The Joining was a ritual steeped not just in tradition, but something deeper, something more powerful--far more powerful than even the most learned of mages could even scarcely comprehend. For, far more than being joined in just blood and the blight, in camaraderie and in misery, the Joining connected you to a liminal space, an interstitial space between you and what you could have been. Between you, and all of the yous that you might have been.
You could have been born as a noble, rather than relegated to the casteless and denigrated and degraded for all of your life, forced to fight and fight and fight just to survive for another day. To fight, not just for your own sake, but for the sake of the betterment of your family.
You could have been born as a noble rather than a duster, wearing the trappings of a life of luxury rather than bearing the brand upon your face that marked you as lesser. You could have been born as a noble, but you might have been more miserable for it. Instead of your sweet sister, the same sweet sister that you would do absolutely anything for, that you would and did give your life for, you could have had a family that would betray you in a most intimate fashion.
Not just a stab in the back, but a stab in the heart, only to leave you slowly exsanguinating. It would be an excruciating betrayal. An exquisite betrayal.
Or, perhaps you would not have been born a dwarf at all. Perhaps you would have been born as a human noble, able to experience all of the pains and pleasures that the surface world had to offer you. You would have known the sensation of sun on your skin in the scarce few months when the rain and wind weren’t piercing you to the bone. You would have found companionship not in a nug, but in a mabari.
The two of you would have grown up together, with each-other, the one permanent thing in amongst an otherwise far too ephemeral life.
But if you had been a dwarf, noble or not, perhaps you might have found companionship in a mabari nonetheless. Perhaps you would have been moved by compassion, moved to rescue the poor, hopelessly helpless creature from a fate far worse than death, from a fate far worse than betrayal by your own brother or decaying alive in a prison cell.
You would have given him a name. You would have made him yours, just the same as if you had had him from the start of your lives.
But perhaps rather than rotting in a jail cell, you would have been rotting in a different kind of prison. Perhaps you would have had the distinct misfortune of being born as a mage, of being able to wield a power too great and terrible for the commonfolk to comprehend.
Your family may have been noble, but you were stripped of your privilege and your identity when you were sent to Kinloch Hold, to quite literally be the noble trapped in the tower while waiting for rescue. Only, the truth was, that you were to one day rescue yourself.
You would always rescue yourself, in the end. You would rescue yourself from the shame of Dust-Town, you would rescue yourself from the family name besmirched by the brother that betrayed you, you would rescue yourself from your Father’s traitor of a friend, you would rescue yourself from your captivity by the capriciousness of the Templar Order.
Noble family, or no family, Amell, or Surana, human, or elf, you would take your future in both of your hands and mould it into the staff that you would wield against the world. Against those who would only see you as a pair of knife ears , who would only see you for what you are, not who you are.
Who you would be, if you weren’t born Brosca. If you weren’t born into poverty, instead of plenty, or imprisonment.
You would be the product of thousands of years of rich and exotic culture, of knowledge handed down through generations only to be lost and forgotten when your people were subjugated time and time again. By each-other. By the shemlen that called themselves the Tevinter Imperium, when really, there was nothing imperious about them besides their own egos.
Your people had been subsumed, or scattered.
You yourself had been assimilated into the system, designated as a mage and therefore as unsafe .
But they didn’t know that you weren’t unsafe, they couldn’t know that, because you were born a dwarf, inured to lyrium and the fade and all things magical. In another life, you could have been a mage. But in this one, you couldn’t.
You were born a dwarf, not a human, and not an elf. Not an elven mage, and not one of the elvhen . The people. The Dalish.
You loved your sister in this life. You did anything for her, giving her your life so that she may live. But in the life that you could have lived as a Dalish, your family would have been so much bigger than just you, her, and your mother.
In your clan you had a keeper, and a first. You had several elders and several craftsmen and several hunters and you were all a family. Your best friend, an almost-maybe, all travelling the lands in great hulking aravels carried by the halla that were as much your family as the people that they carried.
The halla were so much more than just a pet, so much more than a Mabari which you may have found and rescued, if you wanted to. They were your livelihood, your life . In fact, you would have had no life if not for their sleek, silver-furred forms.
