Chapter 1: In the Fade
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
Chapter 2: Skyhold
Chapter 2: Skyhold
From the moment of his arrival at the mountaintop fortress, Abelas found himself the subject of far too much interest for his liking.
He was granted access without incident, a testament to the sincerity of the Inquisitor's offer. That was a reassurance, a strike in favor of his decision to embark on what had great potential to be madness. Yet though he caught sight of many elves – a number of whom bore vallaslin – his presence was a novelty,
or so he judged from the lingering stares as he was led up the central steps into the keep. Small groups had gathered to glimpse him and whisper amongst themselves, and though his hood stayed firmly about his ears, there was no shortage of the word 'elf' being tossed about.
His wariness had always served him well, and he saw no reason to engage with any of the onlookers unless necessary. As the great hall opened before him, he took quick stock of his surroundings. The tapestries and statuary were impressively well-kept, and he feigned interest in a large one near the hearth, watching the exchange out of the corner of his eye as his escort was dismissed and a man took her place.
"Well!" The new greeter leaned against the hearth, smirking broadly beneath a dark mustache. "You must be the new arrival."
Abelas turned, assessing him and the air of aggressive interest he was directing at his person. "I am."
"Wonderful. Eve's told me of you, you know, and I've been positively dying to meet you." He came up off the wall, spreading his palms and bowing shallowly. "Forgive my manners. Dorian Pavus, resident prodigal son and amateur librarian. And you are?"
"Abelas," he replied shortly. "Where is the Inquisitor?"
Chuckling, Dorian walked ahead and waved a hand. "Impatient, are we? No matter, I'll get a proper conversation out of you soon enough."
Abelas followed him through the halls, committing the path to memory out of pure instinct. Their intended destination wasn't far, and his guide deposited him in front of a pair of iron-barred doors with a wink.
"Welcome to the War Room. Good luck."
"...and that's the tavern," Eve explained, pointing to a massive structure to their left. "You'll want something cleaner, but Bull has a room there. So does Sera – Ah, she's an elf too, but she's... well, you'll see."
She led him around the parapets, the bird's-eye tour having started from the moment they left the keep proper. Her advisors had taken some convincing, but she'd been vehement. It had worked – and now the Inquisitor couldn't keep the excitement from her voice or expression, walking backward half of the time to better see him in the flesh, in the waking world, within reach.
As they paused to better take in the scene below, Eve tilted her head and smiled, enjoying the sight of him surveying the world within the high walls.
He turned to her, frowning. "What?"
"I'm glad you came, Abelas."
Something flickered across his face at his name, and Eve waited as he studied her face in what she had come to recognize as deep thought. After a moment, he took a step closer, wearing a curious expression.
"I wonder that you would take me in so easily, so readily."
"I don't." The breeze caught her hair as she moved closer to the inner edge, watching those in the sparring ring below. "I can't explain what it is or why, but I feel something pulling at me, calling me to you. And that same feeling is how I met most of these people, who, as it turns out, are some of the best things that have ever happened to me."
He joined her, hands clasped behind his back. They observed the goings-on of the training arena, watching as the new recruits came at Blackwall one at a time with wooden longswords. After tidily disposing of each almost embarrassingly quickly, he ordered them into lineup for a second go-round. The looks on their faces was pitiful, and Eve had to stifle a snicker. Blackwall was an excellent teacher, even if his students couldn't appreciate it while exhausted and sore.
"This Solas," Abelas said, interrupting her reverie. "Tell me about him."
"Ah," she sighed, "you're going to regret asking that."
The tour continued for some time more, their slow steps and conversation moving them forward until they reached the final stop for the day.
"This is the mage's tower," Eve explained, gesturing to the bookshelves and polished tables. "It has a library, resource stocks, various equipment, anything that the mages here might find useful in their study."
It was empty at the moment, and so they went undisturbed as she led him up the stairs to the topmost floor. Waiting was a well-furnished bedroom, fire already burning and warm in its welcome.
"And this room is yours, if you want it."
His room. His room?
Surprised, he looked up from the bookshelf. "I assumed that I would be housed in the barracks, with the ranks."
"I thought you might want something quieter."
He surveyed the room, slowly crossing to inspect the view from the eastern window. "I enjoy quiet. I appreciate privacy."
"Good, then it's settled." She sat back against the desk. "I'll tell the servants that someone's staying here now. Don't want to startle them, or I'll get a lecture from Josephine again."
"Servants," he asked slowly, "not slaves?"
"Servants," she repeated. "Housed, fed, and paid fair wages. No slaves, especially not elven ones."
She watched in silence as he sat on the bed, leaning forward and lowering his hood with long, nimble fingers. He lost himself in thought as the thick mattress – a luxury, after open nights in the Wilds – sank beneath him. She had vociferously spoken in his defense to her council, and then that moment, on the parapets -
'Something called me to you, Abelas.'
The way she had spoken his name with such familiarity, such warmth, had undeniably satisfied a part of him that he hadn't even been aware was lacking. And the forces she commanded, the change she could effect...
"I will help you."
Smiling, she crossed her arms. "Help me what? Protect the elves? Find Solas? Save the world?"
The quick smirk that that elicited was gone as soon as it was there. "Whatever you may need of me. I am at your disposal."
"Good." She straightened, smoothing out her robes. "Best to settle in now, then - we're setting out at dawn to see what you can do. Cullen's orders."
Eve fell onto the sofa, letting out a long sigh as her limbs sank deep wherever they fell.
The murals spanning the rounded walls had remained one of her favorite spots to sit and process, despite their artist. It had taken a while for the anger and pain to ebb, as well as the urge to whitewash the entire damn thing. Sera had offered to vandalize it with creative vulgarities, and though the Inquisitor had declined at the time, she was sure the offer still stood, should she change her mind.
He actually came, she mused as she let her head rest against the upholstery. From the moment he'd stepped into the war room, he'd felt like an old friend she hadn't seen in ages. She'd been unsure about meeting in the waking world, but aside from the urge to reach out and pinch his face to reaffirm his solid state, it seemed that nothing was different in the least. If anything, she felt comforted by his presence.
"Your friend is fascinating," came a voice from behind her. "People skills could use some work, if I had to nitpick."
She smiled, leaning back to greet the Tevinter mage upside-down. "You've met?"
"Brought him to you myself. You're welcome." He turned Solas' chair to face her, sitting in it artfully. "I must say, his backside is exquisitely shapely for someone pushing two thousand. Is it better or worse in the Fade?"
She raised an eyebrow, slinking against the arm of the furniture. "I'm not exactly in the frame of mind to be looking, remember?"
He scoffed, crossing his legs. "You're hurting," he chided, "not dead. And I haven't seen you so excited about something in months. Not since the litter of Nuggalopes were born, noisy things."
"You adore them and you know it."
"I will never admit to loving something so ugly."
Biting her lower lip, she rolled onto her back. "He is very handsome, I'll give you that."
"Ah, so you have noticed." He smirked triumphantly. "Good, I'd have had your eyes checked otherwise."
"Ma serannas, you ass."
Cullen had chosen their target either very well or very poorly.
A request for aid had come in from one of the settlements near the ruins of Haven at the base of the mountains. The two camps, some hours apart, were constantly at odds over leadership and the decision to merge them had only worsened the power struggles. The southern camp had sent a plea for help, claiming that ever since the decision was handed down, raids on their camp had increased – and that the northern camp was to blame.
A team of scouts had been sent to investigate. Thank the Creators for Harding, Eve swore as she marched through the pine needles, otherwise they would've had a very different idea as to what they were walking into.
"Bears," she said aloud to no one in particular as they trekked the camp perimeter. "Bear attacks."
"Should've brought the Seeker," Varric suggested. An errant branch swatted him in the face, and he grunted. "This is probably her idea of fun."
"I did." Eve thumbed behind them. "She's investigating the other end."
"Is that wise?" Abelas stepped over roots, experienced footsteps silent on the bed of dried leaves. "These creatures should not be underestimated."
"And neither should Cass," Bull said with a grin. "You send her up against the biggest, maddest one you can find - she'll bring you back a rug."
"Yes," came the chorus, and Abelas chuckled under his breath.
"I look forward to meeting this Seeker," he said as he paused to inspect a tree trunk.
"Yeah," Varric muttered. "She's a real barrel of laughs."
Eve was about to step over a creek when the former temple guardian called for her attention. She doubled back, following his gaze to the tree. "What?"
His fingers traced a series of splintered gouges, and Bull hummed appreciatively.
"We're getting close."
Frowning, she leaned in. "What are these, claw marks?"
"Territory marking," Bull explained, and Abelas agreed.
"Did you not see them?" he asked, turning to follow.
She raised her arms, offering up her hands in mock surrender. "That's why I have people like you and Bull," she said. "You're the experts - I'm no hunter. I reach out with magic to find things."
At his expression, she got the feeling that she was in for a stern lecture, but her salvation came in the form of a heavy, dull crunch that sounded uncomfortably close.
"That I understand," she said, reaching for her staff. "Abelas, your call."
"Surround it in silence until my signal," he instructed, voice low. "Stay downwind. Keep distant. When striking, do not engage at close range for longer than a single blow."
"You heard him." Green tendrils of light began to creep across the skin of her hands. "Let's make this quick and clean."
And it was quick – though bears were anything other than easy marks. They'd encountered a male, large and combative and very much unwilling to be relocated. As promised, Eve kept back and crippled the bear with a constant drain, leaving the brunt of the work to the others.
In keeping with the aim of their errand, she kept her eye on Abelas. Bull and Varric she could predict and trust, but the reason they were there, the goal of the entire damn trip, was to evaluate the new recruit.
He did not disappoint.
Artful weaving through Varric's cover fire placed him at the creature's flank, a fistful of needles swept from the forest floor dry in his hand. The other wrapped itself in thick fur, and in one fluid motion, Abelas had hoisted himself up, heels digging into the juncture of the bear's hip. In an effort to throw his rider, the bear reared, and Eve watched as Abelas ground the pine straw into the bear's fur before pushing off and leaping back. Bull let out a yell and swung, and suddenly Abelas was as good as invisible as the bear instead advanced on the one challenging him.
He wouldn't even get the chance to swipe. From his crouched position, Abelas flung out a hand and sent a flame – small, dart-shaped – right at the rising animal. Instantly, the sap-coated needles sticking to the bear's fur caught light, igniting a fire along his body anywhere Abelas had touched. The battle had suddenly become less about fighting the bear and more about containing it, a monstrous mess of burning fury. As the fire spread, the bear roared and shook, spinning and blindly charging.
Eve almost pitied the poor creature at this point – burning was painful, yet effective – but just as she was about to intervene, Abelas drew his bow and fired an arrow into each of the bear's front ankle joints, sending him crashing into the dirt. Weak and crippled, he was completely prone, and the sentinel executed the kill in one quick, clean shot between the eyes.
He was the first to approach, extending a hand to slowly extinguish the flame and taking to one knee.
"Ghilana mir na din'an," he said as he let his palm come to rest on the bear's massive head.
Something in that gesture tugged at Eve's chest, but it was replaced with laughter as Bull swung an enormous arm around Abelas' neck.
"Not bad, not bad at all!" he declared with a booming laugh. He clapped the elf on one gold-clad shoulder, almost sending him flying facefirst into the charred carcass. "You're creative. I like that. And fast, for an old-timer."
"Old-timer– !" From her position, Eve couldn't see the expression beneath his hood, but she couldn't imagine it was a pleased one.
"Man's got a point," Varric added thoughtfully, snapping Bianca back into place and scratching his stubbled jaw. "I mean, when you stop counting your age in years and even centuries, well. That's something."
"Understand this, child of the stone," Abelas began, rounding on him, but stopped dead at the sight of Varric's broad smirk. "You are baiting me," he said flatly, straightening his posture. "I was nearly taken in."
Chuckling, Varric walked past him. "Worth a shot."
As the two archers surveyed the damage, Eve remained quietly at the sidelines, musing on the developing dynamic. Abelas was hesitant, it seemed, but receptive to the attentions of her other companions. It was promising, and she watched with a smile at the notion that this transition wouldn't be nearly as difficult as she had thought.
Something Varric said under his breath earned him a smirk from the hooded elf, and warmth flooded Eve's gut.
No, not difficult at all.
"Hey, Boss," Bull called from beside her, axe over one shoulder. "Earlier. What was that thing he said?"
Eve leaned on her staff. " 'I guide you into death.' It's something our hunters still say when they kill an animal for food or hides. In a way, to thank them for their sacrifice."
He grunted in acknowledgment, keeping his good eye on her. "Close to home?"
She sighed and rolled her forehead against her weapon. "A little."
He watched her for a moment longer before shifting to rehook his axe. "He's sharp, quick. I say keep him."
Cassandra's voice cut clear through the dense growth, and Eve and Bull joined the others. "Here," the mage called. "This one's down."
As she crossed over, weaving through the trees, Cassandra took quick stock of the group. "Any injuries?"
"None. Mostly let Abelas take point."
The seeker lifted her chin, a noise of approval in her throat at the sight of the carcass. "Well done." She turned back to the Inquisitor, indicating the direction of the camp. "I found a trail of food left hanging from trees leading directly to the settlement," she reported. "Deliberate. It seems that their suspicions were correct."
"Then it's completely uncivilized and I won't stand for it," Eve issued. "Go to the northern camp and bring their chief in, as well as anyone else you deem potentially responsible. Take a company, if need be."
Cassandra nodded. "Understood. I'll tell Scout Harding to send her men for the bear pelts."
"Wait," Bull interrupted. "Pelts, as in more than one?"
"Yes. I killed the three on the eastern edge." She smirked. "And you?"
He grumbled something unintelligible, and Abelas chuckled.
"Varric was correct," he informed Eve discreetly. "I like this one."
The first evening back at Skyhold, Eve found herself walking through the snow outside of the western walls, a piece of folded parchment in the pouch at her hip.
It was Elvish script, old – and gave a time and location, as well as the instruction to leave her staff behind. Whatever Abelas was planning, he clearly didn't intend on sharing until she was freezing in the middle of nowhere.
Said nowhere ended up being a large boulder about fifty paces in from the tree line, the clearing frosted with pristine, undisturbed snow. Assuming that she was the first to arrive, Eve sat on one of the craggy, flat sections of rock and watched her breath hang in the air.
Startled, she spun – landing on her backside in the snow, palms crackling with energy and raised at the source of the voice. Abelas stared down at her from atop the boulder, also unarmed.
Swearing under her breath, Eve stood and dusted herself off. "Creators, Abelas! Could you not have given me warning?"
"No." He joined her, indicating the thick ring of conifers surrounding them. "I need to evaluate your hunting abilities. Every aspect."
"My hunting abilities?" She frowned. "What for?"
He crossed his arms. "You have things you need to hunt, do you not? You asked for my help; I agreed to give it." Turning, he pointed due east. "I will enter the forest there. After thirty seconds, you may pursue me."
He covered the distance in long strides, Eve staring blankly and trying to process what in Mythal's name had just happened. Before she could get farther than the word 'pretentious,' however, he had disappeared, and she involuntarily started counting.
One, she breathed, two.
At thirty, she followed him in.
By somewhere around what would have been three thousand, Eve was encrusted in frost up to her knees and passing the same damn cave for the third time. She was so engrossed in her frustrated mutterings that she didn't hear the soft crunch of approaching footsteps behind her.
"Are all Dalish so freely vulgar?"
She turned, glaring. "Only when dumped into the woods, mind."
He ignored her, instead frowning in displeasure. "Your skills are greatly lacking," he observed. "How do your kind survive in the wilds?"
"I'm not a hunter," she repeated for what felt like the hundredth time. "When I came into my magic, I was taught to focus on those abilities so that I didn't sneeze and blow the aravels apart or hurt someone. The hunters - they were taught to use weapons, to track, and they keep us well-fed and safe." She crossed her arms, the skin at the tops of her boots beginning to sting. "My clan was never wanting, so I never needed to hunt."
Apparently satisfied with her answer, Abelas turned and indicated for her to follow. "We will begin at the most basic skills," he said, "and train as often as possible."
"Yes," she agreed, trudging along to catch up. "Basic, that I can do." As she fell into step beside him, she flexed her wrists. "So where do we start?"
He looked down, and so did she. His boots, frosted but otherwise immaculate, shone in contrast to her snow-caked, almost unrecognizable lower legs.
"First," he said slowly, "you learn how to walk on snow."
The roaring fire in the corner of the tavern was a thing of beauty after spending several nights making an ass out of herself in the snowy woods.
Eve sighed, stretching her sore legs out under the table. Bull's invitation out for drinks couldn't have come at a better or more welcome time. Even more so, as it was extended to Abelas, who had taken some coaxing.
He'd be fighting alongside these people, she told him. Establishing some kind of connection was important. He'd grudgingly agreed, and the boisterous greeting that awaited them at the table bolstered Eve's confidence in the decision to drag him out at all costs.
The only potential problem had been Sera – after sizing him up, the blonde elf had simply lifted her chin and snorted.
"So what, then," she scowled, "here to tell me how to live my life, too? Like all the ways I'm not elfy enough for you lot."
"No," Abelas replied. "I judge merit on skill."
"Really? No lecture, no shite about the 'ancient ways'?" Grinning, she leaned back and uncrossed her arms. "Because Maker, you've got to be the elfiest elf that ever frigging elfed."
He frowned. "I have no idea what that even means."
