A/N: This was my first time doing the Dragon Age Big Bang challenge, and it was a blast! Despite some setbacks, I got paired with an amazing artist, ialpiriel. Link to the art here (warning, some nudity)! Seriously - talented, a laugh and a half, and a joy to work with. Highly recommended.
Chapter 1: The Fade
She was dreaming again.
Eve looked down at her hands, muddy to her elbows thick enough to disguise her left for what it was. She was armed to the teeth, too – full gear and mage leathers. They were rust-brown and not her usual grey, placing this particular moment before Dagna's new armor press, so... seven months ago? Eight?
"This is bloody ridiculous, that's what."
A few paces ahead on the banks of the stream, Blackwall stood knee-deep in wet clay, abandoned boots on the dry dirt ahead and arms dripping with reddish sludge. "Remind me - why am I the only one doing this, again?"
" 'Cause your sorry ass dropped it," Sera snickered, prodding him in the back of one knee with her bow. "Squealed like a nug an' everything."
"There was a gurn," he glared, and he swatted the weapon away with a muddy palm. "Damn things are the size of brontos and can kill a man before he even gets a chance to draw his weapon."
"Right, right." The blonde elf circled around, jumping to the other bank. "An' the fact that they're mean as daisies or baby bunnies, can't afford to cock that up."
"She's right," the Inquisitor added. "He only breathed on you. I think when you yelled, he was probably more scared than you. And then you dropped the shard -"
"An' then we all lost our shit," Sera finished.
With a huff, Blackwall dug his hands back into the silt. "Magic things always made my skin crawl anyway," he muttered through a red-spattered moustache.
"You volunteered to carry it," Solas teased from the left, and Eve's heart tightened as she turned to look at him. She didn't know if it was from the memory or her current self, but the smile on his face, the smug posture as he watched the warrior dig – it burned at something in her chest.
"You're not going to help him, Solas?"
He turned to her, smirking, his blue eyes bright in the desert sun. "Why would I?" He crossed his arms, tilting his head in that way he did when he had an advantage, or knew something, or was particularly entertained; the familiar sight was both a sharp pinch in the heart and profound relief after months of its absence. "Our friend is a man of action. The shard was his responsibility, as is its retrieval."
"But you could use magic to make it a little easier on him, couldn't you? As fun as this is, we do have to get to the next camp before nightfall." She watched her hand reach up to try and affectionately smear caked-on mud across his face, but he caught her wrist with a chuckle.
"An excellent point." He released her with a quick squeeze, then turned toward Blackwall and raised his hands.
"No," the swordsman began to protest with outstretched arms, "Maker, stop– !"
It was too late. A wisp of green light appeared over the bank, and suddenly the silt was airborne, pulled up in a vortex of unappealing red soup. Up it swirled, higher and higher, almost to the canyon walls...
...and then came crashing down in one gushing torrent.
When it had settled and the dry persons present were a safe distance away, Blackwall stood stock-still, almost unrecognizable in his new dripping coat of paint. Most importantly, he was clutching a blue-white chunk of humming rock in his grasp, the only thing on him untouched by the barrage of filth.
As the others' laughter filled the gorge, he threw the shard onto solid ground, heaving himself out of the muck after it.
Eve was still laughing as the ground beneath her feet faded, shifted, darkened; she was still in the gorge, but now found herself alone in the crisp desert night. That memory had exhausted itself, and the world around her was drawing from something new, something close by.
She kept the smile on her face as she walked, the Fade crafting every rock, every plant, every piece of debris that fluttered in the howling breeze sweeping through the canyon. This was one of her favorite parts of dreaming: exploring in solitude, the only dangers lying in spirits that came too close. Even then, they were often more curious than ill-intentioned, and she had long since learned to appreciate their presence.
Dust swept underfoot as she made her way under one of the stone bridges, looking up at the clear sky. Cloudless nights in the desert were one of the most beautiful sights she'd ever seen, and often brought her the most peace, despite some of the memories they held.
