that it was on its way – but putative non-DA2 playing readers will meet a genuine twist, or that was my aim.

The death of Hawke’s mother was moved because I could find no way I could deal with that bloody serial killer. Hawke’s mother’s death must be Hawke’s fault. Not ‘the one that got away’, not ‘the one that the city wouldn’t investigate’ – it absolutely, totally and utterly has to be the fault of the one individual Hawke and nothing else will do. Hence I moved it to the qunari invasion.

The iambic pentameter: don’t look at me like that

The qunari invasion – Makes no sense. None. So screw it, I went straight down the middle with it. Played up the alienness of the qunari and Hawke’s gift of the gab.

The moral panic of Act 3 – come on. Come on. Act 3 of DA2 is famous for making no sense whatsobloodyever. No qualms about making Justice the villain of the piece. No qualms about having Meredith being pants on head insane. I tried three times to have the bad guys capture Bethany (it’s short and ends in flames) or Isabela (you what) and in the end cut that entirely. Hopefully it’s almost clear that Justice is the one whipping up the panic in order to inflame tensions to the point where one act of terrorism will cause everything to explode: it’s clearly marked that everything goes insane around abominations.

The end – I did say I liked Bethany. And Hawke riding off into the sunset is just far less interesting than Hawke breaking under the pressure and abandoning his responsibilities. Then luckily DA:I comes along to let me tie up the loose ends into something I can start Inquisition with.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

I really like Harry Osten AKA Maxwell Trevelyan AKA the Herald of Andraste. Kallian Dener is still my favourite protagonist but Harry is next and it’s a close run thing. Everyman figure, feet of clay, likeable, flawed without being boorish. Besides, time I wrote a man again. As a work of prose fiction rather than a computer game, not only am I allowed to make this less of a power fantasy but I’m rather mandated to.

Cassandra AKA Raven is mostly trying to be the same.  All her tropes come from trad male story roles but that’s cool too. I found her taste for smut hilarious but it just didn’t fit. What’s with her and Blackwall? Well, I needed a scene explaining shit about her and about Blackwall and the two of them started not-quite flirting and I was like *throws hands in air* y’know what FINE Cassandra you can have your star crossed romance. Why ‘Raven’? I wanted Nightingale to feel less weird. There’s a tale behind the Divine’s bird names, maybe it’ll go in an appendix.

Leliana AKA Nightingale came straight out of AO and then got flanderised because have you SEEN how many characters there are.

Josephine AKA Mynah got rewritten because I wanted to expand her part. It’s actually not too heavy – she’s a touch more assertive, a lot better dressed, and she wears her hair down – the rest is male gaze. I’m taking heavy input from my wife on the romance bits here – this is a third type of romance, neither the breathless adolescent crush of AO or the romcom trainwreck of DA2, but a very grown-up decision on Josephine’s part that she is going to marry *that* man *there* and therefore she is in love with him because loving your fiance makes everything easier.

She’s coming across as more and more controlling and I keep having to dial her back – also the romance wants a chapter where she sits Max down and tells him her story properly and the story doesn’t, so there might well be an omake in which she reveals why she joined the Inquisition.

Varric was covered in DA2.

Solas I think suffers in game from having his mystery too well hidden, so I make it more obvious, I make it inform everything he does. This has the side-effect of making a lot of the story the Solas and Friends Show, but I’m trying not to make him Gandalf, solving problems with deus-ex-machina – what I’m aiming for is the feel of a D&D party with huge level gaps in it, and also I think it’s very, very important for me to show him screwing up.

Iron Bull ends up with a smaller part just because Krem does everything that he was going to do. Krem, I got a specialist in to help with. I’m very pleased with the results. I took him into the Fade because I wanted to out him in a way that made story sense. I really wanted to do that right, and several people asked me to do him, so I did – normally I wouldn’t have tried it on with someone that far outside my own experience, but I’m really glad I did.

Also, Krem is a nice way for me to signal Harry levelling up. Six months’ intensive training is not enough time to make up for a lifetime of not, but from experience it’s enough to take you from clueless couch potato to running a mile, identifying different muscle groups under your skin and knowing how much you bench. I was rowing rather than soldiering but I imagine that an undergrad’s life is a teensy bit more energy dense and activity poor than a medieval action hero’s.

