Immortality and the question of Zathrian and the Lady
“We whisper it, as we whisper a great shame. Not because we believe we had it, but because we believe we lost it. Immortality.
Let us set aside the arguments about whether it is possible to live forever and concern ourselves with the practicalities. Of what the eternal elf might have looked like and if such a state is even desirable.
First, we seek examples. There are constant rumors of the “elder from the other clan,” but inevitably the member of that clan likewise have heard the same of another. An endless chain of hopeful myths. We have but one verified eample of a modern member of the People exceeding what we call a lifetime: Zathrian of the Brecillian Forest.
Zathrian’s years were extended not through restoration of the natural means we assume have been poisoned by the press of humanity, but by the lashing of soul to spirit through the manipulation of life and blood. His was a literal crime against nature, for in seeking vengeance, he manipulated the heart of the Brecillian Forest, itself possessed of an ancient spirit. His family torn apart by human cruelty, Zathrian bound the spirit, the Lady, to a wolf and bade her kill for him.
As Witherfang, the Lady killed, but also did she infect. For this manipulation was of such strength, of such hatred, it made victims of all sides. The Lady, bound to the wolf, infected human and elf alike, turning them to werewolves, spurring myth and legend throughout Ferelden. And Zathrian, bound to his curse, lived to see the cost of what he had unleashed and lived yet longer with the soured memories of his broken family. Yet, we are not to judge the act. Those events found their end in due course. Of interest now is Zathrian himself and how he fared for his additional years. Did he find his natural state and, within it, understanding?
We know that the minds of spirits are focused in a way that is alien to mortals. They seem myopic, but is that what they are or because of what they are? It is conjectured that Zathrian lived at least three centuries. This is unheard of, but still a blink when compare to eternity. His clan prospered and believed the longevity of their Keeper marked him as closer to what we once were. But all would mention his severity, his distance. His manner does not describe the mind of someone at peace. We can presume that the guilt of his actions weighed upon him, but for many, one lifetime is enough to prompt restitution. It took him far longer. We must ask why.
Consider a mind that ascend to immortality through hatred for what it has lost. Even if that loss remains a focus, in the fullness of time, there will be other losses. His clan were mortals, and he outlived generations of them, watching friend after friend wither and die, some falling to the very curse that sustained him. What were they when compared to the original plan? Was their loss as great? Was it lesser? Was the number overwhelming, or numbing?
We must remember it was the arrival of an outsider, the Hero of Ferelden, that spurred the ending of the curse. Zathrian may have known regret, but as his own life extended, the lives of all around him seeming mere moments, did they remain as peers? As children? As acquaintances known only for a fleeting moment? As his focus approached that of a spirit, was he still able to empathize with those around him?
It can be argued that an immortal would have to be distant, or eventually all it would know is loss. What would our world look like to such a creature? What actions would they be capable of when everything except themselves is fleeting and therefore of little relevance to eternity? If we elvhen discover a path back to what we were, we must be sure that the path is wide enough for all. For the individual who stumbles into that journey, who endures when all else is dust, can only be alone.”
–Keeper Ilan'ta, for discussion among the hahren'al as they gathered for Arlathvhen (World of Thedas Volume 2 - pg. 108)