Sebastian wasn’t waking. Still.
Amelle sat upon the heavy chair by his bedside, her legs drawn up beneath her skirts and arms wrapped tightly about her knees, watching her patient.
Why isn’t he waking?
Sebastian lay beneath the blankets as he had for nearly a fortnight—twelve days—a new bandage pristine against his skin. His eyes were still closed, his chest still rose and fell with the slow rhythm of one deeply asleep, and his face sported an unfamiliar beard that did little to hide the gauntness beneath.
But he drew breath, and that, if nothing else, reassured her. He was healing too slowly and was still largely unresponsive, but he breathed. As long as he breathed, hope remained.
Dear Maker, she hoped there was still hope. Her eyes ached with exhaustion and she closed them, pressing her palms against her eyelids, letting her hands go cool until her eyes stopped burning.
A soft cough pulled Amelle’s gaze up, and she saw Kiara standing in the doorway. Her sister’s hair was damp from the bath Amelle had insisted she take (“You’re not going to wake him up with your stench, Kiri, no matter how hard you try.”) and the clothes she wore were old and careworn, but clean and soft.
“Feel better?” Amelle asked. Kiara lifted her shoulders in a vague sort of shrug.
“I don’t feel worse, so I guess that’s something.”
“Ever the optimist,” replied Amelle, unfolding herself from the chair and pushing to her feet.
Kiara jerked her chin in the direction of the bed. “How is his wound?”
Amelle fought the urge to sigh, struggling to sound optimistic. “Healing. Too slowly for my taste, but he’s healing.”
Then Amelle found herself on the receiving end of her sister’s piercing gaze. It was rarely a pleasant place to be, for Kiara was annoyingly astute, and always exactly when Amelle didn’t want her to be. “And how are you?”
This time Amelle did sigh as she rolled her shoulders. “I’m… getting by.”
“You look wretched.”
Well, that’s certainly the pot calling the kettle black, thought Amelle. But all she said was, “I could probably use a nap.” She frowned. “And a bath of my own.”
Kiara smiled suddenly, and it pained Amelle to realize she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her sister smile. “Then I suppose it’s a good thing I asked Orana to draw some water for you.”
“You did?” asked Amelle, her brows lifting. Kiara just shrugged, the smile softening into fondness.
“You can thank me for my brilliant foresight later, when I can stand the smell of you. Run along. I’ll stay with him for a while. I asked Orana for broth, too.”
The water was hot and soapy and smelled wonderfully of lavender, and as Amelle sank deeper into the tub, she groaned as the hot water worked its magic on her back, loosening muscles tight with stress. She closed her eyes and let her head loll to the side, stretching out her legs and curling her toes contently as the warm water swished and swirled all around her. This was exactly what she’d needed — there were few things Amelle liked better than a hot bath — and she made a mental note to thank her sister later.
Forget thanking her, she thought sternly, just get Sebastian well again. That’s thanks enough.
Honestly, Amelle hoped it would be enough. She’d long wondered about her sister’s feelings for the priestly prince, and she’d seen the look on Kiara’s face when she’d spied Sebastian bleeding out on the kitchen floor. And, yes, he’d said horrible things before he left, but he’d only said them. They were still only words. There was a chance — a slim chance, but a chance all the same — that he’d come to realize…something. That he’d spoken in anger, that he really didn’t mean it — something.
Granted, all of this was moot if he didn’t start healing properly.
“It’d be easier if he weren’t being so bloody stubborn about it,” she muttered sleepily, flicking her fingers over the surface of the water, sending ripples across it. “And even if I could talk sense into him, he’d probably still be stubborn. He and Kiara have that much in common, at least. Bloody stubborn archers.” And, besides, to talk sense into him, I’d have to first be able to talk to him. And it’s not like I can do that when he’s stuck somewhere in—
Amelle sat straight up in the bath with a loud splash, water sluicing down her shoulders and rushing precariously from one side of the tub to the other, wet hair falling into her eyes.
“Maker’s balls, I am so thick sometimes.”