Blackwall is pretty close to the game. I really like the character I wrote, I think he’s a pretty straight bowl at what the writers of DA:I were aiming for. I did however reckon that he was far better matched with Cassandra than Josephine – a meeting of equals (even if socially they really aren’t) rather than Lancelot and Guinevere. Also lets me hammer home again on the liberated sexual morals of the setting, no matter that Blackwall is too messed-up to let that happen.

Jenny not-AKA Sera got rewritten totally. I just didn’t like the fact that of the party’s elves, both were snowflakes. You want to reinforce that elves love their racial history, you don’t do that by providing the one who was raised by humans and thinks that all the elf stuff is a load of crap. I also, slightly guiltily, rolled back her anarcho-socialism to make her a less anachronistic Robin Hood figure: and her gibberish is a different flavour of gibberish. In conversation with a friend about Sera, I started noting that I didn’t understand Sera only to be politely chided that I was really quite too posh to understand the type of person upon whom Sera was modelled: all I can say is that while they may well be right, I’ve done my best with another type of person rather than try and copy something I didn’t understand.

Morrigan is the same Morrigan from AO.

Dorian is more British because I needed to give him an accent in text and didn’t have one left over. He’s got more agency because Harry has less than the player character. Other than that he’s pretty much similar, I feel.

Vivienne had to be *in* there but is basically ballast by this point. Why Vivienne and also Fiona? If I was being less strict about plot, I’d amalgamate those characters.

Plot things:

The theme of the story is ‘who are you’. Every single character either has a very good answer to that one, is seeking one, or has a terrible answer.

All the riding back and forth is because Jesus Christ have you looked at the miles the Inquisitor is putting in on that furry motorbike of theirs.

Tevinter is homophobic because it is in canon, and Krem and Dorian needed to come from somewhere where their identity stories made sense.

 

and stuff

to finish when more bored

 

 

Elves

I’ve modified the elves from DA, substantially. Elves are not humans with pointy ears and pointy chins. Men average four foot ten, women four foot eight, so, they’re a little taller than movie hobbits (in fact, Fili and Kili from the Hobbit movie fit my mental image quite well, the other dwarves would if they shaved). They have pointed ears, of course, and their teeth are more like a dog’s than a human’s, in that they have proper canines and carnassials as well as molars. Most elves have an instinctual fear of humans, while most humans view elves as somewhat animalistic. Elves average weaker than humans, a little less than would be proportional for their size; an average elf is actually a little stronger than an average human of their size and weight would be, but there aren’t a vast number of humans that size. Their senses are better than human; they move quicker and run faster for longer. The signs of ageing in an elf are hard for a human to detect, because they don’t wrinkle much or go grey; the lifespan of an elf isn’t well documented, because elves don’t typically live long enough to die of natural causes. Elves hiss where humans growl, and shouting is more of a big deal to them; in general their threat displays are different, cold rather than hot.

And in case it needed saying, they are supposed to look like short adult humans rather than children: you’d have to be drunk or stupid to mistake an elf for a human child, but the world is full of such people.

Half-elves (for some value of half) are described in Alternative Origins: broadly, those with a human mother look more human and those with an elf mother look more elfish, and there’s the usual set of prejudices from both sides. There isn’t a stable hybrid phenotype in the middle, not really; they have reduced fertility but it’s not zero.

I am explicitly abandoning the whole ‘elves are spirits that decided they liked the world better than the Fade’ malarkey.

Characters for Fear & Surprise

and the occasional casting idea, usually from Game of Thrones because I’m original!

Max / Harry

Our Hero is a comfortably fleshed brown-haired man of middling height (five foot nine) and average looks. He appears more the merchant than the storied hero, whatever one of those looks like. He does have some skills – perceptive, clever, decent memory, quick tongue, gift for languages – but from social bearing to sword-swinging he just honestly doesn’t have the training of the warrior-prince that he’s supposed to be. He’s somewhere around twenty-five. I’m terribly worried he will start to turn into another Harry of our acquaintance, given that he’s also got a big mouth, a habit of falling on his face and apparently an eye for the ladies.

He’s not quite Sam Tarly, but he’s getting that way.

Raven / Cassandra

Seeker Raven is a hair shy of six feet tall, seriously athletic physique, covered in scars. Disfiguring facial scar, more so than in canon. She worked for her skills, and she still works at them, every day. Dark hair kept clipped short so as to be less work. She has an aversion to bullshit and faff, a dislike of things that are no bloody use, and apparently something to prove. Varric called her Her Highness once; we’ll see. I think she’s about thirty. Most of the time she is referred to as Lady Cassandra. She’s a mid-to-high level fighter.

