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Ascendant: Herald Asunder

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The Hunterhorn Mountains cast a shadow over the pale and ragged hills rolling into the west, across the sparse grass and spindly trees clinging to life on the arid plane at the edge of the Orlesian Empire.

Fiona followed the dark outline as the last of her early morning fatigue faded. Her hands clenched over her arms, trying to suppress the nerves pricking in her stomach. After so many years of fighting for freedom, her anxiety at the coming absolution of the Mage-Templar war, whatever the Conclave’s outcome, put her on edge.

She did the right thing by choosing not to attend the Conclave. The Order would not accept this peace Justinia promised. She did not have the luxury of wading into the fight anymore, not with so many of her people clinging to threads of frayed hope. The Lord Seeker would seize on her absence and strike them again while she was playing politics. However much she wanted to take on the burden herself, she couldn’t. The Mage Rebellion needed its leader alive and focused, not sequestered away in a small village with Chantry mothers and zealous politicians squabbling at each other like breeding hens.

Her certainty did nothing to settle her stomach, however.

A sharp rap of knuckles on her open door broke the quiet of her morning vigil.

“I’m about to leave, Fiona. Mind seeing me off, or are you too busy staring into the distance and practicing your stoic face?”

Fiona closed her eyes and loosened her grip on her arms, let them fall to her side. “One would think after all this time you might show more respect toward your elders.”

The immediate snort she got in response made her mouth twitch. She faced the young woman leaning against the doorframe to her private study.

“What can I say? My etiquette classes were lacking.” Roslyn grinned and eased off the door, locks of curly, blood-red hair escaping their haphazard knot. “Although, there is an argument to be made that I have an uncouth nature and no amount of study would make my demeanor more palatable.”

“You are spirited."

“And you’re nervous.”

Fiona held her intent amber eyes. “I do not deny it.”

Roslyn's grin faded as she leaned against the railing. “You think the templars will try something.”

“It would be naive to think they wouldn’t consider it. You must be ready for anything.”

“I always am.”

The girl's bronze skin caught the first rays of the morning sun, shining warm across striking features—a prominent nose, a soft, pointed chin, bright, intense eyes under a heavy brow.

In the three years Fiona had known her, Roslyn Trevelyan had blossomed from an angry and cynical young woman, ready to tear down the world to avenge the death of her Circle, into a leader worthy of her trust. The rage which had burned so violent when they first met had been honed into a focused flame, a cutting blade Fiona had encouraged Roslyn to sharpen. The strength in her gaze, the confidence in her voice—if she could harness it, she would go far in this world. If she didn’t let her fear get the better of her.

“Besides," Roslyn said, "it’s just a bunch of Chantry sisters yelling while the rest of us sit back and try not to murder each other. I’m not sure we’ll get anything done as it is.”

“Divine Justinia seems intent on reaching a peaceful resolution.”

“Right, because she’s never shown a lack of conviction where mage freedom was concerned before.”

“This is why you must not back down.”

Roslyn knew how important it was not to show weakness. Fiona had made sure to teach her this lesson over the past three years, reinforcing the idea that no matter what one felt or feared, no matter the adversary, weakness was the quickest path to self-destruction. The weak did not live long in this world, and she would not let Roslyn falter. Not if she could help it.

But Fiona reminded her all the same, perhaps more to assuage her own fears than her second's. “If the Chantry cannot meet our terms—”

“I give them a colorful refusal and wait for the templars to do something stupid.”

“Thank you for doing this, Roslyn.”

“Well, when the Grand Enchanter asks you to represent her at peace talks that may or may not ensure every mage in Southern Thedas their freedom, you don’t exactly refuse.” She frowned when Fiona didn’t return her smile. “Of course, Fiona. Thank you for trusting me.”

“I know you were hesitant at first, but I would not choose anyone else to be my voice at the Conclave.” She paused, noticing the slight hardness to Roslyn’s eyes. “You understand our fight. You know the stakes.”

“I do. I’ll do what I can.”

“You’ll do more than that, I think.”

“You’re probably right.” Roslyn laughed, but there was an edge to it, an unease she couldn’t hide. “You could have chosen someone else. Even Adrian might have been a better candidate. At least people know who she is.”

Fiona arched her brow. “You think you have not made an impression on people, on the Order?”

Roslyn smiled thinly. “No, I’m sure I’ve made quite an impression. I just don’t understand how my kind of impression is the one you want to give the Conclave.”

“We have tried to play nice before, Roslyn, and where did that get us? Fighting a war on both sides while the people of Thedas cry for our imprisonment and silence. I know what the senior enchanters would have me do.”

Memories of calm words spoken over clinking tea cups flashed through her mind—entreaties for peace and diplomacy whispered through tired lips already resigned to the grave. They would accept the leash and the yoke, not caring that in a decade it would be unrecognizable from the cages they’d broken once before.

“Half-measures are no longer acceptable. Declaring one’s freedom means nothing if one cannot defend it.”

Roslyn stared out at the Blasted Hills, a slight furrow in her brow.

Fiona let her gather her thoughts, recognizing the spark of certainty taking hold in her eyes. “Why did you join the Rebellion, Roslyn?”

“What do you mean? We had no choice.”

“You could have fled, disappeared into the wilds and abandoned the fight to become a barmaid or a sell-sword or any manner of occupation.” She smiled. “You, like a thorny wildflower, are capable of surviving in the most unlikely of places. You would adapt. You could have lived a long and quiet life somewhere beyond the templars’ reach and your family’s influence.”

Roslyn met her gaze, molten steel forming in her eyes. “No, I couldn’t.”

Fiona studied her, waiting for a flicker of doubt. “Why?”

“What happened was wrong. I don’t mean just at the end. What happened to me, to… No one should be forced to live inside a cage.”

“Admirable, to be sure."  Roslyn hadn't told her much of her Circle's fall, but stories of what had befallen her people across Southern Thedas all rang with the same anger and fear, the same deep-seated pain. “You fight because it is immoral, what they did to you. You fight for the right to live in accordance with your own beliefs.”

She collected her fine ceremonial robes, draped over a chair beside her bed. Made of rich, navy samite and embroidered with the Circle of Magi insignia in silver and gold, the robes of the Grand Enchanter were a sign of strength her people would need today. That she would need.

“You don’t fight for the same thing?”

Fiona unwrapped and donned the garment with careful, steady hands. Smoothing out the cloth, her fingers lingered over the intricate edging on the cuffs.

After so many years spent as the Grand Enchanter, in a Circle tower where clothes were on hand when needed, she was still unaccustomed to such finery, more comfortable in rags and tattered leathers. Her eyes searched for the dirt of a life spent traveling and scraping for her next meal. Survival used to be so simple, she forgot sometimes that her robes were just another set of armor.

I will never truly leave the alienage behind me, or the Grey Wardens, it seems.

Roslyn watched her closely, eyes hard and expectant.

Fiona had always found her striking, not for her looks, but for the strength in her eyes, too sharp and too bright for her own good.

“For women like us, to live is to fight,” she said slowly, emphasizing each word. “Pointed ears and soft hearts will get you killed, my dear. It is all well and good to believe in the cause, to trust you are correct in your morals. But control, autonomy—this is the only thing that matters. You fight for that above everything else, and you might live long enough to reap its benefits.”

Not for the first time, Fiona's gaze strayed, wondering if maybe her son had pointed ears as well—too small to be truly elven, but pointed enough to mark him for his mixed heritage.

No, of course he doesn't. News that the King of Ferelden displayed elven traits would not have gone silent for this long, not after nearly a decade spent on the throne.

“I do not tell you this to frighten you. You are young, and I would not see you fall to the same innocence I once fell prey to. Goals and values are worthy, but they are intangible. If you have the power to determine your own fate, you have the power to survive.”

“It’s all right,” Roslyn murmured. “I understand. Thank you for trusting me with this, Fiona. I… I’ll try not to let you down.”

Fiona smiled sadly. “I know you won’t.”

Roslyn's eyes were wide and searching as she stared down at Fiona, but she remained silent.

Fiona considered reassuring her. She could tell her the journey would be worth it in the end, that the Conclave would be the end of this fight—but she had long ago promised not to lie to her, not in this.

“Go ahead, my dear.” Fiona summoned a brighter smile, reaching up to cup Roslyn’s cheek before she stepped away. “I will meet you in the courtyard to see you off. I am sure your friends are already waiting for you. Master Harper will be, at least.”

Roslyn snorted and her expression relaxed. “Derek probably still thinks he can convince you to let him come with me.”

“He is a devoted friend.”

Her eyes softened. “We’ve been through a lot together. I understand why I need to go alone, but it will be strange.”

Fiona could not say anything that would not sound like false hope or comfort.

Roslyn hesitated, but left Fiona's chambers without another word.

When she was alone again, Fiona paused in the act of securing the final button on her robes. She stared without focus at the sprawling complex outside her window, the Rebellion’s temporary refuge.

Roslyn is the right choice. No matter how fond of her you are.

Roslyn was strong and proud. She would not let the Rebellion be usurped or manipulated, like so many others might. Choosing the illegitimate, half-elven daughter of Free Marcher nobility as her second—a thorough example of the injustices leveled against her people by the majority of Thedas and the Chantry—was provocative, incendiary. Many would see it as an insult to the Chantry itself. It proved she would not cave to the Order’s demands. 

Good. She needed to show a strong front. It was the right choice.

It was not kind, however, and she hated herself for it.

Fiona closed her eyes, settling into the mantle of the Grand Enchanter. She dragged up the cold steel that had become her mask and mantra in the years since the dissolution of the Circle, let the authority fill her, bolster her.

She smoothed her robes, and with one last look out the window over Andoral’s Reach, she rolled her shoulders back and turned for the door.

Chapter Text

Green light cleaved into her mind. 

Something ancient and monstrous roared into her heart and she answered in kind as her soul broke apart into a thousand ragged pieces. She hung weightless, caught in a fury of energy as bright, electric pain seared into her. Lightning crackled over her skin and reforged her bones. An ageless, primal energy swallowed her whole. She pushed against it, caging the endless void that slammed into her hand, ripped tendon from flesh, set her veins alight. An eternity shattered inside her and she screamed.

And when she fell out of that violent maelstrom, something else came with her. 

 


 

Roslyn's eyes flashed open to a dimly-lit room. Her hands clenched around course fabric and her body jerked in panic. She toppled off a bed and slammed onto a cold, wooden floor. She didn’t realize she was screaming, that the sound wasn't raging inside her own mind, until she bit her tongue. The metallic rust of blood rushed into her mouth and she winced.

A man spoke in a calm voice she recognized, but she couldn’t put a name to it.  The words came as if from a vast distance, growing closer, closer, sprinting toward her. Her body felt wrong—twitchy, bursting out of her skin. A green haze clouded her thoughts and pulsed like a film of ash over her senses.

She should be running.

More voices echoed across that endless plane, followed by the steady thump of metal boots. A hand closed around the back of her neck and the sharp scent of lyrium snaked into her nostrils.  Her mind cleared. Her focus bent to that familiar sensation of cold, oppressive energy, and rage surged up to replace her fear. 

She jerked around, calling on her magic, and slammed her fist into the templar’s chest. A bolt of arcane energy blasted him off his feet and he smashed into the far wall with a satisfying thud. Blinking to clear her vision, she conjured a prism of arcane energy to wrap around her hands and shot white lightning into another templar, sword raised and moving toward her. He fell to the ground and twitched as it crackled over his armor.  She didn’t stop to think who they were or why they were attacking her. They were templars. That was all she needed to know.

A booming pop of pressure in the sky above. Roslyn faltered as pain erupted in her left hand. Grating, clawing fire burst from her palm and sundered up her arm. She screamed in agony as her entire body phased and fractured.

A voiceless whisper, a howling echo across a vast plain… 

She looked down and her stomach flipped.  Green lightning crackled around her left palm and forearm, pulsing like a beating gauntlet over her fingers. A ragged burst of fire clawed its way into her mind with each wave of energy. What had they done to her?

Another smite swelled. Tearing her eyes away from her hand, she saw one last templar bearing down on her. The woman’s eyes glowed a sickening ice-blue, and Roslyn felt young and terrified—faced with the monsters who had jailed her for seven years of her life.

She jerked back against the wooden wall behind her and threw out a net of telekinetic energy. The bed pulled up off the floor and soared through the small space to shield her. The smite smashed into it, cracking the frame as blue fire erupted in a sick halo.

Roslyn pushed off the wall, heart beating in her throat. She only had a few seconds before more templars showed up. She needed to run, to flee wherever they’d taken her, to get back…

Where was she?  Her mind went blank.  She couldn’t remember anything about the Conclave, or what had happened to catch her off-guard and allow the templars to capture her.  Not the time. She shoved aside the gnawing fear and sheathed her hands in arcane energy, preparing for another assault.

“Stop,” the familiar, lilting voice said. Her eyes flashed to a man standing on the other side of the shattered bed. Lean, pale, dressed in simple linen clothes, he stood resolute and firm as he faced her. “There is no need to fight. You are safe here.”

That voice…  Why the fuck was his voice so familiar?

Her eyes narrowed, taking in his steady expression, trying to figure out how she knew him. Shaved head, pointed ears—an elf?  What was an elf doing with templars?  “You are hurt and confused.” His voice was calm, soothing. “There is no need for violence.”

“Tell that to them,” she snarled, her voice raw and ragged, gesturing to the three templars lying unconscious on the ground.

He opened his mouth to speak, but another shard of pain ripped through her hand and her knees buckled.

A plane of shifting green, flying across a vast sea of shadows. She had to get to the mountain, up the mountain, someone was waiting for her…

She clamped her mouth shut as she crumpled to the ground. Tears burned down her cheeks as pulse after pulse of pain raked through her body. Something clawed into the back of her mind, tasting of sharp metal and ozone. The very ground shook underneath her. She clutched her hand to her chest and struggled to her feet, wincing as her fingers clenched and unclenched in time with the foreign magic.

A hand pressed against her shoulder.  She reacted instinctively, jerking away and sending a blast of force out from her mind.   The elf staggered back, waves of energy crawling over him in harmless wisps of white smoke.  She blinked in surprise. That blast should have sent him flying into the wall. On an urge, s he lashed out with a weak tendril of energy. It wasn’t enough to hurt him, but it should at least singe his clothes.

His eyes widened and he frowned as he caught the thread of her energy, twisting it around long, graceful fingers, and dispelled it easily.

A mage.  He was a fucking mage, and he was working with the templars.

“Wait, you do not understand—” He was cut off by more thudding footsteps and a door slamming open behind him.

Roslyn jerked back as a woman paced into the room. Gold skin and black hair cut short around her ears, she had a long scar across her high, sharp cheekbones. She was followed by five men, the flaming sword of the Templar Order engraved on each of their chests.  She took one look at the fallen templars, the remains of the bed splintered over them, and drew her sword. With cold, steely purpose, she faced Roslyn. T he iron certainty in her gaze and the engraved, flaming eye on her chest made Roslyn’s blood rise and fear spike through her mind.

Andraste preserve me, it’s a fucking seeker.  She needed to run. Now.

An arcane prism arced between Roslyn’s hands and smashed into the seeker with a wave of force, sending her and the rest of the templars staggering back.  Gritting her teeth, and praying to Andraste she wasn’t in some kind of underground fortress, she brought the full might of her aura to bear. White light spun around her hands, overwhelming the foreign green glow still radiating from her left palm, and she slammed her fists into the wood.

The wall exploded in a shower of splinters. Cold wind whipped her hair across her face and she blinked against the brilliant white of snow. Thank the Maker.  But the light was wrong. It was too dark, too—

At a cry of anger, she surged forward, throwing an unfocused ball of energy behind her. Luckily, the idiots hadn’t taken her shoes, or she might have been running through the snow barefoot.  She sprinted from the cabin, nestled between a bank of trees and a winding dirt road. Using a gust of force to push her up into the air, she somersaulted over a pile of logs reaching above her head and tumbled over the ground until she could get her footing.

Without pausing to take stock of her surroundings, she sprinted into the sparse forest. She needed to find cover, something to shield her from the templars long enough to gather her strength. Her first thought was to run to the Temple of Sacred Ashes, but she didn’t know where in the mountains she was. If she could find her bearings...

The trees cut out and she skidded to a halt, cursing in frustration. People moved through the street in front of her—soldiers, merchants, Chantry priests wearing pink and white robes.  Haven Her eyes flashed over the stone walls and quaint wooden huts, snow swirling through each lane. She was in Haven.

A woman holding a small child in her arms screamed, and Roslyn found a crowd gathered before a gate leading to the road out of the village. Rushing forward when she heard soldiers calling, she jumped onto a stack of crates and launched over the wall with a burst of force, only to smash into another pile of crates on the other side. Splinters ripped through her robes and she winced, but she got to her feet. Keep moving.

People stopped to stare at her in terror, shrinking back and gasping as she rushed through them. She tried not to get too close, pulling her magic in tight so it didn’t lash out unexpectedly. Her heart hammered in her ears as she sprinted down the incline to the outer gate. She was so close to the long stone bridge. If she could get out of the village, she might outpace them—if she brought down the guard tower—

A wave of magic brushed past her, smelling of sharp peppermint and deep pine smoke, so powerful she gasped as it washed over her senses. A blur of motion, a whistling whisper, and she jerked to a halt as the mage from the cabin Fade-stepped a few yards in front of her. Holding a staff now, he spun it above his head without a word.

Ice crawled over her skin and her breath ghosted from her lips. She doubled over as his magic curled into her, encouraged her to fall asleep. It was the same technique the senior enchanters in her Circle had employed to knock out the apprentices when they couldn’t control their magic. It felt different, more fluid and less intrusive, but she knew what he was trying to do.

Roslyn locked eyes with the mage, staring at her with firm frustration. Drawing on the thread of his magic, she brought her hand up and redirected the flow, channeling it out from her body. Warmth flooded back into her chest, and she clenched her right hand into a fist. Ice splintered and burst over her skin as she dispelled his magic. Moving without thought, she lifted her other hand and conjured a bolt of energy.

His eyes widened in shock, but he blocked her blow with his staff before it could blast him back.  “You have to stop, or you will be killed.” She tried to slam a fist of the Maker into his head, but he pulled the force from her spell and grounded it. “I do not want to hurt you.”

Roslyn cried out in frustration and rushed forward. She jumped into the air and flipped to bring her feet down hard into the ground. A wave of telekinetic energy burst from the impact and rushed toward him.  He jumped back, dodging a wave of force that would have brought down a bronto.

Damn it. She breathed heavily. He’s quick for a mage.

“Get out of my way.” She punched forward with both hands and attempting to disorient him with concussive blasts on either side of his face.

He twirled his staff over his head so fast it blurred. A seamless barrier sprang to life around him and shielded his body as the energy erupted, the illumination from her magic enough to highlight his surprise.  She frowned, hating what she was about to do. Sorry, friend.

Trying to ignore the shuddering pulse in her left palm, she drew up every vestige of her power and brought it to bear. A crackling sphere of energy roared between her hands as she moved forward. It would split his barrier and punch a hole through his chest, but she couldn’t waste any more time. The templars and that seeker would be on her soon, and if he was working with them…  She would hate herself for it, but she wasn’t going to let one templar sympathizer stand between her and her freedom.

A resounding crack echoed through the mountains before the sizzling odor of ozone coated her tongue. Her left hand jumped away from her right. The magic of her blast crackled around her, raising the hairs on her arms and shivering over her skin. She couldn’t direct it or stop it as it phased out of control. A ten-foot radius of undirected energy spread through the air as the ground shook. Her palm quivered in anticipation of the pain.  Her vision went green and she tipped back, a scream ripped from her throat as her nerves rioted and her body plunged into fire.

Fear pulsing in her heart as she climbed. She had to get higher. They were coming. It was coming for her…

She thumped to the ground, snow crunching against her cheek as her body jerked and spasmed. Metal and rust flooded her mouth as she bit down on her tongue again. Pain bled through her like electric poison, wringing out every inch of her energy until she was gasping face-first in the snow. She didn’t know how long she lay there, unable to move or think. She could barely remember her own name.

When the pain had faded to a dull throb, she flipped onto her back. Tears burned down her cheeks and she gasped. She blinked to clear the green from her vision, but her eyes were fine.  The sky was wrong.

Churning grey clouds pulsed with a violent green glow. A large maelstrom swirled above her. Arcs of lightning crossed its dark expanse, flickering in waves from the central vortex and bathing the mountains in a strange, alien darkness. From the center, a funnel of yellow-green energy tore down into the valley. Rocks and pieces of shattered building floated around it in a slow dance. The heart of the storm crackled with black lightning, and the longer she stared, the more her mind slipped up into the air, pulled by some malevolent, hungry force.

Blessed Andraste, what happened?

Get up. She tried to move, but she couldn’t look away from the sky torn asunder. You have to get up.  Whatever had happened to the sky, whatever the thing on her hand was—she had to get away from the templars.

Soft footsteps in the snow, a gentle brush of someone else’s aura.  The mage stared down at her with hard, almost alarmed eyes.

She rolled to her side, tried to get onto her hands and knees. She couldn’t keep lying on the ground, waiting for the chains. But she was too damn weak. Her arms shook and she nearly fell again. Blood dripped from her open lips onto the snow and she blinked against her tilting vision.  A shadow moved toward her.  She jerked her head up. “Whatever they did to me, how long do you think you’ve got before you’re next?” She spit a mouthful of blood onto the snow and met the elf's gaze.

There was something odd about his expression, as if he hadn’t expected her to give him a warning.  His eyes narrowed. When he spoke, his low, lilting voice once again stirred some strange familiarity in the pit of her stomach. “I am no friend to the templars. But that mark on your hand will kill you if you do not allow me to treat it.”

She shouldn’t trust him. The templars hadn’t tried to smite him, so he must be a collaborator. But the longer she stared, searching his expression for the lie, the more she knew he was telling the truth.  She tried to calm the frantic beating of her heart at the memory of pain, but it was no use. “What happened to me?” 

His expression hardened and his eyes flashed down to her palm. Green light swirled over her skin in a mockery of the maelstrom above.  “It is not something easily explained, and you have more pressing issues to deal with.”

She craned her head over her shoulder. A line of soldiers streamed from the front gates, the seeker at the lead.  I’ve gone mad. It was unforgivable to sit still and watch her jailers sprint toward her. Three years of freedom and fighting, only to surrender because a stranger told her it was a good idea? Fucking mad.

The elf stepped closer and offered his hand. “I will not let them hurt you.” 

Pushing aside the voice begging her to run from those damnably-calm blue eyes, she reached up and took his hand.  He pulled her to her feet, bracing her gently when she shook from the effort. She swayed on trembling legs, but he steadied her, and stepped away.  “I hope you’re prepared to deliver on that promise.” She turned to face the line of templars sprinting toward her. “ ‘Let the templars take you,’ ” she muttered, “what a brilliant idea.”  The elf let out a small laugh in surprise, just as a smite hit her square in the chest.

She rocked back, ready as it passed through her body. The world faded around her. She felt her knees buckle and slam into the ground. She grimaced as her tongue turned to lead and her head pounded, bracing her hands against the snow and struggling to stay upright. Feeling drained out of her and she fought to stay conscious.

The elf said something sharp she couldn’t hear, muffled as it was from the smite.  So much for your word, friend.

The seeker stalked toward them, sword drawn, and shouted something at the elf, who was arguing with her. Roslyn tilted her head up and gave the woman a wide smile and a wink.  She didn't see the fist before it connected with her cheek, sent her sprawling to the ground and groaning as pain broke through the haze of the smite. Odd. She shouldn’t feel anything for at least another ten minutes. Her left hand twitched and pinpricks blossomed along her palm. Sensation crawled back up her arm like writhing, sparking tendrils.

Heart thudding, she tried to roll to her feet, but her strength was gone. A shuddering cry escaped her lips as she struggled for something, anything, to get up. She couldn’t lie there and let them drag her back. She wouldn't.  The energy in her palm sparked and green light flashed against her eyes. The ground rumbled. She winced in anticipation of more pain. Magic returned to her body, almost as if the thing on her hand drew it in, restoring her mana pool despite the smite still lodged in her chest.

She raised her hand. A shifting, spiral gash crossed her palm, pulsing and throbbing with electric green light.  It’s almost beautiful, Roslyn thought with a giddy kind of exhaustion, before the second smite hit, and her world went black.

Chapter Text

The Breach—a  green vortex spread across the clouds, leeching light like blood from a wound—cast the entire valley in shadow.

As Roslyn marched behind the Seeker, her eyes kept flicking up to it, and holding, drawn in by an unconscious pull. She tried to ignore the chill from the iron collar caged around her neck, the manacles holding her wrists, but every step she took sent shards of ice into her skin. These chains were meant to suppress her magic and sap her energy—chains meant for maleficarum.

“And how exactly am I supposed to close that thing?” she called to drown out the heavy thunder pulling at her from above.

“I am no mage,” the Seeker said. “I would not know.”

“Well, good.” Roslyn stretched her neck gingerly and fighting the urge to scream in frustration. “Glad to know this plan of yours is water-tight.”

The Seeker stopped, forcing the rest of the templars and soldiers guarding her to lurch to a halt. “Be mindful of your tongue, mage.” Her grey eyes flashed with anger. “There must be a way to close the Breach. That mark on your hand is the only chance we have at undoing this madness.”

“It’s not like reversing a bad enchantment, Seeker.” Roslyn's eyes were drawn to the sky, as if it knew she was watching, knew she was afraid. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not dealing with normal magic.”

“And how would you know what kind of magic it is? You claim you don’t remember how you got it.”

She smiled. “I also don’t know how you got that lovely scar across your face, but I’m not denying its presence.” It wasn’t a good idea to goad the woman into anger. But the bruise on her cheek still hurt. And she didn’t like the implication she was lying. “The powers of observation are astonishing to some, I know, but trust that I can see it’s not just a particularly bad storm.”

The Seeker’s eyes widened in rage, and she walked away, so disgusted she couldn’t dignify her dismissal with a response.

Good to know, Roslyn thought with a self-satisfied smile as the templars jerked her forward.  Her body sang with fatigue and her heartbeat throbbed in her ears, but she kept moving. She wouldn’t give the Seeker or her templars the satisfaction of seeing her face-plant in the snow.

They came to a large bridge spanning a frozen lake twenty feet below. Soldiers clogged the crossing as they moved to and from stations set up with their wounded or dead, standing at attention as the Seeker approached, eyes flashing with anger and disgust as Roslyn passed. One even spat at her feet.

As they neared the end of the bridge, a tingle in her palm made her gasp. The green energy over the mark writhed and sheathed her forearm in a sparking gauntlet. "Oh, shit." She  stopped in her tracks, forcing the templars holding her to stop as well. They exchanged frightened looks as she stared up at the sky.

A howling green tear split the air over the lake, and a boulder wreathed in viridian flame slammed into the stone at her feet. Roslyn flew back as the bridge collapsed, rubble raining down around them. Her skin burned from the heat and a loud ringing shot through her ears as she landed on the ice a few yards from the tear. Her right arm twisted under her back, popping out of place, and she bit of a curse.

But the pain sent adrenaline roaring into her blood. Magic arced against her skin. The lyrium-enhanced chains whined and constricted, but she couldn’t rein her magic in.

Cries echoed off the ice, matched by the ripping of the torn sky above them. Soldiers screamed as they fell, fighting demons covered in tattered, bloody cloth, dark figures sliding across the ice, trailing shadow and darkness in their wake. Demons jumped onto the soldiers and slashed claws dripping with ichor, opening guts and rending armor.

One of them broke off from the rest and lunged as Roslyn scrambled across the ice to get away from the monsters tearing into a templar a few feet away. It loomed over her, revealing a huge, gaping maw under a hood of tattered skin, and she reacted instinctively.

Straining past the chains, she sent a wave of telekinetic force and caught the creature mid-swing. It spiraled through the air and skewered into a jutting piece of rock.

The collar around her neck shrieked in protest as it contracted, cutting off her air and sucking the energy from her limbs. Panic welled up inside her, but she closed her eyes, drawing on the focus she’d developed over seven years of training in her Circle, caught the thread of its magic before it could overwhelm her, and redirected the current of energy into her own mana pool. Raw lyrium turned from its purpose to cage and control, now hers to wield. Warmth washed through her body as her aura sang, invigorated with energy, and she breathed deep for the first time in two days.

She tried not to focus on the curling sweetness as it flooded her mind, reaching deep, deep into the recesses of her memory. It tugged at her like wet vines, unearthing old fears, but she ignored the desire to give in to the power. Never again.

With a burst of force, she straightened. Shards of arcane energy snapped the chains at her wrist and ankles apart and smoking metal shot away from her in all directions. She rolled her shoulders and let her aura rise in relief. 

More demons flooded the clearing from the tear. Shades and terrors and wraiths cut down soldiers with impunity, but some were holding their own.

A blonde dwarf with a fine crossbow ran past her as she watched. Shirt open against his tanned chest and flapping in the wind, he jumped and slid beneath a terror’s spindly legs. He fired two bolts into the creature’s stomach and rolled expertly aside, coming up on his knees and cocking another bolt to catch a shade where its eye should have been before it could rip into a distracted soldier.

A blast of ice froze another wraith on the other side of the frozen lake.

Roslyn’s heart raced as she recognized the elf who had tried to help her after waking in the cabin two days ago, before the Seeker had chained her and moved her to the dungeons under the chantry. He stood at the edge of the fight, weaving ice and lightning through the fray, sending barriers streaking through the demons to enfold the soldiers.

He met her gaze as he clenched his hand in the air, and the wraith burst into a thousand frozen shards. His eyes flashed to her neck and wrist, brow lifting.

Something shrieked behind her, and she whirled around as another shade lurched over the ice. She fired two bolts of arcane energy into its chest, but the color was off—green light arcing over her own, customary white. With a jolt, she watched the demon break apart into a shower of sparks and shoot back up to the rift.

“My apologies.” She jerked around to find the elf at her side, a cold, sharp wind in his wake—he'd Fade-stepped across the clearing. Dark blue eyes held hers with a strange detachment as his hand closed around her wrist. Long, gentle fingers turned her left palm up to face the rift.

Before she could protest, a blast of wild energy slammed into her hand. Green fire shot between her and the tear in the sky like a lance, crackling with lightning and burning through her veins.

It was different from the rush of lyrium, sweet and intoxicating, a pleasant hum spinning soft threads around her mind—t his was unfixed, untethered, violent as it surged into her core and ran along every nerve and limb. Like standing on the edge of a cliff and leaping. Heat and fire and world-shattering lightning. It was primal. It was everything. 

It was drawing her up toward the rift.

With effort, she closed her fist. The connection sparked and groaned as she asserted her control, found again her own body and mind in the chaos. She drew her hand back, bringing the edges of the tear with her, and forced the air to re-solidify. She wrenched her hand away as the violent roar above her vanished with a snap and rumble.

She stared at the place where the rift had been, feeling empty, and small.  Dimly, she felt the elf release her hand and step away. 

“Well,” a gruff, pleasant voice called, “that’s a neat trick.” The dwarf walked toward her with a hard smile across his broad, scruffy face.

“Stand down, now.” The Seeker charged forward with a look that could temper steel.

Roslyn took a step back, bringing her hands up in a gesture of goodwill. A spasm of pain shot through her shoulder and she winced. Must have dislocated it in the fall. “I was defending myself.”

“How did you break your bonds?” 

Roslyn considered giving her some excuse about the demons, but she was too tired to lie. “I’ve known how to break templar chains since I left the Circle.”

“That isn’t an answer.”

Roslyn lowered her hands, anger surging up her throat despite her better judgement. She'd closed that bleeding rift in the sky, saving everyone in the clearing, and this woman still thought she meant them harm?

“Forgive me if I don’t divulge my only way of protecting myself against you and your dogs.” Her voice dropped low in a challenge. “If I wanted to hurt you, Seeker, we would not be having this charming conversation. You would be dead.”

Her eyes widened in fury, but before she could speak, Roslyn reached up and sent a spark of sundering energy into her collar. The lock splintered beneath her fingers. She tore it off with a puff of smoke and threw it at the Seeker's feet.  She was done playing the weak and fragile mage. If the Seeker wanted to threaten her, she should know who she was dealing with . “I was attacked. Did you expect me not to fight for my life?”

Her eyes flashed from the collar to Roslyn's face, grip tightening over her sword. “You do not need to fight.”

Dead tired as she was, she couldn’t help but laugh. “Is that why your templars tried to smite me when I woke up? Why you punched me when I stopped running? If I hadn’t defended myself just now, I would have been dead and you and the rest of your soldiers left to deal with that monstrosity in the sky on your own." She smiled derisively and pushed down the urge to blast the woman back. "Even if I did believe you consider my safety to be a priority, I think you’re overestimating the skill of your soldiers. You don’t have the manpower to protect me and you have no fucking idea what to do without this mark on my hand.  I stood down two days ago after being attacked without reason and I’m standing down now. But if I am going to help you seal that thing, I need my freedom. No discussion.”  Roslyn’s words echoed over the frozen lake. Every single soldier within earshot was watching, waiting to see if the anger stretching between them would break into more violence.

After what felt like an eternity, the Seeker sheathed her weapon, narrowing her eyes. “You are right, as much as it pains me to admit. I cannot protect you.” She stepped forward as if to punctuate her words. “But know this well, mage—you are free on my good graces. If you betray that trust, I will stop you. Even one as powerful as you would fall before me. I can promise you that.”

Roslyn quirked an eyebrow, knowing she should have been afraid, that the woman was likely all she claimed to be. She’d heard rumors about the Seekers—that some had the power to flay mages and templars alike with nothing but their minds.  But she’d never responded well to threats.  “Believe me, I value my life more than your trust, Seeker. I know when to play nice.”

The woman frowned in disgust, one hand still wrapped around the hilt of her sword. “You closed the rift.”

Roslyn smiled thinly. “It appears so.”

“You see, Seeker,” the elf said, drawing her gaze. “I told you her mark was the solution.”

Standing now with slumped shoulders, his expression was calm, but his eyes were flat with anger.

Odd, she thought, taking in the change in his demeanor. He’d been nothing but confident strength in the fight.

He met her gaze with a mild smile. “I theorized the same magic which created the Breach also placed that mark on your hand. It seems I was correct.”

A breeze whipped her unbound hair across her face. She reached up to push it behind her ear and caught the interest in his eyes as he followed her fingers.

He’d seen the pointed tip of her ear.  Fighting the urge to drop her hands and let her hair fall back across her ears, she pulled the tangled mass of it into a knot.  She knew what people thought when they saw this quirk of hers. Ears too small to be truly elven, but longer and more pointed than a human’s. No other self-respecting half-elf displayed the intersection of their parentage for all to see. No, she had always been uniquely gifted with that burden.  If they weren’t already convinced I was an oddity because of this mark, she thought as she arched a brow at him in defiance, they will now.

“Meaning it could close the Breach as well,” the Seeker pressed.

“Possibly.” Interest kindled in his eyes. He tilted his head and a smile tugged again at his lips. “It seems you hold the key to our salvation.”

“Good to know.” The dwarf closed his crossbow with a quick jerk of his arm, mechanisms whirring and sliding shut in a pleasant clicking noise. “Here I thought we’d be ass-deep in demons forever.” He bowed his head, giving her a small wave of his hand. “Varric Tethras. Rogue, storyteller, and occasionally,” he winked at the Seeker, who frowned in disgust, “unwelcome tagalong.”

Roslyn's eyes widened. “The Varric Tethras—author of The Tale of the Champion?”

“One and the same,” he said with a grin.

She'd read the book many times over the past few years. Hawke had become something like a hero to her and her friend, Derek. A champion of the Mage Rebellion, before it had come to fruition. What he and his friend Anders did had made it possible for the Circles to rise up in the first place. She owed them her freedom, and this dwarf knew them.

With a jolt, she realized that the book had been destroyed along with the rest of her possessions in the explosion.

The Seeker shot Roslyn a look of warning before she moved away to gather her soldiers and assess the damage.

“My name is Solas,” the elf dipped his head in greeting, “if there are to be introductions.”

“Pleasure.” She frowned, glaring at the back of the Seeker’s head.

“Do we get to hear your name?" Varric asked. "Or do we have to keep referring to you as ‘prisoner?' ”

Her mouth tugged into a reluctant smile. At least one of them has a sense of humor. “And ruin the mystery of it all? I think I’m starting to get attached to the nickname.” 

Varric’s grin widened. “I suppose I could make something up, but I reserve that for special occasions and close friends.”

“My apologies, serah. You may call me Roslyn.“ She gave a mocking curtsey.

Varric chuckled. “Got a last name?”

Her smile faded. “Not one I like.” Her dislocated shoulder throbbed, but she asked Solas, “You mind telling me what it is you just did to my hand?”

“I did nothing. You closed the rift.”

She scowled down at the green pulsing over her skin, and winced at another throb of pain.

“Is it causing you pain?"

"My shoulder. I think I dislocated it."

"I can help, if you wish."

She held his gaze, wondering at the continued mildness of his demeanor, very unlike his hard focus when he'd stopped her from leaving Haven.

He moved forward to touch her shoulder when she nodded, and magic washed into the injury with a pleasant coolness. Without warning, he tightened his grip over her elbow and popped her shoulder back into place. She gasped at the pain, but bit back her cry as another wave of his magic loosened the joint and she rolled her shoulder in relief. Maker, he’s good. Healing usually left something of a fuzzy taste in her mouth, but his magic was smooth and subtle. He was skilled at offensive magic and more competent than most healers she’d met in all her time with the Circle and the Rebellion. Frowning, she ran an eye over his form, curious as to who this man was supposed to be. He didn’t look like a Circle mage, or like what she’d heard of the Dalish elves. An apostate then?

“Thank you.” She took in his storm-blue eyes, set into pale, lightly-freckled skin. “I suppose I should apologize for attacking you the other day.”

He inclined his head. “I understand. I cannot say I would have acted differently were I in your place.”

“That’s kind of you. It’s rather disorientating to wake up in a strange place with no memory of how you got there only to be attacked by templars.”

His eyes flashed down to her palm. “If you’ll allow me, I would like to examine your mark. I might be able to understand it better now you are awake.”

“Chuckles stopped it from killing you in the first place,” Varric supplied when Roslyn hesitated.

“Is that why you were beside my bed when I woke up? I thought I had a secret admirer.”

A small, surprised chuckle broke through his lips. “If only things were so simple.” 

She raised her hand. “Go on.”

Though his fingers were calloused and strong—strange for a mage, though not if he’s an apostate—his touch was gentle. She let him run his fingers across the mark, dark eyes intent on the pulsing green light.

“Just your average, run of the mill, cursed hand,” she murmured.

His lips twitched in the hint of a smile, but his focus remained fixed on her palm.

The sensation was nice, a moment of calm in a chaos of violence. His aura sparked against hers, and she tried not to sense it too much. Though he wasn’t too concerned about it, if he let bits of it catch at hers and swirl over her skin.

Roslyn was about to say something to break the silence, when the air shifted around her. Metal and rust rushed over her tongue and the smell of ozone filled the air as the Breach expanded. She wrenched her hand out of Solas’ grip as spasms of energy and pain racked her body, making it difficult to stay upright. She clenched her jaw so tight against a scream her teeth ground together, and sagged into Solas as her knees buckled.

A hand outstretched as she fled up a mountain. Brilliant and green and singing, everywhere singing with a voice like thunder…

The Breach shuddered still once more. The mark crackled and spread up to her elbow.

A strangled groan escaped from her throat as her body relaxed. She tried to straighten, but found she was still too weak. Her right hand brushed across Solas’ chest while her left hung limp at her side, still shivering and pulsing.  She tried not to put too much of her weight on him, but his grip was firm.  He released her when she could stand on her own, hovering close in case she fell again.

Their eyes locked, and she saw the mage who'd fought her two days ago, hard interest and a searching, intense curiosity in the depths of his storm-blue eyes. He stared into her, through her, and Roslyn felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. 

“Seeker,” he called, his voice calm, “you should know this magic is unlike anything I have seen before. Indeed, I have trouble believing any mage capable of the kind of destruction it took to sunder the Veil.”

The Seeker glanced between him and Roslyn, taking in her slumped shoulders and heaving chest with a small frown. The soldiers waited, not attempting to hide the fear in their eyes as they stared at Roslyn.

“Noted,” the Seeker said.  “We move toward the temple. Ready yourselves. We know what awaits us.”

 


 

The broken remnants of the once grand Temple of Sacred Ashes were burnt to the ground.

A few columns and bits of rock gave way to scorched stone as they walked through the hollow shell of the entrance. Blackened corpses were scattered across the wreckage, bodies lying twisted or blasted apart against the remaining walls, petrified in their final moments of life. From the center of the temple, the blast radius stretched nearly three hundred feet in all directions. A smoking wasteland ringed by pillars of charred stone and jagged spurs of glowing red rock, shooting out of the ground around the center of the ruin and giving off a faint hum.

A single rift glittered above the temple, three times as large as the others she'd closed on her way through the valley, hovering like a malevolent star. The clearing was silent, the sounds of the fighting beyond muted by some unknown barrier. As if the world had gone quiet in the wake of such violence.

Roslyn tried to remember the explosion, but there was only a blank, dark space, a slippery lack where the memory should have been. How could I have forgotten this?

A baleful voice echoed in the back of her mind, ringing with age and superiority—and she shuddered.

“Everyone get ready,” she shouted. “I’m going to open the rift.”

The soldiers organized behind her while the Seeker stood a few feet to her right, eyes fixed on the rift. The elf and the dwarf were also near, though Solas was watching her more closely than the rift. He’d paid singular attention to her all through the valley, as if waiting for her to reveal some hidden secret. She supposed he might be curious about the mark, having studied and stabilized it while she slept—but it felt more severe.

Roslyn put it out of her mind as she reached out and prodded at the rift, this time pouring some of her own magic into it.

It resisted her at first, as if the mark were reacquainting itself, but it connected at last and the rift sparked to life. Power jolted through her arm and locked it into place. A strong gust of wind blew out from the center as it opened, charged air surging across the temple ruins. If her arm hadn’t been tethered by the strand of power, she might have been knocked off her feet. Locked in concert with the rift, tied to the energy swirling beyond, a large awareness surged against her mind.  “Something big is coming through!”

Hair whipping across her face, she winced as blinding green light surged outward. Screaming with exertion, she pushed once more against the fabric of the rift. It split open with a boom, a final gust of wind spiraling down from the center.

Arcs of burning rock shot out and the demonic shrieking of shades and terrors ripped through the ruins as they burst into life. A huge shape coalesced out of the energy, stone skin forming over pure lightning, and a pride demon hit the ground in front of her.

A wave of rippling force threw her back. Lightning crawled over her skin as she slammed into the remains of a pillar and dropped to the ground. Her hearing popped in and out. Her vision went dark as her own magic thudded around her in waves of feeble energy.

Roslyn straightened with effort. She reached out with her left hand, the mark connecting with the rift, and tried to close it before more demons came through. Something fought her, as if the rift was too alive to surrender. With a wave of intuition, she threw her power to the pride demon, and the rift shuddered.

She caught sight of Solas gliding along the edges of the battlefield, his gaze split between the demon and the Seeker dodging in between its legs. He moved gracefully, staff arcing through the air in fluid lines and sending wave after wave of energy toward the woman to bolster her strength.

Roslyn ran to him, shouting over the demon’s roaring laughter, “The demon is blocking the rift. Kill it, and I think I can close it.”

Varric, who’d launched a volley of bolts into a mass of shades behind her, shouted, “Don’t think, do.”

Solas didn’t take his eyes from the pride demon, but his barrier slid around her seamlessly.

Roslyn focused on the demon, jumping forward as it roared and clapped its hands together. She raised her own wall of force before a wave of electricity smashed into her and crackled over her skin. She gritted her teeth and gathered her energy.

Her magic was wild, augmented by the mark’s foreign influence, and it took every ounce of concentration she had to keep it focused. Forming it into an arcing sphere, it shot toward the demon and exploded on impact, rocking it backward and blowing it off its feet before it could fall to the ground. She ran forward and sent tendrils of arcane light to wrap around its body and cage it in midair, holding the demon in the prison as energy leeched from her marked hand in waves. Chunks of its hide splintered off and flecked into the rift, becoming sparkling green dust as they flew backward.

With one final, immense push, Roslyn shoved the last remnants of her power into her spell. Disembodied hands built of screaming energy grabbed the demon’s shoulders. Green light burst from the demon as it bellowed. Shivers of energy blasted out from its stomach as its stone skin cracked. With one last, final cry, she ripped it apart.

Roslyn’s center of gravity shifted as it flew back to the rift and she rocked forward onto her toes, caught up in the tide of its passing. Reaching with her left hand, she fought against the pull as it shuddered and jerked. The mark blazed like an emerald star and it was all she could do to keep her gaze fixed on the rift. She took one step back, body shaking with the effort.

Around her the demons shook and broke apart. The magic held within them flew toward the rift like a magnet.

She screamed at the tearing sensation in her chest as she disconnected from the rift. It strained at the fabric of her being, as if her limbs would be ripped back into the swirling vortex if she gave an inch. She wrenched her hand back, and the connection splintered.

The rift writhed and collapsed in on itself.

Roslyn watched as the funnel rocketed upward with a blast of green light. A crackling wave radiated out from the center of the Breach. The sky rioted like a boiling sea. She registered its awful beauty before a column of air shot down toward her. Her magic threaded around her in a makeshift cocoon as she flew back off her feet and hit the ground. The bristling green sky was the last thing she saw before her vision went black.

Chapter Text

The table stretching between Roslyn and the four council members of the Inquisition shrank as she stared into their expectant faces, the small, dimly lit room at the back of the chantry silent as they all waited for her to respond.

She’d arrived to frustration and anger as an irate chancellor stormed off behind her. They’d been polite as they gave her their proposal and told her of the title now floating around Haven like a noxious cloud. All of them, even the Seeker, were trying hard not to scare her off.

Roslyn supposed she should appreciate the effort, but she couldn’t shake the feeling they were all playing some elaborate joke on her.

She blinked, found her voice, and asked, “You want me to be your what?”

The Seeker—Cassandra Pentaghast, the Cassandra Pentaghast, who had saved Divine Beatrix III from assassination and killed two fucking dragons by herself—smiled tightly. “The people of Haven have attributed your success in the Temple of Sacred Ashes to Andraste’s favor. I am inclined to agree with them.”

Again, Roslyn waited for the punchline. “You think Andraste’s blessed me with a cursed hand?”

“I think no one can know the intent of the Maker or his Bride, but it cannot be mere coincidence you arrived at the exact moment we needed you most. So, yes, I think your mark is a blessing, and placed on your hand by Andraste.”

“Well, that’s nice of you to say, Seeker,” Roslyn laughed weakly, “but that’s a big jump from ‘convenient timing’ to ‘divine intervention.’ ”

“Is it convenience,” the hooded woman with ice-blue eyes and sharply cut red hair, Sister Leliana, asked with a raised brow, “or providence?”

Roslyn opened her mouth to try to answer that, when the templar, Commander Cullen, blonde-haired and pale, who looked as if he hadn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep in months, asked, “You don’t claim Andraste’s favor, then?”

What the fuck am I supposed to say to that?  She gave him an incredulous smile. “I think it’d be rather naive of me, an elf-blooded apostate, to claim favor from anyone, frankly.”

His eyes narrowed in discomfort. “I think the Chantry would agree with you.”

She snorted. “Right. I’m not high up on their list of qualified candidates for divinity.”

“If I might offer another viewpoint, my lady,” the Ambassador, Josephine Montilyet, an elegantly-dressed woman in gold and violet silk, with sleek black hair and a kind smile, said delicately.

Roslyn wondered whether she and the Commander had neglected to inform the others of their intention to wear their finest clothes to this farce of a meeting.

The Ambassador’s lips pursed in an apology. “There are many who would not accept anyone in such a position of influence. Your heritage and your… abilities only complicate the issue. The matter at hand is whether or not you are willing to work with us. We understand the position you are in, Lady Trevelyan. No one envies you, or claims to know the correct path in such turbulent times, but there is some good your presence might bring. To those who saw what you did in the Temple of Sacred Ashes, you have become a beacon of hope.” Her smile faded. “A rare enough commodity these days.”

Roslyn tried not to frown at the use of her father’s name. Helena would go mad if she knew people were giving me any claim to his heritage.  The scars on the back of her ears burned at the thought of her half-sister.

It unnerved her to think these people might see her as anything other than an inconvenience or a criminal. She’d expected them to send her away, or at least ask her to publicly denounce the claims made by their soldiers.

Accepting the rumors and projecting them as truth was tantamount to declaring war on the Chantry.

“This,” Roslyn said, gaze drawn to the Seeker, “Inquisition of yours is already going to be seen as a threat. Why on earth would you want to encourage that by giving me your blessing?”

The Seeker studied her, expression hardening in determination. “Because you risked your life to protect those who would have seen you executed for a crime you did not commit. I have not forgotten that you stood down when you could have fought.” She paused, guilt crossing her face. “I will not apologize for my concern, but I… might have acted too harshly. For that, I am sorry.”

Roslyn arched a brow. “A seeker apologizing to an apostate. Will wonders never cease?”

The Commander's choked laugh was quickly disguised with a cough.

Roslyn held the Seeker’s gaze. Her eyes narrowed, and Roslyn could have sworn she saw a twitch at the corner of the Seeker's mouth. So she could understand humor. This day was becoming more and more strange.

“Our Divine was murdered and our faith attacked,” Sister Leliana said, voice running cold with a subtle, muted anger that made Roslyn’s skin crawl—the quieter side of the Seeker’s brash anger.

She understood now why the pair had garnered such an intimidating reputation as Left and Right Hand of the Divine. These women were terrifying.

“We intend to find who did it and make them answer for her death. I would assume your loss in memory is tied to the one behind all of this, as is your mark. If you don’t believe in the goals we’ve laid out, trust that we would help you recover what was taken from you.” She paused, a new kind of scrutiny entering her bright eyes. “You will not find such generosity elsewhere. The Chantry is already labeling you a maleficar.”

Seeker Pentaghast’s jaw clenched. “What Leliana means is—”

“I know what she means, Seeker.”  Some of the faithful would like nothing more than to hunt her down and kill her for her assumed role in the Divine’s death. Accepting the role of Herald would mark her as an upstart that threatened the authority of the Chantry. She’d been hunted the past three years for simply being a mage, but being branded a maleficar guilty of destroying the Conclave and murdering the Divine was another matter entirely. She  fought the urge to tell them all to shove their title up their asses. “I never said I didn’t believe in your goals.”

Tension settled over the council as they waited for her to continue.

“I won’t renounce my allegiance to the Rebellion,” she caught the Commander’s frown before he hid it, “but I will help you close the Breach.”

Lady Montilyet’s face relaxed and a wide smile spread across her lips. “We can ask no more of you, Lady Trevelyan.”

Roslyn grimaced. “Please don’t call me that. I have no claim to my late father’s lands or title, and there are some who would be offended were I to start using his name.”

Silence fell over the room again.

The Commander shifted, frowning. “Because of your… heritage?”

“Partly.” The pained look in his eyes almost made her own discomfort bearable. “But I’m also a mage, and unless the Chantry’s decreed otherwise in the few days I’ve been unconscious, my inheritance was forfeit the day my magic surfaced.”

He blushed, cleared his throat. “Right. Of course.”

“I am not so sure, my lady,” the Ambassador said, calculation in her dark eyes. “To speak plainly, your… unique position offers us a fortuitous opportunity. You are a mage, yes, but who better to lend legitimacy to our cause than a member of the Rebellion? Your noble blood compounds that authority. My apologies,” she frowned in sympathy, “but the nobility of Orlais is far more willing to listen to one of their own, if they do consider the Free Marches to be… quaint.”

A prickling sense of disquiet grew in Roslyn’s spine. She didn’t care what the bleeding nobility thought of her—what would the Rebellion think when they heard one of their own had sided with the Chantry?

“And the rest of Thedas?” She tried not to indulged in the mounting fear that she was stepping onto a dangerous path. “Most people wouldn’t trust a mage on a good day, let alone when the Chantry’s declared me a murderer.”

“The common people have been abandoned by the Chantry,” Sister Leliana said without pause. “They need someone to champion and protect them. They will turn to anyone who offers them peace and security in the coming months, no matter where it comes from.”

“I worked with the Rebellion.” Had all of them had forgotten that they’d kept her in chains for two days? “I came here as Fiona’s second to press for the liberation of mages. You don’t think that constitutes a conflict of interest?”

“The Inquisition is not concerned with the Mage-Templar war,” the Seeker said dispassionately.

She nearly laughed out loud. What bullshit. “A seeker and a former templar don’t care about the outcome of the war?” She arched her brow at the Commander. “You honestly expect me to believe that?”

He didn’t speak, but the spasm in his jaw was enough to tell her he’d been warned against addressing this topic.

“We have pledged ourselves to the Inquisition, Herald,” the Seeker said, tense.

Roslyn flinched at the title.

“We will not take sides in the conflict.” The Seeker's eyes narrowed at Roslyn’s reaction. “The Breach is our first priority and you are the only one with any hope of closing it. The Chantry will see reason, as will the people of Thedas. They must.”

The Seeker must be talking about a different Chantry and a different people than the ones she knew.

She chewed on the inside of her lip, trying to quash the growing certainty that she was making a terrible mistake. “You’re all mad, you know that?”

The Ambassador laughed, a high, strong sound that cut through some of Roslyn’s fear.

She didn’t have a choice—she couldn’t go anywhere else, not now, anyway. And if she was the only person who could close the Breach…

Maker damn me, but maybe I’m just as insane as they are.

They seemed like decent people, even the templar. The Sister watched her with hard anticipation, as if waiting for Roslyn to reveal some nefarious secret, but she seemed sincere when she spoke about the Divine.

Her left hand twitched, a small scattering of green sparks trailing in a spiral to the stone floor. She waited, tense, until it grew still again. Her mind wrapped around the mark, searching for some memory of how she’d gotten the damn thing, but there was nothing beyond a black, prickling sense of loss.

“I’ll help you close the Breach,” she murmured, more to herself than to them. The room relaxed, and she had to fight a scowl. “I swear it.”

Over the next hour, they discussed preparations for the ceremony the next day, announcing the official forming of the Inquisition and her role as their Herald.

Once word spread, it wouldn’t only be her family in Ostwick who reacted badly.  What would Fiona think when she heard her second had agreed to work with a heretical offshoot of the organization they’d been fighting for the last three years? She had sent Roslyn to the Conclave to secure their freedom, and now she was about to help the bleeding Inquisition reborn.

Throughout the meeting, Sister Leliana watched her closely. Those cold blue eyes bored into hers, as if she knew exactly how divided her loyalties were.

Have to watch my step around this one, she thought, trying to keep her expression steady and attentive. If she had any hope of getting out of this alive, she’d need to work with them. Which meant maneuvering the predatory gaze of the Left Hand of the Divine.

 


 

The ceremony took place as the sun rose, a radiant yellow halo shining from behind the chantry to cast the courtyard in brilliant light. The council stood in the entrance of the chantry, in front of the assembled villagers of Haven and the strange assortment of soldiers and merchants of the fledgling Inquisition. Roslyn hadn’t failed to notice they’d placed her directly in the center of them all, right behind the Seeker as she addressed the crowd.

Nearly two thousand people had gathered. Roslyn hadn’t thought the village capable of holding more than a few hundred, but they crowded in on each other, perched on the rooftops, taking seats on top of the stone walls. Some of the children sat on shoulders, their hair blowing wild in the mountain breeze as they listened to a rousing speech of strength in the face of darkness.

All of them were staring at Roslyn.

Tired, bruised, and bandaged, they looked no more capable of launching a religious crusade than making it to the next day alive. The week following the explosion at the Conclave had taken its toll on everyone. Terror had rained down from the sky and destroyed their homes and livelihoods, and yet in every pair of eyes, a hopeful determination shone.

She hadn’t missed the stories filtering through the crowd, casting her as something bright and fierce. They said she’d marched into the temple and smote the ground on which the demons writhed, single-handedly taming a pride demon and commanding the Breach to calm with a flick of her hand. Even the soldiers present in the temple had joined in the rumors, spinning a grand story of her bravery and courage, her hard ferocity in the face of the Void.

She wouldn’t mind much under normal circumstances. People had been telling stories about her for years and none of them were true. Not entirely, anyway.

It was unnerving that their hatred had transformed to adoration so quickly, but it would have been fine if she hadn’t agreed to that idiotic title. It painted her as a divine savior, not some asshole who had walked into the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Herald of Andraste—whispers hidden behind trembling hands as she passed villagers and soldiers alike, as she secured armor from a stoic man whose voice had shaken as he bowed his head, as children gathered behind her and followed her with shining eyes.

It made sense that scared and frightened people would look to the Maker for a sign of hope. Saints and prophets and religious visionaries cropped up all the time in Chantry lore when the world went to shit. They might be due for another scapegoat, another martyr to whatever cause the Chantry deemed fit to pursue in their single-minded march to secure the hearts and minds of Thedas.

Prophets were feared and admired, but once that fear vanished, she would be nothing more than a knife-eared mage surrounded by enemies who held her leash.

Roslyn fought the urge to squirm as the Seeker continued her rousing speech. She’d attempted to look more presentable, though she felt worse than she had the day before. She wore the simple clothes they’d given her until she could find some more suited to her tastes—a set of beige pajamas with ridiculous bronze toggles. She’d struggled to braid her hair into submission to no avail. Her eyes had taken on a gaunt, sunken cast, like she had lost some of who she’d been before the Conclave. Before that dreadful voice had stolen her memories and forced her into a contract with people using her for the strange mark on her hand.

Her feet itched to run, to jump off the stage and flee as the Seeker’s voice boomed across the crowd, stirring their fervor and lauding them for their triumphs. She spoke of the coming chaos, of the knife’s edge on which they all stood—the necessity to band together to face whatever legions came against the faithful in this, their darkest hour.

Roslyn hoped it was an act, a show of spectacle to encourage them. The thought did little to quell the anxiety building in her stomach.

The mark sparked against her clenched fist at her anxiety.

It had kept her alive so far, but not for long. She would need to do this carefully if she wanted to get back to her fellow mages alive. Right now, she had something the Inquisition needed and as long as she played nice and cooperated, she would be all right.

They couldn’t kill their prophet. Not yet.

The Seeker said Roslyn’s name, using her father’s damn title, pointing back at her and refocusing everyone’s attention.

The air in her lungs froze and she heard a distant ringing. Every pair of eyes pulled at her nerves, tangled them up into knot in her stomach. Her decade-old fear—of people staring at her and whispering behind their fingers, sneering in the shadows and always keeping one eye on the little monster in the corner—crawled its way up her throat.

You’re too big. You have to make yourself small or they’ll catch you, a voice whispered in the back of her mind, sounding high and sharp—like Helena’s voice.

Clenching her jaw, she forced her expression into a mask of determination. The last thing these people needed to see was fear, and damn her if she let it ruin her now.

Scanning the crowd for something she could focus on past the beating of her heart and the wild cheers peppering the Seeker’s closing statements, she caught sight of a lone figure standing on a hill far from the edge of the villagers.

The elf, Solas, leaned against a house, arms crossed and head tilted forward to watch the ceremony. His pose was casual, but something about the stillness and certainty of it made her pause. She couldn’t see his expression from such a distance, but she could tell he was watching her, eyes fixed on her like the rest of the crowd chanting her new title.

Until the Breach is closed, she promised them, eyes still locked on the elf as the crowd erupted into manic applause, the flag of the burning eye unfurling behind them and flapping in the wind. I will give them that, at least.

Chapter Text

Roslyn followed the winding road down to Haven’s gate, exhilarated by the cold air whipping across her face, breath ghosting out from her mouth, chill raising gooseflesh along her arms as she smiled in the late-spring sun. Skirting the main section of the village, she made her way briskly through the old stone buildings. People carried baskets of cloth and leather, lumber and weapons, shouting and laughing over the sounds of thousands going about their daily business.

The Rebellion had numbered thousands, but there was an undercurrent of fear and anger that had run through Andoral's Reach, making it difficult to remain in the fortress for longer than a few days. She’d always volunteered to scout or travel to bring in new mages or find supplies. Being around so many people again made her tense. It didn’t help that eyes followed her wherever she went, but she had decided to risk it today.  Almost a week spent in or near a bed with no physical activity was starting to drive her mad.

The abandoned quarry Commander Cullen had directed her toward was larger than she’d expected, huge chunks of rock scooped out of the mountainside as if by giant hands, and covered in a pebbled, black sand.  She glanced around, making sure his promise of privacy had been accurate, but there was no one around. For the first time in a week, she was alone. She discarded her coat and boots and dug her toes into the cold ground with a smile.  Swinging her hands over her head, she stretched each of her tight limbs in succession, and eased into her practice.  The mark was a distraction as she moved, stretching her usual quarter-hour practice into a little over an hour. It fed on ambient energy, heightened by the Breach, and it would take time to adjust. It was one thing to let the adrenaline and focus of battle harness the mark’s magic, another to cast from a place of calm, which had always been more difficult for her.

Closing her eyes in frustration, she drew power from her core and let it saturate her body, only for it to phase out of control. She cut off the source before she could draw too much, an acrid taste flooding her mouth as it dispersed into the air. Gritting her teeth, she reined it back in with effort, and a trickle of sweat beaded on her forehead.

When she was sure she was back in control, she noticed the mark pulsing. An innocent, slight glow hovering over her palm.  Frowning, she tried to pull only the smallest amount of magic from her pool of mana, but once again, the magic from the mark bled into her own, augmenting and enhancing the power in her stomach, heightening it. This time, however, she was ready, and adjusted her hold.  She brought her hands up in a ready stance, and conjured a crackling prison of energy around her fingers. The bright white light flickered with arcs of green as the mark bled power into her spell. She opened her hands wider, the prison groaning and creaking against its urge to expand.

The amount of energy she might pull with the mark augmenting her pool was... immense, and a voice whispered in the back of her mind that this much power was more than she could handle. 

Shoving aside dark thoughts and pressing her hands together, she forced the energy to a fine point, and with a pleasant release, shot the bolt of compressed magic into the far quarry wall. It streaked through the air and hit stone, a loud crack and a cloud of dust bursting from the impact. A chunk of rock five times her size broke off and fell to the quarry floor.  Magic still crackled over her skin as it dispersed into the air, and she laughed. Too much, maybe, but damn it was a rush. 

Moving into another spell, she sent a wave of telekinetic force from her mind. An invisible wall spread out across the quarry and slammed the cloud of dust back. She swept her hand down to shove a column of energy against the gravel and launched up with a gust of force. Spiraling through the air, she pivoted with some effort, her body heavy and awkward after the long hours spent in bed, and straightened out as she reveled in the feeling of weightlessness. She rode the wave as long as she could before she sent another controlled column to halt her fall, but she was too slow, and hit the ground hard. She tumbled across the loose rocks, rolled to a stop, and winced. The tiny scrapes across her arms burned in the cold air.

She shoved off the ground and pushed her mass of hair back from her face where it had come loose from its tie, frowning as she caught her breath. It hadn’t been that long since she’d practiced. She shouldn’t be this sloppy. 

Pushing up to her feet, she broke into a fast run and lengthened her stride as she came up against a large rock. With a shout of exertion, she sent a wave of force into it, lifting it up into the air and smashing it against the ground twenty feet away. She barreled toward another large boulder, conjured a spectral fist, and lifted it into the air. It was still shooting upward when she leapt forward into a flip, and shot a current of force against the ground. She grinned as the momentum pushed her higher than the rock flying skyward.  Somersaulting in the air and slamming her feet into the stone with a cry of exhilaration, a resounding boom echoed across the quarry, and the stone began to fall.

Before she hit the ground, she twisted her hands in a complex pattern of spiraling light, winding arcane energy out from her fingers around the boulder and pulling. It jerked to a stop and she swayed as she tried to keep her footing, hanging in midair atop the boulder.

Ignoring the tremble in her arms at the effort, she released the arcane prison, and both she and the boulder tumbled back toward the earth. She jumped off before it smashed into the ground and broke apart into shards, sending a wave of telekinetic force to bat them aside as they flew up toward her feet. Roslyn gasped in pain as one sliced across her cheek. A hastily conjured wave of force buffeted her before she could land, but she still bounced through the pebbled sand, tumbling in a mess of limbs. She came to a stop against a hill of pulverized stones and sat upright, catching her breath. When she reached up to touch her cheek, her fingers came away slick with blood.

Cursing, she stood, dizzy, and pulled her sweat-stained shirt over her head. Balling it up, she pressed it against her cheek, hoping the cut was shallow.

She stood in the cool air and remembered the day many years ago one of the senior enchanters had dragged her away from the practice field after she’d brought down a group of trees during one session of outdoor instruction. You have all the subtlety of a horde of rampaging qunari, child.

Roslyn grinned as she remembered his stern, lined face, screwed up in anger as she tried to remain conscious. She’d been confined to the library for a week.

The image of his face the night the templars had attacked, pale, drenched in blood, and twisted in terror, flashed before her eyes.

Three years. She frowned. Three years, and a lifetime ago.

Roslyn rolled her neck, closing her eyes against the memory, resigned to the fact that it would take a while until she was comfortable channeling with the mark.  The practice hadn’t entirely discouraged her. The mark didn’t change the nature of her magic, only amplified it and made it more unstable. While that was a problem in and of itself, she could work with it. She was used to practicing control. Though it made her feel like an unschooled apprentice, she would learn in time. She always did.

Running her tongue over her teeth at the metallic taste in her mouth—she’d channelled too much power too soon after her extended bedrest—she turned around to collect her things, and froze at the sight of a figure watching her from the trees.

The elf, Solas, leaned against a large tree, arms crossed and staring at her intently.

“Andraste’s tits.” Her heart leapt into her throat. “How long have you been standing there?”

Solas straightened and walked toward her, dropping his arms to hold them behind his back. “Commander Cullen informed me you intended to practice your magic. He asked me to watch over you, for your own safety.”

She bit back her annoyance as she caught her breath. For a man who had supposedly left the Order, the Commander treated her with the same caution as the rest of his former brothers in arms. “I’m surprised he didn’t ask one of his templars to follow me.”

“Perhaps he thought that might anger you.”

She snorted, crossing her arms. “He would be right.”

His eyes followed the movement and lingered on her stomach and chest. His gaze wasn’t lewd, but clinical, as if he were assessing her physical state. When he looked up again, something shifted behind his eyes—interest transforming to amusement.

“Would you like me to heal that?” He nodded toward her cheek.

Her brow arched. “If you’d like.”

He moved forward to brush his fingers along her cheek, so gently she might have thought them nothing more than wind if not for the trail of heat they left in their wake. His eyes never left hers, and this close, the light spattering of freckles dotting the bridge of his nose and cheeks was a dark, lovely gold.

“So, you agree that I need to be watched?" She tried not to fidget under his intense stare. “Concerned for my safety, Solas, or for everyone else’s?”

“Curious, not concerned.” A trickle of his magic flowed along her gash, the cooling sensation pleasant against the flush of her cheeks.

He was a few inches taller than her—taller than most elves she’d seen. He held himself differently as well, straighter than the elves in the Circle and the Rebellion, and more confidently than the few she’d met who hailed from alienages, shoulders held back and chin raised in something like a challenge.

“I found you already in the throws of your practice. I did not want to disturb you.”

“And how long did you watch me?”

His lips twitched. “Perhaps longer than is polite. I was surprised by the exercises you engaged in. I did not know the Circle taught focusing routines.”

Roslyn hadn’t expected him to recognize the practice. Most other mages had found it a useless exercise, too focused on the physical rather than the mental manipulation of magic. Train your mind, girl, not your muscles, her instructors had berated her, so, so many times.

“They don’t. Or mine didn’t. It’s something I came across in a book on ancient Tevinter theory.”

His eyes darkened and the teasing glint vanished. “Ah. I see.” He backed away, handing her a cloth from his pocket to wipe the rest of the blood off her cheek. “Though I am intrigued as to how you were able to make sense of such a text. I imagine the theory was not conclusive.”

“No.” Roslyn smiled. “It took me about a year to work out on my own.”

His brow lifted. “You are self-taught. Your practice is crude, of course, but refined for one who does not know the principle behind it.”

Her smile faltered. “And how would you know if my skills are crude or not?”

“My apologies.” He inclined his head, an amused twitch at the corner of his mouth. “I did not mean crude in a pejorative sense. Merely undisciplined. After closing the main rift in the temple, I thought you would be unable to channel anything for a few minutes, let alone a full hour.”

He had ignored her question, but she let it go. For now. “That’s nice of you.” She bent to pick up her shirt. “A little creepy—but nice.”

“Was there a reason for the practice session? Or have you tired of laying in your warm bed? I presume the accommodations afforded the Inquisition’s figurehead are not uncomfortable.”

“I wanted to see how the mark would affect my magic before I got caught in another swarm of demons.”

“The verdict?” 

She picked up her boots and sat down on the rock with her coat, supposing it made sense he was curious about the mark, having studied it while she was unconscious. “The mark is augmenting my power, not changing it. I feel a little off balance, but it shouldn’t take too long to adjust. Hopefully.”

He hummed in interest. “You focus your energies in your core?”

Roslyn stopped in the act of lacing up her boots. “Yes. Why?”

“When you cast, you move from your center, directing your energies inward and then out in bursts. Most mages do not internalize their magic the way you do, but direct energies outside themselves. You draw it in. I guessed as much at the temple, when you casted without a staff more skillfully than most mages with one. Watching you today confirmed my theory.”

She tensed, knowing where the conversation was heading. “It’s always been easier for me to channel the energy after I’ve claimed it.”

“It must require an immense amount of control and fortitude not to let it overwhelm you,” a smile pulled at his mouth, and his head tilted in curiosity, “particularly without an external focus.”

And there it is.

Roslyn felt like she was back in her tower, bristling under the disapproving eyes of her teachers as they told her she would never master her power if she couldn’t work with a staff. Always warning her of the dangers of relying too much on her ability to control her magic without something to focus it. Foolish to trust in your own willpower, Apprentice Trevelyan. Wills can be broken.

She went back to lacing her boots, trying to hide her discomfort. “Every staff I’ve ever used has shattered when I tried to channel my magic through it. I don’t know why, but I can’t cast with any subtlety—or so every single instructor with the misfortune to have me as a student has told me. I gave up trying to prove them wrong a long time ago. Staves are a distraction and an inconvenience.”

Another thing that had set her apart at the Circle. The bastard, elf-blooded child of the late Lord Chancellor of Ostwick who casted bare-handed was ever criticized, especially when she started outpacing her peers.

His face tightened in confusion. “I apologize if I offended you. I was simply curious as to your technique. I would have to rethink my ideas of the Circle, if they could produce someone as prodigious as you.”

She finished lacing up her boots and stood, meeting his gaze with a challenge. “Met many prodigious people, have you?”

Solas considered her, a careful gleam in his eyes. “More than most. Less than some.”

“Aren’t you delightfully vague?”

He grinned, the first true smile he’d given her, as if her comment had taken him by surprise. For that flash of time, it made his fine, angled features seem young and wild.

Her own lips curled upward as she met his smile.

Damn. That’s going to be a problem.

Solas rolled back onto his heels to face the village and she fell into step beside him.

“I am surprised you aren’t spending more time in the adoration of your flock of devoted disciples.”

Roslyn shrugged on her coat. “Are you surprised? I’m not.”

“The chosen of Andraste,” he intoned in what she thought was a tease. “A blessed hero sent to save us all.”

“So I’ve heard. I’m honored, of course, but it would have been nice if I was conscious when Andraste reached out and clad me in her holy visage. It’s rather awkward not to remember the symbol of your faith choosing you to lead her crusade.”

“Joke as you will.” He watched her out of the corner of his eye. “Posturing is important.”  

Roslyn frowned. “You think I should go along with it?”

“When it is necessary. The people of Haven have accepted you for now, but impressive shows of skill will only get you so far.”

A chill seeped into the back of her mind as he echoed her own fears. “You speak as if you have some experience with my situation.”

His eyes narrowed, before he adopted a more somber tone. “I’ve journeyed deep into the Fade, traveled to ancient ruins and battlefields to see the dreams of lost civilizations. I’ve watched as hosts of spirits clash to reenact the bloody past in wars both famous and forgotten—men and women of great skill falling under the weight of those they labored tirelessly to protect.” He paused, the hint of a hard smile on his lips. “Every great war has its heroes. I’m just curious what kind you’ll be.”

Roslyn took a beat to respond, caught between her unease at his implication and the lilting quality of his voice. “Who says I’m a hero?”

“I am afraid you have already been branded as one.” His expression hardened, a distance in his eyes she couldn’t place. “Only inaction or cowardice would change that now.”

She might be over-analyzing—she’d been known to do so in the past—but there was something about him that made her acutely aware of her own body. Like he was cataloguing every word she said for future consideration, marking her movements, weighing her against some unknown standard.

“I’d rather they just accept that no one has any idea what the fuck happened to me. It doesn’t help to invent fanciful stories, even if it’s harder to admit we know less than nothing about what’s going on.”

He didn’t respond, but she could feel him watching her, examining her response.

They skirted the large lake next to the quarry in silence as his words took hold in her mind. “What do you mean, ruins and battlefields?”

“Any building strong enough to withstand the rigors of time has a history. Every battlefield is steeped in death. Both attract spirits.” He sounded pleased at the question, but there was a practiced nonchalance to his tone. “They press against the Veil, weakening the barrier between our worlds. When I dream in such places, I go deep into the Fade. I can find memories no other living being has seen.”

“But that would make you a dreamer.”

“Any mage has the capability.”

She almost laughed. “Not in my experience.” 

“Is that what your Circle education has taught you?”

Her brow lifted, surprised and a little offended at the biting judgement in his voice. “My Circle education has taught me almost nothing about dreamers, except that they’re rare, dangerous, and more susceptible to demonic possession. Also that they haven’t existed for hundreds of years.”

Dreamers were fearful stories meant to warn against the excess of Tevinter power and greed—nightmares to scare young mages into keeping the mysteries of the Fade at a safe distance and not straying farther than necessary in their dreams. They weren’t real.

“The Circle of Magi is remarkably short-sighted when it comes to schools of magic outside their ken.”

“I don’t mean to imply you’re lying,” she said, disliking the tight set of his mouth and the cold confirmation in his eyes. “I don’t know anything about dreamers other than what I’ve heard in rumor and gossip, and—well, I’d have no way of contradicting you.”

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “Are my studies distressing? Do you, like so many of your fellow mages, quake in fear of the unknown and reject any attempt to better understand the Fade?”

“Do I seem like the type to quake in fear?”

His voice was dry, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “I would not presume to know anything about you, as we are newly acquainted.”

“True,” she conceded. “Fear of the unknown is just the fear of facing something you can’t control. If I can control my experience of the Fade, or at least control my reaction to it, why should I fear it?” And if she said the same enough times, it might ring true one of these days.

“That is a surprisingly considered response from one so young.”

“So, now I’m not only crude, but childish as well? You have an odd way of making friends, Solas.”

“I did not say that. Nor was I aware I was attempting to befriend you.”

“I don’t know if you get to decide whether or not we become friends. You did sit at my bedside for four days trying to save my life.”

“I would have done the same for anyone in your position.”

“Yes, but it wasn’t anyone, was it?”

His brow furrowed in amusement. “Respect for life does not require the existence of fondness or friendship, only the desire not to let an otherwise preventable death occur. Especially when you might prevent further death with your mark.”

She turned to him with wide, innocent eyes and a grin. “I don’t think I said anything about fondness.”

Surprise flitted across his face, and again, it transformed his features.

She quite liked that hesitant delight in his eyes every time she caught him off-guard.

“So,” she said before he could respond, falling back into the conversation as if nothing had passed between them, “you fall asleep in the middle of ancient ruins? Isn’t that reckless?”

“I do set wards. And if I leave food out for the giant spiders, they are content to live and let live.”

She shook her head with a smile. “You speak of the Fade as if it were a physical place.”

“You believe the Fade is not a physical place with rules like this reality?” His brow lifted, pleased by her continued interest. “I’m surprised you of all people don’t see the irony in that conclusion.”

Roslyn glanced at him. “You mean because I’m supposed to have walked out of the Fade with Andraste’s blessing?”

Solas said nothing, but continued to watch her as they walked.

Her mind slipped over the empty memory of the Conclave, the lost knowledge of what had happened to place the mark on her hand. “I have no memory of what happened to me, and I won’t take the word of some terrified, half-dead soldier as proof. Maker knows,” she gave a hollow laugh, “if I saw some idiot fall from a hole in the sky, I’d probably believe the same. You say you visit places with a long, rich history. What you’re experiencing is your impression of a place and the people who dreamed there, not the place itself. It doesn’t mean you’re witnessing someone else’s memory. It’s still all happening inside your head.”

The idea lingered, however impossible she knew it to be.

Solas held knowledge outside the realm of the Circle. Most mages would have stopped the conversation already, afraid of drawing near the more obscure branches of magic at risk of being labeled a maleficar. Even in the Rebellion, the Chantry held sway. Discussion of the forbidden arts was better left to the hedge mages and solitary witches of the unexplored wild. The culling at Dairsmuid was proof enough that such magics were dangerous, if not for their nature, for the response they drew from the rest of the world.

“If I did believe you were reliving someone else’s dreams, don’t you find experiencing the memories of the dead a bit, I don’t know—morbid?”

“Of course. More often than not it is sad to see what has been lost, but the thrill of finding the remnants of a thousand-year-old dream? I would not trade it for anything.”

The idea of living in someone else’s memories was intrusive and downright odd, but it might be nice to drift away in a dream not borne of her own ragged nightmares.

Solas stared at her with renewed interest. “It is refreshing to find a mage willing to listen to another’s experience, even if she doesn’t agree. I imagine it’s not a common field of study in most Circle towers. Not as flashy as throwing fire or lightning.” He paused, the hint of a grin on his lips. “Or ripping your enemies apart with arcane force.”

She laughed. “I thought I had rare and prodigious skill?”

“You do—for one raised in a tower.” His gaze lingered a bit longer than was polite, expression tight. Something formed in his eyes, a hard determination which made his lips purse. “I will stay. At least until the Breach is sealed.”

Her steps faltered as his pledge echoed the one she had given to the people of Haven a few days ago.

“Was that in doubt?” They passed through the gates to the village, skirting the crowds and drawing curious looks.

His brow lifted in incredulity as they walked past the ring of cabins along the outer wall. “I am an apostate surrounded by Chantry forces in the middle of a mage rebellion.”

“And that doesn’t excite you?” Sometimes she forgot not all mages were used to running from templars.

“Cassandra has been accommodating, but you understand my caution. Not all of us have the fortune of being blessed with a divine mark.”

She frowned at the hard tone in his voice, wondering how he’d been treated if he feared for his safety. “Do you feel like you aren’t wanted here?”

He looked at her with a strange sharpness, and stopped next to a cabin set aside from the village by a small group of trees.

“The council values your opinion and it’s clear they appreciate your assistance. You’re the only one who has any idea what’s going on with the Breach and the rifts. It’s not like they’re going to run you out of the village.” The last was more for her own benefit. They would turn their backs on an elven mage if it suited their needs. Better people had done worse.

“I have a vested interest in learning what caused the Breach. Such magic is too dangerous to be ignored.” His voice dropped to a low murmur as a group of men walked past, shooting them startled glances as they took in Roslyn’s state of dress. “But I am an outsider with knowledge their mages do not have. I serve a purpose.” He paused, eyes intent on hers. “How long do you think that will remain true?”

A small knot formed at the base of her stomach. She’d guessed the same. Her utility was connected to her ability to close the Breach, and if she couldn’t, there would be no reason to protect her. At best, she’d be sent packing, quietly tucked away as the Inquisition went about their mission to restore order, the Herald of Andraste a momentary distraction to mollify the crowds. At worst, she’d be convicted of the crimes leveled against her at the start, and burn on a pyre.

“Well, I promise I won’t let them run you off while I’m around. If nothing else, this damn mark gives me some leverage.”

His smile was wry. “You would throw yourself between me and the templars if they tried to cart me away in chains?”

She wondered at the hard set of his eyes and his arched brow. “Yes,” she said without hesitation. 

It wouldn’t be the first time, she thought, the memory of a hallway full of screaming children and fallen templars echoing in the back of her mind.

His hard expression transformed, giving way to something soft and vulnerable, surprise smoothing the edges of his cool exterior. Whoever he was, he must not be used to such consideration. 

“Thank you."

She wondered what he’d expected her to say. He’d saved her life, after all. She wouldn’t let the Inquisition turn on someone who had done nothing but offer his help.

And the idea that he didn’t expect any help pulled at something timid and fragile inside her own chest. 

“Right,” she coughed, “I’m off to wash the blood and dirt off me before someone can scold me for rough-housing so soon after I was let out of my cabin without supervision.”

“That would be wise. I would have come to see you had I known you recovered so quickly.”

That gave her pause. “You wanted to see me?”

“To study your mark, of course.”

“Of course,” she repeated, fighting a smile. “Now I’m back in fighting shape, you’re free to study it all you like. I’d welcome the company.”

What are you doing?  Heat crept up her neck as his eyes narrowed. Are you flirting with the mysterious apostate you tried to kill a week ago?

“I would appreciate that. If your plan is to close the Breach permanently, we need to understand your mark as much as possible before we move forward, for your own safety, if nothing else.”  He added in a low voice, “Roslyn, I had a thought.”

The sound of her name in his low, lilting voice made a shiver run down her spine.

“I realize it might be assumptive to offer, but I can help you focus your energies. I have some experience with the kind of practice you’re attempting. If I can be of assistance, I would lend you my knowledge.”

She swallowed back the growing unease that whatever she was feeling for this odd stranger was not harmless attraction. “I would appreciate that, Solas.” 

Chapter Text

Dappled sunlight shone through the trees as the sun set beneath the red cliffs of the Hinterlands, a warm glow rippling over the grass as Roslyn moved through her practice.

It was quiet on the hill overlooking their camp, high up enough to see the valley but still shadowed from the mountains around them. The country was beautiful, newly green and golden as the last of the spring thaw faded.

She might have enjoyed it, if not for the anxiety pulsing in the back of her mind.

As her hand moved across her chest, her magic slowed and hardened as she tried to transition into the next pose. Somewhere in the vicinity of her left shoulder, her aura spasmed and threatened to spill out of control. She reined the magic back inside of her and dropped the pose with a frown, dispelling the energy. Her arms fell to her sides as the magic fizzled, leaving in its wake pent-up frustration. Like she had to sneeze, but couldn’t relax enough to let it go.

She shook out her tired limbs and brushed sweat from her brow, tucking a lock of errant hair behind her ears. She’d started the new routine three weeks ago, but she still couldn’t get the damn thing right.

“Do you know what you did wrong?” Solas watched her from a few feet away as she readied for another pass.

She swallowed her irritation as she relaxed once again into the first form. “I held the tension in my left arm longer than I should have, allowing my energy to build as it traveled through my chest.”

“And that makes sense to you, Chuckles?” Varric called from a smooth rock about thirty feet away. He was polishing his crossbow, lovingly named Bianca, as he watched her flow into the first pose.

She grinned, but ignored him. After a few days on the road, he’d taken to joining them as she and Solas worked through her routine. He claimed he was conducting research for a new book, though she guessed it had more to do with avoiding a certain seeker who’d taken to scowling at Varric when he remained in her presence too long.

The quick decision to travel to the Hinterlands to determine the cause of fighting and meet with a Mother Giselle had been helmed by the Seeker, who had grown tired of waiting in Haven. She was not exactly skilled at keeping her frustrations hidden, and so they had all taken to giving her a wide birth. Four days spent in each other’s company had started to wear on all of them.

Roslyn didn’t mind Varric’s questions or proximity. He was a comforting presence, especially when he brought Bianca. The soft rasp of cloth over wood when he polished her was soothing.

She moved through the set again, careful to allow her magic to saturate through each limb before it bled into the next, sweat dripping down her face and pooling at the base of her back. Her breathing was steady as she balanced her energy and body on her right foot, extending the other out until the focus of her power circled within it. She held it as long as she could, the world narrowing to her largest toe. She held her magic until she knew she had it under control, and released it in a blast of force.