"Good. You're already loads ahead of the last one." She kicked over a stool, and he accepted. "Welcome to the Arsequisition," she snickered, grinding her fist into his shoulder.
Now they were settled and Bull, possessor of the largest hands of the group, was fetching another round.
"So," Dorian prompted, leaning eagerly in on his elbows. "Abelas. What's your story?"
Hesitating, Abelas considered the question. "My story?"
"Yes. Besides the temple and your breathtaking– " Eve glared a warning, "armor, all I know of you is that you're a fellow mage. And we all have that story, how we came into our magic. So let's start there, shall we?"
"Don't give two shits about your magic," Sera muttered, and Dorian shushed her.
"No one asked you," he informed her politely. "And I'm curious."
"Then you can start," Eve said, hooking her fingers around the stem of his wineglass and picking it up. "And it had better be a good one, or else you're not getting this back."
"Of course it's a good one," he said, and he cleared his throat to begin. "Minrathous, my golden childhood. I was a young, innocent thing running about the Pavus family city estates."
The use of the word 'innocent' garnered a few raised eyebrows and snickers, but he continued uninterrupted.
"One lovely morning, I was playing with some magister or another's son while our fathers talked politics. The boy was a spoiled brute, ripping pages out of my books and constantly holding things out of my reach and laughing at my suffering. Taking the painted skyball that my mother had brought me specially from Rivain was the last straw, apparently."
Eve sipped at his wine. "Can't imagine that went well."
"Indeed, it did not." He illustrated with his hands. "In my fury, I summoned a horrid miasma circle in my father's rug, fear demons clawing at the boy's feet until he screamed like a banshee and soiled himself."
Abelas folded his hands on the table. "The negotiations failed, then."
"Quite the contrary! This was Tevinter." He chuckled. "My father was positively thrilled and naturally insisted upon throwing a lavish party to celebrate. The sudden boost in his reputation at my prowess meant that he could essentially name his terms in the deal." With a flourish, he plucked his stolen drink back from the Inquisitor's grasp. "And there it is, my story. Next."
"I'm actually curious, too," Eve said, turning to the hooded elf with interest. "When did you know that you had magic?"
"There was no matter of 'if' among the Elvhen," he explained. "We all carried the gift. The question lay in learning to control it."
"Really?" Eve prodded. "No funny stories? Embarrassing training accidents?"
"Come on," Sera added, "must've set someone on fire at least once." At his telling silence and shift in posture, a wide grin spread across her face. "You did," she insisted, leaning across the table. "You so frigging did."
"Several," he admitted reluctantly. "I recall being told that I was an ill-tempered child."
The table's other occupants burst into laughter, Sera perhaps loudest of all.
"That just seems so out of character," Eve hiccuped. "But oddly easy to picture."
"Perhaps because you are constantly scowling," Dorian suggested, reaching over the table to make a move at Abelas' face. "Here, let me show you how smiling works."
Abelas leaned back, just out of range. "I need no help, thank you."
"You wouldn't say that if you had to see your sour puss every day. Just let me – "
Sera watched them struggle, taking a long swig from her tankard. "Wouldn't want magic for piss all," she said, "but I'd like the lighting pricks on fire bit."
"It's fun when you're older," Eve conceded, "but as a child, it can be terrifying. Especially if you had no idea it was coming. Like the worst possible name day surprise."
Dorian paused in his attentions to the tattooed elf, one knee now on the table in an effort to extend his reach. "Come to think of it," he said thoughtfully, "I've never heard your story, mighty Inquisitor."
She tapped her fingers on the wooden surface, chin in one hand. "Are you sure? It's not nearly as satisfying as yours."
"I am also interested," Abelas agreed, gently shoving Dorian's hand away. "Your abilities are... unprecedented."
She snorted, digging into one of the table's gouges with a polished nail. "Unfortunately for most Dalish, the trigger was pretty common. Still is." She set her jaw as she nudged the splinters she'd freed, considering how to best relay something she would much rather leave forgotten. And in front of Abelas, no less.
"My clan was in the southern marches for the winter," she began. "It was a difficult year, and we weren't the only ones in the area. But I loved the wilds, and so a few of us disobeyed the Keeper and went out alone. We encountered a group of poachers. Shems."
As she spoke, she remembered the look on Solas' face when he'd asked about it. She had long since decided to face this part of her past with honesty, with dignity intact – but this was the point in the story when pain had crept into his expression. He had clearly known what was coming.
"They'd strung up a halla, and one of the boys with me had just gotten his vallaslin – Ghilan'nain, motherof the halla. He threw a rock. They grabbed their weapons, and we scattered, but the hunters came right for me as I ran into the woods."
"Just you?" Dorian sat back, puzzled. "Surely the boy who threw the rock– "
"I was the only girl," she said dryly. "And little elf girls have one good use." She turned her attention back to the excavation of the wood knot in front of her. "Anyway, there was an elven temple nearby. I ran in as far as I could, until my legs gave out in front of a statue. I remember praying. Begging ma halani, asking the gods to intervene, and then... nothing. Black." Sighing, she straightened and dusted off her handiwork. "When I woke up, my hands were glowing and the poachers were just corpses, broken and twisted like they'd been caught in a storm. Made my way back and told the Keeper, and our hunters went to go dispose of the bodies, sack their camp. And that's when I started my training."
"Pricks got what was coming to 'em," Sera muttered as she emptied her ale. Another was plonked down in front of her, Bull having returned with his mission accomplished.
"Sorry for the wait, Boss," he said as he sat at the end of the table, reaching over to gently ruffle her short hair with thick, scarred fingers. The tension left her shoulders at the gesture, and a smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. He was always good for that – it didn't take his Ben-hassrath training to recognize the little things she often needed.
"The statue," Abelas asked. "Whose was it?"
The question took her by surprise, and her looked up at him as she passed the drinks around. "It was a great wolf - Fen'harel. Why?"
"I thought he was meant to be evil," Dorian mused aloud as he refilled his wine with the bottle Bull had procured. "Some sort of elven Big Bad Wolf, so to speak."
"Ah, he's not necessarily evil," Eve clarified. "Not really. He just... never helps people, not directly. Not without a reason. Or, more often, a price."
Abelas was watching her thoughtfully, gold eyes keen with interest as he studied her face. "You show less fear of him than others of your kind," he observed, to which Eve made a noncommittal noise.
"You've proven that some of our stories aren't all they appear to be," she said. "And he did seem to save my life." She drank deeply and coughed, smirking despite herself. "Though sometimes, I wonder if I'm just waiting for him to appear and name his price."
"But until then..." Bull reached into his pocket and produced a deck of cards, eliciting groans from the two sitting farthest from him.
"I'm not drunk enough for this," Dorian insisted, and Sera rolled up her sleeves. Eve laughed, leaning back and preemptively cracking her knuckles.
"You're sharp, Abelas," she teased, elven ears raised and ready, betraying her excitement. "Try to keep up."
By the end of the night, he'd won Sera's pants.
Some days later, Abelas leaned against the stone wall by the entrance to the undercroft, watching the proceedings from a distance.
Josephine – the chief diplomat of whom Eve spoke highly – stood on the raised steps of the platform, writing board in hand. She listed names as the Inquisitor reclined on the room's central throne, a thing of stone and metal, flanked by a pair of dragons rampant.
Shackled directly in front of them both were a trio of men: the headman who had been baiting bears to the village he'd perceived as a rival, and his two sons. They'd been in the dungeons for near a week, waiting for the results of the investigation that Josephine was now reading aloud. Now they seemed more than a little worse for wear, he noted; Cassandra did not seem the type to bring in criminals with a gentle touch.
"...with the intent of causing harm to the southern camp," she announced in her thick, rolling accent. "Inquisitor, your thoughts?"
He watched as Eve leaned forward, interlacing her fingers. "Headman," she called. "Aside from your own aspirations, do you have any reason to doubt the southern leaders?"
Abelas crossed one ankle over the other, observing in silence. She was asking if his sabotage had any purpose other than his grasping attempts at meager power. Men were petty, selfish, consumed with greed; what did she hope to learn?
At the headman's silence, she pressed harder. "I ask you again," she insisted, tone sharp. "Do you take issue with the leadership of the southern settlement?"
"Headman Jann is weak," he spat in response. "Weak and too damn soft!"
He began to loudly call the man a number of unflattering things, all variants on spineless and lax, until the Inquisitor silenced him.
"If you intend to assault his character," she interrupted, "I must remind you that you have no ground to stand on. I want examples. Dates, events. Can you give me that, or are you wasting my time?"
Abelas found himself greatly pleased by her pragmatism. Her poise, as well, lent her a strong presence in a room crowded with onlookers. Her voice alone had shamed the headman into silence, and the manner with which she fixed her stare on him would have been enough to make any man shrink from challenging her authority.
He could see why Solas had been so powerfully enamored of her.
Silence hung in the hall for several long moments before one of the sons gathered the courage to speak, and when he did, it was with respect.
"Last winter, Jann's camp nearly had a food shortage. They barely made it through."
"No, Your Grace."
She leaned back, studying him thoughtfully. "It will be looked into. As for the three of you..." She looked to Josephine, who stood at attention with ink ready. "Labor. You will be sent to the Inquisition's farm holdings, to replace the food you wasted with your scheme and to feed the families of those the bears killed."
"It will be done, Inquisitor," she said as she scribbled. "And that is all for today."
As the crowd murmured and dispersed, the elven sentinel remained to consider what he had just witnessed. There was much to admire in the Inquisitor – insight, integrity, the power she wielded. The respect she commanded.
She was not a woman who did things by halves, he had learned. Even in the woods, their training sessions in the harsh cold at the end of the day when she was already near exhaustion, she was committed and present. Whether it was because of her character or because she wanted to find those she hunted so desperately, he couldn't say, but it was hard to look at her effort and disparage it.
She grew more and more interesting by the day, he mused, and quietly slipped away.
Chapter 3: In the Field
Chapter 3: In the Field
The stables held the most bizarre assortment of creatures that Abelas had seen in all his years.
The horses were handsome animals, no doubt, and fairly common aside from their exceptional breeding and care. He had also been particularly drawn to the Harts, noble beasts that they were. The further into the stables they ventured, however, the odder the sights.
"All of these," he wondered aloud, "are meant to ride?"
Eve confirmed it, patting a thick-nosed, docile-looking subterranean creature on the muzzle. "Yes, though I have my favorites." She turned back to him, gesturing to their surroundings. "You'll need one, too, so take your pick."
The ease with which she interacted with the animals was apparent, as was the pleasure she took in him showing an interest in any of them. He offered a hand for a dark-striped Hart to sniff, and the warm smile that Eve game him in response was enough to tighten his throat and render him unable to look away from the animal. His reaction was a surprise - not unpleasant, but unexpected in its intensity.
Eve leaned against a pole, hair snuffed by the piglike mount she had greeted. "You've been here over a month, and all the assignments you've been on have been small get-in-and-get-it-done operations. But the Exalted plains are massive, and we need to cover a lot of ground." She pointed over his shoulder, back to the horses. The Tevinter mage had brought along carrots for one particular animal, wiping his hands on an embroidered kerchief.
"Dorian prefers the Orlesian Courser, though I think it might be more for looks than anything else."
Joining them, Dorian clucked his tongue. "How poorly you think of me, Inquisitor. Philippe and I have established an excellent rapport. He is magnificent in every way."
"If you say so." She turned in the other direction, motioning immediately to her left. "Whereas Cassandra tends to choose from the dracolisks."
"They are intelligent," the Seeker confirmed, "and fast. Appearance has nothing to do with it."
"...and the Royal is my usual," Eve finished, indicating a handsome red-toned Hart a few stalls down. "But really, the best thing to do is find one that you get on well with."
"I see." He took a step back to better assess his options, and as his shoulders hit wood, hot breath flooded the back of his neck. He turned to glimpse the mount -
- and immediately put some distance between himself and the stall door.
Staring at him was some kind of skeletal abomination that might at one point have been a horse, hollowed eye sockets and gumless teeth making it more a corpse than anything. Its mane and tail flowed long over sunken musculature, their red hue unsettling in resemblance to fresh blood. Yet perhaps most disturbing of all was the rusted longsword jutting out directly from its face, corroded but still inexplicably sharp. And it was staring at him.
"What in Andruil's name," he asked, unable to look away, "is that thing?"
"Butterscotch?" she asked cheerfully, walking over and affectionately patting it on the nose. "Hello, da'len."
"What is it," Abelas repeated.
"It's a dessert," she explained. "Soft, usually a golden yellow– "
"I am aware of the food," he interrupted, relaxing his posture but maintaining his distance. "I meant the... breed."
"No idea," grunted the horsemaster from behind him, hanging up equipment on the wall. "Not living, not dead. Just showed up here one day."
"And he likes people well enough," Eve added. "So we've been calling him a Bog Unicorn. Named him Butterscotch."
Curious, Abelas took a better look at the monstrosity. "For what reason?"
Eve let the creature press its bony nose into her pockets with a smile on her face. "Cole says that the sweet name makes him feel better about himself."
She pointed up, and Abelas tilted his head back.
"Hello," greeted a boy sitting in the rafters, peering down from below a wide-brimmed hat.
At the sight of him, Abelas' skin prickled, and magic surged involuntarily toward his fingertips. His pulse quickened, memories of the thin Veil flooding the forefront of his mind.
This was no shemlen boy.
"A Fade spirit."
"A friend of mine," she corrected, and the elven sentinel found her confidence in the assertion enough to acknowledge it with a nod and file away the inevitable questions for later. As he moved closer, however, the creature – Bog Unicorn, or whatever it was – sighted him and let out an unearthly scream.
Beaming, Cole appeared by the door. "Butterscotch likes you."
Abelas fought down a grimace and hesitantly patted it on the face, mindful of the sword. "So it seems."
How he missed the halla at moments like these.
"Green fields, rolling." The spirit's watery voice caught his attention. "Herds move slowly across the grass. White fur like velvet under my hands. Soft mouth takes a piece of bread from my palm, gentle. Warm, quiet. Horns like blunted ivory. Crunching sound. Halla eating maps, shoving noses in my pack. Stop, stop – knocked over, halla on either side, head in my lap, I am trapped. Will be here for hours. Bright fur, soft."
A chill settled over him as he recognized his own memory coming out of the boy's mouth. He hadn't encountered his like outside of the Fade in an age, and so hadn't thought to raise his guard against such intrusion.
"He can -" Abelas began, but Eve interrupted with a sigh, reaching over to hook her fingers into the back of Cole's shirt.
"Yes, though he's not supposed to," she said sternly, and dragged him a few feet away. "All right, Cole. Rules are rules. Part one: apologize."
Shoulders slumped, the boy looked genuinely abashed. "I'm sorry, Abelas. I broke the rules."
Unsure of how to respond, Abelas crossed his arms. "I... accept your apology."
"Good," Eve said. "Part two?"
"It's unfair to read just one person," Cole recited. "I need to make it fair. Need to– " He turned his piercing gaze to Dorian, who groaned.
"Oh, Maker, not this again."
"Squeaking, wriggling, piles of wrinkled leather," he whispered. "Like fleshy pillows with pudgy feet. Horrid. Ugly. Delightful. Press my face into the warm skin, feel them gum at my moustache. Sugar cubes in my pocket – can I slip away unnoticed? Few minutes, just a few– "
"Creators' sake," Eve laughed, "if you want to play with the nuggalope pups, just do it!"
"I do not," he retorted, crossing his arms. "Hideous little things."
"Damn beasts," Cole began, staring at Dennet's turned back. "Scaled, massive, freakish. Unnatural. Bond to people – why? Too much, too attached. Jump walls, follow me, cry. Screeching. Can't even take a shit in peace, claws digging into the door. Like toddlers, dragon toddlers. Didn't sign on for this, no way in hell."
As if on cue, one of the dracolisks nipped affectionately at Cassandra, who glowered at Cole as she awaited her turn.
"Heaving bosom," Cole started, and she held up a hand to stop him, neck beginning to flush with color.
"Is this really necessary," she pleaded, but he'd already begun.
"Turn the page. Bodice tight, caged heart pounding. His hands on her waist, fingers thick, strong. Their mouths melt together, heat of the fire. Burning. Craving. Turn the page. She needs him, wants him, falls apart. Skirts pushed up to her waist, breasts loose from their bindings, smalls– "
"Enough," Cassandra barked, glaring daggers at Dorian, who was doubled over in his attempts not to laugh. "Stuff it, mage."
"Utter trash," Dorian managed through his fingers. "And you know it."
"All right," Eve interrupted, hands on her hips. "My turn."
One look at her, and Cole averted his eyes.
"I don't want to."
He shuffled in place, hugging himself with one arm. "Books, tapestries. Josephine's office, after supper. Cole in a chair, Josephine pacing. Talking. Lecturing. Politeness, propriety, personal space. Privacy. Look out the window, sun long gone. Hours now. Josephine's voice, still strong, still - Civilized society is based on rules and common courtesy, Cole! Cole looks like he wants to crawl out a window. Will put up wards next time, bring him back here. More talking. More lecturing."
She clapped a hand on his shoulder, ducking to meet his gaze. "Point made?"
"Yes. May I play with Butterscotch now?"
He vanished, and Eve's satisfied expression seemed, in Abelas' opinion, far too cavalier for what she had just done. She held sway over a Fade spirit without bindings or spells, commanded it to action and it had obeyed. He wondered, not for the first time, if she was truly aware of her abilities. And the fact that she was so unwittingly like - and yet so unlike - her ancestors was no small point of fascination for him.
