Heartwood Short Story
The Heartwood Project evolved from a simple prop to a meaningful entry in my own personal Dragon Age lore. This short story about the heartwood is my contribution to the vast lore available within the Dragon Age codex.
You can enjoy the three page short story of the heartwood in its original format here: Heartwood Short Story
Or you can read it on this page in plain text without the super cool “handwritten” script font!
Legend has it that deep in the Arbor Wilds where few elves have traveled, lies a hidden grove where Mythal once planted a seed carried from the old city of Arlathan. She chose the grove because it was a nexus of the gods’ power and harbored a strong connection to the Fade. Mythal bestowed her blessing upon the dormant seed and from it sprung the largest of the trees. Mythal wished to spread these Great Arbors throughout the southern wilds to create a haven for the Dalish clans. Fen’Harel, the Dread Wolf, admired Mythal’s vision of refuge, but could not resist manipulating it with his own twisted desires. As the tree blossomed and gave seed, Fen’Harel summoned roots of liquid fire to corrupt the seeds for an execrable purpose. As the flaming roots grasped the seeds, poised to crack and enter the seeds and fill them with twisted magic, the seeds began to glow like molten stone. The gnarled roots wrapped around the seeds smoldered until they cooled into dark bark. No longer appearing to steal the life from the seed, but instead protecting it. The seeds glowed vibrantly, containing the corruption within so that the other seeds would remain unharmed and allow Mythal’s vision of an arboreal sanctuary to be preserved. It is said that a temple dedicated to Mythal was built deep within the Wilds in honor of Mythal’s gift to the elves. Its precise location has been concealed by the jungle, rough terrain, and the passage of time.
According to the Keeper I met on my travels through the Dales on my way to Fereldan, the elvish word for these glowing, pod-shaped growths rarely seen on the forest floor translates as “heartwood” because the energy emanating from the core is a brilliant reddish-orange color and roughly the size of an elven heart. The Keeper informed me that while heartwood is described as quite beautiful, it contains powerful, unstable magic that has been known to consume a man faster than the Blight.
The Keeper would often send hunters south of the Dales, far-off into the dense forest that is the Arbor Wilds in search of better game. On one such occasion I traveled with a small group of skilled hunters from their clan. The Keeper did not trust humans, but I was fortunate enough to prove myself to him when I healed a woman from the clan from her affliction. The Keeper permitted me to go with the hunters as long as I could guarantee their safe return. A promise I worried I could not keep with the many dangers that thrived within the Wilds.
We had been tracking a small group of bears for several days when we lost the trail. We were about to begin the return journey to our campsite when I felt an odd sensation. I reached out to sense where the disturbance was coming from. The hunters followed me with apprehension, but we soon came to a large rock face that appeared as if it had been split in two with great force. The monstrous crack gave way to an overgrown trail and soon a small, shaded grove surrounded by large trees with a small clearing. The sun was streaming through the canopy when we entered, highlighting the sides of the towering trees and patches of underbrush. I felt the source of the magic grow, perverted by some unseen force. Then it occurred to me that what I was feeling was a thinning of the Veil that separated the Fade from Thedas.
As if the aura around me detected my observation, clouds filtered the sunlight and considerably dropping its intensity. Peering into the grove, I began to see dark patches punctuated by angry red orbs of light. Heartwood. The number of red lights grew. The orbs gave the illusion that they were alive as the light within throbbed with a steady frequency. Blood red roots spread from the bark-crackled orbs and illuminated the ground around where they crept. I traced the pulsating roots to several darkened lumps not far from the furious red cluster. As I neared the shapes in the dead grass I saw the bodies of the prey we had been tracking. The large bodies of the bears were reduced to skin and bone. Completely drained of life and yet showed no signs of decay. I leaned down to touch one of the bodies, and as I did so I began to feel fatigued. My body wept profusely, desperate to combat the sensation of an invisible fire crawling along my skin. Two of the hunters slumped over behind me and ceased to move. The most experienced of the hunters hung on the edge of the grove and began firing arrows at the heartwood cluster. He ruptured several of them with loud, thunderous bursts before a root of red lighting darted through the ground lancing the archer’s leg like a spear. The angry root gripped the archer pulling him to the ground, wrestling with him much more aggressively than the subtle aura of exhaustion that surrounded the hunters. I was losing the fight to stay conscious.