There are many people who look like Raven but very few of them act in movies.

Nightingale / Leliana

We have met Seeker Leliana before. She’s still five foot five with collar-length red hair and green eyes; she’s still pretty; she’s still murderous. She can hide behind her hair. It’s been ten years since Origins, so Leliana must be in her early to mid thirties. As established previously, she’s a rogue, although she’s probably picked up some kind of hideous prestige class. I think that of the three of them, Leliana is the one who most prefers her bird name.

Casting: Natasha Romanov.

Mynah / Josephine

Who I arbitrarily decided to make into Helen of Troy. Why is such a good-looking heiress still single at her age? Even in this matriarchal setting, there’s a story there. She has killer ringlets, attack jewellery, and weaponised dimples; she’s five foot six. She’s the kid sister out of the three of them, and that comes with a sense of humour; however, in common with all of the Divine’s little birds, she’s ferociously competent.

She is halfway between Inara and Shae.

Solas

Five foot nothing, bald, rake-thin elf. Oddly arrogant for a member of a downtrodden and marginalised people, but that’s probably the magic for you. Odd sense of humour. Deeply, deeply sarcastic, passive-aggressive, intellectual, and bitter. Can you tell that I like this guy?

Casting Solas is hard. I think he’s a CGI creation voiced by Hugh Laurie. I appreciate the irony of saying this in a fic based on a computer game.

Varric

We know Varric. Same height as Solas and twice as broad. For a dwarf he’s slight and slender; to a human’s eyes he’s broad and barrel-chested. It’s been three years since the end of Hawke’s Flight, and Varric hasn’t been idle; nevertheless, there’s a story to why this fellow is the Seekers’ prisoner, and it hasn’t been told yet. Story to everything that Varric does. His profession is merchant-adventurer, as in the Worshipful Company Thereof; his hobbies are marksmanship and the writing of surprisingly good-quality smut, and some of the latter is based on a true story, and that’s important.

Varric is so very thoroughly himself that I can’t think of someone to cast as him.

Cullen

Ferelden is clearly famed for its tall good-looking vaguely Scandinavian-looking blondes – this being the fourth I’ve now written about – and ladies and gentlemen, we have a true believer. It’s important to me that various of Inquisition’s characters and depictions are sensitive and appropriate, and one of those themes is faith – and here we have a man driven and motivated by an honestly held and genuine religious conviction, a paladin in the D&D sense.

Cullen looks exactly like Jaime Lannister and acts nothing like him at all.

Iron Bull

Iron Bull is short for a giant, at seven foot six, and unusually he doesn’t have tattoos. Basic changes between my mental image and the computer game are three: one, he wears a damn shirt. Two, his ears are longer, with pointed tips. Three, qunari don’t smile with their mouths.

He’s voiced by his VA from the computer game, Freddie Prinze Jr, with a little studio magic to make his voice more resonant (the kind usually used for dragons in movies).

Red Jenny (DA:I – Sera)

Red Jenny is an elf, so, humans have no idea how old she is. For an elf she’s tall and broad; for a human she’s short; for anybody at all she’s painfully thin. She has hacked-short blonde hair; she wears aristocratic castoff dresses that have been hacked down to size with a knife and tied shut with leather thonging; she would wear Doc Martens if they were a thing in-setting; similarly safety pins. Jenny’s accent is the accent of the commoners in Les Miserables.  I’m very much aware that she is the most out-of-character of my characters.

Jenny is voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter and the face and animations are based on her.

*

(Clearly I cast Kallian as Ygritte, though just as clearly with a different regional accent – she’s Irish Cockney.)

(My image of Hawke is very, very much like the promo images, if you imagine all the spikes being Varric’s imagination. I can’t mentally cast anyone as Hawke but Hawke, although Oberyn Martell comes close.)

*

Why

Why Bioware games? Because of Mass Effect 3’s ending. Then because I wanted to do fantasy.

Why default appearance and name? Actually, because these are what I use when I play.