Well, they may have been, in that life as a Dalish.
In your life as a city elf, they were no more than a bedtime tale.
In your life as a Duster, they were no more than a fairy tale.
It hurt you, in your other life as a Dalish, when the blasted blight took your best friend. Your almost maybe. It cut you to the quick in the way that you felt when your best-friend from the tower revealed that he was a blood mage. It cut you to the quick in the way that you felt when your best friend and sometimes-lover was banished to the surface when you were banished to the Deep Roads. It cut you to the quick in the way that you felt when someone who was so close to you, someone that you considered family beyond the merits of sharing blood, was lost to you, forever.
But still, you struggled on. In your life as a Dalish elf, in your life as a Duster.
You struggled on because all you ever knew how to do was to struggle ever onwards. All of your life you had been struggling. It was just your state of being.
You struggled in the dark, in the dust, each day, each breath.
You struggled because you didn’t know how to do anything else.
You struggled with poverty, in your life as a casteless, in your life in the alienage.
Because, in that life, you were once again born as an elf. Not as a mage, not as a Dalish. But as a city elf. A remnant, a vestige. You bore the burdens of your birthright--the ears that everyone always looked at you so disparagingly for--with none of the benefits of your lost culture.
In your struggles to just survive, you had to cut off the chaff, you had to excise anything extraneous. Unfortunately, your culture, your tradition, your heritage , was considered just that. All the myths and legends of your folk, the unique tales of the histories of your people, were ignored in lieu of fables and parables teaching your youth about risks and dangers more relevant to life in the alienage.
You didn’t need to worry about wandering too deep into the dark, you didn’t need to worry about the darkspawn.
You didn’t need to worry about political plots and machinations--from within even your own family, your father’s friends.
You didn’t need to worry about being weak-willed, about being tempted by desire, about being tainted by pride, about being overwhelmed with rage.
Not in your life in the alienage. Instead you had to worry about those shems who always looked at you like you were less than the dust of your Dust Town life, except for when they wanted something from you.
They ruined your wedding, finding a vindictive glee in vilifying you for the sake of drunken sport.
They ruined your life, these local so-called- nobles . There was nothing noble about them.
They ruined your life, just like the Tevinter slavers would ruin your home.
These are all the lives that you could have had, that you would have, that you did have.
You were born as a Duster. You died as a Duster.
You were reborn to die. You lived and died again.
All of you joined through the strange, magical, mystical force of the Joining. You were all joined together in tragedy, in misery. In hope.
You were born as a Duster, that’s true. That’s where you started your journey. It began as a duster, cheating your way into the Proving to make something of your life.
But when you were discovered, you thought it was over. Then you were saved.
You were always saved. Over and over, again and again and again.
Mostly, you saved yourself.
You saved yourself by taking the opportunity to take the Grey, to be Joined.
Duncan came for you. Duncan offered you a choice. Except it was never a choice, not really.
As a Duster, you had the choice of being kept in a prison for life, or leaping for liberty. As a mage, it was much the same, being kept in the captivity of the Circle. As a noble--either human or dwarven--you had the choice of wallowing in your betrayal or forging your own fate. As a Dalish, as a City elf, you had the choice of forming your own legend in your own way.
So, it was never really a choice. Of course you chose to save yourself.
It wasn’t the only choice you made, either. Your life had always been made of choices, but they rarely ever mattered. But now it seemed as though that every single choice you made, every action, would all have a consequence.
Your trusty Mabari, from the beginning or lost and then found, was not your only companion. You found an ex-templar turned warden. In some lives, you liked him. In others, you didn’t.
You found a witch of the wilds. In some lives, you helped her kill her own mother. In others, you didn’t. In the lives in which you did, you didn’t feel the betrayal of your own family quite as keenly.
You found a penitent priest, a sinner, redeemed. In some lives, you travelled with her, learning her story and all the others that she had to tell. In some lives, you left her at the chantry. In some lives, you never even met her, at all.