"Anyway," she instructed as she crossed over to the equipment. "The sooner you choose a mount, the better. The stablehands need to get them ready for travel, and we set out in an hour."
The striped Hart had first caught his eye, and seemed as amiable a choice as any. He reached for the bridle with the correct label, and in doing so came to cross-purposes with Eve, whose tack was on the opposite side. Their forearms brushed, and immediately the Inquisitor pulled her hands back.
"Ara seranna*, Abelas," she apologized as she ducked behind him, reappearing on his left to pull down the equipment and turn back to the stablehands.
He watched her go with a frown, bridle in hand. He had given no indication that he minded the contact, yet her reaction had been to quickly pull away and apologize.
A short distance away, down the row, Dorian theatrically pressed a kiss to her temple and she laughed, the sound echoing through the barn.
Ears flattening a bit against his skull, Abelas handed the bridle to the nearest stablehand and vowed to dwell on it no further.
The first day in the Plains was entirely devoted to reaching the first camp. Thankfully, after the events at the Winter Palace, the empress had all but dissolved the warring factions wreaking havoc on the landscape. The deserted forts were mostly dismantled and stripped, either by soldiers or opportunistic scavengers. And without the fighting, people had begun traveling through again – pushing the removal of the remaining rifts higher on the priority line.
When the river camp came into view, Eve slowed, letting Cole and Abelas ride ahead. Unsurprisingly, Abelas had taken an interest in the spirit, who seemed no less interested himself. Eve had been behind them for most of the journey, watching them interact and only occasionally contributing to the conversation.
As she reached a full stop, Cassandra came up beside her.
"Something wrong, Inquisitor?"
"Nothing, just thinking." She rolled her shoulders back, stiff from a day in the saddle. "You've been out with him a few times – what do you think?"
"You speak of Abelas, I assume." They both watched as the two ahead dismounted, handing the reins to the scouts patrolling the camp. "He is dedicated, which I appreciate. And considering his circumstances, he seems to be adjusting well."
Eve smirked, patting her mount on the neck. "Dorian's attached himself to him, but I don't think it's reciprocated."
"He is very tolerant," she said with a snort. "And he respects you, which leads me to trust him."
"You think so?"
"I know so." After a moment of watching the camp, she spoke again. "You have a way of finding people."
Eve turned, good-naturedly ribbing her right-hand woman. "Meaning that I staffed the Inquisition with crazy misfits?"
Smiling, Cassandra lifted her chin. "They are not who I would have chosen," she admitted, "but I have come to see their merits. Abelas will be the same, I think."
Eve was about to ask for further clarification, but one of the soldiers from the camp had come running over, out of breath and looking panicked.
"What is it," Cassandra asked, and the soldier saluted as best he could with a troubled look on his face.
"Your Grace," he began, addressing Eve. "That mount, the... unicorn. The dead one. Forgive me, but what does it eat?"
At the mention of Butterscotch, Eve leaned forward onto the pommel.
"Your fears and darkest nightmares, most likely," she sighed. "But first, try oats."
As the sun began to set, Abelas led Eve across the stone bridge and onto the opposite riverbank. Training continued even on assignment, taking advantage of the change in location to test her skills. The abundance of wildlife would present a suitable challenge, and Eve seemed equally eager at the prospect of practice.
She slid in an unstable patch of silt, and he turned to reach out a hand for support.
"I'm all right," she insisted, half-wincing, half-smiling. "Dirty's the least of my problems."
He took back his hand and continued, flexing his fingers and focusing on the path ahead rather than the latest avoidance of his touch.
"Here," he said, arriving at their intended destination. "Tell me everything you see."
As she stepped past him, he perched on a boulder to observe her process. They were at a small section of shallow bank, devoid of reeds or encampments, and the grasses led into the edge of a thicket.
"There's a trampled path from the trees," she began. "Not a lot of grass has regrown, so it's heavily traveled. It leads right to the waterfront, so if I had to guess, I'd say that this is a popular drinking spot."
"I agree." Leaning against the rough stone, he lowered his hood. "Continue."
"These," she indicated, crouching by a line of tracks. "Hooves, split down the middle. No dewclaws, which only means Halla." She frowned, turning to study the ground at her left and right. "A lot of Halla. It makes sense, seeing as there's a clan nearby."
She stood, carefully stepping to another unmarked patch. "A lot of rodents, birds, some kind of – ah! There." She crouched again, pointing to a few tracks leading out from the grass. "These are too big to be foxes. Wolves, right?"
"Yes." He draped his elbows across his knees. "There is more information there. Find it, and we can move on."
She studied carefully for a moment, tracing the gritty soil with her fingertips. "They're not as deep or as big as some of the others we've seen around. And they're caved in in some spots, with dragmarks and randomly dug holes and– "
The moment she understood, he could see it light up her face.
"Pups," she realized. "This was a female and her pups. Definitely more than one, but I'm not sure how many."
He slid off of the rock, regarding her with pride. "Good. Now we retrace her steps through the underbrush. Her den is likely nearby."
"And since so many animals come here, she has access to food and water," Eve said, trudging up the bank to join him. "It's a good spot for whelping, now that the humans are gone."
Approval tinged his voice. "You learn quickly."
She laughed, wiping her hands on her robes. "I had to – my teacher was kind of an ass at first."
He said nothing, but let her take the lead as they entered the thicket.
"So, Abelas," she called, inspecting a low set of branches. "It occurs to me that you've never told me about yourself."
"I had no reason to," he replied. "Everything I was lay in that temple."
"But before that. Do you remember anything? Family, home?"
With a frown, he sidestepped an unearthed system of thick roots. "Pieces," he admitted. "And not all of them pleasant."
"The temple, then." She swept aside some leaf litter, encountering a tuft of hair caught on a sharp branch. "You served there before everything fell. What was it like, in the time of the elves? And after, when you only were woken up to turn back intruders? How did you cope with having the world constantly changing while you were gone? And again, now?"
The flood of questions caught him off guard, and he deflected. "If you cannot concentrate on your target," he said flatly, "you will never find anything."
"I can't help it," she told him, interrupting her search to turn and face him. "I want to know you, your experiences, where you came from. And I want you to feel comfortable asking me the same."
Her eyes, their green tinted gold in the fading light, were focused on his face as she waited for his response.
"Then you may ask your questions again," he said slowly. "One at a time. After you have found the den."
She smiled, stepping closer and ducking her head. "Is that a promise?"
She was close, then, and the way she shifted her shoulders was as though she meant to embrace him –
- but just as he began to close the distance between them, she was gone.
"Look," she whispered, crouched and motioning for him to join her. "There, at the base of the tree."
He sank to her level, following her gaze to the upturned roots of a gnarled oak, shredded bark and leaf litter surrounding the entrance to a wide excavation. Tracks led into the cavern's mouth, but all was silent except for the birdcalls and humming of insects.
"She is likely out teaching them to hunt," he said quietly. "Shall we wait?"
"No," Eve said after a moment more of examining the den from their lookout. "I don't want to disturb her, and it's getting dark."
They traced the path back, Eve a step ahead, lost in her own thoughts until she broke the silence.
"Well," she said, "I did find a wolf. Not the one I was looking for, but..."
He remembered the Fade wolf clearly, despite only having seen it the once. "Do you know anything else about it?"
"Nothing." She ducked under a tree branch. "He keeps himself at a distance, but always makes sure to be in my sights."
"Almost as if it wants to get caught."
"Perhaps. Or be seen."
"Or see you."
Her feet stilled, ears twitching beneath loose locks of hair.
"I almost don't want to know what the implications of that are," she admitted, regaining her steps. "But the thought had crossed my mind."
The first of the two rifts was the smaller one, according to Harding's men.
Smaller didn't always mean easier, Eve reminded herself with a grimace, watching a half-dozen shades rip themselves free from the spikes of green light. It was never just shades, she thought as she ran behind Cole to reinforce his barrier. They always had a commander, something stronger, something...
A piercing scream struck at her ears, and she knew what was coming even before it finished taking shape.
A horror. Fenedhis, of course it was.
The Seeker was already moving, headed right for the nearest shade. Naturally, she attracted another, and Eve reached out with her left hand to grasp at the air, palm-up, before turning her hand and slamming it downward, everything in her line of sight suddenly grinding into the dirt. Between that and Cassandra's shield, they'd be a bloody pulp before she even got another spell off, and so she turned her attention back to the others.
Abelas had picked off a shade or two, moving on to the next, but that left Cole alone against the barrage of magic being leveled at him. Eve snapped her staff back into place, right hand drawing energy into the shape of a blade as she charged forward.
"Cole, to the left!"
He dodged out of the way just as she struck at the horror's core, cutting a line through its midsection and coating the ground in blackish tar. It screeched, fading out of visibility and into safety.
"Help Cassandra," she ordered, reaching out with magic as he leapt toward the remaining lesser threats. The Rift being so close muddled everything, but if she could find stillness, even for half a second -
She spun, running in long strides to cover ground. The sentinel was directly in her path, the air immediately beside him beginning to flicker and pulse.
"Abelas, get down!"
She thanked the creators that he did so without question, and she pushed a hand off his back to propel herself into the air just in time to slam a shield into place. A volley of green energy beams spiraled off of the glowing hemisphere as she gritted her teeth, unable to hear anything beyond the scream of magic. She only glimpsed a flash of metal in her peripheral vision before the hum of an arrow shot over her shoulders, lodging directly in the twisted creature's throat.
It let out an unearthly wail, clawing at its neck, and that was the opening she needed. The blade was back at her arm in an instant, and this time, it was too weak to run. It was over before Abelas could fire a second arrow.
As his remains crumbled into ash, Eve dropped her shield and turned to face the pulsing rift with an outstretched hand. The effort of closing it was nothing compared to staring a Horror in the face, and as it shrank from existence, she braced her hands on her knees to catch her breath.
Her palm was still sparking green light, though her heart rate was beginning to return to normal.
"Creators," she swore as she surveyed the damage. "I hate things that disappear like that." With a nod to her companion, she quickly clarified. "Not you, Cole."
"I know," he replied cheerfully as he crouched to check the shades for pockets.
"That blade," Abelas said as they walked along the stream to follow it back to the river. "You said that you studied under a tutor – was she elven?"
"She was," Eve replied, stretching. "Though from what Solas told me, it should be far from the first time you've seen it."
"Indeed, it is not." He kept apace, hands clasped behind his back. "I am glad to see that the technique yet survives, though I am surprised that you wouldn't use your marked hand."
As he spoke, Eve heard a strangled noise from Cassandra and whispered "not again" from Cole, and a cursory glance behind her turned up expressions to match.
"We tried that," she explained with a grimace at Abelas' confusion. "It, ah. Didn't go well. Almost lost a chunk of the eastern wall."
He raised an eyebrow, smirking slightly as they walked. "I see."
"Shields, though," she rushed to continue. "Those I can use my left for."
"So I have seen. And I thank you for the intervention earlier."
She snorted, crossing her arms. "And you repaid me by nearly shooting my ear off."
"Your ears are just like mine," she argued, "so you know I felt it. What would you have done if I'd gotten fletching stuck in my skin?" Feigning a glare, she turned and spread her hands. "Cassandra, are you a healer?"
"No," the Seeker replied, stone-faced. "You would have died."
"Died, Abelas," she repeated for effect, leaning back to catch his expression. His smirk had only broadened, though the hood hid it well. It was a rare sight, and one she was all too happy to earn.
"I am also skilled with a warhammer," he informed her casually, "if you prefer."
"So you can swing that by my ear? No, thankyou!"
She fully intended on continuing their banter, scheming up another form of teasing as they passed the base of a hill. The plains opened up again, and red-sailed aravels stood stark against the moss-covered rocks by which they were tethered. She could make out a figure standing at the stream, flanked by halla. As their eyes met, he waved, and in a few steps she could distinguish his face.
"Keeper Hawen," she greeted as they approached the camp. "Andaran atish'an."
He smiled widely, offering a hand. "You return, da'len! It is good to see you well."
She took it, clasping his forearm as he did the same. "I'm a mess," she sighed, gesturing to her robes as she stepped back. "Though I'm happy to report that the rift at the end of the stream is sealed."
"That is good news. Our hunters will be glad to hear it."
At the word 'hunters,' it occurred to her to look to their own. To her surprise, Abelas stayed behind the others, surveying the camp, but saying nothing.
"I don't see Nissa," she continued, turning back to the Keeper. "How are the supplies? And the herd?"
"She is teaching the young ones to harvest spindleweed upriver," he continued. "But we are well-stocked, you need not worry."
"Eva'nahn!" A white-haired younger man crossed the camp, June's vallaslin green against his skin. He reached out to embrace her, and she laughed at his enthusiasm.
"Aneth ara, Ithiren. Ah, don't pick me up, my ribs– !"
He complied, nodding to greet Cassandra, who returned the gesture. "If it's about the herd, I don't know if it's the grass or the river, but we've never had so many calves in a single season."
"That's good, right?"
"I suppose, but – ouch!" A young halla, horns not more than a hand's length, had nipped at his arm. "They're a bit unruly."
Eve snickered, knowing how much their blunted teeth could hurt, and the Keeper lifted his chin to look past them both.
"Your friend seems to have a way with them."
Sure enough, when she followed his gaze, a small herd had gathered around Abelas. Six or seven full-sized adults insistently pressed their noses into his hands and inspected his face, a few calves trotting over to join them. He couldn't move an inch in any direction, despite some gentle-yet-firm nudging.
"Incredible." Ithiren stared, despite being gnawed on again. "They so rarely take to outsiders, aside from your spirit friend."
Eve didn't need to ask – Cole always found his way to the halla every time he passed the camp. "Abelas," she called, covering her grin with one hand. "Do you need some help?"
He raised his head, displaying his features and vallaslin for all the camp to see.
"No," he said flatly. "They are merely curious and will grow bored of me quickly."
"One of the People," the Keeper observed. "Andaran atish'an, brother. What clan do you hail from?"
Abelas stiffened, and Eve rushed in.
"It's a long story," she interrupted, "but we met in the southeastern wilds."
"I see. Then I will not press further." A look of pity briefly crossed Hawen's face, and she knew his assumption; it was not unheard of for entire clans to be wiped out by humans or perish from living in the wild. It wasn't too far from the truth, and she appreciated his empathy.
"In any case,"he said, clearing his throat, "you are welcome here, as a friend of the Inquisitor. Ir na'las hamin'an."
We grant you a place of refuge.
Abelas shifted, silent for a moment as he flexed his fingers by his sides.
"Ma serannas," he said, and turned his attention back to the halla.
The were back at camp in time for the noonday meal, but even in the hours following, Abelas said little. Even now, as the sun set, he had left the main camp for the makeshift archery targets the scouts had put up for practice, abused-looking hay bales and slices of scrap wood arranged downwind. From the look of the marking patterns on all of them, the men were in need of some improvement.
The same couldn't be said for Abelas, however, who consistently hit his mark. Eve watched from a flat boulder as he drew, nocked, lined up a shot, fired. Two arrows. Three. Walked over, collected the arrows, and repeated. He'd been at it for over an hour; he must have been tired. She recognized the patterns of frustration and tension when she saw them, having a few of her own.
"Cole," she called, and he appeared beside her.
"Hello. You're worried."
With a sigh, she rubbed behind one ear and caught her bottom lip in her teeth. "I'm not sure what happened," she admitted. "He said that he'd encountered the Dalish before, spoken with them. But he's been like this for a while now, and I can't get more than two words out of him." She turned to the spirit, leaning back on her palms. "Is he doing all right? Do I need to do something?"
She watched as he fixed his gray-blue eyes on Abelas' frame across the field and played absently with his fingers while he focused.
"Yes," he answered after a moment. "You do."
"Right." She sat up, folding her legs. "Give me a hint."
"Hint," he repeated. "Yes." He leaned forward toward the object of his stare, wide brim of his hat protecting him from the sun.
"Hands," he began. "Ink-stained, perfect, warm. Kisses, light and heartfelt. Important to her, important to the People. Welcome back, good morning, thank you. She smiles, she connects, she touches - Why doesn't she touch me like she touches the others? I am not of her people, not of her Inquisition, not hers, why? Connection, meaning – "
"What?" Incredulous, Eve wrung her hands. "But touching is something that so many people – Even Solas took a while to - I mean, I just assumed that he didn't – "
Cole beamed at her. "He is not Solas. You were wrong."
"Yes," she sighed, reaching over to yank down the brim of his hat. "Try not to gloat." She stood and leaned down to brush off her hands. "But thank you. For the help."
He disappeared, still smiling, and Eve strode across the grasses to where Abelas had made his retreat. She called his name, and he lowered his bow at the sight of her.
"You're embarrassing the scouts," she teased. "Hitting the mark every time makes them look bad."
She watched his fingers twitch as he looked away – a sign she'd come to recognize as frustration, irritation. Weaving around him, she put herself in his line of sight again and reached for his face, pinning him in position.
"Hey," she said. "Whatever you're worrying about - stop. That's an order."
Her bare palms lay against his jaw, fingertips at his cheekbones and thumbs on either side of his nose. His vallaslin was rough beneath her touch, though anyone not Dalish might have easily missed it.
She had his attention now, however, and he obediently stayed put.
"I – You..." He frowned. "You are commanding me to calm down?"