Why the origins and romances I chose? Roughly, because these were my first playthroughs of the relevant game. I wanted to challenge myself to cut City Elf near to the bone without becoming exploitative or vulgar – I think that I failed on that, but managed to hit YA quite accurately, or I would have if I just cut back on the swearing, but I suppose that there’s only so much Tamora Pierce one can read before it starts to stick (the YA, that is, not the swearing – there’s an extent to which Kallian Dener is patterned after Beka Cooper). And because up to a point, happy characters are dull ones.

Why keep what I’ve kept and cut what I’ve cut? Because:

a) I prefer Bioware’s female characters to the male ones. I can’t make Jacob interesting no matter how hard I try, frex.
b) some scenes just don’t work for me no matter how much I rewrite them.
c) Pacing. Sten, in particular, was cut for pacing because it was him or Leliana.
d) ask me! There’s usually a reason.

Why have I changed the look of everything? Because:

a) Sometimes I found it problematic in one way or another.
b) The computer games are chock bloody full of fanservice.
c) What works in one medium doesn’t necessarily work in another.
d) SF/F writers have no sense of scale, and some things bugged the hell out of me.
e) Specific answers under individual works.

Why is this page a mess? Because I’m spending my Copious Free Time writing fiction rather than refactoring my notes. :p

Older work

This was the previous thing I wrote that actually holds together as a coherent story, starting at InLight and ending at RabbitHole4 – first page was a session report from my Deathwatch campaign. Setting is Warhammer 40,000 Sisters of Battle (well, Sisters of Battle girls’ choir), treated with all of the loving attention to detail and respect for canon that you’ve come to expect from my work please don’t actually cut me.

I’m Requiem-17-23 on livejournal and there’s a variety of of shorts and odd bits of things on there.

Outtakes (SPOILERS!)

*

[…]She’s looking straight into Leliana’s eyes in the way a cat won’t. “I’ll live, Leliana. And d’you know the second most amazing thing in the world?”

“Shoes.”

*

This was cut from the end of Chapter 24. We diverge at Kallian saying:

“Till you joined the Wardens.”

He nods. “Duncan never asked me. None of the others ever even tried. Everyone’s coat of arms was grey. First damn time in my whole life we were all the same. Why I made such a point of it when we met, Kallian. Whatever you were or weren’t before. We’re in this together, we’re on the same side, I’m – you know. There. For you.”

And I look at him and for a second it’s, it’s like he meant more than he said there and the whole world stops moving. I moisten dry lips with my tongue and I see his eyes widen and I don’t think I could look away if I wanted to.

The moment passes and we both look away, and I say, quiet like, “Alistair. I think there’s something I ought to say to you, and I really don’t want you to mistake me.”

“Okay.” His voice doesn’t sound awfully steady.

“It, uh. It ain’t there. There is nothing there.” My eyes catch his again and my heart practically stops in my chest.

“What isn’t there?” Again his voice is shaking, like my hands are. “I, I don’t want to mistake you.”

“Yeah.” I get up, step around the fire, I’m standing next to him looking down at him. Guess I moved quite fast. “I don’t want you thinking that there’s anything to this.”

“To what?” His lips barely move.

So I take my left hand and I put it on the back of his head and before I can think any better of it I lean over and touch my nose to his. “This,” I say, and my lips brush against his as I say that, and I’m leaning on him because it’s that or fall over, and he’s so close – “I am not attracted to you. I don’t dream of you. There is nothing between us.”

“No,” he says, and his voice is rough. “No, I can see that.” And he kisses me just like that and I literally fall into his lap. It’s his fault. It’s his fault he has both my hands on the back of his head.

“Don’t you dare mean anything by this,” I say, and for answer he takes my chin between thumb and forefinger and kisses me again and I am absolutely not responsible for what happens about five heartbeats later, which is that the two of us fall backwards off the log he’s sitting on.

He looks at me for a moment and can’t hide his snort of laughter, and for an answer I try a smile and it comes out fragile as glass. “D’you understand me?” I say, and my voice is a husky whisper I wasn’t trying for.

He remains very still. Keeps his eyes on mine, big and beautiful and wide, and nods slightly. And so I get off him with a sharp sudden motion and go sit down and he comes to sit next to me and I let him. “I think,” he says quietly, a little reflectively, “I think I might want to think very hard about whether I do understand you.” I realise his arm is about my waist and I realise that I ought really to make him let go of me, and I settle for pillowing my head against him. “I think I might want your help thinking about that.”