The energy surged through her leg, blasting her backwards and up through the air in an arc. Twisting and tucking her feet into her chest, she landed on her hands with a pocket of force to take the brunt of the impact. With another small push, she flew up again, surfing the last waves of her magic as she landed in front of Varric with a wide, triumphant grin, and bowed.

He clapped twice. “Screw this ‘Herald’ crap. You should sell yourself out as a traveling performer. The Magnificent Flying Apostate. I’ll even represent you.”

Roslyn let out a tired laugh as she slumped onto the rock next to him, catching her breath.

Solas walked over to join them with a small smile. “That was a definite improvement.”

She grinned up at him, reaching over Varric to grab the water skin she’d taken to bringing with her to each practice session. Before answering him, she took a large sip, some of it spilling out the sides of her mouth and onto her sweat-stained shirt. She’d learned that wearing little more than her breastband and loose pants encouraged gossip, and so she’d taken to wearing a shirt whenever she trained with Solas, however hot she became.

After swallowing, she shook her head and sagged. “I’m still too tense. I don’t know if it’s residual effects from closing the rifts in the valley, or if the mark is causing my muscles to tighten as I cast, but it’s grating.”

“That should work itself out in time. The important thing is you have the correct postures to work through. Your magic had grown accustomed to the cruder forms you developed. It will take time for your energy to flow more naturally, but once it does, you will be amazed at the kind of power you can wield without worry for injuring yourself or losing control.”

“You do this shit, too, Chuckles?” Varric asked, smoothing an oiled cloth along Bianca’s neck.

“My magic is different from the Herald’s, Child of the Stone.”

He’d treated her oddly the past few days, sometimes calling her by her real name and other times acting as if she were no different from the rest of the soldiers they traveled with. She’d tried not to let it get to her, to explain it away as an attempt at propriety.

But it bothered her to think he regretted their time together. And she still didn’t know why he fascinated her so.

“I do not need to practice the Vir Ghen’aran,” he continued, “as I channel my energies through a staff.”

She rolled her eyes, sending Varric a knowing glance, whose mouth twitched in response. “What he means is that he is beyond such earthly pursuits as practice and exercise, while the rest of us mere mortals,” she swept a dramatic hand to her chest, “must toil toward perfection.”

Roslyn stood and winked at Solas, his expression bemused. She walked over to gather her things, trying to keep from hunching her shoulders. She joked, but she had months of work before she could perform his Vir Ghen’aran without aching fiercely the next day.

The proper elven practice, Solas quickly disabusing her of any Tevinter origins, was thorough and intricate, much more so than she’d gleaned from her study of the tevene translation she’d found.

Because of his corrections, she grew tired after only a few minutes of work. The rest of the practice took every ounce of effort she had to remain upright. He told her she was improving, but it was at such a glacial pace she couldn’t feel it. The longer she went without casting with her usual ease, the more nervous she got. The few rifts on the road from Haven to the Hinterlands had proven difficult to close, and any casting she did was clumsy, if amplified. It was straining her good humor.

She pulled on her boots as Varric said with a shake of his head, “I just don’t get how you can stand still for such a long period of time. Must be an elf thing.”

“Probably why I’m so bad at it.” She winked at him, fighting the urge to untie her hair and brush it over her ears.

Varric put away his cloth and flicking Bianca’s arms closed. “You know what I mean.”

The memory of Helena’s cold whisper on the back of her neck, blood dripping onto the collar of her servant’s dress, flashed through her mind. Her fingers clenched around the strings of her boots, nearly ripping them loose.

She kept her voice cool and light as she rose. “And I don’t understand how you can sit in a dark room for hours scribbling on a piece of paper, but I don’t begrudge you the effort.”

Varric grinned. “You’ve got me there, Red.”

Roslyn grabbed her things and started down the hill to their camp. Before she walked two paces, however, a rustling in the bushes to her left made her tense.

She relaxed as she caught sight of green leather and grey armor, the standard scout uniform of an Inquisition soldier. Sure enough, two men scurried down the hill in the cover of the trees, trying to remain hidden from her sight.

“Don’t they have anything else to do with their time?” She rubbed her shoulder as it throbbed. “Bears to scare off or rams to hunt?”

Varric chuckled. “Oh, you can’t blame them for wanting to catch a glimpse of the fabled Herald with her elven lover, sneaking off into the woods to practice forbidden magics together. I mean, if we weren’t such bosom friends, I’d be right there with them.”

She grinned. “My elven lover?”

Solas’ brow furrowed before he controlled his expression. “It will never cease to amaze me how eagerly humans take to their gossip,” he said, his fingers tightening around his staff.

Apparently she wasn’t the only one confused about their… association.

Varric shrugged. “That’s one story I’ve heard.”

“So, that makes you what?” Roslyn nudged Varric in the shoulder. “Our mascot?”

Varric grimaced as Solas chuckled.

“You can’t really blame them. The first day you get time alone, you sprint down to the quarry, strip off your clothes, start smashing rocks together, then come back all dirty and bloody with Chuckles. Tongues will wag.”

“Well, I’d rather they make up stories about my personal dalliances than this bleeding Andraste business. Did you know I’ve been asked twice to bless some woman’s newborn baby?”

Varric laughed. “What did you do?”

“The first time I was so shocked, I didn’t say anything, and the second time I was cornered with the Seeker on my way out of the chantry. I just looked at the woman and nodded, and then she and the baby started crying. It was awful.”

Varric grimaced in sympathy, but Solas only frowned.

“You would be surprised how far people will go to humble themselves for the blessing of a god.” His voice was tight, as if the idea bothered him. “A hot poultice of mint and elfroot will loosen your shoulder if it continues to bother you.” Without another word, he walked toward the tent he shared with Varric on the other side of their small camp.

She wondered at the shift in his mood, but put it out of her mind as she followed Varric toward the campfire. It wasn’t long until the scouting party returned with food for the evening meal. Doing her best not to let her discomfort at the many eyes watching her, she ate in relative silence. Most of the soldiers still treated her with quiet reverence or worse, fear, but Varric was good company.

When the sun set and they retired to their tents, Roslyn took a while to fall asleep, arms and legs throbbing in fatigue and her shoulder aching. Her mind turned over the prospect of meeting the Chantry mother when they reached their forward camp, once again wondering what the fuck she was supposed to say to convince her to help.

She’d agreed, of course. She could do little else in her position. It was that or refuse the duties she’d agreed to perform when she accepted the Inquisition’s title. If she’d known what waited for her once the dust had settled, she might not have been so willing.

Mages and templars fighting in the countryside, she thought, frowning up at the canopy of her tent. I should have gotten used to this by now.

The Conclave was supposed to settle the conflict. Everything had pointed toward mage independence. Justinia had been a kind woman, an honest woman, and allowing the Circles to break free from the Order was the first step toward freedom for her and her fellow mages. The Seekers had dissolved the Nevarran Accord. The templars had gone to war, not the mages. It was supposed to be over.

And yet here she was, marching through Ferelden with an Inquisition on her heel and a cursed mark on her hand, further than ever from the peace she'd hoped to help bring to her fellow mages. 

She turned over and buried her face against the small sack she’d been given for a pillow. She tried not to obsess about her friends, hiding in a distant corner of Thedas, thinking she had died along with the rest of the mages who’d traveled to the Conclave. She shivered as a pulse from her mark ran through her arm, reminding her she was stuck until she could figure out how to remove it, or close the Breach. The first seemed far more likely. Thinking of the Breach and its swirling malevolence with a wave of dread, she had no idea how anyone could close it, mark or no mark.

Forcing her eyes closed, she slowed her breathing and focused on the sound of air moving in and out of her nose.

It took a while, but she fell at last into an uneasy sleep, opening her eyes again to the flickering green darkness of the Fade. She sat in a pool of light, the same little pocket of shifting energy she always occupied when she dreamed. It was warm inside her circle. A soft breeze ruffled past the tall grass, swaying in rhythm to a silent song as she sat cross-legged on a table stone.

Beyond the circle of light stretched a gnarled forest of shadows, watching her as she tried to ignore them. Tonight, the circle was small, five or so feet in diameter, and the edges of the forest lapped against her bright barrier.

She sat with her eyes cast down as she always did, reciting the Chant of Light to keep the demons away and help her focus enough to repel them. The years she’d spent running and refusing their offers of help and service had been long and hard, and the day she’d devised this tiny fortress was the day she’d slept at last in relative peace.

The little pricks of attention came as they always did, but she was ready. Her voice grew louder as the first demon brushed against the barrier, deterred for now. Sometimes they would return, sometimes they wouldn’t, but none had broken through her control in a long time. She focused on keeping her surroundings whole as more brushed against the barrier. After the Conclave, the number of demons had increased, swelling to more than ever before. Where she’d been visited by maybe four or five demons a night for the last few years, over twenty that continued to batter against her barrier now, searching in vain for an entrance, a way to overwhelm and possess her.

She continued her recitation, knowing no matter how many approached, she was safe behind her wall. They would leave eventually, unable to keep their attention spans for longer than a night or two.

“The Light shall lead her safely through the paths of this world, and into the next,” she recited, voice clear and strong. “For she who trusts in the Maker, fire—”

She broke off as something large shifted beyond her barrier. The demons vanished in a flash, gone before the final word had left her lips.

Heart beating fast in the stillness, she searched the dark forest. Nothing moved beyond the ring of light. The soft breeze still swirled around her. The long green grass still swayed. She swallowed back the fear rising up her throat, leaning forward to peer into the darkness. The frozen shapes of the trees stood resolute and the green energy pulsed in the sky above them.

It happened so slowly, she almost missed the warmth bleeding from her table stone, the grass freezing as the air went still. Her quick breath, the only sound she could hear above the heavy thud of her heart, ghosted out in front of her as the temperature dropped. The light still held, but something pulled at the back of her mind—a nagging awareness, like the feeling of loss when she tried to recall the explosion at the Conclave.

She closed her eyes to calm her racing heart. When she opened them again, something moved in the shadows of the forest. Not daring to so much as breathe, she waited.

Wake up, she thought frantically as the darkness grew taut, her eyes straining past the light, but she couldn’t ease back into the waking world for fear of what she might leave behind.

She sat frozen for what might have been hours or seconds, eyes stinging with the effort of keeping them open. She was about to write the whole thing off as her mind playing tricks on her, when a massive shape moved through the shadowed branches.

Her nails dug into her knees as she bit back a cry of fear. Her entire focus sharpened to a knife’s edge as she traced the outline moving toward her, every instinct screaming to get out of the Fade. She knew, somehow, that her barrier would not stop it.

“Wake up,” she whispered, her eyes fixed dead on the shape as it took a step forward. “Maker, wake up.”

It paused just outside the ring of light. The outline of six glowing red orbs rose from the tree-line, craning toward her and brushing against her barrier.

With a wave of burning dread, she screamed and dug her fingers into her knees. The sharp pain shattered into her frozen mind. She wrenched up and out of the Fade as red circles burned into her vision.

 


 

Roslyn shot upright, jerking awake.

Eyes wide and chest heaving, she tried to banish the image of red orbs in a sea of shifting black. Primal fear thudded through her spine. She couldn’t let it go, curling inside her and fusing to her very bones. The kind of fear she thought she’d left behind in the ruin of her Circle tower.

She released the hand from her mouth and pulled her knees up to cradle against her chest while her heart hammered in her throat.

It was just a dream. You’ve had worse.

She slid out of her bedroll, not bothering to put on her boots as she eased the flap of her tent open. She needed to see the stars.

It had comforted her over the years, when the Chant had failed and her own stubborn determination was insufficient. Something about the freedom of watching the night sky, a rarity for most of her life, made her feel less claustrophobic.

Waving off the sentry posted at the edge of camp, she made her way up the incline to the cliff overlooking the valley below. She picked her way across the damp earth, sparse grass sticking up through the dirt and rock, to sit on the cliff’s edge. Her feet dangled in the cold air and her fingers dug into the ground, rooting in the physical world to banish the image still branded in her mind.

It was just a demon, a powerful one, yes, but it wasn’t any different than the rest. She was stronger than this fear. 

The faintest touch of dawn rose before her, a small glow of pink on an otherwise indigo sky scattered with stars. She picked out the faint constellations she recognized to distract her panicked mind—Draconis, Judex, Eluvia. The rest had fallen beneath the horizon, too faint to see in the coming light.

Roslyn relished the cool night air on her sweat-damp skin, and swung her bare feet through the mist clinging to the cliff-face like a shroud. It took a while, but her fear dimmed, and the night became comforting and safe once more.

Bushes rustled behind her, and she turned to stare down the frightened scout with a frown, only to freeze as Solas walked into view.

He moved slowly, eyes glowing in the darkness, watching her with a caution one might reserve for a wild animal.

“Bad dreams?” She winced as her voice broke.

He paused a few feet from her. “Not exactly. There was a disturbance in the Fade that stirred me from sleep. Would it be right to assume you felt it as well?”

The sky brightened slowly as she searched for an answer, casting the red cliffs in soft shades of purple and gold.

“That must have been it,” she murmured.

Emotional disturbance in the Fade wasn’t a rare phenomenon in the Circle, especially after tensions were high. In the last months before the templars had attacked, the entire tower had slept fitfully sometimes because they were bothered by one apprentice’s frightened dreams.

But to be awoken by it…

“Are you…”

She arched her brow. “Am I what?”

The idea that he could sense her fear in the Fade, that he suspected her struggle with the demons, made her feel small and weak, like a child back in the Circle with dark eyes and a sullen expression.

She thought he might leave her alone, warned off by the bite in her voice. But he knelt beside her and lifted his brow, motioning with his hand to the cliff’s edge. “May I sit with you? My nerves are on edge and some quiet reflection of the sunrise might help me calm down.”

He settled next to her without a sound when she nodded.

Odd, she thought, waiting for his aura to brush against hers and frowning when it didn’t. It’d been so strong in the temple, it was strange she couldn’t feel it now.

Thinking back, she hadn’t felt the power of his aura since the temple. Brushes here and there during her practice and whenever they’d spent time together since, but nothing so potent. He must be hiding it from her.

Hedge mages must know lots of ways to keep hidden, she reasoned. Any kind of travel through populated areas would necessitate concealment, or risk meeting a wandering templar. She the profile of his face, all hard lines and angles where the small light pooled shadows beneath his eyes and along the faint curve of his cheekbones.

“Where did you grow up, Solas?” 

His eyes glowed back at her as they narrowed. “Why?”

She smiled. “Because I want to know more about you.” As if I had some nefarious scheme to steal your secrets and use them against you, daft man. “We’re working together, after all, and I find your company marginally pleasant.” In the darkness it was hard to tell, but she thought she saw a frown cross his lips before he turned away. “Is it so strange I want to get to know you?”

He tilted his head, but didn’t look at her. “I suppose not. I grew up in a small village far north of here, with little to interest a curious mind apart from the Fade and what it offered.”

It sounded rehearsed, but not false. Roslyn wondered how many times he’d given someone else the same story.

“Which was?”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “Knowledge. Experience. Dreams of those who came before me and imparted their wisdom in the Fade. Spirits are inherently generous beings, and so I received a unique education.”

She tried not to frown as he spoke of demons in such a casual manner. Clearly he’d never been at the mercy of one intent on consuming his soul and forcing its way into his mind. Lucky. “These spirits taught you things? You communicated with them?”

“Some of them. Others were content to pass on knowledge in their own way. Memory, mostly. One can learn much by stepping into the mind and heart of those who have passed on.”

“What kind of memories?”

He stared at her, as if judging her intent. “I once found the ruin of Barindur, a lost Tevinter city buried deep beneath a dead and barren wasteland. Volcanic ash had sealed it tight. In one dark moment, every living creature in the city seared and smothered. They were statues in the ashes, a mold made to recall the lost.”

She didn’t realize she was staring at him with her mouth slightly open until he gave her a wry smile. “Do you think I’m lying? Or merely insane?”

Roslyn blinked, visions of a vast plane of swirling grass and hot sun beating down on her face. “I believe you think you’re telling the truth.”

His cheekbones hardened as his jaw clenched.

“But I don’t think you’re mad.”

He considered her, expression inscrutable. “You seem to have something of a contradiction on your hands.”

She laughed at the tight, barely concealed expression of concern on his face, the sound rasping out of her tired throat and breaking the stillness of the cliffside. She leaned forward and shook her head. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

Solas just stared at her with wide, intent eyes, as if she were the mad one.

Oh, shit. She’d just laughed at him. He’d been honest with her and shared something he would have been called crazy and delusional for in any other circumstance—and she’d laughed at him.

“I—” Insult the only person in this fucking Inquisition who doesn’t think I’m a damn prophet. Good. Well done. “I’m sorry if I offended you, Solas, I didn’t mean—”

“Roslyn, don’t apologize,” he said, voice tight, a small smile on his lips. “I took no offense. I was—startled by your reaction. It was—”

“Startling?” 

Some of the strain faded from his eyes. “To put it redundantly.”

She snorted, swallowing the bubble of laughter in her throat before it could spill out again. Maker, I am going mad. Too much stress and physical strain was making her irrational.

They sat in silence as her emotions calmed. His presence was comforting, for a stranger. 

“And what of your childhood?”

Her humor died just as quickly as it had come. “Not as intellectually stimulating as yours, I’m afraid.”

He waited, and she considered leaving it at that. She didn’t like delving into that part of her life, and found most people didn’t like hearing about it either. 

“I lived in my late father’s estate until I was thirteen, when my magic surfaced.”

“Your father died when you were still young?”

Her chest constricted. “I was five.”

Tense silence fell between them, and she grinned. “You can ask about my mother. I know you’re curious about my ears.”

She watched him shift out of the corner of her eye as he said, “I am. I assume she was an elf?”

“That’s what they told me. I never knew her. I guess she left me on my father’s doorstep and vanished.” She worked past the knot forming in her chest, the old wound that still festered when she prodded at it. “I didn’t live with the rest of his family until he died, hidden away in a cabin. I think he was trying to spare me, or maybe his wife, from the scandal. But as soon as the nursemaid stopped getting paid, I wasn’t much of a concern for her either.” She gave him a small smile, trying to cut the pain with humor, to soften the tension. “Growing up with spirits sounds almost preferable.”

His eyes were tight, but not with pity. “You never attempted to find your mother?”

Roslyn snorted and shook her head. “I thought about it, for a while, but... She didn’t want me, and I wouldn’t know where to start, so why bother? I don’t even know where they met.” Or if it was a union of love, or a one-night tumble.

Lady Kirstena had hinted she was an elven whore or tavern wench, to dump her on his doorstep without a backward glance. But Roslyn hadn’t trust the woman who had put her to work as a servant the moment she learned of her existence. So she’d put it out of her mind, letting the fantasy of whoever her mother was sustain her while she worked in the Trevelyan household. By the time she went to the Circle, she’d given up hope that her mother cared enough to find her.

“Have you ever met anyone like me? With slightly-pointed ears, I mean?”

He was knowledgeable about many strange things. He might know why she displayed elven traits when most half-elves looked entirely human. 

He lapsed into thought, holding her gaze all the while. “No, I haven’t met anyone like you.”

“Figured it was worth a shot,” she managed, throat tight. He had the most intense gaze, as if he were trying to see inside her head, as if understanding her was the most important thing in the world. 

She turned back to the sky, chewing on her bottom lip as she tried to ignore the heat crawling up her spine. Spending so much time with him the past few weeks had given her glimpses, faint hints of who he was—kind, distant, a bit pompous, but bright and curious. A mystery.

But sitting with him in the silence of dawn, talking about her childhood, something intimate and fragile had unfurled in her chest. Something she hadn’t felt in a long time.  “Thank you."

“For what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I attacked you the first time we met and you don’t seem to mind in the slightest. You’ve saved my life at least twice. You’re helping me to figure out whatever the fuck this thing on my hand is and what it means for my magic. You also made what might have been a lonely hour in the cold enjoyable.” She winked. “And educational.”

He was silent as something shifted in his eyes.

She leaned in and whispered, “This is the part where you say, ‘you’re welcome.’ ” She arched her brow and leaned back as his mouth twitched in the hint of a smile. “Proper manners not on the assigned reading list, hmm? These spirits don’t sound like well-rounded teachers.”

Solas chuckled, the sound building in his throat and coming out as a startled rumble and ending with a small snort as he shook his head.

Oh, she thought, heat rising in her cheeks, well that’s delightful.

“No, I don’t recall much of an emphasis on manners and civility from my teachings in the Fade. At least not any you might learn from the Chantry.”

“You’re practically feral.” What a stupid, incongruous laugh…

His smile still lingered and his eyes narrowed as they took in her expression. He opened his mouth to speak, but a soft curse behind them made him pause.

Boots scraped across stone and ruffled the little bushes cluttering the path up to the cliff-face as the Seeker emerged from the semi-darkness. Her tense expression faltered when she caught sight of the pair of them.  “I—apologize for interrupting,” she said, awkwardly.

Roslyn's brow lifted, frustration breaking her good mood. “Something you needed, Seeker?”

She blinked once before she regained her composure. Her face relaxed into its usual hard-edged countenance. “One of the scouts told me you had wandered off alone.”

“I didn’t realize I couldn’t leave camp without permission.” The idea that the woman was keeping an eye on her made her feel like she was back in the Circle, templars hovering at the corners of her vision, always watching and waiting for her guard to slip. “I didn’t even put on my shoes. I wouldn’t have gotten far if I was determined to run.”

“You do not need my permission,” the Seeker said slowly. “Nor do I think you were fleeing into the night. However, as it is my responsibility to keep you out of harm’s way until you meet with Mother Giselle, I would appreciate some warning before you decide to take a nighttime stroll.”

The first rays of orange light slanted across the valley, and Roslyn fought the urge to scream. A prisoner with a longer chain, she thought, clenching her jaw and trying to keep her frustration from showing.

“Apologies, Seeker Pentaghast.” She shifted and rose to her feet. “I’ll endeavor to correct my behavior in the future.”

The woman nodded and left, eyes flicking between Roslyn and Solas with barely-concealed interest.

Roslyn watched her walk back down the hill without comment before she glanced down and met Solas’ eyes, hard understanding in his expression.

“I am surprised you surrendered so easily.” Solas paused as she offered to help him stand. His mouth twitched into a grin and he took her hand, rising to his feet. “You were not so accommodating in the Temple of Sacred Ashes.”

“Is that what you think I did? I was a necessary burden in the temple. I had leverage over her, but here, in the middle of fucking nowhere surrounded by Inquisition soldiers.” The smile fell off her face. “I know when to pick my fights. Most of the time, anyway.”

Solas laughed softly. “How shrewd.”

“Once more, please, and try not to sound so surprised.”

Solas’ mouth twitched, but he inclined his head and released her hand, watching her out of the corner of his eyes.  “Thank you for the conversation, Roslyn."  She knew she was imagining it, but the way he drew out her name sounded intentional.  “It was—not what I expected.”

Roslyn tried to hide her grin. Odd, odd man. She held his gaze, both of them stopping before the little opening in the bushes that would lead them back to camp.  The glow of his eyes was only a faint shine now, making the deep blue all the more vibrant in the early-morning light. 

“My pleasure, then,” she murmured, eyes glancing along his freckled cheeks, tracing the curve of his lips.  A bemused smile lingered on her lips as she picked her way down the incline to camp.

Chapter Text

The man’s blood splattered across Roslyn’s face as he screamed.

She ducked as a shard of ice flew past her ear and shattered into the building behind her, the last conscious spell the mage made before he turned. He was almost fully an abomination now, his face purpling and pulsing, panicked cries giving way to something darker and more twisted that howled from the depths of his throat.

Her mark sparked as she sent a wave of force to knock him off his feet. Circling her hands in an arc, she thudded an arcane bolt into his chest. The bones broke sickeningly as he jerked back. She picked up a discarded plank of broken wood and wrapped a thread of arcane energy around it, hurling it forward and impaling itself into his shoulder. The mage continued to twitch on the ground, the last remnants of life sliding out of eyes that still bore vestiges of the man it had been only moments before.

She took a few ragged breaths, wiping blood from her face, while trying to look anywhere except at the disfigured thing in front of her.

Roslyn had seen abominations before. Two of her Circle had turned when the templars attacked them, becoming creatures of pulsing flesh and howling rage. Their twisted forms had haunted her mind for the past three years, bursting through stone walls and gleaming in the dark light of flames as her Circle fell around her.

They made no sense in this place of grass and blue sky and swaying trees.

The villagers around her wept on the sidelines, some huddled in the charred remains of their homes or knelt behind whatever cover they’d found in the scramble to get away from the fighting. Others wandered aimlessly around the edges of town, staring at the carnage with blank, lifeless eyes.

She swallowed a hard lump in her throat as she turned away from the abomination. She’d never been forced to kill a mage before. She’d killed templars, even the stray bandit who’d thought to prey on their party while scouting from Andoral’s Reach, but never another mage.

He had been terrified to see the Inquisition. He’d even left his fight with a templar to attack her as soon as he recognized her mark. Even when he knew that the Inquisition forces were going to overwhelm him, he fought. She’d tried to call out to him, to all the mages, to explain, but they wouldn’t listen. And now they were dead.

Pointless, she thought as she closed her eyes, trying not to remember the fear in his voice as he’d screamed at her. Fucking pointless.

Roslyn’s attention was drawn by a woman who edged out of the shadows of the house in front of her, if it could still be called a house. The walls were broken and charred, the roof caving in over the crushed furniture. Her face was covered in ash and tears ran down her cheeks, carving pale lines into her skin. A child in a similar state clung to her legs, staring at Roslyn with wide, red-rimmed eyes.

“Thank you, Herald,” the woman sobbed, her face a mask of anguish. “I thought that vile apostate was going to kill us. You saved us. Thank you.”

“Remain hidden until we stop the last of the fighting. Someone will come find you.” She turned around, unable to look at the woman and her child any longer. Her heart screamed inside her throat and she tried not to let the panic show on her face as she picked her way through the wreckage toward the center of town.

Mages did this, she thought, the woman’s gratitude working through her mind like poison. Mages and templars.

It was one thing to sit in Andoral’s Reach and talk about the future and freedom—quite another to see their struggle laid bare before her feet.

She caught sight of Solas crouching in front of a small group of people, healing a child with a broken leg. He finished and looked up toward where she assumed the child's parents stood, saying something that made their faces relax. His hands were covered in blood.

He turned in her direction as the crying parents knelt beside their son, and caught her gaze. She sent him a small, pained smile, which he seemed to consider, before inclining his head.

He’d tried to call out to the mages as well, when the fighting began. In that utter confusion, she’d been so damn grateful that someone else could see how insane this was.

Inquisition soldiers were huddled around a man lying on the ground in the center of the Crossroads. His shining silver armor was dented and covered in dirt and blood, but she could still make out the downturned sword in flames engraved on his breastplate.

“Herald,” the Seeker called, sheathing her sword and walking toward her. Behind her, Roslyn could see the bodies of two more templars. “Were you able to subdue the mage?”

“He turned into an abomination before I could stop him.”

The Seeker nodded, her expression tight.

When they’d found the Crossroads in a state of chaos, their first goal had been to stop the fighting and negotiate some kind of peace. But in the time it took for them to realize that peace was not an option, they’d already lost three of their men to the templars. Roslyn had hoped the mages would see reason, would be able to stop and listen to her, but they too were blind in their panic. After an hour of confused fighting, they were left with no survivors and a total of five Inquisition soldiers dead.

Scout Harding strode over to her with an almost bouncing gait. Her freckled cheeks were covered in ash and her newly granted Inquisition armor was dented, the tightly braided bun at the back of her head slumping somewhat as pieces of golden brown hair fell across her open face. The dwarf stopped before Roslyn, holding out a tattered and water-soaked piece of paper.

Roslyn took it, nodding down at her. She spotted a large smear of blood on the dwarf’s neck and wondered what poor soul had met the sharp end of her dagger.

She read the note quickly, her mouth twisting in disgust. “Looks like their boss was recruiting. 'We will wage our war from our stronghold, Fort Connor, until no mage draws breath and the world is cleansed.' Looks like it’s some Knight Commander Randall that’s leading them.”

“Randall?" The Seeker frowned. "I’ve heard of him. From Markham, I believe.”

“Fort Connor, huh?” Scout Harding's eyes narrowed as she stared at the paper clutched in Roslyn’s hand. “As far as I know it’s a ruin. Don’t think you could fit more than a hundred templars in there even if you packed them tight. My guess is this knight commander stays there while the little ones scout around. I’ve seen their camps along the West Road. Plenty of old and abandoned buildings to shelter in.”

“Thank you, Harding,” the Seeker said.

Harding shot her a beaming smile and returned to her task of searching the bodies.

“We need to do something about this,” Roslyn murmured, watching the dwarf as she worked.

The Seeker nodded. “Strip them of weapons, armor, and any valuables, then burn the bodies. We can bury their bones in the hills to the north.”

Roslyn swallowed back bile as it rose up her throat. She’d seen death on this level only twice in her life, though it made no sense in the open air and whistling trees of the Crossroads. Blood and fear were meant to be housed in thick stone walls and twisted rubble, not rolling hills covered in wildflowers.

“We should give what we can to the villagers,” Roslyn looked out at the ruined town that had once been a booming center of trade. Now it looked more like the Temple of Sacred Ashes. No petrified corpses here, though, she thought. “They deserve that much.”

The Seeker nodded, but she continued to stare at Roslyn. “Are you all right? I thought you would be used to this.”

“Just because I watched half my Circle die to escape the templars, it doesn’t mean I’m used to it.”

The Seeker didn’t say anything as she walked away.

She caught sight of Varric on the other side of the Crossroads. He was helping the Inquisition soldiers move the bodies of the dead into a pile. Some of the villagers had joined them, those that weren’t afraid to come out of hiding. Roslyn hurried over to help, trying not to think too hard about what she was doing as she pulled bodies out of the road and piled them together.

It took the rest of the day to stack and burn the bodies.

They worked for three days to dispose of the remains and clear out the rubble of the houses that had been destroyed in the fighting. The Inquisition did its best to outfit the villagers and refugees with what supplies they had brought with them, but it was clear they were going to run out before every person was clothed and warm, let alone fed.

After a week, word had spread of the Inquisition’s presence, no doubt by the villagers whose lives they had saved, and refugees started pouring in from around the countryside. It seemed every poor farmer and miller in Ferelden came to the Crossroads, desperate for aid as their lands had been torn apart either by demons or fighting between the mages and templars. The Inquisition’s scouts reported six rifts within the surrounding hills alone, with no accounting for the mostly unpopulated territory beyond the farmlands.

The meeting with Mother Giselle went well, even if Roslyn had been less than excited by the prospect of traveling to Val Royeaux to address the Assembly of Clerics directly. The old woman seemed to think it would make them trust her, as if meeting her in person would somehow disprove their fears that she was some maleficar out to kill them all.

Roslyn wasn’t so sure.

The nagging thought in her mind, plaguing her for the past week, was the disappearance of the mages. While the templars seemed to welcome an attack, going so far as to antagonize their scouts, the mages had been silent after the initial fighting. Distracted by the flood of refugees and the need for more supplies, the Inquisition’s scouts had been unable to find the location of the mage stronghold. They didn’t even know if there was a central figure organizing the small band of apostates, or if they were at all connected to the Rebellion.

As the days dragged on and their supplies dwindled, the task of finding food and blankets became more important than searching for the mages. With their supply lines cut off by bandits to the east and the templars heavily guarding the road to the western farmlands, they were running out of options. Many of the soldiers who were supposed to be patrolling their borders and looking for signs of the mages were reassigned to hunt for game to feed the hungry villagers.

Roslyn spent nearly all of her time traipsing up and down the hills and cliffs, hunting for food and scavenging for any supplies left in the wake of the refugees or the combatants who had forced them from their homes. She tried to focus on the task of rebuilding the Crossroads, but it was hard to forget that the longer she spent working for the Inquisition, the more people who saw her and thanked her and named her Herald, the harder it would be for the Rebellion to accept her when she returned.

 


 

Roslyn slumped into a bench on the second tier of the Crossroads and propped her elbows on the table in front of her. She nearly laid her head down right then, content to simply drift off to sleep in the midday sun. She had spent the entire morning chasing rams in and out of Dwarfson’s Pass with little to show for it. After blowing up three of them with her magic in frustration when she’d proven that she was unable to shoot a bow and arrow even if her life depended on it, she’d left Harding and Varric to their own devices.

She shrugged off her jacket and threw it onto the table, stretching out her limbs and trying to ignore everyone’s curious stares. If anything, it was worse than it had been in Haven. She’d taken to wandering off on her own just to get away from the constant scrutiny. Even the Seeker had relented on her continual surveillance. Perhaps she had noticed the hard set of Roslyn’s mouth that had grown more severe with each passing day, or the way she struggled not to flinch every time someone used her title.

Roslyn rolled out her shoulders, closing her eyes. If she could just sleep, maybe it wouldn’t be wearing on her so much.

Every night since the red-eyed creature had disturbed her dreams had been the same—eerily empty. She never would have thought that she’d miss the constant attention of demons, but the stillness and silence was worse. She’d awoken every morning after a fitful, restless sleep, half-expecting the thing to be crouched over her bedroll and leering at her. But there had been nothing. No demons. No shadow creatures.

It was driving her mad.

Her left hand prickled and she opened her eyes, staring down at the faint shimmer of green over her palm. She flexed her hand a few times, trying to shake the ever-present itch that hummed along her fingers. She didn’t know if it had gotten easier to cast or if she was just getting used to the increased chaos in her magic, but she was still having trouble controlling the damn thing. When fighting against demons or the rifts that littered the countryside, it was fine. It somehow recognized the magic and worked with her when she was within range of the rifts themselves. Everything else… Well, she thought it was lucky she hadn’t blown anything up beside a few rams.

“Would you mind if I join you?”

Roslyn started, looking up in surprise to see Solas watching her. He held a bundle of herbs in his arms and a clean strip of linen draped over his shoulder.

They hadn’t seen each other for a few days. Solas had been required in the great hall to see to the injured refugees pouring into the Crossroads, and as such, he had been largely absent from the endless trekking through the forests and hills.

When she didn’t answer right away, his brow arched.

“Ah—yes, sorry.” She grabbed her dirt-stained jacket and dropping it onto the bench to clear the table. “Of course you can.”

He studied her face as he moved forward. “Thank you. The great hall seems to be full at the moment, and my usual workplaces have been taken.”

Roslyn exhaled, trying to relax as he took a seat opposite her. “If we keep getting more refugees, we’re going to need to start expanding the village.” She tried to smile. “We’re already packed as it is, and I don’t fancy bunking with the Seeker.”

Solas held her gaze, apparently not falling for the forced humor. “The extent of the destruction to the region is troubling. I had not thought the fighting would spread far beyond the central conflict, but it seems that no one is sheltered from the chaos.”

The chaos that stemmed from the Mage-Templar war. From the mages’ fight for freedom. How the fuck was she supposed to be helping these people when she couldn’t even help her own?

She chewed on the inside of her bottom lip, her mind a thousand miles away, as if she might be able to find the rebel mages if she just thought hard enough.

“I can find another place to work, Roslyn.”

Her spine did its customary shudder when he said her name. “Please don’t. I’m—” Her voice broke slightly. “I haven’t been sleeping well and I’m afraid I’m just not good company right now.”

He glanced down to her hands, which she hadn’t realized were clenched and sitting on the table. “Is the mark troubling you?”

“Not exactly.” She slid them off the table and folded them on her lap. “Well, yes, but no more than it always does.” She jerked her chin toward the plants, now recognizing some of it as elfroot. “Is that for healing potions?”

To her great relief, he seemed to acknowledge her desire to change the topic. “Luckily, elfroot can be found in abundance in these hills. Some of the scouts have even harvested what appears to be the rarer form of its common cousin, royal elfroot. I believe if we can stock the villagers with enough poultices and teach them how to mix a few of the simpler varieties themselves, they should be better equipped in the future should the worst occur.”

“It’s much bigger than I’m used to.” She reached up and fingered one of the leaves, nearly three times the size she’d seen in and around the Blasted Hills and on her long trek from Ostwick to Cumberland. “I keep hearing the soldiers brag about how everything’s bigger in Ferelden. Maybe they’re right.”

Solas arched one brow, the corner of his mouth tugging into a half-smile. “I would advise them to visit their forests before proclaiming any ownership of size.”

“Oh? I would have thought the open air and sunlight good for plants.”

“It is. However, one cannot deny that the proliferation of nutrients and energy in a forest effects the plants that reside within it. Especially if such forests are also home to magical energies from their inhabitants, as they so often are.” He began to peel the leaves off one plant, setting aside the clean stem and continuing on another.

“You’re serious? Forests hold magical energy?”

“Forests have always held an aura of the untamed about them and long been the subject of folklore and myth, just as any part of the natural world untouched by civilization. That kind of fascination can lead to spirits residing within, effecting the magical make-up of the landscape itself. Given enough time left to its own devices, any forest can take on a life, or a will of its own. Why do you think the great forests of Thedas carry such a mysterious reputation?”

“I always thought it was because most people died or got lost when they wandered off on their own.”

He chuckled. “It is true that any wilderness draws fools who seek to tame it, but forests have a distinct advantage over the wastelands or deserts at the fringes of the known world. The network of trees forms a kind of consciousness itself, thereby increasing the level of magical energy within its borders.”

“What do you mean?”

“Think of the forest as a mind, the roots of the trees its connections. Memory, emotion, thought—all can travel along the roots to inform other parts of the forest. Spirits in this case act as emissaries of the Veil where it hangs over the trees and plants, imbuing them with a kind of sentience.”

She stared at him, trying to wrap her mind around the idea. “So, when people say that forests are alive…” Absently, she reached forward for a sprig of elfroot, following Solas’ lead as he separated leaf from stem.

“They are not merely speaking in poetics.”

Roslyn hummed in thought. “That’s like your theory on the Fade, right? Except, instead of people’s collective impressions, it’s the plants—and the spirits?”

Solas considered her. “Similar in theory, yes.”

“And the less contact with people these forests have, the more magical energy they contain?”

“In my experience.” He paused, brow furrowing in thought. “Though, I admit, I have not visited every forest, and cannot claim that they all act in a similar fashion.”

She grinned, leaning forward to grab another handful of herbs. “So, the wilder and more magical the conditions, the larger the elfroot?”

He tilted his head, a pointed smile pulling at his lips that made her heart race. “If that were the conclusion you came to, I would not argue.”

“I bet you wouldn’t.” Cheeky, she thought as she grabbed another plant.

So he could tell when she was flirting. It hadn’t been entirely clear whether her fumbling attempts had been noticed the past few weeks. He certainly stared at her a lot, but that wasn’t a marker of interest so much as confusion. She couldn’t tell when those intense blue-grey eyes were studying her because of something strange she said or if it was for other, more… pleasant reasons.

Everyone stares at you now, she told herself, trying not to let the idea take hold. And it wasn’t a good thing if he were interested. She had a feeling that any relationship with him, if he was even open to one, which she guessed decidedly not based on his reaction to her asking where he was from, would be anything but simple.

Simple was the only thing she could do. The only thing she should do.

She looked back up to find him watching her with a small smile. Damn it, she thought as her chest flushed slightly. “Why would the presence of people lessen the amount of magical energy in an area? I would think the opposite, since people are the ones who can connect to the Fade. Some of them, anyway.”

“You think people are the only beings who draw from the Fade?”

She opened her mouth to respond, but paused, realizing that spirits also drew from the Fade. Or were made of the Fade, at least. If spirits, as simple constructs of the Fade, could interact with it, then it made sense that any life could be affected by it. Even non-mages could be affected by magic, even if they couldn’t wield it themselves.

“I read once that some magics, if left dormant for long amounts of time, can start to act of their own volition.” She frowned, remembering the senior enchanter who had scolded her for reading outside her assigned material and interrupting his class with the off-topic question. “If enough magic was released or became ambient in a forest, then could the plants somehow absorb it? And the longer it was left to its own devices, without any interference by people, the more saturated it would become?”

“That is what I believe. You have not spent much time in forests, then?”

“Not really, no. I spent a few nights at the edge of the Planasene before I crossed the Waking Sea to get to the Conclave, but until my Circle fell, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to explore on my own.”

“And you had no desire before your magic surfaced?”

She looked down at the elfroot in her hands. “I think I lived near one with the nursemaid who raised me until my father's death, but I can't remember much. And after that, no.” That would have required Lady Kirstena to allow her late husband’s illegitimate child to leave the confines of her estate, where she might run into anyone looking for something to undermine the Lady Chancellor’s rule. And we couldn’t have that, she thought with a frown.

“Did you spend a lot of time in forests?” She didn't look up, giving herself time to relax the hard look she knew was in her eyes. “Up north?”

“Yes,” he said after a brief pause.

When he didn’t continue, she looked up to see him focused on his task, seemingly content with his answer.

She watched him for a time, letting the silence settle between them. He had abandoned his green coat and staff, wearing nothing more than a simple woolen sweater left undone at the collar. The bone pendant still hung around his neck. Not for the first time, she wondered what animal it belonged to. His fingers were stained green from the herbs and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. He looked almost relaxed without his shoulders held taut and his hands folded behind his back. Long lashes nearly brushed his cheeks, and he seemed to be pursing his lips as he worked. The midday sun made the freckles across the bridge of his nose and cheeks stand out against his pale skin.

Maker, he’s beautiful.

The thought came so quickly she had to force herself not to react. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t noticed he was handsome before. It was hard not to, honestly. But he looked so… vulnerable, seated across from her, working with his hands to help the people of Ferelden of his own volition, so they would be all right when he left.

He must have sensed her stare, for he looked up with a curious expression.

“Thank you for sitting with me,” she murmured. “That’s twice now you’ve found me when I was about to explode and calmed me down.”

He paused in his work and registered the slight shake in her voice. His expression shifted, the faintest hint of sympathy touching his eyes. “I can understand the pressure you are under. You were given the mantle of savior and thrust into a holy war you didn’t start. Most people would find themselves struggling to remain apart from that burden, or indeed to remain whole at all.” He seemed to consider his words. “If my presence offers some solace, then I am glad.”

She watched him, trying to understand the hesitation in his tone. “Really? You don’t seem thrilled by anyone’s presence, let alone mine.”

His expression tightened. “I… have been alone for a long time. I am not accustomed to anyone else’s company but my own. It has been more difficult than I imagined to readjust.”

So that’s why he’s so reluctant to share more of himself. It made sense now why he seemed so closed off at times. She remembered the first few months of life at the Circle. After years of isolation, seeing only a few servants who were forbidden from talking to her unless absolutely necessary, or her father’s family, who were content to ignore her—most of them, anyway—it had been beyond uncomfortable to suddenly interact with anyone, let alone people her own age, and mages, on top of that.

Roslyn didn’t know why she did it, but the urge to reach for his hand overwhelmed her. She held his gaze when he stiffened, sliding her own green-tinged fingers into his and squeezing softly. The rough calluses along the pads of his fingers felt oddly fragile as they met her own. “I appreciate you making the effort, Solas. More than you know.”

He seemed to be paralyzed, staring down at her hand where it rested on his. He didn’t return her squeeze, nor did she expect him to, but it was enough that he didn’t pull away. Between them seemed to stretch a kind of tether, a momentary recognition of comfort. She wanted to say something else, but her mind kept running along the curve of his palm, the soft disbelief in his eyes.

The clanging of the midday bell broke the small silence, and she withdrew her hand. The places where she had touched him hummed with an energy not at all related to her mark.

Her heart thudded against her sternum as she tried to look like he hadn’t effected her so thoroughly. She forced herself not to fiddle with her hair, returning to the task of preparing the elfroot. More than once, she felt his eyes on her face as they worked for another half-hour in relative silence.

She didn’t want to address the growing discomfort in the back of her mind. It would be too easy to scare herself off with fears of straying down a road she’d promised herself never again to walk.

It wouldn’t be fair to him, either. She had no intention of staying with the Inquisition past closing the Breach, and she guessed that he would leave soon after as well. They’d likely never see each other again.

Despite all reason and logic, knowing that it would be unfair to expect anything more than this, the idea that she only had a few months to spend with him, if she were lucky, sagged into the bottom of her stomach like an anchor.

Chapter Text

With no help from the local banns or the Arl of Redcliffe, and no promise of help to feed the refugees of the Crossroads, the Inquisition decided to take matters into their own hands.

The villagers and refugees needed food, and the farmers might be willing to trade with them directly if the Inquisition could reach them and guarantee them safe passage. The templars were the only thing stopping them from traveling the West Road, so Roslyn and the Seeker decided to get rid of the templars. 

Harding suggested they approach Fort Connor, nestled in the hills above the West Road, from the south so as to limit their exposure to any scouts watching the Crossroads. It meant slogging through a shallow river, but they would lose fewer men. She also suggested they attack by night, positive she could lead them safely through the darkness.

Leaving the bulk of their forces to guard the refugees at the Crossroads, the Seeker chose thirty of their best soldiers to come, along with Roslyn, Varric, and Solas.

Harding led them up into the hills, snaking along gullies and scrambling through underbrush. Most of the paths the dwarf took were so obscured Roslyn was half-convinced she could have no way of knowing they were there unless she had carved them. Intermittent clouds obscured the light of the moon and added to their cover, though it made for slow going.

Two hours into their trek, Roslyn felt someone fall into step beside her as they entered the river.

“Something is troubling you,” Solas murmured, his bare feet silent under the slosh of her boots.

Again, their responsibilities had kept them apart the past week, though she had made a point of walking by the great hall a few times to peek in. She’d even entered twice, swallowing her anxiety when she saw all the injured people packed into such a small space. It reminded her too much of the Circle, tugging at strings she kept trying to bury.

She grinned. “I was starting to like these boots and now they’re ruined. I thought it was strange you don’t wear shoes, but I understand now. You don’t get attached that way.” The reflective glow of his eyes was bright in the overcast darkness as they caught a shaft of moonlight. “Has anyone ever told you the reflective eyes thing is unnerving?”

She couldn’t see his expression, but she imagined his brow lifting in amusement. “Your eyes may not be as potent, but they shine in the darkness just the same.”

“Yes, but I don’t have to look at my eyes.”

“A fair point.”

She listened to the collective sloshing of their trek through the river, amplified in the stillness of the night. “We’re about to slaughter a bunch of templars in their beds. The thought troubles me.”

“You didn’t have any problem killing templars in the Crossroads.”

Roslyn shot him a frustrated look, cold seeping into her feet as water saturated her boots. “Those templars attacked innocent people. We had to stop them. This feels like murder.”

“I was under the impression this was your idea.”

“It was,” she said slowly, “but that doesn’t mean I like killing unsuspecting men.”

“Not even templars?”

Roslyn frowned. “I don’t like punishing people before they’ve committed a crime. I know they’ve been hounding us, but we don’t know how many of them are fighting and how many have been dragged into a conflict they can’t control.” She paused, working through the tight knot in her chest. “I don’t hate individual men or women. I hate what they as templars represent. I thought you, of all people, could understand that.”

He hesitated, and murmured, “I do.”

She watched the ripples of the river catch the faint light as they ran around her legs. Her feelings surrounding this were... hard. She didn’t like trying to piece them out, as they all led back to her Circle’s fall, to that terrible night her life came crumbling down around her. “I’ve fought the templars for almost ten years. Some days I think it’s never going—”

She paused as the Seeker held up her hand. The men behind her froze and the rushing of water around them all quieted.

A large tower blocked out the feeble light of the mostly-concealed moon, rising nearly two hundred feet into the air, the jagged edges on the top evidence of its decay over the centuries.

Harding climbed out of the water and edged up the hill to a group of boulders. She paused, surveying the templar camp beyond. When she jogged back to the river, she barely made a sound. “They’ve got five men posted outside the fortress, though two of them are sleeping and one isn’t armored. Looks like I was right about their troops being scattered.”

The Seeker relayed the information to the rest of their soldiers, while Solas drew his staff.

“You don’t have to fight, Harding," Roslyn said, letting her aura rise. "You’ve done enough.”

She couldn’t see the dwarf’s face, but she could picture Harding’s stubborn chin and hard eyes. “These bastards have fucked with my home, your worship. As far as I’m concerned, they’re nugshit.”

Varric chuckled as he joined their group, Bianca ready. “A woman after my own heart.”

Roslyn moved forward, the rest of them falling into step behind her. She rounded the boulders at the top of the hill and caught sight of the men. Two played cards while another sat on a bench, poking the fire. The other two lay in blankets on the ground. The latter two were closest to the boulders. She approached slowly, hands outstretched in case they saw her. Three feet from the sleeping men, she rolled her ankle in a hole she hadn’t seen. Her sharp curse was enough to shatter the silence. The man poking the campfire looked up lazily, and froze.

Without thought, she sent a wave of telekinetic force straight into the man’s face, knocking him backward before he could so much as open his mouth.

The two men playing cards jerked away as he toppled into their makeshift table. Before they could do more than grunt in frustration, Varric shot one of them in the chest and Harding sent an arrow into the other’s left eye. All of them waited to see if the two sleeping men would wake, or if anyone from the fortress had heard them.

When they were in the clear, Varric grinned at her. “Glad to know you have some faults, Red.”

“I apologize for not being able to see in the dark,” she whispered, wincing as she set her ankle down and tested it.

Solas’ face was impassive except for a slight tug at the side of his mouth. “Would you like me to look at that?”

Roslyn set her jaw, moving past the pair and into the fortress.

Torches, long burned down to their embers, hung along the walls in rusted sconces. Light came from a strange red glow in the belly of the fortress. They paused at the entrance to an underground room, listening signs of movement, but the only thing she could hear was a faint, thrumming vibration.

“The magic,” she said, “it’s in the foundation of the fortress.”

Varric edged around her to stare at the red glow. “I think I know why.”

They walked further along the hallway, the Seeker taking the lead with her sword and shield ready.

When they reached the great hall they stopped dead. Arrayed out from the main steps were over fifty men and women sleeping in bedrolls or leaning against the sides of the underground room. Most looked unresponsive, while others shivered and twitched with no apparent cause.

Her eyes snapped to a pulsing red light along the far wall. Shards of red stone jutted out from the rock-face like a growth, covering the entire back wall and casting an intense red glow across the room. The thrumming of the stone sang to her—the same red stone in the wreckage of the Temple of Sacred Ashes.

Her mark sparked and flared against the stone’s influence, splintering the effect of the glow and shading the area around her hand with green shadow.

A large man rose from the lethargic group, looking for the green light. Dressed in fine clothes, he brandished his sword when he saw her and screamed, “Wake, men! The dogs of the Inquisition steal into our beds like rats!”

Twenty templars jerked to life, but the rest remained on the floor. Arrows flew at their party, thudding into the barrier Solas had conjured before entering the room.

Roslyn moved, vaulting over the railing and smashing two templars together with a wall of force before she hit the ground. She rolled to her feet, coming to a stop close to the man who had shouted—the knight commander, from the fine cut of his clothes. She dodged his sword as it came swinging down, clanging on the stone near her shoulder.

With a buffet of energy, she knocked him off his feet and prepared to cage him in arcane energy. As he fell, however, he threw his arm into the air. Her mark buzzed in her ear, and she had to force the distraction aside as a small sphere of blue fire rocketed toward her.

Cold, oppressive energy hit her like a wave, and she froze.

She watched the sphere fly through the air as if in slow motion, panic surging into her mind as the smite hit her square in the chest.

A wave of cold fire spread down her throat and flooded her veins. She froze in place as the world around her dulled, tongue heavy in her mouth, and swallowed against the dry lump in her throat. Her vision narrowed to a few feet in front of her and her hands fell to her side, too heavy and cumbersome to hold up. A faint ringing sounded in the back of her mind and she swore she heard someone call her name.

The knight commander bared down on her as he leapt back to his feet, and it was all she could do to dodge his sword as it swung toward her head.

Roslyn fell sideways to the floor, tipping over a weapons rack. It clanged on the ground and her hands throbbed dully as they slid over sharp metal. The templar lunged again and her brain whirred sluggishly to act. She rolled out of the way of his blade, but the edge of his shield came down hard on her thigh and she grunted in pain.

Scrambling over the fallen weapons, she found a pommel with blood-slick hands and swung the blade up. The vibrations from the clashing metal surged through her arms. Her muscles strained against the weight and her elbows sagged. 

But the impact was enough to shake her from her stupor, and her mind swam back to full consciousness. 

The memory of an old, grey-haired elf in cheap leather, shouting at her to block with her sword, not her arm, surfaced.

Gritting her teeth, she lurched up and forced the templar back, his eyes wide with surprise and fury as she met his blade. The world around her came back into sharp relief as her left hand tingled, pins pricking into her skin. The sharpness of the pain helped her to focus.

Screaming and shouting, metal clanging against metal, the stench of sweat and blood—it all rushed back to her in a dizzying wave of sensation. Her leg ached and her hands were cut. Blood dripped down the sword, but she held it tight, blinking against the color of the red stone as it saturated her vision.

She arced her sword down toward the knight commander, who managed to parry her blow. It’d been awhile since she’d fought with a blade, but she fell easily enough into the movements she’d spent years practicing, hyper-aware of the burn of her muscles and the awkward way her arms moved. She stepped inside his reach, pressing her back against his chest and shoving her elbow up into his chin.

She felt the splinter of bone as the man staggered back, howling in pain. She reached around the man’s head to grab his hair in her free hand, her mark rioting as it surged back to life, and threw him to the floor in a shower of green sparks.

He only had time to gurgle against the stone before she pressed her blade against his neck.  “Call your men off.” The tip of the sword dug into his skin, drawing a trickle of blood to pool down his neck.

The sounds of fighting stopped. 

The man spluttered in response to her command, so she stomped her good foot down on his left hand. His shriek broke through the last of her mind’s fog.

“Call your men off, Knight Commander,” she repeated, trying not to focus on the pain throbbing in every limb, “or you lose your other hand.”

The man coughed, his shriek subsiding to a whimper. “Stop, please! Stand down."

The templars stared at her in shock and fear, but they didn’t move.

Roslyn raised her sparking left hand.

Immediately, those left in the fortress dropped their weapons, falling to the ground along with their swords.

“Somebody take this pitiful excuse for a man and chain him.” Her arms shook and she tried to move away from the fallen templar without limping.

As three of the Inquisition's soldiers rushed up to take the knight commander away, Solas moved to her side and said, “Are you all right?” He slid his staff onto his back, concern etched onto his face. His clothes were splattered with blood, but she couldn’t see any injuries on him. 

Roslyn didn’t answer, not sure if she could speak without screaming.

If she fell now, or allowed him to heal her, she would lose the tenuous control she held over the templars. For all they knew, she’d escaped the effects of the smite. It was lucky her mark had decided to blow off fireworks, or she might need to do something more dramatic. They didn’t need to know she couldn’t cast anything stronger than a weak breeze for the next few hours.

He caught her meaning and backed away, a disbelieving smile pulling at his eyes.

The Seeker walked over as she sheathed her sword, glancing between them with interest. “Herald, I did not know you had such skill with a blade.”

Roslyn gritted her teeth. “It’s been a long time.”

The Seeker’s expression tightened. “What’s wrong?”

“Smite—but keep it to yourself.” She stared pointedly at the templars who were still watching her.

The Seeker’s brow raised. “We shall move the prisoners to the entrance.”

Roslyn grimaced, trying to keep still so as to put as little weight as possible on her right leg.

After the majority of the templars were escorted outside and those who could not be roused dealt with, she slumped into Solas as the last of her willpower caved to the pain in her leg.

He caught her, as if prepared for her inevitable collapse, and guided her to a bench along the low wall. Setting her down on the stone bench, he kept his arms on her shoulders for safe measure.

She gasped as her leg brushed the stone, sending shockwaves of pain throbbing up her thigh. “Andraste’s tits,” she cursed, trying to shift her weight.

He knelt in front of her, fingers probing her thigh as healing magic bled out of them and into her skin. “Don’t let the men hear you take their lady’s name in vain. It would cause them all sorts of confusion.” His hands worked around her leg, moving slowly in circles. He didn’t press too hard, but she watched his fingers edge higher toward her hip, suppressing a thrill that had nothing to do with the pain of her injury.

Focus, damn it.

Varric, who had been glaring at the red stone along the far wall, looked over to her when she cursed. “Ouch, Red, what happened?”

Solas answered for her as she clenched her jaw against a groan. “The knight commander smote her.”

The dwarf whistled and winced in sympathy. “So, the sword thing wasn’t just you showing off?”

“Trust me, you’ll know when I’m showing off.” She nodded toward the red stone. “It’s the same as the stuff from the temple.”

Varric’s expression darkened. “Yeah, and that is really bad news for us. It makes sense why the templars were acting insane, though.”

“What do you mean?”

“We had this red lyrium back in Kirkwall. It’s what drove Meredith mad in the end. If it’s here… I think I need a word with the Seeker,” he muttered, frowning as he left.

Roslyn watched him go with unease. Varric wasn’t one to show much emotion beyond wry humor or mild frustration, except where the Seeker was concerned, of course. But with this red lyrium, he seemed afraid.

She winced as the soft trickle of Solas’ healing magic strengthened. Closing her eyes, she grabbed his shoulders for support as her leg trembled.

“Your muscle is bruised. I need to make sure there is no further internal damage, or you might develop a permanent limp.” There was a soft smile in his voice. “You are lucky the shield did not break bone.”

“You can shove my luck up my ass for all the good it’s done me.” Her arms shook as she eased back onto the bench. The smite still hung in the back of her mind, pressing cold talons into her temples and making every muscle in her body throb in pain. 

Solas reached up and lifted her hands from his shoulders. “I am impressed by how easily you were able to shake off the effects of the templar’s smite. Most would still be catatonic.”

Roslyn relaxed as her heart settled, his magic flowing gently into her hands, knitting her palms back together. He rubbed his fingers along her skin, the circular motion spreading his magic out in waves. He eased his aura into her with such finesse she could barely feel where his ended and hers began.

“It was the mark.” She opened her eyes before she could indulge too much in the sensation.

Solas tilted his head in consideration, a curious light in his eyes. “I think not. The mark is an amplification of your power, yes, but it is your will that wars against a templar’s smite, not your magic. If that were the case, blood magic would be immune to a templar’s powers.”

Her brow arched. “Are you saying I’m particularly willful?”

“You train your magic to your core, ‘claiming it,’ in your own words. I felt the draw toward the rifts in the temple. Standing in the center of such a pull and refusing its call? Most would not try to resist. And,” a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, as if the memory were sweet, “you are able to break lyrium-enhanced chains crafted specifically to trap and subdue mages. To act beyond your own magic and turn such an enchantment would require an immense amount of resolve.”

She listened to him speak with a growing tension at the base of her spine. It didn’t matter that she disagreed with him—the fact that he, of all people, thought she was something to marvel at sent pleasant shivers into her core. She leaned forward, straightening against the bench.

He continued massaging the palms of her hands, looking down. “Every bit of your character is forged to strengthen your will. You, more than anyone I have met in a long time, train solely to control your magic. Your indomitable focus is an enjoyable side benefit.”

Her heartbeat kicked into a sprint as she tried to read the hesitant expression on his face. “Indomitable focus?” 

“Presumably.” He placed her hands on her leg, but didn’t release them. His fingers curled gently, hesitantly around hers, his thumb tracing a slow line across the back of her right hand. “I have yet to see it dominated.” His voice shifted, growing softer, more expressive, as if he were having a hard time controlling his usual iron composure. “I imagine the sight would be… fascinating.”

Roslyn didn’t know if she imagined the look of longing in his downcast eyes, the pulsing warmth emanating from his hands as his pinky slipped along hers, but she clung to it all the same.

She didn’t trust herself to speak, only humming in response, a half-formed plea on her lips.

He looked up and held at what he found in her expression, eyes kindling—the last vestiges of detachment fleeing in the wake of unconstrained desire. Hesitantly, his gaze raked along her cheeks to rest on her lips with deliberate slowness. His grip tightened, and she took a shaky breath, lips parting.

Her pulse thudded between her legs, warmth spreading out from her stomach as she pitched forward into his storm-colored eyes.

Blessed Andraste…

Footsteps sounded behind them. In a blur of movement, Solas was up and feet from her, his face a mask of polite interest as the Seeker entered the room.

She paused in front of Roslyn, who hadn’t so much as moved. Her hands still hovered in the air above her thigh where he had left them.

“Are you all right?” the Seeker asked in concern.

The world to crashed back down around her and she blinked. “What?”

The Seeker frowned at Solas, who mirrored her innocent confusion. “Have you recovered from Randall’s smite?”

“Oh—yes.” Roslyn coughed, getting up with difficulty, her injured leg still sore. Solas avoided her gaze, and she fought to find her voice. “Right as rain.”

Had she just imagined the whole fucking thing?

“We’ve chained Randall in the cells above. I was just about to question him and I thought you would like to be there.” She stared at Roslyn with an odd expression, before leaving.

“I’ll examine this lyrium node,” Solas said, no trace of the desire that had blazed in his eyes only a moment ago. “Perhaps Master Tethras is correct and something in its nature drove the knight commander to madness.”

He turned away, and she was left to follow after the Seeker, feeling like she’d just been thrown into a cold river.

Chapter Text

The afternoon breeze ruffled the long grass growing in the ruin of Calenhad’s Foothold, peeking through the crumbled stone like long fingers reaching for sunlight. Bugs hummed as they darted in between blooming wildflowers, muting the noise of the Crossroads below. The sun sank low in the sky, filtering a soft reddish glow through the holes in the walls.

Roslyn leaned against the ruin’s entrance, savoring the last of the sunlight after a long day in the wilds. Wiping an apple on her shirt to rub off the wax, she regarded the seated figure, absorbed in a book, bare head bent over his tome in concentration.

Solas had elected to stay behind that day, claiming he had personal matters he needed to attend to outside the Crossroads. She’d seen little of him in the weeks following the attack on the templar base. He had agreed to accompany her on her initial expedition to close the rifts in the farmlands, but had left after only a few days.

Something had changed between them in the hall under Fort Connor, and it hadn’t been for the better.

“This is what you meant by personal matters?”

Solas looked up without surprise. “My apologies. I did not hear you approach.”

Roslyn grinned. “Liar.”

His shoulders had tensed as soon as she walked into the ruin, his chin dipping up as he read his book.

She walked toward him, glancing around at the ruined building. The crumbling tower walls rose around a stone dais covered in creeping vines, where in the center stood a massive tree, its canopy swaying in the soft breeze. It was beautiful, a monument to time nature slowly reclaimed year by year.

Solas closed his book, watching her. “The humans called this place Calenhad’s Foothold, after the man who founded Ferelden, though it has stood for longer than their country has held that name. Calenhad was the first to unite the Alamarri tribes.”

A large, well-preserved mural sat near the entrance. It depicted a graceful woman with large white antlers and flowing silver hair embraced by an emerald bear towering over her, roaring into the sky.

“Through sheer strength of arms taken from the blood of a dying high dragon.”

His eyes narrowed in amusement. “You know the legend?”

Adopting a scholarly tone that would have shamed her old teachers, she recited, “Gaining the allegiance of both the Circle of Magi and the Ash Warriors of the Brecilian Forest, Calenhad, clad in shining silver armor that repelled both arrow and blade, marched on the castle of Redcliffe. After taking the nigh-impregnable castle, a feat only two others have ever accomplished, he was crowned the first King of Ferelden. He was later betrayed and seduced by the great warrior Lady Shayna, his friend and champion, but refused to kill her in an act of mercy. This angered his father in law and queen, who pledged to see his legacy razed. With the threat of civil war, he abdicated his throne to his son, thus beginning the line of Theirin kings who still rule to this day. He then vanished into the wild, searching for his one-time friend and advisor, the famed wizard Aldenon, and was never seen again.”  She winked at him. “Contrary to popular belief, I did read while I was in the Circle.”

Solas leaned back, the hint of a grin on his lips. “A fanciful story to be sure.”

“I never understood why Lady Shayna would risk the security of her entire kingdom just to bed the man she loved. Damn selfish thing to do.”

“Perhaps she felt she had no other choice. Love can drive the best of us to act without thought for our own better interests.”

Roslyn frowned. “You always have a choice in what you do. Love isn’t an excuse.”

“I agree.” He studied her. “One’s base desires are something to be transcended, not absolved or explained.” His serious expression lifted as Roslyn came to a stop a few feet in front of him. “Did you interrupt my reading to debate human weakness?”

“No. I came to ask you why you’ve been avoiding me.”

“I am unaware I was doing so.”

“Really? I’ve barely seen you the past week. You were the one who offered to help me with the Vir Ghen’aran.”

“You are progressing quickly and have no more need of my guidance. I thought it best not to burden you with my interference.”

Burden?  “That would have been nice to hear from you.”

Solas’ expression hardened as he retreated behind cool eyes. “Do you did need reassurance of your skill?”

She studied him, the hard line of his mouth and the cool set of his eyes making her feel like a stranger.

You are a stranger.

“No.” Disappointment coloring her denial. It’s better this way, in the long run. “I just thought our friendship meant more to you than simple expediency.”

His expression tightened, but he didn’t answer.

Why does it matter if he’s avoiding you?

“Whatever favor you think you’re doing me by staying away,” she murmured over her shoulder as she turned, “know I don’t want or appreciate it.”

It was better if he decided to ignore her from now on. She had no claim to his attentions, no matter what the past month or so had told her. Her chest clenched in discomfort. It’s better.

She was nearly at the entrance to the ruined tower when he called out, “Roslyn, wait.”

A lurch of warmth went through her as he said her name.

He stood, walked toward her. “I apologize. I thought by staying away it might help your efforts at solidifying an alliance with the Chantry. Your,” he paused, the cleft in his chin darkening as he frowned, “friendship with me, an elven apostate, can only harm your image.”

An incredulous, frustrated smile flashed across her lips. “My image?” An attempt to protect her reputation was frustrating, and frankly demeaning, but much better than if he no longer wanted anything to do with her. “You think I care about my image?”

“Humans are not known for their magnanimous stance toward those outside their own race.”

The backs of her ears burned along the fine scars there at his implication. “I’m well aware of the wealth of human cruelty, Solas.”

His brow smoothed, understanding coloring his expression. “There might come a day when you need to obscure your non-human ties, to make things easier for you.”

“Whether or not that’s true, no more deciding whether or not it’s in my best interest to spend time with you. I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions and it’s insulting you would assume otherwise. If someone has a problem with the people I choose to surround myself with, I will deal with it.”

Solas inclined his head. “I will not make the mistake again.”

“Good. It’s in your best interest, really. Word is I’m incredibly willful. I’d hate for you to get on my bad side.”

His gaze locked with hers, the reference to the night under Fort Connor understood. “I suspect it would not go well for me if I did.”

“You suspect correctly.”

Roslyn shifted her weight to calm the tension in her body. “Are you interested in finding something to eat with me? I grabbed this apple on my way here, but traipsing around in the mud all day has made me ravenous. I’m curious to see if Varric’s cooking has improved at all since his last attempt.”

Solas shook his head with a small smile. “I must decline. I did come here for a reason, and I would like to finish my book.”

She cocked an eyebrow as she watched him retreat behind his cool facade once more. “Must be an interesting book.”

Now that she knew he didn't regret the moment between them under Fort Conner, she might as well pay him back for it. He wasn’t the only one who could play that game.

Bringing the apple up to her mouth, she took a bite, slowly chewing. She walked toward him, running her thumb along the corner of her lips to catch a bit of juice before it could fall down her chin.  His eyes widened and his mouth pressed into a hard line as he watched her lips move. His shoulders tensed, and she noticed that his chest rose sharply as she walked forward.  She finished her bite, licked the rest of the juice from her lips, marked the way his eyes followed the movement of her tongue.

He stood so still he could have stopped breathing as she pressed the apple into his palm, curling her fingers around his, closing his hand. Tilting her head up to the side, she found his eyes locked on hers, intent and entirely focused. That fragile something uncurled at the base of her spine, sparks dancing in the base of her stomach like moths drawn to the light of his eyes.

“Wouldn’t want you to starve up here all by yourself,” she murmured.

His shallow breath warmed her face, and she fought the urge to press forward and kiss him. He pulled at her, something bright and strained in his eyes, something he seemed desperate to hide.  When she stepped back, his hand was still clenched around the apple. A smile tugged at her lips as she climbed over the rubble of the tower.

Outside the tower and beyond the range of whatever magnetic thread stirred to life in his presence, unease crawled into her mind. What was she playing at? It was one thing to joke and tease. To flirt with a handsome, mysterious stranger who ran hot and cold, made her feel like the only person in the world when he stared at her.

But the feeling when their eyes locked was not idle flirtation. It was… dangerous. Something she’d sworn never to indulge in again. 

This is not simple, she thought at the wealth of craving that flooded her mind despite her best efforts.

She imagined the way his fingers might curl around her chin, callused and gentle, his dark eyes holding hers as his mouth pressed against her lips, teased her open, the taste of his mouth as she bent him down toward her—

It was one thing to imagine, quite another to act on it.

 


  

The following day, Solas made good on his promise.

He joined Roslyn as she finished her practice, moving through the last position with a grunt and releasing her magic into the air. She relaxed and swung her arms over her head, stretching as she watched him walk toward her.

“Morning” she called, bending down to grab her towel and water-skin. 

“Good morning.” Solas leaned on his staff as she straightened to face him. “Your form is improving. Though you are flourishing unnecessarily when you finish. It is ostentatious and a waste of your energy.”

She brushed away the curls of hair clinging to her sweaty temples and shot him a wide smile. “It’s not a waste if it makes me look impressive.”

Solas’ eyes sparked with mirth. “I suppose I should have expected no less from a woman who enjoys cartwheeling in the air.”

“Now that’s just fun.”

“Indeed. I am curious, do you have plans today?”

“I’m not sure. There’s one more rift we know of, but it’s in Hafter’s Woods, which is currently swarming with bandits. We can’t get through until we do something about the mercenaries…”

And there was still no sign of the mages, a constant worry on her mind. Some of the more progressive Inquisition scouts had kept their eyes peeled for news, to no avail. With no leads, they could do nothing but wait, or accept that the mages had fled from the Inquisition and vanished for good.

Solas watched her, a curiously tight expression on his face. “Can I take your silence to mean you have no obligations?”

“I would have to check with the Seeker, but I don’t think so, no.”

“Is Cassandra so insistent on your presence at all times that you must receive her blessing before you make your own plans?”

“No, but it does make things easier.” She crossed her arms, interested. “Why do you ask?”

“The business that has kept me away the past few weeks, I came across an intriguing energy in the Fade. I know from my research that the ancient elves may have set up wards throughout the area to strengthen the Veil. If this energy belongs to such an artifact, it might be valuable to seek it out.” He paused, a faint excitement in his eyes as he said, “I wondered if you might come with me.”

“An artifact to strengthen the Veil? I’ve never heard of something like that.”

“I am not surprised. The ancient elves weaved magics far subtler than your Circle teaches.”

She fought a scowl. Always eager to point out when my education in the Circle is lacking.

But something forced about his tone gave her pause. “And you just stumbled across mention of it in the Fade? An ancient elf murmured its exact location in his sleep a thousand years ago?”

“Traces of ancient learning are scattered across the Fade for any to find. Is it so strange I might seek them out?”

“I suppose not,” she said slowly, studying his face. He seemed more insistent than usual. “I’ll get cleaned up and ask the Seeker if she needs me,” she said, a grin spreading across her face. “I know she and Varric will be thrilled to go searching through the countryside for ancient elven artifacts.”

“Actually, I would prefer to go with you alone. I might be wrong about this artifact, however unlikely, and I think our companions would be less than understanding were that the case.”

Roslyn’s grin faded and her stomach flipped as she realized what he asked. “You want to go alone? With me, I mean?”

His brow arched. “Is that a problem?”

A thrill lanced through her spine at the challenge in his eyes. “Of course not.”

“Take your time.” He backed away with a smile in his eyes. “I will await you inside the arch on the East Road.”

She waited, watching him walk away as she tried not to grin like an idiot, and made for her tent, changing out of her sweat-stained practice clothes and swapping them for her leather armor and boots. Finding the Seeker swinging her sword at a practice dummy as if the straw man had blasphemed against the Maker himself, Roslyn told her she was taking her leave of the town for the day, and not to expect her back before the evening meal. Whether she was too intent on her practice or she truly didn’t care, the Seeker waved her away without argument.

That nagging misgiving pulled at her excitement again, but she shoved it aside. It was just a walk through the hills. Alone. Nothing suspect about him asking her for help.

As she approached the edge of town, she caught sight of him leaning against an incomplete arch marking the East Road. She traced the fluid line of his body as he straightened. 

“The Seeker was generous, I see.”

“Not without immeasurable coercion on my part.” She grinned, heat sparking in her chest as she met his grin. “It took every ounce of cunning I possess to persuade her. You owe me for this, Solas.”

“I shall think of a way to repay your effort.”

“So,” her eyes focused on the small smirk playing on his lips, “where is this artifact? Wait—let me guess, it’s in some sort of cave?”

The amount of caves with strange artifacts and forgotten treasures within a day’s journey of the Crossroads was astounding.

“More likely a ruin. Though it might be underground. We will not know until we find it.”

They fell into step beside each other, walking at a slow pace.

“How far is it, do you think?” she asked, relishing the late-morning sun.

“No more than an hour’s walk.”

“And you felt its presence in the Fade?”

“I have spent years studying the legacy of my people, attuning my senses to the familiar aura they left behind in their material creations. The Fade reflects our own preoccupations and interests, and so finding them is a simple matter. Indeed, I find it strange I did not sense it sooner.”

“Why is that?”

“Perhaps I am concerned with other matters. It has been a confusing few months and I admit, I have been distracted.”

“Distracted?”

Solas looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. “The Breach is a threat we must face, one way or another. Your mark alone will not be enough to close it. The thought is unsettling.”

“You think it needs more power?”

“I think it is more complicated than a simple increase in power, but yes. Your mark, amplified, might be enough to seal it.”

She swallowed the knot forming in her throat. The Breach and her role were far away in Haven, and she preferred to keep them that way. “You know pumping the mark full of more magic might kill me, right? If it doesn’t cause me to lose control of my power first.”

“I do, and it is one of the reasons for my distraction. The Breach was opened with an immense amount of power, yes, but there must have been a focus—a cypher through which the power was funneled.”

“Have you heard of anything that could harness that much power? It sounds like something out of myth or legend.”

“Myth and legend usually have some basis in fact.” Solas' mouth twitched. “I have my own ideas. None of which are fully realized. Whatever the artifact, it would be wise to retrieve it unharmed. It might be the only thing capable of closing the Breach for good.”

They lapsed into silence. The rising sun had burned most of the mist away and the wind whispered across the long grasses and rustled the leaves of the trees lining the dirt road, the gentle sounds of the countryside drowning out the noise of the bustling village as they walked farther away.

She studied the wildflowers and rocks as they continued climbing up the winding road and into the barren hills to the east, anything to keep her eyes from drifting to him.

“One reason?” 

“Of many,” he said slowly. “Would it trouble you to learn I find you something of a curiosity?”

Tension pooled in her chest and her spine straightened as she fought the swell of excitement, and unease. 

Not simple. Not easy. Nothing about her feelings for him were easy.

“It wouldn’t trouble me, no,” she murmured. “Can I ask what about my person makes you so curious?” She shot him a small smile, ready to flirt her way out of her unease, but she caught at the look in his eyes.

Those damned expressive eyes.

“For one thing, the way you channel your magic is unlike most Circle mages.”

She grabbed at the annoyance to keep her from focusing on the intent in his gaze. “You know, that’s not the first time you’ve spoken about the Circle as if you know what they taught me. Force magic is common throughout the Free Marches.”

“As it is elsewhere. Though most Force mages do not throw themselves at their adversaries without a staff.” He paused.  “You should not be ashamed of your power, Roslyn. It is a gift.”

“I’m not ashamed.” The words ringing hollow even to her own ears. “But it’s not a gift. Not to me.”

A shroud of silence fell over them, and she tried to relax. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t know how many times she’d had this exact conversation with her instructors, her friends, anyone who tried to tell her not to fear her magic. 

“I realize it’s difficult for you to understand. The way you talk about magic and the Fade... It’s nice, but it’s different. It’s never been so easy for me.”

“You think it has been easy for me to learn what I have?”  His face was careful, composed, but a hardness formed in his eyes, a tightness at the corner of his mouth. 

She fought a smile. “You love the Fade. You’ve had spirits as teachers. You spent time learning magic when as a child because you were bored.” She hesitated, studying the strange intensity in his expression. “If I’ve offended you, I’m sorry.”

“You haven’t offended me.” A line formed in his brow. “But I struggle to think what life you might have led for you to feel otherwise.”

She laughed, a hard, short sound. “Do you? Must be nice.”

He didn’t know what it had been like to reconcile her faith with what she’d become—leaving behind the certainty of a little girl who had prayed to Andraste every day for five years. 

“Do you subscribe to the Chantry’s teachings, believe magic is a curse—a plague on the world, and mages alone should bear its burden and be punished for it?” His voice was light, but she tensed at his implication. “I find that somewhat ironic. You were a member of the Mage Rebellion. You have little fondness for templars.”

She shot him a hard look. “It’s not that simple. I can believe in everyone's inherent right to live a free life without justifying the abuses of magic. I can fight against an oppressive regime that cages people for a random quirk of birth without loving the fact that I can kill a man with a flick of my finger.”

“Anyone with a sword and the right motivation can kill.” His brow arched dismissively. “Nations have subjugated and harmed entire peoples without turning to magic. You of all people should know opposition to magic can inflict just as much suffering.”

She came to a stop and snapped, “Don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t know, please.” Frustration surged up her throat, and she had to work to control her voice. “No one needs help killing. I’m not saying magic is a curse, but I’m not going to discount what it allows people to do.”

“But you would discount the benefits?”

Memories surfaced in her mind of a winding corridor filled with the screams of children, the pounding of her heart and blood, the stench of lyrium clogging her throat and nostrils.

“Magic is a tool, nothing more,” she muttered. “I don’t have to praise the tool to use it.”

He said nothing, but the cold set to his eyes told her exactly how much he disagreed.

She was used to this. After three years in the Rebellion, plenty had tried to convince her magic was a grand, glorious thing deserving of their unashamed praise, the violence and chaos it so often left in its wake simply a cost to be measured in bodies and fear, explained away with a wave of one’s hand and buried underneath a mountain of blood.

“Come on.” She looked away from the tension in his eyes. “This artifact of yours isn’t going to find itself.”

Solas looked as if he might argue, but he followed her lead, walking beside her in silence.

Thoughts of her tower and the Rebellion surfaced, and try as she might, she couldn’t get the image of the Temple of Sacred Ashes out of her head.

The Conclave had been destroyed by magic. She wouldn’t be here without the mark on her hand and the legacy of its origin branded into the blank space in her memory. Magic was ultimately ruin and death, no matter what reasons one had for using it.

She knew that better than anyone.

They walked in silence for a while longer, until an insistent, crackling whisper replaced the soft brush of grass and wind.

She stopped in alarm. “Do you hear that?” Her palm stirred, the faint glow of her mark rising, reacting to the voices.

Solas watched her intently, an unreadable glint behind his eyes.

“You don’t hear the whispering?”

“I do. Though I am surprised you can.” He paused, brow furrowing in thought. “The artifact must be close.”

The noise grew louder as they went, and the more she listened, the more it crackled and jumped like the sound of damp wood burning. They came to a bend in the dirt road, where the crumbling cobblestone wall gave way to a path all but indistinguishable from the overgrown weeds and grass. It snaked through the trees beyond the road and over a small, trickling stream.

Out of the dim forest canopy, a towering wall of marble set into the side of a cliff appeared. Ornately carved with flowing floral patterns in a darker, faded green, it reflected the growth of a plant or vine. At its base sat a caved-in entrance, more carvings adorning the lip of the frame.

She stopped in the center of a large rotunda, its columns and arches collapsed and covered in vines and grass. Her boots scuffed the ground, and a layer of moss and dirt gave way to firm, overgrown stone.

In her hesitation, Solas had overtaken her, stepping toward the caved-in entrance and staring at the ruins in a kind of wistful awe.

“Solas, are you all right?”

A tight smile pulled at his lips. “It is hard to see the work of my people so ruined by time. In the Fade, if the seeker is true in his intent, he might find the stones as they once stood—whole and shining in the sunlight, laced with enchantments. It is beautiful, and a terrible thing to have lost.”

“It sounds lovely.” She walked up to him, her frustration at their conversation vanishing as she watched the play of dappled sunlight on his cheeks, the sadness in his eyes. 

He held her gaze a long time, finally reaching out toward the entrance of the ruin in what seemed a familiar gesture. A wave of energy swept into the stones and brushed them aside with no more effort than waving his hand through mist.

The voices around her dimmed, though the pulsing in her hand intensified. It felt like an extra sense, alerting her to the presence of a strange layer of energy that hummed over the stones. The hair on her arms raised, as if a small electric current ran across her skin.

Solas pulled his gaze from hers moved forward.

She hurried up to him, catching his arm and stopping him a few feet into the ruin. “You have no idea what’s down there, especially if the ancient elves were attempting to manipulate the Veil.”

He gave her an odd look. “I appreciate your concern for my welfare, but we are in no danger here.” He paused, gently wrapping his fingers around hers and releasing her grip. He held her marked hand aloft, turning it up to illuminate his face as it pulsed along with her heart.

The soft brushing of his thumb across her palm stirred the mark, the green glow rising into the air like slow-sparking mist.

“Focus on the mark and let your awareness expand beyond it.”

She swallowed, heart thudding in her throat. The energy flashed across her mind and her eyes unfocused as she listened to the whispers.

They were—curious, bending through the air around her to inspect her palm.

“What do you feel?” Solas murmured.

Roslyn looked down at her mark in disbelief as it tickled. “It’s—the energy is pulled toward it.”

The green pulse shined out through the darkness and she focused on the mark, unconsciously prodding it with her mind, and activated the energy held within. It responded quickly and flashed a brilliant green light, sparking out around them and twirling into the dark recesses of the ruin. The green wisps of energy coalesced in some places, lighting sconces on the walls and illuminating the room with flickering, eerie light. 

She stared in awe at the tiered hall, curved platforms leading down to an empty center pedestal. The brilliant marble tiles on the floor were faded with age, crafted with a fine hand. They still gleamed in the light of the green fire, if worn. The walls had a similar sheen to them, black and white tile forming large mosaics interspersed with faded paint and ink. These had not fared as well as the floor, however, and large chunks were missing from the designs. It made them look like a strange collection of broken stained-glass, as if someone, long ago, had come to this place and destroyed the narrative displayed along the walls.

Roslyn strained to make out one painting—a towering set of red rings placed in a black figure looming over a part of the mosaic that had been broken, or smashed. The rings dragged at her attention, heart beating fast as her mind bent toward it.

Not rings. She peered into the dim light, the faint hint of black irises, eyes standing out amongst the faded tile.

“Veilfire. A form of sympathetic magic that burns as an echo of fire where the Veil is thin.”

“Why did it come from the mark?”

“You pulled it through. In places such as these, lost to time and memory, spirits press against the Veil, weakening it.”

She looked back down at her hand, noticing for the first time its elegant pattern. It wasn’t a ragged circle, but a glyph, the exact pattern obscured by the energy around it, but etched into her palm like writing. “The whispering—it comes from spirits?”

Solas nodded.

“But they feel curious, not like they want to come through—like they’re excited.”

He let out a small laugh, high cheekbones and strong chin cast in strange shadows from the flickering light of her mark. “I would imagine they are intrigued by the mark. I suspect they have not seen its like before.”

Roslyn's brow furrowed, transfixed by the smile stretching across his lips. “They’re intrigued?”

His eyes held hers with a gentle hesitation. “It seems I am not the only one.”

She stood still, not trusting herself to breathe as the fantasy of pressing forward and pulling his lips down to meet hers filled her mind. She wanted to drag him onto the floor on top of her, to lose herself in the tight embrace of his body.

He seemed willing. His lips were parted, head tilted toward hers. His body radiated heat, and the place where he clutched her hand sang with sensation, as if his mere touch sent energy coursing into her skin. In all the chaos and stress of the last months, she deserved some comfort, didn’t she? She wanted—

No, she thought firmly, backing away, sliding her hand from his.  “Sweet talker,” she murmured.  Not with him.  “What was this place?” she asked to distract from the confused swirl of desire and regret in her chest, descending the stairs. Faint incense and herbs hung on the air, as if someone had cleansed the area with smoke.