I involuntarily kneeled as I felt the warm embrace of drowsiness take over, but not before mumbling the words necessary to freeze the ground around me. The distressingly cold sensation that spiked up my hands and into my body stabbed my brain awake as I cursed the Old Gods. I still felt drained, or rather, could feel my life being drained. The ice beneath me was a momentary dose of relief as I frantically thought of a solution to our plight. I drew on what magic I could muster and pushed outward. A cleansing wave of dispelling magic thrust the effects of the heartwood from my companions. My body felt refreshed, but I still felt the pull of fatigue. I moved quickly, concentrated outward, reaching through the Veil and into the Fade. Drawing on the weird magic that resided there, I cast wards on the tangled, glowing orbs which caused them to dull to a warm orange color. The elves began to awaken, shaking off the effects, except for the archer who had suffered severe injuries to his leg. No longer sensing the oppressive corruption of the heartwood, I approached.
I heightened my senses and touched the ground near a damaged heartwood stem. I felt the pull of the Fade, but I also could hear a song. Not the soothing melody I was used to, this was more chaotic and maddening. I brushed the dirt away to expose the roots of the heartwood, only they were not roots. The heartwood grew from a vein of raw lyrium. This lyrium looked strange. The glowing dark red veins looked sickly compared to the placid blue tone I knew all too well. I was no expert on the situation at hand, but my senses told me that this red lyrium had somehow weakened the Veil. I could feel the corruption of the lyrium mingling with the powerful magic inside the heartwood. I had to destroy the heartwood’s connection to the lyrium so that the Fade could not cross over here, or I would risk the appearance of demons.
I raised my staff above my head and fired javelins of lightning into the bases of each of the small heartwood trunks. Each of the orbs fell from their stems and their lights faded to an obsidian shade, with the exception of one. This orb still glowed with glorious purpose. I picked up the last heartwood. Although its connection to the lyrium had been severed, the corruption trapped inside still gnawed at my essence. I allowed the heartwood to feed. It began to glow brighter and I could feel the incredible power contained inside. I felt bits of life leave my body, but I was invigorated by the magic that now surged around me. I used this new energy to bind the bark of the heartwood to the end of my bladed staff. I pictured the rune of a powerful purification spell I wished to cast and swung the staff in a large arc in front of me. The resulting expulsion of magical energy blew passed the hunters and through the grove. The elves were healed and to my surprise the archer was able to walk. I no longer felt the aura of the Fade. My weary body leaned heavily on my staff as we left the grove.
I wondered how much this power would cost me. I wondered if the Keeper’s story about Mythal and Fen’Harel was true. Could the heartwood really be a creation of the protector, Mythal and corrupted by the trickster, Fen’Harel? I fear the reality is much worse; the heartwood is a creation birthed by the marriage of this red lyrium and a strong presence of the Fade. But what created the red lyrium? Could it really draw the Fade closer to Thedas or even breach it? The heartwood appears to be the key to understanding this connection. Will I be the one to discover it? I sense not. No, this will be a discovery of the ages. Perhaps a mystery my descendants will uncover.
-An excerpt from the lost journal of Magister Parthalan of the Tevinter Imperium
This contribution of fan fiction was written by Eric Ray in connection with the Heartwood Project. This story borrows elements and characters from the Dragon Age Franchise for artistic and entertainment purposes only. Dragon Age, its characters, and intellectual property are owned by Bioware, game development studio operated by Electronic Arts, Inc.