Getting out of the tub was a wet, drippy production, made worse by the fact that Amelle wasn’t of a mind to be careful about it. She wrapped her towel haphazardly about herself and dried off in a rush, bare feet slapping loudly against the floor as she hurried to her armoire, looking impatiently for clothes. Everything stuck uncomfortably to her still-damp skin as she tugged on underclothes and then the first dress she laid fingers on. She swiped the towel over her hair just enough to keep rivulets of water from dripping down her back, and used her fingers to comb it messily into place. Then she pushed her feet into worn leather slippers, snatched her satchel and a staff from a rack, and ran as lightly as she could down the stairs.
Kiara thought she was sleeping. Surely that bought her a couple of hours. It was all she’d need, surely.
And then, closing the front door behind her with a quiet click, Amelle Hawke dashed out into Kirkwall’s lengthening dusk, slinging her bag onto her shoulder. She knew all too well which way she was going, and she’d made so many late-night and early-morning runs to the Rose that she knew where to step to avoid the largest cracks in the stone and the largest chunks of debris.
Still, when Amelle found herself standing in front of Fenris’ door, the urgency that had pushed her out of the bath and out of the house nearly fled. Her hand rested on the door as she paused, biting her lip and gathering her courage. She’d never come here alone, and while she was sure Fenris would do anything that meant helping Kiara, she likewise knew she was about to make an incredibly unorthodox request and the last thing she wanted was to bring the elf’s temper down on her.
Still. Still. If Fenris yelled, she would bear it. This would work. It had to.
She tried the door, unsurprised to find it unlocked (after all, Fenris had made something of a name for himself over the years), and took a deep, fortifying breath as she stepped inside. It was darker indoors than out, for the dusky sky allowed very little light to shine through the filthy, broken skylights, and Amelle found she had to make her own, lest she trip over the remains still littering the floor of Fenris’ mansion even after so many years. The flame flickering in her palm cast long, ominous shadows through the foyer and she stepped carefully, picking her way up the winding stairs.
“Fenris?” she called out cautiously, perfectly aware of the fact that it wasn’t only stupid for anyone other than Kiara Hawke to wander through Fenris’ mansion uninvited, it was suicidal. Particularly if one was a mage. “Are you here, Fenris? It’s Amelle Hawke.”
Fenris appeared on the landing above her, the light cast from the fire throwing him into silhouette. All of him but his hair, at least, which caught the firelight like a white flame.
“Amelle?” Fenris took a step forward, tilting his head to peer at her in the dimness and there was no mistaking the subtle shift in his bearing. “Is it Hawke?” He paused. “Sebastian?”
This made Amelle smile faintly. She’d long admired Fenris’ unwavering loyalty to her sister and now was no exception. “No,” she answered quickly, likewise hurrying her steps as she climbed the stairs. “Well, technically… yes, it’s Sebastian. But nothing’s wrong. Not more than usual, at least. But that’s what I came to talk about.” By the time she joined Fenris on the landing, she saw he’d narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing her.
“Speak plainly, Amelle.”
“All right,” she said with a nod. “I need your help. How’s that for plain?”
“Better.” Fenris turned, silently inviting her to follow. Amelle did, letting the flame wink out the moment she stepped over the threshold. Magic was not welcome here and Amelle had no wish to offend, particularly now.
Fenris crossed the room, dropping with innate, boneless grace into a chair by the fire, while Amelle perched primly on a nearby bench, trying not to think about how strange it was, being here without Kiara.
“You require my assistance,” Fenris prompted, picking up a wineglass and drinking deeply from it.
Amelle nodded, setting her staff gently on the ground and sliding the satchel from her shoulder to join it. “I do.” She twisted around, the better to face Fenris, bracing her palms against her knees. “Sebastian isn’t healing. You know it as well as I do.”
“You’ve been telling Hawke otherwise,” Fenris said, with a hint of censure. At this, Amelle sighed.
“He’s healing. He’s just not healing as fast as he ought to with the amount of magic I’m pouring into him. And he hasn’t woken. Not once. Not since we found him.”