“A place of ritual, perhaps. The ancient elves had countless temples of varying size and grandeur scattered throughout Thedas for various purposes. Some were dedicated to specific gods, while others served as meeting places.”

She stopped at the bottom of the room. She had the faint impression something thin and tall had once stood on the pedestal, but couldn’t say why. “So, where is this artifact?”

He nodded toward a point over her shoulder. On the opposite side of the pedestal, a raised marble counter sat against the wall, carved in the same swirling pattern as the mosaics. On it stood a large, round object made of a dark metal and set atop a small golden stand. The spirits around her whispered in excitement.

Her hand thrummed as she raised it, the magic in the mark seeking out the magic in the globe. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Both the magic from your mark and the energy contained within the artifact affect the Veil. It would be safe to assume the magics are similar in substance, if not in form, and activating it a simple enough task.”

The spirits swirled around her like a soft breeze as she stepped forward and placed her hand on the orb.

With a sense of apprehension, she stoked her mark and a rolling wave of energy built within it as her magic connected. She had the faint impression of hands pressed against hers before the energy blew outward in a cloud. An aura of crackling, humming magic spread out like a barrier around the room, passing through her and brushing her hair across her face.

The magic dispersed and a silent weight came down around them. The veilfire still flickered in the sconces, but the whispering had vanished along with the ambient energy. The world was once more silent and solid.

“The spirits—they’re gone.” She paused at the note of disappointment in her voice, surprised to find the absence of spirits a source of regret instead of relief.

Solas smiled, his eyes oddly bright. “They are still present, even if you cannot feel them. The strength of the Veil is holding them back.”

“And that’s what they feel like to you all the time?”

“They are not usually so persistent. Your mark brings out their more inquisitive natures.”

Roslyn didn’t know if she welcomed the attention, or feared it. All her life, she’d been told to fight demons, to spurn their interest and attention.

These spirits didn’t feel foul, but young, innocent—curious, like children peering into a vendor’s wares at market or a deer poking its nose into the damp ground as it searched for fallen berries.

Demons disguise themselves in fair clothes, apprentice, her instructors would say. One must always be wary.

“Come,” Solas murmured, studying her expression, “I am sure the Seeker has changed her mind about your utility and is searching for you as we speak.”

Roslyn didn’t move to follow, mind caught in the sensation of loss.

A fleeting presence pressed against her. She jerked around and stared at the orb, but nothing happened. Frowning, she followed Solas out of the ruin, though she could have sworn she heard the faint echo of birdsong as she left.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry,” Roslyn said slowly, staring at the Seeker. “I must have misheard you. It sounded like you just told me we’re going to recruit the raving lunatics who sacked the countryside.” 

The Seeker straightened from where she stood across the table, eyes hard in preparation for a fight. 

The map between them was covered in markers, detailing their soldiers and troops across the Hinterlands. The sounds of the Crossroads drifted up and over the cliff where their camp was stationed, a pleasant buzz of noise that undercut the tension between them. 

“You want to ask the lyrium-addled templars to join the Inquisition?” Roslyn didn’t bother lowering her voice, unconcerned whether the guards stationed at the edge of camp heard her.

“If they choose to, why not? Most seem willing enough.”

“Of course they seem willing.” Roslyn's voice broke with a derisive laugh. “It’s that or die. I’d cooperate too if a sword was pressed against my back.”

“And look how well that turned out for all of us.”

Roslyn bit back the anger flaring in her chest. “Not everyone has my magnanimous nature. These templars have been terrorizing the villagers for weeks. How do you think this will look to the refugees? ‘Too bad for your homes and livelihoods, but we need soldiers, so fuck all of you and your dead relatives?’ ”

“They were commanded to act by a zealot. Certainty has power, Herald.”

Roslyn said nothing, but she didn't miss the Seeker’s implication.  Certainty, my ass.

“And who better to rebuild than the templars? They can show the people of Ferelden that they are not monsters to be feared.”

“ ‘Not monsters to be feared?’ Do you hear yourself?”

“Keep your voice down.”

“You told me when I agreed to help you the Inquisition took no sides in the war. This is what you meant?”

Her nostrils flared as she leaned forward, anger breaking through her steel composure. “I stand by what I said. The templars will abandon their oaths and become members of the Inquisition, renouncing their claim to the Order and everything that comes with it.”

Fifty templars joining the Inquisition. The thought made her skin crawl, but as she stared at the Seeker, face hard and impassive, another, more insidious fear reared in the back of her mind.  She kept this from me on purpose.

It had been two weeks since the attack on Fort Connor. She knew Roslyn would never agree to let the templars join them, not without the full support of the council behind her. Commander Cullen’s lieutenant and former templar, Rylen, was coming from Haven to collect the new recruits and would arrive in two days’ time, confirming that this had been her plan for a while.

“We need soldiers,” the Seeker said. “Trained soldiers. Even you must see the benefit such a force could provide.”

“Don’t insult me, Seeker. I know better than you the benefit of templar power.”

“Think what fifty trained knights could accomplish, Herald. All of them will swear allegiance to the Inquisition or be turned away. Those of whom you still have doubts will go to Commander Cullen for further testing.” Her brow arched. “Or do you not trust his instincts as well?”

Roslyn wanted to affirm that she did not, in fact, trust his instincts at all.

But there was nothing she could do. The Inquisition needed men and women to fight for them, real soldiers who could work with the green troops they already had. Securing the Crossroads had been hard enough, and they couldn’t deal with the bandits controlling the East Road and Hafter’s Woods without more soldiers. The well-organized mercenary group working with the Carta to haul out the red lyrium they’d found in Fort Connor was more than they could handle.

She looked down at the map, running her eyes along the supply lines and outposts that marked the Inquisition’s presence. And I’m gone as soon as the Breach is sealed.

“Why tell me now?” She knew it didn't matter why, but she'd grown used to the Inquisition, and this felt like a slap in the face. “Why not wait until this lieutenant shows up and leave it a surprise?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?”

Roslyn tensed at the quiet resignation in the Seeker’s voice.

Because she knew I would make a scene, and she’d rather do it where she could control the damage when I did.

The Seeker frowned, and if Roslyn didn’t know better, she might have thought she was disappointed.

Did she expect her to accept this without complaint? Roslyn had already met with Mother Giselle, had agreed to address the clerics in Val Royeaux, had trudged up and down every Maker forsaken hill within a hundred miles to close the damn rifts, and the woman was disappointed?

“Thank you for the courtesy, I guess." Her jaw clenched. "If you’ll excuse me.”

Her hand closed over the tent flap when the Seeker said softly, “I understand your reservations, Herald. Trust that I share them as well.”

Roslyn’s hand bunched around the fabric, her fingers shaking. Her marked hand balled into a fist at her side. Her eyes locked on the tent, focusing on the seam to press out the image of blank, green eyes set under the spiral brand of a sun, the sounds of children screaming in a locked closet.  “Seeker, you don’t understand half my reservations. You never could.”

She drew back the flap before the Seeker could reply, the bright sunlight helping to dislodge the hard knot working its way up her throat, and stepped out of the tent to find twenty Inquisition soldiers staring at her.

Not bothering to compose her face into a neutral mask, she let every bit of her anger show. Let them wonder what made their Herald so furious that she stormed from the Seeker’s tent in a huff. Let them see exactly what she thought of this new alliance.

Their eyes following her every movement made her feel like a caged animal, like some beast about to rip them to shreds.

She wanted to scream, to rage, to just give in to their expectation.

It didn’t matter in the long run anyway.

Varric and Solas sat at a table outside the great hall, pausing in the middle of their conversation to watch her. She should have avoided them, walked the other way and kept away from the curiosity on Varric’s face.

But that sharp rage inside of her was roaring and she didn’t fucking care what anyone thought. 

Solas watched her closely, but she didn’t examine his expression in fear of finding more than polite interest.

She’d left him to his own devices as much as she could the past three days. After finding the artifact and learning it heightened her awareness of the rifts in the region, Solas had shown her how to focus her energy and draw on the awareness of the Veil so she could better sense demonic activity. So far she’d located two rifts their scouts hadn’t stumbled across—one tucked into a small valley so choked with brush and hidden at the top of a waterfall they might have never found it, and another behind the one they already knew about in Lady Shayna’s Valley.

Roslyn tried to forget the way his hands had wrapped around hers as they’d sat together in Calenhad’s Foothold for nearly an hour, the lingering brush of his aura as he’d shown her how to tap into the mark and expand it within her, how to recognize the signs of a disturbance in the Veil and pinpoint its relative location.

She’d had trouble ridding her mind of the image of his dark eyes as she tried to sleep that night. And every night since.

At this point she must seem such an ass, flirting with him, chastising him for avoiding her, then ignoring him. Maker damn her, she needed to get a handle on her feelings. Every time she thought of the way he smiled, the sensation of his aura against hers…

“What’s wrong, Red?” Varric called. “Seeker got you rounding up rams?”

She clenched her fists as she walked past their table, meeting Solas’ gaze before looking away at the flutter of ridiculous warmth in her chest. “What would give you the impression anything is wrong, Varric?”

The practice grounds were free save for a lone scout, arms trembling as he tried to fire an arrow at a target only twenty feet away from him. As soon as she crested the hill, he took one look at her, eyes widening so large they threatened to pop out of his skull, and fled.

She swallowed back the wave of anger as she watched him go. It wasn’t his fault. She was the Herald of Andraste. A mage. Elf-blooded. She should be used to people staring at her in fear or disgust and fleeing in her wake. It wasn’t new to her time in the Inquisition. People had been afraid of her for as long as she should remember. None of this mattered.

Roslyn clenched her teeth, ripping off her jacket with a grunt and throwing it onto the ground by the weapons rack. She slowed down long enough to test the swords, and moved to a training dummy.

The motions were awkward, and she nearly dropped the sword twice as she found her way back into the rhythm of exercises she’d given up when her Circle fell.

It had been a refuge in her darker years at Aiden’s Tower, always something inherently hers, not tied to her dead father or her magic. As she grew older, however, she’d come to find the practice less attractive once she realized fitting in was more important than standing out. She already had enough working against her, she didn’t need to prance around with a sword in a tower full of skirts. She didn’t need anything else to set her apart from the rest of her peers.

That won’t be a problem anymore. Her mark throbbed in response, a constant reminder that she was branded with the favor of a silent god. 

Pivoting after ten minutes of hard, brutal forms, she slashed into the front cloth of the dummy, spilling its contents onto the ground as the blade caught on the wood frame. Her hand twisted as the sword stuck, wrenching her wrist with a spasm of pain.

Roslyn cursed and jerked her hand back, cradling it against her chest. Sweat poured down her temples and pooled in the small of her back. Already she throbbed with exertion. She’d be sore tomorrow.

In a flash of rage, she spun and kicked the dummy, letting her magic spill into her foot. It flew fifty feet through the air and slammed back against the rock face at the edge of the practice yard, smashing to pieces. Her sword clanged against the stone as it fell.

She stared at the shattered dummy as her chest heaved, arcane rage crackling over her skin.

Templars joining the Inquisition.

It sent a chill down her spine. It was one thing to see the few templars in Haven—she’d avoided most of them for the short time she’d been there—but working with fifty knights…

What would the Rebellion think once they heard the Inquisition had welcomed templars to join their ranks?

No, they’ll understand. No one who knew her would think she’d willingly allowed them to join. They would see the necessity of her compliance. She had to work with the Inquisition until they were done with her and her blasted mark.

She pushed back her hair where it clung to the side of her face, calmed her aura, and cleaned up the mess of the practice dummy.

It doesn’t matter. The Inquisition wasn’t her responsibility and it didn’t matter one fucking lick what anyone outside the Rebellion thought of her loyalties. Putting on shows like this made the soldiers stare at her and run away like frightened mice.

“I struggle to think what the dummy must have done to draw such ire.”

Roslyn froze in the act of retrieving her sword, closing her eyes to dispel the flutter of nerves in her chest, and straightened to find Solas standing with his hands clasped behind his back by the weapons rack.  “Tried to make a move on me.”

“Then it appears his punishment was well-earned.” His voice was light, but his gaze was too pointed to be casual.

She forced a smile. “Yes, well, luckily for the Inquisition, there’s plenty more wood to replace him.”

She threw the remains of the dummy on a scrap pile at the edge of the field. It wasn’t as if she’d never had feelings for a man before. This was normal. She didn’t need to ignore him.

“I’m not as adept at the sword as I used to be,” she said, walking back toward him. “The rest of the dummies are safe, so long as they hold their tongues.”

“Corporal Vale will be pleased to hear it.” He paused, eyes narrowing as he took in her expression. “Your show in Fort Connor was not a happy accident, it seems.”

“You have a strange definition of the word happy.”

“When did you learn how to wield a sword?”

She tried not to frown at the note of curiosity in his voice. “The stable master at the Emerald Cove thought it would teach me discipline. Don’t think it worked.” She didn’t add that the old elf also thought it might help get her mind off Helena’s constant abuse. One of the few fond memories she held of that place.

She fought the urge to brush her hair forward, to hide the scars running like a twisted web behind her ears.

“The Emerald Cove was your family’s home?”

Her fingers clenched reflexively as she slid the sword back onto the rack. “The Trevelyans’, yes. Though the noble family only stayed there during the summer. The widow Trevelyan liked to remain in Ostwick City the rest of the year.”

“And you did not travel with your family?”

“Why the sudden interest in my family life?”

“It occurs to me I know little about you. I would like to correct that.”

She studied him, working past the tight knot in her chest. “I didn’t travel with the family,” she finally said. “The only reason I stayed at their summer home is because it was far from the capital, where no one important could find out about me. The lady chancellor wanted to keep me somewhere remote.”

And so I could wash the old woman’s clothes and prepare her bed and give her eldest daughter someone to torture when she grew bored.

“Because you were not her true-born daughter?”

She laughed, the sound hollow and sharp. “I was the evidence of her husband’s infidelity. It’s a wonder she didn’t have me shipped off to the Anderfels. Or abandoned on the side of a road.” She hated the flush creeping over her neck and the tight knot of fear pulsing in her stomach. She strayed dangerously close to things she did not discuss with anyone. Ever.

She wasn’t trying to hide who she was. Leliana and the rest of the council probably knew everything there was to know about her. But she didn’t want to see the pity that always came with such a confession. People were always willing to offer condolences for an experience of which they had no knowledge.

“And this stable master taught you how to fight?”

She bent to retrieve her coat, shrugging it back on. “I was eight when Aylen started training me.” The old elf had been such a dreamer, always spinning some ridiculous story to cheer her up. “He used to tell me I was Lindiranae incarnate, that I could conquer the world one day if I only learned how to find my balance.”

A small frown twisted his lips.

“An elven hero who died in the Second Exalted March. ‘One of the fiercest fighters the Dalish ever raised.’ After her death, the Chantry says the Dales were lost.”

His frown deepened. “I know of the woman.”

“Right, well, the old elf was always running his mouth about her, or another ancient elven hero. Said he traveled with a Dalish clan for a while when he was young, but I think he just liked to read.” Probably trying to remind me of my supposed heritage. Old fool. “I kept up the practice as long as I could on my own when I went to the Circle. Something to do in the long hours not spent studying.”

“I would assume the Circle averse to their mages training in swordplay.”

“You’d think so. Apparently, they don’t mind mages learning to defend themselves as long as it’s with a big metal stick instead of fireballs. When I first got to Aiden’s Tower, one of the younger templars trained me for a few years before he was transferred to Ansburg.” Before everything went to shit and the templars stopped addressing her except to scream or isolate her from her peers. Courtesy of Helena when she succeeded her mother.

“You have a natural talent.” A smile pulled at his lips. “Indeed, I am starting to wonder if there is anything at which you are not inherently gifted.”

Roslyn dimly enjoyed the praise as her anger faded. “Chess and singing. Incidentally, if you ever get me drunk, don’t ask me to sing ‘The Highwayman's Black-Eyed Lover.’ I will, and you will regret it, trust me. I’ve got a voice like an ill toad.”

“I shall have to remember that for future reference.”

“Please don’t, for your sake. I’m not being modest. I can’t carry a tune to save my life.” She paused, holding his gaze. “So, now that you’re done complimenting me on yet another interesting facet of my person, are you going to gather your information for Varric? I assume he sent you as his spy.”

Solas’ brow arched. “I am no one’s spy but my own.”

“You don’t want to know what I was arguing about with the Seeker?”

“I do not. I am curious, but I would not presume to expect your confidences.”

She studied his face, trying to reconcile the hard interest in his eyes with the casual dismissal of their… friendship. “It’s not like—”

She was cut off by a yell, a young scout running toward her and Solas. “Herald, Seeker Pentaghast needs you—says it’s urgent, my lady!”

Roslyn’s jaw clenched. Really? Not even—

“She says it’s about the mages.” The scout skidded to a halt in front of them. “In the Witchwood, my lady. Scouts have found the apostate stronghold.”

She moved before the scout stopped speaking, heartbeat roaring in her ears as she sprinted back to the center of the Crossroads.

Mages in the Witchwood—of course it was the Witchwood. They had scouted the area when they’d first arrived, but the conflict with the bandits and the need to work with the farmers had turned their attentions away from the forest.

The village thrummed with tension as the Inquisition prepared to move out. Soldiers outfitted themselves with armor and weapons, choking the Crossroads as the refugees and villagers retreated.

“Seeker,” she shouted, jogging up to the woman where she huddled with three of the Inquisition’s corporals. “How did we find them?”

“It appears one of the mages attempted to escape. A scouting party intercepted her.”

Roslyn’s brow furrowed. Escape?  “Where are they now? I have to speak to them.”

The Seeker’s gaze hardened. “The girl died before we could bring her in.”

The clearing went silent as she stared at the Seeker. Her vision narrowed to the woman’s face, the warning in her eyes. Her heart stuttered to a stop and then slammed against her sternum as rage filtered through her mind.

“As I understand it, she refused to return with our scouts, and tried to flee through violent means.”

“What scouts?” In the back of her mind, her mark pulseed, as if it sensed her energy and aura rising, preparing for an attack.

The Seeker raised her chin and kept her voice firm as she answered, “They have been dealt with.”

Roslyn took a step forward, raising her head to stare directly into her eyes. “Tell me their names, Seeker.”

Her eyes flashed. “They do not concern you, Herald.”

“A mage was killed by your scouts because she was afraid and fleeing for her life,” she snapped. “You don’t think that would concern me?”

“It should not.” The Seeker’s words were short and sharp, finality ringing in every syllable.

“And I’m supposed to take your word this girl attacked first?”

“Yes.”

Roslyn wanted to launch the Seeker across the clearing. She wanted to punch her as hard as she had punched her all those weeks ago in Haven, when she had knelt in surrender. She wanted to scream and fly into the forest to find the mages before the Inquisition attacked them, to leave and never come back, mark and Inquisition be damned.

The soldiers snapped their shields to their backs and sheathed their blades, preparing for a fight.

These people would always see mages as a danger to wipe out.

“I sent for you because I thought you would want to accompany the party. Was I mistaken?”

She waited until she knew she could speak without screaming. “No. I’m coming with you. For an independent organization committed to neutrality, there are an awful lot of swords in this clearing.” She paused, voice dropping to a hard promise. “You don’t think marching a small army into the forest won’t provoke the kind of reaction you don’t want?”

“Herald,” the Seeker said with a warning in her eyes, “I understand your desire for this meeting to go smoothly, but these apostates have, in all likelihood, fled the Rebellion. Remember what we met when we first arrived. The templars were not the only ones fighting.”

Apostates.

Not mages. Apostates.

“I do remember, Seeker,” she bit back, mark prickling as her adrenaline rose. “I also remember the terror of being pursued by the very institution that enslaved you. The mages in the Crossroads were fighting for survival, not sport. Don’t forget, we judged them as dangerous first.” She let her anger rise, hardening her words into weapons. “Just like the girl fleeing for her life was judged.”

Roslyn didn’t for the Seeker to respond before she left for her tent.

Apostates in the Witchwood—and the Inquisition was going to war.

When she emerged from her tent with her armor secure, sliding on her gloves and pulling her hair back into a knot, she found Solas speaking with the Seeker and Varric, both men outfitted for a fight.

“Didn’t fancy you for a mage hunter, Varric,” she said when she joined them, not meeting Solas’ searching gaze.

“Is that what all this is for?” His eyes were hard with misgiving. “Here I thought we were heading to a party.”

She gave him a small, tight smile.  “Seeker, I’d like to lead the procession,” she said. “I know the kind of barriers we’ll face, if they are deserters of the Rebellion.”

She nodded, though Roslyn felt the tension coming off her in waves.

Roslyn arched her brow, ignoring the scream building in the back of her mind, the panic at what they were about to face. 

Chapter Text

It was an apt name, the Witchwood.

The trees, distorted and wild, twisted into each other and clogging the small path the deeper they wound into the forest—strangely quiet, absent of noise save the wind whistling through the leaves.

Solas walked close to Roslyn as they threaded through the hills. His silent presence at her side was welcome. One other mage would be there. Would understand.

She kept her eyes straight ahead as the trees grew closer together and the light from the sun above grew dim, trying to keep the growing fear from her eyes. Her mark bristled with energy as her adrenaline surged.

If you are following me around, Andraste, she thought with a grimace, I would love some divine intervention right about now.

If these mages were from the Rebellion, what would she say to them? She’d thought to have time to prepare, to convince them of her innocence in this mess. Fiona wouldn’t be there, of course. The Grand Enchanter was sequestered somewhere safe, guarded, and hidden from any who might want to chop off the head of the Rebellion. But if there were people she knew…

She would need to give them a reason why she’d worked with the Inquisition. Why she still was.

“Do you think it’s likely these apostates are members of the mage Rebellion?” the Seeker asked, cutting into her thoughts.

“I have no idea. I haven’t been in contact with the mages since the Conclave.” She paused, trying to keep her voice calm. “But I don’t think so.”

“Why?”

“There’s a reason you haven’t found the Rebellion, Seeker, and it’s not because you aren’t looking hard enough. If the Rebellion doesn’t want to be found, you won’t find them. This is a separate group. Maybe an offshoot or—”

She hesitated, deciding it better not to divulge any cracks in the Rebellion’s facade. They didn’t need to know about the unrest in the fraternities or the discord between Fiona and the senior enchanters.

“It doesn’t seem like a mistake they would make.”

As Roslyn walked, she searched for a sign of sympathetic magic, a thread of energy she could follow that would point her toward the familiar clues they used to leave to mark their progress. She wondered if their scouts had been wrong, if the girl they’d tried to capture was just exceptionally unlucky, when they rounded a bend in the woods and a wave of energy buffeted against her.

She froze in place as her mark sparked to life and her aura rose reflexively. No one made any sound as she stepped forward, cresting a bend in the path that opened out into a wide clearing. A frozen lake sat in the middle of the trees with spires of twisted rock circling its edge.

“What in the Maker’s name…” the Seeker said behind her.

The area reeked of chaotic, ambient energy. Her mark reacted in excitement, vibrating so wildly she had to clutch her wrist to keep it from shaking.

“Herald?” 

“This magic is highly unstable,” Solas answered for her, gaze tight as he stared down at her mark. “I believe the mark is reacting to it.”

“It’s fine. The same thing happens with the rifts, there’s—,” she clenched and unclenched her hand, trying to work out the spasms, “nothing I can focus on here.”

She took another, cautious step forward and her hand jerked to the side. She bit off her cry of alarm and clenched her jaw. Across the lake and between the spires of frozen rock, she caught a glimpse of crackling red energy.

“It’s a barrier.” She swallowed the sinking dread as she saw the familiar outline, the magic obvious from where she stood nearly a hundred feet away. “And it’s from the Rebellion.”

I was wrong.

She felt the Seeker’s hard, knowing gaze. Moving forward and ignoring Varric’s low whistle, she continued to shake out her hand. The Chant was on her tongue, ready to recite if her control slipped.

“Is it causing you pain?” Solas asked.

The buzzing in her chest and the tingling urgency of the mark, the tang of ozone lingering over her tongue, made her grimace. “No. It’s just—over-saturated.”

They approached the barrier slowly, the soldiers fanning out behind them at the ready. It was hastily made, Roslyn could tell by the frayed edges of the spell—fueled more by raw energy than careful construction.

“Is there a keystone?” The Seeker squinted, trying to look past the shivering glow of the magic and into the cave beyond. “Something holding the barrier in place?”

“It appears to be powered by electricity.” The light brush of his aura ghosted across her skin as he reached out to examine the barrier, raising gooseflesh over her arms. “An equal yet opposite force might disrupt the magic.”

“Sure,” Roslyn muttered, “if you want to spend the next hour identifying the correct energy signature. Or you could just let me override it.”

Solas’s brow furrowed skeptically.

“I can explain, or I can show you.”

He studied her, curiosity warring with the skeptical glint in his eyes, and stepped back. The Seeker frowned and retreated, taking up a position next to Varric.

She closed her eyes, trying to focus beyond the crackling star in her palm, and stepped forward. Clenching her marked fist, as if it might help her control its increased spasms, she raised her right hand. Her magic lanced forward, connecting with the energy and crackling in a wave of sparks, brushing fire across her cheeks.

The soldiers behind her gasped, but she ignored them, letting her aura attune to the frequency of the barrier, thread into the magic. She made sure her connection held fast, energy coursing across her arms and humming in her chest, and ran her focus along the barrier, trying to find the weak spot.

It sang with the fear of whatever mage had conjured it. She didn’t recognize the aura, but she could tell it was derived from the spell the Rebellion had developed—crude and fast and universal in its application. It didn’t have a will for the templars to smite, so their abilities were useless unless they expended their power, giving the mages enough time to prepare for an attack.

But a mage who could turn the energy, or knew where the knot of intentional weakness was, could override it without much trouble.

She found the knot and waited, her mark flashing a brilliant emerald where it hung at her side, clashing against the red of the barrier and warring across her vision. “Everybody get ready!”

She let her magic pool in her right hand and forced a shard of arcane energy into the barrier, wedging it into the weak spot. It resisted her, straining against the intrusion, before it cracked and shattered. The barrier blew back in a torrent of crackling electricity, setting her teeth on edge and raising the hair on her arms.

The last of the energy rushed forward, and she called into the cavern, “We don’t mean you harm. The Inquisition—”

A shard of ice rocketed toward her face.

She tried to raise a wall of force, when a barrier sprang up around her. The ice shattered into a thousand fragments. It rained down around her like a small snowstorm and blew against her face.

She turned to see Solas staring at her with unbridled concern, eyes hard.

Her mark jerked and sputtered, green energy lancing out of it in waves. A rift hung in the center of the cave. Wraiths and shades flew down onto a group of mages, just as shocked as she.

She moved forward without thought, heading straight for the rift.  The swinging claws of a shade sliced inches from her chest, but she blasted it back and launched over a row of fire mines. She sent a small bolt of energy into the glyphs before any Inquisition soldiers might activate them.

One of the mages must have placed them before they’d entered the cave.

She landed and rolled to a stop directly beneath the rift. Her mind split, a part soaring upward. Distracted by effort to rein her mind back in, she almost caught a blast of fire from a mage to her left. Reaching out with her aura, she caught the thread of his magic before he could cast and redirected the flow back toward him. She tried to curb the energy so it wouldn’t kill him, but the tingling pulse of her mark made her control slip.

His cry of pain cut through her like a dagger.

With another shuddering pulse, the rift expanded above her. More demons pressed against her awareness. She threw up her marked hand and connected to the rift. Tension ran along the thread binding her to the energy and she tugged, slamming the doorway shut before they could come through. It slammed into her chest like a hammer. Her teeth buzzed and she winced as her palm rioted.

There were still a handful of demons in the cave, but she paled when the Inquisition soldiers engaged the mages.

Stop,” she shouted, throwing a wave of force to knock splinters of blue electricity away from an Inquisition scout. She rounded on the mage and threw her hands up in the air. “The Inquisition is not here to hurt you.”

She didn’t recognize the woman, but there was fear in her eyes as she whipped her staff over her head and slammed it against the ground.

Roslyn deflected the energy barrage with a sloppy wall of force, blasting back projectiles of ice. They continued to pummel her makeshift barrier and chip away at its edges. Shards of ice flew across her hands and ricocheted around her, cutting fine lines across her skin. She gritted her teeth, burying the temptation to push back.

They’re scared. They don’t know what’s going on.

The woman screamed in frustration as she released the barrage, and brought her hands together in a clap of thunder. Roslyn dodged a sphere of electricity.  The woman shouted over the crackle of lightning, “The Chantry will not have us, traitor!” The last word shattered into Roslyn’s chest and she froze mid-step.

Traitor.

A whistling thud rushed past her ears as two crossbow bolts thudded into the woman’s chest. Lifted her off her feet, she went sprawling into the little stream snaking through the cavern.

“I don’t think they’re open to negotiations, Red,” Varric called, scowling as he caught her eye. He threw a small red vial at a group of mages huddled on the other side of the cavern. When it touched the ground, a cloud of sparking grey smoke engulfed them. All of them dropped as they clutched their necks and choked.

No. She jerked to the side as a wall of fire shot toward her. It caught the edge of her coat and filled her nostrils with acrid smoke. Maker, no.

Two more mages sent joint waves of ice toward her and she threw up another wall of force. Her magic flared, and pushed back before she could stop it, blasting the mages ten feet into the air. One of them twisted and landed with a sickening thud, an audible snap echoing over the sounds of the rest of the fighting. She swallowed the wave of bile rising up her throat while the other mage crashed into a tent and disappeared.

Her mark screamed in protest when a cloying sweetness brushed against her mind—the tainted press of blood magic. A head appeared above the remains of the tent, and the mage glared at her with wide, terrified eyes—a small knife pressed to his arm. With a jolt, she recognized him as one of the Nevarran enchanters who had welcomed her to Cumberland.

“Don’t be—” The words were barely out of her mouth before his magic thudded into her. Her knees buckled and she hit the ground. Soft, wet tendrils wrapped around her mind. A sickening fear wormed its way up her throat, overriding her better judgement and tearing a scream from her lips.

Her own magic reacted instinctively. Her aura rose and shattered the unfocused surge, clearing her mind of the tainted fog. Heart hammering, she clenched her fists in the dirt.

Blood magic. They were trying to help, Maker damn them, and this was how they reacted?

Her mark thudded in time with her heart, and her eyes snapped up. The man rose in a swirling cloud of red mist, twitching and pulsing—skin purpling as the Veil warped and shifted around him. The demon he’d made a pact with was already shoving its way into his body.

She twisted her hand in the dirt and caught his foot in a sheath of arcane energy. Cracking white light caged his body, green flashing against his skin in a glowing, shifting prison of energy.

Roslyn closed her fist in the dirt. The arcane prison sundered into him, and his cry of pain cut off as he burst apart.

Her chest burned with self-loathing as she got to her feet.

This was madness. They had to stop.

A scream of terror at her side directed her attention to a group of Inquisition scouts caged by a circle of fire, and she sprinted toward them.

A woman in dirty Circle robes stood a few feet away from them with a spell book open and hovering before her. Eyes blank and fixed on the terrified scouts, a circle of flames around them almost four feet in height, she mumbled her incantation.

Roslyn crashed into the woman, tearing the spell book out of her hands and redirecting the flames back into their maker. The fire singed her arms as it traveled across her skin and sank into the mage. She jumped back as the woman caught fire, shrieking and writhing on the ground. She sent a shard of energy into the woman’s mind, cutting off her scream before the pain became too great.

What am I doing? Maker, what am I doing?

Her soft wave of telekinetic energy blew out the flames. The Inquisition scouts huddled, staring at her with tear-stained eyes, wide and horrible in their gratitude.

A soldier on the other side of the stream stabbed his sword into a man covered in ice while Varric sent a crossbow bolt into another mage, cutting off his static cage before he could cast it over the Seeker. Solas, who stood a few feet away from her, parried blasts of fire from a woman whose pale face was drenched with sweat.

With his concentration fixed on the woman, he didn’t see the man behind him gesture toward a pile of shattered rock. They launched into the air and shot toward the back of Solas’ head.

Lunging forward as fear spiked through her chest, her wall of force caught most of them and sent the rest careening off into the air. Two slid through, however, and one sliced across her shoulder while the other struck and held in her left forearm.

She cried out, stumbling against Solas as she staggered to a halt. She managed to kick a bolt of arcane energy through her foot, thudding the mage back against the cave wall and snapping his spine.

“Herald!” the Seeker called urgently from across the cavern, sprinting toward her as she dispatched another mage with a well-placed bash of her shield.

Roslyn winced as the shard of stone pulsed in her forearm.

Arms closed around her shoulders, easing her around.

“Roslyn?” Solas’ voice was low and clipped, his eyes hard on her face. A flush of exertion spread across his freckled cheeks as his aura lapped against hers.

“I’m fine.” She clenched her teeth, lifting her arm to show him the shard of stone.

Solas muttered something under his breath that sounded like a curse and shifted his staff, reaching for her arm.

Roslyn blinked. His composure had never broken so thoroughly before, always so careful and distant—it was alarming to see him so shaken.

“Solas, you don’t have to—” She broke off at a wave of his magic, soft and warm as it swirled around the stone in her arm and sank into her skin.

He ignored her and pulled out the shard with quick, precise fingers. Brow furrowed, he met her gaze with hard eyes. “I have energy enough to make sure you do not lose the use of your arm because you saved my life.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, looking away from the wound as he worked his magic over it.

Solas frowned. “You should not have stepped in front of that attack.” He withdrew his hands and studied her face. His expression hardened, anger fading to frustration.

“Herald, are you well?” the Seeker said as she stopped beside them.

She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when a surge of auras approached the cave.

A group of mages stood just beyond the entrance. She recognized them all as members of the Rebellion, though she could only place a few of their faces to names. They wore tattered, weather-worn clothes, staves in their hands, watching the Inquisition in horror.

But it was the mage in the center of the group—freckled skin and pale blue eyes, curly brown hair tousled and sticking up all over the place, as it always did—who made her heart freeze and her mind go blank.

Standing half a head taller than the rest of the mages and staring at her with blank disbelief—her friend, Derek. 

“Wait,” she shouted as magic rose and swords scraped against sheaths, her voice breaking as she jerked forward and held out her hands. She faced the Inquisition, finding the Seeker and pleading with her eyes. “Please, wait.”

The Seeker, sword half-raised, looked from Roslyn to the mages behind her, and clenched her jaw. The Inquisition froze with her.

Most of the mages took in the cave with wide, terrified eyes, but some glared at her in anger.

She swallowed, searching for something to say to make them stop and listen to her. But she couldn’t think beyond her racing heart, the panic rising in her chest.

“There was a rift in the cave,” she said, her eyes glued to Derek.

He stared at the bodies behind her with wide, glassy eyes.

“We broke through the barrier. I closed the rift—but I think they were confused…”

They hadn’t been confused. They had known exactly who she was—had called her traitor.

“So, the rumors are true,” said one of the mages whose name she could not recall. “The Herald of Andraste is Fiona’s second. Maker’s mercy.”

She met the woman’s eyes. “This isn’t what it looks like.”

“Isn’t what it looks like?” Derek whispered, his voice breaking.

Roslyn spoke without thought, to stop the look on his face from getting worse, to stop the growing anger in his eyes—please believe me, please. “We’ve been trying to contact the Rebellion for weeks, but nothing got through. We get here and the mages and templars are fighting—we had to stop them. They were killing innocent people.” She stepped forward. “Derek, what happened—”

She broke off as a barrier sprang into place around the group of mages, most of them stepping back with fear in their eyes.

Behind her Inquisition soldiers cried out in surprise. Swords were drawn and feet scuffed across stone, but the tension held.

She stared at the shimmering metallic barrier in confusion. Her chest constricted.

It made no sense. She had traveled with them, fought with them, and they were trying to protect themselves... from her?

“You don’t,” she fumbled for words, “you don’t understand—”

“Then explain.”

Roslyn flinched at the biting rage in Derek's voice. She had never heard him so angry. Not when their tower had fallen, not when their friends had been killed by the templars. He’d been frustrated and upset, of course, but never so angry.

“These mages attacked us when we tried to help them,” the Seeker said in a sharp voice. She step closer, and Roslyn could imagine the steel in her eyes as she continued, “We entered the cavern to close the rift, and they turned on us. Just as the Herald says, these mages were responsible for many deaths when the Inquisition arrived in the Hinterlands. We came to question them, to see if we could not come to a peaceful end.”

The dead mages scattered across the cavern told a different story.

Rage built in Derek’s eyes. “You’re working with them? You’re actually working with templars—”

“You don’t understand.” Her voice was little more than a whisper. She had to tell him she’d had no choice. He had to believe she would never—she could never…

But she had. She had accepted it only an hour ago. What did it matter to her if the templars joined the Inquisition, if she had no intention of staying past the Breach?

Traitor.

The mark shivered in response to her racing heart, panic surging up in the back of her mind. A small halo of sparks shot across the ground at her feet. A mass gasp, and the entirety of the cavern shifted back from her.  The movement knocked the wind from her chest.

Derek flinched back with the rest of them as the mark twitched. He stared transfixed at the mark, and the anger in his eyes broke. “What did they do to you?” His eyes shifted to the Seeker, to the soldiers surrounding her. “If they hurt you—”

A chain around her neck, manacles on her wrists, a smite slamming into her chest and knocking her to the ground when she had her arms in the air—

She clenched her jaw in an effort to stop the flashes from coming. In the back of her mind she heard a distant, horrible screaming. A new kind of anger filled Derek’s eyes. His aura rose, familiar after so many years—a light, woody melody mixed with a soft brush of wind—preparing to fight.

“They didn’t,” she said in a hollow voice. “They didn’t hurt me.”  He searched her gaze, opening his mouth to speak, before she cut him off.  “The Inquisition needs the Rebellion’s help to close the Breach. I need your help.” She held up her hand, the mark still pulsing in the aftereffects of closing the rift. “I’m the only one who can.” He glared at her, disbelief transforming to outrage. “I need to talk to Fiona.”

She could convince her. Fiona would understand the necessity of hard choices. Of course she would.

The mage who had spoken before stepped forward. “That will not happen. The Rebellion will not treat with the Chantry. Not after what happened at the Conclave.”

“I understand you’re frightened, but I don’t have time to—”

“You killed—,” Derek said in a shaky, broken voice. “You killed these mages, and you want us to listen to you?”

“They attacked us, Derek. One of them tried to use blood magic against me.” She tried to force some anger into her own voice. “Why are they here and not with the rest of the Rebellion?”

He didn’t answer.

What happened?

“The Rebellion’s business is our own,” the old woman said. “We were coming to protect our brothers and sisters from the Inquisition, from you, when we find their stronghold attacked and our people murdered. We have every right to seek justice.”

The girl the Inquisition’s scouts killed. She had been fleeing this group. The mages in the cave had broken off from the Rebellion. The fraternities had been at each other’s throats for months before the Conclave. Not everyone had agreed with Fiona’s decision.

But that would mean the Rebellion was close enough to follow the girl back here.

She almost missed what Derek said next.

“You won’t even deny it?”

Roslyn met his gaze with a start.

“You left for this? For them?” Derek’s eyes filled with unshed tears, such loathing in his expression it hurt, cutting through the flimsy barrier she’d thrown up around her mind like jagged shards of glass. “For power? For that thing on your hand?”

“I didn’t—the Inquisition is trying to close the Breach. That bleeding tear in the sky is more important—I have to help. You don’t understand.”

Derek opened his mouth, but was cut off by the old woman at his side. “It is clear what kind of help the Inquisition offers, Trevelyan.”

The name was like a slap to her face.

“Do not attempt to contact us anymore. Do not follow us as we leave. The Chantry might have declared you all heretics and madmen, but we are not allies.” The old mage spat on the ground. It was such a crude gesture, Roslyn barely registered the Seeker bristling at her side.  The old woman turned to Derek with an imperious glare. “We’re done here, Harper.” 

Derek sent Roslyn one last, disgusted look, running his eyes along the Seeker and the bodies behind her. “I hope it’s worth it, Rosie,” he muttered, following the rest of the mages back into the Witchwood. He hesitated, and one tear slid down his cheek as he screwed up his face, before he left.  Roslyn watched him go—a dull ache spreading through her chest and clawing up her throat.

He knew she hated that nickname, had always hated it.

She stared at the ground where the old woman had spat, remembering the hatred of the soldiers in Haven as she’d been dragged in chains to the Temple of Sacred Ashes.

Traitor. They called her traitor.

“How did they know we were here?” the Seeker asked in a sharp, cautious voice.

“The mage your scouts killed. She was running back to warn them. The Rebellion must have followed her.”

Her heart slammed against her sternum in an echo. Cold rose up her arms and chest.  From a far off, fragmented piece of her mind, the bitter crush of pain raced toward her.  Part of her wanted to run after Derek, to beg him to understand and take her back. But his hate thrummed within her, made it hard to breathe.

The Seeker asked her if she was all right, but she couldn’t answer.

Slowly, she turned to see the damage.  Bodies lay strewn across the ground, slumped against the stone walls and draped over ledges of rock. The woman who had called her traitor lay in the stream, the water stained dark as it trickled past her body. Splashes of demon ichor mingled with the blood of the mages and the cave thudded with residual magic. Frost crept over the small ferns lining the stream where a mage had cast a cone of cold. The charred and smoking remains of an Inquisition scout lay crumpled at the foot of a carved statue set into the far wall.

Her ears rang as she stared at the body of a mage in purple robes. Her short black hair was disheveled and blood leaked from her mouth as she looked up at the ceiling with wide, blank eyes.  Solas said her name and she blinked. She’d been clenching her right hand so tightly her nails had drawn blood, cutting through the leather of her gloves and digging into her palm.  She took a jerking step back, met the Seeker’s gaze. She expected to find grim satisfaction in her eyes at being proven right, at suspecting the mages would attack them.  But her eyes were full of concern, and pity.

Roslyn swallowed back a wave of bile, trying to keep the thudding wreck of her heart from bursting out of her chest.

Mages littered across a dark room, blood seeping from their nightclothes where they lie half in their beds—

She felt the stares of the Inquisition soldiers like a brand. The cold of her limbs burned. She was hot, much too hot.

“Red, you all right?” Varric asked, his voice low as he walked toward her, Bianca covered in the blood of the mages, in the blood of her people.

The odor of fresh, sweet lyrium hums in the air, clogging her throat and mouth. It’s behind her, there for her to take—

“Fine,” she said, voice tearing at her throat like a knife. “I need some air.”

She staggered forward, stepping over the fallen body of the mage she’d killed to protect Solas.

Children screaming behind her, crying as they huddle back against the walls—

Out of the cave, she walked past the Inquisition scouts, stumbling over more bodies of fallen mages. A ragged, broken wheezing emanated from the forest. She didn’t look for where the mages had gone, where Derek had gone.

Derek shudders beside her, crumpling to the floor. She lets out a ragged cry as his aura sputters out—

A dry sob broke from her trembling lips. Her head spun as she fought for air, tearing off her jacket and gloves. Too small, not enough— Her arms shook. Her heart was going to rip from her chest if she couldn’t calm it.

Alone to face the templars. They’re nearly in the storeroom—

She couldn’t see straight. Her limbs burned. Her mark sputtered and she clenched her hand to her chest, trying to stop the foreign magic, the thudding sensation of power, too much power—

Lyrium singing inside her as she forces the door open and blasts the front templars back—

The trees loomed over her. Roots tangled around her feet. She needed to get up, get out. The sky pushed down on her. It was too much. She was too much—

The power is overwhelming, intoxicating, cold fire screaming inside to burn, to kill them all, rip each and every templar apart limb by limb—

She stumbled into a trunk. Rough bark tore through her palm but she couldn’t feel it. Her knees buckled and she hit the ground. Back against the tree, she tugged her legs into her chest, shaking. The ground shook.  The tower shakes as she slams armored templars into the wall—

Blood ran down her palms. Green energy twisted with the red and pulsed, pulses with the lyrium, with her heart.

“Roslyn, look at me.”

She couldn’t see, she couldn’t feel, can’t feel pain, she had to be smaller, too small—she scrambled for the Chant but she couldn’t remember, she can’t remember her own name

“Roslyn.”

Fingers under her chin, pulling her gaze away from her hands and up—into the face of a screaming templar.

Solas knelt in front of her, face firm and eyes locked on hers.  “Keep your eyes on me,” he murmured, his voice dropping in a slow, measured cadence, filtering into her warped vision as the forest, stone crumbles around her, re-solidified around her. “Breathe. Focus on my voice.” Gentle hands braced both sides of her face, warm, reassuring. “Look past my eyes.”

The first breath cracked down her throat, breaking the surge of cold fire lodged in her chest.

He kept speaking, soft reassurances as he dropped his hands, pressing against her shoulders, running down her arms, reminding her she was whole. The rise and fall of his voice like a lapping, steady rhythm of waves against her chest, pulling her back to the present. His magic washed into her hands, rose up her arms, gentle warmth brushing against the heat of her pounding blood, soothing as it saturated her skin.

Her own aura rose to meet his and she shuddered as her heart relaxed, still beating quickly, but with less urgency, less pain. Face streaked with tears and throat burning, she could feel again. She could breathe.

His eyes held hers with a knowing sadness—not pity, but empathy.

With a monumental effort, she dragged her hands out of his. Her skin was cold as his magic left hers.

“I’m fine.” She braced her hands, still tingling, against her knees and forced her face into a neutral mask. “I’m all right.”

Solas held her gaze, conflict in his eyes, but he rose to his feet. “I am sure the Seeker will understand your desire for a few minutes alone.”

Walls up, she recited, the old mantra she’d pounded into her mind every time she remembered the day her tower fell, every time it broke within her chest and swelled up to consume her. Contain it.

“I appreciate your help, Solas.”

The edge of his coat hovered just out of the corner of her vision. The lingering thread of his aura still buzzed in the air.

“It was nothing,” he murmured, and walked away from her.

She stared unseeing at the sun-dappled grass and the choked hills of the forest as her heart slowed its frantic pace. The shadows moved slowly, sinister, as if the fear trickling through her chest had been released into the air.

A cold, familiar dread seeped into the back of her mind, and she prepared for the fall.

Chapter Text

Calenhad’s Foothold was a different place at dusk.

The crumbling walls and whispering wildflowers glowed in a dim, rosy hue. A small brush of light filtered through the cracks in the broken walls, shadows stretched across the split stone and shoots of swaying grass. A heavy silence hung in the air, the sounds of the Crossroads below the tower dimming to a low murmur as Roslyn entered.

Spirits clung to the tower, but like in the elven ruin, they didn’t seem malicious in their intent, only curious and excited. Their energy draped across her like a blanket as she walked toward the tree in the center. She eased into the embrace, ignoring the voice in the back of her mind telling her to reject the feeling, that it was reckless, dangerous.

It was soft, and comforting, and she couldn’t muster the energy to care.

The Inquisition had spent the majority of the day searching through the cave and disposing of the bodies. She’d helped dig shallow graves between the choked roots of the trees of the Witchwood, wherever they could find enough space.

It wasn’t enough, but she owed it to the mages.

The tree where she’d come upon Solas reading his book seemed larger now, less graceful where it sprouted up from the stone dais and reached for the crumbling tower walls. Her fingers shook as she reached up to trace the grooves of a large knot cut into the bark.

What had she expected, for the Rebellion to welcome her back with open arms? She had allowed the Inquisition to recruit Randall’s templars. They wouldn’t ignore that she had come to the Hinterlands in the first place to beg for help from the Chantry.

She had to have known they would never forgive her—but to reject her outright, fear her as if she were a demon sent to them on their Harrowing…

I might be a demon, she thought with a hollow laugh. She had fallen out of the Fade branded with a mark that allowed her to repair rifts in the Veil. It wasn’t a stretch, to think she was possessed. Mages came back from their Harrowing possessed all the time.

Her Jonas had. That’s why the templars made him Tranquil.

Demons took the form of the thing one wanted most. The Seeker had said as much at their first council meeting—I will not pretend you are not exactly what we needed when we needed it most.

Did demons know what they were before they started killing people?

She had killed plenty of people over the last month, more than most in their whole lives, and she hadn’t batted an eye. It was for her own survival, and most of them had been templars, so what did it matter? She had been forced to fight. The Inquisition needed her to kill for them.

But no one held her leash. No one forced her magic.

Fuck, she might have caused the explosion at the Conclave. She couldn’t remember what happened. She had no proof she hadn’t killed all those people.

She had killed so many before. Templars, not mages and Chantry mothers, to protect her people, the children screaming in her dreams and her friends falling around her as her tower fell.

But the monster was in her. She was capable of such destruction.

In a way, it would be easier. She might accept that her life was over and she was alone. Anyone who could commit such an act of terror as to cut down a thousand lives in a single blow must be beyond loneliness and self-loathing.

Monsters didn’t have friends, didn’t feel fear like brands upon their skin.

Roslyn closed her eyes against the sting of tears and slumped to the ground. Her hands shook as they gripped her calves. Her body felt ragged, broken, empty. Her limbs throbbed with tension. A slow, steady ache pounded at her temples and spread down along her spine.

Faces swam in her mind’s eye like reflections in a troubled pool—wide-eyed and slack-jawed, the mages in the cave, the refugees in the Crossroads, the villagers of Haven.

She closed her eyes and pressed her fingers into her temples, trying to block out the sounds and the images. She hunched over her knees and prayed to Andraste to make it stop, to make it all stop and leave her empty…

Slowly she succumbed to sleep, and when she opened her eyes in the Fade, fear spiked through her chest.

Gone was the table stone that had been her sanctuary for so many years. Gone was the ring of light that protected her against the demons.

She scrambled to her feet, heart racing, and pressed back against the tree

Calenhad’s Foothold towered over her, a ruin no more—high, thick stone walls ended in a fine, domed roof, painted with a multi-colored fresco of mountains and rolling hills. Wooden beams ran across the tower at intervals, threaded with flowering vines and blooming ivy.

The air around her hummed with its own music, like a whistling flute whose tune she couldn’t place. The melody was familiar. She had heard the song before, but for the life of her she couldn’t remember where. It sang deep in her chest and thrummed across her veins like a whispering caress, soothing and gentle—like a spirit’s presence in the waking world.

The ground was choked in grass a thousand different shades of green, wildflowers humming along with the faint melody. They swayed in a soft breeze, blowing fresh, sweet odors into the air to swirl around her.

A line of flowers sat around her in a ring.

Slowly, not daring to breathe, she knelt to examine the thick white petals, a deep, blood orange at the center.

Andraste’s Grace.

The flowers had grown in the chantry garden at the Emerald Cove, grouped in front of the statue of the Maker’s Bride in a secluded corner tucked away from the manicured benches and neatly organized rows of lilac and lavender. There had been a small window of time, every year at the beginning of summer, before the noble family returned from Ostwick City to spend the warm months at the oceanside palace, when she had the garden to herself.

She would go every morning and offer Andraste anything she had scavenged—a small scrap of brightly-colored cloth, a pastry left over from the previous night’s meal, a unique or pretty leaf. She would kneel in the flower bed, careful not to crush them, and speak to Andraste, as if the woman might answer. She had looked forward to it all winter, checking the frigid garden every day for a month to see if Andraste’s Grace had bloomed early.

With a sense of growing unease, she rose to her feet and examined the walls of the tower. The murals were vibrant, as if they had been painted an hour, not hundreds of years, ago. The antlered woman shone with skin made of diamonds instead of ink. The green bear over her roared and the sound vibrated in the base of Roslyn’s stomach.

A breeze whipped her hair across her face, carrying the fresh scent of the sea and something sweet she couldn’t identify. She reached up to pull her hair back, and froze at the sight of her palm.

It didn’t glow or pulse, the energy usually surrounding it gone. She could see the glyph etched into her palm—a nine-pointed star with a circle in the middle connecting to each point. Faint lines shimmered as they swirled through the center, shifting and changing so fast she couldn’t identify each shape before it moved. It reminded her of the constellation schematics she’d studied in the Circle.

Someone made this. There was pattern, reason in the shifting lines and pricks of light.

It had been designed, with a graceful power and subtle hand. It lacked the frantic chaos of magics gone awry, she knew that much. A curling symmetry shined in its simplicity, forged for a purpose. Whether that purpose was to close rifts or do something else, she didn’t know, but this was no accident, no product of an explosion or imprint of whatever went wrong in the Temple of Sacred Ashes.

What brilliant madman divined this?

“It is beautiful, isn’t it?”

Roslyn’s eyes jerked up and the Fade rioted.

With a snap and thundering crackle of a coming storm, the tower shifted and collapsed. Stone rained down around her to recreate the crumbling ruin she’d left in the waking world. A discordant melody replaced the soft music and swirling green smoke covered the shifting grass. Twisted trees sprouted up along the edge of the tower, shaking and bristling as they curled closer, closer. A distant, clanging chime of bells beat a stark rhythm into her heart.

This was the Fade of her childhood, the Fade of her demons. But now she didn’t have her table stone and her circle of light.

Now she was exposed and helpless.

A hooded woman stood before her, cast in shadow, wearing a vast gown of swirling black, made from the very fabric of the night sky.

Roslyn couldn’t see her face, but her form shined like a beacon, bright and violent against the shifting mass of darkness around her. The haunting song drifted into Roslyn’s mind like a snake. It slipped under her skin and resonated with a strange, melodic keening.

Demon.

Tears pricked her eyes and she stumbled back from the tree, pressed against the wall of the tower, trying to put as much distance between them as she could. She heard a faint growl behind her, imagining the painted bear on the wall coming to life.

“Be calm,” the woman called, holding out a pale hand draped in silky tendrils of shadow. Her voice sounded like the echoing crash of an ocean and peel of chantry bells, terrible and fierce and vast beyond her understanding.

The demon was old—ancient.

“I did not mean to alarm you. You have nothing to fear from me.” The woman took a step forward, skirts shifting against the ground with a hiss, hand still outstretched. “I have been watching you for some time, Roslyn.”

Roslyn’s heart jumped into her throat as ice clamped down on her chest. Her name sounded wrong in the demon’s voice, significance shifting behind it as something hammered at the back of her mind.

Something forgotten. Or taken.

“You do not know what you are.” Waves crashed against Roslyn’s mind with another crackling rumble of thunder. “You will. One day.”

Tears streamed down Roslyn’s cheeks and she swallowed her whimper as the woman’s sadness leeched through the air between them—a sadness too vast to understand.

Roslyn dug her fingers into her palms, focusing beyond the despair burrowing into her mind. She furiously tried to recall everything she had ever been taught about how to resist demons.  A cold sweat broke out on her brow. “I deny you,” she tried to shout, her voice feeble and small compared to the woman’s ringing call.

The air didn’t smell like the salt-tanged ocean next to the Emerald Cove. The despair in her mind wasn’t real, but conjured by the demon. The panic welling inside of her was unjustified. She was in control.

The demon’s hand curled back. The brilliant light of her form dimmed as she retreated into the folds of her dress. Shadows and silk obscured her skin and blackness pulled at the edges of Roslyn’s vision.  A black so deep and so hungry it took everything she had not to step forward and let it swallow her whole. 

“You hate what he has made me.” Her voice rose to a crescendo, tinged with a ringing entreaty. “There will come a time when you know me for what I am, what I was. The storm comes for you, Roslyn, but you must not fear it. Embrace it, and remember.”

Her heart hitched at the longing and fear in the woman’s invocation. Part of her screamed to step forward, a voice in the back of her mind urging her to remember, you have to remember

No. She clenched her jaw and pressed back against the wall, fear sparking across her skin.  Behind her, a deep, menacing growl ripped through the discordant melody.  “You will not sway me.” Roslyn’s voice was a whimper, a slip of sound on the wind. She would fall to this demon. She couldn’t fight it.

The woman moved toward her, arms raising under the mass of black fabric. The tower shuddered. A building growl rose behind Roslyn, and something firm and unafraid slid into place in her mind. The woman paused, melody faltering as shock spread through the tower. “What have you done?”

Anger rose in Roslyn’s chest, burning away the fear of the demon. She pushed off the wall, soft fur brushing against her fingers, and took a step forward. “I deny you,” she said again with bristling rage, her voice coming out in a growl.

The woman fell back a step as the darkness surrounding her spiked and raged in response. “You—you took it. You claimed it.”

Roslyn paced forward, pushing the demon back again.

Strength and energy coursed through her veins and pounded in her ears. She felt powerful, strong, hungry. The haunting melody shattered, discordant notes raining down around her as the demon’s influenced waned.

“You will know me,” the demon warned, voice small without the song to bolster it, but coiled, as if preparing to strike. “When you are ready.”

A shivering awareness split Roslyn’s mind, part of her still glaring at the demon with a fierce, burning desire to rip into her throat, to tear her limb from limb.

The other, smaller part paused, confused by the demon’s words.

When I’m ready?

An insistent tug at the base of her spine made Roslyn stumble back.

The demon considered her as the silence in the clearing grew taut. Without warning, her outline expanded and brightened into a shining, blinding white mass. She pulled back her hood to reveal burning black eyes, molten pools of the Void.

Another tug, a growl that shook some small, forgotten part of her core. She had the faint impression a huge, hulking beast stood behind her.

The demon tilted her head, light spilling over her shoulders like hair. A wicked, anticipatory smile spread across her face. Lances of silver shadow spread to fill the ruined tower on either side of her, glistening like wings of starlight.

Cold, burning light slammed into Roslyn’s chest. A bristling ball of energy burst apart inside her, and she forgot who she was.

The beast roared and the light from the demon swelled—and she flew back through the air.

 


 

Roslyn awoke hunched over in the dirt at the foot of the tree, staring up at the stationary walls of Calenhad’s Foothold. She eased out of her cramped position and ran her hands through the tall grass around her as her heart pounded.

No sign of Andraste’s Grace, blooming or dormant.

She waited for her fear of the demon to rise, for her mind to collapse. A demon, two demons had broken through her defenses.

Out of the Fade, she could recognize the woman for what she was.

Of course the woman had seemed real. Of course her words had pulled at Roslyn with a frightening familiarity. It was a demon’s nature to twist and bend the Fade to tempt an unsuspecting mage into taking its offer of help.

The massive beast behind her was the same that had scared off the rest of the demons when she’d first arrived in the Hinterlands. It had followed her, perhaps warning off other, lesser demons when they’d approached in the nights since. That had to be it.

A demon followed her, powerful enough to make it so that no other demons, save the one tonight, had dared approach her. Terror, sharp and fragile, rushed up her spine and lodged in her throat. But she understood this terror, knew it intimately. She could fight it.

The woman was a demon of despair, of course. It had been years. Not since Jonas, and the months after he’d been made Tranquil, had she been broken enough to draw one so powerful.  The second was rage, though a rage more primal and bestial than she’d ever encountered before. They screamed insults or accusations, blaming her for her inaction or cowardice. This one was… different.

Roslyn tried to dispel the ache settled into her spine from her twisted position and leaned back against the tree. A grunt and scraping to her left made her jump.

She leaned back against the stone as Varric approached and  whistled, making a show of looking around at the ruin, with an affectionate smile. “Gotta say, Red, your choice of hideout location is lacking.” He braced his hands against his hips in disapproval and shook his head, coming to a stop a few feet from her. “Getting up here is gonna be hard after a long day of killing bandits, especially if you choose to imbibe a merry beverage. It’s fine now, but think what this place will be like covered in snow. It’s not a solid investment. Though, this might be the only area in a hundred-mile radius that isn’t swarming with bears. Works in its favor. But, as your friend and self-appointed financial advisor, I cannot give my approval.”

“Well,” her voice cracked, “that just shows how close minded you are, Varric. You’ve got to think long-term. Imagine the place as it could be, not as it is.”

He chuckled. “Got room for one more against your tree?”  With an air of handing her a diamond, he offered her Bianca. She grinned and took the crossbow as he sat, handing it back when he reached for it immediately.

They sat in silence, both staring up at the night sky through the broken walls.

“This is not a good view. I thought you were here to stargaze or something. Contemplate the mysteries of life.”

She snorted. “I think you have me confused with someone else. I don’t contemplate.”

“Mmm, I don’t know. You could be one of those secret intellectual types. Fire and brimstone by day—”

“Secret philosopher by night?”

He chuckled again, the sound warm and pleasant in the silent ruin. The spirits had gone while she was dreaming, or perhaps because of the dwarf at her side.

“I’m all right, Varric,” she murmured. “You don’t need to check up on me.”

He tilted his head as he examined the far wall. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a terrible liar?”

Her jaw clenched, but she said nothing.

“Of course you’re not all right. Fuck, if you were, I’d be worried.” His voice softened as he shook his head in distaste. “Bunch of stubborn jackasses, your pals from the Rebellion.”

The tear-tracks on her cheeks stung keenly in the chill night air.

“Sorry. It’s just a sad day when people are too scared to listen to reason. Makes me a little homesick, actually.”

“Kirkwall that much of a mess?”

He smiled—a wistful, sad smile. “She really was. Most beautiful mess I’ve ever known.” He paused, a slight furrow in his brow. “Maybe.”

She grinned. “Am I finally going to hear about the infamous Bianca?”

“No, you’re not,” he muttered, all wistful longing gone from his voice. “Honestly, Red, and I mean this in the most complimentary way, you’re in the running.”

Her grin softened. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

“Yeah, well, double-edged compliments are my speciality. That, and self-sacrificing noble gestures. The Seeker was on her way up here when I intercepted her.”

“I have nothing to say to her.”

Of course the Seeker would want to find her after what happened today. She probably thought Roslyn would run off into the night.

I have nowhere to go.

Without the Rebellion, she had nothing.

Fiona will understand.

Derek didn’t know how to make hard choices. Maker knew he’d followed her since they’d left the wreckage of their Circle. He’d never had to work with anyone he hated for his own survival. Living in the Circle was one thing, but at least one knew where they stood. Navigating an alliance such as hers with the Inquisition was more complicated. He was frightened and angry, and he’d lashed out like the rest of them.

But Fiona would understand.

Varric watched her as she lapsed into thought. “Fair enough. Though, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I think you should hear her out. She seems worried.”

Roslyn shot him an incredulous glance.

“Hey, I too have a hard time believing the Seeker is a woman with the capability of feeling emotions other than anger, but she’s not the only one. You’ve got a few people you’ve managed to get caring about you. Myself included. I know, I know, I met you less than two months ago and who am I to be worried about you, etcetera, etcetera. Way I see it, you need someone to keep you grounded. You’re an all-powerful mage, there is some freaky shit going on here. All of us are in over our heads, swimming for shore in the middle of the fucking ocean of shit while sharks are chomping at our ankles.”

A broken laugh bubbled up her throat. “That metaphor got away from you.”

Varric frowned. “Well, it’s late and you didn’t give me much time to prepare. You’re getting the rough draft.” He reached up to place his hand over hers where it rested on her knee. “You’ve gotta breathe, Roslyn, or you’re going to wind up mad, or worse—broken.”

She stared down at his hand, tears welling in her eyes.

“If things get worse, and I’m sure they will,” he murmured, squeezing her hand before taking his away, “just know I don't give a rat’s ass about your cursed hand.”

Roslyn wiped away the few tears sliding down her cheeks. Blessedly, and perhaps purposefully, he looked away, settling back against the tree.  She nudged him with her elbow. “You know, for a good-for-nothing scoundrel, you’ve got an awful large heart.”

Varric grinned. “And for a scary mage who fell from the sky, you’re pretty easy to care about.”

They sat in silence, Varric content to stay with her as long as she needed.

I should remember this. She wasn’t alone. Even if she couldn’t stay with the Inquisition forever, she was glad to have met him.

“Cassandra really tried to come after me?”

“I swear on my disappointed ancestors. And not to drag you back, either. Maybe she’s learned forcing people to follow her around isn’t endearing.” He paused, voice growing suspiciously casual. “Chuckles seemed pretty concerned too. Kept staring up here with those big, puppy-dog eyes—”

“Leave it alone, Varric.”

He let out a small laugh, but said nothing.

“Thank you.”

“No problem, Red. Lucky for you I’ve got a certain fondness for bombastic screw-ups.”

She shoved gently against his shoulder with hers, and smiled.

Chapter Text

Three days after encountering the mages in the Witchwood, the Inquisition moved on the bandits in the south.

The mercenary company had taken over a large, sprawling fortress built into the mountainside. Their best bet was to lure as many of the bandits out as they could, and send a small team inside to pick off the stragglers. 

Which is how Roslyn found herself crawling up a side passage in the rock-face underneath the fortress, surrounded by a group of soldiers led by Lieutenant Rylen Faulkner, Cullen’s second.

They’d snaked through Lady Shayna’s Valley to close the rifts there beforehand, and now Roslyn pulsed with unspent energy. For the past three days she'd done nothing but fight and scout through the hills, spending as much time as she could away from the main Inquisition force. She couldn’t look at the templars walking freely amongst the scouts and soldiers without remembering the carnage in that cave, without manic grief and guilt threatening to drown her. She’d barely slept, eaten only what she had to, and relied solely on her damn mark’s magic to keep her going. 

Varric might have helped her forget for a moment the horror of her situation, but in the harsh light of day, it was a wonder she could see straight, let alone fight. But fight she did, because if she stopped to think about the fears swimming under the surface of her mind, she’d go mad.

After waiting for a sign of the attack on the front of the fortress, Cassandra leading the bulk of their forces to draw the bandits out into the forest, they moved.

They reached the top level when Roslyn caught sight of a group of archers, huddled on the northwest tower and firing arrows into the darkness of the trees. She whispered to Rylen, “Meet you in the pavilion.”

He reached out to stop her, alarm in his eyes, but she was already running.

She sprinted through a stone pathway and jumped down the small flight of stairs to the tower. Conjuring a swirling wave of force between her hands, she caught six of the archers up in the blast. They flew off the edge of the landing while rest sprawled against the tower.

Skidding to a halt next to a defunct catapult, she ducked as two archers leveled bows at her face. She buffeted another sphere of force at them, this time shattering their wooden arrows as they passed through the edge of her magic. With a grunt, she pressed the sphere forward and slammed the men back against the ground. 

Her magic surged without prompting, running through her veins and pushing her forward, forward. In the mindless maelstrom of her aura, she felt calm, detached. 

She tried to catch one of the remaining archers in a prison of arcane energy. He tripped backward as the energy flew toward him, as if he intended to flee. The edges of her spell fizzled around his hands, stripping them of flesh and sending tendrils of acrid smoke rising into the air.

She winced as he howled in pain, falling to the ground and writhing against the stone.

So much for secrecy, she thought grimly, sending a bolt of compressed air into his chest and cutting off the sound of his screams with a loud crack as his ribcage caved in. She wheeled around to find another man bearing down on her. Dodging the edge of his bow, she punched him in the stomach, energy crackling around her left hand as her fist slammed into his armor. The magic engulfed him and he teetered back, waves of arcane energy flowing over his body before turning inward. He fell to the ground without a sound as the energy stopped his heart.

When the other archer didn’t stir, she straightened and jumped to the edge of the catapult and peered around the fortress, making sure Rylen and the rest of their men had made it to the large pavilion, where she reasoned the mercenary captain must be hiding. The crackling of her mark made it difficult, but she thought she heard someone shout—

The whistling thud of an arrow cut through her distraction as the head slammed into her shoulder, directly above her heart. The fletched tail stuck out of her leather coat. In her shock, she didn’t feel the pain blossoming.

The last archer knocked another arrow.

A shadow passed in front of her—Rylen, she thought—too slow to stop the second arrow as it flew toward her stomach.

This time the impact pushed her back against the catapult. Pain surged to life as she hit the ground.

She screamed as her magic burst out and encased her in a bristling shell of energy. Her aura swelled and cracked, pulsing out in waves. The energy curled around her in tendrils of white fire as her vision clouded over.

Shutting her mouth against the scream, she tried to rein in her magic. She pushed out the pain and the shock and forced herself to pull her energy back inside. Falling into the recitation of the Chant, she conjured the image of a small, flickering candle and outstretched marble hands in her mind.

He came to me in shining silks, clad in richest cloth. He beseeched my hand to give to him, and thus I denied him…

The mark pulsed at her unbridled magic, rejoicing in the torrent of energy coursing through her body. It fed into hers and sent waves of intoxicating power, buffeting against her control. It was raw, wild, and she clawed for it, craved it.

He told me of my gifts and made me see my truest face, the face no one but he knew. Still, I denied him, for demons have sweet words and welcoming arms…

With a grunt of effort, she grasped the shaft of the arrow embedded in her stomach and twisted. Another wave of pain washed through her and warred against the intoxicating pull of the magic. She clenched her teeth against the scream, blood seeping from the wound onto her hand as she forced the tip deeper. She focused on the agony, felt it instead of the wild energy.

Then he revealed himself. He discarded his finery and stood before me bare in all his unworldly glory. Thus I fell to my knees, for his was the kindest face the world in all its sins forgot…

The pain intensified, and her magic weakened without the will to fuel it. The pulsing energy inside her retreated to a tiny, focused point no larger than a mote of dust.

Be unseen, no more rage.

The roaring in her ears faded to a dull thud. With effort, she uncurled herself. Another stab of pain rocketed through her shoulder and stomach and she bit down hard on her cheek. Blood welled up in her mouth and coated her tongue with the metallic taste of rust and magic.

A blur of armor crossed over her vision and Rylen stood over her, sword at the ready. There was no fear in his eyes, only a determined glint.

A familiar look—the look the templars used to give her when she’d gone too far in one of her fits of anger.

“My lady?” he asked in a low, controlled voice.

She couldn’t help but find the situation rather ironic. After everything she’d done to get here, she’d thrown away her chance at freedom only to land back at the mercy of a templar who didn’t trust her. She tried to smile up at him, but cried out as she released her grip on the arrow shaft.

His eyes widened in alarm. The wariness fled his expression as soon as he saw the blood flowing over her chest and pooling at her waist. He sheathed his sword without hesitation, glancing around to make sure no one else remained on the landing, and crouched in front of her.

The sounds of fighting in the forest rose as they grew nearer. The Inquisition must have reached the clearing in front of the fortress.

“Blessed Andraste,” he cursed. “Can you stand?”

Roslyn spit a mouthful of blood onto the stone and managed a grin. “You know, I’m not entirely sure.”

Rylen eased an arm around her and pulled her up, taking care not to jostle the arrows as he guided her into a sitting position against the catapult. She gritted her teeth, tears leaking from her eyes as she gasped and fell forward against his chest. Her stomach pulsed and she let out a strangled cry.

“I need a healer, now,” Rylen shouted over his shoulder.

Roslyn heard a swift reply and thudding boots as someone sprinted across the stone walkway.

“You shouldn’t have run ahead, my lady. It was a damn fool idea.”

Roslyn blinked up at him, his warm eyes and flushed face filling her vision. “Probably,” she said with a weak laugh, focusing on the tattoos down his chin like a kind of ink trail.  The mark pulsed and her arm went numb. Her eyes closed as her body grew cold.

The kindest face…  What was the next line?  “Sins the world forgot. Something about his shining face. Shadows and secrets…”  Her voice was barely more than a whisper as the weight of her head became too much to bear. Her chin dipped. Her mind sagged under the pressure of remaining conscious, and her head fell back.

“Herald,” he said urgently, voice breaking in his panic.

That damn title.

But she was floating up above the mountains. The stone sang beneath her in a crooning lullaby and the mark buzzed with excitement.

She drifted farther and further, time slipping away as wind and energy stirred around her broken form. Weightless, drifting—the air was so fresh above the clouds.

Back in her body, the tower shook as boots pounded on the stone. Raised voices, the hard metallic scrape of a staff falling to the ground—a flurry of motion in front of her.

Bright-hot feeling surged into her body and she jerked forward.

Peppermint, smoke, whispering—an aura.

Her eyes shot open to find Solas’ face only inches away from hers. He was trying to heal her.

No. She fought against the surge of magic. Her mark sputtered back to life with a vengeance and jerked against the stone. Green sparks flashed up and over the tower’s edge, scalding white-hot into the catapult behind her.

If he fed her more magic, she would lose control.

The mark rioted in her palm as she fought against the urge to let it release, pressing back against him and clashing against his aura as it thudded into hers.

He reacted with surprise, eyes widening as his grip tightened. He broke the tip of the arrow and pulled it out of her shoulder, moving to her stomach. More of his magic flowed into her to offset the blood splattering against the stone.

Don’t,” she gasped, trying to move away. She gritted her teeth, grinding her jaw against the urge to allow the mark to expand and engulf her.

Comprehension dawned on his face and he looked down at her hand.

It was too much—too much power.

Walls closing in around her, limbs shaking with the cool fire of lyrium singing in her blood. She is everything. She is—

“Focus.” His hand found her marked palm and gripping tightly. His low voice shot through her panic as his energy warred with hers. “You have to focus.”

She would kill them all. She couldn’t do it again, she couldn’t—

His eyes widened in alarm and his jaw clenched. “You have to let me heal you, Roslyn.”

I can’t— She walled up her power, tried to contain it. Smaller, smaller, she thought, retreating farther back as wall after wall came up around her mind. The iron grip she held on her magic was slipping and she knew, she knew, she would burst.  Must be small—

“Let it go,” Solas murmured, hand shaking as he held hers. “I have you. Just let it go.”

A trickle. A thread of something soft, and familiar, broke through her walls.

She whimpered, grimacing against the urge to hold her magic in. But slowly, reluctantly, she released the grip on her energy as she let Solas pry her iron barrier away.  Her mind spiraled when he broke through. She hung weightless in the vortex of her magic.

Her instincts kicked in, terror returning at the loss of control. She searched desperately for something solid to cling to, and found... him.

His aura flooded around hers in a wave, filling in the gaps where she contracted and bolstering her power with his own as she tamed the wild energy in her hand.  All the while she kept her gaze locked on his.  When she knew her power would not overwhelm her, she released his aura. He withdrew at the same time, as if he could sense her control, and pressed both hands against her shoulder, waves of warm energy rolling into her wound and sealing it. He moved to her stomach with a frown, beads of sweat rolling from his temples.

She watched him work in a distant kind of concern. He’d given her too much. Her heart thudded in her chest as she tried to stay awake.

But she was so tired.

When he finished, he rocked back on his heals, searched her face with an intent, strangled panic only now starting to dim. 

“So much for indomitable focus,” she murmured.

His eyes widened in surprise and his mouth twitched into a small smile, before she passed out.

 


  

A howling vortex lifted her up into the air.

She reached out, scrambling for a hold as she jerked in the wind. The only light she could see was a faint glowing at the edges of her vision—a bright, hazy green, familiar and wrong.

Lightning struck her left hand and she screamed. Her mind burst open as the thread in her palm connecting to her heart unraveled in a bristling cacophony of sound.

A voiceless whisper sounded in her mind, teeth ghosted across her lips. A line of fire burned down her tongue and coiled around her throat. She caught aflame as countless hooded eyes flashed a sickening, lifeless black.

 


 

Roslyn shot upright, a strangled cry ripped from her throat.

Her chest burned, heart pounding against her ribcage. The room was dark, but silver light shone down from a window to her left where the moon hung low in the sky. A flickering candle cast shadows across the opposite wall. A small table sat a few feet from the bed she lay in, holding a stack of papers.

She’d been shot. Her mark had grown out of control and… Solas had healed her.

Her heart slowed and she looked down at her hands where they gripped the rough blanket bunched over her legs. She frowned when she realized her leather vest and coat had been replaced with a thin cotton shirt and pants.

It’s all right. She tried not to clench her left hand, fear beating a hard rhythm against her mind, and buried her anxiety. You’re all right.

The door opened and she jumped. A cry of pain escaped her lips as the injuries in her shoulder and stomach spasmed.

She blinked, her eyes watering in pain, as Solas stood in the doorway.

He stared at her, conflict flashing in his expression. “I thought you would be asleep,” he murmured.

“Sorry to disappoint. What—happened?”

His brow furrowed as he took in her hunched position. “You were injured in the taking of the fortress—”

“No, I know,” she muttered, grimacing as her stomach throbbed. “I meant—after.”

“The bandits surrendered after Cassandra dispatched their leader. I believe the survivors are in the cells below. After I stabilized your wounds, someone else took over your dressings.”

Because he had been too tired to finish.

She didn’t know whether to apologize or thank him, as if she could say anything without reminding him she would have killed everyone within a hundred feet of her if not for his help.

“The healer tasked to look over you asked me to check on you,” he continued when she didn’t speak. “She has retired for the morning.”

“What time is it?”

“A few hours from dawn, I believe.”

“Right,” she murmured. “Ah—go ahead.”

He hesitated, studying her face as he shut the door and walked forward. She moved back, wincing as her shoulder throbbed, and made room for him to sit next to her. He did so gently, moving aside her blankets and keeping a few inches of space between them, to her relief. His eyes flicked to her shoulder and he held up his hand in an unspoken question.

Trying not to linger over the swirling of nerves in the base of her spine at his proximity, she pulled the collar of her shirt down to reveal a deep red bruise covering her shoulder and upper chest. Maker, it looked like she’d been smashed under a stone wall.

He ran his fingers over her skin, tracing a small amount of magic into a simple glyph that warmed as he went. 

She winced. The touch of his magic made her mark twitch in memory.

“Did I hurt you?” He lifted his hand and leaned back with a small frown.

“No, I—I’m fine.”

It was an intimate act, to share one’s aura, and not something most mages were comfortable with. She would have felt it a supreme violation of her privacy if anyone had drawn from her own magic without permission.

And she was afraid he would think she wanted more than his magic.

Don’t I?

When he had finished with her shoulder, he waited for her to pull her shirt up over her stomach. There, too, was a mass of red and purple flesh. A small, dark dot sat in the center of the bruise. The color faded to a dusky rose welt as he finished, the pain not as sharp. She tried to focus on something other than the soft brush of his fingers, careful, too much like caressing, but her mind felt raw—emotions and thoughts flashing without time to control them.

“I’m sorry I took your magic,” she said in a rush as he withdrew his hands.

His mouth twitched. “If I had not wanted you to draw from my aura, you would not have.”

She met his gaze. An unspoken question radiated out from his eyes, dark and impossibly blue, as if he were waiting.

His magic still sang in her body and hummed down her spine. 

“Did anyone tell you what happened when I was shot?” 

He nodded, brow furrowing.

“I lost control of my magic, Solas. It’s been ten years and I’ve only come close once before the mark, and that was—”

He didn’t need to know what happened to her when her Circle fell.

“Now I can’t even fight.” Her voice hardened as she tried to ignore the memories as they resurfaced. “The Vir Ghen’aran is supposed to help me, but I feel like my control slips further away each time I try to channel.”

Solas waited before he spoke, as if he were deciding how best to respond. “You did not lose control of your magic.”

She frowned. “You weren’t there.”

“No, but I could feel the energy as it rioted against you. Even without your mark, you are quite ostentatious in your employ of magics. Any mage with a basic understanding of aurology could tell for miles your power had flared.” The corner of his mouth slid into a half-smile. “Maybe not any mage.”

Roslyn stared at the corner of his mouth in mounting frustration. Was this a joke to him?

“You did not, in fact, lose control,” he repeated, as if seeing the anger spark in her gaze. “If you had, we would not be sitting here, conversing so casually. You reined in your substantial power without letting it consume you. I did nothing but lend you a modicum of strength. The will was yours.”  The smile still played along his lips as he tilted his head and continued in a gentle voice, “When I say that you demonstrate incredible command over your magic, I am not simply stroking your ego. The way you harness and channel your aura is innate in a way most other mages could not fathom, nor hope to replicate. Another mage, any other mage, might have died in the Temple of Sacred Ashes, unable to control the mark’s force long enough to close even the smallest rift.”

She tried not to flush at that, disliking the trajectory of his words but loving the damned sound of them. 

“You are faced with a unique problem, in that you focus your energies by claiming them first before directing them outward. While the mark is foreign, its origins unknown, it appears to connect your pool of mana directly to the Fade rather than drawing it from across the Veil.” His brow arched. “I think even you will take time to adjust to the wealth of power contained within the Fade.”

The warmth coursing through her body at his magic went cold.

Directly to the Fade?

That was impossible. There was no way to connect directly to the Fade, not without enormous amounts of lyrium or blood magic.  She recalled the sensation in the Temple of Sacred Ashes, the taint of the area and the humming sweetness curling into her mouth, the air hanging with its reek. If that had caused the explosion at the Conclave, and she had gotten her mark at the same time…

Her head swam from the implication. She jerked upright and untangled her legs from the bedsheet. Her injuries pulsed with the memory of pain, but she ignored them, paced to the table, and gripped its edge so tightly her knuckles turned white.  She should have guessed the mark was connected, but to think it built from that twisted magic…

A rift in the palm of her hand—a direct connection to the Fade.

“Am I to guess what it is I said that has upset you?”

Anger flashed in place of panic, of fear. Anger was so much easier, had always been easy for her. “You can try,” she said as heat rose in her cheeks.

He said nothing, but she caught the small hardening of his expression as he waited.

Her marked palm flashed as she lifted it, green light shining over the small flame of the candle on the table. “This gives me direct access to the Fade? That’s what’s been bleeding into my own magic for the past two months?”  That’s why I can’t protect myself in the Fade.

Solas frowned. “What did you think was happening?”

Her eyes widened and a note of hysteria crept into her voice as she said, “I have no fucking idea. How am I supposed to know what this does? I don’t remember getting it, Solas, and unlike you, I don’t have the background to speculate where it might come from.”

“I do not see how the origin of the magic has any relevance to its nature in this particular context.”

“Doesn’t have any relevance? You don’t think the knowledge that I have a direct line to the Fade might be a little troubling?”

“I did not think it would frighten you, no,” he said in a clipped voice.

“When did you plan on telling me about this brilliant revelation of yours?”

He stood, and she had to lift her chin to meet his eyes. “I assumed you had worked it out on your own.”

“Don’t fucking assume anything.” She took a step forward and balled her hands into fists, that fragile hold on her temper shaking in her grip.  “You don’t know me,” she spat, emphasizing each word. “Stop assuming you know how I’ll react. Stop telling me how my power works and stop acting like you know better than me who and what I am. Just because you think the Fade is neat shit and you prance about with spirits whenever it strikes your fucking fancy, it doesn’t change the fact that for the rest of us, it is a nightmare.”

Solas’ anger rose, darkening his eyes and giving him a snide, pompous cast. “Would you rather I lie? Curb the truth, however difficult, to placate you?” His voice rang sharp with derision. “Or do you, like the rest of your kind, find the lies you tell yourself preferable to complex reality and rational thought?”

“My kind?”

His jaw clenched.

“Is that another jab at the Circle then?”

“You have spoken of the Circle as a prison, why should I think differently? Especially when it seems to have bestowed in you an irrational fear of your own power.”

“It’s not irrational, Solas,” she said, voice breaking.

“It is,” he countered, voice raising in his anger, thrumming in the air between them and burning as it turned on her. “You are more than the chains they put you in, Roslyn, more than this fear. You have spent the last decade believing you suffer from a quirk of birth, but you wield a power more real and more rare than you understand. Your magic is a gift. If you would try to think past the narrow-minded dogma that has told you you are a monster—”

“That’s exactly what I am,” she shouted in a broken, ragged voice, shattering the last vestige of her composure. “You have no idea what I’m capable of, and if you did, you wouldn’t stand there and patronize me.”

Panic welled in her voice as doors burst open in her mind. It was an ugly thing, a horrible, wretched, trembling thing that made her eyes burn and her self-loathing riot.

“What I am supposed to do now, Solas? Pretend I’m all right with this new and special gift,” she snarled the word as his eyes filled with growing unease, “rejoice in the newfound danger this means for me? Be happy about the fact that, once again, I can’t sleep at night without worrying about possession? Without being terrified that I can’t cast my own magic without the possibility that I will not only kill myself but everyone around me? That after ten years of learning to finally control this thing that rages inside of me, I have to do it all over again—and this time I don’t have the luxury of being a child and not understanding just how much of a freak I am?”

The word hung in the air between them like a curse.

Tears streamed down her cheeks, her entire body shaking as she struggled to silence the sobs rising up her throat. She shouldn’t have said anything. She should have told him to fuck off.