It turns out I’m holding onto him with both hands. “You know where I sleep,” I say, and then I realise what I just said to him. “I mean, uh. Where I am. If you want to, to talk.”

“Yes.” He looks down at me and again it’s like the butterflies in my stomach have claws on their wings. “You see, I know damn well how I’m supposed to feel.”

“And – don’t?” The question feels like it’s physically pulling me closer to him.

“And don’t.” He touches my face again and I close my eyes. “And the histories will tell of how the world was nearly saved, except that the only two people who could do it were a foolish young man and a beautiful young lady.”

“Should have kept my mouth shut.” I don’t move an inch. Still have my eyes closed.

“Didn’t.” His lips brush mine as he says that and whatever else he was going to say, it doesn’t happen. But he doesn’t fall over this time.

Yeah. I look into his eyes straight. Looks like I ended up back in his lap. “What the hell are we going to do?”

“That’s what I was going to have to think about.” He swallows hard. “Because, uh. While, you know. I’d die for you-”

No.

I’m on my feet and a couple of paces back before I really register that I pushed him away. I see what might be comprehension in him but I don’t think I could bear being mistaken so I open my big mouth again. “Alistair, I’ll say this once, right? You ever had that happen? No? Right. So don’t you fucking dare.” I blink hard, try and get myself under control. “My watch, this is. Go to bed. Have a think, yeah?” I snatch a breath. “And get some bloody sleep.”

“Fat chance of that,” he mutters.

“Aye? Well, pretend.” I sit across the fire from him again. “No more words tonight.”

He gives me what’s supposed to be a salute and goes to put himself to bed, and it kind of dawns on me that I have absolutely no proof that any of the others were asleep for all of that, and I’ve got to look them in the eye tomorrow morning –

Bah.

And when he’s at least pretending not to look in my direction I fish the engagement ring out of my tunic on its string and I give it a good hard stare. I haven’t forgiven him for that, and I hardly bloody knew him compared to Alistair. Damn it to hell. I let go of the thing, drop it back down my front. Stare at the fire until it’s ashes. Try not to think.

*

And this was the original start of FME8.

“All links secured. ”Normandy”, you are clear to switch to main power.”

Sam has a burn, an actual electrical burn mark, on the side of her neck. “Roger that, tower. War room, all systems prepare for transmission interrupt, fifteen seconds from mark.” It’s fan-shaped. She’s convinced that everyone can see it. “Mark.”

“Uplink two, interrupt.” Wilson flicks a couple of switches, throws a thumbs-up.

“Uplink one, interrupt.” Daisy makes the divers’ ‘OK’ hand signal over her head.

“Downlinks… OK, interrupt ready.” Baker sounds like he’s trying not to giggle. It was him who likened their pre-flight to the starting sequence of Fireball XL-5.

“QEC, interrupt. Tower, this is Normandy comms hub confirming switch to main power. You are free to release.” They’re too well-mannered to stare at her, but she was sure she caught the security guard raising an eyebrow. There’s another burn on her back, but at least that one isn’t where people can see it. She damn well hopes that Baker’s not laughing at the burn on her neck. It’s bad enough that the tiny electric fields on the haptic controls are making her fingers tingle. Apparently this side-effect is normal.

“Releasing and retracting umbilicals.” A slight ‘clunk’ echoes through the hull. “Confirm clean reconnection.”

Edi’s voice, shipwide announce. “All hands, we are underway. ETA at Widow Relay twenty-one minutes: weather today is calm and visibility is good, we can look forward to a smooth and pleasant crossing.”

Sam sits back in her chair, stretches her head back.

And something lightly brushes the back of her neck, gives her a mild electric shock. The wordless gasp she lets out is enough to make every other human in the room suddenly very interested in their screen, their shoes or in one case the wall. She turns around –

To discover a nine-volt battery attached to a couple of conveniently placed fine metal brushes, clipped to her chair’s headrest.

She turns a very funny shade indeed. Takes the thing from the back of the chair with a shaking hand, stands and attempts to beat a retreat before she actually sinks through the floor with embarrassment.

Makes it as far as the lift before the information gets out to the guys in the CIC, which at least is a start. “Crew deck, please.”

“Certainly. Can I ask a question, Sam?”

“No.”

“Is the behaviour I just observed… allowable? I was under the impression people were not allowed to do things like that.”

“If anyone asks, I’ll be back on duty in five.”