Images came to mind of leaving camp with her fingers tucked against Solas' palm, wandering to a place the firelight couldn't touch and stretching out against a rock or lone tree, talking about the stars and the stories surrounding them. He had the best stories; some he had learned from his travels, others from Fade spirits older than the stories themselves, and Eve always drowned in his voice. In return, she would share memories, and he would listen with rapt attention, taking in every detail as though each moment of her young life were a wonder to him.
The sky began to twist and churn, but stopped as Eve took a deep breath and cleared her mind. She was nipping that in the bud, something she'd become much better at in the last few months. She could control some aspects of her dreaming. There were some things, however, that were still problematic.
She turned the corner, stepping delicately over tendrils of Deathroot –
– and one of those 'some things' was staring her in the face.
A great wolf stood at the end of the ravine where the sand started to slope upwards and out into the flat wastes. He was unlike anything she'd ever seen in the wilds, narrow shoulders lined with black fur and massive head with eyes that watched her every move with equal wariness and interest.
This made twice in the same week he was back again, she noted as she relaxed her guard. Each time, always the same: watching from a distance, in a moment when she was alone. He wasn't threatening, nor did he seem to want to get any closer, but his continued presence was something she couldn't quite shake.
"What are you," she asked, only half to him. "A spirit of the wilds? A lost dreamer, or something my mind made up to try and distract me here?"
She took a slow step forward, and his ears shot upright. Sand shifted beneath his plate-sized paws as he shuffled back, then turned on himself to disappear into the night.
"Nice talking to you," she muttered to the air.
He was back again two nights later.
She was in Skyhold, watching its occupants lighting the votives on the Satinalia tree in the main courtyard. The shawl Vivienne had brought back for her from Val Royeaux was wrapped tight around her shivering frame, and she was adjusting the knot when movement at the gate caught her eye.
The wolf stood under the arch, following her with sharp eyes and keen senses. The moment she met his gaze, however, he ducked out of sight.
Not for long, she swore as she took off after him, running out of the memory and into the snowy banks surrounding the fortress. Not this time.
He bounded down the mountainside and she slid after him, catching her footing on rocks between slopes. As he vanished into the woodlands at the start of the pass, Eve cursed the Fade and its uncanny ability to reproduce every physical feeling, including how damned cold everything was without the advantage of fur. Still, she ran on, charging ahead and weaving between trees after the beast.
It's here for a reason, she reminded herself. Face it head-on.
Gradually, the snow beneath her feet melted and the light of dawn streaked in through the branches, lighting the path in oranges and golds as grass formed in the absence of ice. She caught a glimpse of black fur ahead and sped up, running through autumn and hastily brushing aside falling leaves clinging to her face and arms. Autumn warmed into summer, lush greenery doing its best to tempt her to stay and run her fingers through rich moss beds. She leapt over a fallen log, bracing her palms on the rough surface before one foot hit the ground, then the other.
She burst into a clearing, and the wolf was gone.
She inhaled deeply, and as her back straightened, she waited patiently for her pulse to slow. Groaning, she turned to take stock of her surroundings – blossoms and buds spotted the trees, and the dewy wetness of an early spring morning hung in the air.
At least it was beautiful, wherever she was. The clearing spilled out into rolling hills, and in the distance was a peacefully grazing herd of gold-and-red Hart. She pulled back her shoulders, beginning however the hell she was going to make it back, and had only made it a few paces down the first hill when an arrow struck the dirt at her feet.
She leapt back, reaching for a staff she didn't have. This was the Fade, and these weren't her memories, then whose...? She turned at the crunch of leaves as her would-be assailant revealed himself.
Gold armor and Mythal's vallaslin. She'd seen him before, at the temple, before the Well. What was his name, his name –
"Abelas," she remembered, unable to hide the surprise in her voice. "What are you doing here?"
"Hunting," he answered simply, lowering his bow. "You?"
She sighed. "The same."
"A bow? I thought you were a mage."
She sat in the grass by his feet, the temple guardian having elected to stand leaning against a tree.
"All of the elvhen are – were," he corrected himself, "gifted with magic. I trained in several weapons, though bows are most suited to hunting."