"Cassandra used to do it for me all the time," Eve said. "And it always worked wonders."
He stared at her for a moment, gold eyes searching her face, before the tension in his expression broke.
"Me, or the fact that it worked?"
She smiled, releasing him and turning back to camp. "Come on," she called. "Dinner might be up to us, seeing as my scouts are apparently piss-poor shots."
He followed close behind, the spasm in his hands gone.
The Fade that night found her along the river, far north of the bridge and well into the woods. A meteor shower flashed overhead, the streaks shooting through the darkness in beautiful arcs. Eve stood barefoot on the sand, staring at the opposite bank.
The great wolf stared back.
This was the closest he'd ever been, she mused as she sat and crossed her legs. Still far enough to be well out of reach, but closer.
He lowered his head to sniff at tracks in the silt, and in a moment of bravery and levity, she reached her hand into the water to flick a handful at him, the drops spattering along his neck and mane. Laughing, she watched as he inspected the damage, then started to shake dry starting from his nose and running all the way to his tail.
"Serves you right," she informed him, wiping her hand on her tunic. "You can stay if you want, but I'm not making any promises."
She waited in a long silence, patiently folding her hands in her lap as the beast kept her in his sights.
Finally, to her surprise, he sat in the grass, tail curled around his hips. It was a safe distance, but still, it was a start.
"I'm Eve," she said politely. "Nice to meet you."
The second rift was both larger and more powerful, and though they had expected such, facing it was another matter entirely.
From the onset, Eve could feel something – like a cold, heavy blanket – settle across her shoulders. Cole had warned them too, though even he had trouble parsing his disjointed warnings. Then the first Terror had appeared, and everything became much more urgent.
If they were going to come out of this in one piece, they were going to have to hit it hard and fast.
The first wave was struck down with textbook execution, the four of them a well-oiled machine of powerful swings and flawless defense. Hit hard, hit fast. Don't let them gain an inch.
One terror became three, and the rule of lesser demons came into effect. More than two meant the presence of a leader, and the Fear demon carving gouges in the ground was just that. Their iron defense crumbled in the face of demons all possessing the ability to teleport. The plan had changed, but the mantra had not: hit hard, hit fast.
Cassandra was the first to take down a Terror. She had waited for it, gathering her strength into one blow that, when it attempted to spiral up and throw her off balance, pummeled it straight back into the ground. The exertion took its toll, however, and Eve was only just able to power a shield enough for the Seeker to regain her bearings.
The second Terror was Cole's doing, as he dug his daggers into the abomination's back. It disappeared, not realizing that the spirit could come along for the ride, and when it rematerialized, Cole parted its spine from its flesh. And the last she saw of the third, Abelas had pinned both its feet to the ground in the center of a fire glyph and activated it.
That only left the Fear demon and its army of endless spiders.
They focused all of their efforts on keeping it in one place, cutting off limbs, anything to slow it down. Spiders swarmed around their feet, a carpet of glittering black carapaces as they bit and screeched and clawed. The more they hit the demon, the more of the damn things poured out of the rift, and Eve knew from experience that hacking him down slowly would only make it worse. They were all already in rough shape, exhausted and broken and bleeding.
Hit hard, hit fast.
"Everyone, to me," she yelled, and the second everyone was within range, she raised a shield.
"I'm going to summon a resurgence glyph," she called over the din. "As soon as it activates, we'll have fifteen seconds at full strength – make it count!" Her hands glowed white-hot as everyone prepared as best they could.
"Three," she called. "Two!"
She slammed her palms into the ground, a patterned diamond etching into the earth from the points of contact and bathing them all in light. Air filled her lungs and she rushed forward alongside the others, leaving a spray of spider corpses in their wake.
Arrows, fire, steel, and a blade of pure magical energy were enough to tear the demon apart at the seams.
It burst with a sickening noise, coating Eve's arms – in what was formerly its chest cavity - in a hissing green miasma. She swore loudly as she ran to roll her arms in fresh dirt and wipe them on what little grass was left. It was too late to prevent damage, but as soon as her skin was no longer smoking, she pushed herself to standing and did a quick sweep. "Everyone all right?" she managed.
Three voices answered in the affirmative, and she allowed her knees to finally give way beneath the rift as she raised her hand to close it.
Lamplight cast a soft glow against the tent's canvas walls.
Dusk had come and gone, and the medical supplies were being put to good use. Cassandra had needed only a strength tonic and a light bandage for her blisters, but otherwise had been well-treated by the final glyph. Cole appeared to be about the same, though he hadn't allowed the healer to examine him, insisting that others be seen to instead.
Abelas sat, armor removed and bare to the waist, on a stool by the workbench housing their kit. Eve was opposite him, stripping off her outer layer of robes and tunic. The sleeves would have to be replaced, she had lamented earlier, and Harritt would give her an earful.
He clenched his teeth as he dropped another blood-soaked rag into the wooden basin at their feet. The water had stung, but he was clean. All that remained was to dress the gash in his upper arm, shallow though it was.
"Just bandages?" Eve frowned at his choice. "We have salves and poultices. And that's– " She didn't even finish her sentence, just plucked the roll from his hand and pulled her stool closer. "Here, let me."
"I heal quickly," he told her as she pulled out a jar of a waxy-looking substance. "There is no need for fuss."
"This is your draw hand, right?" She pulled some onto her fingertips, putting the lid aside. "You should take care of it properly."
His surprise must have shown on his face, judging from her expression. "What?" she asked, almost defensively. "I do my best to learn about everyone's techniques – I can at least remember what side you shoot with."
She began to spread the balm near his injured flesh, gingerly applying pressure where it was needed. When she spoke again, she was soft, and her words more gentle.
"Let me fuss over you, lethallin."
He inhaled sharply at the endearment – prompting an apology from Eve, who mistook it for pain – and he watched as she cautiously worked the ointment into his skin. Her fingertips, warm and skillful, took great care with his wound, and her face was dimly lit, but there was a tenderness in her concentration that he found himself moved by. Who had ever cared for him like this, touched him with such consideration?
He had a promise to keep.
"I had two sisters," he began. "One brother." His face, thin and angular, rose to the forefront of Abelas' mind. "He looked like our father."
Startled, Eve looked up from her ministrations. "What?"
"Your questions." He shifted, long white braid spilling over one shoulder. "You never had the chance to ask them again."
She bit her lower lip – a habit he had recently noticed – as she re-capped the jar and reached for a rag. While she wiped her hands, he continued.
"Of the four of us, I was granted the position of the highest honor. My abilities had earned me my place, though I knew no life outside of service." She began to wrap the wound, and he lifted his arm to be a bit more accommodating. "I would be bound, no matter the path."
Her hands hesitated in their work. "I'm so sorry."
"It was the way of things." He watched her in silence for a time, considering what she had asked of him, and how best to answer. Questions about Elvhenan were easy enough to answer – details, sights, sounds, people – but she hadn't asked about those. She had asked about him. No one had ever asked about his life or experiences, and so he had no ready answer for something so deeply personal. He endeavored to remember her questions, however, determined to answer to her efforts at kinship.
"Each time we woke, the world had shifted and time had moved on as we stood forgotten." One of her hands smoothed out the cloth, the other pulling it snug around the curve of his arm as she wound it. "Even those we had called our people had become almost unrecognizable, isolated in their suffering and ensuing rebellion. All I ever caught of the world were glimpses, each more unfamiliar than the last, and I eventually surrendered all feeling, all hope. My existence was one of apathy and obscurity."
She cut the ends of the bandage, deftly tucking them into the previous layer. "And now?" she asked, somewhat hesitantly.
"It is difficult," he said honestly. "There are times when the challenges seem neverending, two losses for every small victory. And yet..." He focused his gaze back on her work. "I am fortunate to have found something in this age to connect with. A cause. A community, of sorts. My attachment to the world is returning, and you are no small part of that."
She stilled at that, turning her eyes up to him. "Abelas."
His hands, resting between his knees, suddenly became host to hers as she tucked her fingertips into his palms. He ran his thumbs over her knuckles, relishing the link she had created between them. It was short-lived, however - as soon as his gaze ventured above her wrists, he was met with angry-looking burns that spread up her forearms and raised her skin in welts.
"Your arms," he said, grip tightening briefly. "Have they been seen to?"
"Ah, this? No need." She tugged her hands free, extending her arms to illustrate her point. "I've done this enough times that I'm rather skilled at treating myself."
Abelas had already retrieved the burn salve, slathering a fair amount between his palms before reaching for her right hand. "Allow me."
He waited as she considered his hands, eventually lifting the limb and offering it to him obediently. The injured skin was raw, radiating heat, and certain areas elicited a flinch and low hiss under even the lightest touch.
"Shall I stop?"
"No," she insisted. "I... this has to be done, and I'd rather it be you."
He re-coated his hands and continued, making long, even strokes from the heel of her palm to her elbow. Time passed in silence while he worked, though a companionable one. After a few passes, he was satisfied enough to apply bandaging and move on to the next.
"You have remarkable abilities," he said as he began on her left arm – the one with the marked hand. "Your connection to the Fade is rare, even for the People."
"So I'm told," she managed through a grimace as he hit a particularly tender spot.
"You do not seem proud."
"It's not that simple." She watched him start the bandage, wrapping from the wrist up. "Something like that, it's... hard to control." Her long, tense exhale warmed the back of his hand. "It keeps me awake at night, sometimes."
Abelas had never counted offering comfort among his skills, yet the expression on her face and tone of her voice pulled at him.
"I have seen your control," he told her as he finished the binding. "You have nothing to fear."
She smiled, then, dragging the back of her free hand across her face. "That means a lot, coming from you." A streak of greenish balm was left behind, adorning the ridge of her cheekbone with an oily sheen.
Abelas reached forward, wiping it with the pad of his thumb. It seemed nothing, now, to touch her in such a manner. She approached him as she did the others, and he felt like a fool for having been worried at all. This was simple, trivial.
Yet as his hand lingered, she turned her cheek into his palm and sighed softly against his wrist.
A tightness took hold of his throat. She was seeking him out, offering him affection, and he didn't have the clarity to think twice about taking it.
He returned the gentle pressure, caressing the curve of her face and absorbing himself in the softness of her skin. She closed her eyes, and his left hand rose up to mirror its twin. Slowly, faithfully tracing the lines of her face, he ran his palms over her jawline and felt his pulse quicken when she moved forward on her seat. She was close, but not close enough – his fingers threaded themselves into the hairline at her nape, drawing her in. As his thumbs slowly slid up behind her ears, exploring the sensitive skin their kind shared, he elicited a soft noise from her throat.
Her hands found his knees, sliding up with fingers splayed over his thighs as she stretched up to meet him.
Creators, he swore, blood thundering in his ears. Even in that day's battle, his body had not felt so alive, so attuned to the smallest of details as this. A dragon could have burned down the tent around them, and it would have been nothing compared to her breath on his face as he inclined his head to close the distance between them.
Her lips parted as they first brushed against his own, feather-light and –
She was gone from him in an instant, hands drawn back and posture straightened. Cassandra's voice rang through the tent, a shuffling at the entrance heralding her arrival.
"Inquisitor," she began, holding the flap open. "We need to discuss preparations for our return tomorrow. Are you well enough to travel?"
Eve turned, touching her fingers to the bandages he had just applied. "I am," she reassured her. "I can meet you at the officer's desk in just a minute."
"Of course." She left, letting the fabric fall shut behind her.
Biting her lip, Eve turned to him. "I have to– "
She pulled on a spare overcoat as she exited, and the moment he was alone, Abelas exhaled a long, slow breath. Elbows on his knees, he studied his hands, her touch still etched into their memory.
He wasn't sure if he was grateful for the interruption or would have given anything in his power for ten seconds more.
The journey back to Skyhold would be a long one.
*Ara seranna – excuse me
Chapter 4: Clan Lavellan
Chapter 4: Clan Lavellan
She didn't know if it was the familiar setting or the result of her near-daily training regimen, but Eve's progress through the snow was fast – and her silence gave her an advantage.
It wasn't so much her footsteps that had been quieted, though snow-walking had been a difficult skill to master, but her mind's insistence on reliving the Kiss That Almost Was at every possible moment. She tried to push it down, shove the memory away as she crouched by the base of a tree to check the disturbance of the snow there. Abelas had disappeared westward from their meeting point not five minutes ago, his insistence on practice a welcome bit of normalcy in what had been a surreal few days.
The scrapings of ice and snow had come off the soles of his boots as he scaled the tree – he had changed his method of travel here.
She stood and followed the branches, linking those that could both support his weight and reach a neighbor. As she walked, the gentle howl of the wind echoed over the mountainside. Her hands still remembered the way the muscles of his thighs had fluttered as they'd been traveled; heat trailed down her spine as her ears recalled the slide of his fingers around their sensitive planes.
It had been a kiss, she knew as the trail ran cold. Even if for a moment, it had been a long time coming. The fatal combination of vulnerability and intimacy had sealed it – though Abelas had been treating her like nothing had happened ever since, and it was beginning to get under her skin.
A twig, brown and dry, lay on the ground beside a trunk some feet away. On the surface and uncovered by snow meant that it had been recently disturbed. She collected it on her way north.
It wasn't what either of them had expected, Eve considered as she rounded a set of boulders, but really – what did she have to lose? What good would it do, to turn this away?
For either of them?
She came to a stop under an old, wide conifer, lifting her eyes to stare up into the shadows of its boughs. Gold eyes met hers, and she leaned against the trunk as he gracefully made his way down.
"Well done," he conceded as his boots hit snow. "Your silence has improved."
"I did a lot of thinking," she said, and he looked something akin to pleased.
"Because you put other thoughts aside and focus on your target, I occupy more of your mind." He brushed off his gloves. "It served you well."
"That," she said slowly, "and you're starting to want to get caught."
Frowning, he crossed his arms and stared down at her. "That is the aim of the exercise."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it." She produced the twig and spun it between her thumb and forefinger, watching as he visibly stiffened. "You were distracted."
His breath hung in the air, the evidence of his internal struggle quickly dissipating into the cold.
"I apologize for my misstep," he said, finally. He turned his gaze up to the skies, clouds edging in through the visible patches. "And snow is coming. We should return earlier than planned."
He turned, and she hesitated before joining him. She could press, she wanted to press, but something held her tongue. If it had distracted him, it was no ordinary trifle – but she had learned long ago that one couldn't force answers from the unwilling, not if one wanted them to come back.
Snow flurried around them on the trek back, melting against her cheeks and eyelashes.
Abelas walked the parapets, midmorning sun glinting off of the gold trim of his hood as he moved.
It had been a troubling week. He had learned from his mistake; Eve had not caught him distracted again. Yet he could not, for all the wisdom of his years, shake what was plaguing him.
He had tremendous, significant matters in need of his attention – the purpose of his continued existence, the plight and relevance of the People, instability of the Veil – and still he found himself continually reliving a half-formed kiss that smelled of elfroot salve and blood.
He didn't regret his actions; they had been reciprocated, and motivated by genuine affection. But the more time passed, he couldn't help but wonder: what if? He would pass the Inquisitor in the keep, and she would greet him warmly, as she always did – but what if he pulled her aside, took her into his arms, and finished what they had started? When she described a new spell, if he interrupted her with his mouth on hers? When she showed him a map of the new borders, if he leaned over the parchment and closed the gap between them?
Or, more likely, what if what had transpired between them had been in the moment, and nothing more?
No matter the answer, she was in his sights more often than ever. Even now, he passed the Commander's office and crossed another section of high walls, watching the courtyard with interest. The order of the hour was hand-to-hand combat, soldiers training under supervision as they awaited their time in the ring. All were unarmed, unarmored, and stripped down to practice clothes to better allow for grappling. Cullen and Cassandra monitored the practice exercises, and the Warden Blackwall judged the bouts while leaning on the wooden boundary fence, shouting instructions at the combatants.
"Hands up," he barked, "if you want to keep your teeth!"
Eve circled the ring, staring down one of the human scouts under Harding. The difference in their frames was considerable, and she was nearly two heads shorter. The musculature in her back, however, indicated that she was far from a stranger to such training. Her skin was streaked with dirt, sweat matting locks of white-blonde hair to her forehead and neck.
"The magic's all in your right," Blackwell told her as she passed him. "Use your left to block, knock him off guard. And you." He addressed the scout. "She's faster than you by a shot. She gets in close, you're a dead man." He slammed his fist onto a pole. "Now, again!"
The two of them circled the border, Eve's gait looking more like stalking. She stayed low, shoulders primed, waiting. When the scout made his move, she was ready – and she went right for her targets.
The next few moments were a blur of strikes and feints, both landing solid blows: Eve to his ribs and knee, he to her collarbone and abdomen. She lunged for him repeatedly, her size no match for his natural strength, but her endurance and speed wearing him down.
She hit dirt on one of her passes, thrown as he flung out his arm and caught her around the middle. She landed on her back, skidding to a halt at the edge of the ring. The scout closed in, ready to finish it, but Abelas could see her face, see the tension in her limbs as she coiled inward. As soon as her opponent was in range, she struck from the ground, propelling herself off of a boundary pole and crashing into his legs. As soon as he was on his back, she was straddling his chest, knees constricting his ribcage and right arm barred across his throat.
"Y-yield," he managed, and as Blackwall called point, Eve braced her palms on his shoulders and pushed herself up.