But he pulled at something inside her, something she’d thought was long-dead and buried, killed by her own stubborn iron will. She couldn’t think around him and now he knew... 

Walls up. Contain it.

He watched her in silence, eyes hard and wide with understanding, anger tempered into something that ran too close to pity, to concern.

Taking a step back and folding her arms to press her heart into submission, she turned away from him. She stared at the wall, trying to stop her lips from quivering as she forced them shut against the sob in her chest.

“I did not mean to cause you alarm,” Solas said in a small voice, the hint of his anger still present, if diminished.

Roslyn hated that she was falling apart in front of him. She counted the bricks, forcing herself to concentrate on something other than his still and silent form.

“I understand your concern—”

“Please leave,” she whispered.

The only thing she could hear was the heavy beating of her heart, before his bare feet brushed softly against the stone floor as he moved to the door. There was a pause in his footsteps, and her chest constricted.

He’d shown interest, of course, but no more than anyone else had. He had flirted with her, and she had indulged it, something to keep the facade of friendship between them alive. But in the end, she was abnormal and interesting, something to study. She was what she had always been—an anomaly, nothing more. The mess of thorns around her was enough to scare off the bravest of souls. He was no different.

The soft creak of hinges whined as it swung open and closed with a dull click. She closed her eyes tight and took three deep breaths, and cried.

Her chest shook with the effort of keeping her sobs quiet, arms shaking and head pounding as she sagged onto the small bed. She bent in half to press her face against her knees, muffling the sounds shaking from her trembling lips. She let it wash through her and leave her empty.

With shaking hands, she straightened and looked down at where her shirt pulled back from her chest and stomach. She was thinner than she’d been in years, her skin stretched taut against her collarbones, barely any fullness to her figure now. Even in the worst months with the Rebellion, when they’d been forced to scrounge for scraps and ration what little they did have, she was strong and healthy. She was whole.

When her tears were only burning tracks against her skin, she stood and approached the desk. She thumbed the piece of paper on top of the stack of notes, the handwriting compact and sharp.

 

Herald,

We have confirmation that the mages encountered by you and Seeker Pentaghast in the Witchwood were, at one point, affiliated with the Rebellion. One of my agents reports that they had fled Redcliffe, where the Rebellion has gone to ground with the permission of King Alistair. I have tried to send ravens to the Grand Enchanter to broker some sort of meeting, but the woman will not meet with us. Why, I do not know, but my scouts say she is planning to attend the meeting of clerics in Val Royeaux.

Leliana

 

Roslyn stared down at the paper, eyes running over the words twice to make sure she’d read them correctly.

Fiona and the Rebellion were in Redcliffe.

Redcliffe.

Less than fifty miles away for more than a month, and they hadn’t reached out to her, hadn’t sent so much as a message…

It would be enough to grapple with the fact that she had signed her life away to the Inquisition, that she had fought and killed in their name, represented them and spoke for them. She had killed mages and agreed to work with templars, all because of the justification that she couldn’t run. That she owed them for not killing her right away when they found her lying in the middle of the Temple of Sacred Ashes with a rift sundered into her hand.

But she had agreed to work with them and close the Breach, to do whatever was necessary.

Even at the expense of her own people.

The paper crunched as her fist clenched around it.

Chapter Text

Val Royeaux rose around Roslyn in a towering white and gold spectacle, a monument to the grace and elegant refinement of the Orlesian Empire.

Its arching buildings lined quaint, cobbled streets, slicing the light blue sky into neat rows of open air and glittering glass. It smelled of flowers and the ocean, wafting in from the south where the harbor flowed out to the Waking Sea. Neat promenades wound lazily along the edge of bridges and pavilions, decorated in red and blue touches to accent the white marble and gold filigree topping fences, gilding anything it could get its hands on.

Over it all, the buzzing of thousands of voices, tinkling laughter, and excited shouting—the many-layered sounds of a city alive with the height of summer drifting along with the faint echoes of music and the tolling of bells.

There was beauty in every arch and painted door, every swish of full, brightly-colored skirt across white stone as noblewomen passed them and tittered behind ornate masks—he city every bit as elegant as she’d heard.

Roslyn was finding it hard not to smash every window she walked past.

The air was unseasonably hot, and she squirmed in the fine coat Josephine had sent for her to wear instead of her leather jacket.

In her letter, the ambassador had kindly implied that her field clothes might be less suited to addressing an assembly of clerics than tossing into the nearest pond, and had implored her to wear the embroidered red and gold velveteen coat she’d sent. Heavier than Roslyn’s leather one and tighter, it had gold buttons trailing up the front and along the arms like links of chain. When combined with her new shoes and pants, she felt like a prize mare paraded through Val Royeaux for all of Orlais to gawk at.

Roslyn had braided her long, curly red hair into a loose bundle of knots and draped it over her shoulder. Cassandra had suggested she pull her hair up into a dignified bun, but one hard look had silenced her. She was enough of an oddity with her mark—there was no need to show the clerics her pointed ears as well. Let them speculate and gossip after she left.

Their group stood in front of the Grand Cathedral, in the shadow of the second gate. One of their agents had slipped inside to inform Mother Giselle they had arrived almost fifteen minutes ago, but they had yet to hear anything. Only Roslyn and Cassandra would attend the assembly, while Varric, Solas, and Charter would remain outside with the rest of their agents.

Roslyn stared at the alcoves set back into walls of gilded marble that held ornamental statues of various Chantry figures and Orlesian heroes. Every time she caught sight of Andraste her mouth slid into a frown, sending a whispered Herald into the back of her mind.

Solas had not made any attempt to speak to her outside of necessity since their fight in the Grand Forest Villa two weeks ago.

Neither had she, of course, but it was becoming harder to justify her anger at the him the longer they held their silence. He’d been honest with her, if it was in his stubborn and patronizing way. She couldn’t fault him for telling her his suspicions. She was being immature, allowing her fear to override her reason.

But she couldn’t apologize, not when she spent every night huddled on her table stone, praying to the Maker and Andraste and anyone else listening to take back the thing they’d given to her.

Varric lounged against a statue of Maferath next to Solas a few yards away from her and Cassandra. They chatted quietly, and as Roslyn watched, Varric let out a surprised chuckle as Solas’ mouth twitched in amusement.

Cassandra stood with her arms crossed and staring at the large double doors barring their entry, face tense, unease in her eyes.

“You look as uncomfortable as I feel.”

Cassandra frowned. “The city reminds me too much of Divine Justinia. You would not know it by the cheery atmosphere, but they still mourn her loss.”

Of course she would be remembering the Divine. She hadn’t been back since the Conclave.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured.

The Seeker looked at her in surprise, before she shook her head. “It is fine. I am more worried about this assembly.”

“Worried I’ll screw it up?”

“Actually,” she said with a grim smile, “I think you will do fine. What we need is to show them we are strong, not appeal to their better natures. Whatever Mother Giselle says, they need to see you do not fear them. I have no doubt you will chastise them soundly. You are rather intimidating when told what to do.”

Roslyn grinned. “Only when it’s you, Seeker.”

“Let us hope the assembly shares my good humor.”

Roslyn laughed in surprise. “Was that a joke? Maker’s breath, I’ve been a bad influence on you.”

A smile pulled at her lips. She opened her mouth to speak, when the doors groaned and opened.

The movement sent a surge of adrenaline down Roslyn’s spine, and it was all she could do not to let her aura rise.

Cassandra relaxed as she stepped forward to greet whomever waited on the other side of the doors. Her expression hardened almost at once, however, and her eyes flashed to Roslyn with a warning.

She joined Cassandra in front of the cathedral and nearly lost her composure when she saw what was waiting.

Twenty templar knights marched through the enormous entryway, all of them in gleaming silver plate-mail etched with the downturned sword of their Order, wreathed in flames.

Her heart thudded against her ribcage. She forced her expression to remain calm and defiant, but she couldn’t stop her hands from clenching at her sides, grateful she’d decided to wear gloves to address the assembly. Her mark might have given away her distress.

The knight at the front of the column, a handsome man with warm brown skin and a smartly shaved head, raised his hand. The templars came to a stop, the echoing boom of their march still bouncing off the domed ceiling. He stepped in front of his men, and Roslyn saw the single line of red crossing his shoulders, designating him as a knight captain.

“Seeker Pentaghast,” he called in a pleasant, respectful voice as he approached. His eyes flicked to Roslyn and he inclined his head. “Lady Trevelyan.” The only sign of his interest was a small frown at the corner of his lips. “I am Knight Captain Barris. I have been asked to escort you into the assembly.”

“Is there a reason the Order has decided we need an escort?” 

Roslyn almost smiled at Cassandra's anger, distracted by the hard gaze of every templar who stood behind Barris. They watched her in varying degrees of wariness or hatred, all of them waiting for her to explode.

It was like she’d never left the Circle.

Barris kept his voice polite as he said, “It is on Lord Seeker Lucius’ orders, I’m afraid.”

Roslyn’s stomach dropped.

“The Lord Seeker is here?” Cassandra's voice grew hard. “Fine, Knight Captain, but while we mean the Chantry no harm, we will respond if attacked.”

His brow furrowed, as if the thought troubled him.

The Lord Seeker. Andraste preserve me.

Roslyn heard Cassandra ask the rest of their party to remain outside in an echo. She poured all of her focus into keeping her face expressionless. If she showed fear now, in front of these templars, she’d never get through her address. She kept her chin up and her gaze forward as hostility rolled off the templars in waves.

These were not the wandering men and women they had found in the Hinterlands, driven away by cowardice or the sway of a madman. These were hardened soldiers, prepared and willing to kill her at the first sign of danger.

Cassandra fell into step beside her as they both followed the knight captain through the middle of the templar formation. Roslyn couldn’t help but notice she lagged behind her, eyes flashing to both sides as they walked, wary of an attack.

Odd how things change so drastically, she thought. A seeker protecting an apostate from templars—she never would have thought it possible.

As they walked through the ornate hallways of the cathedral, Roslyn couldn't help but compare the muted pallor of the chantry in Ostwick to the finery around her now. She’d found it so damn lovely as a child, with its simple garden and twining wooden arches, its serene statues and understated elegance, every nook and cranny familiar, and safe. Next to the Grand Cathedral, it would be little more than a country chapel.

Colored light filtered through the stained glass windows on all sides, casting shifting, rainbow patterns along the tiled marble floor. At the end of the hallway sat a smaller pair of carved bronze doors, before which stood a towering statue of Andraste. This one, done up in gold and white marble, carved so fine it could almost pass for a real woman, with a crown atop her thick, rolling locks of flaxen hair, stirred no zeal inside her, not like the bust in Haven, or the one in her seaside chantry in Ostwick. This statue was meant for someone else, with a faith far grander than her own. 

Voices drifted from behind the doors, raised in the sounds of an argument.

With a nod to a pair of templars who had come to the front of the group, Barris backed away. He gestured as the doors opened, waiting for them to enter before he did.

The raised voices grew hushed and ceased altogether.

They’re a bunch of gossiping old women. Her heart leapt into her throat as she caught Mother Giselle’s gaze where she sat at the end of a long table near the door. The old woman smiled and rose to her feet. Nothing to fear.

Her footsteps echoed off the marble floor in an obvious, awkward way, amplified by the silence. The new shoes the ambassador had sent her had slight heels, causing her steps to rap sharply as she walked forward. 

She stopped in the middle of the hall, glancing around at those gathered. Most wore large, vertical headdresses, like Mother Giselle, while others had habits or hoods. There must be over a hundred people in attendance, ranging from clerics to chancellors and clerks—whatever was left of the Chantry, it seemed.

Her eyes froze at a pale man seated at the end of one of two long tables to her left, staring at her with dark, sunken eyes. The Lord Seeker.

She searched the room for short black hair, golden skin, pointed ears, the fine navy robes of the Grand Enchanter, but Fiona wouldn’t have attended once she heard the Lord Seeker had forced his way in, not with twenty templars stationed outside.

“Lady Herald, Seeker Pentaghast, I greet you in the sight of our Maker,” Mother Giselle called magnanimously, pressing her hands to her heart in a formal greeting. “I am honored to welcome you to Val Royeaux, as the Assembly of Clerics is honored to listen to your address.”

Some flashed her furtive looks, as if they couldn’t believe what they heard. Others could not look away. They seemed frightened, like the templars in Fort Conner. Though, she thought with a flash of grim humor, I could probably defend myself against most of these corpses, if push came to shove. 

A severe woman with black eyes and lined, white skin stood. Whispers rose as people looked from her to Mother Giselle, but they died out when the imperious woman spoke.  “Mother Giselle, I had hoped the claim of your allegiance to these monsters was only rumor. How it saddens me, to learn you have abandoned the faithful and cast your lot with these malcontents.”

The accusation was so quick, Roslyn couldn’t help but feel cheated. They hadn’t even let her talk yet.

Mother Giselle faced the other woman calmly. “You are quick to shout blame, Grand Cleric Victoire, when you have not heard their petition. Do the Right Hand of the Divine and the Herald of Andraste not warrant your attention?”

“I think not. The murderer and traitor standing before us demand none of our attention. We mourn our Divine, and you bring these vipers into our midst? She was the noblest and purest of us all, her naive heart silenced by the treachery of those closest to her.” The Grand Cleric waved her hand at Roslyn and Cassandra, addressing the crowd. “This self-titled Herald seeks to rise where our beloved fell. I say she is a false prophet, and the woman at her side, no better than the Betrayer himself. The Maker would not send an elf-blooded mage in our time of need!”

The words cut through the last of Roslyn’s fear as the old woman turned disdainful eyes on her.

It took all of her willpower not to let her outrage show. She’d thought the exact same thing the first time she’d heard her title, but now it felt like a slap in the face.

Muttering broke out across the hall as the crowd peered at her in curiosity and disgust. It appeared Leliana had been mildly successful in keeping the truth of her birth a secret, if it didn’t do her much good now.

Mother Giselle cleared her throat, folding her hands in front of her and speaking in a gentle tone. “Her circumstance of birth has no bearing on her favor. Was not our Lady enslaved once, the lowest of all wretched souls, before the Maker in his infinite wisdom raised her high?”

More whispering. A few clerics now stared at Roslyn with something closer to doubt than fear.

“The Herald is all the people claim. She stopped the Breach from expanding. When the refugees of the Hinterlands cried out for safety and shelter, she led her Inquisition there.” Mother Giselle raised her hand and pointed toward Roslyn as she gazed over the assembly. “Where were you, when the heavens opened up and she answered the chaos by taming the skies? Where were you when the lives of our faithful were endangered by fighting? For weeks, I heard their voices cry out in desperation. It was not the Chantry they called to, but her.”

Roslyn fought to keep her expression neutral. She’d known this would be a farce, parading trumped up claims to her station and examples of her generosity to sway the clerics to their side in the only way they could—by appealing to their faith, and guilt. But Mother Giselle’s words made her stomach knot. She’d simply been there at the right time and done what she was told. 

The Grand Cleric seemed to agree, for she bristled at Roslyn, dark eyes bright with fury. “She infiltrated Justinia’s Conclave. It is she who caused the explosion and murdered a thousand innocent souls. How can you proclaim her good deeds when it is her fault this world is in chaos?”

Cassandra stepped up and all eyes flashed to her. “What proof do you have, Grand Cleric?”

The old woman leaned back, sneering. “The proof is there on her gloved hand. Even hidden, it bleeds falsity and corruption into our midst.”

Another outbreak of muttering made Roslyn clench her teeth. They sounded like a swarm of flies buzzing over a rotting carcass.

“You were not there. It is not for you to decide her guilt.”

Roslyn felt a surge of affection for her, defending her against the Chantry.

Grand Cleric Victoire’s eyes widened in outrage. “But it is for you, Seeker Pentaghast? When did you become the sole arbiter of justice?”

Cassandra straightened to her fullest height and stared her down. “When Justinia chose me as her Right Hand.”

The woman scoffed, though many in the assembly looked at her askance. “And yet you prop up this maleficar, her murderer, as your representative. She was Fiona’s second, an instigator of the fall of the Ostwick Circle! What is the reason, if not to declare your support for the heretics who caused this war in the first place? Her aim is to sow discord in our ranks and further her own goals, her rebellion’s goals.”

“The Inquisition seeks only to close the Breach and end this madness before it is too late.” Her voice rang throughout the hall. “Look past your own fear. We are not your enemy.”

The old woman moved her gaze to Roslyn. “Does the heretic have nothing to say?”

Might as well make a show of it, she thought, staring directly at the Grand Cleric. What do I have to lose?  Only her pride, and that had been massacred in the Witchwood along with the rest of those mages.  Speaking slowly and calmly, she recited, “Those who bear false witness and work to deceive others, know this: there is but one Truth. All things are known to our Maker and He shall judge their lies.”

The hush at her words was palpable. The old woman’s expression froze and Roslyn could almost hear her mind screaming in frustration.

“Do you judge me, Grand Cleric? You cower in your Grand Cathedral while the people of Thedas are slaughtered by demons.” She took a step forward, spearing the woman with her gaze. “You say I am not sent by the Maker, but I have never made any claim to power or divinity. You say I champion the cause of my fellow mages and yet I have made peace with the templars of Ferelden and welcomed them into the Inquisition. I claim nothing but that which has already been given to me.”  She peeled off her left glove and lifted her hand into the air, letting the mark sparkle in the refracted sunlight coming through the large windows to her right. The green energy spread across the marble floor and danced over the tables. Most of the assembly were frightened, but some seemed drawn to it, staring at it, and her, with wonder.  “This mark allows me to close the rifts and it will allow me to close the Breach.” She lowered her voice, picking out those clerics and chancellors who seemed awed rather than frightened, and focusing her attention on them. “If the Chantry cannot see beyond your own fear, I will not persuade you. I can only act, and hope the Maker understands my intentions.”

No one moved or spoke. The silence in the hall wrapped around each of them.

“What have you to say for all this, Lord Seeker?” Grand Cleric Victoire asked in a small voice, addressing him where he sat at the end of his long table, trying to regain control over the proceedings. “Do you see the lies this wretch spins? Does the Order now realize its folly in abandoning the faithful in our hour of need?”

The man stood slowly, all eyes fixed on him, as he stared at Roslyn. The calculation, hunger, shone undisguised in his gaze.

Spearing the Grand Cleric with hateful eyes, his cold voice resonating throughout the entire hall, he said, “Do not speak to me, woman. Your claim to authority is an insult. The templars fulfilled their duty when they left the Chantry to purge the mages. You are the ones who have failed. You, who would leash our righteous swords with doubt and fear.”

He turned back to Roslyn and stepped forward into the center of the room. “You came to appeal to the Chantry, and yet you ignore the only true power left in this empire. The only authority that demands your respect is mine.”

She struggled to keep her magic from flaring out and enveloping the man. Self-righteous pig. “Is that why you’re here? To insult the Chantry? If you’re not here to help, why bother coming at all?”

His grizzled mouth twisted into a crude imitation of a smile, those eyes raking over her with a manic light. “I came to see what frightens old women so—and laugh. But that is not all, Herald.”

A challenge sparked in his eyes, and Roslyn couldn’t help but curl her hands into fists, her glove crushed in her right hand.

“You seek to close the Breach—an act of true heresy committed by the ones who bore you. Mages created this chaos. The templars would see it undone. We stand alone against the Void and we will have our recognition and independence.” He waved his hand at the assembly. “Val Royeaux is unworthy of our protection. If you truly seek to remedy the destruction your Rebellion has sown, prove your faith and seek us out at Therinfal Redoubt. There we will stand united against the dark.”

He stepped forward until he was only a few feet away, staring directly into her eyes.

Roslyn couldn’t help as a trickle of magic bled into her mark, sparking it to life against her closed fist.

“There we will see the truth of your… divinity.”

The strike of his boots against the marble floor pounded into her chest as he left the hall. Silence fell over the assembly again.

“We are doomed,” a voice shouted from the end of one of the long tables. A comparatively young woman stood and wrung her hands, tears leaking from her eyes. “If the templars have abandoned us—”

“Calm yourself, Benedicta,” Grand Cleric Victoire snapped, paling when she faced Roslyn. “Was this your plan all along? To turn the templars from us? To leave the faithful with no protection?”

Roslyn stared at the woman with clear eyes, for once sure of what she promised. “If the faithful need protection, Grand Cleric, the Inquisition stands ready. They only have to ask.”

She let her words sink into the silent assembly, wondering if any thought she was more than a monster. If any of them could.

“We’ve done all we can here,” she murmured to Cassandra.

She gazed at Roslyn with wide, bright eyes. Her hard expression had gone, in its place an open, searching hope. “I think you are right.”

Roslyn turned before that light in Cassandra’s eyes could grow, unease traveling down her spine, and left the Grand Cathedral in the Lord Seeker’s wake.

 


 

Roslyn didn’t see the gilded archways or vines crawling over white and gold trellises as she walked through the Summer Bazaar.

Her mind wrapped around the Lord Seeker’s words, his challenge.

The templars would help the Inquisition.

She could feel Cassandra’s relief. They wouldn’t need to worry about the mages now. If they could figure out a way to suppress the Breach, they could move forward without the Rebellion. The Lord Seeker made her skin crawl, the Order had started the war, but the templars offered them a solution.

The templars.

“You know,” Varric said as he walked at her side, “I heard if you clench your jaw too much, it’ll get stuck like that.”

“I’m sure some would find it an improvement.”

“Easy, Red,” he laughed, “you’re starting to sound like me.”

Her mouth twitched—not enough to draw a full smile, but enough to release some of her tension. “I’d count that as a compliment, Varric.”

He chuckled and grinned up at her.

Their party had met them outside the Grand Cathedral, informing them the Lord Seeker had left with the templars in a hurry. It had been a quiet walk down to the docks, where they stayed in quarters provided to them by one of Josephine’s acquaintances, Lady Seryl of Jader. Everyone took Roslyn and Cassandra’s tight expressions to mean now was not the time to ask what happened.

She fought the impulse to tear off her suffocating finery. “You know, it is entirely unfair that I was the only one forced to wear this ridiculous outfit while you have your chest hair pouring out of your vest in full view of any noble woman’s fragile sensibilities.”

“You wound me, madam,” Varric said with a laugh. “Though, I am surprised they let Chuckles keep his pajamas on.”

“Would it be less scandalous if I had taken them off, Varric?” Solas called from behind them.

Roslyn smiled. Solas hadn’t spoken after she and Cassandra had left the Grand Cathedral, but she’d felt his eyes on her as they walked through the city. She didn’t know if he was curious or concerned, but she tried not to think about it.

“I think it best we retire for the day,” Cassandra said. She gave Roslyn an expectant, if sympathetic, frown. “If we are to attend Madame de Fer’s party this evening, you will need to prepare. I assume Josephine sent another ridiculous outfit for you to wear.”

She was surprised to find the prospect of spending the night with the Seeker not nearly as distasteful as it might have been a month ago, even if she had to attend a party full of Orlesian nobles.

The invitation had come when they’d arrived in the city two days ago. She’d tried to convince Cassandra that attending a ball was more absurd than asking her to address a room full of Chantry clerics, but the woman behind the event had asked for her specifically.

Roslyn tried not to let her displeasure show, when an achingly familiar voice called out, “Inquisition, hold a moment.”

Her heart stuttered as she saw Fiona standing in an archway. Dressed in simple, if well-made leathers, the Grand Enchanter of the Circle of Magi looked like just another elf walking along the streets of Val Royeaux. The only thing that might have given her away was the hard steel in her eyes as she walked forward.

Roslyn’s mind went blank, trying to reconcile her excitement with the unease coiling in her gut. She barely saw Solas as she stepped past him. “Fiona,” she said, the word coming out like a rushed plea, “what—what are you doing here?”

The Grand Enchanter stopped a good distance away, her face expressionless except for a tightness in the set of her mouth. “Am I not welcome in Val Royeaux? Unless the Inquisition has declared it otherwise, I am free to go where I like.”

Roslyn knew that tone, that cool derision. She’d admired it often as she’d watched Fiona handle the members of the College of Magi who questioned her authority—one of the hallmarks of the mantle of the Grand Enchanter. Not the woman she’d grown close to over the last three years.

Roslyn hesitated, swallowing back the lump in her throat. “We’ve been trying to contact you for months. Fiona, I need to speak to you. I know you’ve heard things. If I—”

“Grand Enchanter Fiona?” Cassandra asked, making Roslyn jump.

She’d forgotten anyone else was watching.

Fiona’s eyes flitted to Cassandra where she stepped up beside Roslyn. “Seeker Pentaghast, I believe.”

Cassandra inclined her head. “We have never had the pleasure of meeting.”

“Fortunate for me, I think. Seekers are not a good omen for one such as myself.”

Cassandra tensed but didn’t respond.

“Is it safe for you to be here, Grand Enchanter?” Solas asked.

Roslyn shot him a grateful glance as she caught the thread of concern in his voice, her own unease reflected in his eyes.

“Is there a place in Thedas where mages are safe?” Fiona asked with one arched brow, eyes sliding back to Roslyn. “Nowhere except inside the Inquisition, apparently.”

A small voice whispered a warning in the back of Roslyn’s mind, but she ignored it. Fiona would understand. “The Lord Seeker was in the assembly. If he knew you were here—”

“He would no doubt attempt to bind me in chains, thus confirming that we mages are not the aggressors in this fight.”

Roslyn silently begged Cassandra not to rise to the bait where she bristled at her side.

“But I thought it was a necessary risk,” Fiona continued, voice sharpening to a razor’s edge. “I had to see the fabled Herald of Andraste with my own eyes.”

The words slammed into her gut like a physical blow and tension rose in her throat. 

The eyes staring back at her held none of their familiar warmth, no affection. 

“I understand you’re upset, but if you would listen to me, I need your help.”

“Do you? It appears to me you have all the help you need from the Lord Seeker.”

She’d been inside the room. Fiona had heard Roslyn’s address, her ask the Chantry for help. Had seen her put on that show to appease them. 

“Did he not offer you the Order’s aid?” Fiona pressed, voice dropping in a challenge.

Roslyn was taller than the elf by half a foot, but the look on Fiona’s face made her feel like a child.

“Indeed,” she continued, eyes snapping to Cassandra, “are you not already working with the Order?”  Fiona paused, her replaced by disbelief that made Roslyn’s unease magnify and writhe. “I admit, I did not believe the rumors that reached me of your involvement in this… crusade, Roslyn. Imagine my shock when I see you standing in front of the assembly with the Inquisition at your back, giving the Chantry an entreaty so passionate it would have moved Archon Hessarian to tears.”

Roslyn’s heart thudded inside her chest. “This isn’t what it looks like.”

Fiona’s face hardened. “Truly? Because it looks to me like my chosen second abandoned the Rebellion she fought with for three years to join the Chantry as their puppet, to kill mages in the Hinterlands and work with templars to—”

“Those mages killed innocent people,” Roslyn said to stop Fiona from voicing the things she’d lain awake at night worrying over for the past two weeks. “We tried to stop them, I tried to explain, but they wouldn’t listen. Do you want to tell me why they left the Rebellion, Fiona?”

“That is no longer your concern—”

“It is everyone’s concern.” She clenched her jaw, trying to keep her temper from spiraling out of control. This is insane. She has to understand. “The Inquisition is trying to close the Breach and find the ones who murdered the Divine. That’s all. They have no motivation beyond bringing this all to an end. You have to believe that.”

“And yet you ally with templars?”

“The templars didn’t do this. There are things you don’t understand, that you wouldn’t understand unless you’d been there. Unless you’d seen it. This isn’t something the templars could do.”

“The only people who might support your claim stand behind you,” Fiona said in a low, biting tone. “The rest were killed in the explosion. The people that you traveled with, worked with—they are all dead. All except for you. When I learned of the massacre in the Witchwood… I never would have thought you capable of such an act, Roslyn, but there is no other way to understand this.”

There it is.

The bottom dropped out of her stomach. The noises of the city around her dimmed. The urgent warning in the back of her mind finally broke through her denial.

Traitor, it screamed, Fiona and Derek’s faces swimming together with the bloodied corpses of the cave in the Witchwood.

“You think I caused the explosion at the Conclave.”  Her voice was hollow—too calm, too measured. As if her body had not yet caught up with the shrieking chaos inside her mind. 

Fiona’s face twisted, as if loathe to admit it, but Roslyn saw it in her eyes, the hard, cutting disappointment—and fear.

Her mentor, her friend, the woman she’d considered as close to a mother as she would ever get in this life, thought she had murdered thousands of people in cold blood.

“Enough,” Cassandra said loudly, stepping in front of Roslyn and drawing Fiona’s gaze. “It is clear you do not wish to treat with the Herald. I suggest you leave while my goodwill remains.”

Cassandra’s words rang through a filter, floating outside of her body and witnessing the conversation from where she floated above the street, untethered.

She thinks I’m a murderer.

Roslyn was, of course. She had been for years. A murderer of templars, but a murderer still.

“Of course, Seeker Pentaghast,” Fiona said, turning away from Roslyn with reluctance. “I hope I am wrong about your organization’s intent.”

“You are,” Cassandra answered, her voice cold and sharp.

Fiona said nothing, but inclined her head in farewell and left without looking back at Roslyn.

She watched Fiona walk away. That urge which had told her to run after Derek was quiet now, as if the hope clinging to life at the possibility that Fiona would understand, would listen to her, had been ripped from her grasp.

The heavy pounding of her heart echoed inside her head.

“Seeker, I think we should get off the street,” Varric muttered, frowning around at the growing crowd of intrigued watchers.

Cassandra said something under her breath, but Roslyn didn’t hear it.

The sky was bright against the colorful rooftops of the residential district, brilliant reds and yellows framed in a sunlit glow. The tinkling music of the small band played in the square. The laughter of people going about their business and lives drifted past her ears while she watched Fiona swallowed up by the bustling city.

The sounds blurred together, rising to a crescendo of noise that roared against her like some great forgotten beast. She couldn’t drag her eyes from the far bridge. She couldn’t turn to the Seeker when she felt her sharp eyes against her cheek.

Someone shifted at her side. A hand gripped her arm.

“Red, you okay?”

Roslyn tried to answer Varric, to stop the ground from falling out from under her, the crushing weight of the realization that the last three years of her life were now nothing more than a memory and a lie.  If she moved, the world would shatter around her. If she moved, she would have to accept that Fiona had refused to believe her, and she was well and truly lost.

Chapter Text

The humid air of Val Royeaux was uncomfortably warm, even if the sun had gone down nearly an hour ago.

A trickle of sweat rolled down Roslyn's back. She tried to shift inside her absurd dress, but it was too tight. Her chest constricted inside the corset crushing her ribcage, and she scowled.

“I agree that this meeting is frivolous,” Cassandra murmured, startling Roslyn after the long, silent walk from their apartments, “but Josephine must think the woman is a valuable connection. She would not have insisted on it otherwise.”

Roslyn rolled her shoulders back to breathe more easily. “It’s fine,” she muttered, and tugged on the long gloves that shone a garish white next to the color of the dress.

Josephine had ordered it ahead of time, along with her jacket and shoes. It was a ridiculous, frilly nightmare of gathered silk the color of pale orange, like some many-tiered peach sherbet. If the jacket had made her feel like a fool, she might as well have painted her face and started juggling.

“Josephine means well, I am sure. She simply wants to present you—”

“I said it was fine, Seeker.”

Since seeing Fiona that afternoon, Cassandra had said little to Roslyn. Varric had made a few half-hearted attempts to coax her back to life, but it had been enough to keep her from breaking down in the middle of the docks.

They’d arrived at Lady Seryl’s apartments and Roslyn had left for her room before anyone could object, laying on the bed with blank eyes, trying in vain to empty her chest and mind of the screaming, hollow, ache that had begun to pulse in Fiona’s wake.

Walking through Val Royeaux now made the knife in her chest dig deeper with every step.

Small crowds meandered through the streets, the light of lanterns glittering at every corner. On any other night she might have found it enchanting, but now the darkness felt suffocating.

They walked for another quarter of an hour until one of their scouts stopped them, pointing to an elegantly terraced building at the end of a private street. Where the rest of its neighbors had retired for the evening, this house was covered in strings of dancing light.

A small elven woman wearing a simple white mask stepped out of the entryway as they approached. The elf looked to be about Roslyn’s age, but when she spoke to them in a dignified, if squeaky, voice, she sounded much younger. Her curtsey made Roslyn’s insides squirm.

“My ladies, Madame de Fer welcomes you to the home of Duke Bastien de Ghislain. She asks that you enjoy the party and wishes me to convey that she will attend you at her earliest convenience.”

Roslyn shoved down the immediate discomfort that the elf had somehow known exactly who they were at first sight and asked, “Madame de Fer is not here?”

The elf kept her eyes to the ground. “She is, my lady, however she regrets that other matters have taken her from the festivities. She sends her sincerest apologies.” She gestured to the door with a delicate hand. “If you will follow me.”

Roslyn’s jaw clenched as she watched the elf bow once more and continue to avert her eyes. She remembered the stiff neck and constant anxiety she’d felt as a child—taking care not to glance up and meet Lady Kirstena’s eyes. It had been a long time since she’d gone anywhere fine enough to keep servants.

Cassandra frowned. “What does this woman expect us to do? Make small talk with her party guests?”

Roslyn said nothing, but shared her unease.

The elaborately decorated entrance hall was filled with guests. Women were dressed in flowing gowns of turquoise and emerald, with bodices inlaid with pearls and precious gems. Men wore fitted coats and billowing pants tucked into polished leather boots. The hall was draped in shimmering gold and silver fabric, framing fine tapestries and paintings. Soft light from carefully interspersed sconces on the walls and candelabras created pockets of light and darkness, hiding and illuminating the guests in equal measure.

Everyone in attendance wore ornate masks to hide their face.

“If my ladies would oblige, please wait here for the steward to announce you,” the elf murmured, whispering away to speak to a tall, thin man standing at attention at the far end of the entrance hall.

Masks appeared out of the darkness and leered at her with inhuman features. The soft brush of silk against skin and the whispers of voices held behind gloved hands curled around her throat like a serpent. Her corset was so tight it cut into her chest. Her heart thudded in her ears and she bit the inside of her cheek against the sickly-sweet voice crawling into the back of her mind—How did you sneak in here, rabbit?

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the steward called, sparing them a cursory glance before turning to the assembled crowd. “May I introduce the Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast, Right Hand to the late Divine, and the Herald of Andraste, the Lady Roslyn Trevelyan.”

The floor tilted as Trevelyan spread throughout the hushed room. The backs of Roslyn's ears pricked and burned, anticipating the drag of Helena’s needle or nails. The eyes of each guest pierced her from behind their gilded masks, raking over her as if she were naked and standing before them at auction.

She reached out and gripped Cassandra’s arm before she could faint, to ground herself before she crumpled to the marble floor. Her gloves slid over Cassandra’s jacket, too fine and smooth, but at least they hid the shining glow of her mark.

The Seeker shot her a stunned glance, but had the grace to play it off as if she had reached for her hand out of fondness. She raised her arm and placed her other hand on top of Roslyn’s as they moved into the room.

The music and the flutter of conversation resumed and the guests returned to their own company, watching the pair of them with hungry eyes.

Cassandra steered her to a high table on the side of the room, raising one hand to grip her shoulder as she moved between Roslyn and the curious glances of the crowd. “Are you all right?” she asked quietly, her confused expression hidden from the room. “You look pale.”

She wasn’t supposed to be here. They knew.

You don’t belong here, rabbit.

She stared around the room, unraveling. The cold dread slipping down her spine told her to run, to hide. Her eyes searched frantically for a glimpse of Helena’s long blonde hair and dark eyes peering out from one of the masks.

“Herald?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” She pried her fingers away from Cassandra’s arm. “I’m fine,” she repeated in a whisper.

Movement behind Cassandra made her jerk back, only to find another elf in a white mask offering them a tray of drinks.

The Seeker was about to refuse, when Roslyn snatched up a thin flute and downed the contents. The champagne flowed down her throat, burning into her empty stomach, but it helped to distract her from the panic clawing its way into her mind. Tears sprang from her eyes as she coughed.

The elf seemed taken aback, but recovered quickly, offering the plate to Cassandra as well. His eyes lingered on Roslyn as the Seeker took a glass.

Roslyn reached out for Cassandra’s glass as soon as the elf was gone, pressing her own empty one into her hands.

“What’s wrong?” she murmured as Roslyn drained the second glass.

Roslyn swallowed. “I can’t breathe in this dress. I got light-headed. That’s all.”

Calm down. You’re fine. She isn’t here.

Cassandra held her gaze, but didn’t press the matter.

Roslyn could have kissed her for letting it go. Her heart settled, helped along by the addition of a few small bites of food brought to them by other elves carrying silver trays with smoked meats balanced on crackers smaller than the size of her thumb.

Trying to make small talk with Cassandra was about as pleasant as she might have anticipated, and they lapsed into silence as the time spent waiting for Madame de Fer grew. Roslyn was about to suggest they leave a colorful note with the steward, when an elf hurried toward them.

“Finally,” Cassandra whispered under her breath.

He bowed his head, eyes flashing to Roslyn once before settling on Cassandra, “I was told to ask for a Seeker Pentaghast, my lady. One of your scouts has arrived with a message for you.”

Cassandra eyed the elf. “Is it urgent?”

“I don’t know, my lady. I was asked to retrieve you, if you pardon my insistence.”

Again, the elf looked at Roslyn.

“Very well.” Cassandra shot Roslyn a warning look. “Will you be all right alone?”

Her jaw clenched. “Of course.” Maker’s balls, I actually want the woman to stay.

Cassandra hesitated before following the elf out of the hall.

She knew she imagined it, but the room went quiet as soon as the Seeker stepped away from her table. She straightened her back, wishing she had something to hold beyond the empty champagne flute. Her fingers drummed against the high table, drowning out the whispers digging into her like nails. She tensed when a man approached her.

Dressed in fine leather pants and a high-collared black jacket studded with silver buttons and winding white embroidery, his ensemble was subdued compared to the rest of the party. His mask was also simple, covering his eyes and nose, silver, with leafed filigree along the edges.

“I can’t help but notice you’ve been abandoned.” His voice was surprisingly rough, with an edge at odds with his fine clothes and the soft ambience of the hall.

And you want what?  She tried not to scowl. “How astute, serah. And you thought you would offer your services to keep me company?”

“Oh no.” He laughed, a pleasant, uncultured sound that calmed some of her wariness. “I wouldn’t presume to offer anything to the Herald of Andraste. From the stories I’ve heard, you are more than capable of handling yourself.”

She waited for the reverence or barely-concealed awe, but it didn’t come. That’s… refreshing. “Then what, may I ask, was your reason for joining me?”

Behind the half-mask, one thick eyebrow rose. “You’re a beautiful woman alone at a party. Is that not reason enough?”

Oh. Wonderful. “Not in my opinion, no.” She caught the eye of one of the elves standing along the wall. Fuck it. She ignored the man as she exchanged her empty glass for a full one and thanked the elf.

He waited until the elf had once more retreated to her spot on the wall, and murmured, “Good. I find most women are too easily lured by the affections of strangers.”

She took a sip, trying not to snap the stem of her glass as she set it back down. “If I might offer a word of advice, serah—most women don’t find insults leveled at the rest of their sex particularly endearing.” She found him watching her with a small smile. “Was there another tactic you wished to try before I deny you outright?”

“Oh, my,” he laughed, “I managed to offend you in less than a minute. I must be getting rusty.”

“Is it your practice to fail at seducing women at parties?” 

“Not in the least.” His dark green eyes, strangely bright when framed by his silver mask, glinted with pleasure and his voice dropped into a husky purr. “It is my practice to succeed.”

She fought the urge to laugh as she studied him, impressed at his bravado.

“If you would allow me to start again,” he said with a wide smile and an ostentatious bow, “my name is Evander, the Marquis de Serault.”

Roslyn inclined her head, her interest piqued.

Serault was a small principality on the far western edge of the Orlesian Empire. The Rebellion had traded with them on occasion, though she hadn’t heard anything about their marquis. What was he doing this far east?

“Roslyn,” she offered. “Well met, serah.”

He tilted his head as he straightened, that wicked gleam in his eyes brightening as he studied her. “Such an informal air for one so highly lauded. Or vilified. But I suppose that depends on who you’re talking to.”

She quirked her brow as she took another sip of champagne.

His eyes flashed to her lips, lingered, and back up again. “Some say you’re the doom that’s come to punish the righteous for their lack of faith. Personally, I think the end of times would have more fire and brimstone, but I can see where they’d get the idea. Others, of course, think you’ve been chosen by Andraste to lead us to the Maker’s bosom where we shall rest eternal in the light of our beneficent creator.”

“And what do you think?”

“As long as I get to keep breathing until the end, who the fuck cares?”

Her laugh of surprise burst from her lips before she could stop it.  The man was a bit of a lech, but far preferable to the Seeker’s constant vigilance, and he made the stares at her peel of laughter feel less sharp.  “A pragmatist and a pig. What lovely company I’ve found myself in tonight.”

His eyes narrowed in delight behind his mask, still piercing hers with a kind of hungry desire. “You’re not what I expected.”

She pursed her lips, trying to figure out what he was after. If he wanted to fuck her, he’d have left already, or been more subtle about it. He was attractive, she guessed. It was hard to see under his mask, but his green eyes were intense in a dark, entrancing kind of way. It wouldn’t be hard for him to find someone more willing if he wanted a tumble. Of course, she might be something of a prize to a man like him, but it seemed like he was testing her, not trying to get her into bed.

“And what would the Marquis of Serault expect of me, I wonder,” she mused. “Long way from home, aren’t you?”

“I was in the city for business.” He shrugged. “Serault has recently reconciled with the Empire. I thought it was time to make good on that reconciliation.”

“Congratulations.” She wondered what he looked like without his mask. He was so… nondescript, apart from those eyes.

“To you as well. I heard about your address to the Assembly of Clerics this morning. Apparently, it was quite the show. Shocked the whole city into a fit, you did.”

The small flash of levity died in her chest. “Thank you, though Orlais seems fond of scandal. I’m sure they would have spun it one way or another.”

Silence stretched between them as he studied her with a growing smile. The longer she stared at him, she felt… something—a tightness at the base of her spine, a kind of faint, curling urgency, like she knew him.

He leaned in slightly, arms still braced behind his back, and opened his mouth to speak, when a loud, ostentatious voice rang out across the room.

“Look at what we have here! The famous Herald of Andraste. Blessed swine sent to protect us all from… what, exactly?”

A small man in fine white clothes and a hat three times the size of his head approached her and circled to face the gathered audience, spreading his hands out as if in preparation for a show.

“Where’s your crazy seeker friend? Run off to terrify more washed-up sisters into joining your joke of an organization?” The man stopped a few feet away from where she and the marquis stood, crossing his arms and staring up at her with a self-satisfied leer. “I’m surprised you showed your face here, girl. Don’t you understand the company you’re in?”

She waited for her anger to rise, but only cold calm filled her mind.

Leaning forward, the better to meet his gaze, she said, “Clearly not. I had thought to see the highest of Orlesian society at such a ball, but I was mistaken. It seems significance is in short supply here in Val Royeaux.”

The marquis snorted.

The small man’s eyes flashed between them. “I would lower your tone. You have no idea to whom you are speaking.”

She raised an eyebrow and straightened, looking down the bridge of her nose at him. “I’m afraid I can’t go any lower, serah. My dress won’t allow it.”

He spluttered as a smattering of laughter swept through the room, face purpling behind his multi-colored mask. “You—”

Ice cracked around the man’s hands as he went to draw the blade at his side and an elegant voice rang out across the room.

“My dear Alphonse, what on earth have you stepped in this time?”

Roslyn tensed. She knew that voice, had spent hours listening to it during the endless meetings of discussion while the Circle of Magi had tried to reform. She had grown to loathe that voice, cultured and poised and spinning pretty lies into the minds of her fellow mages, trying to get them to return to their prisons in peace.

A woman with meticulously elegant robes glided into the room, brown skin glowing in the low light. She speared Roslyn with a half-smile and an iron gaze, locking her in as anticipatory delight shone in her delicate smile.

Vivienne.

Madame de fucking Fer. Wonderful.

Vivienne addressed the man still frozen in front of her. “I am sure you did not mean to threaten one of my guests in my own house. You know such rudeness is—intolerable.”

She wore a stunning suit of close-cut silk in white and blue, accenting her elegant curves and drawing attention to her plunging neckline, marvelous for a woman half her age. She exuded lethal grace even when standing still.

“Madame Vivienne, I humbly beg your pardon—”

Vivienne’s eyes twinkled with malice as she raised one perfectly plucked brow. “Oh, no, darling—it is not my pardon you should seek.” Hands braced against her waist and pursing her lips in appraisal, she looked to Roslyn. “You are the injured party here, Lady Trevelyan. What would you have me do with the poor boy?”

Roslyn didn’t miss the mocking tone that curled around her father’s name. “He’s your guest, Vivienne. Do what you will.”

The crowd did not miss the cold thread sparking between them. Neither did Cassandra, who approached from the entrance and stared between her and the frozen man with alarm.

Vivienne didn’t seem to take offense at Roslyn’s dismissal, but gave the man a delicate, pitying smile. “How tragic, Alphonse. The Herald of Andraste cannot conjure a passing thought for your welfare.”

She snapped her fingers and the ice puffed off the man in a cloud. He bent over immediately, coughing and wheezing.

“Get out of my house,” she murmured in a dangerously sweet voice. The man hurried to obey. “And give my best to your aunt, will you dear?”

A hush fell over the crowd as the man shot a look of venom at Roslyn, and fled.

Vivienne gave her a slow, thorough once-over. A slight smile curled one side of her mouth, whatever she found in Roslyn amusing. She turned purposefully to Cassandra and dipped into a half-curtsey. “I do apologize for the wait, my dears. Urgent business delayed me, but it could not be helped.”

Before Cassandra could respond, Roslyn cut in, “Your servant said that already. Is there some place we can talk in private?”

Vivienne’s crystalline held. “Of course,” she said in a honeyed voice and gestured to the staircase at the far end of the room.

Roslyn turned back at the marquis, watching her with an entirely different kind of amusement. “Pleasure to meet you, my lord.”

His lips quirked up into a wicked smile and he inclined his head. “Herald. I hope it’s not the last time.”

She ignored Cassandra as they swept through the still-silent room.

Vivienne had been the leader of the Loyalists when Fiona had called together the fraternities for a second time to discuss the dissolution of the Circle. Roslyn remembered well the polite dominance, the way she’d twisted her fellow mages into thinking it was better, safer to remain locked in their towers and subservient to the templars.

Fiona had loathed the woman, raging against her at night when the meetings of the day had finished. Roslyn remembered her own rage when Vivienne, in front of all gathered senior enchanters, had claimed Fiona was better suited to gardening than leading.

Strange, to feel protective over a woman who had, only earlier that day, implied she was responsible for the death of thousands at the Conclave.

They entered a private salon on the second floor, as ornate as the large room below, if smaller, and with less strategic lighting. A servant hurried in after them and bowed his head before Vivienne.

Roslyn noticed with frustration that he, too was an elf. Are there no able-bodied humans in Val Royeaux?

“Thank you, Louis,” Vivienne said with a sweet smile and a wave of dismissal, “but we will decline refreshments for the time being.”

He left, but not before his eyes flickered over to Roslyn in curiosity.

From all the curious looks from the servants, she wondered if there was dirt on her face. 

When the large doors had shut, Roslyn snapped, “What is this?”

Vivienne smiled and settled onto a divan on the other side of the room. “My dear, please listen to my proposal before you jump down my throat.”

Roslyn bit her tongue and crossed her arms, raising an eyebrow at the woman to continue.

“First Enchanter Vivienne,” Cassandra said. “Thank you—”

“First Enchanter?” Roslyn scoffed. “The Circle disbanded before she could take up her position.”

“I would not be so eager to question my title, darling. Leadership born of fear and violence hardly qualifies in the company of reason and temperance.”

Roslyn’s hands clenched on her arms. She wouldn’t rise to the bait.

“I assume you know each other?” Cassandra said dryly.

“We met briefly at Fiona’s conclave,” Vivienne said airily, as if the Grand Enchanter’s name wasn’t worth the effort. “Your Herald was no more than a child, clinging to the coattails of a foolish woman who didn’t know when to quit her warmongering. Now it seems she has found another purpose.”

Vivienne gave her a beaming smile. “Well done, my dear. You have chosen a much more deserving organization to champion. There might be hope for you yet.” Vivienne adopted a more purposeful tone. “But, I didn’t invite you to my dear Bastien’s manor for pleasantries. Or to make eyes at irrelevant country lords,” she added with a pointed look at Roslyn.

She imagined shooting a lance of energy directly into the woman’s impassive face. It didn’t help. 

“With Divine Justinia dead, the Chantry is in shambles. Regardless of its dubious reputation, the Inquisition might restore some sanity and order to the world. As the leader of the last loyal mages of Thedas, I feel it only right I lend my assistance to your cause.”

“Loyal mages?” Roslyn asked sharply. “Loyal to who, exactly?”

Vivienne’s smile hardened. “To the people of Thedas, of course. I have not forgotten the commandment, as some have, that magic exists to serve man. I support any effort to restore order.”

“You can’t be serious.”

Vivienne gave her a withering look. “Darling, do not play the fool. It is unbecoming and unnecessary.”

“What possible reason could you have to help the Inquisition? It’s a fledgling organization with no real political power. What could you have to gain from consorting with such dubious people?”

“The same thing anyone gets by fighting this chaos, my dear,” she answered forcefully, rising to her full height. “The chance to meet my enemy on the field of battle and to decide my own fate. I won’t wait quietly for the world’s destruction. I know when I am called to arms.”

“But you would step to the side while your own people are persecuted?”

Vivienne arched one brow, tilting her head in curiosity. “Which people do you mean, my dear? Not all of us have such divided loyalties. Or did I not hear that you have left Fiona’s Rebellion? If you can put aside your passion for reason, why can I not see the justice in fighting to end this chaos?”

The fire died in her throat. She wanted to scream and argue that she hadn’t turned her back, that Vivienne was a fool and a snake for wanting to monopolize on troubled times to gain some favor, but… there was no gain here. Helping the Inquisition was a gamble far riskier than any sane person would take if they didn’t believe in the cause.

Cassandra shot Roslyn a cautionary glance. “You are aware that the Chantry hasn’t sanctioned us?”

Vivienne’s expression softened, her mouth sliding into a smirk. “The Chantry is leaderless and in no position to sanction anything, my dear.”

She pursed her lips in agreement. “What help do you offer?”

Vivienne eyed them, catching Roslyn’s shift in temperament. “The Herald said it herself. Your Inquisition lacks power and prestige, something I would gladly correct. Ordinarily, I would happily serve as liaison to the Court of Heralds, but these are not ordinary times. The Veil has been ripped apart and there is a hole in the sky. It is now the duty of every mage to work toward sealing the Breach. I would join the Inquisition directly.”

“The Inquisition already has mages.” Roslyn's  jaw clenched at Vivienne’s tinkling laugh.

“Oh, I’m sure you do, darling. No doubt a handful of frightened apostates from the remnants of Kirkwall will serve to pick off bandits and stray animals in the wild. What I offer is my personal services, as well as those of a small group of intelligent and capable enchanters, willing to come with me to Haven, should you accept my offer of alliance.” She smiled. “You cannot deny the power a well-organized group of enchanters can provide, my dear.”

Roslyn glared at her in vain. Of course she couldn’t.

“I am well-versed in the politics of the Orlesian Empire and know every member of the Imperial Court personally,” Vivienne continued, seizing on her silence. “I have all the resources remaining to the Circle at my disposal.” She tilted her head, a knowing smile on her lips. “Do not think your little rebellion ran off with all the power in Thedas.”

Cassandra glanced sideways at Roslyn. “You would remain autonomous? A working body within the Inquisition?”

“If that is preferable. I do plan on retaining my court connections and will need to deal with important matters should they arise, but my priority would be to serve the Inquisition as best you see fit.”

A dull, roaring dread filled Roslyn’s ears.

The Rebellion had fought against people like Vivienne its entire existence.

But she wasn’t part of the Rebellion. Not anymore.

Cassandra watched her with a troubled frown, but said, “The Inquisition welcomes your aid, Enchanter Vivienne.”

Vivienne’s exultant smile felt like a punch to her stomach.

“Splendid,” she announced, clasping her hands together. “Great things are beginning, my dears. I can promise you that.”

Chapter Text

Roslyn walked along the empty streets in a fog, the fine frills of her dress dragging across the cobblestones.

She should be more careful. It had probably cost Josephine a lot of money. But she was finding it hard to conjure any feeling at all, let alone concern over a dress slowly trying to choke the life out of her.

Cassandra shot her a concerned look out of the corner of her eye a few times, but she didn’t speak, to Roslyn’s blessed relief. The farther along they walked, the more it seemed like a piece of her had been carved out and left bleeding on the floor of that pristine parlor, the knife dug into her chest by Fiona wielded by Vivienne to leave her with a gaping wound that would not heal.

Roslyn entered Lady Seryl’s apartments with a grateful nod at the steward waiting for them. Thankfully, Varric and Solas were nowhere to be seen, though she caught the watchful blue eyes of Charter as she retreated up the stairs at her entrance.

She followed without waiting for Cassandra to yell at her, to tell her she acted childish. Or worse, to offer comfort or condolence. She didn’t want it. She couldn’t hear it. Not now.

The day settled onto her shoulders and weighed her down as she entered to her room. The bed on the far wall looked like she hadn’t slept in it the previous night, the red and green coverlet neatly tucked around the expensive feather mattress, the cascading pillows with countless tassels piled delicately on top in a configuration she knew had cost a servant at least half an hour to perfect. Her clothes had been draped carefully over the back of a screen, leather jacket cleaned and pants freshly laundered, her cotton undershirt replaced with a fresh, unmarked tunic. Next to them hung the fine red jacket she’d worn to the assembly, its gold buttons shining in the dim light coming in through the large window overlooking the street.

She closed the door and walked to the bed, running her hand along the fine silken threads woven into an elegant pattern of a deer.

Make it seamless, girl, like no one’s ever touched it, the old servant had told her as she’d shown Roslyn how to make Lady Kirstena’s bed. Before the woman had forbade the other servants to interact with her more than was necessary, of course. She’d been so confused at the time. Why would it matter if the bed looked like no one had slept in it? What was the point of the bed otherwise?

Roslyn withdrew her hand as memories filled her mind, time spent shrinking through shadows so she wouldn’t be noticed. She unlaced her corset, pulling on the strings with numb, shaking fingers, moving slowly, deliberately. The boned garment fell to the floor with a soft thud. The orange silk fluttered up around her legs, clinging to her skin like seaweed. She pulled the dress off, careful not to rip the fabric.

She folded the dress carefully, smoothing it so it wouldn’t wrinkle, and placed it on the padded bench at the foot of the bed. She did the same with the corset. She twirled the strings into the shape of a bow, settling the ties on top of the red boning.

Lady Kirstena had always liked the bows.

In the chest at the far end of the room she found a sturdier, rougher blanket than those on the bed, threadbare, tucked away in case something happened to the other, finer bedding. She paused when she found a small clay figure nestled between the blankets. Reaching down, she ran her fingers over the crude figurine of Andraste, hands outstretched and flowing hair covered with a veil.

Roslyn resisted the urge to throw it out the open window.

Draping the blanket over her shoulders, she slid down the wall, huddling into the corner to stare at the bed.

Her eyes unfocused as her mind replayed the scene from that afternoon, reliving Fiona’s cold disappointment. At times, Derek’s face, twisted in shock and fear, merged with the Grand Enchanter and they both stared at her with abject hatred in their eyes.

Where they clutched the blanket to her chest, her hands shook, and her eyes burned with unshed tears.

What have I done?

She’d abandoned her friends, joined the Inquisition, and nearly died ten times over in the last few months for people she didn't know. She had handed her life over to a woman who had threatened it on numerous occasions. She’d made peace with templars. She’d been dragged across the Hinterlands through every damn rift they could find, losing bits of herself every time she connected to the Fade, like petals peeling off in a strong wind one by one, leaving her a barren, thorny stalk.

And now she was trapped in an organization that may or may not be the embodiment of everything she'd raged against for the last seven years. There was no possible explanation for why she had done this, why she had given up so easily. She had been plunged into a strange, terrible nightmare—and worst of all, she’d been the first to jump.

The Inquisition needed her. Or they needed her mark.

But they would never have chosen a knife-eared mage for their Herald.

Them or Andraste.

Roslyn remained on the floor for hours, unwilling to sleep or close her eyes, dreading the nightmares the Fade would drag out of her. Her eyes closed slowly to the empty room. She half-hoped the monstrous demon which had been hounding her for the past two months would just kill her out of mercy.

And opened them to find herself in another world.

Grey mist swirled around Roslyn without substance or form.

The only noise she heard was the distant whistling of what sounded like wind across a vast plain, and she saw nothing except swirling mist. She might as well be standing inside a cloud.

Panicked thoughts of what happened when a soul died and left its body flitted through her mind.

Was this death? Had she died of shock and sadness on the cold wooden floor of Lady Seryl’s apartments?

A hazy outline shifted in front of her, and she froze.

She waited for the shape to move again. When it didn’t, she turned her head slowly. The outline moved—or something moved around it. Darker and more solid than the surrounding grey… a tall rock face emerging from the mist as a breeze disturbed the fog. Clouds of grey swirled along its base where it met the ground.

Taking a step forward, she squinted into the distance. Her feet scraped across wet rock. The sensation took her by surprise. She stumbled backward, stepping into cold water. The sound of her foot splashing and echoing off the barren landscape was loud in the eerie silence.

It sent a wave of relief through her mind. If she could see and hear and feel, she might not be dead after all.

She wore a simple linen shirt and pants. The fabric bunched at her waist in a soft breeze of air. Her skin glowed in the fog as eddies swirled past her stomach and ghosted across the fine hairs on her arms—a strange golden hue coming off her bronze skin. She raised her hands to see if they would have the same effect and paused.

Her mark wasn’t giving off its usual throbbing green, the glyph clear and bright, and still—the same as it had when she’d fallen asleep in Calenhad’s Foothold. The nine-pointed star hummed in the grey light, muted and soft, and beautiful.

This is the Fade, she realized in a rush.

When she looked up again, the cliff in front of her had widened into a jagged expanse of mountainous rock, a hard line stretching along the horizon as far as she could see. But at its base was dark green grass, rolling hills broken by dark spires and smaller cliffs.

Water flowed faster at her feet, coming to life along with the landscape. She walked back onto land as the water rose to her calves. Shaking slightly when the cold stole warmth from her bare feet, she crossed her arms and peered down through the mist. The smooth pebbles on the beach shifted under her toes. 

Her hair whipped around her in a violent wind, bringing with it a rich dampness of earth mixed with the tang of sea-air.

A gentle ocean stretched behind her, reaching beyond her vision and bleeding into a long, blue-black horizon. She narrowed her eyes as another gust of wind blew past, and she saw a coastline outlining a small bay.

The pattern of the shore and the color of the waves looked oddly familiar, as if she knew that coastline.

The fuck is going on…

Out of the murmur of wind, voices drifted behind her. Soft and low at first, but growing louder the closer they got. She whirled around to see a horde of giants materialize out of the mist and turn to follow the shoreline.

Roslyn jerked to the side, heart hammering in her throat, but the giants paid her no mind as they trudged past without a glance. They spoke in a harsh but melodic language she didn’t recognize, wearing skins of oiled leather with mud and paint smeared across their entire bodies in dark, mossy green and brilliant sea-blue.

Not giants, she realized as she watched them, just large humans.

Their footsteps beat in time against the pebbled sand like a drum. She was mesmerized by the sight and rhythm.

A flash of gold amidst the blue and green—a woman painted in red and yellow passed close to Roslyn near the middle of the column.

She watched in fascination as one of her pupils dilated and shone a brilliant, glowing amber, an eye made of molten gold. Smaller than the warriors surrounding her, and older, she carried herself like their commander—chin raised and shoulders back. Draped in rich russet fur and wearing a band of polished iron circling her head, she clutched a finely-carved staff that rattled with a string of white beads in one strong, painted hand.

The woman froze, her golden eye focusing on a point over Roslyn’s head,  and spoke in a high, clear voice, before continuing down the coast.

Roslyn watched them walk away with a tingling realization. They couldn't see her. She was some kind of phantom in their midst. 

She turned back to the coastline, willing her mind to remember. Slowly, she recognized the jagged outline of the harbor that held the docks of Val Royeaux.

Certainty snapped into place. 

Solas had been right. She must be experiencing a dream, a memory tied to the city. Which meant those humans were... spirits?

That damn elf, she thought in amazement. 

The group walked further down the beach and she followed them in a hurry, heart beating fast. The humans moved with purpose, intent on their destination.

She caught fragments of their language, sometimes laughing, sometimes serious. Most of the warriors, spears and crude axes strapped to their backs and waists, were men, and towered nearly eight feet tall. But there were a few women, lithe and feline in their movements, congregating in the center around the leader. They, too, clutched staves, but as far as she could tell none of them had the same golden eye.

Was it a mark of knowledge or leadership? Roslyn wondered what kind of magic could have done something so subtle, racking her brain for fragments she might have heard once in a lecture or read in a book. Only spirits and demons had eyes which glowed like jewels. She’d heard of mages communing with spirits, but it wasn’t a safe practice, and it certainly wasn’t a quality of leadership.

Well, except in Rivain, where hedge witches ruled large seafaring clans with an iron fist and dealt with demons to strengthen their armadas. If the stories were true, they summoned them into their bodies for knowledge and power, and treated with spirits like old friends. Dairsmuid had been culled for those rumors. Were these people their predecessors?

No, she dismissed the idea quickly. They would have had to travel leagues and leagues to reach Rivain. These people looked barely evolved enough to create those crude tools, let alone travel across the sea.

The thought vanished when the warriors rounded a corner in the cliff-face and a group of vast, cream-colored sails billowed against the grey sky in a strong sea breeze. Twenty ships floated on the water, all larger than any she’d ever seen before, much bigger than the one they’d taken from Jader. They weren’t as ornamented as those lining the harbor in the waking world, but the hulls were carved with swirling, spiraling patterns, the wood inlaid with curving silver and gold.

Dragging her gaze from the ships, she froze as she stared out across an extensive network of tents. The sprawling camp stretched for a mile into the distance, packed in tight against the cliffs along the bay. The faint sounds of sleeping humans and mewling dogs drifted over the smell of thousands of people.

The hair on the back of her neck rose as she scanned the tent city.

She tried to remember the names of the early humans who had come ashore in what later became Orlais, but she couldn’t think beyond her shock. Alamarri, maybe.

The group continued down to the camp slowly, their voices lowering so as not to disturb the sleeping masses.

She followed them more closely now, studying them. The paint was actually clay smeared over their bodies, flecking as they moved to reveal skin of all colors beneath. The men broke off and went further into the camp, leaving the women to curve along its edge. Most left as the old woman continued to wind through the camp, but two young women remained, whispering to each other and smiling at a shared secret. Their fingers intertwined as they walked, hands held behind their backs in a hidden gesture of affection.

Roslyn fixated on their hands, nearly tripping once in her distraction.

One was shorter, like the old woman, with dark red hair matted with tan clay. The other had hair so black it sucked in the surrounding light, standing as tall as the men. Their long hair was braided into plaits down their backs, with strips of colored leather and glittering stones woven into the tendrils. Roslyn chanced getting closer to examine the small beads. They were tiny skulls carved out of metal and multi-colored stone, catching the dim light as they bounced, but some were pale and white.

Bone, she realized with a wave of apprehension.

The black-haired woman looked over her shoulder, yellow eyes flashing, and scratched her back as if to ward off a fly.

The old woman paused before a large tent, facing the pair. They spoke in low voices. The older woman responded calmly, an undercurrent of misgiving in her tone.

The pair tensed, agitated. The redhead looked scared. The raven-haired woman tried to hide it, but Roslyn caught the nervous twitch in her eyes as she stared down at her partner. The old woman shook her head at the redhead and raised her hand to silence a response. She spoke firmly as the girl shrank, acquiescing to whatever request the old woman had made of her, eyes shining with a hint of moisture.

The black-haired girl's mouth was a hard line as she beckoned her partner to join her, stepping away.

The redhead seemed hesitant, staring at the old woman with a mixture of fear and concern as she struggled to keep her tears from falling.

As the two women stared at each other, Roslyn noticed the old woman’s normal eye was the same dark brown as the girl’s and she had a similarly hooked nose. The old woman cupped the girl’s cheek and gave her a wink, drawing a small, hesitant smile as a tear leaked down her face. The leader said something which sounded like a reassurance, and the girl nodded. 

The tall girl slipped a hand over the redhead’s shoulders and pressed a kiss into the top of her head, smoothing an errant clump of clay-streaked hair. The redhead slumped into her and wrapped her arms around her stomach, laying her head against the other girl’s chest as they walked away.

The old woman watched them go with a wistful expression, and reached for the flap of the tent, drawing it back with a strong arm and stepping inside.

Roslyn moved quickly, following before the flap fell. She might feel the ground beneath her, but she had no idea if she could touch anything else.

Inside it was dark, full of the faint sounds of more than one person breathing. The hazy outline of the woman’s body turned toward the source. A soft movement and a swirl of fire, and the woman conjured a dancing flame to float over her hand. The sparks played around her fingers, illuminating the inside of the tent with a warm glow.

It was larger than Roslyn had expected, with a screen separating two halves. On one side lay three men entwined together on thick furs. They were all younger than the old mage, though not as young as the girls. Their skin was not painted like the warriors', but covered in dark lines of ink. The tattoos wound around their bodies in the same swirling pattern on the ships. It covered every inch of skin, their faces, cutting across their lips and eyes and darting across their chests and down between their legs.

Roslyn looked away as heat flushed across her chest. Stop ogling the naked dream-men.

The woman bent and brushed a lock of golden hair out of one man’s face. He stirred at her touch, but didn’t wake. Straightening, she sent the darting fire to circle above her head, illuminating the scene as she undressed.

Roslyn had the sudden, awkward thought that she might have just walked into the memory of an ancient orgy.

But the old woman moved away from the sleeping men and walked to the other side of the screen dividing the tent. Dancing fire trailed in her wake, revealing a tapestry strung across twisted wood.

Roslyn only caught a glimpse of the scene before the woman’s fire moved away, a massive horde of people walking across a field of red as a silver creature curled above them.

The woman eased off the last piece of her leather armor, which crossed round her back and chest in tight straps. The clay covering her back was shaped in a ridged, diamond pattern like spikes, and when it caught the light, flecks of gold flashed in the paint and made the woman’s skin sparkle.

Behind the screen stood a stone basin, rising three feet off the ground and shining black as pitch as the woman’s fire danced beside it. Threads of silver flowed through the stone like veins, catching the light and flashing with color.

The mage threw the rest of her clothes down, turning to a chest along the far side of the tent. Naked except for a small, white crystal pendant round her neck, she retrieved a bundle of herbs, running her painted fingers along green vines interlaced with dark, red-orange lines.

Roslyn didn’t recognize the plant, but it gave off a cloying sweetness as the woman crushed the petals, like the tangy smell of overripe fruit. 

The longer she watched, the more she felt as if something stirred in the tent. As if, were she to look away from the old mage, she would miss something vital. Something she had to know.

The mage seemed worried, but her eyes were hard and determined as she stood next to the basin and lay the dried vines in the bowl. Her other hand slipped the pendant from her neck and she whispered a phrase which sent a chill down Roslyn’s spine, if she didn’t understand the words. The flames above her head swirled faster and trailed down along the woman’s skin, curling the clay and flaking it as heat licked against her body. Before they could burn, however, they leapt into the bowl and ignited the herbs.

Roslyn nearly gagged as smoke filled the tent.

It grew into a shifting blue and silver cloud, sparking as the flames rose to engulf the woman’s hand. She didn’t flinch as fire crackled across her arm. When it seemed like it would consume her, she released her hold on the stone and withdrew her hand as the white crystal remained floating in the flames.

A howl and another flash of indigo sparks, and the light refracted through the stone to shine against the ceiling of the tent.

The outline of a great winged creature materialized in the smoke, shimmering with silver and gold and roaring in primal rage. It broke apart, heat spraying out of the basin as the flames rioted. Out of the chaos, a shining blue light coalesced into a figure. It stood tall, before a sliver of black cut through the center of its body. The figure doubled over, clutching its head as pain wracked its ethereal form. Red curled up around its toes and slammed into its chest, crushing it under the weight of a red and black cloud, sparking and pulsing with more cloying sweetness. Silver light flashed out and trailed off into the black expanse of the tent.

In a rush of sensation, a howling madness broke into her own mind, a discordant shriek that thundered down her spine and set her nerves alight with the fury and desperate panic of its cry. Her chest burst and cold, burning light cracked through her consciousness.

And then there was silence.

The smoke fell back into the basin without sound, coalescing into a liquid before it vanished entirely, and the tent plunged once more into darkness.

Roslyn's heart thudded in her throat and her hands clenched, her mind strangely empty without the other-worldly screaming.

Another flame swirled to life over the woman’s hand. The old woman stared at the basin in shock. Her body tensed. A hand flew to her throat. Her eyes unfocused upon the screen behind Roslyn.

She shuddered and relaxed, shock transforming to a deep, echoing loss. She remained hunched over for a long time, before she straightened, the sadness sloughing off her face, replaced with hard determination. She waved her hand over the basin and the rest of the unspent vines burned to ash, leaving only the white crystal, which she picked up and held in her open palm .

Roslyn stared down with her, tension in every line of her body, waiting.

The mage closed her fist before placing the stone atop a piece of fur. She walked over to a bench surrounded by books and bent to pick up a tome, sighing heavily.

Dropping into a crouch, she cracked her neck and arms, rolling her shoulders, and straightened. She sat on the bench, crossing her painted legs, and settled in. The winking fire slowed to a stop over her head and lowered to the level of her eyes. She opened the tome on her lap, letting the fire swirl over the book and sink into the pages to illuminate the words without too much light.

Roslyn stared at the woman. Had she attempted a divination or summoning? A cleansing?

The old woman looked up at a sound from the other side of the tapestry, her frown melting into a gentle smile as one of the men entered the sphere of light. He leaned against the screen and spoke in a low whisper, a grin stretched across his handsome face.

The two of them spoke quietly, the woman’s grin matching his as he teased her. The man straightened, walking behind her and running his hands along her shoulder. Clay flaked off the woman’s skin at his touch and she tried to swat his hand away, but he caught her wrist, turning it up to his mouth. He pressed a kiss into her palm, and his eyes closed in a sweet, reverent gesture. The woman gazed at him with sad eyes before withdrawing her hand.

The man tensed, as if hurt by the woman’s dismissal, but moved to her other side, sitting next to her on the bench.

He said something so soft, Roslyn could barely hear it. Transfixed by the scene, by the tenderness and intimacy, she leaned in.

The woman had tears in her eyes now, and she shook her head. He slumped and pressed his forehead against her cheek, wrapping his arms around her as she dissolved into quiet sobs.

Roslyn watched them with growing unease, feeling like an intruder on an intimate, private moment. This was… She shouldn't be watching this.

A flash of movement caught Roslyn’s eye and she turned in relief to the opposite side of the tapestry hanging across the wooden screen.

A curled silver beast rose above the horde of warriors, still obscured in shadow, and unfurled its wings. A breath of hot air rushed against her face as she stared into a pair of shifting, Void-black eyes.

She could have sworn she heard someone call her name, and her vision went black. 

Chapter Text

Roslyn awoke in a jerk and fell onto her side, the worn blanket slipping from her shoulders.

She’d fallen asleep sitting upright, still huddled in the corner of her room in Lady Seryl’s apartment. Lying against the floor, she winced as blood rushed back into her legs and  blinked against the brilliant sunlight filtering in through the window over her head. Her heart pounded as if she’d ran from the Fade physically.

A memory. She’d fallen into a memory. Just like Solas had said.

She curled in on herself, pressing her forehead into her knees and groaning with realization. 

It had been real. Totally, unimaginably, real.

How long had it lain dormant if Val Royeaux hadn’t become a city yet?

Roslyn knew little about the early human tribes who had settled in the region before the Imperium rose to power. The Neromenians had come down from the north and settled in the bay of the Nocen Sea where Tevinter now stood, and they had eventually split into separate tribes and spread south, but before the Tevinter Imperium began keeping records of human settlements and tribes in the south, no one knew much beyond bits of myth and scraps of stories so convoluted they couldn’t be true.

She sat up, a hesitant excitement and dread filling her mind, an unsteady smile spreading across her lips.

Solas would never let her hear the end of this. He would probably…

Her smile faded as quickly as it had come. He might not want anything to do with her or her dream, not after she’d screamed at him in the Grand Forest Villa.

Probably thinks I’m an ignorant ass, she thought with a frown, knowing she had, in fact, been an ignorant ass.

She felt as tired as if she’d spent the entire night awake. The prospect of facing Cassandra again after last night was unbearable, but she pushed herself to her feet and prepared for the day, gathering together the small threads of her motivation. She wouldn’t sit up here lurking like a kicked dog until the Seeker dragged her downstairs.

Roslyn shrugged on her worn leather jacket last, sighing in relief. Odd to find the thing so comfortable after wearing some variation of dresses or robes for most of her life. The leather felt easy after the long month spent in the Hinterlands, familiar.

She found Cassandra, Varric, and Charter talking in hushed voices in the main parlor.

The Seeker met her gaze as Roslyn entered, and her eyes tightened.

I can’t tell if that’s a good or a bad look. She stepped off the staircase and crossed to an adjacent hallway with a small table laid out with food.

She caught Varric’s eye as she walked past. He practically beamed at her in greeting, the smile forced, but sweet.

Someone’s happy to see me, at least, she thought as she gave him a wink.

Eying the table with a frown, she took in the extravagant spread. She would never understand the Orlesian insistence on displaying their wealth so ostentatiously. Enough food for ten grown men sat on the table.

Nursing an unsettled stomach from the night and the anticipation of speaking to Cassandra, she chose the plainest piece of bread she could find and swabbed a bit of herbed butter across it. This, in and of itself, was a challenge. In addition to three different types of bread, there were various kinds of sliced meat, delicate fruit tarts bursting with berries she had no name for, cubes of four different kinds of apple, and a tray of ridiculous cakes with some sort of fancy, spun-sugar lace on top.

What kind of pompous asshole eats frilly little cakes for breakfast?  she thought, gauging whether or not the fruit tart was worth the risk.

She scowled at the cakes as Cassandra walked up behind her and asked, “Herald, how did you sleep?”

“Well, and you, Seeker?” She took another bite of her bread, trying to keep her face expressionless and polite.

“Also well,” she answered. “When you are finished eating, would you care to join me on the balcony? I’d like to speak to you.”

Roslyn nodded, and the Seeker left her alone at the table once more.

She finished her bread slowly, savoring each bite like it was her last. Might be, she thought darkly. Perhaps that fraying patience of hers would snap. What a mess that would be for poor Lady Seryl, though the scandal of having the Right Hand of the Divine kill the Herald of Andraste in her apartments might make up for it.

She steeled herself and turned, only to find a little girl standing between her and the parlor.

The girl was young, eyes a light hazel-green and spaced wide in her pale face, straight blonde hair tied back behind her head in a simple bun with a small ribbon of pink holding it in place.

She looked like one of Helena’s porcelain dolls.

“Hello, and who are you?” Roslyn asked, smile tugging at her lips.

She noticed the dirty smock draped over the girl’s dress, the chipped and dirty fingernails, with a hard understanding. She fought to keep back a grimace of recognition. Maker, she looked far too young to be a servant.

The girl stared, as if she couldn’t believe Roslyn had actually spoken aloud, but quickly recovered. She set her mouth into a hard, stubborn line. “Is it true you were a servant before you became a mage?”

Roslyn blinked. Direct, aren’t we?  “I—who told you that?”

The girl’s mouth quivered, eyes shining in determination. “I heard it at the market yesterday. One of the wine sellers said you were a servant in Ostwick and then you became a mage.”

Roslyn tried to conjure her smile again. “I hadn’t realized people gossiped about me so much.” She should have known normal people would be just as interested in the Herald of Andraste’s colored past as the clerics and nobles.

The girl’s eyes hardened and she looked down. “I knew they were lying. I’m—so sorry, my lady, please—”

Roslyn leaned down and took the girl’s wrist, pulling her back with a soft smile. “I was a servant, yes, in my late father’s house. I served his wife before my magic surfaced when I was thirteen.”

She swallowed, her chest rising and falling quickly. “Thirteen?” she asked in a small voice, hope glimmering in her eyes.

Roslyn’s heart clenched as she nodded.

Poor thing. She recognized the searching look in her eyes, the desperate urge for something that might deliver her from the small cage of her life.

Lady Seryl couldn’t be as horrible a mistress as Lady Kirstena, Josephine had gushed endlessly about the woman in her letter. But there was a difference between what happened behind closed doors and in the quiet of the night, when servants whispered through noble halls.

Roslyn knelt, crouching before the girl. “What’s your name, brave girl?”

“Annabelle, my lady.”

“Now,” Roslyn scoffed, “enough of that ’lady’ business or you’re going to make me feel old. I’m only a few years older than you are, Annabelle. My name is Roslyn, and I am honored to meet you.”

The girl looked nervous, but when Roslyn gave her a wink, her face relaxed. “Is it true you once ripped a bear’s head off with your hands?”

Roslyn snorted and the girl jumped. “On no, dear Annabelle, don’t be ridiculous.” She leaned in conspiratorially and, tapping her temple. “I didn’t even have to use my hands.”

The girl grinned, the glint in her eyes coming back. “I hope I become a mage one day.”

Roslyn’s smile faltered.

Before her magic had surfaced, she’d begged Andraste for help to fight back against Helena, to help her escape the Trevelyan family. She would pray for the appearance of her mother or a long lost relative of noble birth to whisk her away, or the old elven stable master, Aylen, to free her from the Emerald Cove and bring her to one of the Dalish clans he talked about endlessly.

And in her darkest moments, she too had wished for the power to burn off her half-sister’s hair or freeze her in place. Anything to make Helena leave her alone.

A naive wish, made by a little girl who didn’t know better.

“That’s brave of you. There aren’t many people who want that kind of responsibility.”

“But... magic makes you invincible. You can turn people to stone and reverse time! Mages don’t have to scrub dishes and make beds.”

Roslyn smiled sadly, wondering how this girl had escaped the prejudices of the rest of the world. Lucky thing. “If only that were true, Annabelle.”

Her brow furrowed in disappointment.

“What is something you’re good at? Something you’re better at than anyone else?”

Annabelle considered. “Marguerite always makes me chop the onions, because I can do it without crying and I’m quicker than the other girls,” she said slowly. “And I’m always the first one back after morning deliveries because I know the fastest path from the docks to the house and the alley boys can’t catch me.”

Roslyn arched her brow. “Good with your hands and a keen mind? I’d say that’s better than being able to turn back time, wouldn’t you?”

The girl’s mouth turned down. “But that doesn’t help me…” she trailed off.

Roslyn knew where the girl’s sentence ended, wished she could give her more than an empty reassurance. “Do you get paid, Annabelle?”

The girl nodded.

“It’s not much, is it?” Her deep frown made Roslyn laugh. “I’m going to give you some advice. Save up as much of your money as you can. Don’t buy anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.” She eyed the girl’s pink ribbon. “Buying sweets and pretty ribbons for your hair seems important now, but trust me when I say they won’t mean as much in a year or two. The money you have in your pocket is worth more than the bow in your hair or the sweets in your belly.  You save up as much as you can and you make sure you keep working with your hands and training your mind. Can you read?” The girl nodded again. “Good. Keep reading. Read everything you can get your hands on, even if it seems boring or silly. You never know when something you read in a book will help you out of a tight spot. And when you get an opportunity to leave this house, when you’re ready and you’re courageous enough, you take it. No matter how scared you are. Understand?”

The girl's eyes grew bright, rising a little higher on her toes.

“Now,” Roslyn stood and tucked an errant lock of hair behind the girl’s ear, brushing flour from her collar, “I have important business to attend to. And you need to get back to practice.”

She smiled tentatively, the blush on her cheeks fading.

Roslyn’s hand lingered on her face. Maker, she’s so young. “Never feel like your life is at an end, brave girl,” she murmured. “There is always a way out. Promise me you’ll remember that.”

“I promise,” she said, wide eyes shining out of her pale face.

Roslyn cleared her throat and gave her a pointed look.

“Roslyn,” she added, and headed for the door to what Roslyn assumed was the kitchens, glancing back once before she disappeared to shoot her another wide smile.

As soon as Annabelle’s skirts whipped out of sight, Roslyn’s face fell.

Was I ever that young?

She pushed away memories of whispering through corridors and hoping for a better life. This damn city seemed determined to dredge up all the hidden things in her mind. Never thought I’d long for bears and rifts.

“Well, fuck, Red. You’re gonna make me cry.”

She spun around to see Varric and Cassandra staring at her from the doorway to the salon.

Only to lock eyes with Solas, standing at the foot of the stairs to their left.

“I mean,” Varric skated over the awkward silence, “after that tender display I might have to start calling you Sweetness or Generosity. Maybe Peaches.”

“I’d hate to see what happens if you do,” Cassandra said with a small grin. “I would hold Bianca close, were I you, Varric.”

“Uncalled for, Seeker.” Varric frowned up at her. “There are lines we do not cross in our attempts at humor. For instance, I don’t threaten your charming little hair braid or question you about the scales sticking out the back of your armor.”

She hadn't tried to hide it. Leliana likely new every sordid detail about her, but she wasn’t going to advertise it to people she barely knew, and she certainly wasn’t going to talk about it. She reached for one of the fruit tarts, her stomach settled after the conversation with Annabelle, and tried not to shift as Solas walked up to join her.

“That was kind of you,” he said, keeping a few feet of distance between them as he surveyed the spread of food. “I daresay she will remember your advice for the rest of her life.”

“It wasn’t. I doubt she’ll ever leave this house unless she’s kicked out. Lady Seryl seems nice, so she probably makes more than most servants. But this is a hard life to leave.” She thought of the day she was thrown out of the Emerald Cove and into the waiting arms of the templars. “Not everyone is as lucky as I am.”

Silence stretched between them. Had she been lucky? Helena was cruel, and only getting crueler by the time Roslyn’s magic surfaced. She might have killed her at some point with the severity of her abuse. She’d tried hard enough once Roslyn had left for the Circle, once she had taken over her mother’s title, instructing the templars to crack down and tighten their chokehold on her tower.

She slowly ate the fruit tart, sweet, buttery, perfectly made, and didn’t know if the trade-off was worth it.

“There is power in hope, Herald,” Solas said softly, stirring a thread of heat in her chest. "You gave her that much."

She chanced a look only to find him staring resolutely forward. “And an unreasonable expectation of her future. I’m a wonder.”

His brow furrowed. “Unreasonable?” he asked, picking up one of the iced cakes.

She snorted, hiding her grin with a last bite of tart. Maker, of course he likes the little frilly monstrosities.

“You transcended your old life. What makes her circumstances different?”

Her humor died in her throat. “I would not wish the trajectory of my life on anyone,” she muttered, voice hard, “let alone a little girl.”

His dark, blue-grey eyes narrowed when she didn’t continue.

She expected his hard dismissal, b ut it didn’t come. He simply stared at her with searching, wary eyes, lips parted slightly, as if a question formed on his tongue, not yet realized.

She should tell him about the memory she’d witnessed last night. But her throat hardened, and she found it impossible to speak.

Maker’s balls, she thought in frustration, chest tightening in the silence, just tell him you’re sorry.

Cassandra’s sharp voice broke the tension for them. “I gave you the money for the book, Varric. I will not apologize again.”

Heat rose up her cheeks. “I’d better go save Varric before Cassandra skewers him with her cheekbones. It wouldn't be good manners to leave bloodstains on the rugs.”

Solas looked back to the table with tight eyes. “Indeed. Lady Seryl seems a generous woman, but it would be wise not to press her hospitality.”

“Right,” she said with a hollow laugh. She forced away the imagined disappointment in his voice, the lingering guilt in his eyes, and walked into the parlor in time to see Cassandra take a step toward Varric. “Seeker? You wanted to speak with me?”

Varric shot her a grateful glance, slipping behind her to join Solas.

