Lyna came to herself in an aravel, lying on a bed of furs. It was her aravel; she knew it even before she could look around—she knew the smells and the way the air and light came through the windows. Her head felt dull and thick as if she'd slept for far too long. How had she gotten here? It seemed that just moments ago, she’d been at Kinloch Hold in Ferelden, smells of blood and sulfur thick in the air, magic all around her crackling in her bones—and Alistair and the elder human mage, fighting with her and Taliesin to the top of the tower.
The aravel floor was solid under her feet, the air fresh, the outside light warm and rich. But the Circle Tower was just as real, and it seemed that there had been so much before it. Finding the mirror, becoming tainted, leaving the clan for the Grey Wardens… had it really happened?
Suddenly, she heard footsteps approaching, and then the deerskin hung in the entrance was pulled aside. Taliesin stepped out of the sunlight, bow in hand and dressed in his hunting leathers. He said nothing and gave her a faint, familiar glance as he began to undo the buckles of his scabbard and quiver.
“Taliesin,” she said sternly, narrowing her eyes at him. He knew better than to barge into her aravel without asking, so what was he doing here?
“Is something wrong, ma vhenan?” he asked, unstringing his bow. Ma vhenan? Surprise must have shown on her face, for he raised an eyebrow, leaning his bow against the wall and approaching her. Of course—what was wrong with her? They had been married a year ago. She remembered how he'd courted her, gifts of hide and carvings and old Dalish verses spoken in the rare moments they could be alone. She still wore the first favor he'd given her, a necklace he'd made of a grizzly bear claw on a braided leather band.
“No,” she said, “nothing. I…” The memories had been so vivid only moments ago, but now they seemed dull and distant, fading away piece by piece as she tried to stop them. Of course they weren’t real. How could she and Taliesin be here if they were? “I had a strange dream.”
He sat next to her, close but not quite touching, and his eyes warmed with affection when they met hers. “Tell me.”
“I dreamed we’d become Grey Wardens.” She had to smile at the strangeness of it.
He chuckled. “Really? What a life that would be.”
“You wanted it, in my dream. You chose to join them.”
“Why would I ever want to leave this?” His smile was quiet and earnest, almost shy, as he reached and traced the line of her jaw. She tensed with surprise at the touch, and though she wanted to respond in some fashion, she felt too stunned to even try. His fingers stopped where her vallaslin curled beneath her lip; with gentle pressure, he tilted her chin up towards him and bent down, his eyes meeting hers for a fragile moment before they fluttered shut. She felt his breath on her skin, and then, achingly delicate, he pressed his lips to hers, warm and yielding and just barely rough.
Lyna was caught between needing to gasp for air and being utterly paralyzed, her head spinning for want of breath and her skin fever-hot. Taliesin seemed to notice her sudden stillness and pulled back, opening his eyes, his brows raised in uncertainty. What was she doing? This shouldn’t have been so strange or so difficult. She took in a small, deliberate breath and reached for his cheek, her hand steady as her palm brushed his cheekbone and guided him back to her. Narrowing her eyes, she closed the distance until their lips met, kissing gracelessly but with affection and want that took her by surprise, moving her hand back through his hair to pull him closer. She felt his lips part and met this with her tongue. Breathing in through her nose, she was struck by his scent: sandalwood and pine, tannin and sweat, stones and earth.
It was over quickly—a kiss between lovers, nothing extravagant or improper. They pulled apart, and he smiled at her more broadly, sudden and fond. "You're blushing like you've never kissed before."
A silly notion. Of course she had, she could remember… she could remember the fact that they had kissed, but she found that she could not recall when, nor how many times, nor the shape and softness of his lips or the taste of his mouth.
His hand trailed from her cheek to the curve of her skull, fingers brushing down the back of her neck, over dense columns of muscles there to her throat, tracing the neckline of her tunic and the cord of her necklace. Braided leather, she remembered—but under his fingers, she only felt a simple buckskin cord. She opened her eyes enough to look down.
The pendant was not the bear claw she recalled so clearly, but a tiny vial stopped with lead, rust-colored flecks of dried blood staining the glass.
Everything came back to her in a flash—their tasks, their friends, the Circle Tower, the voice of the sloth demon lulling them into sleep. And if all that had been real… she couldn’t be with her clan now, and neither could he. She jerked back, dashing his hand from her collar and pushing him to arm’s length.
“You're not Taliesin,” she said.
She had always been the stronger of the two, and he did not fight her as she stood and yanked him to his feet along with her, her hands clenched around straps of his armor. He gaped for a moment and tried to speak her name, but she cut him off. “What have you done with him?”
His lips pressed together tightly, and his eyes narrowed almost as if in confusion. "Is this not what you wanted?"
“Where are we?” she demanded. “Where is Taliesin?”
“Does it matter?” he countered, his eyes deep and dark and curious as if her reactions truly puzzled him. “You never wanted the life of a Grey Warden, yet you go to such trouble to return to it. Why not stay here with me? Why not let me give you what you want?”
“What I want doesn't matter.” His touch and all the comfort it promised revolted her, and yet it was tempting to give in, to forget that this was some demon in Taliesin’s guise and live out the life that had been taken from her, the life that she wanted. It would be easy.
She found the knife at her belt, pulled it free, and drove it between his ribs with a grunt. His hands on her loosened, and, disbelieving, he looked from the hilt protruding from his chest up to her face, blood welling between his lips. His body crumpled slowly, and the pain and betrayal in his eyes seemed so genuine that for a moment she feared she'd been wrong after all. She almost knelt down to catch him when, finally, the aravel blurred and twisted away into nothing. Lyna was left standing in an alien expanse, the sky green and seething, the ground spongy and brownish-red, islands drifting on the horizon like storm clouds.
She was alone.
It seemed like hours before they found each other again among the drifting islands and the foggy, unchanging sky. They were both exhausted and more than a little disoriented; he touched her arms when they reached each other as if to be sure she was real, and immediately she felt her cheeks burn bright red.
He frowned and let her go. “What is it?”
The memories flooded back—the warmth of his body close to hers, the rough brush of his fingertips, his soft lips. She shook her head, very much wishing she could forget. “Nothing.”