“Has it not occurred to you that you should have—”
“Left him in that alley?” At the elf’s nod, Amelle sighed again. “Fenris, if Sebastian was truly dead, if he’d passed through the Veil, I wouldn’t have been able to pull him back. This isn’t me abusing my power, I’m sure of it.”
“He may yet die. You know this to be true.”
“If Sebastian dies,” Amelle responded hotly, “it will only be after I know I’ve done all I can do, and not a moment sooner.”
Fenris did not speak for several moments; instead, he leaned back in his chair and simply looked at her. Amelle tolerated the scrutiny, suddenly acutely aware of her damp hair and her disheveled appearance. Breathing in, she straightened her spine and tilted her chin up, meeting Fenris’ gaze with her own steady one.
“I’m not giving up on him. I can do this with or without you, but… well, I’d rather do it with you, to be honest.”
“You haven’t yet told me what it is.”
“I need to go into the Fade,” Amelle blurted, and she saw the effect her words had on Fenris. He stiffened, sitting up straighter in his chair. After a moment, he very carefully set the wineglass down on a nearby dilapidated table.
“You are a mage,” he replied evenly, but there was no ignoring his cooler tone. “Surely you travel to the Fade nightly.”
“That’s true, but this is different. I need to find Sebastian in the Fade.”
“To what end?”
“I need to find him and… and talk to him and see if I can find out what’s keeping him from recovering. I need to see—he may be doing this himself, holding himself back. He may even be stuck there. He could even be trapped, like Feynriel was.”
“The boy was a mage, Amelle. A dangerous one.”
“Be that as it may, I still need to find out for myself what’s going on. I can get into the Fade easily enough, and I… I’m nearly certain I’ll be able to find him.”
“Will you need to recreate the Dalish Keeper’s ritual?”
Amelle tapped her fingers together. She knew it normally required a combination of mages, plural, and copious amounts of lyrium to make any sort of intentional journey into the Fade. She’d certainly read enough on the subject to glean that much. So when Marethari had sent them into the Fade with Kiara, Amelle had been paying very close attention — it was the only way she had to learn, by watching, studying, and then… trying. The problem was she hadn’t yet had any opportunity to attempt the ritual herself.
She swallowed hard and licked her lips. “Yes.” There was a pause, filled only by the sounds of the fire. Amelle bit her lip and added, “Sort of.” Fenris’ expression darkened and Amelle grimaced and shook her head. “Feynriel’s circumstances were unique, and Marethari had to send several of us into the Fade, so I think…” Amelle bit her lip. “I wouldn’t be sending a bunch of people into the Fade, so I should be able to find Sebastian… fairly easily.” I think. I hope. Oh, Maker, I hope I can find him.
Fenris’ brows furrowed as he turned and stared into the fire; several long seconds ticked by in silence. “And you… wish me to go with you. Do I have the right of it?”
“Actually, no,” Amelle replied, smiling faintly. “I wouldn’t ask that of you, and I… don’t think it’s necessary.” He nodded once, but the question never quite left his eyes. Amelle took her opportunity and plunged on, adding, “But, all the same, I don’t want Kiara to know, in case it doesn’t work.”
“You don’t believe traveling into the Fade is too much of a risk?”
“That is… part of the reason I’m asking for your help. It is a risk. But it’s one I feel is worth taking.”
“And yet you don’t seem terribly worried that I might attempt to talk you out of this… plan of yours.” He placed particular emphasis — ironic emphasis, if Amelle’s guess was right — on the word.
“Like I said, I’m doing this with or without your help. You can try to talk me out of it, but—”
“But you will likely carry through with it, anyway.” Fenris let out a sigh. “Of course you will. You are a Hawke.” The elf rubbed a hand over his face, and Amelle could tell, despite his annoyance, he was considering. He clearly thought this was a bad idea, but he was still considering. He hadn’t rejected her out of hand, and that was a relief in itself.
After far, far too long, he said, finally, “Tell me what you require.”
“I only need you to stand guard,” Amelle answered soberly. “I’m entirely aware of the danger, and if… if I—if something goes badly…” Here, Amelle took a deep breath and let the words come out in a rush: “If I come back and I’m… I’m wrong somehow. Or possessed. Or something. I need to know I can count on someone to… address the issue in the… appropriate manner.”
