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a mouth full of white lies

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This is how a world falls apart, he thinks, when he sees the aftermath of the explosion. With a sky torn apart, with the Divine dead, with a single survivor locked away in a dungeon beneath his feet.

He has destroyed this world twice over.

But he cannot think about that. He picks his way through the wreckage, past the chaos and the bodies. No one gives him a second glance until he comes to a halt at the chantry doors. One of the Divine’s guards stands there; a solitary, calm presence among all of this destruction. Even so, she is surprised when the man before her tugs off his hood, revealing pointed ears. He reaches around, takes the staff from his back and holds it out. “I need to speak to whomever is in charge,” he says.

Despite her calm demeanor, the guard’s hands shake when she accepts the staff. “What shall I tell her?”

“My name is Solas. I am an apostate, and I believe you will have need of my skills.”

He has been away from Skyhold well over a year before he hears the news of the Inquisitor’s death.

There is some kind of shrine set up at a chantry, and one of the sisters is saying something about the Herald being brought to the Maker’s side.

He ventures through the crowds, gliding easily through the tides of townsfolk. His ragged cloak hides his pointed ears, and this far from any city, he blends in rather well. He is just another traveler, listening to a woman declare that the Inquisitor is dead. His heartbeat quickens but he forces himself to remain calm.

He can determine if this is truth or idle gossip, and he refuses to let himself be affected until he knows.

There are communication drops throughout Thedas, set up by Leliana’s spy network. Ravens come and go freely, their precious burden all but unnoticed to the untrained eye. But Solas is neither untrained nor inexperienced. And he may have stolen the locations of the drops before he left he Inquisition.

One such drop is a mere day’s journey away, in an even more remote village. Hood raised, ears covered, he drifts into the village like so many others. It is a trading outpost and little more, assisting travelers on their way east. The clouds overhead are gray and heavy with rain, threatening to spill over at any moment. Most of the villagers hurry to find shelter before the storm hits.

The drop is behind a blacksmith’s forge—tucked away in a wooden box meant to look like a bird house. He finds the missive in a false panel and unrolls the parchment. Of course it is in a cypher, but Solas took care to learn Leliana’s codes early on. This one is easily unraveled.

Keep watch—Venatori still unfound.

All funeral attendees being vetted—Tevinter ambassadors trying to appease us—investigate the Comte’s gardener—has sent messages north and could be in communication with—

The words blur together. He reads them, but they do not truly sink in. His eyes fix on that one word: funeral. But, no. This could mean anything. Just because the spymaster mentioned a funeral does not mean—

Do not let the Inquisitor’s death go unavenged.

His gaze falls upon the final words of the note. He reads it again and again, until the words are meaningless scribbles across a page. Carefully, he tucks the note back inside of its hiding spot and steps away. He finds himself on the street again.

The village smells of rain and smoke; a cool dampness seeps into his skin and he knows he should return to the forest. Standing in the open like this, in the sight of the villagers all scurrying for cover, will draw attention. But he cannot bring himself to move; the moment he takes a step, the world will crystalize around him, become hard and real. This is no Fade dream, no place he can reform to his will.

It shapes him, not the other way around.

Finally, he takes a step and then another. He keeps walking until the trees close in around him. The sound of rain on falling leaves should be comforting, but all he can think is how much she loved rain, how he once caught her standing on a balcony during a storm, wind caught up in her hair and her eyes dancing—

He falls to his knees and does not stand for long time.

The world does not end.

Honestly, he thinks matters would have been simpler if it had. Instead, Solas finds himself sitting at the bedside of a human mage, wondering if he inadvertently brought about her death.

She has taken a power beneath her skin that will likely kill her. He can sense the pulse and beat of it, like a second heartbeat. His magic curls around her insides, setting her aflame. Her breaths are shallow and her eyes flicker beneath closed lids. He watches her with a detached interest. She is rather plain, unremarkable, and undeniably human. He half-expects her to expire within a day, fragile as these mortals are.

But she surprises him. She wakes up.

She walks out of the makeshift healer’s building with knotted hair and hastily donned clothes. She looks just like anyone who has been asleep too long, undergone days of healing. She emerges to men and women on their knees, whispering prayers. Solas watches from a distance.

The mage takes a step back. She stares at those who would worship her with a kind of bewildered horror. As if this were the last thing she could have ever imagined—or wanted.

And for the first time, he feels a twinge of sympathy for her.