Abelas watched as she walked out of arm's reach and dragged a hand across her mouth, slicking away blood in an arc across the dirt. After a moment, she lifted her head to the parapets and met his gaze from below, eyes wild like a feral thing. His stomach tightened.
If she hunted him like that, he wouldn't stand a chance.
The elven sentinel was so focused on her, trapped under her stare, that he didn't hear being called from his left until it was repeated a second, third time.
"Having some hearing trouble there, Gramps?"
He turned to see Varric approaching him on the stone path, as he should have expected from the use of the moniker. It had been settled upon him almost immediately; Eve insisted that everyone had such a nickname from the dwarf and that it was a sign of friendship.
Still, he was glad no others used it.
"I was preoccupied watching the sparring bouts," he explained, and by the time he looked back down, Eve and her opponent had returned to Blackwall for notes.
"Right. The bouts." Something in the dwarf's tone implied that he didn't quite believe him, especially as he laid eyes on the Inquisitor. "She jumps in every chance she gets," he explained, "especially when she's got stress to burn. Takes the edge off. I'm just surprised she held out for three days."
"Since she got the letter from her clan, calling for help. Some nobles can't leave to seem them the hell alone, and you and I both know how that ends up. The clan caught word that they're going to try something at a big banquet next week, and, well." He scratched at his stubble with one gloved hand. "She's been like this ever since."
She had hidden it well, Abelas mused as he turned his attention back to the courtyard. "She said nothing of it to me."
"Didn't have to, seeing as you're not coming."
Something sharp and cold formed in his stomach, sinking in his gut. Eve had told him much of the Dalish, and their clans were paramount, most precious. To not even have mentioned it to him was...
"She has decided, then."
"Me, Tiny, and the Seeker," Varric informed him. "We leave the day after tomorrow. But..." He crossed his arms, smirking up at the sentinel. "I could be persuaded to stay here and work on my manuscript, if a certain someone wanted to, I don't know, go prove that they could not be an ass to her family."
His lack of subtlety was characteristic of his usual thinly veiled interference, and Abelas pointedly said nothing in response.
Raising his hands in mock defeat, Varric chuckled and headed down the granite steps. "You change your mind – or hers – you know where I'll be."
Eve stared down at the war table, hair still damp from a much-needed bath. Her body was a mess from training, but at least she was clean and clear-headed. The midday meal had helped, though even the effort of lifting utensils made her arms ache.
"The citizens of Wycome aren't the problem," she said, circling to the other side of the map to get closer to the target area. "It's the nobility – they're the ones trying to pressure the landowners, since they can't directly raise a hand against anyone under the Inquisition's protection."
Cassandra stood beside her, frowning. "And you think that I can help?"
"Nobles listen to other nobles," Eve said. "You're a Pentaghast. They'll either soil themselves or claim to be a distant relative."
"Naturally." The Seeker settled a hand on her hip. "And if that fails..."
"Then you have a sword."
That earned her a smirk, and Eve picked up the list Leliana had prepared. "These are the ones that we know of, thanks to Lady Volant. We'll need to pack formal clothes for the banquet, so keep that in mind when getting ready tomorrow."
The door opened, and both women turned to greet the arrival.
"Abelas!" Eve handed Cassandra the list. "We were just preparing for the next mission. We leave in two days, and so I'll be gone for a fortnight, less if everything – "
"I will be joining you," he interrupted, hands clasped behind his back. "If you allow it."
His request caught her off-guard, to say the least. "We'll be with my clan," she explained slowly, "the Dalish. Are you sure?"
"Yes. Varric informed me of the details this morning."
Cassandra narrowed her eyes. "And his part in all this?"
Abelas held firm, meeting her suspicious stare. "He expressed a preference to stay," he said. "When I asked, he referred to a manuscript. Something about a knight-captain and her guardsman."
Eve didn't have to look to know what kind of a face Cassandra was making. If anything in Thedas could reduce the Seeker to doe eyes and weak knees, it was those damn serials.
"All right," she sighed. "Varric stays, you go."
He inclined his head in a gesture of gratitude. "Thank you."
"We leave at first light the day after tomorrow. The tailors will be in your room in an hour to fit you with finery."
He paused. "Finery?"
She indicated the list of names she'd handed off to Cassandra. "You're coming along, you're going to the party." Biting her lip to hide a smirk, she turned back to the war table.
"I'm sure you clean up nice."
"If Rocky spends another night drunk and singing that same damn song over and over, I'm going to strangle him with his own explosives belt."
Eve's patience was wearing thin. They were two days from Wycome, the forests growing thick as they approached the coastal city. The dense growth made for rough travel, but was mitigated by the abundance of sprawling ruins that had left large areas flat and fortified, perfect for setting camp. Eve had ducked away from the main enclosure of what looked to be the skeleton of a fortress, now reduced to a series of crumbling walls. Tents were already set, and the enclosed space brought the worst out of traveling in a group.
"If he has become an annoyance," Abelas said, keeping apace, "it is his captain's responsibility."
"The song is called 'Dragon Tits,'" Eve glared. "Of course Bull loves it. Who do you think keeps time on the spoons?"
Abelas chuckled, and she felt some of her irritation drift away. That, and she had found a beautiful little spot to sulk in – it appeared to have once been a garden, vine-covered arbors and nearby stream providing cool relief from the heat of the day. It was hard to stay angry in a place like this, and the break from her fellows was much needed. Abelas, too, seemed to appreciate the same, hood lowered around his shoulders as they walked.
She paused under one of the arbors, pebbles crunching beneath her feet. "Two days," she sighed. "Two days and we'll be with the clan, and they can have other people to entertain with their ridiculousness."
"It will be..." Abelas hesitated. "Interesting."
"Right, I've been meaning to ask you about that." She leaned back, centuries-old ironwork cushioned by a network of leafy vines. "Why are you here, Abelas? You specifically asked to come along, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why."
He mirrored her posture, the width of the decorative structure not enough for any real distance. "I have been thinking," be began slowly. "The clan we met on the plains – they did not know me, but welcomed me."
"Dalish culture," she explained. "They saw the vallaslin and thought you were clanless."
"Am I not?"
He adjusted his posture, and Eve waited patiently as he followed the shifting beams of sunlight with his eyes in thought.
"The People have changed," he said. "Yet I have not, and therein lies the problem. If I am to have any life worth living, I cannot deny this and return to isolation."
It was almost beautifully painful, listening to him. Thousands of years, trapped alone, shackled out of sight and relevance – it was familiar, it was comfortable, and yet he was considering the more difficult path.
"I wish to better understand the Dalish," he continued. "I expect that it will be difficult, and take time, and that I will need to... reconsider much."
Though she was smiling, Eve's eyes stung. "They won't trust you right away, you know. Even with the vallaslin."
"Trust is earned," he agreed. "And was I not similarly prejudiced when we first met? My opinions have yet to change, apart from your influence, though I would at least attempt better insight."
She let his words hang in the air, staring down at her hands in an effort to keep her emotions at bay. Abelas, who had been surviving on his own, would seek out a clan, and the Dalish – well, for him to express a desire to connect with them was–
"And that is to say nothing of the truth that clan Lavellan are your people," he said, interrupting her thoughts. "Their welfare is deeply precious to you, and thus worth protecting to me, as well. If nothing else, that alone would be enough."
That was it. That was it.
Eve came up off of the vines, heart in her throat as she closed the space between them.
Nothing to lose.
She felt him inhale sharply as her mouth covered his, arms uncrossing and abandoning his characteristically defensive posture. The fact that he had been leaning back reduced him to her eye level, and she had easily caught him unawares.
It wasn't a moment before she felt his hands at her waist, the tension in his body melting as his arms slid across her back. He was pulling her in close, firm pressure greeted with the creak of leather, and she leaned into him fully. At the parting of his lips against hers, her heart pounded at her ribcage like it was trying to escape. She moaned, impatient as she pulled back just enough to tear off her gloves and whip them to the ground. She returned full-force, eager for the touch of his skin under her bare hands.
The explorations of her fingers at his ears and nape earned her a hum of approval, and the more the kiss deepened, the less she could remember about why she hadn't done this earlier.
His mouth was considerate, methodical, exploring – so unlike Solas, who had kissed her like a starving man. The slow burn was driving her mad, heat spreading to every inch of her body as she pulled him in deeper, buried her fingers in his hair and felt the strength of his hands through her robes.
The last time she had first kissed someone, it had been in the Fade.
She wasn't about to make that mistake again.
The valley, settled on the Wycome outskirts and edged in lush greenery, was home to a river upon which sat the Dalish encampment. A scout had gone ahead to announce them, and as they arrived, several members of the clan stood waiting.
Abelas stayed a few paces behind the Inquisitor, the impatience in her expression and feet propelling her ahead of the rest of the party. She was very clearly anxious to see them again; her position and obligations had likely kept her from them for some time.
"Keeper," she greeted brightly, running the last few steps to throw her arms around an older, dark-haired elven woman.
"Da'len." She smiled, weaving fingers covered in intricately-carved rings through Eve's hair. "Welcome home." She pulled back, hands on either side of Eve's face as she inspected it. "Ah, it really is something else to see it. I had thought I would be prepared."
"Nothing's changed," Eve insisted. "And we can talk more later, but for now..."
She let out an undignified squawk as she was scooped up from behind, arms bound to her sides as she was spun in a circle.
"Eva'nahn," the man grinned, "still so damn skinny!"
"Miren," she laughed, freeing herself to embrace him properly – after lightly slapping him in the face. "I'll have you know, I am the Inquisitor– "
"Creators," he interrupted, leaning down to get a good look at her head. "What did you do to your hair?"
"I could say the same about your face, but it's always been that way."
"Children," the Keeper interjected calmly. "We have guests."
"Of course," Eve agreed, shoving her hand into Miren's face and smooshing it a few times. "You've met our scouts, but let me introduce my companions." She stepped over, gesturing to Cassandra. "This is Cassandra Allegra Portia Calogera Filomena Pentaghast– " Bull snorted and Cassandra glared, "of the Seekers, and my right hand in everything."
"Andaran atish'an," the Seeker said stiffly, and from within the Chargers, Dalish scoffed.
"Kissass," she muttered.
Abelas did not imagine that the mage – archer, at her insistence – would choose to camp among the clan of elves.
"And this is Iron Bull and the Chargers, his band of mercenaries. They're good at what they do, and they'll be here to assist our troops."
A variety of greetings rose up from the motley group, though Dalish picked disdainfully at her fingernails.
"And this," Eve announced as she moved to his side, "is Abelas, from the southeastern Orlesian wilds."
The Keeper's eyes traveled the length of his vallaslin, lingering on his face for a moment before speaking. "One of the People. And so far from home."
It was the truth, though vastly understated.
"Emma varel na enaste," he greeted, inclining his head. 'I await your blessing' – an old gesture, and one he was not sure would be recognized.
Judging from the expressions on the faces of the elves around him, his decision had been the correct one.
"Ir na'las hamin'an," she replied, smiling and returning his nod. "I am Keeper Deshanna, though you do not need to address me by title. And this is Miren, one of our craftsmen."
"My cousin," Eve added. "We were practically raised as siblings."
Miren ruffled her hair – the same shade as his, their eyes identical as well. "I have stories about this one," he began. "I'm sure you all brought some to share."
"You have no idea," Bull chuckled, and Eve shot him a stern look.
"If you will follow me," the Keeper beckoned, turning to the riverbank, "we will share with you all that we know of the situation in the city."
As the group followed, Eve stayed behind, watching them go with a smile that was neither exclusively warm nor sad, but tinged with apprehension.
Abelas approached her, wondering at the sudden change in the absence of her Keeper.
"They know that you lost your vallaslin."
"It would be disastrous for a First to lose them, so I told them a spell took it," Eve explained. "It's not entirely a lie. The Keeper was the only one I told the truth." She sighed, running a hand through her hair in an attempt to neaten it after her kin's greeting. "I have a lot to tell them, but there's no way to do it all at once. If anyone will know how to do it, though, it'll be her."
Her honesty with the clan leader had been unexpected, though his image of the Dalish may have been formed through the only shallow glimpses he'd seen. "You would not let them live in ignorance."
"No. Not when I could do something about it." She turned to him, reaching up to run her fingertips over his markings, the intimate touch something he had begun to relish. "That's another reason that I need to find Solas – the spell he used, I can't replicate it on my own."
The Keeper called for them and Eve answered, squeezing his hand before turning to join the others.
Night fell, and the camp's fires were bright against the darkness as everyone with any time to spare gathered around the newcomers.
Eve had already made her rounds, some reunions tearful, others joyful. She had sent letters when she could and received them as they came, though neither she nor her clanmates had had much time to write. Children had been born, the new First was progressing well, and her favorite halla calf had become strong enough to be considered for an aravel line.
Yet what was most surprising, perhaps, was the sea of new faces. Since the attempted siege of the city and the Keeper's installation on the council, many of the city elves – most of whom had never met the Dalish in person – would come to the camp, gradually abandoning their lives within the humans' walls and learning the old ways. Others still had left the city entirely, bringing with them their trades and their families to eagerly embrace their newfound freedom.
Eve sat on a log beside the camp's central fire, a smile on her face and chin in her hands as she listened to her clan and companions chatting amicably. The latter were the center of attention, their outlandish stories a source of great entertainment for the Dalish. The moment she had mentioned dragons, Cassandra had become a beacon for the hunters, who insisted upon hearing every aspect, every moment in great detail. It had made her uncomfortable at first, but after sighing and asking herself "What would Varric do?", she had gotten well into a respectable storytelling rhythm.
Bull, especially, was a magnet for the children. At least two were climbing on his person at any given time, and he gave no indication that he minded in the slightest. Earlier, when gathering wood for the bonfire, he had picked up a log – seven or eight scrawny Dalish youngsters on it and all. They had screamed and squealed and goaded him on the ride all the way to the camp center - where one of their tutors had been waiting. All were scolded and lectured for such irresponsible and unsafe behavior, Bull included, and managed to look properly abashed as they stood in a line for their reprimanding.
The fire crackled and burned, bathing her face and arms in warmth as she watched the stories being woven. How she had missed this – being surrounded by those who looked like she did, spoke as she did, and understood her life and experiences. And though she had been with the Inquisition, a part of her life that her people would hopefully never have to face if she could help it, the clan and the aravels would always be home.
Miren sat by her, motioning to Abelas as he did so. The sentinel sat a few feet away, listening in on the outskirts of one of the Chargers' fantastical retellings.
"Doesn't talk much, does he?"
"He's been through a lot," she said. "But he's proven himself, and helped with a lot of the issues the Inquisition's been facing. Took down a bear almost single-handedly right from the beginning."
"Impressive. A bear, you say?" Suddenly, a wicked grin crossed his face, and he turned to Cassandra. "Lady Seeker, has Eve ever told you about the incident with the bear cubs?"
"Miren, no," she pleaded, but it was too late.
"No," Cassandra replied, staring with interest at Eve's expression. "She has not."
At the mention of a story, Bull appeared beside her, holding a rowdy blonde five-year-old by the ankles. "Bears and the boss as a kid? I'm in."
To her horror, Abelas had also moved to sit closer, clearly intrigued by her discomfort. "Please," he prompted. "Continue."
"Creators," Eve groaned, burying her face in her hands. "Of course you would remember this."
"Eve was less than this high," he began, indicating just below his ribs ended. "The clan was south for the winter, and so when spring came, we started moving on. We'd just packed up the aravels, gathered the halla, and gotten ready to travel when we heard this horrible screeching noise from inside one of the aravel chambers. We pull open the doors, move aside the trunks, and there's Eve with two bear cubs, black as night. She'd been trying to keep them quiet so that we wouldn't notice."
"I was a child," she argued, "and they were just cubs!"
Miren ignored her. "She'd found them out in the woods and fed them, so they followed her back to camp and she got attached. And aside from them being bears– "
"Cubs!" Eve repeated.
"- we were about to have a big problem, one guess as to who."
"Their mother," Cassandra realized, and Miren smirked.
"She'd followed their scent trail to our camp and was angry as fire," he said. "But Eve wasn't having any of it, and when we finally did separate her from the cubs and send them back to the mother, Eve tried running after them, swearing to Andruil that she was going to join their family."
"You're lucky you didn't get your face torn off," Bull said, and Eve lifted her head.
"He's not finished."
"That was the thing," the craftsman continued. "We don't know why – maybe because she had spent so much time with the cubs and smelled like them, maybe because of the noises she was making – but that mother bear gave her a sniff and decided to let her come along, until one of our hunters grabbed her around the waist so that the bears could go in peace." At the ripple of laughter, he nudged his cousin. "She cried for days. Don't think she ever forgave him for that."
"My plan would have worked," Eve informed him. "And her den had plenty of room."
"You'd have been raised by bears," he countered. "Still might've ended up the same, though."
Cassandra was smiling, arms crossed as she stared Eve down. "An interesting story, though I wonder what your parents would have thought about your new choice of mother."
"Wouldn't have mattered," Eve said, straightening her back to stretch. "Neither were around. I mentioned earlier that Miren and I were raised as siblings? His mother – my aunt – she took me in when my mother was taken by a fever."
The Seeker's expression softened. "I'm sorry to hear that. What of your father?"
"He was from clan Hanallen," she said casually. "They met at Arlathven – the gathering of the clans – and that's where I was conceived. But he went back with his, and she with hers; it's not all that uncommon."
"Have you met?" Abelas asked, and Eve shrugged.