You found a qunari. He was just as intimidating as the tales had always told--this was one thing that never changed. In every single one of your lives, you always heard the rumours, the whispers, of the savages of the qunari--but he also wasn’t. There was something so sad, and pitiable about him. In the lives where you didn’t hate him, of course. In those lives, you left him in the cage to die. But it was a hollow vengeance, as it was what he wanted. In other times, you took him with you. Either bribing or intimidating the chantry to set him free…
You found another mage. This one was older. This one was wiser. This one was… stranger, too. Because she wasn’t just a mage that you befriended, you also befriended the spirit of compassion within her. Sometimes you already knew her, from your lives in the Circle. Sometimes you met her for the first time when you went to free Kinloch hold.
Sometimes, she died while attacking you for defiling the Urn of Andraste’s Sacred Ashes. Sometimes, it was the rogue-turned sister. But you didn’t always defile them. Sometimes you let them be.
It would be disingenuous to say that you found the next companion. It would be more apt to say that they found you. They found you to kill you, or--that was the attempt, anyway. You thought. In some of your lives, you did what they couldn’t, and you killed them. In others, you let him live, and you got to know him. In some, you may have even almost fallen in love.
In some lives, you may have even almost fallen in love with the Templar, with the Witch of the Wilds, with the Sister. In some lives, you lost their companionship. But you were already so accustomed to loss, so inured , that you struggled forth.
There was also a golem. It was a strange thing, a strange camaraderie between everyone. But you all worked together, in the end.
The end. The end that was always such a long way off, but somehow came all too soon.
But we are not there, yet. First you have to free the Circle.
In some lives, you helped to annul it. In others, you helped to save it. It was your choice. One of many. In your experience as a Duster, you had not had much experience with magic, before. Same for your life as a dwarven noble. But in both of your lives as a mage, it was all you had ever known--all that you had ever known besides struggle.
You annulled the circle, or didn’t. You got the Templars’ assistance or the mages’ assistance to free Connor. Or you didn’t. Sometimes you sacrificed his mother. Sometimes you didn’t free Connor at all, instead making a deal with the demon not at the cost of your own life, but his.
Sometimes you just killed him. It was all another choice. They all had consequences.
From there, you searched for the Urn to save Arl Eamon. In some lives, you defiled it. In some lives, you lost companions for it. In others, you just humbly retrieved some of the ashes.
From there, you went--sometimes, back--to the Brecillian forest. You could choose to help reconcile the lady of the forest and the people. You could choose one side over the other. Choices, choices, so many choices. So many possibilities, all of your lives had so much potential…
All of this potential, all joined by a ritual that no-one knew enough about.
From there, you delved--back--into the Deep Roads. Sometimes, you visited home. Others, it was for the first time that you were exploring this whole new world. Once again, there were so many more choices. You could choose whether or not you wanted to keep Caridin's anvil, whether you wanted to keep the power within which it contained. You could choose whether or not you wanted to slay the fallen Paragon Branka, or the ancient Paragon Caridin himself.
Sometimes, depending on your life, you could even become a Paragon. Your ultimate sacrifice, giving your life, once again for the good of your sister.
Then finally, finally , it seemed like your choices were almost over, they were almost paying off. You were prepared for the landsmeet. No matter which of your lives you were living, you had no desire to meddle in the political affairs of Ferelden. Nor was it your place, not as a Warden of the Grey. Not even in your lives as a noble, and especially not in your lives as an elf or a mage.
You could choose to instill your friend on the throne. Either alone, or with the Queen Regnant. You could choose to banish him. It was your choice.
You could choose to kill the Teyrn who had caused you so much pain, so much suffering. As a human noble, as a city elf. You could choose to kill him, or you could choose to Join with him.
In some lives, you understood. In some lives, you hated him.
But in all of your lives, you decided his fate. You had fought so hard to control your own, and there you were. Standing with someone else’s fate in your hands. An entire country’s , fate in your hands.
The final choice that you had to make was what to do with your life. You could give it in an act of Ultimate sacrifice, or, once again through a ritual that you do not understand, give life in order to save yours. It seemed kind of oxymoronic, in a way.
Or, you could choose for someone else to make the ultimate sacrifice in your stead. You had the power.
If you chose to die, you were born again.
You lived again.
You had the chance to make the same choice. Time after time, you did.
Once, you made the choice to live. You lived.
That was that. All of your stories, all of your lives, lived.