“She’s young,” says a voice beside him. Light and accented, but with an undercurrent of steel. Leliana has a way of creeping up on a person. She glides up beside him. He can only see part of her face—that cowl obscures much and he is sure that is the intent. She is all shadows and smiles, a wicked drop of poison in a sweet Orlesian wine.

“Very young,” she says, eyes on the mage. “Probably not even thirty yet. She’s from the circle at Ostwick. The youngest daughter of the Trevelyan family.”

He doesn’t ask how she knows that. Of course Leliana would know such things. He can only be grateful that she has more important matters than investigating the elf beside her.

“Your means of gathering intelligence are to be commended,” he says neutrally. “Is there anything else I should know?”

Leliana considers the question for a moment. Her mouth quirks and she turns slightly, that cowl falling to cover her smile. “She’s staring at us.”

Solas’s gaze jerks downward. Sure enough, the mage is gazing up at them.

“Good day, Solas,” says Leliana, and walks away.

He searches for her in the Fade. He walks the paths of Skyhold in his dreams, looking for the familiar flicker and glow of the anchor. But the halls are dimmer now, as if her presence was what kept them warm and alight.

He searches for three nights before he gives up.

Her loss does not shatter him. This is not some ancient tale of lovers; he does not tear at his clothes, devise poems about her beauty, or throw himself from a cliff—rather, he does the practical thing.

He goes on.

He has plans, after all.

But he feels her loss the way he might an old injury. It is a constant gnawing ache in the back of his mind. During daylight, he can mostly ignore it. He spends a week at the temple of Dirthamen, returning to the familiar, dark halls. He searches them for any rooms the Inquisition might have missed, calling upon spells he could not explain when he journeyed here with the others. He uncovers a map carved into stone that they missed, drawn in glowing lines. Good, he thinks.

Manually taking control of the eluvians is a task better suited for many individuals, not just one, but this is an assignment he will entrust to no one else. It is his duty, his penance, and at the moment, his best distraction.

When he sleeps, though, everything changes.

The Fade is his refuge. Or at least, it has been until now. His grief, easier to ignore when awake, becomes a lurking thing in his dreams.

He feels the grief creeping along his bones, like the first frosts of winter, and it takes everything in him to not freeze where he stands. He glances over one shoulder to see a familiar sight: a spirit of despair glides along the corners of his vision.

“I have no need of you, friend,” he murmurs.

The demon—for it is a demon, summoned by Solas’s grief—tilts its head. Its ragged clothing drifts as if through water. “Mortal,” it whispers. “Fragile. You left her behind, left her undefended.”

“Leave,” replies Solas, his voice a little harder.

“You could have saved her,” says the demon. Such a simple sentence, yet it strikes true.

Solas conjures an effort of will and throws it at the demon, banishing it. He has his own condemning thoughts; he doesn’t need another to whisper them in his ear.

Corypheus’s attack on Haven throws all of Solas’s tentative plans into chaos.

He stares at her, at that young mage with flashing eyes, lips pulled tight against her teeth in a snarl. She’s terrified—he can see it in how tightly she grips her staff, in the way her body trembles. She wants nothing more to run, but here she is, volunteering to trade herself to that thing.

Fear and regret churn within him, and he feels almost ill. There’s nothing to be done, other than let her go out there. “I will go with you,” he says softly. Because this is the least he can do.

She hesitates, then nods. “I’ll be glad for your help, Solas.”

He finishes his investigation at Dirthamen’s temple. There is no eluvian at this site, but that does not surprise him. Dirthamen was always cautious, and rightly so. He would never allow such easy access to one of his sanctums. But the map, the hidden map, leads westward and he follows it. Mostly, he keeps to himself, taking paths forged by wild animals. But when the going becomes too difficult, he grudgingly walks human roads. The constant journeying lets him fall asleep with little difficulty, worn thin by the walking. He does not seek out old ruins or even destroyed houses, because he has enough trouble with spirits already.

At night, he hears her voice. The familiarity of it feels like a knot in his chest, and he turns to see Evelyn.

Her form trails up to him, every movement liquid and graceful. She trails a fingertip over his chest. “You were looking for me?”

He presses on the illusion, testing it. Evelyn’s face flickers and vanishes. In her place is a woman with horns curling from her delicate face, her bare body lush and welcoming.

Desire demons are rarely subtle.

“Leave me,” he says.

She drifts closer. “I could make you forget that you ever missed her.”

He turns away. “No. You could not.”