Cassandra glared out the open doors at the far end of the room.

“You know he’s teasing you, right?” Roslyn murmured as she followed her out onto the balcony. “You only encourage him when you fly off the handle like that.”

Cassandra’s jaw clenched, but she forced herself to relax. “I don’t know what it is, but he seems to know exactly what to say to set me off. Maker knows, I’m too old to take such bait, but… Well.”

Roslyn watched the woman as she spoke, startled to see vulnerability in those sharp eyes. “You should ignore him next time. It’ll piss him off so much.”

Cassandra smiled wryly and shook her head. “I know it would.”

They stood in silence, both of them looking out across the harbor of Val Royeaux. It was a mild day, cooler than it had been, and the sounds of the city echoed pleasantly in the morning light.

Roslyn traced the curve of the coastline, wondering how much had changed since those ancient humans came ashore all those years ago. It must have been before the Imperium was founded, thousands and thousands of years. And she’d fallen into it without trying.

“Do I need to know about your history with Madame de Fer?”

Roslyn kept her gaze toward the ocean, surprised to feel only a slight stab of anger at the reminder of last night. “She was Fiona’s primary opposition in the College of Enchanters." She stumbled once over her name, but kept going. "I won’t bore you with the details about fraternities and the petty rivalries between their leaders, but Vivienne was not kind.” 

“I had assumed as much. Can you  work with her?”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Her jaw clenched, and she exhaled. “I mean—yes. I will try to be on my best behavior.”

“Do you want to be here, Roslyn? In the Inquisition, I mean.”

Roslyn looked at her, incredulity entering her voice as she muttered, “You know the answer to that.”

“Do I? I thought I did, but…” Cassandra trailed off, eyes bright in their searching. “Sometimes I think you understand better than anyone what is at stake. Other times… Other times I think you are trying hard to remain the prisoner I met in Haven.”

Roslyn clenched her jaw, trying not to remember the anger and fear of those first few days. They didn’t meet. She was chained and kept as a prisoner for two days. “And what does that mean?”

Cassandra watched her anger with a knowing acceptance. “I will not pretend to understand your life or its hardships. I am aware of the difficult position you are in as a mage and an elf-blooded woman of nobility, but there is a place for you here, with the Inquisition, if you would simply take it.”

Roslyn blinked, taken aback by her honesty. “I never asked for this, Cassandra. I told you I would help, and I will try, but you cannot expect me to agree with decisions I fundamentally oppose. You can’t expect me to want this.”

Cassandra’s eyes narrowed. “That is a lie, and you know it.”

“Excuse me?”

Her brow arched, a challenge shining in her eyes. “I watched you in the Hinterlands. You relished helping those people. In Haven, though you were uncomfortable, which any sane woman would be, in your position, you saw the value of what we must do. You get along with the troops, even if you think they fear you, and you throw yourself into harm’s way to protect them. Deny it all you like, but you are as dedicated to this cause as the rest of us.”

“Look, I—”

“Are you telling me your speech in the Grand Cathedral yesterday was a show?”

“I said what I had to say.”

“No, you didn’t,” Cassandra said plainly. “You spoke from your heart. You and Varric like to paint me as a dull ignoramus when it comes to these matters, but I know a performer when I see one. You are many things, Roslyn. A liar is not one of them.” Her eyes shone with a kind of desperation which made the growing discomfort in the back of Roslyn’s mind sharpen. “You did not pledge yourself to the Inquisition beyond closing the Breach. I am not naive enough to believe you hold our aspirations as highly as I do, but you cannot tell me you believe, in your heart of hearts, that the Inquisition is not needed. That you are not needed.”

Roslyn stared at her, trying to think of a way to make Cassandra understand. This wasn’t a calling for her. There was no divine imperative she felt in her bones, no heavenly affirmation she could draw on when she doubted her purpose.

And the idea that she might be more than a burden to them, to her

“I never said the Inquisition wasn’t needed,” she muttered, swallowing the lump rising in her throat. “Only that I can’t be what you need. You don’t want me to be, trust me.”

Cassandra’s eyes narrowed as she studied her. “You have maintained that you do not believe Andraste chose you as her Herald.”

Roslyn’s brow lifted when she didn’t continue. “Yes, I have.”

“Does that mean you also do not believe in the Maker?”

She thought about side-stepping the question, giving her an answer which would make things easier for them both, but something about the look in her eyes gave her pause. “I am an elf-blooded mage, Cassandra.”

“That is not an answer.”

Roslyn let out a tired laugh. “Yes, it is. I was raised with the Chant, as much as I was raised with anything. I spent seven years in a Circle. Of course I believe in the Maker.” She held Cassandra’s gaze, the truth ringing dully in her chest. “The Maker does not believe in me. And neither does His Bride.”

She watched the hardness bleed out of Cassandra’s face, replaced with understanding and, of course, pity. Always pity.

“I am—sorry about my behavior last night,” Roslyn said after the silence became too much to bear. She was wrong, she knew that, but it didn’t make the apology any easier. “It’s…” She trailed off, eyes sinking to the floor. “It’s been a hard few months.”

“I am sorry the Grand Enchanter chose not to see reason. And—for what happened in the Witchwood. I can only imagine how disturbing it must have been for you.”

It was offered without malice, she knew, but it grated to accept her comfort. “Thank you, Seeker.” 

"I have asked much of you. Perhaps too much in such a short time.” She frowned. “And you test my patience in new and infuriating ways every day. But I can understand the discomfort of your position, and... I will try harder to accommodate it.”

“You’re going to make me blush.”

Cassandra smiled hesitantly, gazing out over the harbor.

Roslyn studied her, seeing for the first time the fatigue in Cassandra’s eyes, the tension in her shoulders. It had never occurred to her that the Seeker found all of this difficult too, that she’d lost the Divine, working with people she distrusted.

She’s been forced into this as much as I have.

“It’s not that I don’t believe in what you’re trying to do," she murmured. "Maker knows, this world is falling apart at the seams. It’s admirable to try to stop it, but I don’t have a place with... you. Without the mark, I would have died like everyone else. Or back in Redcliffe with the Rebellion.”

The pain welled up in her chest, but she was ready for it. She would have been with Derek and Fiona, hating the upstart organization along with the rest of Southern Thedas. She would have watched from afar as the Inquisition helped the people of the Hinterlands in the aftermath of a war mages had joined—and perhaps she might have doubted.

Because no matter how abhorrent working with the templars would always be, she could not deny the good they’d managed to accomplish in the Hinterlands.

Cassandra’s eyes grew distant. “No one knows what the Maker intends, Roslyn. All we can do is have faith and hope that we act in accordance with our own beliefs.”

Roslyn took a deep breath and nodded.

“I, for one, am thankful for your presence,” Cassandra added. “As disruptive as it has been.”

“I appreciate that. Truly.” An incongruous warmth blossomed in her chest. “You’re not so terrible either.”

Cassandra’s frustrated sigh made her snort, the last of her tension fleeing as she stared out at the harbor.

She was with the Inquisition. She could fight it, or embrace it, but that singular fact wouldn’t change. Because like it or not, she could go nowhere else.

She hadn’t realized how freeing that would be.

Chapter Text

They left Val Royeaux the next day, traveling back across the Waking Sea to Jader where they went inland and crossed Gherlen's Pass.

It had been muggy and hot the whole way, the sun beating down on them all day. On the sea, there was a breeze, but in the sparse brush and open plains of Jader, Roslyn had struggled to keep her spirits up. Only her time in the Blasted Hills marveled Jader for its complete lack of shelter from the sun.

Their pace had been relentless since leaving Lady Seryl's estate, Cassandra marching them like cattle. The Seeker was so intent on returning to Haven quickly—the templars were willing to treat with them, and they would need to organize their approach with the rest of the council. There was no time to waste.

Roslyn, of course, was happy to take as much time as possible to return to Haven. She might have accepted her place in the Inquisition, but the idea of going to the templars, crawling to them and begging for help…

Midway through their third day of trekking through Gherlen's Pass the sparse forests rolled into rocky hills choked with dark green grass and wildflowers. A chill crept over their group, and Charter came to an abrupt halt in front of her.

“Oh, great,” Varric muttered behind her, shrugging his shoulders to release Bianca from her catch at the back of his neck. “I love it when people stop in the middle of nowhere for no reason. It just screams ‘ambush.’ ”

“Charter?” Cassandra called from the back of their group where she walked with Solas. “What—”

The air shifted and charged, and Roslyn felt the swell of magic as a streak of fire barreled toward her.

She only had time to lurch back before it exploded on the ground in front of her, throwing both her and Varric onto their backs.

Coughing as smoke filled her nostrils and mouth, she blinked to clear her vision, but a thick cloud of fog was filling the air, making it hard to see more than a few feet. A whistling twang sounded to her left and she jerked around as an arrow slammed into the road a few inches from her hand.

“Archers!” she shouted, scrambling to her feet and letting her magic swell.

“Damn it,” Varric muttered behind her, hunched over Bianca and fiddling with something.

Out of the smoke loomed a horned face with leering red eyes, a hammer raised in shining black gauntlets.

She grabbed Varric by the collar and pulled him back. Pivoting, she shot out with a lash of energy, enough to unbalance the creature, but not enough to stop its momentum. The hammer that would have slammed into the top of Varric’s head veered sideways—directly into her leg.

The bone of her shin cracked before the pain sent her sprawling to the ground, a scream tearing from her lips as her vision blurred.

“Herald!” Cassandra cried out in the distance, the sounds of more shouting and the unmistakable crackling of magic blanketed by the unnatural fog.

The cry died in her throat as the mark sputtered and raged, and her aura roared to life.

The horned figure, a man in a large, bronze mask with a horn jutting out from his face and two red crystals on either side, lifted his hammer again.

She threw out her hand and slammed an arcane bolt into his armor so hard it punched a hole straight through his body. He let out a wet choke, muffled by his helmet, and crumpled to the ground.

“Red—” Varric swore under his breath. “I—”

She shook her head and grabbed onto his arm to pull herself back up, jaw clenched so tight against the pain screaming in her leg she couldn’t speak.

Fucking Void. Tears leaked from her eyes as sweat dripped down her temples.

Both of them looked up as the ground shook with thundering footsteps. Something huge run toward her through the mist, roaring in an insane battle cry.

Arcane energy surged over her hands to throw at whatever barreled down on her, but before she could do anything, someone knocked into her from behind, sending her sprawling once again to the ground.

She thudded against the ground as a thrown dagger sliced through the air next to her cheek, her cry of agony muffled in the dirt.

“Apologies, your worship,” a pleasant, unfamiliar male voice said as hands held her against the ground. “Hope you’ll forgive me for the impropriety.”

She managed to turn her head sideways, and caught an image of a man in heavy armor carrying a warhammer.

The man lifted his weight from her, only to jump up and swing his warhammer into the face of another masked attacker, cutting off his war cry with a quick gurgle.

“Dalish,” another man called in a deep, booming bass, his voice resonating through her body like a war horn, “can you do something about this fog?”

A small surge of magic—strangely free of any auric markers—and the smoke blew outward in a clap. An elf stood in the center with a bowed staff about ten feet away from her, smiling as she smacked an attacker with the curved end of her staff.

Roslyn flipped over with difficulty, lying at the feet of a tall, broad-chested man with rich mahogany hair, shaved on both sides, and a strong aquiline nose. He spun as she watched him, battering into a woman with little to no effort, his face a composed expression of concentration.

He was keeping his back to her, she realized with a jolt. He’s protecting me.

Another booming laugh drew her attention to the largest man she had ever seen. He stood eight feet tall, his skin a sweat-glistened grey—bare-chested and rippling with muscle as he swung an axe nearly as long as Roslyn was tall. Magnificent, lethal horns sprouted from his head on both sides and he roared with savage glee as he sliced a man in two with a quick swing, catching another in the face.

It’s a fucking qunari, she thought in awe.

She looked around for Varric, found him throwing caltrops into a group of more masked individuals, huddled together and throwing fire at Cassandra, Solas, and their two other agents.

A flash of green armor and whipping golden braids crossed her vision, and Charter leapt over her prone form to slice into the neck of another man. The man’s blood sprayed out in an arc and flecked against the elf’s face, but she didn’t seem to notice.

Charter’s knives were barely out of the man’s falling body when a woman’s frantic mumbling drew Roslyn’s attention—a mage casting a spell. She pushed herself upright on her elbow as another masked figure in deep red robes stood about ten feet away with her outstretched hands pointing toward Charter.

Roslyn felt the sweet pulse of blood magic and her mark reacted instinctively. She cried out in alarm as a wave of force rocketed from her left hand. Green light coalesced into an ethereal boulder and hit the mage square in the stomach before she could finish her spell. A dull crack sounded as her spine snapped and she flew back through the air a good fifteen feet.

Charter turned to Roslyn with wide eyes and a clenched jaw. She nodded once and spun, throwing a thin knife directly into the space between another man’s helmet and breastplate.

Roslyn caught her breath as the sounds of the fighting cut out with the huge thud of her savior's warhammer slamming the side of a man's head.

“Herald,” he said with a pleasant smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Wish it was under better circumstances."

She stared at him, her mind catching up with the quick turn of events.

He stiffened as a long blade slide across the side of his neck.

“Back away slowly,” Charter said in a deadly calm voice.

“Ah, I think we got off on the wrong foot.” He gave a good-natured smile, unperturbed by the knife at his throat.

Boots pounded across stone as Roslyn struggled to sit up. A cry broke from her lips as she tried to pull her leg back. Her vision blurred and darkness crowded in on her as she fought to remain conscious.

A brush of pine smoke and whispering warned her of Solas before he knelt down beside her, staff already stowed behind his shoulders. A bruise formed on his lower lip and his cheeks were flushed, eyes focused as they met hers.

“What happened?” he asked, hands out and magic flowing over his skin like water.

She swallowed back a wave of nausea as her leg pulsed, feeling the bone where it had shattered. “Leg—”

“Hammer slammed into her lower left leg as she dragged my stupid ass out of the way,” Varric murmured over her left shoulder. “I heard it break.”

“Is she all right?” Cassandra asked breathlessly as she came to a stop.

Roslyn answered her with a scream as Solas brushed her leg. She swallowed the cry and bent forward. "Andraste's bleeding cunt."

A deep, throaty laughter echoed across the now-silent road. “What a mouth.”

Swords were drawn. She could have sworn someone whistled, but she was having a hard time thinking over the blood pounding in her ears.

A quiet shuffle of cloth, a soft tapping of wood, and Solas held out a thick paintbrush. “Bite down on this. I must set the bone, and it will not be pleasant.”

Roslyn laughed, feeling dizzy, reaching for it with trembling fingers. “I didn’t know you painted.”

The corners of his mouth tugged into the start of a smile. “Varric, I need you to hold the Herald’s free leg.”

She took Solas’ offered brush and placed it in her mouth, already gritting her teeth in anticipation.

“How about we clean up the bodies,” the deep voice echoed over the road. “You heal your Herald, and we’ll talk. No funny business.”

Cassandra stood in front of her with her sword at the ready, a group of assorted people opposite her, including the qunari and the man who had protected her during the fight

And then her mind went blank with pain.

She nearly kicked Varric in the head as Solas snapped her bone into place, practically sitting on top of her to stop her from moving.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she screamed past the brush, nails digging into the dirt beneath her. Another snap, and blood filled her mouth. Her mark flickered once and she caught Solas’ eyes flash toward her hand. But she kept it under control, trying not to black out from the pain.

Her entire body was shaking by the time Solas released her leg and his magic sunk into her. She didn't bother to ignore the familiar lull of his aura, let it wash over her in a dizzying wave of pleasant warmth.  Blessed Andraste. She fought the urge to lie back down. I'm just going to crumble apart one of these days.

When she felt sure she wouldn’t pass out, she smoothed her hair back, plastered to her face with sweat. Her chest burned as she bent forward, closing her eyes as the last of the healing magic threaded into her leg and pulsed.

“How you doing, Red?” Varric asked hesitantly, a smile in his voice.

She groaned around the brush clasped between her teeth. Right then, she wanted nothing more than to punt the damn dwarf into Lake Calenhad.

“You should not walk on this for at least a day,” Solas murmured, rolling back on his heels with an exhale as he drew his magic inward. Her met her gaze briefly, to ensure she was all right, and looked toward the group on the other side of the road.

“The Seeker’s gonna love that,” Varric muttered darkly, patting Roslyn on her good knee. “I owe you one.”

Slowly, she pulled the brush, snapped clean in two, out of her mouth and leveled a glare at him. “You owe me lots.”

Varric chuckled, which transformed into actual laughter when he saw the broken brush in her hands. “Hope you didn’t like that brush, Chuckles.”

Roslyn frowned, spitting a large mouthful of blood on the ground next to Varric. She turned to Solas with a grimace, but he was focused on the qunari where he stood on the other side of the road.

His giant axe propped against his leg, covered in a bright red- and green-striped pair of billowing, tapered pants, he grinned at her. “I’m surprised you didn’t pass out. I’ve needed a bone or two reset before. Can’t say I remember it fondly.”

She scowled up at him, having to crane her neck to meet his gaze. “I’d feel better if I knew who the assholes in horned masks were.”

He chuckled. “Tevinter assassins. Sent to kill you, actually. We’ve been tracking them since Jader.”

Assassins?

“Who are you?” Cassandra snapped. Her sword was sheathed, but her voice was sharp enough to imply violence if he tried anything.

The qunari shot her a curious look, before turning back to Roslyn. “You can call me the Iron Bull. These are the Chargers.” He motioned with his horns to the group of six men and women hauling bodies into a ditch a few yards away. “Beautiful bastard who saved you is Cremisius Aclassi, my lieutenant.”

The brown-haired man waved a hand as he helped a dwarf pull two disconnected legs off the road. “Pleasure, Lady Herald.”

The Iron Bull frowned as he looked her over. “We can do this later, you know. It feels weird have this chat while you’re lying on the ground.”

Roslyn snorted. “Considering your man just saved my ass, I’m not too fussed about the current seating arrangements.”

But she did drape her hand gingerly over Solas’ shoulder as he offered her a hand, ignoring the small part of her thrilling at the contact as both he and Varric helped her stand.  Not the time. It didn’t help as he slid a hand around her waist when she wavered on her throbbing leg. Maker, so not the time. He led her over to a small boulder on the side of the road, helping her to sit opposite the qunari where he watched them with a sharp eye.  “Why were you tracking them?” 

“Besides the fact they’re from Tevinter and I get a kick out of squishing their little heads?” Iron Bull shrugged. “Been meaning to reach out to the Inquisition for a while now. Figured I would do you a favor, get on your good side before things got all edgy.”

“And why would you want to be on my good side?”

An intelligent, searching light flickered behind his one good eye. “People are usually more willing to pay you when you’ve proven you’re good at protecting them.”

“Are you trying to extort us?” Cassandra asked incredulously.

“I think they might have let us bleed more if that was their goal, Seeker,” Varric muttered darkly, eyeing the qunari with an uncharacteristically dark expression.

Iron Bull continued with a small smile, “My team is the best crew in all of Orlais. Probably Ferelden too, if the lords over here could afford us. Trust me, we don't need the money that bad. We're more interested in what your Inquisition is trying to do.”

Roslyn couldn’t help but admire his bravado. Staring at the qunari, the sheer size of him, she understood why half of Thedas had been at war with them for the past three hundred years. An army of men his size would make the hardiest soldier wet himself.

Not bad-looking either, she thought with an appreciative rake down his bare chest. Damn.

She frowned at the suggestive smile he gave her. “Why is a qunari mercenary captain interested in joining the Inquisition?”

“You think that green hole in the sky is good for business? It isn’t. Plus, I’ve heard good things about you. News about what the Inquisition did down in the Hinterlands spread fast and everybody’s talking about the Herald at the front of it all. Sounds like the kind of woman I wouldn’t mind getting behind.” Without missing a beat, he winked. “And I’ve always had a weakness for redheads.”

Roslyn grinned, not so removed from herself that she couldn't take the compliment, distracted from the idea of all of Ferelden talking about her.

“What’s the angle?” Varric asked over the Seeker’s indelicate noise of disgust. “There are plenty of rich assholes who’d love to hire a colorful mercenary crew.”

Iron Bull narrowed his eye, sizing up the dwarf. “You don’t like qunari. Just a guess.”

“I’m from Kirkwall.”

Iron Bull's expression relaxed. “Yeah, that makes sense.” He slid his axe over his shoulders, rubbing his chin in thought. “You ever heard of the Ben Hassrath?”

“Ah, shit.” Varric took a step back and shaking his head. “Of course.”

“The qunari police force?” Solas asked flatly.

“They’re spies,” Varric muttered, “and a shitload of trouble.”

Tevinter assassins and Qunari spies, she thought with a grimace. My life makes no sense.

Iron Bull looked from Varric back to her, his expression unreadable. “The Ben Hassrath are concerned about the Breach. Magic out of control like that could cause trouble everywhere.” He frowned, his first sign of unease. “I’ve been ordered to join the Inquisition, get close to the people in charge and send reports on what’s happening. But I also get reports from Ben Hassrath agents all over Orlais, Ferelden, and the Free Marches. You sign me on, I’ll share them with you.”

Roslyn watched him, curious despite her growing unease. “Why not hide what you are?”

His brow arched. “From something called the Inquisition? I’d have been tipped sooner or later. Better you hear it up front from me. Besides, the Ben Hassrath just want to keep tabs. No funny business, so no need for the cloak and dagger.”

The Qun thought she was worth keeping tabs on. Doesn't that feel cozy. 

“You’re not considering this, right?” Varric asked her in a hard voice.

The only other time she’d seen him this upset was when he was staring at the red lyrium under Fort Conner. “They did save our lives.”

“To convince you to let them join up,” Varric insisted, turning to Cassandra with an air of disbelief. “We were all listening to the same conversation, right?”

“I’m not going to jeopardize your operation,” Iron Bull said slowly. “I need something to send my superiors so they’re happy. They want to know what’s going on with the Breach.”

Roslyn studied Iron Bull, trying in vain to read what he wasn’t saying. “You want to know about the Breach, and yet you’re interested in me, personally? If you're so up front with your intentions, why not just say they want details about the mark?”

He let a slow smile spread across his face. “No details. But you having a magic hand tied to the hole in the sky is distressing to some. Myself included, for the record.”

At least he’s honest. She looked to Cassandra. “What do you think?”

To Roslyn’s surprise, she wasn’t glowering, but pensive. “Your crew is capable, Iron Bull. We will need to know more about these assassins, and what your reports back to the Ben Hassrath will entail, but I see no reason to refuse help when it is offered. Even at a price.”

Roslyn grinned. She should be more concerned. The qunari had told her he and his superiors were worried about her mark and its connection to the Breach. But fuck, so was she, and she liked the idea of having someone around who didn’t mince words about his intentions.  She shrugged. “You had my vote the moment my head wasn’t skewered by a dagger.”

Iron Bull met her grin with a hearty laugh. “Good. We’ve got business to settle near West Hill, so we’ll meet you in Haven.” He glanced toward Varric once before turning to his men. “Looks like we’re not out of work anymore, gents.”

“That mean you’ll reimburse us for the past two months free work, chief?” his lieutenant, Cremisius Aclassi called.

Iron Bull smiled good-naturedly back at the Inquisition. “We’ll finish up with the throat-cutters and give you all time to chat.” He bent with an elegant wave of his hand, giving her a smile meant for her alone. “Looking forward to getting to know you better, Herald.”

Roslyn watched him go with a grin. Maybe it was the lingering fog of pain in her mind, but she felt oddly amused by the whole thing. “I like him,” she said after he had walked out of earshot to join his men.

“Of course you do.” Cassandra eyed her critically. “Can you walk?”

“I—don’t know.” She pushed to her feet. Her leg ached, but she could put weight on it.

“The Herald should not walk for an extended amount of time for a few days,” Solas murmured, watching the qunari.

“I can slip up Gherlen’s Pass, find a horse,” Charter said. “I'll be back by morning.”

“Leave coin if you steal from some poor farmer,” Cassandra said with a frown, staring down at Roslyn’s leg as if it personally offended her. “But do what you must. Take Knott with you.”

“Thank you, Charter,” Roslyn said before she could leave.

Charter looked at her blankly, before collecting her pack and disappearing into the shadow of the pass, Knott, another one of their scouts, following after.

The Seeker wasted no time in declaring that they would need to find a place to rest for the night, even if it was still mid-afternoon. Roslyn couldn’t help but notice Varric had gone quiet. Whether it was old memories or her disagreeing with his warnings about Iron Bull, she let him be. She was in no mood to chat either. Her leg, though healed, was causing her trouble, and by the time they’d found a small cave to camp in, her legs ached like she’d spent the day climbing up a mountain.

Solas seemed lost in thought as well, but she wasn't about to work up the courage to apologize to him now, with her mouth tasting of blood and her leg pulsing.

She held out until the sun dipped below the horizon, refusing another helping of stew and slipping into her tent to try and sleep. Getting comfortable with her leg proved to be impossible, so she settled for leaving it propped up on her boot.

Her mind wandered as she listened to the rest of camp settle in for the night. A tinkling sensation brushed over her skin, and she shivered. 

Assassins. From Tevinter.

News of her and her mark had spread so far that Tevinter and Par Vollen were sending people to kill her and keep tabs on her. She’d gotten used to people knowing who she was in the Rebellion, but her history had only ever been an anecdote, a salacious piece of gossip to discredit Fiona’s affection for her. Now it felt like a brand.

Her left hand clenched and she closed her eyes, hoping her dreams would distract her from the unease simmering in the back of her mind. But of course, as they always did before she fell asleep, her thoughts turned to Solas.

She didn’t know if she wanted to talk to him about her dream in Val Royeaux, or if there was anything to talk about.

For some reason, the experience felt sacred, as if speaking about it would break the spell it held over her. Ever since that night, the fear surrounding her nighttime trials had dulled. She awoke in the Fade to a softened and magnified reflection of the waking world. It took her a few nights to realize she could move through her surroundings, feel traces of thought or emotion in the air, like a scent or color.

After a few nights of wandering in an empty landscape so eerily similar to the one she’d left in the waking world, she stumbled into a short, simple memory—a young boy dressed in a fine, heavy robe sitting in a room on his own, staring down at a portrait of an older man. She had watched the boy cry for a few minutes, before leaving him be. Whatever her astonishment at interacting with other people’s memories or dreams, she felt like an intruder. She’d taken special care not to press on her companions.

Each memory in the Fade had their own special signature, like a bubble or a cloud of sensation. She’d found a few more—a lone fisherman gazing out at the sea for hours, a mother and daughter giggling over a bowl of honey and fruit.

She kept going back to the night of that first dream, trying to figure out how she'd found the memory, but she couldn't remember.

The more she explored, the more she kept waiting for the demons to return and break the small peace she’d gained, but so far, she had been left alone. Part of her knew it wasn't that easy, but she tried not to question it. After the past few months, she would accept relief from the nightmares which had plagued her since she was thirteen years old.

Solas might help explain how this had happened. But apart from their shared moment outside Lady Seryl's parlor, he'd barely looked at her in over a month.

It was silly, and stupid, and counterproductive for her to pine for him now, after she'd pushed him away.

When her eyes closed, however, and she slipped into a deep, steady sleep, it was his eyes flashing in her mind, and his voice whispering into her ear.

Chapter Text

When Roslyn opened her eyes in the Fade, she slid off her table stone and stretched with a smile.

No demons. She swept her gaze across the cave where they'd pitched their tents. No sign of anything malevolent since the night in Calenhad’s Foothold, no demons, even after learning she was a… dreamer.

The word made her shiver. That’s going to take some getting used to.

She turned to where her companions slept in the waking world and saw nothing except faint trails of light drifting through the air. The shifting clouds of emotion passed around her, but she made sure not to touch them in case she might intrude on their dreams. She’d need to ask Solas, at some point. How had he spent so much time with the Inquisition and not spied on their dreams?

The thought made her pause.

Unless… but no, he was barely interested in what anyone said in the waking world. Except for her. Sometimes.

Careful, she warned herself, trying not to think about him at all, in case it alerted him to her presence. She had no idea how this shit worked yet, better not to risk tipping him when she wasn't ready.

A bright light flashed behind her, drawing her attention to the mouth of the cave. At first, there was nothing but the shifting Fade beyond, a soft, hazy green light that wrapped around the world and dulled its edges.

A timid, hesitant prick of energy sparked in front of her. The small yellow light danced closer, twirling and dipping in the air like a leaf caught in a breeze. She saw the faint outline of wings, heard a trilling of pleasant sound. To her astonishment, a bird took shape.

She jerked back as it flew closer, hovering in the air less than a foot from her face.

The bird, or at least she thought it was a bird, froze, its color darkening, as if a shadow had passed over it.

Roslyn felt a tentative thread of hesitation emanating from the bird.  It cocked its plumed head, the bright lights of its eyes swirling. 

“Hello,” she whispered. Andraste take me, what are you?

She held out her hand on a whim and the bird expanded in a shower of excitement. Its dark yellow feathers brightened to a leaping gold, and it swirled around her fingers. It brushed past her skin, leaving a strangely familiar tingling sensation.

The bird landed on the curve of her finger, weighing no more than a butterfly, though it was as large as a fat songbird. 

A disbelieving smile spread across her lips. “Are you a spirit?” she asked as the bird ruffled its delicate feathers. 

It trilled again and Roslyn laughed at the rush of pleasure that blew out from it. The bird’s shape sharpened, now looking like a sparrow, though its coloring and wingspan were grander than any she’d seen in the waking world.

It turned back to her and cooed. A little wave of self-satisfaction pressed against her mind. 

What in Maker's name…?

Without warning, it took off around her head, flying out through the mouth of the cave. The light dimmed as it sped away. 

“Wait,” Roslyn called in frustration, and ran after it, bare feet flying across the rocks.

Only to stop, and stare. 

The dark Ferelden valley, littered with sparse bushes and a few wildflowers, had morphed into a vibrant green and yellow forest. Towering trees and grass grew in every patch of space, and flowering vines of red and pink crept around thick dark red trunks. The scent of marigold flowers and ragweed pollen drifted past her nose, sweet and heady and soft. The light shimmered like the bird, gold dust hanging in the air and swirling, caught on some unseen draft of gentle wind. It was hypnotic, the whole forest pulsing with life, and energy.

The golden sparrow trilled, staring down at her expectantly from a tree branch thirty feet over her head. 

She grinned, shock and giddiness bubbling up inside her. “Was this your doing?”

The bird leapt into the air again, the gentle whip of air brushing across her cheek and carrying a sharp, woody scent she didn't recognize, like must or cedar, before flying off into the forest.

Roslyn followed the bird for a long time, gazing around in wonder as she wove deeper and deeper into the forest. It made the Planasene look like a bit of scrub next to these towering sentinels. The trees stretched hundreds of feet high, some as tall as the Grand Cathedral in Val Royeaux. Their trunks were a deep reddish brown and glimmered like burnished metal in the light streaming through the green leaves overhead.

If the bird followed some path, she couldn’t see it, the ground choked with roots and grass and wildflowers in magnificent, unnatural hues. No animals or bugs rustled through the underbrush, and though the forest was magnificent, she felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness—as if she and the bird were the only beings to have tread there in centuries. 

After what felt like hours, the bird alit and held on a branch over her head. It trilled down at her in amusement as she climbed on top of a tree root almost four feet tall.

Roslyn heaved herself up and pulled her legs over the root, grumbling, “Not all of us have wings, you know.”

She froze when she heard a woman’s voice, pleasant and deep, echoing through the forest like it came from the trees themselves. 

The bird flew down to brush its wings against Roslyn’s hair and headed in the direction of the voice, excited.

Roslyn followed more slowly now, wanting to watch whatever memory this ancient forest held. It had to be centuries, if not millennia old.

She lost sight of the bird as the woman’s voice grew louder, and frowned when she realized she was speaking in a foreign language. The more she listened, however, the more familiar the lilt felt, as if she’d simply forgotten the meaning of the words. 

She stopped when she came to a break in the tree line. Two figures sat against a red tree stump centered in a large clearing filled with shimmering sunlight, brighter than the sparse shafts illuminating the rest of the forest. The light from the sky above cast the wildflowers and long, swaying grass in a dazzling prism of yellow and gold, and she had to blink to let her eyes adjust to the sudden brightness.

A woman who glowed brighter than the plants around her, short black hair curling against her chin, and wore a simple white shift of a dress, sat closest to Roslyn. Her eyes were closed, speaking slowly as if she were telling a story. 

Another figure was seated on the other side of the stump, their fingers running through the long grass with an indulgent ease, trailing eddies of blue-green and black fire that danced into the air like embers.

The bird flew over her shoulder to circle the clearing, trilling and spiraling as it went.

The woman paused in her recitation and opened her eyes to search for the source of the noise.

Roslyn tensed. Her eyes were two brilliant green orbs, the color of new growth and spring, sparkling and shifting as she smiled at the bird. Following its trail through the sky, her gaze fell onto Roslyn’s frozen form at the edge of the clearing. Those glowing eyes fixed on her in surprise and she raised her head slightly.

Roslyn waited for the woman's eyes to slide past her, but she continued to stare, bracing her hands against the ground and sitting up.

Oh, Maker. Cold fear ran down her spine. It’s another spirit.

Unlike the little golden bird, this spirit felt old and calm, eternal as the forest rising around her.

Her brilliant green eyes softened, and she stood gracefully, smile widening. 

The bird circled the stump again, settling on a large red flower next to the other figure's hand. It cocked its head at the figure and turned to Roslyn expectantly. 

“Ma’shan falon, dan’naris. Menas dala, Bolys’era?”

The sounds of the clearing dimmed at the voice, absolutely familiar and yet different than she’d ever heard it before.

Solas.

She recognized the hands, the clothes—he wore the same linen pants, the same beige tunic. But where he was stiff and formal in the waking world, now he practically lounged against the stump, his body thrown carelessly across the ground in a self-indulgent position. Her eyes raked up his legs and caught on a bare inch of skin where his shirt bunched at his hip. Heat rushed through her chest.

The spirit saw Roslyn's eyes widen and fixate on Solas’ relaxed form, marking everything with intense observation. She kept her eyes on Roslyn as she said, “I think little Curiosity was leading someone to us.”

Roslyn watched Solas' hand curl up lazily to dispel the magic trailing through the grass. The top of his shaved head came into view—long, pointed ears poking up over the stump. “Dirthas vera-shem benath?”

The spirit made a face that looked like exasperation. “Because we have company, da’len.”

Solas straightened, frowning up at the spirit. He followed its gaze to Roslyn standing rigid in the shadow of the tree line. 

When their eyes met, his brow smoothed. He looked so confused, Roslyn almost laughed. In the brilliant light of the clearing, his eyes were a bright, hypnotic blue, and the dusting of freckles across his pale cheeks and nose glittered like flecks of gold.

She drank in his gaze. Excitement unfurled in the back of her mind as he stared at her without hesitation or judgement. Only pure, unadulterated shock.

It made him look strangely young.

Roslyn stepped forward into the clearing. Her hands brushed against the cloth of her simple linen pants, clenching. So much for being prepared.

“Roslyn?” Solas asked in a quiet, reverent voice utterly devoid of its usual formal cadence.

Her mind wrapped around the lilt of her name in his voice, as if she’d never appreciated the sound of it before. He stared at her as if she shouldn’t exist, as if her very presence was a rule that had been broken. 

It made Roslyn’s cheeks flush and warmth pool into the base of her spine.

The bird cawed, loud in the tense silence of the clearing, and took off from its flower, drawing her attention away from Solas. It swirled through the air, trailing a line of glittering golden energy, and settled on her shoulder. 

She tried to remain still as it burrowed into her hair. It rumbled slightly, like the purring of a cat, and brushed its beak across her cheek. The sensation was like a warm, tinkling whisper, and Roslyn laughed.

When it settled, she looked back to Solas. His expression had become more confused as he watched the bird nuzzle against her—eyes wide and lips parted.

“I take it you can see me?” she asked at last, her voice a little too loud and brusque.

Solas’ mouth shut and his eyes narrowed, but he didn’t speak.

“Yes, we can see you,” the spirit said with a laugh, glancing between Roslyn and Solas with a knowing smile. She took a step forward, studying her face as if she were some kind of exotic flower. 

Roslyn tried to swallow her fear at the memory of the last time a spirit had addressed her, but as the despair demon's voice rang in her mind, the air around her darkened, and grew cold. She blinked, alarmed, and slowly the light returned, along with the sounds of the forest and the warmth.

Fucking Void?  Her heart raced as she struggled to understand.

The bird on her shoulder tensed, cooing into her ear and rubbing its feathers against her cheek in comfort.

The spirit only watched her, eyes soft in understanding.

Solas seemed to snap out of his temporary paralysis and stood. He brushed his hands across his pants, gazing down with wide, hard eyes as if trying not to look at her. He cleared his throat, clenching and unclenching his hands as if he were nervous.

The gesture was so thoroughly out of character for him that Roslyn grinned, thoughts of the despair demon slipping into the bright light like mist on a warm day.

The spirit caught the change in her demeanor and looked between them again, her eyes brighter as the green energy swirled. “Interesting,” she murmured.

Solas frowned, but glanced back at Roslyn immediately. He composed himself, and her grin widened as the familiar mask of polite distance slid onto his face. 

“Why—,” he said. “How did you find me?” His voice was calm, but Roslyn caught the strain in it, as if he were forcing a casual air. 

Her brow lifted and she tried her best to ignore the bird as it puffed up its feathers and shook itself against her neck, flecks of gold crossing her vision. 

“I didn’t,” she said, “or, I didn’t mean to. I don’t even know where I am right now…” 

She trailed off as she looked up at the opening in the trees, finding a strangely blue sky dotted with stars, and frowned. From the light and color of the blue it must have been midday, but the stars glittered bright, diamond pricks in the endless blue expanse. They vibrated and swirled as ribbons of color drifted across them like thin clouds, rotating slowly in patterns and circles, like the sky was moving.

Dragging her gaze back to Solas and the spirit, she caught his bright, open expression before he hid it, and a slow blush crept up his neck.

She watched the red blossom in fascination, smiling. Oh, that’s distracting. His freckles shone a deep, burnished gold against his pale skin, heightened by the color spreading over his cheeks. She coughed, and her eyes flickered over to the spirit to find it watching Solas with deep affection.

“Sorry, who—what are you?” she asked. 

Solas blinked at the spirit in surprise, as if he’d forgotten about her entirely. “Ah—ir abelas, falon.”

Her mouth twitched as if hiding a smile.

“Roslyn,” he said, his voice tense, “this is Wisdom.”

“Wisdom,” she repeated. Spirits of Wisdom were rare, solitary spirits, and powerful. And this one felt old, as old as the despair demon. Wisdom, she marveled. She'd heard about them in her Circle, read about magisters communing with one only every few hundred years, they were so unique.

“Well met, Roslyn.” The spirit inclined her head, a small smile on her lips. “It is an honor to meet the Herald of Andraste.”

Roslyn blinked, and frowned. “You know who I am?” She glanced at Solas, but he stared intently at the ground, as if fascinated by the flowers.

“Solas has told me about you, of course.”

Roslyn looked back at the spirit, sure she’d heard incorrectly, but she merely watched her with fascination.

She met Solas’ eyes, recognized the apprehension in them. Maker, he’s embarrassed.

“And you're—,” she hesitated, looking back at the spirit as her heart jumped into her throat, “one of his friends?”

Solas chuckled, the sound choked. “Yes. I have known Wisdom for many years.”

He’d talked about her to one of his spirit friends.

Nerves swirled in her stomach as she tried to focus beyond the giddy, ridiculous idea that he had told one of his friends about her. That he had been talking about her at all. She was saved the trouble of speaking when the bird pecked at her neck. 

She let out a startled laugh, the noise echoing across the clearing as she craned her head at the bird. She reached up to brush a finger across its feathers, soft and warm. The bird hopped onto her hand, rumbling again in a satisfied noise, and burrowed into her arms. It radiated heat, and she smiled as she watched it nuzzle into the folds of her shirt.

“So,” she said when she looked up again, “is this a spirit as well?”

A strange intensity glittering in Solas' eyes. “Curiosity,” he murmured, glancing down at the bird.

“Curiosity,” Roslyn repeated, stroking her fingers along the curve of its insubstantial back. It felt more like a closely packed bit of cloud than a flesh and blood bird, and she was afraid she might crush the poor thing. But it cooed pleasantly, sending a humming warmth into her hands. 

“I believe it is the same spirit that visited you in the Hinterlands,” he continued, folding his hands behind his back to assume an air of polite indifference, though his eyes were too bright and his body was too tense. 

“Really?” she asked. “It’s followed me all this time?"

Solas watched her carefully.

“Sometimes spirits will bond with a mortal mage,” the spirit, Wisdom, said, making her jump. She’d forgotten it was there. "Curiosity has taken an interest in you.”

When she met Wisdom’s eyes, its expression changed. “Forgive me, but is this not the only spirit you have encountered recently?”

The memory of the despair demon in her shifting black cloak, a voice like thunder, wormed its way into her mind.

Wisdom met her questioning gaze with a smile. “From the way you look at me, I take it I am not the first of my kind with whom you have interacted.”

Roslyn shook her head slowly, eyes darting back to Solas.

His brow furrowed.

“There was a…” She trailed off as the word demon came to mind, thinking Wisdom might take offense at the term. “A woman, about two months ago." Her eyes flashed to Solas again as realization took hold in his expression. "I think it was a despair demon.”

Wisdom nodded, as if it had guessed as much. “And naturally, the experience disturbed you. You are afraid of my kind.”

Uncomfortable heat flushed her cheeks. She tried not to get angry as she remembered the last ten years she'd spent warding off demons. Staring at Wisdom, with Curiosity burrowed into her arms, it was easy to forget how horrible it had been. "I have reason," she murmured.

Wisdom held her gaze. Her presence shifted and grew, and Roslyn felt the sheer eternity bound within her. She cocked her head, and whispered, "You do, don't you?"

Roslyn had the distinct impression that the spirit could see into her mind, sorting through her memories as one might rifle through a jewelry box. The thought made her tense.

The spirit's influence vanished, and the air hardened around Roslyn. Curiosity trilled and poked its head out of her arms, its warmth strangely muted.

Wisdom's brow furrowed. "I am sorry for pressing you. It was not my intention to pry."

"It's all right," Roslyn murmured, trying to keep her voice light. Demons—spirits, could see into one's mind. Many had, in the past, when she'd let her barriers slip and listened to them raging at her, for it was usually rage which burned brightest and screamed loudest.

Faced with a spirit like Wisdom, who apologized and frowned like a real woman…

“You have a powerful soul, Roslyn," Wisdom said, a scrutinizing, intent light in her eyes, "and we spirits are more mutable than your Chantry would have you believe.” Her head cocked, and her brow furrowed, and she lapsed into thought, and said, “This spirit who follows you—see her true face before you indulge your fears. I believe she might be able to help you.”

You will know me. When you are ready.

Roslyn stared at Wisdom, wondering what she meant—the demon could help her?

All at once, pressure built at the base of her stomach, and a tug pulled her back a step. “Shit,” she muttered, flushing slightly. “I think I’m about to wake up.”

“It has been nearly ten hours since you retired,” Solas said with an air of amusement, eyes focused and curious, clearly wondering what Wisdom was talking about as much as she.

“You—you can tell how long its been?”

He seemed to be fighting a smile. “I can.”

She hummed a weak laugh, fighting the urge to fall back into the waking world. “This is new for me, so I—” She broke off as another pulse spread up her spine, this time pulling at the back of her mind.

“Will I be able to find you again?” she asked Solas in a rush. She’d never fought against the urge to wake, and the effect was disconcerting, like her consciousness was being split in two. 

His expression tightened.

“I mean," she added, "if that’s all right?”

Light shone in his eyes, sending a shiver of warmth down her spine. “I will find you, Roslyn.”

She tried hard not to let the giddy flush at his reassurance enter her voice as she turned to Wisdom. “It was,” she hesitated, "ah—nice to meet you."

“As it was for me as well," the spirit said with a soft smile.

The tether in Roslyn's stomach pulled more urgently, and she jerked back another step. Lifting the bird up to eye level as it cooed in alarm, she said, “Don’t worry, Duck.” She pressed a kiss onto its tiny, soft head. The bird trilled as it wiggled and brushed against her cheeks. “I’ll see you again.”

Roslyn smiled and caught Solas’ gaze, lifting her brow at him for help.

“Let her go, friend,” he called, holding up his arm in what looked like a practiced gesture. The bird hopped into the air and settled on his elbow, sending one last farewell caw at her.

She stared at Solas as the tether tightened behind her, wishing she’d had more time to explain, or apologize, but the Fade rippled the longer she waited.

With a final, hesitant smile, she flew back through the wood and settled. Her soul and mind reattached to her body with an odd sense of disconnection, and she closed her eyes only to open them again in her tent. 

The air lay heavy on her as she readjusted to the stark solidity of the waking world.

Sweet Maker, she thought, catching her breath.

She lay in her bedroll for a long time, stunned and unsure she hadn’t imagined it all, before she clapped a hand over her mouth to suppress a startled, giddy laugh of wonder.

Chapter Text

The following day went by in a blur of pain and hesitation.

Roslyn’s leg still bothered her, even as she rode awkwardly on the horse behind everyone else. She hadn’t had time to speak to Solas with Cassandra’s dogmatic insistence to get them all on the road as fast as possible.

While everything in the Fade had been easier, the tension between them in the waking world had somehow gotten worse. Beyond a few words exchanged over her leg, they'd barely looked at each other.

She didn’t know how to begin. When she tried to work up the courage to get it over with already, she remembered the brightness in his eyes, the ease in his posture, the awkward hesitation of his smiles…

It didn’t matter that she couldn’t stop thinking about him, hard as she tried. It didn’t matter that her chest warmed when she caught him watching her. It didn’t matter that ever since finding him in the Fade, she’d wondered why Curiosity had led her there in the first place, how it had known…

Nothing could come of it.

It took them five days to reach Haven. The place was already in full preparation for their departure to Therinfal Redoubt. They would leave with a small contingent of soldiers and templars, those who had either come to Haven with Cullen or been recruited in the Hinterlands. She understood why it would be better to arrive with templars of their own to show their willingness to work together, but she couldn’t shake her unease and bone-deep dread. She didn’t think she would ever be comfortable with them. And a part of her would never want to be.

On the day before they were to depart, only three days after they’d gotten back, she visited Solas' cabin.

She would be gone for a month, if things went well, and she couldn’t leave things between them so strained. It was starting to make falling asleep frustrating, wondering whether or not she would bump into him in some beautiful, romantic setting and fuck everything over when she was swept away on a fancy and Fade energy.

Roslyn stood outside his cabin, glaring at the door. This is ridiculous. She scowled and shifted on her good leg. She took a deep breath and knocked on the door, perhaps with a bit more force than necessary.

He needed to look at her leg. And she should apologize for the way she’d shouted at him in the Hinterlands.

“Come in,” he said in a strangely clipped tone.

She pressed down on the latch and opened the door, hovering outside in case her courage failed her and she had to leave quickly.

Solas stood in front of a small desk covered in papers and herbs, a chaos of jumbled notes spilling off the surface. Books sat haphazardly on the floor, forming little towers that wound through the dark cabin like a miniature city. Various glowing items were shoved into cubbies along the walls, nestled between more herbs and rolled up pieces of parchment.

She grinned as her eyes passed over vials grouped together on every spare surface. It reminded her of the cellar in the Ostwick Circle, where the most serious scholars would retreat to study in peace away from the rest of the tower, though it had none of the claustrophobic press of her tower.

He seemed like the type to sort his world into a careful system, with specific places for specific things. He spent so much effort composing his own person, it only made sense his environment would reflect that, but there was no order to the mess around him, or none she could see. The faint aroma of peppermint mixed with something smoky, like charcoal or firewood, drifted across her face, his aura mixing with his work.

Bent over his desk, his brow was furrowed in an expression of annoyance, mouth tight and eyes focused on a stack of curling paper as he scratched out notes.

Her eyes trailed along his bare forearms. With his sleeves rolled up and his shirt a little rumpled, the lean muscles in his forearms were on display, the slender curl of his fingers apparent as they held his quill. It reminded her of sitting with him in the Crossroads, his hands stained with elfroot.

“Adan,” he said slowly, “I told you I would bring you the proper alchemical measurements once I had tested them myself, in my own time. If you continue to interrupt my studies to pester me with questions and instruct you on how to do your own job, I will have to take more drastic measures to keep you out.”

Her grin widened, and she leaned against the door frame. “It sounds like poor Adan has something of a crush on you, if he’s visiting you so often.”

He tensed, eyes unfocused down at his notes. She noticed his fingers clenched around his quill and the tendons of his arm stood out in relief as he gripped the desk.

He composed himself, straightened, and turned to her, eyes bright as he said, “If only it were that easy. I could reject the man and be done with it.” His hesitated before he continued, “Was there something you needed?”

Roslyn eased off the frame. You’re fine. It’s fine. “I wondered if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at my leg? Only,” she added, “we’re leaving tomorrow and I thought—better safe than sorry, right?”

Solas stared at her, and she fought the urge to step back out into the snow and never mention it again.

“Of course, Herald,” he murmured at last, setting his quill down. “I would be happy to help.”

She swallowed her disappointment at his use of her title, and cleared her throat. “I’m not interrupting? You looked busy.”

“My work can wait.” He gestured to the small bed sitting opposite his desk. “Sit.”

Roslyn nodded, but before she could move, she looked up at the wall and froze. A section of wood had been replaced, the color marred where it met with the broken, fractured edges of panels. The recognition hit her square in the chest. “This is where I first woke up. It was your cabin?”

He didn’t speak, his expression tight.

It didn’t matter of course. Those early days after the Conclave were such a blur, she couldn’t remember much, but it was comforting to know she’d taken shelter in his cabin.

“I just didn’t realize,” she murmured, cheeks hot with embarrassment.

“Before you woke and… were moved,” he said with a slight pause, skating over the fact that she had attacked him and a bunch of templars and tried to run, only to be chained up in the chantry basement, “I thought it best to keep you close. In case your condition worsened.”

“That makes sense,” she said, walking over with her stiff leg to sit on his bed. “I am sorry about your wall.”

His mouth twitched as if he were fighting a smile. “In truth, I was more disturbed by your waking than the state of my cabin.” Her expression must have grown tense, because he continued more gently, “You were a mortal sent physically through the Fade. You should not have awoken at all, let alone after one day.”

He hesitated, before lifting a chair and placing it in front of the bed.

It gave her space to fight the nerves rioting in her stomach at the reverence in his tone. She dragged up a smile. “I imagine most catatonic patients don’t wake up and start exploding everything in sight.”

“Not in my experience, no,” he said with small smile as he down in front of her. He reached out and paused, meeting her gaze. “Has your leg bothered you?”

“It’s just stiff,” she murmured as he leaned forward, magic threading over her knee and thigh. She tried not to breathe in the sensation of him—pine smoke and peppermint mixing with old books, a soft whisper that ghosted down her spine—and had to fight not to let her own aura rise.

He looked up at her once with a small furrow in his brow, but otherwise kept his attention on her leg.

She chewed on her bottom lip as she watched him, conscious of his face a foot from hers. His freckles were more apparent now, after seeing them so clearly in the Fade. She remembered his blush, the hesitant clench of his hands. The way his hard, angular face had appeared soft and young, like the few times he had stumbled in his composure.

Roslyn tried, and failed, not to notice the intent set of his eyes, the rigid movement of his fingers as they brushed against her leg. Even over her pants, it was overwhelming—like when he’d healed her under Fort Connor. When he had broken, just a little.

“Your knee is fine,” he murmured. “I do not feel any lingering fractures in your bones, nor any inflamed muscle tissue. The stiffness should fade in time. Continue to stretch it and move with care, but it is healed enough not to concern yourself.”

“That’s good to hear,” she murmured. “Thank you, Solas. I know your skills aren’t limited to healing, but I have taken advantage of them an awful lot the past few months.”

He smiled tightly, but when he met her gaze, something in his eyes softened. “It is no burden.”

They sat in silence, both of them staring at one another, waiting for the other to speak first. The longer it stretched, the harder it became to say the things she’d meant to tell him all those weeks ago, and the more likely she might burst and say things she never should, things that would make it so much harder to keep distant, and safe.

Oh, but Maker, she wanted…

In the end, it was the small shift in his expression, the flicker of his eyes to her mouth and back up her face, that adorable flash of hesitation, which finally made her break.

“I owe you an apology for the way I acted in the Hinterlands,” she said in a rush.

Surprise moved across his features, making him look young and exposed once again.

“It was unforgivable of me, the things I said to you, and—I didn’t mean them.” She paused, frowning at the memory of what she’d revealed. “Not all of them, anyway. I let my fear make me irrational, and I took it out on you.” Her voice broke as she continued, “For that, I’m sorry. It was unfair and… I am—truly sorry.”

His brow furrowed as a small, disbelieving smile crossed his lips. “You do not have to apologize to me, Roslyn.”

She looked down at her hands. “I do. It was not kind, what I said to you. Especially since you were just trying to reassure me.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his posture relax.

“Poorly, it seems. I should have remembered not all mages share my affection for the Fade.”

She let a hesitant smile pull at her lips. “Affection is a soft word, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps," he allowed, "but I regret causing you such alarm. I would not have been as insistent had I known you felt so strongly.”

She let out a hollow laugh, remembering what he’d said to her, the urgency and feeling that had rushed out of him. “You are not responsible for my reaction, Solas.”

His brow furrowed, a troubled frown crossing his face, and silence stretched between them again.

“I am sorry for what happened with the Rebellion, and with the Grand Enchanter,” he said, his eyes hesitant. “I know how hard it must have been.”

She stared at him, trying to understand the pain in his expression, something more than sympathy. “You do?”

His jaw clenched, and a hard shadow passed over his eyes.

Roslyn knew that look intimately—the same she used whenever her own painful memories became too much to bear.

“To be rejected by one’s people is never easy,” he said, his voice low and resonant, full of a history she couldn't begin to know. "It causes the best of us to question ourselves, to imagine fault where there is none. Pain like that—is not so easily brushed aside. I should have remembered, and for that, I am responsible. And sorry."

Was that why he worked so hard to distance himself? It stood to reason he hadn’t been alone his entire life. He must have had a family or a group he’d left behind. Or been expelled from.

“I should have expected it,” she whispered. “They never tried to contact the Inquisition, never bothered to try and find me. I guess it was naive to think they’d take my word when the evidence says otherwise.”

“It is not naive to hope that the people you care about would make an effort to listen and understand, however unlikely.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Maybe. But it doesn’t matter now. They all think I’m a traitor. That I could have…” Her expression twisted against the note of disappointment in her voice. It did her no good to dwell on it, no matter how much it hurt.

“Were you and the Grand Enchanter close?”

“I thought so,” she murmured, shaking her head. “I went to the Conclave as her representative. I was so damn proud she chose me as her second over the rest of them. Arrogant and stupid and ready for a fight. Now look at me.”

“I think the last is still relevant,” he murmured with a smile in his voice.

She laughed, the sound choked as tears leaked out of the corner of her eyes. “You’re right,” she muttered, “though fuck you for saying it.”

Before she could look up, his hands reached across the space between them.

Her lips parted as her vision focused, nerves breaking across her arms and the back of her neck. The world slowed to watch with her as his fingers closed over hers, skin rough and callused, but his touch soft. Her heart stuttered and beat faster as he brushed twin lines across her palms with his thumbs, and squeezed gently.

“None of this is your fault, Roslyn,” he murmured, his voice tight. “Do not blame yourself for the weakness and fear of others.”

She found conflict writ plain across his face. The intensity in his eyes, the way he searched her face, as if looking for some kind of relief… it made her chest clench and burn with unbridled longing.

She wanted to kiss him, to let go. She wanted to drag him on top of her and bury herself in his long, lean body. She wanted to taste every one of his damned golden freckles and revel in the sound of his voice saying her name, just her name.

It was all she could do to stay perched on his bed. His bed. 

“Will you at least let me apologize for being ignorant about the Fade?” she asked to fill the silence, to distract from the heat pounding between her legs.

The conflict left his eyes in a rush of kindled excitement. “No, I think not.”

She rolled her eyes, the effect lessened by the smile she couldn’t hide. “You’re impossible.”

“Can I not be content knowing you are now aware I was correct?”

“Oh, how gracious of you,” she laughed.

He searched her face as a smile tugged at his lips. “How did you find me?”

“It just happened. I fell asleep and that spirit was there and… it led me to you.” She thrilled at the bright pleasure growing in his eyes. “I don’t know why,” she added, but her voice was too soft, and his hands were warm in hers.

Her fingers curled before she could stop them, lacing between his. Every movement, every shift of his skin against hers, resonated in her mind.

"Maker knows," she murmured, licking her lips as they grew dry, "I could take you or leave you."

He chuckled, and the sound resonated over her skin, dipped into her chest and tugged.

“Curious,” he murmured. His self-satisfied smile should have made her annoyed. She should have been hiding the idiotic smile on her own lips. It was too open, too inviting.

She held a few inches from his face—when had they both moved in? She could close the distance, kiss him, and relieve this urgent, burning tension in her spine. It was a kiss. What was the harm in a kiss?

The warning in the back of her mind sounded—she needed to pull away. The heat building in her stomach was not simple. It led nowhere safe.

But in that infinite moment, just the two of them in his cabin breathing the same air and threading their fingers together, she didn’t give a damn about safe.

A knock on the door broke the tension with a snap.

They both pulled back at the same time, their knees knocking together as they tried to put as much distance between each other as possible. The room felt suddenly small and cramped.

She tucked her hands into her lap, and realized she was still sitting on his bed.

Solas looked at the door in frustration as he stood and pulled his chair back, a blush blossoming across his cheeks. He called in an uncharacteristically harsh voice, “What?”

“Master Solas, have you made any headway on those calculations we discussed last night?” A man’s voice, reedy and insistent.

Solas glanced at Roslyn with an apologetic scowl. Their gaze connected, sparked, and he looked away. “Adan, I am busy. I will find you when I am finished, as I have told you repeatedly.”

The scrape of the door handle sounded and Roslyn shot up from the bed, not wanting to encourage the rumors circulating through the Inquisition the last time they’d both been in Haven together.

Rumors, it turned out, that she badly wanted to be proven true.

Solas moved to the door and opened it a fraction of an inch as a man’s black hair appeared in the crack.

Fenedhis, felas'itha, do you not understand me when I speak Common? Leave, before I make you!”

The door slammed shut and Solas flicked his fingers. Cold frost spread over the handle, sealing the door shut.

Roslyn grinned, heart beating a touch too fast. “Don’t be so hard on the poor man,” she said, “he just wanted your attention. I can’t blame him for being infatuated with you.”

Her cheeks burned as soon as the words were out. She’d meant it as a tease, but the kernel of truth had slipped out unwittingly. Well, shit.

She met his gaze, as if she might challenge him into addressing what she’d said and acting on it.

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “The man is in no danger from me,” he said with none of his previous severity, “if only because the Seeker would frown on me killing unsuspecting humans, no matter how dim-witted they are.”

A ball of coiled tension gathered at the base of her spine as he studied her.

“Probably,” she agreed. A pause. Kiss him. Just fucking kiss him. “I should go, I’ve taken up enough of your time.”

“My time is not so valuable it would be ruined by your company,” he said in a soft voice.

His words swirled together in a dizzy haze somewhere in the back of her mind. The reasons for ignoring her infatuation were growing less and less important. And there was still the hint of a blush on his cheeks.

“Sweet talker,” she murmured, fought a smile. “I do need to prepare for Therinfal Redoubt. Cassandra wants us to leave tomorrow morning.”

“So soon?”

She tried not to linger on the disappointment in his voice. “Apparently there’s some kind of meeting. The Lord Seeker wants me to present our case in front of the entire Order, and we’re going to be late as it is.”

“I see,” he said, eyes holding hers with a hesitant concern. “And are you willing to treat with him?”

“It’s the only option. If they can help us close the Breach, my willingness doesn’t matter.” The more she said it, the better it sounded. She wondered if she might one day believe it as well.

“There are not many who would sacrifice their own reservations to serve a cause,” he said slowly.

“Reservations, prejudices,” she said, straightening her shirt where it had bunched over her hip, “no matter how well-deserved, mean little when there’s a giant hole in the sky.”

He watched her with a kind of impressed curiosity, as if he approved of her stance on the matter.

“Work on figuring out a way for me to survive the closing of said hole while I’m gone, will you?”

His eyes hardened slightly. “Ar dirthavareth ma.”

She tilted her head in confusion, frowning at what she assumed was elven.

He smiled, more to himself than her, and added, “I promise.” Without breaking her gaze, he waved his hand at the door to make the frost recede.

She stepped around him, but paused. Fingering the door handle, she found his eyes resting on the curve of her neck.  “Solas, I know the last time was an accident, but—were you serious about finding me in the Fade? Can you do that?”

His eyes widened in pleasant surprise. “Yes, I can.” He hesitated. “Would you like me to?”

A warning went off like bells in the back of her mind. Seeing him again in the Fade… If it was this difficult to keep her thoughts straight in the waking world, what was she supposed to do in the Fade?  “I would, yes.”

He nodded, and she saw the anticipation pulling at his mouth, the eagerness shining in his eyes.

Pressing her back against the door and sliding her fingers along the latch, she gave him one last lingering look. “Until tonight,” she murmured and opened the door to the brisk mountain air.

Chapter Text

The tavern buzzed with the sounds of people laughing and shouting, the soft plucking of a lute, and a woman’s earthy voice drifting under it all.

It was comfortable, simple in a way nothing else in Roslyn’s life was nowadays.

She stared out at the mulling crowd, but didn’t see them, recalling that morning’s conversation with Solas, replaying it over and over in her mind. All day she’d been wrapt up in convincing herself it wouldn’t be a mistake…

“Did I lose you, Red?”

Varric’s voice pulled her out of her thoughts, and only then did she realize she’d missed a question.

“Hmm?”

“I know that look,” he chuckled. “That’s the look of somebody caught with their fingers in the honey jar.”

Her brow lifted and she picked up her left hand, shining her mark on Bianca where it lay in Varric’s lap. “No honey jar would be safe from these bad boys.”

“Hey, watch it,” he called in alarm, picking up the crossbow and cradling it to his chest. “Can you not shine your demon magic on my baby? I don’t want her to start oozing blood.”

“It’s called enjoying the music, Varric,” she laughed. “Or do dwarves not like music? I know you don’t dream, but I figured you lot have to find some things appealing.”

He settled Bianca back onto his lap and adopted a serious face, speaking in a tone more suited to an elegy than a joke. “When you’ve heard the song of the Stone, all other music sounds weak and inferior.” He dropped the tone and smiled. “I asked if you’ve had a chance to pop over to the new mage recruits yet. I’m sure they would love to meet you, the Herald of Andraste. Probably make them all feel important.”

Roslyn leaned back in her chair, running her thumb along the handle of her mug. “I haven’t, no. Unfortunately I have spent all my time since getting back preparing for tomorrow’s march.”

She had no desire to see the new recruits. It felt dishonest, meeting them after everything, like too much like a betrayal.

A loud round of cheering drew her focus, and Roslyn looked up as one of the Chargers, the elf with the tattoos on her face named Dalish, chugged a large mug opposite Rylen. The man was frowning over the lip of his mug at the elf, who seemed to be winning, as evidenced by the roguish waggle of her eyebrows. She finished with a huge belch, slamming her mug down on the table in front of her. Rylen let out a disappointed grunt and set down his mug, fishing through his pockets for what Roslyn assumed was the money she’d won.

Iron Bull and his Chargers had arrived the previous day, to the startled looks of the villagers and soldiers. Most people had only heard of qunari in stories, relegating them to myth.

“There a reason you're so opposed to the Iron Bull?”

Varric scowled. “I’m not opposed, I’m… wary.”

“He seems like a decent man.”

“You just like him because he flirted with you.”

She grinned. “I am rather vain. But he also saved our lives, so that’s not nothing.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’ll get over it. I just want you to make sure you’re careful. The Qun is bad shit, Red, and while some of them seem nice, in the end, they do what their higher ups tell them to do. And none of us know what they’re thinking up in Par Vollen.”

She eyed him. “Was it really that bad in Kirkwall?”

He let out a dark laugh. “It really was.”

“If you need to talk about it, Varric, you can.”

He looked up at her, hesitant, but grateful. “Thanks, Red. Maybe one day when everything settles down and we have a second to breathe…” He trailed off, frowning. “Yeah, even then probably not.”

“You love stories,” she said with a small smile. “Your own can’t be that boring.”

“That’s the thing about writers—most of us spend so much time in other people’s heads because we don’t want to spend more time in our own.”

She dropped it, not wanting to push. They lapsed into a comfortable silence before a grin spread across Roslyn’s face as the sight of a head of blonde curls and an awkward expression coming toward their table.

“Cullen," she cried, surprised to find she was glad to see him. "What in Maker’s name dragged you in here?”

“My lady,” he said with a small, awkward bob of his head.

“Curly,” Varric called with a wide grin. “Look at you, out and about with no armor on, like a normal person! Good for you.”

“Don’t scare him off, Varric.” She gave Cullen a wide smile. “I’m glad you’re here. Now we can talk about something other than Varric’s crossbow.”

Varric scoffed. “Please. No one tires of Bianca. She is the most interesting thing in this place.”

“Pleasure as always, Varric,” Cullen said tightly. He turned back to her. “Cassandra sent me to ask if you found the necessary equipment for tomorrow’s march.”

Her brow arched. “She sent the commander of the Inquisition’s army to ask me if I’d found a good leather coat?”

Cullen’s brow furrowed and he rubbed the back of his neck. “I might have offered.”

She laughed and shook her head. “You can say you wanted to leave the chantry. I won’t tell.”

He gave her an appreciative smile as Varric snorted.

“You can join us, if you like,” Roslyn offered.

“That’s kind of you, but I don’t want to impose,” he said, eyes hesitant. She had the sneaking suspicion he didn't want to remain to make her uncomfortable.

“Please stay, Cullen,” she said purposefully, standing up to gather her and Varric's empty mugs and pull out a chair for him. “I’ll get you an ale, and when the Seeker asks me why I’m hungover tomorrow, I can tell her you were here too.” She winked, drawing a small, surprised smile from him, before she turned for the bar.

Shouting down the barmaid when she tried to give her the drinks for free, Roslyn piled up the mugs, negotiating the cramped tavern with difficulty as everyone kept catching her eye and bowing or saluting, and edged back to their table.

She nearly dropped the lot when she saw the new addition to their group, and a wide grin spread across her mouth.

“Look, Red, another happy surprise,” Varric called, nodding to Solas where he stood next to Cullen. “Curly and Chuckles in the tavern at the same time. Will wonders never cease?”

“I wish you would have flagged me down,” she said with a raised eyebrow, letting Cullen take two of the mugs from her hands when he stood to help her, “I’m afraid I didn’t get enough for everyone.”

“That is kind, but I will not be drinking,” Solas said, stepping back to allow her to take her previous seat.

As she moved past him, his aura brushed against her with an intentional thread. She started, hand clenching around her mug, and sent him a curious gaze.

He returned it with an innocent tilt of his head as one corner of his mouth tugged up with a hidden smile.

Teasing ass. She thought about pushing back at him with her own aura, but she was more likely to send their table falling over with actual force—that flutter of heat in her core telling her she shouldn’t try her luck. 

“Come on, Chuckles," Varric said good-naturedly, "why come to the tavern if you’re not going to drink?”

“For company, Varric? For the experience of sharing an atmosphere of merriment and cheer?”

Roslyn snorted into her mug.

“Leave the man alone, would you,” Cullen said with a good natured scowl.

“Thank you, Commander,” Solas said, shooting her a dry look.

Roslyn tried not to roll her eyes as she leaned back in her chair, listening to them talk, content to sit back. It was odd to see Solas sitting with the rest of them, conversing with Cullen of all people, about preparations for the march to Therinfal Redoubt and the settlement of troops around the valley. And of course, he seemed to understand what Cullen was talking about, because a wandering apostate would obviously know and be able to speak with authority about organizing an army.

Long way from the man confused as to why I wanted to know more about him, she thought, eying him with interest as he spoke with Cullen about the new mage recruits.

She had long since drained her mug and tucked her legs up to her chest, listening to the music drifting over the crowd behind them, as the night wound down. The Inquisition was in no hurry to retire for the evening. The singer, Maryden, began a song about the Rebellion, spinning a stirring tale of brotherhood and defiance. It was beautiful, and made a part of her ache.

But even when she had been in the Rebellion, she'd never felt that camaraderie, that connection. She believed in freedom for mages, and hated the Order, but it wasn't an ideal to cling to. Autonomy above all else... Fiona had been right about that much. Her morals were one thing, but she'd never felt the call to action, the revolutionary zeal, that some of her friends had felt. That Derek had felt.

The Rebellion had been something to throw herself into, something to focus on rather than wander aimlessly. After her Circle had fallen, there'd been nowhere else to go. 

Just as she had nowhere else to go now. 

She pushed the thought from her mind, as they came to the topic of the new mage recruits, a few stragglers from Circles which had disbanded, but not joined the Rebellion. Apparently, no one had stepped up to manage their organization, except for one obvious candidate.

“Enchanter Vivienne is insistent," Solas said in a clipped tone, "even when she cannot divine anything from the Breach that I and the rest of the Inquisition’s mages have not already surmised."

Roslyn frowned at the table. Vivienne had already begun to sink her claws into the Inquisition. “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?”

“Careful, Red,” Varric laughed.

“Oh, please, the woman’s all show. She’s a power-grabbing social climber who thinks the Inquisition will be the next step on her path to world domination. You only give her ammunition when you act like she’s more frightening than she is.”

“Tell us how you really feel,” Varric said dryly.

Cullen’s expression grew strained. “I would agree with you, my lady, but it’s hard when the mages cannot decide on their own. And someone must lead them.” He met her gaze with a slight frown. She was surprised he could chat so comfortably about the mages. She’d expected him to be much more strict.

“Well, from what I hear, we’ve got ourselves a genuine former first enchanter right here,” Varric said casually. “Red could lead the mages if she wanted.”

Roslyn tensed, wondering how long he’d sat on that piece of information. Her hands clenched over her knees, but she tried to keep her voice calm as she said, “Subtle, Varric. And no, I couldn’t.”

“Wait,” Cullen said with an incredulous smile, “you’re joking. You weren’t the First Enchanter of the Ostwick Circle. He died in—when your Circle fell.”

Roslyn met his gaze with an arched brow, filling his hesitation with her own dark memories. “I’m surprised Leliana didn’t debrief you when I left Haven all those months ago.”

“She didn’t mention that, no,” he said with a frown, studying her expression. “But—you’ll forgive me, my lady, you’re not old enough to be a first enchanter. Were you even Harrowed before your Circle fell?”

“Harrowed?” Solas asked quietly, looking from Cullen to Roslyn.

“It’s a test mages have to take to prove they can become full enchanters,” she said forcefully, plowing over her discomfort and the growing anger in Solas' eyes. “We go into the Fade, in a lyrium-enhanced sleep, face a demon, and must withstand possession. It proves we aren’t a threat to the Circle, and cannot be made Tranquil.” Her voice wavered on the last, but she forced down the memory of green eyes empty and unseeing under the brand of a spiral sun.

“I see,” Solas finally said.

“It’s usually done after a mage has passed their twentieth name day,” Cullen said over the tense pause, “or immediately, if the mage is brought to a Circle when they’re older.”

“I was twenty-one when my Circle fell, Cullen—not exactly a child,” Roslyn said firmly. She paused, wondering whether she should stop the conversation in its tracks and refuse to reveal more.  They’re going to find out at some point, she reasoned. It was only a matter of time before whispers trickled out of the Rebellion. She knew Fiona, knew any information which might strengthen the Rebellion was too important to keep hidden. Especially when it might weaken the Herald of Andraste’s sterling reputation.

She met Cullen's gaze and said slowly, “I’d already been a full enchanter for five years.”

Disbelief and shock flickered behind his eyes. “You were Harrowed at sixteen?  Why?"

Her jaw clenched, but she forced herself to relax. "Did you usually give long explanations to the mages in your charge?"

Cullen's eyes darkened in knowing guilt, but he didn't look away, to his credit.

“I don’t know what it was like at Kirkwall," she said, trying to soften her voice, "but the Ostwick templars used the Harrowing as a punishment. They weren't about to lay out their reasoning.”

Varric cursed under his breath. “What did you do?” 

“I didn’t follow the templars’ rules,” she said coldly, trying not to remember cold gauntlets around her shoulders, holding her back as she screamed at the sight of hollow green eyes staring back at her from Jonas’ face. “What else?”

“Your first enchanter allowed you to go through with it?” Cullen asked sharply. “The knight commander?”

Roslyn watched outrage flash across his features in frustration. “The knight commander ordered my Harrowing. My first enchanter couldn’t do anything, even if he wanted to.”

She heard the hard resignation in her voice and shook her head against the old desire to rage against the Chantry and the Order, to throw her problems at the feet of this templar and demand justice. But Cullen wasn't responsible for what happened to her. For what happened to Jonas.

“It doesn’t matter,” she muttered, slid her feet off the chair, and straightened. “You asked me how I became First Enchanter? It was more a statement than anything else. My half-sister was the new Lady Chancellor and there were rumors she asked for the Rite of Annulment in the first place—she probably wanted to whet her new rule on the blood of mages—so when the dust settled, I’m sure what was left of my Circle raised me up in a show of defiance. It was nothing but an insult to her, not a mark of my own leadership skills.”

“Why do I not believe you?” Varric murmured, leaning forward to frown up at her. “Look, Red, if you don’t wanna talk about it you don’t have to, but it seems like there’s a lot to this story you’re not telling.”

“That’s because it’s not a good story, Varric,” she snapped. “What do you want me to say? That it was a horrible experience? That I watched as two hundred mages were slaughtered before my eyes in a calculated culling?”

Her mouth twisted, not caring that his expression turned guilty when she snapped at him, or that Cullen was watching her with wide eyes and shaking hands, or that Solas went so still he might have become a statue.

“The apprentices had locked themselves inside a storage room," she said, the words dragged up like poison from her veins, "so I made sure they got out of the tower. Do you want to know how many templars I killed to make sure they didn't slaughter the children? Forty-seven. Would you like me to tell you their names? I remember them." Her voice broke as the memory surfaced, though her eyes were dry. "Every single damn one. Would that make this more interesting for you?"

She shakes as the magic blows back toward her, the barrier on the door dispersing as the templars finally break through. The children behind her cry out in fear, their terror pulsing in her like a war drum, making her anger warp and rage into something barbed and monstrous. Derek yells at her side but she can't hear what he says over the pounding in her ears.

They're going to kill us all, she thinks. She only has moments to act before they're in the room. Derek falls to the ground, and his aura wanes. She doesn't know whether he's dead or not—please don't be dead, not him, please—but she has to keep fighting. They're going to kill the children. She needs more lyrium or she's going to collapse. The rest of the vials sit at her feet. Too much for anyone to survive. Too much to control.

But she downs them all. And the tower shakes under her feet.

She remembered cupping the last vial with shaking hands, the screams of the children the last thing she heard. Before the rush of power came over her. And she'd ripped into that hallway full of templars as if they were no more than paper.

"There were a handful of enchanters left by the time we got out," she said, voice low and hard. "They gave me the title because they had no one else to give it to. Because everyone else had died. Because they needed something to hold onto while we fled to Cumberland. When we got there, our Circle was dissolved and the title became useless. So when I tell you it was an insult to my monster of a sister, trust that I'm not being humble.”

Varric had gone pale and quiet, and her own guilt hit her like a punch to the gut. It wasn't his fault. It was no one's fault except Helena's, and the knight commander, and neither of them were in a position to make amends.

H er mind far away, trapped in a dark corridor with screaming children and the sweet smell of lyrium, s he gulped down the last of her drink and rose to her feet. “Well, I think I’ve lost my appetite for conversation and I’d like to take full advantage of my bed while I still have it.”

“Roslyn,” Varric started, his chair scraping over the sound of tavern merriment. “Fuck, I’m sorry—”

“It’s all right, Varric,” she said, looking him in the eye. The concern staring back at her was unbearable. “I’m not mad. I just need some air.”

She saw Cullen rise out of the corner of her eye, and felt Solas' gaze on her cheek, but she left, moving fast for the door. Ignoring the few greetings and curious looks, she pushed her way out of the tavern and stepped into the night air.

The cool breeze rushed past her face in relief, and she clenched her shaking hands, making for the other side of the village.

When she was hidden from prying eyes, she slumped against the nearest wall and dug the heels of her palms into her temples. The mark pulsed, stirred no doubt by the memories flashing through her mind. She breathed slowly to find her center, and closed her eyes against the images dragged up and laid bare.

They would have found out sooner or later. She was surprised it had taken Varric so long to ask her about it, after he’d witnessed her meeting with Fiona in Val Royeaux and the disaster in the Witchwood. Derek had hinted at what she was, and there was no denying they had a right to know what kind of person they’d made their Herald. To know exactly what she was capable of.

The sky was cloudy when she opened her eyes and searched the constellations, picking out the one that looked like a sword spearing the mountains to the west. Judex.

She made her way down the incline to her cabin, her boots crunching against the snow and the fresh mountain air singing through her lungs, helping her to relax.

The breeze rushed past her hair and she brushed it back, running her fingers along the scarred skin behind her ear with a frown. She traced each line, each crescent, remembering the pain and fear and shaking certainty that nothing she would ever do would make Helena stop tormenting her. Rabbit. Knife-ear, her sweet, whisper-thin voice threaded through Roslyn's mind. 

Until the day her magic came, of course. And she'd given Helena another reason to hate her. 

Another story for Varric’s distraction. She pulled her hand down before she conjured up other, more deeply buried memories.

The road out of the main village was so quiet, she heard the soft fall of footsteps behind her before she recognized the scent of Solas’ aura. She smiled, knowing he’d let it reach her on purpose, to warn her of his approach.

“It’s not proper to follow a lady to her cabin when she has not invited you,” she murmured, slowing to allow him to catch up.

“If you began to act as such, I might consider treating you with the proper etiquette.”

She snorted. “I’m not about to demure and curtsey, if that's what you mean. Not unless you ask nicely.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eye only to find him staring at her with a serious expression.

She came to a stop outside her cabin with a sigh. “You’re supposed to play along to comfort me.”

His lips twitched, but his eyes were tight with concern. “And yet I seem to fail at every attempt.”

“It’s a good thing you’re so charming, then.”

His grin was slow, but it smoldered in his eyes as he tilted his head. “Charming?”

“And arrogant,” she said quickly, biting the inside of her lip as the base of her spine tingled with nerves.

His eyes flashed down to her mouth, lingering, before his smile faltered. “I did not know you had experienced such trauma.”

“You didn't guess when I nearly lost it in the Witchwood?”

“I did not want to assume.”

“You never asked.”

His brow furrowed. “True. Though I wish I had.”

She watched his expression harden, and smiled. “It’s all right, Solas,” she murmured, fighting the urge to reach out and take his hand. “It was years ago. I thought I had a handle on it, but... it will pass. It always does.”

Solas searched her face, the crease in his brow sharp.

“What?”

He shook his head, a frustrated smile breaking across his mouth. “You continue to surprise me.”

“I hope that’s a good thing,” she laughed, narrowing her eyes at him.

“As do I,” he murmured. 

Silence rose between them, ripe with the heat building in her chest, the urge to finish what they'd started in his cabin earlier that day. “I should go to sleep,” she said slowly. “I do need to get up early tomorrow. Knowing my luck, Cassandra will decide to leave before sunrise and I’ll be dragged out of bed in my pajamas.”

His eyebrow quirked up, a glinting tease in his eyes as he said, “What an entertaining image.”

She took a step back before he heard the heavy beating of her heart. “One I would like to avoid.”

He smiled and inclined his head, circling his hands to hold them behind his back.

The way his eyes held hers made all her reasons and rules strain, bend—it would be so much easier, simpler, to let them break. 

Totally simple, she lied to herself as she smiled and said in a low murmur, “Sleep well, Solas.”

As she turned for her door, he said in a whisper, barely louder than the gentle wind across the snow at their feet, “Ma somniar tel’enafim, Roslyn.”

Chapter Text

The night sky of Haven was alight in the Fade, swirling patterns of purple and gold spinning across the midnight blue canvas like flecks and streams of paint. Stars winked and shined, dancing together and moving in a synchronized rhythm. There was something heightened about the brightness, the sharpness. It felt more real, somehow. More alive.

Roslyn's eyes searched for the constellations she’d learned in the Circle, lying on the cold stone roof of the lower tower on those nights when she’d snuck past the templars. In those first few months after arriving, when the dorm rooms loomed over her like a cage, she’d slipped past the templars patrolling the halls, adept at remaining unseen after so long serving her father’s widow. She’d needed fresh, cold air, away from the claustrophobic cloud of fear hanging in the winding corridors of the tower.

Now, she sat cross-legged on her table stone, leaning back and staring up at the sky, wondering if that frightened girl hadn’t grown up so much as learned to mask the same old fears.

The air shifted as Solas approached, the hilltop growing more solid, less chaotic.

Before she could greet him, another sparkle of light winked against her mind. She smiled as a brilliant golden ball erupted over her head, trilling as it took shape and flapped around her in excitement.

The spirit brushed against her cheek and she laughed, sitting up straight as it settled on her shoulder. It cooed into her ear and hopped down to her lap, where it sat and began to rumble.

“Hello, Duck,” she said, stroking its neck and enjoying its small warmth as it settled between her legs.

She leaned over and pressed a kiss to its head. The bird huffed in indignation and she snorted. Insistent little thing, aren’t you?

Roslyn found Solas watching her with a soft smile.

His brow lifted. “Duck?”

“Ah,” she exhaled, embarrassed, “it’s a silly thing, from when I was a child.”

His smile held, waiting.

“Before my father died and I went to live with his widow, a nanny kept me near the Minanter River. This tiny pond sat next to our house and I used to sneak out and feed the ducks living there. Somehow I got it into my head that all birds were ducks, just in different shapes and colors.” She paused, annoyed at the amused grin spreading across his face, and rolled her eyes. “I must have been ten by the time I learned there were different kinds of birds. It was all very disappointing and I’d thank you not to make fun of me for it.”

“You were a child,” he said with a slight chuckle. “I can hardly fault you for not understanding avian taxonomy.”

She grinned, ruffling the spirit's feathers. “I think Duck is a great name. You like it, don’t you?”

The bird cocked its head and sneezed.

“Perhaps it will take some getting used to,” Solas reasoned.

“Mmm, I think it suits you.” She scooped the bird up, ignoring the dignified huff of annoyance it gave her and letting it settle on her hand. “Until such time as you learn to talk and give me another name, I’m going to call you Duck. You have my express permission to call me anything you like in return. Fair?”

She could have sworn the bird narrowed its eyes before hopping again into her lap.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’, then.”

Solas chuckled and nodded toward the table stone with interest. “Did you craft that stone on purpose?”

Roslyn blinked, frowning down at the stone. “Oh, Maker, I guess I did.” She took one hand from Duck’s feathers to trace the runes in the surface. They’d always been there, but they were clearer now, like everything else. “It’s a physical place to focus, if that makes sense?”

His eyes sharpened, listening intently.

“After my magic surfaced, it was hard to keep the demons away, so I… made this. I got the idea from something a scholar once theorized about the Avvar, that their augurs anchored their bodies in the physical world before communing with demons.”

He looked as if he were trying to fit pieces of her together and coming up short. “When did you devise this?”

She hesitated. “After my Harrowing.” After the demons became so insistent and the rage so much she might have done anything if tempted, if only to get vengeance.

“I see.”

“So,” she started, shifting to slide her feet off the table, taking care not to jostle Duck too much, “here we are, in the Fade, talking and everything.”

A slow smile spread across his lips. “It appears so.”

“Sorry for sneaking up on you last time. I’m not sure I understand the rules yet.”

“There are no rules,” Solas laughed, the sound bouncing over the silent hills covered in snow, “or none which remain fixed. That is its beauty and its allure.”

“That’s annoyingly abstract.”