"I know his name and his clan, so I would know him if I met him, but I've never felt the need to go chasing after him." She gestured to the clan, gathered in groups to talk and unwind. "My family is all here. I have everything I need."
"Yeah, your family's great," Bull agreed, thumbing toward the cluster he'd just left. "I'm even learning some Elvish."
Eve settled her chin father into her hands, hiding a smirk with her fingers. "I don't even want to know."
"Fenedhis is 'damn,' or sometimes 'fuck,'" he began. "And mal'alas means 'shit.'"
At the ensuing laughter, Bull called behind him. "Hey, Gharel. Got any other good ones?"
Another youngster popped up over his shoulder, throwing his arms around the Qunari's neck. "Say halla na alasan'da nuvenin." He grinned, displaying his lack of recently-lost front teeth. "It means 'I hope a halla bites you in the butthole.'"
"Heh. That is a good one."
"My god," Cassandra muttered, burying her face in her hands. "Have you learned anything appropriate?"
"Pretty sure 'excuse me' is ara seranna," Bull offered, and Eve burst into laughter.
"You've learned 'fuck' and 'excuse me,'" she managed, wiping tears from her eyes. "That's it, that's all you need."
"Thought as much." He lifted his head, turning his good eye to the sentinel across from him. "Hey, Abelas. You got any?"
"Many," Abelas replied, smirking as he cross his arms over his chest. "Yet I will keep them to myself in deference to the Keeper, who has been standing behind you."
Indeed, Deshanna was there when he turned, watching him with a placid smile.
"I am honored to see such interest in our language and culture," she said coolly.
While the rest of her companions were allowed to make camp on the outskirts of the Dalish settlement, Eve's aunt had insisted that Eve join herself or Miren for the night. It surprised Eve how easily sleep came to her in the tent, the sounds of the clan's evening rituals and humming of insects comforting in their familiarity. Her private room in Skyhold was too empty, too quiet; most nights, she left the windows open to welcome the noise of the world.
The Fade in the valley was open and inviting, and as the world formed into place around her, she felt the wanderlust pulling at her legs once again. The Fade always pulled to her, the vastness of existence too tempting to not explore in her slumbering hours. The sun glimmered off of the river bisecting the area, and she turned her attention to the slopes enclosing it. She was curious; the Dalish migration routes were based on the old maps, old traditions, and as such were never far from ruins or, at the least, sacred altars. She could find them here, in the Fade, without having to sacrifice time with her clan.
She walked through the camp, seeing the reflections of her family going about their business. This memory was from the last few months, at the most – they had only been here for a season. As she made her way to the tree line, a moss-covered stone caught her attention, and the faded markings were undoubtedly clearer here than they would have been in the waking world. 'West,' they said. Eve looked up at the sun, calculating, and headed into the forest.
She followed the path of such stones, each leading to the next, much as she had done as a child. She slid through a narrow pass between a massive set of outcroppings, and as she extricated herself, she was greeted with her destination: an elven temple, succumbed to time and the elements. She strolled leisurely through the courtyard, sunlight streaming down on the dingy white statuary and overgrown paths. If she looked hard enough at the walls, writing and flecks of gold plating were nearly visible, though their glory and clarity had long since been forgotten.
As she neared the entrance, however, something gave her pause. She turned to her left, the massive figure of Mythal staring down at her. Whereas the other statues were host to any number of vines and weeds, the Mother looked as though she had been cleaned, ropelike plants in a pile beside her and a collection of freshly-picked blooms at her feet. None of her clan had mentioned coming here to worship, nor would they neglect the other deities, then who...?
She passed through the carved arches into the temple proper, passing cracked murals and shattered vases, the pools and wells having long since dried up. She would have to come again, she swore to herself as she ventured from chamber to chamber, perhaps ask a spirit to guide her into a memory father in the past, when its beauty would have been the center of worship. She turned the next corner into the secondary courtyard, and immediately her heart sank to her feet, rooting her in place.
There, illuminated by the sun, stood Solas.
Even as her bearings came back to her, her breath caught in her throat. Was he here in the Fade, or was this a reflection of him? If she called, would he answer?
She watched as he brushed his hands on his robes, admiring the statue in front of which he stood. It wasn't nearly as ostentatious as the others, a simple rendering of a reclining wolf – Fen'Harel. Yet unlike those in the gardens, this one was whole; there were no chips, no vines, no missing limbs. It looked freshly restored, smooth to the touch and bright against its surroundings.
Movement came from her right, and she stood still as an enormous wolf – her wolf – passed by without so much as a glance in her direction. Grass crunched underfoot, and Eve realized that she was watching a reflection of the waking world. Solas had been here, in the flesh, recently enough to have overlapped with her clan.
The thought was heavy, dizzying, and she ventured a few steps closer. It was incredible, the rush of feelings that came from seeing him again after so long. His ears, blue eyes, aristocratic posture, the way he folded his hands –
The wolf came up behind him and he gave a wry smile, but did not turn.
"I suppose there is no need to ask where you've been."
The wolf sat obediently, and through a long silence, a number of emotions crossed Solas' face - several of them painful. Finally, he turned slightly and inclined his head.
"How is she," he asked.
Standing, the wolf moved to Solas' side, the elf's long fingers threading themselves in the fur at his mane as he closed his eyes. Eve watched curiously, the wolf's fur blurring in and out of clarity the longer Solas touched him.
When Solas opened his eyes again, they held some surprise. "Abelas," he marveled, "has gone to Skyhold? Ah, vhenan, you are a wonder." He chuckled, his smile quickly fading into a sadness Eve recognized all too well. "I truly wish him luck," he murmured. "There is hope for him, and what she offers is not to be underestimated, if he is wise enough to accept it."
He removed his touch, folding both hands behind his back. "I envy you," he confessed. "Seeing her now would only weaken my resolve." With a sigh, he lifted his head. "I know this. I know well what I must do, and yet there are days when I wonder if perhaps, I could..."
He smiled again, the one that Eve had always loved, the one that reached the corners of his eyes. "But then, it is not reason that guides you."
He brushed the wolf again, and at the point of contact, the wolf faded, disappearing with a soft glow that traveled throughout Solas' skin as he rejoined the rest of him.
"I must move on," he said to himself, and Eve didn't know if he was referring to the temple – or to her.
He leaned against the base of the statue, producing a book from his pack, and Eve sat opposite him as he wrote, knees drawn in to her chest.
She had found her answer, and it had given her no peace.
Chapter 5: Fancy Party
Chapter 5: Fancy Party
Abelas found himself accompanying the clan's hunters on the morning expedition. The prospect of being alone with a large number of the Dalish had been daunting, but he was not one to leave hospitality unrepaid.
His skill was remarked upon, and the hunters themselves were quite capable. Abelas was surprisingly pleased by their communication, calls and hand signals often familiar in their roots. They had collected their quarry in no time, and as they journeyed back to camp, thanked him for his assistance and asked after his training, his clan. He answered in short sentences, half-truths – he was unsure of how much, exactly, it was wise to tell.
Still, there was something he found enjoyable about hunting in such a group. It might have been hearing his own tongue spoken, or the fact that his vallaslin was not a label of duty or ownership, but rather a simple mark of adulthood that granted him anonymity amongst the Dalish.
He watched as the rabbits and local hens were handed off to be prepared, and searched the bustling settlement for the Inquisitor. She was, as expected, at Cassandra's tent on the edge of camp, the scouts' desk and equipment covered in parchment that bore delicate handwriting.
"...and this is Duke Antoine's nephew," he heard her say as he approached, handing a sheet to an assistant, who added it to a separate pile. "We don't know if he shares his uncle's opinions, but I'm not willing to take that chance."
She met his gaze through a gap in attendants, offering a weary smile as she handed off more instructions.
"This is the seating arrangement. No deviations, no changes, understood? Bull, a map of the valley."
The Qunari edged his way in, surveying the sketch as she unrolled it and began placing markers. "Those are Inquisition troops?"
"Right," she confirmed as she set the triangular-shaped pieces into place. "They have the choke points covered; that's not what we need the Chargers for. Dalish here?"
"Bright-eyed and ready to go," she drawled, rolling out from behind her captain. "My turn?"
Eve gave her a list of names and titles, each with a corresponding sigil. "You think you can pull this off?"
The former Dalish elf raised an eyebrow. "With my bow?"
"Yes," Eve confirmed. "With your bow."
Dalish folded the paper and tucked it into her shirt. "Could do it in my sleep."
"Perfect." Straightening, she addressed the group. "You all have a lot to do before tonight. Everyone has their assignments – report back to me or Cassandra when everything is in place."
She dismissed them, and as they filed out to complete their individual tasks, she remained behind – waiting for him, from the look on her face.
"Cassandra," she called to the only remaining person in camp, "the woods are breathtaking in the mornings. You should take a walk for a bit."
The Seeker frowned for a moment, eyes moving from her to Abelas and back, before catching her meaning. Her half-formed protest snapped shut in her mouth, and she arched one perfect eyebrow. "I... yes. I should... do that." She turned to leave, and Abelas caught the faintest hint of a blush rising from the top of her collar as she took long strides toward nowhere in particular.
Eve reached for him, and he came to her, the warmth of her fingers on his skin chasing away the dawn's cold. He offered an arm around her back and she stretched up to meet him, murmuring greetings in a clear sign of affection.
"Your plans are progressing well," he remarked, still holding her about the waist. "Yet something troubles you."
She sighed, dragging her palms down her face. "I went into the Fade last night. The wolf was there again. In the waking world, this time – I saw an echo."
Interest piqued, Abelas tilted his head. "He is a living thing?"
"Not exactly." When she looked up at him, there was a pain in her expression that he hadn't seen before, and it pricked at something in his chest, something knotted and cold.
"The wolf is Solas," she explained, "or a part of him. It's subconscious, like... magic, or a spirit, or – something, I don't know – but it's him. He was here."
He could feel his hold on her loosen in surprise. Even for a mage, to be able create something able to freely cross the fade was an aspiration, an often unreachable pursuit. "Why?"
"I don't know," she said, stepping back, "but I can't even begin to tell you how everything felt. And then I woke up this morning and all I could feel was..." She turned away, clenching her fists. "Angry. I am so furious with him, and I know that if I don't get some kind of closure, some answers, I am going to end up hating him and I don't want this – or him – to haunt me every time I step into the Fade."
When she faced him again, it was with conviction, focus. "This is going to end. Some way or another."
With that look on her face, it was impossible to doubt her.
"You have my confidence," he said as he settled her hands on either side of her neck, just below the ears. "And assistance, in anything you may need."
He was rewarded with a smile and her body pressed against his as she stood on her toes. "I'll hold you to that – make you work, you know."
He smirked, feeling the rush of air as she lowered his hood and laid her hands on his shoulders. "I am well aware."
Her kiss was soft, inviting, and a welcome comfort he was all too happy to receive in the abundance she offered it. The morning sun lit their faces as it rose over the valley, and he enjoyed the warmth...
...until a large shadow blocked it out.
"Hey, Boss," Bull called, looking down at the map, "what's this symbol supposed... to..." He stopped as he took in the scene before him, lowering the parchment.
"Huh." He scratched his head, thoughtful. "I owe Varric a sovereign."
"Trees!" Cassandra suddenly appeared at his side, looking breathless and harried. "Forest," she managed, "lovely. Taking a walk!"
Against his protests, she dragged him away by his chest strap, red-faced and marching stiffly.
Abelas felt a vibration against his chest, and looked down to see Eve stifling laughter.
"Andruil's tits," she murmured. "I love her so much."
The Duke's city estate was perfectly situated on the highest point in town, overlooking both the ports and the markets with an unobstructed view from the upper floors.
Eve sat at the vanity of the guest suite, granted its use by the Duke's nephew, who had inherited the estate after his uncle's demise. If she hadn't learned so much about human politics from her lady advisors, she'd have thought he would be angry – but if anything, he was pleased by the development, and treated them more than civilly.
She could hear from the open balcony door that the guests were arriving in full force, standing about and mingling in the lantern-lit courtyard, despite the hour of the banquet's scheduled start quickly approaching.
'Never arrive on time,' Cassandra had instructed. 'You want to give the impression that you had better things to do, that they should be grateful you showed up at all.'
Eve slid golden hooks over the junction of her ears, loops on either end dangling with delicate chains and teardrops. The jewelry, the hair, the clothes – everything had been orchestrated by Josephine (and, she suspected, Leliana) down to the last detail. She shifted, pale green silk slinking and pooling artfully on the seat and floor around her. The shoulders and belt she disliked – even though they were thin and painstakingly filigreed with meticulous detail, they were metal, and as such cold and heavier than the rest.
But if she took a single item off, somehow, some way, Josephine would know about it and she wouldn't hear the end of it for weeks.
A knock came at the door, and Eve stood. "Come in."
Cassandra entered, already in her dress uniform. One look at Eve's ensemble, and she couldn't resist the tiniest smirk.
"I think I have the better end of the deal," she said. "Are you ready?"
"Bull and the Chargers should be in place by now," Eve confirmed. "How are the guests?"
"Pompous." After a moment, she added, "...but sociable, and drinking."
"Good. Where's Abelas?"
"Here," came the reply from the door, and Eve smiled as he walked in.
Josephine's tailors had done their job, as everything on him was designed to look as blatantly opulent as possible. The fabrics were a mix of white and an identical shade of green, in doeskin softer than silk. Gold trim accented nearly everything, including his boots, and the lack of hood allowed his braid to drape freely over his shoulder.
"Why," he asked slowly, "are we not in Inquisition uniforms?"
"Because Cassandra is representing the Inquisition tonight, and as elves, we have to represent the Dalish." She frowned. "All of them."
Eve sighed, checking herself in the mirror beside her one last time. "All right," she said firmly. "Let's go over this again."
"...and she said, 'That's no elf, that's my sister!' "
At the ambassador's guffaws, Abelas glanced at the clock in the grand hall. The party had been going on for well over two hours, and the long table was set with decorative arrangements and grandiose dishes prepared for their guests. Being sought after at a lavish affair was an experience in itself; a life of subservience and confinement as a branded slave meant that he would have been, at best, in the kitchens for such an event. Now he sat near the guest of honor, being served alongside pampered nobles and diplomats.
Though if he had to listen to another one of this particular human's 'jokes,' he would have to either leave, claiming a need for fresh air, or stab him with one of the several undersized forks. He had been utterly useless for the majority of the evening, unable to produce even the most banal of small talk with their pretentious guests. Despite Eve's reassurances that his main purpose was merely ornamental, his clear disdain for the proceedings was difficult to mask.
From the look on her face, Cassandra was no more thrilled than he, seated next to a richly-dressed woman with an angular face and shrill laugh, coupled with a penchant for waving her hands to display an extravagant collection of rings.
"But really, Inquisitor," one of the major nobles to his left said, addressing their host. "You cannot imagine my surprise at such a woman as yourself being Dalish – my men report the elves in our lands as savage, wild."
To her credit, Eve smiled beatifically. "Is that so? You would consider me savage, Lord Gilbert?"
Polite laughter rippled through the guests, including from the man himself.
"Of course not, my lady. What a misunderstanding I've had! I stand happily corrected." He raised his glass in toast, and she returned the gesture.
"But after the recent troubles in the city," a noblewoman interjected, "can you honestly say that such bloodshed was civilized?"
"If you refer to Duke Antoine's actions," Eve replied calmly, "I believe you'll find that the Dalish were entirely eclipsed from the fighting. The elves involved in the conflict were from the city – if you are unaware of the difference, I would be happy to send an emissary to educate you."
The noblewoman twisted a bracelet on her wrist. "I am fully– "
Still smiling, Eve cleared her throat, allowing the servants to take her plate. "Also, the primary conflict was dealt with by Inquisition forces, but if you take issue with their handling of the situation, by all means – feel free to discuss your grievances with Lady Pentaghast." She gestured to her right, and Cassandra gave an acknowledging nod.
"I am happy," Cassandra said with a tight smile, "to register your complaints with the Inquisition. Tell me, what house do you represent?"
Abelas stole a glance for the Inquisitor, noting the tension in her hands – if she gripped the stem of her glass any tighter, she would risk breaking it.
"Nama hamin," he said softly. Calm down.
She exhaled slowly, replacing it on the table and offering him a grateful smile. "Ma serannas, lethallin."
Farther down the table, an energetic young woman – the daughter of an influential baron, if he recalled correctly – gasped in delight and clapped her hands.
"Elvish," she cried excitedly. "Oh, I have always thought it such a beautiful, musical language – do speak more!"
"Yes," chorused the voice opposite her. "Do indulge us!"
"Abelas," Eve asked, tilting her head graciously. "If you would."
If he hadn't known better, he thought as he looked at her, he would have thought she enjoyed his discomfort.
"Tel'revas," he began, smoothing his tone. "Emma halam va'uthsahlin nuvenin."
Eve's shoulders shook at the effort it took to hold in her laughter, completely unnoticed by the enthralled guests.
"Splendid," the young woman purred, breathily pressing her fingers to her decolletage. "Simply exquisite."
"Lady Inquisitor," her companion asked, "what did he say?"
Without missing a beat, Eve sipped at her wine. "He complimented her hairpiece," she lied, a warm smile on her lips. "The one with the butterflies."
As that same young woman now enjoyed a chorus of admiration and "Ah! So envious," and "such elegant taste," a flash of fire outside the window caught Eve's eye, and she discreetly cleared her throat, quietly alerting Cassandra.
