“You move, we die.”
Despite the urgency in Dorian's voice, Velahari couldn't help the way she faltered, eyes drawn to Solas's prone body on the ground of Redcliffe castle as Leliana grunted against the hold of the demons. A swirl of dark green energies opened up behind them then, and Velahari cried out a distressed sound as one of the demons lifted its gnarled, clawed hand and swiped it across the spymaster in a single, lethal stroke.
The portal swallowed them then, and as Velahari landed harshly on the ground on the other side, she had to forcibly keep away the emotions welling up within her; it was one thing to envision the world should the Elder One win, and something very different to see how it affected people – affected her friends, companions whom she'd come to trust with her life. And to see them die in front of her, just a few feet beyond her own hands...it had taken a visible toll on her, and while Dorian at first looked towards her, dark eyebrows knitted together in concern, the pair would soon discover such was the least of said concerns.
“Are you all right? No ill effects from the time magic?” Dorian was half-smiling when Velahari looked up at him, though his smile disappeared under a small frown at the tears at the corners of her eyes. “We're safe now! We've only to defeat Alexius, and that future will never happen,” Dorian attempted to assure her, though it wasn't just that – she didn't understand how he could shrug off something like that so easily.
“But where are we?” Velahari had looked briefly away from Dorian to survey their surroundings, to better familiarize herself with where they were and if they were far away from Redcliffe castle,only to discover nothing but mountains and snowdrifts around them. Dorian helped Velahari to stand, though his eyes were on the mountains.
“I...don't know,” Dorian eventually admitted, confusion contorting the twist of his lips and the lines around his eyes. “This certainly doesn't look like Redcliffe, so it's safe to assume the portal dropped us elsewhere, and perhaps, else-when.” The pair exchanged a look, and Dorian waved off Velahari's expression; “I know, I know. That isn't helpful, but we won't learn anything just standing here, will we?”
He had a point, though even as Velahari looked more carefully around the mountains, she saw no signs of life – no activity, save for the light flakes of snow falling from puffy grey clouds overhead. Just as her lips parted to ask Dorian where he thought they ought to go, something glinted out of the corner of her eye, and though she didn't see anything out of the ordinary at first glance, she narrowed her eyes: only to see the same, queer glimmer.
“Ah, far be it from me to correct the illustrious Herald of Andraste, but shouldn't we try to leave the mountains?” Dorian queried, undoubtedly freezing with nearly half of his chest exposed to the elements.
“There's something there,” Velahari murmured, a hand lifting to point across the way – not that it would be easy to get to. Dorian's eyes narrowed in the same direction, and when he was unable to detect whatever it was she had, he gave her an uncertain look.
“Are you sure?”
Velahari nodded, her smile as reassuring as she could make it under the circumstances, and eventually Dorian relented with a sigh. If he froze to death because of this, he was going to be very, very cross with her. Nevertheless, when she began plodding across the snow, he followed closely, not about to be left behind – he was still the one with the amulet, after all, and if they were ever to make it back to their proper time, she would need him as much as the world would need her.
The distance was further than it initially seemed, but the strangest thing happened as they drew closer. Magic tingled across their skin, and the pair exchanged a single glance when they felt it most strongly; something magical was hidden here, and Velahari had not been imagining things at all. Even stranger, there seemed to be a boundary of the magic – once they passed it, the wind was not so fierce, and the temperature was even and warm.
“A shame we forgot such magics – think of how much better off Haven would be!” Dorian remarked, pausing for a glance at the magical barrier, though he could see nothing but mountains and snow.
“Whoever cast such a spell is a powerful mage, Dorian,” Velahari murmured, expression sobering. “As exceptional and impressive as it is, we should be wary in case whoever's inside doesn't appreciate the intrusion.”
“Us? An intrusion? Perish the thought! Anyone would be lucky to have us on their doorstep.” Dorian's jape was accented with a crooked smile, though Velahari still felt uneasy, even as she returned the expression with a more subdued one of her own.
“Creators.” The stronghold seemed to appear out of thin air, and Velahari whispered the word breathlessly. How had she not seen it before?
“Well,” Dorian began, the mage clearing his throat before continuing. “You were certainly right about something being over here.” Neither could see guards at the first watchtower: one that stood as a silent sentinel at one side of the bridge.
“Let's...be careful. There's something too easy about all of this.”
Dorian nodded his agreement, and the pair made their way slowly across, the only sounds they could hear the echoing of their footsteps against the stone. As they crossed into the courtyard under a portcullis, Velahari knew they'd made a mistake; the portcullis fell behind them, trapping them inside, and when the pair glanced back after looking at their blocked exit, it was to see several elves, arrows taut against bow strings and primed to fire.