He smiled and quirked an eyebrow. “Undoubtedly. We are speaking of the place from whence all dreams are born and memories linger for centuries after their creators perish. The Fade is an attempt to harness that abstraction and create purpose.”

“A month ago I wouldn’t have agreed with you.”

“I remember,” he murmured, his eyes softening. “May I ask what changed your mind?”

“Val Royeaux. I fell into a memory there. It was—unlike anything I’d ever seen before.”

“One’s first memory can be affecting,” he said with a searching look in his eyes.

She considered recounting the memory, but she wanted to keep it close for now, as if it might spoil in the retelling. “It was.”

Hair brushed over her face at a sudden wind, brisk cold filling her lungs. Duck stirred, popped its head from her lap, and jumped onto her shoulder to give her a brushing peck on the cheek. It grabbed a strand of wayward hair and tugged with a trill, before it was up and flying into the mountains, gliding on air currents she couldn’t see. She watched it for a while, envy prickling at the back of her mind, before she realized Solas was staring at her.

“I suppose it’s called Curiosity for a reason,” she murmured. Her hands tightened against the table stone, trying to think past the rush of heat in her stomach without the little spirit as a buffer.

Solas was more subdued than he’d seemed in the forest clearing, not as bright or sharp. He still held his shoulders high, hands clasped behind his back, and his face was as controlled as ever, but there were flashes, moments of clarity which came easier and illuminated his expressions. There was a comfort about him here that wasn't apparent in the waking world.

She slid off the stone to stand, smiling when he stepped back at once. “Come on, I want to see something.”

They walked for a while in silence, their bare feet ghosting over the snow without making an impression. His aura pulsed beside her, drifts of peppermint and pinewood curling into her nostrils and whispering over her skin.

“Is the sky always like that?” she asked as they walked down an incline, leveling out on the road toward the village.

“Like what?”

She cocked an eyebrow at him, shifting her gaze to the swirling night sky above her. “All—swirly, or whatever. Like a painting.”

He grinned. “Swirly? Is that the technical term?”

She pressed her shoulder against his without thought, intending it as a playful shove. The air sparked where they met, sensation pulsing in her skin and heat blossoming along her chest. She caught his surprised expression before she moved away. No casual touching, then. 

“You know what I mean,” she said quickly, trying to pick up the conversation as her mind lingered along the heat where they'd touched.

“I do not.”

“Really? What does the sky look like to you?”

His lips quirked into a soft smile. “The sky. Black and cloudless with stars.”

She frowned, looking back up. The shifting stars and spiraling clouds of sparks covering the snow-softened valley were bright, a kaleidoscope of color.

“Weird,” she muttered, chancing a glance at him again as they slowed along the main bridge.

“Your perception of the Fade is different from mine, I think,” he said slowly, his voice controlled. “Perhaps we are not seeing the same sky.”

She came to a stop outside the outer wall of the village, still and silent. “You're joking,” she said. “We’re seeing a different sky? How do I know what I’m seeing is real, then?”

“Perception is subjective even when awake." His smile turned teasing. "Nothing is ‘real’ unless you decide to make it so.”

She tried to wrap her mind around the idea, and grinned. “Andraste’s tits, this is weird. I should be terrified, but here I am walking through the Fade like it’s totally normal, with a new spirit friend and,” she faltered, drew a hasty breath, “you.”

Solas' eyes were hesitant and soft as he smiled. “It is a bit of a departure from the last time we spoke about this topic.”

“A bit,” she laughed, falling into step beside him.

She was still scared, of course, and a part of her would never fully relax while in the Fade, but if she could live without the constant worry she’d felt since she was sixteen…

“What did you want to see?” Solas asked.

“Oh, right.” She jogged forward until she was in the right place, next to the outer wall. With a small thread of adrenaline and fear, she felt what she was looking for. Tugging on her own memory, the scene unfurled before her.

She saw herself vault over the wall, falling and tumbling in the snow. The air was sharp, biting in her lungs as she ran down the incline, hair flying behind her in a mass of red. Maker, she looked a mess. Her face was ragged, her clothes disheveled, and through it all the brilliant light of the mark shone against her with each pulse of the Breach above.

Roslyn smiled when Solas Fade-stepped in front of her, stopped her when she tried to attack him. The ground shifted and a crack split the air as the Breach expanded. She winced at the remembered pain, watching herself fall to the ground and writhe, the colors of the memory fading as she fought through the pain.

When it came time for the templars to arrive, she sighed, ready to let the memory fade, but froze when it shifted.

She fell to the ground as the second smite hit her in the chest, but the air felt stiffer. Less light bled into the memory from the Breach. She looked grey, as if all the color had been drained out of the world. The sharp sounds of Solas arguing with Cassandra, the heaving thud of boots as the templars ran down to them. It was all overwhelmingly, distressingly solid.

Roslyn’s eyes widened when she watched Solas step in front of Cassandra, putting an arm out in front of Roslyn’s body, and sent two templars who approached a look that could have killed them cold. He slid his staff onto his back and knelt, gathering her muted and lifeless form into his hands. The mark hung in the air as he walked back into Haven, the only speck of color in an otherwise muted scene.

The memory faded, her throat tight as Solas stood tense beside her.

“I had no idea your mark allowed you to dream with such focus,” he murmured, his voice low and soft in the silence.

“It’s a surprise to me too,” she said when she found her voice.

He stared forward at the patch of snow where the memory had taken place, eyes hard and wide.

“I didn’t know you carried me back to the chantry.”

He frowned, guilt shining in his eyes. “I promised I would not let them hurt you. When I failed, I thought it only responsible to make it up to you.” His words had a forced quality to them, conflict playing in the corner of his mouth.

She ignored her instinct to leave it alone, to let the urge to comfort him pass without indulging the reckless desire that gripped her, and wrapped a hand around his upper arm, squeezing gently. “I’d just tried to kill you, Solas. That was more than I deserved.”

His eyes snapped to her hand, softening as he met her gaze. “It was not a burden.”

Something inside her grew taut the longer their eyes held, searching, transforming to an unspoken plea. Something she didn't understand except for its potency.

Her heart raced as she moved, her hand rising before her mind could stop her and save her from the aftermath she knew would come, would always come.

He froze and his eyes went wide. She might have recognized the conflict etched in the hard line of his mouth, if she wasn't so focused on the pale plane of his cheek, the gold dusting of his freckles reminding her of the swirl of stars in the sky.

Roslyn pulled his face to her, rising up to her toes and pressing her lips against his in a rush of half-formed longing. It was a hard kiss, graceless and awkward, and nothing like what she'd imagined, what she'd wanted.

Her mind skidded to a halt, the heat from her chest bled, as she felt his mouth stiff and unmoving under hers.

“I’m—,” her voice broke as she jerked back, her hands releasing him and hovering in the air, “I—”

But then he moved forward, sliding his hand into her hair and slanting his mouth over hers, and all thought of an apology died on her tongue.

She made a pitiful noise as their lips touched again, which quickly melted into an undignified moan as he kissed her with a passion that made her spine bend. She tried to process the urgency in his tongue, the unleashing in his hands circling her waist, running along the exposed skin where her tunic rode up from her pants. She felt like she was falling, spiraling into an endless abyss with only the heat of his mouth, the grip of his hands, as a tether.

It was—Maker, it was unbelievable. If she’d known what lay beneath the surface of his careful composure when she first met him, she might have dispensed with the escape attempt entirely and jumped him in his cabin.

Her eyelids fluttered shut as he deepened the kiss, his lips hard and hot on hers as she opened beneath him, aligning to the reality of his touch. Her hands gripped his shoulders, one moving behind his neck to cup the back of his head, the other sliding down and around his chest. Her fingers brushed the edge of his ear, he shuddered, and her mind focused. She felt his soft, shaking moan into her mouth, the tight spasm of his hands, and the tether snapped taut.

She pressed against him, arching her back and pulling him against her, every inch of his lean chest molded against hers. She slipped her tongue over his and brushed the edge of her thumbs purposefully against the long tips of his ears. She wanted him to moan again. She wanted him to shake beneath her hands.

When he shuddered into her mouth, she smiled. She reveled in the sound, gripping his face with both hands and catching his bottom lip between her teeth.

To feel him break beneath her, shoulders trembling, hands gripping her waist and threading through her hair tightly, as if he wanted to hold her and never let go, was rapture.

Her aura flared without a thought, blossoming with the heat spreading down her spine and thudding between her legs. It rushed into him, broke against his like a wave upon rock, crackling at the edges and sparking in her vision as peppermint splashed over her tongue and a whispering hum ghosted against the back of her mind.

His mouth left hers with a shuddering gasp and he buried his face in her hair and neck, his breath hot against her skin as she tried to rein in her aura. It was wild and unchecked. She should try to curb it, but her mind was a thousand brilliant sparks of light. She couldn’t focus on anything but the glorious sensation of her aura breaking against his. A physical sensation—but deeper, more primal, moving inside the foundations of her mind and body.

He smiled against her neck, and she moaned when his teeth scraped her skin.

His aura grew in a warning, a small courtesy, before it thundered into her. She let out a wild cry, pulses of energy curling around her spine and bending her, rocking her against him as his grip tightened against the small of her back. 

They moved as one to the wall behind her. He pressed her back against the cold stone, moved his hips against hers as he dragged his hand down the bow of her hip and palmed her ass. She gripped his shoulder, cradling his neck, pressing open mouthed kisses to his temple before he hoisted her up and kissed her again, bruising her lips with his.

She vibrated, warmed to a boiling point, trying to push back against his aura with her own, to match his intensity, but it was like trying to control a current of air in the middle of a maelstrom. His aura filled her, finding the nooks and crannies of her mind and flooding them. She felt his intention, his need—a violent, rampant, wonderful thing. 

Under the uncontrolled feeling coursing through her body, she knew this was wrong. It shouldn’t feel this irresistible, this manic and uncontrollable. She’d had sex with plenty of people and nothing, no one, had ever made her feel like this.

But her mind narrowed to a point of molten heat as he trailed a line of kisses down her jaw. His hands unmade her, running up to clutch at her sides, agonizingly close to the edge of her breastband, curving down around her thighs. He grinned at the noises she was no longer trying to control, burying his face into the crook of her neck. His heart beat against her chest like there was nothing at all between them.

Her eyes closed as his teeth grazed again across her shoulder. The frantic pumping of her blood between her legs pitched higher, higher. She gasped in a warning, “Solas, I can’t—”

In a grinding moment of clarity, his body stiffened and his hands froze against her.

His aura pulled back in a snap and shattered hers as he shoved it away from him. It slammed back into her and knocked the breath from her chest. She stared at him, her mouth still open as steam ghosted between them in the cold night air.

He stepped back, bracing her shoulders against the stone so she wouldn’t slide to the ground. His face flushed and lips swollen, he looked from her mouth to her eyes slowly, painfully.

Roslyn watched the frenzied light bleed from his face as he took a halting step away from her. He lifted his hands in a gesture of defeat, shook his head. She watched him pull back, and felt the realization build behind her, waiting to envelop her.

“This isn’t right,” he said in a hoarse whisper. The words slipped through the cracks of her sluggish mind, thudding like knives. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—” He broke off, set his face. “I am sorry.”

Oh.

His words hit her, left dents in her gut. Her hands spasmed. Her jaw slammed shut so fast she bit down on her tongue. The metallic rust of blood was sharp and clear inside her mouth. She stood, ignored the twisting pain in her chest. The cold the crept in in the absence of his body, his aura. 

Mistake. Of course it was a mistake. You knew it would be.

The rational part of her mind was almost glad he had broken them apart. She never would have stopped, knowing now what she felt for him. Not an infatuation.

“It’s fine,” she said slowly, her voice ringing hollow in the silence between them. The small voice in the back of her mind supplied the words, feeding them to her mouth and forcing her to say what would let her leave, let her keep some part of herself whole after this. “I shouldn’t have kissed you. It was a mistake," she agreed. "It was my mistake.”

A chill breeze cut across her stomach, and she shivered. Her shirt was bunched up at her waist. She looked down, heat breaking across her cheek that no longer felt warm and pleasant, but scorching, and pulled the fabric down. Her blood thudded in her ears. So stupid. You knew…

“It was ill-considered. I should not have encouraged it.”

She tried and failed to let his words wash over her without effect.

It was a kiss. Nothing more. She had kissed plenty of people and dropped them when it became too much. She could do this again.

Walls up, empty smile on her face, eyes hard. Sever and contain. Like always.

It was more than a kiss, a small voice needled into her fortress of control, so much more than a kiss.

“It was the Fade,” she said purposefully, her eyes locked on his, lying to herself as much as she lied to him. “I’m still getting used to it and,” she let out a harsh laugh, too sharp, too forced, let it out and breathe, you’ve done this before, “I let it get the better of me. It didn’t mean anything.”

She swallowed back the lump in her throat as he straightened, his face smoothing into a confused distance. “Of course. I understand.”

He continued to stare at her with hard, unreadable eyes, his mask firmly in place. 

Roslyn fought the urge to take it all back and…

And what?

He’d broken it off. It didn't matter whether she wanted him or not. He’d stopped kissing her.

This isn’t right.

The tug came in her navel and she slipped away without resistance, gliding back to her physical body and waking up in her cabin.

She lay still, a pair of hard, distant blue eyes filling her vision. With a soft sob, she allowed herself a moment of weakness, letting the tears stream down her cheeks.

The disappointment and anger, the loss, was stupid. She’d known him for a matter of months. She wasn’t a child.

She hadn’t lost him. 

Wrenching her eyes shut, she wiped the tears from her face with a firm, violent swipe.

She'd never had him.

Chapter Text

The Inquisition rode hard to arrive at Therinfal Redoubt in time for the Lord Seeker’s assembly. It left Roslyn irritable and sore and infinitely tired. It didn’t help that she spent the majority of her nights trying to stay out of the Fade. It was stupid to fend off sleep, especially since meeting with the Lord Seeker would require all of her patience.

But she couldn’t bear to see Solas again so soon.

She should have never kissed him. Whatever had been growing between them, it was wrong. There was attraction, yes. Plenty. More than she’d thought. But that horrible guilt and shock when he’d forced her away, the pain that came after—it wasn’t worth it.

By the time they stopped to make camp on the seventh day of travel, Roslyn was dead on her feet. If Cassandra was right, they only had a day or two of riding left until they reached Therinfal Redoubt. If they pushed, they might make it to the edge of the Brecilian Forest by sundown the next day.

She drew her horse off to the side of the camp, taking care to stay as far from the soldiers as possible. They’d learned quickly she wasn't interested in their help or their company, and although some watched her with confusion, those she’d spent time with during her extended stay in the Hinterlands, most gave her a wide birth.

One person seemed averse to allowing her peace, however.

“Herald, may I have a word with you?” Cassandra called as she finished setting up her tent.

The Seeker walked toward her, eyes set in determination. Cassandra had watched her like a hawk ever since they’d left Haven, hovering close as if she thought Roslyn might start lopping heads off left and right. So far, Cassandra had been content to simply judge from a distance, but it appeared Roslyn’s luck had run out.

“What is it?” she asked sharply.

Cassandra’s brows lifted, but her face was set. “I would like you to take a walk with me.”

“A walk. With you?”

“Yes.”

She considered refusing to see what the Seeker would do, but she was too tired. “Fine,” she said shortly, following her to the tree line. She caught some soldiers watching them with wary looks. Cullen, too, tracked her with concern. She’d barely spoken to him since her embarrassing outburst in the tavern the night before they left. She liked Cullen, in a way. There was something kind in him. He seemed to genuinely care about the Inquisition’s goals. But she didn't want his concern.

Cassandra led her away from the camp, stopping once they were out of earshot. The sun was setting to her left, casting her stern face in a soft glow.

“Tell me what happened with Cullen.”

Roslyn blinked, her anger forgotten. “What happened with Cullen?”

“Is this the part where I get angry at you for avoiding my question with a joke?”

“Cassandra, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Truly?” she asked in frustration. “Tell me then why every time I mention your glowing demeanor, he tells me not to bother you.”

Roslyn's jaw clenched.

“I told you I would attempt to be sympathetic, Roslyn, and I will be. But not if you refuse to speak about whatever has caused you to bark at the soldiers and ignore everyone else. Is it your anxiety at meeting with the Lord Seeker?”

“I…” Roslyn trailed off. Cullen, of all people was looking out for her welfare. He probably thinks I hate him after what I said in the tavern. She frowned in unease. “It’s nothing to do with him.”

“Does he know that?”

Roslyn closed her eyes. “I’ll—talk to him. And, sure. I’m worried about the Lord Seeker.”

It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t what kept her up at night. It wasn’t what made her want to turn from the woman in front of her desperate to know why she was upset, and the bleeding templar in camp who felt guilty about something that had happened to her almost a decade ago.

When did this all get so tangled? 

“There is something else," Cassandra said hesitantly. "I... If you do not wish to speak of it, I understand.”

Her first instinct was to brush it off, to double down on her anxiety over the coming meeting with the templars. But Cassandra’s expression, full of hesitant determination, so different from her usual severity, gave Roslyn pause.

“It’s nothing,” she muttered. What was she supposed to say? I kissed a boy and he rejected me, and now I’m throwing a temper tantrum.

“It doesn't seem to be nothing.” Cassandra reached out to touch Roslyn’s shoulder with an awkward, if comforting, hand.

Roslyn hated the pitiful lurch in her stomach when she saw sympathy in the Seeker’s eyes. “It’s silly. I—pushed things too far.” Maker, this is ridiculous. “With Solas.”

Cassandra's expression remained carefully blank, but shock and interest sparked in her eyes.

“I kissed him,” she added when Cassandra waited for her to continue. “It was inappropriate and I shouldn’t have done it.” She tried not to let her expression falter as she heard his words echo in her mind—This isn’t right. I should not have encouraged it.

“I see.” Cassandra coughed, a blush rising over her cheeks. “He does not reciprocate your feelings? I would have thought—”

“No, it’s not— It doesn’t matter what my feelings are. It was a mistake.” 

“Roslyn, I am sure you can salvage this. He… I would not presume to know his thoughts, but he seems fond of you.”

I don’t want to hear this. “That’s kind of you, but I don't want to talk about it. I’ll be fine. I’m sorry to have caused you or the soldiers trouble.”

Cassandra watched her, sympathy and understanding shining in her expression. 

Roslyn wanted to walk away from the pity turning her stomach on its head. She wanted to sprint into the forest and leave them all to their damn summit with the Lord Seeker and fuck whatever happened to Thedas without her. 

But she liked Cassandra, despite everything. And she couldn't leave. Not now. Not ever, probably.

“You are entitled to feel sorrow, Roslyn. I know you two are close. And I would not write off any hope of reconciliation so quickly.” Cassandra smiled. “Lesser people have made it through worse.”

Warmth filtered through Roslyn’s discomfort, and to her amazement, she felt better. “Thank you. That was sweet.”

Cassandra’s expression soured instantly. “For a moment I forgot you think me an unfeeling rock.”

“Oh, not at all,” Roslyn laughed, “I think you are full of many feelings. Anger being one of them. Superiority another.”

She made a noise of disgust and pulled her hand from Roslyn’s shoulder, throwing her arms into the air. “Why do I bother?”

They walked back to camp, Roslyn trying hard not to laugh at the expression on Cassandra’s face. A knot had untangled itself from her chest, and she wasn't so tired anymore. She was still worried, and whatever Cassandra said, nothing would change between her and Solas. He was leaving after the Breach was closed. She would not falter again. It would be hard, but she’d struggle through it. The alternative was far worse.

People watched them return with interest, making her short-lived relief harden. Camp was well and fully set up now, and most of the soldiers and templars were seated with their evening meal. Cassandra made some excuse about checking the perimeter, and left her alone. She picked her way through through the soldiers, nodding whenever she caught someone’s eye. She could at least be polite instead of treating them like shit.

She found Cullen sitting on his own at the edge of camp, frowning down at a report. “Did Cassandra make you bring work along on the road?”

He jumped, frowning up at her. “She—what?”

“I was making a joke, Cullen.” Her lips quirked up to one side. He was delightfully easy to startle.

“Oh. Right. I’m… preoccupied with other matters. Forgive me.”

“I can leave you alone. I didn’t mean to—”

“No, my lady. I meant... Treating with the Lord Seeker will be difficult, and I want to be prepared should anything go wrong.”

She studied his face, noting the way he avoided her gaze. “Do you mind if I sit? Cassandra just scolded me, and I’d rather wait until the intrigue dies down to get food.”

“She has been worried about you.”

“I know. It’s odd,” she added with a laugh as she took a seat next to him on a fallen log, “if you would have told me four months ago I might one day be the subject of a seeker’s concern, I would not have counted it as a good thing. I'm not sure if I do now, actually.”

He smiled tightly. There was something vulnerable in the tension of his shoulders, the severity of his expression, braced for something unpleasant.

“She also told me you warned her off.”

“I figured you wouldn’t want a Seeker of Truth trying to comfort you,” he murmured, not an accusation, but an admission.

“I’m not upset with you, Cullen.”

The muscle in his jaw feathered. “You don’t have to coddle me, my lady. I understand exactly how—”

“You don’t, actually.”

Confusion flitted across his expression.

“I’m not upset with you, Cullen, because you weren’t at my Circle when it fell. I—” She faltered, trying to find the right words. “I won’t pretend I haven’t tried to hate you. It’s easier to think of you all as extensions of the same arm of the Chantry, to forget the templars who tried to fight the annulment and spoke out against the brutality in my Circle.” She closed her eyes to steady her voice, already fighting the ingrained anger rising up to contradict her words. “I appreciate you feeling responsible for what happened to me, but I don’t need your guilt.”

“I might not be responsible for Ostwick’s fall, but it was my inaction which led to the chaos in Kirkwall." His eyes darkened, and his shoulders slumped. "Don’t absolve me so quickly.”

“Did I say anything about absolution?” Her brow arched as he met her gaze. “If you feel guilty, do something. Be better. You left the Order. You understand how to start. If you want me to tell you you’re a horrible person, I won't. Because I actually think you’re quite decent. Obnoxiously so.”

He looked down, face hard. “Thank you.”

“Maker, you’re worse than I am,” she murmured, grinning as his mouth twitched.

She watched the soldiers as they continued settling down for their meal. This is my life now, she thought. Until someone kills me or I die trying to close the Breach. She felt serene, the same kind of sad serenity she’d come to after Fiona had rejected her in Val Royeaux. She might not have chosen her situation, Maker knew she’d fought it tooth and nail at the start, but there was a simplicity in watching the soldiers she’d traveled alongside joke and laugh with each other.

She was theirs, as surely as she had been the day they’d made her their Herald. 

“I was stationed at Kinloch Hold before Kirkwall,” Cullen said, voice low and ragged. “During the Blight.”

She’d heard the rumors of what had happened to Kinloch Hold during the Blight. Nearly half the Circle had become abominations. They’d been close to an annulment before the Hero of Ferelden had stepped in to stop them. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, tension settling over her as he continued.

“For two weeks, I was tortured by demons as I watched my friends die around me. I—” His voice broke. “Twice I watched my Circle fall. Twice, I failed the mages in my charge. I might not understand what you went through. I know I wouldn’t—I couldn't understand it from the other side. But…” He swallowed, looking toward her, but not meeting her gaze. “I understand what that violence can do to a person.”

Part of her disliked the idea of finding common ground with a templar, but he seemed sincere, and there wasn’t malice or expectation in the slight tremor of his voice, the hard clench of his hands to stop them from shaking.

“Thank you,” she said, finding her voice strained.

They sat in silence for a while, watching the soldiers talk and eat together.

“Know that whatever happens in the days to come,” Cullen murmured, “I will support you, my lady. No matter what.”

Something tight welled up in her chest that felt an awful lot like fondness. “Then I will expect your support when I tell the Lord Seeker to shove his head up his ass.”

Cullen barked out a laugh, and she was grateful to find him looking as awkward as he felt. “Duly noted, Herald.”

“Can you stop with the ‘Herald’ and ‘my lady' crap?” She gave him a sideways glance. “At least when we’re not actively trying to convince the rest of the world I know what I’m doing?”

His expression was hesitant, relieved. “All right. Roslyn,” he added, frowning slightly.

Roslyn grinned as she rose to her feet, holding out a hand to help him up. “I’m starving. And I’m not sure these assholes left us anything to eat.”

He took his time, but he gripped her hand and rose, matching her grin with his own. 

Chapter Text

Therinfal Redoubt rose above the rolling green of the Southron Hills with an austere grandeur, its dark granite towers spearing high into the grey sky like unnatural extensions of the mountains. The heavy clouds and blur of rain lashing against the stone reminded Roslyn of the paintings lining the halls of the Emerald Cove, depicting fortresses of iron and ice that loomed over heroes as they journeyed into the heart of darkness to face a malevolent foe.

Flapping in the storm, she counted six banners of blood red fixed to the outside of the fortress—a circle and a sword in white flames centered in the middle. A proclamation to the surrounding countryside that the Templar Order reigned inside.

And I’m about to walk in there of my own accord. She handed the reins of her horse to the soldier beside her with a nod of thanks, and frowned, eyeing the edge of the Brecilian Forest in the east. Unease pricked at her mind as she stared into the dark shadows, reminding her of the twisted branches beyond her makeshift barrier in the Fade. The forest held a familiar darkness, and the longer they’d traveled along its edge, the harder it had been to shake the feeling that something followed.

You’re nervous. She pulled her cloak tight and fought the urge to shiver as a gust of wind blew rain onto her face. Nervous and inventing monsters at your back when the real ones are in front of you.

Cullen walked toward her, curly hair dripping under his hood. “We should leave some of our men outside the gates to wait with the horses,” he shouted, glancing over their troops, “I’m not sure the Lord Seeker has extended us an invitation to stay inside the castle.”

Roslyn tried to ignore the fluttering fear in the back of her mind. She was willingly placing herself at the center of thousands of templars to beg for their aid. It went against everything she’d ever learned from the Circle, from Fiona.

Her jaw clenched. Fiona doesn’t care what you do anymore.

“I can see why the Order chose this castle for their stronghold,” Roslyn said over the wind and rain. “It's so welcoming.”

“I have a feeling these negotiations will not go long,” Cullen said with a frown. “Whatever the Order has decided, I suspect there is little you can say to sway them either way.”

Roslyn scowled. “I’m glad we made the trip, then.” A thundering clap echoed over her head and she flinched, unwanted memories flitting through her mind of nights spent huddled in the cellars of the Emerald Cove as winter storms battered against the cliffside walls. She looked away when she noticed Cullen watching her, and muttered, “Not a fan of storms.”

“Herald,” Cassandra called from down the road, waiting with a group of ten soldiers, “we should proceed before we all drown.”

They left their horses with the rest of their men, waiting for them a mile out from the castle, and walked the rest of the way on foot.

Roslyn felt a flutter of sensation, the pressing of a spirit on her consciousness. She tensed, tried to throw her consciousness out without alerting her companions, most of whom would detect the flare of her magic. The further they walked across the drawbridge, the more alarmed the presence grew, like it was warning her off. She felt sadness, but also a sharp undercurrent of concern—stronger and less ethereal than Duck.  

As they approached the large gate, a small group of templars stood at the end of the drawbridge. All of them seemed surprised. Cullen sent one of them to inform the Lord Seeker of their presence, and they waited inside the entryway.

Roslyn felt dragged down by her cloak and sword. She hadn’t wanted to bring the damn things, but if negotiations went south and she was smote before she could get away, she damn well wasn’t going to be left at anyone else’s mercy. But the extra weight was claustrophobic, and she felt caged. She paced back and forth, trying to identify the whispering spirit at the back of her mind.

“None of this should be necessary,” Cassandra muttered, “coming to the Order like paupers begging for a meal. Lucius should realize the true threat we face.”

Roslyn frowned incredulously. The Seeker’s willingness to believe the best of her people grew tedious.

Though, she had to admit, she’d done the same for the Rebellion.

Cullen shook his head. “It’s obvious he doesn’t, Cassandra, or the Order would have pledged their support already. They would rather have us grovel than help.”

Cassandra sighed, eyes hard in sympathy at his bleak tone. “I know, Cullen.”

“Steady,” Roslyn said, nodding toward the castle entrance as another group of templars appeared out of the rain.

She recognized the first man, the templar who had led them into the Grand Cathedral at Val Royeaux, but the rest wore helmets. Their silver armor, sword engraved on each breastplate, made her jaw clench, but she kept her face blank and her magic in control as they approached. Cassandra gave her an appreciative glance, which made her think the woman half expected her to turn and run at the sight of them.

Frowning in annoyance, Roslyn squared her shoulders as the group stopped before them.

Barris eyed her with hesitant interest, before extending his hand toward Cullen. “Commander Rutherford, it is good to see you again, ser.”

Cullen inclined his head, a small, forced smile on his lips. “Knight Captain. I wish I could say the same, but in the circumstances…”

Barris’ eyes hardened. He gave Cassandra with a tight lipped smile. “Seeker Pentaghast.”

Cassandra made no move to greet him. Roslyn grinned. And she chastises me for my temper.

Barris turned to her last and murmured, “Lady Trevelyan. It is an honor to meet you again under more,” he paused, frowning, “pleasant conditions.”

Roslyn lifted a brow. “I’m not sure I would agree with you about the conditions, serah.”

He huffed out a small laugh. “I had hoped the Order needn’t go to such lengths to meet you again, my lady.” His face fell, and he studied her. The knights on either side of him turned to each other in confusion at his prolonged silence, but he continued, “Cullen tells me the Inquisition seeks to close this Breach in the Veil.”

“It does,” she murmured. “As do I.”

Confirmation and relief flashed in his eyes as he glanced toward Cullen. “That is comforting to hear, my lady.”

One of the templars, bloodshot eyes visible from behind his visor, cleared his throat.

Barris tensed. “The Lord Seeker wishes to meet with you personally, Herald. I hope we can come to an accord. The Breach threatens us all, and it is the Order’s responsibility to confront such dangerous magics. Templars should know their duty, even when held from it.”

How refreshing, she thought dryly as they passed beneath the large gate, feeling as if she were stepping into the maw of a giant beast, a templar who remembers his charge.

She noticed some of the templars stared at her with curious, hopeful eyes, following her as she walked forward into the covered courtyard. Once out of the rain, she lowered her hood, and felt their intake of breath when they saw her pointed ears.

Do not show them your weakness, she thought, in a voice that reminded her of Fiona, or they will devour you whole.

The hope in Barris' eyes held a reflection of the men standing along the walls. When he spoke, his voice rang firm with conviction. “Win over the Lord Seeker, my lady, and every able-bodied knight will help you seal the Breach. I swear it.”

She recognized the same conviction in him that poured out of Cassandra, of Cullen sometimes. Barris meant what he said, and that made her nervous. 

One day their faith in me will be put to the test. She could only keep up this facade for so long before they all realized how scared she was. “Why do you think I’m here, Ser Barris?” she managed.

He smiled grimly. “I’d tell you your chances, but... We’ve been asked to accept much after that shameful display in Val Royeaux. Our truth changes on the hour.”

As they passed, she saw that most of the men and women stationed along the outer walls of the bailey shared Barris’ discomfort.

Others seemed lethargic and tired—bloodshot eyes watching her with a hunger which made her skin crawl.

“Something is wrong,” Cassandra whispered behind her, and Roslyn heard the soft pop as she released the leather strap holding her blade in its sheath. “Lucius should have met us outside with his men. But the other knight captains are not present.”

Something flashed at the edges of Roslyn's vision as they entered the main courtyard, a faint tremor in the rain, but when she looked, she didn’t see anything on the scaffolding that stood against the stone wall.

Pull it together. A tingling sensation ran over her skin, an insistence she might have mistaken for Duck were it not for the foreign, darker feel. 

Solas would know what it was.  He’d know in a heartbeat.

She frowned. He wasn’t here and thinking about him wouldn’t make him appear.

The rest of their soldiers remained outside in the courtyard as she, Cassandra, and Cullen entered the main keep, following after Barris and winding up around the fortress to approach the main hall.

The tingling sensation at the back of her mind grew, reminded her of entering another fortress full of templars—a thrumming vibration in the ground, a strange clawing at her aura. The bloodshot eyes, the hungry lethargy of the knights.

The influence of red lyrium.

She stopped dead on the steps leading to the upper courtyard.

“Is there something amiss, Herald?” Barris asked.

Her heart thudded in her throat as the pumping energy coursed through the stone beneath her feet, a sweet and acrid taste on her mouth. “Barris, have you noticed anything off about your officers?”

The pulse thudded in the back of her mind, and she remembered the jagged spikes of rock in the crater of the Temple of Sacred Ashes, the lingering stench of rot and decay.

“I—," Barris hesitated, "why do you ask?” 

“Some of the knights in the bailey seemed sluggish and tired. Many of them had bloodshot eyes.” She met Cassandra's eyes, saw the beginnings of understand in them. “I know times have been hard, but surely the Order is taking the proper precautions with its knights’ safety.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand you, Herald.” His voice was hard. The knights at his side watched her with fear. The atmosphere went taut, and the pulsing swell of the corrupted lyrium grew louder.

“Really?” she asked carefully, her eyes wandering over the walls, searching for a sign of red. “Any changes in the supply of your lyrium? Differentiation in color, perhaps?”

Her eyes snapped to Cullen, and she knew he understood.

Cassandra gasped. “You can feel it?”

“The entire fortress is humming with it.”

“Maker's breath,” Cullen muttered with a frightened frown.

“What is this?” Barris asked, stepping back as Roslyn drew her sword.

“Your lyrium,” she said plainly, finding it hard to focus over the vibrations thudding in her chest, “it’s red, isn’t it?”

Barris stared at her with wide, disbelieving eyes.

Cassandra edged in front of Roslyn, drawing her own sword and leveling it at Barris’ throat. “If you have lured us here under false pretenses—”

Metal boots thudded down the steps, and Roslyn froze as five templars charged toward them, swords drawn and bloodshot eyes fixed on her alone.

Her mind fractured, and suddenly she was standing in a closet in her Circle tower as the door in front of her broke to reveal a hallway full of templars.

Roslyn shoved aside the memory and vaulted over Barris with a surge of force, up the steps to meet them. With a grunt, she sent out a wave to knock them back, landing on her feet and leaping forward before they could recover. She disarmed one man with her sword and knocked him back, slamming her heel into his temple, and caged another in a prison of arcane energy, clenching her left fist and sending the magic inward. Her mark reacted, sparking against the dark rain and illuminating the scene, feeding her energy with its own violent and eager magic.

Another group of templars ran up the steps behind them, engaged Cassandra and Cullen. Barris and his men were trapped behind their shields as a pair of archers rained arrows down from a nearby ledge of stone.

She gritted her teeth and sent two bolts of energy square into their faces, freeing the men before fighting off another templar.

A web of glittering red stone ran along his cheek and down his neck, splintering out of his armor where the metal pulled back and growing out of him like fungus. An aura of sweet rot clung to him. She jerked away from his fist, fighting her revulsion, and sliced into his chest.

She watched Barris out of the corner of her eye as she sent a bolt of arcane energy to slam into another templar afflicted with the red growths. He seemed shocked and disturbed by the attack, fighting with as much zeal as the rest of them.

He doesn’t know what’s going on, she knew, frowning when his eyes found hers over the pounding rain.

It might have been the distraction of his gaze, or the thudding pulse of the lyrium under her feet—but she didn’t register the warning in his eyes before the smites hit her back.

One or two she might have withstood. The way her mark was exploding with excitement, it would have absorbed them with relative ease.

Five, focused on her at once, were too much.

Her knees buckled. Her sword slipped from her grasp as the world faded to a distant echo. The grey rain clouded her vision and her chest constricted as the air rushed out of her lungs. The ground slammed into her chest and cheek as she fell forward, the pain dim, an afterthought. She rolled, tumbling down the staircase, only to stop as cold steel clamped onto her wrist.

Someone screamed from a long distance away. Her throat closed as ice wrapped around her neck and arms. She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe.

Lyrium-enchanted chains.

Brilliant green light flashed against her vision, burning away the grey.

The mark was a gauntlet, as it had been after the Conclave. It clenched and bristled. Pain, bright and hot and raw, lanced up her fingers, flowed over her arm.

The scream ripped from her throat as her mark roared to life, as she came back with it, spilling green energy around her in waves. Its anger threaded through her chest and she rioted, twisted, writhed in the grip of three templars. Ice dug into her neck, but she didn’t care. Her fist connected with one of them and they shrieked in pain, falling to their knees and tumbling down the staircase. She turned to unleash the mark—

Another smite slammed into her back, and then another, and she sagged as her vision blurred. The mark sputtered.

Her boots slipped, stumbled against the cold stone. Hands closed over her arms. She was being carried up, away from the fighting. Hazy outlines moved amongst monsters made of throbbing red light. Someone called her name—Cassandra? Cullen? She couldn’t distinguish the voice from the rioting energy in her head, the cold grey threatening to swallow her again.

Something clawed at her hand—something wild, and dangerous.

Doors opened behind her and she was pulled into a large hall. Blood-red banners stared down at her with the sword of the Templar Order writhing in its holy flames. She jerked away as they dragged her back, but shrieked in pain as cold metal pierced her skin. The familiar spark of lyrium drifted into her nostrils. Hot blood dripped down her throat.

Spikes on the collar around her neck, inside the chains wrapped around her arms and wrists.

Fear choked off her screams. Lyrium poisoning. She would die if too much of it ran into her blood. She had no way to override the connections of the chains without drawing more inside. And if she did that, she might explode. Stay calm, stay

“Such a strong thing, to fight when you have no hope of success,” a voice hissed from behind her.

She was hauled onto a stone dais, shackled to a rack and bound so tightly she winced from the strain in her limbs.

“You are greater than I expected. I am more excited than you can possibly imagine.”

A man stepped into her vision, and she swallowed her surge of anger.

The Lord Seeker stood before her, much changed from the man she’d met in Val Royeaux. Yellow eyes bore into her from sunken sockets and a bloodstained smile stretched his ashy skin. He was hunched over, shuffling as he approached, the smell of sulfur swirling into her nostrils and making her eyes water.

“Tell me, Herald,” he rasped, his voice resonant with something beyond the deep timbre, something dark and twisted, “why do you fight? I need to know.”

“You’re looking unwell, Lord Seeker,” she choked as his rank breath sank into her mouth, trying not to gag. “You should get out into the sun more.”

The smile on his bloody lips stretched wide. “Oh, splendid. You are stubborn. I shall break you in the learning. It will make your submission so much sweeter.”

His voice rang with a twisted glee. Her heart thudded in her ears and she tried not to let the fear overwhelm her. She needed to focus. What had happened to him? Was it more of the red lyrium’s influence? Varric had said people went mad when they ingested it—

The Lord Seeker laughed, a wet, rattling thing that dripped from his lips. “Already I can see your mind working. Twisting, turning, trying to find a way out. So clever. I will take it. Now.”

She only had a moment to register the realization of what he was—the mangled voice, the shining, swirling eyes—before the thing wearing the Lord Seeker's face smashed his forehead against hers and her mind went black.

Chapter Text

Roslyn opened her eyes in a black, empty expanse. Her chains were gone, and she wore a simple tunic and pair of pants, like she always did when she awoke in the Fade. It wasn’t the swirling grey world of her dream in Val Royeaux, but a pitch black void. She could have been floating in a starless sky with no substance, no sound.

Her chest swelled and ground formed beneath her feet. “A fucking demon,” she rasped, “the Lord Seeker is a demon.”

She couldn’t feel anything beyond her own body. No swirling energy, no prick of spirits.

It was… nothing.

She walked forward, throwing her hands out and searching for something to touch. Her feet made no sound. The black did not change.

A thought came to her, and she stumbled.

Had she died?

No. This was the Fade. Her mark was soft and silent. She was wearing the same clothes. She wasn’t dead.

Her mind reached out before she could stop it, to the one person who might be able to help her. She searched for Solas’ aura and energy, throwing her consciousness out into the black. He would know how to get out, how to—

The forest came to life around her, trees sprouting up from the ground and tangling together to tower across a grey sky. She gasped, stumbling back and hitting something with her leg. She found a stump, the same stump Solas had lounged against in the sun-drenched clearing with Wisdom.

The Fade stilled. Whispering wind rustled the grass and wildflowers at her feet. The sky winked in a pale imitation of the last time she’d been here. The clearing smelled sweet, but the scent was too sharp. She stared down at the flowers, and her heart thudded.

White petals bled into a dark red center and vined up through the dirt. They choked the field, interspersed amongst the tall grass. Thousands of them. Andraste’s Grace.

“Roslyn?”

She whirled around. Solas walked toward her.

But it wasn't Solas, small details forming a picture both desired and abhorrent—his dark blue eyes, too potent and bright, the soft dusting of freckles across his cheeks shining brilliant gold in the dim light, the steady, relaxed sway of his hips. He looked like he did in her dreams, in the fantasies she indulged when she was weak, and tired.

“You think this is the first time I’ve met a demon?” she choked, ignoring the base reaction, the longing that curled in her stomach. She hadn’t seen him since she’d left the Fade. Hadn’t said goodbye. She’d left and closed a wall around the part of her still reeling, still bleeding, from his rejection. “You think you’re the first asshole who’s tried to tempt me?”

It stopped a few feet away from her, eyes hardening as they raked across her face, hunger curling at the corners of its lips. “This form is pleasing to you.” Its voice was his, but with a wild edge. A hollow imitation ringing with malice. “I can feel your body reacting to him. Why, I wonder?”

She clenched her jaw as its hand came up to brush her cheek, knowing she should flee or fight back, anything to stop the thing from touching her.

“You long for him.” Its eyes flashed yellow and she bit back the revulsion climbing up her throat like bile. "Why?"

The demon wearing Solas’ face took a step toward her, tilting its head and smiling. Her heart clenched—it looked just like him, the curve of his mouth was the same, the crinkle of his eyes—

What kind of demon was it? Desire? Hunger?

Envy.

Maker... It was an Envy demon.

Wrenching away at last, she slammed back into the stump. “I’m not afraid of you.”

“Not yet,” he murmured, and when it blinked again, its eyes shifted to a clear, lovely green—the color of the leaves on the oak tree in the courtyard of the Circle Tower.

Her knees buckled. “No,” she choked.

Pale skin darkened to tanned gold. Pointed ears rounded and shrank. Unruly black hair sprouted from its head, the same crooked smile on its lips she’d fallen in love with a decade ago.

“This one has pain, so much pain,” he said, his voice bright and young, his eyes wandering down her face with ease. “It’s old and ragged and delicious. You hold this one closer. So close you’ve got your fingers dug into it, ice wrapped around him like iron. Why?”

Roslyn clenched her jaw against the sob in her throat as the name slipped from her mind.

Jonas,” it said with a laugh. “Your Jonas. Not anymore, of course, but once. Before the templars made him Tranquil.”

His eyes sparkled, too bright, too alive, they should be blank, empty…

Her mind spiraled, slipping back into the recesses of her memory—Green eyes smile at her over a glowing blue chalice, a young man held by two templars. Two more hold her. Their gauntlets bite into her arms. He shakes his head and gives her a reassuring wink, smiling wider as the templars release him and let him drink. He holds her gaze. His eyes glow blue before he slumps to the ground, unconscious.

Get up, she thinks, willing him to move, to fight. She shouts at him, pulling at the templars. She can help him. But the minutes drag on and nothing happens. His body is limp on the floor as his eyes flicker behind their closed lids. The old man in robes to her left sighs in disappointment, but she still doesn’t understand. Not until the templars close around him and she tastes the lyrium in the air. She writhes in their grasp. He still has time. He needs more time.

The yellow flash is enough to blind her, and when she opens her eyes again, Jonas rises. Her heart leaps, and for a brief, wonderful moment she believes he has succeeded and passed his Harrowing. He turns to her. She sees blank green eyes set under a sunburst brand. And she screams.

Roslyn came out of the memory with a shuddering gasp, back pressed against the stump and arms wrapped around her knees. Tears burned down her cheeks and she tried to get up, but she couldn’t see past those blank green eyes.

“It was horrible, wasn’t it?” it whispered, brow creasing in concern. The demon tilted its head. “They made him go first to break you. But you didn’t. You took that rage and burned through your demon. And when you came out, you wanted them all dead.”

Her nails dug into her palms. She shook as its words sank into her mind, crawling, caressing around her like a warm embrace.

A spark shifted at the back of her mind, gave her clarity. 

“The little girl they all feared would break loose and kill them one day. Too much to handle, too much to let loose. They should have killed you when they had the chance. The little monster who brought the demon back with her from the Fade.” 

It knelt in front of her so she could look into its bright, youthful face, cheeks full with a soft coral blush across its skin, forehead clear and unblemished by a spiral sun. “You thought you were a monster, the strange and twisted thing with knives for ears and fire for a heart. You still think you are. But why not? All that power coursing inside you, what else could you be? It was never the demon you should have been afraid of, little Roslyn. You were the demon.” It paused, its eyes widening in triumph, and Roslyn’s throat tightened over a lump of panic.

“I understand now. You think you're too dangerous,” it grinned, edging closer, pulling at the edges of her mind like hooks in a net. “But I can see under that fear. I know what you want. Blood. Violence. Revenge. The templars are going to pay, believe me. You crave their deaths. You want to break them. You want them to suffer for what they did to you, what they do to all mages. I can give them to you to burn. Let me be you, and I will help you get your vengeance.”

She slipped, giving in to its words, part of her agreeing, wanting…

Her palm shivered and bright energy lanced through her hand. Her mark shined, sucking in the darkness and illuminating the clearing. Courage slammed into her mind and she shoved back. Her hands punched the demon’s chest with so much force it flew back into the air.

“Fuck you,” she spat, scrambling back over the stump and fleeing into the forest.

The roots caught at her ankles and she stumbled, climbing through the trees, trying to put as much distance between her and the thing wearing Jonas’ face.

It screamed, the sound tearing through her chest, and she shuddered. “I will know your mind, girl,” it yelled, crashing through the trees behind her and snarling like a rabid dog. “There is such delicious rage in you and I will have it. It will be mine.”

Darkness closed in around her. Fear pulsed in her heart and she felt like she might give out under its weight. But a wild, detached urgency compelled her on.

“You don’t understand, I can give you what you crave,” the demon shrieked behind her. The ground smoothed into a stone passage, fine carpet stained red with blood and stretching in front of her as the trees curved inward to form a dark hallway.

The sound of clashing swords and children screaming reared up behind her. She came to a stop, heart racing as lyrium sank into her bones. It was everywhere, alive inside her. She pulsed with it, hands shaking, chest roaring with power—

“Angry and tired, you killed them all, but you didn’t go far enough,” the demon echoed, its voice softer now, measured.

Shapes appeared before her, heads covered in helmets, the glowing white-blue of their eyes visible as they knelt before her. One by one they fell to the ground, hundreds of men and women in templar armor dead at her hands dripping with their blood.

“They erased him because you loved him,” the demon said with compassion, stepping up behind her. “When they found you, they punished you. They deserved their deaths. They deserved your vengeance.”

Its voice twisted, shifted to a woman's that sounded like Fiona.

Her hands clenched—the demon was right, they were horrible, they deserved to fear, to fear her

A whisper sounded down the hall and a door opened to reveal flickering light.

She moved before she could think, jerking away from the demon, away from the blood pounding in her ears and the templars lying on the ground in front of her. It’s a trick, it’s all a trick.

“I will break the Order and rebuild from within,” the demon called, lazy now in its confidence. “They will be tools and weapons, soldiers to your will. It is what you want. Cripple the Templar Order and make them pay for what they’ve done to you. Make them subservient to you alone.”

She pulled the door shut behind her. The flickering light came from a roaring bonfire. Thousands of people crowded around it, but she recognized the faces of the Inquisition, the villagers of Haven. The council stood on a raised dais with their hands clasped behind their backs, faces shadowed. A figure rose above the masses, arms outstretched.

Her face, triumphant and excited. She shone, beautiful in her fervor. Hair fashioned elegantly behind her neck and wearing fine, glistening armor branded with the eye wreathed in flames, she stared down at the people with a wide, exultant smile revealing pointed teeth in the flickering illumination of the fire.

Her left hand raised and clenched, green light spilling across the crowd as they gasped in fear and awe.

“Do you know what the Inquisition can become, Roslyn?”

Not me, she thought firmly. It’s not me.

“But I am you, or I will be, once you let me in.”

The cheers of the crowd exploded around her and her own voice echoed over it all. “I am the Herald of Andraste! I serve the Maker and proclaim his will. I will lead you to a new age! Through me, and me alone, will you find salvation.” The demon stared at her, its voice threading into the fabric of her mind. “Like the first Inquisition, you will bring blood and ruin and fear.”

The Fade rippled to show her the destruction it promised. Men and women across Thedas knelt in front of her, faces raised in fear as her mark bled energy and turned them against each other. Buildings and empires fell to the ground in her wake. Kings and queens crumpled before her as she strode through them, magic arcing from her hands. The rifts closed and the Inquisition spread like a plague, covering the land and destroying any opposition it faced.

Through it all, the demon watched her.

“What would you gain from this?” Roslyn asked in a shaking voice, hating the stench of blood and the fury inside her threatening to spill out. “Why do you want this?”

It stopped before her, a smile stretching across its lips. “It is not what I want, but what the Elder One wants. To serve at the side of a new god is an opportunity any would cherish.”

Roslyn blinked, distracted from the chaos clashing around her. “The Elder One?”

“She is beyond your comprehension,” it snarled, lunging forward so fast she barely had time to react.

It slammed her back into the ground, its hands lengthening into claws and its eyes glowing malevolently. It loomed over her and pinned her down. “I will have you. I will—”

She writhed out of its grasp, slamming her elbow into its face and hooking her legs over its waist to shove it to the ground. She scrambled to her feet and jerked away, but not before something wet and grasping slithered into her mind.

Blood drips down her neck as a needle drags against the skin behind her ear. “Rabbit, if you don’t stop whimpering, I will have to punish you,” Helena whispers behind her, one hand gripping her wrist so tightly it throbs. “Filthy knife-ears don’t—”

Roslyn gasped as the memory surfaced. She stumbled to the ground, stones scraping against her hands and knees. She’s not here, she’s not here

“Let me in, rabbit,” the demon hissed behind her. It towered over her, her own face shifting into Helena’s high cheekbones, her thin, pale lips.

Roslyn’s heart slammed against her ribcage. She stared transfixed as the shape of her half-sister walked toward her with curved talons for nails and long blonde hair framing her marble-cut face. Not here, not real

Her mark pulsed again. Anger she couldn’t control or identify rose in her chest, something wild and furious moving inside her.

“What are you doing, rabbit?” Envy screamed, its lips twisting into a scowl as green energy lanced toward it from her palm. It stumbled back, raising its taloned hands in front of its eyes to shield it from the light.

Roslyn surged up, stifled sobs tearing out of her chest. She ran for what felt like hours, sweat running from her temples and down her back, but she couldn’t find the edge of the forest.

Anger still pulsed in her chest, warring with her fear and making her mind strain.

A light blossomed ahead of her. She let out a mangled sob of relief, redoubling her speed and sprinting forward through the last of the trees, legs burning and chest tight. The light took shape, a soft, glowing white.

Roslyn jerked to a stop at the edge of a cliff as the sky opened up above her. The brightness of the night sky was alarming after the long dark of the forest. A vast, endless ocean stretched out as far as she could see, farther than the horizon, than the edge of the world, the water smooth like black glass, serene and waiting. The deep blue of the sky was still, unlike the swirling kaleidoscope of color that hung above Haven. Ancient. Frozen. Forgotten. The silent firmament watched her with memories as old as time itself. 

In front of her, perched on the edge of the cliff and shining like a beacon, stood a white marble statue. Shrouded in cloth, hands held out in a gesture of acceptance, the gentle lines of the woman’s smile were more familiar than her own.

A statue of Andraste.

The same statue of Andraste Roslyn had knelt before every day in the Emerald Cove, praying to an unfeeling god to save her from her small, miserable life.

Here lies the abyss, the well of all souls... The Chant came to her of its own accord. She stepped forward without thought, her fingers clenching in preparation for the prayer, and stopped at the base of the statue. It gave off a faint light that pulsed with silver threads, swirling around the marble and softening its lines, like the prophet was breathing. Tears welled in Roslyn’s eyes. The faint sound of bells brushed against her mind, followed by a cry so plaintive it keened in her heart. In my arms lies Eternity...

Roslyn reached out, ignoring her marked palm, the demon, the strange anger in her chest… and grasped the statue’s hand.

A flash of sensation bombarded her mind, like being sucked through a funnel of light and sound.

Winding through stone corridors with flickering light, following—

She gasped as the image surfaced, dragged up from the depths of her consciousness like a long lost memory.

Knowing laughter breaks the tension and she smiles—

A hand reaches out to clasp her wrist and she turns to the ancient stone doorway—

Roslyn tried to jerk her hand back, but the statue held fast. Its once blank marble face stared down at her with molten blacksteel eyes, the black between the stars in the sky behind her, its white shroud changed to a cloak of shifting darkness. A shadow rose on either side of the statue, hundreds of feet wide and shifting like star-silver feathers.

A snow-capped mountain looms above her, stretching higher, higher into the sky—

Remember,” a woman’s voice howled through her mind, singing the same sad melody of the demon in Calenhad’s Foothold, “you must remember—”

Roslyn screamed in terror, wrenching her hand back and falling to her knees as the keening song pierced her mind and threaded into the fabric of her being. The demon had followed her, slipped into the Fade when Envy dragged her here. How had she gotten in? She couldn’t fight both at the same time. The ocean rioted, waves crashing against the shore hundreds of feet below as lightning split the sky. She couldn’t think beyond the voice thudding inside her heart—

“Wait! Please, stop!”

The world shuddered back to silence as Roslyn jerked around at a boy’s voice. A figure wreathed in shadow flitted in and out of her vision, keeping to the tree line, brighter than the darkness beyond it.

“Ageless echo, she calls from beyond, but you don't understand,” it said. She watched in surprise as a tall figure with a wide-brimmed hat came into focus a few yards from her. “You can’t understand, not when you’re in so much pain. Too much pain for one lifetime. But Envy still hurts you.”

Its voice grew ragged and low, almost choking on the words, trying to mimic her own voice. “Forced you to flee. Finding the quiet where you can be young—the little girl clutching the figure of her lady. Always silent, never heard, where no one can feel your pain. Not even you.”

The boy’s consciousness brushed against hers, small and scared. It felt young, like Duck, but sadder, darker.

The presence in the courtyard.

Wringing its pale hands together and hunching its shoulders, it continued, “Mirrors on mirrors on memories, dragging up the darkness to make you weaker. It doesn’t understand, can’t understand. It can’t contain you. You can’t be possessed because you possess too much. But that’s why it wants you—brighter, more than the others, so much more. You take the pain, piece it together to make a shield of shimmering steel, cold ice and cold eyes.”

It took another step toward her, adopting her own tone of voice again—hard and rigid, the voice she used to harden herself when her control slipped. “Walls up, detach, make the world cold so you can’t feel the pain. I will not break. I will not bend.” It relaxed, and looked at her from under the brim of its wide hat. “You must be so tired.”

Roslyn’s heart stuttered as she swallowed back the lump in her throat. “What—are you?”

The thing tilted its head back and she caught a glimpse of its face for the first time. Pale skin, shaggy white-blonde hair, thin, but smiling in a small gesture of comfort. Its eyes shone out from its gaunt face like fairy lights.

“A friend,” it said as it blinked at her, eyes wide and hopeful. “Your friend,” it said quickly, “not Envy’s. Duck sent me.”

Roslyn’s eyes widened. “Duck sent you?” She stood slowly, unsure on her feet after the assault of images. “What do you mean?”

The boy danced back as she rose, moving to the side. “It can’t get in. Envy won’t let it, but it watches, waiting for you. It likes you very much.”

Roslyn let out a choked sob, but the boy continued.

“I was here, watching from the wings as the templars waited, and they asked me to help you.” Silent tears fell from her eyes as the boy continued, its voice growing high and circling around her like birdsong. “Curiosity cries for their friend alone in the dark as she walks toward the monster who wants to take her face.” It stopped when it saw her tears. “I want to help you.”

Roslyn wiped the tears from her cheeks, struggled for words. “Why?”

The boy tensed, listening. When it spoke, it sounded sad. “You have a big heart that holds too much hurt, hoping for something lost…” It trailed off, its eyes focusing back on her with a kind of surprise and confusion. “You are big. Too big.”

Roslyn felt a stirring in her chest, a feeling she ought to know what it was talking about, but couldn’t. The same feeling conjured in her by the demon in the shifting black cloak. The same feeling from the dream in Val Royeaux.

“Are you a spirit?” she asked to dislodge the image of eyes the color of the Void, the visions still vibrating in the back of her mind.

The boy cocked its head and disappeared in a swirl of smoke.

Roslyn spun around to find it standing next to the now lifeless statue. “Maybe. I’m not sure. I’m not usually like this. But I’m here, hearing, hoping to help,” it murmured, trying to reassure her. “It was hard to hear you, out there, but in here it’s much quieter.” It frowned. “Your thoughts are very loud.”

“What do I call you?” she asked.

The boy gave her a startled look. “Cole.”

It was such a simple answer, she couldn’t help the smile that stretched across her tired lips. “Cole? But—I mean, what are you?”

“Helping,” he said firmly, as if he were trying to impress upon her the seriousness of their situation.

“All right, Cole,” she said slowly. “Is—that woman, demon, still here?”

“No. She’s only here when you remember.”

Roslyn's jaw clenched, determined. The demon wasn’t really here. She didn't know what happened, if her fear had conjured the image, but she had other problems to worry about. “I need to get out of here and figure out a way to stop Envy. I have to get back to my body before it possesses me.”

“It can’t possess you,” he said, sounding frustrated. “You can’t be possessed. You’re too big, much too big—a never ending string that unwinds the more you know. You’re different. Not like the templars.” He disappeared again only to reappear twenty feet away, behind a tree. “They watched as you walked in, hopeful. You can help them, even if you’re a mage and an elf, but you’re not an elf, not at all, and not a mage—not like the ones they tried to save, tried to silence.”

Roslyn blinked, shaking her head. He was addled, clearly, to think she couldn’t be possessed, and the thing about her not being an elf… “What do you mean, I’m not like a mage?”

Cole popped back to her side in a puff of smoke. His eyes were huge above darkened circles. “You glow.”

Roslyn frowned. “You mean my mark?”

Cole tilted his head. “That too.” He continued in a quick voice, the frantic words pouring out of him like he couldn’t stop. “She comes in faded, fragile armor. Bearing the mark of my lady, so young, so vibrant, I hope she’s what they say she is. Impressed, inspired, you chose the people above power and they saw you, the ones who still had enough left to see. The rest have been taken, twisted, tortured. Like you were—are. Envy has them and they’re all gone. Scooped out the parts which make them sing and replaced it with red.” He broke off, grabbing her shoulders with gentle hands. “Red. Don’t go red inside, Red. Red like sunsets and wine, not like blood and singing rocks and hearts made hard from forgetting. Good red, not bad red. You can’t.”

She reached up to take the boy’s hands from her shoulders, trying for patience. He froze as she touched him and pressed his hat up to get a better look at him.

He’s so young, she thought, wondering what the spirit had seen in such a short amount of time to make him so frightened. “Cole, I need you to slow down and explain for me. I can’t understand as fast as you. ‘Red’—do you mean red lyrium?”

He nodded, watching her face with wide eyes.

“Envy has them? He forced them to take red lyrium?”

“Samson came to them, offering a way out. He was their friend, break the leash, become your own master, but then he took them all away and now they serve the Elder One.”

Roslyn frowned, trying to understand the boy. What the fuck is an Elder One? The more time she spent here puzzling out the real meaning behind his words, the more time the rest of the Inquisition was left to fight the templars on their own, to face Envy on their own.

She needed to focus on what he could answer. “I need to get out of here, Cole. Do you know how I might do that?”

The boy frowned, looking annoyed. “It’s your head. I thought you’d know.”

Roslyn ran her hands through her hair and turned away, trying to think. If the demon was keeping her in the Fade, she would need to kill the demon, or weaken it enough to slip out.

“This forest is you. You made it to escape Envy,” Cole murmured.

She frowned at him over her shoulder. “I made this?”

Solas’ voice sounded in her mind without warning, I assume you made that yourself?

Maker’s fucking breath, if she got out of this alive, she would need to work out how to make things in the Fade when she needed it and not on accident.

Cole grimaced, but his voice was firm. “Envy is tired, realizes you’re too much. It comes to find you, finish you. Thinks you’re alone.”

“You mean it doesn’t know you’re here?”

“Not me,” Cole said, staring down at her marked hand. “It knows me. It doesn’t know the shadow which walks behind you.” Roslyn felt the hairs on her arms stand on end as he continued, “It hasn’t been real for so long—waiting, dreaming, growing angry as it slept alone and abandoned. It was taken, reshaped, used and abandoned. Now it wants out. Bigger, wilder, without a soul to seal it. It needs you. You have to make it real.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked as the boy’s eyes grew bright.

“Make it real.” He faced the forest. “Envy comes for you.”

The sky above the forest bristled and a howling wind tore through the trees. Roslyn threw her hands up to shield her face as the wind whipped around her. She braced against the storm and felt her palm vibrating where it touched her forehead.

She looked up at the mark, now writhing and pulsing with energy. Her shadow shivered in the back of her mind, resounded in the hollow of her chest, wild, and alive.

“There you are, rabbit,” Envy shouted above the wind and thunder, crashing through the trees, branches splintering in its wake as the dress it still wore on Helena’s body caught and ripped. “What has that little rat told you?”

Cole blanched, backing away in fear.

The demon stopped a few yards from Roslyn and sneered, “It can’t help you. Only I can help you.”

Her palm rioted and she gripped her wrist to stop its frantic shuddering. A low growl echoed behind her.

“Not you. You can’t help her.” Cole shouted, turning to her with bright, eager eyes. “She has help.”

The demon laughed, its eyes glowing a malevolent yellow. “What, you? A little rat who scurries in the shadows, needling where it isn’t wanted?”

Cole turned back toward the demon, his voice sharp. “Not a rat.” He vanished into a cloud of smoke, shouting above the howling wind, “A wolf.”

Her mark sang, screamed against her palm. The pressure pounding beneath her skin grew, overwhelmed her. An image took form behind her eyes—glinting black like the starless night, whispering across the ragged edges of her aura, sniffing at her fear. The figure rose to engulf her, glittering teeth bared in anticipation. She knew she had no other choice.

It was this or Envy.

Andraste, guide me through the dark, she recited in her mind, gritting her teeth and trying to focus past the fear splintering through her mind like jagged ice, for the Maker is my beacon, and my shield…

She shouted in pain as she released her hold on the mark. The figure poured out of her, streaming onto the ground like black smoke. It blistered and sparked as it took shape and let out a rumbling growl which shook the ground. She trembled and fell back against the statue of Andraste as her energy bled into the creature, fueled it and gave it form. It rose to its full height, ten feet tall and black as the void. Its long snout dripped with smoking ichor and its six red eyes glinted down at her with a rage twisting into her heart.

The wolf stepped forward, lowering its head to stare into her eyes. Frozen, she could feel nothing beyond the shock and dread pulsing around it in a halo.

Behind it, Envy shouted in fury, stepping forward as if to strike—but froze when the wolf snapped its head back and met its gaze.

The demon’s face contorted in fear. It backpedalled, scrambling for the tree line as its body shifted in a chaos of fear, but the wolf was too fast.

It leaped forward, slamming Envy into the ground and ripping into its neck. Roslyn winced as it shrieked, torn apart by the wolf in a snarl of fury. It happened in the space of a heartbeat. Silence fell over the clearing again. The demon lay lifeless as its form burst into yellow dust and sunk into the ground.

Around them the Fade rippled, no longer supported by the demon’s influence. The wolf turned back to her, hunching its shoulders and shaking its head as it stretched.

When it met her gaze again, familiarity shifted inside her.

She knew the wolf, recognized the manic anger in its eyes, as if it were a reflection of her own mind.

It studied her. Slowly, hesitantly, the malicious cloud of black energy dissipated. It shrank as it paced toward her. Its eyes dimmed, no longer burning globes, but soft, hesitant pricks of red.

When it stopped a foot away from her, it was only six feet tall. Its fur had softened to a mottled grey and black, green energy pulsing along with her own heartbeat.

It considered her, sniffing and tilting its head in what she thought was curiosity.

Her hand rose of its own accord, the mark on her palm glowing brighter the closer she got to its face.

The wolf tensed, pacing backward and baring its teeth in a soft growl.

Her heart thudded, her hand fell, and the Fade rushed into them. The wolf shook in fear, looking back at the coming dark. Her mark pulse, followed by an unspoken question that tugged at her chest.

The last thing she saw before the Fade slammed into her was the glowing red of the wolf’s eyes and the green halo hovering over its fur.

Chapter Text

Roslyn’s eyes burst open as an unearthly shriek filled the great hall.

“Not fair, not fair,” Envy whined, its face inches from hers. Rot and sulfur pulsed in her nostrils as the demon's skin rippled and smoothed into a waxy white, stained red around its eyes and lips.

Pain shot through her fingers. Energy curled along her mark and pooled over her palm without a way to direct it.

Hot breath huffed across the back of her neck.The wolf. Its six red eyes stared out from her own in anticipation.

She needed to break the chains if she were to have any chance of fighting the demon, but the lyrium

The lyrium might kill her.

Roslyn gritted her teeth against Envy’s continued shrieking. Pushing the fear out of her mind—too much, I can’t handle it—she clenched her left fist. Her focus ran along her arm past the lyrium chains, her consciousness threading into the energy, connecting to the vast, shifting well of power—and pulled.

The metal whined and smoked in protest, constricting around her. The iron thorns stabbed into her skin and drew blood. The shivering electricity of the Fade and the sweet-sharp taste of lyrium warred in her mouth. Her legs and arms shook as energy pulsed in her and screamed for release.

In the back of her mind, the wolf bared its teeth.

The enchantment in the chains pushed back as her magic came to a head, and exploded. Before it could overwhelm her, she wound herself around the lyrium and caught the trail of the energy. With a final tug, she redirected it into her own mana pool.

The lyrium thundered out of the metal in a wave of blue smoke and flooded into her body. Her eyes rolled back into her skull. Power wrapped around her throat in a caress. The song roared within her, reaching a towering crescendo as it pulsed through every fiber of her being.

The power rioted under her skin like caged lightning. It was too much. Her mind scrambled for the Chant, trying to focus past the euphoria of energy.

The wolf growled in her mind, a jarring note in an otherwise overwhelming melody, and she looked down at the demon.

Envy stared at her with an expression of terror so plain it looked almost human. Its eyes widened in shock, before she slammed her forehead into its face.

It flew back, flipping in the air and morphing into a many limbed contortion, and slammed against the doors. When it fell to the ground, it was a twisted, elongated thing with four arms and a gaping mouth ringed with jagged teeth.

Roslyn heard the templars move beside her as if in slow motion, drawing their swords and readying their smites. The wolf growled again—eager, hungry delight swirling into her chest and fueling the rapid beating of her heart.

She sent a wave of energy out from her mind. The chains splintered and shattered in a flying circle of smoking metal. She felt for their edges, twisted, and sent them shooting into the three templars closest to her. They fell to the ground, writhing with red-hot metal jutting from their chests and throats. She surged forward, dodging the sword from a knight to her left and slammed her fist into the man’s chest with a blast of force so strong it sent him flying thirty feet back into the wall.

The words of the Chant drifted in and out of her mind as the snarling of the wolf battled for dominance.

A shiver in the air beside her was the only warning she got before Envy shot out of a swirling black pool on the floor.

She jerked back as a talon ripped across her cheek. She slammed into the ground, sliding into a suit of armor. Blood slid down her face to meet the rest pooling in the crease of her neck from where the lyrium collar had cut her. The ground smoked where her hands dragged against it, green and white energy curling around her fingers. Panic warred with her bloodlust, and she faltered. She tried to draw the magic back in, to cage and control it, but it sheathed her hands, licked fiery sparks into the air.

Blessed are the righteous—the wolf let out a piercing growl as she got to her feet.

“Little monster,” Envy spit. Its yellow eyes gleamed as it stalked toward her, anger and hatred ringing in each syllable. “The horror made manifest that drags destruction in her wake. I would have made you more. What I could have done with a rage such as yours—”

She ignored the demon and caged the two templars left on their feet in prisons of arcane energy. With a hoarse cry, she hoisted them ten feet into the air before smashing them into the ground.

Envy shrieked in a challenge and lunged for her. She dodged the swing of its clawed-hand, but it caught the edge of her vest. As it ripped, she conjured a glove of energy to cage her fist and slammed it into the creature’s knee.

Its shattering cry sundered into Roslyn’s chest. She forgot the thudding sensation of euphoric power, the growling wolf behind her, the silent Chant hovering in the back of her mind. She forgot her name. She was just a frightened child facing a demon from her nightmares.

Her body shook and she stumbled. Her vision swam. Her limbs strained against the magic surging inside her, aching with the gashes from the lyrium chains. 

She watched, frozen, as Envy leapt away and smashed open the large double doors to flee down the grand staircase.

Roslyn tried to pursue as it flew into the rain, but her body failed. Her knees buckled and her stomach heaved as she fell to the ground, and wretched, liquid splashing against the marble floor as the contents of her stomach emptied. Her head pounded as she swayed.

Blood spread across the floor, streaked with tendrils of vibrant, pulsing blue.

Lyrium poisoning.

Her mark sputtered and grew, and green light flashed up and over her arm. It swirled over her like a second skin and her strength returned. The wolf growled in the back of her mind and she shivered, not in fatigue, but fear.

She struggled to get on her feet but couldn’t rise, wincing against the ache in her stomach and the screaming of her limbs. She wanted to collapse, to explode, anything to stop the pain. Panic screamed inside her and she tried not to give into it. Lyrium poisoning. She'd known it would be too much. But she couldn't stop, not with the demon outside. None of this mattered right now. She was conscious, barely, and that was enough.

Sounds of the fighting from the courtyard drifted into the great hall over the pounding rain. Men and women screaming, swords clashing. She couldn’t leave them to the demon. It was too powerful. She needed to help. Fifty Inquisition soldiers were in danger, Cassandra, Cullen—they needed her. If she failed now, their blood would be on her hands.

Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Someone shouted.

Get up.

Slowly, painfully, she rose to her feet and clenched her jaw. She brought her magic to a head and tried to ignore the thrill deep within her. It sang in her hands, curling around her fingers in white and green tendrils of crackling fire.

Cassandra burst through the shattered remains of the doors. Her eyes were sharpened steel as they searched through the hall, her mouth a tight line. Blood was smeared across her cheek and down the front of her armor, but her hands were firm as she held her sword and shield at the ready.

Roslyn sagged in relief, pushing her magic down with a hoarse cry.

A disappointed whine echoed in the back of her mind from the wolf, and her stomach flipped.

Cassandra froze, eyes going wide when she saw the extent of Roslyn’s injuries. She jerked forward, as if she might try to help. “Herald, are you—”

“The Lord Seeker is an Envy demon,” Roslyn managed before she could come closer.

“Envy,” she gasped, head jerking back toward the open doors. “That thing was the Lord Seeker?”

Her mark spasmed and she hunched over, pressing it to her stomach to stop it from shaking. It was still pulling in energy, bolstering and mixing with the lyrium. The wolf paced in the back of her mind, frustration evident in its huffing breath.

“What happened?” Cassandra asked, her voice low and concerned as she took another step toward Roslyn.

“It tried to possess me,” she muttered, not looking up. “How long?”

“Not long,” Cassandra answered hesitantly. “You were taken away only a few minutes ago.”

“Good. Are—”

A flurry of movement cut her off as more soldiers ran into the hall—Cullen and Barris leading a few knights through the shattered doors.

Cullen cast one shocked glance around the room, before he too froze at the sight of Roslyn.

Barris’ eyes went wide as he stared around at the dead templars, their bodies crushed and impaled. “Maker’s mercy—”

“How many of your men are corrupted?” she asked, trying not to see the fear and revulsion in his eyes.

“We don’t know,” Barris said in a firm voice. “There are enough of us to counter them, but not with that Envy demon. Where did it even—”

“The Lord Seeker,” she snarled, voice shaking. “You were betrayed, Barris.”

“The Lord Seeker? But—” He broke off, shaking his head in disbelief.

“We have to kill Envy before it can flee,” Roslyn said, trying to ignore the part of her that pitied the man. “It’s trying to turn the rest of the Order. It has to be stopped.”

Cullen found his voice, and stepped forward. “Herald, you can barely stand—”

“It's not up for discussion,” Roslyn snapped. “Where is it?” she asked Barris, her voice grating as she tried to keep it level.

Something warred behind Barris' eyes as he said, “We’ve trapped it in the lower bailey with the Inquisition’s help, but the men can’t hold it for long.”

Throwing Cullen a hard look before he could object, Roslyn walked forward, drawing the templars with Barris.

“How many men were stationed here?”

He fell into step with her, speaking to the authority in her voice with apparent relief. “Two-thousand knights, but more than half left five days before your arrival.”

They ran as best they could down the courtyard steps littered with bodies, evidence of more fighting. Spikes of pain shot through her legs, her chest, but she kept pace with the rest of them. She would not let them see her fall. Not now.

“There are more men fighting beyond the walls of the fortress, in the fields,” Barris continued, “but we can’t reach them with the demon blocking the entrance to the keep.”

The barrier they found was nearly twenty feet high and stretched across the courtyard, flush with the arch separating the bailey from the entrance. It glowed a sickly yellow, the same color as Envy’s eyes. Her mark spluttered and the ghost of a growl echoed in the corners of her mind.

The wolf recognized its prey.

Roslyn ignored the templars’ cries as she stepped off the staircase. She stopped fighting the magic in her twitching mark, and it unfurled out and rushed against the barrier. It glanced off with a shower of sparks, but a shriek rose up beyond it. Envy’s twisted shape paced behind the cage of its own making, eyes on her alone. Creatures limped beside it, at least twenty humanoid, but misshapen, figures. More corrupted templars.

“I can sunder the barrier," she said, pouring certainty into her shaking voice. "You and your men need to get to the rest of your people.”

The templars watching her seemed lost and frightened, staring at her like she was their last hope. Cole’s words drifted into her mind. They had wanted her to help them.

Roslyn could understand their fear, her more than anyone—but her sympathy was thin, and she couldn't think beyond the pain shrieking in her limbs.

She risked her life, her people’s lives, to try to save them. All because of their inability to see the corruption in their own damn organization.

She wanted to let them all burn like the templars in her tower, to rip them apart herself. She wanted blood. The monstrous rage dragged up from the depths of her mind by Envy’s claws pumped with each beat of her heart. She wanted them to fear for their own lives, for a change.

The wolf snarled in agreement.

“Herald,” Barris murmured, “we cannot ask you to put yourself in harm’s way to save us.”

She tried to look past the sword on his chest to the man behind kind, warm eyes. “Then it’s a good thing I’m offering.”

Barris frowned. “Let us help you, my lady. That demon’s barrier is stronger than any I’ve ever seen. We are trained for this.”

“Are you?” she snapped. Her lips curled back in a snarl. “Is that why it wiped out your entire leadership without anyone being the wiser? Is that why hundreds of your knights are now twisted into monsters more animal than man? What good is your training when it’s your own men who become the demons you were taught to kill? Your training means shit to me right now.”

Barris’ jaw spasmed. His eyes grew tight with recognition and guilt, and he said, “Let us prove it to you, then.”

Her instincts shouted at her to refuse, to throw the Order’s failure in his face.

Break them, burn them—you want to, Envy’s voice whispered.

“Fine,” she said shortly. Tension coiled around her spine, and she bit down on the need to fight, to run. “But we need to do this now.”

Surprise flashed across his features as he turned to organize his men.

She barely felt the rain pouring down on her. 

“Roslyn, you are shaking,” Cassandra murmured. “Your neck…”

Both her and Cullen watched Roslyn with hard, anxious eyes.

She put you in chains before, Envy’s voice whispered again. He caged so many others, just like you. They’ll do it again. They always will.

“I’m fine.” Roslyn ignored the rage building in her chest. The wolf snapped, and she winced as a shard of pain shot through her hand.

Maker, my enemies are abundant, she recited silently, trying to block out the swell of energy as the templars assaulted the barrier. A rush of brilliant blue-white light bombarded her senses. Many are those who rise up against me. Her mark popped and shuddered, the wolf pressing against her, urging her to fight. But my faith sustains me. I shall not fear the legion, should they set themselves against me.

Their power rose to a height and the barrier imploded. The demon sprawled onto the ground twenty feet from her and she surged forward.

Now,” she shouted. She dodged the corrupted templars—hunched and misshapen, red lyrium growing from ridges along their faces and backs. They howled in rage as the uncorrupted templars engaged them.

Envy tried to get up, but Roslyn slammed it back with a wave of force, opening a path for Barris to lead a group of knights across the drawbridge and down to the training fields below.

She held it as long as she could, but her magic flared in her hands and she shook with the effort of focusing it.

Keep it together, keep it together, she intoned, fragments of the Chant filtering into her mind and fleeing in the next breath.

The demon writhed and battled her magic. She managed to hold it for a few minutes before it broke free and thrust her own magic back against her. She staggered, but did not fall, as it hit the ground with a thud, twisting on its many limbs to stare at her with malevolence.

Her mark flared and her hand jerked forward of its own accord. A streak of green energy bounded across the clearing and slammed into the demon, searing off one of its limbs and throwing it off its feet again.

Too much power. She clenched her shaking wrist as the wolf twisted and snapped at her.

Roslyn flung her magic out in desperation as the demon lunged. Tendrils of green energy wrapped around it and squeezed, but it wriggled out. With one final shriek, it ran for the drawbridge, trailing black ichor in its wake.

No,” Roslyn screamed, running after it. She couldn’t let it escape.

She ran faster than she ever had before—and somehow she knew the wolf ran too, urging her on. The storm muffled the sounds of the fighting behind her, but she thought she heard Cassandra’s cry of warning before she crossed the bridge and took off toward the Brecilian Forest.

They ran, and kept running, deep into the forest, the demon spearing through the underbrush in its mania to escape her. But she was gaining. With a ragged cry, she vaulted up and over the demon as it broke through into a clearing, slamming down in front of it and smashing apart the tree next to her. She sent two shards of bristling arcane energy into its chest, blasting it back against another tree and forcing it down.

Envy spasmed on the ground. Ichor spilled from its severed limbs and it twitched where its pale skin boiled with the heat of her magic.

“You’re a foolish little girl,” it screamed, twisting, trying to rise, “unleashing that thing to help you. Do you think the Inquisition will accept you after this? You're no more than a threat to them—an abomination to be caged.”

She sent another wave of force to flatten it to the ground. Her mind honed to a killing edge, heart pulsing in concert with the wolf’s rage. Steam rose into the cold air as rain slid across her burning limbs. She reveled as waves of magic peeled off her skin. The rain saturated her clothes, but she didn’t feel the cold.

The wolf rumbled in anticipation as she stalked forward. It fed her, fueled her, pushed her to sink her teeth into the demon and rip it apart. She was the pulsing force of the Fade and the demon was nothing—a faint spark in a storm of lightning.

“You will not stop her," it cried. "The Elder One comes for you all. Even if you kill me now, you will not save the mages.”

Roslyn froze, dread slicing through her anger, and she disconnected from the wolf.

It laughed. “Oh, yes, what do you think will happen to your friends you left behind, rabbit?  The Elder One will take and mold them. She will change them, like the templars you hate so much.”

The wolf writhed, teeth tearing at the edges of her consciousness.

“You’re lying,” Roslyn shouted over the crack of thunder over their heads.

Its smile was a horrible, gruesome thing. “They will bow to a new age—the vanguard of an army that will sweep over Thedas and burn it to the ground. You could have been a part of that. I would have made you more. You would have been glorious,” it shrieked, its voice breaking as black ichor spurted from its lips.

She clenched her teeth as the wolf pressed against her mind, staring down at the demon as it writhed in pain.

“You’re nothing but a little girl crouching in the dark, welcoming the power to feel big and strong,” it snarled, its voice rising above the sound of the rain and the thunder, echoing into her. The wolf bared its teeth and her lips parted, and she forgot her fear. She remembered her anger.

“I know you,” it pressed, squirming as tendrils of crackling green energy wrapped around its twisted body. “Your lust for power will consume you, Herald. You’re just as bloodthirsty as that beast you unleashed. One day you'll see, you stupid, knife-eared, monster—”

Envy broke off in a shriek as Roslyn clenched her fist, and ripped it apart. Its aura swirled into her own as she stood over the smoking remnants of its carcass, passing through her like embers of green fire.

The rain slowed as the earth shifted beneath her. The mark ignited in a wave of mana and sang along with the thudding chorus of the raging storm.

The wolf roared in her mind, tasting blood, piercing the edge of her control.

It wanted release. Who was she to deny it?

Herald,” Cassandra called in alarm from a long distance away. Her voice drifted through the forest, bringing the small consciousness Roslyn had left back to life.

The wolf tensed, angry and desperate as its chance for freedom slipped away. It coiled its energy into its hind legs and bared its teeth in preparation for another fight.

No.

Roslyn clenched her jaw and redirected the thudding energy into her core, keeping the wolf at bay. She would not unleash whatever power it embodied.

She was not a monster.

She wrapped her will around the wolf, caging it. The tethers of its anger snapped as she brought it to heel. She cried out as her hand sparked and flared, and her knees buckled. The magic raced through her veins and roared in her ears. She was vibrating, her body singing as it tried to release. It needed release.

She closed her eyes, fumbling for control, fighting against the wolf’s fury and fear.

Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked

She heard another frantic call through the trees.

And do not falter.

A memory of kneeling on a broken tower, Solas trying to heal her, his urgent voice whispering, Let it go.

Blessed are the peacekeepers,” she said through gritted teeth, hunching down and trying to remember calm, silence. Candles flickering in front of a silent statue, a small girl hunched over in payer…

The wolf snapped at her mind and she winced.

Roslyn breathed in the fury, the fear, let it fill her—and let it go.

She wavered, thrown out into the storm like a leaf. She felt her body slowly, remembered where its edges curved and stopped. She felt her aura. She let them be enough.

Tears burned down her cheeks as she shook, pulling in her energy slowly, gently, and caging it. She bent forward to press her face against the cold, wet earth as the wolf roared in terror and anger. A part of her sobbed, locked into that cage with it.

The champions of the just,” she whispered as her power thudded to a dull, insistent murmur.

She remained hunched over for a long time, hearing the shouts through the forest without the will to answer.

The wolf was a silent impression in the back of her mind, faded without the bloodlust and fury. Her mark throbbed, and she bit her lip against the hollow lack in her stomach.

She felt weak and small—a wisp of the cyclone. A tiny part of her sang with the power she had caged, whispering to her of what she could be. What she should be.

“No,” she muttered, “that was Envy.”

She sat back on her heels. Her hands shook and her chest burned, but she was in control.

“The Seeker is close.” Cole’s voice made her jump. He stood in front of her, his wide-brimmed hat making the rain part in a curtain around his face. “The templars are afraid. They think you were overwhelmed. Faith hopes you haven’t been. Brighter, bolder than she expected—is she the sign I’ve been waiting for?"

Roslyn tried to follow the line of his words, and failed. “Thank you, Cole.”

“You are more than what Envy made you,” he whispered, his hand coming up to fumble with the edge of his shirt. “I can see that. They will too.”

Roslyn smiled, tired and small, but it was enough to help her stand. Bracing against the broken remains of a tree, she murmured, “I hope so.”

The boy frowned over his shoulder as footsteps and panicked voices called through the path of destruction she and Envy had made. He met her gaze, a question in his eyes, before he disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Roslyn stared at the space he had occupied, preparing for the fear and the doubt she would find in Cassandra’s eyes when she met them. She squared her shoulders, and waited for the templars to find her.

Chapter Text

Roslyn moved through the next few hours in a daze. One foot after the other, focusing only on the immediate task of remaining upright and moving.

The corrupted templars lost their stamina after Envy’s defeat. They broke ranks and devolved into little more than panicked animals as what was left of the Order finished them off. The storm subsided as they routed the last of the monsters and tallied those left alive and by nightfall, the sky was clear and the southern moon illuminated the wreckage of Therinfal Redoubt.

