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Under Giant Trees

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They kiss their mother goodbye, one at a time, and run off into the forest holding hands while she reminds them to stay close and be careful. They've heard it a hundred times, and each time wander further, the trees giant and looming above their tiny bodies. The twins muddle wild berries between the fingers, clumsily paint each other's faces, the fat branches of their new markings stretching towards the roots of their hair. Their mother looks sad when they come home with the mark of Mythal across their faces to match her own, but never says anything while she cleans them up and kisses their cheeks. They will never have tattoos of their own, but their mother assures them they don't want any, and that the curve of their ears doesn't make them any less Dalish.

Two young elves, identical from their toes to the tips of their ears, wander further from clan Lavellan than they're meant to. They paint the vallaslin on each other messily, Ellana boasting Andruil's markings, her sister Ellora with Mythal's. They chase each other between the trees, weaving in and out with practiced and steady feet, occasionally throwing snowballs at one another, despite the heat of summer bearing down upon them. They know not to be so open with their talents, but they are foolish children, and the trees feel like a protective shield between them and the outside world.

Two small Rutherford-Lavellans wander between the trees, plucking their shoes from their feet when they need better grip on the moss and twisting roots that cover the ground. They chase the magic of the world, picking up sticks and rocks and hiding behind logs to look at a fennec mother and her babies, whispering between each other until the foxes hear and scamper away. They trace the lines of ancient trees, massive beneath their young hands, eyes shining with wonder. The sun sparkles above them through the trees, becoming mottled patterns on the ground that they run over and around. They leave sparkling marks on the bark to show them the way home, just some of the magic their mother taught them.

They pick up branches to be their staves, pretend to be the great keepers they will be raised for. It is only a matter of time before one of them is sent away to live with another clan, and they feel the time slipping away between their fingers like soil. But as children do, the sisters Lavellan smile and dance and tease and laugh, darting between the trees like they're forest creatures themselves. They wonder at all to be found, from the smallest of bugs to creatures bigger than they are. The children chase each other further from camp, laughter ringing through the trees. They are as carefree as only children can be.

The sun begins to find its way home to the horizon for the night, but they haven't yet found their way home. Instead, the sisters are fascinated with the glowing insects who have come out for the night, flashing at each other in a mysterious language the children cannot understand. They think nothing of the sun's descent below the horizon, lighting their way with small flames in each hand. Their mother is home, frantically tugging her husband towards the forest. They've never been out this late, something might have happened. He understands, tries to calm her with a gentle touch to her one hand; they'll find their children, they'll be okay. He knows where this fear has taken root, what memories serve to nourish it.

In time, the sisters come across another camp, this time human, and much less friendly than their clan. The men wear huge silver armor that shines in the light of their fire, the image of a sword set into the breastplates. They wear swords at their hips, too, shining brighter than the armor, and swaths of deep purple-red fabric down to their boots. It all means something to someone, but they do not connect the word templar, something they have been taught to fear, with what these men are. They are brave in a way only children can be: brimming with trust. Ellora steps forward, curious.

The forest around South Reach is much smaller than the forest in the Free Marches two young elves once played in, and two elf-blooded children cannot have gotten far in one afternoon. The only relief their mother finds is that this is no longer the world she grew up in, with templars around every corner, and they can defend themselves well enough against forest animals. But so much can still go wrong, and she has been so foolish to let them stray so much, the forest singing to the Dalish in their blood. Small, sparkling handprints give away their direction, and Ellana drags her husband further into the forest, moving so quickly on light feet he can barely keep up in his clunky, Fereldan boots.

They know to be careful around humans, but curiosity and oddity win more. The large armor they wear seems clunky and hard to move in, nothing like what the warriors and hunters in their clan wear, but the men are on their feet in seconds, staring at the girls for a second before moving closer. Ellana tugs at her sister's sleeve, seeing something dark in their eyes that she doesn't want to get to know any more. Her sister ignores her, staring up at the men with wonder in her eyes at their shining armor and swords. She knows not to show their magic in front of strangers, but she's scared and wants to get her sister's attention: Ellana gives her a shock to the elbow. The purple spark is all the men need to lunge forward towards the tiny mages.

Two half-human, half-elf children can't find anywhere to belong but the forest. As much as their parents love them, the rest of the world is not the same, unless it is neither human nor elf, and sees with impassive, ancient eyes. There can be no disgust with their elvhen blood, nor their human blood, when they are alone with no one but each other and the freedom of the trees. They catch fireflies in their hands, grins stretching wide and with missing teeth.

Shocked, Ellana turns that spark towards the men, and it ripples through their armor for a moment, shocking them. She grabs her sister's hand and runs; they stumble through the underbrush with more urgency than before, trying to remember the way home through all the twists and turns and adrenaline. They hear the clanging of armor behind them and push further.

Two parents find their children in a clearing in the forest, safe and unharmed. Their mother wraps her arms around them both, tears running down their face while their father embraces the three of them at once. Ellana's voice cannot stop trembling, even as Cullen tells her they're safe, they're safe, they're safe, and they take their children home, twins in the middle, Ellana and Cullen on the outside, all four holding hands.

One of the Lavellan twins doesn't make it home. Ellora falls across a branch, reaches out to her sister for help and to a templar with the other hand, fire flaring to life in her palm, protection against the inevitable fate of young elvhen mages caught outside the circle, where no one will know of them. Her fire isn't enough to stop the sword that comes down, hits the ground behind her with a dull thud.

Her eyes are glassy now, staring into a place Ellana cannot see. The Beyond. The templar pulls his blade out of her sister with a sickening, wet sound, wiping the blood off as best he can on a nearby patch of moss, then looks up at her. She runs as fast as she can.

 She returns later only when she's sure the templars are gone, bringing a few of the clan's hunters with her. When she sees her sister, cold on the ground, she stops, her knees weak. Ellana wants nothing more than to look away, but she can't stop staring at the pallor of her skin, the brightness of the blood spread out on the ground, the gaping wound where her heart should be. She wishes it were her. She wishes they had never gone so far from the clan. And when her knees finally give out and she's left crying over her sister's body, hair streaked with blood, hands staining her clothes red, the hunters must pull her away to take Ellora's body back to camp, bury her, and say their goodbyes.