“Should I notify the commander?”

“No!”

“Should I notify L-“

“Edi, please leave me the fuck alone. It’s bad enough I’ll have to walk back in there as it is.”
*

To: baker@normandy.mil.hu
From: traynor@normandy.mil.hu
Subject: Sexual harassment

I don’t care if you did it, Andy, you know who did.
It’s unaccep^H^H^H^Hunprofessional.
The next such attempt at ‘humour’ will be escal

The door opens. Sam quickly dismisses her omni-tool and pretends she’d been fixing her hair.

The worst possible voice. “Samantha. Edi said you really needed to talk to me?”

She puts her head in her hands. “Oh, god… Edi, tell me you didn’t.”

“Of course I did. You asked me to leave you alone. I was worried.”

Liara steps into the toilets, closes the door. “Edi?”

“Yes, Liara?”

In very much the same voice that one would ask someone to fuck off and die – “Privacy mode, please, thank you.”

Sam looks at her in the mirror. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Are you all right?”

“No… but it’s okay. Really, I have vengeance planned and everything.”

“Okay. Look, as I’m here, I might as well say this face-to-face.”

Sam picks her head out of her hands and turns. “Um, okay?”

“…sorry.”

“Sorry?”

“For the burns and for whatever this is, because it’s my fault, and the complications and waking you at stupid o’clock with incoming comm calls. And the hassle with Edi summoning me and for saying this and for-”

Sam puts her finger on Liara’s lips. “Apologies are for when you’ve done something wrong.”

Liara deliberately gives Sam’s finger a very small electric shock and smiles deliciously at her intake of breath. “Sorry.”

“I said I’d be back on duty in five. Get out of here before you make me a liar.”

“If you insist.”

To: baker@normandy.mil.hu
From: traynor@normandy.mil.hu
Subject: Sexual harassment

I don’t care if you did it, Andy, you know who did.
It’s unaccep^H^H^H^Hunprofessional.
The next such attempt at ‘humour’ will be escal^H^H^H^Hreferred to the ship’s cultural anthropologist and liaison officer.

Sam

P.s. Please enjoy the mandatory bonus modifications that have been made to your system sound effects, speaker settings and volume control.
I know someone seems to.
embed:: WhenHarryMetSally.exe

“Edi?”

There’s an electronic chime.

“When Baker opens his mail, can you autoexecute the file I sent him?”

“Is it harmful?”

“No. You may be interested in the sound clip, actually.”

“Accessing.” There’s a tiny pause. Edi adds some amusement to her voice. “Sam, that is cruel and / or unusual.”

“Wait till you see what it replaces his alarm clock with.”

*

Origins

Questions

Why are the elves tiny? Because Dragon Age’s characters don’t differ nearly enough in height, mostly. There are humans the elves’ size who are perfectly happy that way; I just moved the mean for elvish height down three sigma and pulled the sigma in by about 80%.

Why change magic so much? Fundamentally because I wanted something internally consistent to work with that wasn’t WH40k’s psychic powers.

Origins Cast

Kallian is four foot ten with your stereotypical Irish green eyes, freckles and darkish auburn hair that she hacked short with a knife a few weeks ago and hasn’t touched since. She weighs about eighty-five pounds, but if you asked her she’d say seventy-five; she’s put on a lot of muscle recently and none of her old tops would fit her properly now. For an elf she’s built like an Amazon; for a human she’s built like an Olympic gymnast. She’s better looking than she thinks she is, but conforms more to human standards than elf ones. She wears a brass ring on a string around her neck. I realise that I’ve accidentally implied that elves have more pronounced canine teeth than humans; actually, I kind of like that. Her accent is supposed to be the kind of faux-Irish you get out of one of the BBC’s endless parade of decent young actors who’s had a few months with a voice coach. (Rogue into Barbarian at a relatively low level, Dex and Str focus, low Con and Wis, NG)

Alistair is six foot two (continuity: six foot three in one place), blond as a dandelion with blue eyes, scrupulously clean-shaven. He weighs two hundred and ten pounds and there’s not an ounce of spare flesh; in short, he looks like Captain America. (Fighter, ex-Paladin, Str and Con focus, low Wis, higher level than Kallian, LG)