Velahari knew enough of the elven language to know it was what they were speaking, but aside from a few disparate words, she couldn't even begin to translate.
“What are they saying?” Dorian murmured, the mage daring only to lower his head half an inch in case the elves thought he might be reaching for a weapon.
“I don't know.” Velahari's heart pounded, but even so, she could not help looking more intently at the elves: their lack of vallaslin marked them not as Dalish, but they certainly did not look like city elves either. It made her wonder at Solas's explanation of elves eking out a living on the fringes of both societies, but he'd said he'd mostly spent his time alone; did such a haven exist for elves who fled shemlen cities and for whatever reason did not seek the Dalish?
It was clear the elven archers were becoming frustrated at the lack of answers they were receiving, and one of them, a taller man with fierce brown eyes, bellowed out another question in elven, his tone noticeably agitated and angry. “Say something, anything, before they decide to fill us with arrows and toss us over the mountain,” Dorian urged, but what could she say?
“Ir abelas, but I do not speak Elvish fluently,” Velahari attempted, though judging from the frowns she received at her words, the exchanged looks, she doubted very much anyone understood her.
“You speak the common tongue – you, an escaped slave who has also had the audacity to drag a shemlen to this sacred place.” The tall elf from earlier, brown eyes dark and angry, was the one to speak, and Velahari floundered in response – an escaped slave? “Why have you come here?”
“Ah, please forgive me for interrupting, but if you could tell us where we are, we would be most grateful.” Dorian's smile was sheepish and fragile, and he flinched away from the angry tone in which the elf answered.
“Silence, shemlen. You will hold your tongue unless addressed.” Velahari was only just able to see the dumbfounded expression cross Dorian's face, though the mage did remain quiet, however disgruntled he felt at being condescended to from the elf. “You have not answered my question, slave of Dirthamen. Why have you come here?” Velahari's jaw clenched just a bit tightly, eyes hardening.
“We don't even know where here is,” she finally replied, exasperated and irritated. “If you could answer just a few questions, it would be help-”
“Do not pretend you do not know where you are,” the elf sneered, brown eyes narrowing down the long line of his thin nose. “Tarasy'lan te'las is no forgotten place – do not presume me a fool.” The elf paused then, just long enough to turn his head and share a few, short words with one of his fellows; Dorian and Velahari exchanged one of their own in the interim, and when both cared to look back, the brown-eyed elf nodded wordlessly at them.
Their staves were confiscated even as the pair struggled against strong arms that grabbed hold of them, and Velahari didn't bother attempting to contain her glare at the elf as they were led up stairs and to an upper courtyard, many loitering elves watching curiously as they passed.
She could scarcely hear the murmurings as she and Dorian trod past, the elves' grip on their arms unforgiving and likely bruising, though at least she'd be able to heal the bruises when she could focus enough. At the moment, however, all she felt was as a caged tiger, ready to pounce and flee the moment the opportunity arose. Her hand twinged uncomfortably as a sharp, elven shoulder harshly nudged her towards another set of stairs, and though her left hand clenched and tightened – hoping to alleviate the pressure – Velahari could only bite her tongue and do as her captors bid her.
There were a great many more elves in the massive structure than Velahari had anticipated, and all of them promptly ended their conversations to look at her and Dorian: some curiously, others suspiciously, and some with hateful, disgusted scowls that made Velahari's frown deepen until it almost spilled over into one of her own.
“We have found intruders. Undoubtedly sent to uncover secrets of your plans and turn them over to Elgar'nan and Falon'Din.”
Elgar'nan? Falon'Din? Velahari's expression was overcome with confusion then; how was it these elves spoke of the elven gods in such ways? They were sealed away for all time, had been for ages beyond counting by the Dread Wolf; was this some elaborate ruse to keep their true purpose a secret from her and from Dorian?
“Maker's breath,” Dorian breathed at her side, his voice little more than a whisper only she could hear, and when Velahari caught the human's line of sight and looked up as well, she could well understand. “It can't be.”
The elf in question had at first been leaning over a table, a map of the area spread across its surface; fingertips moved across it, following the movement of a compass and subsequently by little markers which presumably held some sort of significance – though the map and the table were the least of Velahari's concerns. The face which now peered curiously at her and Dorian was a face they both recognized, and for a moment, Velahari could not breathe. There was no recognition in the elf's features, though she had all-but-memorized the grey-blue of his eyes, the slight twinkle when prompted into the subject of spirits or the Fade, and even the slight tug of his lips as he attempted not to smile at a jape made by one of their companions.
