Solas walked through the woods. His only guiding light the moon high above, silver rays shining through the branches and underbrush to light the path ahead. Soft dirt crunched beneath his feet, his fingertips brushing across the tall grass and wide fans of fern leaves. The surrounding trees grew close together, their trunks arcing over both sides of the trail to twine together into a loose collection of shadowed arms. No wind drifted through the forest. No sound lingered in his ears. Only an unnatural silence, that of a memory half-remembered. An impression left on the Fade, one which had sought him.
All his senses tuned to where the dream was leading him. It could be nothing, it could be important. Dreams were tricky creatures, drawn from the subconscious, full of symbolism, meaning, and the occasional jabbering pink halla with a full tea set.
Those he tried not to interpret too much.
It was merely a matter walking the line between the meaningless and what held meaning, and even a pink halla could be a clue to some issues buried within the slumbering mind.
Slowly, Solas pushed through thick bristled branches and stepped out into a plateau with a wide body of water, a lake.
His breath caught.
Eirwen lay on the bank beside the lake, fingers tangled up in her hair. A soft, white dress draped seductively across her body and clung tightly to the proper curves. The fabric hung loosely around her breasts, slightly see through beneath the moon’s silver light. Orange bangs fell across her forehead and her eyes were closed. The other arm stretched out across the sand, allowing the waters to caress her soft skin. One leg crossed across the other. The flimsy skirt slid off her knee and down her thigh, just enough to tease his imagination.
Above her, the moon hung brightly, silver rays striking the lapping waves and highlighting the ripples cast out on the water. Eirwen’s eyes remained closed. Her hair fanned about her head, curling against her cheeks, and drifting across the sand in a halo of fine, orange strands.
She was more akin to a mythical creature or a spirit than a flesh and blood being, and, in this dream of his, both her arms remained. He half-expected to see sister spirits rise up out of the lake. Or to see her smile transform to that of a desire demon, like many of the countless that had come to tempt his dreams before and since the events surrounding the Exalted Council.
He stepped from the underbrush, but she did not lift her head nor turn to face him. If anything, she remained utterly unaware of his existence. Yet another sign that he was only a passive observer. Unable to reach out nor interact with this figment. Be it born of his desire, from the memory of this mysterious place, or both.
It was his place to be tormented by large and inquisitive eyes, by orange bangs flopping stubbornly free over her forehead, by soft lips which quirked into wry smiles, and genuine, fragile vulnerability hidden by backbone born of steel. She had a fierce kind of strength, focused, determined, and piercing. A pride which taunted, tempted those who might wish to conquer it. Her smiles hid wry amusement that was at once both conciliatory and mocking. Never grew intractable until one stretched out their hand, never grew elusive until one sought to bend her to their will. Never quite so vulnerable as she seemed, though far more than she knew.
He understood the difficulties all too well.
She could not be captured, nor contained. Though she may choose to settle in one place for a little while, it was in her nature to wander. Those who tried to keep her or claim her as theirs would be cruelly disappointed, for she belonged to everyone and to no one. Not to any one people or nation, not to any institution, not to any single individual, nor family or collection of friends, not to be claimed even by those who declared themselves gods.
She belonged to herself alone.
In the distance, a horn sounded. It echoed through the woods as a great bellowing howl. Drawn forth from some distinct and distant place, part of a world outside this one. The signal for some ceremony to begin.
Rising up off the bank, Eirwen turned to face the lake.
A breeze whistled across the water, the rushes answering with whispers of their own. Then, bells chimed. Ringing through the trees as a flute’s breathy song filled the air.
Her skirt fluttered about her knees. Her foot rose and planted down. Toes pointed, pressing into the sand. Her back straight. Her hands lifted high into the beginning position of a dance he’d witnessed many times before. The moon’s glow glinted off her fingertips. Silver light catching on her bare shoulders, shining off creamy skin and soft orange hair. White fabric hugged her waist, bound tight by a simple white belt. The dress comprised the only cloth she wore.
Lightly, one bare foot stepped out onto the water.
Solas’ fingers clenched on the bark of a tree.
Another followed. Then another. Another came after it.
She walked across the water, slow and steady. Her stride purposeful. Confident. She walked with no fear of falling, as if the liquid beneath her feet were solid in the way of any other hard surface. There was no moment’s hesitation or any tick to suggest she might regret whatever was to come.
A thought which gnawed at his stomach. Eirwen was never quite this sure, not unless she was also about pursue an incredibly foolish course of action.
He wanted to cry out, but she would not heed him. This act, whatever it was, had taken place in the not too distant past. This feeling belonged to a moment beyond his reach. One he could not change.
