After his failure to kill the Inquisitor at Haven, Corypheus seethes and schemes. One thing is clear: he cannot have some bumbling cutthroat succeed where he failed.
So he spreads new orders:
The Inquisitor is not the be killed. Instead, all attacks are to be focused on the cursed Anchor. Cut off the Inquisitor's left arm and they will all fall to ruin.
Of course, these orders do not remain unknown to the Inquisition for long.
Bandit warriors focusing their attacks on the Inquisitor's left side, no matter their stance or their position on the battlefield. Enemy archers always aiming at the Inquisitor's left upper arm. Hostile apostates flinging their elemental spells at the same target.
At first, the Inquisitor shrugs this off as a fluke, tries to calm their possible LI and friends as they worriedly examine all those new wounds and scars.
Until one of Leliana's spies happens to be at the right place, at the right time.
This does not prevent it from happening, however.
Either through bad luck on the Inquisitor's side or a lucky strike on the enemies' or through extortion - what is more important? The Inquisitor's arm or their LI? Maybe the leverage is an unlucky Inquisitor agent or maybe the person never even had contact with the Inquisition before they were captured.
No matter, the Inquisitor loses their arm, and the enemy leaves them bleeding on the ground. They have their trophy, to be presented to Corypheus with haste. Though the green light vanishes long before it reaches him, it matters not: the Anchor is gone. There will be no more foolish hope.
While the Inquisitor first fights for their life, and then much later for recovery, their advisors, their friends, their beloved, they all try everything in their might to keep this tragedy under wraps.
Can there even be an Inquisition without the Anchor, without the Herald? Time, they need time.
And so all of Thedas learns of this disaster before the knowledge finally reaches Skyhold itself.
There is despair - some people leave, looking for another promise of hope, of a future.
Most stay, full of disbelief - the Inquisition must still be the answer to their prayers, must still be able to save them; after all, the herald still lives! This cannot be the end.
Weeks have passed. The Inquisitor is kept apart from the people and from current happenings, by their own choice and through swift actions of their advisors. They need to focus on their recovery, not on a Thedas slowly descending into ruin around them.
But the Inquisitor is unable to stay still for long - the phantom pain, the doubts – they are even worse when remaining still.
And so a sword and shield warrior relearns how to wield a sword, the feel of it, how to counter-balance the weight of their missing limb. With the gruff help and unending patience of Blackwall, realises that a sword is not merely a tool for offence but for defence as well. There are more blind spots to be covered, but it is not impossible to achieve. They have the skills - never lost them. Now they will use them even more efficiently. (You're not alone out there. Just like the Grey Wardens and their cause, we're all in this together. Wield us, our strengths, like an extra weapon, and nothing will have changed.)
The Inquisitor can still fight. They can still protect.
The two-handed warrior struggles to even lift their once favoured weapon. Stubbornly fights against protesting muscles and old teachings alike. With Iron Bull's quiet and versatile assistance, they develop an entirely new way to fight. (There's more to battle than just swinging your weapon, and hoping that whatever it hits doesn't get up again to fight back; there's a flow to it, every action causes a reaction, it's a constant give and take. If you realise this and use it to your advantage, there's no doubt that we will win.) Their strength has not lessened, if anything, they are now able to channel it even better than before.
The Inquisitor has always been more than the results of their brute force. Their enemies will learn this the hard way.
At first, the bow-wielding Inquisitor is without hope - it seems to them like they lost two limbs at once. Then Varric vanishes, only with a vague explanation. That he doesn't even spin a tale to justify his disappearance makes the perceived betrayal even worse.
Add a lost friend to the missing parts of the Inquisitor! It is almost a tale by itself already. Only. Only Varric returns after merely six days. What he presents the Inquisitor with is not Bianca. It is not a replica.
(Of course she isn't as gorgeous as my Bianca, but I just couldn't risk making her jealous. Have no doubt, she's just as deadly. Oh, and feel free to discuss any naming ideas you have with me before you decide on one! This is a rather important matter, after all. Does she have to be a she? Don't be ridiculous. Whatever name you decide on, it is yours.)
No matter what Varric says: the crossbow is a beauty, with leather bindings to allow the Inquisitor free use of their remaining arm when not in battle.
It cannot replace the bowstrings that will never be drawn again, but it is a beginning.