At final count, thirteen Inquisition soldiers were dead, five of them templars they’d recruited in the Hinterlands. Roslyn supposed it could have been worse, staring out at the carnage in the lower bailey and courtyard with a hollow kind of guilt. Hundreds of bodies littered the ground, most of them sporting jagged growths of red. The bodies were so twisted, some looked more like columns of red lyrium than men or women.

Some were simply templars, their shining plate mail split and their eyes blank. Knights killed by their own brothers in arms.

It took another three hours to get the wounded into the great hall and begin to treat them. After bandaging her neck as best she could and ignoring offers of help, Roslyn walked through the makeshift cots, doing what she could for the injured. She could feel Cassandra and Cullen’s eyes on her whenever she passed them, watching her every move as if she might collapse or explode at any moment. Templars followed wherever she went, expressions wide and fearful, brimming with hope, and gratitude that she had saved them from the fate of their brothers, that she hadn’t left them to die.

It made her want to scream and smash her way out of the fortress—to run into the forest until she collapsed from exhaustion, no matter that she wouldn't get far on her shaking legs.

It was nearly dawn when Cassandra found her bandaging a woman’s arm where teeth marks had cut into her flesh.

“Herald, Ser Barris would like to speak to you,” she said softly. Her shoulders were hunched ever so slightly from her own endless work, but her eyes were bright and hard.

Roslyn rose to her feet, wincing as her legs protested and her head pounded. She ignored Cassandra’s offered hand and shouldered past her, not before she heard the injured templar’s feeble, “Andraste bless you, Herald.”

Her jaw clenched. She didn’t look around as they walked out of the hall and into the chill morning air.

She could feel Cassandra’s hard stare on the back of her head, could almost predict when, once they were alone, she murmured, “You need to see a healer. You can barely walk.”

Roslyn shook her head. “I’m sure they have more important things to deal with right now.”

“More important than the gashes along your arms and neck?” Cassandra whispered, stepping in front of her and forcing Roslyn to stop. “I know the signs of lyrium poisoning, Roslyn. I know the chains they put you in.” Her jaw clenched as her eyes hardened in guilt.

Roslyn wondered if she too was remembering the trek up the valley to the Temple of Sacred Ashes, when Roslyn had escaped her chains and she had leveled a sword at her throat.

“I’m fine, Cassandra,” Roslyn muttered. “If I had lyrium poisoning, I would have died hours ago. Mages succumb in a matter of minutes. You know that.”

The lyrium had entered her blood. It should have killed her, but she felt fine. Sore and in desperate need of sleep, but there was nothing magical about the pain she felt. 

Not really a mage, the memory of Cole’s voice whispered in the back of her mind, an echoing dread falling into the pit of her stomach. 

Conflict flashed behind Cassandra's eyes as she said, “Very well.”

Cassandra led Roslyn to a room off the lower courtyard in silence. It had been cleared of the bodies of the corrupted templars—burning on a mountainous pyre in the training fields below—but the ground still hummed with an aura of destruction, an acrid smell of death the rain could not erase.

Cassandra entered and nodded to Barris, who stood on the other side of a large table with Cullen. Roslyn frowned at the lack of any other templars, but she supposed most of them were too injured to attend.

Or there were no other knights of high enough rank left alive.

“Lady Herald,” Barris said solemnly, inclining his head and pressing his fist against his chest. “Seeker Pentaghast. We’ve found the rest of the corrupted lyrium stores and will contain them until we figure out how to destroy them.”

“All of it?” Roslyn asked.

“We think so, but the cellars under the fortress run deep. It might take some time yet.”

“And your men are taking the proper precautions when handling it?”

“Yes, my lady,” Barris said firmly. “I’ve made sure that anyone who comes into contact with it is supervised and quarantined.”

“It's dangerous to just be in close proximity for more than a few minutes,” Cullen said. “Leave it until we’ve figured out how to dispose of it properly.”

“Of course, Commander.”

She caught the tension between them, and wondered at the hard edge to Cullen’s mouth. Of course he would be upset at what had happened to the Order, but he seemed almost as angry as she was.

“Do you know how many of you survived?” she asked Barris.

Cullen answered her. “Most of the Order left before we arrived. Some knights remained with the Lord—,” he faltered, frowning, “Envy, and some of them were already corrupted. There are a little over six hundred who remain unaffected. So far as we can tell, anyway.”

Roslyn’s stomach flipped. The Order was massive, numbering well over ten thousand, and that wasn’t counting the ones currently scouring the countryside for the Mage Rebellion.

“And do we have a number of how many corrupted knights we killed?”

Cullen hesitated, his eyes going hard. “A hundred. Maybe a hundred and fifty.”

Cassandra tensed, and Roslyn tried to keep her face from showing her panic.

Eight hundred out of thousands... “You don’t know where the rest have gone?”

Barris’ jaw spasmed in frustration, but he shook his head, resigned. “No, Lady Herald.”

The vanguard of an army that will sweep over Thedas and burn it to the ground—Roslyn tried to ignore the memory of Envy’s promise.

“Why would they leave?" Cassandra asked in a brittle voice. "What was the Lord Seeker—Envy, planning that would require the entirety of the Templar Order?”

“It wasn’t Envy,” Roslyn muttered. “Envy was after me and the mark." She hesitated, pulling her mind out of the twisted forest. "Have you heard of anything called an Elder One?”

Barris' blank expression confirmed what she’d already guessed.

He had no idea what was going on above his heads. None of them did.

“Elder One?” Cassandra asked.

“Envy thought she’s some kind of god, or someone who wants to be a god.” She frowned, trying to remember the exact wording. “It’s—difficult to piece out from the rest of the madness, but she targeted the templars for a reason. And with all the red lyrium…”

“You think this,” Cassandra said, voice shaking, “thing is what attacked the Conclave.”

Roslyn met her gaze. Cold, furious steel burned behind her eyes—a seeker with a name, a target, for the one who had murdered the Divine.

“I think so. It would make sense, especially if she sent one of her lackeys to lure me here.”

Into a nest of people who had caged her for nearly a decade. It was enough that they were templars, that they’d joined the Order and pledged themselves to the degradation and imprisonment of mages, but that they were ignorant of this…

“Have you questioned your men?" Roslyn asked Barris. "Made sure no one here was party to this?”

“Yes, my lady. I have personally questioned each officer, and they, their men. None of them knows anything about this madness, I give you my word.”

Roslyn bit back the retort that his word meant less than the lives of the knights currently burning on a pyre in the fields below. “I guess that’s all we can ask of you,” she muttered, ignoring the ache in her neck. She fought the urge to rub a hand along her shoulders. The bandages on her arms and neck were enough of a weakness, she wouldn't allow the templars to see her waver, not when she was about to ask for their help.

“Herald,” Barris said, his voice soft and urgent, “we let this happen. I don’t expect your forgiveness. None of us do, but I am sure every templar left alive in this fortress is ready and willing to join your cause.”

Roslyn hesitated. “My only cause is to close the Breach, Barris.”

“Then the templars are ready to hear what need you have of us.”

She frowned. Just like that?  “The Inquisition needs your help—”

Barris cleared his throat, throwing Cassandra and Cullen a wary glance. “My apologies, Herald, but I did not ask for the Inquisition’s judgement. I asked for yours. The Order has failed, has failed you, and as the wounded party, you hold the final word.”

Roslyn’s eyes widened, sure she’d heard him wrong. 

“It is my opinion, along with the few remaining officers,” he continued, his voice unflinchingly sincere, “that without your aid, we would all be under the thrall of whatever vile corruption stems from this red lyrium. Your fortitude against Envy is the only reason we are still alive.” He looked once more at Cassandra and Cullen. “With all due respect, Seeker Pentaghast, Commander Cullen, it is the Herald of Andraste whom the templars look to now. Not the Inquisition.”

Roslyn held Barris’ gaze in shocked silence.

After a tense moment, Cassandra said, “We will accept whatever decision she gives you.”

Ice curled around her spine and spilled into the pit of her stomach as she looked back in shock. “This is a matter for the council to decide, not me,” she said. 

“The council gave you full authority to act when we named you our Herald,” Cullen muttered, hard resignation in his eyes. “The council didn’t fix this, my lady. You did.”

He, of all people, would let her decide?

Cassandra sighed in frustration. “You fought Envy and bested it. You organized the retaliation against the corrupted templars and you guided our own forces in recovering what we could of Therinfal Redoubt. Cullen and I have no authority in this decision.”

Do you know what the Inquisition can become?  Envy's voice whispered in the back of her mind.

She tore her eyes away from Cassandra and said to Barris, “I went to the Conclave as Fiona’s second. I was a supporter of the uprising of my own Circle and the dissolution of the institution as a whole. You would trust the future of the Order to someone who actively fought against you for three years?”

“I know who you are, Herald. I also know that you risked your life to protect my men. You took on the demon alone to protect the Order, and you stayed to help those who were injured. I have seen your efforts. All of us have.”

Roslyn’s heart thudded in her throat. She wasn't responsible for the lives of six hundred templars, most of whom she would have attacked on sight only a few months ago. She couldn’t be impartial.

Because she could disband the Templar Order here and now. The woman she’d been before the Conclave would have torn it down and it would be nothing less than they deserved. The Order had been used as a bludgeon to intimidate and scare mages for over eight hundred years, and without the protection of the Chantry, she could cripple them permanently.

Cripple the Templar Order and make them pay for what they’ve done to you, Envy's voice whispered, trailing cold along her spine. Seek vengeance, little monster. You know you want it.

The eyes of the injured templars flashed in her mind as they watched her with hope. Barris stood before her with determined, sincere resignation. He was ready for her to break them. He expected her to. Cassandra and Cullen watched her with blank, tight expressions. Neither would argue if she shattered the Order over her knee. The stark realization nearly overwhelmed her as she thought through the outcome, the choice she'd been given.

She could feel them all waiting for her scythe to come down upon their necks.

Break them. Chain them. Like they tried to chain you.

It was what she wanted.

In as firm a voice as she could muster, she asked, “What would you do if my judgement allowed you your freedom?”

Shock broke across Barris’ expression, followed by Cassandra’s surprised exhale and Cullen’s wide eyes.

She ignored the dull pain their astonishment sent into her gut.

“I—I would rebuild,” Barris said. “The Templar Order serves a purpose, Herald. Magic is dangerous. It must be regulated and watched, for the safety of everyone, including the mages.”

“Do you realize what the world will think of the templars once word spreads that a demon corrupted the Lord Seeker? They’ll hate you more than they do now. By breaking from the Chantry, you as good as declared yourselves above reproach. You failed.”

Indignation flashed in his eyes under his fledgling hope. “Could the same not be said of the mages?”

Roslyn swallowed back the urge to deny him. “It could. The difference, however, is that the mages fought for their freedom, and you fought for their imprisonment.” Her words hung in the air, and she realized with a jolt she hadn't included herself with the mages.

Barris remained silent, his eyes hard and stubborn, but she knew he understood.

Her choice here might cement her break from the Rebellion for good. The revolutionary inside her quailed at the coming betrayal. 

You don’t have the luxury of fighting for your freedom, n ot when the sky burns and the thing in your hand keeps pushing you beyond your limits.

Envy's voice joined the swell of thoughts battling in her mind, whispering, Break them. Become the monster they know you are, and no one will be able to stop you.

She didn’t have the luxury of holding on to her hate. Not when she could barely hold onto herself.

“As much as I hate to admit it,” she murmured, “your order is a symbol which holds the people’s respect. They look to you for safety. That cannot die today.” She looked at Cullen beside him, at Cassandra. “Help us close the Breach as allies of the Inquisition. Join us of your own accord and fulfill the promise you made when you pledged to protect the people of Thedas from dangerous magic. Prove that you and your soldiers are committed to restoring order. Whatever comes after, I leave to the Order to decide.”

I’m so sorry, Fiona.

“Herald...” Barris murmured, his face blank in surprise. “I don’t know what to say.”

All the anger and conflict raging inside her snapped, and she fought the urge to slam her fist into the table. “Say you will make sure the Templar Order does not fail in its charge. Do not serve blindly. Do not lose sight of the fact that templars only exist to protect the people of Thedas, not to jail and terrify innocent mages. Mages who have no control over what they are and the power they wield. Say you will change. I am not the only mage who has chafed under your iron thumb, Barris. I might have left the Rebellion, but I have not lost the memory of my time spent in the Circle. I will never forget the atrocities committed in Andraste’s name against those you swore to protect, and if I think any of your blessed knights have strayed from this mandate, I will remind you in the only way I know how.”

Silence fell over the room as she reined in her anger, her fear, her self-loathing. 

Resignation hardened his excitement, and he said, “I understand, Herald. You might be surprised to hear I agree wholeheartedly. The Order failed in its duty. We will prove your faith in us is not misplaced.”

The realization of her choice settled like a rock into the pit of her stomach. “I hope you do.”

Barris bowed his head, a kind of determined solemnity to his gaze. “Thank you, Lady Trevelyan. Andraste bless you.”

Roslyn said nothing.

He left the room without another glance, already taking up the mantle she’d placed on his shoulders. He seemed to be a good man. That, at least, she could hold when she looked back on this decision with regret.

The room fell silent again.

“You shouldn’t have let me decide alone,” Roslyn muttered.

“It was not our decision to make.” Cassandra’s gaze was heavy on her cheek. “You’re right, we could have stepped in. But I think you are missing the point of Barris’ desire to have you choose.”

“Because I’m the bleeding Herald of Andraste,” Roslyn said through gritted teeth. “I know.”

“You are a mage, Roslyn,” Cassandra said sharply. “There is no one in Thedas now who does not know what the Herald of Andraste is. If I had made the decision to save the Order, to offer it a free alliance, the world would have seen another seeker grabbing power. If Cullen had lent his council, they would dismiss him as another member of the Order blind to its failings. The rest of the council would face equal scrutiny. The Left Hand of the Divine and an Antivan noblewoman are both party to the Chantry’s influence.”

She paused, shaking her head in disbelief. “You must understand what it means to them that you, someone who has witnessed most intimately the failings of the templars, still chose mercy.”

Something about hearing it laid out so plainly made it all the more horrible.

She knew exactly what it would mean to the Rebellion, to every mage who’d ever worked toward independence. One of their own had betrayed them and allowed the templars to live on.

Cullen broke the silence as he murmured, “You should get some rest. Today was hard on all of us, you most of all.”

She tried to meet his gaze, but he was staring down with a hard, unreadable expression.

“Wake me if I can help,” she murmured, voice shaking.

He looked up, eyes bright with disbelief, but nodded.

She turned away before Cassandra could say anything else, and stepped out of the room into the early morning darkness.

A staleness hung in the air, a drifting cold rising up from the mists of the forest. It hung over the silent fortress and sapped it of the small life remaining.

The horror of her decision would haunt her for the rest of her life. She was almost glad of the likelihood she would die trying to close the Breach. It would only give her a month or two to live as a traitor to the Rebellion.

But she would not be the monster they thought she was. The monster Envy thought she was. The monster I think I am.

The image of Andraste’s statue came to her as she walked. Shining silver eyes and an echoing song drifted through her mind, pulling at something fragile lodged in the back of her mind. A thought, not fully formed, but fixed all the same. Twice now the demon had come to her at her lowest point. Twice it had urged her to remember something lost.

Unbidden, the empty memory of the Conclave surfaced in her mind. They saw a woman standing over you, Cassandra had said. The soldiers believe it was Andraste who shielded you from whatever blast leveled the temple.

But no, it was just her mind dragging up the memory from Calenhad’s Foothold. The demon hadn’t actually been in the Fade with her. The statue had been a product of her own fear mixed with an image from her childhood. There was nothing more to it.

Remember, you must remember

A piercing caw startled her out of her thoughts as a flash of black crossed the sky and alighted on a tower to her left. A raven settled, ruffling its feathers and falling still as it pierced her with glassy eyes. The bird was so still it might have been a statue.

Without warning, a dark green veil washed over its feathers, and its eyes glowed.

Roslyn stepped back, heart leaping into her throat, only to watch the veil vanish as if it had never existed. The raven tilted its head, cawing loudly before it ruffled its feathers and took off. She caught her breath as she watched it fly into the predawn light.

A raven from one of their agents, probably stopping before it continued on toward Haven. She was tired, and upset, her mind stretched thin enough to imagine danger in every damn bird.

Roslyn moved down the pathway to the southern wing, where the Inquisition had set up their temporary lodgings away from the rest of the Order. Her shoulders sagged as she pressed open the door to the large room, dark as she made her way to the far wall, not bothering to light a torch and instead finding an open cot.

She should at least try to sleep, even if she feared what might be waiting for her beyond the Veil. She shrugged off her vest and belt gingerly, gasping as the leather crossed over her bandages. 

When Roslyn laid down, she sank into the Fade in no more time than it took for her eyes to close.

 


 

She sat in a forest of mist, the air around her humming with the sweet smell of moss and dew. The trees shivered, but no birds leapt into the shifting grey sky. Easing off her table stone onto wet grass, she waited for Duck to burst into her vision with a swirl of gold.

When the minutes dragged by and she felt nothing, she frowned, peering into the trees in concern. The spirit usually came to her at once, or at least made its presence known. And if it had sent Cole after her, surely it would find her in the Fade again. 

The mist parted once, and beyond the forest a sloping hill covered in wildflowers opened out into a large, beautiful valley.

The vista held her, eased her worry. The rolling, flower-strewn hills seemed to lull her into a calm as she leaned back against the table stone and let her fingers wander over the runes—until she realized they were different.

Where the surface had once been a muted, slate grey, the stone was now a pale tan, ribboned with veins of orange and purple. The runes were smaller and more intricate, less rigid and angular. The lines flowed together like vines, weaving in and out of each other with a grace Roslyn could swear she’d seen before.

A soft padding through the forest behind her broke the silence.

She froze when the wolf materialized in the fog, brushing through the undergrowth with deliberate slowness. It was smaller again, six feet tall with grey and black fur. Six red eyes considered her, hesitant and warm—not the burning orbs which had cut through her mind like shattered glass.

Roslyn’s heart thudded in her chest as it stopped only a few feet away.

Something vast and unfocused brushed against her consciousness, a hesitant fear echoing through her mind. The wolf took another step and the air shivered in a green haze, calling to her mark. 

She straightened, trying not to let her fear overwhelm her.

The wolf bristled at her movement. A soft growl came from behind its bared teeth, but it didn’t sound angry or hostile. It sounded scared.

She swallowed, held its gaze, and stepped forward.

The wolf lowered its head, but didn't move back. A tentative brush came again across her mind, and slowly, impossibly, a thread curled in her chest, a tether.

Her hand was only a foot away from its snout when she felt the quick jerk in her stomach. She thought about fighting it, about trying to stay asleep if only to figure out what the wolf was, but it seemed to feel the same urge, and backed away.

It was nearly obscured by the fog when she fell back into the waking world.

Chapter Text

“Something troubling you?”

Roslyn dragged her gaze away from the outline of the mountains against the sky as they rode into Haven. The jagged line was starting to become familiar, even though she’d spent little enough time in the village the past few months. “What makes you think that?”

Cullen said dryly, “The crease between your eyes and the thousand-yard stare you keep leveling at the trees.”

He’d been uncharacteristically kind since her decision to ally with the templars. She knew he was grateful, and most likely felt guilty. But instead of disliking the attention both he and Cassandra had given her in the last few weeks, she found some comfort in it. To her continued frustration.

Her mark pulsed, a soft brush against the skin of her palm. She kept her face neutral as she eased its energy back into submission. The wolf had accepted its new confines, quiet more often than not, but whenever she was troubled, or tired, it would surface and remind her of its presence.

If I could just find it in the Fade, I might figure out what the fuck it wants. Ever since falling asleep in Therinfal Redoubt, she’d seen no sign of it, no matter how far she threw her consciousness. It didn't help that she had no idea how the Fade worked, and the only one she might go to for help was Solas.

“Lots of things are troubling me,” Roslyn said. “Not the least of which is that I’m about to attempt to close that thing above our heads with little more than wishful thinking.”

“I know you have your doubts, Roslyn, but I am sure the templars will help.”

Her jaw clenched, but she murmured, “That’s nice of you to say. I wish I had your faith.”

When they were within shouting distance of the guards posted on the outer wall of the village, an excited call went up, “The Herald’s returned with the templars!”

Roslyn scowled. “Lovely.”

Cassandra laughed behind her as she dismounted. “Don’t look so upset. They’ll think they’ve done something wrong.”

She sighed, making a show of it if only to see Cassandra’s eyes roll, and dismounted. She’d recovered from most of her injuries, but the cuts where the lyrium had infected her were slower to heal. Purple and red gashes covered her wrists and arms, so dark in places it looked like black ink. She’d been able to cover the majority of them with her clothes and armor, but the cuts around her neck were not as easy to hide.

The main road into the village was strangely clogged with people, most wearing tattered clothes and sunken expressions.

Charter ran toward them with a determined expression, and Roslyn called out, “What’s all this?”

“Refugees from the Hinterlands, my lady. They arrived a few hours ago, but there were so many that it’s been difficult to organize them.”

“The Hinterlands?”

The agent nodded. “From Redcliffe.”

Roslyn’s eyes widened. “Redcliffe?"

Refugees from Redcliffe. It was the first they’d heard of anyone coming or going from the city in months. No one had been able to get in or out after the Rebellion had set up within the city walls. Something must have happened inside the city—something with the mages.

It doesn’t matter what’s happened to the RebellionYou’re with the Inquisition now.

Cullen walked up next to her, scanning the crowd with concerned eyes. “How many?”

“Over two hundred.”

“Can't we house them in the chantry?”

Charter shrugged. “Not sure, ser. I was sent to ask you, the Seeker, and the Herald to attend the council chambers as soon as you arrived, at Sister Nightingale’s request.”

Roslyn scowled, finding a scout to take her reins. “You can tell Leliana I’m not meeting with her and Josephine until I find each and every one of these people a bed and a hot bowl of soup.” She called to another Inquisition soldier bustling past, carrying blankets, “Soldier, can you tell me if there’s some plan to feed these people?”

“Already on it, Red!”

She turned with a grin to see Varric ushering people into the open door of the tavern up the road. “You’re the worst scoundrel I’ve ever met, Varric!”

The dwarf let out a booming laugh. “Good to see you too, you terrifying apostate!”

She turned to Cullen and Cassandra. “Help the templars settle in and meet me in the chantry in a few hours?”

“Herald...” Cassandra trailed off and frowned. “I suppose it’s too much to ask for you not to do something stupid and overstrain yourself?”

Roslyn winked at her, already running up the incline and rolling up her sleeves. “Something stupid? I’m sure you have me confused with someone else.”

Glad to be doing something other than sitting on a horse and trying to dodge questions about her health and well-being, she set about helping the worst of the injured refugees with enthusiasm. Some of them were barely able to walk, let alone eat, but she guided them over to the tavern. Most were so tired they were grateful just to be able to sit.

Over the course of a few hours, as the sun dipped well below the horizon, she caught the impression of Cole from time to time. Every once in a while, she would look up as she felt him, searching for a large hat. He’d hovered at the edge of her senses for the last two weeks, not quite in sight, but always present. She hadn’t tried to speak to him, guessing he would show himself when he was ready.

It must have been close to midnight when, having spent the last hour inside the chantry trying to get as many of the refugees settled for the night, she caught the familiar trace of Solas’ aura.

His back was turned to her, hands flowing over a man’s torso as healing magic drifted from his fingers. A young boy, maybe ten or eleven, stood next to the table, watching him with wide eyes and clutching a blanket. Her chest constricted when she saw the boy was crying. 

Roslyn moved to the child, the elf, who had long, pointed ears sticking out of straw-colored hair and hazel eyes.

Solas kept his gaze focused on the man’s wound and didn’t look up as she walked toward him. He seemed disheveled, his sleeves rolled up like hers, something dark smeared across his cheek, a tired set to his shoulders.

She pulled her gaze away and walked around him to the child, kneeling down and drawing his attention from whom she assumed to be his father.

“Hey, handsome,” she murmured, “I need some help handing out water. Mind if I steal you from Solas, here?”

The boy’s lips trembled. He looked to Solas with frantic eyes.

She leaned in and arched her brow. “I know Solas doesn’t seem like much of a healer, but underneath that big bald head of his is an equally massive brain. Your papa is in good hands.”

The boy frowned at her in suspicion and she smiled, chancing a glance up at Solas.

His brow was furrowed, but when she met his gaze, his eyes softened. Heat spread through her chest and she nearly forgot their last words to each other.

The image of his face twisted in Envy's hunger broke the spell, however, and she looked back to the boy.

 

“The hahren?”  he asked in a small, choked voice.

Roslyn frowned.

“It means ‘elder’ in elven,” Solas said, voice tight.

She didn't look up to see what was bothering him, and forced a grin. “Oh yes, he is very old, isn’t he?” She leaned in conspiratorially. “Where do you think all his hair went?”

The boy’s mouth twisted into a smile as she waggled her eyebrows at him.

Joking like this, with the specter of their last meeting hanging over them, made her feel false, and wrong. Like wearing a pair of shoes which no longer fit, or trying to remember the words to an old song. She tried to focus on the boy's splotchy face, on keeping her eyes bright, but she couldn't ignore the tense formality between them, the utter change.

“So,” Roslyn asked, drawing the blanket away from the boy's chest and sliding it onto the table, “are you going to help me or shall I find someone else?”

He frowned again, looking over the injured man with puffy eyes.

“Go ahead, da’vhenan,” the man said in a croak, sending the boy a small, strained smile. “You should not refuse Andraste’s Herald.” He met Roslyn’s gaze with pained gratitude.

The boy’s eyes widened. “You’re the Herald of Andraste?”

She nodded and held up her marked hand to glitter across his face. “Here’s the proof.”

The boy reached forward and froze, waiting.

“It won’t bite,” she said with a wink. Hopefully.

The boy ran his small fingers along her palm. She waited for the wolf to react so she could control it, but the boy withdrew his hand quickly without any sign of it stirring. His face scrunched up, and with another hesitant look to his father, he nodded.

“Excellent,” Roslyn said with a beaming smile and offered her hand to him, “and when we’re done, maybe Solas will be finished helping your papa.”

He took it gingerly and nodded. She straightened and sent a reassuring smile to the injured man, her eyes flashing up to Solas before she turned away.

They caught on his neutral mask as Envy’s voice echoed through her mind, This form is pleasing to you.

She walked the boy down to the large doors and pushed them open to the cold mountain air. She saw him shiver, and released his hand to shrug off her coat, kneeling down and offering it to him.

“So, what’s your name?” she asked as he eased his arms into the coat. It was much too large for him, so she rolled the sleeves up, trying not to smile at the sight of him practically drowning in it.

He looked up at her in hesitation, but murmured, “Adaleni.”

“Adaleni?” she asked, drawing it out. “That’s a pretty name.”

He frowned, indignant. “It’s not pretty, it’s noble. It means ‘friend of the forest.’ ”

She grinned. Not such a shy thing then. “Of course. My apologies, Adaleni. My name is Roslyn.”

He frowned. “Ma serannas, Roslyn.”

She tried hard not to smile at the deeply somber tone in his squeaky voice, just at the cusp of maturing, most like. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know any elven.”

He rolled his eyes and she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. “It means ‘thank you.’ ”

“Right. So, I suppose I need to know how to say ‘you’re welcome.’ ”

His eyes brightened. “Mirtha mala serannas.”

Mirtha mala serannas, Adaleni,” she said slowly, her mouth forming with the words with pleasure. It was a beautiful language. Maybe she would need to annoy Solas into teaching it to her sometime.

The unprompted thought came so quickly it made her frown. That’s not going to happen. It would be a wonder if they could go back to speaking to one another without tension.

Adaleni watched her with concern. “Your pronunciation isn’t that bad, Roslyn.”

She let out a startled laugh. “Ma serannas, Adaleni. You are too kind.” Straightening up and taking his hand again, they moved down the steps of the chantry and toward the well on the north side of the inner wall. “So, where did you learn all this elven? Or are you so smart that you picked it up all on your own?”

He didn’t answer for a while and the tightness in his expression held a sorrow that went deeper than his years. “Ma mamae. She died a year ago when we fled Halamshiral.”

Roslyn watched his eyes harden with sad recognition. It was the same hardness she’d felt at his age, that she’d seen in the younger apprentices as they traveled to Cumberland from the wreckage of their broken Circle. 

Roslyn squeezed his hand, drawing his gaze. “I am so sorry, Adaleni.”

“She said I needed to learn as much as I could about our people, that it was the most important thing to remember and learn their language so one day we could rebuild Arlathan. She said it was important we never forget what it was to be one of the People.”

“Arlathan?” Roslyn asked, grabbing a large canteen and a handful of simple metal cups from Threnn’s requisition table.

Adaleni blinked in confusion. “Arlathan? The Ancient Elven Empire?”

Roslyn gave him a bemused smile, reminded of the tiny apprentices in the tower who would sometimes lord their knowledge over whoever they could trick into listening. Her smile faltered when she realized he reminded her of Derek, in a way, or what he might have been as a child. Thinking of her friend and the last time she’d seen him made her brow furrow, but she quickly reordered her face. “I thought all the elves lived in the Dales?”

He scoffed. “They did, but that was thousands of years after the fall of Elvhenan.”

“Elvhenan?” she asked, knowing it would cause the boy continued frustration and unable to stop herself.

“The empire,” he said incredulously. “You honestly don’t know? Every elf in the alienage knew something about our People. You must have heard stories from your hahren.”

He thinks I’m an elf, she realized as they stopped at the well. Her hair was up and tied behind her head—he must see her ears. “I’ve never lived in an alienage,” she said as she brought up the bucket from the water, keeping her voice light as a knot formed in her chest.

“But you’re not Dalish,” he said simply, staring hard at her face, his eyes flashing to her ears with a frown.

Roslyn grinned sadly. “No, I’m not. I’m a mage. I lived in a Circle.”

His eyes widened, but he shook his head, determined to understand why she didn’t know anything about the ancient elves. “Before that?”

“I lived and worked as a servant in a noble house,” she said, giving him a pointed glance.

His face smoothed as he got his answer. “Oh, of course. Ir abelas, Roslyn.” Her mouth twitched as he added, “That means ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

Ma serannas, teacher.”

He brightened again. “Huarthen.

She laughed, gesturing for him to take the canteen as she lifted the bucket out of the well again. “Ma serannas, huarthen.”

He smiled widely up at her, bending under the weight of the canteen as Roslyn filled it.

“So, are you going to tell me anything about this Arlathan, then?”

“Like what?”

Roslyn dropped the bucket back into the well and arched a brow at him. “What’s the most interesting thing you know?”

Adaleni frowned in concentration as she took the canteen out of his hands. She lifted it onto her hip and he took the cups, slipping his hand back into hers without prompting as they walked back to the chantry.

“Well, we don’t know that much about the ancient elves, apart from the fact they were immortal,” he started in a matter of fact tone that would put her old professors to shame.

Adaleni continued talking as they entered the chantry and straight through the half-hour they spent giving water to the refugees. It seemed as if he'd been bottling up all this information for a long time and was bursting to share with someone. She recognized the frustration of a quick mind among people who didn’t care to hear endless explanations of whatever took his fancy. She asked him questions when she needed to, but allowed the boy to explain everything he knew about the ancient elven empire and how he was going to restore it one day, smiling at his youthful determination.

When their water ran out, Roslyn sent a quick glance over to Solas and Adaleni’s father to make sure it was safe to return. She placed a hand on his shoulders and steered him away from a group of Inquisition soldiers who were watching them curiously. She smiled ruefully at the men, holding out the canteen in a silent question. One of them hurried over to her with a small bow and took it from her hand.

She mouthed a silent thank you as Adaleni continued, “But my mamae said that some lived in the trees. Can you believe that? I’m so scared of heights I couldn’t even climb the lower branches of the vhenadahl with the other boys.” He turned to her with a condescending glance. “That’s a ‘tree of the people.’ It represents Arlathan.”

Roslyn turned him toward where his father lay with his eyes closed. Her heart lurched, and she thought the man might have died, but when Solas moved, she saw his chest rise and fall.

Adaleni slowed as he looked toward his father, his excited speech faltering.

“Your famae is resting, da’len,” Solas said with a tight smile, straightening up and flexing his hands as magic dispersed into the air. “He will be fine.”

He stared at Solas with wide, hopeful eyes.

“See?” Roslyn asked, ruffling the boy’s straw-colored hair. “What did I tell you? The old bald elf may be grumpy, but he’s a good healer.”

“The old bald elf also has large ears,” Solas said under his breath.

The tease sent a small shard into her chest, but she ignored it.

Enastala-ma, hahren,” Adaleni said solemnly.

Solas’ brow lifted in surprise, but he said smoothly, “Ghilasara-ma viruesa’bolam, da’modhen.”

Adaleni's grin came back with a vengeance and he practically jumped up and down as he turned to Roslyn. “I said, ‘bless you, wise one’ and,” he paused, glancing back with more hesitation, “he said something like ‘may you be guided on your path.’ ” He frowned up at Solas with a determined glint in his eye, as if he was going to ask something else, when his father cut him off.

“You didn’t talk the Herald in circles, da’adahl, did you?” the injured man croaked.

Adaleni shook his head, though he shot a nervous glance at Roslyn. She winked at him and he smiled. “No, famae, she was very interested. She didn’t know anything about Arlathan or the ancient elves because she didn’t grow up in an alienage or with the Dalish. I told her all about the floating aravels and how they would fall asleep for centuries, because all of us need to remember. You know.”

“I do.” The man sighed and closed his eyes, winding a hand around the boy’s head to press a kiss to his cheek.

Roslyn watched them, a familiar pang of loss in her chest at the simple gesture of affection.

She glanced toward Solas before she could stop herself, surprised to see him staring down at Adaleni with hard eyes. He looked upset—a tightness at the edge of his lips and a distant look in his gaze. She looked away before he could catch her staring.

Ma shemel’dirth, what will I do with you?” the man asked with a smile.

Adaleni rolled his eyes. “He means I talk too much.”

She grinned. “I think I understood that one without your help.”

“But I didn’t even get to the pantheon,” he whined. “You don’t even know anything about the Creators, do you?”

She shook her head and Adaleni looked distraught.

“Let the Herald go, da’vhenan. I am sure she has more important things to do than listen to you babble about the Dread Wolf,” the man said, opening his eyes to look at Roslyn. “Thank you, my lady.”

She smiled and nodded. “Of course. I am not so busy that I can’t listen to stories of towering trees and floating cities in the sky.”

Adaleni frowned up at her. “You haven’t even heard the best part, Roslyn—”

His father looked at him askance. “Adaleni, show the Herald proper respect!”

“No, no,” Roslyn said quickly, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder, “I don’t mind, serah, truly. I am a vain woman at heart and I enjoy the sound of my own name. It is rare, these days.”

He stared at her in disbelief, but nodded slowly, a confused smile playing on his tired face.

“Your father is right, though, Adaleni,” she said with an exaggerated sigh, sending him a wide smile. “I should get back to the boring business of being the Herald, no matter how much I have enjoyed your lessons and wish they could continue.”

Adaleni looked crestfallen, but said in a rush, “Ma vhima althas, Roslyn. That means ‘until we meet again.’ ”

Roslyn inclined her head. “Oh yes, I want to hear all about this Dread Wolf, Adaleni. He sounds very frightening.”

“Not really,” he shrugged. “He’s more of a trickster than—,” he started, but stopped when his father placed a hand over his mouth.

She moved away with a smile as the boy climbed onto the table with his father, snuggling into the fold of his arms.

“I did not know you had an interest in learning the language of my people,” Solas murmured as he followed her to an unoccupied corner with a washbasin. He ran his hands over the water and whispered something under his breath. The cloudy water shone a bright white and steam curled off the surface as he dipped his hands into it, scrubbed, and looked up at her with an arched brow. “The boy seems to be an enthusiastic teacher.”

“I was trying to distract him,” she said with a tight smile. “I couldn’t say no to that face.”

Solas went still, his eyes sharp as his gaze raked over her arms and neck, anger flashing in them, before he asked, “Do we know why these people needed to flee Redcliffe?”

“No," she said, forcing down the flicker of interest roused by his anger. "I’m assuming Leliana will have more information, but I wanted to make sure everyone was settled before I head into another council meeting. I’m not particularly excited to hear what she has to say about me allying with the templars.”

A frown crossed his mouth, cold distance showing in his eyes.

“I assume you disapprove?” she asked sharply, letting her own self-loathing turn to anger at him.

He inclined his head as he dried his hands on a towel tucked into his belt. “It is not my place to disapprove. I am sure you have your reasons. I know the templars will serve their purpose. At least they know how to fight.”

Roslyn narrowed her eyes, hating the pedantic calm in his voice. “We can’t exactly afford to be picky about our allies.”

“Point taken.” He met her gaze with a cold severity. “Just remember—an enemy can attack, but only an ally can betray you. Betrayal is always worse.”

Roslyn heard a note of pain his voice, and wondered if he spoke from experience. He looked tired, more so than she had seen him since the worst days helping the villagers in the Crossroads. Even after everything, she felt the urge to comfort him, to ensure he wasn’t stretching himself too thin. “How many people have you healed, Solas?” she asked softly.

His eyes hardened, and he looked away. “I am fine, Herald. You need not concern yourself with my welfare.”

He’s right, she thought firmly, dredging up the memory of his eyes after he had broken their kiss. It wasn’t lust or passion she’d found when they’d stared at each other in the silence of the Fade—it was regret. He pulled away. He ended it. He doesn’t want your concern or your kindness.

He didn’t want whatever was between them to continue and neither did she. No matter how much she wanted him, it was a mistake. She couldn’t afford to fall for anyone, especially not with the added complication of the wolf in her hand.

Solas caught her searching gaze, the lingering hardness in her eyes, and frowned as he read the conflict in her expression.

“Herald!”

She turned as Cullen walked toward her through the mass of people settling down for the night, Charter following close behind.

Taking a step back from Solas and plastering a smile on her face, Roslyn said, “Commander, I was wondering where you had gotten to.”

Cullen nodded toward Solas in greeting. “The templars are settled in, or as much as they can be, considering we now have two-hundred other people to house,” he said briskly, sending her a tired smile. He turned back to Solas. “I’m afraid I have to steal the Herald, Solas. We’re needed in the small council.”

Solas arched an eyebrow. “She is not mine to steal, Commander. Herald,” he added in farewell and walked away.

Roslyn tried to keep her face expressionless as his implication cut deep.

Cullen watched him leave with a frown. “Everything all right?”

Roslyn shook her head, careful to keep her voice controlled. “He’s not a fan of our new alliance.”

“Ah,” Cullen said diplomatically.

“It doesn’t matter,” she dismissed, turning to Charter. “There a reason you need to show us to the council room, Charter? I think I remember where it is.”

“Sister Leliana has convened the meeting in her private rooms.”

Roslyn sent a questioning look to Cullen. “How mysterious. I wonder if she’s decided to assassinate the both of us out of prying eyes.”

They followed Charter down the main aisle of the chantry, turning into a long corridor that stretched to the right of the council room.

“I haven’t done anything to make her angry,” Cullen mused, “so unless you’ve stepped on her pet nug, we should be fine.”

“What? Like those little pig things?”

Cullen nodded, trying his best not to smile.

“Schmooples II,” Charter said over her shoulder.

“Excuse me?” Roslyn asked with a laugh. “I don’t know what that is, but I think I’m offended.”

Charter looked back at her with a perfectly neutral expression. “That’s its name.”

Cullen let out a bark of laughter at the look on her face.

“That woman makes no sense,” Roslyn muttered, shaking her head and feeling marginally better than she had a moment ago.

Chapter Text

Roslyn and Cullen entered a sparsely decorated room, with a small figure of Andraste and a few votive candles placed next to a neatly kept desk and bed. Cassandra, Leliana, and Josephine were waiting for them.

When Roslyn caught sight of Leliana’s expression, she decided to wait for a more opportune time to bring up her pet nug’s ridiculous name.

“Charter, wait outside the door, will you?” Leliana asked in an icy voice.

Cassandra sent Leliana a frustrated glance as the door closed, before she turned to Roslyn and Cullen. “I have informed Josephine and Leliana of your agreement with the Order.”

“I assumed as much,” Roslyn answered, eyeing Leliana.

“An alliance with the templars was our desired outcome, my lady,” Josephine said with a pointed smile toward Leliana. “You did well.”

“Really, Josephine?” Leliana asked sharply. “The terms of this alliance do not benefit the Inquisition as they should. The Herald should have consulted with the rest of us before offering them clemency.”

“I told the Herald she was well within her rights to decide their fate, Leliana,” Cassandra said in frustration. “If you want to be angry with someone, let it be me.”

“Please don’t speak for me, Cassandra.” Roslyn frowned. “I agree, you should have been consulted. I stand by my decision, however, and if you have your concerns, you can address me.”

Leliana held her silence for a beat. “They have agreed to help seal the Breach, but have you given any thought to what the Order will do when they have fulfilled their oath?”

“My main concern right now is the Breach. After that, we can discuss the future of the Order and its dedication to the Inquisition.”

Leliana’s eyes narrowed. “Dedication to the Inquisition, or to you, Herald?”

Roslyn tensed. “What exactly are you implying?”

“Only that I hope the Order’s devotion extends beyond you and will not falter should our aims diverge.”

The woman might as well have slapped her across the face.

She should have seen this coming. She’d known Leliana would never forget the loose oath she’d given the council in their first meeting after the Temple of Sacred Ashes—nothing more than a promise to help seal the Breach. 

Roslyn blinked in surprise as a familiar presence pushed against hers and a soft crack made them all jump.

Cole stood in the center of the room, smoke obscuring his lanky frame before it dispersed, holding a bunch of red flowers in his pale hands.

Josephine screamed and dropped the portable writing desk she was carrying, the candle puffing out as it fell to the ground. Leliana’s eyes widened, but she made no move to attack.

Cassandra, on the other hand, let out a cry of alarm and drew her sword with a flourish. “Maker’s mercy,” Cullen shouted, drawing his own sword and grabbing Roslyn’s arm to pull her away.

“She doesn’t like the templars any more than you do, but they were hurting and they needed shelter,” Cole said in a quiet voice, ducking out of the path of Cassandra’s sword. Roslyn wrenched her arm out of Cullen’s grip as Cole continued, “She doesn’t want to leave, Nightingale. She has nowhere to go.”

Leliana stared at him sharply, her eyes widening.

Roslyn stepped in between Cole and the swords pointed at him, looking from Cassandra to Cullen. “Everyone needs to calm down. Now.”

“I came to help,” he murmured in a small voice.

Roslyn looked pointedly at the two swords leveled at her chest. “He’s with me.”

“Sister Leliana,” Charter called from outside the door. “Is everything all right?”

To her credit, Leliana didn’t seem frightened, only curious. “Everything is fine, Charter.”

“I would have let you see me,” he said with a frown when Roslyn met his gaze, “but you were busy learning about the elves. I thought you felt me.”

“What does it mean, you felt it?” Cassandra barked.

“Cole. Not 'it', " she said firmly. "He helped me fight Envy when it dragged me into the Fade. He’s the reason I got out. If it weren’t for Cole’s help, I would have been possessed.”

In the silence that followed, she heard the muffled laughter and mumble of conversation from the main hall of the chantry.

“What?” Cullen asked in a strangled voice.

“I’m sorry,” Cole said in a dejected voice, “I don’t have a banner to let you know I’m friendly, but I did bring these.” He held the flowers out to Josephine, who let out a squawk of alarm. “Flowers mean friendship. For your mother’s vase. Now it won’t be lonely, won’t echo.”

Josephine looked at him with wide, strangled eyes. “Th-Thank you?” she mumbled, reaching forward to accept them.

Cole smiled, the sight more alarming than comforting, and turned back to Roslyn. “You help people. You made them safe when they would have died. I want to do that. I can help.”

“Silence, demon,” Cassandra snarled.

Roslyn let out a frustrated sigh. “He’s not a demon.”

Cassandra looked at her as if she were losing her mind. “Herald—”

“Cole is a spirit. He’s not dangerous.” Roslyn turned back to Cole. “Why didn’t you come to me sooner, Cole? It’s been nearly two weeks. I might have introduced you with a little less excitement.”

“The templars were always with you. I thought they would get angry if I tried to help. Haven is loud, pain on pain buried deep in the snow. I was… confused.”

Cassandra scoffed. “How altruistic of it.”

Roslyn sent her a frustrated look, but tensed when Cole grabbed her hand. His fingers were cold, but not unpleasantly so.

“I can be hard to see,” he said firmly. “I can kill things that would hurt people. I can untangle the knots. I won’t get in the way.”

“The boy seems sincere,” Leliana said slowly, studying Cole with interest.

Josephine stared down at the flowers clutched in her hands with wide eyes, and nodded.

“You’re not honestly suggesting we let him stay?” Cullen asked incredulously.  

“Trapped in the dark, Desire needling, gnawing, while the Circle breaks in two,” Cole said in a deep whisper as Cullen’s eyes jerked up to meet his. “You didn’t break, though.”

“Stop that,” Cullen barked.

Roslyn stepped between them, forcing him to look down at her, and saw the pain of long-buried memories in his eyes. He frowned when he met her gaze and looked away. 

“What is it doing?” Cassandra asked in confusion.

Cullen swallowed, eyes moving between Roslyn and Cole. “It’s—I don’t know.”

“I think Cole can read emotions and memories,” she said slowly, remembering his confession to her in the shadow of the Brecilian Forest. She glanced at the flowers in Josephine’s hands. “He did it with me as well, but I didn’t understand it at the time.”

“Give voice to the hurt to work out the knots,” Cole offered, rocking back on his heels as he stared at Cullen.

“It can read minds?” Cassandra asked in a dark voice.

“I don’t think it’s that simple.”

“I won’t be in the way,” he said quickly, his pale blue eyes lighting up. “Tiny, no trouble. No notice taken unless you want them to.”

“I believe you, Cole,” Roslyn said with a smile. “Of course you can stay.”

Cole beamed, his entire face expanding in happiness, before he turned to Leliana and said simply, “She will say yes. You just need to ask.”

He vanished in another puff of smoke before anyone else could speak.

Roslyn sighed. “He’ll do that.”

“But where did it—,” Cassandra broke off at a hard look from Roslyn, “he go?”

“He said he wanted to help. I assume he’s going to start with the refugees.”

“So, are we just going to accept that a demon has free reign of the village?”

Roslyn clenched her jaw and looked at Leliana, whose expression was pensive. “I think we have more important things to discuss than a boy who gives people flowers to make them feel better.”

“Indeed,” Leliana said in a brisk voice. “The refugees arrived only a few hours before you and the Order. They came from Redcliffe.”

Roslyn tensed, trying not to let her mind wander to the mages. “That’s what Charter said. Do we know why?”

Leliana’s eyes narrowed, but she called, “Charter?”

The door opened a crack. “Yes, Sister Nightingale?” Leliana simply nodded, and Charter replied, “Right away.”

After at least a minute of silence, Cassandra asked sharply, “Are we supposed to guess, or will you tell us why we have two hundred injured people sleeping in our chantry?”

Leliana's brow lifted as the door opened, and met Roslyn’s gaze. “I was asked to wait until you arrived.”

Roslyn turned around with a prickling sense of unease at the look in Leliana’s eyes—and froze as Charter showed in a tall man with large blue eyes and floppy brown hair.

Her heart thudded so loudly in the silence she was sure the rest of them could hear it.

Derek sent her a hesitant smile, brushing hair out of his eyes in a self-conscious gesture. “Hiya, Rosie,” he murmured. “It’s really good to see you.”

She blinked up at him and his wide, familiar smile, and felt a little like she’d stepped through a door to the past.

Derek was standing in front of her. Not frowning or screaming. Not angry and hurt. Just… smiling.

“Well, I was hoping for something along the lines of ‘happy to see you, too, Derek.’ ” He laughed nervously, his mouth twitching like it always did when he was nervous. “I guess I’ll settle for whatever you’re attempting to do right now.”

Her mind was still trying to catch up, but she choked out, “What—are you doing here?”

He studied her face in disappointment. “Because wanting to see you is a bad excuse, right?”

He’s joking, she realized, unable to understand the easy, if hesitant, hope in his eyes. He’s fucking joking with me.

“Derek,” she snapped, “what the fuck are you doing here?” She jerked her head around to stare at Leliana. “What is this?”

Leliana watched them both carefully. “He arrived with the refugees earlier today, announced he was a close friend of yours, and asked to speak to you. He would not allow me to question him any further.”

Derek frowned, coughed. “I—don’t suppose we could speak somewhere private?”

Roslyn's eyes widened in outrage. He wants to speak to me alone?  “Whatever you have to say, you can say in front of them.”

Derek tensed, his easy hope fading, and cast a skeptical glance over the council. “I wouldn’t have come to you—Maker knows you’ve shown little enough desire to keep ties with the Rebellion since you’ve joined… them. But we need your help.” He smiled, tight and pained, and his eyes were hard. “I mean you apparently saved the fucking templars, can’t fault me for thinking you’d offer the same to your own people.”

She listened to his words through a haze. Little enough desire?  Was he serious?

“You’re asking us for help?” Cassandra asked coldly.

Roslyn tried not to frown at the anger in her voice, the urge to defend her old friend strong even after everything that had happened in the last few months.

“No,” Derek answered in a cool, derisive tone, “I’m asking her for help.”

“Now you want my help?” Roslyn asked. “You didn’t seem to care all that much about my help when you called me a murderer and a traitor.”

Derek scowled, watching her with a confused frustration. “What are you on about? I’ve never called you a murderer—” He broke off, staring daggers at the council. “Is that what they told you? Is that why you joined them, because we thought you murdered the Divine?”

Nothing about his desperate tone sounded false, and Derek wasn't a good liar. She tried to understand the confusion in his eyes, the urgency, but all it did was fuel her anger. He hadn’t seemed unwilling to throw accusations at her before, what was he playing at now?

“Sorry to interrupt,” Cullen said slowly, his voice hard, “but who are you?”

“Derek Harper," she answered automatically, "meet the small council of the Inquisition. He's—a member of the Ostwick Circle.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Master Harper,” Josephine said in a tight voice, her eyes roving curiously from Derek to Roslyn, “but you’ll excuse me if I ask for the specifics of your… arrival.”

Derek blinked, confused by the pleasantries. “Right, well,” he said, his voice hard as he watched Roslyn out of the corner of his eye, “I don’t really know how to say this another way, but there’s something weird going on in Redcliffe.”

“And this weirdness warrants the Herald’s help?” Cassandra asked with a derisive laugh.

Roslyn threw Cassandra a frustrated look.

“The Rebellion is currently indentured to a Tevinter magister,” Derek snapped. “That weird enough for you?”

The room went silent.

“What?” Roslyn asked, voice barely more than a whisper.

Derek met her gaze with a pained smile. “I wouldn't have come unless it was bad, like I said.”

“That’s not possible. That’s—there is no way Fiona would have let that happen.” 

“Fiona was the one who made the deal, Roslyn,” Derek murmured.

She searched his gaze. “You’re wrong,” she said under her breath, more to herself than to Derek.

Fiona knew what it was to hate the life she lived because it wasn’t her own. Fiona, the elf who was bought as a play thing when she was a child, who killed her own master to escape him, who clawed her way up the chain of command in the Circle and fought for the right of every mage in Southern Thedas to live as free people, couldn’t—she wouldn’t…

“We had no other options,” Derek muttered.

And just like that, her anger broke.

“No other options?” she screamed. She took a step toward him, craning her neck up to stare him straight in the eyes, clenched her fists against slamming them into his chest. “The Inquisition would have offered you help! I pardoned the templars, for fuck’s sake, you think I would have done that if I’d had the option of working with you? I asked for your help and you refused. Fiona refused. Do not tell me she had no other options. Do not tell me that enslaving two thousand men, women, and children to Tevinter was the only option you had available to you.”

How could he? He knew how she felt about the templars and he thought she wouldn’t—

“What the fuck are you talking about?” he shouted, matching her anger. “You never asked for our help! You left for the Conclave and none of us heard from you again. We thought you were dead, Roslyn, and then we find out you’re killing mages and recruiting templars in the Hinterlands. You traveled to Therinfal Redoubt on a personal invitation from the Lord Seeker. What the fuck are we supposed to think when none of us have heard from you for months?”

His voice faltered and moisture glistened in his eyes. “I half-expected you to be clapped in irons when I got here. I thought I would have to break you out—because there was no way Roslyn Trevelyan had willingly allied with these bastards. You want to blame Fiona? Go ahead, but admit that the exact same could be said of you.”

Derek scowled, screwing up his face to stop himself before he cried. It was something she used to tease him about, when she was young and stupid—a silly quirk when he got frustrated that made him all the more endearing. 

The silence in Leliana’s room was thick, and she could feel everyone else staring at her, waiting.

“What do you mean, you haven’t heard from me in months?” she asked, her anger still thudding close to the surface. “I saw you in the Witchwood in August.”

“No, you didn’t. I haven’t seen you since you left for the Conclave.”

Why is he lying?  But he didn’t lie. Not to her.

She frowned and said, “You and a few others from the Rebellion were trying to reconcile with a group holed up in a cave in the Witchwood. The Inquisition found them before you could.”

His eyes went wide, staring at her like she was speaking a different language. “We never left for the Witchwood. We were supposed to, but the delegation from Tevinter showed up before we…” He trailed off, exhaled sharply.

Unease pricked at the back of her mind as fear flashed in his eyes. “What?”

“I thought it was just rumors, but… You can’t have known we were going to meet with the mages in the Witchwood. There’s no way. Some of the senior enchanters didn’t even know.”

He rubbed a hand over his chin, squaring his shoulders. “There have been rifts opening up all over Redcliffe. At first, we thought they were just another side effect of the Breach, we’ve seen enough to know what they look like now. But these were… different. Some of the villagers tried to get our help, told us some crazy stories about time making no sense. Someone woke up in a field three days after they went missing and thought they’d been gone for weeks. Rifts destroyed houses, only to be fine the next day without any sign of damage. We brushed them off as the villagers being terrified of the magisters, but three days ago a huge rift opened up right in the middle of the city. Demons poured out and attacked the villagers, and some of us helped. It was chaos, so many people were injured, that’s why they fled here—but when those of us who went to help went for reinforcements, the rift had closed, and no one except the villagers and the few of us who helped them remembered it at all.”

“The magisters can close the rifts?” Roslyn asked in a whisper.

“No, not—,” he sighed, shaking his head, “not like it was closed, like it had never opened at all.”

“Who leads these magisters?” Leliana asked sharply, her eyes hard on Derek’s face.

“Some ass named Alexius.”

“And you think this Alexius is altering time?”

When he shrugged, Leliana turned sharply to Roslyn. “Can the rifts do that?” 

“I have no idea. That would mean that the Veil somehow effects time. Normally, I would say that’s ludicrous, but with the Breach and all the weird shit that’s been happening lately…”

Her ability to predict what was possible and impossible was no longer reliable. It should have been impossible to survive the explosion in the Temple of Sacred Ashes. It should have been impossible to affect the Fade in the way Solas had shown her. It should have been impossible that the mark on her hand which allowed her to control the fabric of the Veil would manifest into a large wolf. And she should have died from lyrium poisoning two weeks ago.

Impossible shit was becoming second nature to her.

“Would Solas have some idea about this?" Leliana asked, pulling Roslyn from the mire of her thoughts. "He has been studying your mark and the Breach.”

“Maybe,” she allowed.

“Setting aside the idea that these magisters have the power to travel through time,” Cassandra said with a disbelieving scowl, “why would they want to absorb the Rebellion? Why would Tevinter care about the southern mages enough to send someone to recruit them?”

For the same reason the templars were targeted, she thought, her mind latching onto Envy’s promise, to destabilize the South? For power? But what do a handful of magisters have to do with the Templar Order?

“They weren’t particularly forthcoming with their reasons,” Derek said, watching Roslyn closely, “only that they didn’t want to see us killed by zealots.” He shot Cassandra a hard glance before continuing, “Most of them seem like typical Tevinter nut jobs, but there were a few just as troubled by what was going on as we were. The only reason I was able to sneak out with the injured villagers was because one of them helped me.”

“One of them helped you?” Cullen asked sharply, his expression dark.

“Cullen, we don’t know—”

“What don’t we know?” Cassandra snapped, eyes hard on Derek with a newfound fury. “Tevinter has already attempted to assassinate you once.”

“What?” Derek asked in shock.

Roslyn held Cassandra’s gaze in frustration. It wasn’t the Seeker’s place to look out for her well-being, particularly when she didn’t understand what was going on. She especially didn’t appreciate the look of pity in her eyes.

“Think about it,” Cullen urged, “you just returned from Therinfal Redoubt where you uncovered a plot to corrupt the Order, where a demon tried to possess you and failed, and the first day you return this man shows up with an entreaty to help the Rebellion? Someone is trying to kill you, or keep you away from the Breach.”

“You think I’m trying to get Roslyn killed?” Derek shouted. “You think I would do anything—”

“Herald,” Cassandra interrupted, “do you not see what he is doing? The boy thinks he can play on your sympathies—,”

Enough,” Roslyn shouted, her voice cutting through the small room so loudly that all of Haven might have heard her, and turned to Derek. “You don’t have any idea what the magisters are doing in Redcliffe? The one who helped you told you nothing?”

“He said they came because of the Conclave.” Derek clenched his jaw and glared at both Cassandra and Cullen. “Honestly, I think the only reason he helped me leave is because I said I was going to come here and he wanted to talk to you.”

“He doesn’t even try to deny it,” Cullen muttered.

Josephine stepped forward. “Master Harper, would you allow the council to discuss what you’ve told us?”

Derek eyed her skeptically before turning to Roslyn. “Do I have a choice?”

Her jaw clenched at the accusation in his eyes.

“I am afraid we have no beds to spare,” Josephine continued with an apologetic smile. “I would suggest you stay with the refugees, but I think that might cause something of a stir.”

“There is plenty of room in the cells below,” Cassandra said archly.

The suggestion slammed into Roslyn's gut like a fist. Rage broke through her voice as she said, “Yes, why don’t we slap him in lyrium chains and throw him in the cell you threw me in four months ago?”

Cassandra’s expression faltered. “I only meant—”

“I know exactly what you meant, Seeker,” Roslyn snapped. “Charter?”

The door to the hallway opened and the elf’s freckled face appeared. “My lady?”

“Do you know where my cabin is?” Roslyn asked, trying to keep her voice level as she felt Derek’s gaze hot on her cheek.

Charter looked over Roslyn’s shoulder, no doubt conferring silently with Leliana, before she nodded.

“Take this man there and see he has something to eat. Find someone and set a watch outside the door. Tell them I asked. I hope that’s sufficient for everyone?”

When no one answered, she looked up at Derek, hard confusion meeting her eyes. “I’ll come to you after we’re done here.”

He searched her face before mumbling, “Thank you, Rosie,” and left with Charter.

Roslyn flinched at the nickname. She had never liked it, but it’d been so long since he’d called her that, it felt like it belonged to someone else.

It took all of a second for the door to close before the room erupted into noise.

“If this is a matter of whether or not we send the Herald into a town crawling with strange rifts and Tevinter magisters who are most definitely attempting to kill her,” Cassandra said incredulously, “I should think the answer is obvious.”

“Is it, Cassandra?” Leliana asked. “Tevinter is attempting to enslave free southern mages. Is that not a cause for alarm?”

“Tevinter enslaves free people everyday,” Cullen said in a low voice that was clearly meant to be diplomatic. “Are you suggesting we make war on the Imperium?”

“Of course not, Commander,” Leliana continued, “but are you suggesting we should not take action given the information we just heard?”

“Our goal is to close the Breach,” he said in a frustrated growl. “We have the templars. We can seal the Breach. That is our priority. Or it should be.”

Roslyn heard his unspoken accusation. She felt him watching her closely, as if he were waiting for her to rise—like she was some wild animal backed into a corner and he was waiting for her to turn on him. It was the way templars had always watched her.

Her mark shivered and she clenched her hand.

“And so we leave Redcliffe in the hands of a magister?” Leliana’s voice was sharp as a whip. “A magister who seems capable of bending the very fabric of time to his will?”

“Leliana,” Cassandra frowned, “you cannot believe what that boy said. It is impossible.”

“Is it? Let us bring Solas or Vivienne in here to explain it. The Herald herself admits it might be possible. She understands the mark better than any of us.”

Roslyn stared at Leliana, slowly realizing that she was in favor of helping the mages.

The responsible course of action would be to stay and focus on closing the Breach. Wasn’t that the entire reason she’d pardoned the templars? To close the fucking Breach?

But if it meant thousands of mages would become slaves to Tevinter…

“As much as I hate to admit this, my lady,” Josephine murmured, still clutching the flowers Cole had given her, “this sounds exactly like the kind of trap you should expect someone might lure you into, especially after your experience at Therinfal Redoubt. If Tevinter is trying to remove you, it would be reckless to even consider approaching the mages.”

“Is it not also reckless to allow thousands of innocent people to be enslaved to Tevinter?” Leliana asked with a hard glance at Josephine. “If these refugees are anything to go by, the chaos to the region could be even worse. We helped the people of the Hinterlands once. We have an alliance with the farmers there. Even if the effects of these strange rifts remain contained to Redcliffe, the mages sound as if they are close to meeting the same fate as the templars. Doing nothing is tantamount to killing them ourselves.”

Was this what Envy had meant? Was the Elder One making a play for the mages?

What do you think will happen to the mages you left behind, rabbit?

“What are you suggesting, Leliana?” Cassandra asked in desperation. “We allow the Herald to walk into Redcliffe with this mage unprotected?”

“We have no idea what is waiting for her there,” Cullen barked. “No. I won’t allow it.”

Her mind split, and she was standing back in her Circle tower, staring at a templar who would cage her.

“You won’t allow it?” Roslyn asked slowly, her voice low and hard.

Cullen frowned, but didn’t look away as she met his gaze.

Was the attempt at friendliness a ruse then? When it came down to it, both he and Cassandra trusted her enough only to do what they wanted and nothing more?

“We cannot leave a hostile foreign power on our doorstep,” Leliana said firmly.

Josephine frowned. “An ‘Orlesian’ Inquisition’s army marching into Redcliffe could provoke a war. Even if the king is preoccupied with other matters, no one would fail to notice a force of soldiers marching out of the mountains. Our hands are tied.”

Roslyn listened to the silence in the room as cold awareness settled over her mind.

They won’t help the mages.

“So,” she started, looking at Cullen, Cassandra, and Josephine in turn, “none of you are troubled by the fact that two thousand innocent people have been enslaved to the Tevinter Imperium? That perhaps this is exactly what Envy meant when it said the Elder One wanted the mages?”

None of them spoke, though she saw Leliana’s eyes harden in confirmation.

“And if it is a trap?” Cullen asked. “If you die and we lose the only means we have of closing the Breach? How many people will die then?”

“Herald, it is too risky,” Josephine urged, a frown furrowing her brow. “I understand you want to help your friends in the Rebellion, but there would be no way to help you if the worst were to happen.”

“I agree,” Cassandra said. “Even if his story about the manipulation of time is true, the boy could have come to you before the final hour. If it is so dire, then perhaps there is nothing you can do. Perhaps there never was.”

The Seeker spoke to her like she was a child, with a careful, low voice and wide, calm eyes.

The wolf in her palm bristled. Her heart beat in her throat and she ignored the desire to scream echo inside her. She knew better now. She would not be the rabid beast they believed her to be.

Roslyn drew herself up, fixing her fury into a hard line. “It seems the council has made its decision.”

“My lady, there might be an opportunity to help your people once the Breach is dealt with.” Josephine stepped toward her, as if she might offer a hand of comfort, but froze when she met Roslyn’s gaze.

My people.

The people who’d done nothing to look for her when she was taken against her will.

She had no people.

Even so, this was wrong.

“There are steps we can take to combat this,” Josephine continued, adopting a purposeful optimism. “We can petition King Alistair, send out ravens. You have to understand that we do this out of necessity, Roslyn.”

She heard the hesitation in Josephine’s voice as she said her name, but it wasn’t enough.

Not anymore.

“I understand perfectly, Ambassador. If you’ll excuse me, it’s been a long few weeks, and I am overdue for the comfort of my own bed.” She steeled herself, looking at Cullen and Cassandra with a firm purpose, hating herself for what she was about to do.

They will never trust me again.

“Once Barris and the templars are settled in, I would like to figure out how exactly we’re going to seal the Breach. I’m sure Solas has some ideas, and I know Vivienne will want to be involved. I say we give everyone two days to get settled and then we get to work. I’ll find somewhere for Derek to stay before we send him back to Redcliffe. I know he’ll want to return as soon as he can, once he knows we aren’t in a position to help him.”

Cullen watched her with a small frown, but Cassandra seemed relieved, taking to the lie because it was what she wanted to hear.

“Of course, Roslyn,” Cassandra said with a grateful smile, “I think that should give you enough time to rest.”

She turned and gave Josephine a polite nod, but didn’t look at Leliana. She knew the Spymaster could see the boiling frustration she’d successfully kept hidden from the rest of them.

Roslyn had always known Leliana was the one to fear in this Inquisition. She just hoped she would understand, in the end.

She hoped they all would.

Walking slowly, she counted her steps as she moved down the long hall to the main room of the chantry. She slid into the night and winced as the doors creaked behind her. A chill settled into her bones as the breeze blew across her bare arms, but it had nothing to do with the cold of the mountains. 

Roslyn set off down the stairs, preparing herself for the task of slipping out of Haven before the Inquisition realized their Herald had abandoned them.

Chapter Text

The tavern was loud, bursting with the sounds of music and conversation. Roslyn tried to block out the noise as waves of guilt coursed through her chest.

She knew how the villagers would react when they found out she had taken off in the middle of the night. They would be lost, angry, betrayed. How could their Herald do this? They would condemn her as a traitor and a coward. An apostate.

She edged through the crowd to the back table, where Varric would be seated. If she could just get him and get out before—

Shit.

Solas and Iron Bull sat next to him.

She’d hoped to grab Varric before anyone else saw her. They will hate you too, a small voice whispered in the back of her head.

Solas reclined in his chair, his face impassive as he slid a card across the table. His mouth was a firm line, but she recognized the glint of pride, the hint of amusement, in his eyes. Iron Bull, turned away from her, let out a bellowing laugh and laid his own cards on the table. Solas only responded with a faint smile and a nod of his head.

Forcing her mask into place, Roslyn sauntered over as casually as she could.

Solas looked up as she approached, his eyes finding hers even in the happy chaos of the tavern. They were bright from whatever joke had passed between him and Iron Bull, but they hardened at once and he looked away.

Her chest lanced with pain and she nearly dropped her mask.

“I’m glad you showed up, Red,” Varric said with a chuckle as she stopped by the table. “It means I don’t have to send someone to find you so I can berate you for showing off without me around. You owe me a long conversation full of accurate details about how you bested Lord Envy, or you and I are going to have harsh words.”

She smiled, hoping her eyes were clear as she said, “Apologies, Varric, but I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities to show off my myriad talents. I promise to drag you along with me the next time I march off to recruit an army.”

Liar.

“Do you have a moment?” Her voice was too hard. They would know. “I need to ask you something in private.”

She felt Solas’ eyes on her, but she didn’t look at him. If he felt her panic now, he would ask her what was wrong, draw out her truth with his intense scrutiny.

Or... would he?

It doesn’t matter. None of this matters.

“Everything okay, Red?” Varric asked with a frown.

She forced the words out, twisting her voice into a hard, pained denial. Make it hurt. “I just spent two weeks on the road with six hundred templars after their leader tried to possess and kill me. What do you think, Varric?”

All three of them stared at her before Varric murmured, “Sorry, I didn’t— Yeah, I have some time.”

She clenched her jaw against the guilt and turned away. Solas and Iron Bull were still staring at her, but she didn’t look back. Let them think she was struggling with the aftermath of Therinfal Redoubt. It wasn’t a lie. Not exactly.

Roslyn walked out of the tavern quickly, the sounds fading behind her as she steered Varric toward a secluded hill on the other side of the inner wall. She led him as far away from where she knew people would be gathering.

“Hey, Red, I like you and all, but I’m spoken for,” he said jokingly, but stopped when he saw her expression. “Right, not the time. Got it. So, uh,” he cleared his throat, “what’s on your mind?”

“I need to show you something.”

Varric’s brow lifted. “Good start. This definitely isn’t weird.”

She just frowned at him, sending her mind out to feel for Cole’s presence. She’d felt him flickering around her as she left the chantry, but didn’t know whether he had heard her unspoken request in the noise of the tavern. She didn’t quite know how one summoned a spirit in the waking world.

I wish I could have introduced him to Solas. He would have been excited. One didn’t meet people like Cole everyday.

“Actually, it’s more like a favor. Just—don’t freak out, okay?”

Varric shook his head with a small grin. “You’re really selling me—”

He broke off with a startled cry as Cole popped into view with a cloud of smoke.

“I asked you not to freak out,” she whispered, glancing over her shoulder to see if anyone else had heard.

“Well, shit, Red, I didn’t think you’d make a kid in a ridiculous hat appear out of thin air,” he said breathlessly, staring up at Cole in shock.

“I like my hat,” Cole said softly, fingering its brim.

Varric looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh or run, but he gave a weak laugh. “Sorry, kid. It’s a fine hat, all things considered.”

“Varric, this is Cole,” she said quickly, gesturing to the boy. “Cole is a spirit. He helped me in Therinfal Redoubt and wants to continue helping the Inquisition, so he’s going to be staying in Haven.”

“It’s too loud,” Cole said simply, staring down at Varric in interest. “You’re not so loud though. Echoes of the old song, but soft, severed, searching for something inside. It would be easier if you were underground.”

Varric stared up at Cole, struck dumb.

Roslyn might have laughed at his blank expression, but she was already taking too long.

“He has a way of getting inside your head,” she murmured. “Varric, I need you to keep an eye on Cole.”

He looked at her slowly, as if he were trying very hard to hold onto the last thread of his sanity. “You want me to keep an eye on him?”

“Yes. Talk to him. Make sure he doesn’t get into trouble, or,” she hesitated, feeling guilty for abandoning Cole—he’d come because of her and now she was leaving him to the mercy of the council, “that trouble doesn’t find him.”

“You’re doing it to help them,” Cole said gently. “Not because you want to, because it’s right.”

Roslyn closed her eyes. She would have liked to see how Cole adapted to this world. He might have been the first of his kind to cross over.

She felt a hollow kind of shame when she realized she’d never even asked him.

“So, let me get this straight,” Varric said. “This kid—”

“Cole,” he said helpfully.

Varric blinked. “Cole is a spirit who looks oddly human shaped and can read my mind, and you want me to what—show him around town?”

“Not read,” Cole said. “Your mind isn’t a book, not like the ones you write, full of romance and pain, or—,” he paused, “maybe it is like your mind. But I don’t read it. I hear it, pick out the pieces that don’t fit and fiddle with them to make them firm again. Like she does with her gears and tools.”

Varric watched him in extreme discomfort. “Shit, kid, leave a little to the imagination.” He gave Roslyn a hard glance. “Okay, I can see why you think he needs my grounding influence, but why all the cloak and dagger?”

“The council knows about him, but they didn’t react well.”

Varric snorted. “You didn’t pull the same smoke show with Curly and the Seeker, did you? Damn, Red, even I can see how that would be a bad idea.”

“It wasn’t exactly my choice.”

“I should have brought more flowers,” Cole said dejectedly.

Roslyn deflated, frowned. “Cole, I don’t think all the flowers in Val Royeaux would have worked out like you wanted.”

“Varric, I need your word that you’ll make sure nothing happens to him,” Roslyn said intently.

Interest sparked in his eyes. “Sure, Red. I’d be happy to babysit your weird spirit friend, but wouldn’t someone else do a better job? Maybe a certain elf with a propensity for rambling incessantly about the Fade? Isn’t this more up Solas’ alley?”

“Solas,” Cole murmured, rolling the name around in his mouth as if testing out how it felt. “Envy tried to trick you with his face, make you sad again. Walls up—but he pulled away first. You want it to stop hurting.”

Roslyn continued before Varric could ask the question building in his eyes. “I’m sure he’ll be incredibly interested once he finds out about Cole, but I needed to ask you first. I just—” She broke off, heart beating too fast. “I just need to know someone is looking out for him.”

“Why can’t you do it yourself, Red?” he asked, his eyes narrowing as they took in her pained expression.

Roslyn fought the urge to tell him what she was intending to do. It would only lead to Cassandra and Cullen coming after her, dragging her back in chains for thinking she could steal their mark.

“Not in chains,” Cole murmured. “He’ll break his chains now that he’s seen them on you and she never liked them in the first place.”

Varric’s eyes widened, but Roslyn ignored Cole and said, “It’s my fault he’s here at all. I just—I need your word, in case something happens and I can’t be around to protect him.”

“Why would that happen?” Varric asked darkly and she saw his mind click into place.

“Varric, I’ve had more near-death experiences in the last six months than most people have in a lifetime. I’m just being pragmatic.”

“Defeated and scared is what it sounds like to me,” he countered. “What’s going on? I know we haven’t known each other long, but you don't strike me as the type to hedge your bets before your hand is dealt.”

Roslyn forced herself to hold his gaze. “Nothing's wrong.”

“Don’t pull that with me,” he said angrily. “I’ve known and written enough heroes to recognize the end game plea before you run off to do something stupid.”

"I’m not one of your blasted heroes, Varric," she snapped, reining in her frustration. "I just wanted to make sure someone is watching out for Cole when all the other terrified idiots in Haven learn he’s here. That’s all.”

“I don’t like this dodgy new personality of yours, Red. It feels an awful lot like lying.” She said nothing, and he shook his head in defeat. “Whatever it is you’re planning, I want you to know that if it involves you dying, I’m going to be really pissed off.”

Roslyn smiled weakly. “I’ll try not to get myself killed. Promise.”

“Good. Because I like you.” Varric’s frown intensified. “And it’s just my luck that every single one of my fucking friends is stupid enough to think they owe the world something.”

Her eyes burned as she looked down.

“Do I want to know?” he asked quietly, his eyes dark and worried. “Fuck—of course I don’t. I’m just the idiot who has to cover for you.”

“You want to ask me again why I came to you?”

Varric only shook his head in response, looking down at his feet.

Roslyn turned to Cole, who had watched the two of them with wide, confused eyes.

“Cole, I need you to promise me you won’t tell anyone what I’m doing,” she urged, holding his pale blue eyes with hers. “Stay close to Varric and make sure he doesn’t forget you. Solas will be able to help, as well, once he knows what you are.”

He frowned, staring at her intently. “Why do you keep saying his name like you lost him?”

She exhaled as the words slammed into her, but pulled him into a hug.

“This feels stranger than it looks,” he said awkwardly, his cold body all bones and fabric.

“I know what you mean,” she said with a small laugh. “Thank you, Varric,” she said, who watched her with a knowing sadness.

“For what? I don’t know anything, apparently.”

It was harder than it should have been to walk away from them.

One by one the threads of her new life snapped and she pulled herself in tight to keep from falling apart.

She didn’t think Varric would tell anyone, she trusted him about as much as she could trust anyone, but she didn’t relax as she made her way, a little too quickly, to her cabin.

She thanked the templar standing outside the door and sent her away—one of the women who had joined up in the Hinterlands, she realized with a jolt.

Derek scowled as she entered and closed the door. “So, you’ve got templars taking your orders now? Makes me wonder—”

“Don’t,” Roslyn snapped. "You don’t get to say anything unless I ask, understand?”

His eyes widened, but he nodded, understanding the shift in her mood. She knew he could recognize the anger below the surface of her control—and she hated it. He shouldn’t know her so well anymore. Not after he’d left her to the Inquisition.

“Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”

“I couldn’t leave Redcliffe,” he said slowly.

“Bullshit,” she spat, running a hand through her hair in frustration. “What about before the magisters showed up? Before—” She broke off. Not now. “You sneak in here and fucking tell them you know me? How was that a good plan?”

Derek winced. “You were always the one with the plans, Rosie. I just followed along.”

She stepped forward, livid, as the nickname worked into her chest and lodged itself behind her heart. “Don’t call me that. You know I hate it and I know you’re just trying to make me flustered.”

Derek grinned. “Is it working?”

She clenched her jaw and fought to keep from slapping him.

He faltered as he read her expression. “Yeah, I know it was stupid. But I had to do something.”

She hated the plaintive tone in his voice, hated the needling sympathy it stirred in her even after everything that had happened.

“They let you come see me,” he started tentatively. “Are your new templar friends going to help?”

Her anger drained as she stared into his eyes.

Roslyn felt like a fuse burning on both ends, trying to remember the loss and isolation of seeing him in the Witchwood, of feeling like no one cared whether she’d left them behind, and trying to reconcile that with his bright, hopeful presence now. Staring at Derek, feeling the familiarity between them, tarnished and broken, but present—made her question everything she’d built with the Inquisition. How could these fleeting alliances mean as much as this, as him?

“The council has refused your request for aid,” she murmured. “But as that is a stupid decision, I have decided to ignore it.”

He stiffened and his eyes widened in shock. His gaze sharpened as he took in her determined expression.

Before she could stop him, he stood and embraced her, wrapping his long arms around her shoulders and drawing her close to fold his lanky body around hers. “Thank you, Rosie,” he sighed, holding her with such tender familiarity that she remembered what it was to feel small and fragile.  

The wolf in her hand shifted, drawing up the image of his eyes wide with fear and anger as he yelled at her in the Witchwood. It made the embrace feel false.

She pressed him away. “Derek, I’m not going back to the Rebellion. I’ll help you, of course, but I can’t—” She broke off at the memory of his tortured words, at Fiona’s cold judgement.

He stared down at her, hands lingering on her shoulders. “Maker, Roslyn, what did I say to you?”

She shook her head and stepped back, shrugging out of his grip. “It doesn’t matter.” She bent to gather her things, composing herself. “We need to go soon, before they realize I’m leaving. If they find out, they might try to stop me.”

She didn’t know if that was true or not, but she didn’t allow herself to entertain the idea they might not force her to stay, that her value to them was based in anything more than her mark. If she did that, she wouldn’t be able to leave.

Derek watched her carefully, playing with his staff. They hadn’t taken it from him. The knowledge only plucked at her resolve.

“When were you planning on meeting this contact of yours?”

“I wasn’t really. He said to return when I could and bring you.”

She closed her eyes, trying to keep her temper from rising. Derek had always been an idiot when it came to planning ahead, but she’d hoped he would have made more of an effort, considering she was risking her life and her place in the Inquisition to help him.

“Do you have any way of contacting him?”

Before he could answer, a knock on the door of her cabin made them both freeze.

Had Varric told someone?

“Yes?” she asked in a strangled voice.

“I was wondering if I might have a moment of your time, Herald.”

Leliana’s voice sent shards of ice into her chest.

She’d found out. Had one of her scouts seen her? Was she about to break down the door with a group of templars and chain her to the bed?

“Of course, Leliana,” Roslyn said with a swallow, cursing the frantic pitch of her voice.

“I apologize for interrupting,” Leliana started casually as she opened the door, her sharp eyes taking in Derek’s frozen expression, “but I wanted to speak with you about the council’s decision.”

“That’s kind of you, Leliana, but there’s no need to check up on me. I understand it, even if I disagree.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Tell me, then, why I’ve found you so upset.”

Anger flushed over her chest. It helped to steady her voice as she said, “I am upset because thousands of innocent people are going to be enslaved or killed and the Inquisition will not raise a hand to protect them. I am upset because I can’t help but wonder if the situation were reversed, if we’d been told of the Order’s imminent destruction, that some might be more willing to rush to their aid.”

“I agree. But I think you already know that.”

“I expected as much in the council. But it seems we were outvoted.”

“And yet you seem to be planning on leaving anyway.”

Roslyn's hard expression faltered. “Leliana, the council made their decision, and I—”

“Herald,” Leliana said with the ghost of a laugh. “You are many things, but you are not a good liar.”

She could attack the woman and run, crash through Haven like a bull and alert the entire Inquisition to her plans. She thought she might be able to get away from a small group of soldiers, but... You can’t fight Cassandra. You know you can’t.

The wiser option would be to admit her plans, surrender to the council and convince them she’d changed her mind. It would give her time, at least.

You could stay, the small, weak part of her offered, thinking of the warmth of the tavern and the people inside.

“I can’t stay here knowing the mages are in danger, Leliana,” she said firmly.

“I understand, but you cannot slip out in the middle of the night without anyone noticing.”

“Apparently,” Roslyn said, gathering her energy into her core. The wolf stirred against her palm in preparation for a fight.

She would need to do this quickly and carefully. The sooner she was able to disarm her, the sooner she could run for the road. She just hoped Derek caught on.

“My scouts are stationed along the path out of the mountains,” Leliana continued, “and I doubt you would be able to steal something out of the requisition tent, even if Threnn is currently overindulging in Flissa’s home brew.”

“Who told you?”

“Harding.”

“Well, that hurts.” Her magic buzzed along the length of her arms, still invisible. She sent the wolf a silent thank you for remaining still enough to allow her to keep the element of surprise. It rumbled at the acknowledgement. I’m talking to a spectral manifestation of my mark. Lovely. “But, I suppose she is your agent.”

Leliana arched her brow. “I would not blame her. She worries over you going off on your own.”

Roslyn needed to do this now before her power became too much to hide.

The arcane prison was ready, searing within the skin of her fingers, when Leliana stated plainly, “As do I. Which is why I intend to join you.”

The magic fizzled against her skin as Roslyn reined it in. She wasn’t able to keep the sparks from shooting out of her hands as she clenched them. Leliana’s eyes widened, but she made no other sign of alarm as Roslyn relaxed.

The wolf growled in disappointment.

“You,” she breathed, “you want to come with me?”

Leliana's eyes were hard, but she didn’t seem afraid. She seemed impressed.

“You are not the only one who believes that mages deserve the same rights as the rest of the world. Were they not in immediate danger, I would still wish to accompany you. Redcliffe holds something of my heart and I will not see it despoiled by Tevinter.”

Roslyn wondered at the emotion in her voice. When had she spent time in Redcliffe?

“Besides,” Leliana said, turning to Derek, “I have a feeling this contact of yours will prove harder to draw out than you expect. I have a certain—expertise when it comes to such matters.”

Derek’s eyes were wide, but he nodded. Roslyn stared purposefully at the hand still clenched tightly around his staff, which he released with an embarrassed laugh.

She turned back to Leliana with an apologetic frown, only then noticing she was dressed for a long journey, with a thick cloak and sturdy boots. She thought she caught the outline of a blade hilt on her hip as she shifted.

“Leliana, I can’t ask you to do this. Aren't you committing treason or something?”

Her mouth twitched in amusement. “The Inquisition has no leader and no formal command structure. This organization has grown quickly in a small amount of time and episodes like tonight are the inevitable outcome. How long we can continue like this, I don’t know, but I break no oaths in leaving with you. The council cannot condemn us both. Not if they want this Inquisition to remain whole when we return. If you had left without me, you might have been branded as a deserter. With me, it is more a difference of opinion.” Her mouth curled into a wry smile. “One, I am sure, that Josephine will be able to smooth over gracefully when the time comes.”

This might not mean the end of her role in the Inquisition. The relief in that realization was more welcome than she would have expected.

“I guess I owe you a debt,” Roslyn murmured.

Leliana's eyes hardened in recognition as she said, “I have already arranged for our supplies to be waiting for us in the valley. My scouts know we will be coming and will hide our departure until morning.” She smiled. “I imagine dear Josephine’s morning tea will not be as uneventful as she expects.”

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you were prepared before you came here.”

Leliana cocked her head like a bird. “I took a gamble. It seems I was correct in my estimation of you.”

Maker, does that make me feel cozy. Roslyn turned to Derek. “Are you ready?”

He nodded slowly, watching Leliana. “You Inquisition folks are remarkably efficient.”

Roslyn snorted as Leliana opened the cabin door, bending down to retrieve a folded jacket. She threw it at Roslyn, who caught it and sent her a questioning glance.

“Unless you would like to remain in your torn clothes for the entire journey.” She smirked. “Also, I assume you don’t want to steal back the coat you allowed the little elf to borrow from you in the chantry?”