As soon as the Seeker saw it, she called over a servant holding a bell on a tray. Eve rang it gently, calling the attention of all present as she stood.
"Honored guests," she announced. "I am pleased to inform you that we have prepared a surprise for your entertainment." A murmur passed through the crowd, and she gestured toward the door. "If you would be so kind as to retire to the courtyard, it will begin shortly."
Escorted by servants, the nobles rose and filed out the hall doors, leaving the three at the head of the table to bring up the rear.
"They lit the back garden lamps," Eve whispered. "Someone is moving on my clan, as Leliana suspected. Abelas, keep an eye out. If anyone tries to get through the gate, take them down."
Cassandra moved to Eve's side, surveying the guests milling about. "And now we wait." She turned to Abelas, eyebrows raised. "Earlier, did you really compliment her hair ornament?"
"No." He watched as Eve smiled, waving at an ambassador below as she remained atop the stairs. "I said that I was trapped, waiting for that interminable moment to end."
A moment later, colorful bursts of light brightened the sky with a resonating boom. Collective gasps and applause greeted it, as well as the next round that followed. Abelas scanned the crowd, knowing that the noise generated by the fireworks would provide excellent cover – according to plan. It was intended to camouflage any fighting that took place in the neighboring valley, though it could just as easily be used against them.
There was another element of camouflage, too, though that depended on the Chargers fulfilling their end of the assignment. The Inquisition couldn't move without proof, or at least the identity of the one behind the attacks. When the forces came, the Inquisition troops would be there to defend – and Bull and his men would be there to drag their master's name from them by any means necessary.
Skinner, he had been told, was rather adept at that particular skill.
The amount of trust Eve must have had in Bull was considerable, as she maintained her poise and folded her hands in front of her delicately while the only family she had were at risk of being slaughtered. Occasionally, she would cast her gaze to the eastmost side of the display, keeping watch for the final signal she needed to secure her clan's safety.
Abelas saw it first, leaning close enough to whisper over the din. "Now. On the left."
Eve turned her head, following his indication. Another firework was shooting up to join its fellows, trailing a glowing tail but no sparks – magic. When it burst, it flashed an image, easy to miss for any not looking for it: two charging boars locking tusks, a sheaf of wheat between them.
"House Tynvale," Cassandra said, signaling for her guardsmen.
"I'll call for a toast," Eve said, waving to someone in the crowd below as reflected light bounced off of the bands on her wrist. "Go with Cassandra, find him. And if he tries to run– "
"He will not get far." He swept a hand across her back in reassurance as he caught up to the Seeker's brisk pace.
"Remind me again," he said, keeping his eyes forward, "which is Lord Tynvale."
"He is wearing a blue jacket with gold sash," Cassandra replied evenly, declining a glass of wine as it was offered to her. "Thick beard, boar's head pin on his breast. Though you'll remember him from earlier; he asked you how far down your tattoos went before telling you to bring his empty plates back to 'the rest of the kitchen staff.'"
Ah. Yes, he remembered him.
He was going to enjoy this.
The festivities the following evening in the Dalish camp were lively, loud, and everything Eve loved about her clan's revelry.
There was music and dancing – even from the outsiders among them, including Dalish, who had apparently decided that some things were worth overlooking for the sake of celebration. She had dragged Rocky into the thick of it, spinning and laughing as his enthusiasm well outstripped his skill. And though the previous night's banquet had boasted delicacies from all over the region, Eve would trade it for her clan's cooking in an instant.
Armor had been shed in favor of leathers and summer robes, and flower garlands decorated absolutely everything – including the revelers. Crowns of wildflowers graced the heads of all present, Abelas having been the victim of an ambush earlier.
Eve watched him with the others from across the bonfire. He seemed unsure of how to interact with the children, though he received their attention and questions patiently. Bull had spent the earlier part of the evening trying to wheedle more colorful profanities from him, lilies and enormous daisies gracing his wide forehead. At the moment, Abelas stood with the First and a few hunters, though he appeared to be spending most of his time merely listening.
And, perhaps most importantly, he had left his hood down.
Eve smiled into her drink, enjoying the heady glow that came from the confluence of recent events. She couldn't remember feeling this way in so long - so unencumbered, so at peace. She had the Inquisition, she had her clan, and she had Abelas.
As she laughed and chatted with those beside her, she occasionally spared a glance for the sentinel. There was an ease to intimacy with him, almost effortless in the way it had developed. Neither of them demanded anything from the other that they weren't already willing to give, and there was no sense of commitment, just an easygoing affection that neither of them had been expecting to find.
It had taken her by surprise, but she wouldn't change a thing.
She was granted an opportunity when Bull challenged anyone in the area to head-wreath ring toss on his horns, and Abelas remained on the edge of the firelight. She crept around the back of the logs and benches, calling to him from behind an aravel. He turned at the sound of his name, and she beckoned him into the darkness, smiling broadly.
"Come on," she said as she took his hand. "Follow me." He obliged without question, and the warmth of his skin sent a tingle up her arm. Sneaking away from camp with a paramour, nicking a blanket along the way – she felt like a teenager again.
"Where are we going?" he asked as they passed through the Inquisition camp, though he made no move to slow down.
"The woods. There's a beautiful spot for stargazing a few minutes in."
He chuckled. "I have seen a number of amorous couples seek out the trees for privacy tonight," he said, smirking. "We may be mistaken for one of them."
"They'd be right."
She felt him still, his feet halting an arm's length from the edge of the forest. She turned to face him, and she was greeted with the pleasure of an expression she'd never seen on him before. It wasn't a 'no' – far from it – but genuine surprise.
She took his other hand as well, biting her lip and grinning wickedly as she tugged him closer. "What did you think," she murmured, "we were doing?"
She guided his hands around the swell of her hips, fingers grazing her backside. She left them there as her own palms slowly moved up his arms, over his shoulders, gently plucking at his collar to pull the doeskin leather aside and expose the skin of his neck to her mouth. He tightened his grip and let a moan slip, involuntarily curving against her to grant her better access.
"We," he agreed against her ear, voice low, "were going into the trees."
She smirked triumphantly, turning to lead him through the forest.
They reached the grove in no time at all, crossing over streams and weaving through boulders. A circle of thick grass sat under an open sky, the break in the canopy allowing for a clear view of the stars.
Abelas did his best to look as though he were admiring the constellations as he desperately attempted to will his heart rate into submission. His nerves were singing – they had been ever since she had made her intentions clear. Even the intersection of their hands as she had led him here had been enough to elicit a reaction. If he wasn't careful –
"See," Eve called from the ground. "I told you it was a nice view."
He turned to see her leaning back on her elbows, overshirt unbuttoned to her navel. Her legs, long and slender, stretched out the length of the blanket as she waited for him.
"Yes," he agreed.
She smiled up at him, flexing her feet. "Help me with my boots?"
Something in that request – the tone of her voice, perhaps – stripped it of its innocence. He sat cross-legged at her feet to accommodate, reaching for the left first. He deftly undid the laces, freeing them from the hooks down the side one by one. Supporting her knee with one hand and sliding the boot free with the other, he put it aside – and happened to catch her expression.
The way she watched him remove it was... encouraging, to say the least. Her eyes were dark, following him with an intensity that made his blood rush. The rise and fall of her chest as he lowered her calf to the ground, placing him squarely between her legs, was shallow and sharp.
As he moved to the other foot, he took great care to go slowly, drawing out every tug of the lace, every squeeze through the leather. He heard the breath catch in her throat as he began dragging the garment free, and the instant her foot was bare, she launched herself at him, assaulting his mouth with the heat of hers as her legs captured his thighs. The hand not currently occupied with tossing away the last boot supported his weight, his body over hers as she pulled him down to the blanket. The sensations were overwhelming at first – teeth at his lower lip, fingers grasping and sliding through his hair, pressure of her hips against his – but quickly melded into a strong burn that drove his hands into her open shirt and along her bare skin.
The arch of her back and gasp against his mouth were the most beautiful of all things. Her hands moved to his chest, fervently undoing the toggles that she could reach and tugging his shirt from his shoulders with impatience. His arms abandoned her just for a moment to assist, discarding the garment and returning once he was bare to the waist.
The intensity and impatience of their tryst was rendering him blissfully lightheaded. He couldn't remember the last time he had allowed himself to be utterly thoughtless and indulgent, and the taste of her skin was another unexpected privilege. They both smelled of smoke from the bonfires, and the perfume from wildflowers crushed beneath their bodies wafted up from the ground. Abelas inhaled deeply, taking in everything he could as his world was consumed with Eve.
Her breast band joined the ever-growing collection of clothing abandoned in the grass. There was an urgency in his fingers as they traveled up her stomach, involuntarily stuttering along the soft skin beneath her breasts as her mouth found his ear. As her tongue and teeth carefully avoided his adornments, sensitivity that had gone unexploited for so long flooded him, and his craving for skin-to-skin contact became powerfully immediate.
"Your shirt," he managed, voice unrecognizable even to himself as he propped himself up to allow distance between them. It wasn't much – her nipples brushed his chest as she arched just enough for to strip it and return. As her mouth made its way back to his, he slid his hand up from her waist, feeling the soft skin of her breasts cool as they were exposed to the night air. She hummed appreciatively, the vibration echoing in his chest.
Her leggings were next, and he admired her from his knees as he sat back, moonlight glowing on every plane of her body. He hooked his fingers into her waistband and tugged it down around her hips, the assistive wriggle she gave enticing in and of itself. Then they were past her knees, off, and cast aside – and she was exposed at the perfect angle to tempt him. He had but to lean forward, running his palms up her inner thighs and following them with his mouth. One hand settled on her hip, holding her to the ground, and the other sought out the soft folds of her sex.
The sounds she made were accompanied by his appreciative hum upon discovery of how slick she was. And every movement he made – long strokes, slow circles – was punctuated by the buck of her hips or throaty whine as she lacked the words to communicate what it was, exactly, that she wanted.
He was quickly losing the ability to think straight. The warning was quiet, but still present, as he gently-yet-firmly lowered his mouth to the apex of her thighs and began exploration with his tongue.
The string of expletives that earned him was promising, and the frantic clenching of her fingers wrapped in his hair, the tremble in her legs – he was beginning to feel magic forming in her fingertips, and the idea pleased him greatly.
"Fenhedis," she gasped, blunted nails briefly digging into his scalp. "You're killing me with those fingers."
Abelas was happy to oblige, slipping one finger into her on one pass, adding a second on the next. The choked sob that escaped her mouth was exquisite, deeply satisfying – and he was nothing if not thorough. He was being granted a gift, the opportunity to watch one of the most powerful women of the age come undone against him, and he would treasure it. In this moment, this place, he was not a sentinel – he was a lover.
It was a pleasant form of torture, the constriction of his erection against his pants almost painful the more he became attuned to her noises, her movements, her body. His long, well-trained fingers kept a slow pace, and he could see her patience wear thin. Edging at her self-control was electrifying, and he would have gladly done so for longer had she not suddenly tugged his head back, stilling his hand with her own and an almost-imperceptible spark of raw magic.
"Wait," she managed. "Not – not yet."
"I would not mind," he said slowly, gently resuming the motions of his hand. "I am enjoying this."
She moaned and bit her lip, and he could feel the constriction of her muscles around him. She desperately wanted to climax, so why...?
"Spirits know I am, too. " She disentangled her fingers from his hair, running them down his forehead and cheek. "But I want to come with you."
Olive green eyes gazed down at him, full of affection, and something in him agreed. There would be other opportunities. He released her -
- and quickly found himself flat on his back on the blanket, legs rolled out from beneath him.
Regaining control of her limbs had been difficult, but creators was he driving her mad.
The soft grass beneath the blanket had cushioned his fall, and she was glad he seemed entertained at her impatience as she settled beside his legs and crawled up the length of him. Her hands ran firm lines up his inner thighs as she passed his waist, and he moaned in the most lovely way when her fingernails brushed the outline of his erection through the fabric.
"Up," she insisted, plucking at the laces of his breeches. Abelas obeyed, arching his body to lift his hips, and the sight of him was stunning. She fought the urge to run her fingers over his musculature, instead focusing on ridding him of the last stitch either of them had on. He propped himself up on his elbows, much as she had done earlier, and his gaze swept her kneeling form appreciatively, lingering on her face. The gold in his eyes was sharp, the intensity of his stare sending her blood southward.
She swung one leg over his hips, straddling him just below his cock. His breath hitched at the proximity, and she took the opportunity to trace the lines of his body with curious fingers, enjoying the sight of him fully naked and wanting.
His gaze followed every movement of one hand as she brought it to the junction of her thighs, shivering as she borrowed some of her own arousal to spread over her fingers. And judging from the look on his face, he enjoyed a good show.
Enjoy this then, she thought to herself as she wrapped that hand around him and slid from tip to base.
His hips jerked up, and the groan he released was guttural and low. A smirk wound onto her lips while she kept her strokes soft and heat pooled between her legs. His stomach muscles fluttered, and she wondered if this was how the gods must have felt, the way he was looking at her at that moment. She ran her thumb over the head of his cock occasionally, earning shallow breaths and stifled moans. Eventually, he captured her free hand in his, pulling it to his face to lay an open-mouthed kiss on her palm.
He shifted weight to the opposite arm, coming up enough to reach behind her neck and pull her in closer. She leaned down to meet him, tasting herself on his mouth. Unintentionally, her hand picked up the pace, and he could no longer keep himself upright. His shoulders hit the blanket, and she heartily drank in the sight of him arching and straining and struggling to keep in check.
"Creators,"she murmured. "Abelas, you are beautiful."
And he was, pale skin traced with vallaslin, breathtaking despite their sinister purpose. Those hawk-gold eyes of his, too – fixated on her as she took away her hand, using it to balance as she slid upward. Long, drawn-out lovemaking was for bedrooms and fireplaces and warm furs. In the middle of the woods, the clan within earshot, on a stolen blanket as they ditched celebrations – fast and dirty was perfect. A moment of guidance was all it took, and he was seated inside her with a single downward roll of her hips.
Something resembling a growl resonated in Abelas' throat, and she whimpered. Oh, this was going to feel so damn good. She closed her eyes, lifting her hips and bringing them back down again experimentally, taking him in deeper.
Yes yes - fuck.
His hands sought out her waist and backside as he began to move faster against her, setting the rhythm and angling his hips upward. He was so close to hitting that one spot, so close that Eve was almost sobbing in frustration. She leaned back, hands flat on his chest to brace against, and on the next thrust, there it was.
She didn't know what the noise that came out of her was, only that it spurred Abelas to pick up the pace. It wasn't long before she was falling apart, trying to tell him how amazing it felt, how close she was. She ground desperately against his movements, spreading her legs farther as she clenched around him.
"Don't stop," she gasped, "don't stop, don't stop tel'mana don't stop– "
Her climax slammed into her, and hard; she didn't know what language she was crying out in, or if any of it even made any sense. The shuddering waves rode through her body, and if she hadn't been kneeling, her legs would have given out. As it was, her arms fared no better, and Abelas caught her as she slipped.
His hips slowed; though he meant to allow her time to recover, the effect was as if he were fanning the embers. There was no way her legs would hold out for another round of that, however, and she sank down to switch positions, momentum naturally pulling Abelas above her. Her arms wound around his neck, and her tongue darted out to his ear.
She sank her teeth into his earlobe, and he buried himself inside her again with a groan.
They were a tangle of limbs, one of his hands buried in her hair as the other pinned her hip down, his pace still steady and measured. Bound up so tightly in him, she could hear the sharpness of his breaths, feel the thundering of his heartbeat. His control was gradually slipping, and his thrusts became more erratic. The muttered Elvish, some of it either beyond her comprehension or past recognition, ratcheted up the effect. She clung tighter, trying not to lose it as the tension started building again.
"Eva'nahn," he managed. "Eve. Are you – "
She dug her fingernails into the backs of his shoulders and whimpered as his hips spread her legs wider and the spark of her orgasm caught light. That was answer enough, apparently, and suddenly the dam burst. Abelas was mindless, any restraint abandoned as he charged toward his peak.
Eve beat him to it, the tightness and fluttering of her muscles pulling him with her over the edge. She let loose a string of colorful curses, surrendering herself to the strength of his final thrusts as his grip on her hair tightened. As he came, he buried his face in the crook of her neck, muffling the low moans that held her name.
It was a time before either of them could move again, absently stroking their fingertips along whatever skin was immediately accessible. The gentle intimacy of skin against skin, heartbeats slowing in sync, was enough to bring a smile to Eve's face.
"Not bad," she snickered, "for someone over two thousand."
Abelas withdrew, propping himself up on his arms over her with a satisfied smirk on his face. "I thought that I heard you insist upon waiting for me," he said, and she snorted.
"I said that I wanted to come together," she argued, "and we did. Eventually. Are you complaining?"
"No," he chuckled. He pressed his forehead to hers, seeking eye contact. "Not at all."
"Good." She captured his face with her hands to kiss him before sitting upright. He stood, moving about to gather their haphazardly discarded clothes into a manageable pile.
"You really do have a lovely backside," she told him as he rejoined her on the blanket.
"So the Tevinter mage tells me."
She laughed, and as her senses cleared, the sounds of the ongoing party at camp floated through the air. Turning to her kidnapped partner, she thumbed back the way they came. "So, do you want to head back to the festivities, or...?"
"In a moment." He turned up to the sky, reclining back with his arms behind his head. "I would take advantage of the quiet for a bit longer."