Morrigan is five foot eight (continuity: called ‘average height’ by crows) with mousy hair and brown eyes, weighs about a hundred and twenty-five pounds when she hasn’t decided to add another ten pounds worth of adjustments. Striking rather than beautiful, but she keeps messing with it and isn’t as good at it as she thinks. (Int focus, low Cha, decent physicals, LG (yes, very much lawful): closest D&D class is probably druidzilla, but Int based, and she can’t summon)

Leliana is five foot five (continuity bug: noted as ‘as tall as some men’ by the crows, looks down at Morrigan during spat) with red hair and green eyes, weighs about a hundred and twenty pounds. It’s not so much that she’s pretty as that she’s very good at acting pretty. (Rogue, Cha focus, low Str, somewhat overbudget on stats actually, NG)

Zevran is four foot ten with long black straight hair; he’d have a moustache if he could grow one, but he’s too elvish for a moustache. Good-looking chap. He probably weighs about the same as Kallian, given that he’s carrying less muscle but hasn’t starved since he was a young boy. (Fighter, Dex and Str focus, low Con and Wis, and his alignment is for the reader to decide)

Wynne is a little old lady, maybe five foot two (continuity: first introduced as ‘not short, straight-backed’) and a hundred pounds, white hair (once blonde) and piercing blue eyes. Typically takes twenty years off her age with Restoration magic (this isn’t shapeshifting, honest guv). (Wizard into Archmage in a setting where healing is on the Wizard list. Wis and Int focus, low physicals, LG)

Oghren is five foot, dark-haired and bearded, weighs two hundred and fifty pounds. He’s got a paunch after the fashion of the professional weightlifter. (Fighter into Aristocrat, one of these guys whose dice kept coming up fives and sixes in chargen. CN.)

Accents

Denerim: Cockney / Estuary.

City Elf: Irish Cockney.

Dalish Elf: Irish.

I have easter-egged in a Welsh accent for Merrill.

Redcliffe: Home Counties.

Gwaren: BBC British (like Redcliffe, but a little posher)

Orzammar: East Coast American, that particular high-pitched pushy one you associate with derivatives traders.

Orlesian: Parisien

Antivan: Spanish (or rather, as eSpanish as a little raffiawork donkey in a plastic bowler hat)

Choreography

Mediaeval fighting as attested by Talhoffer et al was quick, dirty and ugly as hell.  Let’s have a link. The ARMA also does a pretty good line in explaining this stuff. Given that DA was trying to portray fantasy combat as a little more dynamic than your usual ‘line up and waggle swords’, I felt that it deserved some research. Hope the results are acceptable.

Elvish

Elvish is a non-inflected, agglutinative language with very simple grammar which uses the semantic copula (Japanese: desu) rather than having the verb ‘to be’. Imperatives are formed by stating what should be so – mi’in da, ‘the blade is still’, translated by Kallian as ‘drop ’em’. Roughly, everywhere I can I’ve grouped pairs of words together.

The apostrophe is used to mark agglutination in classical Elvish; I intend for it to be pronounced as the glottal stop, and where I don’t pronounce it, it’s not there: the exception is ‘ma (I/me/my) which is a contraction of the word emma – which, as it’s a name in English, I’ve used as little as I can get away with and still make the words flow at all.

Classical Elvish as spoken by Flemeth of the Woods and any remaining Dalish is straight out of Katiebour’s lexicon on AooO, with the addition as I’ve said of the copula and a couple of words of vocab where I’ve needed them.

Street Elvish is all over the place and by design, given that its use is to salt Fereldan with in-group words for emphasis. Given its use mostly as an in-group marker, I’ve made it vary strongly by city. Denerim Elvish, which is the one Kallian’s using, has at the least a father/bother split, a general softening of hard things and hardening of soft ones. Ma serannas becomes mos yironnos; anderan athisha’an becomes anther ana tisha. Also Kallian doesn’t know how to pluralise the word falon and goes for the abominable falonnen, which is supposed to sound bad.

Fereldan

Savvy readers will notice that the dwarves and the humans speak the same tongue and may have wondered about this. Clearly Fereldan is not the correct name for this language, and it should rather be called Dwarvish; however, the position of the privilege in Fereldan society combined with the narrator’s own prejudices mean that it’s called Fereldan. Oghren probably calls it Dwarvish.

Orlesian

Orlesian is Parisian French. Please point out errors in usage.

Dragon Age 2

Why is Flemeth a phoenix?