She came to a stop in the center of the lake, so the moon’s reflection captured her small, thin frame in its center. Rays of moonlight caught in her hair, illuminating those tiny beads of water threaded through the strands. They gleamed brightly, as if they were crystallized instead.
In the distance, drums had begun to beat. Once again, the horn howled.
She dipped, dropped, fingertips on her left hand trailing the water’s surface.
The severed hand, he realized. Though, he was sure this event did not predate the Exalted Council.
Lashes fluttered over luminous sky blue irises. Her expression the picture of contented contemplation. Then, her eyes narrowed. Her hand whipped up. Palm cupped with fingers flat, she sent water cascading through the air in a silver spray. Droplets shivered in midair. Transformed to ice and frost, sparkling as magic captured all airborne liquid in its cold embrace.
The water followed. Rising up off the lake, it chased after her hand. Circling higher and higher as she twisted about. Each sweep brought the water closer, sent the spray wider. Chunks of ice went flying across the surface, waves rippled outward. They crested toward the shore, white foam capping each one. It grew to the roaring tumble of a winter storm as her fingers twisted up toward the overhead moon.
She stopped, arms crossing before her breasts. Her hands circling, blue light gleaming off her nails like tiny stars. As her gestures transformed the air into a protective orb, ice closed around her body and sealed her away.
Solas took a step forward, hand lifting from the underbrush. His mouth opened. A frigid breath catching in his throat.
It is only a dream, he reminded himself. Even if this were a memory, the Fade itself was a subjective place. As with Ostagar, he could be seeing only one side. One version of this event, one separate from what had truly taken place in the waking world. After all, he had taken the Anchor. She could not have been within the Fade itself.
This was only half a memory.
A scream echoed from overhead.
A shadowed green light glimmered within the globe.
Ice spread from it, racing outward across the lake.
Waving stalks of grass, bushes, mud along the bank, all of it froze. Chimes rang. A howling wind whipped in silver flurries, gray and silver clouds churned in the sky overhead. All around him the land turned cold, encased in ice, with a chill that cut deep his cheeks. The blood crystallized before it could fall. Perfectly formed droplets, red as rubies. The ground went white beneath his feet and great drifts of snow blew in, building walls higher and higher around the globe in the center of the lake.
There was movement within the circumference of a blue-white surface. Shadowed hands beat against the ice. A dark mouth opened in a soundless scream. A pair of blue irises burned inside it.
Brilliant. Shining. Electric.
Eyes filled with terror.
The shape inside the ice wrenched.
The shadowed body stretched, the neck lengthened, and arms cracked. Strained. It grew larger within the globe. Taller. With an elongated head. Dancing shadows transformed to upturned branches. To antlers. And then, it… reared.
A keening rose on the wind, the scream transformed into a wild triumphant cry.
Then, a word. Spoken in elvhen.
Solas covered his eyes.
Blue beams struck out against the globe, the ice cracked like fine spider webs scattering outward. They raced across the surface, growing larger. Larger, longer, until they covered the entirety of the globe. Until the globe itself shattered.
Snow rushed out across the ice, whirling flurries raced in the air. The blue light died, ended in an endless expanse of white. The explosion rocked over the waters, spun outward in a spiral of energy.
Hot. Bright. Blinding.
He dropped a hand.
No woman stood on the lake, only a single white halla among scattered shards of ice. Silver horns and hooves, large, liquid blue eyes. The halla stepped gingerly from the broken orb and out onto the ice, testing it lightly with her hooves. Nostrils flared, a thick cloud of steam rising up toward the silver-black clouds overhead with a slow exhale.
She was a delicate creature, light, lean, with well-formed hocks and haunches. Hide a beautiful bone white, pure as the snow drifts shifting around her. Horns spiraling upward, large ears, and sharp hooves. Perfect as if shaped by the hands of Ghilnan’nain herself.
The head swung toward him. The great sapphire blue eyes widened. As if she were seeing him for the first time. Her ears flicked. She paused, front leg lifted high.
She was going to run. If she ran, then she’d keep on running. Running so hard, so fast, until there was no life left and even then she would just keep on. If he did not chase her now, she would be lost to him.
Solas took a step forward, a single step as his bare foot crunched on the snow.
Somewhere in the distance, silver bells jangled and the horn echoed out a long moan.
The halla reared up on her hind legs. She came down hard, stomping her hooves into the ice, and lunged toward him. Her head leveled out, horns pointed at his chest, her long legs stretched further with each leaping bound. She was charging.
The bells chimed again. This time more insistently.
He took a step forward. Her name on his lips. Arms spread wide.
A single word could end this. He needed only to speak it.
The bells chimed a third time.
His eyes met hers and he saw large, liquid irises shining with a bright frozen blue.
Solas’ mouth opened.