She held her breath, waiting, watching as Fenris followed her words and realized where they led.
“Amelle. You are asking me to… kill you?”
“No. I am asking you to do what would need to be done in the very unlikely event of a worst-case scenario. If I come out of the Fade talking crazy about entering into a working relationship with a demon—”
“Very well,” interrupted Fenris brusquely, looking into the fire. “I will… do as you ask.”
Amelle felt a strange sort of relief settle over her. Tension she didn’t realize had been growing suddenly released and she felt almost lightheaded as she nodded. “All right. Good. Just… just promise me you’ll make it quick. If it happens at all.”
He shot her a wry look. “I would prefer you promise me you won’t enter into any foolish bargains with demons. I doubt Hawke will be so sanguine about such a thing, were it to transpire.”
“I’ll do my best.”
A frown carving its way into his features, Fenris asked, “And when did you wish to attempt this?”
“No time like the present,” replied Amelle brightly, reaching into the bag and withdrawing a vial of shimmering lyrium. “Kiara thinks I’m taking a nap anyway.”
Fenris’ expression remained characteristically inscrutable. “So you think to obey the letter rather than the spirit of your sister’s wish?”
Here, Amelle sighed. Again. “There will be time enough to rest after he’s healed, Fenris. And besides, technically I’ll be asleep. Technically.”
Fenris’ frown remained firmly in place, but he jerked his chin in the vague direction of the corner of the room. There, by the grimy window, was Fenris’ bed, the covers mussed, the pillow dented with use.
“You… want me to use your bed?”
The elf arched an eyebrow at Amelle. “You need one to complete your task, do you not?”
“W-well, yes, but I thought—” In truth, Amelle wasn’t sure what she’d thought. It was the logical, obvious answer, borrowing Fenris’ bed. She could have stretched out on the bench she was sat upon, or even the floor, but going into the Fade did require going to sleep, which was easier when comfortable. She realized her silence was stretching on too long, and Fenris’ expression was morphing from impatience to something like affront.
“But that’s… your bed,” she said, lamely, feeling a sudden warmth at her cheeks. “I wouldn’t… want to impose.” But even as she said the words, she wondered, in some traitorous corner at the back of her brain, if the sheets smelled of him. A thought or two floated forward, suggesting the scent of leather blended with the sharp tang of oil, but Amelle shut off those imaginings with a jerk.
Either Fenris hadn’t noticed her twitch or he was choosing to ignore it — the latter, probably — as he nodded once again in the direction of the bed and said, with more than a trace of impatience, “I have few enough places for you to attempt this endeavor, Amelle. If it is as important as you say, we have little time to waste arguing over the location.”
A sound argument, and Amelle suppressed the urge to mutter under her breath as she picked her way across the floor to sit gingerly upon the edge of the bed. Uncorking the lyrium, Amelle tipped the vial against her lips and drained it, shuddering at the taste before setting the bottle down on the floor. Fenris stood and watched, folding his arms, but came no closer. The mattress was neither soft nor overly hard, Amelle thought as she gave the bed a gentle test bounce before swiveling her body and lying back. Her head sank against the pillow and she closed her eyes. The bed did indeed smell of Fenris, but not the cold leather-and-oil smell she’d imagined; no, as Amelle breathed deeply, letting her body relax in the strange bed, the earthy scent of cypress — or maybe pine — filled her senses. She heard the sound of the crackling fire, of the boards creaking beneath Fenris’ feet as he shifted his weight, of the wind outside, whistling softly through a crack in the window, of Amelle’s own heartbeat.
One breath, two, three… and then the smells surrounded her, twining about her, enveloping her. The sounds wound around each other, blending and fading into a deep, slow pulse, growing softer with each deep, thudding beat, and Amelle felt it beneath her, that pulse, carrying her along until it became her, or she became it, and the scent of cypress became faint, until that, too, became part of her, pushing along, everything growing softer and fainter until there was nothing at all, nothing but silence and a vibrantly purple sky and no trees to speak of.