She made a noncommital noise in her throat, turning her gaze back to the lazy movements of the Hart below.
"I have heard much of you in my travels," he informed her, and she heard the creak of armor as he shifted. "Of your Inquisition."
She leaned back, a wry smile on her mouth. "What have you heard?"
"The magister is dead. The Breach is sealed. Your accomplishments have made you infamous."
"And the fact that I'm an elf?"
He didn't answer, and she snickered. "Less popular, I see."
A quiet spell passed, and Eve ransacked her brain to think of anything about which to have a proper conversation. Aside from the Temple of Mythal and their shared heritage, they had nothing in common. Magic, perhaps, but that he knew. And all she knew of him was his -
She turned. "What?"
"Your name. I do not know it."
She rotated in place to face him, stretching out her legs. "Lavellan is my clan name, which, if you've seen any Dalish– "
"Then you'll know about the clans." She tilted her head. "My given name is Eva'nahn."
A movement in the herd caught his attention, and his hood shifted as he raised his chin. " 'Dawn.' Appropriate, given your position."
"And funny, seeing as everyone calls me Eve." She gnawed at her bottom lip, studying his face as she considered her question. "The Keeper chose my name – who gave you yours?"
Before he could answer, a faint voice in her ear brought a smile to her face.
"Ah, time's up. We can continue next time, then."
He frowned. "You possess the ability to leave the Fade at will?"
"No," she said, pointing to her ear. "I have an Antivan on a schedule."
He opened his mouth to speak, but the world faded in a flash of black.
Even cracked one eye open, smirking at the sight of Josephine at her bedside with a scowl on her noble face.
"Something wrong, Josie?"
"Just what time do you think it is?" Billowing silk-clad arms crossed her chest. "The Orlesian delegation will be here in an hour, and I will have to present you to them in blankets."
"Call it fashion," the elf replied as she stretched. "They'll dress to match me by tomorrow."
And I'm in a good mood today.
Abelas turned his head at the greeting, acknowledging the Inquisitor with a nod as she joined him sitting on the low wall.
"We meet again, Eva'nahn."
She stretched, letting her legs fall over the polished surface of the stonework. "My friends call me Eve, as can you." Leaning back on her palms, she turned to take in where – or, perhaps more accurately, when – precisely, they were. Tiered gardens sectioned off by polished slabs of granite scalloped across the meticulously-kept grounds, a stream peacefully tumbling by a short distance away. The full moon lit up the white blooms spotting the greenery, making the petals glow brightly against their shadows. A few errant fireflies, having strayed from the water, bumbled amicably about their legs.
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "No. These gardens in which we sit are a temple to Mythal, as it was long before your time."
"So you weren't always in the one with the Well."
"I was not."
As he mentioned the word 'temple,' she craned her neck to search for the main structure. After a few moments with no success, she turned her attention back to the guardian. His hood was settled about his shoulders, revealing a waist-length white braid over one shoulder and delicate gold metalwork along the ridges of his long, slender ears. It was the first time she'd really gotten a good look at him up close – striking, though moonlight did everyone favors.
She also noticed, with a start, that he was intently staring at her face.
"You are different," he began, straightening slightly. "Since we first met at the temple."
She instinctively raised a hand to her ears, just below the new ends of her white-blond hair. It had been a decision borne out of anger and grief, though she had deemed it celebration at the time. She'd tied it and had Bull cut it off in one quick go, much to Josephine and Leliana's horror. As the latter neatened it into something presentable with a clucking tongue and thinly-veiled lecture, all she had felt was relief.
"It could be any number of things," she suggested. "I cut off most of my hair. I have several new scars. The armor is new, too, and I am also recently no longer romantically attached." With a frown, she set her jaw. "Dorian said the last bit makes me look ten years older, that mal'alas*."
Ignoring the casual profanity, Abelas pressed further. "You feel no reason to include your vallaslin?"
As her eyes fell on the green ink that adorned his forehead and cheekbones, a sympathetic burn prickled at her skin. "They were Mythal's. A bit like yours."