“What shall we do with them, Dread Wolf?” The elf spoke the common tongue as if to inform Fen'Harel tacitly that their 'guests' did not speak elven – how else would they learn of their sentence otherwise?
If recognizing one of her companions was a tough pill to swallow, hearing him addressed in such a way was a punch to the gut. Had she not been so certain, Velahari might have believed they were stuck in the Fade: in the elaborate dream of some vindictive demon, but nothing about their surroundings betrayed such a prognosis, and indeed, the Dread Wolf could see the dilemma spelled out on her features. His gaze did not long remain on her, however; it swept over to Dorian not long afterwards, curious and uncertain himself, though it was but a cursory glance.
The Dread Wolf was a far cry from the Solas they'd left behind; he stood taller, more confidently, with an easy-going gait and a provocative smile that seemed to promise the fulfillment of deep, dark desires Velahari hadn't realized she'd even possessed until that very moment. Long, tangled tendrils of auburn fell in waves of his shoulders, a dark shade of red that burned into brown from the sunlight billowing into the chamber. A pelt of dark, grey fur was draped over one of his shoulders in a silent homage to his own namesake, though the rest of his chest was bare: it appeared the cold mountain air did not bother the Dread Wolf. A jawbone still hung around his neck, though even without it, the resemblance was unmistakable; this was Solas from another time, and though Velahari scarcely wished to believe it, any doubts vanished the moment his lips parted and he addressed them.
“Ah, visitors. I had not thought to hear from Dirthamen again, not after what happened the last time. But a shemlen? Would even Elgar'nan stoop so low, or does he hope I will pity the human and allow him sanctuary?” His head tilted slightly to the side, and there was a dark glint to his smile, in the way the points of his canines suddenly appeared and grazed across his bottom lip as a predatory smile began to take shape there. “Well? What say you? Confess your treachery, and I might grant you a swift death.”
“I have committed no treachery,” Velahari replied, green eyes blazing. Fen'Harel's lips twitched then, amusement playing across his features though his eyes were hard, unyielding stone. “As I informed your servant,” Velahari began, scowl spilling into a sneer as her gaze lingered on the elf from earlier. “We don't even know where we are. Hear us out. What have you to lose? Surely two cannot hope to stand against so many, least of all against the Trickster.” The brown-eyed elf bristled at the way he'd been addressed, though as he stiffened and made a move towards Velahari, Fen'Harel gestured his hand with such a minute movement she hadn't even been certain she'd seen it.
“All those accused of guilt plead innocence,” Fen'Harel replied tartly, though his crooked smile never once wavered. “And you have shown us no reason to give credence to whatever it is you might say, so if that was all...” Fen'Harel's voice trailed off, though as he nodded towards another elf and turned back towards his table, Velahari's quiet gasp caught his attention. She curled her hand into a tighter fist – pressure seemed to help make the pain dissipate for a time – though for now, it did little; Dorian's eyebrows drew together in concern as he turned towards her, though when he made a move towards her, two elves nearby dragged him back by the shoulders, their eyes noticeably not on the shemlen.
Velahari tucked her hand against her chest, yet the pain continued, growing and pulsing with every passing moment. Another louder, pained sound forced its way from her lips, and eerie green light began to play against the skin between her fingers, casting slivers against her opposite arm. Cassandra told her that as the Breach grew in the sky, so too did the mark on her hand; now that the rift just under the Breach was closed, her mark was stabilized – such as it was – but it did still pain her from time to time. The pain had never been quite this intense, however.
She only made the realization that her eyes had been shut when someone unceremoniously grabbed her hand and forced it open, though the grip was not as tight as she might have expected from such hostile beings. Part of her was little surprised to see Fen'Harel kneeling in front of her, his eyes focused on the mark even as he held on to her wrist; green tendrils writhed and snapped against her skin, not physically, but she could feel them slithering about like serpents all the same.
“How did you obtain this?” Fen'Harel touched the mark only once, and though she had certainly heard his question, Velahari found herself more surprised to find that the pain was gone from that one simple touch.
Blue eyes were narrowed at her, not angrily, though there was understandable suspicion there; “I don't remember,” she offered weakly, and Fen'Harel merely huffed out a quiet, ironic chuckle before releasing her and standing once more.
“It seems you do not remember a great deal,” he taunted, the dark glint returning to his features in the time it took to blink. The Dread Wolf was quiet for a few moments, his eyes lingering on his marked map before returning to Velahari.
“Perhaps it would not be such a waste of my time to hear your story. Come, and bring the shemlen. This shall be amusing, if little else.”