The more important question is why she *isn’t* a damn phoenix in the computer game. To which the answer was pretty much ‘we only have one high dragon model’.

Why do they go to the Blooming Rose?

Because I wanted them to work for a recurring character. I always hated that Hawke built hir reputation with someone who never shows up again.

Mass Effect

Cast

The only thing I change from Shepard’s default appearance in my mental image is that he damn well shaves every morning. Point to consider is that he’s older than he looks, especially in FME. Kind of guy people meet and say ‘I thought you’d be taller’.

Liara is lightly built and unfit, but slim; she’s a few inches shorter than Shepard. My vision of the asari says that they are spookily human-shaped and -sized for something descended from what’s basically an electric eel; they’re viviparous, but probably nonmammalian on some kind of technicality (apart from the whole parthenogenesis thing). If I were designing them from scratch, asari would look male for the ‘maiden’ stage, but that’s too much of a change to canon for me, so blue space babes it is. The blue, of course, is element zero in the bloodstream, as I hint at in a variety of places; their nervous system is much more like an electric eel’s, and somewhere inside them they’ve got to have one hell of an electrochemical battery, then again element zero basically works by Space Magic so I’m not overly concerned in going further into that. Their telepathy works by Magic too, of course.

Tali is the same height as Liara but wider and heavier built, especially in her suit. And if you insist: my vision of Tali is as follows. She’s basically a mammal on the human pattern; my mental image of her distant ancestor is the tarsier rather than the chimpanzee. Her hips and her shoulders are laid out identically to one another, making her significantly more agile than a human, but she’s an absolutely terrible long-distance runner and doesn’t like standing up for long periods (though the suit helps there). Chromium takes the place of iron in a variety of body processes, giving her blood that is green-black in the presence of oxygen and meaning that her veins could be anything from blue to black to bright orange or yellow; her hair and nails are steel-grey and her skin a lighter shade of the same colour; her teeth are much like a human’s; her lips are green-black. Shepard may think she’s hot, but to most humans she’d hit the uncanny valley. The suit, then, is more than just power armour and environment suit; it’s a datajack and cyberdeck and replicator.

Wrex’s drugs are mentioned in a variety of places for other krogan but Wrex never says a thing. Tuchanka must be hilariously lethal to produce intelligent r-strategy life with a massive potential lifespan: in a sensible Mass Effect, the krogan would look like the vorcha. The whole matriarchy thing was whole-cloth invented to lampshade the krogan making no sense.

Mordin I left mostly alone. Salarians make sense to me as actually alien aliens. I didn’t really think much about their biology.

Jack is tiny, like, Murphy from Dresden Files tiny.

Military matters

This one isn’t mine, it’s Adarisa’s, but it’s awesome.

Biotics

Are magic. I’ve messed around with them in a variety of places, but fundamentally they’re magic. The actual implications of a substance that interconverted gravity and electromagnetism at the exchange rate that element zero does would make this stuff ridiculously hazardous: screw nerve impulses, getting a spark off a door-handle ought to catapult a biotic across the room.

And I always disliked the lack of collateral damage that biotics did, so I fixed that.

Physics

There’s a little more science in this than in the game, but really not a vast amount. Mostly I like the interaction of relativistic weapons with FTL communication and travel. Mass relay travel is the one that is really actual magic, and the relativity on show is high-school SR with pseudotime rather than actual relativity (what’s that you say, coordinating simultaneous action outside your light cone?)

Powered armour

I want powered armour. That is all. ^^

Language

Not that there’s a lot, but as with the elvish in AO I am actually pronouncing the apostrophes as glottal stops when I read (like Arabic). This makes Tali’s name sound different, which is problematic, but I figure that most people who aren’t membes of her species just ignore the apostrophes.

*

Niven on writing. Emphasis mine.

1) Writers who write for other writers should write letters.
2) Never be embarrased or ashamed about anything you choose to write. (Think of this before you send it to a market)
3) Stories to end all stories on a given topic, don’t.
4) It is a sin to waste the reader’s time.
5) If you’ve nothing to say, say it any way you like. Stylistic innovations, contorted story lines or none, exotic or genderless pronouns, internal inconsistencies, the recipe for preparing your lover as a cannibal banquet: feel free. If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn’t get it then, let it not be your fault.
6) Everybody talks first draft.

Note:

http://atseajournal.com/mjh-study/

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