"I remember." His gaze traveled the oval of her face, amber eyes tracing the patterns that were no longer there. "Your markings were among the reasons I granted you access to the sanctum. And now your face is bare."
Eve turned her eyes to the moon, squinting at its almost unearthly brightness. "You remember the second elf with me? Another mage, wearing a pelt. He removed them." She caught her lip between her teeth, releasing it in a sigh. "A parting gift, I suppose."
She saw Abelas turn toward her fully, long fingers catching in the wilding grass. "Did he offer an explanation?"
"For the markings, or for leaving?" Anger caught hold of her throat, and she swallowed hard in an effort to push it down. "He knew a lot of things that he chose not to tell me. Even as he disappeared, as I've been left here to try and piece things together, I'm still finding out how little he really shared." She exhaled slowly, mentally apologizing to a firefly as she blew it off of its intended path. "But to answer the question I think you're asking, I know about the truth of the vallaslin – the slave markings."
He settled, armor glinting in the low light. "Then you understand my purpose at the temple of Mythal."
Intense sympathy flooded Eve's system, hastily shoving any irritation she felt at her lover into submission. "I can only guess at very little. But with the Well empty, you're a free man."
"Not in the way you are."
It was true, in a way – he was still marked. Though it meant something different to the Dalish, would have hastened his acceptance into their world should he have wanted it, it was something he had borne for centuries as a mark of servitude.
"I'm shackled to my position, if that makes you feel any better," she offered, pulling her knees into her chest. "The lives of thousands and all that. But if it's about your vallaslin..." She rested her head on one knee, turning to regard him curiously. "He could do the same for you. I'm keeping watch for him in my travels, in the Fade and otherwise. Help me look for him, and I can try to replicate the spell in the meanwhile."
She watched as he considered her words, hair gleaming in the moonlight with each movement.
"The fact that he left without notice indicates that he does not wish to be found."
"I know." She smirked into her leggings. "But I never agreed to his terms, and I've just met a hunter with two thousand years of experience."
White and gold ornaments hung from tree branches, lighting up the shadows of the dense foliage as Eve walked a path that ascended in a spiral around the trunk of a massive tree. In not ten steps, she had reached a platform – and spotted a familiar face. With a smile, she joined him at the edge.
"I'm getting good at finding you."
He snorted a bit, but the corners of his mouth ticked upward. "I was never hiding."
"Still." She leaned over the carved railings, unable to see either the roots or canopy. "This tree is enormous," she marveled, turning back to get a better look at the lanterns. "And these aren't natural. What is this place?"
"A place of magic," Abelas explained as she excitedly ran her fingers along the bark. "To focus, or to learn. Many came here to – you are no longer listening."
She had climbed onto a post and hooked one of the lights with her finger to peer inside it. "No, I'm listening, keep going."
He closed the distance between them, looking up at her with arms crossed over his chest. "You hold no fear of the Fade?"
"Should I?" She released the lantern, letting it swing back toward its fellows. "I'm an elf, and a mage. I'm not a shem, crying 'demons!' at every spirit I see." She hopped down, adjusting her tunic. "Being here in the flesh was different. But this, seeing things that my people... have..."
She trailed off as the Fade reflection of an elf walked past them on her way down, soft robes billowing around her legs as she descended. Eve stood in place, transfixed, until her mouth caught up with her already-moving feet.
As she called out, she was already running toward the figure standing frozen in time at the sound. Abelas followed, watching her with interest.
"She cannot hear you."
"I know. But the Fade can, and it stopped." She came around the front of the woman, whose elegant features had caught in an unmoving, placid smile. The resemblance was as she had thought – the same white-blond hair in the same soft waves, the same olive green eyes and fair skin.
"She looks like me," she concluded, "like my mother. And she's beautiful."
"Indeed." He leaned back against the trunk while Eve continued her inspection.
"Which, that I resemble her or that she's beautiful?"
"Both are true."
She turned to him with a grin, pointing to her own face. "So what does that say about me?"