Roslyn’s frown deepened unease. I wonder where she keeps her third eye hidden.

She grabbed a scarf and gloves from the small table beside her bed, blowing out the candle as she reached down to grab her sword and followed Leliana out of the cabin. Derek gave her a curious smile as he saw the weapon, but said nothing.

They made their way down the winding road and crossed two bridges in the valley without incident, passing shadows in the forest which she assumed were Leliana’s agents. Roslyn started to wonder if Leliana had made her scouts store their supplies all the way in Redcliffe, when a bird cawed softly to her right.

She turned to see a raven sitting atop Harding’s shoulder, ruffling its feathers in the chill night air. Pushing away her fear as the bird stared at her—remembering the green haze she’d imagined around the raven in Therinfal Redoubt—she smiled at the young dwarf. “If it isn’t the little tattle-tale.”

Harding shrugged with a knowing smile. “Apologies, your worship, but I’ve seen you camp before. Didn’t think it’d be wise to risk you going off on your own.”

“She’s not the only one,” a low, amused voice muttered in the shadows.

Derek let out a startled cry and Roslyn jerked around in surprise as she felt his magic surge. She thrust out her hand and caught the thread, a blast of ice. His magic swerved into her hand. She splintered the energy before it shot toward Iron Bull as he stepped out of the shadows with the rest of the Chargers arrayed behind him. The ice slid up her arm in one second of blistering pain before it shattered in a puff of mist.

She bent over and swore as the pain faded, fighting the surge in the wolf’s consciousness.

Iron Bull whistled. “Damn, Boss. Nice reflexes.”

Breathing heavily, she glared at Derek.

“Roslyn, Maker, I’m sorry,” he said with wide, confused eyes.

“Derek, meet Iron Bull and the Chargers,” she croaked. “This idiot’s name is Derek Harper.”

Iron Bull sent Derek a wide smile, still frozen in horror as he stared up at the qunari. “I know, I know, the horns are intimidating, but underneath I’m just a big softie.”

“Out for a nighttime stroll, are we?” Roslyn asked roughly as she straightened. “With supplies and travel equipment?”

Iron Bull grinned and winked at Leliana and Harding. “Oh, yeah, Boss. We love ourselves some dark, cold, clandestine walks in the moonlight like everyone else.”

Krem, his lieutenant, sent her an apologetic smile. “Just luck that we found you here, your worship.”

“I’m going to kill that dwarf when we get back,” Roslyn muttered.

Iron Bull grinned as Leliana shot her a hard glance. “Don’t blame Varric. I realized something was up once I saw Nightingale make a beeline toward your cabin.” He sent Leliana a glowing smile. “Figured whatever you were off to do, you could use some help.”

Her eyes were hard, but Roslyn recognized the begrudging respect in them as she surveyed the qunari.

“Well," Roslyn asked wryly, noting with amusement how thoroughly her attempt at subterfuge had failed, "what’s seven more warm bodies for the Void?” 

Chapter Text

Roslyn leaned against the damp wall as water leaked through the broken roof above her. She and Iron Bull sat on opposite sides of a small fire, him sharpening his sword and her staring listless into the flames.

Camped out in an abandoned hut, they’d remained behind as the Chargers left with Leliana and Derek to meet his magister contact. Harding and Dalish had broken off to scout the area over two hours ago and retrieve Harding’s raven as it returned from the Inquisition’s other agents. Word had reached King Alistair of the full extent of the situation in Redcliffe and apparently he did not approve of the Tevinter Imperium making deals with independent parties on his land anymore than Roslyn did. The Inquisition's council, with two of their number gone, had agreed to rally their troops to march and meet with the King’s army.

An entire regiment of Ferelden’s finest soldiers traveled with the Inquisition’s vanguard and she sat in a soggy hut. She thought it a special kind of irony that the news had come only a day after they’d left. She supposed she should take it as a blessing that help was coming at all.

The gentle grating of Iron Bull’s whetstone on his axe was soothing when mixed with the soft rain. It did nothing to dislodge the knot of anxiety in her chest, but it gave her something to focus on rather than guilt and anticipation.

Even from miles away, she felt the rifts in and surrounding Redcliffe. It made the wolf in her hand restless. She didn’t know whether it was the animal’s frustration bleeding into her own or if the anticipation of what she might find in Redcliffe drew out the wolf’s anxiety, but it was starting to wear on her nerves.

As if summoned, the wolf pressed a shower of sparks from her palm to interrupt the gentle silence of the hut, growling in frustration as another rift shuddered to life ten miles away. She closed her eyes, clenched her teeth against the shudder. Since waking that morning, nine rifts had opened and closed. She hated to think of the chaos it would mean for the people inside the village walls.

Iron Bull muttered, “That is never not gonna be creepy.”

She snorted. “You kidding? I love it. Lends everything a healthy dose of excitement, not knowing whether my hand might explode in the middle of a conversation. Keeps me on my toes.”

“You’re hilarious, Boss.”

“Not your boss, Bull.”

“Yeah,” he said with a laugh, “but it’s our thing. It means we’re becoming friends.”

“Isn’t it bad form to get close to the person you’re spying on? Emotional entanglement leads to complications and all that?”

“That kind of shit only happens in books. Any half-decent spy wouldn’t let a little thing like attachment get in the way.” He grinned. “Anyway, you’re making it too complicated. All I’m supposed to do is watch you and tell my superiors what the Inquisition is doing.”

“I’m not complaining. I’m merely pointing out that you’re not a good spy.”

Iron Bull winked. “Or, I’m a very good spy and I’m playing you.”

Roslyn laughed and let her head fall back. The dark sky was visible from a hole in the ceiling to her left. Even though it was only mid afternoon, the clouds made it seem like well after sundown.

“How did you figure out what I was up to?” she asked out of curiosity. There hadn’t been much time for conversation in their frantic journey to Redcliffe and the thought had been bothering her.

He returned to the soft grinding of his axe. “You mean in the tavern?” 

“You, Harding, Leliana, all figured me out. It’s not like I’m planning on running away again, but I’d like to know what I did to give me away so easily.”

“It’s not what you did, it’s what you didn’t do.” His low rumble of a voice was pleasant against the rasp of whetstone. “People are never just one thing. In your case, you get angry when you get sad and there’s this extra layer to your rage that makes it that much more potent. You’ve got the kind of attitude spies like me learn to pick up on."

She listened with a sense of unease, hearing her coping mechanisms laid out easily, as if it were nothing more than an area of interest for him.

"When you’re trying to control yourself, it gets all tense, like a jar of hornets. You can hear the buzzing, feel the rage, even if your voice sounds fine. Most people wouldn’t notice unless they’re particularly observant or they’ve known you a long time.” He blew against his axe, sending a cloud of dust into the air. “But when you’re putting it on, it doesn’t have that humming quality. It’s like trying to pass off fermented grape juice as wine. If people didn’t know any better, didn’t know how to taste the difference, they’d get drunk and wouldn’t blink an eye.”

Her eyes narrowed. “So, what you’re saying is you know what I taste like?”

“Oh,” he said with a wicked smile, “don’t tempt me, Boss.”

Roslyn grinned, recognizing the empty tease, but appreciating it all the same. “I’m disappointed I’m so easily figured out.” She looked down at her hands. “I’ve always thought I was good at controlling my emotions. I've worked at it hard enough.”

Iron Bull tilted his head, considering her. “I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more going on in that head of yours than trying to control what everyone else thinks of you.”

The grin slid off her face as she pictured the wolf pacing in the back of her mind.

“There’s a saying we have in the Ben-Hassrath, translates roughly to ‘Be the air so you can’t be moved.’ Meant to remind us that there can’t be any part of you brittle enough to break. Most people think walling up or hardening themselves to pain and suffering is the only way to get through their shit. It’s not. You can choose not to feel it at all, make yourself like the air, so nothing moves you or makes you feel anything you don’t choose to feel. When there’s nothing for your emotions to hold onto, they float away. Like the air.”

“And that works for you, does it?”

A flash of something like sadness flickered in his good eye. “Maybe it’s animal nature, gut instinct, but people don’t just let the kind of shit I’ve seen wash over them without drawing it inside. I didn’t, anyway.”

Roslyn knew what he meant. “How—” She cleared her throat, memories rearing like shadows behind her mind. “How did you stop it?”

“I didn’t,” he said simply. “I turned myself into the re-educators.”

“Re-educators?”

“Branch of Tamassrans who help soldiers adjust after war. Think of it this way—a person’s mind is like a book. Words can be crossed off, pages torn out and replaced. Strip away enough of someone’s will, they start to believe what you tell them to believe. Sometimes that means making them forget the bad stuff keeping them awake at night.”

Roslyn swallowed a wave of bile as it rose up her throat. The idea of someone working their way into her mind, reordering her thoughts and replacing them with new ones, made her skin crawl. “That’s vile, Bull,” she murmured.

He narrowed his eye. “Sometimes it’s the only way to keep going. You wouldn’t cut off an infected finger to save the rest of your arm?”

“Not if I knew it was going to be replaced with something that would change the way my hand worked without my control. I’d rather lose the arm and keep my freedom.”

The wolf shifted against her palm and the reality of her fear tingled at the base of her spine. Iron Bull had no idea how relevant his example might be to her one day. If she couldn’t control the mark there was no way she could close the Breach.

Iron Bull grinned and relaxed. “And that is why you shouldn’t convert to the Qun. Too much will, not enough practicality. It isn’t economic to cut an arm off when you could save it by changing the parts. It wouldn’t have been practical to lose me just because I stopped serving the purpose the Qun demanded of me. So, they helped me work through my shit and now they have a world class spy to watch you do your thing. Everything worked out in the end.” He pocketed his whetstone and winked. “I’m not converting, Boss. But I’m here if you want to talk. I have a feeling—”

Her mark expanded and threw sparks over the fire. Her mind shifted along with the mark, and something huge and wild opened up very close to her—another rift.

Shit,” she gasped as the wolf snarled.

“Ah, crap, I can hear it,” Iron Bull said with a groan. “You think it will wink out on its own?”

She gritted her teeth and shook her head, rising and moving out of the cabin. The air around her rippled with the sounds of the demons as they poured from an opening on the other side of the road.

A cold finger of fear wormed its way down her spine as she heard familiar voices raised in alarm. She took off down the hill from the hut, knowing Iron Bull would follow, and sprinted forward, jumping over a crumbling wall and spinning around as she caught sight of the rift through a copse of trees.

The wolf growled and lunged forward. Her hand jerked upright, green energy spooling out and up, seeking the tear in the sky.

She cried out in alarm, tightening her hold on her wrist and forcing the wolf back with her own magic.

The rift cracked over her head, swirling and sparking in tandem with her mark. Dark shapes flickered through the fog of green sparks and rain around her. The Chargers fought the demons with Leliana and Derek.

Roslyn looked up, fighting back her fear, and unleashed the wolf with a cry. It to connect to the rift, which opened up to her like an old friend, reaching down to wrap itself around her and flood her body with raw, searing energy.

The wolf stretched languidly out of her palm toward the rift and her eyes went wide as its muzzle appeared over the tips of her fingers, its black shape swirling beyond the green glow of her mark.

She reacted instinctively, swelling to chain the wolf and pull it back. At first, the shimmering white threads glanced off its form with no effect. The wolf snarled, its red eyes warning her off another attempt, but she ignored it. She caged the wolf, wrapping it so tightly against her that its spectral claws raked against her arms and chest. The rift snapped against the wolf in her palm, and finally shuddered to a close.

Her knees buckled and she fell into the mud, gripping her left wrist as the wolf slumped in defeat.

A hand pressed against her shoulder. She blasted back with a wave of force, righting herself only to stare into Derek’s wide, fearful eyes as he staggered away.

“My word, that was bracing,” a cultured voice pierced the silence. She watched a man walk toward her, eyeing her mark with fascination. “Rather more for you than me, I’d wager.”

“You all right, Boss?” Iron Bull called, eyeing the newcomer with an uncharacteristically cold eye.

She nodded, turning to the man dressed in fine robes. His skin was a warm brown in the dim light, and he wore a ridiculous amount of buckles over his clothes. “You’re the Tevinter contact, I’m assuming?”

“Well, aren’t you a feisty young woman?” His dark eyes sparkled as he looked her over. “I thought you were supposed to be stoic and self-righteous, not prickly and sour.”

Roslyn’s brow shot up, but before she could say anything, another man stepped forward.

“My apologies, Herald,” he said in a gentle voice. He was dressed similarly, if a bit more traditionally in a tunic and armored greaves. “Dorian doesn’t give a good first impression.”

The other man scoffed. “Come, now, Felix. I am the definition of ‘good first impression.’ No one with two eyes could say I don’t give a good first impression.” He threw Iron Bull a faked wince. “No offense meant, of course.”

“Obviously, you know who I am,” Roslyn said slowly, ignoring the indulgent smile on his face, “and why I’m here.”

The second man nodded with a small frown. “I do. My name is Felix. It is an honor, Lady Herald,” he said politely, inclining his head.

This one, at least, seemed able to converse without blowing his own fanfare.

The one named Dorian rolled his eyes and gave an exaggerated incline of his head to match his friend’s. “Dorian, of House Pavus, most recently of Minrathous, currently, of this damp hill. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Herald.”

She nodded at Felix, gave Dorian a brief glance. “Roslyn. Charmed.”

“Spoken with such derision.”

“Dorian,” Felix snapped.

Dorian sighed and turned back to Roslyn with a rejected kind of silence.

“Oh, no, please, don’t stop on my account,” she said. “I’ll just wait until you’re both done.”

Felix frowned and looked embarrassed while Dorian’s eyes widened in pleasure. He didn’t say anything, but looked her up and down with renewed interest.

“The other one just showed up when we found Felix,” Derek muttered from her left.

“And a good thing I did, my mop-headed friend,” Dorian said with a chuckle. “Trust me, I’m the good kind of surprise. Like a piece of chocolate in a box of vipers.”

Roslyn rolled back her shoulders in frustration. “Can you hear yourself when you speak or does it just spill out in fits of expansive nonsense?”

Felix smiled in surprise and Iron Bull let out a bark of laughter.

Dorian's smile sharpened. “Alexius was my mentor. My assistance in stopping his insanity would be invaluable, as I’m sure even you could imagine.”

“You understand why that rift was so volatile?”

“I do.” The glint hardened in his eyes. “Alexius is attempting to alter time. What he plans to do with it, Maker only knows, but it’s clear his experiments have gone beyond the theoretical study he was engaged in when I left him. Alexius would have you believe it was kismet how quickly he and his cronies arrived here after the explosion at the Conclave. It’s not.” He gave her a radiant smile. “You seem to have the market cornered on providence, dear Herald.”

Felix watched Dorian with a frown. “Alexius used the Breach to distort time itself to get here before anyone else could.”

Roslyn tried to wrap her head around the idea that a Tevinter magister had succeeded in altering the reality of time. As if they weren’t frightening enough already… “He went backwards in time?”

Felix nodded.

“Why?”

“You mean beyond the ability to lord it over the rest of world?” Dorian asked with a tight smile.

“My father has joined a cult,” Felix said. “They’re Tevinter supremacists, calling themselves the Venatori. He’s cut all ties with the Magisterium.”

“Your father?” Leliana asked sharply, stepping up beside Roslyn.

Felix winced. “Yes.”

“And you’re working against him?” Roslyn murmured, watching a sad frown twist his mouth.

Felix’s eyes grew hard and determined. “You left the Rebellion to join the Inquisition, didn’t you? I know a little about your history, Herald, and I’ve spoken to Fiona.”

Roslyn swallowed her shock, the little flutter of hope in her chest that Fiona might have— “I didn’t have a choice.”

Felix smiled sadly. “Neither do I. When the people you love lose sight of what made them worth loving, the only thing you can do is try to stop them. He will rip a hole in the fabric of time if he doesn’t see sense.”

Roslyn nodded, ignored the ragged gap in her chest where she might have held Fiona's approval once. “There’s already one hole in the sky. I’d like to keep it that way.”

“Herald,” Felix urged, “I don’t know what the Venatori want with the southern mages, but my father is obsessed with your mark.”

Roslyn met Leliana’s gaze in confirmation. “Have either of you heard of a woman that goes by the title of ‘the Elder One?’ ”

Felix’s face hardened, and Dorian’s mouth curled up in a small smile. “Now, that’s definitely not a good sign,” he murmured.

“My father has mentioned her a few times,” Felix said with a frown.

Roslyn asked Leliana, “How soon do you think the Inquisition can get here?”

“Four days. Three if they hurry.”

“They need to,” Dorian said coolly, “Alexius is planning on moving the last of the mages the day after tomorrow.”

“Day after tomorrow?” Derek asked in alarm. He turned to her, his wide eyes beseeching. “We don’t have time to wait for the rest of your damn Inquisition.”

“I know, Derek. But what do you expect me to do, march into the village and kill all the magisters?”

He said nothing, but she could see the fear screaming from his eyes.

“Where are they taking the mages?” she asked Felix, trying not to let her panic overwhelm her.

“I have no idea. They’ve been rounding them up and taking them in groups to the castle. After that, I assume they’re leaving by boat.”

Roslyn turned back to Leliana. “If we can sabotage these boats somehow, we might be able to stop the magisters until the Inquisition arrives with King Alistair’s army.”

“A charming and noble plan,” Dorian said with a pitying smile, “but how exactly are you planning on getting into the castle? It’s rather big, you know. Very intimidating, sturdy, Ferelden, and all that noise. Makes for a bit of an eyesore, really.”

Roslyn conceded that he did have a point. Everything she’d heard of Redcliffe Castle was that it was nearly impregnable. Only three men had successfully taken the castle since it was built a thousand years ago. How was she supposed to get in without an army?

“I know a way in,” Leliana said sharply, “a secret passage into the castle dungeons, an escape route for the family.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’ve used it before, and I know where the docks are located, but I think we would be discovered before we could reach them. The castle is large, yes, but I am assuming the magisters have some wards set against intrusion?”

Felix considered her. “Yes, but I don’t think they would reach the lower levels. If they do, I can disable them before you arrive. There will be people guarding the boats though, that I’m sure of. My guess is they’ll move the mages from the village to the castle tomorrow before they’re shipped away.”

Roslyn looked at the ground, trying to ignore the insistent shifting of the wolf in her palm. Leliana needed to get in and out without being discovered. And the magisters were obsessed with her mark. She squared her shoulders and looked at Leliana. “You and the Chargers need a distraction, something to keep the magisters occupied while you disable the boats.”

Leliana’s eyes narrowed in confusion, and then her face relaxed with realization. “It is incredibly dangerous, Herald,” she said slowly. “You have no idea why they want your mark.”

“You’ll be left alone in there, Boss,” Iron Bull said in a low voice, following her unspoken idea without missing a beat. “We might not be able to get you out.”

“I know.”

If the Inquisition was three days behind them, that meant two days locked in a castle with the magisters. Might as well jump head first into the fire.

She turned back to Felix and Dorian. “Is there any possibility they keep me around for a few days? Experiment on me, or something?”

Dorian’s eyes were locked on her face, a hard kind of respect shining in his eyes, but it was Felix who answered, “I’ll be with my father the whole time, or I’ll try to be. I might be able to persuade him to let you live.”

“Wait, what?” Derek asked in the silence.

Roslyn tried not to grind her teeth as she turned to him. “Derek, this is the only way to get you all inside.”

“You can’t give yourself up.”

“I can and I will.” She held his eyes firmly to make sure he knew there would be no discussion.

Fear and anger flashed behind his eyes, before he looked down and set his jaw.

She watched him compose himself with a lurch in her chest. “Tomorrow morning, then?”

Leliana nodded. Her eyes remained on Roslyn for a second too long, concern showing before she hardened her expression. “I will have Harding send a raven to the King. Perhaps we can persuade him to hasten his march. Iron Bull, can one of your men return to Commander Cullen and inform him of this change? He cannot wait until the Ferelden army arrives to assault the castle.” Her eyes flickered back to Roslyn. “The Herald does not have time.”

“I’ll go, Sister Nightingale,” Krem said quickly, shouldering his large battle-axe and shooting her a determined glance. “I’m fast. I’ll bring the Inquisition here soon, your worship, you have my word.”

Roslyn let out a shaky breath. “Thank you, Krem.”

Iron Bull stared at her before he turned to the Chargers and said with a jovial smile, “What’d I say about interesting jobs, huh? At least we get to kill some Vints.”

“Feeling the spirit, chief,” Krem said with a dry smile, dodging the qunari’s hand as he tried to bring the man in for a hug.

“This a good time to try out my new explosive powder then?” the dwarf named Rocky asked eagerly as they headed back to the hut.

Roslyn met Iron Bull’s gaze, seeing the respect flash in his eye before he followed his men.

Leliana’s face was hard, but she turned without another word to follow the Chargers.

“I should be getting back to my father,” Felix said tightly. “There’s a large rift in the center of the village. Most of the mages have been cleared out already, and the villagers that didn’t flee to the Inquisition are... Well, it should be free of bystanders. The Venatori haven’t figured out how to close it yet, so I think that’s your best bet for getting their attention.”

Roslyn grinned. “Lovely, I’ll just walk up and close the rift.” She tilted her head. “I suppose that’s the easiest way to announce who I am without having to actually announce who I am.”

Dorian eyed her skeptically before he asked, “Your plan is to get yourself captured and hope for the best?”

Roslyn shrugged. “It’s better than getting captured and hoping for the worst.”

He laughed and shook his head, though something in his expression hardened. “I don’t suppose you’d allow one more to join your rift closing party? Alexius doesn’t know I’m here, so it might shock him enough to give him pause. He was always a curious thing, prideful and overbearing. It would wound his ego to know I went to you, maybe even force him to prove his control over the situation by bringing us both in for questioning.”

Roslyn's brow lifted in surprise. He didn't seem like the heroic type. “You would put yourself in harm’s way to help me?”

“I am confident in my own abilities to wiggle out of a sticky situation.” His eyes glittered with a kind of foolhardy determination.

“Magnanimous of you,” she said with a wry smile.

Dorian beamed at her. “Look at us, shattering stereotypes like old friends.”

Roslyn snorted. “I guess you’ll be coming with us, then?”

The smile fell off his face so quickly Roslyn had to work to hide her amusement. “I suppose so. Let me guess, you’re camped in a cave somewhere?”

“Abandoned cabin with half the roof missing.”

“Joy of joys,” he said with a scowl and turned. “Felix, my friend, pray that I don’t die of a cold with these southern savages.”

Felix smiled, but she caught the tone of concern in his voice as he said, “There are worse things than dying, Dorian.”

“Not many, amicus,” Dorian answered, clasping Felix’s arm. “Sis in caelo semihora ante diabolus novit morieris.

Felix smiled tightly and nodded at Roslyn before heading back into the mist toward Redcliffe.

“Do you think he’ll be able to help?” she asked Dorian.

He gave her a smile bereft of any flare. “That man is the best my country has to offer. If he cannot convince his father, I’m not sure anyone can.”

Without warning, the wolf shivered beneath her palm, and she tensed.

Dorian caught her movement and stared down at her mark with interest. “Does it do that often?”

Roslyn nodded, impressed that he could sense the change in her aura. “More now than it used to.”

“May I?” he hummed in interest, arching a brow at her hand.

She held it out, realizing with a jolt that the only other person who had ever asked to examine her mark was Solas.

“Asking for my hand?” she asked to distract herself. “Rather forward.”

“I would not think to tarnish your good opinion of me by attempting anything untoward so soon, dear Herald,” he said mildly as he held her palm up. His eyes narrowed in delight. “This is magnificent. Whoever designed this is a savant.”

“You can see it was designed?”

“Of course,” he said with a tone of superiority. “Anyone with basic theory in temporal manipulation of Veil energies can see this was designed for a purpose. Strange.” He paused, moving her hand to get a better look at it. “All this ambient energy in the way makes it difficult to see the pattern as it is. The distortion is magnificent, though. I assume that’s to allow the energy to spread.”

“It’s a nine pointed star with a circle in the middle,” she offered.

He met her gaze with a curling smile. “Really? How do you know?”

She grinned. “Help me stay alive for three days and I’ll tell you everything you want to know. Everything I know, anyway.”

He released her hand and matched her grin. “What a tease you are.”

The wolf stirred again, this time sending sparks up between her and Dorian.

A wave of anger and frustration washed through her, coloring her vision red. 

She jerked back, and the anger fled just as quickly. Roslyn caught her breath as her blood ran cold. The anger had come from the wolf. It growled in the back of her mind and she had the impression that it was pacing behind the confines of its cage.

“That was unexpected,” Dorian murmured. “It reacted apart from you.”

“You could feel that?”

Dorian nodded, face serious. “It’s rather potent. Maker knows how you're keeping yourself together underneath that tangle of wild red hair.”

At least I’m not going mad, then.

She looked back down at her mark and tried to push away the rising panic in her throat.

“We should get back,” she muttered, steeling herself as she turned to meet Derek’s look of shock and concern.

“Roslyn, what the fuck is—,” he started.

“I’m not changing my mind and I don’t want to hear it.” Her jaw clenched at the hurt in his eyes, but she couldn't indulge him now. She could barely hold herself together.

She turned away from him before she could let her fear show, her mark still pulsing, and walked into the rain-drenched trees alone.

Chapter Text

Roslyn swallowed a cry as her knees slammed into the stone floor. Enchanted chains shackled her hands behind her back and she struggled to stay upright as she winced. A cut throbbed on her upper lip where a magister’s gauntlet had broken the skin and blood trickled over her chin, but she buried the pain, tipping her head back to stare at the dais before her.

Redcliffe Castle’s throne room was decorated with rich, darkly colored tapestries depicting forests and cliffs in deep reds and greens. Carvings of animals were visible on every wooden surface, mabari being the most prominent. A long red carpet ran along the center of the hall and a huge stone fireplace glowed warmly behind the man on the dais. It was a lovely place, if one like to feel entombed in an ornate dungeon.

Dorian fell to the ground next to her and tipped to the side, their captors decidedly less delicate with him.

Small blessings. She grinned as he swore spectacularly in what she guessed was Tevene and righted himself, hair falling into his eyes and high white collar smeared with mud and blood. It might have been enjoyable to see him so rumpled and stripped of his usual composure if they weren't surrounded by a cult bent on ripping apart the fabric of time.

She met Dorian’s eyes with an arched brow. He winced, but gave her a small nod.

The men at their backs walked forward, horned masks gleaming in the light of the large hearth fire, and up a small staircase to kneel in front of a man who sat in a large, ornately carved wooden chair.

He wore the horned hood and finery of a magister, supple blood-red linen held taut by bronze and steel finishings. Roslyn recognized the dark eyes and the square jaw. He looked so like his son she might have believed she was looking at Felix in thirty years.

He eyed Roslyn critically before addressing Dorian. “It is good to see you again, old friend.”

Dorian leveled the man with an imperious scowl. She never would’ve thought someone shackled and bleeding could look so haughty. “I would say the same, Alexius, were it not for these damnably irritating manacles around my wrists.”

Roslyn was surprised to hear a hint of remorse in his voice as Alexius said, “That is your doing, Dorian, not mine. I gave you the chance to aid me willingly and you refused.”

Dorian let out a derisive laugh. “ ‘Join me Dorian, we can go to the south and join a cult and rip apart the fabric of time. We’ll all have a lovely time as the world burns around us.’ You can see why I refused. I hoped you would, anyway. Honestly, the fact that you thought I wouldn’t try to stop you is the saddest thing in this whole sorry affair.” Dorian paused in consideration. “No, it’s still the bit about ripping apart time.”

“The magisterium is corrupt, Dorian. You know this. Change is needed to usher Tevinter into a new age of dominance and prosperity. The Elder One will remake Tevinter into the true power it once was.”

Roslyn spit a globule of blood onto the floor, cutting Alexius off.

“Was it ever a true power, though?” she asked casually. “I seem to recall it being thoroughly thrashed by a slave, an elf, and a few barbarians. And that was before the Qunari pummeled you into the sea. It seems to me the only people shouting about the glory of the Imperium are the ones in it, while the rest of us just see a bunch of old men clinging to their skirts in fear of an errant draft revealing how much they’re compensating for.”

“Herald,” Alexius said with disdain. “It is a pleasure to meet you at last. I had hoped it would be under more—pleasant conditions.”

“Really? That’s odd. I seem to have missed your invitation. I would have sent you a fruit basket with a note telling you ever so kindly to fuck off.”

Alexius sighed, as if she were a child swearing in front of guests at a dinner party. “What a charming mouth you have. It seems Fiona was right about you.”

Her jaw clenched as she tried not to react to Fiona's name.

Alexius’ eyes narrowed. “I admit, I was curious how a girl of no real magical talent had hoped to comprehend the power you stole, but you are... vibrant.”

“No real talent?” Roslyn muttered. “Unchain me and we can test your claim. I’d love to prove you wrong.”

His smile was small, amused. “I am sure you would, Herald. But you are outmatched. It would be easier to give up now and be swept along with the tide of change.”

Roslyn shifted and flexed her hands against the manacles on her wrists, trying to keep her blood circulating. Let’s see what he knows. “An Envy demon tried to convince me of that not too long ago. It didn’t work out in its favor.”

His brow furrowed. “Envy—” He sighed, apparently unbothered. “So, you bested the demon at Therinfal Redoubt. Impressive. Sheer force of will will not save your Rebellion, however.”

Roslyn murmured, “It's not my Rebellion.”

 

The sound of running footsteps cut off Alexius' response as a magister sprinted into the hall, whispered something into his ear.

Roslyn hummed as Alexius' bored countenance hardened in anger, and turned to Dorian. “Hmm, wonder what that’s about?”

Dorian smiled indulgently. “Probably something to do with their evening meal. Someone spoil the roast boar?”

“The boats,” Alexius said sharply. “They are gone.”

Roslyn grinned. How had Leliana managed that?

Alexius frowned. “Dorian," he murmured, "you fool."

“Don’t blame me,” Dorian said. “I’ve been here the whole time. I’m sure eventually I could work out how to make a boat disappear from thin air but—”

 

"It is no matter. The Elder One comes in five days to collect the rest of the southern mages." Alexius stood and considered Roslyn before he stepped off the dais. “You would do well to cooperate, Herald,” he said in a low voice that almost sounded kind. “It will make no difference if you fight. There are none who can stand against the coming tide. It is certain.”

“I'm not so sure, Alexius,” she said as he crouched in front of her. “How are those rifts working out for you, if you've got such a handle on things?”

He smiled ruefully as he flicked his wrist.

Her manacles split apart, moving of their own accord to drag her hands in front of her. The wolf growled and snapped at the foreign magic, but she kept it caged, the chains hissing as they reconnected at her wrists.

Alexius reached out and grabbed her marked hand. His grip wasn’t tight, but his touch was not gentle as he examined her mark.

He spent a long time staring at it, narrowing his eyes in an attempt to see past the glow of green energy.

She remained still, throwing her weight into the mark to control the wolf. When Alexius prodded it with his own magic, however, it retaliated. Sparks of energy flew up toward Alexius’ face and he flinched back, but kept her wrist locked in his tight grip.

The wolf howled and raged. It took every ounce of her will to subdue it, wrapping her own magic around it so tightly the animal whimpered in frustration.

The whimper sent waves of guilt into Roslyn's chest. The only time she had caught a glimpse of anything other than rage and bloodlust had been in the Fade. This desperation was something else entirely.  

Alexius stared down at her mark with wide eyes, meeting her gaze with a shake of his head. “It seems I am not the only one having trouble.” He released her and snapped his fingers, and her hands moved behind her back again as she winced at the wolf’s angry reaction. “You have no idea what it is you wield.”

“I have some ideas,” she called as her head pounded. “I’d love to hear yours, however. We can share. Bond a bit.”

He smiled indulgently as he settled into his chair again. “I am sure you would, though I am not so sure you would understand them.” He motioned to the guards on either side of the dais. “Take her to my chambers.”

He continued, “I will test your mark and your claim to bravery. We shall see what it is you have stolen from my mistress.” He turned to Dorian with a sad frown. “And take this one to the cells. We will determine a suitable punishment for his crimes when the Elder One arrives.”

“Crimes against whom, Alexius?” Dorian asked sharply. “From where I’m kneeling, the only one who has committed a crime is you, and to your own conscience.”

Alexius frowned in regret. “You will understand in time. I am only sorry that my son will see you in chains. You were his dearest friend.”

“Felix is the kind of man to overlook faults when it came to those he loved,” Dorian murmured. “He’s always been better at that than you or I, Alexius.”

As a group of magisters walked over to them, Roslyn said to Dorian, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

He winked and whispered, “Says the woman who—”

The men forced him to stand and marched him out of the hall. He stumbled and shot one of his captors a mocking smile before they shoved him through the doors.

 


 

Roslyn lay chained to the stone table in Alexius’ rooms, aching after countless hours of being unable to move. Her hand twitched and she clenched her jaw as the wolf rose and paced against her mark, growling in frustration.

It had been two days, or so she guessed, since her voluntary capture, and constant control on her mark was draining her energy. She didn’t know what time it was or how long it had been since she last slept, but she knew Alexius would come eventually.

Alexius had studied her mark at length, prodding at the wolf with increasing frustration when he found it wouldn’t respond to him beyond shooting sparks. Whatever he was looking for seemed to elude him. Roslyn had expected him to use some kind of torture, but he hadn’t so much as touched her, preferring to use complex instruments and magical devices to examine her mark from a distance.

Even if he wasn’t actively hurting her, it was infinitely harder to control the wolf when he was present. Every time Alexius used his magic to interact with it, it responded by battering at its cage.

Like a frightened animal, she thought, hating the desperation and fear leeching from it into her mind.

The wolf stopped its pacing after a while. She got the impression that it slumped to the ground.

You and me both. Her jaw relaxed and she let her iron grip ease.

Her mind separated into two halves, one focusing on drawing energy from the air and the other trickling magic into her mark to reinforce the wolf’s cage. It was like trying to breathe in and out at the same time, but it was the only way she’d been able to remain conscious and not deplete her mana pool.

The wolf huffed in frustration and her mouth twitched into a smile. Whatever it was, the wolf was growing just as annoyed as she was at their precarious situation.

Roslyn had known one day all that pent up anger and rage she’d tried to ignore her whole life would come boiling back up to the surface. She hadn’t thought it would drive her insane, but she supposed she would rather talk to an angry wolf in her hand than die in an explosion of arcane energy.

The wolf grunted in response and she let out a breathy laugh.

She drifted for a time, unsure how long she spent waiting, when she heard a pop of displaced air and felt someone walking toward her. She tensed, expecting the wolf to attack her, and opened her eyes to a cloud of smoke and a familiar gaunt face.

Lovely. Now I’m hallucinating as well.

“No, no, I’m here,” Cole said quickly.

Her eyes widened. “Cole?”

He nodded.

Roslyn forced more magic into the cage as the wolf growled in fear.

“It doesn’t understand,” Cole said with a frown, focusing on her hand. “It thinks you want to hurt it.”

Roslyn blinked rapidly, still not entirely sure if what she was seeing was real. “You can hear it?”

His only answer was to stare at the door. Roslyn didn’t hear anything outside, but she imagined he was listening to some thread of thought rather than actual voices.

“Oh,” he exhaled. “They’re coming to free you. I didn’t know how to break your chains. I’m not here, not all of me. The rest is with Solas.”

A pitiful lurch of warmth swelled in her chest as she grabbed onto his name.

“We’re under the castle, coming to find you, but it’s hard. The stones aren’t—”

“Right,” she said weakly, cutting him off as the wolf stirred and rose to its feet. It didn’t feel hostile, but it seemed to be preparing for something.

Solas is here. “Can you talk to him, Cole?”

"Yes."

“Tell him to find the mages. I’m not in any danger yet, but I don’t know where the rest of the mages are being held or if they’re even alive. The Inquisition needs to get them to safety before the Elder One arrives.”

Cole frowned and rubbed his hands together in worry. “Cassandra won’t like that.”

She blinked. “Cassandra’s with him?”

He nodded again. “Leliana’s secret, she knows the way inside, been here before with the king who wasn’t a king then—” He broke off and looked to the door again.

Footsteps sounded in the hallway outside.

“I have to go,” he whispered, “we’re about to fight some magisters.”

Her eyes widened in alarm and she strained against her chains. “What?”

Cole popped away in a cloud of smoke before he could answer, leaving Roslyn with her heart pounding.

Cassandra and Solas were here and they were coming to help her. Her eyes burned with unshed tears and that pitiful warmth blossomed in her chest.

Just because they were here, it didn’t mean they had forgiven her.

But they’re here.

The door clicked open and Roslyn raised her head to see Dorian and Felix enter.

“Herald, fancy meeting you here,” Dorian whispered and made for her chains. “Though, I'm disappointed. I thought you might have broken out of these chains by now.”

She struggled to rise, biting back a groan as her body protested the movement. “You try fighting a wolf who wants to rip you apart from the inside out and see if you have the energy to break a damn locking spell.”  She winced as her feet touched the ground and blood rushed back into them.

“What’s that about a wolf?” he asked with a quick smile as he slid an arm under her shoulder to help her stand.

“Never mind,” she mumbled, turning to Felix. “Is the Inquisition at the gates, or is it just the small party under the castle?”

He froze, staring at her with tired, confused eyes. “How do you know that?”

“Don’t have time to explain.” She stood, her legs and back shrieking in pain. “They're fighting the Venatori now, so I’m assuming whatever your plan is, it has to happen quickly.” The wolf breathed with her and pressed against the cage. It seemed more like it was testing the barrier than attacking it, so she let it stretch.

“There is a small party coming in to help get you out before the rest of the soldiers arrive,” Felix confirmed. “The king and his men are marching on the village with the Inquisition’s forces.” He gave her a pained smile. “Quite an army you’ve got, Herald.”

Roslyn swallowed the urge to tell him it wasn’t her army. “Where are the rest of the mages?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve been—I’ve been ill for the past two days and unable to learn much of anything.”

She studied his face. Now that she was looking, she saw his dark olive skin was pale and a frown was fixed on his face, as if he was in pain.

“Are you all right?”

He let out a hollow laugh. “My father’s had you chained up for two days experimenting on you and you’re asking me if I’m all right?”

A shout and the sounds of pounding boots in the next hallway over made them all jerk into action.

“You two can debate who is more noble when we get out of here alive,” Dorian said and wrapped his arm around her waist to help her walk.

They hurried down a hallway, Felix leading them through dim passages covered with more rich tapestries and thick red rugs. They rounded a corner, entering a large room with two staircases on either end, one leading further beneath the castle and the other leading up to what must have been the throne room.

Footsteps rang through the hall as a group of five men with horned helmets led by Alexius raced down the stairs toward them.

So much for a simple escape, she thought in frustration.

Alexius froze, his face slack with disbelief as he stared down at his son. “Felix?”

Dorian tensed under her as Felix stepped forward. “It’s over, Father,” he said, pain in his eyes. “Give up this madness before it goes too far.”

Alexius shook his head in denial. “What have you done?”

Roslyn grimaced. Spending the last two days with no one but Alexius, she’d learned he was not a cruel man. He seemed frustrated, yes, and definitely mad, but he could have treated her much worse.

“Your son cares about you, Alexius,” she called up to him. “You and I both know the mark is unstable. You can’t control it any better than I can.”

He turned to her with a hard scowl. “You think you can turn my son against me?”

“Father, listen to yourself!” Felix cried desperately. “Do you know what you sound like?”

Apparently tiring of the family reunion, one of the Venatori rose their staff, fire blossoming along its shaft. She moved forward before he could charge his spell, ducking out of Dorian’s grip with a grunt of pain and raising her hand, letting some of the energy caging the wolf slip away.

Her mark blazed as green light spilled out into the hall and illuminated the staircase.

“Stop, now,” she shouted as the wolf growled and pressed against her, shooting arcs of green lightning from her hand. She leveled her gaze at Alexius. “You know what this is capable of, Alexius.”

The wolf bared its teeth and her vision swam. She blinked as the room came into heightened focus, the colors more vibrant and the edges of the magisters swirling, like she could see the physical trail of their aura around them.

She blinked again and her vision returned to normal.

Dread pooled in her gut as the wolf whined in frustration. Had it... been seeing through her eyes?  

“The Inquisition is coming,” she forced out. Work with me here, she pleaded. If she could feel the wolf’s anger, shouldn’t it feel her fear? “You won’t be able to stand against them and the Ferelden army.”

“Alexius,” Dorian cried behind her, “this is exactly what you and I wanted to prevent! How can you support this?”

“Please, Father,” Felix said. “Let’s end this and go home.”

Alexius stared down at Felix with tears in his eyes. “It is the only way, Felix,” he whispered. “The Elder One can save you.”

Felix stared up at his father with a mixture of pity and anger. “Save me?”

“There is a way. The Elder One promised to help you if I undo the mistake at the temple.”

“I am going to die,” Felix said in a hard voice. “You need to accept that.”

Alexius turned to Roslyn, and the look in his eyes made her stomach drop.

“No,” he said firmly, drawing himself up to his full height and bringing his magic to bear. “I can fix this. It is her fault. I will change it.”

His magic rose, static and alien, and something unseen slammed into her hand. She tried to dislodge it, but it felt like iron coating her skin and her magic could find no purchase. Her blood started humming as Alexius reached for something in his pocket. “I will make you see, my son. I will save you.”

Her arm shook so violently now that she had to clench her teeth to keep from biting down on her tongue. It was all she could do to keep standing. Whatever magic Alexius was working, it wrapped around her mark and drew energy from it, clawed its way along the glyph. She choked, the intrusion so vile she felt like she was going to throw up. 

“Alexius, no,” Dorian cried.

Alexius held up something no larger than the size of Roslyn’s thumb—a small, shimmering white stone.

A wave of vertigo descended over her as she recognized it. The crystal the Alamarri mage had used in her dream at Val Royeaux.

Green light coalesced around it as Alexius clenched his fist.

His magic answered and surged, digging in hooks and circling her mark. The wolf roared in fear as it was smothered. She could do nothing, locked in Alexius' spell.

No, no, she thought as the wolf went silent. She tried to throw herself into her mark, tried to kick it back to life, but she felt nothing. Maker, please

A spark. A faint burst of green in the back of her mind.

Dorian shouted, but her ears pounded as she stared at the crystal, unable to look away. The alien energy redoubled and she crumpled as it slammed into her, unable to cast so much as a gust of force in her defense.

A crash sounded at the bottom of the stairs and a familiar voice called her name.

Warm hands caught her waist and Dorian muttered something unintelligible. She heard Alexius yell and a sharp, metallic pang ran through her mind. She screamed as the iron grip grated against her hand, tearing as it dislodged.

Her mind clicked into place and she gasped in relief as her mark sputtered to life. The wolf growled in fear as it took shape again, pressing against her and burying its head in her chest.

Another shout—Cassandra, she thought dimly.

A roaring, familiar magic erupted beneath her before the world went black and she fell through the ground.

Her body shrank, squeezed into a space so tight nothing should have been able to pass through. She caught flashes of sound, images that materialized in front of her only to be ripped away by the shrieking dark. Warm hands on her waist and the pulsing against her chest were the only things keeping her from losing all sense of her body as Roslyn fell through endless black.

Chapter Text

A faint whistling was all Roslyn heard before she hit the ground. Water splashed against her face as she pitched forward into a shallow river, her body shaking from the effort of staying on her hands and knees.

She hunched in on herself, pressing her hand to her heart as her mark radiated heat. It was still there, still alive. Void take it all, it’s still there.

The wolf pressed back as she caught her breath, almost like it was brushing its muzzle against her cheek. It was calm, if shaken, but it wasn’t trying to fight her for control.

This is a pleasant change of pace, she thought. 

She shook the water out of her eyes and blinked to allow her vision to adjust to the harsh, red light.

Someone coughed violently beside her and she jerked around to see Dorian flailing in the shallow river.

Fasta vass,” he coughed, rolling onto his back. “Did it work? Are we alive?”

"I have no idea," she muttered, but froze when she caught sight of her marked hand. At first, she thought it was a distortion of the water, but when she raised her hand, her skin was a liquid, pulsing green, softer than the sparking gauntlet, but just as vibrant.

Did you do this?  she thought tentatively, an impression of the wolf rising to its feet and sitting at attention. It said nothing, but she had the odd feeling it was just as confused. Of course it didn’t say anything. It’s a fucking wolf.

She caught Dorian’s curious frown and dropped her hand. “Where are we?” she asked as she helped him up.

“We've been displaced, I’d guess. Probably not what Alexius intended.”

“You think he tried to send us somewhere?”

Dorian gave her a tight smile. “Not us, dear Herald—you. I’m just the fool who got in your way.”

She remembered the pressure on her waist, the whispered incantations when she’d been powerless to act, and her throat grew tight.

Dorian rolled his eyes and turned away. “Don’t thank me for heroically trying to save your life, really. Your stunned silence is gratitude enough.”

She bit off a smile and looked up at the source of the red light. Red lyrium crossed the expanse of the cavern ceiling like a web, pulsing and branching out from a single, huge spur in the center of the ceiling. A hole in the stone wall to their left poured water onto the cavern floor, feeding the river that wound over dark rock before it fell off a steep cliff into a vast, black lake.

Frowning, she waited for the sick hum in her bones, the drag at her aura, but she felt fine. Better than fine, actually. 

The wolf stretched and shook out its fur in her mind’s eye.

Is that you, too?

“Maker’s infinite mercy, what do you suppose that is?” Dorian scowled up at the lyrium node, his expression strained. He seemed to be feeling the effects of the lyrium.

“Lyrium. Or a kind of it, anyway.”

“No, really?” He gave her an incredulous look. “Why is it red?”

“Search me,” she muttered as she got out of the river, wringing out her tunic and hair as best she could. “What do you think Alexius did intend?”

“I’m not sure,” Dorian said as he joined her and smoothed his own hair back. “Perhaps he was trying to send you somewhere else? The closest confluence of magical energy?” He paused, a mixture of disbelief and shock in his eyes. “Though... if we’re still in the castle, it’s not simply where, it’s when!” He shot her a wide, almost impressed smile. “He moved us through time!”

Of course he did, she thought in resignation, finding Dorian’s enthusiasm disconcerting.

“Oh, but I don’t even want to think about what this will do to the Veil,” he continued, looking past her as he spoke more to himself. “We didn’t travel through time so much as punch a hole through it and toss it into the privy. He was trying to focus on your mark, of course, though—he was able to alter time without it before. Why would he… Unless—” He broke off, his smile fading as he met her gaze. “Unless his original plan was to remove you from time completely.”

“If I wasn’t in the Temple of Sacred Ashes, I never would have gotten the mark,” she said slowly, chill spreading down her spine. Erased from time, she thought as the wolf circled, sniffing at her fear. It’s thorough, I’ll give Alexius that.

“I assume that was the idea, yes,” Dorian said carefully.

“And the crystal he used?”

The same crystal from her dream.

Well, she conceded, probably not the same crystal. The dream had to have taken place hundreds if not thousands, of years ago. It was highly unlikely it was the same stone that mage had used to project the apparition in her tent.

“It’s a focusing stone. White opal. It’s how Alexius was able to draw on your mark.”

“A focusing stone? Does it do anything else?”

Dorian cocked his head with a bemused smile. “I’ve heard some backwater hedge witches use it in their strange seances in Rivain, though for what purpose, I’m sure I couldn’t tell you.”

Rivain. What the connection between Rivaini hedge witches and the ancient mage was, she didn’t know, but it couldn’t be a coincidence.

Dorian interrupted her train of thought with a chuckle. “I tell you Alexius intended to erase you from time and you’re worried about the pretty trinket he used?”

She looked away with a frown. “It just blasted me through time. I guess I’m just wondering what else it’s capable of.”

His smile widened. “Don’t you worry. I’ll make sure nothing terrible happens to you. Nothing else, that is.”

“Right,” she grinned wryly, “that makes me feel infinitely better.”

The amused gleam in his eyes faded, replaced with a kind of frustrated interest. “How did you manage to break the spell, by the way?”

“What?” she asked distractedly as she turned to examine a stone door to their left set into the wall of the cavern.

“I tried to counter Alexius’ spell, but it had started working on you by the time I knocked him back.” He shrugged. “You managed to stop the spell before I could do anything to help you.”

“I didn’t do anything.” She frowned at him. “I tried to, but I couldn’t.”

“Curious,” he hummed, studying her with an interest which reminded her painfully of Solas.

“Do you know when in time we are?” she asked, anything to distract herself from the growing light in his eyes.

Dorian gave her a sideways smile before looking up at the stone door. “I’m sure we could find out with a little poking around.”

There were no handles or seams, and it looked carved from the stone wall, angular lines meeting in the middle to circle around some kind of center square. She followed a double line up to the top of the door and found a familiar pattern carved into another circle. And as she looked closer, she saw the slight variation in color. Where the cavern rock was dark and flecked with silver bursts, the door was a solid grey.

“Well," she pointed, "that looks like a glyph of repulsion.” Eight lines crossed in the center with a circle inside and out. She frowned as she realized it looked like the glyph on her palm.

Repulsion?  What would the mark need to repel? The Fade, maybe, or everything else?

“Good on you, Herald. It seems your southern Circles aren’t entirely useless after all.”

She fought the urge to roll her eyes. “They also taught me how to read and write and even count to ten—though the last is harder without looking at my hands.” She stepped closer and ran fingers along the stone. The enchantment was well made, but it seemed old, like it hadn’t been renewed in a long time. She waved her hand over the door, testing it and taking care not to disturb the glyph. Getting blasted back over the cliff was not high on her list of desires right then.

“I think I can break the lock if the glyph is disabled,” she mused, feeling her way around the magic in the door. She wouldn’t know for sure until she could thread her magic in and see what she was dealing with, but it seemed an easy pick, easier even than the one on the storerooms back in the Ostwick Circle.

Dorian’s hands glowed in a yellow-orange hue and his eyes fixed on the glyph. He muttered something under his breath and snapped his fingers. The glyph shimmered as his magic connected and burst apart in a shower of particles dispersed into the air. Another wave of his hand and he absorbed the released energy with ease, turning to her with a winning smile and a cocked brow.

Roslyn fought her smile as she placed her hand on the lock, furrowing her brow in concentration. It didn’t hurt, but there was something jarring about the resistance, like its energy was warring with hers.

Whatever the key was, it felt like it needed something different than simple force.

She threaded her magic over and around the center mechanism and let it sink down, overriding it with her own aura. She forced herself to slow and ease her magic inside, flowing into the mechanism rather than forcing it to shift to accommodate her, and she frowned when she felt her temple twitch at the expense of mana.

The wolf rose, pressing its muzzle against her palm. The trickle of energy was small, but her mana refreshed as she expended more effort into the door. Her heart thudded as she allowed the wolf to aid her, feeling refreshed in a way she hadn’t in a long time.

That’s a neat trick, she thought, marveling when it huffed in pleasure.

It took her a few minutes to be sure her magic had entirely suffused the lock before she slowly started drawing it out into her palm. The wolf shook out its shoulders and paced as the magic filtered through it and back into the Fade.

The mechanism clicked when the energy was gone and Roslyn grinned as she pushed the heavy doors open, only to pause when she met Dorian's gaze.

He stared at her with his mouth slightly open and his eyes wide, as if she had just turned into a griffon.

“What?” 

“What do you mean, ‘what’? What did you just do?” He stared down at her hand with a mixture of fear and awe.

“I unlocked the door,” she said, deeply uncomfortable with the interest in his eyes.

“As if it were a lock on your father’s liquor cabinet,” he said with a breathy laugh, staring at her like a complex puzzle he was trying to work out. “ ‘Break the lock,’ indeed. You didn’t break it so much as persuade it to open for you.”

She scowled. “Has anyone ever told you that you have a particularly smackable face?”

“Not in such an eloquent way, no,” he laughed and relaxed. “I had a thought while you were communing with the stone. If that crystal you’re so interested in still exists, I might be able to send us back through the same rift Alexius opened in the staircase.”

Roslyn peered into the dark hallway behind the crack of the door. “Good.”

He grimaced. “It might also turn us into paste.”

“Well, then I will entrust in your own vanity to ensure that does not happen. That mustache of yours would look frightfully embarrassing attached to a pile of paste.”

Dorian scoffed, but before he could respond, something stirred in the darkness.

The wolf raised its shackles and prepared to attack, flooding her body with energy. Dorian jumped, his own magic sparking against his hands.

There was a soft pop, a familiar brush of air, and someone stepped into the opening.

She swallowed back the fear that crawled up her throat as she recognized the figure. “Cole?”

It was undoubtedly him, though he looked more like a skeleton now, his clothes hanging off him in tatters. Without his hat, the shadows that usually softened his face were gone, exposing the bleak lines of his hollow cheeks. His hair fell down around his shoulders and she could almost hear his bones crack as he turned his head to meet her gaze.

A chill ran down her spine as she stared into his eyes, glaring out like pale lanterns through a thick fog. 

“Ah—dear Herald,” Dorian whispered, snaking a hand around her arm to tug her back, “it’s usually best not to name demons.”

Roslyn frowned and pulled her arm from his grip. “He’s not a demon.”

She took a step toward Cole. He didn’t move, but his eyes followed her until she was close enough to touch. The air around him held an undefinable chill.

“Cole,” she repeated, “can you hear me?”

When he spoke, his voice was rough and rattled in his bony frame, like he hadn't used it in a long time. “You fell through a crack.”

“Yes, we did,” she said with a forced smile. “Are you—are you all right?”

He blinked, the first sign of any change in his expression, and his brow furrowed. “Why are you here?”

“Existentially or—,” Dorian started weakly.

“Can you tell us where we are, Cole?”

“Redcliffe Castle.”

Roslyn exhaled in relief. “Good, that’s what we thought. Do you know where in the castle we are?”

“Underground.”

She never would have thought she’d miss his roundabout explanations and tangents, but without them his voice was unnerving. “Do you know what day it is?” He said nothing and she continued, “Do you know where Alexius might be, then? We need to find the crystal he used to send us here in the first place.”

Cole turned away, disappearing into the darkness of the hallway. He stopped and turned back to her when she didn’t move, his eyes shining in the dim light.

“Does it want us to follow?” Dorian asked warily.

“He,” she corrected quietly and walked through the door.

Dorian followed close behind. “What a charming young man,” he whispered.

“He’s not usually like this.”

“What? A terrifying ghoul?”

Roslyn frowned, but didn’t say anything. She didn’t know how spirits aged when they took physical form, if that’s what Cole actually did, but he didn’t look any older or younger. Emaciated and frightening, yes, but there was no way to tell how much time had passed just by looking at him. She wanted to reach out to him, take his hand and make him stop and explain, but she didn’t how he would react. This wasn’t her Cole. Whatever had happened to make him like this, she didn’t know this person.

They walked for a long time in near darkness before red light filtered through the far end of the hallway, the air smelling of damp, rotting wood and something sickly sweet. Red light pulsed at the top of narrow flight of stairs. It wasn’t as potent as the cavern, but it still hurt her eyes as she approached the top. The wolf walked with her, pressing against her again to feed her more of its energy. The light lost some of its potency and she wondered what the wolf was doing to curb the effects of the red lyrium.

They entered another long corridor, this one wider, lined with shards of red lyrium embedded into the walls. Maker, how much red lyrium is there?  The pattern was strange, lining the walls in the same way it had crawled across the cavern ceiling, almost like a web of vines.

She froze when she heard thumping boots and murmurs of conversation. A man said something in a high, carrying voice, almost humorous, but he was cut off as another answered him with a frustrated shout. She heard a slap of metal against skin and a hard grunt as someone fell onto what sounded like a grate.

Cole looked back at her, his lamp-like eyes beseeching her to continue.

She gritted her teeth and sent a warning glance over her shoulder at Dorian, who was wincing in sympathy as the noises of a fight broke out.

Roslyn followed Cole through the corridor, magic building in her core in preparation for a fight. It was easy, almost effortless, to conjure the prism of energy over her hands as they burst into a large, high-ceilinged room. A metal grate stretched across the center, covering what looked to be at least a hundred-foot drop to a lake below.

Two men stood over another in the center, kicking a figure on the ground. Roslyn rushed forward and pulled one of the standing men, masked with a metal horn and wearing the blood red of the Venatori she’d just left behind in her own timeline.

He tried to twist around to her with a shout, but she slammed her hand against his back before he could turn, snapping his spine and blasting him into the lake with a wave of force.

She turned to the other Venatori and watched him fall, tripped by the man lying on the grate. She saw a flash of metal, a sharpened iron bar, from the look of it, and watched the man stab into the Venatori’s neck, cutting off his cry of alarm with a gurgle of blood.

She took a step back, pulling her magic taut and feeling the wolf reshape in her mind, only then realizing that it hadn’t attempted to stop her.

That’s kind of you. It huffed, and she caught a tendril of satisfaction.

Dorian ran up behind her, his breath hard. “I should have known you were the kind of person to run headlong into the sounds of a fight.”

The man on the grate in front of her grunted and shoved the Venatori off him, peering up at her with an odd mixture of confusion and fatigue. “I’d give you the proper respects, madam, but I seem to be at a bit of a disadvantage.”

Roslyn grinned. “Let’s drop the pleasantries for now, then.” He seemed whole, not a gaunt skeleton like Cole, and there was a flush to his tan face that looked healthy enough. His reddish blonde hair was long, but not unkempt, and there was a distinct fineness to his clothes under the dirt. Not exactly hard to look at either. “You seem to be in a spot of trouble.”

“What makes you say that?” he asked with a frown. “Don’t you frequently find yourself at the mercy of Tevinter pricks taking out their frustrations on your unmentionables?”

“I think my unmentionables are hardier than yours.”

He blinked, his face smoothing into a smile. “You are much more agreeable than most Venatori I’ve met.”

“We’re not Venatori,” Dorian said.

“Ah. I should have known,” he grunted, sitting up with some effort and wincing. “You’re too disheveled to be Venatori. World conquering cultists, yes, but not without their fashion sense.”

“I beg your—,” Dorian started.

“Roslyn,” she interrupted, holding out her hand. “This is Dorian.”

The man looked at her hand warily, but took it, standing and giving her a tight smile. “Delighted to make your acquaintance,” he said with another wince as he straightened to his full and considerable height. “My name is Alistair, and it seems I owe you my life.”

Roslyn stared as her mind connected the name to the fine clothes, the castle. “Not... King Alistair?”

He gave her a tight smile, rolling out his shoulder and looking down at the Venatori he’d killed with hard eyes. “Not for some time now, of course, but yes, in another world.” He knelt and withdrew a long, curved sword from the man’s scabbard, frowning at the weapon.

“Funny you mention that,” Dorian said with a hollow laugh, “you wouldn’t—”

“Hold on,” Alistair interrupted him as he straightened, staring down at Roslyn’s marked hand, more obvious now with the sheen of green coating it like a glove. His eyes hardened in shock, flickering up to her face. “That's... You're the Herald of Andraste. Roslyn Trevelyan. You died.”

Her jaw clenched at the shock in his eyes. Forward then. “It’s more complicated than that.”

Alistair frowned, shock giving way to something like anger. “Well, this is brilliant. Now I know the Maker’s a sadistic bastard.”

“Right, well, now that we’re all acquainted,” Dorian continued over the awkward pause, “would you mind telling us the date, your majesty? It’s important.”

Alistair watched Roslyn with hard, almost pained eyes before he turned to Dorian. “I have no idea. The Venatori generally stick to grunting and shouting these days, sprinkled with a bit of good old fashioned violence, as you just saw.”

“The month, then,” Roslyn urged, “you have to know the month.”

Alistair sighed. “Oh, probably Harvestmere. Though it might be Firstfall now.”

“And the year?” she asked slowly. It might only be a few weeks.

“9:44 Dragon.”

The date thudded into her chest. She froze, unable to comprehend.

Three years.

They’d been thrown forward in time three years.

“Well,” Dorian whispered, “that’s a bit longer than I expected.”

She heard his voice as an echo, her chest constricting in on itself. Three years with no one to close the Breach. Three years with everyone thinking she was dead.

“From the looks on your faces, I’d say that’s something of a surprise?” Alistair mused.

It took her a moment to find her voice. “Something, yes.” She swallowed back the rising panic in her throat, turning to Dorian. “Does it matter how much time has passed? Will it still work?”

Dorian considered her, his eyes tight with worry. “It should,” he murmured, “but I’d say we need to move quickly. The longer we’re here, the harder it’s going to be, and if it really has been three years…”

Three years. Andraste preserve me.

“I’d ask for an explanation,” Alistair said, glancing between her and Dorian, “but I’m sure it would only make my head hurt.”

“We were thrown forward in time three years,” Dorian said, forcing a smile, “through a rift, incidentally.”

Alistair stared at him, his face blank, but then he sagged in resignation. “Right. Shouldn’t have asked.”

“We need to find Alexius, one of the magisters,” Roslyn urged. 

Alistair frowned. “I know Alexius. We’re old friends.” He paused, searching for something in her eyes, but seeming to come up short. “I can take you to him, but I promised someone important to me I would help her, and I intend to keep my word.”

Roslyn held his gaze, wondering at the interest in his eyes as he studied her, but nodded. “We help your friend and you take us to Alexius?”

“It’s a deal,” he paused, his eyes narrowing, “Herald.” He said the title like an accusation.

Roslyn frowned as he turned away, gripping his sword with a white-knuckled fist and squaring his shoulders.

“Interesting fellow,” Dorian whispered, falling into step with her as she followed the King across the grate, “are all your southern kings so casual?”

“Only the pretty ones,” Alistair called over his shoulder, ducking to pass under a node of lyrium.

Roslyn cast a look over her shoulder for some sign of Cole. He’d disappeared rather quickly after entering the large room and she couldn’t sense him. Something to do with whatever’s happened to him, I’d wager.

“If you don’t mind my asking, your majesty,” she started after a few minutes in silence, unable to dislodge the nagging feeling there was more to his hard stare than just confusion, “why are you so familiar with Alexius?”

“I’ve been the subject of his experiments for the last six months.”

“Experiments?” Dorian asked incredulously. “Why in Andraste’s name would Alexius want to experiment on you?”

Alistair stopped sharply before a door, pressing his ear to the wood to listen. “Man’s big on experiments. Got a host of people to poke and prod. Search me as to why.” His jaw feathered in anger. “But I’m special because I’m half-elf. I’ve been rotting in the castle cells for the past year, so imagine his pleasure when he found out.”

She tensed. Her eyes flashed to his ears automatically, searching for some sign that he was like her, that he was…

Obviously he’s not, she thought immediately, feeling like a fool for even thinking it. He’d never have been given the throne if he looked like me, royal blood or no. Knife-ears don’t rule countries.

“Why would you being a half-elf make any difference?” Dorian asked with a bit of a laugh.

Alistair turned to stare at her and arched a brow.

The accusation in his eyes turned her stomach. Oh. Maker.

Roslyn held the King's gaze, guilt tightening around her throat. “I’m half-elf, Dorian.”

“What, really?” His eyes flicked to her ears, honing in on their points. “I wondered about your name, but... Your ears are pointed. Elf-blooded humans don’t—”

She shot him a hard glare, heart beating fast as she tried to ignore the discomfort of knowing both of them were staring at her ears. Explaining the details of her heritage could wait for a more opportune time. Or forever, as far as she was concerned.

“He’s experimenting on you?” she asked Alistair, trying to keep her voice level.

Was he trying to understand why she held the mark? What would that have to do with her being elf-blooded? There was nothing about her race that connected to the mark, surely.

Alistair nodded. “For what reason, I don’t know. He's not the sharing type. Your death, whatever happened that day in this castle, was the beginning of the end, Herald. I don’t know what it means that you’re back, but I can’t say it matters much anymore.”

Something in the back of her mind unraveled, a tightly coiled fear that ripped into her conviction that going after the mages was the right thing to do. “What does that mean?”

He opened the door forcefully, his eyes never leaving her face. Fresh air brushed against her skin, cool, sharp, and strangely charged.

“It’s easier to show you,” he muttered, gesturing to the open door.

Chapter Text

As soon as Roslyn stepped outside the castle walls, she saw what Alistair meant.

The sky was a mass of roiling green that pulsed and crackled with energy. It stretched as far as she could see, a brilliant gold and emerald cover of clouds that bristled and popped. Just like the Breach. Except it wasn't contained to a single point. It was everything.

A ripple of excitement bled through the wolf as it sniffed the air. She froze as liquid swirled up her hand, an ominous chill flowing along her skin. The green sheath expanded, flowed, settling like a second skin up to her elbow. The strange tingling sensation continued even when the color stopped rising, lapping at her skin like ice water.

She clenched her hand. It didn’t feel as solid, the movement registering in an echo. The energy contained within her mark was stronger, but the physical weight of her skin and bones felt like an afterthought, like her arm was fading away to something more powerful and abstract, more ethereal.

The wolf turned from its contemplation of the sky when it felt her fear, brushing its nose against her hand. That she could feel, more acutely than the weight of her hand.

Are you doing this on purpose?  The wolf cocked its head, not understanding.

The air shifted, and a figure stepped up beside her. “You made it real,” Cole muttered, his eyes brighter now than they were under the castle.

She met his gaze, lost for what to say in response.

“Well, that’s much better,” Dorian breathed, rolling back his shoulders and standing straighter as he walked out to stare up at the sky, “and not, I suppose.”

Her jaw clenched and she fought the urge to roll down her sleeve.

“My word, there’s something that will make you call into question your entire existence,” Dorian murmured, his eyes wide. “If I didn’t know any better, it looks…”

“It’s the Fade,” she finished for him. The swirling light and sparking energy was too much like the Fade in her dreams, different and more violent, but close enough.

Vatara veis,” Dorian whispered, his eyes trailing down to stare out over the landscape.

It was barren, the rolling red and green hills of the Hinterlands darkened to a muddy brown and bristling black. Burnt fields of ash stretched across the horizon where once had been apple and oak trees and fields of grass. The mountains in the distance rose out of the hills like blackened spires and the small forests that had once dotted the countryside had been reduced to grey husks spearing out of the ground like charred lightning. Smoke curled off the dirt and mixed with the swirling green wisps of the Fade falling onto the ground like snow, covering the landscape in a shifting, sparking darkness.

The crackling Fade sparked in her veins. Beyond the confines of this castle, the world was burning.

“The Fade fell on them, crushed them,” Cole intoned, a note of sadness in his echoing voice. “It should have been different.”

“Ah, your friend is back,” Dorian said with a frown, watching Cole warily.

Roslyn turned to Alistair to explain, but found him staring at Cole with a sad smile. “It’s been a few months, Cole,” he said. “Nice to see you, as always.”

Cole looked at him with wide eyes, as if he hadn’t realized he was there.

“Cole and I have had lots of time to get to know each other,” Alistair said when he met her questioning gaze. “He used to sneak me scraps of food and books to read. Might have started talking to the walls without him.”

“You still talked to the walls,” Cole muttered, “they just didn’t talk back.”

Alistair snorted and nodded. “Right, I suppose that’s the true marker of madness. Talking stone.”

Roslyn watched the pair interact with a lump in her throat. Of course he helped. “What happened?”

Alistair looked out at the charred countryside, the ghost of a vast pain in his eyes. “After you disappeared, the Elder One opened the Breach. Came down on the world like a firestorm. It was chaos. Hundreds of thousands of demons, monsters you’ve never even heard of, just…” He trailed off, his voice breaking at the last. “We fought as long as we could, but without your mark to close the rifts, and the collapse of Orlais and the Free Marches, we only lasted a year before those of us left tried to flee north, to get away from the fighting to mount some kind of retaliation.”

“And the Inquisition?” she asked, knowing what the answer must be, but needing to hear it from him.

His eyes softening at what he found in her gaze. “Dead, or captured. Some made it out of the castle and left with us when we were forced to retreat, but... There were a handful kept by the magisters. Probably leverage at first, but now they’re either dead or they’ve been used in more of Alexius’ experiments.”

Roslyn listened with a dull, roaring guilt.

The Breach was her responsibility. She had the power to close it, and she had left the Inquisition on a fool’s errand to save the mages. It was why she’d recruited the templars in the first place… and she’d left. To save people who'd cast her out. To preserve her fucking morals.

This would have never happened if she’d stayed behind, if she’d closed the Breach when she could have. She had taken their only chance of survival and disappeared, knowing they’d be powerless to act without her.

Her eyes burned as she stared back over the barren land. Maker forgive me.

“How did you wind up here, then?” Dorian asked in the silence.

“I tried to save my country,” Alistair scowled, “or what was left of it, anyway. You’d think after so many years of fighting I’d learn that some battles are not worth dying for, but, well.” His eyes moved to Roslyn. “You really think you can reverse this?”

“I have to try,” she muttered, knowing she sounded naïve.

He let out a hollow laugh. “You know, there was a time I would have agreed with you, back when I was young and stupid and full of the idiotic surety that anything I did made a difference. But I’ve found that kind of single-minded heroism has a way of leaving you bleeding in the mud with a hole in your chest while your loved ones pay the price.”

Roslyn’s fists clenched as she read the defeat in his eyes. “You’d just give up, then? Leave this bleeding world as it is, when you knew there was something you could do that might change it?” She felt her anger rising, anything to ignore the fear and guilt crawling up her throat. “You think I could live with myself knowing I didn’t do everything in my power to correct—,” she faltered, the words my mistake catching in her throat, “to make things right?”

Alistair studied her, his eyes narrowing. His anger faded, replaced by a deep and aching pain that made him look decades older than he was. “I never said anything about living with yourself.”

As they stared at each other, Roslyn couldn’t help the feeling that he wasn’t talking about her anymore.

“Perhaps you’re right,” he said with a hollow smile, “and you’re not the only one who seems stubborn enough to fight. There are rumors of another resistance mounting in the north, something powerful enough to take on the Elder One. That’s why the two gentlemen escorting me were the only Venatori we met on our way up here. All able-bodied magisters are up in Tevinter snuffing out the last light of a free Thedas.”

“In Tevinter?” Dorian asked sharply, his eyes bright. “You mean the Magisterium is still intact?”

Alistair shrugged. “No idea. But whoever it is has enough fire power to scare the Elder One, or at least threaten her rule here.”

“You don’t think they’ll succeed?”

“I think the combined might of Ferelden, Orlais, and the Free Marches tried to combat this madness and fell to an army larger than any this world has ever seen.” He sighed. “I wish the idiots luck, really, but it will take more than a miracle to fix things now.”

Roslyn burned the image of the charred plains into her mind, the swirling chaos of the open Breach over her head.

She would fix this. She would make sure this world would never come to pass, or she would die trying. She had to.

“We need to move,” she said, dragging her gaze from the horizon and turning back to Alistair. “Your friend, where are they?”

“The guest wing on the other side of the castle. If we take the ramparts around the center courtyard, we can avoid some of the rifts below. Most of the magisters left don’t venture out here, anyway.”

“They don’t like the view,” Cole whispered, staring at her now with an emptiness which made her skin crawl.

And that’s my fault as well. “The more time we waste, the worse this gets.”

Alistair nodded and turned to lead them along the stone walkway.

“Have you noticed the change in pressure since coming outside?” Dorian asked conversationally, though she caught the intensity in his stare. “It feels like a different world out here. Clearly the Veil’s been changed, or sundered, but there’s something odd to the demarcation in the sky. You see the little line where the energy hovers about ten feet in the air?”

She nodded, but didn’t look up, feeling the wolf padding at her side. It made sense, in a way. If the wolf was the manifestation of her mark, and it was connected to the Fade, perhaps lyrium and Fade energy were opposing forces. “I think it’s the red lyrium. It’s pushing back against the Fade. That’s why it was so potent inside the keep. Maybe the Elder One brought it here to make a fortress against the Fade.”

“You think? That would certainly explain…” Dorian trailed off, clearly content to ponder in his own mind.

They walked in silence for a time, the distant cries of men and wilder beasts drifting over the burning plains and worming their way into her mind.

All of this was her fault. If only she’d stayed, she might have been able to close the Breach before the Elder One made her move. If only she'd focused...

Cole drifted close and murmured, “I can’t hear you now.”

Roslyn met his gaze with a start. “You mean—not at all?”

“No. Not loud anymore, but shielded. There’s something in the way.” He glanced down at her left arm, the light from her mark casting his pale features in a ghostly green glow. “I can hear it, though.”

“You mean the wolf?” she whispered, knowing that both Alistair and Dorian would be able to hear her. “Can you—talk to it?”

Cole shook his head, his eyes drifting to look forward as they turned a corner, and froze so suddenly she nearly walked into him.

“Cole, are you all right?” she asked as Alistair and Dorian turned to look at them.

“People, screaming, singing in unison, twisted together and growing all wrong,” he whispered frantically, his hands starting to shake. “I don’t go in there, not where they’ve been trapped—” His expression flickered in and out, as if it was hard for him to hold it for longer than a second. “It’s harder for me to understand, but I can feel them. It hurts.”

Roslyn watched the pain wash over his face, the first true emotion she’d seen from him in this new world. “Is this where we need to go to get to the guest wing?” she asked Alistair without turning, still focused on Cole.

“There’s a door to the hallway adjacent to the throne room. It’s safer to cut through than the lower courtyard. There’s a rift the size of a house down there and I’m sure there’s more demons than we can handle without the Venatori to herd them elsewhere.”

“Do you want to stay here?” she asked Cole.

He winced, conflict flashing in his eyes, but said, “No. I can help.”

He sounded sincere, the ghost of the boy who’d followed her from Therinfal Redoubt to help people in need. “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you have to,” she murmured, her throat tight, “not if it’s going to cause you pain.”

Cole frowned and met her gaze solemnly. “Yes, it does.”

She took a deep breath, turning to see Dorian watching Cole with eyes narrowed in disbelief. “Right,” she muttered, nodding to the door to Alistair’s left, “in we go, then.”

The red light of the lyrium nearly overwhelmed her before the wolf reacted. The mark hummed and buzzed as it spread further up her arm. Panic crawled up her throat as the green energy trickled up over her shoulder. She clenched her jaw against the power swirling inside her, realizing with a jolt that she didn’t truly own it. The power of the mark belonged to the wolf now that it was sentient enough to control it. If it wanted to, it could overwhelm her in a heartbeat.

The wolf cocked its head, unsure of her conflicted emotions. It brushed against her reassuringly, or tried to, anyway.

Deal with it later, she told herself, peering into the red darkness before her.

She stood on a walkway that ran along the edges of the throne room, staring down at the very place she and Dorian had knelt before Alexius only two days before. A massive column of lyrium shot up from the center of the room and branched out across the ceiling. It took up the entire raised dais, stretching nearly twenty feet in diameter and twisting around itself like a storm funnel frozen in the midst of a revolution, pulsing in a steady beat and sending out waves of curling light red smoke.

Dorian entered the room behind her, his face contorted and sweat beading on his forehead.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, don’t I look the picture of health and vitality?” he snapped breathlessly. “I think I fancy a bit of dancing, really.”

“Don’t strain yourself,” she muttered with a grin, stepping in further to allow Alistair to follow them inside. “You can leave the grandstanding for when you get your strength back.”

Dorian rolled his eyes, but he seemed too tired to respond.

Cole hovered outside of the castle, staring into the doorway with a hollow, frightened look. She reached out for his hand and slowly slipped her fingers into his. His breathing was still sharp, but his face and body relaxed at her touch. She gave his hand a squeeze and pulled him further into the room.

Roslyn eased along the balcony, staring down at the column, larger and more powerful than any she’d seen in the Hinterlands. Her eyes trailed to its base and held, dark shapes spaced in the rock at regular intervals that stood out in sharp relief against the pulsing light. At first she thought they might be wooden posts or slabs of stone to prop up the lyrium as it grew, but as she rounded the corner of the balcony she saw they were arms and legs and heads.

Encased in the column were bodies, contorted and warped by the red lyrium growing out of their skin, just like the templars at Therinfal Redoubt.

Maker preserve me and give me strength, she thought automatically as the sick burn of bile rose in her throat.

Cole started shaking next to her, whispering so fast under his breath she couldn’t understand what he was saying.

The bodies with limbs and parts of their skin still exposed hung like dolls tacked to a board, eyes blank except for a dull red sheen. She forced herself not to look more closely inside the lyrium, knowing she would see more shapes trapped like bugs in amber. She took a deep breath as she stepped down from the staircase, edging as far from the column as she could and turning away.

Dorian was struggling to keep upright, his face pale and his hands shaking as he stepped toward the wall. “I think I’m going to be sick,” he muttered, bracing his hand against the stone and leaning against it with his eyes closed.

She frowned, about to step toward him, when Alistair called behind her, “Herald?”

His voice was hard, constrained, and when she looked over at him, the rigid look in his eyes as he stared at the lyrium sent a chill down her spine.

She met Cole’s gaze and squeezed his hand. “Can you stay here with Dorian? Make sure he’s all right?”

Cole nodded, his eyes flashing to the column of lyrium. “She didn’t tell you because she made a promise, not to hurt you. It wasn’t about you.”

Roslyn stared at him, unable to drag her eyes away from the pain in his, before she turned and walked to Alistair where he stood transfixed on the other side of the column.

She followed his gaze and froze.

Black hair and gold skin, long, pointed ears framing eyes that should have been hazel-green…

Fiona was trapped in the lyrium.

Roslyn’s mouth opened of its own accord and she let out a strangled cry, moving before she could stop herself. She took two steps forward before she jerked to a stop as she saw a vein pulse in her neck, a shift of her jaw.

Fiona’s eyes moved between her and Alistair with disbelief.

She’s alive, Roslyn thought in a twisted sort of relief, forgetting why she was angry with her, why she’d come to Redcliffe in the first place.

Fiona coughed and asked in a voice that vibrated along with the lyrium that encased her, “Roslyn?”

Roslyn swallowed the hard lump in her throat and stepped forward. Her chest constricted at the sight of red welts covering her neck and shoulders, lyrium crusting over her skin like a rash and glittering with each pulse of the node.

“Yes, it’s me,” Roslyn murmured, stopping a few feet away, hands twitching uselessly at her sides. She wanted to pull her out, but it would be useless. The lyrium covered nearly all of her now, in places consuming her flesh and turning her limbs into glowing red stone. 

“You’re alive?" Fiona whispered. "How?”

“It’s complicated.” The wolf paced around Roslyn, nudging her with its muzzle, but she ignored it.

“I see. No doubt you figured some way of thwarting Alexius. I should have known you’d be too stubborn to let him kill you.”

Roslyn’s eyes burned. “You shouldn’t speak, Fiona.”

“I have not spoken in two weeks, my dear. Allow me this.” She took a rattling breath, turning her gaze from Roslyn to stare at Alistair.

It was a look of such longing, such regret, that Roslyn found herself transfixed. She didn’t understand. She’d never seen Fiona so vulnerable, so—weak.

“Alistair?” she croaked.

He did not step forward, his eyes hard on Fiona’s face, angry and full of pain.

“Does the Maker—,” Fiona sucked in a rattling breath, “wish to punish me or reward me with your presence?” Her mouth twisted into a pained smile. “Both, I think.”

Fiona and Alistair stared at each other with eyes for no one else.

Something shifted in the back of Roslyn’s mind, making her feel like she was watching something private, like she didn’t belong. She’d never seen Fiona look at anyone that way before. Why this man?

“You look so like your father,” Fiona breathed. “I wish you could have met him.”

Alistair swallowed. “I did, actually.” He paused, his voice shaking slightly as he muttered, “He didn’t tell me about you.”

Fiona closed her eyes and red tears trailed down her cheeks like blood, staining her skin. “I asked him not to. There are things I will never be able to explain, but—I am so sorry, my son.”

The world dimmed to a single word as it slammed into Roslyn’s stomach like a fist.

Son.

Her son?

Fiona’s eyes opened and turned to her, still leaking tears. Roslyn looked for the lie, trying to see the trick in her eyes. This must all be some sort of sick joke. She’d wake up from the nightmare soon and be back in Haven.

Because the idea that Fiona had an elf-blooded son, and had never told her...

 

Every conversation between them flashed through her mind as she searched for some hint that she’d missed, some hidden piece of information, frantically turning them over like tiles on a board. Every moment turned black with the knowledge that Fiona had held this from her. 

Fiona would have told me, she thought firmly despite the dread spreading up her spine. She should have known what that would mean—

But Fiona had given him up.

Just like her own mother had given her up.

Nobody wants you, not even your filthy, knife-eared mother, Helena’s voice whispered.

Roslyn stared at Fiona, a horrible anger reshaping her shock. “That’s how Alexius knew…”

“I assumed as much,” Alistair muttered, his voice breaking.

“I have been such a fool,” Fiona whispered. “The Elder One—I could do nothing—” She broke off in a coughing fit, blood trickling from her mouth. “She was too powerful.”

Tears crested her lips, and Roslyn realized dimly that she’d started to cry.

This is just a possibility, it’s not real, she tried to convince herself. It will never be real.

But Fiona had lied to her long before Roslyn was sent through Alexius' rift. That wouldn’t change if Roslyn went back.

When her eyes opened again, Roslyn saw a flicker of the hard-edged steel she’d come to admire, to love about Fiona.

“I am dying,” Fiona croaked.

“I can fix this,” she said in a strangled voice, trying to deny the question in her eyes. Her anger burned bright and she clung to it like a raft in a storm. “There is a way I can go back and make it so that none of this happened.”

Fiona smiled weakly. “Of course you can. But that does not change my fate. I would not die like this, wasting away as food for this monstrosity.”

“You can’t ask this of me,” she choked out, her voice breaking as she knew exactly what Fiona meant. Fiona would not want to die a prolonged death. It would be kind, to put her out of her misery, to end her life now rather than let her linger in this ruined state. “It’s not fair.”

I don’t owe you anything.

“Life is not fair, my dear,” she coughed. “If I taught you anything, I taught you that.”

You taught me nothing, she wanted to scream, to shout in her face. You lied to me and left me for dead. You let me leave and you did nothing to get me back—

She couldn’t do this, she couldn’t—

Alistair exhaled sharply, understanding breaking through his forced calm. “I guess it would be too much to ask—no, it’s pointless. Clearly. You’ve never been bothered—” He broke off in a scowl and turned away, but stopped before he took a step. With his back still turned, he said in a ragged whisper, “You should have told me. You and him.”

Fiona shut her eyes and nodded as he walked away, her lips parting in a silent sob. When she opened them again, her eyes were hard, her mouth twisted in pain.

Roslyn forced herself to step forward, swallowing back the revulsion at the cloying stench coming off the lyrium, and raised her hands. She cupped Fiona’s face slowly, the green light of her mark warring against the red glow of the lyrium. Her heart was beating so hard it might burst from her chest.

I will never forgive you for this.

Fiona’s mouth twisted into a small smile. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Roslyn’s hands shook as Fiona mumbled something in Orlesian and shut her eyes.

She threaded her magic into Fiona, slipping beyond the red lyrium and wrapping her in a cocoon of shimmering white energy, hating how easy it was.

Fiona gasped and her aura flickered back to life, a vital thing made of iron and an emerald green so vivid she could almost smell fresh, swaying grass.

Roslyn waited, every fiber of her being crying out that this was unforgivable, that there was no way she could do this, even if Fiona had become a shadow of her former self. It was madness. She couldn’t kill her.

I would want it.

She braced herself as the magic rushed in. Fiona’s eyes fluttered open as her aura fractured, enveloped by the surge of arcane energy. She stared up at Roslyn with fear that faded to relief, and then dimmed as the light drained out of them.

Roslyn jerked away, clenching her jaw against the sob threatening to spill out of her chest. She stared at the lifeless body of the closest thing to a mother she’d ever known, before the urge to scream became so violent she shuddered. Her nails dug into her skin so hard she felt blood well in the half-moon cuts on her palm.

She stood frozen for what might have been an hour or a second, staring at the woman trapped lyrium and fighting against the urge to smash the column and be done with it. To smash something, anything, if only to relieve the horrible tension curling around her lungs and squeezing so hard she couldn’t breathe.

This is a lie, she intoned, over and over again, Fiona is alive. None of this will happen.

She unclenched her hands, hearing the soft spatter of her blood fall to the ground, and felt her eyes harden. She pushed the fear and guilt and anger down so deep she couldn’t feel it, walled it off with ice and iron. It would not best her, this thing that raged and clawed inside her chest. She would not let it.

I will fix