Still smiling, Eve did the same, welcoming his arm as he reached out to pull her beside him.
She could only hope the others would have the common sense to not come looking.
Chapter 6: Both Feet Forward
Chapter 6: Both Feet Forward
The rest of their stay with Clan Lavellan had been blessedly uneventful, though the return to Skyhold was a welcome one.
The events of the last few weeks had been enlightening, to say the least. Abelas had spent countless hours circling the parapets of the mountain fortress since they arrived back, processing and sorting and trying to understand the gravity of all he had recently experienced. It had become his favorite place to think, and the pace of his feet kept his mind moving as well.
How his life had changed in the past few months! He had gone from a masterless servant, alone and purposeless, to a valued member of the Inquisitor's inner circle. Not only was he doing good work, he was treated as an equal, even sought out for no other reason than his company. He would sleep at night and wake in the morning, freed from the constraints of uthenera and without compulsion to do anything other than follow his own conscience and needs.
A lesser man might have been crushed under the weight of such freedom; it was a burden in its own right. And thought he had had his moments of restlessness and doubt, he also had something that most others did not: support.
Eve had reached out her hand in an unimaginable display of faith, and her impact was undeniable. As he had once told her when their intimacy had been on the precipice of depth, his attachment to the world was returning. Meeting her clan had begun the threads of repairing his dissociation with the People, and witnessing the change she enacted and guided instilled hope and curiosity for a future of which he had previously thought to have no part.
When she had set foot across the threshold of the Temple of Mythal, she had caught his interest, but nothing beyond that. She had been an anomaly; an agent of change in his static world. Yet through their meetings in the Fade, their travels together in the Inquisition, she had proven herself far more than a mere oddity – though she was that. 'Strange' had become 'rare,' and 'rare' had silently and suddenly become 'treasured.'
She had taken him to bed, something that still stirred his thoughts as he caught even the most brief glances of her doing the most innocuous things. It was as though something within him had come unlocked, and she was fully aware. She would catch him staring at times, smirking at the images she knew were flooding his mind and quickening his pulse. And if they were both fortunate, a secluded alcove or stairwell were nearby to indulge whatever passions needed sating – enough, at least, to last until they were both free enough to meet properly.
That their trysts had continued was both pleasing and surprising – he had placed no expectations that first night. It had been spontaneous, inspired by joy and relief and the desire for connection. He would have been content from the memories of that alone, enjoyed it for what it had been and hoped for nothing further. As with many things, Eve surprised him with the lengths to which she welcomed him into her life. He was many things to her – teacher, confidante, most recently lover - as she was to him.
It was not love – neither of them were prepared for that – but it was affection nonetheless, and a companionship he had come to cherish. Her existence proved something to him, something that made him want to strive for more than he was.
The Inquisition, Skyhold, the companions he had found therein – they had opened him to change. Yet as long as he remained, he would remain on the threshold, standing and staring into speculation and what could be, if only he would step through it.
If he wanted to find who he was, who he could be, what he could do, he had to take that step.
He knew he had to leave. And he had one person in particular to tell, now, before he lost his resolve.
Eve exhaled slowly.
The chill of the air swept by as the world cooled, the sun beginning to set over the mountainous horizon. Sitting out on her balcony left them relatively unprotected, though the view had always more than made up for it.
Abelas leaned against the railing beside her, waiting patiently as she gathered her thoughts. They'd been speaking for some time now, though there didn't seem to be much to say at the core of it.
It hadn't been easy to hear, though she had to admit that being informed that someone intended on leaving was a nice change of pace.
"When did you plan on going?"
"As soon as possible," he replied. "If you can release me from my duties here."
She smiled, turning to face the changing sky. "There's nothing to release; I put no claims on you, Inquisition or otherwise. You were always free to go."
He hesitated, shifting his feet. "I thank you for that."
"I wasn't about to force you into any kind of service. Not after more than a thousand years of it to a dead god."
He mirrored her posture and leaned his elbows on the bannister. "That was, perhaps, my one regret upon leaving the temple." She watched him as he spoke, and the gold of his underarmor and adornments glimmered in the fading light.
"The sentinels and I failed," he said, "ultimately. The Well was despoiled, and though its destruction freed me from my duty, the loss of such a resource, one of the last true vestiges of what the People once were - it has haunted me."
The expression on his face plucked at Eve's heart, and she sighed internally. She had been hoping to bring this up quietly, after some research, when they had time – but it seemed that the world was forcing her hand. After all, what were difficult conversations when only one person had something uncomfortable to say?
"I never got the chance to tell you," she began, chin in her hand. "But I met Mythal. Just after the well was drained."
He came up off of the ironwork, dumbstruck. "You... that..." He frowned. "That is not possible." After a moment, his brow relaxed, and he inclined his head. "Though I am reminded that much has occurred that I would have previously thought impossible. Such is often the case with you. "
"Trust me, I was surprised as you are." Her left hand tingled sharply at the memory. "I followed Morrigan – the human mage who drank – through an open Eluvian after her son. Mythal was waiting in the raw Fade, carried by the one my people know as Asha'belannar. I tried to ask her questions, but she had already gotten what she came for."
She reached up to Abelas' elegant face, running her fingers over the vallaslin along his brow and cheekbones.
"Morrigan is her daughter. When Asha'belannar's mortal body expires, she will be the next Mythal." She smiled, and her hand grazed his cheek before settling on his shoulder. "You didn't fail, Abelas. It's almost as if she freed you herself."
He fell silent, and Eve focused her gaze on the movements of her own thumb as it traced the gold edging of his leathers. It was a gesture of privacy, to avert her eyes from the expressions she knew he must have been showing.
"She yet lives, then," he said finally. "And has collected the knowledge of the Well."
"So it seems."
He let out a long breath, the tension easing from his frame.
"It is a comfort," he admitted.
"And the People." He laid a hand over hers, squeezing gently. "You have my thanks."
Eve stared at the intersection of their hands and swallowed hard. "I wanted to tell you at a more appropriate time," she said apologetically, "but it seems like I ran out."
Abelas stiffened, reaching for her. "Eve– "
She gave his shoulder an affectionate tap before extricating herself, doing her best to force back down the wellspring of emotion that was threatening to ruin her composure.
"Well, I might not be able to go with you," she said as she cleared her throat. "And I can't keep you from going, but one thing I can do is make sure you're well-prepared. Talk to the requisitions officer – take anything you need."
He lowered his hand, clenching it for a moment before spreading his fingers and acknowledging her offer. "It is much appreciated."
"Glad to help." She managed what she hoped was a reassuring smile, stretching in an attempt to dislodge the anxiety settling in her chest. "Now come on – we'll be called down to dinner soon, and you have the others to tell."
She walked through the doors and back into her chambers, though he stopped her before she reached the stairs.
"This is by no means a farewell," he insisted, slender fingers around her wrist.
"I know," she replied. She turned back to lay a kiss on his mouth. "Everyone has their own paths to walk."
She started the long trek down the stairs, sighing and wringing her hands.
"But knowing doesn't make it any easier."
From the eastern window, Eve had a fairly unobstructed view of the courtyard. It was one of the reasons Dorian liked it there so much, she assumed, having a convenient means of distraction by the goings-on of the keep.
It was perpetually busy, and people-watching had always been one of Eve's most simple of pleasures. That, combined with the presence of a dear friend, promised to make the difficult morning of a difficult day that much more tolerable.
"He's rather efficient," Dorian remarked as he flipped through that morning's book for review. "It's not even midmorning, and it seems he's already packed and ready to go."
"He needs to leave," Eve said simply, comparatively smaller elven frame comfortably draped across his human-sized chair. "He's done with hesitating – he said it himself. And there's so much out there that he needs to see and do to figure things out." She stretched all the way through her toes. "I wish him success. Really, I do."
He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, turning the page far too slowly. "And where does that leave you?"
"I'll be fine. A little lonely, but fine."
He murmured something resembling assent, but that particular noise was reserved for when he didn't quite believe her. She didn't blame him – she had always been one to wear her emotions plainly, a Dalish cultural point that had caught many in the Inquisition off-guard. She had learned some discretion with time, though her openness with her inner circle and advisors had remained the same. It was perhaps why she had grown so close to Cassandra so quickly; the woman was an open book, never bothering to disguise her distaste or opinions, though her attempts to tamp down her enthusiasm were often endearing failures.
No, Eve had resolved to remain the same with her closest few, and her displays of emotion extended to the negative as well, such as frustration and grief. As a result, when her reserves were dwindling, there was a system in place – a protocol that the others had apparently secretly agreed upon, or else a pattern into which they had just naturally fallen.
It was something of a resuscitating assembly line, each with their own role to play. First, Dorian would indulge whatever she needed, be it self-pity or mourning or simply venting to a sympathetic ear, often joining in enthusiastically. Next, Bull would take her out for a night of drinking – and Blackwall would sober her up. Cole would appear with an animal of some kind for comfort, Cassandra would give her a firm for-your-own-good shove, and Varric would be there to make her laugh. At the end of it all, Sera would be there for what was perhaps most important of all: to make Eve laugh at herself.
"I couldn't help but notice," Dorian said nonchalantly, "that you and our ancient friend seem to have gotten attached."
Eve swept her hand down to the piles surrounding her and picked up the first book she touched. "Noticed, or heard gossip?"
"My dear Inquisitor." He turned to stare her down, arching a sculpted eyebrow. "The air around the two of you could have caught fire, if I held a match to it." Returning his attention to the shelf, he smirked. "That, and I once caught a glimpse of you two being wildly inappropriate in one of the nooks and crannies of this place."
She raised her hands in surrender. "Fair. But in my own defense, I didn't bring him here with the idea of seducing him. I just saw that we were similar, in some ways." With a sigh, she leaned back and opened up the volume she'd taken. "It surprised me at how natural it all was. When I learned to stop hesitating and overthinking things – to start being more honest – that's when something really changed. It's not earth-shattering, rip-your-heart-out yearning, it's..."
"It's simple," Dorian prompted, and she agreed. Smiling, he flipped through the chapter he was scanning. "And it 'just happened' – I may know a thing or two about that."
Eve smirked and peered at him over the top of her book. "I thought your story was that Bull tricked you?"
"We're not talking about me."
"You love talking about you."
"True, but I can also be extraordinarily generous with my conversation. When caught in a good mood, anyway." He cleared his throat pointedly. "So, back to Abelas' imminent departure."
She smiled, but humored him. "We were both always looking for ways to move on."
Something in that sentence caught his interest, and he snapped his book shut, leaning against the shelf beside him to get a good look at her. "And what of Solas? If you've forgiven him, so much the better, but I can keep hating him if you like. Just say the word."
"I don't hate him," she said. "I can't, really, not if I don't understand. And I get the feeling that there's a lot that I don't understand, which means I won't be all right until I get answers, one way or another." She frowned. "I can still be in love with him and angry, though."
Groaning, she abandoned her book and dragged her palms down her face. "Am I just destined to get attached to people who have important things to do that don't involve me?"
"Oh, you mean me?" He smirked, laying a hand over his chest. "Don't you worry, my trip to Tevinter is postponed until I can establish better contacts. But I am touched."
That earned him a laugh, and he plucked the tome from her lap. "You're a driven woman," he said. "You attract driven people. With lovely backsides." He shooed her legs aside, clearing the armrest for himself to sit on. "You'll see them again. Saving the world brings people together, in my experience."
He smiled down at her, and she returned it, chest flooding with warmth.
"But for now," he continued, patting her hand, "we drink heavily so we don't have to think about these things."
"Understood." Eve half-saluted. "Tomorrow night, I'm all yours."
Abelas had stayed up far too late.
He stood in front of the fireplace in his room, eyeing his pack and bow as they lay against the wall. He had cleaned and readied his armor as well, stocked everything that he would need, all the while bidding his farewells to the residents of the fortress.
The number of those who had wished him well was surprising, though he should not have underestimated the gossip mill of such a place. Even if Eve had told no one, his preparations would have inevitably given his intentions away.
He would move south, first. Through the warmer months, he could move northward with little trouble, though it would be during the heavily-trafficked season. He would avoid main thoroughfares, then, when at all possible.
Soft footsteps ascending the stairs brought him out of his thoughts, the cadence of them well familiar by now. He turned to greet her, white-blond hair and pointed ears easily visible even in the dim glow of the fire.
Eve crossed over to his bed, sitting on the edge and indicating his things. "Everything ready?"
"More than I had thought possible. Your men are very generous."
She snickered, running a hand through her hair. "Well, I don't want you to die out there, and they don't want to have the wrath of the Fade brought down on them, so really, it works out best for everyone."
He moved to stand in front of her, sliding his hands along her jaw and lifting her chin. "I am skilled and well-prepared, and have lived in the wilds alone for long before joining you here. There is no need to worry for my sake."
"For mine, then." She sighed, leaning forward and resting her head on his chest. "I've gotten spoiled on having you around. You'll be missed."
He lifted his hands to run his fingers through her hair and graze her shoulders. "As will you."
He had had to remind himself that longing for company was a good sign – the desire for companionship had been something he had only recently welcomed back into his life, and though it would pain him to leave, the gains would be great.
"We will meet in the Fade," he reminded her, and it seemed to ease the tension in her shoulders somewhat.
"That's true," she admitted, and he could hear the smile in her voice. "I repeatedly found you before without really trying, and you've trained me well – I could probably track you down now, even without my magic and the connection we have."
"I will look for you, then."
She lifted her head, and there was still a sadness in her expression that he did not know how to face.
"Let me stay the night," she said, "and see you off in the morning." She laid her hands on his hips, brushing her thumbs over the waist of his pants and up to the bare skin above it. "I've already been left once without a goodbye."
Her words tightened his throat. It would have been easier for him to leave unannounced, just before dawn. Yet he could not deny her this, nor would he have wanted to.
And he would be glad for any additional time with her, every moment of it.
"Ma nuvenin," he replied, and reached beside them to pull the blankets back, an invitation.
She released him to slide into bed and he joined her, her back curled up against his chest. His arms settled around her, and if he held her too tightly that night, she made no mention of it.
They couldn't have asked for better weather: clear sky, bright sun, and not a dragon in sight.
Several of her companions had gathered at the gate to wish him luck, though they had been instructed beforehand to keep things short – Abelas would be stuck there for hours otherwise.
"Hunt well," Bull said, clasping his hand. "And bring back good stories, maybe some souvenirs."
"And yourself as well," Abelas replied, turning to Varric. "Though I will be relieved not to be referred to as 'Gramps' for some time."
"What can I say?" Varric smirked, shrugging noncommittally. "It suits you."
"Be well in your travels," Cassandra said, and Sera nudged her aside.
"Eve'll be pissed as shite if you die," she warned. "So don't do that."
He smirked under his hood. "Be reassured, I have no intention of doing so."
Then all eyes were on Eve and she stepped forward, clearing her throat. "You're always welcome here," she began. "And I will always make time for you." She wrapped her arms around herself and smiled broadly. "Remember that you have become precious, Abelas."
"As have you." He moved closer, shortening what little distance there was between them and lowering his voice. "I will return," he promised. "And should I encounter your clan, or any of the Dalish, I will... engage with them. Properly."
A lump rose in her throat, bringing with it a sudden and intense urge to sob. She stifled it, and in a moment, it was as if nothing of the sort had happened.
"I hope you find your wolf," he added, "and get the answers you seek."
She nodded, cocking her head. "Whichever of us finds him first, tell him that the other is looking, eh?"
He chuckled. "You have no hope of finding him before I do," he informed her, "if you neglect your training."
Smirking, she pointed behind him. "Ma serannas. The gate's over there."
He stepped back, and there was a brightness to his eyes, an openness to his expression that strengthened something inside her.
"Until we meet again," he said, and she believed him.
As the portcullis slid shut behind him, Eve was surprised at her lack of grief or anguish – or any of the emotions one typically associated with parting, really. In their place was an agitation, a restless energy that rolled around in her chest and spread out to her limbs. It was not altogether unpleasant, and the more she let it wash over her, the more she could understand what he had very likely felt as he stepped out into the world again.
"He will be back soon," Cole said confidently, materializing beside her. "He likes it here."
"Come on, Cole," she called as she turned. "Let's go play with Butterscotch. And the nuggalope pups."
Dorian fell into step beside them, arms crossed over his chest. "I'll come along to watch," he declared. "But you're not making me touch them."
Eve snickered, suppressing the laughter that threatened to bubble up from her sudden surge of energy.
"If you say so."
Not a week later, Eve's Fade dreams brought her to a massive library.
She strode through the aisles, marveling at the collections. Her attempts to pull the books free were met with varying degrees of success, though the architecture alone was worth the exploration. There was something familiar about the shelves and the windows, and it occurred to her that this might have been the Skyhold library in another time, under another banner. Solas and Morrigan had both said that the fortress had held many owners throughout history, and she was just the latest in a long line.
Emerging from the stacks she'd been browsing brought her to the central aisle, well-lit and wide open. She was about to turn down the next section when she heard the gentle clack of claws against the polished floor.
She turned, and the wolf was waiting.
"Hello again," she greeted, pausing to lean against the nearest shelf, which flickered in and out of existence under her touch. "It's been some time – my apologies. I've been a bit busy to come see you. How have you been?"
His tail twitched, and he turned to make his way down the long corridor.
Typical, Eve mused, but this time, something in her hands and feet began to itch.
Smiling, she rolled her shoulders forward...
...and took off after him.