He declined to answer that, instead smirking slightly and crossing his arms. "Such coloration was not uncommon for the Elvhen. Your bloodline may be an old one."
The Inquisitor circled her again, slowly. "Who is she?"
"A follower of Andruil, it seems."
Eve turned to him, then back to the memory. "How can you tell? She has no vallaslin."
"Her magic." He lifted his chin. "It carries the essence of Andruil in it."
As he spoke, Eve walked over to him, interest piqued. It was the first she'd heard of such things. "Magic can carry signatures, even signs that it draws from someone?" A thought occurred to her, and she indicated her mark. "You said in the temple that my magic was familiar, so it must have the essence of Mythal."
His expression changed, then, and he adjusted his shoulders. "No."
She opened her mouth to speak, but quickly snapped it shut. After a few more false starts, she stared down at her palms.
"Well," she said finally, "one strike against being related, then."
The light of sunset cast the world in glowing hues, highlighting Abelas' long white hair almost butter yellow as Eve leisurely made her way to meet him. He acknowledged her with a nod, as had become customary in their visits; the need for formal salutations had long since passed. They had met in worlds from both of their memories, and some of the Fade itself, nearly every night. More and more often, his hood was lowered and he appeared to be waiting for her – though if that was so, he never said as much aloud.
She surveyed the land as she walked, each detail lining up just as she remembered it. In every direction spilled rolling fields of waist-high blades of wheat, dry and feathery as they parted for each step. The hills were gentle and shallow, and the surface of the endless fields luffed in waves with every breeze that sailed through.
"This was one of my favorite places as a child," she told him, taking in the feel of it as an adult. "Our clan always brought the aravels south in autumn, and if I finished my duties and greeted all of the gods at camp quickly enough, I could run out here at just the right time when the sun made everything look like it was made of gold."
Abelas brushed the nearby stalks with his fingertips, sending a light spray of seeds in their wake. "The memory is intricate and the connection strong. You must dream of this place often."
"Whenever I need to think or just be somewhere peaceful for a while. It's become a private sanctum, of sorts." She laughed, shaking her head. "So yes, very often."
"Then I will consider my admittance a rare honor."
She stilled as something in the corner of her eye caught her attention.
"Maybe not, as it seems you're not my only guest."
At her change in posture, Abelas turned to follow her gaze. On the crest of the nearest hill stood the great black wolf keeping watch, wheat brushing against the fur of his chest.
"A spirit," he murmured as he crouched, but Eve held out a hand to stop him.
"Andaran atish'an, my friend," she called gingerly, extending her arms toward the beast with open palms. "You're welcome to come closer, if you'd like."
As always, however, her invitation was met with retreat, and she bit her lip as he blended into the horizon.
"I don't know whether I'm meant to be the hunter or the prey," she said. "But he keeps coming back and I want to know why."
"It did not attack," Abelas observed, straightening, and Eve rubbed the heel of one palm into the back of her neck.
"Never does." After a moment, she turned her attention back to her companion, a gentle determination in her expression.
"Come to Skyhold, Abelas."
He frowned immediately. "I have survived on my own well enough. I am in no need of your charity."
"It wouldn't be," she countered. "I could use someone like you to help close rifts, settle the disputes that pop up when power shifts. You're capable in a fight, and I'm always looking for capable." A smile warmed her mouth. "And I'd enjoy the company."
He made a noise in his throat as he turned back to the scenery. Eve knew not to push it further; she knew nothing of what he'd been doing in the waking world outside of the small pieces he'd offered in conversation. He was newly free, and likely had a lot he wanted – or needed – to do. But there was something in him that stirred something in her, and she was not one to let such things be easily dismissed.
His reply broke the silence.
"I will consider it."
Clasping her hands behind her hips, Eve rocked back onto her heels. "Well, there will be a bed and meals and a lot of problems that need solving waiting for you – we keep us and ours busy." She took a step back and began the return trek to consciousness. "You know where it is," she called over her shoulder, "or just ask - everyone around here knows."
And by 'everyone around here,' she snickered, she meant the spirits.
He was at the gates within a fortnight.
*mal'alas - shit