When asked, Varric spins outrageous stories about the origin - from lost Dwarven treasuries in the depths of the Deep Roads, to an instigated weapon-building competition between the Carta and the Antivan Crows, to a called-in favour from the Merchant Princes of Antiva - or was it a Rivaini pirate Queen? Nevertheless, this time, one of these is actually the truth.
The dagger-wielding Inquisitor is quick to decide on a favoured dagger for their right hand. But how to compensate for its missing double? Avidly, they watch the people around them fight, no matter their weapon choice, listening to advice from anyone who will offer it. None of it seems right. It's Scout Harding who finds the frustrated Inquisitor in the tavern, and with a retelling of a close-encounter she recently had, she reminds them that arms are not the only means of defence a person has, that a well placed kick can be just as deadly as the slash of a dagger. (So, there's the lone darkspawn and the nest of nightstalkers. And little me right in the middle. And I did mention the Giant, didn't I? Okay, because the Giant made the first move, and then...) Harritt considers this, and soon the Inquisitor's footwear is outfitted with some... extras. Pointy, deadly, extras.
The Inquisitor may have been forced to stop their dual-wielding ways, but no one ever told them that they couldn't triple-wield instead.
The mage feels the loss of the Anchor the most. Even if not called upon, its presence was always felt. Now, the energy flowing inside the Inquisitor takes different, new routes. It's still there, but how to direct it outwards, without the usual flourish, without the harmonic dance? Solas is the obvious choice for answers, but he is distracted and unusually distant, even by his own standards. Vivienne and Dorian accept this as a challenge, and soon there are three mages in a removed corner of Skyhold, seemingly caught in a slow dance, sometimes around, sometimes with each other and always with the magic between them. The only spectators allowed are the Tranquil, who offer not only their unique perspective but also new theoretical ideas on cause and effect.
Soon, there is a shift inside the Inquisitor, and the spell's name and a tilt of the head is enough to trigger the energy. With that level of control, Dagna theorizes, a rune could be placed on their body, without negative effects on the bearer, to be activated with merely a touch.
For now, the Inquisitor is more than satisfied with the rekindled communication with their magic. Anything further, this time, will be their own choice.
When the Inquisitor ventures out again, there is an almost palpable sigh of relief, that spreads and spreads, wherever the news reach.
The Herald still lives, the Inquisition still fights. There's still hope.
Soon, those that have not been forever lost already, return to Skyhold.
And they are not the only ones.
Wounded soldiers, forgotten in remote makeshift infirmaries or left alone with their pension, flock to Skyhold. It must not be the battlefield they aim for again- they know they can help in many ways. Cassandra becomes their patron, and together they are a force to be reckoned with. Building, instructing, scouting. Established camps need to be tended to, lest they become unusable. Forts don't only exist to be conquered.
They are the ones who will hold them and protect the people living inside and around, while the Inquisitor takes the fight to the enemy. No one will be left behind any longer.
(Varric, you cannot describe me like this, I'm not... I'm not "a warrior goddess, descended from the heavens, wishing to lead humankind so that they may fulfil their own potential while kicking lots of ass and taking names and looking really good in plate armor”. And what is with that abrupt change of tone? … I really liked that short scene at the remote lake, though. There's more like this in the next chapter? … very well, you may continue writing. For now.)
Templars and those who do not ascribe this name to themselves any longer, some nearly mad from Lyrium withdrawal, some just starting to feel the effects of it. Others fighting against the dark whispers of its red counterpart. In Cullen they find a teacher, a mentor, a confidant. In them, Cullen finds something he thought lost long ago, trapped in a small circle in a tower filled by demons and death: himself, the little boy with dreams of what the Templar Order had always been to him. He rediscovers his calling. (To protect those in need, for as long as I draw breath.)
The Tranquil who kept themselves hidden or had help eluding the terrible fate Alexuis had envisioned for them. Their calm demeanour is a balm for the scared and scarred children of this war. They become beloved teachers, esteemed advisors and fair judges. There might not be a way to ever reverse what was done to them, by their own choice or by dictate of others. But through their work they are blossoming and through the help they give they are helped in turn.
And then there are the ones who have always been at war, be it with theirs minds or their bodies or their feelings. The ones that have never fit in, the ones who were always kept away. Called outcasts when in esteemed company. Cowardly called worse when with like-minded people.
In truth, survivors, each and every one of them.
Krem never though there were so many like him. He teaches what he himself learned through the Chief and the Chargers- there is nothing wrong with you. Simply be you. He might have lost the family he had in Tevinter, but he wouldn't give up this new, ever-growing one for anything in this world. (If only you would stop assigning everybody a Charger name, Chief. I know it's a great ice-breaker, but it's getting ridiculous. Kanad is genuinely unhappy with the one you gave him. Yes, I know that you've already exhausted your creativity when it comes to Antiva, but Ant is really not a great name for a Tal-Vashoth! … I will open another cask if you give him another name. … It's a deal, Chief.)
Mages, no matter their affiliation or origin, seek shelter in Skyhold, despite the harsh whispers about it being just another form of Circle, a new kind of prison. But they do have choices, here. They are always free to leave. Should they so desire, they will be taught how to fight, how to protect themselves from demons, how to protect others. They can learn how to heal, be it with magic or with herbs. They can assist the Tranquil in their dealings. They can choose a job for which their magic has no relevance at all.
By now, Skyhold houses mages form nearly every corner of Thedas, each with their own unique perspective, their own experiences. Exchange between the different groups is common, and so are discussions that often end in heated debates. Sometimes, a fire needs to be put out.
It is not perfect, but better than what most of them are used to. And they are far away from giving up on finally shaping their own future.
Dorian stumbles over two newcomers avidly communing with their hands, learns that there is an entire language based on signs formed like this. Searches through the forgotten library in the bosom of Skyhold, and finds books specifically written for those who cannot see. There is still so much in this world he has to learn, to understand. He does what he has always done: he studies, he reads, he asks questions. Then he sees that there are so few who have the opportunity to lean these skills. Realises that this, at least, he can change and change now. Begins to teach others and animates others to teach. Learns more than new languages, learns how to feel comfortable in his own skin. (No more hiding your feelings until they have rotten away and become something unrecognisable. This is you, in your entire glory, and the world will just have to learn to accept this!)
Of course there are those who will never believe in anything less than their own superiority. For the first time of one mind, Leliana and Sera work together to root out these troublemakers, the ones who put on an amiable mask, only to spew hate where they think they will be applauded for it. With a gentle but firm hand they will be advised to reconsider their views of their peers and comrades. With a firm and harsh hand they will be removed from Skyhold, should they prove to be nothing more than the vile things they spout.
Leliana's spies are everywhere, and where her eyes do not reach, Red Jenny always has her ears. (We have lost Haven, but Skyhold will become a new haven for those who seek it. There will be no more failures. This, I promise.)
Vivienne and Josephine take a close look at the people they surround themselves with at parties and at court. Now, they find most of them shockingly lacking in all the things that really matter.
Vivienne now only attends parties of hosts commonly perceived as lesser nobility for outdated and asinine reasons. Her usual entourage has to fight hard for her attention. She and Josephine viciously cut through their contacts, but gain many more: the eccentrics, the expelled, the forgotten.
Many smallclothes end up pinned to inappropriate places.
The Inquisitor is getting better, but there are times when the phantom pain of the lost limb returns, when they start to withdraw into themselves. Cole always appears then, like he does, and quietly tells the Inquisitor about the thoughts of Skyhold's inhabitants. (After so long, finally finding home, purpose, friends, lovefamilypeacehappiness. I listen to their stories. Some want to share theirs with you. I need to go to the stables. A little boy without his toy. You are better now. … thank you, for remembering me.)
The Inquisitor seeks out those who want to talk with them, listens to their lives as told from their own lips. Sits quietly with those who do not want to talk.
Remembers that there is so much to fight for.
Solas is never far from the Inquisitor, hasn't been for a while now. He knows how to remain hidden. Knows when it is time to stop hiding and to confront problems. Usually.
The Anchor is back, beating in the Inquisitor's chest like a second heart. It is not noticeable yet, but it is growing, growing stronger. Only this time, there is no strain on the bearers body. If anything, the Inquisitor seem to become stronger with it or maybe it is the other way around. Either way, Solas will tell them soon. He has to. (Until then, he will keep watching, wondering: will the heart keep beating now, long after it should have stopped? Wondering, hoping - no, not hoping, never hoping - dreading. No, I can not think about it. I must not think about it.)
Corypheus thought the Inquisition had begun and would end with the Anchor. He wanted to crush their hope, but forgot that people are never to be underestimated. The Inquisition was never just the mark, was never just one person. It has always been the people, each and every one of them, and united they will stand.
United they will be victorious.